Why the latest Robocop isn’t as good as the original!

Ok first off, please excuse the crap title, I really couldn’t think of a better one.

I finally got to watch the new version of Robocop and I have to say it’s actually a pretty good film.  I’m not going to go into depth about the film and hopefully there won’t be any severe spoilers. But if you haven’t seen the film yet then maybe you’ll want to watch it first.

Here’s the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INmtQXUXez8

I have to say, when I first heard they were making a re-boot I was annoyed. Robocop is a classic and I felt it shouldn’t be touched.  It’s like when I heard that they were going to re-make American Werewolf in London; luckily so far I think that one’s on hold.

Robocop_2014

So despite this I was pleasantly surprised.  The people that made it obviously cared for the original and instead of going for a straight out copy they put a new spin on it and I think for the most part it works. They even kept the original music which I believe was a very wise move.  But for me it still felt a little bland, especially towards the end.  And I started to wonder why this was.

You could say it was because it wasn’t original but I don’t think this is a valid point. You only have to look at the Batman franchise to see that if it’s done well it can be re-booted even if the 1989 version was great.

So I started to just think about the script and why the original just felt so much more exciting. What I realised is that one of the problems with this new version is that there isn’t a clear and precise baddy. Add to this the fact that the baddies aren’t really that bad. I mean, yes they weren’t the sort of people you’d like to invite to a dinner party but their actions never really felt nasty, like really nasty.

I suddenly remembered a tip from Blake Snyder’s brilliant screenwriting book “Save the cat”.In it he mentions that when you have a hero you have to make the villain twice as nasty as the hero is good. Robocop re-boot didn’t do this. The villians were just your average baddies.  For another example of how to do it right, look at the Rocky movies, specifically Rocky 4 and Ivan Drago.

Ivan Drago

Here we have an enemy that seems impossible to beat. In every way he seems better then Rocky. He’s taller, faster, stronger, he has no personality so it feels like Rocky really is up against a Robot.  We see him kill Rocky’s friend Apollo Creed, so we know what he’s capable of. Making the baddy really, really bad makes us root for our hero more. We don’t know how he’s going to survive but he has to, it keeps us watching,.

clarence

If we look at the original baddy in Robocop, Clarence Boddicker we as an audience get to see how nasty this guy is within about the first twenty minutes of the movie.  He kills Alex Murphey in the most horrific way and for no reason at all other than he hates cops.  He could of injured him and walked away. But no he wants to kill him but not before torturing him first.

Here is some clips of Clarence doing what he does best, being nasty and bad

Robocop_film

So within the first quarter of the film we have a villain that we hate, we really, really want him to die in the most painful way possible. But we also know it’s not going to be easy.  This is such a simple tool in screenwriting but it was completely missed in the latest Robocop.

The new film has got essentially the same  plot but because of this fundamental flaw I found that the film ended up a little bland.

So to sum up, if you’re going to make a film with a villain, make sure he/she is the most nasty piece of work you can imagine.  Unless you’re making a deep and meaningful film, in which case the baddy has to have some background to why he/she is such a nasty piece of work.

Hope this was useful and if you have any thoughts on this please get in touch.

Till next time.

Peter

Wow! I know I know it’s been a long time!

Ok sorry for the massive lack of updates.  I’ve had month after month of crazy amounts of work and then just haven’t had the energy to sit down and write something interesting.

It doesn’t help that I couldn’t actually think of many interesting things to talk about seeing as we haven’t been able to make any films for a while.

I was thinking about maybe talking about animation techniques or VFX techniques but didn’t want to stray too much from the actual core part of making films.  If you feel this might be of some interest then I’m more than happy to oblige?

I have decided one thing over the last few months and that is to scrap the part of 22 days later where by we have to use a costume, phrase and prop from our viewers.  It’s not that I didn’t like some of the ideas that we pulled out the hat. After all without them we wouldn’t of had the insane films we’ve made so far.  But to be honest we just weren’t getting enough ideas coming in and at the moment I’ve got quite a few short films I’d really just like to make without random input.

Maybe one day I’ll add that part back in but for now I’m going with just making a film in 22 days. If I get an influx of complaints then I will consider bringing that part back.

Although it has been pretty much work, work; work these past few months – by the way I can’t believe it’s been over 2 months since my last post; we did manage to shoot a short film.

