Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chance Shirley Interview

Chance has a big ol' interview.

Our Immediate Goals

These are our immediate goals.
  • Finish and deliver Android Insurrection by December 15th.
That means we need to have all picture locked by November 15th. It means we need to have some picture locked before that! Then mix, color-correction, titles, etc.
  • Shoot, finish, and deliver Dragon Girl by May 1st.
That's going to be tight, especially if we have so much in the way of visual effects. But we gotta do what we gotta do. So that's that.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Render Bender

Dual quad-core. Renders are taking more than five minutes per frame to render in Blender3D.
Closeups are hard.
Of course, after we render the 3D model we then render the composite in After Effects. Then we apply color-correction in Final Cut Pro. And then we render out the whole movie with DM&E mixes. Then we dance on the graves of our enemies. But it's the 3D that takes the most time per frame typically.
Tomorrow we're having a screening of Earthkiller at noon at the Gibson in Williamsburg? Are you coming? Yes, of course, I thought so. And with the absurd pre-Halloween snow, this could very well be the second time my parents get snowed out of a screening.
And, of course, I totally blew the nodes in the render and because I stupidly didn't check the frames as I was exporting the entire render is bad and I have to start again. Yay! Me!

Via a comment by psa (below), Lightworks is free.
Whoa. Between that and Automatic Duck...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pitches with Tom

Here are the pitches Tom Rowen and I came up with. Don't make me show you a picture of Tom's butt to prove it!

36 Hours
Calvin Jones, an ex-marine and bodyguard must team up with a Russian coked-up stripper in order to find his ex-wife's daughter.

Tamara Medved, beautiful bleached blonde junkie, is the only witness who knows where the Russian mobsters have the girl. But Calvin only has 36 hours to get her straight and to get the bad guys before they kill the kid.

An ex-drug-dealing bartender is forced to do one last score to pay of his bar's debt to a loan shark.

Blood on the Streets
A newly-released ex-con is forced to rob an armored car to pay off his coke-addicted brother's gambling debt.

Keyton Daynes or "Y.Y." spent 15 years in the joint practicing Kung Fu and jujitsu. But when he gets out he gets dragged back into the life by two scumbag coke dealers to rob an armored car.

What he doesn't know is the armored car is carrying Chinese Triad mob money. 

Now he has the Chinese mob, the FBI, and the drug dealers after him. And if he doesn't get his brother and his grandmother on a plane out of the country there's gonna be blood on the streets.

Bullets in El Barrio
Two brothers growing up in Spanish Harlem. One, Montserrat Mendez, becomes a DEA agent. The other, Tomas Mendez, pushes dope on the streets they grew up on.

Now Montserrat put on a task force to take down his brother's crew. At the same time, both brothers are in love with the same girl -- Juanita Arias.  

All hell breaks out when the Russian mob decides to make a move to take control of Spanish Harlem. 

Now both brothers have to fight the Russian mob -- and one another -- for love and their lives.

The Polo Grounds
Mac returns from the Iraq War with his best friend Banks. But they have no jobs and no future. 

Pushed into a corner, Mac starts dealing drugs and then starts to murder his way to the top and rules with an iron fist over the Projects. 

His beautiful girlfriend, Layla, helps him murder the local drug kingpin. And then convinces Mac to kill Banks. 

Mac thinks he's invincible. No bullets can stop him. No knife can cut him. He runs a reign of terror over the Projects. 

But eventually the community rises up. Layla commits suicide and Mac is machine-gunned by the son of one of the men he killed.


Somehow we're number 150 on IMDB. At least according to our distributor. Does anybody have IMDB pro? I love to know our ranking.

That's right, as of today if you type "batt" into the imdb search engine we're the first thing to come up. Even higher that Battle: LA and Battlestar Galactica.
Our reviews on imdb are about what you expect. Reviews on IMDB are about a half-step above the average YouTube comment. We in the genre movie world are fairly used to that.

