The last stages of building


Above is a timelapse of the last day of official work (the video is a bit low quality).  We shipped the sets the day after and have set them up in the studio.  Karin (and possible Nancy, another builder) will be coming here in about a week to finish some of the houses, and survey the setup.

Below are some of the stills.

Concepting heads


I’m trying to work out a visual vocabulary for the level of caricature in the film.  This is one of the tests – above is the turn around of the high detail version, and below are some shots of variations.  One of the concepts in the film is that the characters are imprinted with some of their personal histories – kind of like scars.  It’s not clear here, but I’ll keep posting examples of what that means in later posts.  These examples are also a bit conservative – I’ll be trying to push a bit more in the next couple of iterations.

Again, these are done with ZBrush.

Bang & Olufsen commercial


This is a recent HD commercial I directed for Bang & Olufsen, produced at Mark Film.  Thanks to the great team I worked with: Tore Rex, Jesper Bentzen, Jimmy Levinsky, our producer Claus Toksvig, and the really fantastic guys at Mark Film.  Thanks also to Lawrence Marvit, who worked on the matte paintings and background design.  We had about two actual weeks of shot production with the full crew, and some additional time for pre-production, asset building, sound and finishing with a much smaller crew.

I got to try out a number of production ideas on this spot – which proved to be a good test bed for the film workflow.  I also locked the storyboards well before the crew came on board, and we relied heavily on the 2d animatic to plan out the schedule, focusing our time on only what the camera would see.

At some point I’ll try to put up a “making of” and some additional images.

Buildings and terrain

These are some of the latest pictures from the workshop.  We have four miniature outdoor environments, which are set on reinforced plywood and foam.  Karin has been cutting through the foam with a chain saw to establish the major forms, and from here we’ll go into the details.  A number of the streets are cobblestone (the pattern we’ve made is on the rolling pin), and the sidewalks are based on Berlin sidewalks – which are wide and both tiled and cobblestoned.

Loco 2nd Generation, stable and shipped


So we shipped out our 2nd generation LEGO rig to a studio in Germany, who’ll be working with it for the next year on a combination stop-motion/CG project.  Above is a quick timelapse test I did this morning – the camera is running through the middle of people, dogs, movement, and general unrest in my squeaky wood floored studio.  The rig got a bit pushed on occasion, but the move came out incredibly stable – what you see above is directly from the camera.

All of pictures you see below are with the top mount.  There is also a 1.5 meter bottom mount to hang the camera.  Notice how the rig transitions to black – this is some laborious hours sanding, washing, and spraying the rails and base plate.  For the next rig, we’ll try to hire someone else to cover some of these areas.

I’ve also implemented the iCommand NXT library, a command (not VM) based project of leJOS.  I’m having much better luck with setting rotation limits, and stepping down the power as we approach the actual rotation target.  I’ve also implemented some parity compensation, as well as gear lag, in the software package, and the data structures are a bit cleaner.  It looks as though I’ll be writing a keyframe interface as well in the next month.

I’ll be flying down to Germany on Sunday to set up and test the rig on the set there.  If I can (I’m not sure about the NDA restrictions), I’ll post some pictures.

As for the future – are you can see, parts of the rig are still Mindstorms driven, and LEGO built.  There are benefits (modular construction, easy to refactor), and some looming disadvantages (plastic parts on top of that list), and at some point, not the next generation, nor, probably the one after, we’ll consider looking into other microprocessor boards and sensors, and designing the rig in a slightly different way.  I think LEGO will continue to play a big part in the development, and certainly the feedback sensors, which is our biggest focus for the next version(s), will continue to be in the design and prototype process.

The LEGO rig on set

Goutte d’Or is now running with the LEGO rig daily on set.  Here are some images around the ship and of the new lift.  Above is one of the latest camera moves.

Character concepts

Here are some character concepts – these are pretty dated, but still the ones I’m working off of.  The last one is a 3d sketch, trying to work out the look.

Reclining man: ZBrush test


This is a test for some of my process ideas.  I’ve gotten recently back into using ZBrush, and I thought I’d see how far I could get starting from just a polygonal cube – above is the result of about a day and a half of working with the mesh.  In production, I’d expect to have a posed (possibly) higher resolution base mesh, with a nicer topological layout, but this was an exercise in figuring out how much mesh resolution I really needed to start with.

I expect that the majority of secondary characters in the film will have very little movement on a shot by shot basis, and rather than fully rigging/modeling/texturing these characters, I expect to work predominantly from the camera’s perspective.  It’s an idea I tried out on a recent commercial project I directed and supervised (which at some point I’ll put up here).  The storyboards and 2d animatic were locked down (after many revisions) well before production, which allowed us to really economize the production time on only what we would see.

Below are some progression shots.

New modules and Goutte d’Or


Above is a test clip we shot yesterday for Goutte d’Or, a stop motion film by my friend Christophe Peladan, which is using the LEGO rig.  I’m rebuilding the lift, and using a more modular construction for it.  I’ve also organized a large part of the LEGO collection, which you can see below.

There have been some great replies on the nxstasy forum to my questions about minimizing slop in the gear train for our rig.  With any luck, this new version will add some more stability and user friendliness.

The software has also been updated to deal with both the Canon EOS 40D and the Canon EOS 400D.

