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All posts tagged vfx

Dancing in the Sky : 12/03/14

greetings friends,

happy late Thanksgiving! hopefully your’s was as full of good company and great food as mine. I still have a little apple pie left… and I’m really looking forward to eating that for breakfast later.

BUT, I didn’t come here to wax poetic about food, I came here to tell you about my brand new short film – SKYDANCERS.

I’ve been working on this film for a while.… but before getting into how it was made, I want you to watch it. it’s only 2 minutes and 40 seconds, so go ahead–

the genesis of the project was pretty simple. the last few years I’ve had a strange fascination with those inflatable tube men you see out in front of oil change places, Halloween stores, and car dealerships.

they are just so weird. as the flap and flop around they have an insane smile plastered across their faces and it made me wonder “what are they thinking?” that led me to the question “if they think, are they sentient?” which of course pointed me to the notion that they were really a captured alien species we’d enslaved to do our advertising.

with that odd idea in mind, I began to research famous “freedom” speeches. I read Giuseppe Garibaldi “Encouraging his soldiers,” Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution,” and Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight On The Beaches.” but the one that I drew the most inspiration from was Patrick Henry’s famous “Liberty or Death” speech. I used it as a starting point and modified it as needed for the Skydancers’ special circumstances.

after writing the script the next order of business was to find the dancers. they seem to be EVERYWHERE… except of course when you are trying to film them. I took a day off from writing to location scout. this consisted of driving in a criss-cross pattern through the San Fernando valley for HOURS. I think I drove about 200 miles that day… and never left Los Angeles. it was a little mind-numbing, but I found enough dancers to move ahead. I scheduled a shoot date with my cinematographer, (and talented director) Justin Mitchell and hoped the dancers would still be there.

this guy on the high-bike was talking about an upcoming altercation with a motorcycle gang.

it got up to 105º while we were shooting. I could feel the hot pavement through my shoes.

next up was recording the narration. I had a couple different projects I needed voiceover (VO) for, so I needed to find an actor that could do multiple characters. I listened to a few reels that people submitted. most were decent, but the stand out performer was Nick Shakoour. a fellow SFSU alum, Nick and I had met at a school mixer and I was excited for the chance to work with him.

like most serious VO artists, Nick has his own recording setup, which makes things very convenient. I drove over and we recorded: trailer narration for NATURAL ‘STACHE (a screenplay I wrote), an announcer for the Portland Beard & Mustache Competition, and finally for SKYDANCERS. it was so much fun to hear Nick switch between the different voices. he would go into the booth, clear his throat and lock in. all of a sudden I’d be hearing a different person through the headphones.

I also got to operate the ProTools rig. which consisted of hitting “start” & “stop.” haha

we still needed to shoot the visual effects plates, that is – the live action elements that would be combined together to make the final shot (you know, the one where they are shooting lasers out of their eyes…) but before that – I had a trip scheduled to visit Teal in Ann Arbor. I knew there was going to be a fair amount of “sitting around while Teal did homework” time, which makes sense, since well, she is getting a Phd in Statistics. but I was prepared. I had my laptop and the sound files from the recording – so I used the time to edit the audio for SKYDANCERS.

after returning to LA, the search for a green screen stage tall enough to shoot a dancer resumed. but, the stages that had the height to fit even a small dancer were, shall we say – “cost prohibitive.” fortunately, Justin was able to wrangle a deal with the nice folks over at Evidence Film Studios. (seriously you use their space, they are super friendly and helpful. and also rent cameras!) they had an opening in their schedule, a green screen, and space outside. so I got the appropriate grip equipment, hired a grip to use said equipment, and rented a dancer.

side note: the company that rents the dancers, Magic Jump Rentals, also has bouncy castles and they both drop-off and pickup your orders. how cool is that??

look I made a .gif!

after getting the pieces I needed for the final VFX shot, the next challenge was finding a VFX artist. you always have to remember the “better, faster, cheaper” triangle when making films. especially low budget short films. you only get to have two of them. since I had no deadline, I opted to go the “better/cheaper” route.

the downside of this strategy was that it took over six months to get the shot done. but the end result was totally worth the wait. my good friend (and talented director) Lex Halaby put me in touch with an artist he’d recently worked with, Sabour Amirazodi. it was amazing to get the chance to work with someone so creative and talented, he did things in the shot I didn’t even know were possible. but, as it was a low budget job, and he was giving me a great rate, the time came for him to hand over the project.

luckily for me, my good friend (and talented director) John Wynn was there to help.

side note: do you see a theme here?
double side note: I’ve edited for all three of these director-friends. #collaborations!

