Monday, December 12, 2011

Story Bored?

I'm going to take a moment to get serious. I usually try to save my furrowed brow for when I'm pointing a camera at something, but since that doesn't happen much around the holidays, I think I can safely expend a little now.

First... I'd like to apologize for all the nothing we've been showing you, in contrast to what we said was coming. I was excited by the thought of showing you guys a little daily behind the scenes, but the deck was stacked against it. It seemed that we were starting to show too much of what makes our film unique, blowing our cinematic load. And it seemed that the interest level in this material was ever-diminishing. Plus it's just a lot of extra damned work. I will make an effort to journal more frequently than this, but last month wasn't great for that kind of thing.

Second in the series of serious... Just a piece of friendly advice, in case there are any budding film-makers among our readership. Budding film-makers who crave tips from nobody amateurs, anyway. If you're going to pursue a film project of any kind... love the mother-frelling DREN out of the story you're going to be telling. Because it's inevitable, it's going to happen, you are GOING to get bored with it, and you're going to want to move onto other things. It's happened to professional film-makers, and it's happened to me a couple of times this year. But if the project is the right one for you, it won't last too long, and something will come along that will remind you why you loved the story in the first place.Thus reigniting your enthusiasm. You just need to be able to push through that period of disinterest.

But you didn't come here for apologies and lessons. You came here for stream-of-consciousness immaturity and stupid captions. Or, more probably, you didn't come here at all. They say that a website has three chances with its readership, if they check back three times and there's never any new content, they will give up on it. Guess... Guess we're pretty well screwed. So, how about an update, in a likely vain attempt to win people back? Might be nice, you don't know. Stick around, read on.

You may remember the whole pre-viz image caper. I was going to go through scene by scene and do up these rough composites of key shots, to aid in the effect work that will be coming later. Well I did a couple scenes, and I sent them to Drew. To be discussed. The discussed discussion yielded this decision: Clayton, do not do what you are doing.

What!?!? Why would ANYONE want to stop THIS!?!?
Drew said that the images would be helpful, but that they actually provide more information than is strictly necessary to move forward in the VFX work. More information for the shots that are covered, anyway. But as I said, I was only going to do four or five key shots a scene. Which means less than half the total shots. Which means there would be a surplus of information on about a third of the shots, and NONE information on the rest. And it was going to take me a good ol' while to get this done.

More discussion was had, because I'm nothing if not trepidatious, and a decision was reached: storyboards. Which is kinda what I'd been hoping to avoid this whole time. I didn't do any before shooting with Mare, because I wanted it to be spontaneous. We got to do a lot of fun, improv-y stuff when filming Dorothy. Which means there can be no more fun improv anywhere else. I'd outrun storyboarding for as long as possible, but it was finally time for the running to stop. Storyboards provide an adequate amount of information, and for all the shots, so they were clearly the best bet.

Yessir, this is DEFINITELY where the smart money belongs...
I don't really love drawing, and I don't consider myself very good at it. I'm a vain guy, so what you're seeing in this journal entry is the cream of the crop... Most of the drawings are worse.

Storyboarding at this stage is kind of weird. I've got to watch through the Dorothy footage as I go and pick out the good takes of each shot, drop shots I don't like, essentially editing it in my head. And then editing it with a pencil.

"HAHAHA, famine is AWESOME!"
I'll pause a take I like of a shot I'm keeping and sketch my sketchy Dorothy, and then fill in the environment around her.

If we're defining "environment" very loosely, sure.

And then I ink it and erase the pencil, because I figure they'll last longer that way. And we wouldn't want to lose gems like these...

That's dear old Aunt Em, coming to you directly from a 90's hip-hop music video.
I have more fun coming up with shots for characters that haven't been filmed yet, or for effects shots. I'm still drawing, but at least that's kind of creative work.

I'm actually kinda fond of this shot, so you'll have to go elsewhere for snarky commentary. Might I suggest any other website ever?
Based on the number of pages I've done versus the pages of script I've covered... My calculations indicate I've got about 200 more to go... So I better buckle down and get used to it.

