A new year and a new teaser just to let you all know that I’m still here, still working, and still very much in love with this incredible story.
In honor of yesterday’s holiday, here’s another example of one of the unexpected obstacles that crop-up during film production – especially one as technologically dependent as The Price!
While opening a file I hadn’t worked on in some time, I was met with this heart-stopping notification:
It happens when a program (in this case, Adobe After Effects) can’t find the files in the location where they were stored the last time AE used them. Why does this happen? Usually it’s because the user has moved them.
You know those boxes in your garage – the ones that stack-up over time until you are finally forced to dig them out and spend tedious hours going through their seemingly endless contents? It’s exactly the same with a computer, whose storage has limits and needs to be managed. So you move things around in an attempt to make more room, hopefully getting rid of all of the unnecessary stuff in the process. Also, hard drives can wear out unexpectedly, making backups and periodic hardware upgrades an important safety precaution to help avoid catastrophic data losses.
In this case, it was slightly more… complicated. Way, way back on April 6th, 2011, I posted about receiving a Drobo storage device, a file backup system with a special RAID configuration that would copy the data over 8 separate drives so that even if 2 of the drivers were to fail, nothing would be lost.
All had been working well until an unforeseen power outage crashed the Drobo and corrupted the file storage system, meaning that the “directory” for where everything was stored was now unreadable across all 8 drives!
Luckily, I had been building a new backup system because (like me), the old one was starting to show signs of age. I had already transferred many of the files, but “the great exodus” was still in progress when the Drobo went down.
I immediately began the long and protracted process to recover its File System (which takes upwards of 3 months to complete, and I’m now on my 3rd attempt); for now, I have to deal with missing file situations as they pop-up.
Thankfully, in this instance I was able to locate the source file for the missing animation, and with a little effort was able to reconstitute the sequence (while actually improving it as a bonus). Here’s a look at the shot (it’s actually the first time you get to see “The Narrator” in the film):
The moral of the story is that the Boys Scouts got it right: Be Prepared.
It has been a very long while since I’ve posted here, and in the last several months we’ve all been through some extremely strange and unsettling times. I’ve put together another brief behind-the-scenes video I hope you’ll find interesting, but before we get to that, there are some things to say…
For the record: I am still deeply in love with this story and despite the ridiculously long production timeline, I remain committed to completing my film so I can share it with all of you. That passion has carried me through some unforeseen and unimaginably dark moments, and sustained me during the murky, frustrating periods when progress has slowed to a crawl and the obstacles seem too great to overcome.
Many of you have maintained that same passionate ardor for The Price and continue to make your feelings known (sometimes even in angry, militant ways). Whether you’ve shared kind, encouraging words or felt that giving me a sound scolding might be the best way to go about seeing the movie sooner rather than later, I sincerely appreciate the time you have taken to reach out at all – it’s evidence that you love Mr. Gaiman’s wonderful story in the same way that I do!
When so much time has passed and I haven’t put anything up on this site, I feel guilty and anxious. This leads to stressing over what to post – if I need to just let people know I’m still alive & kicking, or come up with something more substantial to share. The end result is that more and more time goes by without any word whatsoever…and a vicious cycle has begun yet again.
It’s frighteningly easy to become overwhelmed by all of those shadows, but in the end, we see what we want to see.
For me, it means all that’s left is to get back up and try one more time, so here goes:
One of the meanings of the word gambit is “a remark to open a conversation,” so I want to use this one to start the year off right (posted by Amy Charlotte Kean):
I’m further inspired by the use of persevere: “to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement: continue steadfastly.” And despite everything going on in the world, that’s what we’ll do. Hang in there everyone!
PS: I’m having fun on a Friday night animating this:
I uploaded the original animatic for The Price at the start of 2013 with the intention of leaving it online for a few months in an effort to express my gratitude for the patience of so many who were waiting for the final film. The description on YouTube mentioned that it would only be available for a limited time, but a strange thing happened as the days continued to tick relentlessly past…
You can look through them (if so inclined), but along with many kind and encouraging words for the production itself, there came expressions of gratitude and thankfulness for the way the story provided hope and even an emotional catharsis for some viewers. These have continued to appear over the (now 7) years it has been online, having been viewed over 85,000 times.
I started reading through them the other day — as a group on the site itself rather than individual email notifications — and realized I hadn’t responded to the majority of these comments! I decided to do something about that, and once I started, I just couldn’t stop; it was truly overwhelming.
Here is a sampling:
Julie Dawson: “I sought this story out today on hearing the news that RBG has died. I am so grateful for all the ‘Black cats’ who give everything they have to protect the rest of us in our ignorance.”
Mónica Álvarez: “It is a good story and a great adaptation. Today I read this story to my students for Children’s day. Thank you for sharing.”
johnmburt1960: “Just shared this with my 12-year-old. Very glad I got the chance.”
Sans Souci Blogs: “Oh did this ever get to me. It is magnificent in every way. Please don’t remove it! It is perfect in every way. Mesmerizing. As a cat rescuer it really affected me. Bravo!”
