End of the world

Oh, dear — the world is going to end tomorrow…just as we’re finally about to release Dreamer.  Darn it – wouldn’t you know….

I’ve  been reading the press reports from these last days guys for a while now, and their reasoning is just amazing.  They’ve got all kinds of evidence, all culled from the same place and all based on a central premise that is utterly unverifiable. One of the key players in this nonsense has seven kids, and is so convinced that his gig is up that he’s neglecting his responsibilities for his family’s future. Needless to say, he’s having trouble in his marriage.

The daffy, circular logic that I read in this doomsday theology reminds me greatly of the logic professed by so many of the conspiracy theorists these days….some stories get spun up, a lot of facts get twisted, and somebody makes a lot of money. This doomsday church is worth millions…..has anyone see any of them giving it away?

Daffy as they may be, conspiracy theories can be a lot of fun, and we’re going to lift the lid on some big ones in Dreamer. Our focus group gave us some  solid information last week, and we are busy now making the changes that our first ‘real’ audience suggested. Stay tuned — the dreamer will awaken soon.    Yeah, I know….the end of the world is tomorrow…..darn…..


Focus-Group Ready

Finally — it rained in Dreamerland….an effects shot that I have been working on for seemingly forever came together, and it rained in the composite.  I am not yet totally happy — the water we had sprinkled on the actor’s umbrella when we shot the green screen footage did not read, so now we have an actor standing in the rain with a seemingly dry umbrella. This I can deal with — the drought was getting old.  We are now close enough to fini on the establisher episodes that we can bring in a focus group to let us know if we are telling our story with any kind of clarity.  That will happen on the evening of Sunday, May 15,  and their report will tell us our launch date.  If they’re happy, we can probably pull the trigger on Dreamer in early June.  If not, well….we will see…..

This is not, as it turns out,  the first time it has rained in our studio. Several years ago our A/C got stuck in sub-artic and the temperature fell into the upper 40’s. It happened in the middle of the summer, so it always felt kinda nice when we first walked in.  The work crews our landlord sent over could not figure out what was wrong, and at one point (after about a week of putzing) they simply opened some induction vents to allow some of the hot outside air to get drawn in to our space. They did not fully appreciate the reality of the humidity levels on East Texas, and before long a cloud formed up in our lighting grid. Then the rain started, inside our studio.  I’m glad we were not paying that power bill…..

All Together Now

What a ride it has been — much longer and bumpier than I expected, to say the least.  We are, however, almost there — I dropped into place the last two green-screen shots needed to fill all the gaps in the establisher batch of episodes. All I have to do now is add rain to one shot, and we’re ready to launch. Oh, sure — I have no frickin’ idea how to do add rain….I tried it once on another shot and failed miserably.

I’m told it is pretty simple — add a ground plain on an overlay in LightWave and motion-track in a hemisphere over the umbrella.  Stretch out a particle emitter over the top and set a multi-particle re-emit routine on the hemisphere. Replace the particles with hypervoxels and its all done. That sounds easy, except for the fact that I have no idea of what any of that is or how any of that works.  I’m hoping there’s some tutes on YouTube…..

The good news is that this particular rain shot  is a really short night scene.  The elements on this shot composited beautifully, so anything that even resembles rain will carry the day.

So here we are — all major holes are now filled, and the project is looking better than expected. We will be focus-grouping the first round of  establishers to make sure we didn’t miss anything, with any luck we will not be in tweak mode for long. After six years of steady plugging, all the pieces are together now, and I’m ready to launch.  Let the fun begin…..


We had our first group viewing last week — four cast members and a visiting artist. The verdict: we’ve hit a snag.

I had originally designed this project with two things in mind — it would advance the story thru rotating ensemble casts, and the episodes would be really short.  I was thinking newspaper-comic style bursts,  the quicker the better.  The snag is that some episodes gave themselves to brevity better than others, which means that there is no consistency in what the viewer can expect. Episode one, for instance is 4:55, while episode two runs 5:15. Episode three? 45 seconds flat. The viewer is left dazed an confused, as well as feeling a little bit cheated. If we run episodes three and four together we can get things into a more reasonable three minutes, but then we have two casts appearing in the same episode and the viewer is left confused.  Keep in mind that when I say ‘viewer’ here I am talking about cast members — people who know the story! If  we were to launch this now to a ‘real’ audience, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

So, by night (even as I write this) our computers are continuing to crank out plates for the few remaining cgi shots. By day, we’re doing our regular paying gigs while working diligently to build bridges to give the story a better flow between episodes.  The cast had some great suggestions on Friday, so we do have a plan. Its just another snag —  Arrgh.

