Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The birth of a space helmet

An "unfinished" helmet sits next to the silicon mold.

The "glass" part of the helmet needs to be cut out and replaced with the vacu-formed visors.

Although the helmets are intended to be weathered we are inclined to leave one of them white like this just because it looks nice.

The helmets have an almost organic look to them which I really like.
Dave Campfield's Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre is available on Amazon VOD.

And more pictures of the helmet. Anthony Jones cast it out of this nice, lightweight, resilient plastic stuff.

Glow and Helmet

Here's Anthony Jones' helmet being birthed from the silicone mold.

All about AfterEffects glow. Yup, I've violated all these rules. And will do so again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In the virtual and real worlds

Work on Prometheus is being done.

Dolf Veenvliet is working on the smaller ship -- using Jason Birdsall's set for scale.
This model is waiting for UV wrapping. Dig the human figure for scale!
It's kind of awesome to have these great lights in Blender. I love the glow.
This is a preliminary lining-up of model to the actual set.
Anthony Jones sent me more pictures of making the mold for the helmets.
You can clearly see the silicone and the foam "structure" being built around it.

Here is the foam outer structure, held together with straps. Using foam is cost-effective and vastly lighter. Anthony did a pretty brilliant job!

Looking inside.

Looking inside and seeing detail. My dad pointed out there's no "0" on the keypad. I explained that the keypad won't have numbers but symbols -- it'll be in octal. ;-)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bring on the Set

Adam Tweer and Jason Birdsall loading in the sets for The Prometheus Trap.
As it turns out we need Christmas lights. At least two more strings of Christmas lights.
The front of the set to the Prometheus. 
These groovy sets, designed and built by Jason, are incredibly easy to light.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Building the Helmet

Anthony Jones has made the mold for the helmet. Here are some pictures of the process. I won't go into any detail about the process 'cause I'll just say stuff that's wrong.
But he used a very cool foam for the outside, which saved money and weight. And he's already struck one helmet from the mold.
It's very cool looking. Almost an organic shape to it. I think we're going to leave one of the helmets white just because that looks so nice.

Bad Dates

This is an amazing documentary on making Indiana Jones. One thing I found very compelling is how Spielberg is so good at finding the little moments and making a story out of them -- like Marion drinking the shot which wins the drinking contest. It's what Blake Snyder would have probably called "mini 5-point finales". I'm generally terrible at those things.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Labor Law

So here's a thing -- don't have a Facebook policy at your shop. Just don't have one.
Thing is, calling someone a douche canoe is just something they could normally be fired for. BUT. And this is a giant "but". If someone writes on Facebook "My boss is a big jerk and we don't get paid well enough" and especially if someone else from your company chimes in with "Yeah" you can't fire them for that.
Because although your employees don't have 1st Amendment rights, they do have the National Labor Relations Act. And the NLRA does protect employee speech regarding wages and working conditions.
Clearly I have too much time on my hands dealing with renders today.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Prometheus Trap Breakdown

I do a thing here on this blog which otherwise drives me nuts in real life. See, I put this amusing picture here and it has nothing to do with the rest of this post.
But the point of the amusing picture is simply that it amuses me. It doesn't in turn make the rest of the post a joke.
Likewise I have a "no jokes" rule in brainstorming. If you're just going to make a joke, you're wasting everyone's time. I'd rather you came up with a bad idea than an idea that's deliberately bad.
But being as this is my blog, I can deface it in any way my little brain sees fit. Or any way that I happen to have images sitting on my desktop which haven't been uploaded yet.
OK, now that I've got that off my chest, here is the basic breakdown for the 8-day shoot that will be The Prometheus Trap.

1. Venom bridge (small cockpit from Jason)/Venom corridor (this is a gratuitous set, it'll be scheduled on the same day as the Venom Bridge, maybe it'll be the tube?)
2. Venom Cyro-Compartment/Venom Locker Room (this is actually the same set and will be the locker room at SRS).
3. Cargo bay (the shop -- must be filled with haze and be dark outside)
4. Prometheus airlock (we have to build this set with a door openable by oxyaceteline torch)/Promethius corridors (built corridors)
5. Prometheus Cryo-Compartment (built set)
6. Observation Deck (built set)
7. Bridge (Jason's bridge)
8. Engineering (I have no idea)

All Of My Friends Are Better Directors Than Me

Jill Sprecher has a new movie out this weekend. It's called Thin Ice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bring On The Noize

So, I got some masters kicked back from QC at me recently. My biggest fear is getting masters kicked back at me because the Music & Effects tracks don't sound exactly like the English Dialog Mix. So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure they sound identical (with the exception of the actual English dialog of course.)
But these masters weren't kicked back because the English and the M&E's sounded different. They just didn't like the way the mix sounded.
Pushkin was a very quiet cat. Never made any sound on set. Once he prevented the sound mixer from rolling because he was sitting in her lap. "I can't roll, cat is on my lap." At the time that seemed like a completely valid reason to not roll sound.