Here's a review meme I've seen a lot of:

Give me a good laptop computer, an HD camera and a few students from the local primary school, and I can make a better movie than this. 

Really? The thing standing between you and making a movie is that you don't have a $600 video camera? Someone should take up a collection for you? ;-)


Richard Stallman makes a distinction between "free software" and "open source" that I don't really understand.
Act I
By and large I'm a proponent of open source and we release movie elements (like sound effects and digital models) into open source under a variety of Creative Commons licenses.
Act II
We do use a number of proprietary standards. One standard for delivering a motion picture is a 1920x1080 progressive scan image in a Quicktime format with ProRes422 compression. We use this format and compression in our shop a lot. Quicktime and ProRes422 are both owned by Apple. They make a reader for a PC but there's no way I know of for a PC to encode a ProRes422 with a Quicktime wrapper.
Why is this important? Because almost any lab we deliver a drive to can handle a quicktime movie encoded as ProRes422. It's a perfectly reasonable output codec. "Broadcast quality" -- whatever that means. And making the deliverable format a Quicktime movie means you can imbed a whole bunch of different audio tracks (stereo english, stereo M&E, 5.1 English, 5.1 M&E, stereo commentary...)
Every lab has Final Cut Pro 7 and can read these formats just fine.
So Apple is doing away with FCP 7 and gone right to FCP 10. Obviously a lot of houses are going over to other kinds of editing systems which aren't as favorable to ProRes422 as we've been up until now. What if your go to a lab and they're all like "We just have FCP X and a couple Digi-Beta decks. Oh, but we have an Avid and a Premiere system we do our serious work on, but those are both PC's."
Oof. Aaf. I don't know. Now this is getting harder. When Apple's FCP was the obvious go-to professional program, the codec that worked so well with it was perfectly fine to deliver in.

Tom Rowen, Joe Chapman, and Juanita Arias in Android Insurrection. Rebecca Kush calls this picture "Lord of the Quarry Dance".
So what do we do now? Will we be delivering picture as OpenEXR? Politically that's very appealing. And obviously if ILM is using it, there's some serious industry level backing for it.
Act IV
Are we going to abandon proprietary Quicktime format for OpenEXR image sequences? For many uses image sequences are pretty awesome. Not for everything though. Sometimes a Quicktime or an .avi is just nice, right? It's not a directory filled with a bunch of individual image files.
Act V
So I'm just wondering what we're going to end up with. Will Apple relinquish the high end of video delivery to Avids and Premiere systems? Will they work with OpenEXR? Blender does. AfterEffects sorta does.
Final Cut Pro certainly doesn't. It likes Quicktime movies* and really prefers one of a handful of codecs (including ProRes422). Premiere, on the other hand, will import image sequences directly but unfortunately does not support OpenEXR as far as I can tell.
Yeah, I got no idea. We'll use FCP7 for the remainder of the year and probably through 2012. And we'll deliver in ProRes422. Other than that? I got no idea.

*It is possible, and not too big a pain the the butt, to import still image sequences inside Quicktime wrappers.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pitch Waiver

Below you'll see that the Asylum is accepting pitches. These are the legal terms of the agreement you make in order to give them a pitch.

This seems like a pretty good and well-written agreement.

WAIVER AND TERMS OF AGREEMENT - By submitting ("Pitch") your idea(s), stor(ies), concept(s), plot(s), treatment(s), suggestion(s), character(s), and the like, in either written or oral form (collectively, the "Material"), you are agreeing to the following terms:

1. The Material that I will Pitch is mine, I have exclusive rights to the material, and the material is original to me.
2. I understand and agree that the burden of securing copyright or WGA registration for my screenplay or idea lies entirely with me.
3. I agree to hold The Global Asylum, Inc., (the "Company") all executives, producers, managers, agents, production companies, their subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, representatives, employees, and volunteers, harmless from and defend them against all claims, demands, losses, costs, damages, judgments, liabilities, and expenses (including attorney's fees) arising out of or in connection with any and all claims of third parties, whether or not groundless, based on any screenplays, plots, characters, stories, concepts or ideas submitted during the Pitch or on any screenplay, film, or material developed out of those idea(s), stor(ies), concept(s), plot(s), treatment(s), suggestion(s), character(s), and the like.
4. I acknowledge that because of the Company’s position in the entertainment industry, that the Company receives numerous submissions of ideas, treatments, stories, suggestions and the like, and that many such submissions received by the Company may be similar to or identical to those developed by the Company’s employees or otherwise available to the Company.
5. I understand that I will not be entitled to any compensation because of the use by the Company of any such similar or identical material. I further understand that the Company would refuse to accept or otherwise evaluate my Material in the absence of my acceptance of each and all of the provisions of this Agreement. I shall retain all rights to submit this or similar Material to persons other than the Company. I acknowledge that no fiduciary or confidential relationship now exists between the Company and myself, and I further acknowledge that no such relationships are established between the Company and myself by reason of this agreement.
6. I agree to defend, indemnify and hold the Company, its affiliates, subsidiaries, and successors, as well as their officers, contractors, and employees harmless, with counsel of the Company’s choice, from and against any and all claims, expenses, losses, or liabilities (including, without limitation, reasonable attorneys' fees and punitive damages) that may be asserted against the Company or incurred by the Company at any time in connection with the Material, or any use thereof, including without limitation those arising from any breach or alleged breach of the warranties and promises given by me herein.
7. I agree that if, as a result of my Pitch, the Company is interested in engaging me to develop the Material into a screenplay and/or motion picture, I will negotiate with the Company in good faith for the terms, conditions and amount of the payment for such future services.
8. If the Material is submitted by more than one person, the word "I" or "Writer" shall be deemed changed to the plural, and this agreement will be binding jointly and severally upon all the persons so submitting the Material.

Accepting Pitches

Hey check it out, The Asylum is accepting pitches for movies.
It is way not every day that a studio -- even a small studio -- accepts pitches. Go ahead, send 'em one.

They're looking for African-American and Latino - themed action pictures, comedies, and dramas (and martial - arts pictures.)

Last night Maduka and I came up with this:

Wrong Side of Justice

A cop gets framed for murder and is thrown off the force. His only way to exonerate himself and to put the bad guy down is to work with the same criminals he arrested during his career.

Billy Sin was a tough, no-nonsense cop. But when he busted the wrong guy, a CIA agent importing crack cocaine, he gets set up for a murder he didn't commit.

Billy gets thrown off the police force. While awaiting trial he has to prove his innocence. And the only people he can trust are the drug dealers, pimps, hustlers, and hookers he busted as a cop.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Focus on Animation

Have I ever complained about pulling focus with still camera lenses? Why yes, yes I have.
For me, if one is going to use still-camera lenses, one should just grab the focus wheel and roll it back and forth. Pulling focus with a follow-focus jerry-rig is just not practical because the throw on still-camera lenses is too great. On cinema lenses the throw is less and it's much easier to use a follow-focus rig.
Hey -- what takes four minutes and twenty-two seconds?
Why a frame of this animation, that's what!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cigarette Break

