Film Challenge – Lead Time

Another short film created under ludicrous conditions by the Tortoisebutler crew. This time I contributed props (including the robot’s bite-down charging plug) and the heads up display that shows us the world from our diminutive robot’s point of view.

The biggest part of the build, though, was the creation of the beast itself: to transform our fantastically physical actor Jinny into a threatening, alien creature that would spring from the darkness and attack our hapless protagonist.

“Let’s do a simple film challenge this year” they said, “Let’s make something simple, light on the FX”… so we wrote a script with a monster. Oh, and we needed to build it in a few hours, using only what we’d brought with us.

Magda’s fantastic body (and head!) stocking gave us a perfect starting point for the transformation, dehumanising Jinny and forming n overlay to attach things to our poor actor.

Given the pale colour of the body stocking, we sketched a sinewy, insectile, carapaced creature that would almost glow in the dark. It needed to be a clear threat, so we armed it with six scything claws, a weird pointy mandible, and spines on head, elbows, and anywhere else that felt like a good idea.

Most of this was accomplished with thermoplastic pierced through the bodystocking or attached to it with double-sided sticky tape. Thermoplastic is my go-to material for creating structural elements on the fly. With some hot water it’s sculptable, it’s springy enough to be safe and tough enough to stand up to rough treatment.

Once our beast was assembled it looked a bit blank, without much secondary movement for our super slo-mo camera. Materials Magda came up trumps again though, with some fantastic long-haired fabric I’ve not seen the like of before. Hooking it through the stocking around the spines gave us a really disturbing ‘hairy insect’ effect and great flowing motion.

The finishing touch was to mix fistfuls of black and red acrylic paints with hair gel, and plaster the hair up into a stiff mane. Strategically applied paint dirtied up our monster even more, and encrusted the claws with ‘gore’ from the struggles of past victims. The pale theme made it stand out starkly, especially when light glowed through the thermoplastic weapons.

Jinny endured so much being our human mannequin in a freezing hall, but I love the hideous and unusual monstrosity we created.

Magda shared a couple of awesome picture sets from the filming here and here, and you can read another crew member’s blog post here.

Photo Credit – TortoiseButler

Credits Sequence – Message from Mumbai

For this year’s film challenge, our entry depicts the last contact between two sisters, about to be separated for 30 years as a rogue exoplanet diverts one’s home planet’s orbital trajectory.  Say that five times fast.

In a film challenge, I usually have 20 seconds to cram the credits into, tacked on the end of our 3-5 minute film.  With actors, a team of about 10 and lots people to thank, it’s tricky to fit everything in and make it readable.  I had to drop dramatic impact and the loneliness of space for a dense but elegant arrangement, but I’m pretty pleased with the result. If I’d had more time, I would animate the planets along their orbital paths, and give each ‘page’ solo time on screen, as well as using a better blur which moves across the screen, rather than streaming everything upwards.

Film challenge – Message from Mumbai

Tortoisebutler’s entry into this year’s Sci-Fi London 48 hour film-making challenge.

The given mandatory criteria:
Title – Message from Mumbai
Prop – A handful of ball bearings is passed from one character’s hand to another
Line of dialogue – “These things come full circle. Why do you think it’s called a revolution?”

We shot up in Manchester this year, camping out on an empty floor of a converted cotton mill – oodles of space, not much in the way of power sockets or chairs, but it was a fantastic weekend and great to work with the team again.

The film stepped away from our usual time travel and action staples, working instead with a single location, a ‘talking heads’ focus, and working to build a world and a mood. I’m too close to it to assess it clearly, but although watching it felt slow and un-dramatic, I think that the feelings of love, loss and hope we were looking for came across, without resorting to manufactured conflict or blame. The actresses did a beautiful job of conveying brittle, forced cheerfulness over a crushing inevitability.

I helped out on the writing for the first time, including creating more ‘Science Bits’ at the start to help it make sense, although it was too late to tweak the rest to match, alas… I learned a lot, and it’s conquered a lot of my long-seated ‘I can’t come up with stories’ blind spot.  The experience also made me more aware of how much a story turns into a graphic novel in my head, so next time I’d like to add storyboards, if I can!

I also aided Ms Costume and did the credits sequence, which I love so much I’m going to do a separate post on them.

Oh, and one of our actresses turned out to be an operatically trained singer, so I wrote some lyrics to match our composer’s original score (in about two minutes flat). Alas we only had time to record three lines (hold on ’till the credits to hear it!) but there’s talk of turning it into a proper song!

One day, one day…

PS. Hammocks are absolutely fantastic, I’m absolutely taking one next time!

Crosses – Credit Sequence

One of my contributions to TortoiseButler’s entry into the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge 2013 was the closing credit sequence.

Our film was based on the following criteria:

Title: “Crosses”
Dialogue: “There’s no way of knowing I’m afraid. Only time will tell”
Prop: “A torch – A character shakes the torch, pulls it apart, and puts it back
together again. It still doesn’t work.”

We came up with a complex yet tight script involving time-travelling cops, the fight actors (including one untrained!) developed some kick-arse fight scenes, I knocked up some props and tattoos and we shot a beautiful, tense, cohesive film.

As with most creative products though, the ‘finishing’ is at least as much work as the creation. The second night of the 48 hours was spent packed into a tiny hostel room, where a truly stunning number of macbooks were put to work on the editing, graphic effects, scoring, sound design and grading of the film. Alongside them all, I was in the corner making 8 seconds worth of credits (Final version has an extra 4 seconds to credit the installation artists).

As our composer was creating the score live from Germany, the editors pulled together a rough cut to give him an idea of what we’d made. I snagged a copy of this, identified key moments from the narrative, and selected dynamic and interesting stills to represent them. Manually tracing the stills gave me silhouettes, with which I created a huge spread which the final animation explores, reflecting the journey of the film. It was great fun to apply what I know of storyboarding, composition and comic design to creating something dynamic, stylish and exciting.

Crosses – Prop gun

One of the most fun and challenging aspects of doing a 48-hour film challenge is McGyvering whatever unpredictable props the script demands from the kit we brought along – there’s no time for sourcing things from elsewhere.

In this case, our gritty time-travel buddy cop movie needed a very menacing sci-fi gun. What we had was a bright orange and yellow Nerf gun (image from google search). Some work with sandpaper, a knife, paint and metallic powders later, I’d transformed it into this threatening little piece.

Crosses – Short film from TortoiseButler

Butterfly System

Film-making collective TortoiseButler’s entry into the 2011 London Science Fiction Festival 48 Hour Film Challenge.

The premis: given a title, line of dialogue and prop, go forth and brainstorm, write, script, storyboard, shot-plan, setup, shoot, edit, sound-design and… well, /everything/ a film up to 5 minutes long, within 48 hours.

As usual we were incredibly ambitious and tried to cover a huge amount of complex plot and world-building, but in this case while the outcome was stunningly beautiful, only one person has been able to ‘read’ the story from it that we were trying to convey.

My contributions included scouting the location (equipped with wellies, boilersuit and head-torch, I got to climb around in and UNDER the Kew Bridge Steam Museum), brainstorming, helping conceive the plot, and then props, costumes, sfx-makeup (detailed tattoos you mostly can’t see), set design, and learned to do digital SFX overnight.