In Regards to Filming an iPad

Filming an iPad app is not a trivial task.  Sure you can record the screen directly, but then you don’t see the interaction of someone’s actual hand with the touchscreen.  Filming a screen though, presents interesting challenges, practically and artistically.

Below I describe the setups used by Capital Games during my Fall 2012 semester and then that used by Bravura during my Spring 2013 semester.  These were both semester long graduate projects and our teams are primarily game developers so we had no fancy studio equipment; just whatever the school had / we had lying around.

foodquest1

During Capital Games, we filmed our iPad app on top of our coffee table with the camera set on a tripod behind it.  The camera cannot be pointed straight down since the tripod legs would be in the shot; however you can see that the edges of the iPad slant slightly away because of the angle.  Our biggest concern was screen glare and so there is actually a black board help up above the screen.  Otherwise, only the ambient light from the room was used.  As you can see, the quality isn’t bad at all.  However, we did have trouble with white balance.  The hand and the table were very orange if we balanced to the iPad screen so we actually set the balance so that the iPad is a bit bluer.  Sound was recorded directly from the device via the headphone out.  Not bad for a first time.  Mike and I reunited on our Spring project, though, and we decided we would do it better.

Mike found a video about filming the iPad on top of an iMac with a white screen (I’ll put the link in when I find it).  This was an amazing breakthrough because:  (A) the background itself creates an even back-lighting that has the same temperature as the iPad and (B) the iPad’s natural habitat is floating in a clean white void.

IMG_0671

This however creates lighting problems for the hand, which will now be even more dark and orange against two screens.  So at first we tried to light the hand by throwing a projector against a bounce board.  This lit up the hand great; however, it also turned the hand a pale, zombie-white color.  So I started grabbing lamps we had lying around.  Incandescent bulbs throw a nice warm orange, but since we were balancing to blue already, that made everything too orange.  What I really wanted was yellow, but alas, I was making do with what we had.  So I grabbed a bunch of blue / green transparent folders and bags and draped them over the lights (fire-hazard, do not attempt unless you are monitoring the temperature constantly), which got us more or less there.  Our final setup looked like this when we were filming (the camera is not on the tripod … because I’m taking the picture with it):

IMG_0675

The same set up with the room lights on:

IMG_0669

The final result is below.  I still wish we had proper lighting setup to bring out the hand, but pretty good otherwise.

screen

EDS End of Semester Reflection

My Fall 2012 elective, Entertainment Design Studio, is over.  I’ve finished what was essentially an independent study in Fight Choreography and Filmography, and throwing myself right in to it (literally) has shown me a lot.  Even at the beginning of this semester, I knew that one semester of coursework would provide me no mastery in this field, but I do feel like I have seen a lot and become aware of the processes and considerations that a producer of fight scenes needs to be aware of.

Designing

  • Designing for your actors is essential for them to pull off a convincing performance and stay safe, but you need to know them almost as well as you know yourself.
  • The best fights fit in a larger universe.  What do they characters want other than to hurt each other?  How did they end up in this situation?  Et cetera.  Barring all of that, it’s still possible to design a technique-ly impressive fight.
  • A fight is a physical altercation; pick a location first and incorporate its space.
  • Pacing a fight and creating “phrases” of combat is the same as creating any plot/interest curve.
  • You will run up into many issues:  costuming, lighting, sound effects, etc.  Know they exist, know what your team is capable of doing well, and make clear what you are not.

