Spent the last two days making and playing with smoke bombs. The film opens with a huge explosion (which will be CG) and the survivors come running out of the smoke. Contrary to what people think I do prefer doing things practically when possible. I got on YouTube and found some great smoke bomb instructions and have been trying them out. The biggest issues I can see is that this scene takes place in the mountains, and the smoke bombs produce a lot of fire. I’ll need a way to shield the ground from all the flames. On the plus side, I spent just under 8 dollars on some supplies from the local hardware and grocery stores and that provides enough stuff to make four smoke bombs. At that kind of price, I can’t complain.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Let the new year begin. God willing, we’ll shoot Leap 3 this summer. I took another pass at the script recently and realized there were still a few things that needed to be changed to make the film what God wants it to be. It’s weird to think about, but this summer will mark five years since we started shooting Rise of the Beast and three years since I finished the first draft of the script, though the story has been around since I started writing Leap 2. Some people are confused, so let me clear it up: The Leap trilogy was always planned to be a trilogy. It was to start off in present day with Leap, and end with the second coming of Jesus at the end of part three. Initially, I just focused on the first movie. Once we had finished Leap, I wrote a story for both two and three simultaneously. So even as I wrote the script for part two, I had an idea where it was going to go in part three.
What we’re trying to do right now with this third movie is a huge undertaking. To keep costs down, I’m having to expand on my VFX skills so that I can remain a one man band for the whole of post-production. The irony is that when I was in high school, my initial interest in film was in VFX, and now here I am doing them for the movie. The software and computer power we have available today is incredibly insane. I have all the tools needed to make this movie, now I just have to harness it. The only thing working against me is time.
Because of what I’ll be able to do in post, I’m not too worried about that aspect. My biggest hurdle at the moment is just getting the movie shot. This time around, that’s going to cost some money. I absolutely must be able to pay the actors, it’s the only way I can reasonably expect them to take two to three weeks off from their normal jobs. When I did Rise of the Beast, I started to move forward 8 months before production. I proceeded in faith that God would give us exactly what we needed. I’ve been too afraid the past four years to do that again. But now, I have faith that the time is right to proceed. I’ve slowly been acquiring gear over the past year and thus far I’ve spent $600 on it. That’s three times the budget of Leap, and exactly the same budget as my first feature back in 2007.
Please continue to keep the movie your prayers. I’ve just finished the breakdowns based on the new script and will schedule the movie this week. Once that’s done, I’ll know how much I need to raise to cover the day rates for all the actors. I’ve seen God work miracles before, and now I’m trusting that He’ll do it again.
So much cool stuff going on, I just don’t know where to start, so please, pardon the randomness of this post.
That said, let’s start with some movie updates. At the start of summer, Alex, myself, and another friend got together to shoot a promo for my new web series, Becoming Bourne. The promo was a short film that showcased the real life skills that I’ll be teaching in the series. What’s really neat about the short, is that even though we used the same camera that we used on Leap 2, because I’ve had it for four years, I’ve really dialed in the settings and found the right picture styles and workflows to get a look that I’m happy with. Leap 2 was super contrasty, and it didn’t have a lot of detail. It looked like a DSLR. Four years later though, and now I can get an image that has a lot more perceived detail, and isn’t as contrasty, while emphasizing the blues and oranges. Due to the nature of the short film, it’s really what Leap 2 could of looked like if I knew what I was doing back then.
About a month ago, Alex and his wife came out and we shot a short film version of Derek, which if you follow this blog, you know is a supernatural Christian thriller about Ouija boards. This was a completely indoor shoot and allowed us to play with some controlled lighting, camera sliders, and some new effects techniques that I’ve been learning. Not wanting a real Ouija board in my house, we opted for a cutting board with tracking markers, allowing me to add the text to the board later. For the message indicator, there was the hero model, the puppet (an indicator on a stick) and we sometimes shot without an indicator, planning to do it completely CGI. We selected the best method for each shot based upon what needed to be accomplished.
While the shoot and initial edit went off without a hitch, I’ve been struggling with the effects. The first shot was okay and worked just like I thought, but the second, which is the first time we see the Ouija board has been a royal nightmare. The issue is tracking. Tracking is what allows you to insert other objects into a shot, such as the text on a Ouija board. Since it’s a simple plane, I tried a Mocha track first, but didn’t have enough detail on that plane to get a good track. Next I tried the built in 3D tracker in After Effects, but that threw a projection error of 3 pixels. I need that number to be less than one. I was thinking I was going to have to manually track the shot, which would really suck and look like rubbish, but today I decided to give it a go in Blender.
Blender is a 3D animation and compositing program that also happens to be free and open source. A few years ago, the company that makes it produced a live action, VFX heavy short film to make Blender a viable tool for artists like myself. One of the outcomes from that project was a 3D camera tracker. After setting up my track points, I ended up with a projection error of .3, which is incredible. Since I’m still more comfortable with the masking and compositing tools in After Effects, I decided to simply add a textured plane over the board with Blender, then render that out and do a Mocha track with the extra data the plane generates. To sum it up, I’m creating planar tracker data out of 3D track data.
