Monday, November 30, 2009

Character Development

Spent a chunk of my free time over the holiday working on characters for my upcoming project.  There are all sorts of quirks and oddities in the Iclone body and facial sculpture but eventually I got some characters that I felt I could live with and have grabbed enough experience to move forward with less dress rehearsal jitters.  Still wondering why there are not more hairstyles (either by RL or 3rd party).

The chubby fellow to the left could use a better hawiian shirt for sure (less a hawiian tshirt) and my bikini gal should probably roll with a different design than polka dots but like I said, it'll do for now.  Hope you all had a fantabulous turkey/pie day.  Mine was solid.

And if anyone might be interested in helping me create a Robot Monkey suit that the afore mentioned chubby fellow to the left could wear, aquire within.  This is my last big hitch in the production at this time. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Room to Die In

It's a common story.  I just wanted a platform to tell my little stories and show off the ideas in my head.  Along the way I've learned a bit about video game theory, began making digital music, have become somewhat proficient in graphic arts, dabbled in acting,  touched on costume design, done bags of research on bizarre topics, developed scripts, proofread  scripts for others (Am I qualified for this?  As much as anything else I suppose...) , gained (limited) knowledge on video conversion processes, developed architectural exterior and interior designs and the list goes on.  

This week has been one involved in interior design.  Based on my experience from the House of Horrors project, I've developed a workflow that begins with me creating my rooms in sketchup.  Wall cutouts are hard to achieve in Iclone but rather simple in sketchup and I actually like the textures offered there.  So when I realized I would need an office for a movie mogul in my current project, off I went to sketchup where I built a simple rectangular box with three square windows on one side, the walls divided with a wood finish on the bottom and a seventies wallpaper texture on top (see the pic from the previous post).  My muse was most likely the initial office of the movie mogul from Barton Fink.  At least some version of it stored away in my porridgey like brain.   Tossed it into Iclone (the prop, not the brain) and got to work on furnishing and lighting.  Then realized how much I disliked the design.

My experience in interior design consists of a "use what you find" (I am an avowed garage sale kind of guy) attitude and the memory of that interior designer in Brewster's Millions who kept trying to design a room that Brewster would want to die in.  As I decorated that room I realized how much it looked like the band rehearsal space I created in my parents basement when I was 15.  A hodgepodge of crappiness. Ok says I, back to the drawing board.  After thinking things over, the intent here is some sort of swinging bachelor pad of an office (the time period is a combination of late 50's to the early 70's in some type of alternate universe of style and makes more sense in my head I suppose).  So I hit up the google image search and found two pics I liked....oooh, circular and wood and stone and groovy fireplaces and bars.


Loved that bar on the first pic so it became the focus of my office (which is now an office/lounge...ok just a lounge).  Then I realized a fishtank would be needed.  So mixing all these elements (and a pair of Corbusier chairs) together like some kind of chef salad here is what I got:

Im still short a possible rug, lamp, fish for the tank (hmm paths not stationed on the ground are difficult), fire for the fireplace, track lighting, additional posters and some knicknacks but I think Ive got the basis of a room here that I could die in. Or at least have a drink in.  

As much as I like to get things done in an expeditious manner, I always find it satisfying when I step back, think about what I want and eventually achieve it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HDR Effects, Classic Fairy Tales from Virtual Worlds

With Toying Around being the first production done wholly in IC4, I made an effort to dally about with the new HDR settings.  However, the content (toys) called for a flat colorful look and I ended up not using the effect.  Now that that project is complete, I turn my attention back to bigger and more ambitious things.  Things that can use the HDR effect to better results.  

Heres a simple screenie of what is supposed to be a studio executives office.  The office layout kinda sucks and theres much work to be done here but I do think the lighting really brings things to life (or mayhaps it's just the bowler).  Much experimenting in this area to be had.  And how are there no good old classic typewriters available on 3D Warehouse?  Theres like 150 pod racers and not one typewriter older than 1970?  Hurumpha.

And not to be outdone, heres a quick closeup of Steve-O's electronics and our hero (?) done up wrong.  Agaion the HDR lighting with a lot of contrast seems to be the look I am going for.

Heres a little flick I caught last night; The Princes and the Pea  by ToxicMenges.  Shot in Second Life, amazingly cool costumes and sets, very effective storytelling.  Color me impressed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Expo, deep thoughts, ect.

My brain is soup.  Not that it's a bad thing but it needs to be strained to get anything solid from it.  Busy weekend full of thoughts on the MachinimaExpo, machinima and animation in general.

