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Archive for November, 2010

Here is a collection of visual effects sequences from my Fallen Star project, concentrating on the green screen (chromakey) sequences that placed our actors in artificially-generated environments.

From the start of the project, we knew we would be limited in which areas of the ship we’d be able to show, and that principally the episode would be set on the bridge. However, early on, I suggested we might try to expand the range of locations using artificial environments modelled in 3D, using a green screen to isolate the actors from the background. The possibilities were exciting! I set to work on creating some interiors, a long corridor, a hallway, a ‘transporter’ room, not to mention the fourth wall of the bridge. I used actual photographs of our real walls and carpets for the textures, to try to keep things as consistent as possible.

We were lucky enough to borrow a green screen for our project. Unlike normal green screens, this one was colourless until light is reflected off of it. Using an array of LEDs attached around the lens of the camera, we could reflect back the green light off of the screen. The light would only be visible from the angle of the camera and wouldn’t reflect off of the actors or props.

We had a few teething problems with this, however. At first, we set the intensity of the LEDs too high, and it did in fact reflect off of the actors. Therefore some of the green screen footage appears quite fuzzy or has messy outlines. We got better at the technique the more we used it, and most of the other shots have turned out fine. One advantage of using this reflective screen is that it doesn’t need to be as perfectly lit as a normal green screen would be – it’s self-luminescent. Unfortunately the actors did need to be lit properly, else they ‘silhouette’ against the background. We did our best with this, but ultimately I did need to lighten much of the footage in post-production. This meant that some of it has poor black levels and visible artefacts. Not a problem in Hollywood, but it’s difficult when you’re on a budget of nothing.

We used the green screen for every shot of somebody leaving through a door. This is because none of our doors were real. They’re either stuck onto the wall, or in some cases they’re entirely digitial. So the on-set filming would have been done first, with the character walking up to the door. Then, later on, the green screen shot was done, with the actor continuing to walk away, passing through or around an imaginary doorway. When edited together, it’s almost seamless. Almost.

The green screen didn’t extend down to foot-level, so the few times when we needed full body shots, the feet were removed by cutting around them with a masking tool. Thankfully, there wasn’t much movement, and all the walking shots were done from above the ankles. But even with a physically small screen, it’s possible to insert large background or shrink the actors down, as you can see in the video.

You’ll also notice that we sometimes separated our actors into layers. This wasn’t done for technical reasons, but rather logistical ones. We actually lacked sufficient costumes to film everybody at the same time. This led to the rather ridiculous shot of four people walking into the transit nav room in single file, which we filmed all separately! There were also scheduling difficulties, which meant not everyone was available for filming at the same time, so again, I worked around this by compositing two (or more) bits of footage together into one shot.

Ultimately, we couldn’t have made this film without a hefty amount of green screen, so I’m very glad to have had it. Perhaps we’ll be using it more in future.

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Here is a collection of visual effects sequences from my Fallen Star project, concentrating on the 3D modelling that was used for the space scenes.

This is noteworthy for being my first attempt at 3D modelling. The Britannic was made over a period of a few months, adding bits of detail gradually, as I got more used to using the software. I do wish I could have added more to it now. The underside looks too smooth. If I had the time and ability, I would have made detailed shapes on the hull, rivets, panels, screws, dents and so forth. This simply used a generic metal material, which looks fine from a distance, though perhaps the close-up shots suffered.

Space scenes were reused as often as I could get away with, so some shots were repeated or reversed. The renders were output with ‘transparent’ backgrounds. That meant I could put anything I liked behind them, be it a planet or just stars or another ship or whatever.

On the subject of stars, for the vast majority of space shots, the background is just a static picture of a starfield. If the camera needed to move, I would just slide the background around accordingly. The one exception is the opening shot (seen at the end of the showreel above) in which the camera takes quite a complex course over the hull of the ship, spinning around and so forth. To get the background right for this, I had to apply the picture of the starfield to an environment map – effectively the inside a huge sphere – so that, as the camera moved within it, the stars stayed in the right place.

You’ll also notice from the showreel that the pink nebula was not part of the 3D model. This was added afterwards as layers in the background and foreground (the foreground layers are partially tranparent, so they look like nearby clouds or mist). Additionally, the pink-ish hue on all the ships was purely colour grading after the rendering was done. I had thought about doing some advanced lighting within the model itself, maybe having swirling patterns of light hitting the hull of the ships, but in the end I didn’t have time to learn how to do this. Additionally, doing it this way allowed me to reuse space shots and just change them to pink!

So, there was a lot of corner-cutting, but frankly, “spaceships in space” are the EASIEST thing you could possibly model. It’s just static objects with limited lighting and no backgrounds. I like to think that I’m good at making the most of a limited skill-set and finding creative solutions, but I’m also eager to pick up new skills that will let me do more ambitious things. In future, I hope to do just that!

Part 2 of the Fallen Star showreel will be focusing on green screen (chromakey) effects. Keep an eye out for that.