Performing

  • Because images cannot show depth (except for 3D film now), stacking a strike and its intended target along the line of sight of the camera without the two actually meeting is still the best way to fake “contact.”
  • Stunt performers are actors foremost.  They might get “hit” for 4 frames, but they need to sell that hit for the next 24 frames or so.  Being able to exaggerate a reaction to something that never happened will make or break a fight scene faster than an incorrectly thrown punch.
  • Practice a fight scene like a kata or even better like a dance.  It’s controlled chaos; at every moment, people need to know where they should be and where everyone else should be.  More importantly, they should know when something is wrong and when to stop if their partner misses a beat.
  • Previous combat experience therefore can be a detriment to a fight performer.  Instincts to not give tells or exaggerate, instincts to break the opponents rhythm, and instincts to always keep one’s guard up all work against the aforementioned good practices.
  • Always have a third eye watching a performance, because the performance will eventually have to look good to a camera, and that point brings us to:

Filming

  • There is an intimate relationship between filming and performing a fight scene.  It’s almost impossible to find the best camera angles without being able to constantly move around the constantly moving performers, and vice versa, to perform properly to the camera if it is not there.  Specifically, because strikes and their targets need to stack relative to the camera as mentioned above, all three (attacker, victim, camera) all need to move together to avoid revealing “dead air.”
  • The 180 degree rule holds in shooting a fight scene for the purpose of continuity when editing.  There are however plenty of opportunities to let the action dictate when the 180 degree line will change.
  • In the same shot, film the actions before and after whatever is being showcased.  E.g. recovering from the previous punch, doing the complete backflip kick, and getting ready for the next kick.  You need this to be able to cut on an action to show rapid continuity while editing.

Editing

  • Editing a fight scene and its surprising number of shot angles is a stylistic art itself.  Long master shots to show off the performance.  Rapid close-ups to emphasize the emotional intensity.  When to switch between them and how to emphasize them.  You will have a preference; the editor will have a preference; the director will film to a preference.
  • Speeding up the performance for more impact is subtle and tricky.  Simply speeding up film can feel gimmicky and weird if done for more than fractions of a second or if the performers did not also do certain actions slower.  Removing single frames in places can help at key moments but it is exact and time-consuming.  What I found was best for compressing time was cutting on actions.  Perhaps performer A delivers kicks slowly but if you cut from one shot of A preparing their kick to a different one of B receiving the kick, you can lose that second in between and the audience still fills in the gap.  Note: This can keep the pace of the fight up, but it will not remedy performer A looking slow whenever they are on screen.

And to end on, here are selected bloopers from the semester:

Capital Games Personal Post-Mortem

The Fall 2012 semester at the Entertainment Technology Center is over:  Food Quest has been handed off to the client as well as into the ETC archives, and the Capital Games team is officially disbanded.

The team achieved a great deal this semester and I’m very happy to have been their producer.  My team really stepped up to every challenge and obstacle we encountered along the way.  I hope they’ve learned a lot, and as for myself, I feel like I learned a few things about producing as well:

From my advisors:

I met with my faculty advisors twice over the course of the semester for individual performance grades and evaluation, and they told me a good number of insightful things about me as a producer.  There are there main things I need to work on:

Leading the team:
I’ve normally got a passive personality, and that’s pretty apparent to anyone who meets me.  While the faculty sees me as doing extremely well with the administrative and clerical duties of producing, I’m not yet a figurehead.  This is something that I need to work on and I believe I can; I came to graduate school to improve what I’m not good at, not to continue to do only what I am good at.

Growing the team:
I’ve got personality quirk that isn’t a problem for me, but is detrimental to those around me.  That personality quirk is that I’m pessimistically optimistic:  I like to talk about how bad things might be so that we can make it turn out better; this is how I internally motivate myself to work harder.   Turns out that constantly lamenting how terrible the project is going to turn out is not the best way to motivate a team  and help them get in the mood to work hard.  It’s fine if I keep the pessimistic optimism for myself, but externally, I need to show more optimistic optimism.

Pushing the team to achieve:
My normally passive personality towards others makes it simple for others to get away with the “easy way out” in their work, and I need to recognize that and know not only when to retreat from challenges that are too big, but push my team towards challenges that they can overcome.  For Capital Games, the team took a bit of time to hit our stride at the beginning and could have arguably hit it a little sooner if we hadn’t let ourselves be so daunted by our project initially.

