Saturday, May 12, 2007

Preproduction 2: Ship designs

Time to design a ship!

When I started working on this project, I knew pretty much nothing about ships, boats, oceanography, maritime navigation, or the history of ship building. I still know pretty much nothing but I have done enough research to have some idea about what Tom Sukanen's Sontiainen would have looked like. The fact that I can envision the completed ship now when I look at photographs of the unassembled sections of the boat lying on the prairie shows that the research I have done, especially in Finland at the two maritime museums, has been paying off. Most importantly though, I have been able to connect with Pauli Kivisto from the Forum Marinum maritime museum in Turku, Finland, who is an expert in Finnish maritime history with a special interest in Finnish ships from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exactly the time when Tom Sukanen would have been working as a ship builder, quite possibly in the Turku area.

Even with my research, figuring out the probable layout of the Sontiainen from the photographs was a fairly time-consuming undertaking. And I have no idea about how the sails or rigging would work, as Sukanen left no plans for this part of the ship. In fact, none of his plans exist anymore, unfortunately. I want the 3D artist to have a lot of freedom in the details and fun bits on the ship, so I am supplying this simple Illustrator frame (below), and a link to a selection of ship pictures, including both reference pictures for the 'nernie' bits and fuzzy photos of the actual original ship parts (here).

Luckily Raul had some good instincts about which of the cabins would have been the forward and which one the aft, and somehow knows about ships and wheelhouses and where the engine room would probably have been in a ship that was to be operated by a crew of one. So after consulting with Raul and poring over the photos, here is a basic concept of what I think the Sontiainen would have ultimately come together to look like, but I have no idea about the mast or the rigging.

The keel (lower section) is probably 30 feet long and about 10 feet tall. The hull (upper section) is about 48 feet long from the extended tip of the prow to the stern. The two cabins are relative to the lower sections, probably quite beautiful with sweeping bent planks. the mast in this design is all wrong -- there is a better version of the mast and rigging a bit later, drawn by someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do. Below is another version of my basic design, with the photographs for reference (click for a larger image):

The big white mobile home on top of the resurrected ship is NOT part of the original structure. The beautiful cabins that Tom built were torn apart and used mostly for firewood during hard times on the treeless prairies. The big white box looks ridiculous and makes the ship look not seaworthy or pretty, but I am convinced it would have been beautiful had Tom ever gotten it assembled. Interestingly, many engineers and shipwrights have looked at his work and the consensus is not only that it was an amazing accomplishment for a single man to build, but that the design was flawless and the ship would definitely have been seaworthy. It would have been a steam - and - sailing ship, meaning the smokestack coming out of the wheelhouse (larger, rear cabin) would have been for the fires from the engines, and the one on the other, smaller cabin would have been a cookstove chimney.

Luckily Pauli Kivisto from the maritime museum had given me his email address in case I had questions, so I sent him my illustration (above) and asked whether the mast looked right and what kind of rigging the ship might have. To my surprise and delight, a week later he sent me back a couple of drawings of two different styles of rigging that Tom Sukanen might have planned for the Sontiainen. The first is called a gaff-rigged ship, with a bowsprit off the front end, and the second is the ship with a Bermuda sail. The gaff-rigged ship is beautiful and more cinematic, and as Pauli says that this was the typical rigging for small Finnish ships of the early 20th century, I think it would be great to rig the ship this way (please click on the picture to see a larger version):

drawing by Pauli Kivisto, from the Forum Marinum in Turku, Finland

The Bermuda sail in the second picture looks in some ways more practical but from what I can tell it might have been popular a little later in the 20th century, and plus it's not as pretty, so if we can swing it, I am going to aim for the gaff-rig with the bowsprit (I almost sound like I know what I am talking about!) Pauli also sent me some pictures of Finnish ships with a rig like this under full sail, including these pictures of the Eugenia:

the sailing yacht EUGENIA, the replica of the last sailing ship in cargo traffic in Finland (website)

Pauli has been so incredibly helpful; if there is one design area that I know nothing about it is ships, and to have chanced into meeting someone like him who not only knows about these specific kinds of ships can also draw them has been a real stroke of luck. I am interested in getting not only the story but the design of everything as accurate as possible, and it is always fun to learn about new things, like for example, gaff-rigged ships!

