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Archive for February, 2014

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.

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