Monday, December 18, 2006

In Honor of a Friend

Don DohlerDon Dohler, the producer for Timewarp Films, passed away on December 2, 2006 from cancer. He was 60.

Don was my producer, my mentor, my friend.

I'll miss working with him on film projects, his greatest passion. No matter how much he wanted to take a break, or wait to see how a recently completed project would fair in the market, he couldn't help nurturing a new movie concept. I guess it didn't help that he knew so many people that loved talking with him about movies. How could he not be inspired, or inspire us.

I'll miss our weekly hour+ chats on the phone--which are not uncommon for either of us separately, so imagine the two of us together. My wife, of course, never had to imagine, since I always seemed to get on the phone with Don 15 minutes before dinner, forcing her, groaning, to keep the pork cutlets warm for another 45 minutes.

I'll miss his honesty. A straight shooter, he always said what he meant, and never shied away from what he meant. In the creative business, the worst thing you can do is tell people how good their creation is when it really sucks. If I want someone to tell me my effect is great no matter what, I'll ask my mother (my wife's a straight-shooter too,God bless her). Don always told me the truth, the constructive truth. Even if he didn't know exactly what was wrong, he could still point me down the right path. I'll really miss that.

But, most of all, I'll miss my friend. I hope he's at peace.

Don worked as the managing editor for the Times Herald in Baltimore County. They posted a wonderful article about him:
http://www.timesheraldnews.com/2006/12/08/times-herald-editor-don-dohler-dies-at-60/

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Another scene finished



Featured in this shot are actors Darla Albornoz and Justin Timpaine.

Last week I finished what I called the "pivotal" scene. It's pivotal for two reasons. First, the good guys face off against the creature for the first time. Second, it was the most challenging scene to complete. Ironically, though, the shot I expected to be the most difficult of the whole film, a shot that required a major on-screen alteration to the creature, lots of tiny particles flying around, and direct interaction between an actor and the Crawler, only took a day to complete.
While working on the scene, an issue that came up a couple of times, including the shot shown above, was dealing with continuity problems. It's hard enough dealing with them when editing, but when you add into the mix the placement of CG elements after the fact, it opens up a whole other can of worms, or Crawlers in this case. Since we didn't initially plan to use CG for the Crawler, we hadn't planned the shots to the level of detail needed for adding CG. We basically winged it. Luckily, however, we decided to film with traditional editing in mind, as opposed to the style adopted by many newer Hollywood directors, the long, motion-filled shots with no cuts. The traditional way uses frequent cuts from various angles: wide, mid, closeup, etc., while maintaining proper stage direction. Thus, a lot was fixed in editing before we even got the CG elements. But, as you can see in the above shot, while Darla and Justin should be looking directly at the creature's eyes, it appears that Justin is looking at the creatures throat (if it actually has one); they have two different lines of sight.

Oops.

I dealt with this by making a choice: I set to Darla's line of sight. Since she's holding a shiny canister, she draws the eye more than Justin. Well, okay, she'd draw the eye more anyway.

Most of the continuity problems we faced were minor, and for some I did my due diligence as a post-production artist and "fixed them in post". The rest we'll live with as all filmmakers do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to Crawler

After a brief diversion working on Dead Hunt, I'm now back to finishing up Crawler. I'm actually on a pivotal scene, a major confrontation between the good guys and the monster. This one has some serious FX stuff in it; I get to do neat things to the Crawler itself, but since it deals with the plot, I can't give details. Suffice it to say, I get to pay homage to Terminator 2 :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Authoring the Dead Hunt Screener


video

Now that Dead Hunt is in the can, we need to make it available to had a pretty good track record with distribution--Don Dohler's reputation plays no small role in that--but we're hoping we have some choices, or at least one really good deal.

I asked Don if I could create the DVD screener that we send out (I've wanted to do that since I got my first DVD burner). He agreed, so I dove in. As I said, I already had a burner, but I didn't like the picture quality of the OEM encoder (Nero), so I had to find a better encoder and an authoring tool. By the way, encoding as I use it here refers to converting the digital video of our movie, which is in Quicktime, to MPEG--the format needed for DVDs. After some online research, I found a solid and low-budget solution in DVD Lab and Tmpeg. Let the fun begin!

I wanted to have a really cool menu (see above--click on image to view the full-motion menu), sort of a collage of all the characters showing really cool expressions, and awesome music. I also wanted the movie to look crisp--at least as good as the edited master stored in Adobe Premiere (That's where Tmpeg came in). And we all wanted the box art to look great, too. That job fell to Rob Long, who did a wonderful job. For the music, I picked my favorite segment from Justin Timpane's score. It actually took only a couple of days to create that cool menu, with the cool music, and the crisp-looking picture. The rest of the month was spent trying to get the resulting DVD to play on Don's DVD player--a first or second generation player. Oh, it played in my new player, all 15 attempts played fine in there; some even played fine in a slightly older player I have, but about 3/4 of the way through, Don's player would choke and die.