The idea was to enter a short horror in a competition called: Short Cuts to Hell.  Unfortunately we left it far to late – the night before, and so had to make up the story, film it and edit it in around eight hours.

It actually came out ok, the only problem was that one of the rules of the competition was that the film couldn’t be more than three minutes. Our film no matter how we tried to cut it came in at around four minutes.  So we decided to call it quits.

I have decided to that it would be a shame to just leave it and so over the next few weeks I’ll finish it off and see what we get.

Here is a still. It’s worth noting that because there was only two of us we didn’t bother with any lighting and just used what we had in the room…which is why it looks a little bland.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 23.37.28

In till next time – hopefully not two months.

Peter

The sound of Silence.

Image

 

I wanted to follow on from my last blog with an interesting point someone brought up in regards to sound design.  They mentioned how sometimes no sound at all is just as powerful as the use of music and Foley.

This is something that I completely forgot to mention  and if used correctly can really add power to your films.

I was watching a TV drama the other night, it was called The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.  There was one particular scene where one character was talking to another in a crowded pub.  I actually can’t remember what the conversation was about but during their conversation it became quite tense.  It suddenly occurred to me that one of the reasons why was because all the sounds around them had almost become silent and it was just their words being heard. One of the characters left and slowly the ambient sound raised again.  It’s really quite a simple tool but helped immensely in emphasizing  that this was meant to be a tense scene.

I do believe that this will only work if it’s contrasted against loud noises. For example there are  scenes in Saving Private Ryan that do this too. Although there’s no reason why a whole scene can’t just be silent, only using subtle sound effects to tell the story in effective ways. For example a ticking clock, a crow or the howl of wind slowly getting stronger.  This all work just as well as using music to communicate to the audience subtle clues and beats.

So although music is great for adding tension and pace to your films, those silent moments really do help. And if you use your sound effects in inventive ways you can really punctuate the pace of the scene.

Let me know your thoughts.

Till next time,

Peter

 

 

 

 

Ouch…not really

Image

 

In this blog I thought I’d continue on some of the techniques used in visual effects.

A lot of effects in movies are actually 2d mapped onto environments or 2d images used to hide unwanted items.  They’re also used to replace things like posters and number plates.

In my last blog I talked about the effects of creating the rabbit, the rabbit was one of the 3D effects in the film.  There aren’t that many 3D effects used in The Great Spielron but I had to use 3D for one of the more gruesome scenes where some of our characters get a knife in their heads.

I’ll break down one of these shots,  it’s where Katie throws the knife and it hits Mike square in the forehead.

When deciding the best approach for an effect I think it’s always best to ask the question “can this be done on set with real practical effects?” If the answer is yes then I always think this is the best approach as it doesn’t matter how good the effect is in CG, it’s never as good as a real prop.

Obviously for this particular shot that required a knife to be thrown, the answer was most definitely “no” we can’t use a real knife…well not unless we didn’t need our actor anymore, but we did so we decided it was best not to really kill him.   So the choice was to do it in CG (computer graphics).

This actually posed a problem when filming, as I realised we couldn’t even use a proxy object when Katie goes to stab Kevin in the head as even something soft like a foam knife would still hurt if it hit you in the eye.  So I had get them to act and react with nothing at all. It also didn’t help that it was about 12:00am and so we had about 10 minutes to wrap up the whole end scene. Everything in that last part of the movie was finished in about 15 minutes.  We just went handheld and tried to get as much shots as we could. Anyway I’m digressing.

Now on a big budget film there would be time set aside for the VFX supervisor to take measurements and measure lighting info, using things like a big chrome ball and a big grey ball.  You sometimes see these on the making of movies.  Basically what these do is allow the VFX artist to work out where the light is coming from and how intense it is.  By taking photos at different exposures they can then put this information into the computer and the lighting they get is pretty accurate to what was on set.  It also allows them to have reflections that match too, so the whole CG elements fit to the environment.

We didn’t have time to do this, I brought the chrome ball but we were so rushed that it never got used, I had to rely on my eyes to try and get the knife to match the real footage as best as possible.

