Dreaming Dangerously

Every year it seems my family and I wind up celebrating my birthday somewhere along the vast stretches of interstate that constitute the 1000 mile pilgrimage we make each summer to be with family north of the border. A sourly noted  coincidence is that it almost always occurs during the very week of the San Diego Comic Con — the Mecca of all Geekdom — and often while I’m not even in the same country.  Although this has never been a big deal (as I cherish every minute we get to spend in the gorgeous Okanagan valley), I have long wished for an opportunity to go and see for myself what all the Comic Con-fuss is about.

Part of the joy in writing this blog comes from the opportunity to share with you some of the astonishing experiences that have transpired during the production of this little film. Most recently, two things happened that made this year’s birthday extra-extra-special…

First, I had the extraordinary good fortune of being invited to attend and participate in the 2016 San Diego Comic Con!

And then, this happened:

Neil-&-Me-SDCC-2016_01a

Photo by: Mysterious Female Gaiman Fan (who took this for me after I took one for her)

I’m going to explain the excessive use of italicized words in just a moment, but there is something more important to show you first: here is the brand new trailer that was created exclusively for Comic Con!

It was such an enormous thrill to watch this on a huge screen and hear an audience (larger than my family) react to it for the first time!

So… how did all of this come about? Neil’s Director of Development (and my own wonderful Producer) Cat Mihos asked me to be a part of a special SDCC panel entitled “Neil Gaiman in Film.” Focusing on the work of several talented artists who have been inspired by Mr. Gaiman’s life and creations, each of us showed clips from our cinematic projects and shared the motivations for making them.

SDCC-2016-Panel_TylerBel

Photo by: Tyler Bel

From left to right, our distinguished (motley) group included: Olga Nunes and Alan Amato with their documentary Temple of Art, our fabulous moderator (and childhood friend of Neil’s) Geoff Notkin, the incredible Cat Mihos herself, her partner-in-crime and the panel’s appointed color man Ethan McQuerrey, Patrick Meaney the director of the featured documentary Dream Dangerously, his cinematographer Jordan Rennet… and that other dude there at the end.

(As I began listing these talented folks it became apparent there was no realistic way to include all of their multi-hyphenate descriptors, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is a powerhouse group!)

SDCC-2016-Panel_TaylorMaw

Photo by: Taylor Maw

I was sincerely honored to be included and had a veritable blast onstage (hopefully video of the proceedings will be available soon), but it got even better afterwards when I had the opportunity to speak with some hardcore Gaiman-ites who had stories of their own to share.

First, a young man named Ryan shook my hand as he thanked me for creating the animatic of The Price, claiming he had watched it more than 20 times. He said it gives him hope as an artist (he is a writer) when hitting those down days that we all struggle through, and found it has provided inspiration for him to keep going. I was overwhelmed to hear this, and felt an intense gratitude that my little prototype film had such an effect on this earnest fellow; his enthusiasm to see the finished movie was humbling.

Next, a woman named Sarah approached me with tears in her eyes. She thanked me for working on The Price (her favorite short story), and referenced something I’d said when introducing the teaser trailer for Castle Gaiman. It was reminiscent of this blog post about my visit to Neil’s Midwestern home where the real-life events of this fictitious story took place. I told the audience (who all looked at me in various shades of jealous-green) about getting to spend time there, catching glimpses of the relationships he has nurtured not only with a variety of ‘lost’ animals that he shares the house with, but also the ‘lost’ people with whom he surrounds himself. And by ‘lost,’ I mean individuals who may not feel as though they fit the regular-shaped holes that society has available for them to fill; somehow, he has made them all a home.

Because of this remark, Sarah related an experience several years prior at Comic Con when she had waited for hours to see Neil in sweltering summer temperatures and while she was extremely pregnant (with a son who was attending himself this year). At some point, she was told that she had been waiting in the wrong line, and had to scramble up elevators and down corridors to arrive at the new location. Then, after waiting even longer in this second queue, was informed she had been in the correct line the first time around, and would now miss the event altogether. Heartbroken and feeling miserable, she made her way back only to find closed doors; all her efforts to see him had been in vain.