And that's what I'm up to, folks... Apologies and storyboards, huzzah! Who said depressingly independent filmmaking wasn't glamorous? I should note, this is just what I'VE been up to, because I'm an egomaniac and it's MY blog, dammit. Drew continues to work his own particular brand of magic, and Sean... Well... He's been one helluva bronie.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Gubby Sunday

I made a new video for you guys yesterday, it's online today. It addresses the alternate versions of the Witch scene, like the Banner Elk cut, that have been referenced in past Witch-scene-related journal entries.

And for good measure, why not watch the final scene again? Y'know... to compare..?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roughly Visible

Trucking right along, we've left the river behind us. Free to bounce around as my whimsy would dictate, today saw some Witch-Work go on. Scene 66, the Witch, angry at the defeat of her wolves, descends the staircase from the battlement to retrieve the Cap of Quelala. This is one of our many Witch-obscuring shots that are meant to help build up to her big reveal scene, which we've already spoiled on the internet. But whatever. If the movie only gets seen by those 808 people, we'll have more problems than one spoiled scene...

Of potential interest to fact fans is that the elements for this scene were shot on our costume-only day, which took place the day after our first, fairly disastrous, day with the prosthetic. We had Marie run through some costume-centric actions like these, no costume required. This is the Witch who's just barely visible in the shot:

And this is the element that was used to create the shadow:

Fun, right? For reference purposes only, not intended to be a 100% true representation of the film. But you already knew that.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Roughly Visible

What the heck kind of person would I be if I didn't put some goofy pseudo-Christ imagery into the film? Whatever kind of person it is, I'd be an even WORSE person if I didn't slot that imagery into a tracking shot that will also feature neck-breaking. Enjoy your family movie...

Should I do a disclaimer every time, "Pre-viz, not intended to represent the final film"? Y'know... for the newcomers? Heck, I'm not even sure if this represents the final pre-viz or not. I need to send Drew the lot of river sequence images and see if this is the kind of thing he had in mind. They're helping ME, at least...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Something Visible to Your Eyes

Yeah... Haven't thought of a name for this new, hopefully mostly daily feature. Drew and I were recently discussing the pre-viz of the film, and what's going to best help the visual effects artists we recruit in the future.  As he put it, the idea is to spark these artist's creativity. So really only a few key shots from each scene need to be fleshed out with detail. We decided that at this point in time we wouldn't get a lot of use out of the full-length edit I was planning, at least not enough to justify that effort.

So there was a discussion of maybe storyboard frames, something along those lines. This immediately terrified me, since drawing is not really my strong suit. Then I thought maybe something akin to the raw frame pluses I'd been doing on the blog. This way I could create these references using actual shots we'd already gathered, and really develop the look, framing, lighting, all of that. Drew agreed that would probably be a better guide than storyboards, so that's where we're going.

I've said on many occasions that the sequences which excite me the most are the ones that we've never seen captured on film before. Since we're not going to need this pre-viz for a while yet, I'm free to bounce around as my whimsy demands. My whimsy in this instance demanded river. Neither Tam nor Song, but rather the action sequence from the book. As good a place to start as any.

It started with our raw footage of Dorothy, as it always will. This is one of the more ridiculous ones without context, because she's kneeling on a weird green piece of plumbing, screaming and waving her arms around her head.

It started out with a reposing of the existing Woodman model, and the creation of a rough raft. I wanted to try something sort of birchy with the logs, since trees in film, especially fantasy films, always seem to be brown or green. We've never tackled water yet in our work on the movie, so I put some thought into how I wanted that to look. I decided to try out a pretty stylized thing, pushing it perhaps farther than Sean, or indeed anybody but myself, would like. Time will tell. Here's the background I created, anyway. As you'll see soon it will become mostly obscured in the final.

Sean and I mentioned in Jared's podcast, and maybe somewhere else, that he'd moved the crow attack to be a part of the river sequence. For a number of good reasons, and I fully support the alteration. But that's what Dorothy's doing with her flailing arms; fending off vicious crows. So I had put some in there. Otherwise it's just a little girl spazzing out on a raft.

And there's the final. Worth emphasizing, this is not intended as a full representation of the actual film. It's just providing a general guideline of what I'm seeing in my head, for the future VFX work. The work needs to be fairly quick if I'm to get a few done for every scene in the film, so I can't afford to spend more than a few hours at most on each.

