And Now for Something Completely Different: Album Reviews

There are very few artists with whom I endear so much trust that I will purchase an album without even previewing it. dZihan & Kamien were one band, along with dZihan’s wife, the singer Madita. D&K’s distinctive blend of Austrian/jazz/turkish/lounge music was ever-present during my youth in high school and early college, informing a lot of my musical taste. When Vlado dZihan married Madita and they recorded a record together, it was a great fusion of live-band bossa nova and D&K’s signature eastern/trip-hop ambience. Even with her second album, “Too”, those signature elements were still present, although subdued in some songs under heavy glam 80’s techno sounds. This combination wasn’t bad at all, in fact, there were many standouts on that album and it ranks as one of my favorites.

Continued after the jump:

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Visual Effects Breakdown – Speak and May the Plague Take You

Dream Sequence

A two minute breakdown of shots created by Stephen Withers for the film “Speak and May the Plague Take You” dir. by Cody Duckworth. Creating the surreal falling clocks and hourglass vfx required extensive dynamics work in Houdini as well as a large amount of roto and comping.

Practical elements, including water and falling leaves/debris, were shot with the help of David Kendall. Michael Rogers helped out with some of the 3D modeling.

Speak and May the Plague Take You – Directed by Cody Duckworth, Visual Effects Supervisor Stephen Withers.

Practical Elements

Some words:

The highlight of this project was creating the surreal imagery of the falling timepieces during the dream sequence. The hourglass and sand were a very complicated Houdini simulation, while the other clocks were rendered out of Maya or were 2d cards. The roto work was pretty time-consuming as no greenscreen was used and there were multiple characters running in a single shot.

While many of the shots required not-so-subtle effects, Poseidon emerging from the water took the cake. I thought lots of splashes and water spray would be cooler than simply showing some bubbling (and ironically, easier to pull off). We shot some water elements in the back yard using some cups, a bucket and a hose. The water was back-lit so it showed up nicely against black. I comp’d it with background plates of the ocean. While there are some scale issues (I could only shoot the elements at 60fps) I think the shot serves its purpose!

3D Track

3D Track

Another roto-heavy shot required the addition of the looming shadow of Poseidon dwarfing the main character. Since Poseidon would theoretically block out the sun, this necessitated the removal of the shadow cast by the dwarfed main character. To accomplish this, I tracked the original footage and was able to generate a clean plate in 3d, having cloned out his shadow. This clean plate was composited with the original and an overlay of Poseidon to create the final effect.

Reflection Replacement

Reflection Replacement

There were a few spots where I had to clean up the original footage. I did pretty involved stabilization in After Effects for four or five shots, and in one case had to generate completely new reflections in one of the character’s glasses. These science-goggles were almost perfect mirrors, which made the task interesting. I was able to create a fake reflection in Photoshop having sourced from some photos of the set I snapped. I then tracked it in and did my best to give the reflection the feel of the original.

“Speak and May the Plague Take You” was certainly an interesting project, different than the usual fair. It presented a lot of unique problems to solve and as a result I have some work that stands out a great deal from, well, the rest of my work.

I’d like to give shout-outs to Michael Rogers, who did some additional modeling, as well as David Kendall, who let me borrow his camera and helped shoot the practical elements (and got a little wet). Also, I’d like to thank Oliver Palmer and Ryan Bowden from SideFX for their Houdini expertise.

16mm vs Digital Comparisons

Film

Film

Digital

Digital

On The Magic of Film, Alex shot with his 16mm camera on black and white reversal, in addition to shooting on the Canon 5D Mk II. The film wasn’t developed in time for the bumper contest, but it came in recently and I decided to put together a cut using only the film footage.

The differences are pretty clear. This particular 16mm stock isn’t really supposed to be scanned at 1920×1080, so it’s a little soft, but it still holds up fairly well. The flashes of light from (what I assume are) exposure artifacts and spill, when they don’t ruin a shot, are quite charming.

Digital

Digital

Film

Film

Some of the film takes weren’t usable, and there was no way of knowing on set if the take worked – but on the 5D, because I was able to review the shots instantly, I found that I got more of what I needed. The film cut had to be fudged a bit in editing, and doesn’t work as well as the digital cut. The film cut does, however, feel more visually unified.

Flash Video

Watch the 16mm Cut

Unfortunately, in addition to not coming in on time, the lab that scanned the film telecine’d the output file, creating interlacing and pulldowns and a whole bunch of other garbage. They probably thought it was shot at 24fps, because telecine is a process used to convert 24fps to 30fps for television viewing. They told me to reverse-telecine the file, which would have removed a pulldown, except for the fact that the film was shot at 30fps to begin with, not 24, so now it’s completely mucked, plus the interlacing problems. It would really have been easier to just have gotten progressive tiff files for each frame, then I could have played it back at whatever speed I wanted without dealing with pulldowns. That’s just a whole lot of unnecessary steps. In the movie below, the interpolated frames are visible especially in the motion blur. I ran a deinterlacing process, the artifacts of which are visible on some of the edges. I may try to correct the whole thing eventually, but don’t have the time now.

