Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Valley of the Shadow

This screenshot shows the main valley in which most of my film will take place. That distant village is Sinister’s parent’s town. We are looking through a mountain pass that is the main road to this village on the edge of the wilderness. This entire set is built to scale, a few miles across, but the resolution imported into Maya is low, about 200,000 poly triangles. Patches of higher-level terrain will be brought in anywhere close to the camera. The master high-res version is a Mudbox file, which is a nice sculpting package that pushes and pulls surfaces like clay. I tried Vue, which has a realistic terrain generator, but it was too realistic. I need to stylize this landscape so that every design conceit is congruent, from characters to props to terrain and atmospherics.

For you Maya geeks out there I included a shot of my modeling shelf across the top so you can see what tools I use.

After I “scout” a shot of the film, animating the camera through this low-res version of the landscape, I add simple geometry for the set dressing and then reference each of those proxies out to separate Maya files so I can construct the models in context and then reuse them in other shots.

Let me just say that I’m as giddy as a virgin on prom night, finally able to render this monstrosity in 3D after restraining myself for so long while I engaged in over five years worth of 2D pre-vis work. I think it will pay off, since I know what I’m doing now. When I initially started the project, I got excited and made dozens of props and sets in 3D before I even had a style guide. None of that early work can be used, now, since the look of the film has solidified to something completely different than what I first had envisioned. That’s okay, though, I chalk it all up as a good learning experience.

The anticipation was worth it, because I’m having a blast finally constructing the world that I’ve spent so much time dreaming about. This is the honeymoon before the headache; soon I’ll be butting up against the limits of my processing power, and then the rabid quest for hardware upgrades will begin.

Till then, I dream in low-res.

On WinAmp at the moment: Tomahawk’s Mit Gas.

Stay Sinister, y'all. Serious up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

One for the Weirdos

If I’ve seemed disturbingly quiet these last couple weeks, it’s only because my daughter McKenna was born August 19th. Now I’m a Daddy twice over. This puts a little pressure on finishing the film within a couple years: before she’s old enough to notice my negligence! Seriously, though, she’s awfully cute. I’m thinking of modeling her ... there’s a baby in my film.

During all the birth-day hubbub I managed to show my Father-In-Law the story reel. He’s a Bishop, so it was interesting to get his insight on a film such as mine that deals with large moral issues. He noticed right away the religious and mythological influences. To my great relief, he seemed to genuinely enjoy it. I worried a man of the cloth might take offense seeing that there’s an evil priest in the story. This fact had provoked concern among some who had previously viewed it. Believe it or not, for every archetype you exploit you’ll find a few offended by it, and even more worried that it might offend others! In fact, you’ll find far more people worried about offending others than actual offended people! I vote that, as storytellers, we stay above the fray. Our job is to tell stories that delight, inspire and provoke. Provocation is essential for effective audience engagement, so don’t shy from it. Unfortunately, this means people will be offended. That’s part of it. To avoid being offensive is to avoid engaging your audience.

One fellow at work expressed his displeasure in the story, citing that it cast “normals” in a bad light. He considered himself a “normal.” That was an unusual take on it, and has provoked much rumination on my part. Mainly, I’m amazed that someone exists who considers himself a “normal.” We’re all weird, aren’t we? Or don’t we all assume we’re weird? How does one identify himself as “normal,” when there’s no such thing outside of a storybook archetype? I think it’s a cultural universal, the fear of weirdness, both within and in others. This lends Sinister a potentially universal appeal. That is, I think the same ratio of people are bound to like it across cultures and demographics. And probably as many will hate it. My only hope is that I can find key people that support it among the elite demographic that can get it produced and distributed. After that, who cares who likes it? I know the occasional weirdo will, and that’s enough for me.

This one’s for the Weirdos! And McKenna, who’s normal.