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!