Archive for October, 2010
first things first, here’s this week’s NexTV blog post about making effects.
When I first started imagining The Platoon of Power Squadron, I knew it obviously had to be an effects show. It was about people with super powers, how could we make that show and not use effects? I knew about programs like After Effects but I had never touched them. I just figured that I’d get a hold of an effects program and figure it out as I went. And that worked out fine. But here’s the deal, effects…take…forever…to complete. You can sit in front of your computer for 3 hours (optimistically) to get a 4 second shot. And that’s just for little compositing effects. I have no idea what kind of time we’re taking about for CG animation.
Aside from big budget movies, 98 percent of the effects that you see on TV or in movies deal with layering, like in the above video. You shoot four layers, cut out the significant portions key frame by key frame (rotoscoping or masking), and drop them on top of each other. Simple. Time consuming. It would take even longer if it wasn’t for key frames. A key frame is like an anchor during animation. Instead of having to trace out Carlyn from each individual frame, I can trace her, skip two or three frames ahead, and then trace her again, making another key frame. The program takes the space between those two key frames and assumes the positioning of the mask for the frames between them. It’s pretty accurate, but points on the mask usually have to be adjusted slightly to be perfect. Having learned all this by messing around with it for a while, and taking no classes, my terminology may not be entirely accurate.
But say I’m adding the lightning that Craig shoots out of his hands or I’m making my eyes glow; these are also simple composites. I take the footage, add and adjustment layer, and then drop the effects on top of the footage. For the lightning, it’s just the Advanced Lightning effect. Then I key frame the lightning position to follow his hand and mess around with the lightning controls to animate it. For the glowing eyes, I create a Solid layer (white), create an eye-shaped mask to go over my eye, animate it to follow my movement, and then drop the Light Rays effect onto the solid and play with the settings until I like how it looks. But my D.P., Ryan, has never been satisfied with the glowing eyes effects and is taking over doing them. He’s an After Effects wizard. In fact, during episode 2 he was talking about the Pen tool for making masks in After Effects and I was just staring at him vacantly. Throughout the effects process on episode 1, I had never figured out how to make a mask in After Effects, even though it’s the simplest thing in the world. Just click on the Pen tool. I had to make all my masks in Motion during episode 1. That’s how uneducated I was when I started out with these programs. I will also include that if something isn’t looking right, just play with the mask feathering and expansion in the mask settings. That usually makes it bearable to watch.
I get better at it episode by episode, but effects have never been my strong suit. I’m more interested in writing, directing, and editing. But here is the most important thing I have to say about effects: Cool effects alone do not make an interesting series. You have to come up with cool reasons for the effects, motivate them to do different things, give them interesting purposes in the show. At the end of the day, effects are just another tool for making an interesting story about characters.
the title of this post is significant in a few ways. firstly, it feels like a long time since i’ve written a post strictly for this blog; most of my writing has gone to the NexTV blog lately. i have to admit, it’s been nice in a couple ways: it’s focused my entries–making them specifically about no-budget filming techniques and experience, and it’s theoretically increased our viewership–drawing in the NexTV crowd in addition to our Youtube community. however, between work, the weekly NexTV entries, and actually working on the show, writing entries solely for the PoPS blog has kind of fallen by the wayside.
secondly, ep4 feels like it’s taking a long time to put together. i think it’s coming together in about the same amount of time as ep3, but it FEELS like it’s taking exponentially longer. the only reason I can come up with is that there’s more interest in the show now. for the first time ever, there’s a substantial audience waiting for the next episode, and with that comes a heightened awareness of time passing since the last episode. 6 months is an awfully long time to wait between episodes from a viewer’s perspective, but it seems like a really short block of time to me. i wish these things could come together faster, but we’re a really small group of people and we’re pushing ourselves harder with every episode.
i can say this much, i’d say we’ve passed the halfway mark on ep4 (in terms of getting a watchable cut together), and everything has looked amazing so far, so that’s encouraging. a bigger audience also signals an increase in the fear that you’re going to let people down, but from what i’ve seen in our little editing suite, there’s not much to worry about. i just hope the second half is as good as the first half has been.
gotta keep working.
catch you later.
Last week’s entry about gear had a blaring omission which I thought I would briefly cover this week. The big thing that truly separates the pros from the day-job cowboys, other than the obvious gobs of money, is the access to lenses. A D.P. friend of mine once told me that the biggest factor determining how professional your project looks is the glass you’re shooting with. Professional productions have a ton of lenses to choose from depending on what they’re trying to achieve. If you really want to look pro, your biggest concern should be depth of field–or how fuzzy the background is compared to your subject. If you’re shooting with any number of consumer-grade HD cams, you’re going to need to get a D.O.F. adapter that lets you attach 35mm still-camera lenses to your camera. The main problem with that is that many of them experience a blurring at the edge of the frame at all times or even worse–black edges from where the adapter or lens blocks the borders of your camera lens. If you’re lucky enough to have a Canon 7D or 5 mark II, they’re built to accept a wide range of different Canon lenses. Otherwise, forget about it and just tell your story. For PoPS we just use the normal camera lens and one cheap-ass wide angle made specifically for the Canon HV series when we’re shooting in too confined a space to get our frame.