But wait…this is a Neil Gaiman story, so it can’t possibly end there, right?

With a huge smile, she said that as Neil was leaving the room after the panel concluded, he recognized her from the line, walked over and sat down for 15 minutes to chat with a tired mother whose fan-hopes were suddenly rekindled in the best possible way.

“I was one of those lost people you mentioned.” she finished, her eyes still gleaming.

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Photo by: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ

Everything about this entire experience was so overwhelming that I cannot begin to give you an accurate sense of what it all felt like (keep in mind this was my first time at SDCC), but let me share a few more moments.

Getting to attend the American Gods panel as part of Neil’s “entourage” was both exhilarating and rather startling, especially when finding myself at the pre-panel gathering in the presence of actors like Ian McShane, Kristin Chenoweth, and Producer/Writer and Showrunner Bryan Fuller. I’m standing there trying not to gawk openly at all of these people, when Neil calls out my name and comes over for a hug while wishing me a happy birthday — I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that, right? I don’t even know if I said anything that made sense after that, just grinned a whole lot. Maybe too much.

AmericanGods_panel_02

Photo by: Natalie Fisher

After his panel — and it really did belong to Neil, as the audience cheered and clapped for all of the guests, but absolutely went berserk when Mr. Gaiman took the stage (you can see for yourself here) — all the participants and their guests returned to the same private gathering room, and again, Neil took time with me for that priceless photo above and to chat amiably with the horde of people who all wanted a piece of his time. I was able to meet some wonderful new friends, and once again was left to marvel at the generosity and kindness of a genuinely good man who has touched so many, many lives.

AG-Panel-SDCC-2016_Backstage-01

This was my POV from backstage — crazy-cool!

On top of all this, there was the thunderous, mind-blowing insanity that is Hall H, the ultra coveted venue that people literally camp overnight in line just to be a part of. It was like a full-on rock concert in a 7000 seat madhouse! Screaming fans, laser holograms projected on smoke, ear-splitting audio all fused to the kind of live-wire adrenaline that drives everyone to their feet when someone like Benedict Cumberbatch suddenly appears onstage… jaw-dropping!!!

BenedictCumberbatch_SDCC-2016

Photo by: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

In addition to the marketing juggernaut of the Marvel panel, there were other phenomenal events to savor, like the Aliens 30th Anniversary panel with James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver — I was in heaven!

What more can I say? Only that I hope you enjoyed this offering and the spirit in which it was given, one of gratitude and pure amazement at getting a chance to be there and take part in so much geeky-goodness!

One last thing… my Comic Con experience was made possible through the tireless, behind-the-scenes efforts of the person who my wife has pointed out is the equivalent of our own personal Black Cat. Like the quiet hero of The Price, she is the resilient and positive force that brought everything together at SDCC and kept it flowing: Cat Mihos (along with her awe-inducing hubby, the giant, pony-tailed, kilt-wearing dynamo that is Drew Johnston). Her consistent encouragement and genuine desire to help others has been a source of inspiration and hope even durning times when this project was moving so slowly, it was hard to see progress. She has opened many doors for me (and others), and creates networks between those of us lucky enough to associate with her. And when I witness how deftly she coordinates the intense storm of focused attention that always threatens to engulf her beloved boss, I know she is his Black Cat as well.

A 1000 thank-yous, my friend.

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SDCC: Your Cup of Tea?

Hey everyone! It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, and I’m incredibly excited to finally share some news that’s been in the works for awhile: I’ll be debuting a brand new cinematic trailer for The Price at the San Diego Comic Con later this month!

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I was asked by Cat Mihos (my wonderful producing partner and Head of Development for Mr. Neil Gaiman) to join a special panel called “Neil Gaiman in Film,”  featuring the new documentary Dream Dangerously and other great art. For those of you who may be attending the Con, here are the details:

Neil Gaiman in Film: Dream Dangerously, The Price, Temple of Art

SDCC, Saturday July 23rd, 8:00-9:00 pm Room 29AB

Patrick Meaney (Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods), Jordan Rennet (She Makes Comics), Cat Mihos (Neverwear), Allan Amato (Slip), Olga Nunes(Temple of Art), Christopher Salmon (The Price), Geoff Notkin(Meteorite Men) and Ethan McQuerrey (The Executive) discuss three different upcoming films featuring Neil Gaiman (Sandman, The Graveyard Book).They will show clips from the films and then have a Q&A session/discussion moderated by Ethan McQuerrey & Geoff Notkin.

