Monday, November 26, 2001

What Can Become Of Me?

Submitted by Richard Yard

What becomes of a person when they have the hunger and passion for something that seems so genuine to them? What becomes of a person when his love for entertainment makes him strive for bigger and better things? What becomes of a person when his family and friends do not give him the support he needs and deserves? What becomes of a person when his age determines if he is taken seriously or not?

This is how life is presented to me in the entertainment field. I am a very talented individual but there are many obstacles in my way. I know these are obstacles that I must find a way around if I'm going to be successful. My love is for entertainment, and it doesn't start and end with directing, it includes acting, urban dance, writing, and cinematography.

I've loved the entertainment industry for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until middle school when I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. People laughed and didn't give me the support that I needed. The only people I could turn to help me were my close friends. They seemed into the idea of writing and making a horror movie, so much so that they took up the offer with no hesitation. Soon everything was moving forward and seemed to be going well. We even started on our first movie, Satan's Secretary. I put lots of time and hard work into the film, but right before my eyes my career with my friends disappeared. They seemed to lose interest as we progressed, just as I was gaining interest. I guess that was what blinded me.

Then came life after I got into Hightower High School. Hightower is a special school that specializes in media, digital graphics, engineering, and medical science. I had to apply by filling out papers and a survey. I was overjoyed when I got the news that I was accepted. Hightower's Media Academy gives us hands on experience with equipment that movie directors, television stations, film editors, and many others use. During my freshman year, we produced a high quality news program every other day. Now as a sophomore, we put together news packages where we have to film the story, edit it, create audio tracks, and much more. During the next two years, we'll shoot short films, talk shows, and other programs. We'll also team up with CNN to produce various news segments for future broadcast.

At high school, I've gotten together with two other students that are as dedicated to film as I am. We started our own production company where we made several short films and had plans for a feature. Currently, we are moving in a different direction, but I'm still trying to gain experience in the film and television industry. As an individual, I have decided to move on to bigger and better things with or without the support of my family and friends. I've started writing a sitcom and plan to film it once the script is complete. I'm also going to start writing my first feature film. I'm currently working on several music videos in order to expand my knowledge of cinematography.

As of right now, I plan to go solo with my writing and directing. I've been trying to get my foot in the door at several production companies so I can gain some more insight into everything that goes on in the world I love. I feel that no one but myself can hold me back. I love the entertainment world so much, that even though some people look down on me, I refuse to hide my talent from the world. So everyone better watch out, because I'm right behind you.

Motion Capture at Red Eye Studio

Submitted by Maggie Bohlen

Camera! Rolling! Action!

Red Eye Studio is the Midwest's premier motion capture studio, designed to fulfill every animator's need, whether it be for film, television, video games, broadcast, medical, educational, or research and development.

Red Eye Studio recently finished work for a video game project, Hunter: The Reckoning for the Xbox™ video game system from Microsoft. Developed by High Voltage Software, Inc. for Digital Mayhem based on the popular license from White Wolf Publishing, Inc., Hunter: The Reckoning is scheduled to ship Q1, 2002.

In this article we would like to give you an idea of what it took to plan and execute the motion capture work for projects like Hunter: The Reckoning.

Every project, no matter what the medium requires planning, and the pre-production work for a motion capture shoot is vital to its success. After successfully bidding and obtaining the contract for a shoot the studio begins working with the lead artist or the director of the project. During the setup and contracting phase the client defines the involvement required by the studio. In the case of the Hunter: The Reckoning project we were called upon to assist in finding the talent for the shoot. The lead artist on the project worked closely with the studio to provide input on the personality of each character where motion capture was needed. The first challenge for the studio is finding the talent, which not only meets the physical requirements of the character but the personality as well. We find that sometimes the best performers are the artists themselves. They have a vision as to how their character should behave, how they should move. We have found that the artists prove to be great performers as they bring their vision of the character to life. Although sometimes we wonder if it might have something to do with wanting to suit up in tight fitting spandex suits with reflective markers. It does give us the opportunity for some great blackmail pictures.

The shot list is another important part of the pre-production work. The stage space and the cameras must be set up based on the types of moves the client wishes to capture. If the client needs someone climbing stairs, we bring in the stairs and position the cameras so we can be sure that the performer is caught at every point on the staircase. If we decide to fly a performer through the air on a jerk harness, or push them off a cliff, we rehearse the move in advance, to be sure that on the day of the shoot we have covered all the challenges we may encounter with a difficult move.

The studio staff and the performer are all briefed on the shoot; and we have a rehearsal with the director to insure that all parties know what to expect on the day of the shoot.

