Sunday, May 31, 2009

8th Day of Hunting Clones

Today we introduced a couple new elements: the exterior spaceship set section, designed and built by Brian Schiavo, and the robots, also by Brian.

We also reverted back to the Canon lens set. The Nikons are nice, don't get me wrong, but as the QOM pointed out -- we'd be shooting directly into lights all day long and we needed the extra "Super Spectral Coating" of flare reduction from the Canons.

Angela Funk as Rachel (saying something snarky I'm sure ;-).
Angela Funk has a mindwiper attached to her by Montserrat Mendez (Peck).
Brian Schiavo as one of the robots.

Ben Thomas is Cain, the Clonehunter. Today we wrapped Montserrat Mendez as Peck.
We also wrapped Medina Senghore as Althea (the hostess.)
Today we introduced (and wrapped) Rebecca Kush as Durham.
Here Rebecca tries to interrogate Ben.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Render Rabbit

I'm rendering out a single frame of a city in Bryce. I turned all the quality settings all the way up. That was a mistake. It's been rendering since Wednesday on a quad-core computer. Today is Saturday. The render is actually going slower now as it's getting to the complicated geometry.

This is to keep us updated on the progress of the render.

Render Rabbit says: 73%

Test better be worth it.

Variety of Sanguine

Second Variety was the Phillip Dick story they made into Screamers. I always thought that Screamers was ALMOST a good movie. Oddly, they seem to have taken out many of the cooler and more cinematic things from the book. Note to self: normally you want to go the other way on that. There's now a sequel to the movie, Screamers: the Hunting.

Pleasure for the Empire notes:
Glass Stone is the answer to x.
Suite of Blue is useless.
One of Those Days is a variation on x with a pedal and the melody played in the alto range.
Walruses in Love and Old Turks aren't really worth anything.
Wide Sargasso Sea really isn't anything.

Clonehunter notes:
Due to the incredible weirdness of our rendering situation, this is what I've come up with as a possibility for our opening shot. I have lost all sense or objectivity on this shot. I'm sorely tempted to not even do the move.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wide and Testy

So the new thinking is that we do a pan from right to left to reveal the ship at the beginning. That's Maduka's idea. The thing is that I have to render out a whole 2D image first and then do the pan (After Effects' camera is being a pain in my butt.)

The ship itself looks a bit popped out here but I trust that in color correction it'll settle in (as we add a bit of noise and diffusion to match the rest of the footage.)

Now what I really wish is that we could shoot a frame this wide. 2:5 is this ratio I believe (2.5 to 1). That could cause a happy Drew.

Visual Effects Tests

A tutorial on making a starfield.

The Animation Codec is lossless when set to 100%.

My intuition is to always go for unusual angles on spaceships. That's not always the best idea as at least some portion of the audience will have no idea at all what they're looking at.

Still, this is looking up at the Venturer 5. To my eye it's fairly photo real. But I can't tell anymore.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Moving Metal

OK, so I don't know what to do. We have this ship and we need to see it in the opening scene.

For some reason Maya hates to render this ship as an actual movie. It can seemingly do a still pretty well. I can get Daz Studio to render it out properly as a movie but it 1. takes an incredible amount of time and 2. there doesn't seem to be any motion blur.

(And perhaps worstly: I tore off the engine I didn't like in Maya and I can't figure out how to do that in Daz.)

Here's a still from an image sequence I'm rendering right now in Daz. But I'm thinking that perhaps what I want to do is a tilt down to the planet (from an image of stars) -- what I would call a Star Wars tilt -- in After Effects and w find the ship is just sitting there. No movement. I wish I could actually embed the other still (from Maya) in this post. Instead you'll have to click on the link above.

In any case, using a rendered still is where I'm leaning. No moving spaceships were used in this movie.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dimensions Modifications

Now that Brian's set piece has been chopped apart anyway, we are going to make some modifications to the dimensions of it.

Monday, May 25, 2009


So I just figured out a technique for making signs and stuff which means I don't have to weather them with shoe polish. I can just grab a texture from a free site and overlay it in Photoshop. It's pretty elementary actually and I feel kinda dumb that I ain't thought of it before.

Actually, it doesn't always work as advertised. Sometimes I have to flatten and play with the levels to get it right when printing even if it looks good on the screen.

Other things I ain't thought of before, or at least hadn't resolved themselves in my brain.

I need to record some music. I want to record another album (as "Pleasure for the Empire") and I know I'm going to need music for at least the next two movies (probably three.)