The Expo was grand, full of interesting looking people, films and presentations.  IceAxe's Clockwork took home the gold which somehow further validated the jury panel in my eyes.  As I said previously it was a really strong contender but I figured on a win by the excellent Push because the Expo organizers have shown something of a  penchant for the more artsy films and an appreciation  for process.  Removing knowledge of process from the equation perhaps led to the selection of Clockwork (or perhaps not, what do I know).  Overall, it was neat to see the darkhorse (and deserving, though I could have slept easy with many of the other jury selections as well) win.

This issue of process has also been of interest to me of late, coming to a head in the great 48Hr Film faux pas  (I amplify only for comedic effect) in which the differences between MS, IClone and virtual world and video game video capture were discussed.  While it turns out the omission of Iclone in this event was simply a mistake, some very valid differences were brought up in terms of process.  In short, filming in IC or MS is very different than filming in SL.

As someone who now works with Iclone, I tend to think of myself as an amatuer animator more than a machinimator  as there is little link to the video game world (for me) and the idea of real time rendering as a dividing line is a technical one at best.  I don't think of one as better than the other but I do recognize that working in Iclone or MS knocks off a level of uncertainty and chance from the process (no bikini girls wondering into my shot...unless they are in the script) and allows me to follow a more rigid process to get my vision on film.  

So I continued in my stoic rigidity until reading these thoughts from Mike Joyce (Pineapple Chunks) which reminded me that some level of uncertainty and chance can be a good thing and organic filmmaking is something to remain open to in the future.  When we spend 3-6 months working on a film and it open and generates 20 responses in a week and then fades to relative obscurity perhaps process (those 3-6 months) indeed is as important as the end result.  Theres also an ease of collaboration and interaction that occurs in a virtual world that is much harder to attain in something like Iclone.  

And amid all these thoughts I have finished (I think) my video contest entry.  It's sugary sweet and reminds me of my childhood aspiration to be a tv adman dreaming up catchy jingles and cute catchphrases.

At the advice of Phil Rice I purchased Quick Time Pro for the h.264 video codec and am quite happy with the results.  1 minute of film uncompressed from Iclone to Magix was coming in at 2.5Gb.  Compressed in Quick time with nice looking results it 33Mb.  The conversion to flash looks solid in youtube as well as Vimeo.  And there was much rejoicing.  Thanks Phil! 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009 Machinima Expo - Some Jury Film Comments

The 2009 Machinima Expo takes place in second life this Sunday with multiple events, screenings and the winners of the Jury Prize and Asian Jury Prize.  I spent a lot of time recently watching some of these films and here are some of my thoughts..

The jury films can be broken up into two categories; the artsy films (9, Transient, AM-Radio, Push) and the story based films (Cafe Insomniac, Clear Skies, Clockwork, Death in Venice, Saving Grace, The Orchard).  Outside of this was Taste the Cake which is a music video about the game, Portal, and Twilight of the Gods which could be considered a story based film but the story is so thin that it feels (to me) more like an extensive flight sim tech demo.  

Noting the dominant platform used in the film,  there are 4 Moviestorm films (Cafe Insomniac, ClockWork, Death in Venice, Saving Grace), 2 Second Life films (AM Radio, Push), 3 Half Life2 films (Clear Skies2, Shelf Life, Taste the Cake), 1 WoW film (The Orchard), 1 TM flick (Transience), 1 IL2 flick (TotG) and one that Im not entirely sure of (9).  Its a bit dissapointing that no Iclone flicks were selected though my favorite Iclone film, Lizard's Coming Home was selected for screening.

Here are the films:

9 by Claus-Dieter Schulz - Akin to watching a collidascope set to music.  Too esoteric for me personally.  It would have probably been more impressive if I had any background on the how/what/why but without this info I found this one lacking.  As an aside I did a little research and found this:  Like I said, it does seem a lot more interesting when theres some background accompanying the flick.  

:transient” by Sisch - I remember watching this about a year ago.  At the time many of The Movies people were considering using outside editing software on our movies and this was a highly touted example of such things.  Its funny that outside editing was such a big deal to us old TMOers not so long ago.  Anywho, I paid a lot of attention to the technical aspect of the film and failed to just watch the movie.  Coming back to it I was highly impressed at how well this holds up compared to the other art films selected for the jury.  Great music.  Very cool movie.

“AM Radio – Second Life – HD” by Pyewacket Bellman - Another esoteric one but this time full of images and things and places that I can relate to (at least on the surface).  Definitely beautiful things to look at and perhaps there is a hint of story here but I found myself wanting more than a hint and thinking about what else could be done with all these crazy places and things.

“Cafe Insomniac” by Hardy Capo - I need to revisit.