And that's what the new feature on the blog here will be. There will be the occasional clip, but mostly it's going to stick to stills. We can't show you ALL the frames I'm creating, because we are making a movie that people will hopefully pay money to see in the near future. Spoiling every shot, even in rough, is going to... spoil every shot. Like where we're going? Hate it? Sound off in the comments or on the Facebook.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Banner From The Club!

Yay, we're back to exclamatory pun titles! Can a brutal suicide be far behind!?!? Let's hope not! If you've been to the site tonight, you may have noticed that the Witch take-over is no more. If you're slightly less observant, you may have at least noticed the new banner. If you noticed neither, then you're either visually impaired or you just don't give a flying frell about our film. I have the numbers on that, odds are you're in the latter group, statistically speaking.

Anyway, I know the tantalizing stuff I promised a little while back hasn't shown yet, but don't worry, it's on its way! Drew and I have been having a little back and forth on the pre-viz stuff, and while the nature of my upcoming work is going to be slightly different than advertised, it's still going to translate to cool, daily blog content for you guys. Starting this week!

But in the meantime, how about a brief rundown of the new banner? It was pretty straightforward, as far as assembly, but it might be of some interest anyway. As will almost every shot in this film, it starts with a shot of Mare filmed over two years ago.

This was a really easy performance to get. We just told her gullible was written on the ceiling...
And then we have a shot of Stacey, filmed a couple months ago.

And she is of course imagining Brett Favre...
Both very straightforward to chromakey, though the Dorothy element needed a little masking to remove our nasty old duct tape markers. Then I wanted to get the farmhouse in there. The model is the same one used in the teaser trailer, but with some revamped texture work done to it, and rendered with a nice dusky sort of lighting scheme.

Abraham Lincoln could only DREAM of someday making his house float inside his writing... This one's for you, Abe.
That was just popped in under our ladies, with a blurred out, stolen image of some hedges. Sean has me do these at a really weird resolution so we have a nice wide banner, and it extends out there even for people with higher resolutions. But it makes framing weird. You need to leave a lot of negative space, some for the title itself, and some just uninteresting background stuff that can stand to be cropped for people with smaller resolution monitors. Here's the image sans logo:

We brought William Wyler and Robert Surtees in to consult on this one... Get it?
And then strictly for my pleasure, I did up one at the same aspect ratio and resolution as the actual film, with framing that's more to my liking. This actually sort of ties into my discussion with Drew. More on that later in the week!

Clearly Aunt Em and Uncle Henry did NOT teach poor Dorothy about stranger danger...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Misery Business

We had footage of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch in the can. I say in the can, but... y'know... digitial. In the card doesn't sound as cool, though. They had been filmed anyway, is the point. I say filmed, but... y'know... digital. The scene was then firmly in the post-production phase. Time for editing and effects.

I'd already edited this scene twice at this point. Once when I edited the Dorothy footage, and once when getting it ready to present at Banner Elk. I'll be uploading both versions to Youtube sometime in the near future. The Banner Elk version was pretty much a disaster. I'd wanted a reveal for the Witch, I wanted the scene to build up all this tension, and then boom, there she is. I actually had the idea for her stepping into the light while editing for Banner Elk. But I was forced to compromise, because we'd had such trouble with the Witch mask up to that point.

So the Banner Elk people got to see a bastardized version of the scene, which played out the Witch's monologue in shaky close-ups. I was very dissatisfied with what we were able to present there, but I only had a couple of weeks to put it all together. This time, I had a couple of months, and I was going to take advantage of every second of it. You'll see soon I mean that literally.

I really enjoy editing, so I had no problem going back and starting the process from scratch. I wanted to make sure the scene was as good as I could make it. It came together pretty naturally. Even with just the action playing out on green-screen and a pixel-y pre-cursor to the final shot of the tower, Sean and I liked this version of the scene the best yet. It had the build-up and pay-off that I wanted so badly.

