Rubbery

tinsil01This is probably a little boring unless you’re into such things, however I’ve been testing the new rubber I bought – I didn’t want to cast up anything without having a go with it first.  Some types of silicon are inhibited from setting by certain materials so it’s a good idea to get used to using them first before you try anything major – you don’t want to turn your mold into a huge gooey mess and waste £xxx of rubber in the process (this  stuff ain’t cheap).

Luckily Tinsil seems pretty good stuff.  It’s a little less viscous than the old stuff I was using which makes it a little easier to mix and inject into the mold.  The colourant is also really good.  I had been using a combination of talcum powder and makeup powder to make the rubber opaque and give it a flesh tint, however the colourant makes the rubber completely opaque and flesh coloured with a small amount which is great.  It also seems to act in the same way as the previous silicon I was using which means I can carry on using the same method to paint and glue it which is also great.

Next step is to give the Platsil Gel I’ve bought a go.  This stuff is apparently a little more picky about what it chooses to react with.  It’s also very quick setting (about 6 minutes) rather than the 12+ hours for the ‘condensation cure’ silicons I’ve been using.

Avatar

This is a slight departure for me in that I usually only write about my own projects, and this isn’t exactly a review, but I went to see Avatar for a second time yesterday (courtesy of the lovely people at Dolby) and a few thoughts occurred so I may wallpaper_04_1280x1024as well write them down here, this is a blog after all and it was James Cameron (and more specifically Stan Winston) who got me interested in the whole field of special effects in the first place.

Specifically it was the Terminator which I saw when I was ten at a friends birthday party that did it (yes I know it was an 18 at the time ! ;0). We also saw Creep Show II which gave me nightmares, but I was absolutely fascinated by the scene in the Terminator where he repairs himself. I couldn’t believe someone had actually built, not only the robot, but also a replica Arnie too.

I enjoyed Avatar perhaps even more than I did the first time around and having read a few reviews I wanted to comment on the criticisms of the plot.  Mostly to say that I agree – the plot is Dances with Wolves in Space, or Pocahontas (Smurfahontas) etc etc, but (for me at least, and I think for many people) that doesn’t matter.

Later Cameron and Winston productions (T2 and Aliens) cemented my interest in SFX along with Predator (also a Stan Winston film) and Alien, Robocop, even Alien 3.

Now what do all these have in common?  Namely that it’s the production design and special effects that make or break them.  Now you could argue that they have to – ‘these worlds don’t exist, you have to create them’. A case in point is Predator.  The production actually stopped filming once the initial alien design failed and they were left with what was basically a fairly standard eighties action film set in a jungle.  Then Stan Winston got involved (interestingly it was apparently James Cameron who suggested that the creature should be given mandibles) and transformed the film into a cult sci-fi classic.  The quality of the special effects lifted an otherwise humdrum film to be much more than it otherwise could have been.

Similarly with Alien – would we have heard of that film if it hadn’t had HR Geigers staggeringly, well alien designs?  Ridley Scott’s sets helped of course ;0)  But my point is if it hadn’t had those two things it would probably live in the bargain bin priced at £2 and still be called Star Beast.

Describing Avatar – it’s about these twelve foot tall blue elves who live in a giant tree right…? – sounds ridiculous but it’s a testament to the quality of the FX that the incredible is portrayed so credibly.  The CGI is actually astonishing, for the avatar-neytiri-wallpapers_16285_1920x1200most part completely photoreal – it really does look like they went and filmed in actual jungle locations.  If you haven’t seen it yet I really do recommend you make an effort to catch in the cinema, it simply won’t be quite the same on DVD or Blu-ray.

There’re alot of bad special effects out there (you only need to scroll down this blog to see some examples ;0) but when they’re done well they make a film much more than it otherwise could be.   There’s no substitute for the story of course, but I say they can turn an otherwise familiar narrative into much more.

So it is with Avatar, yes the plot’s familiar, yes you’ll instantly recognise the walking robot suits, drop ships and space marine stereotypes of Aliens (so much so that my brother swears it’s set in the same universe), but the production design, the special effects and the world are realised in such a believable way that you can happily lose yourself in the world of Pandora for 2 hours 40 minutes and even take comfort in the fact that the plot delivers everything you expect it to.  And that’s the power of good special effects.

Teef

I’ve made a cast of my teeth!  Why you ask?  Why not?!

It’s actually because I thought that at some point I’d like to make some makeup which includes fake teeth so I bought some dental trays so I could have a practice.  You simply fill them with alginate and whack them in your gob.

Green Screen

Had a comment about this on my previous post so thought I’d put abit of info in on green screen. Everything herein is pretty much self taught as I’ve not really been able to find much info on chroma-key (as it’s also known) so I’m sure there’s plenty of omissions, but here goes…..

So first off you need a green screen. My first attempt involved painting some boards green with the brightest green paint that my nearest DIY store could mix. Despite being a cheapo option this actually worked!….well, kinda. Here’s a still from my first stop motion animation ‘Real 10‘.

OK, so doesn’t look too bad?  Well actually this will be (and was) a pain to get to work.  Obviously there’s a large section to the right which the green screen doesn’t cover.  This isn’t actually as much of a problem – I routinely place masks over chroma key shots (i.e. placing a green section of image over the area to cover the section).  These are usually .pngs as the images allow you to have transparent areas within the image, allowing the section you want to keep to show through.

The problem with the rest of the image is the shadows and uneven shades of green across the image.  The bottom is much darker than the top.  I ended up having to repair the greenscreen frame by frame in photoshop for this shot, which isn’t ideal – it’s rather time consuming.

The key to getting shots ot work is to make sure you have an even colour across the background so that the computer can easily eliminate it and replace it with the background shots you want.

A background with a flat background colour will make it easier for the computer to isolate the green screen sections.

The main way to achieve this is decent lighting. I used halogen security lights on my first animation.  These are good because they’re cheap, however they also do not produce even levels of light – as the element heats up the colour they emit changes and the levels fluctuate.  Because of this one frame of your animation will be brighter or a slightly different colour than the others.  You end up with a flickering effect when the frames are played back.

I’m now using photography lights which seem much better, though they are a little more expensive.  I’ve also got a fabric greenscreen and stand which can be had from ebay for about £100.

The last thing you need is some software.  I’m currently using Pinnacle Studio which is abit of a cheapo program, but it does combine the chroma key tool with an editing interface.  Adobe After Effects will also do the job.  I’m sure there’re others.

Here’s a short video showing some of the green screen elements for my animation Real 10:

Greetings

Ok, so after literally minutes of trying to tinker with this thing so it’ll fit into the front page of my website, I have admitted defeat and instead decided to have it as a separate page.

It’s partly that I lack the programming skills and patience to alter it sufficiently and also a degree of arrogance on my part that I can make websites fairly well on my own and don’t need to rely on pre-made blog templates.  So ner.

Nevertheless I have to admit that alot of these blog based websites look rather cool and do stuff that I have no idea how to.  They also give you access to a wide audience, who, maybe, will be interested in my rantings and ravings.

Therefore, welcome to my blog.  This will detail the various projects I’m currently working on.  At the minute there seems to be quite a few, so I’m going to do a few posts about each one to fill this in with something worth reading.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I spend most of my time working on models and SFX projects, so that’s what I’ll be waffling about.  Mostly.