First Steps to World Domination

So, it’s been a while. Sometimes I get very busy at work, so not a lot of filmmaking happens. But this weekend writer Steve and I met for a discussion of the Winter project and set some short-term goals, so it feels like things are moving again.

The chief difficulty with a greenscreen project is that it requires vastly more preproduction than a conventional shoot – although actual production is logistically simpler. Every virtual set needs to be concepted, blocked out, lit and tested in a rough cut beforehand. The actual shoot will be entirely in one room with very careful lighting changes, and focused on helping the actors feel comfortable performing in a green void. I’m inclined to shoot chronologically on this project because the whole story will feel so much more coherent to the cast that way.

But to get that far, we require the application of considerable artistic talent, for an unreasonable length of time. It’s hard enough to find collaborators who can generously spare a weekend for shooting, let alone weeks of late nights hunched over a computer. The guerilla filmmaking model doesn’t really work for what we’re trying to do.

Fortunately, it’s not a roadblock – just an uphill struggle. We have a plan for building a pool of committed talent, and as Steve refines the script I’m going to refine the list of assets we require – replacing some full 3D sets with digital mattes, and re-using assets wherever possible.

Step one is to kick things off with a signature image – our first item of pitch material. This will be our best tool (other than our winning personalities) to attract talent and investment. I’ll let you know how that goes.

There’s also the small but critical detail of coming up with a name for our alternative steampunk universe, which I suspect will be by far the hardest task…suggestions welcome!

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Finding a Niche

I’ve been trying to learn Blender on and off for a few days. Sadly I’m too busy at work and prepping for next week’s Monsters pickups to really get into it, but there’s certainly a wealth of tutorial material, and lots of inspiring examples.

I’ve also recently followed a bunch of other filmmakers on Twitter, to the extent that my feed is swamped with examples of low-to-no budget films. It’s motivating to know what other people are doing, but also slightly intimidating. How will I get anyone to notice my work amongst so many?

But the conjuction of these two preoccupations made me think – I can stand out by playing to my strengths. My fascination with VFX and experience with CG in video games puts me a rung or two above many professional directors (in that field, at least), let alone film school graduates. Rather than playing safe with simple contemporary dramas, like everyone else, I should be working on more ambitious effects films – because in that niche, I will stand out.

I could be wrong, of course. Time will tell. But the Monsters pickups will require some effects work to properly convey the full scope of the story, so we’ll soon see if a few VFX help a project stand out…

Green Screen Technique

I’ve just been doing some research on getting a good green screen, which will be essential for a future project. Normally you’d be stuck between a rock (expensive and powerful professional solutions) and a hard place (cheap and nasty consumer software). Fortunately I’m pretty technical, which means I’m going for the third way: Blender, which is awesomely powerful and completely free…but an absolute bitch to learn. The interface design is entirely geared towards power-users and makes no compromises for newbies. I’ve been meaning to get to grips with it for years, but never had the time to tackle it. I still don’t really – but if I can get over the initial hurdle there’s a wealth of wonderful features I’ll be able to use. To begin with…the node-based compositor, which will let me generate multiple mattes and recombine them to create very specific keys for particular shots. I don’t trust one-button magic solutions, I’ll take the toolbox thanks.

I also discovered an excellent site selling green screen training DVDs: Hollywood Camerawork. Not only does their training look pretty exhaustive, they have a whole stack of test green screen shots for you to experiment on. In some ways they’re TOO good – I’d prefer to do my tests on less pristine footage, but I suppose I can always shoot my own BAD test shots 🙂

Stereoscopic 3D – worth the effort?

I went to see the IMAX 3D version of Avatar over Christmas – I was sure I ordered digital tickets but the projection didn’t look digital, judging by the registration on the credit scroll. It wasn’t as crisp as I expected either.

Avatar is certainly a technical tour de force. The story is fairly well-worn and a bit predictable, but it’s so well executed that I don’t mind. I was still drawn into the world of the film. But I was most interested in what advances they’d made in the 3D techniques.

To be honest, for the most part the 3D doesn’t add much – until the climactic battle. Having proper depth perception made it far easier to read the action in a frame crowded with flying lizards and helicopters. This fits with my experience of 3D in games – depth perception makes it far easier to judge spatial relationships, particularly handy in a platform game. Generally, third-person games where the player spends most of their time watching the character will look great. First-person games will struggle, because it’s harder to judge which part of the screen the player is focusing on, and it’s critical that the 3D effect matches the viewer’s focal point to avoid headaches.

Although theatres are hoping that 3D will draw audiences away from their home cinema systems, there are several home 3D solutions in development, and a new generation of consoles due within 5 years. I predict that as soon as a new console supports stereoscopic 3D, it will drive takeup of the home 3DTVs far faster than movies will – and theatres will be on the back foot again.