The Thing That Comes To My House…

I know it’s a little early to start decorating for Halloween (although you wouldn’t know that from a casual perusal of your local grocery story), but I had a rendering test that I decided to turn into a desktop image I thought you might find intriguing…

The-Thing-That-Comes-To-My-House

I’ve begun using an incredible rendering program called KeyShot that has allowed me to get all of the intricate detail out of the digital characters than Ryan Peterson created for The Price. He sculpted these amazing pieces in Pixologic’s ZBrush, but the sheer size and digital complexity of these models made it difficult for other programs (needed to control the lights, materials, and camera angles) to handle without compromising the integrity of design and balance that Ryan worked so hard to achieve. (In fact, KeyShot is so effective in rendering ZBrush models that the two companies have joined forces and announced that the next version of ZBrush will include the KeyShot renderer for a fraction of the price of the stand-alone program!)

Even though this image has very dramatic lighting, you can still see the astounding realism in the anatomy of the hands — you wouldn’t think that would matter for an imaginary creature, but the more that looks intuitively “right” to the viewer’s eye helps add credibility even to a decidedly fantastical creation.

In other words, if you can believe in it, then you can be scared of it.

And on that ominous note, I hope you enjoy both the image and your weekend! :)

20 Comments
 

The Porch Of Dreams…

This week’s peek is of Shot TP-018, where The Black Cat, having decided to stay awhile, takes-up his vigilant post on the front porch:

TP_018_Cat_Porch

As quite a few of the scenes take place here, I had spent many hours trying to visualize this particular location while creating the animatic for The Price. I had found a few reference images online of Neil’s home, and was so completely enamored of it, decided that my version of the story would reflect the actual location which inspired it. A rather crude 3D model of the porch was constructed from these photos (along with plenty of guesswork), then images of it were rendered for the storyboard shots.

Fast-forward a few years to a surreal afternoon in October of 2011, and I am somehow standing there in front of the real thing…does it seem strange to say that I felt a twinge of nervousness as I walked up those steps? I was already thrown far off-center by just being there at Castle Gaiman in the first place, but something about that porch…

Porch_Steps

I was alone, and it was quiet except for the gentle sound of several wind chimes that hung there, swaying in the autumn breeze. To say it felt magical sounds trite and even a little melodramatic, and yet…there was a sensation that lay about the place that was both peaceful and mysterious at the same time.

Porch_Chimes

Checking to make sure Cat Mihos (or Neil himself, perish the thought) hadn’t suddenly come around the side of the house looking for me, I heeded an impulse to lie flat on my back, right there on that porch.

Porch_wood

Resting on the surprisingly rich-hued wood of the decking, I relaxed and spent a few minutes to take in the whole of the experience, paying close attention to each of my senses. I don’t know why I wanted to do that, but in that moment it felt as though I should. (I am an artist, right? Sometimes you just go with the flow & don’t ask why. Luckily, no one did come across me and assume I had been overcome by the sheer geek-magnitude of it all.)

My hope is to somehow catch a little of that afternoon’s magic in the film; if I can transport you there as you watch it — even for just a brief moment — I’ll be very happy.

Have a wonderful week!

8 Comments
 

Seeing In The Dark…

Hey everyone! This week, I wanted to share with you some images of one of the “featured props” from The Price: the night vision binoculars which the narrator of the story uses to find out just what is menacing the benevolent Black Cat…

NV-Binoculars

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, Mr. Neil Gaiman surprised me during my enchanted visit to his incredible abode by presenting me with the actual article and allowing me to take them home to use in fashioning a CG version.

During the Kickstarter campaign, I received several emails from talented individuals offering their services to help the cause; one of these was an up-and-coming 3D artist named Zack Dembinski. He was both patient & persistent, and because of this, when the time came around to taking him up on his kind offer, I wanted to give him something special to create — and thus, our NV binocs were created!

Here are some of the reference photos I took of the real thing to help Zack with his task:

Night-Vision-Binoc-Ref-Photos_01

I had him make some changes for aesthetic & technical reasons, like leaving off the straps and lens caps, and adding a custom label (which I may address in a later post…heh, heh, heh…), and here is the incredible result!!!

NV-Binoculars_detail

I remain completely blown-away by the kindness and generosity of people (the majority of whom I have never even met), and their willingness to help bring this dream-project to fruition.

I hope you enjoyed this tasty tidbit, and I’ll see you again next Friday!

