We are still here! And working many hours every day! Episode 5 has been done for a while now visually (you guys it’s nuts. It’s kind of amazing. I am so excited to release this thing), but we still have a heckofalot of audio work to do. But! We have the best team possible going full tilt.
I haven’t been posting much, cause I figured it would be better to just be surprised at some point, “oh! Another episode is out!” as opposed to stringing you along with updates for- oh dear (13 months?). But! Yes! We are still here! I don’t know how soon we’ll be able to post it, but things are finally coming together. With any luck, you’ll see it and go, “AH! Yes. I understand. Why it took so long.”
Back in a minute!
Driving down the coast! 14 hour drive in one day! I was hoping to use this as an opportunity for crazy brainstorming, and in a lot of ways, it is, but I think whatever part of my brain that usually supplies the free-form connections becomes occupied by “navigating a vehicle at 70 mph”. I can dwell on specifics for a while, but actual new ideas seem somewhat elusive. So much conceptualization without any actual solid work also makes me feel a bit imbalanced. Fortunately the road is ripe with idea fodder! Just gotta remember to stop the car every once in a while.
Met with a bunch of Blenderheads in San Francisco. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen Keir, Pablo, Francesco, and Sergey. SUCH GREAT FOLKS! Oh I’ve missed them. And Francesco’s pasta. Colin gave us the Pixar tour today- he couldn’t show us what he was working on at the moment, but the campus was gorgeous, and super inspiring in terms of the value of concept art. They had it up all over the walls. Man, I wanna just sit down and draw. I’ve been so busy immersing myself in words- reading and studying books and scripts- that getting back to working in a visually is refreshing. And then we crossed the golden gate bridge. Twice! And inadvertently annoyed people on bikes.
One of the most incredible things about Pixar was, as Colin pointed out, the economy of scale. We’ve been scrounging all around town for a place to build a box fort- the Pixar buildings have atriums the size of warehouses, just for folks walkin’ around. Space is a super valuable commodity, and it’s always frustrating how many walls I run into when I look for it (ha!). Property taxes, mannnn. Life goal: get a big ol barn/warehouse and convert it over into a working space. More immediate goal: figure out a business plan that would actually make this sustainable. It can be done! Probably!
I have lots of dreams where I notice a door in my house I’ve never seen before, and going inside find the most amazing things (when I was a kid, it was a room of infinite craft supplies, when I was a teenager, it was, like, a home theater. Now I dream about finding unending catacombs (is that sad? That my first thought in dreams when finding unending catacombs in my basement is, “this is a great place to film!”). The fact that I can get in a car and a couple hours later be wandering through a rocky desert still seems a bit too good to be true. Ahhhhh Seattle. So many climates smooshed together.
So Scott and I were treckin’ around there yesterday at Sun Lakes State Park, looking for locations for the second chunk of Dynamo. We found a lot of really wild stuff, but also a lot of stuff that would be pretty awkward to drag a film crew to. At least in summer. We started hiking at 7:30am, and it was near 90 degrees by the time we climbed to the top of the cliff. Fortunately there was a great lake for jumping in at the bottom. Or else I would have died. (Hint: If you’re hiking in Eastern Washington, bring, like, water and snacks.)
Oh! Also! Wanna know what’s cool about this picture? Look closely.
It was taken at 2 am- lit only by moonlight. Totally untweaked. Barring the stars, you couldn’t tell it was even night. The thing that gets me is that the color of the sky and the brightness ratio between it and the sky still basically match what they’d be in daylight- we just needed a 15 second exposure.
This one was taken just a couple minutes after (because of course we gotta do some of these), but with a much lower ISO/higher fstop.
But as always, the real spoils of the trip were the bulletpointed ideas we wrote down on a piece of paper. Really really fun ideas. Like, the kind that made us a little giddy (well, okay, I was giddy. I’m not gonna go around telling random strangers that Scott was giddy). There’s something I like about that; you can’t buy ideas, not really (though that doesn’t stop my strong compulsion to always buy more notebooks), you can’t always force the great ones, but you can try really hard to nurture them, and to me, setting up a whole trip just to help us think of a few more good plot ideas was a really great plan. Really, even the medium doesn’t matter. I enjoy film because it’s one of the more accessible, and has the most aspects to think about (you don’t get to mess around with the soundtrack when you write a book), but if you have a really great story, I think the ideal medium is the one that can step out of the way the easiest, and let the story tell itself. And sometimes that does mean the visuals are intentionally distracting. Let’s face it, if something’s supposed to be jaw-droppingly huge, having a medium where you can show it directly to the audience as opposed to saying, “it was so big that Tom looked at it and dropped his jaw”, is kinda a cool thing!