I've been doing a little bit of guitar practicing since I got my Les Paul and since Ethan upgraded my custom guitar to a Blattocaster.

And I've been doodling around with a number of tunes in my spare time.

But I haven't actually written an album.

So then I read "Inside Out A Personal History of Pink Floyd". Nick Mason talks about how they would sort of work out songs as a band, starting with rehearsals. Of course! We need to doodle around in the studio!

Yikes! That's expensive! So we have to doodle in a focused manner. I figure it'll cost about $600 a day plus what it costs to pay a drummer. And I think we totally want the intro-with-mallets and song-with-sticks sound(s) on the drums.

So maybe two days of recording will get us enough material for an album and two movies? Maybe an actual rehearsal session should be thrown in there...

There's merit to recording at a studio in New York (Brooklyn) but recording at Trax East would just feel like home.

Shopping from Home!

Soon you will be able to use your video console to channel into the store of your choice.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Caution signs

If you loved nymphomania, you'll love nymphomania-mania.

I just finished The Nymphos of Rocky Flats which is even more awesome than its title would suggest because it's about a freakin' vampire who's a private investigator.

I'm glad I finished it because now I can go onto Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is, I believe, the finest work of literature in the English language.

I've made a couple signs here. Note that we can't really be looking in a closeup or insert at any English-language text in the movie -- it makes it a big pain when they go to dub the picture (this is why all letters are read out loud in movies by the character who gets the letter). But just having them there in the background will be enough.

Yes, those are the toilet instructions in 2001. And I have no idea what the Japanese warning label is for.


Second only to how much I hate standing in line at the Post Office is driving to Long Island (third place has something to do with airline security.) But today I drove out to pick up a set piece from Brian. Originally I was expecting it to be a flat which was about 5 foot by 8 foot but he went and built it 8 feet by 8 feet. I said to him "You know the camera aspect ratio is wider than it is taller right?"

So I was going to borrow a van to get it but an 8' square thing won't fit in a van so I made Brian slice the set piece into four sections (five if you count the door itself.)

We're officially halfway through the shooting of Clonehunter. Maduka is working on the digital cat. For someone who doesn't own a cat he's doing an excellent job. I only had one note about the tail -- that cat's tails tend to have minds of their own, at least the ends of them do.

Oh and I bet that our screenwriter Eric Steele is wondering "digital cat"? Yes, Naomi is a holographic projection of of a cat. There's no way we could have had an actual cat on set. It would have just gone to sleep under the cyro bay... ;-)

Tomorrow we affix lights and things to the set piece. And I might get some Ethiopian food... mmm...

Tom Rowen Day

Today we only had one actor on the set of Clonehunter. Tom Rowen who plays Gulliver-9 mostly acted directly into camera.

Today was also the first day we used no haze or fog on set.

I like the Nikon lenses, they make pretty pictures. They are not as beautiful when they are blasted with light when wide open as the Canon S.S.C. lenses are.

We are typically shooting wide open at f1.4 in all the shots. You can tell because the masks behind Tom are out of focus.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where Is My Script?

You. Yes YOU. You know who you are. We're halfway through shooting Clonehunter. That means I need our next script. Where is it?

If you don't give it to me I am going to shoot that other prison planet movie. You don't want me to shoot that other prison planet movie. Believe me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

T800's in my Soup

Saw the new Terminator. This is the Transformers of Terminator movies. Like Transformers meets Mad Max. (On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier -- it's that freakin' loud.)

I can say one thing; it was in focus. Lots of nice kick in the eyes. Why'd was that DP walking around in the background when he got yelled at by Christian Bale? You'd think he'd be looking at all that kick light in the eyes. Or maybe his crew was taking care of all the front light. Anyway, the focus puller did a real good job. Only once did it falter momentarily when Bale came into camera very close and then pulled back.

You know you're in trouble story-wise when I'm talking about focus.

Brian Schiavo is building our robot(s). I'm scared already.

Here, with the beautiful and talented Christine Russo, is the hull section being built. This thing turned out to be 8 feet square so I have no idea how we're going to transport it.

Presumably director McG told "cast and crew" to read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Now I'm one of the few people in the world who's actually read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and honestly it is nothing like Blade Runner. So why do we persist in thinking that book has anything to do with what any of us think of as a post-apocalyptic movie looks like. If you actually made "Androids" it'd probably come out more like Lathe of Heaven.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Brian is building a door to the spaceship. This was something we didn't have on Alien Uprising and although nobody who watched the movie noticed that the shot of the people actually getting on and off the ship was missing... it was missing. Now we can have that shot. Should we go back and re-shoot Alien Uprising? Oh. We can't. That movie has already been delivered.

