Sunday, November 13, 2016

Halloween Shots (BTS)

Ready? Here we go:
This project was a very last minute thing. In fact, the timeline on this was probably the fastest turnover I've ever done – from concept to final film was three weeks exactly! 
So there was no time to experiment, and no time for mistakes. Thus, the day after I came up with the idea, I was already making puppets. 
First up, was the Snickers Bar, which was never supposed to be in the short in the first place. 
The original idea was for a horror trailer about killer Halloween candy. But, realizing that my time was limited, I decided to cut everything down to the bare minimum – however, as Dad and I talked it over, we just loved the idea of the Snickers so much, that we had to put it in.
So, the bar was made of upholstery foam, wire, and a liquid latex skin, which was then glued down and painted with PAX paint. I purchased a real candy bar (ate it) and lined the wrapper with foil so it would stay in place.

That was the easy part. 
The "Caramel Crab-Apple" was the real trick.
Seeing how I had no real plan, and did't have access to the usual materials (like foam latex or other molding materials that I'm comfortable with) I ended up MacGyvering it.
The puppet was made from a hollow plastic ball, coated in Super Sculpey, where the face and other details were sculpted by my dad. The clay was baked/hardened, and other details (and fixes) were made with epoxy putty.

The legs were made of wire and molded in Echoflex silicone. 
Now, I've only worked with silicone once before, and I'll be honest with you, it was a disaster. 
So naturally, I was scared to try it again. But as I said before, the clock was ticking, and ordering foam latex would've taken way too long to arrive in the mail – so I held my breath and remarkably, the silicone worked.
In fact, I had just enough to finish the apple, and not a bit more.

The legs, then, were affixed to 3 inch aluminum plates. Both of which were lined with magnets – once the legs were pushed completely through the holes, they would stick and were stable enough for animation.

The Crab-Apple on set. Filmed on a green screen, comped into the pre-filmed background.

He was rigged from below with a small ball & socket piece attached to a tripod.

Lastly, I took a day for sound design. I recorded things like celery cracking (when the legs first break through) – drumming on a wood table (for scampering) – hissing, cackling, etc. 
Everything was mixed in Premiere Pro and uploaded right before Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

BEWARE – Happy Halloween!

So here's a short piece that I threw together over the past couple weeks -- and got it done just in time too.

It's just a quick little thing -- and was made completely on the fly -- but I hope it makes you all think twice before biting into that first piece of Halloween candy.

I'll be sure to post some BTS shots soon.

Till then, have a happy All Hallows' Eve!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bait BTS

Bait VFX Breakdown from Santino Vitale on Vimeo.

Visual effects is a funny thing – bittersweet actually – it's something that takes a lot of time, thought, and skill, and in the end, the main goal is to be invisible.
Well, maybe invisible isn't the right word when it comes to a giant rat-monster in one's basement -- but what I mean to say is: Visual effects are done well when the audience doesn't question what they see… till after they've seen it.
Good visual effects should be something you miss, and then when you get home and you're grabbing a snack you say "wait a minute!"
All this to say -- I put a ton of work into every shot. Some shots, such as the opening bed scene, I'm actually kind of hoping you all took for granted. Because, even though it looked like a crane shot, it was actually accomplished like this:

So, yeah, that's me, standing on the bed above my cousin, with dad acting as a type of counter weight -- no, that's not a wedgie, he was actually holding onto my belt to keep me from falling on the 'actress.' 
After I got a usable take, I took it into After Effects for color grading and image stabilization using Warp Stabilizer.
Other smooth shots were accomplished by holding the tripod and using its low center of gravity to prevent that nasty shake that all light cameras like DSLRs are prone to. The rest was shot locked down on a tripod or even on the floor for some really low angles.

As I mentioned before, this was mostly a day-for-night shoot, so all the shots had to be graded extensively. And though I only included a few samples in the video, rest assured, you're not missing anything. They all underwent the same corrections -- darken, color grade towards the blue end of the scale, and bring down the highlights. 
In fact, more time was spent rotoscoping the windows that got blown out by the sun than any other effect. 