You know, if you can do a solid 40 minutes a day of actual concentrated work, you're probably ahead of the game compared to most people out there.
If you were to do three 40-minute sessions you'd be Productivity Royalty.
Pretend you're a writer. Or wait. OK. So you're a writer. If you really wrote for 40 minutes a day -- that's a good 20 pages a day. Right? But you know how freakin' hard that is. That's a feature-length screenplay every week. That's all-but-impossible. And everyone knows it. It's really really hard on your brain. Many writers give themselves fancy schedules and rituals in order to give their brains a break so they can do the work.
There are lots of ways to give your brain a break. Let me tell you, back in the olden days when I was doing audio for broadcast -- that was some very technical and involved work which I could delve my little brain into and it had nothing to do with the parts of my brain I use to make movies. Which is cool. And then when I was done doing a weeklong broadcast job, I was more than ready to work on movies.
Nowadays I flop between movie things and music things. That's kind of the best of both worlds actually.
But that's longer-term. Here I'm talking about what one does over the course of an hour:
I've become more and more a fan of the cigarette break. 
I'm not a fan of cigarettes, or of smoking. But that break once and hour -- to walk around, do something (or nothing) -- now that's a good idea. Take a cigarette break but, you know, without actually smoking. Just a few minutes loitering outside your place of work. I think you'll find it works out for you.
When you're doing focussed work it seems to me your brain has to get a "relaxing time". Go chat around the equivalent of the water cooler. Even better, do all the things that smokers do for a break: walk outside, get a little sunshine, take a look around.
Back in the olden days if a smoker just sat at their desk while continuing to do the same work -- I think that didn't work out so great for their brains. But this thing where once an hour or two you get up and leave your office to go stand somewhere else? That's a good idea. I think. To me. Just do it, you know, without actually smoking.
Even the New York Times thinks you shouldn't just sit around. Not all day at least.
Now it doesn't seem that Facebooking and Twittering (and, for that matter, blogging) are bad for your productivity. But in addition to those things, you might think about just getting up and walking around for five minutes or maybe 10 minutes every hour.
Right now I'm rendering. So that's what I'm gonna do.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Goose Me

Dolf Veenvliet's Goose as a test render.
Just experimenting with different 3D models. Should the gang ride in the Goose?

Creative Uncommons

Ian Hubert and the Project London folks have released six Blender models under a Creative Commons license. This is, of course, exceptionally very cool.
Dolf Veenvliet created the "Goose". It's a rather nice looking ship. By that I mean good grief, it's a nice looking ship.

The HP Z800 is the Hewlett Packard dual hex-core machine.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thinking about Thinking about Computing

Mr. Kangas brings up some good points on my post on computing. Why get a world-dominating computer?
Is it necessary? Will it keep me from murdering my monitor in a fit of render-time pique?
He's right about editing certainly. We do not need an absolute top-of-the-line computer just to edit picture anymore.
Unfortunately I do three things which will, within five minutes, bring any computer you throw at me to its knees:

  1. Sound mixing
  2. 3D rendering
  3. Compositing

The gang in Android Insurrection.
Looking at these things backwardsly:

  • When doing a complicated composite with a lot of nesting of images and color-corrections and keying, it gets real irritating real fast when you can't see what you're doing. In fact, I accidentally rendered this particular shot at this size. How? I'd switched the quality setting in AfterEffects to "one quarter" just to have a prayer at retaining my sanity when doing a bit of rotoscoping.
  • I'm also tired of the render times involved in lighting 3D models (which is the step before compositing.) It makes re-lighting quite tedious to have to wait a couple minutes to see what, say, turning down the sun does. 
  • Honestly sound mixing is the least critical thing. After all, I can pre-render or "freeze" tracks with a lot of effects on them and then easily go back and make changes and then re-freeze the tracks. But it is certainly nice to be able to play 24+ tracks with loads of effects and such without the computer hiccuping.

Here's a computer company recommended by Samplitude folks, Reyniers Audio.
I'm not entirely sure I care about having a computer that has an operating system specialized toward audio. With enough RAM and other horsepower I don't think that an image on the desktop is going to make that much difference really.
One thing my buddy Mitch suggests is to use one of those solid-state flash drives as your system drive. He says it speeds things up quite a bit. So yeah, I'm gonna look into that.
In any case, the big question is whether spending $5,000 or $6,000 on a system -- even if it's (and this is a liberal estimate) twice as fast as a dual-quad-core with 8GB of RAM -- will be worthwhile. Sure, I'd love to see multi-layer AfterEffects compositions play back in real time but I doubt that'll be coming down the pike for another 10 years or so.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Virginia Logan carries Sara-Doe Osborne back to the lander.
I need more computer. I've been saying this for about two years now I think. But it's really getting time.
Thing is, I don't want to spend the money.
For about five thousand bucks I can get a dual hex-core with about 12GB of RAM and a decent video card. Oddly, as I've said before, the high-end Macs are about the same price as the high-end PC's. They're certainly within a couple hundred dollars of one another.
Oh look. Apple has "zero percent" financing... sigh.

