December Production Update

The Stina facial animation rig is now finished (finally!) and has all the functionality of the Gollum rig from Lord of the Rings (that it was initially based on) with a few automated extra features (such as automatic proximity based lip meniscus) that should make the 80 minutes of screen time vaguely feasible! We are now planning to build a full facial capture system to save us having to hand animate the whole 80 minutes (i.e. how Gollum was done – Incredibly time consuming) We’ll still be doing a clean up pass in Animation from the original filmed reference, but this should cut production time down radically. We’re relatively confident this can be done by FOAM without contracting externally. We’re presently chatting to various companies about their experiences doing facial capture and have a talented PHD student starting on the capture software full time in February; plus a wealth of knowledge on fuzzy logic systems within the university. This will hopefully form the backbone of the system. It does mean, however, that our actors will all have to have face casts made and have a camera (light weight honestly.. modern technology init! they won’t even know its there!!) strapped, very comfortably, to their heads.
This month we also cast our first male role GUNTER, who is to be played by the talented actor David Taylor. David is a professional actor with a wealth of experience in theatre and film. We did some workshops at the Gregg school with David, Becky and Lucy (who play Stina and Gunter’s side kick Olaf) and were very encouraged by the dynamics coming out of the session. It gave us some great ideas to enrich the screenplay. We’re also continuing with other workshops with the other cast members and its great to see them starting to inhabit their characters. And well done to Evie for putting up with all the ill people last week! Particularly as the last session rather dissolved into a flu infused laughter session by the end.
FOAM has taken on some new staff this month, with the ranks of MODELLING, ANIMATION, CREATURES and ENVIRONMENTS now up to respectable numbers: good work here John! The dept. leads are now leading their teams effectively and the work seems to be flowing from everyone. Good variety of stuff on show at dallies this week. We also have a new architectural student, Henry, who has joined as a production designer and is helping us fix the art work bottle neck by designing the village and surrounds.

We’d like to welcome the following new additions to the team:
ANIMATION
Phil Shenton
Athos Cammell
Matthew Hernandez

CREATURES
Laura Millar
Tautvydas Katkevicius
Luke Wilkins

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Tang tsz-hin

MODELS
Stephen Campbell
Edd McDermott
Rokas kucinskas
Simon Pearce

ENVIRONMENTS
Dan Little

ACTORS
David Taylor (to play Gunter)

cheers, Paul

First Motion Capture Tests

We’ve now completed our first motion capture tests with mocap supervisor Alex Council and a few of the actresses. It was a very useful exercise, accompanied by much amusement at the silly blue costume and the somewhat surreal situation of performing a scene supposedly set in the mountainside, in a white room, whilst covered from head to foot in velcroed reflective spheres. Becky was particularly patient, as she was this session’s mocap muppet ūüôā We are now using the collected motion capture data to test out the rest of the pipeline. We also tested out some high quality hands free mics in an effort to test out capturing on-set audio, as an alternative to ADR overdubs later. This worked well (although a few worries about air-conditioning noise – hopefully we can turn this off for final capture)

The effects on the film are now to be provide by the newly formed FOAM Digital, an effects facility imbedded within the faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at Portsmouth University. The departments have been hard at work developing 3d assets for the production. The script is still under development by Red Rabbit Films and we are aiming get the first draft down by the end of Christmas. Concept and production art are still rolling out and we are aiming to accelerate the production of this in the next few weeks, as it’s starting to create a bit of a bottleneck in the production process.

Paul

New Cast and Production Roles Filled

Over the last 2 months the production has grown massively. We’ve had a very productive time casting and doing workshops at the Gregg School in Southampton, who have been extremely helpful in facilitating this process. The part of Stina has now been cast and is to be played by the student Becky Waldron.¬† We have also cast the additional roles listed below. All the actress we saw were excellent and we’ve been feeding back a lot of the ideas explored in the workshop into the script.
Graeme and i have been hard at work organising the production process and writing the script. We have imposed a deadline of Easter for completing the screen-play, which should hopefully give us enough time for all the inevitable re-writes, external feedback and consultation. Graeme has also been doing a stella job on the website and has made what is going to be an essential production tool and hopefully a focal point for all the creative energy expended over the next few years. Please explore all the content we have on the site. We have lots of exciting new animation tests of the environment software we’re planning to use (VUE) and fluid dynamic simulations. Of particular note is Harry‚Äôs latest tests of waves hitting a beach which look stunning;¬† Also some splendidly creepy new concept art from Chavdar. The production is intended to be an open process, so we will be updating and uploading new art work, animation and designs all the time. The public will be able to follow the development of the film right through to its world premiere in Leicester square ūüėČ
I’ve also been setting up the VFX pipeline and we now have a good idea how the animation production will work. We have leads in all the main departments and a production coordinator to hold it all together. We were surprised by the number of applicants we got from within the university and are filling up the roles very quickly. We are planning the production to be a rich learning experience for the students involved and hopefully a lot of them will leave it with some good show reel work and a realistic experience of the feature film production environment.
We welcome the following new recruits to the team this month:

CAST:
Stina –¬†Becky Waldron
Mahdid –¬†Evie Payne
Abriana –¬†Jade Guillford Laishley
Isabella -Steph Chapman
Lia -Eden Glover
Olaf –¬†Lucy Gates

PRODUCTION:
VFX Producer – John House

MODELS:
Lead – Razvan Arventiev
Steve Wadsworth
Ben Hall

MOCAP:
Ben Vere
Joshua Philip
Peter Campbell Smith
Owyn Abram

3D ANIMATION:
Lead – Ollie McDonald

ENVIRONMENTS:
Sam Hoffman

CREATURES:
Lead – Marcus Mills
Roman Diapa
Timothy Wilson

All for now,

Paul Charisse (Director)

Pre-Production

So¬†the¬†film is staring to pick up pace with¬†the¬†pre-production now well under way. Some great new talent in¬†modelling¬†and environment areas with Harry Ellard already producing some¬†splendidly¬†dramatic¬†¬†work on the fluid dynamic¬†simulations. The script¬†revision¬†has started in¬†earnest with each¬†revision¬†bringing¬†the themes and characters sharper into focus. The¬†addition of Graeme Herwig as script supervisor has provided a much needed check and balance to my story telling skills and has already added a tremendous amount to the¬†narrative¬†structure and focus. ¬†We now have¬†some¬†storyboard animatics and it’s very exciting to see the first glimpses of the music working with the narrative.

We had our first round of auditions yesterday and the quality was frighteningly high, well beyond what we were expecting. Which is going to make choosing the final performers a real challenge.

The main¬†character¬†model is nearing completion with the facial¬†animation¬†system now¬†reaching¬†a somewhat ludicrous level of complexity (i just hope it¬†doesn’t¬†break as fixing it will be a project in its own right) But it¬†provides¬†the functionality to recreate some very subtle¬†performances;¬†useful¬†as we have a fair few close ups planned.¬†¬†The modelling of the final character has sent me¬†slightly¬†do-laly, as getting the specific age with its¬†request¬†subtle proportioning, keeping a certain look to the face and all¬†the¬†animation¬†controls¬†with¬†their deforming muscle volumes¬†has been a nightmare of balancing and¬†revision. Not to mention the accompanying sleep¬†deprivation. I start back at uni lecturing in 2 weeks (actually looking¬†forward¬†to a break from modelling!) so am trying to get¬†this¬†all done by then.

We now have a fairly¬†smooth¬†mocap to rig pipeline worked out, although the cleaning of the motion capture could be fairly time consuming and we’re¬†looking¬†for help on this. We presently have about 10 people on the pre-production¬†team but will be slowly expanding to full¬†production¬†capacity¬†over the next 6 months. ¬†All in all the project is going¬†swimmingly¬†but rather a lot left to do ūüôā

Storyboards Completed

Finished¬†the¬†first¬†complete series of storyboards. The story arc and characters are now fleshed out and it a comes in at¬†around¬†246 shots. Should keep us all busy for a while! I’m very happy with how the story and various layers of narration and symbolism have knitted together and am really looking¬†forward¬†to¬†the¬†process of working these scenes up with the actors and also developing¬†some¬†of¬†the¬†visual¬†ideas I’ve hinted at in the boards. The story and characters have¬†come¬†a long way since i wrote the¬†original¬†musical score, so plenty of¬†adjustments¬†will be needed for the final scoring (this was pretty¬†inevitable. Or though the lazy¬†musician¬†in me was kind of hoping it¬†wasn’t¬†!) And I’m thinking of involving¬†some¬†other¬†people¬†in¬†the¬†writing¬†process¬†for a few of¬†the¬†new themes, as I’m much too close to the music now to¬†really¬†know what is/isn’t working.
We’re holding our auditions in¬†September,¬†so should have plenty of stuff to workshop now. ¬†The Stina rig is almost¬†finished¬†and will be preparing it for a hopefully streamlined motion¬†capture¬†process¬†over the next few weeks. Also going to start nailing the look of the environment and¬†other¬†characters,¬†as i have the very talented artist Jackie West on as art director. So hopefully we’ll have some great visuals to work from soon.

