Thursday, January 1, 2015

"The Other Gods": Filming Cosmic Horrors In a Tiny Green Room

First of all: Happy New Year! Let's help out making 2015 a really swell year. Unfortunately, 2014 was almost only work, work, work for me, and not of the fun kind. But never mind that now; new year, new possibilities.

We're off to Lovecraft Land again with my latest video effort. This is another of my projects that's been lingering on for a couple of years, bit which is finally getting to the finish line with editing and effects work.
First a few words about the actual story. "The Other Gods" is apparently an early effort by weird fiction master H P Lovecraft. Scholars say that it's an example of the influence of Lord Dunsany's lyrical and mystical tales on Lovecraft's imagination. This one is sort of a moral tale, with a couple of characters sticking their noses into business they'd better leave alone. Barzai the Wise and his disciple Atal climb mount Hatheg-Kla to spy on the dancing gods of the Earth, but find out too late that they do not dance alone..

My stalwart buddies Håkan Håkansson and Björn Hansson tackled the moderate challenge of portraying Barzai and Atal, and my equally reliable voice-over artist John Hutch supplied the narration, providing the gravitas that only a genuine English accent can create.
We filmed the whole thing in one 2013 afternoon, in my crammed green screen room.

Håkan looked suitably sage in a fantasy astrologer/astronomer outfit..

...And Björn might actually pass for Sinbad the sailor in his get-up. Something that got me thinking regarding future projects.

All the scenes were pieced together in After Effects. I now subscribe to software in Adobe Cloud, and therefore have access to all the tools I need for my creative digital work. Or almost all tools. The standard AE plugin Keylight is very good, but since I almost never get the ideal quality green screen shots I always think I'll get, I need stronger stuff to pull a good enough key. So I coughed up the $799 Red Giant want for their Keying Suite, which includes Primatte Keyer, Key Correct and Warp. I'm very happy with the results I'm getting, so for me it was certainly worth every penny.

Here's how the opening shot of Barzai in his tower looks when finished. I'm still sticking to a not-quite-real look, which is inspired by both Ray Harryhausen's fantasy films as well as more experimental auteur's like Karel Zeman. 

Here's how the full background image looks. It's created in Photoshop and consists of 22 layers. The various bits are photos from Wikimedia, travel photos from friends and other sources. I love creating my "sets" in Photoshop, since the possibilities are endless. There are, in fact, no limits to what you can stitch together for your film.

Since the background image is so big, I could flip it and use bits of it for close-ups of Håkan. The telescope is also just a photo collage.

All in all, there were only three background images created for the tower interior. In some shots we actually used natural sunlight coming in through a window to light the green screen set-up. It worked better than I at first thought it would.

Walking in the desert might seem like a difficult thing to do, when you only have a green screen with a length that will allow for about four steps. The solution is simply to film each actor in two separate shots, and then combine them in AE. And have them walk very slowly.

You can even climb mountains, though your green screen studio feels like a closet. You only need a few seconds here and there to convey each part of the story.

And, of course, you have to prod your poor actors to crawl around in scenes which they have no idea how they'll turn out in the end. This little studio is history now, since the building is being renovated. Now I'm using another space, which I have to pay a small rent for since it's at a school, and I'm not the only one using . Ideally I'd love to have a big room just for myself, but that'll have to be a future project. It's on my dream list.

Without giving too much away (if you haven't read the story) things don't go too well for our heroes. Here's Björn with scratches and sores made up with fake blood and bread crumbs.

Barzai's fate is a grim one indeed, and it's probably correct to say that he's the first in a long line of Lovecraftian protagonists that meet a sticky end. So what is Barzai actually looking at? Well, since the story is called "The Other Gods" it's presumably clear that it's not the beings he climbed the mountain to have a peek at. More about those in a coming blog post, but here are a couple of dancing monstrosities to hopefully tickle your fancy.


castlegardener said...

this is super great. I love the idea of piecing together your set pieces from photoshop. It looks super great.

Unknown said...

DANG this is INCREDIBLE! They are certainly your best Photoshop sets yet, particularly Barzai's astronomy room. The monsters'll have to be STUNNING...Shub-Niggurath and of course Nyarlathotep are worthy of eye-bleeding horror. The Haeckel snowflake is amazing.

One question - will your Azathoth puppet also be included amongst the beasties?

Richard Svensson said...

I'm trying to do a whole set of new bessties for this one, so no Azatoth. As I understand it, this story actually stands outside of standard Cthulhu mythos, and so the "gods of the outer hells" talked about here were probably no distinct beings in Lovecraft's mind since he wrote it very early in his artistic life. In other words, the creatures encountered by Barzai can be any types of weird monstrosities.

Luffy said...

That's true...but while it is outside the standard Mythos universe (this is the "Dream-Cycle"), it is mentioned in the "Dream-Quest" that Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Shub-Niggurath, as mentioned in stories like "The Dreams in the Witch House" and "The Haunter of the Dark" are synonymous with the Other Gods of the Dreamlands.

Still, since it is once of his earlier tales, there weren't any Yog-Sothoths or Nyarlathoteps. So, you're right!


P.S. Also mentioned in the "Dream-Quest" are the "nameless larvae of the Other Gods", which would be stuff Barzai might've seen.

Richard Svensson said...

The Cthulhu Mythos is really an after-construction created by August Derleth and others. From what I've read, Lovecraft himself wasn't too concerned with how all the monsters were realted to each other, and how the stories interlocked. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. All in all, I'm taking a light approach to the whole thing, and looking at each story as something that should stand on its own legs. It's nice if I can interest people not familiar with Lovecraft to start checking out his stories without believing that there's a whole mythology you MUSt read up on first.

Luffy said...

Very true, very true...there were a LOT of inconsistencies in his work and apparently he wanted it that way...S.T. Joshi actually theorizes that the "gods" of his fiction are just a framing device for his aesthetic...I see what you mean now. Good idea, letting the story stand on its own! Can't wait to see the finished product! :)

Ursula Hitler said...

Yay!! Really looking forward to seeing this!!

Richard Svensson said...

So am I, Ursula! I'm taking far too long finishing my films.

Kelston Hubler said...

This looks awesome!

Finally, another Lovecraft project! From what I saw, it's going really well. The great old one with skull reminds me of the temple run monkeys.

Animation wrapped for Atomic! Now on to to live action. From what I did, I think the movie's going to look really good.

Also working on a fantasy story, sort of a homage to Harryhausen epics and my most ambitious project ever. I will talk about it, eventually.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kelston Hubler

Jason T. said...

Looks amazing!

-Jason Triplett