Friday, September 24, 2010

On Becoming Bike-centric ...

(I can't believe it has been almost a year since my last entry ... pathetic!)

At any rate, in the intervening months it seems I have somehow become fascinated with mountain biking (albeit of a much tamer variety than most enthusiasts). I must admit that I never saw it coming as my interest in exercise and the outdoors has always been marginal at best. Somehow that changed without me noticing, and I have found it all but impossible to resist the charms of the beautiful Wasatch front (where I live) and go for a least a brief ride 6 days a week. The picture above was taken this summer as I rode with my 2 brothers-in-law (both a good decade younger & fitter) through the trails of Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park near Vernon, British Columbia ... that's in Canada for those who might think B.C. sounds like an island somewhere ... or a chronological term (and no, I'm not being snide ... I met people while attending an American university who asked those very questions in perplexed sincerity).

Here's a shot of the trail map ...
... and of the spectacular view (one of many).

I have to admit that not all of my family's summer vacation activities this year were as uplifting ... we arrived at my parents farm just in time to help with the annual "chicken harvest" ...
... and yes, I usually play "Chief Harvester." Believe it or not, this grizzly chore does actually provide some pretty hilarious bonding moments (as most hard work usually does).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Music Videos & Product Promos

I mentioned having had two interesting projects of late & thought I'd share a few details:

The first was a rush-job for a music video featuring a new song from the band Default called "Little Too Late," which was directed by Ryan Little. This involved taking 70 different shots of the band performing on a green-screen set and replacing the background with an imaginary cityscape. The initial step involved removing the green-screen from each shot while making sure the edges around the band members remained nice and clean. This was tough to do in some instances: occasionally one of the guys was standing quite close to the camera and nicely in focus, while another would be directly behind the first, yet much further away... and as a result, very much out of focus. (A very artsy-type of look, but a brutal, headache-inducing choice for the FX compositor to deal with, especially with a compressed timeline of only four days!!!)

The new background was a static image (called a digital matte painting) that needed to move around with the camera just like the rest of the image, in order to look as though it had all been shot at the same time. To do this, the original scene needed to be "tracked," a tedious process I won't bother to detail here, but through the use of a motion-tracking program (in this case, a wonderful software package called Mocha), I wound up with camera movement information that I could then apply to the background. That would get me about 85 -90% of the way, and then I would need to analyze and hand-tweak any movements that didn't match-up quite right. If all of this sounds labor intensive and detail-oriented, it really was... but the results were very cool!

The next project was a promotional video for ScatterTunes (you can view the final promo here). This involved creating a number of motion-graphic sequences to give the logo and individual features of this interactive media program a stylish, glossy look and feel. Although there was an enormous amount of work involved, this project was great fun creatively, and allowed me to try out several new techniques in simulating a 3D look using only 2D assets (as in this shot of three different MP3 players).

Each player is made from a high-resolution photo, and then made to look as if it has dimension within the virtual set. (I even added glossy screen reflections that move as the camera pans around the grouping.) I edited this piece and added additional sound FX as well, and am thrilled with how the final promo turned out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween '09!!!

We grew our own pumpkins this year, of both the orange and white varieties. As I was looking over my chosen gourd, the pale hue gave me the idea to cook-up a quick batch of home-made playdough (as mentioned previously on this blog) and sculpt my Jack-O-Lantern this year instead of carving it! (Even the teeth and gums are made of the same stuff.) A quick wash of highly diluted water colors, and a finishing spritz of spray-on cooking oil (for that ultra-slimy look), and my evil goblin/pumpkin was complete!

This gravestone was made a few years ago as a family project, with each of my kids making their own out of styrofoam insulation and using a paper stenciling technique I came up with. You tack down a large sheet of cheap roll paper with spray adhesive onto the styrofoam sheet (already cut into the basic shape of your stone). Then you draw out your design, and carefully cut along the lines with an X-acto knife. Remove the 'negative' space, or the areas around your main design elements (like the skull and lettering in my example) ... basically, anything you want to carve 'in' to the stone's surface. Once that's done, lightly spray a solvent-based chemical (like paint remover) over those uncovered areas and watch the evil concoction eat-away at the foam (like Alien blood)! I spray it on a little at a time to get the right depth -- too much looks wrong, and you can't reverse the process. Then you strip-off the remainder of the paper stencil, and paint the thing, spattering the base color (usually gray) with lighter and darker tones to give the whole thing a speckled, ancient stone feel. It's pretty easy & a lot of fun!

Besides these gruesome delights, I've been busy working on some cool new projects, including fx work on a music video and some very elaborate motion graphics for a large-scale promo video. More later!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

She's Back ...

"She's Back" by David Laub © 2007-2009

Is that cool or what? The only thing more cool to me right now besides the fact that this wonderful image was created by my good friend, the artist David Laub, is that it also won the Silver Award in the "Unpublished" category of the Spectrum 16 Awards! Dave's work has always inspired me -- he is truly one of the most gifted artists I have had the pleasure of working with.

