CP20 | End of the Roach

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After 4 months of researching, writing and animating I had finally completed my script, pro-vis animation, and presentation pitch. Overall I think the animation is the strongest piece of my project as it clearly simulated a realistic version of my script scene; however there are a few things I would have done differently. Compared to my script the final sequence of the animation lacked in dynamics, caused by me creating the whole model in SketchUp. Ideally I would have liked the radio equipment to be destroyed when the fighting kicked off; in order to do this I would have had to import all the props separately into iClone and animate each one, this would have kept my pro-vis animation closer to my script idea, and therefore pitch my idea a lot clearer. Another thing I would have changed concerns the script itself; I found writing dialogue to be incredibly tricky, especially for the standoff as in the end I feel it came across too cheesy. The pro-vis animation was surprisingly useful in helping me spot unnatural dialogue lines, but the issue lies in my ability to write a script which I need a lot more work in. Although the research I conducted into telling a good story was helpful I think the issue lies with my subject matter which is hard to reproduce in its historical accuracy.

Presentation Feedback

The presentation didn’t go as well as I had hoped, however the feedback I got included some useful advice which I can apply to the future of my project. Before the pitch I had prepared a full 5 minute script which I memorized, but when it came to presenting it I forgot the majority of my points and ended up reading from the slides. I feel the delivery of my story was very poor; as much as I had tried to simplify it with a plot diagram, my pitch failed to describe all the elements of the story, and I ended up mixing up characters names. The music which I played in the background to capture the essence of the Vietnam War was also counterproductive, as some of the songs were louder than I had expected which resulted in my raising my voice and losing concentration. The pre-vis animation was well received, but again without the context of the whole story the effectiveness of it lacked. The feedback I got from Faisal after was largely negative; he had a major problem with the target audience being adult males which I thought was common knowledge, but according to him action film are marketed in the value of a star in different countries. He also had an issue with the historical accuracy to the animation because the record player had a Canon logo on it, however I feel he failed to see that it was just a pre-vis animation and not the final film. As much as I would like to agree with Faisal, he’s had a problem with my idea right from the start, but due to him being an  actual screenwriter I’ll take on his advice.

 

 

CP19 | Feedback

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After completing my animation I showed a few people in order to get feedback to see what could have been improved. One issue people had with the pro-vis was the song in the background; originally I had intended to use it to increase the tension of the scene, but apparently it distracted away from the dialogue too much. Although I do party agree with this, I think “American Eagle Tragedy” (1969) would be much more powerful when played in the full 12 minute script instead of just the last 2 minutes which ignore the build-up. Another issue people had was with the climax of the story; one claimed it was “too cheesy” and felt like it was predictable. After watching it back with the dialogue I have to agree with this, the intended purpose to build up suspense was undermined by the cheap cliché story. In order to improve the ending I think it should have been more of a gradual climax, where characters are killed of one by one. Aside from those two issues my animation was well received and people were generally impressed.

Earth Opera. 1969. The American Eagle Tragedy. Earth Opera. The Great American Eagle Tragedy. [Vinyl]. USA: Elektra

 

CP18 | Post-production

Once I had completed the animation in iClone I moved it into Premier to add the sound effects and voices. I chose Premier Pro over other editing software, as for one I know how to use it, but more importantly it allowed me to transfer individual sections into After Effects to apply additional effects.

For the shot where the smoke rises from the cigarette on the desk I imported a video of smoke floating upwards and removed the background. I then drew a mask around the layer and featured it out so the edges weren’t as hard. Next I used the motion tracker to sync it with the camera movement; this was also the case for the image of the cigarette which I forgot to incorporate when I built my model. I finished by adding a small red dot on the fire alarm which faded in and out to imply it was flashing.

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Another effect I added was the photo of the Vietnamese family which becomes submerged in blood. To do this I imported the image and masked it to match the grey square I put in the iClone model. First I made some slight tweaks to the colour to give it a red tint, and then created a red solid which I masked around and matched to the motion of the blood moving. This created the effect of the photo being replaced by the red blood solid.

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To conclude the special effects I added muzzle flashes and blood splatters from a pack I got from Video Co-pilot to create more realism.

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After my special effects were added I moved on to adding the voices – for this I set up my microphone and read out the script as the animation was playing. Due to the issue of my voice not syncing with the characters mouth, I tried to use key frames and increase and decrease the volume with the camera positon to create the impression the voice was coming from them; I did this same process for the song playing in the background.

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After watching my final animation back with the voices included the dialogue sounded really unnatural and not as I had intended in my script. Granted this may be because it was my shocking attempt at doing an American and Vietnamese accent, but it showed me how useful pre-vis software such as iClone is at simulating a scene to get it right before filming.

