0 Comments

One of the things that I'm really looking forward to doing when I make the Iapetus movie, is doing practical miniature effects for the exterior spaceship shots. One of the earliest things I designed (back when this was an animated film) was the ship..

iapetus_98_1iapetus_98_2

It's intended to be a colony ship, holding about three thousand people in the five cylindrical habitats, and the engine is a long linear array of accelerators. In real life, its about 3km long.

When creating convincing miniature effects, the real trick - apart from creating a highly detailed model - is miniature photography. The key to the effect is focus. In order to make a small object seem large, all of it must be in focus at the same time. You can see this very clearly when you look at the reverse of this principle. To make a large object seem very small, you blur the foreground and background, an effect known as tilt-shifting or miniature faking. This is the look you want to avoid at all costs.

A real train made to look like a miniature, the goal of miniature photography is to do the reverse (photo by Scot Campbell)

The solution is to make the aperture on the camera as small as it will go. This reduces the light that reaches the sensor, so you need long exposures. But, long exposures mean lighting effects (like windows, engines) get over exposed, so you have to do those in separate passes. That's where motion control cameras come in. They can perform the same movement as many times as needed to capture all the elements.

For the shots I wanted though, all I need is a simple pan. As it happens, there are motorized sliders out there which will do the job. They are usually used for time-lapse photography, but the principle is the same – capturing multiple long exposure images over time. It turns out the guys who made C had the same idea, so we now know it works.

There are only a few simple shots required for the trailer

Ok so miniature photography is important, but you still need a miniature to photograph. Because the design of the ship contains a few structures duplicated many times, I can take advantage of that and only build one of each. These objects can be physically repositioned, and a pass can be photographed on the motion control slider. When you composite them all together in the correct Z order, they appear to all exist at the same time.

The same object is photographed at different positions

To see if this effect would work, I decided to build a mock-up of one of the engine modules out of paper. I also put some lights in there to test how the engines would appear on screen. After photographing each element separately, I composited them together against a background. The result proved that the effect was convincing, the objects all appear to be part of a larger whole.

A paper model was constructed for the camera testSome internal lighting was added to see how it would work when photographedThis multiple exposure shows the how the principle works

The result works pretty well, it appears as a single solid objectA view from the rear to see what the engine lighting looks like in context

So I have a way to do the large scale close up miniature shots, but for distant establishing shots of the ship, a smaller model will be needed, large miniatures don't look 'small' enough when shot from a distance. I was originally planning on just constructing this from scratch using bits and pieces, but then I discovered 3D printing over at Shapeways. I created a quick mock-up of an engine pod in Blender and printed it out.

Thrown together quickly in BlenderAnd a week later it exists in the real worldSize comparison with the larger papaer model

This is printed using the coarse grained 'strong and flexible' material, a kind of nylon. Because there is no edge smoothing, and the mesh doesn't have enough faces, the curved surfaces are stepped. The Ultra Fine material with a high resolution mesh and a good paint job would be more than adequate for a long distance shot.

And that takes us up to today. I'm continuing to build out the small scale model myself, but I'm going to get a professional model maker to work on the larger scale piece over the next year or two.

0 Comments

The 21st century brought about a kind of an artistic wilderness for me. For most of my life up until that point, drawing was so habitual I didn't think much of it, but as I got more involved in software development, I moved further away from pen and paper. If you don't have the opportunity to maintain a habit, then it eventually withers.

This graph is clearly the result of years of detailed study and analysis

But old habits are also hard to break, and whenever I did have a pen and paper, a doodling distraction was never far away.

One evening while working on a web site project I randomly sketched out a figure that fired my imagination. This was going to be the template for a Kapitar, a mercenary assassin in the world of Iapetus. I'd doodled bits and pieces around this idea before, but this was the first time I had a complete picture.

'The order of the padding' isn't an obscure branch of Freemasonry, alas, its padding between boxes in a web layoutDrawn against a poor-mans lightbox (a window pane) I was *just* coming out of my Goth-obsession at this point

It slipped back under the surface though, and not much happened for years after that. Until, some time around 2007, I got my hands on a Cintiq tablet, and started wondering what it would take to produce a comic entirely digitally. I started sketching out some ideas, but I was so out of practice, it took hours and hours to produce them, and I figured it would take a lifetime to produce a comic book this way.

sketchinkcolor

One of these guys is having a really bad day..

Once again, things subsided.

Years later, the advent of cinema quality digital cameras - within the reach of everyday folk - and some inspirational short films, made me wonder about trying to come up with a small film around Iapetus. A few summers ago, on holiday in Bulgaria, I got about writing a short script. But my thoughts were dominated by how I was planning to do the miniature special effects..

