Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Things on my Desk Today

Weller's post on distribution is excellent. I disagree with his look at LGBT and African-American films though: at this point those two genres are played out. They still exist but the audiences have gotten more discerning because the markets have tended to saturate so they aren't as open to indy filmmakers as they once were.
I would binge-watch all of The Expanse except that only episodes 1-4 are up. Here's an article on the development of the series.
The top and bottom 10 sci-fi and fantasy movies this year. I'm not sure I agree with every choice...
This spoiler-filled review of Star Wars 7 is pretty smart.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Expanse

The aesthetic design of this TV show is... expensive looking. It's also quite sophisticated and beautiful. There are a LOT of different worlds they have to differentiate between, each with their own class systems and such. The story is totally solid with a good mystery to it. Acting and dialog are all top-shelf. I'm pretty happy with binge watching it. Especially whilst rendering.
  • The opening scene has the best 0-G I've ever seen in a TV show. Honestly it's really hard to pull off. Chance and I think her hair was CG, which makes the most sense. The rest of the zero - G stuff doesn't look nearly as nice but that opening... oof.
  • I'm envious of the armor the Mars navy wears. The shoulders are particularly nice.
  • I'm envious of all the chairs in all the cockpits. They're super nice. We have to get our chairs to look that nice.
I'm not a fan of glass cockpits but I do like that hanging Spock viewer thing the character 2nd from the left is looking through.
  • The costume design is overall very nice. Nice spacesuits. Are they refitted drysuits? I don't know.
  • They have nice Pip Boys on their wrists.

Ceilings and actual multi-levels on sets. I presume almost all the lighting is on-set. There's a couple beams from above but other than that the actors are kinda getting slapped with practicals.

  • Another thing which is nice is the wrist lights on spacesuits. Those are also nice.
  • The helmets are very good. You have to have a lot of faceplate so the audience can see who they're looking at. They do that very well as well as make them look fairly robust.
  • The chairs. I love all those dang chairs. Even the slightly dumb jump-seats. 
This is a good view of what the Pip Boys are like. I so want a Pip Boy. For me.
  • The CG ships are really quite nice on the whole. Even in multi-hundreds of million-dollar theatrical releases there are some effects which are just... missed. But they hold their own in this series. And it's not like they can reuse a lot of those effects either.
  • The way the miniguns come out of the hulls of spaceships is a very nice touch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The Blender Foundation seems to have done a good job making their Cycles renderer work really well with GPU on an Nvidia card. It doesn't work so great on AMD cards (which sort of eliminates Apple machines from the running). But objects set up with Cycles materials can party with fairly fast renders (on Nvidia cards).

Weirdly, Adobe seems to also favor Nvidia over AMD graphics. In my experience this means their Mercury playback engine works better on Nvidia which again means that Premiere and After Effects work better on PC's than on Macs.

Some ridiculous human (me) is having some old Blender models (which do look beautiful) fly by in a couple scenes and man, they take longer to render than I expect them to.

The thing I do desire with all my heart is that there be an easy way to render out a ground plane that is invisible but otherwise accepts shadows in Cycles. There is a kludgey way to do it by rendering out a separate ground plane which is mostly alpha channel with a shadow on it but it involves setting up multiple outputs and you have to composite them back together again in After Effects. And although that's not a nightmare because at least you get to fiddle with the amount of shadow, it's well... it's a kludge.

"Kludge" is a word according to my browser's dictionary apparently.

Huh. It never occurred to me that Ripley has a watch in Alien. She has one in Aliens. But the one in Alien was not that big a deal. Somebody sells the one from the videogame Alien Isolation. But in the original Alien it was apparently a couple Casio F100's put together on the same band.
So much rendering to do. 0 to 536, and then 936 to 1361.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Composites and Rotoscopes

I'm the one responsible for most of the rotoscoping.
My first complaint is working in 4K. It's like just as we get computers fast enough to do fancy stuff in HD we have to quadruple the processing needs. Sheesh.
For some reason I decided to do this one shot as a 950-frame shot.
After Effects does some fairly decent auto-rotoscoping these days. But sometimes it does something weird like when it took away Kate's face. 

