Posts Tagged ‘reel’

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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A general purpose showcase of special effects that I’ve made for film projects.

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Here is the third and final visual effects showreel from my Fallen Star project, this time focusing on the augmentations made to live-action footage.

Unlike the CGI space scenes or the green screen scenes, live action raw footage took up the majority of the shots used in Fallen Star. But most of that footage had to be modified in some way, whether it was to add laser beams, computer displays or even entire walls. Let’s go through the ones shown in the video…

Lasers! These were straightforward enough – just straight lines given a glow effect. They widen slightly as they fire and narrow again before they disappear, rather than just flicking on and off. They also swipe across in the direction of travel, just slightly. Real lasers are instantaneous, but you can use artistic license with sci-fi weaponry. The good thing about these laser effects is that they’re on-screen for just a few frames, so even if the camera movement is all over the place, it’s a piece of cake to track their motion. I added a glow to the impact points and the gun barrels too, just to jazz it up a bit.

Background enhancements! Our original footage had, for instance, a plain wall where we needed to have a porthole. Thus, I created a porthole and then laid it over the footage, so it lined up with the wall. The difficult part is if and when someone walks in front of these, at which point I had to do some ‘rotoscoping’, masking out the shape of the person frame-by-frame, to obscure the porthole.

Background stabalisation / extension! We had our footage of the briefing room interior, which was to be seen through the long row of windows from the outside. The actual footage showed only a small area of wall and carpet, so I had to extend this outwards to create a large room. A digital set extension, if you will! This was then lined up with the footage and finally inserted into the composition with the CGI exterior. A similar technique was done with the opening bridge ‘zoom-in’ shot, but I had to stabalise the footage to stop the excessive jerking about that our camera was doing. Stabilisation is mostly an automated process; it’s just a matter of finding a constant reference point for the computer to recognise and keep it locked in place.
On a similar note, there were a couple of shots where a door was removed and replaced with the corridor behind it. Most of our corridor shots were done on green-screen, but as you can see in the video, I squeezed an open door into one piece of live-action footage too, masking around the foreground as necessary.

Computer screens! This was where things got difficult. Our screens were physically black (or grey) with nothing on them. Thus, every single shot had to be amended to insert the graphics. The process would have been longwinded enough without having to draw around people’s heads and hands whenever they moved in front of them, but there was no other way. In hindsight, we should have fitted green panels onto the displays; that way, I could have keyed out the colour and saved myself a lot of time. The sheer number of shots where the screens are visible in the background was ridiculous! I’m glad the end result looks good, though. It’s just as well most of our shots had little to no camera movement – that would have made the process even harder!

Transport effect! One of the oldest optical tricks in film is to stop the camera, move something out of the way, and start it up again, to make it look like something has disappeared (or appeared, if you do it the other way around). We did this in the forest, to make our crew appear to materialise out of thin air. Digitally, this is a simple process to fade from one to the other. To jazz it up, I cut around the shape of the actors to isolate their shape, and then brightened them all up so it looked like they were glowing. Then I added sparkly effects over the top, which started small and then filled out into the shape of the actors, before fading away again. Additional glow effects were added to make it look like it was lighting up the forest floor slightly.

Miscellaneous! Little things can make all the difference. The scorch mark on the tree where the laser hit it? That wasn’t real! Although when the camera moved and I had to track it (and blur it) to keep it in the same spot, I did wish it was real. More lasers, this time going behind things – I had to mask out the character, tree or whatever else it was going behind, involving a small amount of that lovely rotoscoping again. Blurry eyelids opening? Those were drawn, with the colour fading from black to dark red to simulate the light filtering through, and the footage behind it is simply blurred. Finally, the squirrel scanner – I used a combination of automatic motion tracking and frame-by-frame adjustment to make sure the graphics stayed lined up with the scanner device. The opacity was set low enough to allow the reflections to come through, adding to the believability.

That’s it, that’s how it was all done. Wasn’t that terribly fascinating? If you pause the video, you might be able to make out some of the gobbledegook I wrote on the computer displays.

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Here is a collection of visual effects sequences from my Fallen Star project, concentrating on the green screen (chromakey) sequences that placed our actors in artificially-generated environments.

From the start of the project, we knew we would be limited in which areas of the ship we’d be able to show, and that principally the episode would be set on the bridge. However, early on, I suggested we might try to expand the range of locations using artificial environments modelled in 3D, using a green screen to isolate the actors from the background. The possibilities were exciting! I set to work on creating some interiors, a long corridor, a hallway, a ‘transporter’ room, not to mention the fourth wall of the bridge. I used actual photographs of our real walls and carpets for the textures, to try to keep things as consistent as possible.

We were lucky enough to borrow a green screen for our project. Unlike normal green screens, this one was colourless until light is reflected off of it. Using an array of LEDs attached around the lens of the camera, we could reflect back the green light off of the screen. The light would only be visible from the angle of the camera and wouldn’t reflect off of the actors or props.

We had a few teething problems with this, however. At first, we set the intensity of the LEDs too high, and it did in fact reflect off of the actors. Therefore some of the green screen footage appears quite fuzzy or has messy outlines. We got better at the technique the more we used it, and most of the other shots have turned out fine. One advantage of using this reflective screen is that it doesn’t need to be as perfectly lit as a normal green screen would be – it’s self-luminescent. Unfortunately the actors did need to be lit properly, else they ‘silhouette’ against the background. We did our best with this, but ultimately I did need to lighten much of the footage in post-production. This meant that some of it has poor black levels and visible artefacts. Not a problem in Hollywood, but it’s difficult when you’re on a budget of nothing.

We used the green screen for every shot of somebody leaving through a door. This is because none of our doors were real. They’re either stuck onto the wall, or in some cases they’re entirely digitial. So the on-set filming would have been done first, with the character walking up to the door. Then, later on, the green screen shot was done, with the actor continuing to walk away, passing through or around an imaginary doorway. When edited together, it’s almost seamless. Almost.

The green screen didn’t extend down to foot-level, so the few times when we needed full body shots, the feet were removed by cutting around them with a masking tool. Thankfully, there wasn’t much movement, and all the walking shots were done from above the ankles. But even with a physically small screen, it’s possible to insert large background or shrink the actors down, as you can see in the video.

You’ll also notice that we sometimes separated our actors into layers. This wasn’t done for technical reasons, but rather logistical ones. We actually lacked sufficient costumes to film everybody at the same time. This led to the rather ridiculous shot of four people walking into the transit nav room in single file, which we filmed all separately! There were also scheduling difficulties, which meant not everyone was available for filming at the same time, so again, I worked around this by compositing two (or more) bits of footage together into one shot.

Ultimately, we couldn’t have made this film without a hefty amount of green screen, so I’m very glad to have had it. Perhaps we’ll be using it more in future.

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