Sunday, July 29, 2012

Looping the Loop

Hey, suddenly it's like a series of Doctor Who in this thing! But instead of "Bad Wolf," or "Torchwood," it's vague references to editing. And instead of a stupefyingly exciting finale it's... a pretty boring piece of writing.

But let's press on anyway. As I've alluded to in previous entries, I've been editing up all the Witch scenes so that we could hit some ADR with Marie. With the exception of one scene we'd already taken care of a couple weeks ago, we wanted to do all of them in one block. Which meant all of them had to have at least a rough edit in place. That's "all" up from the current "none."

So I'd been knocking out bits and pieces as there was time, and then this past week that was my primary focus, since we'd officially scheduled with Marie for tonight at six. It's mostly a relatively simple process, if time consuming. Just running through the footage to pick out my takes, running a conversion on the shots I select, and then editing a green-screen cut of the scene.

Occasionally there will be a little more work involved. Some sequences will require the odd rough composite or stand-in CGI shot, something that doesn't exist yet but really has to be there for the edit. This is always quick and dirty work, doing the absolute minimum necessary for the ADR process.
For a lazy guy like me, sometimes the absolute minimum is still too much...
I wrapped up my last scene this afternoon, just in time for us to head over to Marie's to record. At this point we've run through this multiple times with Marie. All for various iterations of the scene where Dorothy meets the witch, actually. So this was our first time for all of these other scenes, but not our first time. It's always kind of a weird activity, and while necessary, never particularly enjoyable.

Just in case anybody is totally unfamiliar, I'll run through the general process. A bigger budget movie will have a fancier set-up, but the basic idea is always the same. You have a take with unusable on-set audio, for whatever the reason may be. In our case it came down to the noisy fans in the studio lights, and the air conditioning we had to have running for the make-up. You play that take for the actor, who watches it with headphones on, and while it plays they re-perform the dialogue along with it, so you can record this new clean audio and the sync will be right for the character's lips.
Or, um... lip...
This can afford you all kinds of interesting opportunities, because as long as the timing is the same, you can try many varieties of different deliveries and inflections. It gives you more time than you might have on set to hone in on the character's vocals. But it's also pretty difficult. In the end there's really nothing for it but to watch each scene multiple times until you have it pretty much memorized.

One of the fun things about doing ADR with Marie specifically is that she gets really into character, even though we're just recording the audio. Way back in the audition she developed this hunch that helped her find the voice, so she takes a page from the Mark Hamill playbook and always stands (semi-erect) when we record. She'll also screw up her face, curling her lips and getting all squinty.
Well, I assume it's to help her get into a character. Maybe she just has a hard time reading without glasses.
In between takes I'd give Marie direction, often getting obnoxiously specific in my requests. We'd also discuss the Witch's thought process in the scene, what the point of the scene is, what it represents for the bigger picture, what sort of trajectory they all follow, etc. Once in a while we'd find an instance where a line had been altered while we'd been filming, for any number of reasons, and we'd have to listen to that delivery and write down the new wording for Marie to read along with.
And that was the moment they all agreed to give up on Chat Roulette.
While we've done ADR with Marie before, as I'd mentioned, and some smaller pieces with some other characters as well, this was our biggest chunk to date, and there's still much more to come. I'm hopeful that how smoothly things went tonight is a good indicator of what we can expect in the future. It took us a couple hours, but we managed to burn through all the Witch scenes and I feel pretty satisfied with the performance we were able to get out of Marie. And with any luck she'll still be able to speak tomorrow... 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kitty Pride

This past week I've been busy with more of that editing I'd mentioned, which is still not interesting to write about. Today I got to do something I've never done before on the movie, even though it's had to happen several times. And I hope I never have to do it again on the movie. Come, share in my pain, won't you? According to Sybok I might even grow stronger in the sharing.

Costumes are made of fabric. Simple, right? Well apparently you have to go out and pick out all those fabrics before they can be costumes. I've been perfectly content to stand back and let Sean handle all the costuming stuff. He'll share a drawing with me and I'll either be like, "Cool, that's fine," or occasionally find one little thing I dislike about it and be a prick until he makes the alteration.
"Don't get me wrong, I think this works OKAY... But maybe we make it a dude? Sleep on it..."
In addition to the design work, he's been the one to coordinate with our various costume ladies. Which means he's been the one to accompany them to all the various hobby stores to pick out and purchase fabrics. Usually it's been done when I'm out of town, so I couldn't go even if I wanted to. But I didn't manage to escape this trip unscathed, and ended up heading out with him and Kitty this afternoon. We left at 3:30 and didn't get back until about 10:00. It was... a day of things, I tell you what.