Pretty cool, right???!!!

Needless to say, I have been working around the clock, and in addition to The Price, will also be showing the Castle Gaiman mini-doc trailer as well (with some exclusive new interview footage).

Patrick’s film, Dream Dangerously is available starting tomorrow on Vimeo, and contains some truly fascinating insights not only into Neil’s world, but of the challenges in creating art professionally as well.

I hope to see some of you there, and finally get a chance to express my gratitude in person for helping make this filmmaker’s dream come true. And after all, it is Comic Con…who knows what surprises may be in store? 😉

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Windows of the Soul

Gollum_Smeagol_TheTwoTowersI remember the first time I saw Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers and sat in slack-jawed amazement during the scene where Frodo confronts Gollum about his long-forgotten past as Smeagol. So much of a genuinely affecting performance comes through an actor’s eyes… and here was a CG character emoting in a way I’d never imagined possible! Somehow, the animators had managed to capture Andy Serkis’s phenomenal work and translate it through the computer to play out on the screen.

Because there are several shots in The Price when the Narrator is simply staring at the Black Cat or off into the distance somewhere, I knew that the CG model’s eyes were going to bear the brunt of the audience’s focus (not to mention scrutiny). With that in mind, digital designer and sculptor Ryan Peterson had his work cut out for him.

Modelling:

EyeChart_01

Again, it may seem like overkill to go into this much detail, but to get the computer to make things “look right,” you have to give it plenty to work with. (Seriously, click on the image above and look closely at all of those sculpted folds in the iris [dilator pupillae] and the intricate veining on the sclera — that is just plain nuts, right??!!) Ryan even made a shell that covers the eye and incorporates the “corneal bulge” shape, which actually helps in the next stage.

Rendering:

NRG_Eyes_01

When preparing a model for rendering, I can assign certain characteristics to each individual part. In the image above, I gave the skin of the face and the eyeball itself some translucency, so that part of the light in the scene actually passes through the material instead of just bouncing off. It’s not something most of us walk around thinking about, but your brain inherently recognizes the difference between something organic (like skin) and something else (like rubber), and will let you know immediately if something looks “off.” For the scleral covering/corneal bulge pieces, I used a glass-like shader with actual refractive properties, so the image of the iris and pupil behind it are slightly distorted (in real life, the cornea and surrounding liquid do the same thing). An environment map (depicting the scene around the character, like a backyard or a room interior) is also applied to give that glassy surface layer something to reflect, which is what makes it seem wet or moist. (That last reference was specifically for my sister Jen — she absolutely loathes the word “moist.”) :) All of these little things really add to the overall impact when you see them together, like this:

Eyes-of-the-Beholder_01

I’ll admit he does appear a wee-bit maniacal (sorry Neil), but those eyes make it seem as though there is someone “in there” (even if he may be a little frayed around the edges).

Well, that’s all for now; I hope you enjoy these “behind-the-scenes” posts — have a great week, everyone!

PS: This whole topic was kind of ironic, as I had my very first visit to the Eye Doc this morning (getting old, I’m afraid…), so here’s a quick shout-out to the whole team at Davis Vision Center (especially that dapper-doc, the one and only Kurt Hepworth)!

EyeDocVisit_01

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Stunt Cat

StuntCat_01a

Here’s a quick shot I took of what’s currently on my screen: The Black Cat’s very own “stunt” double (hairless at the moment). Used in medium to long shots, this model can be posed and animated in real time. (For those emotive close-up shots, a “hero” version of TBC is rendered in a different program.) I’ll show a demo later on of how this guy works and has solved a specific set of problems for me on The Price. More soon!

