Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Godiva - Music, Dialogue and Sound Effects

There's been a few comments and discussions about the lack of dialogue, the sound effects and music in 'Godiva'. I thought I'd respond to those comments:

Music: Even though the movie was going to be full of sound and voices when I started the project, things changed dramatically early on in the production when I came across some free music supplied by YouTube. I'd filmed the first few minutes of the movie (the initial flight sequence through the asteroids) and when I heard the music (Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata) I instantly wanted to see what it would be like in the movie. Well, I loved it. So much so that I toyed with it being the only audio element in the film. But the piece wasn't long enough to cover the entire film, and I couldn't find another piece that had the same feel to it that I could continue on with. But I did find a weird, almost discordant piece (well, 4 pieces - a string quartet performing pieces by Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt) that worked well in the film, but in a different way. And I also knew that this new piece wouldn't work on its own (not as well as Beethoven's piece did, anyway). Now that I was all keyed up for music, I wanted to finish the movie with a strong, heart wrenching kind of number. Something I've noticed in 'real' movies is that oftentimes they use a chorus of choir for those kind of scenes. So I went looking for something like that and ended up with this rather ancient number (Unus ex discipulis meis, by Tomás Luis de Victoria from the 16th century!) I think it worked really well and I actually chose the shots and timing of those shots based on the music. Once I had all the music, I knew I wanted it to lead the film, rather than just augment it, so I opted to sacrifice other elements of the overall sound design to achieve this...

Dialogue (or the lack of it): Some have said that the film needed dialogue, while others have said it didn't need any. Obviously I agree with the latter, but I can understand the former. Originally the film was going to have dialogue, and I actually wrote the lines for the first three scenes before I realised it didn't need them. In fact, I would argue that it not only didn't need them, but it would have been a very different (and inferior) film had I included them. In my mind, the film would have been very pedestrian; just another sci-fi flick with a monster. But by removing the dialogue and letting the music do its thing, and thus allowing the audience to interpret events on their own, rather than me spoon feeding them the facts with dialogue, I feel the film was lifted above the norm. Just a little, anyway. I admit that the entire story was not revealed in the film; there are several unanswered questions (How did Donaldson survive the monster? What was Sister Nova's link to it? etc) But isn't it more fun to ponder these things, rather than have them laid out in front of you? It's often said that us filmmakers should "Show, Not Tell" and I think this is a perfect example of just that. In the end, about the only way dialogue would have made it into the film would have been in the form of "chatter" as part of the overall sound design. But when it came to doing the sound effects, I opted to avoid that as well. More on that in the next section...

Sound Effects: This was probably the toughest aspect of the overall sound design for 'Godiva'. At one point I seriously considered having no sound effects at all throughout the entire film, figuring the visuals and music could carry it without them. And although I feel this is true of the opening and ending sequences, the middle section fell flat with their absence. So I started popping in an effect here, an effect there, mostly in an attempt at emphasizing the explosions and "big" events of that section. Now realistically, there should be no sounds at all in the "outer space" shots as sound cannot carry in a vacuum. But again, I needed to emphasize things, so I opted at breaking that little law of physics (and as 99% of sci-fi films today do the same thing, I think I can get away with it!) And yet in most of the spaceship interior shots (where sounds are expected), I left them silent as I didn't feel they needed any extraneous noise. Maybe not what everyone else would have done in the same position, I admit, but it felt right to me. And I like the end result.



Saturday, March 8, 2014

Godiva - a look at the visual effects

Over at TMU I was asked how I achieved a few of the visual effects in my latest movie, 'Godiva'.  I thought it might be nice to gather them up into one blog entry (with a couple of extras thrown in for good measure):

Asteroid Field: very simply downloaded a pre-made field from 3DWarehouse, plus a collection of smaller, standalone rocks. Animated them to rotate or drift during each shot. Nothing special here, though the poly count got a little high at times.

Bugs: That was a prop I bought from Wil Veeke in the marketplace. I think it's a robotic scorpion. I retextured it a bit and added a bunch of glow maps across many of the textures and increased their visibility as the laser heated up the poor critter. The animations were all supplied with the prop, but to get the frantic death throes, I sped up its running cycle a lot, and removed any forward motion. Then I simply threw in an explosion and made the whole critter invisible when it actually blew up. Oh, and the afterglow on the wall was a strategically placed glow map on the wall itself. For the multiple shots, the afterglow was done by a half spherical prop that I faded in and out (much easier to do that for mutiple positions than the glow map on the wall).

Cracking Glass: This was achieved by placing a semi-transparent plane over the window with the image of a cracked window on it. It also had an opacity map in the shape of a white circle. By increasing the size of the opacity map (in steps) the cracks in the window appeared to grow.

Breaking Glass: This was a little trickier. I discovered during production of "Underpants Away!" (Ep 3) that if you applied the soft body physics profile to a (normally) solid object, the physics engine in iClone would effectively break the object apart into its component pieces. With this in mind, I took the glass from the ship (Godiva) into SketchUp, spent a little time drawing lines all over it (roughly the same shape as the cracks used above), effectively creating about 100 polygons (where it started as pretty much just 1). In iClone, this new piece of glass was put in place, and I used the soft body physics preset on. I then reversed gravity so things would fall 'up' and watched the results.

Well, it was dull. The window fell 'up' alright, but it didn't break up. Well, it did, but barely. So I then added a dummy prop (a huge sphere) that would then collide with the glass and force the pieces to spread out in a much more realistic manner. The end result (after much fiddling) is what you see in the movie.

