June 15, 2008 Justin Chin

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

So the past few weeks I’ve been making some progress on Fuel & Fire and most importantly I’ve done some conceptual experimenting. So now is a good time to take stock of all that work. This thing has become a beast of a project despite all my efforts to keep it simple. All in all it really doesn’t matter how long it takes (except for the opportunity cost to my free time). A big part of creating the Fuel & Fire project is that it allows an avenue for me to learn new tools.

Let the game film/state of the state/mental re-alignment begin…

Evaluating the Animatic

There are plenty of things wrong with the animatic. Here are 3 big ones:

  • Monochromatic Rendering – the rendering style I adopted for the graphic novel might work for the page but I don’t think it works well in the animatic. There are plenty of individual details I could outline for improvement but I won’t go into them here. I will say that plenty of those details relate to making the images more dimensional, and getting the characters separated from the background.
  • Pacing – it’s probably too fast paced. The viewer doesn’t have time to register some of the images and put together what’s going on. Still unclear if that’s true (given the good and bad feedback from friends) but I don’t think it’ll hurt to build an understanding on how the still images read.
  • Camera Work – some of the camera work is a tad stiff. That should be helped with some new tools.

What worked:

  • Sound – it added a lot, of course.
  • Camera Work – though some of it is stiff, there are shots that really worked. The best ones involved the camera moves in SketchUp (though pacing could have been better).

What is this thing?

I’ve been calling this project a comic/graphic novel for sometime now – and I believe its still that. But since I took the time to “shoot” and produce an animatic of one of the scenes in the story, that’s allowed me some realizations.

  • My visual mind “shoots” in a linear anamorphic format. I simply love the 2:40:1 aspect ratio. Though I love comics and that method of storytelling, it’s an extra step for me mentally to build a page. Perhaps this stems from my cinematography background. Regardless, building a page is a step that takes me longer than I believe it should and framing for anamorphic is a quite joy and comes easily to me.
  • The sense of movement is appealing to me. There is a presentation style that is inherent in the default SketchUp scene creation and camera movement that I love. It’s very graphic and organic in its precision. Something I like esthetically in general.
  • Sound is a really cool dimension of the animatic piece. I love it. At first I intended to add just music without sound fx. But as I created the animatic with Adobe Premiere I kept adding sound fx after sound fx as it came together. I’m a junkie for that stuff. It’s a really fun angle to play with.

When I look at all of the above I see a trend – that’s all the things I’m used to thinking about when I work on films. I haven’t shot a finished project in a while (only some documentary shooting here and there) and perhaps I’m pining for that type of work.

So if I were to evolve this project into something that would fulfill my bliss (as outlined above) what does that mean?

What is it Going to Take?

If I am to dive into this fantasy, I should take some time to evaluate what that really entails and its feasibility – here are my thoughts.

Audience Involvement and Interest
Sure it might be interesting in the short form, but this is a story that could be as long as 60 minutes. Can anyone stand watching this for that long? Here are the obstacles I see:

  • Detail – there isn’t enough of it. As a graphic novel your eyes grace over the images and your mind fills in the blanks at your own pace. With a film your interest is held partly with the motion and details that are exhibited on screen. Since these are still images with limited movement, I believe I would have to increase the detail to build visual interest. That doesn’t mean add more things in the scene to look at, but add more “fidelity” in the items in the shots I have. This might take the form of more dimensional rendering, more movement or additional audio elements.
  • Pacing – the animatic is probably a tad too fast. That should be fixed. This is an aspect of the project that is a concern if it were a longer film. Can you really sit still for any extended length of time with a series of still images that tell a story? Pacing is all important, and it can’t be paced in the same way a film would – the individual images must guide both the eye and the mind as you build the plot.
  • Persistence of Vision (or more accurately Beta Movement) – pacing is tightly related to this and how I might be able to develop the story, create a sense if movement in the viewer’s mind, or simply make sure the images read.

Delivery Platform
How will people see this thing as a film? Some thoughts in bullet points:

  • Book and DVD – no question on this one, I would create a graphic novel using images from the film and include the film piece inside the book. That might be odd but I think it would be pretty cool.
  • Image Quality – obviously related to points listed above, but watching this on a TV/Plasma/Computer is a major consideration on how I develop the film. This will be an opportunity to dig deeper into the process of mastering a disk for release.
  • Film Festivals – if I were to fully execute this as a film, I would consider entering some film festivals. Total running time is an issue here since many festivals have restrictions regarding film shorts/feature film running lengths. This is just icing on the cake for the project, though I also see it as a potential marketing opportunity.
  • Web or Online – not sure how these areas will fit yet.
  • Financial Considerations – I don’t expect to make money on this, the real question is how do I not go bankrupt funding it? This also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t evaluate how I might best market and sell the project.

Artistic Considerations and Building this Thing
Artistically this is still an interesting endeavor (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing all this down). So after all of the above, where does this stand?