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Grade School Graveyard

I wanted to add a quick update concerning the image I posted last time of the basement stairwell. Most of the comments I received were very complimentary (for which I gratefully thank you), but a few also included an interesting observation: that the narrower dimensions of the stairs in the original animatic image added more to the sense of tension and unease I was trying to evoke than the revised set. As an artist, I genuinely value constructive critiques of my work; after looking at the same thing for an extended period, it is always a challenge to see with fresh eyes. Although I don’t feel obligated to agree with every proffered observation/opinion, I did in this case, and offer a revised version that I feel works much better. Thanks everyone! :)

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Since one good turn deserves another, I wanted to share something fun that you might get a kick out of. My 11 year-old son had an assignment in his 6th grade class to create a video book “trailer” earlier this year, and guess what book his group chose? None other than Mr. Gaiman’s masterwork, The Graveyard Book! And while the kids themselves wrote the script, chose which scenes to include, played all the roles and decided how it was to be put together, they asked me to help with the “special effects” and other post production duties as it was shot almost entirely using greenscreen. The finished video was shown at a local theater as part of a 6th grade “Film Festival” (with the kids all being chauffeured by limo to walk the red carpet, et al), and The Graveyard Book won 8 awards! (Some parents grumbled about my participation, but it really wasn’t a true competition, and the teacher in charge welcomed the opportunity for me to show the students some advanced techniques.) The kids had a blast (and so did I), so we hope you’ll enjoy it as well:

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Composition and Contrast

Whether you are drawing a picture, staging a scene in a play, or taking a photograph, the way you choose to present the elements of your creation to an audience has a huge impact on how they will receive the message you are endeavoring to send.

As I was starting to put together storyboard frames for the animatic, one of the first images that formed clearly was this one:

AnimaticSlide_03

There are times when I struggle to find an interesting way to visualize a scene, but this one leapt fully-formed into my mind. It made me feel everything I was hoping to convey: trepidation, wariness, anxiety and a bit of mystery as well. Although it may just be a basement stairwell, at this point in the story the audience needs to feel like there is definitely something askew with the visit of this seemingly innocuous black cat. I didn’t try to over-think things when putting it together, but the lower, canted angle, strong contrast, and the off-center placement of the doorway at the top of the stairs all combined to create the tone I wanted. It remains one of my favorite shots, so when it came time to build the actual scene, I kept the composition intact.

Stairwell-to-Sanctuary_01a

 

I hope you are enjoying these images and insights as much as I enjoy sharing them!

Oh, one last thing: is anyone planning on attending the San Diego Comic Con in July? Just asking…

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A Change in the Weather

I don’t know how it may be for you, but where we live, the weather has been doing its springtime-schizophrenic-thing with great abandon this year! (I went camping with my son’s scout troop 2 weeks ago and froze all night long; now I can’t sleep in my own bed without the overhead fan spinning away.)

Thinking on these thermal vacillations  suggested an interesting detail to share with you: during my oft-referred to visit at Castle Gaiman, a roofing company happened to be effecting some repairs with a specialized truck that featured a platform attached to a crane/boom arm that could extend all the way to the top of the house (I believe they called it a “cherry picker”). With Neil’s kind permission, I had the operator take me up so I could shoot references photographs from a unique vantage point. I’m not gonna lie — it was a blast to ride in, and also an unexpected treat to experience high-altitude views of the house and property.

Photo by: Cat Mihos

One of the details I was excited to see in person was the distinctive weather-vane that adorns the tower at the front of the house.

CG_Weathervane_01

Although interesting in its own right, I wasn’t as keen about the design as I had anticipated. After reviewing the photos later, I still felt a bit disenchanted, and decided my Castle Gaiman would need to have something a little more…spooky.

So, I approached my friend, the talented designer-illustrator Dave Laub, and asked if he could take the basic idea and give it his customary Laub-ification treatment; here’s what he came up with:

WeatherVane_Design_01

Pretty cool, right? :) Needless to say, I was thrilled, so the design was given to master-sculptor Ryan Peterson, who translated Dave’s 2D concept into an actual 3D model. (For a more detailed explanation of this process and some examples of how it works, you can watch — or perhaps re-watch — this videoblog on Digital Sculpture & Design.)

