Week 4: New Episode Coming Soon

16 02 2010

New Episode On It’s Way

The next episode of Reacharound Clubhouse has taken quite a while to get here.  By that, I’m not referring to the time that has passed since our last episode (it’s been some time since new material has aired).  I mean that the new episode is made up entirely of footage that was shot in the summer of 2007.  The episode will be a 25-minute short film called “The Surprise” which has been waiting for a nice edit for nearly 3 years, lying dormant in my external drives.  It’s one of three films shot that summer that will eventually be cut for various purposes, along with a 40-minute film called “The Middle Man” and another untitled film about a reclusive young man who decides to venture out into the real world.  “The Middle Man” was started in the summer of 2006, but shooting wasn’t anywhere near completion until a year later.  It’s plot is extremely convoluted, but it involves a mysterious necromancer, a briefcase, zombies, a beach, lots of death, and plenty of unnecessary twists – all the typical student filmmaker stuff.  All three films, without consciously intending it, are parodies of the action, thriller, and film noir genres.  Perhaps they’ll all be featured on Reacharound Clubhouse in the near future…

The Surprise” is the action film.  We basically shot it without any script and completely out of order, piecing together whatever stereotypical plot elements of an action movie we could think of.  Also, I should mention that it’s primarily a lightsaber battle, so it’s got that going for it.  There’s no explanation of how these two high school guys managed to get their hands on lightsabers, you just need to accept it and move on.

I found the 4 1/2 hours of footage and realized how amusing it is to cut together old material… it’s often much funnier than you remember after you haven’t seen it in three years.  The whole thing was shot in about 4 or 5 afternoons, with costumes provided by a local second hand store.  Like I said, we didn’t bother with thinking the story through ahead of time, so the “plot” moves randomly and certainly doesn’t have any real purpose, moral or aesthetic.  I recommend shooting this way, though, at least once.  It allows the actors the chance to improvise with the knowledge that the entire story could change depending on what they say next.  Nothing is set in stone, so it’s a very free and exciting way to make a movie.

Special Effects

If you’re not familiar with the lightsaber effect (used originally in the Star Wars movies, of course), it’s created through a process called “rotoscoping.”  That refers to going through every frame in which an effect appears and coloring something in, outlining something, or otherwise creating the look you want.  When the frames are all played together, the resulting animation looks as though you shot a scene with the effects there.  With lightsabers, you create a layer that covers up the placeholder that you use for your lightsaber.  In our case, we just went to the toy aisle at a WalMart and bought toy lightsabers.  Unfortunately, they’re shorter and fatter than sabers that appear in Star Wars, but that’s alright.  The program I’m using is Adobe After Effects CS4 , which is one of the industry leaders in effects software.  It’s terrible complex and overly-capable (like Flash CS4), but once you figure out how you can accomplish what you need to get done, you’re good.  Luckily, I’ve been using After Effects for about 6 years, so I’m not putting myself through a crash course the way I am with Flash.

The program has an effect called “beam” that I intended to use back when I shot the film.  It’s the same effect that I used to create (really awful) laser effects for the short film “Lasers” in which Daniel Posey flips out and starts wreaking havoc when he discovers that his sandwich can shoot lasers.

“Lasers” from Reacharound Clubhouse

Instead of animating the laser moving along a horizontal path, though, I thought I could keep it still in the air and just match it to the path of the lightsaber frame-by-frame.  It turns out that there is a much more realistic method to use, which I am currently putting into the film.  Basically, you create a solid layer that is the color white, then use a mask that reveals this layer in the exact shape of the lightsaber in every frame.  Copy that mask about six times and use an array of feathering (at levels 1, 10, 30, 60, 120, and 240) to simulate the look of an object that emits light.  Then, tint the whole effect the desired color of the lightsaber.  You’ll get a solid white core and a colored light surrounding it.  I felt that this looked much better than the laser effect, so I’m going with it, despite the fact that a 3-second shot takes about 45 minutes to create.  If there are two lightsabers in the shot, you’re looking at twice as much time.  This is a huge setback to production, but the effect is cool enough that it’s worth it.

More on “The Surprise”

The film stars Nick Miller and Brad Sova, who deliver very amusing performances.  Several other people serve as extras, but the vast majority of the movie is just Nick and Brad locked in heated combat.  Watch for allusions to every action movie you’ve ever seen.  “The Surprise” is overflowing with cheesiness, so just enjoy it.  We’re not apologizing.  Again, it was shot completely out of order, so there are many transitions of location that are shaky.  You’ll see some jump cuts and you’ll probably notice arms/legs/eyes/etc. that aren’t in the same place as they were in the previous shot.  It’s very heavy on cuts at times, so that can be a problem.  It’s the price you pay, though, if you shoot off-the-cuff like we did with no planning at all (and with no crew).  It’s also interesting to note that every character is named after some sort of tree, which is just odd.  I can barely remember shooting some of this stuff, which you may relate to if you’ve ever looked at really old footage, so I’m unable to explain every strange thing that appears in the film.

Check in next week and I’ll revisit the process of rotoscoping (and doing a few other effects) more in-depth.  Soon, the site will be up.  I promise!  So… be ready.  Meanwhile, here are a few stills from “The Surprise.”

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