We started by swinging over to Kitty's to pick her up. She invited us in for a moment, to show us the progress on the costume for Boq. She also handed over the dress for the Wicked Witch of the East. Which I had not seen in person until that moment. I found the end result VERY satisfying.
And the whole, "bag off the left shoulder" style very tasteful.
Then we headed into Fredericksburg to paint the town red with the blood of our slain excitement. We started with  a big chain store, [A STORE]. [A STORE] often has pretty great deals, according to Sean and Kitty. If you're looking for fabrics, you should hit [A STORE] sometime.
They have many great fabrics available from [A BRAND].
The hours passed slowly, Sean and Kitty wandering around the store and discussing different fabric options, going back to Sean's sketches every so often to see how they might fit together. Sean found this blue fabric with a gold pattern that he really liked for Boq's wife, and that was the first thing we settled on. A trip to a second store yielded another blue material that went well with it.
"So we don't want any of this to be see-through, right?"
But then nothing went well with the two of them. We ended up having to hit a third store to find a the third fabric, and even then we had to alter our intentions for the dress so we could combine the third material with another and get it all to work really nicely. Some patterned ribbon for the cuffs and hem and we had our dress. We actually were after fabrics for two different dresses. One of them proved to be no sweat, but Boq's wife nearly killed us.

Which gives me a neat idea for the sequel...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Klip Art

So this is... really kind of a weird one. Our book fans will know the origin story of the Tin Woodman, wherein he began as a human man and then cut himself into little pieces with an enchanted axe. Fans who have read a little further in the series will know that the tinsmith who put him back together is a fellow called Ku Klip. Well our most recent bit of shooting was getting Ku Klip into the movie, and there's kind of a bizarre story behind it.
Could any OTHER kind of story have yielded these results?
Last summer, when I was down here in Virginia for our previous photography, I'd joked with Sean that it'd be cool to have a cut-away to Ku Klip in the Woodman's flashback. It would just be Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters standing there, with his arms crossed. We both laughed it off, but I kind of really wanted to do it, and Sean actually did too. But of course we would never be able to rope Jamie Hyneman into this.

Strangely enough, an internet friend of Sean's named Jay Greenfield, who Sean's known for years, went as Jamie Hyneman for Halloween last October. Sean saw the pictures on Facebook, and shared one with me, and we both laughed over the striking resemblance. But then as we were planning to shoot this summer, Sean figured, "why not ask Jay if he'd be willing to do it?". So he did.

We were expecting him to politely decline. Best case scenario, he'd be willing to come do it but we'd have to fly him out. Both assumptions proved totally incorrect. Apparently Jay likes to travel and thought this might be a bit of fun, so he flew out for the weekend, from California, mind you, to be a small part in our movie and see all the spectacular sights one can find in the King George, VA area.
Spoiler alert: There are none.
He flew in Thursday with a full head of hair and a rather nice beard. When we saw him on Friday both were gone. We actually shot his part yesterday morning, but I didn't update because after that we were out until midnight trying to show him a good time. We failed, but he was a good sport about it. This morning we went down to Richmond to deposit him at the airport, and he thanked us for the ride, like it was totally not a big deal to fly thousands of miles from home, shave his head, and stand around under hot lights while we filmed what amounts to a cameo.
Just another typical vacation destination...
Even the filming was a little unconventional for us. I knew from the start that they were pretty simple shots that I wanted a black background for, so rather than get him up on the green-screen we cut out the middle man and hung some black behind him. These shots were all about the lighting, so we carefully set up two of our studios lights to get him looking the way we wanted. Then I had Sean off screen with a third that I would have him flicker on and off so we could create sort of the general ambience of a tin smith's workshop.
Two amateurs can luck their way into some pretty awesome shots? Totally Plausible.
I'm pretty satisfied with how the whole thing worked out, and I can't believe how nice Jay was about it all. I mean, Sean may have known him for years, but he and I had never so much as exchanged an e-mail. Hopefully he enjoyed the experience, and maybe having an IMDb page is enough to make up for the next few months he'll be spending without hair...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Aging Process

We'll blast through a little quickie just to keep it from being a total graveyard in here. Mostly what we've been up to is boring to write about and even more boring to read about. And today wasn't much better, but at least there are PICTURES!