One issue with using 3D elements is you can’t use the more basic technique of using 2D trackers to match the 3D element.  If you don’t know about 2D tracking you can view one of my latest blogs about it here https://22dayslater.com/2014/05/19/its-all-in-the-eyes-the-zombie-eyes/

Actually that’s not completely true.  If the camera isn’t moving around the object too much then you’d get away with this, which is something we did for out low budget one day horror that you can see here   Because the real footage was being seen from a pretty flat on view I knew that I could use a 2D track to basically “tack” the 3D animation to a point on the screen.

But for the shot of Matt, his head moves quite a bit and we see it from quite a few angles, so I knew the knife would be seen from many different angles as well.

This is where a different technique has to be used which is 3D tracking.  Like 2D tracking it uses points on the screen to work out how things are moving. But unlike 2D trackers it triangulates  using special algorithms to work out things like the Z depth of where things are in the scene. Although a lot of 3D trackers have automated settings, these usually only work on simple scenes. If a scene has a lot going on, with a lot of camera movement, it’s sometimes necessary to give the tracker more information, for example the focal length of the camera.  Sometimes you’ll see on the making of movies little markers, especially on green screen sets. These markers are a good way of showing the computer points to lock onto.  3D tracking is a real art in itself and something that can take many attempts to get a good result.

To track Matt’s head, I imported a 3D mesh that was similar to his head and scaled it to fit the real footage. The 3D tracker could use this as a way of marking where it needed to be in the footage.  You can see this in the video below.  Excuse the “Demo mode” I only have a demo version of the capture software

Now that I had the information I could map the real footage onto the 3D mesh and add a 3D knife. Below is an image of the 3D knife un-textured.

Image

It was then simply a case of animating the knife going into the 3D head.  I added lights that looked about right to where they would of been in the real set and also added shaders to the knife so it looked like its real life counterpart. Shaders are a way of telling the computer what material an object is made of, basically how it will react with light. So in this case it was a stainless steel knife so needed to be very reflective.

The last thing I needed to do was to add a trickle of blood that ran down Matt’s forehead. To do this I used some of the fake blood we’d made up for the scenes with Katie and the hat.  In case you’re interested, making fake blood is very easy and involves Syrup, red food dyes and coffee.I might do a blog on that at some point.

I shot various version of this fake blood pouring down a green screen as you can see below

Image

It was then a case of removing the green and cropping just one trickle of blood.  I used a 2D tracker so that it would stick to the movement of Matt. And as a final touch I used a tool in After Effects to bend it slightly so that it looked like it was following the contours of his face.

The last touch was to add a shadow to the area around the knife.

Here is a clip showing the different layers.

And here is the final result

The other knife shots were achieved in a similar way.  The only other thing worth mentioning is I added a slight blood burst when Kevin gets the knife yanked out of his head. This was a mixture of using stock footage and also a dust hit that I tinted red as I wanted to get that faint spray of blood you’d get if it was real.

So that’s that till next time.

 

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Mutant rabbit

Video

I thought I’d show you an insight into the process of building one of the characters from the film, which in some ways is the star of the film, the mutant rabbit.

This post does contain small spoiler so if you haven’t seen the film yet then what are you waiting for? 🙂

You don’t actually get to see much of the rabbit in the film. There were two reason for this. One was simply following one of the golden rules of horror which is, never reveal the monster till the end. A classic example of this is Jaws, it’s more scary because you don’t see the monster till near the end.

And just like Jaws this rule was applied for another simple reason. The rabbit, as in the case with Spielbergs classic, looked like crap and so I had to to think of as many ways not to show it as possible or at least keep it in the dark.

To be fair the model wasn’t terrible although I didn’t have time to study any ref let alone the anatomy of the rabbit so I quickly sculpted a model using a piece of 3D software called Zbrush.

This wasn’t the main issue, the biggest problem was the rig for the rabbit was awful. A rig is the controls that allow you to move the model around, very much like a stringed puppet. I’m not very good at this process, especially when I’ve only got an evening to do it. So the model had a lot of issues when trying to animated in that some of the limbs didn’t move very well and would distort strangely. So I was very limited in what I could do with it. Which is one of the reasons why when you see the silhouetted version of the rabbit jumping out of Ludwik’s head it looks a little strange.

The only other animation you see of the rabbit is when it hops out from under the sofa. Which again I made sure was very subtle and hidden in shadow.

