When we start a new project one of the most important things we need to do is make sure everyone is on the same page. And that can be hard to do when you’re creating things that exist only in our imaginations. One way is to spend hours talking about and describing the details of the ships and locations in the film to each person, but a much better way is to have our ideas turned into sketches and paintings so everyone can see what we’re thinking.
Even before we started working on the details of the story for “The Darkest Matter” we had a few ideas for the space ships and stations that will be in the film. James described the look and feel of the ships to Andrew, our concept artist. I contributed technical details about how the ships would actually work. Andrew, armed with this information, created a couple of pages filled with thumbnail sketches. James and I give him feedback and select a few of the designs to have done in larger sketches. And we continue this process until we have finished paintings of the final designs.
This year we want to get everyone involved in the pre-production process, and not just as observers. So by joining the production you’ll get a chance to help us choose between different designs. But we’ll have more info on that later, for now enjoy some of Andrew’s early artwork for “The Darkest Matter!”
The time to begin building the sets for this summer’s film is rapidly approaching, and that means getting our designs in order.
James, Rich and I sat down and discussed the mine walls a couple of weeks ago and set out the requirements. We wanted to make a few reusable set pieces that could be moved and reconfigured to create new locations and shots in the mine. That means the pieces have to be interchangeable and must have some standard form to follow. They also have to be light, inexpensive, good looking, and quick to build. At least we’re not too demanding! The solution we came up with is very light wood frames to give them shape, a pvc tubing infrastructure so they can stand on their own and paper maché facing.
We worked out the scale and the basic shape. I then took all the ideas we had and started to mock them up in 3d. Here are a few of the renderings:
The first two shots illustrate how the camera will see the set, using the lens and settings we’ll be using during the shoot. The blurriness of the mine wall illustrates the depth of field we’ll be able to achieve and we also get to see how some of the angles will look.
The other two shots show the construction method. We’re going to build 15 panels with a similar profile (that can be used as walls or ceiling). We’re also going to build 3 angled sections to allow us to put bends in the mine shaft. Also you can see in the last shot how a roof piece can be removed to allow for lighting.
So there we go, building starts in a week so check back for some photos of the process.
One of the most important aspects of professional looking film is camera movement. Of course, dollies, cranes, jibs and steadicams are some of the most expensive pieces of equipment on the set, not only because they are precision machines but also due to their sheer size. On the DIY side of filmmaking, there are a million novel ideas about achieving camera moves (basically mount the camera to something that moves and you have a new mount!), but many aren’t exactly capable of smooth professional moves or the durability that is needed on set. I know, I’ve built a few failures myself. Lately I’ve been trying to aim for something that is ideally the best of both worlds but is at least somewhere between the two.
We have a scratch-built 4-way steering doorway dolly already and it works wonderfully. I’ll post some of the details of that build later. While it has an amazing turning radius and is very durable, it is also very heavy and not super smooth (although that depends on where you’re shooting). So to beef up our dolly collection for some upcoming projects I’m building something new. Well something tried and true actually; a mainstay of indie filmmakers everywhere, the skateboard dolly.
Skateboard dollies are so called because they use skateboard wheels. They can be as simple as a dozen-plus skateboard wheels and a sheet of plywood (and maybe a broom handle if you want a push bar. They have many advantages too. The skateboard wheels have built-in bearings making them easy to work with and since they are available everywhere skateboards are sold they are easily replaceable and fairly cheap. Skateboard dollies are also pretty much require track of some sort. So unless you have access to track or want to rent (if you can buy real dolly track, then buy a dolly too) a skateboard dolly maybe useless for you. Track, or lack there of, is the very reason we build a doorway dolly first.