The edit only changed once after that. The first time through when I edit, I always trim out as much as possible. Jump into a shot late, leave early. As I started seeing the effects come together, I realized I could draw the whole thing out just a bit more. The longer you can go without cutting in a scene like this, the more tension there is. So I extended the first shot slightly, let the second shot play out longer after the Witch had turned around, and kept in an additional foot-step on the foot shot. They were little additions, about eight seconds total, but every second of film you choose to include or cut out is very important. Sometimes the trimming can come down to a frame or two.

I had the edit I wanted, and in order to let it remain precisely so, I would do my effects shots with the same file name as the original raw footage. A copy and replace into the folder containing the shots would obliterate the old one, and Sony Vegas would never know the difference. As long as the files were also AVI's, and the durations and frame-rates remained constant.

Which brings us to the effects. I have a love/hate relationship with visual effects. I have a deep love for them on a conceptual level. They open up amazing possibilities in film. I love watching a good visual effect, and I spend a lot of my free time on websites like fxguide, or watching visual effects breakdowns and documentaries.

But DOING visual effects... Eh. There are times when I get a lot of joy out of it. That's usually when an effect works easily, and ends up looking exactly the way I want it to. But the rest of the time I just... don't really care for it. I find it frustrating and repetitive.

That's why I'm more than happy to hand off as much work to Drew as I possibly can. Sadly, in this case it wasn't too much. I probably could've gotten some compositing out of him had I scheduled this whole thing better, but I didn't. That's not to downplay his input, though. What he did do for me was crucial stuff.

For a start, there was the motion-tracking. In case you don't know, motion tracking is how you replicate a camera move in the computer. There is software that will track various points in the frame to determine how the camera moved, and export that data in ways that 3D packages and compositing programs can use to make virtual cameras that move with the scene. It's not as automated as that, though. I have little experience in that field, which is one of the many reasons why it's good to have Drew on the team.

I promised more on Drew's lack of input on the Dorothy footage last time. I was in charge of the tracking marker situation that time around and... well... I wasn't thinking third dimensionally. The flat markers I placed on the screen are fine for 2D tracking, but they don't really do anything to indicate depth. Which has meant some hassle for Mr. More in getting this stuff successfully motion tracked.

But by gum he did it, and with great speed. He tracked the shots according to a priority list I'd made for him, and sent me the data as he had it. In addition, he was responsible for... visual effects supervision. When I've got my comps starting to come together, I'll show them to Drew, and he'll be able to articulate exactly why it's not looking right to me. His input is the difference between a shot that looks like this:

And the final:

So that's the sort of vague workflow, but how about the nitty-gritty? I'm going to break down three shots that run the range of process and technique. Between these three, you'll have a good overview of how the effects went together in the entire sequence.


This is a shot that was in the game plan from the word go. A movie can't play out entirely in close-ups, and sometimes we need to see Dorothy in the same shot with these other characters. Being the director, camera operator, and editor, storyboards were quite rare in shooting the Dorothy material. It was very run and gun. Sean and I would plan out the environments in broad strokes before hand, and then with that in my head I'd shoot what I'd need of Dorothy to get the shot I want later down the line.

Occasionally I'd frame a shot knowing that I'd want another character in the picture with her, and I'd tell Mare what action to do, and work out the timing. In this case, I told her to start by looking down to her right, and then when I gave the word, she nodded. The scripted reaction to that point in the Witch's monologue.

Shooting the Witch was a different process. And for any scene that featured Dorothy, much less free-form. I would edit the scene using the filmed Dorothy material and cheesy animations, so I knew exactly what we needed from the Witch for a successful scene. I'd show it to Marie when necessary, and that allowed us to work out the timing properly.

In the case of this shot, since we were going to composite her into a handheld shot of Dorothy, the Witch had to be shot on a tripod. Otherwise there would be no way to match her into the shot.

To begin the composite, I would start just adjusting the timing of the two separate character layers. The Witch element was just placed over top of the Dorothy element with 50% opacity, allowing me to make sure the nod was inserted at the right time.

I then began the composite proper. All the composites in this sequence were handled with planes at different depths, rather than rendering out actual tracked 3D backgrounds. I'd done some tests in Softimage XSI, and the parallax you get from that was so subtle as to not really be noticeable, which made the increased render times not worth it.

