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Production Journal, Page 12

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26 March 2007-
I've become more aware of just how difficult interlaced video can be. Preparing for a heavy rotoscoping job when it comes to compositing all the airsoft BBs in "ZOMBIS!!!", I've elected to remaster some shots from "Fight Movie 3".
To explain:
Some people may have told you video is 30fps (rounded from 29.97 for simplicity). That's not the full truth. It's editable in 30fps, but it's really 60 half-frames... or fields. Those of you who have tried taking screen captures of your videos may notice a mess of lines when capturing a moving image ("combing"). So, they shove two fields into one frame- one field fills the odd-numbered lines of resolution, the other fills the even-numbered.
"ZOMBIS!!!" will be converted to 24fps in progressive video (full frames, no fields) for its final master, but my converter, DVFilm Maker, is only able to blend 60 interlaced fields... not 30 progressive rotoscoped muzzle flashes, which results in combing when converted. I could simply composite when it's all converted to 24p, but I don't want the BBs to look composited- I want them to look as if they were shot in the raw footage. Combined with the recompression (which would happen twice: once for the interlaced render, and another for the conversion to progressive), and the noise inserted from it, this should be possible.
So I exported a small segment of frames to re-rotoscope, this time taking the opportunity to turn the grain layer off, again for better blending. Each resulting BMP image was copied again, one set to represent the odd fields, and the other to represent even. Working on these muzzle flashes in Photoshop, I looked at a number of ways to recombine the interlace fields.
The methods suggested online didn't work. And since it was such a small area of the image I was modifying, it wasn't much of a problem to re-interlace and combine two fields by hand. So odd lines in an image dedicated to even lines were deleted in MS paint with a simple "line" tool, only in the area with the muzzle flash for the sake of ease... then pasted into the raw image. Same done with the odd image, but with even lines deleted, then the composite is finished.
Below illustrates the four phases of this process. Look carefully at the first and fourth captures, and you'll see "combing" where Kevin (right) is. For insurance purposes, there are four BMP copies of each image (for each phase), making this expensive for space. This 2-second clip alone will probably take up 260MB (the raw DV AVI would be 8MB).

Original Interlaced Image
No rotoscoping has been performed yet.

Rotoscoping on Even Fields

Rotoscoping on Odd Fields

Finished Interlaced Image
The two fields are recombined. Notice the combing on the muzzle flash(es).

Due to the handheld camerawork I have planned for "ZOMBIS!!!", rotoscoping stuff in will be that much more difficult. An airsoft BB shouldn't take up that many frames, though- and since I won't be able to learn CGI fast enough, I'll have to blue-screen real airsoft BBs in, and configure placement by hand.

Tomorrow should be our first location test for that project, where I'll figure out if reversing footage to double our real estate at McClellan Ranch will be believable... or if other locations should be looked at for set extension. I already know the camera angles I want, so it's just a matter of testing what works. Here we go!

27 March 2007-
Today, there was storyboarding done for our scenes that we should be shooting this Saturday for "Code of 'Con'duct I"... which went stressfully because it was three people arguing about different things in the same scene. In the end, we concluded it was a good idea as it was better that these arguments and decisions happen before shooting- especially with the extras we plan to have in these scenes, who haven't been in any of our films before. Not a good idea to make the filming experience stressful for them.

Afterwards, Nikolay, Brandon and I went over to McClellan Ranch to test out the location for "ZOMBIS!!!".

[Today so happens to be the 3rd anniversary of when Dead Moose, Inc.'s first movie, "ZOMBI!!!", was originally released (though it was shot 17 months prior)]

I had originally planned to have the two read parts of the script while I tested out how camera angles worked in the location... but as I shuffled through my shot lists so as to figure out what goes where, I found that I actually needed less location than thought. Not an entirely useless outing, I found a perfect location for an early scene- which I've changed from a boy walking on a pathway to a boy walking on a bridge.

The only challenge is, when shooting the scenes up at the bridge itself, not encountering traffic in wide angles.

Nikolay talked with a park official, and we're permitted to film in what happens to be an animal refuge if we don't do anything too loud, and don't discharge BBs from the airsoft props. So, compositing BBs is a must.

After an outing to KFC was cut short due to the need of Brandon to return to the school, we made a stop at Nikolay's house to test out airsofts- specifically, BBs and how they capture on-camera. As I had raw footage of scenes with the guns being fired, I quickly took snapshots in-camera so as to find the angle the guns were facing. Masking tape was secured onto the monitor in that angle, to which the BB-firing gun would be aligned.

