Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Preproduction 9: Special Effects Considerations

Well, ok, the special effects in Sisu don't feature anything quite as dynamic as this graphic - but it is cool, isn't it? Amazing what a girl can do with three minutes and a Photoshop smudge brush!

However, I have my own brand of challenges, as there will be a significant amount of CG (Computer Generated) imagery, most of which shouldn't be visible to the viewer, which in some ways makes it harder to pull off than big explosions and melting aliens. The old saying of course is 'fix it in post' but I once heard a very smart man say 'fix it in pre.' So I am doing everything I can to prepare for the special effects shots so that we get what we need while we are on location. Here are some of the shots I am working on this week.

First, there is a scene in the film where Tom watches the resurrection of his ship, which happened about 30 years after he died. The keel and hull were mounted on a couple of flatbed trucks and driven across the prairie, fulfilling a prophecy Tom made from his death bed. Here are a couple of boards Raul mocked up for me of this scene:

The question here is, as building the big pieces of the boat is pretty cost-prohibitive at this level of filmmaking, can we use CG to help create this scene? A cool friend of mine, Scott Hankel, a compositing genius currently living in Los Angeles, told me that we can create the keel and hull on the back of the flatbed trucks entirely in CG, and in fact, as long as the camera is locked off, we could use a still (a 2D Photoshop graphics rather than having to work in 3D), and animate its scale and position in a compositing program. This would make the shoot much easier and even the post simpler. The only thing we have to do is to make sure that there is some part of the truck, such as the edge of the flatbed, that is seen in the shot so that we are able to track the motion of it for this to work.

Here's the next problem: We have a scene with a big dust storm. Here is what an actual dust storm looks like. I'd love to have that wall of dust effect as the wind picks up.

Here are the boards for the scene, created by the awesome Raul Viceral, Head of Story and Production Designer.

Tom 'astral travels' from his hospital bed as he imagines the scene at his son's funeral, more than 10 years before, which in the script happens right as the Depression and dust storms hit, so the idea is to use no words but tell this sequence of events visually as Tom envisions it through the dream-state as he hovers between life and death on his final day.
Tom approaches the coffin. His estranged wife and daughters, almost in another time/space dimension, do not see him.

Shot of the coffin lying in the middle of the dirt road on the prairie.

Tom looks down at the coffin.

He looks up as the wind begins to pick up strength.

A dust storm gathers on the prairie.

Tom fights the wind.

Long shot of Tom and the coffin; the family has disappeared.

The dust and wind blow Tom and he staggers backwards.

Tom throws himself over the coffin.

Dust overtakes the scene.

Now from conversations with Scott and Andrew Britt, another cool friend of mine from the Bay Area who teaches particle effects at Ex'pression Digital College where he is the Department Head of the Animation and Visual Effects program, there are quite a few ways to go about making this series of shots work. First, it seems clear that we are going to need some practical dust on set, along with a generator and a huge fan, not only to create wind, but also to blow gallons of dust around in front of the character.

As for the effects, which I will be worrying about much later when I get into post production, we can use entirely digital CG particles or we can use something Scott was explaining called 'water tank' which is a practical effect, where you fill a tank, like a fish tank, full of clear water, then you shoot while you dump in some other liquid, like milk or paint, then you take that footage into After Effects or a compositing program, alter the color to match your shot, and place the swirling churning result into your footage. You should put black duvateen behind the tank so you are shooting against black, so that you can get, as Scott describes it, "dimensionality of the liquid as it unfolds in the water." You can also work with CG effects, completely fabricated particles that you program to behave in certain ways, with a certain weight and impetus.

Have your eyes glazed over yet?

Right now I am just worrying about trying to get as much useful stuff as we can during the live shoot so after talking to these guys I think that shooting the shot a few different ways will cover all bases. First a clean plate of the prairie scene with no actors, both the long shot and I guess the close up, then both of these again but with dust being blown around in front of the camera. We'll also take another version with the actor but no dust, and then finally the actor with the blowing dust all in one scene.

My professor, the brilliant Gerald Saul (link to his blog) who has been helping me all term with the storyboards and the shots, had the idea of blowing practical dust around too. So I guess the next step is to price generators and big fans and find some dust somewhere.