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Over 18 months in the making, Fallen Star is finally finished. This was a big project, far bigger than our previous ‘film’, and involved a lot more work and new skills to bring it all together. Here’s the link to watch the whole thing on YouTube. It is 53:25 long, and in ten parts:
Fallen Star – Episode 1 (all 10 parts)

Here’s part 1. You’ll need to open YouTube to see the rest of the parts.

Work on Fallen Star started as early as February 2009, when Rob and I were considering making another film, after the success of Premium Bond. We wanted to do something a bit more adventurous, and liked the idea of a Star Trek spoof. We spent some time coming up with a vague story outline, characters and sketches of our ship. Then we scouted around for a place to build the set. The first few months were a planning stage; eventually we had a script and had cast friends in the roles of our characters.

Several months passed, during which time we gathered supplies and equipment for building the set. This was principally hardboard, wood, cardboard and paint. We were lucky enough to borrow some sturdy stage flats to serve as the backbone of the set, and taped the seams with masking tape, which was then painted over. Control panels and lights were added, as well as a fake door and little buttons and switches.

It was in the Summer of 2009 that we started filming. We had a six week slot to put the set together, get the filming done, and take the set down again. It was very tight; we finished on literally the last day. Towards the end of the filming, the set was partially deconstructed and rearranged to make the other rooms of the ship. Additional rooms would be handled with CGI. I was not adept at computer modelling, but I thought it was worth a try. A green screen was setup to film our actors on any artificial backgrounds (corridors and rooms that didn’t exist).

By the time the indoor filming was completed, it was getting into Winter, the nights were drawing in and it was getting cold outside. Although we had outdoor scenes to film, we unfortunately had to wait for the weather to pick up. It wasn’t until late Spring that we eventually got outside to finish the last of the filming.

During the break, I had time to complete most of the special effects sequences. I had been teaching myself 3D modelling and animating the entire time, right from the start of the project when we had nothing but some sketches. It took a while to render many of the scenes used in the film, so the extra time was appreciated in the end. We also decided about this time that the audio would have be completely redone, including all the dialogue. We arranged several dubbing sessions, and then I spent several weeks synchronising all the dialogue to match the original. I also used this time to add sound effects to everything.

Outdoor filming could have gone better. Scheduling problems meant that many scenes had to be filmed in poor light, while others were in broad daylight. It was a challenge to correct the footage to make it look consistent. Poor lighting leads to grainy footage, so I had to try to make it match. We got the shots we needed in the end and made do with the quality.

After this, it was simply a case of finishing the editing, adding the last few special effects, sound effects and dubbing, and finding some suitable music to use as the soundtrack. Perfectionist that I am, I chose this moment to add an additional scene to the film – an extended prologue, a chase sequence set in the forest. Originally, the film was going to open aboard the ship, but I felt this extra scene was needed. We used a steady cam rig to film it, which was quite tricky, but I’m pleased with the result.

I will be posting VFX showreels soon, which show how I put the visual effects together, with some before and after comparisons. I hope you find them interesting.

Thanks for watching (and reading).

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Here is the second of the two trailers for my Fallen Star project. This is the last one before the full episode is released.

Unlike the ‘British’ trailer, this one is full of action and special effects, cut together quickly in that Hollywood style. You may also notice the colour grading is rather desaturated and blue-ish, to give it that modern movie look.

It’s comprised of many of the ‘cool-looking’ shots I could pull together from the episode. I actually made this trailer before the British one, which ended up being ‘leftovers’ I suppose, but I liked the idea of having two different styles.

I could go over every part of this trailer, but it’s a biggie, so I’ll just delve into a few details about it. We start with a montage of short clips to the sound of drum beats.

A forest, that’s actually a photograph with an animated lens flare and clouds.

A man running through a forest. That’s actually me, being filmed with a steady-cam. The running speed was slow and the footage was sped up.

The Britannic insignia. That’s our ship.

A pull-back shot of our ship looking over a space station inside a pink nebula. This is a shot taken from about half-way through the episode, although it’s actually reversed as it works better this way as a ‘reveal’.

A zoom-in through some windows of a room full of people. This is our briefing room at the back end of the ship – most of that is digital, save the bits of the room we’re all sitting in.

A small ship flies out of some trees. This is a CGI ship and another photograph of more trees used as a foreground element. We tried filming some real treetops, but lighting conditions were poor and the quality wasn’t high enough for a decent composition.

A giant space cannon moves into position. More CGI.

Finally, the Britannic insignia again, the camera going upwards towards the bridge window this time.

There’s a lot of CGI in the trailer, as these were the most interesting shots to use. I will be posting a comprehensive showreel of all the 3D models some time after the film is released, so that’ll do for now.

Additionally, you’ll see some ‘action’ shots. The film isn’t especially ‘actiony’; this is just selective editing. There are a few laser beams and such, which, again, will be looked at more closely in a later feature.

Enjoy the trailer!

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