The composite then becomes just flat video images at different depths. They only look right from the one angle the virtual camera is shooting from. If you look at them from any other direction, it's just nonsense. Or a scene from Tron.

So obviously we have our two character plates. The castle element is a still of my battlement CGI model rendered at the appropriate angle. The cloud plates are elements I shot out the kitchen window during hurricane Irene a couple months ago. In this particular sequence the Witch's anger and the magic with the cap is sort of swirling up the clouds and causing them to twist around the castle.

Once all these layers are put together, it's all about the color grade. Adjusting the contrast and saturation of the various elements so they look like they belong together, and then grading the image as a whole. That's what really helps sell it.


This is a shot that shouldn't exist. There's really no way it could have. The keys are in the script, but not in any of the Witch designs up to the point of filming Dorothy. So I didn't have any idea what they'd look like, and the mere mention of keys didn't spark any creativity on my part. But Sean found this awesome set of keys, and did a really great job aging them. They looked so cool hanging off her waist that I HAD to showcase them in some way. But I didn't want to just insert a random shot of them dangling around.

Enter the shot that I had dubbed during the Banner Elk edit the "Leone Keys." I thought it'd be really cool to do the standard gunslinger kind of shot, but on those keys, with feeble little Dorothy sitting in the background. And I did, during our costume only day, where Marie didn't have on any of the prosthetics. But I didn't have that idea until 2011, which meant there was no corresponding Dorothy element for this shot.

I took a lot of spare footage of Mare on her last day. But it's mostly close-ups, rotations, and walking stuff. To get me out of any continuity issues that may arise. The teaser is comprised solely of this type of footage. And the original version of the key shot, for Banner Elk, was too.

But only being able to show her from the waist up, I had to cheat the angle of the background. And it looks quite lame. Luckily, as I searched through the raw footage, I found that we had some nice tripod footage of Mare sitting in the bell dress. It was perfect for this shot. And we had a flubbed take that contained about five seconds straight of Mare not speaking. So I nabbed that. She doesn't have the appropriate expression of terror, but knowing that the element was going to be out of focus, it didn't matter.

It was when working on this shot that I had the idea to adjust the blocking. You'll notice in the original that Dorothy was sitting in the middle of the wall. This made all the shots very flat. I decided I'd literally back her into a corner, which would liven up the visuals just slightly. Being a tripod shot, this is a straight up 2D composite. Sky footage, CGI Battlement, Dorothy, Witch. Again, the color grade is what really helps it pop. Here it is before:


If the last shot shouldn't exist, then this shot REALLY shouldn't. I didn't even have this idea until two days before the scene needed to be finished. The original shot was to be a better version of this, which made it into the Banner Elk version:

But I just wasn't happy with it, on multiple levels. It's a pretty flat, uninspired shot. Dorothy's all centered and just sitting there. It doesn't do much to ratchet up the tension, and at this point in the scene that's pretty crucial. Also, while I got it to work pretty well, I was having a hard time getting handheld Dorothy to sit on the CGI floor without sliding around. So I had failed the shot compositionally, and on a visual effects level. At the last minute I decided I wanted to replace it with something else.

Sean and I discussed and in some cases sketched out the environments before ever Shooting Dorothy, so I always knew what the space would look like when I was filming her. But sometimes you don't know how to best showcase that environment until you've seen it built. After working with the battlement model for all these months, I had an idea for a replacement shot that I thought would be really cool. And I figured I could make that work with the same sitting Dorothy element from before.

But as I said, I had this idea two days before the 31st. In order to get Dorothy behind the foreground element, and in front of the background element, I needed to render them out as separate passes. And the shot had to be 136 frames, to match the duration of the shot it was replacing. I didn't have the time to render out 271 frames in the time allotted. So, first things first, I rendered out the move just using the XSI viewport camera, which looks terrible, but renders very quickly.

I then rendered out a very large plate of the wall, with all the same frills as the other renders, high anti-aliasing, global illumination, final gathering. I didn't have time to render the foreground element like that, because it would take an hour per frame. Since I knew it would be out of focus, I brought everything down and lost the GI and final gathering, sticking with just an ambient occlusion pass instead.