Kate with automatically removed face.
But doing a tiny bit of manual roto to get things back to normal is worth the effort.
Kate with manually replaced face.
I'm adding a lot of dust to shots. The dust is impossible to see in stills.
Kate among the dead and the quick.

Monday, November 30, 2015


I've been killing a lot of androids lately. I know that's going to come back to me.

Yes, Mother, you can export ProRes out of AfterEffects in Windows. It requires this free plugin from the company DuBon. And you can only export files, not compositions, so you have to pre-render first. But it can be done. It can. Be done. H/T Ian Hubert.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Last Additional Photography Day

Just as we're being summarily dismissed from our office at 356 Broadway by our insane landlords, we're in post-production on a couple pictures, one of which requires some additional photography. The images from the additional photography look great, but we have to shoot exteriors and this time of year there's only like 9 hours of daylight altogether at this latitude. For exposure purposes there's even less because once the sun goes below a mountain or a tree line you've only got the skylight left. You're basically in civil twilight even without being in, you know, actual civil twilight.

I'm thinking that publishing images of sunrise/sunset charts is about the most boring thing I could blog with. And for that I am somewhat moderately sorry. But I need to keep the image somewhere.
On Sunday at 4:30pm the gaffer shuts off the lights.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What's for me

Of things that do not exist yet, the Blackmagic Micro Cinema camera is the thing that speaks most to me.

First of all, it's going to be cheap. Like a thousand dollars cheap.
Secondly, Chance Shirley has convinced me that 16mm is a better sized format for shooting because it's somewhat easier to focus than 35mm. Indeed, 35mm is a pain in the tuchus to focus.
Thirdwise, it's micro-four-thirds. I have a micro four thirds lens that's pretty fast. I'm totally down with that.
Quadranaically, there's HDMI video out. Oh man, the SDI on other Blackmagic cameras irked me. HDMI is so much easier.
On the Five Spot, it records to SD cards, not to weird stuff.
Sixly, it's got a global shutter and rolling shutter irritates me half to death.

The problems with it? Well for one it doesn't exist yet. Also, it's not 4K. Blackmagic is indeed coming out with a 4K Micro but it has no onboard recording. So as long as buyers don't care about "Ultra HD" we're good. The problem with 4K is that nobody can actually see it unless they sit with their face right up in the screen just like their moms told them not to do.

I feel like just as we got computers to get decent at rendering high-def and now we have to do 4K. Sigh. I feel HD really is the top resolution. Nobody really sees anything higher. I mean the boys down at THX say that film prints have an effective resolution of about 700 lines. So why all this resolution stuff? Ugh. Now I am complaining.

I think the Micro Cinema camera seems cool.

A Conversational Place - Full Film

Did I blog about this yet? I should have. I probably did. I'll do it again.

Groove to the beautiful and brilliant Catie Riggs.


Singularity is a fun little movie.

SINGULARITY [short film] 2015 from The Bicycle Monarchy on Vimeo.
** This film starts over black so have your speakers up nice and loud! **

SINGULARITY [short film] 2015

In the midst of a war between humans and sentient androids, a Delta Force team must battle a dangerous enemy to rescue the US President.

Directed by Samuel Jorgensen
Produced by Jeremy Pronk

© The Bicycle Monarchy

Web ►
Kickstarter ►
Facebook ►
The director is a visual effects guy, naturally. It's sort of surprising that they went for a small Kickstarter to finish just because the rest of the picture is clearly so expensive what with props and such.
It has an amusing ending.

Friday, November 20, 2015


This dude, James Lee, posted these amazing and inspiring images on Renderosity nigh on 10 years ago. I love how dynamic the scenes are. And the costume design is astounding.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Long Days

I do not understand the "work 'till you drop" ideology in the filmmaking world. I can't see how it's somehow cheaper to work really long hours because the number of mistakes you start making grows exponentially the longer you go.
Not having time to take a look at what you've been shooting while you're shooting is just... incomprehensible to me. I can imagine under a TV schedule that you're trying desperately to get something finished under a deadline although honestly I don't get why production doesn't just start a few weeks earlier instead.