In any case, the whole processes was quite an experience. It was really exciting to have my production shot on an older film camera side-by-side with the Canon 5D Mk II, very much the bleeding edge in digital video. What the original digital cut here! Don’t forget to VOTE for the bumper!

Color Corrections

Color Corrected

Color Corrected

Original

Original

Having just completed The Magic of Film bumper, here are some color correction comparisons. The footage had all been converted from the native h264 to ProRes 4:2:2 for easier editing, however, both compression methods started to break down the farther I pushed the colors; this is where RAW video would *really* be nice. The algorithms also broke down in shots that had a lot of movement and motion blur. Overall, however, the compression is passable, especially for web distribution, and the other benefits of using the 5D certainly outweigh the mediocre compression quality coming off of the camera.

Original

Original

Color Corrected

Color Corrected

As for the color itself, I wanted to go for a look for the footage that wouldn’t jar the audience during the transition to and from the black and white shots. I went for a warm duotone sort of desaturated look, bringing down the levels on the backgrounds so the subjects would pop a little bit more.

Greenscreen on the 5D

Footage from the Camera

Footage from the Camera

Continuing with the coverage of the 5D shoot, here’s a greenscreen element we shot a few days ago. The setup was ghetto; a portable screen, filled with wrinkles,  in the living room. On any other camera, the wrinkles would have caused problems down the line in compositing, but because we were able to put a 70-200mm lens on the camera, the screen was thrown completely out of focus. That’s not possible to do with prosumer camcorders without a multitude of adapters and accessories, you’d essentially have to put a better lens on the camera somehow. In all of the footage we’ve shot, the huge size of the sensor on the 5D compared to prosumer camcorders really shows in the visual look of the image and the amount of depth of field that is obtainable (take a look at some of the shots in the post below).

Matte

Matte

Because the screen was thrown out of focus, it was much easier to pull a clean key. The process was also much simpler; there wasn’t a need to pre-blur the green or blue channels to compensate for a 4:2:0 colorspace or other foolishness that accompanies prosumer formats.

I’ve been raving about it quite a bit, but working with this camera is such a breath of fresh air to someone who’s had to work through the godawful limitations of prosumer formats in a demanding visual effects context.

Magic of Film Shoot – 5D Camera Screengrabs

Having completed a shoot on the Canon 5D Mk II two days ago, I still stare with glee at the footage, amazed by the quality. Even though the project, a bumper for the SCAD Film Festival Bumper Competition, is not complete yet, I though I’d share some captures, straight from the camera.

After shooting on the 5D, and having just attended a lecture by DSLR video extraordinaire Vincent Laforet, I’m incredibly excited about using this camera again in the future. Because of the nature of this particular production, we also shot with a 16mm film camera my DP owns – I can’t wait to get the film back to compare the two cameras.

Taking Pictures of my Cat is More Fun than Working

Salem-Sept09-01

Window Chillin'

Making a limited effort to become more proficient on Brian’s Canon 40D before I’m required to use it for a film class I’m taking. Now, back to mel. Man, I hate how the elements on this wordpress theme don’t recognize the height of an image in a post when deciding how to relatively space themselves. Henceforth, I need to have enough text so that inline pictures are entirely surrounded. Lalalalala…

Dutch Still Life Rendering

Dutch Still Life

Dutch Still Life

Along with the car, this is one of the projects I had been working on last quarter. I guess everyone has to do a still life at some point – I think I’ve done three or four – this one presented some interesting challenges. Although it was a simple project, it gave an excuse to play around with mental ray materials and some techniques I had never really had a chance to touch before, such as subsurface scattering.The cloth was particularly fun; it’s a bunch of flat planes with curled edges, turned into nCloth objects and dropped from above onto a collision plane which included a bunch of primitive geometry to break up the shapes a bit. I found the trick was to use several smaller nCloth objects rather than trying to achieve the shape I was after with one giant cloth. The other objects are all fairly straightforward primitive shapes. I scanned a lot of texture material for the roses, leaves, bread and fruit, the rest is from online sources.

Honda Element out of NURBS

Honda Element Nurbs Model

Honda Element Nurbs Model

Building anything useful out of NURBS curves in maya is like gouging your eyes out very slowly while doing mathematical calculations. Yes, they’re great to mock up a car very quickly, but you should leave it at that and convert to polys/sub’ds as soon as possible. For one of the projects this quarter, I had to model a medium-res car ENTIRELY out of NURBS surfaces. It was one of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced, and wasn’t helped by the fact that my car isn’t very curvy to begin with. I wasn’t going to post it anywhere because, frankly, it’s not very good, but perhaps there’s some maya users out there who understand.