Creating Worlds with Plastic and Pixels

I love Computer-generated imagery (or CGI) for opening up the possibilities of imagination and allowing one to bring their visions to the screen without limitations.  For a reasonable price you can be your own visual effects unit with off-the-shelf software. Despite all of this, I find myself building models and compositing photographic backgrounds for The Killer Robots Next Movie.

For my first feature, The Killer Robots and the Battle for the Cosmic Potato, I utilized Lightwave 3D to create the worlds that the characters would inhabit.  Now, I did have limitations: my computer was old and slow and my experience with 3D modeling and texturing was basic at best.  But, I had a list of 800 shots filled with sets, locations, costumes and alien characters that would have to be realized somehow.  Without the resources to build sets and miniatures, I felt CGI was the way to go.

To get around the aforementioned limitations, I modeled everything simply.  Instead of gritty realism I went for a cartoonish hyper-reality.  All of the monsters and aliens had giant pool balls for eyes.  Every set and spaceship glowed with color.  The subject matter leaned toward the absurd so I felt an absurd presentation would be best.  Some might say that it all looks like a video game and they’re probably right, but I’m ultimately satisfied with the final product in all of its primitive glory!

As happy as I was with the Cosmic Potato I couldn’t help but wonder what it all would have looked like with miniature sets, puppets and models.  With production of The Killer Robots Next Movie underway, I thought to myself, “Would folks be more inclined to sit and watch my movies if the settings were more rooted in reality?”

I did some more CGI tests to see if I could approximate a more realistic look.  I added extra detail and worked on my lighting. Finally I had to admit that although it was no longer cartoony; my CGI work still looked like illustrations.  I decided then that the old-school style of special effects may be more conducive to what I was trying to achieve.

With the advances in digital editing and compositing I began to realize those older techniques were actually within my grasp. I built a couple of robot monsters out of recycled plastics and broken toys. My friend, Samuel Williams began building a series of miniature buildings. I found some open-source photos of engines, tunnels and refineries.  I then composited everything in Adobe After Effects and added some rich color grading to the proceedings.  I must admit I was quite pleased with the results. 
Personally I felt more immersed, but then again I am immersed, so I’ll let you be the judge!

Rock on!

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