When that was done, all that was left was compositing. I brought that viewport render in and animated a point to stick to the tip of the Dorothy stand-in's nose. I then positioned the nice render of the wall and the Dorothy element according to this reference, and parented their movement to that animated point. That left me with the two elements moving in a way that was correct to the shot. All that was left was to drop the foreground elements over top, blur, and do the color grade. Wham bam poetry slam, finished shot.

But I had a concern about it, and when I showed Sean the scene in its current form, his concern mirrored my own. Since the Dorothy element was never intended for this use, Mare's expression was not really appropriate to the scene. She looked kind of bored. She doesn't have a lot to do in this scene, but what was required of her she did very well. It wouldn't be right of me to make her performance look sub-par in this shot, especially when it's because of me that it is that way. So I plowed through the raw footage again, looking for a more suitable element.

What I discovered was that the scene I stole the piece from in the first place was the only time bell-dress Dorothy is sitting in a tripod shot. Which meant a more suitable element didn't exist. This is where a certain type of person is going to start hating me. Because I decided to create a more suitable element. I went back to the raw footage and picked out an alternate take of the shot this was meant to replace.

It's a handheld shot, like many in the film, so I couldn't just paste that more suitable head onto the other body. I picked the clearest still frame from the sequence, planning to use that as a base. Then I took the five frames of her averting her gaze, and in Photoshop pasted those eyes over the head element I'd chosen. I now had a steady head that wasn't just a still frame.

I shrunk, flipped, and masked that into position over the other body, with the eye animation taking place just at the end of the shot. And that was it, finished.

As I said, this is sure to raise the ire of a certain type of person, and I can certainly sympathize with their point of view. But I needed to get a different shot in there, and I didn't want to do a disservice to my lead actress. With her being too old now for reshoots, and me being hundreds of miles away anyhow, this seemed like the only way forward.

I ended up finishing the scene at seven AM on the 30th, after staying up all night working on it. We were having a pretty bad snow storm, and our lights kept flickering. As we frequently lose electricity in storms, I wanted to make sure I had it done and online on time, so our reveal "event" wasn't ruined. I uploaded it immediately after finishing, so Sean would have time to incorporate it into the web design. In fact, some of you got a sneaky peek when Youtube randomly decided I was kidding when I made it unlisted.

So there you have it. A VERY in depth breakdown of the visual effects process. If you stuck it through to the end, congratulations...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Where The Lines Overlap

I'm assuming that the kind of people who read this blog are already aware of our Halloween shenanigans. If not, please click here to head over to Youtube and watch the clip before reading ahead. Because I'm going to spoil every aspect of it. And while you're checking stuff out, head on over to the Witchified version of the website. Sean and I put a lot of work into that.

So there haven't been many blog entries lately. The majority of my Oz time has been spent working on all this Witch nonsense, and Sean and I wanted to keep this all under wraps until it happened. Which meant I was left unable to talk about the majority of what I was doing. But you're all in the loop now, so I can just go nuts. You're about to embark on the first in a two part adventure that will shake your worldview. Or like, a really little portion of your worldview. The small bit of your worldview that you devote to our film.

Believe it or not, it took a number of years for those two minutes to come into existence. And while our independent nature may leave us lighter on the crew side than your typical Hollywood production, it still took a load of people to bring this thing to life. Here in part one I'm going to outline the pre-production and production processes, with a focus on the many talented people involved.

It begins in the late 1890's, with L. Frank Baum. Oz fans already know how the book came about, and there are better sources on the internet to find that sort of information, so I'll refrain. But without his imaginative story, we obviously wouldn't be doing this at all. By that same token, there's W.W. Denslow, illustrator on the original version. While our Witch design doesn't owe much to his own, our Dorothy costume surely does.

The military used to be so much more glamorous...
Fast forward to the 1950's. An abridged version of the book is published, with illustrations by Anton Loeb. Sean grew up with that version of the book, and our Witch design certainly owes a debt to Loeb's.

Let's hear it for CHINA, everybody. THEY'VE got the right idea...
Speaking of Sean, he's next up, here. The original script was written by him long ago, in the time before there was even God. Before we ever met. Which is good, because I would have been twelve, and that would have been creepy. He's chronicled his own screenwriting process on the website, so I won't get into that here. But he was responsible for adapting the book, and making a version of the scene that paid respect to Baum but was also his own.

