Sunday, 8 December 2013

Boo.

I try not to use this blog to talk about personal things these days, but there are a few exceptions. 


On Wednesday the 4th December my dog Boo died. He was a much loved member of the family, and had been for the last nine years. 


I inherited him from my mother, and in many ways he helped me to deal with her passing, being a constant, bouncy, friendly face to wake me up and get me out of the house in the morning. He was the spirit of liveliness and fun, and it was impossible to stay unhappy when a gigantic fluffy monster was dragging you down the road to the park at a hundred miles an hour. Or stay in bed with this big gallumphing teddy bear of a thing grinning at you and trying to lick your face.



I tried to involve him in my life wherever I could. He actually has a starring role in a film I made for the FA - you can see him here, 33 seconds into the film, being held by my dad and my brother, watching me stomping around behind the camera, to make him look like he's following the footsteps of a giant robot (I've somehow completely missed talking about this film here, but will do soon). 



It's hard for non-animal owners to know how close you can get to pets, dogs especially. They're family. Sometimes they're your closest friends. They're always there for you, waiting for you to come and play. I'll miss Boo very much.




- Will.



Wednesday, 6 November 2013

James Harker - Swanbourne

I made a music video for James Harker , to promote his new lovely album Anecdote, available here. You may remember James as the man whose stomach exploded during the filming of Alien: The Easter Edition. This isn't like that.

Watch the film



Credits

Main Singer Pianist Awesome Mega Guy In Real Life: James Harker

Violinist In The Video But Not In Real Life: Sarah Barker

Guitarist For The Video But Not In Real Life: Georgina Lee

Banjoist/Backup Singer For The Video Who's In SixToes In Real Life: David Greenep 

Bass Guitarist For The Video But Not In Real Life: Simon Maeder

Guy Who Produced The Song In Real Life But In The Video Is Just Reading A Book And Tapping His Foot: Nikhil Datta

Guy Who Did A Lot of the Sound Design/Guitar Playing/Backup Singing In Real Life But Couldn't Make It To The Shoot: James Hyde (not present)

Angry Sixties-Style Guy Writing Stuff Who Wrote The Poem The Song Is Based On In Real Life: Jonathan Kerridge-Phipps

Laughy Lady Who Hangs Out With Neil Gaiman In Real Life: Niamh Walsh

Laughy Man Who Got A Bit Tipsy On The Wine We Kept Giving Out But Had A Good Time I Think In Real Life: Ed Duncan-Smith

Nice Guy Who I Didn't Give Enough To Do Sorry Jack In Real Life: Jack Boteler

Guy Who Filmed It And Did The Lights And Stuff In Real Life: Geoff Geroyc

Lady Who Came Along To Help Out And Maybe Be An Extra But Ended Up Filming Some Bits and Being An A.D. Because She's Kate Shenton, She's An Actual Filmmaker In Real Life, She Made On Tenter Hooks, Don't Patronise Her With Bit Parts: Kate Shenton

Guy Who Directed It And Edited It And Filmed Some Bits And Wrote A Blog: Will Tribble

Backstory

From personal experience modern music videos generally falls into two categories: ones where the performers have very little/no money but are up for doing anything interesting, and ones where the performers have money but are mainly concerned with looking "cool" and making it look forgettably similar to other videos they like. 

James Harker is one of the first group. But for a long time I've had trouble with understanding what you can actually do with no money and everybody only having time to work on it for a day (I still do). So we'd meet up, plan something out, get really excited about an idea, then would gradually work out that there's no possible way we could make it without befriending an eccentric billionaire. I have an absolutely beautiful video idea for one of his songs, that I was hoping me and Geoff could make ourselves, but that I'm now ready to accept could only be made for £10,000 if a full crew was willing to spend at least a solid working month making it. Hey James, I don't think I've told you that yet. Sorry you had to hear this way. 

James got fed up with this. He saved up, planned out his own video, got a cast together, and hired out a nice location called the Vintage Emporium Cafe in Brick Lane to shoot it in. Funnily enough, when we met up in the cafe and he told us his idea about one person starting a song on the piano in the corner and everyone around him suddenly picking up instruments and joining in, that actually happened in real life. It was awesome. 

We only had four hours to make the video, including setup time, and we wanted to do some quite specific things rather than just have a general performance. I can't draw well, so our storyboards were a mix of photos and crude top-down diagrams I'd drawn based on an equally crude floorplan I'd made of the location: 










Dunno if it was the best way to do it, but it was a quick way of semi-choreographing a video where lots of things were supposed to be happening in the same place. I need to relearn Google SketchUp. If you thought I was making up the bit about an impromptu band coming together and playing as we talked, you can see the trombonist and double bass player in a couple of these pictures. 

The cast were people we knew. Some of the instrumentalists, like Georgina and David, don't actually play in the song, but were nice enough to come along anyway. We had free wine.