Lasers: the laser shots were big on glow maps. The laser beams are simple primitives that came with iClone. They are actually twisted columns, and I had the glow maps pulse in intensity to give the beams a little life (not that you can really see that in the film, but it's there!) Oh, and they were assisted by a greenish Point Light for added effect.

Grasping Hand (sounds like a D&D Spell): This ended up being fairly easy to do. The hand is just the standard G5 character Chuck, but a very large Chuck. Of course, to make him that size required increasing his size to the maximum allowed (150 or 250%?) then saving him, loading him and doing it again. If you don't reload you can't expand his size beyond that current maximum. Then I chopped off 2 fingers (just reduced their size in the same way as making everything else larger). Oh, and I used Sketchup to build some finger nails and attached them to the 3 remaining fingers. The texture on the skin is one that came from a texture pack I got from Reallusion's content store (Total Materials Vol 11: Alien Organic). btw, that arm is ludicrously long... I mean, ludicrous. The tunnel is pretty much to scale and the arm had to come all the way out to grab the poor space dude. End result from that camera angle, though, came out pretty good. Probably the biggest challenge was keyframing the space dude (he has a name, you know: Donaldson!) to make sure he didn't poke an arm or leg through the creature's fingers. But like 99% of 'Godiva', what you see on the screen is what you see in iClone. I did very little post-production manipulation.

Explosions: These are all store bought from Reallusion (and they're cheap, because I'm cheap, too!) Most were used "as is", but the final big boom I had to tone them down a bit (some have strange "extras" in them that I didn't like) but it had pretty much all 5 or 6 Explosions going off at the same time. At one point I wasn't sure I was going to be able to pull off this effect within iClone, but as you can see, it proved quite possible.

Holographic Displays: These were easy. Just simple flat planes (semi-transparent) with the text as an opacity map. The "beam" projecting them is a simple primitive (a cone for one, pyramids for the rest), also semi-transparent. The inspiration for these came from an effect JosephKw did in one of his films, 'Scion', a while back. I always liked that effect, and have wanted to do something similar ever since seeing it. (Thanks Joseph!)

Scanning Target: I used a narrow beam Spotlight and in front of it I placed a custom made flat plane with the cut out shape of the 'targeting' image. (I made that in Sketchup very easily.) There was also the custom made spherical light prop and a light cone I made up as well. Put them all together (link/attach) and then made them 'Look At' the individual asteroids, twist the plane back and forth a bit for effect, and ta da! One Scanning System. Some notes on that: The plane had to be visible for it to cast a shadow, but it only had to be visible on one side. So it is placed very close to the light source and was also coloured the same as the light cone so when it did happen to come into view (from that one side) it would be virtually invisible to the camera. An alternative to making the custom plane would be to use an opacity map, but experience tells me that the maps tend to get jagged edges as they are just jpgs and get "fudged" to save space. So it was 10 times better to use a real object/prop rather than an image file.

The Third Eye: iClone comes with some miscellaneous accessories, one of which is an "Artificial Eye". By default, this fake eye is pretty "cartoony" with long lashes, but by stealing the eye texture of the character in question (her name is Sister Nova, by the way, not that it's important!) and removing the lashes by dropping the opacity (and stealing the skin colour from Nova as well for the eye lid), you can make it a match for the real eyes of the character. I then had to flatten the eye so it didn't look like Nova had a monstrous bruise on her forehead that she'd covered up with makeup. The eye accessory has a built-in "blink" function which just needed to be timed to match Nova's real blinking. But the real fun came when I wanted the eye to turn right and look at the Captain (the dude in green with the fancy techno-monocle). I couldn't just rotate the eye as it was now mishapen, so I resorted to moving the texture on the eye ball itself, using the "U" and "V" offset settings (which can be keyframed). When I first did it, I soon realized that I had to change the texture as the eye ball texture would wrap back around to the left, so I just made a bigger texture with lots of white and a smaller eye ball and decreased its "Tiling" so it would look the correct size. So now when I move it, you only see the whites of the eyes on the left as the eye turns right.

Ragdoll Dummy: No-one asked about this, but this took me a bit of time and effort to do. I wanted Nova and the Captain to both fly out the window during the explosive decompression scene, but I didn't want to just push them out cleanly, nor did I want to try and keyframe the animation. So I decided to make up a ragdoll dummy and let iClone's Physics engine do the work for me. A couple of (cleverer than me) folk on the Reallusion forum have already created such things, but I decided I'd like to make my own (movie making is fun, but I also like to do a little more than just put a movie together, thus the reason I made this prop and also many of the other smaller props seen throughout the film). This became a learning exercise as I haven't dealt with attaching and restraining physics in iClone before (I usually just drop things and watch them bounce!) I did manage to come up with something that worked well for my purposes, though in "real" gravity, if the character falls over it instantly breaks its back (not a pretty sight). But for flying out a window in virtually zero-G and bouncing off some invisible dummy physics activated props (rather than the actual space ship prop), it was wonderful.

Green Tinge:  The whole film has a green tinge to it to give it a slightly "other world" feel.  Remarkably, I did this within iClone rather than in post production.  Not sure why, as it would have been easier in post, but I guess that's just me.  I had the setting turned on in iClone and just left it on as I went shot to shot.  Lucky I liked it!

Shining Trapezohedron:  Just as a little "easter egg", did you know the crystals found in the excavation tunnel were, in fact, the Shining Trapezohedron prop I used in 'The Haunter Of The Dark'?