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June 19, 2007

lsgl: 9 days = 8 seconds

by sven at 11:59 pm

click on image to play clip (2.3 MB)

It took 9 days to create 8 seconds of film. Eight good seconds, I think. But still... Ouch.

One of the things I like about doing stopmo with physical puppets is that it's really engaging. You hone your concentration into a laser-focus and march boldly forward: accumulating one frame, then the next, then the next.

CG, on the other hand, has a different rhythm. You fuss and tweak and test... And then you set the render going. And wait. And wait. Sure, the computer "does the work" of creating inbetweens for you... But that just leaves you waiting helplessly on the sidelines while it goes about its business.

So, while I'm getting some really pretty images, I'm not digging the process.

Of course, it's probably not even fair to call what I'm doing "animation" in the usual sense. It's more like special effects work. CG character animators try to keep their rigs (CG puppet skeletons) as simple as possible, so their characters can be manipulated quickly and intuitively. The Elder Things, though -- they're anything but simple. Get a load of these statistics... In the bit of the clip above where the Elders are opening their eyes, there are:


click on image to play clip (516 KB)

What I set out to create: The Elders wake up, opening their eyes. Then they see (before we do) the Shoggoth blocking their only escape. The Elders stand up so they can start running.

The transition from waking up to standing up turned out to be too abrupt. I needed a segue shot. So I spent a day working on the shot of the leg-tentacles that you see above. It's a shot that I've been imagining for four years -- so this seemed like the logical place to throw it in.

Trouble is, it just didn't work. Why? Well, in the first shot the camera is up at eye-level with the critters. In the next shot, it's down on the floor, and canted at an angle. If there were a person attached to the camera, moving from the Elders' eye-level to pointing down at the legs to pointing up feels like an awkward, implausible motion.

I happened on the solution by accident: The camera has to be animated, too -- apparently falling from its first vantage point, landing on the floor.

From an editing point of view, having the camera fall adds action to the scene, making things seem more chaotic. (Which is good for this scene!) From a meaning point of view, showing a close-up on the eye implicitly gives us the moment of mental transition for the Elder, where it goes into a panic. And motion-wise, having the camera fall downward -- it makes it look like the critter is standing up, which flows nicely into the motion of the next shot, where we really do see the creature rise.

For the bit where the camera is at floor-level, I did something a little sneaky. I recalled hearing somewhere about a trick Leni Riefenstahl invented while filming the 1936 Olympics... In order to make the athletes seem even taller and more heroic, she actually dug trenches so she could point the camera up at them from below ground level. I've got the same thing going on here: the camera is actually positioned 2 feet underground.

* * * * *

So, right now it looks like animated CG shots are taking 3 days apiece. Shots where I only need to do a still background plate in Lightwave, which then gets composited with actors, have generally taken one day. ...If I don't start getting faster at doing the animation, this project's in trouble.

I've been doing a bit of brainstorming about the "deep history" segment. I've come up with a new way of telling that part of the story that I like, and that's more succinct. But the way things are going now, I may have to cut it down even further -- maybe to just 15 seconds! ...If that's the way things go, it'll be a big disappointment.

I've started harboring fantasies about getting a bare-bones version of the film done for the Lovecraft Filmfest -- but then doing an "extended version" that I shop around to film fests worldwide. I don't know how I really feel about that concept yet... Too soon to say.

posted by sven | June 19, 2007 11:59 PM | categories: let sleeping gods lie