So because of this I thought it worth sharing this video of the rabbit in all it’s ugly glory. I hope you enjoy the time lapse videos. I think in total it took about 4 – 5 hours to create the model.

Let me know if you enjoy these sort of behind the scene vids and I’ll post more.

Till next time,

Peter

It’s all in the eyes…the zombie eyes

Right well now that the film is finished I feel I can share some of the techniques we used in the VFX process.

There was a hell of a lot of VFX in this short which is why it took so much time to complete. Although I can’t say that any of the effects were of amazing quality I am still proud of how it all came together.

One of the more time consuming effects was the eye replacement for both Ludwik and Katie.  I did toy with the idea of using 3D eyeballs to create the whited out look but decided to try a much simpler approach which worked surprisingly well.

The technique was to use 2D imagery tracked onto their faces.

Here is a close up of one the  more complex eye replacements.

Image

Now I’m going to try and keep the techniques to how to achieve this as simple as possible but if you want a more in depth tutorial video co-pilot have got a great tutorial here http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorial/eye_replacement/

The basic idea is you take photo reference of a whited out eye.  If you need to create one the best way to do this is take a few photos of your eye.  The idea is to get as much of the whites of your eyes as possible.  To do this take one photo looking as far left as you can. Then take another looking as far right as you can. You can also do looking up and down as well.  You then use an image editing package to cut out the areas of the eye that are white and combine them so that appears to be one white eye. Like this

Image

 

The next bit you will have to do is to track your footage.  I’ve explained tracking in one of my earlier posts https://22dayslater.com/2014/01/09/behind-the-scenes-of-episode-2-part-2/ But to sum up tracking is a technique where by you tell the computer to track a point on the image.  Once the point or points have been tracked you can use this information on another piece of footage or image and it will mimic the movement from source.

When tracking you have to make sure you track an area near the eye but it’s likely that you won’t be able to track the eye itself as people either move their eyes or blink which will throw the track off. The brow or the nose is usually a good place to track or the cheeks if they’re not talking.

I would grab a still from the footage that I’m replacing and load it into photoshop. Then adding a new layer  I would place my white eyes over the originals and colour correct them to match the lighting as shown here

Image

Image

I would then overlay this comped still image over the matching frame in After Effects.  Using the masking tools I could cut out just the eyes.  If I was to then scrub through the timeline I’d get a problem of the eyes getting left behind, like the example below.

Image

This is where the tracking information comes into use.  If you look at the image above you should also notice a red square by his nose.  This is called a Null in After Effects and I applied the tracking date I had acquired earlier to this.  This now means that the Null will follow his head movement exactly.  I then parented the still images of the eyes to this Null and Voila! He now has evil zombie eyes.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t just add the tracking data to the images of his eyes instead of the Null? Well I could of and it would of worked just as well. The reason I use a Null is that it gives me that extra flexibility should I need to move or rotate the eyes slightly on top of the tracked data. I sometimes find that the tracking data although good may just stray in one place or another. By having the Null contain all the Tracking data it means I can tweak the eyes without messing with that data.

Now the trick isn’t quite finished although for some of the longer shots this would be fine, for the close ups the eyes still looked too flat.  They lack all the moving reflections and specular you get off a real eye because after all we are just looking a flat image of the eye.

This was one of the reasons why I was thinking of going the 3D route. Using 3D eye replacement would mean I could get the computer to do all the clever stuff with the reflections, refractions, sub subsuface scattering. But I realised I really didn’t need it. If I just added some simple specular highlights it was enough to sell the illusion.

So all I did was to look at the original highlights in his eyes and add some simple colours that matched the shapes of those original highlights.

Image

Image

By then keying them to match the position and shape of the original highlights I could give the illusion that his eyes were moving. It even made them look wet and slightly translucent. It’s amazing how some simple highlights can make things look real.

I did this same technique for the shot where Katie looks across the hall to where Laura has just run.

One final technique I used to really sell the look was on the shadow that fall across his left eye.  The still image of his eye was colour corrected to match the original plate while that eye was in shadow. But the problem was that as he tilted his head up that eye then had light case upon it as you can see in the image below

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.43.18

 

So to create this same look over the fake white eye I simply added a negative mask that matched the movement and shape of this light shaft that would cut into the image of his eye to reveal a brighter version underneath.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.41.44

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.41.49

So I hope this has been some help and if there’s anything else you’d like to know just drop me a mail or comment below.