We got a leather apron in the mail last week, for use with a minor character we'll be filming this weekend. You book fans can probably guess who it's going to be, based solely on the fact that he's wearing a leather apron. Anyway, it's a brand new, beautiful apron... Which obviously would never do. A real person is supposed to have worn this in his workshop.
Pictured: Writer Sean Gates attempting to impress a fetching young lass with his fine leather wares.
So Sean and I got to do one of our favorite activities; taking something really nice and expensive that we just bought and drastically decreasing the resale value. We smacked the thing with boards, scraped it with nails, ran it over rocks, stomped on it... you get the idea. We're tightly wound guys, and it's a great way to relieve a little stress. 

And then after all that, we still got to play with fire. Sean broke out the matches and he and I took turns stabbing flaming sticks into the thing. We had some rubbing alcohol with us that we sprayed around to get it to burn a little better. Then we used the discarded matchsticks to get ourselves a real blaze going.
An aging technique Jimi Hendrix would have approved of.
If any children are reading this, first of all... stop. Don't do that anymore. Second of all, don't play with fire. It's fun as hell, but it's not safe and stuff, I guess. Anyway, we had our fun burning it, but there was method to the madness. You thankfully can't tell now, but there was a branded logo in the apron that we were afraid about getting rid of. Turned out to be super easy.
Guess Pinnacle won't be interested in any sort of endorsement deal.
After this, we took a wire brush to it and scuffed the bananas right out of it. Then we hit it with some shoe polish in strategic areas. We'll let you judge the effectiveness of our efforts this weekend.

In other news, we're continually working on getting the film assembled. We had an ADR session with Marie a couple weeks back, and we're scheduling another one soon. Toward that end I've been editing the various Witch scenes so I know which takes I want her matching to, and the pacing and energy of the moments, which will inform her performance. Like I said before; sorta boring to read about.
But at least your vision functions properly, without any supernatural hindrance.
And that's about all I have to report, for the moment. We'll be back for the weekend to talk about how our filming went.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Site For Your Eyes

A most happy Hump-day to all you Wednesday celebrators out there. We're experiencing a little bit of down time this week, but I figured I'd write-up a little something for those of you who are bored by this most boring day of the week. It won't do much to alleviate your boredom, but it will give you something else to direct you frustration at for the next five minutes.

Our long time readers (I'm so sorry, you poor souls) may remember that when Sean and I want to update the site, we have to do all of it ourselves. Well, if you've been to the site recently, you may have noticed that it's received something of a face-lift. We were very tired of the previous look, and we hadn't changed anything since November.

The original idea was to keep it all essentially the same, just slot in some new content and a new banner. As I was getting started on a cornfield banner, modeled after this shot, Sean came to be with big, wide puppy-dog eyes and made a tentative suggestion for a change. He appealed to our shared love of the old version of The, and suggested we ditch the tiling green background bricks and replace it all with super-large banner.

I liked the idea, and as you can see (spoilers) we went with it. It required a little more thought than doing an old-style rectangular banner overlay, and took a few more versions to nail, but the process was essentially the same. As will be the case for almost everything we do from here on out with the film, it all started by going back to the Dorothy footage. Since I'd storyboarded the sequence (smart suggestion Drew, but I still hated every minute of it), I knew exactly which take I wanted.
It's not a proper feature until you endanger the safety of a child with a rickety PVC construct.
And we'd just recently shot the corresponding Scarecrow element, so that was easy to pick out as well. Scarecrow's face was covered in tracking markers, which meant a replacement was required, even though he was going to get super scaled down by the time I was done. I knew nobody would get to see what I did, but I wanted it to be right anyway, because I would know it was there. So I had him get his sleaze on.
"How you livin', gir'? Come for the corn, stay for the company, amirite?"
The rest was a pretty straightforward job. I whipped up a quick CG fence with some tiling bark textures from the magnificent, and comped it and the characters in with some stock cornfield footage I shot years ago. Having made a banner the right size and shape, I then passed it on to Sean for title and site integration. Whether it is successful or not is up for you all to decide.

