September 27, 2003

Making Movies IV

If you came in late, you'll want to read Making Movies I, Making Movies II, and Making Movies III.

Today being Saturday, it was time for David and I to do some more shooting on our movie. I do try to learn from my mistakes, and so things went much better this week right from the start. It was cooler, for one thing; we started at 9:30 in the morning instead of 1:30 in the afternoon, and the light was better in the parts of the yard I wanted to use.

I reshot one scene from last week, the one with Yellow the Snake coming down and around the corner as the sun-shade terminator moves noticeably; that spot is in complete (though not dim) shade during the morning, so I was able to get the shot without trouble. In fact, I ran through it twice, and not only did both versions come out well, they also dovetail perfectly. It looks like there are two snakes coming round the corner, one after the other. There are possibilities there I'll have to explore.

Next, I tried an experiment. I wanted a shot with a snake's-eye-view of the world. Trying to carry the camera smoothly at that level clearly wasn't going to work, not without a Steadicam, so that meant I needed to be creative. Enter the tricycle.

My kids' tricycle is colorful and made of an equal proportion of plastic and metal, but otherwise it's a lot like the one I had as a kid. In particular, there's a kind of plastic step that covers the axel between the rear wheels. The Sony TRV-22 fits onto that step quite nicely. Voila--I've got a mobile platform that's close to the ground. The camera points out the back of the tricycle, of course, so to move the camera forwards one just rolls the tricycle backwards.

Now, the section of ground where I wanted to shoot this is paved with bricks, and it's rather bumpy. I thought that shooting continuously while rolling the tricycle probably wasn't going to work very well, so I animated it, taking a few frames, moving the trike a few inches, taking a few more frames, and so on. I might as well not have wasted my time; the result was incredibly ugly.

Next I decide to try just shooting it live. I repositioned the tricycle, turned the camera on, and set it on the little shelf at the back, and just rolled the trike slowly along my desired path. The result was rather bumpy, more so than seemed natural, but much better than the animated version.

As I was setting up the next shot, I realized that I'd been shooting with the camera zoomed in a bit--no wonder the result was bumpier than I'd though it should be. The zoom was magnifying every motion of the camera. Consequently, I went back and did that shot three more times shooting full wide (twice rolling the camera forwards and once rolling it backwards--I can reverse the clip direction in iMovie), and had no trouble except that toward the end of the backwards shot the camera fell off of its shelf. It kept recording, though, video and audio, and I think it's a tribute to my years as a father that all I said was "Whoops!"

Ironically, the backwards shot is probably the smoothest, best looking shot, once I reversed it and cut out the bit where the camera fell down. Naturally, it's also the shortest. Go figure. But anyway, now I have four to choose from.

After that we went back to doing the stop action thing. We got a great shot of Yellow crawling out of the umbrella hole in the middle of our picnic table, and then I reshot Yellow going down the steps and around the corner as I described earlier. And it was about that time that David said, "Can Megatron be in the movie?" My first thought was to say, "No, this is a movie about snakes, not about robots"--but I reconsidered, and I'm glad I did. The song Attacked By Snakes is fully five minutes long, and scenes of Yellow crawling around the yard by himself are going to be diverting for maybe half that time. Clearly I needed some additional elements, and Megatron was a perfect choice.

For those of you not blessed with young boys, Megatron is a Transformer from the Transformers Armada TV show. He's a robot that transforms into a battle tank. I saw definite possibilities--and was not slow to give them a try. The results are truly delightful.

All in all, I got about 40 to 45 seconds of good animated video; I've posted about 30 seconds worth as a highly compressed Quicktime movie--it's about 368K bytes in size. If you downloaded last week's clip, be sure not to miss this week's; it's a lot more fun.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 27, 2003 01:12 PM

Phil said:

Megatron used to be a hand gun, which was a little strange in that he was a giant robot who shrank to whatever size he needed to be to fit into another Transformer's hand. Of course, he fired like a lazer cannon in the original show. I wonder why they changed him to a tank. Maybe its a second or further generation of him.

Deb said:

This is great, Will! What's David say?

Will Duquette said:

David told me that Megatron wasn't too happy about how things turned out, but that he'd explained to Megatron that "it was just a movie" and that Megatron was OK with that.

Yellow, on the other hand, enjoyed it enormously. Or so I'm told.

Craig Clarke said:

That's terrific. This movie has it all: action, suspense, revenge. I see a franchise in the making.

Since Yellow is already taken, maybe "I Am Curious (Megatron)."

Will Duquette said: