Psycho The Clown is official

As you know, the Twilight Ballrooms film has been a labour of love for me for the last 10 years and will continue to be so for many years to come as I’m only half way through. The reason it takes so long is because I am doing everything from writing, acting, directing, scoring, grading, compositing, 3d art, editing etc… this list goes on.

However there are one or two bits in the project which are not me. Buster Cristo’s car comes from a royalty free 3d object online repository. The sweet wrappers used in Mrs Kepelwicks shop (which I don’t think are in view anyway) came from a lovely fella called Jason Liebig (who collects sweet wrapper images on Flickr) and who gave me permission to use them. And this week I got kind permission from JP Pirie. Users of Snapchat may well have used his masks on their snapchat pics. It was one of his masks, Clown O Freaky, that I used (along with my face of course) to create the posters of Psycho The Clown. Not only did he give me his permission but even had a quick butchers at the website and was really encouraging with his comments. So, many many thanks JP Pirie!

Wits End Archive

This unique archive footage taken in 1979 shows the dilapidated state of Wits End. The footage was kindly donated to us by the Tour Guide of the closed Twilight Ballrooms.

Of course Wits End is fictitious. And any sharp eyed seaside fan would realise straight away that it’s Blackpool. And naturally it wasn’t filmed in 1979 but over 40 years later. Effects to degenerate it include saturation reduction, augmented green and red channels, white noise, dust and specks (created using fractal noise and random seed at 25p/s). And not to forget the fantastic Video Copilot Twitch plugin (the only plugin that WAS used mind) plus various other tweeks here and there. Weird, I used to dream of having a good HD camera 20 years ago and here I am with great footage degenerating it. Funny ol’ world.

Planet textures

Hope to publish soon a montage of planets I’ve been working on with my son. But I thought I’d share any easy tip today for making your planet look unique. Go to Google maps and, in satellite view, screenshot an area of terrain. The one shown below here was around China!

In the layers panel you can deselect the labels giving you a clean image.

Now the only drawback of using this as a texture is the poles won’t be seamless and you’ll see the join. But the easiest way to solve this is to just not show those sides of your sphere when you do your composite. Then using After Effects, make the image black and white and then using levels tweak the image to something as shown below. This will become your bump map.

This will be a desert planet so no need for glossiness or reflection. And this is the result!

Stay tuned for the montage coming soon. Still have to do the music for it too!

Vocal Remover

There are many ways to isolate vocals from a song. The results vary and can rather depend on your source material. For example if you have an instrumental of the same track you can “invert” that against the original. Mathmatically speaking, it’s the original(with vocals) minus the instrumental (without vocals) equals the vocals. And this effects can be done easily on open source (free) software such as Audacity

Vocalremover.org

If that fills you with dread then don’t be put off – there is a much simpler way. Whilst the result won’t be perfect, this method will certainly allow you a rough separation of vocal and instrument without the need for the instrumental track and as easy as clicking a button. The algorhythms (yes deliberate misspelt pun) on vocalremover.org are pretty impressive. They can make the split on most tracks that you choose to upload. However, choose wisely as it will only allow you to split up to 3 tracks a day.

If you’re a budding amateur muso like myself, you will be fascinated to listen to the accompaniment of many tracks without the distraction or noise of the singer.

I love a good instrumental as one of my Spotify playlists demonstrates.

Synthwave Art

Wikipedia says “Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth) is an electronic music microgenre that is based predominately on the music associated with action, science-fiction, and horror film soundtracks of the 1980s. Other influences are drawn from that decade’s art and video games.”

So, think Tron meets Bladerunner. The colours are usually neon lit or based on old computer graphics. There is quite a nostalgic sometimes melancholic quality about these graphics. Themes usually promise adventure and reward in a brave new electronic world whilst using quite basic shapes and perspectives. The accompanying music is almost always synthesiser with artists like Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Jean Michelle Jarre. Indeed I listened to the entire Equinoxe album by JMJ recently (listen to Part 5). For electronic escapism it simply can’t be beat.

I hope to try and compose some original tracks in the future of this style. But in the meantime I’ve used a two minute excerpt from an apt song by Pet Shop Boys called “This Used To Be The Future” – a great song featuring Human League’s Phil Oakey and vocals from BOTH Pet Shop Boys. The song was never released as a single so I’ve created an unofficial video using a montage of some of my Synthwave Art clips. Enjoy.

Farewell to Flash

In the early days of the worldwide web many sites looked, by today’s standards, ridiculously simplistic. Text and pictures displayed often with little style design and using default fonts from the computer they were showing on. Video was almost impossible to show. The competition was on to fulfil peoples webdesign needs and it wasn’t long until one serious contender came up.
Adobe Flash, with the release of a language called ActionScript, allowed people to embed their designs in a swf (shockwave flash) This opened up a world of possibilities including video streaming, animation and embedded fonts. It wasn’t long before any site looking to the future would embed an swf on their html and boom….a great looking website. And Tranquility Base was one of those sites.