Clear Skies 2 by Ian Chisholm - I will have to come back to this when I have 45 minutes to dedicate to a machinima film.  I saw the first Clear Skies at a Machinima Fest in NYC last year.  Seeing it live on a big screen with a crowd of people was actually not an optimal experience for me.  I was preoccupied with watching the people attending and there were other things happening (a forum discussion in another part of the room) and the sound was inferior to the headphone experience.  As such I wasn't all that impressed.  The exterior scenes all felt like a video game and it felt pretty long to me. I will try to give this the attention it needs (soon) as many people have raved about it.   And many people cant be wrong..hehe.

Clockwork by IceAxe - Heres one that I forgot just how good it was.  The strength here is the environment that is created.  A V for Vendetta/Clockwork Orange world that is so real you can touch it. Put together through colinear peeks into various phases of that life (the robotic radio - a definite V influence eh, the govt sequence, the droogs, the police).  It really is effective and soo stylish to boot (that scene of the gang walking along the edge with all its high contrast is very very nice).  A strong contender me thinks.  

”Death in Venice” by Kate Lee & Sherwin Liu - I need to revisit.

”Push” by Lainy Voom - The odds on favorite to win in my book.  Beyond polished and way too cool.  If I saw this in a commercial break I would sit up scratch my head and hit the rewind button on my dvr.  What does it mean?  Who knows.  Who cares.  Its fun and interesting to watch like some kind of complex cartoon mousetrap device.  If you haven't seen it yet let me assure you that you can find two minutes of your life to watch it.

”Saving Grace by Sisch - Will need to revisit.

Shelf Life by James Spencer and Jon Sortland - This one was a revelation to me (I'm not so very up on the latest and best releases).  Cinematic and very eerie.  Pulled me in and left me wanting more (Shelf Life 2 will premeire very soon).  Ended up reminding me a bit of Carpenter's "In the Mouth of Madness".  I have been playing HalfLife2 a good bit recently so I am aware of the world they have to work with and this still felt fresh and inventive.  Still, I think the restrictions inherant in the engine/platform will keep it from taking home the win.  For example, the creation of Push is constrained only (well mostly) by the imagination while Shelf Life is a very good story acted out in a premade environment.  Eh, perhaps this makes no sense.  Regardless, I will definitely be in line to see part 2.  Very good flick.

”Taste the Cake” by Ray Koefoed - A fun, well made music video about the game Portal with very original music to boot.  Its the only jury film that could be considered Comedy.  It probably wouldn't have made my list of 12 (lacks something to really push it over the top and felt like a commercial for the game) but its definitely very good.  

The Orchard by Dan Ross - A world of warcraft flick that is attempting a little bit of fairy tale horror but ends up feeling awkward because of the character cartoony looks and some of the mildly awkward and limited animations.  This is the first WoW film I have watched and I suppose the land of fairies and orks just isn't my thing as yet. 

“Twilight of the Gods” by Jan KopÅ™iva - A WWII aviation flick with loads of very very cool air combat footage and very little else (in what was approximately a 12 minute film).  There are little snippets of story here and there (the nurse, the germans, the Saving Private Ryan ending) but overall it felt like a very long tech demo to me.

Im hoping to rewatch Death in Venice, Saving Grace and Cafe Insomniac soon as well as watching Clear Skies 2.  Also hoping to get around to the Asian Jury films this weekend.  Might try to post again about these and some of the screened films as well in the next day or so.  Saw a mountaineering GTA flick I'm just itching to talk about..hehe.

Friday, November 13, 2009


A little something I've been working on this week for the comp and a quick reminder of how great IClone is at creating stills and screenies but how frustrating the animating process can be.  The toy man below has been cloneboned and can be animated similar to any other character except for the fact that the legs and arms are one piece instead of 2 and therefore cannot bend.  Not the end of the world but the legs had to be connected to the hips and the clonebone character will not allow you to get rid of the lower leg section nor the feet.  I shrank them as much as possible but they still exist and therefore toy man walks a few feet above the surface.  No problem, I'll just adjust the transform key and...well, he bobs up and down like a corpse in the Hudson when he starts walking.  Its a problem.  I havent found any keys in the timeline that are causing this so I might just have to figure a workaround.  Still the screenies look nice and I like all the new lighting features and the ease of giving this a washed out super bright look.  

Ive been thinking about the wisdom of posting so many screens of whatever Im working on at the moment.  Does it dull the surprise for the 4 people who happen to see it?  Maybe but my third point overrides this one.