We used a mixture of hired film kit, that had the wrong plugs and didn't work, and kit we'd borrowed from the Sutton Film Makers film club, that didn't and did. The Sutton Film Makers are an important part of my life and through them I have met both George Burt and my girlfriend, so they're pretty brilliant. Go along sometime. 

It was a rush, and thankfully Kate Shenton (who we've known since Old Times) was smart enough to realise that what we needed was an AD to push us along and make sure we weren't spending an hour filming excessive close ups of fingers on a piano when we should be filming stuff happening, so that was good. There was a whole chunk of semi-story we had that we didn't really have time to film and in retrospect didn't make any sense, so we cut it. Then James came along and stood over me while I did the edit to make sure I finished it on time and didn't get caught up in fiddly details. 

In terms of the colouring I thought it was a bit too red when we filmed it, so I de-red-ified it in post, then everyone said they sort of liked it when it was a bit red and thought that made it look warm and comforting, so I put some red back in again. Then when it went online Geoff called me just to say he thought it was all too red. Eh. 

It was a fun night, and after the shoot Kate took us to a pub she knew nearby with a name I've forgotten which served bottles of Ska Steel Toed Boot Stout, which is great because I had it a few years ago and thought it was one of the nicest beers I've ever had and I've been looking for more ever since. While I was talking about this Kate was smoking an electronic cigarette with a flashing blue tip and telling me the best way to make films is to make one big feature film and then take it to Cannes and get people interested in you, which is something I've heard before, but also I've seen lots of young filmmakers who make features and it feels like they just get caught up in it for years, and don't necessarily do well at the end of it, sometimes they never finish it, or they get embarrassed about it and move on with their lives, but I don't know really. They're probably doing better than I think. It's not like I'm in a position to judge, and I've got lots of stuff that needs finishing and other stuff I'm embarrassed I even started. But this film turned out alright I think.

Here's a few more pictures of the Vintage Emporium.




- Will (in real life).

The Twins Macabre

There's a bunch of stuff I've been doing in the last few months that I haven't got round to writing about, so it made sense to start with something I did in March that has only just been Youtubed.

Behold The Twins Macabre...

Watch the film





Backstory 

The Twins Macabre are two demonic children currently touring as a stage show/live seance, while possessing the squishy, pleasantly scented, meat puppet bodies of Adam Rhys-Davies and Nic Lamont. This film was originally a pilot/entry for a BBC new talent scheme, the BBC liked it, and now they're in a TV sketch show called Live At The Electric! So that's awesome, and hopefully they'll be on there very soon. Meanwhile keep following their Twitter page for news of any more live shows or to help the police with their enquiries.

Nic Lamont is someone I've known for aaaaaaages, and I've worked with her on some pretty weird stuff over the years, so I definitely owed her this. Her and Adam both wrote the script, turned up in costume with a few props, even did their own makeup, and when I thought I didn't have time to edit it Nic took it away and did it herself. The film crew was me and Geoff Gedroyc, and all we had to do was work out how we'd shoot the thing. People who want me to work on personal projects with them: this is the best way to get things finished quickly. I love working on fun projects with other people and would like to do as many as I can, but because of that I've got a big backlog of stuff that needs doing whenever I'm not looking for paid work.

We shot it in a few hours, using some of the same locations, props and sort-of shots from one of the first short films I ever made. The caravan we shot in was right next to a road, but despite just recording all the sound off a boom mic it doesn't sound too bad.

[TWINS MACABRE SPOILERS/FAWLTY TOWERS SPOILERS/PRETENTIOUS FILM TALKING ALERT] I once saw a talk by Paul Mayhew-Archer in which he suggested that too many camera angles can sometimes take the audience out of actor-driven comedy. His example was this scene from Fawlty Towers, in which he argued that a long continuous take made the funnier bits funnier, putting you more in the scene as everything builds up, and you get a surprise when Basil comes back with the tree branch that you wouldn't have got from a series of cutaway shots explaining where he got the thing in the first place. It's one way of looking at it, you could also argue that they didn't have much time to film it and worked with what they got. Either way we were working with a bunch of time restrictions so it made sense to keep the shots basic.

I was actually quite proud to have a shotlist so simple that I could explain it to Geoff over the phone before he got there. In particular I'm happy with the shots of them in the caravan, that are mainly from one locked off camera angle. It was the easiest way to film it; meant that we could concentrate on making that one shot look as good as possible; was probably less distracting than multiple angles; and was funny to watch, I hope, in that it takes you a few seconds to work out what's changed about the shot when they're suddenly all surprise murdery slicey stabby bloodfaced. [SPOILERS END HERE]

I also think Nic did a great job of editing it. She put a lovely vignettey thing over it that looks really nice, and she also cut out an extra scene in the caravan that in retrospect didn't really need to be there and would have thrown out the balance of the film (that's a less artsy thing than it sounds). I was hoping I'd get a chance to do it myself once I'd stopped doing whatever I was doing, but after I saw her cut I couldn't see anything I'd change.