As there was no bluescreen (and green astroturf does not count), I expect these composites to be very rough. On the monitor, when shooting the side-view of the gun firing, I couldn't see the projectile firing at all, even though I could see it clearly with the naked eye. Nikolay suggested shooting from a top-down view, and while I didn't see anything during shooting, taking the masking tape off and replaying the footage, every single shot had a visible BB zipping through.

I suppose I could learn CGI if I wanted to, but this sounds much more fun. Get some wrestling-mat type material for the stuff involving BBs fired onto zombies, and some blue posterboard for everything else. Some might write this off as an exercise in futility, especially since these effects probably won't be visible in online viewing- but I always make these films keeping in mind that some people might be watching them off a TV or a big film festival screen... and I believe quality comes off paying attention to stuff the audience *doesn't* notice.

Currently, I can't wait until I get back in my house, as I'll probably be at that footage immediately doing some rough composites.

29 March 2007-
Well, I did the composites for an unexpectedly-short amount of time. One worked with luma compositing, and as it turns out, the BB shooting is nearly invisible unless I either turned the opacity of the gun's clip down, or the brightness of the BB up. Both are easy on the eye when it comes to looking at still-frames, but it looks far too cartoony for my taste, so I'm sticking with the near-to-invisible BBs... just so long as it looks like they were actually shot in that forest, it's fine by me.
Of course I know online compression will render the invisible even more so, but I'm still going with this compositing stuff because it's fun (and this invisibility only rendered my job a thousand times easier). Speaking in terms of practicality, though, this test wasn't a complete waste-
What really sells the effect is the sound of the gun firing (since I was testing this out on footage where the gun *wasn't* cocked and then fired, instead with the actor making "blam blam" noises). Since I don't want to cheap this production out, I'll have the gun cocked and fired on-camera, even as it fires nothing. ...and due to the quiet, most of the dialogue will have to be re-dubbed.
Fine by me. I know exactly what I want for this picture except for the final color-corrected look; sound design is one field I want to work on.
Which brings us to this weekend's "Code of 'Con'duct" shoot; I bought a new microphone, which was on clearance sale. RadioShack said if I had problems, I could return it (yeah, right). Being how the thick 1/4" jack doesn't exactly hook into my camera's 1/8" microphone port, I bought a 1/4"-to-1/8" converter... only to find that the weight caused funny things to happen. I figured, "another cable"... but I already have plenty of 1/4" cable in my house, so just a female-to-female adapter.
We'll see if this is too much cable in the shoot, but I much prefer that than the boom operator tugging my camera off the tripod. ...and hopefully the sound quality on this mic is a lot better.

31 March 2007-
In the years I've been making films, I can't name a filming session as tranquil and ultimately productive since "Fight Movie: a pilot". Richie remarked that this was "the first time we've ever made a good impression on our extras."
Probably. I only started to get really irritable towards the end, but just about everything got done in single-takes, and it amounted to double our usual take of raw footage (34 minutes this time- probably 8 minutes edited). Our session was planned to film from 1:30-4:30, or 5:00 if things ran late. As it turns out, nobody had any real need to leave that soon, so for the first time we completed every scene we had planned for the day. Which is good, given the extras we had to recruit.
What also diminished was the nonproductive side-chatter, but I can only speak for myself that, for the most part, I really didn't mind if that filming session never ended. While setups were complex, things got done quickly and exhaustion came only from moving things around (a whiteboard on easel prop was constantly moved and removed to accomplish certain shots)- instead of our usual problem of frustrating bad takes.
The new microphone also worked much, much better. On the other mic, I had to boost sensitivity up to maximum for faraway dialogue, but with this microphone, some lines started to fuzz because they were too loud! The guys at RadioShack told me this wouldn't go far for what I intended it to do- they obviously have NEVER used a Sony F-V100 for a movie!
[for the curious, my new microphone was actually a clearance item from RadioShack. No model number, but on the box it says "Omnidirectional Dynamic Microphone", and was originally listed at the $50 range (I got it for $30)]
For the most part, I butted out of the exposure and really didn't have to worry about blown-out backgrounds anyway. Most of the shoot was accomplished with one of Richie's wide-angle lenses for the sake of immediacy (and the fact that we just didn't have room to move farther back), though I took it off for close-ups. One problematic item was lens-flares... and not the hexagons that go in diagonal directions, but the super-annoying transparent vertical red ones. I tested out covering my arm above the lens, and realized how useless buying a mattebox would be... so I just saved myself $200 or something with this.
Instead, the curtains were closed, which wasn't much of a problem for continuity since we were on a different scene by then. One window still couldn't be covered, though, so some flares came in.
[My roll of film is almost up, so you just might see production photos in the not-too-distant future]

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