You may be asking at this point: so, why all the fuss? The next time you are watching a movie, you might notice that alongside the shots you would normally expect to see, like close-ups when people are talking to each other, or establishing shots of locations that let you know where the next scenes are going to take place, etc., there are other, less obvious elements used to help move the story along. One of these cinematic devices is called a transition, which does exactly what it sounds like: helps the viewer make a transition from one place (or idea, or emotion) to another without getting confused feeling jarred out of the moment. I wanted to feature the weather-vane in a close up to serve as a transition point in the film, both visually and tonally; take a look:

Change-in-the-Weather_01aIt’s at this juncture in the story where bad things begin to occur, and which seem to be somehow connected to the Black Cat. I’m hopeful that this imagery won’t feel too “on-the-nose” to viewers, but will impart a subtle sense of foreboding.

Well that’s all for now; have a tremendous week! (And keep an eye out for those sudden storms…)

 

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The Basement

For this week’s post (yes, I am going to post something every week from here on out — even if it’s just a quick, frustrated blurb or scribbled drawing of some sort), I thought I’d share this image of one of the featured locations in the film: the basement.

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This set was built using some of that new “tech” I was referring to in the last post, which allows me to move objects, lights and camera around in real-time, helping to dial-in an amplified, illustrative feel for The Price. No more waiting (like in the “Old Days”) for minutes/hours between adjustments while the computer crunches away — it really is such a huge artistic advantage! To compare, here is an image of the quick 3D set I cobbled together for the animatic:

Animatic-Basement

When developing the animatic, I realized this was one of the sets I couldn’t just “fake” with a simple image for the background, as I had to generate multiple shots from very different angles. Luckily, these renders were very simple, didn’t have any real textures or colors to worry about getting right (as the images were eventually turned monochromatic), and were only meant to get the general idea across. If you look carefully between the two versions, you can see that I’ve re-purposed some of the same models (although they have been upgraded significantly).

One last thing you may find interesting: to keep from going crazy, I sometimes amuse myself by adding little references to various friends and family members into the background of shots, like the label for this paint thinner can:

KodusStrip_01

(“Kodus” is a nick-name for one of my sons…and yes, the rest of my kids are watching very closely to make sure they don’t get slighted.)

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this quick peek; have a great week!

PS: For the record, Neil’s basement looks nothing like this. It’s got a marvelous library, tons of comics, and is both inviting and comfortable in every way; that wouldn’t really work too well for the movie — I want my basement scary and mysterious! :)

Gaiman_Library

Photo by: Kyle Cassidy

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A Lonely Road

So, the bad news is that once again it has been several months since I posted an update here, and for that I am genuinely sorry. The good news is, I have a new image to share, along with a fairly extensive update… so let’s get started:

Morning-Mail_01

I chose this shot because it’s a good example of how an initial idea can change and develop over time. In the original animatic, this scene was very different:

Animatic_MailboxRain

I didn’t have much of the geography around the house worked-out beyond some grass, a bunch of trees in the distance and a road. In fact, if you look too long at this frame, you’ll find all sorts of things that don’t make any sense — but the point of the shot was, “Look! There’s a mailbox!” and maybe a little bit of, “Oh yeah, it’s rainy and gloomy too,” thrown-in for good measure.

I was never happy with the original shot, but didn’t have any clear ideas on how to make it better until my dream-like visit to Castle Gaiman. Turning off a dark country road to move slowly up the gravel driveway toward this eclectic home which had figured so prominently in my imagination over the past few years was beyond thrilling, and surprising as well. The trees lining either side were larger and more mature than I had pictured, and the driveway itself far longer.

These impressions recurred during the next two days as I walked around the property taking reference photographs. In particular, the view from either end of that driveway, with those tall trunks framing its length was quite striking. All of these perceptions were added to the jumbled pile of ideas rolling around inside my head. They eventually emerged as an idea for adding a wider establishing shot at this point in the film using a similar composition (along with fog for separating the layers of the image and increasing visual interest).