John is a VFX mastermind. he was able to take an already great shot and make it even better through the wonders of compositing. and in the process teach me some things about visual effects. this is an area I need to learn more about and I was incredibly grateful. sitting there watching him work, troubleshoot, and experiment was like getting a masterclass in VFX… and it only cost me a shawarma. (if you are ever in the Valley, Joe’s Falafel is the best.)

somewhere in this series of events I also edited the film.

with the shot finished the final step was music, sound design, and mixing. John put me in touch with Nathaniel Smith, a composer he’d recently worked with (maybe I owe John more than a shawarma?). in little time at all Nathaniel had composed an amazing piece of music. it hit all the right emotional beats and its energy helped drive the narrative of the story forward. you know, it’s really remarkable how much of a difference music makes and how if can provide an emotional background for a piece. but that’s a whole other blog…

with score in hand, I took the project to Steve Romero. he’s mixed and designed almost every project I’ve done in the last five years from THE REAL LUKE to CERTIFIED to APT. 5 and I have to say it is such a pleasure working with him. by this time he has a pretty good idea of what I like and honestly, I mostly get out of his way and let him do his thing.

side note: that’s actually a great strategy for directing in general. find talented people, give them guidance, get out of their way, then adjust as needed. but that’s another larger topic…

here’s what his timeline look like for the piece – you can see how much more complicated the design was for the final shot.

and that’s about it. thanks to the hard work of some incredibly talented people, I was able to make an absurd short film. hope you enjoyed the play-by-play journey.

are there any parts of the process you want to know more about? got questions for any of my crew? let me know in the comments below!


Shot on Cellphone : 12/29/10

Howdy friends!

About a month ago a representative for Nokia contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in participating in a promotion in conjunction with their new phone and TRON.

They would send me a phone, and I would use it to make a short film inspired by TRON. Then some of the films would screen at a sneak preview of TRON: LEGACY.

It sounded like a fun project, so I agreed. I even passed along the project to a few of my filmmaking friends. (Only one ended up doing it)

It took a bit longer to get the phone than they originally suggested.
We were supposed to have a week to make our films.  We ended up having only 3 days.  
This made things a little challenging for me as I had 2 full days of the day job, plus a day of rehearsal and editing “Updating Paige” already scheduled.

So I had three days in which to make a film…and I was already booked on all three days.

Luckily I anticipated it being a tight deadline and planned for something that could be shot very simply and with a very small crew.

Here’s the rough time table:

2:45pm – phone arrives from UK
8pm – build “rig” to attach camera to tripod
cork & tape

Troy (the star) shoots Jack in the Box commercial / Luke outlines script

6:45am-9:45am – film NOKIA project.
Allison A/C

Troy & Luke

10am-6pm – Luke goes to work, transfers & transcodes footage on laptop while doing day job.
8pm-9pm – log footage

10am-11am – rough cut
11am-12pm – Martial Arts rehearsals
12pm-1pm – rough cut continues
2pm-5pm – supervised session with editor of Updating Paige.
echo park sunset
6pm-11:59pm – fine cut, vfx

12am-2am – vfx, color correction
roto'd Troy

2am-3am – sound design and mix
3am-3:30am – delivery.

A compressed schedule to say the least.

But let’s get down to brass tacks…

The phone/camera was an interesting device.  After years of using the iPhone it was challenging to work with a less intuitive device. Especially when it didn’t come with much of a manual.  For instance, there is a whole separate button on the phone for the “menu” and the keyboard for typing letters is a “T9” keyboard.  But it’s a touch screen, so it could just as easily be QWERTY… Maybe that’s an option to change, but I didn’t see how and didn’t have the time to spend figuring it out.

The camera functioned pretty well.  It shot 1280x720i 25fps .mp4’s. These were easily converted 1920×1080 Apple ProRes422(HQ) files using MPEG Streamclip.  I toyed with the idea of slowing the footage down to 24 fps in case the projection was going to be in a US format (25fps is used in Europe).  But I never got the delivery specs.

The camera shot AMAZING video…for a phone.  The colors were decent, it functioned alright in low-light.  The controls were easy to use and made sense.  In fact, the camera options were the most intuitive part of the device.  You could easily change the recording quality, white balance preset, and switch to black & white, sepia, or “saturated” colors.

I left everything on auto.

The camera also had a pretty nice stereo recorder.

There were a few drawbacks to the camera.