Shannon Sutter: “I loved this story. I once had a black cat that resided with me. She showed up and I took her in just like in the story. I believe she warded off evil as well. RIP “Blackie”, I sure miss your presence on my porch.”
Akios Munre: “Is anyone else crying? Because this was truly beautiful.”
Black Jill: “I cried…I Just… I’d have done something, anything, to keep it from coming back and hurting that cat. I have three cats with me now and all I can think about is cuddling with them now.”
Of course, all of this is because of the sheer emotional power of Mr. Gaiman’s extraordinary tale.
It remains stunning to me that even in its “rough draft” form, this little film can tap into that power and reach people in significantly personal ways. And that’s the magic behind inspiration — it can come from anywhere (and usually, right in the nick-of-time).
As I was working through these comments, I happened to click on a link to the Olan Rogers channel. (Many of you might know him from his uproariously funny “Story” videos, the most famous of which is the absolute gold-standard for silliness called “Ghost in the Stalls” that will have you ugly-laughing and saying things like, “I’m scotch… tape!”) I hadn’t been there for a long, long time, and was curious to see how he was dealing with the whole pandemic-thing, so I watched his video called “Keep Moving.”
I wasn’t prepared for such a raw, emotional experience that was transparent and extremely brave. I hope you’ll watch it in its entirety, because the point he makes in sharing both the good and tragic things that have befallen him brought me tremendous feelings of hope and assurance (even though one of the saddest moments is when he describes the passing of his own feline friend, “Starscream”).
All I’m trying to say is that the inspiration for you and what you need right now is out there, so keep looking and you’ll find it, I promise.
Stay healthy, happy and hopeful.
I’m excited to share a brief announcement and another image with you, but wanted to explain some nerdy-techno-thingies first:
Back in the early 2000’s, the video editing, visual fx and compositing work I did pushed the capacity of my computer system to its knees just to create an image that was a mere 640 pixels wide by 480 tall (which was the standard resolution for TV monitors). The screen proportions were 4:3 (also expressed as 1.33), making the image much more boxy that what we’re use to today. Suddenly High Definition (HD) came along, boosting those dimensions first to 720 x 480, and then to 1920 x 1080, the “aspect ratio” widening to 16:9 (1.78) and looking much more cinematic. And those standards have continued to evolve: digital projection at 2K (2560 x 1440) was a marvel in theaters, and now you can even watch YouTube videos on your smart TV at 4K (3840 x 2160)!
For The Price, I started the project aiming at BlyRay-level HD resolution (1920 x 1080), but then upgraded my game plan (as time marched inexorably along) to create the final images at 2K resolution (so it would look its best when projected on a theater screen).
After some tests, I am excited to report that a 4K version will be available when the film is released! Because all of the images are created digitally from scratch, upscaling them and maintaining visual fidelity is much easier to achieve than someone using traditional film or video at a lower resolutions. Here’s an example (rendered at full 4K):
One of the things that helps is adding an overlay of film grain to the otherwise “pristine” digital image. I love the look and feel of film stock, and this analog patina (made from actual 4K film samples) blends everything together and adds that “extra something.”
Now, for those uber-nerds out there, you may have noticed the literal image dimensions of this frame are 3840 x 1634. The image isn’t as tall to purposely emulate my favorite cinematic aspect ratio, 2.35 instead of 1.78 (sometimes called “Cinemascope” or “Anamorphic”).
Of course, while I am thrilled by all this and wanted to share, none of it really matters to anyone until they can actually watch the movie, so… back to work!
For all of us, 2020 has been upside down, backwards, and totally unexpected in far too many ways.
While we may be reeling from upheaval, confused at so much contradiction and upset by the rampant contention, shining through everything dark and dreary are the positive and hopeful moments that never fail to arrive just in time.
We see that pattern all around us; the warm promise of a fresh spring always follows the harsh, gray oppression of winter. Yet when things are at their bleakest, it feels as though they may never pass.
This reminds me of the moment in The Price where the narrator is thinking through possible causes for the trauma being visited upon the Black Cat each night, and says, “We wondered who he was fighting? Racoons? A rat-tailed, fanged possum?”
Here’s how I chose to depict this part of the story when I first created the animatic:
I thought having him look out through his office window as the camera moves in from outside the glass would help convey his concern over whatever external force was causing so much torment for his feline houseguest.
When creating the final images, I decided to add raindrops to the surface of the glass, starting the shot tight on them as they trickle down like tears, and then racking focus to reveal our narrator inside.
I suppose that is where some of my optimism has come from recently. Despite the grim goings-on in the world around me, the mandate to stay inside has renewed the deep affection and appreciation I feel for my family. The disruption of everyday schedules has led to some unique and unscripted moments that have helped to strengthen our bond, and to value familiar relationships more fully.
My gratitude at the pure generosity of Neil Gaiman (who recently celebrated a birthday) and the persistent positivity of Cat Mihos are lights that keep shining on this project even on my darker days.
