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The as-of-yet untitled fourth episode in my Fallen Star series is still in post-production, however I have put together a gloriously Star Wars-styled trailer. Check it out below and stay tuned for the full episode… some time.


The hardest part of making this trailer was recreating the logos! Fun, though.

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Making a Teaser

About a year ago, we held a screening of the third episode in my Fallen Star series. As it’s become a tradition now, I had to stick a teaser for the next one at the end. A while later, it went onto YouTube:

The point of the ‘teaser’ is, naturally, to tease. It’s not a fully-fledged trailer, it just gives a taste of what’s to come. Or rather, it functions as a placeholder. It just says “yeah, we’re working on this. Watch this space.”

So, when you’re still knees-deep in unfinished footage, up to your eyeballs in unusable concept art, and missing anything resembling final dialogue, how on earth do you put together something that looks and sounds like the thing that you haven’t done yet? Let me break down the teaser for Episode 4 and take you through it…

1. Logos and BRRARRRRRPs. Thanks, Inception!

2. Previous footage. Best way to set the scene and use what you’ve already got. Re-coloured and zooming out to give it a foreboding tone.

3. Nebula reveal. Well, that’s actually a shot of the Britannic from Episode 1, played backwards (you can tell because it’s missing the shield domes on the dorsal hull). The nebula was a placeholder; the final one looks different, but it wasn’t ready last year.

4. It’s Humphreys and Knight on the bridge. This is new footage, an actual shot from Episode 4! It needed some digital bits added (those computer monitors were green) and all of our dialogue will be dubbed in later, so you can’t hear what they’re saying. Instead, you hear Knight narrating a line that isn’t actually in the episode. We recorded it specifically for the teaser.

5. Zooming in on an open hatch while Knight explains that Humphreys is missing. See, that’s suspense, that’s drama, right there! The implication is that he’s taken an escape pod and disappeared. Again, though, that exact shot isn’t in the episode, but something similar is.

6. Logan declares they’re going to find him and closes his space helmet. Again, this shot isn’t in the episode, it was recorded specifically for the teaser. Logan will indeed be donning some kind of space suit, but we (still) haven’t even finished building it yet, never mind filmed anything in it!

7. The shuttle departs. That’s a shot from Episode 2, albeit flipped.

8. Volgin puts up his fists for a fight. Who’s he fighting? Where is he? More on that in a moment (see further down), but this was taken from a recently shot scene so it will feature in the episode when it’s been finished properly.

9. Knight looks around, confused. This is another shot taken from the episode. As it didn’t need anything doing to it, aside from adjusting the colour, it went straight in. What’s he confused about? What’s happening? You’ll have to wait to find out!

10. The Britannic flies through space. This is a stock shot, for filler. Again, it’s been flipped and may not appear in the episode.

11. The ship is shaken about! Well, this is just a shot from Episode 2 again. Yes, similar things will be happening but not like this. It’s just there weren’t any other shots ready at the time!

12. Darling in the medical ward, with a patient. This is one of the few finished VFX shots that’s actually in the episode, and that’s only because I’d already made the necessary background.

13. An unknown ship zooms off into the starry sky. Yyyyyyyeah, this technically has nothing to do with episode 4 except it might be used for a part of it. That’s a bit cryptic, sorry. It’s a ‘finished’ VFX shot so it went in.

14. The shuttlecraft flies through a cloudy region of space. Well, this exact shot isn’t from Episode 4; but I put it together using a new cloudy background that I’d started working on for this episode. The shuttle is a re-use of a shot from Episode 2, because dammit, time is money!

15. Logan announces that he sees something ahead, and we see the shuttle radar/scanner/thingy picking it up. This is a tone-setting shot; it’s what’s going to happen but not how it happens. The cockpit wasn’t finished and that line was recorded only for the teaser, but it’s all I could use at the time.

16. Something ahead approaches. A dark and gloomy structure hidden amongst the clouds. In the final episode, there will indeed be something like this, but this isn’t it. At the time, I hadn’t even conceptualised what it would look like, never mind started making it. Needless to say, this shot will not be used in the episode. Not least of which because it turns out to be an enormous number 4, and that would just be silly.

So, three finished shots and two half-finished shots, and the rest of it is re-used clips, ‘concept’ footage and voiceovers. That’s how you make a teaser more than a year before you’ve finished shooting!