There are some fixed costs of rentals, sure. Sometimes your soundstage is a huge part of your budget so from a financial point of view you want to have it working constantly. And sometimes your key talent has a limited schedule. But seriously, those are exceptions, not rules.
Putting the producer under a chopping block and telling them that they get whacked if they go over 10 hours has a magical ability to make things happen on time. Not allowing a production to go into overtime simply means that production will mysteriously become vastly more efficient at shooting. I've seen it happen on so many shows. It's a kind of fascinating thing to watch.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Carbon Copy Key

The key art at this year's AFM for Carbon Copy (formerly Android Masquerade).

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sound Check

A while back I wondered exactly how long it would take to do the dialog, music, and effects mix, with Foley and "sound design" cut effects, for a feature-length motion picture -- you know, the kind of movies we make.
I estimated 144 hours. That is 144 "man-hours" at a computer with a Foley stage of some sort available and doing the sound effects, ADR, dialog edit, and final mix as you go along. The other caveat is that the effects are not done "100%". No, instead you do just the effects you need, not wanting to Foley the entire movie and cut effects for the entire movie. Just add the stuff you're going to use.
How much is 144? I mean, how much does that cost with overhead, computers, electricity, sound effects, your time? Is that about $50/hour? So 144 is what, I don't know, about $7,000?
Now the fact is that I do virtually all this work myself on most of our movies. So that's work that does not incur a cash cost to us. But it does, you know, take up a month of my time. And then there's the music. On shows I'm composing for, that's some additional time.

So these are my thoughts of which I am thinking. Still. Thinking.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

What is now

Oh, the footage is pouring in from our shooting days over the weekend. That is, the composites Ian is doing.
The German Blu-Ray of Android Insurrection

This Lima backup dongle thing is very interesting. I'm using (multiple) Backblaze accounts and also iDrive (and also Sugar Sync) but if you wanted to keep your backup local, the Lima seems pretty cool. The advantage to, say, Backblaze is that you don't need to buy new hard drives for it. With the Lima you'd have to buy and power your drive.

Speaking of power, our crazy landlords for our studio have cancelled our lease. At the same time they've started leaving the front doors open overnight. So if you're in need of a bathroom just come down to 356 Broadway I guess. Doors are always open.

Dig the color reel for the dude just down the hall from us (until we're out at the end of the month) -- Ray Levé.

Lacra Color Reel 2015 from Ray Levé on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Backup Sound

Glen Trew suggests not running a backup recorder on set.

I have to agree with him there. I used to run one thinking that at least twice in a movie I was going to not roll on one machine. But the fact is that hitting two record buttons does indeed make it somewhat easier to miss one of them.
The Japanese version of Robot Revolution.

The other thing is that the sound department is the only department that even considers running a backup. There's no "backup camera" running while the regular one is running. And, of course, sound can be replaced in post. And sometimes that's just easier anyway.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ian Hubert = Genius

Arielle Hope, Sarah Schoofs, Ashley Mundy. Uh. Twice.
Day for night is flipping hard. It's just obnoxious because lights don't work the same way. The sun, it turns out, is really really bright.
On the other hand, without really huge lights at night it's impossible to really get exposure.
So you need to do about ten million tricks just to get things to look like they're night. You have to make flashes of firearms light up around them, which is a fancy bit of compositing. Lens flare, sky replacement, they all come into play.
I'm really glad I didn't have to do it! ;-)
Ian Hubert. The man is a genius. Check out Karma Pirates.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset

Remind me why daylight savings time exists again?
Well, we're out of light by 5pm once it ends, that's for sure. The last day (ha!) of shooting additional photography on Carbon Copy is on Sunday the 1st.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Exteriors. We're doing them. Here's the position of the sun.
Funtimes, no?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

First Aid Kit

As far as I know we've only had one serious injury from someone on-set. And it was during a take in a scene where an actor sat down but because she was measuring the distance behind her she ended up wrenching her thumb. Badly.