Another fun piece of CG work will be this shot of the keel and hull on the prairie. Hopefully this one will be relatively simple as the shot is planned as being somewhat in silhouette.

Here's another shot that Raul thinks will be more or less simple to do. In the final film this might actually be a barn, not a house, which every time we see it is coming down more and more as Tom dismantles his homestead for materials for the ship.

Other CG scenes include these three, which feature the 3D model of the ship that will hopefully be built by another one of my ultra-cool and talented friends from the Bay Area effects world, artist and digital modeler Howie Weed (Star Wars, Terminator 3, War of the Worlds, AI, etc. etc.). Here is a shot that we don't have boards for yet but I do have this early concept painting of, with the ship flying off into the prairie sunset. The background will be the actual prairie sky with one of those incredible Saskatchewan sunsets.

Here is the same ship, rocking on top of a hill, riding it as if it is riding the waves.

And here it is seen through the window, casting a golden glow on the face of the child Tom Sukanen:

For all of these CG compositing shots, we need to think about matching the lighting and the color on the imported CG elements. For this purpose, Scott Hankel says we should do a good job of recording the settings while on location. First, he says to take an HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) photo of the set, meaning you take a normal picture and then bracket it 5 stops up and 5 stops down; in other words you take ten pictures of the same thing but with different exposures. He also says that for any shots where we might use 3D CG elements, we should take some video footage of a mirrored sphere (apparently you can get these at garden shops) and some also of a matte grey sphere (he says you can get plastic ones and spray them with an 18% grey paint). This footage will somehow be useful later to the CG artists or whoever is trying to match the lighting and the conditions from the day of the set in the color and levels of the imported CG element. Good to know!

Here's a picture showing how you use the mirrored sphere to document the lighting conditions for the 3D CG shots:

The above picture came from this cool tutorial link at Max Realms; check it out for more information about the coverage we'll need to get on set for the 3D CG shots. This stuff makes my head spin but it's a great link for geeks or anyone who wants to make sure their compositing will go smoothly! I guess I fit into both categories (sigh).

Another interesting dilemma is this shot of Tom's threshing machine that he is designing. Once he gets it on the wall, it begins to animate. Thinking through how to do this is interesting. Raul and I have talked about the animation being done in pencil, then scanned or shot frame-by-frame, and then brought into the footage using After Effects. The only thing we need to consider on set is getting a clean plate shot of the scene without the actor standing in front of the plans.

It's great to know people who know about these things so that we can get full coverage on set of what will be needed later to make the effects work. I had a sneaking suspicion that we should be thinking about these things now and it turns out that was a good suspicion to have.

And I really didn't believe it, but I guess people do buy ornamental mirrored spheres for their gardens. Below is a pic from an ornamental garden supplies website. This must the most amazing thing I have learned today!

Now I have, at times over the past year, heard some opinions expressed that all good films should end with a huge explosion, and I should try to work that into this film somehow. If I do decide to go with the explosive ending, armed with my new Special Effects knowledge it should be a snap!

Of course I am kidding.

Until next time... Sisu!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Preproduction 8: Costumes: Women and children

These are women's and children's costumes that we'll need; to see the men's stuff please click on the "Preproduction 7: Costumes: Men" link to the right...

We've lost our Brette to a French immersion program in Quebec for the rest of the summer, and she has put together a book of costume needs, actors' sizes and time periods for the costumes we'll need for the shoot. It's kind of daunting, on top of all of the rest of the production that needs to be done, to try to find all of these costumes for 'cheap-to-free' as I keep saying. I have a feeling that we'll end up making a few, but hopefully not too many, and hopefully the ones we have to make will be fun! I have done a little internet research over the past while and here are some of the images I've come up with for the women and children's clothing.

First, we have Tom's mother, who spends the entire film in the dress she was wearing when she put little Tomi to bed back in 1890. I'd like the dress to be light-colored and pretty, with the kinds of ribbons and bows and other details from the era. Here are a few samples of dresses from the era and what I like about each one:

These are too dark, and we can lose the hats, but I love the details on the blouse on the right.

