Fallen Star – Episode 2

It’s been a little over three years since I finished work on the first “episode” of my Fallen Star film series, which was, at the time, only to be a one-off (although initially planned as a series). Those three years have been spent working on another five episodes simultaneously, but the last year has seen the final push to get Episode 2 out the door, and now it’s finally available to watch online. Check it out below:

We learned a lot on episode 1, felt what our limitations were, and decided to push against them here. With a better camera and improved image clarity, I was able to make more extensive use of our greenscreen background to put our characters into a wider variety of locations, most of which did not physically exist. I’d also improved upon my animation and rendering, and with a faster PC, was able to create longer and more dynamic space sequences.

We paid closer attention to our camera work and editing for this one, and more time was spent on the scripts and trying to flesh the characters out a little more. The practicalities of working on scenes from five episodes at once were difficult but we got everything we absolutely needed in time for this one, and more episodes are still being worked on now.

I personally think what we all, as amateurs, have achieved here, on practically no budget, is something to be proud of. However, I want to keep this blog focused on my technical skills, which I will get to in a later article, accompanied by a visual effects breakdown video. Thanks for watching!


Fallen Star episode 2 trailer

With only days to go before I release “Episode 2” into the wild, here is the final trailer for it:

Model Behaviour

Anyone who had a copy of the DVD for Fallen Star episode 1 will have seen the cool ‘interactive bridge’ menus that I made for it. For the upcoming second episode DVD, I wanted to expand upon this idea and see the entire bridge in full, but this would mean I would have to fully kit-out the virtual environment with the remaining bits and pieces. So I wanted to share one particular piece here.


By far, the most difficult part of our set to replicate as a digital model was the helm control station. We used a controller for an Xbox game called Steel Battalion, so I had foolishly assumed that somebody, somewhere in the world wide web, had created a 3D model that I could copy for my own purposes. No such luck.


Once it became clear that I would have to model this myself, I started to break it down into pieces. Despite how complicated it looks, it’s really not too difficult once you take it piece by piece. Most of the detail is simply stuck on as a texture – the shape of the components is fairly simple.


The proportions are by no means accurate. I didn’t measure anything, I simply looked at a lot of photographs and reference material and did some guess work. If it looked right, it was right. Thankfully, there is plenty of reference material on the web for this controller, and I was able to replicate all of the button labels very close to how they are on the real thing.


Once the bases were made, it was time to stick the various levers and handles to it. By far the hardest part of this was modelling the joysticks. These are a more organic shape, which meant I had to apply bending and warping effects, and stick multiple shapes together. Again, it’s not completely accurate, but I was pleased with how close it was to the real thing for my purposes.


Once joined together, the final model looks pretty amazing, if I do say so myself! I’m very pleased with how authentic it looks.
(There are some minor differences between ours and the model, but this is because I used images of an older version for reference, and the left joystick base and labels were changed slightly. I only noticed that after I’d finished.)

Here is the actual physical controller, for comparison.

Here is the actual physical controller, for comparison.


Now that I have this, the helm station is finished and the virtual bridge is complete! Who would have thought our cheap and simple film set would have its advantages?

HD Wedditing

Back in June, I attended a wedding of some friends and was asked to film it and then edit the final footage, which I was delighted to do. I’m always eager to get involved with video projects, and this would be my first time working with HD video, and my first time editing something that isn’t scripted, so I was up for some new challenges! Plus, of course, I was happy to do them a favour on their special day!

The original footage clocked in at nearly two hours. Creating these edited highlights was just a matter of picking out the “best bits”. I tried not to cut from one shot to the same one, but since it was a single-camera setup, that’s often unavoidable – but you can see here I try whenever possible to cut to a new shot, or one that’s looking away and then returns. During the ceremony, I did move around a lot, to try to give the impression of a multiple camera setup! When you’re just showing highlights without the audio track, it’s quite effective.

Working in HD posed a couple of problems. The first was that the footage from the camera wasn’t compatible with my version of Adobe Premiere, so I had to do some time-consuming video conversion before I could even begin. Secondly, HD video formats are more processor-intensive to work with. I’m used to being able to use instant playback, so having to pre-render my footage (or have it stuttering like mad) was very limiting. I don’t think my computer is underpowered for this task – I guess it’s just the nature of some HD formats.

The footage ended up also being downgraded to standard definition for DVD playback. I actually made some pretty comprehensve menus and included the 2-hour raw footage with chapter markers and scene selection, with the option to play from a particular point or play just one section. This was achieved using chapter playlists, a very handy feature that lets you reuse the same timeline to make customised sequences within the DVD framework.

Wedding DVD screenshot 1

The unedited footage contained so many chapter markers that I couldn’t fit them into one menu, so I had to split it across three!