Sucked into the Mind-Frazzling Vortex of CGI

So, I’ve been working hard on the Stina model the last few weeks.¬†Modelling, rigging, testing and shader writing.

Although she’s CG, i really want her to have a¬†physical¬†and¬†textural¬†presence,¬†so i’ve been working to get the shaders used on her cloths/boots/skin to have a real sense of depth and physicality. This has been a real¬†challenge and pushed my creaking computer to breaking point.¬†Unlike¬†the good old real world, you have to work your arse off in CG to make things look translucent/rough/dirty… anything but¬†smooth¬†and¬†shiny¬†in fact! I’ve posted some eye tests where i’ve been trying to get the¬†translucent¬†jelly like¬†effect¬†of the white around the eye and the glowing gem like¬†highlight¬†you get cast across the iris. She will be doing a lot of eye acting, so the eyes need to really have it. ¬†Similarly with the clothes i’ve been experimenting with velvet like shaders to get a¬†touchable,¬†physical sense¬†to¬†the¬†cloth.
I’ve also been trying to get the cloth to react well to¬†the¬†body. As with much¬†traditional¬†sculpture, i want to describe the body and it’s movements through the shape and¬†movement¬†of¬†the¬†cloth¬†. (tests below) it all seems to be¬†going¬†well but has pushed my computer to the point where it crashes pretty much constantly. (Trying to secure funding for¬†some¬†new computer stuff, but as i’m in the education sector.. during a¬†recession.. with a right wing¬†government¬†i’m not holding my breath)

These are¬†admittedly¬†fairly¬†excessive¬†production¬†values i’m¬†attempting.. verging on WETA DIGITAL levels, but as i used to work there it seem¬†only¬†right and proper. Of course, they have hundreds of skilled staff and a massive super¬†cooled¬†render farm. I have my home PCp.c. i bought in Portsmouth 2 years ago, and a dim memory of a well paid over worked job.

On the story front (easy to forget about story, once¬†you’ve been sucked into¬†the mind¬†frazzling¬†vortex of CGI) I’ve started storyboarding, which is a relief from the¬†colourless¬†tweaking of minute variables in digi-land. ¬†Its¬†actually¬†a relief to see¬†the¬†story arc and characters¬†coming¬†to life and getting lots of the themes i’ve been mulling over ¬†finally fleshed out.¬†Unfortunately¬†my drawing skills have become so god¬†awful¬†that only I’ll ever be able to make sense of the boards. To solve this, I’m planning on poaching a talented student to help me draw them (particularly¬†as¬†there’s¬†about half an hour of them),¬†as a director has, at¬†some¬†point, to start¬†delegating. Even if he is a demented¬†control¬†freak.

Stina Character Tests and Story Ideas

So, after far too many late nights of¬†obsessive¬†compulsive¬†work on my laptop (i’m sure this is how i started the music blog!)¬†¬†i have a first design for the main character Stina. I’ve uploaded a render test of the close up character model. It’s been¬†done¬†in the 3d animation package XSI using¬†some¬†subsurface¬†shaders¬†for¬†the¬†skin and eyes and my own custom setup for¬†the¬†facial animation system (check out youtube.com/filopastries for more examples of this system)

This is the result of many design iterations. She went¬†through hundreds of¬†different¬†age/shape/colouring¬†variations. I suspect she ¬†may continue to¬†evolve,¬†but i’m happy with her look, at¬†least¬†for¬†the¬†moment and¬†the¬†underlying¬†animation¬†system seems pretty robust. She needs to be able to switch from looking young to old and also be able to pull of pretty and ugly so it’s been quite a¬†challenge¬†to say the least! The next stage is to do¬†some¬†animation performance test to see how well she can pull off some of¬†these¬†characteristics (not to mention to see if i have¬†the¬†chops to nail her performance for¬†the¬†animation reference; Or¬†whether¬†its time to seek out a proper actor / actress for the task!) .