Track may be an issue but there is more than one solution. Film track is stainless-steel tubing 24.5″ apart on center. It usually collapses like a parallelogram for transport, has a flat base for shimming and leveling and interlocks with the next track section. Curved pieces are available too. And it’s expensive. For our use, however, track can be any length of rigid, smooth, parallel material. We considered PVC tubing or even EMT Conduit. The PVC would be too flexible in my opinion (although other’s use for their dollies) and conduit is a little more expensive than I’m willing to go. And you buy two lengths and have to find some way of keeping them parallel by tying them together somehow. I’m going to ignore curved track for now, since homemade solutions are complicated to say the least.
The solution I chose is somewhat a product of our location. Being located in silicon valley means there are a lot of computer hardware recyclers and resellers. That’s great for building a spaceship. I was wandering around WeirdStuff and I came across some huge server racks and related accessories. The cable rails caught my eye. They’re made of relatively thick-walled rectangular steel tubing, joined by cross pieces. And best of all they were powder coated black.
I haven’t decided what to do about joining lengths of the rail together smoothly, but some of them were 12 feet long so that might not be an issue. Going with this track though mostly rules out a ride-on dolly. It’s only about a foot wide, so making a dolly wide enough for a rider would probably be unstable. That’s okay with me since I’ve got a different idea: keep the camera low (for stability) and near the track and raise the track to the height you need. I plan on using a hi-hat for my bogen 519 tripod head and building a rolling base for that. Something as simple as sawhorses can raise the track up with the added benefit of making leveling easier and eliminating shims altogether. The track is rigid enough for this application.
I plan on using the Manfrotto 325B hi-hat. That may not exactly sound like it fits with my low cost plans and that might be true. But we need a hi-hat for low angle shots anyway, and the 325B provides a 100mm bowl interface and has convenient mounting options. It can be mounted to this skateboard dolly, I can build a skater dolly (yeah, it’s different), I can use it as a base to attach my tripod head to a crane and in plenty of other situations. So it’s more or less an investment for multiple projects and that’s one of my core philosophy when building new equipment; I could go for the really cheap solution now and build again later or I can get the one semi-expensive piece now and make it interchangeable and useful in a multitude of situations. A lot more bang for a little more buck.
This post is getting very long now, so check out the next part of the project. I promise it will be more about the specifics and details of the project and probably more to the point (but I can’t promise I won’t ramble).
I’m going to save the specifics for the premiere so I don’t spoil the entire story right here, but I will let you all know that we have just finished the second draft of the script and everyone who has read it is very excited.
Last year’s story was based around a few different films, but drew a lot of influence from “The Explorers” and “Apollo 13.” This time around were going for more of a “Goonies” meets “Indiana Jones” type of story.
The Story follows a group of kids attending a traditional summer camp who accidentally find an abandoned gold mine. There’s danger at every turn as they venture into the mine. Will they find treasure? Will they make it out safely? How will they keep the camp counselors from finding out what they’re doing? You’re probably going to have to wait until you see the film to find out all the answers but we’ll probably let a few of the details spill in future updates, so stay tuned.
Hello to everyone checking out the Fortunes Mine website. Were excited to have a place to share our preproduction process for this year’s Summer Film Camp. Last year’s pilot program, Singularity, was huge success and also a great learning experience for everyone involved.
This year we’re writing a longer script, with more roles and more action! We’ve also assembled a larger crew to help us with visual effects, editing, and sound. This time around we’re also bringing some of the post-production aspects to the camp as well; we’ll be editing some scenes and visual effects during camp time and we’ll be staying an hour after camp each day to work on post-production. We’re excited to get this year’s film going so check back often and follow what we’re doing. See you at the camp!
Here’s the animatic for the commercial we’re shooting in the next week. The idea was to capture the feeling and idea of what Starting Arts does without just coming out and saying it. That’d be an informercial. So instead of telling about what’s going on in the animatic, I’m going to talk about the process of making it.
The process started with the storyboards. Andrew drew the boards for this project (after James and I made thumbnail sketches of each panel). I scanned the boards and started the process of breaking them down into photoshop layers. This is the most time consuming part. Any part of the frame that you want to move will need to be cut out and put on a separate layer. Also backgrounds will have to be recreated using the clone tool.
