Friday, April 11, 2008

Revenge of the Cacti

So, I've started in on our visual effects and spent yesterday digitally removing Saguaro cacti from the opening shot of the movie, a sunrise over a mountain ridge. Those miserable cacti had been bugging me for awhile, so I was glad to finally be rid of them.

The opening scenes are supposed to take place in Southern Turkey (for reasons which elude me at the moment) and when we filmed this shot, we didn’t see that the ridgeline was littered with big, beautiful Saguaros until later when we got the footage into the computer (the mountain was pretty far away and we were zoomed all the way out).

The main problem with having big, beautiful Saquaros littering that ridge is that Saguaros are only found in the Sonoran Desert and every time I saw the shot, all I could see were those damn cacti, which kept screaming out to me “Not really Turkey! Ha!” Or something close to that. Whatever it was that they were screaming, it was mocking and unpleasant.

So, I chose this moment to take a firm stand on behalf of realism and decided that either Turkey or the Saguaro had to go, and (for reasons which elude me at the moment) I picked the Saguaro.

I should mention now that we here at Northanger sometimes take a more casual approach to realism and confess that we--Quentin, Doug, Ben and I--actually filmed this shot at sunset at a state park near my house, which on a side note, was crawling with tarantulas. Big, angry tarantulas that appeared, to me at least, to be engaged in a rather complicated flanking maneuver to cut off our only exit. The desert at night kind of creeps me out. I think it’s because I watched “Them!” (about giant mutant ants in the desert; still one of my favorite 50’s sci-fi/horror films) when I was 8 and I've never really gotten over it.

But, I digress.

Anyway, after managing to escape from the spiders, the plan was to reverse the shot in Final Cut, so it would look like a sunrise. Which surprisingly worked out fine. Sometimes realism is overrated.

Back to cacti removal. I exported a frame from the sequence as a TIFF, erased the cacti in Photoshop, then imported that back into Final Cut to use as a background plate for the matte I made. Pretty simple. Really the only challenge was that as the sun rises, the sky gets lighter and looks different from the sky in the still image. So I used Final Cut’s 3-Way Color Corrector to adjust the color of the background sky as necessary.

It was at this point that my first-ever Final Cut program crash occurred. A quick, spinning beach ball of death, followed by a crash report. I’d saved my project file right before the crash, so I didn’t lose anything. But, it does give me some concern, coming as it does right after my upgrade. Coincidence? I think not.

I rendered the sequence out and made a couple of tweaks where the background image didn’t quite match the lightening sky of the original clip and then exported that as a Quicktime movie to replace the original shot, which should now be fine for importing into Color. “Should” being the operative word there.

The matte isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to move on. The important thing is that there are now no Saquaro cacti growing mysteriously in Southern Turkey.

We’ll just forget about the program crash and blame it on the cacti.


Scott Ganyo said...

I'd blame the tarantulas. They clearly haven't given up.

Quentin said...

"The opening scenes are supposed to take place in Southern Turkey (for reasons which elude me at the moment)..."
--I believe that was because we couldn't find any place that looked like Norway, which was what the scene, written as an act of petulance toward the director, originally called for.

Also, I'm slightly troubled by this newfound concern for realism. Aren't we just setting up the audience for even bigger disappointment in the next (and every subsequent) scene? They're going to need some kind of preparation for the fake-anthropology scenes, or the shock may kill them.

Wouldn't it be better for the audience to realize, from the initial fade-in, that this is the kind of film that has Saguaro in Southern Turkey, and adjust their expectations accordingly?

Perhaps I'm being needlessly sarcastic. It's happened before.

Guy said...

“…written as an act of petulance toward the director…”

To be specific, it was set in a Norwegian *bog*. A bog! I ask for one little prologue and I get a bog…

“Perhaps I'm being needlessly sarcastic. It's happened before.”

Really (bog)? I (bog) haven’t (bog) noticed (bog) you (bog) being (bog) sarcastic (bog) before (bog, bog, bog).

Post-production...Year 2...