More cool details. The hair, however, is atrocious.

This is a gorgeous dress, if probably too frilly, and if we could come up with a simpler version of this I think Megan would look great in it. The detail is lovely; I particularly like the sleeves. Mama should look a little ethereal and I think something like this would really nail what I am seeing in my mind. I like the hair, too. Here's another take on a simpler dress with this neckline:

Another challenge for us in dressing our actresses is putting together the right outfits for Katja. First of all, she marries Tom in about 1901. I found this link to some patterns for wedding gowns of the era, and here are some widely varying bridal gowns from that time:

This is probably very close to what the dress should look like. It's a little old fashioned and as a poorer girl I think Katja would be wearing a recycled wedding dress.

I am very partial to this veil!

This veil is great too. I also like the length of the dress. This is a little more what would have been in fashion for a young bride in 1900 or so, and maybe we could go this direction as well. I particularly like the look of shock on the faces of this couple!

On this one I like the gathering and the rosette on the bodice, and the layers. This is also a good shot of the shoes; they look surprisingly modern to me.

Sometimes it's easier to see the dresses in sketches like these.

Then there is Katja's regular costume. We see her in a three different photographs from 1901 until about 1906, and I think we can just use the same dark skirt with a couple of different blouses and hats or hairdos. Then we need her costume for the actual scenes she is in, circa 1910. I think this will be one costume, a dark blouse and skirt, with perhaps a shawl and a hat for the goodbye scene in the morning on the road. Here is the right era for what we need to find or make:

I like the shapes and details of these dresses, but as Mama is the 'light' female in Tom's life, I see Katja as the 'dark' one, and I think her dress should be dark. See below for examples of this look in dark material...

I like the collar on the seated lady in the dark dress, and also the dark bow and blouse on the lady in the middle of the picture. I think Katja would be wearing something fairly simple like this.

Nice family portrait.

Another challenge will be finding 1920's and 30's era dresses for Lili, who plays Marge, and the other farm wives who come out for the post-threshing party. These types of dresses are not as hard to come by, particularly as this look came back into vogue not too many years ago, and also we saw some like these in the Regina Little Theatre costume room, where Dauminique has amazingly gotten permission for us to borrow some costumes. We probably need 6 or 7 of this type of dress and some hats to go with them.

There is also the scene where Katja and the two girls are standing next to the coffin in black mourning clothes. Here are some examples of mourning dresses from the era. They seem to be rather plain and straight. Black stockings, gloves and boots would probably add to the effect. This is in about 1920.

This is a beautiful dress and I think Lori would look great in something like this.

I love these caps with the long veils. I think some sort of hat like this would be great.

Here is a quick sketch I did in Photoshop of how I imagine Katja and the two girls in the funeral scene. Imagine the details from the pictures above in this setting (1920):

There are four nurses in the film as well, circa 1943. I like the simple button-up white blouse and white skirt, stockings and shoes as shown in these pictures. There is a great nurse's cap at the Regina Little Theatre too, and I am sure we could borrow it.

I am thinking that if we could just find some simple white button-up shirts like this (below) and make white wrap-around skirts, with the addition of the white cap, shoes and stockings we'd have a pretty convincing nurse costume. This picture is from a Butterick pattern but shirts like this are easy to find.

There are also the little girls. There is a little 3-year-old girl in the goodbye scene (circa 1910) and then a 3 year old and a 9 year old in the funeral scene (circa 1920). Here are some ideas for these costumes. First is the littlest three or four year old girl. She has two scenes: the same actress will play little Maija, the elder of the two girls, and then she will play her younger sister, Tuula, a few years later at the funeral (don't try to do the math; it doesn't quite work out, but I want the girls to be still young in this scene so am stretching the years a little here). The shape of these dresses (below) will work for both: she just needs a little black version and a black bow for her hair in the funeral scene.

I love the stockings and boots. I would prefer a darker dress and dark stockings, but this is a great simple little frock.

The bows are awesome! I'd love to see a bow in her hair. The ones below are cool too.