I started by making a new image for each frame. In this case I chose the NTSC DV preset.
Animatics don’t really need to be in HD, so this preset is fine. The nice thing about using this preset is that you get guides to show you the title and action safe areas of the frame, and that may help in some situations. So here’s frame two of the storyboard when I started:
I started by duplicating the flat storyboard layer, making a new layer for each element that will be animated. I also named the layers at this point. That makes it easy to just go down the list and isolate the element in the layer name.
I like to tackle the background first before starting with all the cloned layers. This is where the clone tool comes in handy. The objective is to make a clean plate so when the elements move we don’t see a blank canvas behind them.
With this particular frame, I selected the upper left section, copy and pasted it, and flipped it with the transform tool to recreate the upper right corner. Then I finished up with the clone tool.
Once the background was ready I moved on to the rest of the layers. I used a drawing tablet and the eraser tool to cut out the elements, but it could also be done using the selection tool. The only tricky part is recreating the parts of each layer that is covered by another layer. I used the clone tool in some places and just drew freehand in other. It doesn’t have to perfect because, again, this is only an animatic. Here’s an example of the resulting layers:
Notice that I didn’t add on the fingers on the right hand. That wasn’t an important element to add, but I did need to recreate the bottom of the box since it was not originally drawn.
I repeated this process for all the frames of the storyboard, which for this 30 second commercial was only seven images. Bigger projects with more panels would be very time consuming, so it would be best to choose to make animatics only for important sequences.
On other thing to consider is actually creating all the layers when drawing the storyboards. This is a little bit difficult when drawing on paper (but it’s a good idea to continue drawing the elements that will move beyond the storyboard frame) but separate layers are pretty easy to make when drawing digitally.
Once all the layers were set for each panel I moved on to After Effects. I made sure to import the files as photoshop compositions. Also my files were named sequentially (Frame 1.psd, Frame 2.psd, etc) so I had to uncheck the Photoshop Sequence box.
Now I had a separate composition for each storyboard panel. I’m not going to explain exactly how I animated the layers, it just basic keyframing of positions and rotations. I also used the puppet tool. One thing to note is that storyboard frames tend to be at the end or at the very least the middle of the action, so it helps to set key frames at the half-way point of the comp and work backward when animating. I chose to do the animating in each composition and make a master composition to combine each of the separate animations. The advantage of this, beside keeping things organized, is I was able to adjust the timing of the animation of each frame just by changing the layer’s time stretch value.
After the animation was working well I did a few other things like coloring the layers to help them stand out and I added the particle effects to show where we’d have particles in the final.
And that’s the basics of making animatics.
We’ve been hard at work the past month putting together the sets for the film, here’s a few photos from behind the scenes. Click “read more” to see the gallery. Click an image to view a larger version.
Starting Arts, a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and Dawnrunner Productions, a San Francisco based production company, partner for a first-of-its-kind Starting Arts Summer Film Camp. The three week long art program, taking place July 21-August 8, 2008 and hosted at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California, will feature student acting and production talent from grades 6-12 in an original short film production titled “Singularity”. Taught and produced by trained film professionals James Fox and Geoff Peck, Director and Director of Photography, Dawnrunner Productions, the course will educate students in advanced film-making techniques and on camera acting through hands-on instruction.
A small contingent of the Dawnrunner Team is preparing to travel half-way around the world to meet with a potential partner studio in Bangkok, Thailand. The team is all very excited and anxiously awaiting the opportunity to meet with foreign filmmakers, to discuss the possibility of collaboration! We’re ecstatic that we have the chance to visit Thailand and spend some time getting to know about the Thai film industry. It’s a great opportunity for a mutual sharing of information and techniques, which is the basis of advancements in the industry. The Thai production company has taken time out of it’s increasingly busy schedule to meet with us, and for that we are extremely grateful. The next couple days will be difficult as we not-so-patiently await our trek. Our best wishes and luck travel with the representatives of Dawnrunner!