Upgraded

I try hard to focus on the positive  aspects of this project taking so long to complete, and one of those has been the advent of new technology which enables me to use improved techniques in creating the imagery and style of animation for The Price. This week, I thought to share an example of this by using the logo sequence for my production company, Silver Fish.

(Sidebar: my youngest son asked me the other day, “So…where did you get “Silver Fish” from anyways?” He said this in a tone that was either mild disdain, or one of entreaty, as in: “Please don’t launch into a 24-minute explanation…just… keep it simple.” I took pity on  the wee-lad, and said, “Well, you know I like the color silver…and our last name is Salmon, so…”)

Below is the original sequence that I developed for the Kickstarter pitch video, and have used at the beginning of the Video blogs you can find here on the site:

The image of the fish (a stylized hybrid of the Lion and Anglerfish breeds) had been designed as a simple, 1-color graphic in Adobe Illustrator, then painted to give it dimensions and a metal-like appearance in Photoshop.

SFC-logo_bts_AI_PS_01

That piece of 2D artwork was taken into After Effects and warped to create the “biting” animation and some slight movements in the body to give the impression of it swimming. I then used particles and simulated volumetric lighting effects (a fancy way of saying “beams-of-light) to make it seem as though it was all situated deep in the mysterious, oceanic depths somewhere.

With editing and sound design, the final piece had a playful/foreboding feel that was darkly whimsical, which was exactly what I was going for.

I use After Effects a lot in my work — I pretty much live there — so I was thrilled when a new plug-in for that program was released by Video Copilot, a 3rd-party developer lead by Andrew Kramer (an extraordinarily gifted teacher/tutorial host who is genuinely fun to listen to, uncommonly generous with his knowledge, and is also an all-around good guy). The plug-in is called Element 3D, and it allows me to bring actual 3D models into After Effects and utilize the power of advanced video card technology (also called the Graphics Processing  Unit or GPU, and is the part of your computer’s guts that make video games looks so pretty). I have a real monster of a video card, a GeForce GTX Titan; take a look:

GTX-TITAN

Element can let you see your model in real time rather than having to wait for hours until it “renders” a finished image. While this real-time method doesn’t have all the über-deluxe bells & whistles that traditional 3D rendering programs offer,  the advantages of immediately seeing if the lighting is right or moving things around in a scene to get the composition I’m after is hard to over state.

So, starting with the same initial Illustrator logo graphic, I created a 3D version in Element (extruding and beveling the fins, teeth and main body of the fish), and textureing them with some of the professionally created materials (or “shaders”) available from Video Copilot to simulate scratched and worn metal.

SFC-logo_bts_AE_01

Once this stage was completed, I could actually animate the 3D jaw snapping shut while the fins flared & undulated and the eyeball flicked back and forth, as if searching for more prey…

Putting it into a new shot with animated surface “water” and a rock-strewn sea bed, more particle “floaties” and those omnipresent light beams, I was then able to animate the camera to show the actual 3D nature of the fish, rotating around and then pulling away after it attempts to grasp the virtual lens in its metallic maw. Check it out:

I added camera shake, bubbles, and motion blur (an artifact from real camera film exposures that cause fast moving objects to blur, and to which we as an audience have become accustomed to seeing; when we don’t, something about the shot doesn’t feel “right,” or seems “fake”) to heighten the impact, and even made some water distortion occur when the letters zoom the past the camera to form “Silver Fish.” I chose to have the word “Productions” appear in a more dynamic fashion and in a contrasting color for emphasis (I like the color orange quite a bit as well). The whole thing was then taken into Adobe Premiere Pro for editing and adding the sound effects — the process of putting all of the carefully crafted pieces together, which I enjoy immensely.

By comparing the two logo sequences, you can see how much more may be realized; it could be argued, of course, that both are equally serviceable (true enough), but I am vastly more pleased with the second. To me, it feels much more dynamic and epic in scope — and being enabled to add both increased dynamics and a broader sense of scope to the world of The Price can only make it an even  richer cinematic experience.

I hope this was interesting and not too technical (it certainly wouldn’t qualify as one of my son’s preferred types of answer); enjoy your week!

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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! :)

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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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!

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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!

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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

 

 

 

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