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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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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