Effects & A Long Time
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.