Problems problems... 2!

Working on CG models for Clonehunter:

Dude, all my Blinns turned into Phongs. Worse than that my bump map textures muliplied almost by a decimal point (actually, it looks to my eye like about a decimal point.) FBX export will do that to ya. So I went in and manually re-assigned the shaders which were Phongs back into Blinns, and set the bump mats to about .091.

Do I know what I'm talking about? Not really.

But we have a cat and a spaceship, both of which we got from We were looking at a Maya cat on Turbosquid which was $189 unrigged but we got the $30 Millennium Cat from Daz and it IS rigged! That's a big deal. Henry thought it was going to be a pain to put IK handles on the rig but it wasn't.

The one thing we haven't done yet is dealt with any compositing on the bluescreen. I'm working on this theory that somehow I know better than people who literally "wrote the book" like Stu Machwitz and I've been hazing the stage with our expensive little LaMaitre hazer even when we're shooting bluescreen. My idea is that the image we see when we key out will also be "hazed". That's what I intuit my experience has been from the past. So it's either that or I'm doing a lot of rotoscoping...

When we shoot Fly By Night, which will be a very bluescreeny movie, we're going to likely have to give up the hazer. Sniff! Bill likes him some inky blacks. I do worry about the image starting to look kinda "video" when we go without hazer (although of course we did all the exteriors on Solar Vengeance sans fog/haze), and you can soften the picture with "stockings" in post, you'll never get any kind of actual volumetric light (which for some reason on this picture we haven't been getting anyway.)

Today I gotta make runs to Metuchen and then back to Jersey City to make sure we have everything on hand to shoot on Saturday. Can you believe that it'll be day 7 and we haven't had 2" black gaff tape on set? That's just silly. I gotta pick some up on Friday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Too Old To Be Playing With Dollies

This is an image from Patrick Merminod. He's a Swiss fellow who made a model we used in Millennium Crisis.

Let me tell you, photo-real art like this in the daylight is really hard to get!

The Eazy Dolly system is less than $600. I do wish it had curved track. We have a dolly which works pretty well but the problem is the dang thing is so big it's hard to transport.

The Quote of the day is from Chance Shirley: "I saw Trek a week after watching Wolverine, a quarter-assed flick that strives for half-assedness in its best moments."

And yes, thank you John Scalzi. I do want a LAN Party Commander.



I just finished reading Nick Mason's Inside Out A Personal History of Pink Floyd. The book is fascinating if only because Mr. Mason's view of the amazing history of this seminal rock act is (admittedly) one which only the drummer, trained as an architect, could have. On occasion the details of the wattage of projectors is accompanied, a few paragraphs later, about "super groupies". Or perhaps it's the other way around.*

One thing that's clear is that they all worked very hard at what they were doing. Nick downplays any exciting drug use the band (with the exception of Syd) might have been involved with during the psycadelic era, but that sort of makes sense. It's hard to actually produce very much on 'shrooms and acid. Those are strictly consumption-level drugs.

There's a kind of tragic sadness in the story in that in many ways it's about a bunch of school friends who over 40 years had a big falling out. I suppose that's basically true of most all rock bands. At least two of them are still together and Nick seems to be on good terms with Roger, who does come off as a bit of a prick in the book, even though he presumably proof-read it (!). Now that band, which was begat around when I was born in 1965, has lost its keyboard player due to illness, and arguably two of it's leaders due to insanity (can you tell I've never been that big a Roger Waters fan?) still occasionally releases records and some of them are even good.


In the early 80's I saw pretty much all the rock movie midnight screenings at the Menlo Park movie theater with my friends Scott, Todd, and Ed. Looking back it seems somewhat funny because the three of us had and have fairly divergent taste. Todd was then more of a "classical snob" (and I mean that in only the most loving way) of the four of us, although his Beatles and The Who collections were nigh on complete. Ed was (and let's face it: "is") an Elton John fanatic. I think that Scott was really into ELP at the time.

I was particularly taken by The Beatles, The Who, and Jethro Tull (and Bach and Beethoven, never having much time for anything by Mozart other than the occasional requiem and a couple Queen of the Night arias). Which doesn't mean that some of the much wiser of my elders did not do their best to persuade me to change my old-rock lovin' ways. (In particular an incident when I was a sophomore and two seniors [including Peter Cenedella] took me into their room and played for me 1. The Residents, 2. The Dead Kennedys [I remember "California Ueber Alles"], and 3. some crazy new band that no other high-school kids knew about called Talking Heads.)**

I suppose that Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii was rather formative to my thinking of what a rock band could/should be. I spend a good many years with bands trying to make some kind of cohesive (and theatrical, but that would be the Jethro Tull influence) show.

