Posts Tagged ‘behind the scenes’

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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…


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…


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.


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With most of my learning time spent modelling our spaceship, I was a bit more comfortable with the process when it came time to make some more space-faring vehicles, namely our enemy ships, space station and a large cannon. However I still kept the shapes quite simple.

The space station's basic shape is a docking ring around a central pillar

Four struts connect the outer ring to the middle

Lights on the bottom of the station

The main barrel of our giant space cannon

The rest of the cannon is added

More detail is added, including lights and cylinders

Pipes added to the back

With the materials added, it looks quite alien.

And that’s all I want to show off for now. The rest is under wraps until the project is finished and released into the wild.

I will do some more features and a comprehensive VFX showreel once it’s all done. Thanks for reading.

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It’s beyond the scope of this website to go into too much detail about our set design and construction, as I mostly want to showcase my digital work, however I thought it pertinent to briefly mention it as part of the overall design philosophy. The idea was for our characters to spend the majority of their screen time on the bridge set, meaning we didn’t need to go crazy with locations and we could present much of the ‘action’ via the ship’s viewscreen (long sequences of people staring straight ahead, nice and easy). We also knew we couldn’t really do moving parts or complex decoration, so we had to keep it simple.

Sketch showing the design of the bridge set

The sketch above is the design we settled on. One of the challenges was going to be how to make the rear door appear to slide open and close to allow people to enter and leave the set. Having a real moving door wouldn’t be practical, so I proposed we simply stick the door panel to the wall and handle any entrance or exit with a digital effect, specifically greenscreen (chromakey). The other challenge would be how to make the computer screens come to life with information and graphics, and I again proposed a digital solution rather than trying to fit computer panels into the walls or whatever. It’s actually all turned out quite well, although it has been a time-consuming process given how many shots have one or more computer monitors in view. I’ll be sure to post a showreel of the results when the project is finished. For now, it’s still under wraps. But let’s move on to virtual sets…

Now, the bridge is a three-walled set (made up of staging panels and held together with screws). The fourth wall does not exist, so for any shots where the front wall/viewscreen is shown, I have created this digitally in 3D. There are also several other rooms and corridors featured throughout the episode and these had to be created in 3D as well. We wrote the script in such a way that we didn’t need to spend too much time there as I wasn’t sure how good they’d look.

3D model of part of our 'transporter' room.

Part of the room, rendered. The textures were made from photographs of the actual walls and carpet on our real set.

Early version of the top deck central corridor.

I’ve made some changes since these pictures were made, including doors, hatches and a different colour carpet, but I’m not ready to show them all off yet, not until the finished film is released. Considering I had zero 3D modelling experience before starting all of this, I am quite pleased with how they’ve turned out.

I had plenty more things to model, including alien ships, space stations and giant cannons. More on those soon.

[To be continued…]

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We sat down to do some sketches. Creating an original spaceship design is no easy thing when there are so many influences in popular culture. We didn’t want it to look super-sleek but we did like the general saucer-like shape that Star Trek ships use.

Below are the very first rough sketches from our brainstorm:

Ship Design 1

Twin engine design, but it looks like a coffin.

The ship takes shape. This is actually pretty close to the final design.

The design is refined.

The shape of the ship’s exterior was centred around our physical interior bridge set; by this point, we’d decided that a small-ish retangular room would be used and that this shape should be apparent when viewing the ship from the outside. Thus the upper section of the hull you can see in the sketches is where the bridge is supposed to be, with a forward-facing window. We were happy with the rough design and I so I went away to create a 3D version of it.

I should probably mention at this point that  this was the first time I’d done any 3D modelling, and although it’s not a paricularly tricky shape, it was a learning process that took several months, gradually layering on more detail.

The final shape, in 3D.

I started with a sphere. This was then cut in half and vertically squashed, with another one mirrored beneath it. A cylinder was placed between the two halves. This created the ‘flying saucer’ shape.

Next, I took the polygons in the bottom half of the saucer and ‘pinched’ them inwards. This wasn’t an exact science but I kept going until I liked the look of it.

Then I  stretched one half of the saucer out horizontally. The elongated side was then sliced off to give a flat edge (the ‘back’ of the ship). The upper half was then ‘cloned’ and the clone pulled upwards. I then ‘cut’ curved shapes into the copied upper half so that only a thin section of it remained.

Finally, I made a couple of half-cylinders into the engines and nested them under the curviature of the ship.

You can see the result in the picture above. From there I added more detail, texture and lights. I’m not ready to reveal the final thing yet, not before the project is finished and out in the open, but stay tuned for some more behind-the-scenes features soon.

[To be continued…]

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After the success of our little spoof Bond trailer, Rob and I decided this film-making lark is good fun and that we should make something else, something a bit more ambitious. Well, to say that our current project is “a bit more ambitious” is something of an understatement. Starting early in 2009, we began throwing together some story ideas and sketching some designs for a spaceship…

Yep, we planned to parody Star Trek.

To be fair, it’s not intended as an out-and-out spoof, but rather a heavily-inspired feature with superficial similarities and its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.

Actually, we originally had two ideas. The first was this; the second was something based on The Terminator. I had envisioned a short action film with minimal special effects and a present day setting, because I wasn’t exactly sure what we could get away with at the time. Yet this starship crew idea seemed more and more appealing the more we thought about it. The main problem would be building a set to film it on, and finding somewhere to put it. The other problem would be the amount of special effects needed throughout, and our script (yes, we wrote a script) would have to reflect these practical limitations (for instance, how much of the ship we could set the story in, what sort of planets we could visit, the nationality of the crew, and so on).

So, while we were still throwing story ideas around, I decided it was time to learn how to do some 3D modelling.

[to be continued…]

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