This is probably my favorite dress. I like the darker dress for story reasons, to go with Katja's darker dress. The black stockings and boots are great, and with a little bow I think this would be a great look for the little girl.

The older version of Maija, in the 9 - 12 range, will only be seen in the funeral scene. She should be wearing a dress something like one of these, except black:

As for Tom Sukanen as a child in 1890's Finland, I do see him in a cap on the riverbank, and in knickers and stockings and boots. I imagine a little cardigan and collarless shirt would complete the outfit. Here are some pictures:

With a little toy boat, even! We did find a cap at the Regina Little Theatre, not a sailor's cap like this one, but a small version of the traditional Finnish caps that the boys in Finland wore in those days, which would be perfect.

I especially like the clothing on the boy with the bike.

Then there is Timo, Tom's son. The first time we see him he is about three years old, and is just in a photograph. He probably would wear something like this:

The next time we see Timo he is a little older. He is probably wearing a little sailor shirt and knickers. For some reason these sailor shirts seemed very popular at the time.

This is a little fussy, but for formal photos and for a 'going-to-school' outfit this would probably be a good look.

I had to put in this whole family because of the cross-eyed dad. These two boys have great costumes that I think we could easily build from second-hand stuff.

The last consideration in the women and children department is the look of the little boy and girl who will be at the threshing party in the 1920's. They are both about 7 or 8 years old and the children of farmers, so nothing too fancy. I think the following costumes would be great for these kids. Little girls' dresses haven't changed much over time so these shouldn't be too hard to find. Here's a sample of girls' dresses from that time.

The little boy at the threshing party (again, 1920's) should be wearing clean farm-boy clothes: overalls, a cap, knickers, socks, and lace-up boots. This is also the costume for Timo in the goodbye scene (1910); the boys' clothes don't change much over the years.

One last thing: both Timo and Dami need nightshirts for their bedtime scene (1890 and 1910). We saw one at the Regina Little Theatre; it was adult sized but might work for one of the two scenes. Here are a couple of pictures for reference:

This one is supposed to be more Victorian/19th century...

... and this one is supposed to be more in the 20th century style. They look pretty similar to me.

So here is a summary of womens' and childrens' clothing that needs to be found/created for this film. I have colored the items in blue that I think will need to be made or altered radically. The rest I do feel that we will be able to find.

- light colored detailed gown (Finland, 1890)

- wedding gown and veil, white shoes and stockings (1900)
- 2 - 3 darker colored blouses and a long dark skirt (1900-1910)
- funeral dress and cap with veil, dark shoes and stockings (1920)

- 1 nice dress (1920's)
- 1 'Depression-era' dress (1930's)
- sensible shoes

- 2 white button-up blouses and 2 wrap around skirts, four pairs white stockings and four pairs white shoes, nurse cap (1943)

Extra women at party
- 6 - 7 costumes: dresses, hats, shoes, stockings (1920/30)

"Cold mom"
- wool dress, shawl, scarf, boots (1935)

Dami (young Tom)
- small Finnish cap, button-up collarless shirt, knickers, stockings, boots, small jacket or sweater (1890)
- nightshirt (1890)

Timo (formerly Arne)
- 'sailor-type' shirt, knickers, stockings, boots (photo series, 1906)
- vest, knickers, blousy shirt, 'newsboy style' cap (farm, 1910)
- nightshirt (1910)

4 year old girl (Timo's sister)
- dark-colored little girl's dress, bow, stockings, boots (1910)
- funeral dress, black bow, stockings, boots (1920)

9 year old girl (Timo's other sister)
- funeral dress, black bow, stockings, boots (1920)

8 year old girl at party
- cotton dress, white socks, black buckle shoes (1920ish)

8 year old boy at party
- bib overalls (or knickers with vest and stockings), newsboy cap, boots, blousy shirt

"Cold boy"
- patched bib overalls, sweater, boots, 'newsboy' cap, scarf

The men's costume post will be MUCH simpler (men's clothing did not change much between about 1900 and 1930) but I will be listing all of the items we need to find there as well.

Whew, that was some work! To see men's costumes, please click on the link to the right.

Until next time, Sisu!