Dead Space

So I’ve finally got round to finishing my Dead Space model.  It’d been sitting on a shelf gathering dust for some time.

I’ve been having fun taking some pics and then adding various effects to the finished pictures.  I had in mind that these might be stills from a film or similar, hence the widescreen look.

There’re more pics available on Flickr or on the main site.

Dead Beyond Buried

I’ve been doing some work for the metal band Dead Beyond Buried.  I’ve known the guys for years and they happen to be a pretty bloody amazing band.

I’ve been putting together a website for them which you can see here.

Here’s a vid of John playing ‘Dripping Black Bile’.

The main item however is a music video for their song ‘Cold Black Stars’ which will be on their new album ‘ The Dark Era’.

As you’d imagine the song has a space theme which is right up my alley so I’ve been churning out FX shots of supernovas and spinning neutron stars.

The concept I have is to begin with a red giant going supernova then follow it collapsing first into a neutron star then have that begin spinning faster and fast until it turns into a quasar.  Not 100% scientifically accurate but there’s a basic idea there ;0)

We’ve shot some practice footage which I’ve used to knock together a rough edit of the video but we’re due to shoot the main video at a pretty decent location in london, so fingers crossed that’ll all come together.

I can’t really post any footage just yet but I can probably get away with a few stills from some of the FX shots.

Pale Blue Dot

So I’m working on my scifi short which has gone from ‘Invasion London’ to ‘Invasion Earth’!  Once more the front room’s been transformed into a greenscreen studio and I’m doing some shots of the spaceship model.

Here’s a short test video.  One of the main issues so far has been getting smooth panning shots.  My initial attempt at building a platform on wheels and sticking the camera tripod on that met with limited success.  It can possibly be refined but I’m now kind of stuck between seeing if I can do everything hand held and buying a glidetrack for £250!

This shot was done with the tripod supported on my shoulder.  I don’t mind the hand held thing necessarily but if you want shots looking like the ships flying past you probably need something smoother……

Another issue I ran into was pulling a clean matte from the footage.  My greenscreen setup’s OK but I’m always limited by the space I have available (my font room and the length of the greenscreen) and the lighting (some dodgy photography lights I got off ebay).

I’ve attempted to get round this in the past, most recently for Beast of the Air, by shooting outside so that I have natural lighting.  This introduces other problems though, like trying to set up a greenscreen in gale force winds!

Anyway, in this case while I could pull a decent enough matte from the footage I was getting alot of noise in the resulting video.  I guess this was due to a combination of the DSLR video and the chroma key filter (Keylight in this case).  After some experimentation I came up with a way of getting round this.

Keylight allows you to output a ‘screen matte’ which is effectively a black and white representation of the areas of the image that are transparent and opaque.  Normally I’d just use this to see how good my matte was, however this time I’m actually using the screen matte in a different way.

After Effects allows you to use black and white/grayscale images in a number of ways.  One method is to use this as a ‘Luma Matte’ that takes the black and white values from one image and use them to define which areas of another image are transparent and which are opaque.

I was therefore able to use this screen matte:

to remove the background from this image (minus the support pole which I had to mask out manually).  The result is you get all the transparency but none of the image noise.

There are probably some After Effects ninjas out there who will go ‘yeah so what, that’s obvious‘, but hey, screw you ;0)

I’ve also been working on an intro sequence that sees us flying tthrough the solar system and approaching Earth, inspired in no small part by Carl Sagan’s Contact, but in reverse.

I also wanted to include some famous space images so I’ve been working on my ‘Sagan Flare’ to recreate Carl Sagan’s famous ‘Pale Blue Dot‘ image using an optical flare as the Sun passes  out of frame.

Here’s Sagan’s original Pale Blue Dot video, it’s really quite beautiful.

I’ve also got Earth Rise in there as well as taken by Apollo 8.  It is a good idea to show so much from a video you’re working on?  Probably not but it’s not like anyone actually reads this ;0)

Invasion London

So I recently did a video of the BT Tower exploding:

And I couldn’t help feeling that what it could really use is an alien drone of some sort flying past shooting it as it explodes.  So I set about making one.

This is made out of a variety of bits of junk – there’s a coke can in there, yoghurt pots etc.  The main structure is made from a plastic u-bend kit for fixing a sink.  That’s then overlaid with a shell made from cardboard overlaid with fibreglass.  The ‘eye’ is a halogen bulb and light fitting.  The overall shape is inspired by a news story I saw about some giant shrimp!  It’s also got some elements of the Hunter Killer from Terminator and ‘The Betty’ from Alien 4 (crap film, great miniature work!).

I’ve  just bought an air brush and compressor with which to paint it.

So once this is finished I’ll be shooting it greenscreen and creating a short ‘aliens invade london’ sequence.  Should be fun.

