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Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

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.

engine-room-temp

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

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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.

engine-room01

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.

engine-room06

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.

engine-room13

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…

engine-room25

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…

engine-room14

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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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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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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