As always, I am grateful for the many messages I continue to receive that are brimming with cheerful encouragement and kindness, despite the hyper-extended production timeline of this little film. Even those whose comments have been somewhat less than polite on this point still reflect the care and passion of fans who just want to see this version of Neil Gaiman’s beloved story (already)! I thank you for your continued faith and patience, and promise that I am one of those passionate/perturbed people myself!
Stay healthy and safe, and hold your loved ones extra tight; spring is coming.
I thought you might enjoy seeing the full size, hand-painted texture map used on the close-up model of The Black Cat. (Click on the image to see it full-size.) There are different layers that can be added to manipulate the look of the fur and to reveal the progressively damaged and wounded state of our hero as he continues to wage his lonely battle throughout the story.
Today happens to be Mr. Neil Gaiman’s birthday, which by happy coincidence he shares with my good friend (and sound guru) Rob King. Rob will be helping with the audio design and mix (when we get to that point), and is featured in this production Videoblog, “The Recording of Neil.” He has been a constant source of support and encouragement throughout this project, is a master craftsman and a legitimately great guy!
The first time I met Rob was to direct a voice-over recording session for a video game I was working on. Forgetting to compensate for the different time zone, I arrived at his Sherman Oaks, CA studio from the airport an hour early. Realizing my error before actually knocking, I figured I’d wait on his porch and watch the rest of The Fellowship of the Ring on my laptop. I had barely pushed ‘play’ when I heard the sound of a door being cautiously opened behind me. To Rob’s credit, he appeared unfazed as I began my stammering explanation of who I was and why I was watching Hobbits on his steps, then graciously invited me to step inside; the rest, as they say, is history.
The happiest of birthday wishes to both of you fine gentlemen — may you watch a fantastic movie and eat something truly wicked!
I hope everyone had great fun this Halloween season! My fifteen-year-old demonstrated impeccable taste in selecting his costume this year… behold, Anthony J. Crowley:
A rather dashing young man if I must say so; I myself cut somewhat less of a debonair figure:
(That took about 2 hours to apply, and instantly caused frightened children to scatter in a 5-mile radius in every direction.)
Now, I want to share a few things with those who have been patiently waiting for an update.
First: I love The Price.
This project has been a non-stop series of small miracles for me (including the more than 2000 made possible by the enthusiastic kindness of strangers via Kickstarter), not to mention a few gigantic ones (like spending time with Mr. Neil Gaiman, and being able to call Cat Mihos my friend).
Second: as you are well aware, this film is taking a long, long, long time to make.
That was never the plan, and yet here we are. Clearly, there are frustrations (on both sides of the fence), and a swamp filled with doubt and anxiety that requires careful navigation to steer clear of while staying hopeful, creative and productive.
One evening not long ago I began re-reading Coraline, and in the forward to the 10th anniversary edition read about Neil’s own struggles in writing one of his most beloved stories:
“I stopped writing [Coraline] when we moved to America. (I had been writing it in my own time. It didn’t seem like I had any “own time” any longer.)
“Six years later I picked it up and continued from the middle of the sentence I’d stopped at in August 1992
“I started it again because I realized that if I didn’t, my youngest daughter, Maddy, would be too old for it by the time I was done. I started it for Holly. I finished it for Maddy.
“Now I was writing Coraline again, I still had no time, so I would write fifty words a night in bed, before I fell asleep.”
His account, and similar stories from other artists I admire, bring much needed light and encouragement to keep moving forward each day, no matter the conditions or the challenges; it’s like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming!” (Given that our last name is Salmon, this has become our mantra.)
Many have asked that I share a completion date, but I have been reluctant to publicly draw that line in the sand given the unpredictability of this project. It remains a labor of love, and while there is a timeline I am striving to maintain, I would rather provide a happy surprise when it’s finished than disappointment at a missed deadline.
Still others have questioned if all this work is actually necessary, given that the animatic version (made years ago) tells the cinematic story already. While I appreciate the overwhelmingly positive reactions to that proof-of-concept, the best way to explain what all of this time and effort are for, is that I am turning this
Thank you so very much for all your patience and support; please know I am following Neil’s example, working each and every day until the film is finished. Now, back to work…
I thought this image would be appropriate to share on Neil’s birthday; working on the shot had me thinking once again about the generosity and compassion (towards both animals and people) that were clearly evident during my visit to Castle Gaiman.
As this is the first feline you meet in the movie, it was important for him to be adorable enough so that the audience would understand why the narrator can’t refuse to take pity, and invites him to stay.
That in turn meant that the reaction of my cinematic version of Mr. Gaiman (as he opens the front door and sees this furry face looking up at him) also needed to convey the same level of warmth and welcoming I had felt while there, in great abundance. Getting these emotions to “read,” along with maintaining the desired balance of stylization and realism has been among the most exciting challenges of this project.
And to Neil (himself): our thanks for who you are and what you do — more than ever, it is no small thing to have someone to look-up to.
Best wishes for a most excellent birthday!