Wedding DVD screenshot 2

I made a unique menu for every chapter point of the unedited video.

Wedding DVD screenshot 3

Using chapter playlists, I created four shortened arrangements, each containing a specialised selection of chapters for quicker viewing.

DVD spec is quite picky and restrictive with how many buttons you can have, so I had to spread it across multiple menus, but it was a worthwhile excersise. I made sure all the button routing and default highlights were setup intuitively. I’ve done some DVD authoring before, so I more or less knew what I was doing, but it was useful to refresh my memory. I had a little issue with some replaced footage not importing into the project, but I managed to fix it. (Note: never replace video files that you’ve already imported into Adobe Encore outside of Adobe Encore! It doesn’t like you doing that!)

Last weekend, I put together a short trailer (or a long teaser, depending on your take!) for Fallen Star: Episode 2. Here it is on YouTube (click the video title to view it larger on YouTube):

This is what I’ve been working on for the past few months. Well, the past year if you include all the writing and planning we did first.

But how?! Why?! Well, towards the end of 2010,  barely a month after we premiered Fallen Star Episode 1, we discussed the possibility of making more ‘episodes’. It wasn’t completely out of the blue – we’d thought about making it episodic right from the start – but the scale and difficulty eventually put us off, and so it became a one-off film.

After it was finished, making more ‘episodes’ made sense in a way – we still had all the pieces of the set, all the costumes, etc.  – but we didn’t want to just make one more; it seemed too much effort for the sake of just another film. So I considered the economics of scale – we’d only have to set everything up once; filming five times as much footage doesn’t take five times as long. If we could end up with a kind of ‘mini-series’ of episodes, it would be worth the relatively little extra effort required to make it happen.

Principle filming began in August 2011, and I’ve been working on production and post-production since then. With all my attention on episode 2, I’ve had my work cut for me in constructing new virtual interiors, new spaceships and new graphics. I’m reusing whatever I can, but that’s surprisingly little. It’s still a learning process, and I’m muddling through the best I can, but I love doing all this stuff.

For the trailer, there wasn’t a lot I could show off just yet. Full trailers normally have dialogue, but none of our scenes are finished because we’re going to redo all the audio right at the end. That left me with only one choice: a montage of shots to some epic trailer music!

And as for the line at the end – “they’re here!” – would it spoil the illusion to learn that I recorded that at the weekend while sitting around in my dressing gown? Yes? Oh well!

I’m hoping the film will be done before the end of the year, although there’s a lot going on at the moment and hobby projects have a tendancy to slip. We’ll see!

I did a bit of ‘remastering’ this week, so to speak, so I thought I’d talk about it. Sorry if it’s boring or technical.

In film and television, remastering is the process of creating a new master copy, from which all other copies are derived. This can be anything from a spliced reel of film, to a tape or, more modernly, a digital video file. Remastering involves taking the elements that built the master and putting them together again in an improved manner (usually this would be done to update a film or TV show into high definition – the original celuloid will contain more detail than the master tapes it was copied onto).

When we made Premium Bond: The Spy Who Taxed Me, I had, frankly, no idea what I was doing. I chose to edit the project at 24 frames per second (the framerate of movies) and at a weird square-pixel widescreen resolution of 480 lines (by 853). I’m not sure that’s actually supported by anything, and since it was ultimately ending up on DVD, it led to problems with the conversion (DVDs author at 576 lines, at 25 frames per second, and widescreen is always anamorphic [ie. the pixels are rectangular]). This is just one of those things that you learn through doing. The original run of DVDs had a formatting error, and the film came out cropped to the wrong ratio. When we included the trailer as a bonus feature of our Fallen Star DVD, I converted it again so it displayed correctly, however because the framerate and resolution had to be adjusted in the conversion, it was still somewhat blurry and the frames blended together weirdly.

So, four years later, I decided to fix it!

All of our footage was shot in standard definition on digital videotape, at 25 frames per second, which is exactly what the new master needed to be. I had shrunk this down originally to the bizarre size that I chose back then, so all I had to do was not shrink it down this time. The project files were still sitting on my hard drive and everything was intact, so I opened it up, resized the project and corrected the framerate. All the video clips were correctly edited, so it was simply a matter of resizing them to fit the larger project area. Some of the animation keyframe markers didn’t line up anymore due to the change in framerate, but this didn’t seem to affect anything.

As the video was cropped or framed a particular way in certain places, the remaster actually has some minor framing differences, a little bit of extra image around the edges, and so on. The few FX shots, eg. the gun barrel, had to be repositioned piece by piece as it wouldn’t scale uniformly. The credits at the end were kept the same absolute size to allow for an overscan area that I never bothered with the first time around.