From Anthony Hildebrand:

Anthony was our Writer and Sound Designer on the team, but he plans to be a producer as well.    For our project, he wanted to be able to look at the producer from an external role so that he could learn from me and I could learn from him, and it worked.  As the producer on a team, I’m the “go-to guy” but it helped for me to sometimes have someone else I could “go-to;” moreover, having someone else to help evaluate and criticism my actions and decisions really helped me to grow and develop.

One thing that Anthony helped me with was my communication.  In my circles, I’ve never been the social leader-type, but around the time I started graduate school, I realized that most skills aren’t innate, they’re practiced, and so my communication is something that I’m actively trying to improve during my time here at the ETC.  Anthony helped point out a lot of my shortcomings and how to solve them:

  1. One thing was to be aware of falling back on certain words too much and “cheapening” them.  For myself, I too often use the word “definitely” when I want to sound confident: “X will definitely happen” OR “I will definitely do that.”  While being confident is important, I was using this speech tick too much as a crutch.
  2. The biggest thing, though was my lack of control in a conversation.  My default personality is the passive nice guy and I can be afraid of controlling a conversation because it feels selfish; Anthony explained that as a producer, it is important to let others have their say, but to then bring it back into the larger picture to show that you always know what’s going on.  One particular thing he suggested I practice as well is to end conversations on “a button” – when I know a conversation is ending, I should take control and leave an important takeaway that I want everyone to remember as well as finish with a definitive phrase that ends the conversation.

The biggest thing he helped with was helping to facilitate communication with the client.  On Project Xense, the client was more hands-off than here on Capital Games, but Anthony had dealt with a more responsive client on his own previous project at the ETC, Pixel Pushers.  He gave a lot of great pointers about how to help the client understand what the team was and wasn’t capable of, but moreover on how to make sure to address the client’s concerns while suggesting alternatives.  It can often be easy to push back aggressively against unexpected client demands, but one really needs to dissect the meaning of those demands.  If you understand what the client needs relative to what they want, you can come to a compromise that is acceptable to their values and your own schedule.

And of course, he kept my confidence up and made being on the team a fun time, and that’s an even more important characteristic of a good producer.

Visual Story Assignment 5

Final presentations for our fifth and final assignment have ended.  This assignment was about creating a music video given a color, object, and theme.

You can see the film that my team produced in my portfolio under “Film: Visual Story.”

Our team’s theme was daring yellows, a necklace, and romance.  The process was extremely rough and difficult at times, but this was a really, really fun assignment.

You can see right away that despite what seems to be a really, really simple set of guidelines, our team did something very ambitious.  This is due to my influence:  I had wanted to do a “fight” scene in Visual Story since the start of the semester.  The brainstorming process was still difficult though because we had to figure out how to integrate fight with romance.   Originally, we had thought about having two guys fight over a girl while both dancing with her at the same time.  While this idea was actually pretty cool, the amount of practice and choreography that would have been required was beyond us so we scaled back to just a girl and a guy.  The fight/romance was still difficult to resolve and our pitch went over rather sour, especially with Anthony Daniels as a visiting professor that day.

Eventually, with a bit of focus, we boiled our story and our goals down to the essence of what we wanted, which was this playful fight between the girl and guy.  We got really lucky with Jing as our actress since not only did we not have to outsource to the drama department but she is really great.

I had fun acting as well, and the choreography was also fun and fresh:  I helped come up with some of the gags and pacing, but a lot of it was improvised on the spot depending on what Jing and I did that seemed fun or funny.

I hope you enjoy this video; for me it really is the culmination of a great and fun semester of film-making for non-film-makers.

Building Virtual Worlds Round 5

Final presentations for our Round 5 projects have ended.  The theme this round was to make something for the BVW Show.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

My team from Round 1 got back together again for this round, looking to capture some of our previous magic.  This time, we made an ambitious choice to combine multi-player strategy gaming with a show element, and struggled through quite a few iterations of the game but the final product is pretty solid.