Next on our agenda was buttons. Sean and I have never been satisfied that Lion wasn't represented on one of the buttons. You may recall the Cast button used to have Dorothy, Crew had Scarecrow, and Gallery had Woodman. Back in November when we were doing our last major update, we tried to add a new button with Lion on it, which would take you to the video page. Unfortunately, most browsers in most computers cut it off, so we couldn't add it without making the site scroll. Which added a whole host of ugly new problems.

So our plan for this update was to put the famous five on the Cast button together, and then get Witchy on the other two. Which you can see that we did. We were then going to just have a slightly modified version of the old button style, but the new banner style posed some issues. Sean again had the bright idea, this time for a M*A*S*H style signpost, which would fit into our kind of earthy vibe. I put together a quick CGI signpost, textured with wood and our buttons.
Oh wow, the five of them together. And to think it only took us... Three years.
And that's about it for the main site itself. We added a few new promo cards to the gallery, which are kinda fun, but by now you all know how we do that. The final task was to replace that VERY stale Wicked Witch of the West splash panel. Since Toto had been absent from the site up until now, and was frequently asked about, Sean and I both agreed that it ought to feature the little guy. Since we'd just wrapped with Toto that very afternoon, this was actually an option now.

Of course, Sean and I wanted the site to go up Saturday night, and we didn't get home from Toto work until around five. I had to put some finishing touches on the previously prepared material, like getting Toto on that Cast button, and then help Sean with his promo card and some other bits and bobs. Which meant whatever I ended up doing for the splash panel would have to be fairly quick work.

I opted to keep it in the China Country, since that's pretty simple from a modeling perspective, and not terribly render-intensive. I selected a shot from one little moment I invented on the day as we were filming Toto. Since every shot looks down on poor little Toto up until this point, I thought it'd be fun to give him his one moment as a giant.
I'm so sorry, Drew. I didn't know what else to do...
As you can see, the raw shot is vaguely horrifying. We just don't have the proper set-up for low-angle shots, and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and frame with roto in mind. I've tried to keep it to a minimum, because I don't LIKE to cause intense suffering... Of course this meant I had to cut around Toto's head for this frame. Luckily it's one frame, and he's against a background that's at least a distinctly different color, so it wasn't so bad.

All that was left after that was my background. I modeled up a quick white brick wall, and a China Country figurine based on a Denslow illustration. Seriously, go check that color plate. I even gave it some blue trousers that ended up just below the matte line. The addition of my Toto element and one of the many stock cloud photographs I've taken rounded out the final image.
Eat your heart out, Ted Danson. (Somebody somewhere gets that, and you're WELCOME, dammit. I know, I saw it too.)
And that's what it took to update the website. Sort of a pain in the ass, but it's important to us that it continues to look nice as we move forward on the project.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Citizen Canine

They say that in film, you should never work with children, puppets, or animals. Well as of today we can officially put a tick in all three boxes. With a pretty reasonable success rate. Sean managed to successfully wrangle a space to shoot in for today, and all parties involved were available, so we actually got the majority of our Toto photography accomplished. And having met Wiley in person now, may I just say Good LORD is that dog adorable. Pictures just don't convey the full effect.
But sometimes they come damned close.
We got started setting up at ten this morning, and were filming by about ten thirty. I'd been dreading this day more than any other, just because of the level of unpredictability involved. Even with the most well trained dog on the planet, you just never know what he might get up to. And I hadn't ever filmed an animal before. I was more than a little nervous.
And Wiley let me know who was the bitch in this scenario. What? Dog lingo. Don't even worry about it.
It turned out to be all for nothing. Glenda and Mark were both wonderfully nice people, they knew how to manipulate their dog, and things went much more smoothly than I was expecting. While obviously they hadn't trained their dog to, "look to his left in a slightly disinterested way," or, "lie still, intoxicated by the aroma of the poppies," they had some stock tricks that they were able to apply and combine to get him to perform the desired tasks.
He would have asked for a second take had he known this was his only chance to lie down all day.
Usually this entailed picking out a favorite toy of Wiley's and waving it around at him. One of these included Mark's remote control helicopter. For some reason that thing drives Wiley absolutely crazy. If he so much as sees it he'll either tense up and start barking or run over to it as fast as possible. We could have Mark fly it around a bit so Wiley would chase the thing in erratic ways. Or we could just have Glenda dangle it at him to spark his interest.
All together now, "Awwwwwwwwww!"
Looking over the footage this evening, I feel pretty confident that we captured nearly all of the green screen elements we need. I say nearly, because the Captain Ahab in me left today with one white whale in his sights. We had one incredibly specific shot we tried multiple times and just couldn't make happen. By the end of the day Wiley was pretty tuckered out, and didn't have a lot of patience for complex movement.