CP17 | iClone

The process of creating my iClone animation was a heavily complicated one in which I spent a long time watching video tutorials on how to do create certain effects (the full list of videos at bottom). Once my bunker model was imported into iClone I first experimented with animating characters – here I played around with moving the puppets and testing out the timeline.

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I further experimented with figuring out how to attach characters arms to things, knowing that they would be holding guns. To test this I created 2 boxes which I pared to the arms, this allowed me to control the arms through the boxes, I then paired a rock to the man and was able to reposition the hands around the rock. This allowed me to move the rock and his arms would follow.

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To begin my actual animation I started by importing all 6 of my characters – due to an overly complicated project I had to remove 2 of the Vietcong soldiers from my scene. I then attached the characters weapons to their hands by using the box technique I previously learned; this included the AK47’s, Gareth’s pistol and Johnny’s knife.

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Before I began the animation process I added the light sources to my scene; this process involved using a spot light from the lighting panel, then repositioning it and changing the intensity.

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– I also added the red light which would be used later on. At first I had a major problem with the shadows not showing up, but I fixed this by sacrificing my wall lamp and replacing it with an overhead fluorescent bulb.

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When it came to animating my scene the timeline proved to be incredibly tricky to organize, especially considering I was animating the characters overall motion, arm movement, facial expression, voice, eyes and props separately. I began by using the motion puppet modification and masking out the arms (I would do them later) – to record an animation it was a case of holding space for as long as I wanted the animation to last.

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Once the basic movement was in place I had to match the props movement up with that of the characters. For this I used the direct prop function where I could change the movement/rotation of the prop in real time, I tried to sync this up as closely to the characters as possible, but it proved to be a very difficult process as the movement was so sensitive.

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After the props and characters basic movement was completed I created a script through text which the characters would mouth. The mouth movements looked very unnatural at first so I had to edit each letter until I got the correct motion.

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From here I animated the facial expression of my characters by using the face puppet tool. This was a case of selecting an emotion and the parts of the face I wanted affected, and then I simply moved my mouse whist playing to increase or decrease the motion. I also animated the eye movement in a similar way by purely selecting the eyes and moving the mouse in the direction I wanted them to look.

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Finally I animated any individual body part that looked out of place e.g. arms/legs/joints, this left me with all of my characters animated and I was able to start working on camera movement.

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Animating the cameras was a far simpler process than the characters. I started by creating a new camera and then positing it into the correct position, using the options on the side  to change lens size, focal range, etc. Then by using key frames I moved the camera into their finishing position and once played back they looked fluid. Certain camera angles where used to signify different things; the spinning camera around Sebastian symbolised confusion, the high angles signified his powerlessness and, the extreme close ups highlighted an important element of the film I wanted to be seen.

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In order to create the tracking camera when Sebastian is walking towards the VC soldier I simply attached the camera to the root of the body, thus following his every movement. When piecing together each individual camera I used the switch tool which allowed me to add key frames for when I wanted a camera to display and stop.

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After the cameras were completed I moved on to adding the blood puddles which expanded from the bodies. To do this I created a simple blood splat in SketchUp and imported it to the scene, then I positioned it under the bodies and increases the scale of it as the film progressed. This created realistic blood which poured from the characters bodies; I was particularly happy with this effect.

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Finally because my version of iClone was only a trial, I had to record the screen using screen capture software and played the animation all the way through, this resulted in my completing my pro-vis animation.

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As much of a success I felt my animation turned out to be, there were still a few issues with the construction process. A major struggle I had was using the timeline; whenever I recorded a new motion it would seem to replace the one placed down before, and without being able to access each individual motion on the timeline, I had to re-record most of the motions whilst the other animations were in progress – this was especially difficult for the arms and props as each one was reliant on the other.

I also found lighting incredible tricky to do, especially the red light in the ending sequence. My original aim was to make this light blink whist the alarm went off, but every time I selected the blink option every single light in the scene would disappear. In the end I had to sacrifice this element as I was unable to find a fix, this demonstrates how although iClone may be useful for structuring scenes, it does restrict some aspects of my vision e.g. the red light, the blood on characters face’s, and elaborate character movements.

One of the biggest problems I had was when Sebastian kneels down to help the dying Vietcong soldier. After animating it all perfectly I came back to find that during these 5 seconds he would move forwards out of the scene and jolt back after. When I checked the timeline there was no sign of a key frame out of place, and after ages of looking online for a fix I had to be the bigger man and giveup; iClone 1- Brett 0. In order to fix this problem I was forced to reposition Sebastian every single key frame during those 5 seconds which was a complete pain, hence why he still moves unnaturally in the final animation. It still bugs me thinking about what caused this problem, but that shows how unreliable programs like iClone can be.

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Another huge issue I had which is really noticeable is the map on the wall. Whilst animating my model the map would keep glitching and flashing a white colour which distracts from the story. In order to fix this I would have had to redo the entire bunker model which would have been incredibly difficult to do considering I had finished animating.

