50 Sided Rubik’s Cube

It has been many moons (well 2) Since i last posted. Well things have been fairly hectic as we approach full production. FOAM digital now has 35+ people and we no longer fit in our meeting room, so we are looking to move from our existing premises (lecture room) into another premises (a bigger lecture room, if no one else is using it) Production has started on the construction of set props for the motion capture shoot and it looks like we’ll be able to create something resembling a set for the actors; window frames, doors, mantle piece, table etc. as well as 2 adjustable 8 by 3 foot ramps that we can use to make different surface inclines.. No really!  You are on a steep mountain meadow!!
We also now have a complete first draft of the screenplay which is presently undergoing revisions. Our Art director Jackie has already scribbled all over it with art related requests (demands). So it will hopefully at the very least look good (arty). We now have a rehearsal and capture schedule that takes us from 25th July through to the 25th of August. This has been a particularly challenging task for the director, as he has found scheduling 45 scenes, with 8 actors, conflicting holidays, differnt combinations of actors in each scene and different set, prop and capture requirements akin to solving a  50 sided rubiks cube, underwater, whilst tap dancing.  However, after a few nights of blankly starring at an excel spread sheet that is now too big to fit on a 40 inch plasma screen, we have a fairly concrete timetable for shooting.  Still lots to do, as we still need to organise some of the more technical aspects of each scene and dry run the audio, facial and motion capture processes so we can keep the shoot moving along smoothly.  Talking of dancing, We now have a new role in  the team: student Natalie Curds has joined us to help organise some of the dance elements of the film and presently has the title “Mistress of the Dance” until we can work out what her job’s actually called. We also have a Music student, Thomas Duffin,  who has offered to start looking at sound design, which will form a vital part in the overall narrative and atmosphere of the film. Also, our facial capture guy Geoff Samuels contunies to deveop his software and its coming along nicely; I know this because i now no longer fully understand his descriptions of how it  works.

Cast news: Steph from our Gregg school contingent has now taken on the additional role of Stina’s Aunt.  We have a new character: a boy in the village called “Petov”  who we are now looking to cast as soon as possible. We have also started auditioning for the role of “Pipe Catcher”.  All other roles are now cast. On the 2d art front, Dan Little our graphic artist has provided us with new logos for “FOAM digital” and “Stina and the Wolf” which are a vast improvement on the ones i knocked out last year.

Along side the production ramp up, we have also been developing a full film quality 720p demo sequence of footage taken from mo-cap right though to finished render and composite; complete with with foley, sound design and music. This is about 80% complete and we will post up the full sequence next month. For now. Here are some stills:

Stina Demo Stills

Other FOAM news: We now have a very large asset list for FOAM of all the characters, models and environments required for production. That should keep us busy for 25 years or so. Also, team members are now booked on to flights to Romania, so we can experience the Carpathian mountains for ourselves and hopefully bring some of that experience back with photos, drawings and video. (travelling out in 2 groups on 2 consecutive days.. the joy of on-line booking) Myself and Jackie will be flying out with 9 (at the last count) students. That’s all for now folks.
Paul
( Director of Spreadsheets)

Production Update

The last month has seen the production ramping up in preparation to tackle the complex shot process required to make the film. As the process planned is effectively the same as the one used in Avatar (quite a big production), we’ve been designing a pipeline to make all the departments hand assets between each other as efficiently as possible. We have a full production pipeline test planned this month where we hope to take a trial shot from motion capture (complete with facial capture and audio) through all the various stages to a fully realized shot that will see Stina in her native environment ( mountains or forest ) all done with audio and music. As well as testing out the pipeline, we hope to use this exercise to generate a finished sequence we can take to next years SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in America; hopefully we can raise some interest and maybe even some money for the rather large amount of computer storage space we are going to need to house the full production data.
Other news: Becky patiently allowed us to plaster her forehead with quick setting bandages in the interest of getting a life cast so we could custom fit her facial capture camera rig . (when we’d finally stopped laughing: The fetching combo of green garden bags, swimming cap and plaster of Paris was a bit overpowering) regrettably no photos were taken here.
Also, we have started work on a virtual camera for the mocap studio; This will allow us to use captured camera movements, which should hopefully add a live flair to the direction as and when we need it. We’ve also commissioned a talented wood worker to help us build set pieces (doors, tables etc) and modular ramps ( for changing floor inclines) for the mocap studio. These have to be as transparent as possible for the capture cameras to work, so this should prove suitably challenging. Luckily it looks like we’re going to move to a much bigger room for the summer capture sessions. So we can at least pretend we’re in a very small field somewhere high up in the mountains and not in Portsmouth town center (I plan to dress the walls with Alpine images and maybe nip down Quiksave for some Forest fresh air freshner.. If we have any money left by the summer that is) All for now.

Paul

Hand Stitched Dalek Antennae

After a brief break to celebrate the hallowed festival of Winterval, the team is now cranked up and is back up to speed producing film related stuff.  We now have 3 functioning facial capture systems with accompanying Velcro straps and expertly sewed nylon strapping and have the talented Geoff Samuels doing some kind of magical giggery-pokery on the computer that will allow us to interpret the facial recordings into usable animation data. We’ve tested them all out on the actors, which went well once they had stopped laughing at the prospect of having hand stitched Darlek antennae strapped to the their fore-heads.
We now have the performance capture session scheduled in for July – August, accompanied by the reassuring knowledge that the planned 5 story university extension,  being constructed opposite the motion capture studio, is well behind schedule; so we won’t have the expected sound track of pile driving steel girders while we try and capture our actors.  We have, however, discovered that the university is keen to completely replace the air conditioning system in the mocap studio the month we are capturing the film data. This is in the process of being forcefully renegotiated.  Regarding the script we now have a solid first act blocked out on a scene by scene basis with the rest of the film tightly plotted, but without scene level detail.  We are confident the first draft will be finished by Easter and have lined up a collection of notable film industry gurus to give us feedback and help us iron out any loose ends by the end of June.  The work at FOAM is slowly cranking up to full production speed and we have a visual research trip to mount OMU in the Carpathian mountains planned for the Easter holidays, that should hopefully prove inspiring and useful, so long as nobody strays from the path or develops a fondness for the cheap Romanian wine. The work in Environments is going well and we have some excellent Carpathian mountain environments coming from Harry Ellard and some very spooky caves coming from Sam Hoffman.  We now have a generic facial animation system for the creatures department who will be modelling all the characters and their accompanying faces over the next few months (from the wonderfully weird and disturbing designs coming from our production designer Chavdar Yordanov) Our actors have now had their pictures taken and are in the process of being turned into virtual CG characters (with a few tasteful design additions from Chavdar) All for now.
Paul

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 🙂 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’s 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 😉
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 🙂

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!)