I’ve also been designing some elements to augment the model.  Here’s an energy ball element that I’ll be compositing into it’s ‘eye’.  The background is a picture of the Joint European Torus, a fusion reactor and there’s also a pic of the ATLAS detector from the Large Hadron Collider in CERN ;0)

And finally here’s a gallery of images of the model.


So as I mentioned I got hold a particle system plug-in for After Effect called Particular, and I’ve been having abit of a play and have put together a few vids.

This one was inspired by a video of the ‘Festival of Colours’ I saw on YouTube where they basically throw handfuls of coloured powder about.  Looks incredible and I liked the idea of having explosions of colour.

I therefore used some of the smoke presets in Particular and attached the emitters to null objects with ‘wiggle’ expressions making them vary their position randomly a given amount each second.

It’s abit different for me in that it’s…well, abit nice.  I therefore decided to ruin it for everyone by destroying any notions of beauty that may have cropped up by pointing out that colour’s only something that occurs in their heads ;0)

I had an idea to do a quick video of someone standing on a bridge on the southbank in London and conjuring up a spell in their hand which they’d then fire at the London Eye, destroying it.  I figured it’d be relatively easy to get some decent shots if I popped down there one day with my camera.  I could also go for a ride on the Eye and get some shots from inside overlooking the Thames.

Anyway, before doing all that I thought I’d have a practice.  With this one I have the emitter parented to a null object which travels in a circular path in 3D.  That has a wiggle expression to give it some random movement.   There’s also a light parented to the null which gives the particles some shading.   The whole particle layer is then parented to a motion track of the hand so that it moves as the hand moves.

There are optical flares attached to the lights and a spotlight pointing downwards from the orbiting null object.  This projects light onto a 3D copy of the hand layer on which I’ve keyed out the background so the light only falls on the hand.

The idea of destroying London landmarks must have stuck as I started working on this video of the BT tower exploding.  I’d shot some footage for this a while back so I thought I’d have a practice exploding something.  There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this one, although I did have a go at removing the noise on the video then reapplying it as an adjustment layer over all the elements to try and integrate them together a little better.  Not sure if it’s made much of a difference.

Tom Slatter at Kew Bridge Steam Museum 02

I’ve done a short new vid.  This incorporates some more footage of my brother playing at Kew Steam Museum as part of the Steampunk Exhibition that ran there this year.

I’d already done a vid of some of Tom’s songs in my previous blog post but I had a little more and decided to do another vid.  This time round I wanted to include some FX so we have Tom projecting the video into mid air using my steampunk gauntlet.

To do this I motion tracked the light in the palm of the gauntlet so that we had the x,y motion of the gauntlet however I also wanted the camera to pan around the video as it plays to show that it ‘really is’ hanging in mid-air.  There is 3D tracking software available but for this I simply keyframed a blank solid in after effects to rotate as the camera pans.

Once I had the motion down I dropped the video in.  I also added a distortion around the edge of the video which warped the background image of Tom.  The idea being that the projection worked by creating a forcefield in mid-air onto which the video image could be projected.  There’re also some particles falling out the bottom edge of the video.  Dunno what they represent, they just looked nice ;0)

The final parts were to grade the video and add some flashing lights to Tom’s face and the walls to make it look like the light from the video was interacting with the scene.  This was done with an adjustment layer and a wiggle expression varying the opacity of the layer several times a second.  There’s also a 3D camera pull in to the video of Tom playing.

We also took the opportunity to film the last few bits for our Krakomatic 5000 advert.  A fair bit to do on that still but here’s a quick pic of a Kraken being poked with a stick ;0)

Photo 03-11-2011 15 06 40

Tom Slatter at Kew Bridge Steam Museum

I forgot to mention that I did a quick video of my brother playing at Kew Bridge Steam Museum a few months ago.  This was part of the Steampunk Exhibition that was held there.

The vid’s abit rushed but it’s a nice setting for a gig – they had all the engines running so I ran about getting some shots of pistons etc to give the video some variety rather than just having a static locked off camera.  I also tried to shoot each song from a different angle then try to cut between the footage to give the impression of having multiple cameras on the go.  You can end up with the visuals not matching the audio, hopefully it doesn’t notice too badly though.  Again it’s preferable to simply having a single camera angle.


DSC_2992Got a few people along to pretend to be ghosts this weekend.  I’ve filmed ’em greenscreen and will be compositing them into some footage I shot when I was up in the Lake District recently.

This is going to be part of a small video ‘advert’ for the gun which we used for the Beast of the Air video, which we’ve dubbed the ‘Krakomatic 5000’ on account of it being used to kill kraken, see.

One section will feature some ghosts floating about, causing a nuisance as they’re wont to do.

The second part will have some shots of my brother rather ineffectually trying to kill a sky kraken with a giant fly swatter before ‘tooling up’ (in true 80’s montage stylee) with the Krakomatic 5000 and heading off to kick some serious cephalopod ass……actually do kraken even have an ass?