In terms of sharpening the cinematic language of The Price, intentionally cutting from such a wide shot down to a close-up of the letter received from the author’s distraught daughter is a bit jarring, and helps add to the building unease of the sequence.

Now, I also wanted to elaborate on the current state of the film and where things are headed.

I had an opportunity not long ago of attempting to do exactly this with my youngest brother, Jeff. Living almost 1100 miles away, I don’t often get to visit with my family; unfortunately, the reason this time was neither fun nor recreational (I’ll get to that a little later).

Jeff said he wasn’t exactly sure he understood what was happening with The Price other than production was taking far longer than anticipated, that I was stressed and agitated over its slower progress, and there seemingly wasn’t much to show for all of that work so far…

So I began talking, and about an hour later, he seemed satisfied — to the point when he stated enthusiastically that I should write something similar here in hopes that it might be helpful to those of you who have been waiting so patiently. So…here goes:

At the beginning of my Kickstarter campaign for this project, I had determined not to attempt full-blown animation as the cost, time, and manpower wouldn’t justify the production of a short film with no real chance of making back any investment. Besides, the style on display in the animatic seemed to be intriguing to viewers — having images that blended between poses like a moving graphic novel. That was an approach I could handle mostly on my own, and for a far more reasonable budget.

After years of fruitless searching for a way to fund The Price, Kickstarter suddenly appeared on the horizon, and I knew how this film could finally happen. 33 days and 2001 backers later, it was on!

Creation is a process of discovery, and you need to allow for some false-starts and dead ends as you make your way along an unknown and lonely road; sometimes, the way to find the right path is to go down all of the wrong ones first. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

To wit: the character models were designed and built with the intent that they be posed and rendered as single images rather than a series of animated frames. These digital sculptures, created by Ryan K. Peterson, were phenomenally crafted, but proved difficult to translate from the sculpting software into another 3D program that would create the hair/fur needed, allow each model to be moved into the requisite poses, and then rendered with the correct lighting and materials (for example, having skin with translucent properties). We tried multiple methods and insanely over-complicated combinations that all yielded disappointing and compromised results. Time was ticking away, and every road seemed to lead nowhere.

The sets and environments had their own issues as well. The model of the house was large and unwieldy, and getting it to render was also a royal pain! Using a traditional rendering pipeline meant having to wait for long periods of time (even hours, when you only have one machine working on it) before you can see if you placed your lights properly, had everything aligned in the shot correctly, or if the overall look was somewhere even close to what you had been aiming for. It was like moving things around in a darkened room, then having to wait for the lights to finally come on in order to see what you had done — argh!!!

In a full animation studio, there are many groups of skilled artists and technicians that focus on specific problems and details like these (not to mention the vast rendering “farms” created from hundreds of dedicated CPUs to crunch all of that data). I had just a few guys contracting with me to build/create the things that I couldn’t, and then I was to combine all of these custom pieces together myself. I began to realize that despite my initial, more modest ambitions, what I actually wanted now was to try and create a full-blown professional-grade product, only it had to be made by hand on a very limited budget.

Regardless, I was determined to fight my way through these obstacles, even as they continued to pile-up in relentless fashion.

Then, as time continued relentlessly by…something changed.

Technology.

Suddenly, the sculpting program we used introduced newly-developed tools, and partnered with a company whose ground-breaking renderer could import the files directly and render them quickly, right in front of your eyes. You could tell within seconds if the lighting design worked, and the model materials looked like they were supposed to, with hardly any major tweaking — it was mind-blowing!

Then, a whole new world of possibilities opened up with a program called Element 3D, created by Andrew Kramer and Video Copilot. This special plugin allowed 3D models to be opened in Adobe After Effects, the program I use for compositing all of my shots, and with which I feel extremely comfortable. What all of that means is I could now bring my house model into After Effects and light it, position and modify it all in real time! I had immediate results that would respond instantly as I changed parameters and settings, using the same kind of GPU magic that today’s highly sophisticated videogames also use. Having instant feedback so I could dial-in the look of these models was now a reality — and I could do it myself on my single (though admittedly, crazy-powerful) workstation. Light bulbs (Edison again) were literally popping-on in my mind like machine-gun fire!