Now on to the monster.

He's a foam latex puppet, with a wire armature. 
To-date, it's the biggest puppet I have ever made. So big, that I had to build an oven just to fit his 18" X 17" plaster mold. 

Now, I'm a fair sculptor, but I didn't have the time or the confidence to attempt something this complicated. So my dad graciously donated his time and skill to do the job. 
He sculpted it in Super Sculpey, and I made the mold with Ultra-Cal 30. 
The teeth are made from epoxy putty and fired Sculpey. All the tentacles (and tongue) were molded separately, and then attached to the armature through holes cut out of the sides. 
Once the puppet was painted and assembled, I set the stage for animation.

He was on a green screen, mounted to a tripod which poked through a hole in the tabletop. The tripod acted two fold -- as a stable anchor point, and as a means to incrementally raise, lower, or tilt the puppet. I also mounted a small light to a helping hand so that I could animate it to match the flashlight from my live action footage.

Animation took 15 hours over two days. For each frame I had to make 16 moves (tentacles, arms, mouth, tongue, eyes, tripod, flashlight, drool, etc…) and turn the overhead lights on and off. So I was averaging about one second each hour. 

The monster's design was an interesting bit of evolution. We went through a few different versions, some with a rather amorphous shape, others with more anatomy, some looked kind of alien -- but all of them were supposed to be rat-like.

In fact, the whole concept for the film spawned from an old (really old) drawing that I had in my sketchbook. 
Originally it was a little boy and a teddy bear – the monster hiding just out of sight, waiting to pounce.

I of course changed quite a few things, but the end result still contains the bones of the first concept: A monster in the basement, using its tongue (with something interesting on the end) like an Anglerfish to lure its prey. 
By the way, the mouse was a real mouse. And in case you were wondering, it was a freeze-dried mouse that I purchased from eBay -- the little bugger cost me $35!
At one point, we had made a fake mouse, and it was naked and really weird looking. But in the end, I decided the real mouse worked better.

The tongue that you see on the floor, leading from the mouse was a large prop made from thin packing foam, rubber bands, and liquid latex. It was roughly 9 feet long… and looked dumb. 
No, really. After the first four feet or so, it didn't look good on camera. So the part you see in the film, where the tongue starts moving, was actually the tiny little puppet tongue that I animated and composited into the scene. 
And that's what was so ironic -- the little tongue that was never even supposed to be shown, ended up looking better than the big tongue that we made specifically for closeups!

The drool was made from clear school glue and liquid starch -- you can find the recipe here.

As I said before, this short was done in two days, with a few extra hours here or there for reshoots. 
I had made a storyboard, and practiced the shots before filming even started. That way I would be able to save set-up time, because I already knew where all my lights were going.

As you can see, the actual film didn't stray very far from the boards. The reshoots, however, were mainly for unforeseen things like POV shots, or the girl's reaction to the monster. 
Because, on paper, you only get a general idea of how it's going to work, but you don't get to see it in motion, with music, etc. 
I had considered making an animatic, but time was not on my side. 

Speaking of music, I'd like to take this opportunity to say thanks to the guys at Film Riot, for their great royalty-free music packs -- of which, 70% of the film score was made. With the other 30% being me on my keyboard in Garageband.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Yes, it's finally time. The new short is here! And this one is special -- being that it's my first ever attempt at live action. 
For the best viewing experience, I would highly recommend using headphones if you have them.
Without further ado, here it is... and be warned, it's scary.

Bait from Santino Vitale on Vimeo.

This film was an incredible learning experience. Everything that went into it, from the perils of production, and "on set" etiquette, all the way to new puppet-making techniques and extensive sound design -- everything was new, and exciting, and challenging.
I say, "on set," even though I filmed this whole thing in my house.

