Saturday, May 30, 2015

D & D Monsters: A Transatlantic Collaboration


I though I'd give you an update on my Dungeons & Dragons tribute film created with John Hankins. You can read about the puppets created for this project HERE, HERE and HERE.
We are now in the stage of adding pick-up shots to the previously shot video footage, and I've started piecing together the stopmotion animation with the live-action bits. We recently posted a short video clip on Facebook, where John is attacked by an owlbear, while simultaneously searching for an owlbear feather; one of many magical items he need to find on his quest.


We were a bit surprised by the very strong positive reaction the video got, from both stopmo enthusiasts and the RPG crowd, so now we're forging ahead with powers renewed. It was a great tonic to get those reactions, and I'll post work in progress more often now. When you're piecing together your film you're mostly working in a vacuum, and you don't get any outside evaluation until you post it on the Internet (or show it in a film festival). Even if the reaction is negative to your work in progress clip, lap that up too, as it's a clear indication of how things are going for you. It's never too late to make changes, until, of course, the film is finished and launched out into the world.

The most surprising reaction we got was from people who asked "How did you make it work?", meaning our collaboration. John lives in Hawaii and I'm in Sweden, so we have an ocean between us, and we're confined to using emails and social media only to communicate. According to our commentators, many such projects attempted by them had failed miserably, and in those cases the distance was shorter, with the interplay spanning just over state borders. Still, entire projects had collapsed due to faulty communication. This is a great pity, for though people with similar interests and talents are spread across the world, the web offers us a means of keeping in touch and sharing information quickly and easily. So more creative individuals should be able to get together and be collectively productive no matter where you live on the globe.


Now, John and I don't have an unfailing recipe to share with you but I can tell you how we work. When we started discussing the Dungeons & Dragons monster movie collaboration, we quickly cleared up our different areas of responsibility, which I think is the most important thing to start with. John was to act out the hero's role in front of his own green screen in Hawaii, and also create the costume and props that he needed. I handled all the monster effects, plus the Photoshopped backgrounds, and the editing and finishing of the film. This allowed John to focus on the more practical hands-on bits he really enjoys (and does very well indeed). He also wanted to have a go at one of the monsters, the purple worm, which he created as a hand puppet. All of this clarity of decision about who makes what seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it's not always addressed in a long distance collaborative project, at least not at the start-up. And if that's the case I can understand when a production eventually runs into a bit of trouble.

John created these storyboards to get us started. I added some extra ideas, and then John went off to shoot all the live-action video clips.


John's green screen set-up is very basic. He built his own wooden stand for holding the screen and shoots the scenes in his garden, with his wife Alicia as the camera operator, and using the sun as his only lighting source. Since it's in Hawaii, the weather is usually on his side and the shots turn out very good. Before sending the shots to me, John has also created optional versions, where the green background has been cleaned up in After Effects, and is free of shadows and other "jitter". This, of course, makes the compositing extremely easy for me.


When all his shots were finished, including the purple worm hand puppet scene, John put all the material on a small portable drive and snail-mailed it to me. So, why not use Dropbox or some similar online file sharing service? We would've, and we are now, but at that time I had some problems with my Dropbox account, and we solved it this way instead.
When I had received the video footage I could start animating, roughly timing the actions of the monsters to John's acting.


The finished scenes are turning out rather well. The backgrounds are my usual collage of photos, mixed and merged in Photoshop. When editing together the finished shots I quickly noticed that I didn't have enough footage of John to make the story perfectly clear, and that he'd need to film more of it. Apparently this is par for course in the big budget blockbuster films as well, so we're in good company. It does, however, make me wonder why a film of sometimes $150 million or more isn't planned out better.

I made some storyboards for the new sequences and emailed them to John, who is now busy shooting the extra material. He had at this point grown a very stately beard and mustache, but these came off in the name of fine art.

As I said earlier, we're now using Dropbox to send clips back and forth, which is working out very well. Our collaboration is so much fun that we already have our next project planned. I can highly recommend creative people getting together in this way, using web communications. I know that so many of you out there have nobody around where you live to share your dreams and ambitions with, and that that can be enough to kill off your fledgling projects. Don't let that happen. Reach out to others around the globe, and find collaborators. It can be the start of a wonderful new way of working.

6 comments:

castlegardener said...

It has been a great project so far and we can't wait to release it to you adoring fans. Sometimes you just can't find like-minded film friends nearby, and with a little bit of work, a co op film project like this may be the answer you are looking for. John Hankins

1999stopmotionman said...

The video is looking great- the owlbear moves like it is alive and the integration of the live action and animation is very good. John is also skilled at acting like the owlbear is really there.

Kelston Hubler said...

Even with the exaggerated look on the owlbear's face, it still looks like a real animal! Great job!

I was wondering, did you watch the new Godzilla? I thought it was well done, what is your opinion on it?

Thanks for all the support,

Kelston Hubler

Richard Svensson said...

I did watch the new US Godzilla, and I was a bit underwhelmed to be frank. Since I grew up with the excesses of the Japanese originals, with their "anything goes" attitude, I felt that this Godzilla held back on the action a bit too much. As for the design of Godzilla himself I think it's pretty OK. You recognize the big guy, as apposed to the 90's version. My favourite Kaiju films are the Gamera trilogy of the Heisei series.

Mayumi Elisa said...

I really liked this part of the article, with a nice and interesting topics have helped a lot of people who do not challenge things people should know.. You need more publicize this so many people who know about it are rare for people to know this... Success for you.....!!!

Richard Svensson said...

Thank you! Both John and I have spread the word about our project, and how we made it work, on Facebook. And it got a very good reaction.