Thursday, March 06, 2008

Animation and visual effects for REPERKUSSIONZ have been in progress since 2005. That progress has been painfully slow. It's been gnawing at me like a hungry weasel. I recently took stock of what has been finished so far.

Each fully 3D-animated, photoreal-textured, meticulously rigged and carefully composited shot in REPERKUSSIONZ has required 3-6 months to complete. At this rate, it will be finished in approximately 225 years. It's one of those realizations that jumps up and smacks you. There is no budget to hire additional hands, and CPU horspower has been a real bottleneck during renders. My render farm is slow, and old, each node probably one-quarter as powerful as any PC of recent vintage. Two major things have thrown monkey wretches into the works: I underestimated how long preparation and renders would take, and my routine expenses unexpectedly went way up, requiring that I take on more outside work than I used to.

The thought of ditching the project is intolerable. I have a ton of work and a bit of money invested, and I owe the three live-action stars of REPERKUSSIONZ, at the very least, a finished production for their efforts. They were good sports who delivered efforts above and beyond the squall of doody - wearing odd costumes in public, bouncing off concrete floors, forced to speak endless pages of incomprehensible dialogue wrote by a schizophrenic.

I've spent months messing around with the footage from REPERKUSSIONZ, trying various things, to find a less technically demanding, less time-consuming way of completing the project. I tried an "impressionistic" style, similar to that of best-movie-in-the-world FORBIDDEN ZONE, with the live action only loosely composited, without 3D tracking, into sets made of simple, artsy-fartsy doodads rather than photoreal models. That approach sucked.

Then I thought, hey, REPERKUSSIONZ could be turned into a "cartoon" of sorts, preserving most of the style and narrative I originally intended. Software solutions that didn't exist in such refined forms in 2005 have become available in the last couple of years. Using DeBabelizer to apply new Photoshop plugins, such as SNAP ART, to frame sequences, I can turn the live action plates into rotoscoped animation, without laborious and expensive hand-tracing, and with some qualities that, in my opinion, are superior to the interpolated vector rotoscoping of A SCANNER DARKLY and many current TV commercials.

There are some issues with the process I'll be using. The conversion from live action to 2D is not perfectly "clean", and there's no time or budget for conventional cleanup. By necessity, the swimming line, the shaky, ersatz hatching, the popping highlights will be assimilated as part of REPERKUSSIONZ' new esthetic. Rendering these frames takes a fraction of the time as the 3D shots. Compositing is fast and easy. Shortcuts used in conventional anime can be employed. Live action and 3D can be mixed with 2D fairly seamlessly. Getting textures "just right" with endless iterations and multiple render passes is no longer a problem.

As a bonus, the show can be completed in HD, which has become important for distribution and broadcast. The standard definition DV footage which served as the basis for completed composites was not HD-friendly, despite many upconverting attempts. 2D line art can be more successfully goaded into the HD transition.

Preparing REPERKUSSIONZ shots in 2D can be done at 100 or more times the speed of the underfunded big-budget approach I was using. The tests done so far, using partially completed setups, convince me that this can work, and it's a better alternative than simply quitting.

Keep your eyeballs slit open and squashed against your monitor for news as it develops. Meanwhile, here are a couple of quicky tests that show REPERKUSSIONZ in its new cartoony form.

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