I’ve tried to make her look tomboyish and blandly pretty, leaving¬†the¬†facial expressions to do all the expressive work, but still with a base appeal. ¬†I toyed with¬†the¬†idea of making her look ugly, but it just drew attention to the fact and i decided it would¬†distract¬†from the narrative ideas i want to explore.¬†Particularly¬†as i want to be able to achieve a high level of aspirational¬†romanticism¬†for the viewer as well as¬†visiting¬†the¬†darker side. I kept coming back to David Lynch, who i suspect will be a big influence on this film. Having visually attractive characters seems key to his¬†ability¬†to explore the¬†darker¬†sides of life and sexuality and clearly helps in¬†creating¬†real visual contrast with the darker, ugly and shocking¬†imagery. ¬†I still¬†haven’t¬†settled¬†on¬†the¬†age range for this film, but i¬†think¬†it’s going up, as i want to get into¬†the¬†darker themes that lurk in Angela Carters “The Bloody Chamber” short stories (..mine being a rather poor cousin of the aforementioned!)

Matte Paintings

So I’ve started doing some¬†matte¬†painting tests to develop a look and feel for the film. At the moment I’m focusing on The Red String section , trying to¬†create¬†a distinct atmosphere for Stina’s trip down into to the underworld.¬†I want it¬†to evoke the old 50s Technicolor film look, particularly with Jules Verne ¬†“journey to the¬†centre¬†of the earth” in mind: massive in scale but with a painterly and surreal quality to it.

I’ve been testing out projecting matte paintings onto 3d geometry in 3dsMax, then moving the camera around to see how much movement and parallax i can get¬†away with¬†before the illusion is broken. The idea is to keep control of¬†the¬†backgrounds by painting them and only¬†having¬†to use 3d CG to light the characters and specific¬†elements¬†like water. I’ve posted a vid on the main page if you want to see the results. It¬†seems¬†to be working pretty well i think, the main problem seems to be that the images need to be massively detailed to stand up to zooming in. I’m planning to do¬†the¬†film at 1080p HD resolution so my paintings will need to be a least twice that detail i think.

I should also mention the¬†paintings¬†are¬†heavily¬†influenced by (and maybe a little borrowed in places from a painting I saw as a child by John Martin¬†(19 July 1789 ‚Äď 17 February, 1854) who was an important and influential¬†English¬†Romantic painter¬†of the nineteenth century.

Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion by John Martin

Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion by John Martin

First Complete Draft of Music Uploaded

So I’ve finished the ¬†first¬†complete¬†draft of Stina and the Wolf. It’s been an¬†obsessive¬†month of late nights and neck ache but all very enjoyable. I shall be¬†tidying¬†bits up and tweaking stuff (mostly transition sections) as it still sketchy in places but the ideas are all in¬†place¬†now.

I’ll also be getting it ripped apart by¬†some¬†classical type persons to get some much needed perspective.

Now i have to pass it over to someone who really¬†knows¬†what they are doing with classical¬†orchestration,¬†to see how many liberties i’ve taken with¬†instrument¬†ranges and breath control! Oh and i need to work out the score.. I suspect that won’t be as much fun as¬†writing¬†the music.

A Bit About the Orchestration

Thought i’d explain a bit about how¬†the¬†orchestration and leitmotif work in this piece:

Each Act uses specific instruments (orchestration) and melodies (leitmotif) to represent the characters and ideas, with the instruments combining and the melodies evolving as the story unfolds.

As the tale is of Stina’s transformation from human to wolf, her signature melody and main instrument (oboe) develop, intertwine and are eventually replaced by the wolfs instrument (muted trumpet) and melodies. On her journey she starts out:

– With the villagers (viol, or guitar viol in the case of this sketch)

– Has a day dream about the distant snowy peaks and a better life (the harp represents Stinas imaginative life)

– Becomes a wolf (muted trumpet)

– Meets the wolf guardian of the under world (muted trumpet, here Stina has reverted back to her human oboe form, but learns a new melody to get past him)

РMeets the horde of the underworld (French horns and trombone. Here Stina uses a new melody to skip on the heads of the waltzing horns unnoticed)

– Then the beast (fluttery flute. At first the flute reprises Stina’s new melody¬†sarcastically,¬†but then Stina¬†tries out¬†different¬†¬†melodies and¬†eventually¬†he softens and gives her the key)

РAnd finally back to the village (viol here, but as the village is now overrun with wolves, the solo viol melody is soon copied and overrun with trumpets and horns. Stopping abruptly when Stina passes the threshold and turns the villagers back)

And finally she leaves for the forest and is a wolf (muted trumpet plays out the final melody, having first duetted with the oboe and come through triumphant, leaving the human Stina behind)