Sneaky peek

I have fought off posting any clips of the Twilight Ballrooms safe for the trailer. However, this year marks the 20th anniversary of me starting this website and I couldn’t let it pass without doing something.

In 2015 I posted a clip of an opening scene from the movie. It was chiefly my first attempt at playing four characters at the same time and the technical challenges that involved. Well I’ve decided that given the script hasn’t changed, I will post the same scene again but from the finished film, so you can compare the two. The accents are still dreadful but YES it’s a first glimpse of the movie and the weird animated world of Wits End! Enjoy.

And given this posts theme is “money for old rope” I guess I can plug the anniversary film I did 10 years ago for that anniversary too!

More AI – Stable Diffusion

In the last post, we took a look at AI image generator Firefly by Adobe. Now it’s the turn of Stable Diffusion which can be used at clipdrop.co along with a host of other features and, unlike Firefly, is free to try. And in my opinion, it is superior to Firefly.

Judge for yourself. Below is the latest episode of the Twilight Ballrooms Movie Diary which starts with the prompt I gave it and the result it produced. I will add that all of these pics were also enlarged using Adobe Photoshop’s generative fill and I have added a Lumetri filter to make it really atmospheric.


And finally, a Happy 100th Birthday to the Big Dipper rollercoaster at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. I took my family there last week and for my kids it was their first time on a rollercoaster. We also went for a cream tea dance at the Tower Ballrooms where we were taught the Charleston accompanied by, you guessed it, the Mighty Wurlitzer! Ah heaven! Thoroughly recommend it!

AI – A revolution begins…

The year 2023 will go down in history as the year AI was released on the general public. Social media is already awash with people’s efforts. I’ve enjoyed ChatGPT (the GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer) and have jokingly called it my new friend. I’ve given it old essay questions from college and it’s churned out such impressive answers in seconds. I’ve also tried to baffle it with hard and surreal questions such as “Using Peppa Pig as a metaphor, explain string theory” or “Using follow-spotting as a simile, explain fascism!” And it’s answered everytime with erudition. With such “intelligence” there have been many media stories of scholars predicting the eventual destruction of our species because of AI, some suggest in as little as two years. Others have voiced concern about the job losses it could also lead to. But I digress.

This post is to showcase my latest efforts with Adobe Firefly. Currently in beta and therefore free (although I do subscribe to AdobeCC) I thought I’d check out it’s picture generator and why not try some Twilight Ballrooms ideas. So below is the result.

These are the pick of the crop. AI is still in its infancy and even with these images you can see some whopping errors. But they’re still impressive. And these haven’t been touched up with PhotoShop (even though I was desperate to). I very much wanted to present them as they were originally generated.

Each image has been generated through prompts given by me. For example, I’ve typed “An abandoned seaside resort in Britain. Closed down arcades and fish’n’chip shops and stalls. It’s dusk and stormy. Almost black and white with specks of colour” – I can then also add the styles, colour and tone, camera setup etc…

All creative AI still requires a prompt, clarification, focus and finesse. That’s the art bit. And for that reason I’m not convinced by those who feel threatened by it. All art requires the human touch. It’s merely the tools that are changing.

As for the Twilight project, I can’t see me swapping to AI to complete the project, but it is a great tool for inspiration, rather like a generative Pinterest. And would be amazing if you just wanted to create storyboards!

Meanwhile, in the background…

Detail is key to making something believable. Here you can see one of the many background buildings in Wits End. A closed down fish bar called The Golden Chip. And there’s a little story to this.

My family used to own a holiday chalet in Scratby (the original name for Wits End) in Norfolk. But my visits there were often with father, off season, so he could carry out repairs and decorate the chalet. I would often be left to my own devices and (this was roughly 1980 when this film is set) I’d wander off on my own and explore. Hence my love for closed down, off season seaside resorts. The weather was often hostile, the holiday facilities were often run down, shops were closed, many boarded up for the winter. I guess it was my own UK version of the Overlook Hotel. It was creepy, empty but at the same time exhilarating.

But unlike the Shining, my father didn’t turn into a psychotic axe murderer. My father was a quiet gentle man with a great, often dry, sense of humour. And at the end of the day, he would treat us to fish and chips which would be the highlight of my day. We’d buy them in Ormesby St Margaret which was a 10 minute car ride away. Despite it being called Ormesby Fish and Chips, my father would always refer to it as The Golden Chip.

Great memories. Miss ya dad xx

Wireframe and why!

I’m working on a big sweeping shot from the foyer of the Twilight through to the auditorium. It’s one of my biggest shots so far in one take and brings with it a variety of challenges and workarounds.

The biggest challenge involves the strain I put on my computer. The greater the strain, the longer the rendering, the longer it takes to complete. Good workarounds can not only radically reduce the time it takes, but it can also open up more possibilities and options in your post production workflow.

For example, the video below shows the shot I have in mind. At this stage I’m refining the movement of the camera shot as it pans around. This is easily done with keyframes – you do a start and end position and then tweek the journey in between making adjustments. However, seeing if it works is a challenge as the scene is so object heavy, its hard to get a smooth preview – it just jutters from frame to frame. One really needs to render it to see it at proper speed. Rendering in Wireframe is a much faster option.

I think when it comes to full rendering I shall use lots of object buffers and perhaps do two versions of the render, one of just the lobby and another just the auditorium. Stacking them together on After Effects will allow me to control the two rooms separately in post production – allowing for greater control on the final edit.

STOP PRESS

My recent work on the Twilight’s auditorium now confirms it as a 98 seater!

Liminal Space

My latest enjoyment is “liminal space” defined as “the physical spaces between one destination and the next.”

Since 2019 /liminalspaces has been a popular thread on Reddit

This is a clip of an animation I’ve been working on, based on a “creepypasta” called The Backrooms.

In my version there is a little twist at the end.

The Twilight Backrooms from Tranquility Base Presents on Vimeo.

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!

Fadr

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

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 Fadr.com are pretty impressive. Not only can it split vocals from drums, guitar and keyboards into 4 different stems, it also tells you the key of the chord being played and attempts (far from perfect mind) to convert them into midi tracks to help you get started on your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

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. Also perfect for remixes. Free to sign up. Have a play and try not to get addicted.Fadr

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