Luckily we decided to approach this round with a “lightening round” idea and polish it as much as possible; unfortunately, though, our choice in mechanic slowed us down a lot.  Coming up with a compelling strategy game takes a lot of balancing between control, random elements, and interest curve.  Moreover, multiplayer meant that there was a lot more implementation that would have to be done.  In fact, we changed our idea a multitude of times between interims and didn’t have our final design until after the last interim before finals today.  We went through ideas such as a silent auction to see-saws to scales and pulleys before settling on a simple tug-of-war style mechanic.  In regards to implementation, we started with Unity Phone, which still wasn’t ideal for having a lot of players connected reliably so over the course of the first few weeks, Zero spent most of his time with the help of Emmanuel developing a new web-browser based interface that people could use through their smartphones.  Turns out that this worked much more reliably than using the phone servers.

As to my contribution; I really did get a lot of opportunity to polish this project the way that I wanted to.  At the beginning while we were still finalizing the mechanic and aesthetic style, I took the initiative to model a whole multitude of low-poly prizes (cars, blenders, TVs, sofas, etc.).  Though these did not end up taking a main role as I had hoped, I did get to include them in the background of the final build.  The final tug-of-war mechanic did allow me to have a lot of fun animating our little characters, and they have a variety of different animations for each emotion.  What I am most proud about though is the subtle fact that they wave and acknowledge the guest when they receive a new command.  As to the overall environment, most every subtle detail that I wanted are there:  There are cameramen around the set that just rotate slowly and even a lighting grid on top of the ceiling  where little simulated spotlights are hanging from.

I had a lot of fun polishing this project, and the team was great.

EDIT:  This world made it into the Final Show!

Visual Story Assignment 4

Final presentations for our fourth assignment have ended.  This time our team had to produce a game trailer based off of the pre-production that another team did.

You can see the film that my team produced in my portfolio under “Film: Visual Story.”

We got the “Mario Paint” pre-production that Ninja Babies did, and did pre-production for “Windows 3D Pinball” ourselves.  This was a strange assignment and I think we did the best with what we had to work with.

The pre-production took a bit of brainstorming as usual.  I forwarded the idea of doing Windows 3D Pinball because we had watched the CollegeHumor Minesweeper trailer and thought it’d be funny to do something with a classic Windows operating system game.

As to production, the Ninja Babies pre-production for Mario Paint wasn’t that complex and we basically followed it exactly, adding some slight creative flair with the background as well as Dicky’s exaggerative acting.  Also, the voice-over came together towards the end as well, and I think it filled a palpable gap in the whole aesthetic.

Building Virtual Worlds Round 4

Final presentations for our Round 4 projects have ended.  This round we had to make a game that “told a story,” and my team decided to use Kinect as the platform.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

My team decided to address a more serious topic with our game this round I think the result turned out well.

The brainstorm process was a bit slow again, but this time because we had too much to work with.  Daniel Aum had a great idea for a complex and very cinematic story but we didn’t have the resources to execute the whole thing.  Many thanks to Chris Klug who helped us streamline the story down to what it is now.  We ended up capturing the essence of the story we wanted to tell, and Daniel did a great job too in choosing a subject that was well-known enough that we didn’t have to waste time in-game setting up any of the back-story.

I really pushed myself this round, and I really enjoyed it.  This was the first time that I had modeled and rigged humans, and they turned out really well.   I even had a go at putting bones in the faces and animating the mouths and eyelids.  The buildings were really ambitious, too.  I didn’t have CityEngine or any other procedural city-generating software so I just made 3 different types of floors, 3 different types of roofs, and a generic door, and mixed and matched building heights, orientations and texture colors.  The amount of scene work I had to do gave me a lot more exposure to Unity3D than any previous round as well.

I have to thank and apologize to my texture artist, Dan-Ah.  I made so many models that she became back-logged I had to UVW unwrap most of them for her especially since she had to spend so much time texturing our two human characters.  This was an enlightening experience though and I found that certain ways of modeling are not as UVW unwrap friendly.  I think 3D modelers and texture artist should coordinate to understand the difficulty of each other’s roles and pipeline better between themselves.  Something that I know some other teams in the class have had difficulty with.