Since this teaser was put together, we’ve shot more scenes and I’ve done a lot of post-production. We’re not finished yet but I thought I’d share one thing that I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks – an engine room.

In the teaser, you see our spy character Volgin preparing for fisticuffs. With whom and for why, I shan’t say; but his location is our ship’s engine room. The only trouble was, last year I hadn’t made an engine room and didn’t even know what it would look like. So I had to improvise – I found a photograph somebody had taken of a dry-dock and flipped it upside-down.

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Some sort of dry-dock for ships, the right way up.

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Volgin in the engine room, before we had an engine room.

Several months on, and I find myself with the daunting task of designing and building a 3D model of our engine room. I’m not beholden to a photograph I used in a teaser that nobody would notice, but I used it as a reference point anyway.

engine-room01

To start with, I plot out the space.

Our ship is powered by a McGuffin, as are most sci-fi ships. The ‘engine core’ is a common theme, but this one is most inspired by the Mass Effect videogame series. There will be a raised platform across the middle of the room.

engine-room06

Staging, placeholdering. That’s a thing.

It was important to get the scale right. We’d already shot the scene (on greenscreen), and used a stepladder as a placeholder for the steps. By overlaying the footage in the modelling software, I could make sure the real steps lined up with the virtual ones. More bits were then added to the room.

engine-room13

Close-up of the railings and grates that I started to add.

Once the layout was decided, I began to model the finished elements. Grating, pipes, railings, bits of equipment, computers, doors, ceiling supports…

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The ceiling, based loosely on that upside-down photo.

It became rather detailed rather quickly and, once the lighting was added, I was chuffed with the look of it.

Here it is, the first exclusive look at the HMS Britannic’s engine room, the location for at least one scene in Episode 4…

engine-room14

The engine room, a finished render. As (will be) seen on TV.

Ain’t it lovely?

Thanks for reading, I hope to have more soon. The work continues.

The third episode of my Fallen Star series was rather more laid back than the previous ones. There was no action, no big setpieces or fight scenes to implement, and much of the “plot” took place in a series of small rooms.

Despite that, however, there was a surprising amount of post production work required to finish the episode. Since a large proportion of our ship interiors didn’t physically exist, we had to use a lot of greenscreen. Any real locations we had available to us had to be modified to make it look like we were still out in space. One of the more ridiculous scenarios we encounter lately is having to shoot scenes across multiple days due to the mixed availability of our cast, and then having to composite them together into the same shot.

The below video demonstrates some of the visual effects work I had to do on Episode 3. I hope you find it interesting. And remember, the greatest challenge is in making something look easy.

The third episode of my Fallen Star sci-fi comedy series is now finished and online! I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the post-production considering it was supposed to be a quick and easy ‘filler’ episode. Anyway, here it is:

My thanks to everyone else who was involved in getting this film off the ground. We’re going to keep going straight onto the next one. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a video that shows some of my visual effects work – for an episode where nothing happens, there was a surprisingly large amount.

As work on Fallen Star’s third episode draws to a close, I finally have enough usable footage to make a trailer. So I did!

This is the final trailer before the film’s release. Its tone is a bit daft and silly, in contrast to previous episodes’ trailers. This will not be an action-packed episode, rather a laid back look at the sort of mischief that goes on aboard the ship during its quieter times.

Despite the slower pace, Episode 3 has still required a hefty amount of visual effects work. Adding in backgrounds, cutting around actors, fixing continuity mistakes. All of this will be shown in an upcoming vfx showreel.

For now, stay tuned for the release of Episode 3, it’s really close now!

This is the recent-ish teaser trailer that I made for the upcoming third episode of my Fallen Star series. A very similar version of this trailer appears on the batch of DVDs that we made back in November, but it has been slightly updated with a couple of new shots since then.

It was tricky to make a trailer to release alongside episode 2 because, at the time, so little of it was finished. Things like dialogue don’t get done until the very end, so I ended up with this montage style yet again, using the tiny handful of shots I had available, most of them unfinished! I did have fun writing the fake quotes, though.

Episode 3 is still in production but I expect a release later this year.