Which makes for a neat segue to the technical stuff -- FUN FACTS:

This whole film was shot in 2 days (with a few extra pick-ups shot later). With a crew of 2 and a budget of $660. I originally estimated that it would cost around $450, but things quickly ballooned.
I made a pie chart.
It was shot on a Sony A7s and my Canon T3i -- the Sony was rented from the wonderful folks at LensPro To Go. I only had the camera for 4 days, so I used the first two to figure out how it worked, where all the buttons were etc, and the remaining time was filming.

I used a Samyang Ultra Wide 14mm f/2.8 for about 70% of the film, with a few old M42 primes thrown in -- a 28mm, a Hanimex 35mm, Pentax 50mm f/1.5, and a 135mm.

90% of the film was shot with available light, the rest being lit with some cheap LEDs and clamp lights from the hardware store. We would generally start the day around noon, and shoot till 9 or 10 at night. Which means, most of the film was day-for-night. A ton of color grading was used to give this film the right look, and I'll be detailing everything in a behind the scenes post that's soon to come.

For now though, I'll stop my rambling and just show you the monster -- his name is Walter. And as you can see by the pie chart, he wasn't cheap to make… come to think of it, pie charts aren't cheap either.

I'll see you all later. Be sure to keep an eye out for the BTS stuff. I've got a ton more info that I didn't cover here, including in-depth creature design and construction, as well as animation tests and more!

Monday, June 6, 2016

DIY Foam Oven – Part II

As of yesterday, the "foam oven of doom" has had it's first successful trial run!
It ran for a total of 3 hours without catching fire or exploding, or something going horribly horribly wrong. 
Overall, I'm quite pleased with its performance.

Now for the tech stuff -- after a lot of testing, I found that with an 1,100 watt hot plate, I needed to set it to 'high' rather than the low or medium settings that I originally intended. Reason being -- the interval in which the heat cycles from on, then off, and on again, is too far apart (approx. 12min on low, 8 on medium) to maintain a constant temp. 'High' on the other hand, has a cycle of about 5 minutes, give or take.
With the plate going at such furious temperatures, I realized that the oven would need to be vented so that the heat would stay at an appropriate 160˚ – 190˚F range. 
I ended up cutting a 2 inch hole in the top for heat to escape (fig. 1). And repositioned the fan so that it sucked air in from the outside of the oven (fig. 2).
This arrangement not only facilitated convection, but also kept the oven temperature cycling steadily from a high of 190˚F to a low of 160˚F, and up again. 
This means the moulds were averaging 175˚F. 
I monitored all this with a cheap digital probe thermometer -- the probe itself was poked through the top of the oven close to the center for a general reading.

Finally, I finished it off with an old oven rack sourced from a junk shop (fig. 3). It didn't fit perfectly at first, so I had my uncle cut it down with a grinder. It was installed with 8 1.75in screws -- 4 on each side -- the rack can now support 20+ pounds with ease.

As you can see, a foam oven wasn't the 'easy weekend project' that I thought it would be. It's a ton of work, and problem solving, and testing.
But if this test is any indication, it could turn out to be quite useful. 

Just as an aside: I continually monitored this thing while it was running. And I noticed that the longer it ran, the "gap" in the temperature cycle started to close -- originally 160˚ – 190˚F eventually turned to 170˚ – 192˚F… after 3 hours mind you.
So, on a long enough timeline, I imagine the oven would get hotter than the 'foam-zone' -- obviously, not by a lot, but enough that I might have to make a minor adjustment to the vent system.

Overall, though, it seems to be shockingly consistent for a homemade hotbox.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

DIY Foam Oven

In times past, I've talked about casting puppets in foam latex. I've shown molds and sculpts, and even puppets that have failed miserably -- But I've never talked much about my actual foam running process.
So here it goes.
Up till now, I've always baked foam in a little twelve by twelve (by twelve) inch convection oven that looks something like this -- minus the pizza, of course.
I got it on sale from a local grocery store for $40, and have used and abused it for the better part of eight years -- it was basically "the little oven that could." 
Now, what it had in economical durability it obviously lacked in size. Thus, I have always struggled to make puppets, and the molds that hold them, small enough to fit that cramped space. I've molded things in pieces, severing head from torso -- I've molded things bent into "S" or "C" shapes, all to cut-down the overall volume of the piece (sometimes to the puppets' detriment). 
So after many years like this, I've finally run out of options. I was forced to either, price-out a new
industrial size oven (which is incredibly expensive) or build one from scratch.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the FOAM OVEN OF DOOM!