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Creating the whole bunker in SketchUp also proved to be a problem as the model was one big group, meaning I was unable to move each individual object like the radio computers. Although this did mean the animation process was much faster, it also meant the animation was less dynamic as I was unable to fully visualize my final sequence where the bunker has been shot to pieces.

Benjamin Tuttle. 2016. iClone Film School- Animated Blood Puddle. [Online]. [Accessed 25 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmFznHNIERE

  • This video taught me how to create the expanding blood puddle in SketchUp and iClone

Reallusion. 2015. iClone Beginner’s Guide: Animating with Motion Clips. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAFrMYqLpx4&list=PLNV5zSFadPdncuC3Ox8_FIgVITSKMmTcv

  • This video taught me the basics of character movement and using the timeline to animate motions

Reallusion. 2011. iClone5 Tutorial – Human IK and Prop Interaction. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eha1cLjALcE

  • After struggling with the prop puppet tool this video helped me fix the interaction between the guns and the characters.

Reallusion. 2015. iClone Beginner’s Guide: Basic Scene Lighting. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTaMpVG6mb0&t=1s

  • This video taught me how to light a scene, especially how to create a flashing light

Reallusion. 2015. iClone Beginner’s Guide: Basic Camerawork. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOFDJLz0jPM&t=117s

  • This video showed me how to do camera movements and how to use the switch timeline

WarLord720. 2015. Animating Characters in iClone. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fz1ZVhLNVg

  • This video helped me with using boxes to pair character hands to objects, it also taught me how to mask out body parts when animating

CP16 | SketchUp

In order to create the radio bunker for my pre-vis animation I first did some research into actual pirate radio bunkers of the Vietnam War. I found some really good images which I could use to base my own bunker on. The key objects I included in my bunker are radio equipment, tape recorders, vinyl records, microphones, a typewriter, headphones, a world map and a clock.

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When it came to actually modelling the bunker I based the floorplan on a Photoshop sketch I created before I wrote my script in order to figure out where each character would be. Here we have Sebastian’s desk in the centre of the room, Gareth’s next to his, and Johnny’s near the door. Around the outsides of the bunker I placed additional radio equipment to make it look more cluttered and busy.

Bunker Floorplan

I started drawing the model out in SketchUp which is a 3D graphic design software. To create the bunker I drew the layout and then elevated the walls using the Push/Pull tool, following this I removed a chunk from the middle wall to act as the door. Next I applied the textures to the walls and floor using the materials editor where I selected a lined pattern and changed the colour to brown. To insert items into the scene I used the 3Dwarehouse which allows users to upload their own models for others to use; I found a collection of models which matched the objects I had desired. When it came to inserting the objects an issue I had was using move tool to move objects along the different axis as they appeared to lock onto the ground randomly. To fix this I looked online and found out that by using the keypad you can select which axis you want the objects to move, this was a much easier way to move objects around and saved so much time. Once my model was finished I exported it into 3DXchange and then from there saved it as a prop to put into iClone.

Au104. 2013. ALBUM 4 – 104 SIG SQN. [Online]. [Accessed 22 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.au104.org/Photo1/page1-4.html

Ibiblio. no date. Radio First Termer: Photographs of Dave and his tours in South Vietnam. [Online]. [Accessed 22 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/jwsnyder/rft/rftphotos-1.html

 

CP15 | Script Writing #2

At this point in time my script was almost complete; however I had a few more issues when it came to writing. So far my aim of creating a tribute to the music of Vietnam had not been thoroughly addressed, so throughout the entire sequence I had the idea the play a song. Originally I had planned for the song which Sebastian plays to cut out when the action started, as it would conflict with the build-up of tension however I found the perfect song which should increase the build-up. The song “American Eagle Tragedy” (1969) by Earth Opera is a 10 and a half minute chilling masterpiece about the horrors of the Vietnam War. The song starts off slow and then builds to a shocking crescendo which will match with the climax of my film. My intention for the song is for it to increase the anxiety of the scene and add another historical reference point.

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During this time I also came up with a name for the radio station; Roach. The meaning behind this name is A. the cigarette is what triggers the standoff to go bad, B. Roach is my favorite character in Apocalypse Now (1979) so it has personal significance, and C. whilst conducting research I read about how cockroaches were used in Vietnam to detect the Vietcong through female cockroach pheromones. A decision I also had to make whilst writing was whether to use visual camera techniques such as SLOW MOTION and CLOSE UP. In the script in order to emphasize the smoke from the cigarette I thought it would be fitting to have these parts as a close up and slow motion. Although script writers would advise against this I thought they would be a vital aspect to the story; other examples of screenplays such as Apocalypse Now also used these techniques.