With three years between the release of Episode 1 and Episode 2, you might expect I had plenty of time to improve upon all aspects of the visual effects – but actually a lot of that time was spent simply getting the vast amount of content created and finishing the episode to an acceptable standard! Nevertheless, I think Episode 2 features some pretty good visuals that build upon those created for the first episode. Have a look at the six-minute breakdown below:

The first thing we knew we would need for Episode 2 was a larger amount of virtual environments. For Episode 1, we had time to build secondary sets, such as the bedroom, the briefing room and part of the transit room. We also used a real forest for a big chunk of it. Basically, at the time, we weren’t sure how well the green screen would work, so we intentionally kept it to a minimum. Once we knew how well it could work, we were free to expand its use in Episode 2 and were able to put our characters into locations that would have been otherwise impossible (or at least highly impractical) to build for real.

I had time to improve upon the chroma key technique, changing some of the plug-in settings and using the high resolution masters straight from the camera to get the best colour pull. This produced a neater, cleaner picture in most instances. Combined with shadows and depth of field effects, I got some good results.

Virtual environments had to be modelled, so this is where I spent a lot of my time. Creating the banks of computers for the IT room, modelling the computer monitors, creating the interiors of the outpost station – these were all time-consuming processes that I worked on over several weeks and months. Wherever possible, I would re-use elements. You might notice in the background of the Nottingham control room are computer screens, control panels, pillar lights and vents, all taken from Britannic environments. Here and there, I have used pre-built 3D models for some background components (the plant pot, for instance), but most of it is my own modelling work. I’m still learning, but I’m becoming more ambitious every time!

Re-using assets was a time-saver. I was able to bring back the Smegulon fighter ships from Episode 1, giving me more time to spend on building the mothership. The Britannic itself is also the same – in fact, I was able to reuse a few bits of stock footage from part 1. However, once I’d set about adding the weapons and shield domes to the hull, I could no longer re-use the old clips, so I had to render all new ones for the latter half.

Some of the seemingly ordinary shots actually had a lot of work done to them. For instance, we needed a room for the Jenkins character, but all we had at the time was a living room, complete with decidedly contemporary-looking skirting boards, plug sockets and curtains. These scenes had to be extensively modified to remove those elements and keep the room looking spartan and spaceshippy, which involved lots of “rotoscoping” (ie. frame-by-frame drawing around the actors). The other detail I wanted to add was the colour of the carpet; due to throwing the old one away, our rebuilt set had a black carpet instead of the original blue one. I decided I would digitally alter the colour of the carpet for the first half of the episode, up until the point where the bridge gets its systems upgraded, for the sake of continuity. This also involved rotoscoping around legs and feet in a few shots. Yes, I am quite mad.

Other scenes, like those in the dining room, were even more complicated than they look, due to the green screen not being wide enough to cover the whole frame, and due to the fact that two of the extras at the table were not available on the same day. So to get the shots where you see the whole table, I had to composite two pieces of table together, two sets of actors filmed on different days, and then painstakingly draw around anything that fell outside of the green screen. One shot in particular, lasting a mere 15 seconds, took about a week to fix!

The most noticeable improvements are found in the space shots. There are a couple of things that I was able to do that I couldn’t do in Episode 1, which made the biggest difference. Firstly, I had a faster computer that was able to render sequences with motion blurring enabled. This meant that, as ships and missiles were whizzing around the screen, they would appear to blur realistically with smoother and more natural motion. Secondly, since I finally worked out how to apply a spherical map to the environment, I was able to do any camera movement I wanted without having to worry about matching up the stars in the background by hand. Thus I was able to move camera and ships independently, which is of course very useful when you want to have big space battles going on.

Finally, I really pushed the boat out in doing some ambitious visual effects shots. Mixing live action with CGI, mixing planet scenes and space scenes together, doing big reveals, pull-backs and zoom-ins – I used every opportunity to produce some impressive sequences on our budget of nothing.

All the visual effects were created using a combination of 3DS Max, Adobe After Effects and Photoshop. With a sprinkling of fairy dust and crossed fingers.

Of course, Fallen Star is more than just a vehicle for expanding my technical skills; it’s also a fun and creative endeavour of writing, acting and hopefully making people laugh and cheer. That said, for the purposes of this website, I hope this has provided an interesting look into some of those technical aspects, which make up a huge proportion of the workload.