And with these new capabilities came a slew of tantalizing possibilities as well. For example: do I really have to keep all of these images static? Wouldn’t it be so much more immersive to start the film by moving the camera slowly toward the house, past thousands of blades of 3D grass and right up to that tree trunk with those strange markings on it that reveals the film’s title? (If you haven’t already seen this shot, click here.)

Can you see where all of this is going? Imagine, after spending years of tinkering, trying to put a car together in your spare time with a bunch of custom-made components, you realize you now have the ability to build something more sophisticated, powerful and even more beautiful…but that means taking it all apart and then putting it back together in a new and different way. That’s the best metaphor I can think of to describe where things are. None of the parts that have been worked on so diligently have been cast aside or wasted, just used in a better, more advanced fashion.

I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating here: even more than money, my Kickstarter backers have afforded me the rarefied opportunity to create something at my very best, A+ level. Because there is no paying client waving a glaring deadline in my face, I can listen to that aesthetic-driven voice in my head that sees a better way of putting things together. Trying to explain why an artist should pay heed to that voice is difficult — how can you quantify inspiration or justify a creative instinct?

Ultimately, the process of creation really is a lonely road, and always traveled for the very first time. It’s never easy to attempt an explanation as to why something looks “off” to me, or how I know when something else feels “right.” It’s like being asked where ideas come from — how can you answer that? All I know is that you need to start the journey with faith in that inner sensibility, then be willing to head down the unknown path alone, wondering at what you’ll find…

Of course, this process takes time. We all have lives to live, and life frequently requires things of us that we may not have accounted for.

Now back to why I was visiting my brother Jeff: he called early Sunday morning on the last day of January to tell me that our father had suffered a heart attack; less than an hour later, he called again to say that he was gone.

Dads-Funeral_02

Photo: Shain Walker

(I was going to share some things with you here about my Dad, but have decided to save those thoughts and precious memories for a later post.)

I stayed with my Mum for awhile after the funeral. She has a wonderfully resilient outlook, but now bears the burden of living alone and managing the small farm that our family enjoyed so much growing up. Life has drastically altered the rules for her, and yet she is finding her way along this new path.

That’s what we all do. My wife always refers to Dory’s refrain in Finding Nemo as our family motto: Just Keep Swimming. Sure, that sounds especially fitting when you consider that our last name is Salmon, but there is a profound truth to be found as well. You just keep moving forward, no matter what comes your way.

And often, those life events are joyful and glorious: last month, my daughter Shain (who took the marvelous picture above) was married to her best friend (a really great guy), the first of our children to do so.

Shain-and-Hogan

Above all, family remains the highest priority, despite schedules brimming with responsibilities and activities that demand our time and attention.

Having the chance to make this film in the way that I want to is a great privilege, one I feel immense gratitude for. The constant support and encouragement from the vast majority of you, including Mr. Gaiman, helps more than you realize, especially on those days when the obstacles loom large and discouragement tries to worm its insidious way into my heart.

But I’ll never give up. It’s simply not an option.

Neil said that I fell in love with The Price, and that really is the best way to put it. Of course I am anxious to have it finished — and I will always maintain that no one wants to see this movie more than I do! I constantly daydream of being invited to some sort of Gaiman-centric event one day in the near future and being able to show it to all of you, getting to feel your response in person. This project has been part of who I am as an artist for so long now, I will always feel a deep connection to this moving and thoughtful story of when The Black Cat came to stay.

So don’t give up hope; I may still be walking down that lonely road, but know I will be returning soon to share what I’ve found along the way.

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The Study

In an effort to post more frequently, I’ll spare you the lengthy epistle this time around, and share an image instead:Study_night_01Many details here were inspired by my visit to Castle Gaiman, but as with the layout of the other interior sets, I have taken many artistic liberties in order to capture the angle, composition and mood I’m trying to achieve. And for any of you CG-geeks out there, this entire set is built and rendered in real time (courtesy of Video Copilot’s Element 3D), all inside of After Effects — pretty cool, right? Hope you enjoy the sneak-peek — more to come!

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