8 Comments
 

The Wheels Keep Turning…

Much has happened in the last few months, both in terms of the production of The Price as well as in my own life; despite the many twists and turns of the road (or perhaps, because of them), this journey remains a constant source of surprise and inspiration. I am excited to share with you some of these new developments, but by way of reassurance to all of you who continue to offer your patient support, I wanted to let you know…

Still-Working_01

…I’m still hard at work.

More soon. See you next Friday.

Leave a comment
 

Space, Color & Light

Greetings & salutations, everyone! Yet again, it has been too long between updates, so allow me to share a few comments to let you all know that both The Price and I are still alive and kicking.

I thought it would be interesting to present an example of how a finished scene has evolved from what I had originally created in the animatic. Since it was the first shot I worked on back when trying to establish a look for the rough “blueprint” (literally) of the film, let’s take a look at frames from the two versions of the opening/title sequence:

Title-Sequence-Frame-Comparison

Space

One of the first things I realized during my visit to Castle Gaiman (once I began to get my ‘giddy-awe’ under control) was how the east-facing side of the house had far more visual interest to me than the west-facing…which of course was the side I had featured in the animatic. Now, I have said before that I’m not attempting to re-create reality, nor do I feel limited by what I have seen in visiting Neil’s marvelous abode, and yet I couldn’t help but be inspired by things I hadn’t thought of or imagined. After some contemplation, I decided to reverse the orientation of the house, but it took awhile longer to fully appreciate how making that one change would involve much more than simply moving the camera from one side of the scene to the other; in fact, the impact of this adjustment was felt in almost all of the shots that follow it!

If you look at the basic composition of the animatic version, the house is rather far off in the distance on the right-hand side, with the tree (bearing the engraved symbol that becomes the first letter in the title treatment) on the left. Flipping the house meant it would face the right of the screen, and I liked that the antagonistic forces would now be approaching from that direction, going against the familiar left-to-right flow to help establish tension.

But doing that made me want to put the house on the left hand side of the frame…and that wouldn’t work since the tree needed to be on the same side to allow the title to extend to the right of the trunk…

Hmmm.

It took some juggling and much trial and error to come up with an alternate layout that worked with the camera motion of the shot (the frame you see is the third and final stage of that motion), and conveyed a cozy, ‘nestled’ sense of the house being protected by its environment, rather than projecting an encroached-upon  or claustrophobic vibe.

Castle-Gaiman_01Color

Early one morning , I set up my camera to capture a time-lapse sequence of the house during sunrise. While the shutter clicked away for the better part of an hour,  I went for a brisk run along the roads that weave throughout the rural Midwestern landscape; as I made my way back to the property and glanced up at the home, I was stuck by the rich warm reds of the brick in the golden light. Immediately, I wanted to use those colors to establish (from the very first moments of the movie) that this place was one of goodness, warmth and of great value — worthy of protection and preservation. Once again, this was vastly different than limiting myself to the monochromatic blue-tones I had used previously — color changes everything! It is a powerful tool, and although I had been debating the merits of full color versus the “blue & white” scheme of the animatic (that many viewers mentioned was a compelling choice), the allure of what color could do to help tell this story won out in the end.

Light

Light is incredibly effective in leading the audience’s attention where you want them to focus, notice certain details, or to create a sense of depth and space. In this shot, using rays of sunlight and the diffused layers of early morning haze helps to separate the house from the background; keeping the foreground tree wreathed in shadow sets it apart from the other elements and lends an air of mystery or menace.

There were many other considerations, especially with the camera’s movement itself. At first, I had it set up to be very smooth and precise…too precise, actually. I decided to give it a slight ‘wobble,’ almost as if a real cameraman was filming the scene with a Steadicam device (which often adds a neat, ‘floaty’ feel to a shot), and suddenly, it all felt more alive and intriguing somehow.

For those so inclined, below is a full sized frame from the opening scene of The Price you can download and use as a desktop image.

OpeningShot_ThePrice

Hopefully these comments make some kind of sense; I find that a lot of the time — when those peculiar, artistic voices start suggesting things in my head — I can’t really explain “why” I made a particular decision or provide the rationale behind a creative shift in direction. As Peter Chan (an amazing concept/visual development artist who works in both the film & game industry) recently stated at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, when your “Gut” tells you to do something, you have to make the choice to listen to it instead of to your “Lizard Brain,” that part of your mind that always wants to play it safe and logical; I wholeheartedly agree.