It's not quite finished, as I'm sure you can tell -- as it stands now, it's in the "testing" phase. 

TECHNICAL STUFF: I made this from scrap plywood that I found around the house, thus, the overall size of the oven was dictated by the size of the board I used. However, under normal circumstances (that is without shoestring budget constraints) one would want to build their oven as large as possible so as not to impose size restrictions on future molds. 
That being said, I settled for interior dimensions of: 21" x 21" x 21". This will allow for a maximum mold size of one inch under the aforementioned dimensions (yes, "aforementioned dimensions" say that five times real fast).
After the boards were cut and assembled, I lined the inside with half-inch foil insulation that I got from the hardware store -- cost $9 – $11 depending where you get it -- And taped all the corners with foil tape -- $7.98.
The heat source will be a 1,100 watt hot plate -- cost $11.99.

Remember, a foam oven needs to accomplish two primary goals, 1) maintain a low heat setting of 160-180˚F.  and 2) distribute that heat evenly -- so you need a fan.

This was the first fan I bought… it melted on the first test and now I need another one. 
So always remember, cheap plastic fans MELT IN OVENS!!
For the next test, I'm going to reposition the fan away from the heat, instead of sucking it in. Which, if you all can learn from my mistake, more power to you -- what I've learned so far, is that it doesn't seem to matter what direction the fan is faced, if it's blowing left, or right, or down, or even straight across the surface of the hot plate, just so long as the air inside the oven moves around.

And for the last of the technical stuff -- I managed to get my hands on a few old oven racks. It's obvious what those will be used for -- but what I'm finding, is that the distance between the heat source and the mould is going to be a little tight; at about 7 -10 inches above the hot plate. Again, under normal circumstances, you'd probably want something like a foot, maybe a 16 inches, just so the mould isn't under so much direct heat.
Once everything is working, I'll be connecting the fan and hot plate to a power strip so they can be started simultaneously. 

Total (approximate) cost: $50. 
And if you add the $12 for hinges and misc. hardware -- $62.
Of course there were two fans in my case, so that would be: $77.

But as I said at the start, I already had some scrap wood, so that reduced my cost by about $13

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Short...

…coming soon…

Yes, it would appear that I'm in the process of finishing my first ever LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM!
I'm about 85% finished with the editing and am moving on with sound and music.
There will be a little animation in this as well -- can't give too much away, but I've been working on the armature and will be posting pics of the new foam oven that I have to build very soon.
With any luck, you'll be seeing the final cut on Youtube and Vimeo in just a short while. In the meantime, enjoy this little screen-grab of one of the finished scenes.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

B.T.S. Baby

Here's a brief video showing the basic effects in "F for Formula".
Formula VFX Breakdown from Santino Vitale on Vimeo.
As you can see, all the effects were processed in After Effects -- extras like the arm holding the bear and spit-up were left out of the video for sake of time (and also, because I assumed them rather self-explanatory).
The film grain came from an online grain pack which you can find here at HolyGrain.
I'm quite pleased with the way it performs (all functioning though use of blending modes) it's quick and extremely customizable for the price -- though if I had more money to throw around, I'd definitely consider Cinegrain for it's wider variety of looks... or even Film Looks which at first glance, seems just as varied but for half the cost.
Anyway, product placement aside (I wish I got paid every time I said "After Effects") I'm pleased to report that I'll be submitting Orson to some film festivals here soon.
More info on that as it goes.
Also, I'll be moving forward on some new projects...... just as soon as I figure out what they are.

That's all for now.