So yes. I'm very happy with this film, down mostly to Nic and Adam being brilliant, and look forward to seeing more of their supernatural shenanigans in the future.

Yay!

Will.

Friday, 5 April 2013

I DIRECTED A FILM FOR GREENPEACE YAAAAAY!

Short version:

RAAAAAA I DIRECTED A FILM WATCH IT NOW IGNORE THE THUMBNAIL






Long Version:

I directed a film for Greenpeace! It has many names. In the film itself it's called "EU vs CO2", on the Youtube page it's called "FIGHT BREAKS OUT IN EU PARLIAMENT", when you post it on Facebook it renames itself "BANNED: monster fights politician", which sort of gives the joke of the film away. You can call it whatever you like as long as you watch it. I like to call it Terry Bangles.

Greenpeace is concerned about car carbon emissions in Europe. Cars are currently responsible for about 12% of Europe's car emissions, and have steadily increased between 1990 and 2008. At the moment Greenpeace is trying to get EU parliament to impose more legislations on European car companies, ideally to cut carbon emissions in half by 2025. This would result in less oil drilling, less pollution, and more fuel economic cars. If that's something you'd like, you can sign the petition on the associated website at euvsco2.com .

But it's quite hard to get people interested in politicians in EU parliament debating an easy to ignore environmental threat. So we made things a bit more giant size with explosions and monsters and video games and kung fu and man nipples. Which area all things I heavily approve of.

I was hired to direct this by the lovely people at Man+Hatchet, an advertising company that occasionally transforms into a production company to make stuff like this brilliant video for Ecotricity. Everyone who works there is having babies constantly. CONSTANTLY.

At first it was a completely terrifying job. We had about 3 weeks to make a full blown animation with bits of video and stock footage and visual effects and AAAAAAAH. Oh and also Greenpeace didn't like our first draft design of the monster, which sort of looked like a cross between Rancor and Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas (in a good way), so we got epic artist Rob Cheetham (who also did the website art) to do another one:



I love his huge wrestling hands. So that was a ray of sunshine in a first week spent finding  animation companies and asking them if they'd do it, then getting phone calls politely telling us no, they wouldn't.

By the middle of the week things were looking completely awful. Then some good things happened. Firstly, we had a pep talk from Marcus Punter, an ex-Cartoon Network animator and games designer who knew a thing or two about making animation look good as economically as possibly. Take Johnny Bravo, which Marcus had worked on, which saved drawing time by cutting Johnny's movement down to essential poses, then having little wooshy blurry bits in between. The poses were so funny and dynamic and character defining, the lack of tweens (drawings of the "in between" movement) didn't matter.


Above: a full body turn and half a second of movement in 4 frames. Source: youtube.com/watch?v=Exe0IEB3hKs  

If we wanted to capture the aesthetic of a 1990s video game, we needed to think like that. In Street Fighter 2, the characters only has a handful of movement drawings/sprites that are re-used for every time they move or delivers a specific attack, but they're so distinct you instantly know what you're seeing. 

Above: Ryu kicking your ass in approximately three drawings. Source: http://www.spriters-resource.com/snes/supersf2

Reduce the fight sequence to its most important elements, as if someone was actually pressing buttons to make the politician or the monster repeatedly do the same attack, and have a collection of sprites we could move around and reuse without it feeling stale. That way, Marcus argued, we could get it done in time and make it look like an actual fighting game. That made us feel like we could actually do this damn thing. We even did a visual storyboard of how it could work if you reduced it to the most important poses:

 
Above: producer Simon Sanderson and M+H creative director Henry Cowling 
doing what would become 0:48-0:52 in the actual film.

The second good thing that happened was we met Chris Ollis, aka HappyToast. I've admired his work for ages on sites like B3ta, and he instantly got the style that we wanted. With minimal briefing he went away to start filling our DropBox up with useful 1990s game references, preliminary sketches of the monster for animation, and photo demos for potential walking animations using him covered in plastic bags:



CHRIS OLLIS IS A GOD.

At first he balked when we said we wanted to show movement with as many reused elements as possible, and sent us this test animation of the monster breathing to show that it "wouldn't work":


He seemed put out when we said we really liked it.

We found an excellent studio called Once Were Farmers (they're called that because they once were farmers) that agreed to take on these animation sprites, backgrounds and cutscenes and stick them together into an actual animation, with camera movement and shaky bits and parallax perspective bits and suchlike. Now things were finally getting somewhere. 