So that process allows me to add the text to the board. Anyone familiar with Ouija boards knows that there’s times when the operators hands are on the indicator, obscuring the board partially. This unfortunately means roto work for me. Roto is literally going through and cutting out parts of the image, frame by frame, to overlay on top of the final shot in order to obscure parts of the composite. I found that the roto brush in After Effects worked particularly well for the arms of the actor, but failed with the indicator, as it was stained the same color as the board and there wasn’t enough separation for it to work.
Next, I tried the mask tracker in AE, but this too failed as there wasn’t enough separation. I was about to relegate myself to tracking the mask by hand, when I had a thought. There were a few points on the indicator that had some good contrast, and I thought maybe I could exploit them. I used the AE point tracker to track two points on the indicator. I then applied the position, rotation, and scale data to a null. Next I added a white solid and created a mask, taking my time to make it good. Then I parented the white solid to the track null. Finally, I used a luma track matte to act as a mask for the original footage of the indicator. It worked perfect! Within five minutes, I had essentially roto’d a seven second shot, that would of taken a few hours by hand.
It’s a very exciting time to be a filmmaker right now, all these tools are at your fingertips and crazy affordable. My Adobe subscription costs $50 a month, which is less than some people spend on coffee in the morning. Blender is free, and now Fusion (A Hollywood node-based compositor) is free too. Lately, this plethora of tools has caused me to look back at Linux and see how it’s been coming along. Four or five years ago, I was a diehard Linux user, but was upset that there weren’t any good tools for filmmaking available, other than a script writer. What few video apps that were around were even worse than iMovie. At the time, I ran Linux on my laptop, but had a dedicated desktop for editing that ran Windows and all my good software.
Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much when I started investigating Linux again just a month ago. However, I was extremely impressed by what I found. Linux filmmaking had come a long way in just a few short years. First, the video editing apps are starting to grow up and become stable. The most capable for narrative film work being Lightworks, which has been used on loads of Hollywood films. But even for basic YouTube videos, Kdenlive and Shotcut will do the job fine. Of course, for VFX there’s Blender which has really become a capable compositor in it’s own right, and GIMP for image manipulation. Since I pay for Adobe, I found a portable version of Photoshop CS6 that runs perfect under WINE, so I would probably use that instead.
I’m extremely excited by what I’m seeing on the Linux side, and if the Linux of today was around five years ago, there’s a very good chance I never would of gone with Adobe and would be a fulltime Linux filmmaker today. Right now, I’m just more comfortable with the Adobe tools, but I am trying to broaden my horizons and start playing with other software. I’m secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hoping to make the switch back to Linux eventually, and if I could just learn the tools as well as I have the Adobe stuff, I’d be good to go. To help with this, I may try recreating a scene from Derek, using nothing but what I have on Linux and seeing if I can get the same results, and how easy or difficult those results are to achieve. Time will tell.
Friday, August 8, 2014
So here we go. I guess you can say that today was officially the first day of filming of “Leap: Revelation”. I’m in Michigan for the ASI convention and the architecture around here is amazing. I wish I had brought my T2i with me, but I didn’t, so I’ve been using the Filmic Pro app on my iphone to shoot some establishing shots. They look amazing straight out of camera, but they’ll look even better by the time I finish adding some subtle effects. I can’t believe we’re finally getting going. It’s hard to believe that when I shot the first Leap five years ago that the iphone had barely been out two years and was a far cry from the powerful tool it has become today. My iphone 5 can shoot full HD and with Filmic Pro I can shoot at 24p. Works for me!
Sunday, February 16, 2014
The past six months have been super crazy. Lot’s of work, traveling for work, traveling to speak and still trying to figure out how I’m going to get the funds to do Leap 3. It’s almost starting to feel like there’s just not enough time to do it all, and that sucks.
Looking at the news as of late, I’m more convinced than ever that I need to make Leap 3. But how? The message of this film is too important to take lightly. I’ve been saying that all along, but today it really hit me for the first time. When I think back to 2009, the first Leap was all fun and games. We had a blast doing it, and the story was just parkour and some Bible studies. With Leap: Rise of the Beast, things began to get a bit more serious. We showed a possible outcome for how the Sunday laws might come about, and some of the dangers of speaking out against them.
Now, on Leap: Revelation, the seriousness of the topics is almost overwhelming to me. The story picks up in the middle of Rise of the Beast and continues through the Second Coming. We now see why the Sabbath is important as the seven last plagues are poured out onto the earth. We explore the issues of family in the final days. But most importantly, we blatantly ask the questions, “Are you ready for Jesus to return?” “Have you had a heart conversion?” “Are you worthy to enter into the Holy City?”
I think that if we are honest with ourselves, and stop to think about this, we would have to admit that the most truthful answer is no, we’re not ready. Fortunately, there is still time, but not much. And that is why I want to make this film. To make people think and ask these questions of themselves.