Since so much of editing is dependent on good rhythm and pacing, a lot of the success in editing relies on just feeling it. But here are a couple of hints for if a scene just doesn’t feel like it’s working.
1. Ditch it. Does the project even need it? If it doesn’t offer any new information or imperative character moments, ditch it. Maybe it’s the greatest piece of writing you ever did…something got lost somewhere in the process and it’s not working. Ditch it.
2. Shorten it. Maybe it’s just dragging because it’s too long. Try cutting it down several ways and see if it moves any better. Cut unnecessary dialogue and shorten it right to the bones of the scene. Hopefully, it’ll jump right back on track.
3. Re-pace it. This is the toughest and the director has to have shot enough coverage to pull it off. Sometimes a scene doesn’t have the energy it needs because the actors were low on energy. That’s an all too common occurrence, especially at the no-budget level. Actors are exhausted from their day jobs and real lives before they even get to the set of their reel lives. A tired actor has a tendency to pause too much between words and sentences. They draw the performance out. If an actor is in the zone, this is extremely compelling. If they’re tired or just searching for their lines, it’s extremely boring. Edit out the spaces between their words and sentences, blend the gaps in the audio track using a two frame audio dissolve, and slap a reaction shot from the other actor or a B-roll insert over the resulting jumpy visuals. This can only be done if the footage you’re dropping over the gaps is ACTUALLY motivated and you’re not just dropping it in there randomly. And it also can’t be done too often, or the editing just feels sloppy. Pick your moments and this can be a very effective way of amping up a scene’s momentum.
The only other thing I have to say about editing right now–take it easy on the video transitions. Shape wipes and sliding went out with black and white unless you’re making a throw-back show. Dissolves went out with the ‘80s unless you’re making a cheesy industrial. As much as you can, just use hard cuts. That’s what establishing shots are for, allowing the audience time to re-orient themselves. If your transitions need a hand, the “in thing” to do is to punch them with some kind of sound effect. And it usually ends up looking awesome. Hopefully though, the director worked in a bunch of in camera transitions. That’s the coolest possible transition you can hope for.
If you’ve watched this week’s update, you pretty much already have all the information in this week’s NexTV blog post.
i’m a little late getting this up here. sorry. there are so many pieces to this particular puzzle–making the show, doing the updates, writing the blog posts, and then making sure to link the WordPress and the Facebook and the Youtube. it’s a lot of fun, but sometimes i forget to link something up for a few days.
Despite what I said in the video below, there are times when you need to shoot in a closed location. Mostly if one falls in your lap. When you have no money and a closed location just magically appears, you can’t say no, regardless if you have any extras or not. An example of that happens in episode 4. It’s pretty noticeable in regards to the lack of extra bodies in the background but what can you do?
If you’re a writer, your script will naturally want to take place in very few locations—it reflects your own experience. You mostly like to sit in your apartment, watch TV, read, and type. Unfortunately that’s not very dynamic. This isn’t the ‘90s anymore, Two Girls and a Guy would NOT have gotten a wide release today no matter how much Robert Downey Jr. it had. So you have to take scenes that could take place in your apartment and find a logical, visually interesting alternative. Scenes can take place pretty much anywhere as long as you can find a reason. And you’re a writer, so just make one up.
This happened to Kevin Smith when he was making Chasing Amy. Much like Clerks (pretty much just the convenience store and RST Video), and Mallrats (pretty much just the mall), Chasing Amy had a lot of screen time happening in Holden’s apartment. Miramax kept urging them to broaden their scope location-wise. During a particularly heated exchange, Scott Mosier, Kevin’s producer, exploded with the most outlandish suggestion he could think of—“Great! Why don’t we just set the big argument in a f***ing hockey rink!” At that, Kevin’s eyes glazed over in the expression directors get when their neurons are firing on all cylinders. So when Holden confronts Alyssa about her experimental past, every verbal jab is mirrored by a visual pounding courtesy of the hockey players in the rink. Scenes can be set anywhere. And if you think about it a little bit the characters’ emotional space can often be visually expressed in their physical space. That makes it badass.
The best of all possibilities is if you can have a theoretically huge location with minimal set building and a visual metaphor all wrapped into one. The only movie I can think of off the top of my head that did this was Cube and it was indescribably brilliant. Think about it. You build two cubic rooms with a variety of colored light gels to glow through the walls, one door connecting them, a series of swap-able number plates for the doors, and you have an unlimited number of moving rooms in this MASSIVE cube. That’s production value at its most frugal and brilliant. AND most of the time they’re all in one room together adding to the suffocating sense of claustrophobia—perfection.
Next week we’ll talk about gear.
anyway, back to the work that actually pays me. i’m so happy it’s friday.