We have first aid kits on set but I've never really put a lot of deliberate thought into what should be in a first aid kit. Like a decent, real, first aid kit.
For twelve hundred bucks you can buy a defibrillator. But in most of the places I'm in EMS will get there by the time you remember where it is and get someone to get it while you're giving compressions and rescue breaths. So they don't seem terribly practical for actual first aid kits.

A Pocket Mask, however, seems like a super useful thing to have in a first aid kit.

Honestly, I'm a bit surprised they don't come standard in more kits.
But most of what one needs in a first aid kit that gets opened and used on a daily basis is much more pedestrian. I find it hard to locate a pre-stocked kit with exactly what I think we'll need in it. In no particular order, and with some items as definites and others as somebody's gonna want this:
  • Eyewash kit
  • Saline solution
  • Tampons with applicator
  • Feminine pads
  • Ibuprofen
  • Anti-diarrheal medicine
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antacid
  • Bandaids -- more bandaids is always a good thing. Everyone needs bandaids
  • 3-in-1 ointment or Bacitracin or whatever
  • alcohol wipes 
  • Examination gloves
  • Trauma shears
  • Forceps
  • Instant cold packs
I may update this list. But these are the sorts of things I think I want to have just, you know, around.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

Readying shopping order

We need clothes for our combat androids. Basic suit Gloves Harness Boots are still an issue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sketches for Henry

Edge of Oblivion needs a giant robot.
And Mars needs women.
It's just the way things go.

I was talking about how I thought Henry was essentially a 40-foot tall oil platform surrounding a huge rocket engine with a platform overhanging the side with a T-34 turret on top. So Ian Hubert was like "Send me a sketch of what you want for Henry."

My skillz as an artist are unparalleled. This is what I sent.

He was not impressed. I tried again.
But of course it needs to be less dog-like and the tower has to go higher than the turret and there has to be a rocket engine, etc.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

At the Intersection of Props and Costumes

Brian Schiavo over at Strangewerks is building out these terrifying masks he designed for the combat drones in Carbon Copy.

This is what he says about these pictures:

First there are pics of the sculpt sprayed with crystal clear, so that the clay will come out easier of the mold when it's done. The tubes are in the eyepieces so that resin doesn't fill them when it's poured.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Additional Photography

We're gearing up for some additional photography on Carbon Copy. Brian Schiavo is building some (5) masks for the androids.
What we need is a rock quarry -- preferably in Pennsylvania (because we'll have airsoft and paintball guns which look like real firearms).
What would be even better is if there was some sort of abandoned steel mill there.
We're shooting in the "Philadelphia Desert" and in post-apocalyptic New York City.
First sculpt.

The eyes will have lenses.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


There aren't that many science fiction movies which actually get me lost, but the criminally underrated Infini has some moments where I'm just confused. I get that we have to make the reactor think it's going critical in order to get command override but... what is on that conveyor belt? No idea.
But it doesn't matter.
We're seeing off the set here aren't we?

The movie has a strong script, is well-acted, and was obviously made for several million dollars. It looks great. Sure, they use the same armor we used in Prometheus Trap, but they have awesome space helmets and some decent weapons. The aesthetic design is there. Even the computer interface is a nice meld of Alien, and 2001 (flat panels), and straight up hexidecimal (even though he claimed it was binary but, you know, space insanity will do that to a fellow.)
Rebecca Kush made me watch it. She said I had to drop everything and watch it right now. Which is better than when she told me that I had to watch Luther because she kept hitting me every time she said how yummy Idris Alba is. So, fewer bruises this time.
Her point was, it's a Pandora Machine - like film. And it really is. Ensemble-like cast. Fog. You know. That stuff.
I cannot fathom the movie making money. But my goal is to make movies that look this good but for under $50K. That's reasonable, right?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Have I mentioned recently how offended I am that my refurbished MSI Dominator is the fastest machine I own?
I'm offended because my Mac Pro isn't completely paid off yet. And the Dominator was only $1300 from eBay.
So offended.