0 Comments

I think the first encounter I had with 3d graphics was on my trusty old Amiga 1200, a cover disk program called Real3D. I made a model of the Dropship from Aliens and animated it flying about. I remember it taking a long time to render out that animation, but still pretty exciting to see the end results. Years later I managed to lay hands on 3D Studio MAX and became, obsessed. A huge part of my waking life back then was associated with that program, even now when I see the interface I get a whack of nostalgia.

It was around this time that I decided I was going to make an animated film from Iapetus, instead of a comic. Instead of doing sensible stuff like coming up with a concept, script or even a story, I just got straight to work, scribbling out plans and ideas, and building them as I went.

The plan was to make an entire city block with the building below at the centreJust making it up as I goNestled snugly amidst Chemistry and Physics homework

The opening scene was going to be a guerrilla raid on an urban building during a Dark and Stormy Night. The one thing that I really wanted to see was a building which had a real interior, with complex internal lights, and a sort of industrial gothic feel [this is just a guess, looking back on it now :)]. I must have been fairly influenced by Blade Runner as well.. look at the design of the base! I actually quite like that I used all sorts of campy lighting effects - for the exact same reason you would in a low budget movie - as a cheap way to add detail and mood.

This building is the centrepiece of a futuristic European city, about to be attacked!

One of the key images I wanted was a realistic building with internal lighting

The HR department have some concerns about the lighting

Because I was working on a P90 with a 14" fishbowl CRT monitor, I had to build things one part at a time (one file contained a single floor, another the base, and so on). It took a long time to render an assembly of the entire building, and consumed enormous amounts of memory (even though my machine had a whopping 48mb of ram). It became a special occasion, something to look forward to, which was good, but it resulted in very few actual images. Any time I got a hardware upgrade, the first thing I'd do is fire off a render to see how much faster it was.

I'm not sure why, but I gradually spent less and less time on it. Probably the enormity of the task, the lack of actual goals - but by '99 it was .. done. Not finished, just done.

It was around this time that my career in software development began to take the place of experiments like this. Instead of creating 3D artwork, I was teaching myself to create 3D engines. It was fascinating to understand how it all works, and programming is a highly rewarding and satisfying hobby, but looking back, it seems a shame to have just abandoned that kind of pure no-forethought creativity.

Spinning cube! It felt far more impressive at the time in fairness

One thing is for sure, it was the start of a long drought in artistic expression, that would stretch on for a few years.

Until one night, working on a programming challenge, I drew a rough sketch on some copy paper, and got a glimpse of the character that would set my imagination off once more...

0 Comments

ElysiumThere aren't that many films I look forward to seeing, especially with the recent spat of pre-teen friendly superhero movies, but I was pretty stoked when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Wow, an intelligent science fiction action story with a great concept, from the guy who did District 9! I was on board.

Then I saw the film. It was.. ok.

Then I saw the trailer again, and it actually annoyed me. The film didn't deliver on it. Seeing the trailer again just rammed that home, cause I still want to actually see that film.

I don't want to rail on all the things I didn't like, and there was a lot I did like. Instead I was going to think about how I would have done things differently. This film is right up my alley, its my genre, hell its something I would have written myself, so I wondered why I didn't enjoy it. I decided to press all the books I've been reading into service and see if I can come up with a story I think I would have enjoyed more..

These are just some basic thoughts on the concept, all the action set pieces can be hung off of this, but that's all just flash in the pan if there's nothing behind it..

  • I would drop the illegal immigrant angle. Elysium is a place where you can go for treatment if you can afford it. This makes the plotting a lot more straightforward, and less 'in your face' allegorical.
  • The hero is not a recovering criminal, he's a recovering soldier. His disease is something chronic, something you can live with. But "boy Imagine if I didn't have this, everything would be roses!".
  • Elysium is paradise, sure, but the thing isn't getting there, its belonging there. That's the crux of the story. Acceptance.
  • Getting cured isn't going to get him what he wants, we could even get that over with in the first 10 minutes. Now we meet The Girl, a resident of Elysium.
  • The Hero wants to be accepted, firstly by a family, then by a society. Elysium is an unnatural society, built not on acceptance, but on rejection. The main romantic story plays that out as they back-and-forth. The story is done when they get together, because the original premise of Elysium itself will be disproven.
  • The villain. This is someone who wants to enforce separation, so he's at odds with our Hero. I think this guy is a terrorist. This guy represents the thing that actually does keep people apart - fear.
  • He arrives on the station, causes mayhem, and then things kick off. He has an agenda, he's not just a loose cannon. Most of the action then takes place on Elysium (which delivers on the trailer more).
  • During the fun and games, we learn that Elysium is a novelty that wears off quickly. People here are more isolated than those on Earth. There are a lot of cracks and decay up close.
  • The villain is defeated, the Hero doesn't die, and he does get the girl. This is the movies after all!