Ultimately, the differences are minor. The point of doing it was to create a new master copy that looked better on DVD (smoother motion and less blurry). We don’t have any plans to make a new batch of DVDs, but if we include the film in any future projects (wink, wink!), this will be one we’ll use.

Premium Bond Remaster comparison 1

Because of the mismatch in speed, frames were blended into each other in the original conversion. The remastered circles slide across the screen smoothly. They’ve been upsized a tad, but that’s purely by accident.

Premium Bond Remaster comparison 2

Where the frame size has been increased on all sides, some of the shots have been expanded. This isn’t really detrimental to the composition, and it does mean the image is a tad sharper, but it wasn’t done on purpose – I just didn’t bother to check they matched.

Premium Bond Remaster comparison 3

Again, the mismatched framerate of the original caused effects like this when it was converted to DVD (the online hosted video seems fine, incidentally), but the remaster eliminates the problem entirely. You can also see the reframing again here, making the plane look a little sharper.

YouTube recently lifted the limit on the length of videos I can upload, so I thought it was time to republish “Fallen Star Episode 1” as a single 53 minute video, rather than a 10-part playlist. Here it is, one more time:

Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed some minor differences. George Lucas once said a film is never finished; you keep working on it until someone drags you away, kicking and screaming. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.) So it is with Fallen Star Episode 1 that I’ve been through and made some minor visual effect tweaks, improved image clarity in a few places and made some subtle alterations (some of which will hardly be visible on YouTube anyway). I haven’t added anything silly (or anything at all for that matter), nobody shouts “nooooo!!” at any point and no little CGI critters scuttle across the screen; it’s just minor visual improvements.

On the whole, I was quite happy with how the film turned out, even if our script wasn’t great and our camera work was shoddy and our acting could have been better and our-… wait, what was I saying again? Oh yeah, generally pleased. Particularly with our space shots and other effects, which were all new territory for me.

Unfortunately, one of the main problems we had was a ‘stuttering’ issue, whereby our spaceship sequences were rendered at the incorrect framerate, leading to movement that didn’t look smooth. It was a rookie mistake and it won’t happen again. I was outputting these sequences at 30 frames per second, but the project was 25 frames per second (standard PAL DVD format). Imagine a one second sequence as a series of images, 30 of them. It’s like having 30 pegs and trying to fit them into 25 holes – inevitably 5 pegs are going to get left out. So it was that every second of these sequences was missing frames, causing a stutter or ‘jump’ in the animation.

There were two ways I could see to address this. The first was to stretch these sequences out, so that each 30-frame second would fit into 1.2 seconds (25 of the frames fit into one second, the remaining 5 carry over to the next second, and so on). That would smooth out the animation, but also make them longer/slower. The other way was to go back and re-render these sequences at 25 frames per second. Considering the amount of sequences present in the film, I didn’t fancy doing this, so I compromised by changing just a few of the key sequences here and there. Actually, on my new computer, the rendering time was greatly reduced anyway, so it wasn’t too big a deal.

Another problem we had originally was with some of our ‘greenscreen’ footage looking really fuzzy. I’ve since found a way to remove most of this fuzziness, and now the worst of it is gone, and several scenes look considerably better for it.

Other changes are just to bring some of the visuals in line with the ones I’m working on for the next episodes. Eventually, this revised edition will make its way onto a complete DVD set.

Below is a complete list of all changes, just in case you were interested:

  • Master volume raised by 10dB.
  • The porthole in the captain’s cabin has been made slightly larger, to more accurately match the exterior ship proportions. The starfield outside the porthole moves slightly slower. Noise has been added to match the video noise (various shots).
  • The first reveal of the Britannic has been re-rendered at the correct framerate (using the new Britannic model) to eliminate the stuttering problem.
  • The zoom through the bridge window shot has been improved. The bridge interior comes into clarity more gradually and better fits the movement of the camera over the ship.
  • Minor reduction of sharpness and increase in noise to all computer monitor graphics throughout the entire film, to better match the focus and noise level of the footage (various shots).
  • Very minor reduction of sharpness to the corridor backgrounds when characters walk through the bridge doors (various shots).
  • Additional noise added to CG wall / floor on numerous forward-facing bridge shots, to better match the overly noisy chromakey footage of Davenport (various shots).
  • Adjustments made to the chromakey settings for many of the greenscreen shots, reducing the ‘fuzziness’ and improving clarity as much as possible (various shots).
  • Minor increase of blur effect to many of the static starfield backgrounds to reduce their sharpness compared to the foreground elements in some of the space shots (various shots).
  • Subtle blur effect applied as the ship moves further away from the camera (or reduced as it moves towards the camera) in many of the space shots (various shots).
  • Slight adjustments made to the shot of the Britannic entering orbit over the Brinstar planet. The ship has been shrunk to appear further away, and reflects the yellow hue of the planet as it draws closer to it. The planet and starfield elements drift slowly to avoid the background looking like a static image.
  • All animation ‘stuttering’ in the title sequence is eliminated. The close pass sequences of the Britannic are now interpreted at the correct framerate (thus they move slightly slower and are cut slightly shorter). The ship flying away at the end is a re-rendered sequence at the correct framerate, using the new Britannic model.
  • The strip of light that appears around the main viewscreen whenever an image is displayed has been altered so that it glows a pale purple (various shots).
  • In the two shots of the Britannic leaving orbit of each of the planets, the movement of the ship is altered slightly so it doesn’t appear to stop and turn so abruptly. The Britannic is subtly colour-tinted until it moves away from the planet, then the background goes out of focus as the ship passes over the camera, to give a momentary sense of depth to the scene (2 shots).
  • The green helm station display screen at the beginning of the episode has been changed to a less vivid shade (various shots).
  • One instance of visible tape on the wall of the captain’s cabin has been partially erased so it is less obvious.
  • The moving stars in all external fly-by shots of the ship at zoom speed have been altered. The stars are either replaced with new CG ‘streaking’ stars, or the original graphics are sped up and stretched with a radial blur effect so they appear to streak in the same way (various shots).
  • The moving stars viewed through the main window whenever the Britannic is at zoom speed have been stretched and sped up so they appear to streak (various shots).
  • Slight adjustments made to the shot of the Britannic entering orbit over the forest planet. The ship has been shrunk to appear further away, and reflects the green hue of the planet as it draws closer to it.
  • Slight noise added to the CG corridor backgrounds during the weapons locker scene, to match the video noise on the characters.
  • The slow sweeping camera pass over the top of the ship to the briefing room windows at the back has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model at the correct framerate, eliminating the stuttering. The model is also now lit from a different direction, leading to greater contrast between the side and the back surfaces of the ship. A blue glow has been added to the rear of the starboard engine tube as it comes into shot. The original moving stars have been replaced with CG streaking stars that match the movement of the camera properly. The interior of the briefing room through the rear windows moves a little more smoothly as the camera zooms in on it.
  • During the briefing room scenes, the CG wall and ceiling have had noise added to them to match the video noise of the footage (various shots).
  • During the briefing room scenes, new streaking stars are now visible outside through the windows (various shots).
  • Noise has been added to the CG wall behind Jenkins and Darling in the briefing room, to better match the overly noisy chromakey footage (various shots).
  • Corrected the colour on Jenkins and Darling in the briefing room when Jenkins raises his hand, so the green tint is less pronounced. Also added additional video noise to this shot so that it better matches the following shot.
  • Erased the visible tape peeling off the wall during the door opening shots in the briefing room (3 shots).
  • The external shot of the Britannic dropping to sublight speed and flying past the camera towards the nebula has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model. The moving stars behind the ship have been repositioned to better match the angle of the ship, and made momentarily streaky.
  • The first shot of the Britannic flying into the nebula has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model at the correct framerate (a repeat of the sequence already rendered for the closing shot).
  • The second shot of the Britannic entering the nebula has been interpreted at the correct framerate, eliminating the stuttering. The ship movement is slightly slower as a result.
  • The external fly-by shot inside the nebula has been adjusted so the Britannic is now very blurry until it draws closer to the camera, making the nebula seem even more misty.
  • Davenport has been correctly colour- and brightness-adjusted from two previously missed forward-facing bridge shots (2 shots).
  • In the shot of the space station rising up over the hull of the Britannic inside the nebula, the movement of the cloud layers has been tweaked to better match the camera movement.
  • The colour of the Smegulon station’s laser beams has been changed from yellow to green (3 shots).
  • The close-up shot of the ship from behind as it flies through space has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model to show the new hull detail at the rear, at the correct framerate to eliminate the stuttering, and with motion blur applied to make the movement smoother. The rears of the engine tubes now glow blue, and the stars have been made streaky.
  • The shot of the Britannic flying past the camera during the captain’s final mission log has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model at the correct framerate to eliminate the stuttering and show off the new detail at the rear. Motion blur has also been applied so the ship passes the camera more smoothly.
  • The dark outline around Volgin as he stands on the bridge (caused by the previous colour correction of his uniform) has been almost entirely removed. The sharpness of the background has been reduced and mild noise has been added to better match the footage.
  • The closing shot has been re-rendered using the new Britannic model at the correct framerate to fix the stuttering and show off the new hull detail at the rear. The angle of the shot has been shifted slightly at the beginning so the bridge exterior more closely matches the orientation of the bridge interior. The movement of the interior through the window now appears smoother and better matches the movement of the camera as it pulls away.