Also oh man it was hot.
We’re back! (the website was down for a few days- all my websites were down :/. There was some sort of phishing scheme that got implanted somewhere, and it was a bit of a mess trying to root it out (the website is totally safe ). But yes!
So I remember a month and a half ago I was looking at episode 5 going, “Hey! Just one more day of good work and we’d have picture lock on there!” and now it’s a month and a half later and it’s still no closer than it was. I mean- lots of work has been done on it (and we’ve all been going crazy with freelance and “surviving”, but man. It’s enough to be a bit demoralizing at times. The 90+ degree weather in this room doesn’t always help either- but no excuses!
So after having a brief, “wait- this will never ever ever get done. This will haunt me till I die!” moment, I sat down and forced myself to wrap up the VFX on a shot. Then another. And another. And eventually I had some momentum back.
One of the other reasons momentum has been slowing slightly is because in a lot of ways it’s been prematurely transferred to something else. Dynamo’s supposed to grow and evolve, both in terms of our storytelling, acting, production values, mindsets, and sensibilities. The first six episodes are a pretty fun first tier, I think, but lately I’ve become so overwhelmingly excited by the things I’ve learned while on that tier that it’s getting hard to not just jump up onto the next one.
Biggest focuses: anticipation/excitement! You can’t become excited for something if you don’t know where anyone is trying to go, or what anything is going towards. Dynamo only works because we’re working really hard to make each scene interesting on its own merit, with a few questions planted to keep things engaging/tie them together (and they do fit together!) There’s some folks saying, “Man, it’s wacky surreal!” and I’m always caught a bit off guard thinking, “I thought it was pretty literal, really.” That is, when we show Gage moving a pink cube with his mind, he’s straight up moving a pink cube with his mind. The cube maybe represents “a fundamental building block of the universe”, but it doesn’t represent, like, psychological issues. Maybe it should?
That to say, true excitement, for me, comes from anticipation; setting up a story point, exploring it from every angle, to the point where you’re just tingling to see how it pans out. IMO most big-ol’ films these days aren’t doing this; they’re so intent on jam-packing every moment with excitement that they’re never looking towards the future. They’re always reacting to what’s happening immediately in the scene, which can result in a really exciting film, but one that feels oddly vacant when you step away from it (which is probably why folks keep saying TV shows have the better writing these days?). They never give you a chance to let you really love the characters. No seriously- I’ve been obsessing over this lately, and the way it all interplays with character motivations.
So what am I doing right now? Scott and I are about to jump in the car and head out to the deserts of Eastern Washington, where we can explore some of the terrain and brainstorm crazy into the night. Aggressive brainstorming! We’re gonna figure out a show! Then I’m gonna lock all my brilliant story friends in a cabin, and we’re gonna brainstorm some more. And it’s gonna be great. We already have, like, the best premise I’ve ever heard of, and some super solid characters and motivations and all that, but I want everyone to rip em apart until we have something crazy solid!
I’ll post more updates when I get back! Good talking to you!
Just a little breakdown, here.
Hello! I’d love to be able to keep a full production diary, but I’ve never been much of a blogger. I never really know what my “voice” is, and until I make everything really meta (ta-da!), I just kinda flounder around awkwardly.
So! Now that we have a little meta opener, let me get you caught up!
When I was over in France, I couldn’t believe how much I was going to get done in the first month after I got back. It was going to blow people’s minds! We were going to be releasing episodes every few weeks! Unending supplementary material! Tutorials, soundtracks, shorts, revamped website! It was going to be wild!
It’s been almost a month and a half since I’ve gotten back, and all we’ve released is a little “We’re back!” blogpost. So what’s going on? It’s not that we haven’t been doing stuff- we’ve had a half dozen shoot days, which is pretty darn good! And for most of the rest of the time we’ve been working pretty steadfastly on CG. We’ve built complex sets, we’ve torn them back down, we’ve tried to awkwardly recycle them. We’ve gone location scouting, we’ve had rehearsals, and V.O. sessions. We’ve done a lot! I’m really all about the final product, and typically don’t worry so much about the process- but I think a time comes when it really makes sense to break things down to see if there are any big things I could be doing to get these episodes out faster.
So what are the things keeping this episode from already being out?
ABSURD SENSE OF EXISTENTIAL URGENCY: So for a while I was living the freelance life basically 24/7, and it was fantastic, and with a bunch of fun folks, but I really couldn’t wait to get back and work on “my” stuff. After going to bed every night, I would become almost intoxicated with the notion that almost anything could happen if you just sent out the right emails. Wanna go camping? Pick a date, and email folks inviting them to come along! Wanna shoot a scene? Just send some emails! Wanna start a band? Send some emails, and set up a jam date! And the thing is: it was basically entirely true! I filled my first few weeks back with so many meetings with incredible folks, and jam sessions, and film shoots, and just great stuff. If I could maintain this all the time, so much would get done! But I can’t! Because unfortunately, this lifestyle very quickly lead to…
EMOTIONAL DRAINAGE: This is a crazy huge factor! For me, anyway. I’d scheduled so much crazy stuff for when I got back from France that I didn’t have a single day to breathe for the first couple weeks. I found myself getting sarcastic and snappish, and even though I was surrounded by my favorite people in the world, I really just wanted to take a few steps back for a few days. And I wasn’t the only one feeling it. There was a night where we were standing around and realized, “Hey- we have all of the equipment rented and actors- we could shoot those final few shots!” And even though it would have meant we were basically done filming the episode, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: I dunno! Sometimes I drink a coke to replenish glucose and combat ego depletion (cause it talked about that in this book I bought at an airport once. It seems like it maybe works, actually?), and caffeine can be a wonder as well. Still though, there’s a part of me that wishes I didn’t have to chemically wrangle my brain when I need an extra little bit of emotional “oomph”. There are a few shoots I haven’t tackled yet because I literally can’t summon up the emotional energy needed to get in contact with everyone and balance the schedules. We have Paige Day, who’s brilliant at coordinating and organization and emails and other such fantastic things, but for some reason the idea of putting all of the contacts in her hands so she can do the thing she’s good at fills me with exhaustion. I think I’m worried I’d put the same amount of concern into the process, but without having direct control, it’d just fry my brain or something? Anyways, it’s mostly stupid, and I should get her all that contact info!!!*
SCOPE CREEK: Hahaha, yesssss! This is a big one. We took a look at our 5 minute space opera scene at the beginning of the episode, realized it didn’t have enough context to be as emotionally relatable as it could be, so we shot a whole other scene. Another minute and a half of greenscreen, which will need an entire new collection of 3d environments and props modeled. I say it’s totally worth it, cause otherwise it’s just a bunch of crazy CG where you go, “Yeah, that’s a lot of CG, but what’s-a-goin’-on?” And as the scene gets more and more polished, the bar for what we’re willing to do to make the scene as good as possible keeps shifting. I’m going back and fixing things that I thought were absolutely good enough a few months ago. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle: once you spend enough time on something, you feel compelled to spend more time fixing all of the things that you perceive might have invalidated that initial time investment. You do this for ever.
EQUIPMENT: Okay. I didn’t even want to put this one in here, but it is relevant. Cause man, I have a bunch of conversations with folks, and so many times it ends with them saying “I’m going to make my amazing film, but I just have to wait until _________”. And as often as not, that blank has to do with equipment. Here’s the thing: it’s not true. It really isn’t. Probably. If you’re not filming on your DSLR, getting the new Blackmagic Cinemathingamagig isn’t going to suddenly make all the chips fall into place and turn you into [some witty pop culture reference for "somebody who's going around filming great stuff all the time"]. Because, to my eye, the camera is one of the easier parts. Getting folks together, coordinating shoot days, and having a good idea of what you want to do with the camera, all strike me as significantly more difficult (you wanna see an incredible example of working within your immediate means?). That said, I’ve let equipment get in the way for the past few weeks. There’s a lens we want to buy, and I haven’t bought it yet. But I don’t want to run down to Glazer’s and rent it, because then that’s wasting money if we’re just going to be buying it anyway- but we haven’t bought it yet (because I’m waiting to see if it goes on sale, or something. I dunno.) The end result is that we’re all not shooting things, because we don’t have the lens we want. That’s dumb! Do we need the lens? Errrr-wellll…. no? Yes? It’ll make the scene look significantly better. But eventually you have to ask, “is my quest for perfection impeding my ability to actually do anything?” I dunno!