This project is a lot for one person to take on and my help is limited. Twinkle has a child now and is busy with motherhood. Kim has moved to the Midwest and is busy with school. God, in His grace, has since brought me some help in the form of Laura. She is a vocal artist and may be traveling soon, but she is willing to help as she can. Our first endeavor was to go over the script with a fine-tooth comb and look for problem areas that don’t match up with scripture or the inspired writings. She has brought up some really good points so now I have the task of figuring out how to incorporate them.
The world needs a film like this, that remains truthful to the source and what will happen, without pulling any punches. The Left Behind remake is coming out soon, as is the Noah movie. Both are bastardizations of the Bible and fuels my desire to make Leap 3 even more. What is sad though is that in order to compete, money is needed, and money is something I don’t have a lot of. My initial budget was sitting around $100k, but that was for what would still amount to a backyard film. The more I think about it, the more I think we really need $500k to attract the talent needed to pull the film off.
If anyone reading this has any ideas how to raise this kind of funding, please let me know. This burden to share the truth is growing heavier with each day and we know that time is short.
Thank you for reading, and God bless,
Thursday, July 11, 2013
I realize I’ve been quiet for a while, so here’s what I’ve been up to:
We’ve postponed this movie for another year. I took a job working at Laymen Ministries doing film and video work with them. This job will allow me to start to getting to know some people like Doug Batchelor, Ivor Myers, and Stephen Bohr. I refuse to do this movie like we did the last one- on pocket change and in free time. The subject is so important that it needs the right treatment and I’m hoping to be able to do that next summer. God knows.
Back in April, after nine months of God placing it on my heart, I was finally asked to preach a full sermon at church. I loved it, and by God’s grace I was asked to preach again in June, the end of July and also in August now too! When He opens the doors, he throws them wide open! Due to these engagements, much of my free time is spent studying and writing. I enjoy it though.
I really miss Montana, so I’m glad that I get to go back once a month and speak. The unfortunate part is that I haven’t been able to shoot the next part of my survival series yet like I promised. I feel terrible about that, but hopefully I’ll do it soon. Since I’m living in Spokane again, I’ll do it at Liberty Lake where the first few were shot, but I’ll stick to my new rules of not taking any gear. Then, I’ll see if I can’t get in a trip to Montana this winter and do the winter episode with the same rules.
So that’s the scoop on El Director.
Last week was one of the most difficult weeks I’ve experienced in some time. We’re in the middle of our Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Leap 3 at the moment (and not doing too well either) so Satan has already been coming after me and trying to get me down. Bringing up issues from my past that I thought had long been burried, telling me that it’s useless to make a movie like this, that I need to make the normal Christian drama if I want success, and hammering on the fact that I really want the companionship of a wife and eventually a family. Last week, it was all the above, but times ten.
I believe the reason was that I was finally asked to preach at church yesterday, so last week was spent preparing. So now, I’m not only making a movie the devil hates, but I’m preaching the Great Controversy theme which exposes how he works. I spent most of the week feeling inadequate and unqualified to be taking the pulpit on Sabbath. The spiritual battle was intense. At one point, I even considered stepping down. I mean, who am I to preach to a congregation? But, I knew that God had called me and opened the doors for me, so I needed to do it regardless.
Nerves and stage fright had nothing to do with it, I’m quite comfortable speaking in front of people and I rather enjoy it. It literally wasn’t until five minutes before I walked up front Sabbath morning that I finally felt God’s Spirit and I knew it would all work out. Not only did it work out, but went better than I imagined it could.
I had a few technical issues with my clicker but the presentation went smooth and afterwards people told me how much they got out of it. When this started to happen, I remembered something that Christian Berdahl had told me over the summer: When people praise him for his singing or preaching, he always redirects the glory to God. So I did the same. I had nothing to do with the preaching, I just asked God to use me. So when people told me what they thought, I’d say, “Praise God”, or “Praise the Lord”. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge adrenaline junkie, I love getting the juice going. Let me tell you, I have had some good rushes in my life but few come close to the rush of preaching the Gospel. It was incredible and I’m hooked. I pray that God opens up more opportunities for me to preach. Even if I’m under spiritual attack the whole time, it’s worth it.
I had set up one of my video cameras in the corner and recorded the sermon with the intent of adding the nice audio recording and the exported PowerPoint slides to the final video to upload to my site. It took just a few hours, rendered last night and uploaded this morning. Since I had stolen the message from Pastor Ivor, I tagged him in the video on facebook. He then shared it on his wall and I had two more shares come from there. On top of that, one guy started messaging me and we got to talking. Turns out that he has a dropbox account full of presentations he’s collected from speakers or put together himself. I sent him my version of “The Blueprint”, as well as “The Beast and the Mark”. I had a few new youtube subscribers come through too.
Overall, this experience was fantastic and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Here’s the sermon that’s going around on facebook now.