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!