I remember my guitar/composition teacher pointing out to me (this would have been sometime in 1982 perhaps?) that Nick Mason is one of the most controlled and disciplined drummers in rock or some such. I interpreted this to mean that every note, every drum hit means something. And boy does it. The control is really a driver of the music, the fills really turn you around into the next section (something which "machine gun" fills notoriously do not tend to do.) In a way he's the opposite of Keith Moon. Instead of the frantic energy of classic Who, 'Floyd goes for the big solid groove that allows for those glacial chord changes.

Ultimately Meddle is probably my favorite record -- if only because of Echos and One of These Days. I'm a big fan of Shine on You Crazy Diamond (which my crazy first roommate played all night long on the first night I spent in boarding school. Sheesh!) and Great Gig in the Sky. Basically my preference was for big and bigger Pink Floyd but not so much of The Wall variety (with the obvious exception of Comfortably Numb.)


Otherwise it seems like the inside of Pink Floyd was somewhat like what I experienced when I worked at the Wooster Group. Dysfunctional. Nick Mason comes off pretty well (after all, he wrote the book) but he even describes himself as being being un-confrontational to a fault. The petty cruelties the band inflicted one one another and on those around them seems to have made them pretty miserable.

*Technically this isn't true, I believe the references were in different chapters.

*But when I was a freshman a fellow named Doug Visthdom (sp?) played Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Kinks for me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More To Do

Here is a render of the Venturer 5 in Maya. I think it has a bit more potential than rendering in Daz3D. I think that perhaps the nose section is a tad ferkaked, but maybe that's good. I finally tore off the starboard engine which I hated so much. Now it's just a gaping hole open to space but I suspect we'll make a steel plate and "sew" it in there -- so it looks like a gaping hole which got repaired.

We had a good couple of days shooting last weekend but it sure was tiring.

Now I have to figure a new way to make that practical Venturer 5 hatch because Brian has too much to do with making the dang robot(s). I'm getting on that right away.

I've come up with what I think is an elegant solution to Gulliver's office -- make it a Bedouin tent. I think that maybe he should be in bed the entire time wearing some silk thingy. We'll put a tray on the bed with his favorite wine and food and Vinnie will never leave my apartment! ;-)

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Sixth Day

This is another Clonehunter set in my parent's basement. The idea here (unlike yesterday) is to light everything down. And there was a lot of haze. A lot.

Most of today's work was hand-held (I can still feel it in my arms.) But we did a couple shots at the end on sticks because we didn't want to match move the camera in CG when we did things like disintegrate Sue.

These pictures aren't color corrected. Obviously the very hazy ones will have to have their blacks sunk.

Susan Rankus, Jef Betz, Carly Hirshberg, and H. R. Britton in a seedy bar on Tara 6.

Sue Rankus.

Jef Betz as Stone.

Greg Bodine as the bartender.

Carly Hirshberg is a poor loser at cards.

Day 6 in the bar

Greg Oliver Bodine as the bartender.

H. R. Britton as Sly.

Carly Hirshberg as the deadly card shark (who loses badly.)

Ben Thomas as Cain.

Angela Funk as Rachel.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Femme Fatale

Carly Hirshberg is our femme fatale in Clonehunter. Her part was originally meant to be an grotesque alien with a rebreather. I'm kinda glad we went with the Carly look instead.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 5 (Angela)

Today was a big day for Angela Funk as Rachel in Clonehunter. This was a set piece which Eric Ian Steele wrote wherein the normally buttoned - down overall-wearing girl gets all dolled up (against her will.)

This is a big turning point in her character.

Other than the two hours of traffic getting back to my ancestral home (where we shot yet another movie in my parent's basement), the shoot was very smoove.

Day 5

Ben Thomas as Cain (Montserrat Mendez is barely visible in the background.)

Ben Thomas aims for Montserrat Mendez.

These are frame grabs right from the camera. Today was the "flattest" day of shooting so far.

In my limited experience that means we'll have the easiest time color-correcting this footage to whatever we want.

Day 5 (part 2)

Montserrat Mendez as Peck.

Medina Senghore as Althea, the hostess.

Medina and Montserrat.

Robin Kurtz as Ronnie.

Tzaddi Simmons as Reggie.