Long Haul

Wow — it’s been a while.  I’ve been off the scope ,  living in 3D-land, building locations in LightWave and stacking up composite shots in Aura. This is time consuming stuff  for me — I’m not really a detail guy.

The  good news is that we managed to get a positive conclusion to our little grip accident from a few weeks ago. We were chroma-keying a car (one of those cgi shots) and we managed to drop a very large Mathews stand on the hood of a beautiful little Mercedes Benz. We went right down the middle, nose to windshield  … we hit it so perfectly that we split the Mercedes logo in two.  The worst part of it all was that we had  actually finished the shoot — I had just called a wrap and everybody t sort of let their guard down at the same time.  We heard a soft cuh-clud, we turned, and there it was.  I had set the stands so that if any of them fell,  they would fall away from the car. On this last shothowever, we had to jack things around a bit to get rid of a wrinkle in the screen,  and a soft-side was left facing the car. We were all nauseous.

But that’s why we have insurance, right? Imagine my surprise when there were problems. Our agent didn’t have any issues with the claim, but their underwriter was pulling out every hair-splitting exception they could find. For three weeks we  wrangled with the underwriter,  and we finally  persevered.  The hair-splitting exception was that I had actually called a wrap….our “care and control” part of the shoot was over, this was no longer a production liability issue.  It was instead a car damaged in our parking lot  by a piece of our equipment.  The underwriter  gave in and sent an adjuster to meet with the owner of the car. Gahda luv this stuff…..

We’re still plowing ahead with our plans to release “The Dreamer” very soon, but the pile of cgi shots is only about half done. The half that is in the can is the most difficult of the list, so I hope to be able to knock out the remaining backlog in a couple of weeks.  Wish me luck —    -S

Fingers Crossed For 2011

2010 is gone….finally.  Although I am certain that somebody, somewhere, probably had something happen in 2010 that they can look back on with fondness, I’m not one of them. I’m glad that one is over.

2011 is already off to a good start for us, and we’re looking forward to a much better year. The news is certainly encouraging — new, flexible media distribution lines are getting stronger while old, rigid ones are hurting.  Broadcast Engineering magazine recently quoted a SNL Kagan report  indicating that cable operators are loosing subscribers at a respectable clip – over 741,000 in Q3 of last year alone. Satellite providers are picking up some of the business, but by no means all. Customers are fed up with paying large fees for bundles of channels when they know they are only going to watch a few of them. “Over The Top” video delivery is gaining ground, and it isn’t coming a minute too soon.

OTT is almost certainly going to be a major factor at this year’s CES extravaganza.  Vizio, who pitched their OTT-ready flat-panels hard at last year’s Super Bowl, has already announced they will be showing tablets, having made common cause with
Google. I personally cannot imagine a connection more prophetic. The dinosaurs, meanwhile, are still out there — Sears and KMart both have announced movie download services with prices that show a stunning lack of connection with the market they are attempting to serve.

Regardless of  how they are priced,  Content Delivery Networks are popping up everywhere. Video continues to be a very hot item online; delivering it is big business. We’re happy to see that, because it means that there is a demand for content. That’s where we want to be — the C in the CDN.  We’ve learned a lot during the time we’ve spent so far on ‘Dreamer.’  Our goal is to be able to deliver a high-quality finished product to a large audience in a quick and nimble production environment. We still need to work on that “quick” part, but everything else is looking pretty good. Which is fortunate for us, as it looks like we’ve got a growing audience in front of us already. So — here’s to 2011, and all the good things we hope it will bring. Uh….wait…I need to knock wood somewhere….

We’re Back!

We took a little time off to go up to the Mayo clinic and get Donna’s foot fixed. Everything went great until we got ready to leave….the flight ahead of us got out fine and we got totally iced in. We got stuffed into a cab with six other strandees (and their luggage) and sent off into snowmageddan with a cab driver from Somalia who didn’t know how to drive in winter weather. He got us stuck about every three and a half minutes, and we all had to get out and pull snow with our arms, hands, and feet. Snow plows had been pulled off the roadways because of high winds, and the wind chill was somewhere near a quantum state. After about two and a half hours digging, pushing, and freezing, we finally mutinied and  commandeered his cab. We put him in the back seat and put a real Minnesotan behind the wheel. We made it to a hotel pretty easily after that. It was all actually kind of fun at times, but I don’t think I need to do it again any time soon.

So — we’re back, we’re catching up on stuff, and we’re pushing forward with the last few things we need to do to get ‘Dreamer’ launched. All we’ve got is a collection cgi transfer shots, we hope to wrap those soon. Stay tuned…..