On shoot day the team arrives to calibrate the system, the performer is there early to be suited up, and to have the markers attached and then calibrated. The calibration process on our Vicon 8 system calculates the camera positions and orientations relative to each other and to an origin and set of axes. We have 16 Vicon Mcams, which are million pixel resolution cameras that can capture data up to 240 frames per second. Once the calibration has been completed the system and the team are ready to go when the director arrives. Of course, if we need to pamper the talent or the director, we are quite happy to step up to the task. Flowers, candy, a latte or two and we should be on our way.

The shot list is the bible for the day; the studio team works with the director to capture every move. Each shot is performed two to three times by the actor and the director will identify the best shot. The studio team will check shots through out the day to insure that all data looks good, and is clean. We need to be sure that no major markers fall off the performer during shooting. We do have the ability to clean data and replace markers that are missing, but if we feel that the move is questionable and appears to look robotic or unnatural, the shot will be redone. We have the chance to be a little creative in motion capture; unique character movement or props play an important role in the shoot. For example, if a person needs to simulate being shot, we suit the performer up in a jerk vest and we pull the performer's body part being shot to simulate the bullet impact. We have even had the fun adventure of motion capturing an iguana!

Any props are built to weigh and handle roughly the same as the real items. This way when you capture someone handling a fifty-pound weapon, the body reacts appropriately. We did one shot where the actor needed to lift a dead man's face to a retina scanner to gain entry into a secure area. We had one of our cam eramen pose as a dead body in order to get the most lifelike, well deathlike shot.

After all the shots have been taken another phase of the shoot begins. The studio's next step is to process the data and perform tracking or clean-up. During the tracking process the studio team will review each shot that the director identified as best. Any gaps in the move will be corrected and each move will be checked for any noise. The noise is not due to a big band sound, but unnatural spikes in the performer's movement. All moves go through a quality control process, where we apply the movement to a character insuring that any possible problems are caught before sending the data to the client. Our studio will deliver an average of 140 to 150 moves per week back to the client.

When not working with a client, the studio team takes some ideas for motion capture and tests those ideas out. The picture below is a result of one of those ideas. We had a guitarist come in to play for us. We applied three-millimeter markers to his hands, and then applied that same size to his face. In total there were 120 markers on the performer, including the guitar. We used all sixteen cameras and positioned them to focus on specific parts of the body.

If you would like to contact Red Eye Studio for further information, price quotes, or some sample data, please feel free to contact Maggie Bohlen at 847.843.2438.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad TV World!

Submitted by Bill the Rake

We finally went down to brave the teenage riot of fans who attend the taping of Mad TV. I'd seen a lot of Mad TV shows that even the cast would agree were pretty crappy, but this night was one of shear hi...hi...hilarity. The kids practiced their favorite impersonation of Will Sasso doing "Arnuld" or rapped about the show, hoping it would get back to Quincy Jones, one of the executive producers. Each actor is amazingly versatile and strong at portraying their satirical victims.

Watching the eccentric crew members was as entertaining as the sketches or the audience members. One wardrobe guy looked like an inebriated extra in Spinal Tap with his shoes untied. The directors even pick audience members to star in certain sketches. But as much fun as we had, the crew had just as much fun watching the audience. They seemed bored while shooting the scenes and were happy to get back at gawking at the audience.

Mad TV is videotaped before a live audience in Hollywood at the old Monogram Studios of Howard Hughes, James Cagney, Desilu, and Beverly Hillbillies fame, now known as the Hollywood Center Studios. It's the same spot where Comedy Central tapes The Man Show.

All of these shows are basically the same, with three cameras in a square, two story high, wooden barn. If you've watched the show, the closing shot is on the left, and the special guest/musical act is on the right. On this particular night, the guest was "Kenny Rodgers" portraying "Lemmy from Motorhead." The rest of the space is divided into separate stables for each scene that is taped that night. The audience is seated in the middle surrounded by two stables on each side. This allows for the taping of up to seven separate scenes with a real audience response.

Mad TV is the Henry Ford factory system of television production, belting out two shows every other week with just one audience. They've produced over seven-hundred shows since it's debut in 1993. Their rival, Saturday Night Live, has to tape in front of the same audience each week, which for some reason the Mad TV writers like to make fun of in their sketches. Mad TV is on Fox on Saturday nights and TNN on weekday nights.

One thing about seeing a live taping of a television show is that the magic is tarnished when you see the mistakes and the actors in three-dimensions. You may dream that Will Sasso can literally kick the rock's ass, but when you see that he's shorter and fatter than the rock, you know that's not going to happen. You see Alex Borstein and realize how tall she's not, but that she's still cute as a pear. Alex Borstein doesn't give credit to anything on her resume. If you're that gal that has a crush on Michael McDonald with regards to his "Rusty" or "Stuart" characters, you won't when you realize he's taller than the boom stand and older than "Rusty" and "Stuart" combined. Michael McDonald put down on his resume that he was a Roger Corman extra. You also realize that Debra Wilson is not a crack addict in real life, she's just hyper. But all in all, it's just as funny and you do get to see the outtakes when Aires "Brittany" Spears' mixer bowl falls off his head when he's portraying Belma, his fat black lady character.

The scene the audience guest starred in was a spoof of The Price Is Right. Mo Collins played that weird lady from Minnesota (Lady Lorraine) who goes on The Price Is Right. After viewing Lady Lorraine's hind quarters climbing down to The Price Is Right podiums, the audience got to see Debra Wilson's tube top fly off as she jumped for joy, mocking an actual The Price Is Right episode. Another thing about the taping is that you get to see the vulgarities and the outtakes. The kids like the vulgarities. Mad TV. Oh my gawd, it's a mad, mad, mad, Mad TV world.

Monday, November 12, 2001

So You Wanna Be a Filmmaker?

Submitted by Herk

What is this movie about?

Americans love a bargain. Not only do they want their money's worth, you better give them a hardy discount to boot. So if they're going to spend nine bucks hard earned and invest two hours on a certain Saturday night to catch a movie, you better not go cheap on the trimmings.
In the end, Americans are willing to pay for the perception they're getting nine dollars worth of entertainment, even if the final product may turn out to be only nine dollars worth of packaging. Movies today have higher production values than movies in the past. Consequently, "film criticism" today is not anymore about film as fine art, it's about whether or not you'll get cheated out of your nine bucks and two hours spent on a Saturday night. Movies have become commodities, as all art eventually will become. As everything will eventually become.

Yet there are forces at work where this makes sense and why it must be so. Fact is, film is a collaborative art and a financial reality to be reckoned with. If you're a person dying to become a filmmaker and you can't accept that, then don't go into filmmaking. Unlike a painter or an author, you can't say "I will make my film. I will realize my vision. Audience be damned."

Film is the most expensive art form and the collaboration of many talented people - many paid talented people. So what to do? Executive producers must finance a film understandably with prospects of at least recouping their money if even a little profit. We are not living the salad days of wealthy aristocratic patrons supporting the arts. Even way back when, there weren't any wealthy patrons willing to pay for food catering, for key grips, script supervisors, and fat cameramen. Film is grounded in an economic reality and any potential filmmaker not also rooted in this reality should find another vocation.

And there is no shortage of self-pitying, misunderstood artist-types who insist on their god-given right to dip ceremoniously into other people's hard earned cash to realize their "brilliant script." Any rejection of course is met by bitter complaints that "conglomerates" have become too commercial. "They're not interested in art," they say "They're only interested in the bottom line." So back they go flipping burgers. Let's see how easy it is for them to pluck down a couple million for their so called inherent right to express. As long as it is not their money who gives a damn, right?

Who is a filmmaker?

The expression of a filmmaker is through the medium, not through a "story." Any filmmaker more fascinated by the subject of his film than the filmmaking process itself, has committed the sin of reducing film to less than its medium - a sin akin to those annoying people who, unable to use chopsticks, stab at their food and then shove it into their mouths. Poetry is not prose, radio drama is not theater. So theater is not cinema. Cinema is told in images, the manipulation of which is its own unique "dialog." Or, as Uncle Hitchcock said, "We're dealing in pictures here! These words, get rid of them!" That's why most wannabes with a "brilliant script" (usually about their domestic life) don't qualify as true filmmakers and why they're never financed. And that is why as brilliant a gift Woody Allen or David Mamet has for dialog, visionary filmmakers they are not and their movies are scarcely watched by the mainstream.

A filmmakers' first allegiance is not to the "story" but to the storytelling. How will he tell the story? Through images? What angle? Through sound? Through dialog? Through editing? That is the work of the true filmmaker. Let these works be brought to life through their original medium, and we will have a much happier, less schizoid society.

If you are unwilling to sacrifice for your vision, then your film was not worth making and probably not worth seeing. In the end, those who want to be filmmakers will become filmmakers, and those who truly want to realize their vision will.

Life will imbue the gifts and the circumstances to realize true burning desires.