So, it was back to the internet to find some answers. The makers of DVD Lab have a forum that provided a lot of help. And VideoHelp.com proved an invaluable resource, complete with some free helper tools. The deal, as I discovered, is that "burning" DVDs on a computer isn't the same process used by mass distributors. They use glass masters, which are more precise. Not to worry, however, most newer DVD players easily play the DVD-R, +R, etc. formats; it's just that older players may have trouble, and since we wanted to make sure potential distributors would be able to view our movie, it had to play on as many players as possible. That's when media and hardware came into the mix.

If you look on VideoHelp, you'll see a huge list of media reviews; that is, reviews of the various brands of blank DVD-Rs you can buy. Apparently, not all brands play well with old players, or with all burners. In fact, not all burners create media that plays well with all players. It feels like a crap shoot.

Ultimately, I discovered that my original burner (an internal Lite-on) was the culprit. When I burned the image to a newer external (also a Lite-on), it played fine in Don's player. Problem solved.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

DEAD HUNT PREMIERE

On June 3rd, Timewarp had a premiere for its latest feature, Dead Hunt (see pictures below). I'm always a little nervous at premieres. We all put a lot of effort into completing these film projects, and wear many, many hats in the process. Being so close to the project, it's hard to gauge how an audience will react. Will they laugh in the wrong places, or not laugh at all, or groan, or snicker or leave? You can't tell until it rolls, and you see what happens. Typically the reactions are good. The audience is filled with cast, crew, family, and friends, and we experience a group synergy from beginning to end. It's great!The first showing started a little after 8PM due to a problem with the sound system. No one seemed to care, though, as cast members networked and chatted with those they hadn't seen since we wrapped.With all systems go, Don and Joe welcomed everyone, and we were underway. The staple Timewarp logo swirled onto the screen followed by the opening credits. Different sections of the audience cheered for their friend, spouse, son, daughter, mother, or father as his or her name flashed on the screen. The synergy soared. During the film, the audience was mostly quiet, glued to the screen. They were treated to quite a bit of blood, some guts (literally), some action, some romance, some humor, some fine acting, some great visuals (thanks to Don Dohler's cinematography and Sean Quinn's effects), and a wonderful score by Justin Timpane. The audience did their part by laughing in the right places (there was one, unintended, moment that made the whole audience roar, including us), and jumping in the right place, too. What good is a horror movie without a few good startles? All in all, the premiere, and Dead Hunt itself, exceeded my expectations. Kudos to everyone in the cast and crew for their efforts.

Since that night, we've heard a lot of positive feedback as well. Plus, the folks that put on Horrorfind will be showing it twice during the weekend (August 11-13).

Below are some pictures provided by Rob Long. Enjoy!




Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More Crawler Pictures

As I continue to crank out more final FX clips, I thought I'd post a couple of stills. These shots, courtesy of Timewarp, show the creature in both an outdoor, nighttime setting, which is very dark, and an indoor setting that is lighter--though not by much. These renders, which I call "final" use a feature in XSI called Final Gathering to augment the base lighting with a global illumination. For my purposes, it serves to subtly fill in some light, and accentuate the creature's surface details. The base lighting still dictates the key and rim areas on the creature, but Final Gathering augments the fill lighting, providing more depth.The actor in the second image is George Stover, who plays the sheriff. Hey, George!

Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.



Monday, May 15, 2006

The Crawler



I received a request to post an image of the Crawler. I created this image a while ago to use for printed materials such as the DVD cover. It is more stylized than the version that will appear in the movie, but it conveys, I hope, the creature's menacing appearance. So, with Don's approval, here he...er, she, er...it is:


(Click the image to view a larger version.)


Thursday, May 4, 2006

Welcome

I plan to use this blog to keep track of my progress with the seemingly endless list of creative projects on which I plan to work in the next few years. Whether it's filmmaking, music, writing, martial arts, or even computer programming, creativity is in my blood—I can't stop it. Whether what I produce appeals to anyone else is a different matter. I'd like to think it does.

At the top of my laundry list is Crawler. For the last three years, I have been working on the visual f/x for this low-budget horror movie produced by Timewarp Films. In particular, I'm working on the computer-generated title character. One thing I've learned in the last three years is that there's a reason we see hundreds of names at the tail end of movie credits for visual f/x; it's hard to do this stuff. It took at least a year to zero in on the best software to create and animate this beast. I finally settled on Softimage XSI—a godsend.

Currently, I'm on the 3rd to last scene involving the creature. After I finish the last creature shot in the last scene, and the 30-some shots of final renders, I have to address the miscellaneous f/x. For this I've recruited a few friends interested in f/x to help. That led to the next lesson learned (no, not "don't hire friends"): I learned not to try to manage and do at the same time. You wind up doing a half-assed job at both. Thus, I had to concentrate on my stuff first. Once I finish the remaining creature shots, I'll pull the gang (or what's left of them) back together to finish the rest.

As a final note, I want to mention a project on the back burner, an amateur film project that is a mere 14 years in the making: Monster Planet.