Dragon Tutorials

For the upcoming Dragon Girl movie (1102) we're using the model from the open-source movie Sintel.
I wonder if this is the first "commercial" use of the Blender Foundation project? It's certainly the first feature that uses it.
In the interest of open-sourced-ness I feel like we should release various things, like our version of the model, into the wild. We won't be making the movie itself open source. Because we need to sell it in order to do mundane things like pay rent and, er, make more movies.
But, you know, we'll make some things open. Hey, I'm a huge supporter of and we upload our custom sound effects there for your dining and dancing pleasure. So why not release our Blender models?*
In any case, we're using this big ol' dragon. (UPDATE: I have no idea why I'm getting a 406 error when clicking on that link. Update update: right-click and "save as". Then when you've downloaded the file rename it to ".zip" rather than ".txt". You should then be able to open it.) And Nathan Vegdahl is helping us! Nathan is one of the all-time greats in the Blender scene and he worked on Sintel as well as on Project London.
Here are some tutorials he made based on this modified version of the Adult Dragon (it is made to work with the pre-release version of Blender 2.60).
You may want to watch these tutorials on Vimeo just so the window is big enough.
The first tutorial is all about the dragon rig.

And here is a tutorial about linking animations:

And lastly there's this tutorial on re-using Blender animation:

Reusing Dragon Animation from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.
Hey, Blender programmers, I have one request. Can we get obvious names for the layers? Like a rollover window when you mouse over them or something? I know the layers have names (and they start with "0" because, well, because.) But you'll notice that Nathan has to point at each layer to describe which one he's talking about. Yes, I know there are scripts to name layers, I just want numbers -- so when someone says "turn off layer 6" we all know which layer that is! ;-)

*In my head I've toyed with the idea of making our screenplays open-source, which would be amusing. Of course, if we ever make a bit hit picture I'd hate if a big studio made a remake and didn't pay us. But if you're interested in shooting one of our screenplays... let's just say the idea amuses us. So hit me up and I'm sure we can work something out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Are you under the impression we weren't going to re-use Joe Chapman's awesome matte painting? This time it's with a background image from Flickr user Argenberg.
Also, don't think there won't be a shuttle flyby/flythrough this shot either. 'Cause there will be.

You Heard It Here

Bill Cunningham has released his new indie comic, The Miracle Squad.
If you're doing stop-motion, Dragonframe is only $300.

I uploaded about an hour of rough-cut of Android Insurrection to our rep. I'm working on a schedule to be finished with the movie in December. That means we have to have it cut with all visual effects done by the middle of November.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pulling your Chain

Y'know, I see a lot of stuff on the Interwebs about the need for an HD monitor in order to make sure your image is in focus when shooting HD.
And I've been on a lot of shoots where everyone from the DP to the director believed that was true.
It ain't true.
You can tell perfectly well if your image is in focus even if you're monitoring in SD. When your subject is in focus there's a pretty clear "ping" of being-in-focussed-ness. I've shot, er, (insert some number here) features in HD and if you ever watch them and say "hey, that shot is a bit out of focus" well you should realize that I know that and furthermore I knew that at the time (but for whatever reason we used the shot anyway.)
Certainly I've never seen a focus problem when looking at footage in HD that I didn't see when peering through the little SD monitor in the "viewfinder" of the camera. Hell, I can even focus without my glasses on (and without setting the diopter) although it is irritating as all get out.
And I'm one of the worst cameramen I know. So it's not me having some superhuman preternatural ability to pull my own focus. Of that we can be absolutely sure.
Are there good reasons to have HD tap on set? Sure. There are details you might have missed otherwise, etc. But don't be afraid of SD tap.
Standard Definition video tap is your friend.