Making a sand material in Blender. I have no idea how to apply a material to an object. So I have no idea how to attach nodes to a material. The whole thing confuses me beyond all reason.
Credits are Due is an After Effects script for doing end title credits.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Zoom F8

The Zoom F8 is an 8-input portable recorder with time code for a thousand dollars.

Now let's face reality, nobody actually needs timecode. But people love seeing timecode slates on set with their pretty numbers going around and around, so you may as well sync to something. Traditionally that extra feature on a portable recorder (having timecode) jacked up the price like crazy.
But the Zoom F8 has a huge feature set for a cheap recorder. There's even a switch for a slate mic and tone. 8 inputs all go to different tracks. You can even control the sucker with your iPad. That's a lot for a thousand bucks.
This thing is designed for what is a relatively small market which has been dominated primarily by Sound Devices and Zaxcom. Does this mean everyone will have to drastically lower their prices?
Maybe we'll end up selling our Tascam and get one of these. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pixel Plow

So I did an analysis of how much it costs me to render. I was surprised about how expensive it is. And now I am rethinking my experiment with Pixel Plow.
Pixel Plow is the cheapest rendering service for Blender 3D. Cheapest by far. And it is super-duper fast. Even at the slowest speed it is way faster than my fastest GPU accelerated machine.

Unless I put my i7 with Quadro4000 GPU in a place where electricity is "free"*, it's actually fairly inefficient for me.

Now in order to do that I'd certainly have to get Logmein Pro which is $250/year.

And all that brings me back to Pixel Plow.

They make it relatively easy to render with them. The frames come down to you automatically as they're created. And now that we're in 4K it makes a much bigger difference to get those frames done so that a fellow can get to actually finishing the dang movie (whichever movie that might be.)

So today I am pro Pixel Plow for big renders.

*The morality of such use is up for grabs but those places where one has/does pay a single rate for electric no matter what the use does/do exist.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Back of the Envelope

If a frame takes exactly one hour to render in Blender (in 3D)*
If my computer's power draw is 240 Watts**
If electricity is $.31/kWh***

Then each frame costs about $.0744 (a little over seven cents).

Our movies must look this good at a minimum from here on out.
That's more than I thought. A thousand frames is nigh on $75 in electricity costs alone.  We do several thousands of frames of CG animation. And then rendering out all the movie and such, it's actually several hundreds of dollars.

*Renders take all kinds of different time. At 4K I'd say an hour a frame is about average, even optimized. Some are more, some are less. The one I've got running now is 49 minutes a frame.
**That's what the big i7 with the Quadro4000 video card is drawing. That does not include the monitor (which is usually off during a long render).
***This was the commercial rate at my studio, not my home (where my i7 is right now). The home rate should be something less. But add to this any additional fan or air conditioning I might have to/want to run when this computer is running.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Shadow Plane

Oh my. Making a "shadow only" plane so that your 3D object casts a shadow on the ground is a pain in the tuchus with Cycles in Blender.
But. It can be done.
Dig this fellow's tutorial. David Fesliyan explains how to do it. It's a bit, er, convoluted. But it makes a clean shadow pass. (Do yourself a favor and make sure "compositing" is left checked in the render panel or you will be as confused as I was for a substantial amount of time earlier today.)
Ignore the unplugged lens distortion.
You have to put the shadow plane on one layer and then do things with nodes. Subtract, "set alpha" and then "alpha over". Make sure that layer receives shadows. Then move your sun(s) around so the shadows match your original image. And make sure that the outputs are in the correct order in "alpha over".
There seem to be other ways to do shadow planes in Cycles but this method does not involve putting a garbage matte in over the ground plane. And it seems to work.
I say seems. I know not am.
I think at full resolution this render takes about two hours on my fastest machine. But it should make a right pretty composite so I'll let it go for the weekend and see what I've got.