The site in 2001. This version was before the films started in 2003 and was more an online resource for actors. This concept continues today with my site ActorCV.co.uk –
Note the site was going through a name transition

What you saw was what you got and animation was made possible with a timeline in the swf builder Adobe Flash (now Adobe Animate). Video files were often in .fla format and if memory serves me right, early YouTube used this format. For a novice such as I things got more complex than I thought necessary with the introduction of ActionScript 3, but for game designers it was a necessary evolution.

As a webpage format on desktops, Flash Player was a great asset. But by the birth of the smart phone and tablets, cracks were beginning to show. Flash players weren’t battery friendly and many companies opted not to include the player on their operating systems. In an open letter in 2010, Steve Jobs pretty much sealed the player’s fate saying that Apple’s iOS had and would never use the player, opting for HTML5 as the way forward. And that was that.

It’s now 2020 and Adobe has announced the End Of Life for Adobe Flash Player, even for desktops. Safari stopped using it a while back and after the New Year, we’ll witness its demise.

Can’t help feeling this end of an era is a shame. Nothing has really come along since that has given the amateur web designer so much possibility and dynamic. Everything since 2010 has felt like a big step back and even Adobe Muse was shortlived. WordPress and Drupal are good but slow evolutions and again don’t offer the wealth of style that Flash did. Maybe I’m just getting set in my ways which isn’t good in such a fast evolving environment like the internet. And I’ll always be sentimental for yesterdays.

Moving clouds tutorial

This is the first movie diary entry where I actually share a good tip in post production. And it’s an effect I use a lot in the Twilight Ballrooms movie. Parallax with a 2d photo. Making a static pic of clouds come to life with a good 3d optical illusion. And its simple. CC Slant.

I do mumble a bit when I don’t have a script so I hope this isn’t too dull an entry, but if you’re a PostProd nerd like me I think you’ll love it.

The Sun Always Shines on TV

I was extremely late to the party with this song, only hearing it for the first time ever in March 2018 (The radio was seldom on in my childhood house) and I fell in love with the track.

Two years later at the start of lockdown I was trawling through YouTube and found the isolated Morten Harket vocals. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to unofficially team up with such a great singer (whether he wanted to or not) and decided to try my own version of the accompaniment. And this is it. Best listened to on headphones.

The track is the first to be mastered on my new DAW and took about 3 months, which seems long but was not helped by the new iMac arriving over a month late, increased parental duties caused by lockdown and learning how to use Logic Pro. Also I started subscribing to Roland Cloud which is a MASSIVE library, yet amazing value for money. Another post on that later but for now I will say this track includes among others a Roland D50, Juno 106, TB-303, an Emulator II and a Korg M1 – all classic 80’s synths!

If you’ve found this page by chance and you happen to know me back in the 1980’s or 90’s, then this track is dedicated to you!

Literally, a blast from the past!

When baking goes wrong

We are currently in Week 8 of the Covid 19 lockdown and on a more optimistic note, I’ve made about three years worth of progress in that time on the edit. But it’s not without it’s trials and tribulations. Here below we see the Box Office I drew a good 7 years ago. I’m now at the point where I need to use the model for some shots and am tidying things up. One of the tools I’ve been using recently to speed up modelling was importing from C4D into Element 3d – the excellent plugin from Video Copilot – which can handle basic 3d models much faster in After Effects than C4d and is excellent for constructing the final composite of the shot you wish to use.

But sometimes it goes awry. And when it does, it can go almost surreally awry as seen below. The top image is how it should look and the bottom is how it looks using C4D’s bake feature.

I’ll take this point to also give a shout out to two very useful free plugins for C4D – SteadyBake was very useful for exporting my 3d Fuse/Mixamo characters from C4D to After Effects. Also worth a mention is DropToFloor plugin which does exactly what it says on the tin – levels selected polygons/models to ground zero so to speak – a big timesaver and essential for avoiding glitches in later import/exports of your model.

Virtual studio

With both kids at school I’ve recently got my mornings back, which has meant that I’ve been able to have some time for myself and indeed the project. And when they went away for a week during the Summer holidays, I was also able to get some filming done. Currently I spend my precious free time working on the pub scenes in the film.

Working with a virtual set has many benefits. It’s cheaper which given my zero budget is always good. And the pressure to shoot on location and get everything right first time is also eliminated. A virtual set allows you to take your time to experiment and play around when it comes to camera positions and angles.

The Severed Arms virtual set

You can take your time getting the lighting right, take down walls if your camera angle requires it, take multiple retakes if necessary, takes care of props and continuity and so on. And, as I discovered, you can rebuild the set as can be seen here with the entrance door reset between the two pews opposite the bar.

