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!
The goal is to finish all the 3D shots in the next few months and then on to color correcting and sound mix! Ugh…
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?
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?
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.
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:
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.
Recently we had the opportunity to create a monster suit for our newest production, Lifeform. The actual application was the culmination of many months of work. First, we started out with some pre-production drawings like the one attached here.
You can see in the illustration that the creature’s head is actually pretty beastial and less humanoid than the final product–due to the fact that we had to fit it to the actresses’ actual face–oh well…!
After deciding on a general look, we broke the design down in our brains–how were we going to end up building this thing and getting it on the actress? We decided to go with a multi-appliance approach–crafting numerous pieces out of silicone or latex and gluing them right on her. There were gloves with claws cast from resin, there were arm pieces that would attach to the top of her arms, there would be a chest piece, a head piece and finally, upper and lower face pieces.
First, I sculpted each and every piece from plasticene, using body casts we had taken of an actress, as the base on which to sculpt them. This took a little while, since there were numerous pieces that were going to be required, but it turned out to be worth it when we saw the final product.
After the pieces were sculpted, we cast them, sometimes in Rebound, in the case of pieces we were going to create in silicone, such as the arms, hands and face, or in plaster, for pieces we were going to create in latex, as a cost-cutting measure. These were the chest and head pieces, which were huge.
We had Anthony Jones, a very experienced mold maker, cast them in Ultracal plaster.(I still don’t know where I’m gonna put these monster molds. They’re doubling as a coffee table and a futon in my tiny apartment!)
Then he slip molded the pieces, creating a top layer of latex by pouring mask making latex #80 in the molds, gradually building up several layers. Once that was done, he created an inner layer of foam to give the pieces shape and definition. He did a great job as you can see below.
After that, Christine painted them, doing a boffo job as usual! She used PAX paint on the latex pieces and FuseFX and Psycho paint, Sil-Pig brand pigments on the silicone pieces. She really brought them to life by painted on a dark base and lighter-colored highlights, as you can see in these pictures.
Finally, the day of truth–shoot day. If anyone really believes making movies is a glamorous past-time, let me shatter your misconception for you. We had to bring the actress in SIX HOURS early, so that Christine and Ciara Rose Griffin, another talented makeup artist, could put it all together and turn the very talented Virginia Logan into a hideous creature.
They painstakingly glued everything to her with Skin-tite and Prosaide, skillfully blending all the pieces together as they went along. It was a torturous process for Virginia to undergo, but she held up like the complete trooper she is!
Finally, here she is, along with FX contacts and monster teeth, wrecking mayhem on the set!
We’ll probably add some CG enhancements to make her even more horrible, twitching tentacles, that sort of thing.
See the gallery below for more pictures of the whole process…
So Sunday we had a crazy day shooting in Voorhees, NJ at a plastic surgeon’s office. We braved a two hour drive through the pouring rain, Burger King breakfast food and hospital booties (the ones you pull on your feet,okay?) in order to shoot some complicated hospital scenes. Also, there was a life signs monitor that Virginia Logan was attached to that keep beeping and telling us she was no longer respiring. I think it was a malfunction because as of today she was still walking around and making lascivious comments! Anyway, we made most of our day and then we nearly hydroplaned on a sharp turn into two other cars that had already spun off the road. Somehow I was able to channel my mad driving skills and turned into two skids, all the while holding one cup of coffee, thereby avoiding the upset-looking Hindu woman we were skidding towards. The gods of filmmaking were with us on the that day, I can tell you! All in all, adventures like this are the thing I like least about filmmaking. Still, it does build nerves of steel, if one survives the ordeal. Indie filmmaking is rarely pretty, rarely glamorous and always an adventure….
This past Sunday we pulled a crazy twelve hour shoot wherein we tortured cast and crew not only with numerous takes, but also mucho monster makeup. You can see some pics here of the great work that a team of people pulled off the other night. The scenes all involve our heroine struggling to come to grips with her shapechanging, her identity and also why the heck she was on-set until 5 am. I sculpted the face and spikes, along with Christine who also painted them. The very talented Meraly Lopez applied them. Virginia Logan brought the makeup to life! It was a fantastic time and the makeup looked great. We want to bring as much high-level prosthetic work to the film as possible. More pictures of our great cast, including Peter Alexandrou and Kate Britton, to follow!