Do you ever get confused by the different kinds of blurs in After Effects? Welcome to the club. Prolost is here to help. (Cheatsheet: use box blur.) UPDATE: that old ProLost is now a spam account so I've deleted the URL.

Can you tell I'm rendering and uploading today? You can? Oh, well then...

What I'm doing today

David Frey is all out of gum. Virginia Logan is gonna shoot a robot.
I have to upload as much of Android Insurrection as we have. Which is actually a substantial amount although we don't have as many of the visual effects done as I'd like.
I wonder what sort of "gaaarrrrooouuuuughhht" sound Moony's gun makes. Motion tracking it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Project London

The Project London trailer:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trois Pommes Pandora

Somehow I missed the review of StakeLand in the New York Times.

Bill Cunningham has released his new indie comic, The Miracle Squad.

And Steve Burg.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Shuttle

No motion blur.
This weekend we've been all about rendering dragons and shuttles.
The image without motion blur isn't moving. Yeah, we're just testing things before we put in the background plate.
With motion blur.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fun Facts

.png files are lossless all the time. The "compression" you use on them is lossless compression.
I should make my way over to using Open EXR. Eventually I suppose we will.
Here's another render of the dragon

Eye See You

Nathan Vegdahl made this dragon opening its eye for us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Draggin My Heart Around

Nathan Vegdahl is helping us out with animations on our Dragon Girl movie. The first step was to change up the rig on the dragon so that it worked with the latest version of Blender.
To which I say "tres cool"!

Monday, October 10, 2011

You Call This Work?

Android with Whirleydoomer
Distributor actually asked if he could have this movie by next week. Oof. Man we do not have many of the composites done. Uh. I guess I'm going to have to get to work. ;-)

Ripping off the Rippers

So there are all these sites with ripped versions of the Battle: New York Day 2 DVD on them. I have a Google Alert set up to send me everything with "Battle: New York" in it and I'm getting like 10 a day now.
Am I allowed to just think it's funny that rippers post stills from the movie

and then watermark the stills -- you know, so people don't rip them off?
Everyone gets the irony there, right? It's not just me then.
Also, are these stills arbitrary? Or are they really selects?
Another question I have is: who issues the takedown notices? I suspect that technically that's our distributor(s). I have no idea. Maybe they just want people to download the movie often so that the servers go down.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Tina Tanzer in Battle New York Day 2
You like rips of your movies? Battle New York Day 2 has finally been ripped and distributed.
The RMTeam even captured some screen shots for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Monsters and Movies

Making a monster: Strangewerks on building the creature for Lifeform.
On finishing up the feature Project London:
You might be wondering why, after so much time, we are launching a fundraising campaign. Good question. We didn't realize how arduous and difficult it really is to make a feature length, sci-fi actioner.
To which I reply: "Ha!" Welcome to the club! ;-)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Many Faces of Virginia Logan

When looking for dates lunch on Craigslist.
The beautiful and Charming Virginia Logan of Android Insurrection (below) and of Brian Schiavo's Lifeform (above). Sam gal, different part of the lunar month.

For hunting robots. Also, when looking for dates lunch on Craigslist.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Three Things of the Machine

You know what our distributors don't care about? DVD extras. Well, specifically they don't care about 5.1 mixes, or commentary tracks. They maybe care a small amount about a "behind the scenes", especially if you have name talent in the picture, but that's it.
So here I am, setting up my 5.1 system. For what? I dunno. Just 'cause I guess. It sounds pretty nice actually.

The Decline of Indies on Netflix? The decline of indies? How could it get much worse? The best case scenario is selling them sixty copies. So without Netflix that's about $420 you're missing out on. Now if Netflix were to die altogether, maybe Blockbuster would pick back up and we'd get some real revenue once again...
Blender has a camera tracker. Have I mentioned this? It does not look easy to use though. ;-)