Whist writing my script I sent a copy to Faisal for him to check and he gave me some advice on how to make it better. Faisal claimed that he did not get a clear idea of the tone of the film, it was too descriptive, and the character of Ho Dinh was too stereotypical. Based on his feedback I changed the script in the following ways;

  • I went through the entire script and removed most of the description, this included lots of explanation about the setting and character movements; the entire ending sequence was shortened by 200 words!
  • I changed some of the characters dialogue and actions to portray their internal desires across; in the case of Johnny I made him much more pro-war through the dialogue at the start where he argues with Gareth about how guns are the only thing he needs. I also added more dialogue lines for Gareth throughout the script as I felt his character didn’t contribute to the story as much as I would have liked
  • The character of Ho Dinh I completely changed; I started by editing his dialogue to sound more broken (in-keeping with the Vietnamese accent). I further went on to remove overly stereotypical lines which didn’t add anything to the plot e.g. Him pushing Gareth to answer if he thought the War was unjust.

By making these changes to the script I was now free to start working on the Pre-vis animation.

Apocalypse now. 1979. [Film]. Francis Ford Coppola. dir. USA: Omni Zoetrope.

Earth Opera. 1969. The American Eagle Tragedy. Earth Opera. The Great American Eagle Tragedy. [Vinyl]. USA: Elektra

 

CP14 | Script Writing #1

Now that my second and final draft of the step outline was complete I started working on writing the actual script. I used an online site called Celtex which automatically formatted the script to the correct standard, this included laying out the characters, dialogue, action, and scene headers. Although Celtex was really useful in formatting the script I struggled when it came to the actual writing. I had difficulty in introducing my characters so I looked online for guides on how to do this. I found a website called Mentorless (2011) which gave a list of examples from other screenplays on how they introduced characters. A good example was from the film People Like Us (2012) (below);

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“Into frame comes… SAM HARPER. Late 20’s, good looks, restless intelligence. Last year’s Brioni suite off the rack, but still a Bironi. He walks through the yard with BEN, a less well-dressed VP OF SALES. Ben’s distracted, this isn’t a meeting he has time for –”

By looking at this introduction it is clear that only a brief description of the character is needed, which states their age, what they look like and what they are doing. I also checked out how the character Lester Burnham was introduced in American Beauty (1999);

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“LESTER BURNHAM lies sleeping amidst expensive bed linens, face down, wearing PAJAMAS. An irritating ALARM CLOCK RINGS. Lester gropes blindly to shut it off.”

In this example even less detail is given to introduce the character, so for my own script to introduce the characters I listed their age, what they were wearing and what they were doing. I tried to achieve this in as little words as possible by using Elliot Grove’s advice of burying details in the scene by character movements; for Sebastian I buried the detail of his stubbly beard through his movement towards the microphone, and Gareth his laid back attitude by him having his feet up on the desk. Following on from this I had difficulty in introducing minor characters like the Vietcong soldiers who enter the bunker; as they weren’t as important as the Americans I wasn’t sure if they needed a whole introduction or not. I looked online on the website Writers Store and found a page titles Minor Characters Don’t need Major Introductions; this site expressed how minor characters only need to be listed e.g. HOMELESS MAN. This was further supported by the Inglorious Basterds (2009) screenplay which describes the enemy characters as TWO OTHER NAZI SOLDIERS, therefore for my own script I shall just list the Vietcong soldiers as VIETCONG SOLDIERS.

Whilst writing I also stumbled across an issue when it came to using sounds; my sequence uses a lot of sound effects such as the gun shots and the fire alarm so I was unsure how to describe these. After checking online I found site which explained how to incorporate sound effects – it claimed that when incorporating a sounds they should be capitalized e.g. PEDESTRIANS SCREAM, this is also the case for objects that you want readers to ‘see’ e.g. The car crashes into the LAMPPOST. The use of capitalizing in this form will be useful when it comes to objects that need explicitly referencing in my script such as Ho Dinh’s cigarette, the fire alarm, and Sebastian’s family photo.

American Beauty. 1999. [Film]. dir. Sam Mendes. USA: Dreamworks

Dailyscript. no date. American Beauty Screenplay.  [Online]. [Accessed: 10 April 2017]. Available from:  http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/AmericanBeauty_final.html

Going Into The Story. 2010. Question: What about capitalizing sounds in spect scripts?. [Online]. [Accessed 10 April 2017]. Available from: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/question-what-about-capitalizing-sounds-in-spect-scripts-c4e589c5fbeb?gi=a48e1d74e940

Inglorious Basterds. 2009. [Film]. Quentin Tarantino. dir. USA: Universal Pictures

Mentorless. 2011. How to Introduce a Character in a Script. [Online]. [Accessed 10 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.mentorless.com/2012/10/31/how-to-introduce-a-character-in-a-script/

People Like Us. 2012. [Film]. Alex Kurtzman. dir. USA:Dreamworks