So until next time, keep those creative impulses flowing and ignore that Lizard Brain! :) And if by the slightest-of-chances you have never seen Mr. Gaiman’s hugely inspirational speech given at the University of the Arts (or if you just really need a boost & want to watch it again), here you go (and you can thank me later). Enjoy!!!

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

20 Comments
 

A Backer’s Tale

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your holidays were invigorating and that you were able to surround yourselves with family & loved ones.

If you are like me, the new year brings powerful waves of conflicting emotion; I have to exert conscientious effort to push aside anxieties in order to keep the feelings of hope and excitement pure and unsullied.

I want to let each of you know that I am still here, my heart and mind both filled to overflowing with determination and the force of my imaginations for The Price. And whenever that conflict between hope and despair (which seems to be an integral part of any creative endeavor) starts to tip the scales into darker territory, I think about them many, many encouraging messages I have received, always at just the right moment to dispel the gloom and restore balance.

The community of support that has grown up around The Price is built upon a foundation of common interests and emotional connections. Many of you have shared your stories with me, and it has been such a joyful experience that I wanted to feature one of them in the following Videoblog: allow me introduce you to my good friend, Dhugael McLean Perry…

I really wish it were a possibility to meet each of you and listen to what connects you to The Price, but I’m glad you’ll get to know a little about Dhugael. He is a wildly talented fellow in a broad variety of disciplines, including the creation (and sale) of a highly-successful company, to being a literal computer-guru, actor, foodie and a gifted photographer (check out some examples of his stunning photography — including a few featuring none other than Mr. Neil Gaiman himself). Passionate and intelligent, Dhugael is as inspiring as he is unique.

Sadly, 2 of his lovable “Baker’s Dozen”  passed away this last year: Joey (19) and Rorshack (21).

Joey-and-Rorshack

Photos by: Dhugael McLean Perry

And they were not alone; my Producer-Extraordinaire Cat Mihos lost her beloved Batman

CatsBatman

Photo by: Cat Mihos

… while Castle Gaiman lost its matriarch, the venerable Princess Snowflake (who is a featured player in The Price).

Princess-Snowflake

Photo by: Kyle Cassidy

The loss of one we love isn’t something we can ever truly prepare for; the deep things we come to understand from such trials are one of the reasons we pass through them.

I am so grateful for the things I have that continue to add richness and depth to my life: my wife and family, the kindness of both friends and strangers (many of whom have since become friends), and for the endless possibilities that pure creativity offers each of us.

My sincere thanks again for helping this dream to come true; have the very best year — ever!!!

11 Comments
 

Our Magic Wand: Pixologic’s ZBrush

I thought some of you might want a peak at one of the rendering tests I’ve been working on — pretty scary stuff, boys & girls!!! Click on the image below & zoom-in to see it in all its full-size glory (I decided to make it into a desktop for those of you so inclined).

Devil-CU-Desktop_01

We have been lucky enough to attract the attention of Pixologic, the makers of the phenomenal 3D sculpting program ZBrush, which our character designer/sculptor Ryan Peterson has used exclusively to create all of the models  for The Price. Recently, Paul Gaboury of Pixologic has reached out to us and is helping our resident ZBrush guru, Michael Hoopes  to coax the types of images from these sculpted models that I need for the film. I am thrilled at Pixologic’s enthusiasm for what we are trying to do with their program, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results we’re getting —  more coming soon!

32 Comments
 

Tommy Tallarico: Celebrating the Culture of Video Game Music

The powerful effect that carefully crafted music can have over a medium which we primarily think of as visually-based (like a film or video game) is something I have developed a deep and abiding respect for. That said, you might still consider today’s post as being only indirectly linked with my production of The Price, but you’ll see the connections soon enough. Also, as the Salt Lake Comic Con is in full swing this weekend, I felt it even more appropriate to introduce you to my ‘guest star’ as he is one of the celebrities in attendance.

