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Posts Tagged ‘fallen star’

The third episode of my Fallen Star series was rather more laid back than the previous ones. There was no action, no big setpieces or fight scenes to implement, and much of the “plot” took place in a series of small rooms.

Despite that, however, there was a surprising amount of post production work required to finish the episode. Since a large proportion of our ship interiors didn’t physically exist, we had to use a lot of greenscreen. Any real locations we had available to us had to be modified to make it look like we were still out in space. One of the more ridiculous scenarios we encounter lately is having to shoot scenes across multiple days due to the mixed availability of our cast, and then having to composite them together into the same shot.

The below video demonstrates some of the visual effects work I had to do on Episode 3. I hope you find it interesting. And remember, the greatest challenge is in making something look easy.

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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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This is the recent-ish teaser trailer that I made for the upcoming third episode of my Fallen Star series. A very similar version of this trailer appears on the batch of DVDs that we made back in November, but it has been slightly updated with a couple of new shots since then.

It was tricky to make a trailer to release alongside episode 2 because, at the time, so little of it was finished. Things like dialogue don’t get done until the very end, so I ended up with this montage style yet again, using the tiny handful of shots I had available, most of them unfinished! I did have fun writing the fake quotes, though.

Episode 3 is still in production but I expect a release later this year.

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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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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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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.

helm_console01

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.

helm_console02

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.

helm_console03

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.

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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.

helm_console05

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.

helm_console06

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?

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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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