behind the scenes at StrangewerksFilms

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Giving Life to Lifeform…

We’re in the midst of creating 3D animations for our film Lifeform. The software we chose was Blender–a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software product used for creating visual effects. Here at our studio we’re doing the animation, lighting and compositing. Modeling and rigging were handled by talented Blender vets Kevin Hayes and Nathan Taylor, respectively. At last count there were forty–odd (and we do mean odd) 3D fx shots in the film, which, while it doesn’t sound like a lot, is a HUGE amount of work, not to mention render time. Currently we’re averaging a day-and-a-half to two days of render time per shot, so you can imagine how long it’s taking to wade through the list. Still, it’s worth it when you see the results…   One of the more interesting facts is that you actually output the animation as a series of still images, .pngs, which you then import into Aftereffects, in order to create an entire animation, who’d have figured that? When we designed the actual creature, I was looking to invest attributes from actual creatures in nature, in order to give it a more authentic feel. Some dinosaur plating here, some praying mantis there, a scorpion tail over here… Now we’re trying to emulate some of the physical movements these creatures make in the real world to bring the illusion home.


One tip I would give to any fledgling animators: don’t forget to use the animation curves to smooth out the model’s movements. You can use the bezier tools to make them less “roller-coaster” like–some of mine were looking like the Cyclone at Coney Island before I smoothed them out!
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The goal is to finish all the 3D shots in the next few months and then on to color correcting and sound mix! Ugh…

Here’s an effects clip from Lifeform that features Virginia Logan. She looks chilling in this clip! Good job Virginia!

We’re hard at work creating a whole lot of Blender creature effects for the film, just like the multi-tentacle effect here, in addition to a ton of AfterEffects work by some talented people. The goal is to be finished with post within the next three months so we can get started on even more macabre madness!

Mutant Monster Tentacle Attack Scene!

Presented for your edification: a partially completed tentacle attack scene featuring Virginia Logan suddenly sprouting mutant monster tentacles from out of her back and molesting attacking Peter Alexandrou–and who can blame her really? It was a long day on set, afterall. Everyone was cranky!

Actually, we’ve been using Blender to create 3D animated tentacles for these shots. Then we bring them into AfterEffects and combine them with a matte created in Mocha (sounds like we’re making boozy drinks here!) and, voila: instant monster tentacles! Actually, it’s not that instantaneous, but it’s very gratifying to see one’s vision of tentacular (is that a real word?) homicide come to life before one’s eyes.

We combined the computer tentacles with some practical ones on set. For these, we actually had to do reverse shots, which involved wrapping the silicone prop tentacle (made from Smooth-On’s Dragon Skin silicone product) around the actor’s wrists or ankles, greasing them up with KY (who says sets are no fun?) and pulling them off while filming. Then in Final Cut Pro, we reversed these shots so they looked like the tentacles were wrapping around his limbs. I was pleased with how seemless these shots turned out.

What do you think?

tentacle test from Brian Schiavo on Vimeo.

Cyber Brain Machine Props…

Recently I got a call from Drew Bellware at Pandora Machine. For his latest film–starrring one of my favorite actresses–Kate Britton— he wanted some type of consciousness transference device, that would enable a person to download themselves into an android body. Not having one on hand, I was forced to construct said device from scratch–with no time or no real budget–as usual! Fortunately, I had a bunch of vacuum tubes laying around that I’d bought on ebay years ago and never had the chance to use. I love vacuum tubes, they add an arcane tech feel, especially when used in conjunction with new sci fi tech. Just feels French for some reason–there’s a certain “je ne se quois” about it, which means “I would like my croissant toasted and dipped in curdled goat’s milk.” So after a trip to the Depo for parts, I came up with this. Hope you like it:

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I had to make two of them, one for the user and another for the android to wear….

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We also had to have some kind of control base–which I had no idea for. No clue. As I was wracking my brain and walking down Third Ave, I looked down and saw a big, disgustingly dirty fan someone had unceremoniously dumped in the street–lighting struck. That was what I’d build the thing around!  I carted it home, threw it in a plastic bag for fear of BEDBUGS and eventually got around to taking it apart. Threw some parts on it including popsicle  molds, a spark plug cleaner, a base from a Babylon 5 doll, some volume control knobs, etc., along with some lights I rigged  on the inside and –voila! A conscious transferral device. Looks great in moody lighting, don’t you think?IMG_2687

Video

Tentacle action

Hazzah! Here’s a first-ever attempt at Blender animation on my part. It’s a tentacle that’s going to be used in our feature film Lifeform. (Still in Post!) It’s not perfect, you can see a light panel in back and the thing goes out of sight at the end, but I think it looks pretty cool. I have to thank a number of people for helping me get to this point, including Nathan Taylor, who rigged it, Kevin Hays, who was the modeler and Drew Bellware, who actually told me I had to skin the darn thing with the texture files and showed me how to do it. Couldn’t do it without them and their impressive talents!

Various animations of the tentacle will the composited into scenes with Virginia Logan as she “monsters out” and attacks people with tentacles coming out of her…back–just her back, I swear. What do you think this is? Species?

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I wish we had their budget, or Natasha Henstridge. Heck, I’d settle for a 8 1/2 by 11 glossy of H.R. Giger at this point. Probably give me nightmares though.

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One neat tutorial I looked at, regarding working with the Cycles render engine is located at Blender Guru. Andrew’s site has many great tutorials wherein he takes his time to actually show you how to do things and he’s a really nice guy as well. One of the neat things about Cycles is that you can use a mesh plane as a light. He says it works better than a regular lamp object, as a light source. So, I used a few planes to light it.

Nate is rigging a few more models for us and I can’t wait to see how great these things animate! Thanks guys!

Here’s my test animation:

Playing With Monster Models…

Below, you can see a 3D Blender model that was created for our new film by Kevin Hays, of the Colorado Hays. Kevin took a few concept sketches that I threw at him and came up with this great design. We really appreciate all the hard work and effort that went into its creation.  We’ll be adding the creature to the film shortly, after we have it rigged, then animated, lit and composited…whew! Can’t wait to see this thing wrecking havoc onscreen.

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Here are some other views of the creature. We decided to go with Blender after Andrew Bellware convinced us about it. It’s free to download!
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Additionally, here are some of the sketches I gave to Kevin…

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Kevin’s model will really accentuate all the practical effects we did in the film and take it up a few hundred notches or so. Many thanks Kev!

Tentacles

We’re well into post on Lifeform, halfway through the second edit and just beginning the CG effects work. The first step of course, is getting the actual models. (We’ve decided to work in Blender because it’s a free, open-sourced 3-D animation program.) Below you can see a picture of the silicone stunt tentacle that we actually used on set when strangling any and all recalcitrant actors, God love ’em!

However, we still need shots of the tentacle doing things we couldn’t get an actual physical prop to do, like emerge from a mutant woman’s back, flail about in midair, pour a cocktail, do transwarp drive computations, all kinds of stuff like that, so that’s where a computerized version comes in. Below is a picture of our brand new CG tentacle model, which was created by Kevin Hays, a very talented young blender modeler, who hails from Colorado. Don’t know how he had the time to do this between all the wildfires and shootings, but he did and he did a magnificent job! Once it’s rigged, animated and lit, it will be composited into footage so it can properly terrorize our ensemble.

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