Does it create higher expectations than the project can/will deliver?  Probably.  I see so many great screenies from Iclone projects where the animation ends up stilted and lacking compared to how my imagination spun things upon seeing the shot.  This is probably the case with the screenies I put up but I already know about my shoddy animation skills so no suprises for me..hehe.

I think the real reason I put up so many screenies is because it allows me to think about what I'm doing compared with the visions in my head and to help guide me through the process.  And all this while not cloning about.  For instance, I really like the low camera angle on that second shot.  Makes things look a bit more grandiose.  This is something I will probably be playing around with.  And then I notice that the ball shown in the screenie is the same color of the toy horn squeezie and should be changed.  See, its already worth its weight in screenie gold.   Just sayin.

And since you've put up with my rambles, heres an excellent bathing beauty from  Kay Laurell, A Zigfield Follies girl and actress of the silver screen.  Died 5 years after this shot of pnemonia.  Not sure if she's on the banks of the Potomac (note the Washington Monument in the background) or what but those one pieces are excellent.  Or perhaps its that hat.  Eh, either way.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

O My!

Check out this crazy parody from Teviniii, made with Ic4.  Amazingly good character creations (look  at those facial expressions!), lighting, lifelike animations and snazzy set design.  Similar in subject matter to those old claymation deathmatch shows or perhaps a touch of robot chicken.  Probably the most polished production I've yet to see made with Ic4.  Wouldn't surprise me at all to see this on the boobtube one night.  A high bar to strive for me thinks.  Very good stuff.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Future!

I've been working on a new scene from my future project and created a space aged character with a nifty jetpack and a hot babe and figured I'd just go get a nice backdrop of a future city and we would roll right into the 10 seconds of shooting that I needed.  But then I found the backdrop image I wanted and I started worrying about copyright issues and I thought...hmm, time to work with Iclone primitives.

So there we go.  I might revert in my thinking back to someone's future city image as a backdrop but with a little vaseline on the lens I think I can get away with this.  Went ahead and had the babe saddle up to jet pack boy and they take off together.  A lot of fun involved in making this scene.  Made me late for work this morning when I decided to point JPB's feet downward on takeoff but was worth it for the smirk of accomplishment that is splattered on my mug today.

On another note, heres an interesting take from James Berardinelli on the death (or near death) of independant film.  

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If only it were that simple...

On the local front I'm in the midst of trying to make a bear cheer and a man fly.  Or is that I'm trying to make a man a fly.  Well yes, that too.

And if you havent seen the Star Wars Uncut project, do so now.  I doubt I'll participate but I will certainly be awaiting the finished project.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Challenge by David Thomas

Heres a little action flick from David Thomas that was advertised in the Reallusion forums. Pretty solid flick with some nice sets, custom music and good action sequences. Sweet finish too.
Some of the character animations seem far too slow (a common complaint from me) but still a very solid action feature.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hallows Eve and some flicks that are treats.

Halloween  was lovely.  Released my House of Horror on Saturday after a nice premier at TMUTheater.  Received some nice comments which makes me happy.  Did some trick or treating with Kid Millions and then made it out to a friends to watch Basket Case (exploitive 80's b movie shlocker - very nice).  Late night in a bar in Brooklyn on Halloween is quite a treat.  Some great drunken costumed characters.  Robots, aliens, tiny tim, wonder woman, vamps and many undead.  It was like spending the evening in someones little crazy machinima flick.  Good times.

Work continues on my Steve-os set.  Ive added a backdrop of panoramic Indianapolis 1918 (thanks library of congress) but the resolution was shoddy and I didnt like the actual results as much as I liked my gimped mockup test (below).

Also worked up a more elaborate terrain but the scale is weird so much more work to do here.  Hopefully I wont spend too much more time on a set that will be used for less than a minutes worth of filming.  And I suppose I wont show any more pics of Steve-Os till its done (at least not the same image perspective).

On the filming front, I find I'm much more of a dream it up and then figure out how to do it kind of guy but decided some old fashioned learning without a goal was called for what with me owning Iclone4 and not having played around with many of its features.  So last night I played with the path editor and was rather impressed to have my characters walking (pretty naturally) around corners in less than a minute.  Path based motions are good.  

A lot of good movies put out this weekend.  Here are two that caught my eye and went largely unseen...

What the Fu-ture? by TR3 - Live action high school spanish class educational video that rivals all that old 1985 mtv stuff (think David Lee Roth's "I aint got nobody") and includes turkish belly dancers and people getting pushed into a pool.  Did I mention this is a high school production?  Its a blast.

Cateneda Cops - Garn by Bongo - Trippy and fun moviestorm flick with more mod magic than you can shake a stick at.  Reminded me a bit of the Big Lebowski in tone.  Much unique and inventive.