Tommy_logo_01I first worked with award-winning videogame composer & sound designer Tommy Tallarico back when I started in the industry on a violent, first-person car combat scrapper called Redline for Beyond Games. Later, at Glyphx Games, Tommy was asked to compose the stunningly beautiful score to Advent Rising, the first in a proposed trilogy of games for publisher Majesco. Take a quick peek at the Advent trailer below I created back in 2005 for E3 (the industry’s premier  trade-show event), and turn the sound up to fully enjoy Tommy’s talents:

He has since created the touring sensation Video Games Live, a rock concert-style multimedia performance that combines a full-blown orchestra, stellar vocal performances, multiple video screens blazing away and Tommy himself charging across the stage, guitar in hand & ready to set the world on fire … it may be hard to explain in a few mere words, but trust me when I say you’ll never experience anything else like it!!!

Video-Games-Live-TommyVideo-Games-Live-2One of the purposes of Video Games Live is to shine a light on the tremendous positive cultural impact that video games can have, especially through their music. Tommy reports  not only are parents responding with elated surprise to their children’s enthusiasm at having attended what is essentially a classical concert (albeit on steroids), but even the local orchestral musicians he conscripts to join him onstage can’t believe the responsive audiences, giddily sputtering things like, “I’ve never had a huge crowd go crazy for something I’ve played before — I feel like a rock star!”

Tommy has already produced 2 albums containing some of the music he has so energetically shared with the world, but in order to reach even more people, he has something unique in mind for developing his third collection. To finance this endeavor, he has turned to Kickstarter (my personal favorite crowd funding platform) for help.

Having mounted a successful campaign myself, I am frequently plied by other potential Kickstarters to spread the word about their pet projects. I have personally backed several  wonderful ideas, but it is rare that I will actually promote any of them to my backers. Tommy however has put together a well thought out, transparent proposal that truly does merit your attention, so I’m embedding his link below:

The rewards actually have substantial value and are well designed to please backers of his project. This guy has been working professionally for over 20 years, and consistently over-delivers, so please check out his proposal and see if you feel inclined to help support Tommy’s vision, or at the very least, to share it through your social media channels with your friends. There’s only 5 days left, and remember it’s ‘all-or-nothing’ fundraising (either he meets his goal, or none of the pledges are taken).

Now I’ve got to get back to work — I’ve making something cool that I’m dying to post here, so more coming soon!

Leave a comment
 

Arms & Shoulders…

First, I want to express how deeply moved and profoundly grateful my wife and I are for the wonderful messages of support and reassurance we received from so many of you regarding the passing of our son Jordan earlier this month; we are overwhelmed at the kindness and concern offered us, and it has helped as we move along our path of healing. Please know we are more grateful than words can ever say, and extend our thankfulness to a merciful Heavenly Father who has sent us so much peace and comfort.

As mentioned in the backer’s update I sent out last week, Jordan had requested (multiple times) that I post more frequently, resisting the impulse to always make a full-scale production, and be willing instead to offer glimpses into the process of making The Price, be they up-beat and hopeful or frustrated and discouraging.

To honor his request, I’m sharing an image today that illustrates one of the grueling realities of using computers: they are dumb. Stupid. Imbecilic, actually.

They will only do what you tell them to; only that, and exactly that, no more and no less.

For example, you can tell them precisely what a 3D model’s shape looks like through sculpting programs (we are using Pixologic’s phenomenal ZBrush); you can also make custom wrappings for each part of their exterior (called texture maps) to give the surfaces the color and detail you want; finally, you combine those with shaders to make the maps and surfaces appear to reflect light and cast shadows as if they were actually made of the materials they represent, like skin, clothing, metal or hair. (If you’d like some examples, you can refer to this previous post.)

With me so far? Once you have the computer understanding all of that, then you have to deal with explaining what to do with your creation when you want to move it around, say, to create a specific pose by bending the arms so the character appears to be holding his hands behind his back (pondering something of great significance, no doubt). Take a look at the image below:

Neil_shoulder-arm_compare_01

The rendering on the left shows what can happen if you tell the computer most of what it needs to know. If you compare it to the ‘fixed’ version on the right, you can immediately see that some crucial information is missing — like how the bones of the elbow should stay rigid and poke out from the bending muscles, and that those muscles shouldn’t look ‘deflated’ when compressed.

So, since I don’t really want the ‘Macaroni-Neil’ on the left as the star of the film, we have to keep explaining things until the computer figures out how to make the ‘Much-More-Buff-Neil’ on the right.

Without burying you in the myriad of technical acrobatics that have been attempted, suffice it to say that we are trying to find a way through the correct combination of programs and creative problem solving to get our point across to these unwieldy boxes we slavishly sit in front of each day.