We'll jump ahead again to 2009, now. Sean and I had hatched this crazy scheme, and were planning to shoot some of the film in the summer. Which left us struggling to put together all the props and costumes we'd need in time. The costumes were more his thing, since I not only have zero fashion sense but zero fashion interest. He designed the Emerald City bell dress, based on Denslow's illustration, and figured out where and how to get it made.

Which brings us to our next important person, the quirky Barbara Miller. After a little snafu with a previous costumer, Sean managed to find Barb, who was willing to do the work for free, provided we bought the fabrics. So Sean and Barb went on a cloth shopping spree (SO fun...), picking out all the right materials. Barb had the costume ready in time for us to film the sequences that required it. You can see us going to pick it up in this video.

So we had the costume, but a costume is no good without somebody to wear it. And when that person happens to be the lead in your film, they also need to be talented with the acting. Which brings us to Mariellen Kemp, our Dorothy. It's her fault that we're shooting this film in the strange way we are. As we've said before, her audition so impressed us so that we wanted to make sure we could get Dorothy filmed before Mare outgrew the part. Based on our (lack of) success with fundraising so far, we were right to handle things the way we did. Because Mare's in high school now...

We filmed the Dorothy half of the scene on June 29th, 2009. That's over two years ago, that's crazy. It's not a scene where Mare has a lot to do, the Witch is doing the villainy and getting her monologue on in front of a scared little girl. But just because there's no dialogue doesn't mean there's no acting. Mare had to look credibly frightened by something that was meant to be in front of her but was not, and in fact would not become a physical reality for two years. All we had to show her was the one piece of Witch concept art from our pre-viz gallery. We didn't even begin Witch auditions for two more days, so we had no idea what to expect from the Witch's performance.

There's a reason they never made a movie about zombie Bob Marley...
And yet Mare did her best, reacting to absolutely nothing while sitting in a silly dress on a green cloth. And she friggin' brought it, I'm totally sold on her terror. And I need to stress this, I was not helping her in any way. Sadly, a few days before this I'd discovered that I could make Sean laugh by doing a poor impression of Caddyshack Bill Murray, and so whenever he and I were together I was saying ridiculous things in that voice. And it's a hard voice to ditch. As I went over the raw footage I was embarrassed to hear the faint traces of Caddyshack Murray penetrating my direction.

It's actually not acting, she's just wrinkling her nose at me. Because I'm an IDIOT.
Luckily, there was an unsung hero there to give Mare whatever help she needed. And that's Mare's mother, Amy. Who was there EVERY day, and yet for some reason we haven't really mentioned her at all. But she was crazy instrumental in making the whole film happen, not just this scene. She allowed her daughter to be involved in our crazy project, she helped Mare memorize her lines at home, went over them with her in between takes, read for other characters so Mare had something to play off of, provided eyelines, etc. Plus she drove Mare and herself over on time every day, and was really flexible with scheduling. Amy's important, is what I'm saying. Got it? Alright.

Our A-Team reboot was doomed from the start. I pity the fools...
July first was Marie's audition for the Witch, and while we had other people to test, it was pretty obvious that she was going to be the one. She nailed it first time, and was very receptive to direction, asking if we had any notes or anything for her. We didn't really... We officially gave her the part not long after.

Because we were afraid NOT to...
Marie was a pleasure to work with. A very nice, conscientious person. She was very understanding of the trial and error process of filming the Witch this year, and endured a lot of stress to make it happen. Not just during filming, but leading up to it as well.

I was going to make a Diamonds Are Forever reference, but I think I may be the only one who remembers that movie exists...
The primary source of stress being that damned mask. Prosthetics were always the plan for the Witch. Where would we ever find somebody that hideous? And would we REALLY want to look...? Luckily for us, Sean's friend Darek was friends with the delightful Norman Rowe, and hooked us up with him.

I've gone on before about how freaking awesome Norm is, and Sean did likewise in his most recent article. We love Norm, he's a great guy, and very talented. He did fantastic work crafting the appliances necessary to bring this character to life, and he lost a lot of sleep figuring out how to make it all come together. He did it though, and the Witch turned out better than I could have hoped for.