ORGANIZATION: Organization!!! Organization is fantastic, and tricky. I’ve been on projects where everything is tracked and laid out and bullet pointed and spreadsheetified, and we sit back and go, “Ah, this is so great! Look at all these checkboxes!” and we wait. And we wait. Because even though we have every possible facility for organizing our progress, it’s all moot if we don’t have any progress to organize. So I have mixed feelings about the total value of organization. That said, there’s one question I love to have answered by a spreadsheet, and that’s, “What makes the most sense for me to be working on right now?” What, if handled today, would eliminate the most roadblocks in the future and empower the most people to keep working on their respective stuffs? Or, “Why can’t we shoot that scene tomorrow?!?!” But organization in and of itself is no method of progress, unless you’re able to use it to streamline the workflow (or make people happy. Lots of people are happier when things are well organized, and I can appreciate that).
SLEEP SCHEDULE: My schedule is pretty nasty. Our whole house here generally gets up anywhere between noon and two in the afternoon, and we stay up till the wee wee weeeee hours of the morning. There are pros and cons to that; when you’re working at night, you can get into a great groove, and get a whole bunch done, but more and more often I’m looking at the time, going, “oh! It’s 9pm! Time to relax!” without realizing that if I were on “normal person time”, it would only be lunchtime. Then we spend the next 7 hours chilling at the bar down the street, having a jam session, watchin’ weird movies, and going on walks. Which is nice! But not always the most productive. The one good thing about it though: when I wake up that late in the afternoon, I definitely get a charge of guilt energy for a while, where I feel like I have to make up for the time I lost sleeping- the downside being that the more productive those first few hours are, the earlier I’m likely to be all, “time to veg out!”
IT JUST TAKES A WHILE: Yeah, I said it! 115+ of the most complex shots we’ve ever done, featuring full CG environments and ships and digital doubles and animated characters. Like, I know I’m talking a lot about how I wish things were going faster, but once you see this episode, you’ll probably be all, “Ah, well yes. That makes sense.” At least this is what I hope you’ll be like.
All that said, I’ve just spent an hour typing up a blog post I could have spent getting final picture lock, so I’m gonna get back to it!!!
*Okay. Here’s what I think it really comes down to. If you’re making a project like this, just for fun, the line between “doing a thing we’re all enjoying/benefiting from, haha, isn’t this great!” and “exploiting your friends” is a very blurry one, and primarily comes down to expectations and attitudes. A lot of times these expectations aren’t said outright (because lots of times, we don’t even consciously acknowledge them), so in order to make sure everybody’s having a good time, I have to constantly be taking readings- checking out folks faces and body language (which is why phone calls are infinitely preferable to texts, and real life is infinitely preferable to phone calls). You can usually tell when somebody’s enjoying themselves, and if they’re not, it’s a very short road to them feeling like you’re taking advantage of them, which is one of the worst things I can think of. The tricky part is that when we’re at a shoot, it’s very easy for me to overlook someone’s signals, because I’m worrying about tracking focus, or amount of daylight left, or performances, or any number of a hundred variables, and when I’m already that close to the wire it only takes one offhand comment from someone to totally derail me for the rest of the day- heck, a whole week. So in the end it’s not that I’m an empathetic person by any means- it’s just that I literally stop functioning if I think somebody’s angry at me. I’m terrified of that. And the most difficult part of filmmaking for me, actually, is trying to balance all of those expectations, and make sure everyone feels they’re getting stuff out of it. Continually doing this gamble with people I care about, and hoping I don’t get it wrong. If there’s a part of me that ever burns out, it’ll be that part first.