I hope this was somewhat enjoyable (or even informative), but regardless of this posting’s entertainment value, I’m sure Jordan has a satisfied smile on his face. Until next time, stay strong, stay positive, and do something creative!!!

- Christopher

 

 

 

26 Comments
 

Tests & Results

Hello everyone! Without resorting to the already worn-out refrain of apologizing for the lengthy gap between updates, let’s just get to it, shall we?

First, take a quick peek at the brief animation/motion test video embedded below; for optimal results (and to best appreciate what I was testing), make sure the HD button is on, and click the ‘full-screen’ arrows icon in the lower right corner to view it as large as possible before hitting the ‘play’ button. Ready? Here we go:

I know, I know; it’s only about 12 seconds long (which is just the right length to be frustratingly not long enough), but I wanted to share a brief glimpse of what I’ve been working on, and offer the following explanation as to why this piece of the puzzle is so important:

This little clip represents the validation of a concept that began forming several years ago, while I was agonizing over how on earth to fund a fully computer-animated short film. Going through traditional channels had only yielded increasing despair as each response I received from investors/producers/distributors more clearly defined the conundrum I faced: computer animation costs a significant amount of money, and short films don’t tend to make any.

Even after the discovery of Kickstarter and the tantalizing potential of crowd-funding, I still couldn’t figure out how I could minimize the budget (back in “those days,” no Kickstarter project had come anywhere close to raising the amount I was considering). If you look at published production costs for recent animated feature-length films, you can begin to appreciate how large those numbers can get. Here’s a brief sampling of reported production budgets (in millions):

How To Train Your Dragon: $165

Wall-E: $180

Brave: $185

Toy Story 3: $200

Tangled: $260

Even one of the ‘bargain’ films like Hotel Transylvania at $85 million is fairly pricey to produce: running 91 minutes in length, that breaks-down to approximately  $934,000.00 per finished minute. (Tangled clocks in at an even 100 min. which works out to a jaw-dropping $2.6 million-per-minute!!!)

Trying to sit through the end credits of these movies reveals one of the main reasons for the exorbitant costs — a never-ending parade of digital artisans that can easily number in the hundreds. (I can’t even begin to comprehend the technical and mechanical forces required to enable an army of people that size.)

Now apply those kinds of figures to my little production; even if I was able find a very small team that could manage to make it all work at $50K per minute, The Price (at just under 20 minutes in length) would still require a budget close to a million dollars!  There was simply no feasible way to make it happen.

Until…

I started thinking about how effective the relatively crude animatic was at telling the story. Even though there were a few fully animated shots (featuring only a single character in a single environment), most of it was created with still images cross-fading into each other. I began to realize that I could try a similar approach with the final 3D models, and only render the parts of the image that were actually needed (rather than every frame, and every element within each frame). I figured with this kind of process, I could drastically reduce my projected budget — which I did — and even then, my Kickstater project was looking to raise (at that time) an unprecedented amount of money. (And all of you know the happy ending to that story!)

I began to develop methods and test techniques for realizing these ideas, and was greatly encouraged. Until I had my actual models, however, I wouldn’t know for sure — and that’s why I am so excited by this little, 12-second clip!

Instead of rendering all 288 frames, I rendered a single ‘hero’ image along with a few individual parts, like the eyes blinking or changing position, and the slight smile at the end. Even the background was created from a single still image, making the clouds appear to move across the sky with a little help from Adobe After Effects. Both Neil and the background were positioned in 3D space, and a virtual camera was created that pushed forward during the shot, changing angle and focal distance. If you watch closely, you can see motion in Neil’s throat as he swallows and even the nostril dilate slightly as he takes a breath (again, courtesy of the magic that is After Effects).

These details and others, like the suggestion of a breeze through the hair and adding some moving film grain to the final composite, all helped bring ‘life’ to what is essentially a still image. Even while adding music and sound effects, I was inspired to go back and add some birds flitting across the screen for a little extra movement.

And I think it all works really well! Consider these numbers: it took about 3 hours for my computer to render the two dozen elements needed to create this shot, as opposed to the hundreds of files that would have been required by going the standard route for all 288 frames (I shudder to think how long that would have taken).

There are many more advantages and developments that have sprung from doing the film in this way, but I hope this helps you understand more clearly what I’m attempting, and that you can see and feel the same level of excitement that I do in those 12, satisfying seconds.

Now, back to work!!!

41 Comments