I have finally finished the showcase piece we produced. It’s all of 2 minutes long and consists of DVC PRO HD720p60 high def production using P2 workflow, post production in Final Cut, After Effects and Sound Studio Pro with graphics created in Photoshop and Maya. Much was learned about using Maya on a mac–does not necessarily play nice.
But first the concept: Come up with a promo piece that showcases all that we can do at Rocket 88 Studios, but focus beyond just capabilities and use some imagination to create a coherent story-line. The solution was the story of a young boy playing in his father’s garage and using his own imagination to transport himself into other worlds; worlds where he is an adventurer, fireman, strongest man in the world and finally, in a spaceship made entirely of artifacts from his garage, a space explorer.
We also decided we would have to use an actual Oldsmobile Rocket 88 from the 50’s as the hood ornament would ultimately play an important role in the catalyst for the child actor just as it has in the development of our studios branding. The search was on to find the perfect car. Unfortunately most of the Rocket 88 cars in southern California are either white or black which would prove to be terrible for shooting. Finally our Producer found the perfect car in Santa Barbara and we packed up all the kids and props and gear and headed north.
Mise en scene
Art direction plays a huge role in the film as everything in the frame has a role in the imaginative worlds our hero explores. Almost everything on the shelves has a role in outer space, from the globe and workout balls and china lantern planets, to moon rocks, asteroids made of sponges and a 2-stage rocket animated from a thermos. Also the wall of posters on the garage make up the backdrop of outer space. Once we had the scripted live action parts shot, we spent a bit more time shooting our hero on a green screen for insertion into his, as-yet non existent rocket. That’s when all the magic really started.
Cutting the live action was pretty straight forward. I chose to use a slightly more difficult-to-make transition for the first few cuts as I decided the look you get when tradition film rolls out would be better than a simple dip to color or white flash transition. This was created in After Effects and uses adjustment layers with fast blur and levels (respect to Aharon Rabinowitz at Creative Cow for help on this).
Once the live action was cut there was a huge hole left to be filled by animation. To start this process we basically laid out all of the props from the garage scene and began trying to make them look like they belonged in space. Most everything was shot against a green screen using a digital still camera and composed together in After Effects as JPEG sequences. We shot almost everything in a traditional stop motion animation style: take a shot; move things around slightly; take another shot. This worked great until we got to the blue rocks that were meant to make up the ring of asteroids around the the china ball planet. I started by laying the rocks out on a sheet of plexi suspended over a green screen, but it soon became apparent that moving each individual rock was going to be a horrendous nightmare that would consume huge amounts of time and would probably never look natural, so I realized another solution had to found. That’s when I thought about hockey.
When I was a kid we had a hockey game where the tiny players moved around the “ice” which was really just a thin piece of tin. You line the guys up, turn on the game and a little motor would vibrate the tin playing field with a relatively high frequency. I figured I should give this a try and got out my Groomsmen personal facial hair trimmer. With the trimmer turned on, I would take a shot of the rocks, gently touch the center of the plexi with the trimmer which would cause a vibration strong enough the jiggle the rocks around a bit, then take another frame. I continued this until I had enough frames to create the length animation I needed.
The nice thing about using the vibration method, even though the rocks did not neccessarily move where you wanted them to go, they did move in a natural way, as though one force was motivating them.