So next we had to film the live action elements and get an actor to represent our politician. We had a lengthy day's casting, then went and chose someone we already knew: editor, filmmaker, and occasional movie star Rob Hill. We filmed Rob against a greenscreen both doing politician speechy things to replace some stock footage of Sarkozy, then got him to do all the fighting poses we'd need for the sprites:





The greenscreen shoot was as fun as it looks, in fact it was one of the funnest shoots I've done. Greenscreen shoots are amazing! You go to somewhere really easy to get to with totally controllable lighting and comfy chairs and nice coffee and you can have a crew of about two people (Eben Bolter and AJ Golesworthy) doing lighting and camera and everything just works. I can see why all the big film directors are getting rid of real sets and meticulous art direction and just doing that instead. 

Also it's great to work with an actor who doesn't really see himself as an actor. Rob spends as much time keying greenscreen as he does standing in front of it, so he knew what we needed and did it very well. Then later in the week he sat at home with a glass of wine recording himself doing additional dialogue for the fighting bits, adjusted his own sound levels and sent it over to us. Rob probably could have set up a greenscreen and filmed himself completely on his own if we'd asked him. The last line of the film is improvised by him.



This video now has over a million views. Which is way more views than we have. And also he's the new face of Greenpeace. Um...

BTW the guy who did the visual effects for the live action footage was Chris Taylor, he's brilliant and also did visual effects for Doctor Who and The Dark Knight Rises. You know, just throwing that out there.

Meanwhile we still had a bunch of vaguely Dragonball Z meets Phoenix Wright cutscenes to do, as well as something that would symbolise a big chunk of Europe as a continuous rolling fighting game background. Rob Cheetham worked mainly on the backgrounds, which took ages to be finalised, as we jumped between something simple but video gamey, with lots of repeated elements and jagged pixels:


To something elaborate but not video gamey, with lots of blurry bits:


Until we ended up with our gorgeous final thing. The London bit's my favourite, in the final there's a bit of animated rain there. If we had time we'd have had cliffs and rivers on either side of the London segment that the characters could jump over.


The cutscenes were sketched out by Rob Cheetham, photographed by us in demos, photographed by us in the actual photoshoot, roughly sketched again by Rob, then drawn by Joe Dennis. Like this!



Yaaaaaay! ART. 

So now things were starting to turn into a bit of a factory. Chris Ollis churned out sprites of the monster moving, attacking, doing stuff with the environment, and general explosions for whenever anyone delivered a particularly good punch. Joe made pixelly drawings of fighting game intros and politicians going Super Saiyan. Rob drew layers of background so you could get a sense of perspective. And Once Were Farmers put everything together with bangs and whizzes and cool bits. Originally we used photos of Rob doing all the fighty bits in the film, Mortal Kombat style, but then they were turned into cartoon sprites by Chris Ollis and Scott Morris from Once Were Farmers:



It was at this stage that being a director of an animation who couldn't draw himself started to feel weird. I've got more experience working on stop motion animated projects where it's easier to pitch in and get involved, so I started to feel like Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, constantly Skype bothering people already stretched working to a deadline to ask for more explosions or more muscely bits or for stuff to be more pixelly, without just doing it myself. My one direct artwork contribution to this whole project was the title, that was added on the very last day and was meant to be just a demo but we liked it. BEHOLD MY ARTISTIC POSITIONING OF FONTS. 


It replaces a fully drawn, animated and voiced extra cutscene, so I hope that didn't annoy anyone. Sorry!

What else? Oh yeah. The sound design is glorious. Chris Green did it. The first pass didn't quite as video gamey as I'd imagined, I mentioned chiptune music people who had worked out how to filter sounds through old Game Boys, he just replied with this picture:


Then did just that. It's perfect. I love the slight distortion to Rob's voice, it really does sound like he's coming from a game cartridge that needed to store everything in 2mb. 

I'm enormously pleased with this film. It had such a great team of people behind it making fantastic, funny, incredibly creative stuff, and going the extra mile even when they didn't have to. It looks beautiful, it's full of so many things I love, and I can't stop watching it. So yeah. Thanks everyone, I really hope I haven't forgotten anybody. 

Oh and seeing as this was animated with reusable sprites doing different punches and kicks, it would only take a bit of work to turn this into an actual, working video game. You know, just throwing it out there. 



- Will.


PS here's a great Marvel v Capcom-style animation Chris did for just after the final punch that we didn't have time to squeeze in. AWESOME PUNCH MARDIS GRAS PARTY:











PPS Hooray it's doing a little bit better on Youtube than it was a few days ago! After a German commenter said that it should have been translated into German I left a long comment, translated into German by my girlfriend, that you can activate subtitles for it in loads of different languages including German. Nobody seems to have noticed, but there's that. It would be great to hear it dubbed in different languages, like that guy that dubbed Alien Easter in Russian, but I dunno if I can personally give other people permission. I'd love to hear it in Japanese.