Next time I’ll be looking at how I achieved some of the rabbit effects.

See ya soon!

 

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon…honestly it really is.

Image

 

Ok so this has been said a few times now and I’m sure most people are sick of hearing it. But honestly we really are nearly finished on The Great Spielron.  And if the Great in the title refers to the amount of time and energy this film is taking then it really is quite fitting.

I actually realised the other day that the film almost has as many effects shot in it as the orginal Jurassic park. Ok so they may not be on the same par but I still think that’s pretty impressive. Even if most of the effects are invisible ones, for example removing lights or modern day appliances that you didn’t find in the early 20th century.  Anyhow all the effects are finished. I keep spotting bits that need work but I think the film will never get released so I calling the VFX done.

Stuart and I are now just going through and finishing off Foley, SFX and Music. I really enjoy this part as it really helps bring the scenes to life and fit everything together. There were a number of scenes that I was really worried about but adding these Music and SFX has really lifted them. Don’t get me wrong it’s far from perfect but considering we wrote, shot and edited the film in 5 weeks I think it’s pretty impressive. What’s not impressive is the fact that it took me another 4 months to colour grade and add all the VFX, SFX and music.

So again really sorry for the massive delay. I’m not going to tie myself to a release date but what I can say is that it will DEFINITELY be in the next two weeks…maybe I should make that the next 22 days 🙂

I will also be doing LOADS of behind the scenes stuff on this.  All about how we did the VFX, SFX and the problems.

In till next time!

Black Magic URSA.

Video

I’m not one to usually get excited about camera technology, well not since I realised that I was wasting so much of my time waiting from the perfect camera that I wasn’t actually going out an shooting. And you really can’t beat experience no matter how good the technology you’re using is.

But I have to say if I was going to get a new camera the new Black Magic URSA looks amazing. There’s a lot of nice camera out there these days but they all seem to something that lets them down. If the price is good it usually means they’re not full sensor or you have to spend another £5000 just to make the useable on a set.
If they have everything you need they’re also usually way out of my price range and most other Indie filmmakers.
Plus a lot of the time it just feels like the manufacture doesn’t really listen to the customer and is all about profit and not usability.

When the first Black Magic camera came out I thought it’s specs looked great and the price was amazing. But it had so many of the key functions that I need missing. For example ND filters, XLR’s even the body wasn’t very user friendly.

However with this new camera it really seems like they’ve listened to what people actually want and even going beyond that. And for £5000 I have to say it really does seem like a dream camera.

Having said all that I’ll go back to my original point. If you’re audience is moaning that your film isn’t in 4k or that the dynamic range in the shadows doesn’t look great than you have serious problems with your story. Plus 4K really isn’t needed at the moment unless you you’re going for a theatrical release, even then you don’t need it…look at the Blair Witch project or one of my favorites 28 days later. Neither of these shot on high res cameras.

In other news. I’m adding foley and and music to The Great Spielron at the moment. It’s nearly there and is actually coming together quite nicely. So I promise I will have it released soon 🙂

Pick up shots

22 days later is about shooting films quickly and no matter what the end result, releasing them.

So I really have no excuse for holding back The Great Spielron.  However there were a couple of shots that needed a large number of people filling a hall.  I managed to fake this in post for some of the shots where you see the audience from behind using just five people and duplicating them, see earlier posts on how this was done. Unfortunately this trick wouldn’t work from the front shots, unless the shot was meant to show  a Quadruplet convention.

Which is why I decided to hold the film back so we could find a date to shoot enough people together on a green screen set. This date is tomorrow. Once I have this footage I will finally be able to put the finishing touches to the film and get it out there.

I’d like to point out that it’s not just this that’s held back the film and also making more films.  At the moment I’m still  searching for work and so as much as I love doing 22days later I’ve had to prioritise getting money.  Also without money I can’t get the films done so it’s a catch 22 situation (what a great pun!) Each film cost roughly about £100.

I’ve also wanted to post up loads on the progress of the Great Spielron but it would contain too many spoilers so I’ve had to hold off. The good news is there’s lots to talk about once the film is released, which all going well will be in around 2 weeks.

Again sorry for the hold ups,  if someone is willing to pay me to do this that would be great 🙂