This is similar to the small ad we did for Slatters Electro Mechanical Personal Steam Powered Power Plant and Geist Goggles, the props from Spinning the Compass:

Tom’s done a voiceover similar to the one from this vid advertising the gun.  For some reason I thought he’d mentioned ghosts.  Turns out he hadn’t at all, but by that point I’d already done this test video for a demonic/ghosty face, sounded out some people about being said ghosts and come up with all sorts of ideas about ghosts.

The solution?  Make him re-record it,  but this time mentioning ghosts.

This vid was created using the Demon Face Warp tutorial from Video Copilot, so I intend to use the basics of that and some transparency effect for the ghosts.  So once I’ve done that we’ll have some ghosts knocking about,  occasionally screaming at the camera and doing various ghostly things.  Here’s a quick screen grab.  It’ll probably change abit as I refine my ghostly effects but you get the idea.


Space Stuff

Along with a billion other ideas that have been rattling about in my head and that may never get made, an idea for a short scifi film keeps popping up again and again.

I’ve always liked science fiction but in the last few years I’ve really got into science fact which in most cases is much more awe inspiring and I’ve even started studying a degree course.  Probably means I’m officially obsessed.

Anyway, something that’s really been inspiring me is the BBC’s Wonders of the Universe which also features the Adagio in D Minor from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (one of my favourite films).

I love this series – it’s not only an excellent documentary but the VFX are amazing and I’m sure I spotted a couple of Video Copilot lens flares in there ;0)

Anyway, having watched this so much it got me thinking about trying some of these sort of effects myself.   I also like the idea of including various real world astrological images such as Earth rise and Carl Sagan’s Pale blue dot.

The basic principle I have in mind would be following a spaceship leaving a dying Earth and travelling out into space in the hopes of finding another habitable planet.  Given the huge distances and thus travel times involved it would be a generational ship – it would be the initial astronauts grandchildren or great grandchildren that would eventually reach their destination, if they ever did.

As well as hopefully doing some cool space shots it also means I can scratch build some model spaceships a lá Star Wars which I’ve always wanted to do.  Although the models in Star Wars were shot using motion control rigs I think I can use motion tracking in Mocha to map backgrounds to the camera’s motion.  I just need to figure out a way to get some smooth camera panning shots.  You can buy rigs for that, but I think I can build a low-fi version using metal poles.  I think.

Anyway, because of this I’ve started having abit of an experiment in after effects to see how well I can pull off some nebula’s, planets and stars.  Here’re two short vids I’ve done in recent months.

One thing I have noticed is that you tend to lose a fair degree of detail once the vid’s on youtube.  That’s to be expected of course since they’re compressed, however particularly for space scenes I’ve found you lose details like background stars that are clearly visible in the full HD versions on my comp.

Since the primary way people will see any film I come up with will be online this is abit of a concern and it probably means I might to make such details more pronounced so they are more visible once they’re online.

T is for Tokophobia

DSC_2154So here’s a short flick from the diseased minds of James Pearcey and Russ Would of Ne’er Do Well Films, the guys behind To My Mother and Father.

I swear I didn’t come up with the idea for this, however whenever James wants to abuse a foetus I’m the guy he comes to.  In fact this was quite an attractive project as it gave me the opportunity to not only make a small rubber puppet (pictured to the left) but also to work on some After Effects shots.

The foetus/embryo/whatever it is was sculpted in chavant oil clay and I then made a small plaster mold.  It was cast in TinSil from Mouldlife and painted with their silicon pigments.

The After Effects shots weren’t too demanding luckily – they wanted to start on an extreme close up of a pregnancy test and then pull back to a wide shot at the beginning of the film and then zoom back in at the end of the film.  The zoom in was initially going to be to a piece of thread but was later changed to a puddle of blood.

I motion tracked the pregnancy test and added a red solid onto the pregnancy test within After Effects.  I then used a virtual camera to zoom in and out.  The end shot was stationary so that was very simple zoom in, again with a 3D camera.

Halfway through it turned out we were going to be shooting on 16mm and Stephen Murphy (who also worked on To My Mother and Father) would be the DP which was exciting as it’s given the film a very professional look.  It also meant I got the opportunity to work with some .dpx files which are a series of still frames taken from a digital scan of the film print rather than simple DV.  This is something I’ve not worked with before so it was a good experience and After Effects handled everything perfectly which was great although file sizes can get abit humongous.

So here’s the film.  I should warn you it’s pretty strong stuff (Tokophobia is a fear of becoming pregnant), but bare in mind it’s designed to push your buttons and freak you out.  To give it some context, this has been entered into the ABC’s of Death film competition so you’re not going to get a rom com and please do give it a vote here.