  • Visual Details – I haven’t figured out what the final image fidelity will be yet. I do know that the direction I have in my mind will take more time to render. In short, it involves rendering several layers and comping them together into one visual style. That will add more time in Photoshop/Motion/Comp applications. Additional development time per frame is not something I’d like to increase. I’m going to have to research better tools for that, i.e. Shake.
  • 3D Layers – part of making this a film would involve some additional layering and 3D camerawork with the 2D images. Another step, that adds more time. This might also force me to render on my MacBook Pro, since the PC version of the SketchUp doesn’t have the option to render an alpha layer.
  • Tools – This is going to stress my current toolset. In a pre-emptive strike I’ve already purchased the Final Cut suite. I’ve been planning to do that for a long time now and here’s my excuse. Another piece of software I’d like to learn is Shake and I think that might help in automating the comp time with the layering process.
  • Music – I can’t do that personally so I’ll have to enlist someone to do that part. That’s not a problem, there are plenty of artist I know that do this exact thing. It will add cost.
  • Sound FX – Additional cost. I’ll do the mixing work myself, but the sounds don’t come cheap, and the time to find/capture/buy them is something that is not a factor in creating a graphic novel.
  • Voice Acting – this is another aspect that isn’t a factor in creating a graphic novel, but necessary here. I have plenty of resources to call upon to accomplish this (acting, casting, studio recording), but it’s still a major part of the process. Lot’s of time involved, and it doesn’t come cheap.
  • Length – since I’ve been writing this in the “Marvel Way”, i.e. outline the story and develop the storytelling details through the process of making the images, I currently do not have a clear way of determining the length of the project as a film. All my experience in scripts and cinematography tell me that the story is not a feature length film, as well as it’s not a traditional short film.
  • SketchUp – SketchUp has always been the anchor application for this project. The heavy duty rendering and camera moves I’ve been doing have highlighted some issues in that working method. Based on how I imagine this film should look I still believe it’s the best avenue, but the it’s not as clear as before. Additional research is needed to make sure I have to tools to accomplish the style I’m hoping to accomplish.

In Conclusion

Clearly I’m far from fully understanding the repercussions of doing this as a film. My next steps will include some additional visual development to find a look that will work as a film. Plus, writing the script in screenplay format will be an important step as well. This will help determine the length of the project. Accomplishing those tasks will allow me to make better projections to the costs and risks to the project. This includes:

  • Scheduling
  • Voice needed
  • Musical movements needed
  • Tools needed

If I decide not to do this as a film, the visual development, and screenplay can still contribute to the completion of the graphic novel, so the work will not be wasted.

Things to look into:

  • I’ll have to dig up my copy of La Jetée, and analyse that with this perspective in mind (that is 28 minutes).
  • Additonal SketchUp plugins that will help camera movement, rendering styles, batch rendering, alpha or keying fields etc.
  • Shake and compositing in general. Currently, I’m focusing on Shake since I’ve taken a big step in buying Final Cut. Though I should get a feel on how AfterEffects integrates into the Final Cut pipeline.
  • Sound libraries.
  • My sanity.
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Comments (5)

  1. Neat reading about your decision making process. An avid Sketchup fan, I have been following your blog for several months, wondering what exactly you were up to. It’s good to know you aren’t completely sure yourself, and neat to hear you can simultaneously contemplate a graphical or film final product (one of the neat things about working in 3d).

  2. Justin Chin

    Hi John,
    I would say that I’m pretty confident in regards to making the graphic novel. I’m not saying it will be the greatest thing ever, but I know I can make that happen. As I think about making this a “graphical film” I get a little cautious. There are just so many details to consider – not the least of which is whether or not this is something I can complete within a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable is still a mystery 🙂

  3. ChocoTaco

    Justin, why don’t you get the story finished.. all written out.. figure exactly how you want the story to be. Then do a trailer of the movie. Just make a kickass trailer. Put the trailer up online and find some way to get a lot of exposure for it.

    Maybe Google would make a big deal out of it since you did it with their free software they are giving away, and they could use it for advertizing.

    Maybe Google would even finance this thing for you? Show it to them and make a pitch. Tell them that you designed the whole thing with Sketchup.

    Another way to do it would be to write the thing in pieces – cliffhangers.

    Show the first episode and leave it on a big cliffhanger. Say that if people pay some small amount for the first episode, and enough people reach some level of payment – say a thousand bucks or something for a couple minutes – then you will do the second episode..

    Build it.. and they will come. 😀

  4. pete

    hey man, great work! i happened upon this gem while searching for sketchup plugins and i find myself coming back every few days hoping for an update. i want to let you know that I really like the current look. it reminds me of some old anime novels i have. theres a crispness/accuracy to sketchup that in my mind more than makes up for the ‘lack of detail’ you think exists. I for one think your models are fantastic.

    some suggestions for you, if you haven’t already looked into them:

    1. smustard.com/scripts – look into the presentation bundle 2. one of the sketchup scripts allows you to manipulate the transition and delay timing for each scene individually. the default in sketchup is a single global setting. this might help with the pacing issues.

    2. search the sketchup blogs for an article on depth of field. there is a quick walk thru on how a few overlayed images in photoshop can really add depth to an image. its really damn simple!

    best of luck to you, can’t wait for more!

  5. Justin Chin

    Hi Pete,
    Thanks for the nice comments! Yes I might be futzing over more than I should be – and in fact I’ve come around now and have decided not to do a more “detailed” render pass. Now I’m working on a way to render out shadows better using some of the same overlay techniques mentioned in my post. This will save me from some huge rendering times.

    Your points:
    1. Yeah, I’ve been meaning try more of those scripts. I know the smustard guys and I send them feedback now and again. I’d love to see a better camera control tool and I think they are the guys to do it.

    2. I saw that post about DoF from Aidan Chopra. Very cool process. Probably a bit more complex than I want to get at an individual image level.

    Great suggestions! Thanks for the input!

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