Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Making of We are Number One but it's BIONICLE

    So a few months ago, my sister Leena made a custom version of the widely used song meme "We Are Number One" and asked that I do the visuals based on some premade animations.  It was only half a year later that I remembered to do a blog post on it!  Without further ado, here's my contribution to BIONICLE fandom:



    Most of the work here was simply video editing in Premiere, but there were a few points where I ended up adding original elements and visual effects--for instance, I made Ekimu's saxophone in Adobe Illustrator while paying attention to the surrounding art style.

    The main changes I made were actually all based around masking and animating those masked elements in After Effects, using the same technique I used for the hand in my "Fire Hand" short.  I used a bit of motion tracking for some of the masks, but a lot of the motion was manual (e.g. masking Leena's signature yellow Miru Nuva over Sportacus' face was mainly manual).  Recoloring some of the Protectors to resemble Ekimu used a similar technique, but instead of putting an object elsewhere, I was masking a darkened, desaturated and partially transparent adjustment layer onto the Protectors (the fact that 2015's art style was relatively minimalistic helped a lot with this).

    Overall, I had a lot of fun with this project; I'd been wanting to make some noticeable contribution to one of my favorite franchises' fandom, but I hadn't been doing much with all the other projects I had in mind.  If you like this, you may want to check out Leena's channel; it has a variety of custom music videos, original short animations and more! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I Made a Browser-Based HEIF File Viewer!

So, as many in the tech world know, Apple recently switched to a new photo format for their iDevices with iOS 11 forward.  While the new format is vastly superior to JPG, it was all but entirely incompatible with Windows programs. However, thanks to a college class in JavaScript, I managed to download and jury-rig the official HEIF format website into a file reader!  It seems Chrome/Edge are incompatible as of this writing, so thus far only Firefox seems to work. 

Here's a link to the program: https://mega.nz/#!9xwWgCSA!6G3mvAjN_zB7iYzhVEkuGsulNjPFCsoZubSfpUTHQw4 

This is far from a perfect viewer, so I plan to keep working on and rewriting the program as necessary (#1 on the agenda would be compatibility with more browsers).  In the meantime, though, have fun with the program!  

UPDATE 1/3/2018: I've run a direct copy of the website on other browsers, and apparently Chrome (and presumably the other browsers) somehow can't load the special images because of their local "file://" URL, meaning it would have to be uploaded to a server and gotten through HTTP first--which rather defeats the point of having a local program, so it seems the program only works on Firefox for the foreseeable future. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Things I'm Learning as an Amateur Filmmaker

    Not quite related to CGI or special effects, but as I've been exploring the filmmaking process between creating ABYDOS and doing pre-production for the sequel, I think it'd be good to share what I've learned from it, both in terms of crimes against filmmaking mistakes I've made and things I've happened to learn along the way.  Best to keep in mind that I'm far from a professional, so these suggestions are more from my experience as a no-budget science-fiction pseudo-horror indie-film writer than a professional screenwriter/director, but if you're in such a position as well, perhaps some of these may prove useful to you.  Without further ado, here we go:
  • Keep the script open to your cast
    This suggestion is probably obvious to many, but it was one of the things I'd seriously messed up on while filming ABYDOS.  I'd kept the script fairly closed and would only reveal brief portions of the script at a time, thinking the relative lack of knowledge of future events would help with the acting (taking inspiration partly from the likes of writer Steven Moffat telling different actors separate pieces of information in Doctor Who and director Ridley Scott not telling his actors when certain jumpscares would happen in Alien, but taken to an extreme).  Of course, this meant that rehearsals were essentially nonexistent, memorization time was minimal (even line-by-line), and the actors didn't even know crucial details their in-movie characters knew.
    I'm already learning from this for the sequel: my draft is completely open to my cast/crew (which is composed of like three people besides myself right now), and I've talked with them about different technical and story-based details, providing an update whenever there's a significant change or solution to a problem.  Note to future me: I am not Ridley Scott.  I am not at the level where I can make such artistic decisions and have them work.  And I've actually never seen Alien so I'm pretty sure taking inspiration from it is a bad idea until whenever I do so.
  • Be open to suggestions
     While I'd also fallen to the trap of working with mostly just my ideas to a degree in the first movie, the script wasn't completely without input from others.  The biggest change was with Chloe's talk with the others upon joining the group (the only time in the movie all four actors are onscreen simultaneously).  I'd initially written the scene to be highly formalized and fairly unemotional (particularly from the veteran members), but my crew noted that it just didn't seem to work; there wasn't much humanity to the scene, which was especially noticeable since the characters are all teenagers (note that these are my siblings, who were on a budget entirely of slurpees at 7-11, so openly disagreeing with the director here isn't as unprofessional as it may seem at first glance).  As a result, I decided to change the script to go with their suggestions, adding in a bit of personality and more generally casual speech, and I believe that really improved the original draft.  (For comparison: my original scene seemed more like the largely unemotional dialogue some of the Star Wars prequels' dialogue is criticized for.) 
    The takeaway: as the amateur director, the movie's image may mainly be yours, but if your crew think a scene really lacks humanity or isn't enjoyable, odds are that the audience may think the same thing. 
  • Lighten the script up a bit
    Even if you're writing dark drama, even if the project has pseudo-horror motifs, even if people are in life-or-death situations. While Marvel's cinematic universe and its related TV shows have most recently brought this technique into popularity, it's been true for a while that a dark story with occasional comedic lines doesn't always subtract from the drama--quite often, it adds to it.  Recently, I was working on improving my draft of ABYDOS II when a character makes a discovery and reacts to the rough equivalent of "What? That can't be right!" Something about the line seemed off or simply forced, however, and no matter how I played with it the line felt like it was just there because it had to be there.  Eventually, however, it occurred to me to replace the line entirely with an equivalent of "Oh."  Despite the its lighthearted nature, the comedic line actually fit in to the dark story much better than the darker line had. 
  • Look up how stuff's pronounced
     I payed attention to how words like "Abydos" and "Djebauti" were pronounced, but it never occurred to me that Chloe's name was pronounced CLOH-ee instead of just CLOHW.  Oops. 
  • If you're doing something cool by sliding your hands across the blade of a knife, please don't actually grab the blade hard or at all
    Filmmaking is a learning experience.  Please don't ask how I know this.  Further info is in the ABYDOS making of.