"King Slug" by David Laub © 1988-1993

This is an original that Dave gave me back in the early 90's that I've always really responded to -- it has such a haunting menace about it. I was writing a script at the time and this particular image really helped me define the aesthetic of my villain. (I'm sure Dave won't be too wild about me showing such an early piece in public, but hey! I'm the owner ... I can do what I want, right?)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

6 Years of Dreaming ...

Well, it's finally here -- Coraline the movie!!! It was six years ago this April when I first discovered this fantastic novel by Neil Gaiman. Although I had heard of him long ago (via my good friend & artist, Dave Laub), this was the first of his novels that I had read. It remains one of my favorites (if not the favorite) of his works, and spoke to me fiercely ... so much so that I raced to my computer the day after I finished Coraline, burning with the need to somehow, someway acquire the rights to make a film of this story that had grabbed a hold of my imagination and wouldn't let go ... only to be crushed mere seconds into my search by the fact that the rights had been gobbled-up before the book had even been printed!!! That the director would be Henry Selick, the wonderfully visionary director behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach was somewhat consoling, but my "loss" remained a brutal blow.

We took our entire family to see it (all 8 of us!!!), and I was swept away by Henry's wonderful interpretation! I was worried that it might not retain the flat-out scares and terror of the book, but the sense of peril and maleficence was quite tangible -- my little 4-year old didn't enjoy the "Other Mother's" rampage so much. (I kind-of liked that it scared him a little ... I'm not sure what that says about my parental sensibilities ...)

So make sure you go and see it (especially in a 3D-equipped theater if at all possible) ... highly recommended!!!

I also wanted to mention that Mr. Gaiman just won the prestigious Newberry Medal for his latest novel, The Graveyard Book. It is yet another astoundingly entertaining read, but for maximum enjoyment, I recommend listening to him read it himself. (I mean, who could possibly do it any better?) Congratulations, Neil!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bloody Meats (Meier, that is!)

I've had the great pleasure of knowing Jim "Meats" Meier for a little over 15 years now. (If you don't know him by name yet, you owe it to yourself to check-out this phenomenal artist's work right this minute: Meats' Market). I hired him while I was working as the Art Director of a screen printing shop, and was blown away by his outrageous ability with the airbrush. I saw him latch onto Photoshop the minute we got a copy, and he's never looked back. The world of 3D opened up for him in a way few digital artists can claim, and his style is wholly unique. (Not to mention much admired -- reading some of his fan-boy posts even made me blush!!!)

Back in 1994, a local radio station ran a promotional contest for an upcoming concert with a band called White Zombie. You were to create a video no longer than 7 minutes, featuring the station's logo, the band's music ... and it was to be as gory as possible (the band, as its name implies, has a not-so-subtle penchant for all things macabre).

This came at a very opportune time: I had been developing some film projects and had been invited to pitch them to Roger Corman's studio, but lacked the fund-age to fly out to his offices in California ... and part of the grand prize in this video contest were 2 tickets to L.A. I had to do it!!! I have some experience in special effects make up, and (as mentioned previously on this blog) had developed a low-cost technique for quick (yet disturbingly realistic) blood-'n-guts using home-made play dough tinted with food coloring for fake 'skin' and Karo syrup-based fake 'blood.' (A Quick Side-Note: I had a couple of opportunities to show examples of my work to professional make up artists who were stunned to learn it was only play dough ... it looks terrific initially, but doesn't last long as it dries-out quickly and tends to slop-off when you move around too much -- you get what you pay for, right? Here's a quick example of a burn make up using the play dough & syrup trick:)

Back to the video contest ... there was only 1 discouraging fact: I heard about the contest on a Thursday evening, and the deadline was in only one week. To make matters worse, I had already committed to work all weekend long and was going on vacation the following Thursday, literally leaving me 3 days to do the entire thing.

Luckily for me, Jim and his entire house full of roommates were game to participate & willing to stay awake with me for 48 hours straight on Monday and Tuesday to shoot the video (when we weren't working). I edited the film all day Wednesday and then dropped it off on my way out of town on Thursday!!!

And guess what?

We WON!!!

(Unfortunately, after using my plane tickets and nervously making my way to Mr. Corman's office with my portfolio clutched tightly in profusely sweating hands, I learned there had been a family emergency that morning and that he wouldn't be able to attend me ... sigh. I wound up pitching instead to some low-level wannabe who actually claimed that Corman -- "King Of The 'B' Horror Movies" -- was no longer making horror movies. Okay, yeah, right ...)

It's been 14 years, and Jim has been asking me recently if I had a copy of the film (entitled Crunch) somewhere he could watch it again (presumably for old times sake). Well Jimmy Z, here it is:

DISCLAIMER: As I mentioned above, the whole point of this video was to be as gory as possible, so if you don't like that kind of thing ... best not to watch it, all right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ryan Peterson: Sculpting Lord

So I was gleefully wading through the vast expanse of behind-the-scenes goodness on the Hellboy II DVD, when I saw this image onscreen and began yelling incoherently to my wife, "It's his! Oh wow -- THAT'S HIS!!!" After calming down a tad and reassuring Glynis that nothing was actually wrong, I replayed the segment on the disk with director Guillermo del Toro speaking that featured a bust of Hellboy in the background created by my good friend Ryan Peterson. An immensely talented sculptor/artist, Ryan created his own version of the comics titular character after falling in love with Mike Mignola's creation, and had sent a copy to del Toro after the first movie was made.

Ryan has worked for many years in the special effects make-up industry in Hollywood, but relocated back to his beloved Utah to pursue his own artistic projects. I was lucky enough to work with Ryan on several video game productions, and have always enjoyed vicariously his experiences with the make-up legends that I used to idolize as a teenager (most notably Rick Baker and Rob Bottin).

Despite not having the opportunity of working on either the original film or its sequel, Ryan generously sent a copy to del Toro, who responded enthusiastically (and apparently took a shine to it)! I thought his version was realized with extreme skill, and I look forward to collaborating with Ryan one day -- he is both a fantastic talent and a wonderful person.