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Behind The Scenes Of NIS Ep1


Nowhere In Space Episode 1 was the first serious movie I released.
As you can guess, it took me way too much time.
On this page, I'll discuss all the difficulties I've faced upon preparing, shooting and post-producing this episode.

Origins

The early step of this adventure had occured back in Christmas 2001.
I had offered my brother a webcam and always wanted to create movies. One night, I've started to animate frame by frame a Lego minifig that was falling on the ground.
The result amazed me, and the seed of making my own stop-mo movie was planted.
I did some various tests and then started to think about a scenario.

Screenplay

From the beginning, I was a fan of both sci-fi and medieval Legos, even in my early childhood. So it was natural to tell a story that would blend both worlds.
On my daily way to the office, I was thinking of a screenplay and it took me several monthes to find a suitable plot, at least for the 4 first episodes.
At this time, I had all the characters' names as well.
I put these lines on a sheet of paper and have constantly worked on them.

Dialogs

Now that the story was fixed, I had to write the dialogs. This took me a long time and the lines changed sometimes even 5 minutes before to be recorded.

From text to pictures...

Meanwhile, I was drawing visual ideas. Then came the time of a solid story-board. I started to draw one, but I'm a terrific illustrator, even worse than Terry Gilliam ! I finally get it done, after several weeks of work and rubber.

Set design

At this time, I was quite excited at shooting something. I started during Summer 2002 with my brother. We built some sets and started to animate and shoot. Most of them were static shoots or travellings.
The result of these early shots done in heat and hurry can be seen in the trailer.
Then my brother leaved the project because of his studies (being lawyer !). I had to work alone.
From summer to winter 2002, I was quite demotivated because I had no time and no place to shoot.
Because I live in a small flat, I had to build the sets in my parents' house, when they were out for the weekend, then shoot and animate quickly, then demolish the set and put it back in cases.
Not an handy way at all ! In fact, this was hell !
And I still got no place to shoot at the time I write this !
The last thing to say is that I spent much money buying new or used sets in shop or on eBay. My Lego collection was coming from my childhood in the 80's and I had no "modern" parts, like skeletons, wrenches and so on.

Voice cast

Having the worst difficulties to produce pictures, I've taken the problem by the audio side.
I've done a casting call over the brickfilms.com community and soon had many propositions.
I sent the full scenery, put in a word file, to the actors, and some weeks after, I had many of the main voices.
I was highly pleased with them and found them really nice though quite heterogenic.
Some actors were missing and finally I chose to record them myself. I gave me the first role too (Ogel) just because it was easier for me to record it in the case I was changing Ogel's lines.

Animating

One of the hardest thing to achieve in animation movies, obviously ! I was a lame animator and had many problems with the timing. By the spring 2003, I was totally demotivated : I had the lines recorded but was unable to put pictures on them. Plus some personnal difficulties had put my mind down.
I had bought StopMotion Pro, a software dedicated to stop-motion animation. Then the release of the new version featured audio sync. I kicked my ass myself and forced me to build new sets (Drakor's ship interior) and do some animation. So, a miracle happened, I discoved the mighty power of the audio sync. Plus, for some unknown reason, the software suddendly became ten times faster !
In June, July, September and October 2003, I did most of the shots and animating job. The use of frame averaging and audio sync provided smooth and natural movements and obviously accurate timing.

Camera

The camera I've used is a Panasonic miniDV camcorder. Using a camcorder instead of a webcam provides more settings, and a crisp definition with better colors, but has also two major drawbacks : it is huge, and makes some angles very hard and the better definition also enhances the lacks in your sets : reflections, visibles wires, crappy background and so on.
And the weight of a camcorder doesn't allow you to mount it on some Lego charriots, cranes, dollies or Lego stands.

Lighting

Some early shots were done by daylight. Daylight provides a huge power but it changes all day long, so it's not really appropriate for animating. Most of the shots have been lighted by two desktop lamps : one fluorescent (neutral tone) and one halogen (warm tone).
I always take much time to position the lamps in order to have enough light for my camcorder (that's very noisy if not well lighted) and to reduce the glare on the Lego bricks. A good lighting adds a very professionnal dimension to a movie.
I also have a LED lighting system that I've built myself. It consists in colour-paired bright LEDs powered by 9V batteries. It's not powerful but is marvelous to add some specific colored touches to a set.
You can see the effect in Drakor's ship and lab.

Post-production

In fact, the post-production always occured in parallel to the production. I shot frames during the day and processed them during the night.
Most of the post-production has been done with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe AfterEffect. I was absolute beginner with AfterEffect and I spent many hours trying to understand it. Now I feel far more comfortable with this fantastic tool.
If you look closely to the movie, you'll see that many shots are post-processed.
Another challenge was to find a good way to bluescreen. I had only blue/green sheets of paper ( quite good but reflective) and a piece of "false blue fur" by Velleda (less reflective but too dark).
I'm not totally happy with the result and I'll investigate on new way to bluescreen for the next episodes.

The 3D intro

The 3D intro was done during spring/summer 2003 using Vue d'Esprit, a realistic landscape renderer.
Lego trees were coming from LCad/LDraw libraries, converted to 3DS via LeoCAD then imported in Vue.
The result was accurate but had ten times the number of required polygons. I've "planted" two dozen of trees, flowers, pine trees, and I've used 2D layers for the rest. It took an horrific time to render.
Then I've worked on the cam movement, this was easy, but some intermediary position showed lacks and artifacts. I had to place the trees over and over. By the end of August 2003, in the city of Paris dying of overheat, I did the final render of this 3D shot.

Editing

Both video and audio editing were done with the fabulous Sony Vegas software. The movie was divided into sequences.
In each sequence, I did the video editing (including transitions) and the audio editing, importing voices and FX.
Then I've worked on volume and pan (stereo position) curves for each sound of the movie, ending in a very realistic soundtrack.
As an audio self-proclaimed specialist, it was very easy to do.
Once each sequence was ready, I've been able to do the overall editing of the movie during November 2003.

The Sound FX

I've recorded myself most of the sound FX, using a good Sony stereo mic and a Sharp Minidisk.
This portable yet powerful solution has been very effective and reliable and most of the takes were a success.
Some sounds were downloaded on the Internet (findsounds.com) and I plan to use some pro FX for the next episode.
I also have some Sound FX CDs.
All the FX work has been done all along the project.
I also had written a sound list for each sequence which greatly helped to manage the FX work.

The Music

The music was all written in December 2003. I wanted to try an orchestral score.
So I bought the Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra world-acclaimed library in the Gigasampler format that's very handy.
I used Cubase SX to write and record the score, and Halion 2 as a sampler. No less than 1 Gb of simultaneous samples have been used in that score.
I got a very good musical theory background and bought Rimsky-Korsakoff's Principles Of Orchestration.
The score, with my brand new hardware, has taken a ridiculous amount of time to write, record and mix.
The music in the credit was done in 1998 for a remix contest but it fit so well to the mood of the movie that I decided to use it.

Thanks to all those who helped me making this movie, and kudos to the voice actors.
To come here : behind the scenes shots !
MOVIES News

2004-01-21
French subtitled version of NIS added : ...plus, this version is very light for a mid quality ! Needs RealOne to be played. Admirez le travail...
2004-01-05
Behind The Scenes of NIS : The making of NIS in now online in the Behind The Scenes page of the movies section ! Look out why it took me so much time...
2004-01-01
Nowhere In Space Ep1 released ! : At last ! Enjoy it in the movie section. Two big versions, another will be released for the dial-up modem users...
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