1.) Jerky zoom.  It’s impossible to zoom smoothly either using the on
screen option or the buttons.
2.) Lack of manual controls.  No manual exposure or manual focus. This made VFX shots VERY hard as the exposure would change MID SHOT as things in the shot moved. (Like a car…or a person.)
3.) Sensor lag.  This is actually kind of cool.  In fact, if I’d gotten the camera sooner and had more time to conduct tests…I probably would have incorporated this into my film.  check it out here:

Because of the difficulties with exposure and the way I shot some of the scenes, the VFX I had originally planned were going to be VERY difficult.  I fact, I spent several hours on a few shots and didn’t make too much progress.

It wasn’t until this text message exchange with my friend Bruce that I saw “the light” and revamped my ideas.

da Vinci txts

I re-watched my cut and thought HOW can I tell this story “more simply?”

Even though it was late…and I was pretty tired, I still figured it out fairly quickly.  It wasn’t as “flashy” as I originally planned, but that was ok.  

K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid.  It’s a little base, but it’s often correct.  

Get rid of the extras, include ONLY what you need to in order to tell the story.

In fact, making the VFX less obtrusive actually improved the piece. With a little sound design, and a couple well place shots – I was easily able to get the IDEA across.  It wasn’t necessary to include flashy effects.  Plus…it would have probably taken me ALL night.

And I like sleep.

In the end, I made a film that given the limitations of the schedule & the medium I’m pretty happy with.

Check it out here:

Anyone else shooting on mobile devices? What has your experience been?


In the end, they didn’t show ANY cell films the bigscreen…why not? That was never explained to me. BUT they did show our film on several flat-screens in lobby.


Like A Sun music video tests + various happenings : 08/29/08

Hello Faithful Interweb Friends!

Oye. It’s been a while. Too long really.

Why haven’t I posted? There must be a good reason, right?

Well….kinda, not really?

I’ve done a little traveling this summer:

San Francisco

Bremerton Blackberries

San Diego
Sam Diago!

Aside from that I’ve just been grinding away. It’s a constant hustle trying to get more projects off the ground and to keep things moving forward. What exactly does this mean? Well in the past couple months I’ve written multiple music video treatments, worked with a writer developing a script for her to act in & me to direct, met with a producer for my sci-fi short, prepared and submitted a grant proposal for said short film, written a narrative essay, met with a sound designer for a short I completed a while back, talked with numerous production companies regarding my reel, sent my reel out to multiple managers and bands, had a meeting with a website regarding creating original content for them, met with bands, gone and shot test footage until 3am, talked with musicians in Seattle, talked with musicians in San Francisco, edited a music video, supervised visual effects for said video, and enlisted my Dad to location scout for me. And this coming weekend I’m going location scouting in NorCal. 

Keep in mind…this is all in addition to my 40+ hour a week “day” job.

One project that has been completed is the video for Sirens & Sailors “Like The Sun.” We shot some additional footage in Malibu ..>, Ann gave me some super 8 she’d shot in the Huntington Gardens, Lex gave me some rollouts (the cool effect when the film gets partial overexposed as the camera comes to a stop), and I hired Ben (who did the drawings for “The Real Luke“) to do some visual fx on a couple shots.

I really like working with Ben. He’s a great collaborator, has good ideas, and we communicate very well over IM. Which is really great since we both have “day jobs” and it’s much easier to type a few lines then pick up the phone. I don’t think we spoke on the phone or in person until he dropped off the disc w/ the completed shots. Basically I suggested to him that the video needed something extra…like a little additional visual kick. Something that could be seen almost as an aberration on the physical film. I wanted it to be slightly subtle, yet still psychedelic 

Here’s a link to our first test

A little refinement for our second test

I remembered that the first layer of film emulsion is the “blue” layer. Very briefly, film is a photo-chemical process, which means when exposed to light, a chemical reaction takes places, producing, in this case a picture. The actual piece of film contains different layers of emulsion. These are created using gelatin (that’s right, film is NOT vegan) and silver halide. The different layers react to different wave-lengths of light, which produce a color image. That’s why slight damages to film show up as blue or blue green. Heavy “trauma” to film – like “roll outs” happen in the red layer, which is the last layer before the backing.

So what does this knowledge mean in practical terms of the vfx?

Well generally like vfx, pacing, and intensity to increase in the course of my work. So it meant that at the beginning of the video the vfx would need to be in the blue spectrum. Then as the video progressed, they would move into reds and oranges. I told Ben and he worked his magic after effects skills to make it so.

And here’s the finished video