We've not seen the tail end of the little guy just yet, though. Glenda and Mark will be bringing him back for a few bits of location stuff later this summer. And while Wiley's around, I'm either going to catch that white whale or... drown spectacularly, I guess. Hopefully just get that shot, though...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Basting the Puppeteer

So that was interesting. We did some stuff I was eager to tell you folks about, and yet there hasn't been a peep here for days. Wednesday and Thursday I was too busy actually doing the things I wanted to tell you about to tell you about them. Friday night I was backing up the day's footage and planning for a post on Saturday, but the power went out mid-back-up. It only just came back a few hours ago. No power meant the computers and internet were depressingly non-functional.
But it's okay, because so was every other thing.
But enough with the excuses. Now it's time to actually talk about what I wanted to talk about; finishing Scarecrow photography. While we had the Scarecrow puppet on "set" with Mare for eyelines, and even had instances where it was slightly puppeteered, we had not perfected our rig at that time. And there just wasn't room for Mare and the puppet and also the human man he was strapped to to be on the screen together.
Even the puppet's hat gave up and committed suicide halfway through our one and only attempt at this.
So the Scarecrow we captured with Dorothy was fairly lifeless, relegated to mostly close-ups and mid-shots on what we call the "standing rig." There were also no tracking markers on the face, which would lead to much post-production misery. This is what necessitated the additional Scarecrow photography which took place last week. Replacing the eyeline element with something more animated, and capturing actions we just couldn't do with previous incarnations of the puppet rig.

Due to the demands of Steve's job, we knew we had to wrap up with Scarecrow within a week. We had scheduled and planned for six days, and the first two were spent working at a pace that reflected that. On day three we learned that we were going to have to cut it a day short, which meant really ramping up into overdrive to finish in five days. To put that into perspective, it took us fourteen days to film with Mare. While Dorothy's in the film more than Scarecrow is, he's a pretty close second.
Beaten for screen-time, but unmatched when it comes to Christ impressions.
Given the lack of power in the area on Saturday, it was actually quite fortunate that we had to step it up and finish early. Had we been relying on that sixth day, we wouldn't have finished with Scarecrow last week, and Steve would already be back at work today. It was hard on all of us, but most especially Steve. Doing 8:00-6:00 days in some cases, and working in 100 degree weather. That's wearing a skin-tight bodysuit that is super-effective at trapping body heat, catcher's gear crusty with ten cans worth of spraypaint, and a bag of hay the size and shape of a small child.
It may not be a union gig, but we still allowed the two of them a shared period of rest.
Steve's best friend during the week was Norm's garage fan. Due to our time constraints he could only get fully out of the suit a couple of times each day, so most of his breaks were taken with the puppet and full gear still strapped to him. He'd carefully shuffle himself over to his chair, and Sean the fanboy would position the fan for maximum cooling effect.
The fan being the only way Chromakey Steve and "maximum cool" could ever even approach the same zip code.
The crazy bastard pushed through it, though, and we actually made it through the whole script. Five majorly hot days, two trips into the forest for sticks and vines, three Lowe's runs, two late-night rounds of puppet modification, and thirty-seven Ben Folds' cover of Sleazy sing-alongs later, it is done. And Chester is more or less dead from all the abuse.
RIP Chester. Causing grown men to question the sanity of their life choices, 2009-2012.
We were meant to have filmed with Wiley yesterday and today, but unfortunately the power situation put the kibosh on that. We're working to reschedule, and as ever I'll keep you guys posted, barring any natural disasters.