Monday, August 10, 2015

AMAP (Android Masquerade Additional Photography)

Re: additional photography on Carbon Copy (nee' Android Masquerade): honestly our distributor had some excellent ideas for making the movie better. And so we're shooting a scene at the beginning with some soldiers who get killed (which will up the stakes a bit more) and then another scene where some soldiers get killed defending the city against the robot incursion (which will make the stakes of the robot incursion more important) and then some soldiers getting killed during the "false flag" attack in the Philadelphia Desert.
Yes, we kill many soldiers.
Also, we still steal the "Philadelphia Desert" from Montserrat Mendez because stealing from Mozz is what we do.*

Some details from everyone's favorite comic-book movie, the reboot of Fantastic 4. I like these details. Plus, they look totally doable and wearable.

Just a couple pieces of armor and a LOT of straps. Although this is a drawing, this costume notion looks very doable. Plus, I totally dig the shoes.

Another angle on the Fantastic 4 costume.

We, of course, would add a balaclava and an awesome helmet to this costume.
Of course, none of this has been written yet. Well maybe it has but I haven't seen it yet. Steven J. Niles is working on the additions.
We need what will be an abandoned city and the Philadelphia Desert. What would be best is an old factory in a rock quarry. Do you have one of those? Can we shoot in it for a day?
Speaking of helmets, Brian Schiavo is coming up with a helmet design. I have so much faith in how awesome the soldiers' helmets will be I'm not even paying attention to it.

*Just for your own amusement think about where that desert is that Charlton Heston is in at the end of Planet of the Apes. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

End of July

Felicia Hudson, Chester Poon, Sarah Schoofs. Everyone has at least one "o" in their last name. Most have "oo". Which sounds like they're really excited about something. Ooh! Or in Sarah's case, "Oof!"
Would you believe I never got around to syncing these scenes?
Lesee. I'm waiting on a robot and a spaceship from Ian. I've been mixing Carbon Copy but there are still three (new) scenes we need to shoot. Which means we need a rock quarry and an abandoned city.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What Will Be

I feel like the Blackmagic Ursa Mini will be the go-to camera for us. I prefer having the ability to shoot stills with the same camera we shoot motion picture with. But the thing is that we can certainly grab 4K stills off the Ursa if we have to but the global shutter is kinda a big deal.

Of course you need to spend the extra $1500 for the eyepiece. And there's a lot of fiddly pieces you need to get the signal up on a monitor. And power supplies. And of course a decent lens set. I really want an f2.0 (or so) lens which goes from about the motion-picture equivalent of a 35 to an 85mm lens (which as far as I know does not actually exist). I want a zoom because I fear changing lenses out in blowing sand (and I feel that much of my shooting will be out in blowing sand.) But unless the Panasonic GH5 comes with global shutter, I think that's just the way it's gonna be.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This is pretty much my life right now

Massive renders take lots of time and processing power. Even better is when the computer crashes overnight. Those spikes are periodic and this one composite is being very cranky.
Also, mixing. Lots of mixing.
We're going to shoot two or maybe three additional scenes for Carbon Copy.
Most of my crashing problems seemed to have gone away because I no longer put exFat drives on my machine. Just NTFS on the Mac which runs Windows.
All this time at the new office (about a year) and I have never set up my speaker system. Sheesh. I am getting the 5.1 system together. The amp/subwoofer will go on top of the booth. I probably still need a couple small microphone stands for the left and right speakers. I don't know how I'm going to mount the surrounds.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I'm Late

Which one is the robot?
I was supposed to have delivered this picture yesterday. But we just shot all this new footage with Kate Britton and now we know that the robots have actually tapped into her brain and taken over her mind. We've always known this. It just took until now to realize it.
I'm not 100% sure about this composite. It still needs some things worked out. GPU rendering crashes my computer in Blender. Switching to NTFS drives from exFat did not completely solve my random crashing problems.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Special pickup day

Backlight is the key to all things.
f3.5 maybe? 400 ISO? Fog. Lots of fog. Tomorrow is robot composite day in the Pandora Machine. In the meantime I have been hit hard by the tired stick. Maybe because I woke up at 5am? I don't know.
Kate Britton is amazing. I wish they'd had apple dumplings at the diner.