Let's go back a bit. The picture is a post-apocalypse picture. And we shot it in one of the noisiest cities in North America. That is, of course, New York. What this means is that something approaching 100% of the original dialog is unusable. There's just about nothing you can do about that. It doesn't matter how you mic the actors or how long you wait for the damned fire trucks five blocks away to turn off their sirens, the city is simply noisy. You're not going to get post-apocalypse silence in your tracks.
Let's back up for a minute. It's standard operating procedure on big-budget pictures for the composer to write score for the entire picture, the Foley artist to create sound effects for the entire picture, and the sound department to cut sound effects for the entire picture. From start to end, "spotting" the picture be damned! Everybody does 100% of the picture and on the mix stage they decide if/when they're going to use Foley, sound effects, and/or music.
Now at some point the idiot director decided that he just wanted to hear wind and music when we're outside. That director has been shot sedated. Oh wait. It was me. So yeah, "sedated".
So there are big swaths of the picture where the lead is walking around abandoned Gowanus and there's just music on the sound track. No footsteps.

Well that was a mistake.
I realize the visual effects look painted, but I kinda dug that about this shot. Heck, I still dig that about this shot. Daryl Boling at the spaceport in Millennium Crisis

"Oops", as it turns out, doesn't really cut it with distributors. "Fix it" is usually the response. That's what I'm doing now. Y'know, because I don't have anything better to be doing -- what with completing post-production on one movie and going into pre-pro on another and going into production on yet another. Sheesh.
Well. Lesson learned.
We don't have to do the movie 100%. But buyers will be annoyed if we don't do the standard job of Foley for most footsteps and suchly.

I felt the urge to add this picture to this extremely important blog post.
And seriously, I need a little Foley-stepping thing for our recording studio. You know -- a little box with different surfaces to walk on? Aw heck, that'll never happen -- we'll just go out into the hallway on weekends with our portable recorder.

This is a good time for me to plug Freesound.org again. They seriously have the most usable Foley effects of any library. The thing with Foley -- sometimes you don't want it to sound too good. It's gotta be a bit band-limited, with a bit of distance to it, just so it'll fit in with the dialog tracks.

I also need a Cedar DNS. Need. Not want.

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Have or What Have You

If you're low on zombies, sentient robots, and the apocalypse (which, if you're reading this blog, no doubt you are), then you need Doomsday Book.

The day after tomorrow I have to shoot a new, and extended, ending to Android Insurrection. I have something approximating zero idea how we're going to do this.
Hey. I'm missing a boom pole. It was a nice carbon-fiber 18-foot one. I musta lent it to someone a few years ago because I haven't seen it in a few years, we've been using the internally-cabled one for our last several features. Do you have it?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ides of February in the Pandora Machine

While trying to finish up Android Insurrection we're also going into pre-pro on The Prometheus Trap. And at the same time we just got masters for Day 2 kicked back at us for audio issues -- although oddly it's not because the M&E's don't match the English mix but rather they just want more Foley and cut sound effects and less music. At least that's what I think they want. We'll see.
We've cast the women in The Prometheus Trap. Rebecca Kush will play the LT, Sarah-Doe Osborne will be Artemis, and Kate Britton will play Trent.
Winona's hair is the inspiration for Artemis' hair in The Prometheus Trap.

Post-Apocalypse Philadelphia is our thing. I don't think they used this in Alien IV.

Via Jonathan Newman, this short called "Archetype" is interesting. Notice the EMP as the big bad weapon (David Ian Lee and Nat Cassidy wrote that into Android Insurrection too).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Act 9

We need to shoot act 9 of Android Insurrection on Sunday. We're looking at different ideas. Some of those ideas include an army of arachnobots and androids. Most of the ideas include some degree of insanity.
I'm building a crashing ship. I don't have any good way of making pieces of the ship fall off however. But I might be able to cover that with dirt and dust rushing at the camera. We'll see.
I insist that the eyes emit beams of light. That's my thing. Insisting that.
I think that will involve spotlights and ambient occlusion (but ambient occlusion which is only affected by the spotlights and on a very narrow beam.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

August 8th

It's a Russian sci-fi war picture. The trailer goes off the rails about mid-way but...