While at the Forum Marinum and the Rauma Maritime Museum I took a lot of pictures of ship models, including these two with examples of the gaff-rigging.

with a bowsprit

this double-masted model seems to have a gaff-rig for the front mast, although it doesn't have a bowsprit; this might be useful for the 3D modeler to see how the mast would look without the sails

Something else that needs to be created for the film are the ship parts separated: the keel, the hull, and both cabins need to be able to be composited into various shots separated from each other, as they were during construction. Please see the Special Effects posting on this blog for more on this aspect of the model(s).

Nothing is more fun than preproduction, unless it's production, which we are teetering on the verge of. Next post: auditions, producers, musicians, and more creepy connections as word of the making of this film begins to spread across Canada!

Until next time... Sisu!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Preproduction 1: color and keyframes

It's May, and I am back in Regina really digging in and getting ready for the shoot in earnest. There are several small developments lately.

One is, I am going to try to find a producer to work with. It would be great if I could find someone local who knows the ins and outs of the funding machine(s) and also who can just take the load of organization, administration, and budgeting off of my shoulders. I can definitely produce but I think it takes a toll on my directing and my creative work, especially at this level when being a producer can mean you're the one making the sandwiches before the shoot. This project is getting to be too big and I am beginning to really respect it too much, partially because of all of the people who have helped me in so many ways already, and partially because of Tom himself, to shortchange it by trying to do too much.

Secondly, I am starting to put out feelers for the cast. I am aiming to have the whole film completely cast by the end of May, and so the next couple of weeks will be spent trying to set up the auditions. I am hoping that I can arrange them for May 27. There are several good actors who I already like from the first round of auditions back in February, but I need to see more women, preferably 'character' actresses. I still don't have Mama or Katja cast, and those are big roles. Unfortunately I have met mostly young attractive actresses so far so I am still looking. I have a great contact in Wayne Slinn of the Regina Actor's Club; he is an actor himself with a great face and a lot of experience, and is willing to help me line up some good non-union performers for the auditions. I am getting excited about seeing the new actors!

Third, Raul, who is storyboarding the film, has taken a first stab at keyframing the entire movie scene-by-scene, so that we can get a look at the overall visual progression, both in terms of color and contrast, of the whole film. This phase is not about framing or camera or beautiful drawings, but about the overall flow of the story. Here is his first black-and-white keyframe exploration, focusing primarily on the contrast (values of light and dark) in the film. With this approach we are looking at both the needs of each scene independently, and also the way that each scene fits into the overall progression of the film. More important high tension or 'key' scenes should be higher contrast, because whether the viewer is aware of this or not, interest and intensity are increased by applying more contrast, while quieter scenes have more affinity. This higher contrast may be achieved either by placing a very low key (dark) scene next to a very high key (bright) scene, or by increasing the breadth between value levels within a single scene, from very dark to very bright. Or both. Here is Raul's first rough keyframe layout (click for a larger image):

Raul is so awesome. I am so lucky to have the story department here in the house!

I took his keyframe layout and worked up a quick color script based on the scenes. This shows the color progression throughout the script, and is numbered by scene; here it is (click for a larger view):
simple color script

Based on this first simple color script, I went over Raul's keyframes again and laid color over the sketches. This of course does not mean that everything in the scene will be that color, but that the overall look of the scene will register that way. I also came up with a legend as to what the different colors will symbolize so that we are using color intentionally and with an eye to the storytelling. Here is the result: a more detailed color script (click the picture for a larger version):
The next steps for the story and art departments will be boarding the film, and working out the color within each shot. This will lead to prop and costume choices, as well as location and set dressing choices.I am glad to be back and really getting into the work of production. The more I get done in this phase the better I will feel about the shoot in late August.

More updates coming soon!

Until next time... Sisu!