HELLO! So! Alot of exciting stuff is happening. How much exciting stuff? Significant quantities!
I flew back into Seattle last Saturday, and have been meeting up with various folks since then. Our current goal is to try to get an episode out every month- haha! We’ll see how it goes! I’ve been gone over in Europe most of the time since the first episode was released, and it’s hard to get the momentum up when everyone is busy and spread all over, so I’m curious to see what we can do now. I have a wee bit of money saved up, so I’m gonna throw as much time into this as possible. Here’s what’s gone down in the past month:
- —A NEW SPACE? We’ve been working out of our house, and recently we moved from a house to a much-smaller apartment. It’s delightfully urban, but not much in the way of a workspace (we have a pile of stuff called “The pile of stuff that would be in a closet if we actually had a closet”). Charlie Daugherty just told us about a rad space just a few blocks from us we may be able to make use of. It’s a delightful space, full of great people- we’ll see how that goes! I’ll let you know.
- —NATE TAYLOR is in Seattle! He came here from across the country for many reasons- but the big one is to work on Dynamo with us! I’ve been collaborating on things with Nate for 5 years or so via the internet (he did a bunch of work on Project London, and has already helped out a ton on Dynamo via the internet), and it’s so crazy fantastic to finally be living with him in person. He’s a great conceptual artist, 3d modeler, rigger, animator, musician, and just all around staggeringly pleasant guy.
- —PAIGE DAY came across the country with Nate! They are a unit! The best unit! Holy cow. I’d never met her before, but holy cow- she’s fantastic. She has actual training on film sets, and is all set to take on organizing the show- from setting up shoot dates, to tracking the progress of VFX shots. She’s also an absurdly talented animator/artist in her own right. We all went down to Gasworks last night and Paige explained some of the organizational techniques we could implement.
- —PAUL SPOONER is another CG guy I’ve worked with in the past. He’s an absolute genius, modeling machine, and inspiration as a human being. Also he builds robots. As his job.
- —THE TIME-OFFSET SCRIPT, created by Gert De Roost! I’m gonna be writing up a whole post about that, pretty quick- but it was a lifesaver for the airship scene.
- —A LOT MORE WORK ON THE SPACE OPERA SCENE. Between Nate, Paul, Gert and myself, we’re hoping to smash out a whole bunch of stuff super quick and get this locked down. We’re already allllmost done.
- —SOREN’S SOUNDTRACK. Soren has been working on a soundtrack for the space opera scene- he just really needs picture lock.
- —A MEETING! A bunch of folks are meeting up for a BBQ soon, so we can really get all of our ducks in a row and counted before they hatch in a basket. We’ll really know what’s what after that.
- —SHOOTS! Lots of shoots! We’re going to try to post tons of little updates and tutorials and things, so you’ll know we’re still alive (though not so many that it slows down Dynamo production, cause that could be a thing).
Anyway! Good talking to you, and join us for a very exciting couple months!
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, we’ve added a new page up at the top that links to the Karmapirates soundcloud page. It’s a pretty rad playlist, since we’re able to link in all of the music from the individual artists who wrote the pieces, it’s really easy to click through and hear more, if you’re enjoying a particular artist. Still have a few pieces that need to get up there, but if you’re ever looking for electronic/postrocky goodness- I highly recommend it!
Oh man did I forget to put the weinerphone piece up there? I think I may have!
SO! Yeah. Things are taking a while. And we had a bunch of shorts we were going to be posting in the meantime, but life and all that.
BUT! We do have a teaser! Normally I’m like, “Psh- a teaser for a thing that’s only 15 minutes anyways? Just release the actual thing!” Except that this is taking us 6 months. That said, two of those months are doing contract work that should supply enough money so that we can work on Dynamo full time for a while. Which is basically the most fun thing I can imagine.
ALSO! Here it is!
So! We were all on the same continent, had a slew of fantastic Lastwear costumes, and a rough plan. But what we didn’t have for sure was a place. Initially, the plan was to film everybody one or two at a a time on a tiny 4′x8” greenscreen. I- how did I even think that would work? I mean, we would have figured something out. But that’s just not much space.