Production on a feature is simply "advanced pre-production". Many people (especially those who only do production) think that shooting the movie is making the movie. It ain't.
You make the movie in "post-production". You simply gather your materials for making the movie while you're "in production". And it is 100% counter-intuitive what you need to do on-set in order to get the stuff you need when you actually make the movie, months later. Also, your most expensive single days occur when you're in production. So it's understandable to think that shooting the movie is making the movie. It's just wrong.
So say I. So say we all.
But that's not what you're here for.
What you want to know is how you should photograph a person so they can be slapped onto a UV wrap of a human model in 3D. Here is Nathan Vegdahl's advice:

Photograph the person standing, feet apart, arms outstretched, palms toward camera, looking right intocamera. Long lens to reduce edge distortion. Use as diffuse and omni-directional lighting conditions as you can. Outside on an overcast day, for example. Basically, the less directional lighting the better. You don't want the lighting in the texture competing with the lighting in the 3d render.


Helmet Detail

Anthony Jones has been detailing our first helmet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Do It Fast, Cheap, and Good, Without Whining.

Now I might be a loud-mouthed producer and a grouchy director, but if I ever had a set that could only handle 16 setups in a day heads would roll. What in the name of what are you doing all that time? I mean, are you doing 16 company moves with one setup in each new location?
How about instead of 16 setups a day let's talk about a new setup every four minutes. You probably won't be able to sustain that pace for very long, but there should certainly be times when you are doing a half-dozen shoot-and-move things during your day.
Even if you have a fairly simple scene like two guys run into one another. They don't like each other but one holds out a cigarette for the other, the other guy begrudgingly takes it and says something like "I always wanted to like you".
You can probably tell that in four shots. There's the first guy "discovering" the second guy behind him. Then it's OTS first guy, and OTS second guy. Then a closeup of the held out cig.  Do you seriously have to relight for all those shots? Please tell me you have those lights planned out. It seriously shouldn't take you any more time to light the one OTS to light the other one. And if you're re-lighting to do the punch-in on the cigarette then I'd tell you to go back to being a PA but I wouldn't trust you to not screw up the coffee order.

How long should that entire bit of business take you? 15 minutes? Sure, if everyone is tired and slow 'cause it's just after lunch. Otherwise, think ahead. And get those punch-ins and inserts or the editors will yell and scream.

So try to get 100 setups in less than 10 hours. Really 8 hours. Nobody will look askance at you if you only make 60 setups, but you'll be missing some shots so try to do 80. Heck, that's only one shot every seven and-a-half minutes, right? Easy.
Take the first 45 minutes of the day setting up that first shot (and the turn-arounds and be ready for closeups). Then just shoot all those dang things. Don't worry about getting the wide perfect. In fact, if you have to put up a lot of lights start with the closeups 'till you have enough light in there to go wide.

OK. The bunnies have calmed me down.

Building the Prometheus

The reason our Prometheus movie is so much better than Ridley Scott's is that Steven Niles actually based the script on the myth of Prometheus. Yes. That's why.
Here's Dolf's announcement on the Blender forums about building the ship. Note that the above model isn't even the latest version of the model.
We need freezing tubes. The script has them as standing tubes. I have no easy way to do this.
One thing I was thinking was that we make a rectangular frame and then cover it in plastic sheeting. That way you'd use a pocket knife to cut them out like the astronauts in suspended animation are in a chrysalis.
Or we could go even further and the suspended animation chamber is like mummification -- the astronauts are wrapped inside plastic and have to be cut out, almost "birthed".
Both of these ideas would be relatively easy to shoot. I think photographically it would be nicer to have a couple frames with plastic stretched over the front of them just because we'd be able to see inside easier.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Your Things In the Pandora Machine Today

Here's a set of videos about breaking down scenes and making a production board.

Here's the order of colors of pages in revisions:
the original color for these schedules is White, with subsequent revisions running Blue, Pink, Yellow,Green Goldenrod, Salmon, Buff and Cherry.
The Pandora Machine style guide specifies that we make zero paper copies of anything and therefore use version numbers on all paperwork and scripts and pay no attention to page colors. Whole forests are in debt to us for making that decision.

We Battle Without Light, Without Happiness, Hopes or Gods

Are you low on your amount of deeply weird Soviet-era animated science fiction?

"Pereval" doesn't get less weird, less annoying (with songs -- sheesh), nor does it have a satisfying ending. But, you know, it's Soviet and weird with extra weird.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Helmet On Its Way

Anthony Jones is building away on the new helmets.
Keypad is a nice touch.

Side windows.

Top bolts are nice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's Going On in the Pandora Machine

When you buy me our new Canon C300 I'll need to have a way to import the footage.
The lack of Intel i7 3730 CPU's is really bringing me down. It's making my computing abilities slow to a glacial speed. There is, apparently, a worldwide shortage. Because of the lack of memory on my audio machine today I actually spent the entire day trying to render out the surround master of the third act of Android Insurrection. I couldn't do it 'till I split the act into two 5-minute chunks. Feh.

Dolf Veenvliet is working on our Prometheus ship!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Questions and Dragons

Julia Maldonado has some questions about dragons and the world of Dragon Girl. I'm not so sure I have all the answers.