Ow. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The ABYDOS Making Of Video is Here!

And, despite being on a blog based entirely around computer animation and special effects, the video doesn't have anything to do with either of them!


 So yeah, this mostly talks about story/concept/different things that happened during filming.  Anyway, a new semester has started and I'm really hoping my modern philosophy-ridden Art Theory class comes with brain bleach!  In the meantime, though, I hope you enjoy the Making Of! 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Animation Test: Walking on Uneven Ground

    Ta-da!  I ripped some models from a game and made an animation with them to convince myself that ripping them was useful! (Also, I made my first video done completely in Blender since 2015!) 

    Again, neither Samus nor her gunship's models/rigging were made by me; both were ripped from the first Metroid Prime using the fantastic HECL.  For some reason I actually like the model from Metroid Prime 1 better than the one from Prime 2/3 (I think it may be the relatively minimalistic use of lights combined with less feminine-looking armor).  I was around halfway through this tribute to the underrated franchise when Prime 4/Samus Returns were announced, so I guess I'll call it a celebration of the franchise's return instead.  Also, for what it's worth, I'm calling it an "animation test" because there's not enough to the video to do the word "fanimation" justice ',:^|. 

    As the title implies, this is a jump for me because I animated the entire walk; since this was on uneven ground, I didn't use any walk cycling, leading to the lack of repetition making the walking a bit more lifelike.  I think the "weight"/leaning could use some improvements in order to fake gravity better in the future, but for a first try I consider it a success.  In addition to Samus' animation, I did the landscape and managed the shaders/materials for the transition to Cycles.  The total render took an estimated 5 hours, but the Cycles engine can definitely be worth long waits. 

    Additional credits: Samus' model and rigging + gunship model/rigging/floating animation by Retro Studios from Metroid Prime; the HD textures on both are from Ty Anderson. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

More 3D Modeling!

    Continuing my splash work for TV-Nihon, I decided to do one in Blender instead of using Photoshop.
    I feel like this represents the start of a turn into more advanced 3D modeling for me.  I hadn't done much with Blender in quite a while--mostly animating the Walking Death in ABYDOS and making fan work with 3D models from games--but here, I feel like I stepped into a newer era of 3D modeling by constructing more complete background scenes with image textures and objects created from the ground up. 

    Made near the end of 2016, this still uses Blender's internal rendering engine, which is basically obsolete, so the picture's lighting isn't nearly photorealistic, but it does use image textures to a far greater degree than it'd been done in much of my earlier work, which helps add more realism and distract from other things like the number of commas I put into this sentence. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Preliminary Script is Complete!

    Finally, my work on the first draft on the ABYDOS sequel is done!  The only problem is that it's over twice the length of the original's script, and I'm not hoping for a 40+ minute long movie, so there may be a bit of work yet to be done.  However, I'm hoping to involve input from the rest of the creative team--an advantage that, while I'd also used it for the first film, I hadn't been using to nearly the same degree.  That said, I've also done some more work with Blender, which I'd love to share soon! 

Ignore the Lights.