LEGO Motion Control v2



We’re building the next major iteration of the motion control system, and are thinking of supplementing the LEGO with some more stable parts – the major part is the baseplate of the rig, which we’ll use MDF to start with, and see how much stability it brings.

Tomorrow, the 1st iteration rig also starts getting use on La Goutte D’or, a stop motion puppet film in production in one of the other buildings here.  With the new seek algorithm, I’ve sped up the incremental moves by 300%, which means we can shoot about 8-12 seconds automated per hour.

The movies above represent moves run with the new software.  I’ve started consulting my handy American Cinematographers Manual to look at the pan and lift speeds.  Both moves are processed with the “smoothcam” node in Shake.  As far as I can tell, the amount of pixel shifting that happens when smoothing has a minimal effect on the plate – I don’t see much introduced blur, especially since our processing happens at 4K (roughly), and then gets downsized to 2K.  I haven’t yet tracked a “smoothed” shot, so I might discover some issues there.  The jitter in the original plate is also pretty minimal, and hopefully with the next iteration of the rig, we can bring it even further down.

Below are some images of the 1st iteration.

Realism test


This is simple test with a still image of the miniature shoot from last year.  The idea to to see how much I get from the plate, and how much I need to add in order to hit a high level of detail.  The doll was our character stand-in – the animation is just some image warping.

Most of the work is done in Shake (with a bit of Photoshop).  I’ve added live elements, balanced light, lens flare, defocus, a background replacement (with a simple key), animation, and a bit of paint over to cover up some odd lighting in the original plate.

Below is the original image:


These are some images from the bedroom build (which, for schedule reasons, happened almost a year after the first build).  Karin made a brick pattern from a transparency and selected areas where the features would show on the walls.  The floorboards are cut from the side of a wooden beam, then placed, sanded, painted, sanded a couple of time to get a worn look.

Buildings 1

This is a glance into the building process.  All of these buildings are built to 1:24 and will eventually represent the city in the film.  The buildings are separated into a foundation (that goes into the sidewalk), a store front, and a top level.  The top levels will double as regular houses in some of the shots, and some of the top levels are interchangeable (with the store fronts).  Again, the credits go to Karin Ørum.

Doors and windows

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading different parts of our miniature process.  The work and design credit goes entirely to Karin Ørum, who’s been building all of the sets.

This is a selection of some of the doors and windows:

Old storyboards

As I’m updating this blog, I’ll also add some of the early pre-production work.  These are boards from near the beginning of the project.  The story and the boards have changed significantly since, as has my boarding style.


In preparation for the shoot, I’ve installed Earth from Rising Sun Pictures, which keeps track of disk usage.  It’s browser based, and runs off a Postgre database and RubyOnRails.  I think I’ll be expanding the server soon – since the pipeline is based around 16bit float (RAW/EXR), and the motion control shots will likely have more than one pass, our data for the shoot will take at least a terabyte of space.  The production, I’m anticipating, will easily eclipse that number.

Along with showing usage statistics, Earth also has a neat radial display:


Concept Mapping

I’ve recently discovered this open source tool for planning the production:

The below picture is my first try at mapping out some of the general processes in this film.




So we’ve gone back and forth with various modifications on the rig.  We added some boogie wheels and then realized that dynamic distribution of weight actually adds another factor of unpredictability to the motion.  The new rig is, however, more stable than the previous couple, and we’ve also attached a small Manfrotto head mount to the bottom of the lift.  Now the camera is much easier to mount.  The first movie below is the actual test, while the second is a stabilized version, taken through Shake.  The movie above is roughly color corrected, stabilized, and the background replaced.  The reflections in the mirror are Benny and I moving around as the move is running.



Proto4 test shoot2


This a clip from a rough shoot of one of our buildings.  In total we’ll have about 9 buildings, many of which we’ll be interchanging parts in order to add variation.

Our lift stopped working in the middle of the shot – a gear driving another gear on one of the four track gears slipped out of place, but because of the differential (which aligns the four rack gears), I didn’t notice the problem until too far in.  Our next version should deal with some of the workflow complications we noticed through this shoot.

I’ve added some different coloring to one of the front walls in this shot – just to see how that might look.  In order to do that, I first applied a lens undistort (you can see the distortion at the edges of the frame), then color-corrected the plate, with a traveling matte that followed the camera move, and then redistorted the plate.  This way, I can create a matte for the wall that has straight lines, and then, when I redistort, get the lens barrelling back into the image.

Below are some shots of the buildings and the shoot in progress.

Proto4 test shoot

So we shot some footage on our miniature set which is being built about 400 km away.  Over the next few days, I’ll be adding some more shots.  Above is one of the clips (the flicker is from the large sunlight in the workspace – we’ll be shooting in an closed off studio for the actual film shoot), with some work done in Shake to average the bluescreen, replace the background, and add the foreground flicker to the background (with a multiplier).

This is shot on our new set of rails (which are 2 meters long).  The rig will need some modification, since the rails are a bit tighter.  The lift is also a bit unstable (still), but we think we’re on the right track – using 3 differentials driving 4 24-tooth gears along 4 rack gears.  We should, hopefully be able to stabilize the motion completely.

Below are some of the photos of the shoot.