A scene from our sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The make-up is only a part of the look, though. You can't have a successful character without a costume. At least not in a children's film... We needed a Witch costume, and since nasty Victorian isn't in this season, we couldn't find it on the shelf. Or off the shelf. What we needed was just nowhere near the shelves. Sadly, Barb wouldn't be able to help us out with the Tri-Dubs. This time Marie hooked us up, with her friend Marina Cherry.

Yeah, they're good drawings. Sure... Let's just avert our eyes from the chin on the left, shall we?
Sean went through the same process as he had with Barb, only way more expensive. He drew up designs for the costume, picked out fabrics with Marina, and handled any back and forth necessary with her. The result was pretty witchin'. And there it is, pun allowance met.

Our last crucial individual is a Mr. Drew More. I stumbled upon Drew quite by accident, in June of 2010. I'd posted on a forum looking for critiques on the then in-progress teaser trailer, and he not only helped out with some very helpful critiques, but expressed a love for the book and volunteered to help with effects work, if we'd have him. And of course we did. The shots of the teaser that hold up best are all him. His talent and experience secured him the position of our visual effects supervisor. Since then he and I have been working together a lot on some stuff that you all may get to see someday.

Obviously, having met him after she was wrapped, Drew had no input on the Dorothy material. More on that tomorrow. But while he could not be present (low budget film, remember?), Drew was still on hand for VFX supervision when the Witch photography was underway. He masterminded our improved tracking set-up, and through video correspondence tested and approved what we went with. We consulted with him before up and moving to Norm's air conditioned shack. And he and I did a lot of tests with shutter speeds. I'll outline the rest of his contributions in tomorrow's entry.

This is just here to prove that there's still more friggin' creepy left in this character... You've not even seen the best of it yet.
I've detailed in more than one entry the process of filming our Witch, and those entries still exist in the archives. All I really have to add is that the Witch footage contained in this scene was shot across three different days. The first day, the costume only day (gunslinger keys, baby!), and the last day, August 21st. My personal favorite shot, where the Witch steps into the light and begins her little speech, was nabbed on that last day. The Banner Elk convention goers got... something else... on the 17th. Someday soon I'll let you all in on that joke.

So there you have it. A substantial number of people working on this across two years. And that's just to make everything happen in front of the camera. Obviously when we capture a character in front of a green dropcloth we're not ready to send the footage straight to the theater... Check back tomorrow for an in-depth write-up on the editing and visual effects work. Or don't, if technical details bore you. I'm gonna get SERIOUS!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Frame For Today

Woof. Got this one in just before close. Forgot that I have a blog...

Seriously... I just forgot...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Frame for Today

"But now you're what... cooked?"
"If you like..."

Apropos of nothing, was anybody else absolutely crazy for The God Complex?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Raw Frame of the Day

This is a frame. And it is raw. Whether or not it makes it into the film is another matter entirely...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Raw Frame of the Day

According to fan (and writer-producer) reaction, apparently I was wrong, and it was not fun. They can't all be the phonograph though, amirite, Edison?

The Kalidah bridge sequence is one of the bits I'm most looking forward to working on. I get really excited about the bits of the book that have never really been brought to the screen before.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Raw Frame of the Day

I thought it might be fun to pick a shot totally at random and then do a screen capture with my eyes closed. Was I right? Was it fun?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Raw Frame of the Day

A friend in need is a friend indeed. Anybody else never understood that expression at all? Wouldn't the friend who helps the friend in need be a friend indeed? Why would somebody who either needs or has requested my help be indeed a friend? Han Solo called to those stormtroopers for help right before he murdered them and took their clothes...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Raw Frame of the Day

So I'm curious. There's been a joke between Sean and myself about how screwed he would be if I died before we finished this. Because I'm the only one who knows the purpose of all these random shots of Mare doing random actions against green-screen. I want to see how true that holds. Based on your knowledge of the books, and maybe there are other raw frames that contain clues... what's going on here? Something nice may happen to the person who guesses, I don't know, I haven't decided yet.