1. If the dragons caused the end of all "technology" and brought forth the world of magic, how does Sophie work? Is she "digital"? or is she "magic" like Tomas says later in the script?
Drew says: I think she's magical. She's something which Tomas created for Amelia. Tomas knew something about how magic would work before magic came into the world through the dragon blood.

2. Can you take dragon blood from a dead dragon at any time, or only immediately after death? Or can it still be alive?
The analogy to the "guzzolene" in Road Warrior is apt. If the dragon had been flying and then killed, it probably has some ichor left in it. But if the dragon just ran out and went to sleep then it doesn't. Dragons can sleep a looooooong time without ichor. Like thousands of years. And then only a small vial will wake one up.

3. What is a familiar? How did Sophie become my familiar and how did Watson become Miranda's familiar?
4. When Miranda and Amelia say they can "conjur" dragons, what do they mean by that?
I figured that Miranda and Amelia's attitude toward the dragons was similar to the daemons in His Dark Materials. If you give a dragon some ichor/dragon's blood, they feel bound to serve you. Amelia uses this trick against Sebastian at the end of the movie. 
I believe the act of giving ichor to a stone-dragon (a sleeping or "dead" dragon) is not quite enough to get them on your side. But if you speak sternly enough to them they become yours. Amelia cannot quite conjur a dragon on her own, even if she implies she can. But she can conjur (or "persuade") a dragon to do her will by using Sophie the cat.

5. How did the compound come upon all this dragon blood? Did they collect it, or was it discovered?
I think the compound was a manufacturing facility. We should maybe mention that.

6. How long has it been since Amelia has seen her brother? How old was Amelia?
I would have put Amelia at about 12. We can push her age older or younger as necessary. She hasn't seen her brother in 3 years.

7. Are there more people in the compound? 
No. There would be but this is a low-budget movie! ;-)

8. I take it Amelia and Joe never realized that they had another brother?
Tomas hid that fact from Amelia and Joe not only because he was ashamed but because there was just something not right with Sebastian. Sebastian was a sociopath before he amassed a dragon army.

9. Is Joe totally alone?
Yeah. He's alone. Mostly for budgetary reasons.

10. Does Amelia remember her father at all? When did he die? What exactly did their father do?
She does remember him. He gave her the cat to protect her. He told her that she had to find her brother. She interpreted that as "You have to find your brother or he'll get hurt." Really Tomas was thinking she needed to find her brother so he would protect her.

11. How frequently do you need to "refuel" a dragon with dragon's blood before it turns to stone?
That is a question we do not even approach attempting to answer. I don't know. Maybe depending on the quality it's a couple hours to several days on a vial? Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Building Helmets

The brilliant Anthony Jones is working on our helmets.

These are the backs of the helmets being molded from clay. We're going to put some ventilation in there because dear heavens we need 'em!

Friday, February 3, 2012


Joe Chapman being tortured by a robot in Android Insurrection. Second - unit director Henry Maduka Steady created this shot.. 
Berlin is coming up. I mean the Berlin Film Market. Actually it's the European Film Market.
The funny thing about working inside an art-house film office is overhearing other filmmaker's struggles with film festivals. We don't struggle with film festivals at all, because we just don't go to them. Actually, I go to neither festivals or markets. I stay at home and try to make deliverables.
I feel bad that I don't have a complete version of Android Insurrection to go to Berlin with our sales rep. It's my fault. The question is, how are we going to get faster at delivering pictures? Why are we behind?
OK, so I have some excuses. We all know what excuses are like. But I think these can be overcome.

  • The first excuse is that we were late on delivering Earthkiller, which in turn made us late in delivering other movies. 
  • Secondly, it wasn't so much the surprise move we had to make with our office as the fact that I was sick for a month between December and January. That really annoys me and I'm going to be much more militant about getting the doctor to give me antibiotics.
  • Third-wise I'm blaming my computer. My PC is just appallingly slow. And I'm waiting on a new one from Titanus Computers but it's delayed because of some sort of manufacturing hiccup with the new Sandy Bridge chip. In the meantime we're only able to use the dual-quad-core Mac Pro for all visual effects, rendering, and editing. Which is a bit of a bottleneck because just one computer is responsible for all picture. (I'm still using the PC for sound.)
So the big question here is will we be able to deliver Prometheus on time? The answer is, of course, "yes". And even though I've been wrong before I'm not wrong now. How do I know? Because a robot is hanging its death-claw over my head.
Also because the picture is very low on actual visual effects. We can animate and render spaceships hanging out in space until the cows come home. Or, actually, that's a terrible analogy. We can do it. Quickly. That's what I mean.
All we need for Prometheus is some nice freezing tubes. We need freezing tubes. Suspension animation chambers. Cryogenic Tubes. Whatever. We need at least two of them. Please deliver them immediately.