Orientation has changed too. The Twilight was originally positioned outside the left windows but this too has been rejigged and now appears over Mundesley’s shoulder at the right windows, making it more haunting and menacing for him as they appear over his shoulder (he is sat on the pew on the far right by the toilets) I think I will also add a porch with side entrance to cover the entrance door in the pub.

For the edit I have files dynamically linked between After Effects and Premiere Pro. I am still developing a good workflow for both with much scope for improvement, but more of that in a future post.

The Tripods

The Tripods is a cult BBC sci-fi classic from the mid-80’s, a Satuday teatime tv trilogy which sadly got the boot after series 2. I, like many, was gutted and years later I’m still not quite over it. In fact only the cancellation of Channel 4’s Utopia has equalled the feeling. So as a kind of therapy I’ve recreated the opening titles using the brilliant original theme music by Ken Freeman

Old door to Ballrooms

I found the old front door of the old Twilight model today. Question is, should I incorporate it into the New Twilight on the pier or is it not in keeping and too ornate.
I’m stumped cos I quite like it. The original was not my drawing btw but from a royalty free library and then tweaked by me and placed in situ with the rest of the Ballrooms.
The clumpy stairs are definitely me though 🙂

More exterior shots

The history and evolution of the Twilight Ballrooms concept. From a house shaped theatre perched on top of a crumbling cliff to its final incarnation, a crumbling variety hall on a pier in Wits End.

This video will show the real life venue that inspired it – a venue that sadly burnt down almost 100 years ago!

POSTSCRIPT: This week, the end of Colwyn Bay pier collapsed into the sea. Eerily similar to the story. Full story here

Four Men in a Pub – Twilight Movie Diary

Since becoming a dad, the Twilight Ballrooms project has ground to a halt. That’s parenthood, there’s just no time to engage in the work required. So to sate your appetite and in a rare entry for the Twilight Ballrooms’ Movie Diary these days, I’ve decided to release this rough clip of an experiment I did a while back with a genuine scene from the film. The acting is rough, the cuts are crude but it was fun to explore the green screen environment (the set is CGI by me). It also explored the feasibility of playing all the parts myself – if I can brush up on the accents that is! (which, if you hadn’t noticed are English, Irish and Scottish for the pub regulars and American for Buster Cristo) This would certainly help save money as I can’t afford to pay anyone being a zero budget project, nor do I wish to exploit anyone’s talent for zero pay.

Also on a practical note, it would be easier for reshots and dubs! When I did A Life Of Brian (my first half hour project) my friends all worked for free. It was their 30th birthday present to me. However I only had them for a few days and in the proceeding months, during the edit, I was frustrated when I found I needed a link line recording or a clip redoing. I remember having to edit a conversation together from two recordings I’d recorded in different places and revisiting the location with my partner to shoot more clips. All of course without the actors. So this project, given its virtual environment, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that life would be easier and more flexible if I just play all the parts myself. Well, not ALL the parts, but more on that anon!

PramCam is here!

At the start of this year I became a father! As any parent will tell you, the new responsibility is a full time job. And that’s as well as the other full time job that pays your bills. Naturally, progress on my film projects and posts to this site have become few and far between. That is, until I realised on my walk in the park the other day that the pram I was pushing would make a terrific dolly. So I purchased a Joby Grip Tight and Gorilla Pod stand – basically a tripod for the pram and my iPhone. Then using the Instagram Hyperlapse app, had a go. The result below has been speeded up and stabilised even more with After Effects.

Sad day for Eastbourne

© Jeff & Brian taken from Wikimedia Commons

I visited Eastbourne for a photoshoot back in 2011 – for the Twilight Ballrooms project. I took many photos including many of the historic and famous Victorian pier.
Sadly the amusement arcade caught fire yesterday and completely gutted the first section of the pier. Many have said that it’s a relief the fire only took 30% of the pier but it will put the entire pier out of action for a long time and this includes many small businesses. It will also be a concern to many that, as has been the case with piers like the West Pier in Brighton, that follow up disasters can occur as the pier is effectively unmanned in the following months. Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen.

What if…?

On-Pier-Rough3Have entertained the notion recently that the Twilight would look like a pavilion and it and the Rubicon rollercoaster, essential parts of the film, would be on a rotting pier rather than on the edge of a cliff. Radical I know. To help illustrate this I’ve done a rough mock up of what I mean. The Rubicon is at the back of the pier with the end part missing as per accident in 1973. The pavilion is a basic 3d model I’m working on based on the original pavilion at Victoria Pier in Colwyn Bay which itself was destroyed by fire in 1922 (the actual pier still stands but sadly has fallen into ruin). The pier structure used in this composite is a photo I took of the pleasure pier at Eastbourne. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Let me know what you think and whether the new look Twilight could be the way forward. Is it spooky or dangerous enough? Does it make you want to know it’s story, especially the collapsed roller coaster at the end? Feel free to add comments below. More composites to come!