I want to thank everybody who took the time to share the trailer for c with friends! I’ve received a few emails asking how certain effects in the trailer were achieved, so here’s a general behind-the-scenes post with photos and hopefully some helpful information.
The model was put together from various hacked up pieces of plastic toys and models, which were then re-assembled and spray-painted. LED lights were installed for the engines and wired to a switch inside the model.
I decided later that I wanted blinking red lights on the front of the ship as well. Rather than rebuild the model, I positioned laser pointers on stands to the spots where I wanted the lights. They were then “blinked” on and off by waving a card in front of them, blocking them from hitting the model. In addition to saving some time & hassle, I think it gave a unique quality to the lights that LEDs wouldn’t have provided.
This worked because for all of the shots showing the ship moving through space, it’s the camera that’s moving instead of the ship. A wide 20mm lens was used for the opening shot to emphasize the movement as the ship gets closer, this was essential in achieving a sense of scale. I used a tabletop dolly (an “OmniTracker”) that required a flat surface; these surfaces and all the equipment used near the model had to be painted black or covered up with black cloth, so as not to reflect excess light onto the model. Rather than give an all-around detailed view of the ship, I wanted the light to be very harsh, with bright highlights and pitch-black shadows, mimicking the conditions in space where there’s usually not much around to diffuse or reflect light from the closest star.
Pieces of black cardboard were attached in front of the lens to block off lights and parts of the studio visible in the shot due to the wide angle.
The stars were created by stretching out a piece of black cloth and poking holes in it with a thumbtack. Lights were then pointed at the camera through the cloth. Simple, but effective!
Adding the stars to the shots of the model was the only thing that required limited composting in post. Though I attempted to get both the ship and stars in-camera, it would’ve been too limiting for camera movement and lighting to do all the shots this way. Instead of shooting the model against greenscreen, I just masked out the stars that passed in front of the ship in Final Cut.
Everything was done through trial & error, we just kept shooting stuff until it looked good. Using the 5D Mk II for miniature work had its advantages and draw-backs; I had to stop the lens down considerably to avoid shallow depth of field, but the camera’s light-sensitivity helped offset this problem. Everything was shot at ISO 1250, at around f22, with a single 1K light.
Though part of the film’s concept is an attention to physics and realistic outer space phenomenon, realism wasn’t the goal for the shots of the ship interior. Instead I wanted to go for an eye-catching retro aesthetic that would create the impression of technology beyond our current understanding but at the same time invoke a familiar science-fiction feel. I found inspiration in the neon colors of 1970’s and 80’s sci-fi. Films, anime, and video games back then often used bright colors and dark shadows to great effect. I wanted red and blue to be the dominant colors (an exaggerated visual reference to the observable “red shifting” and “blue shifting” of light that occurs when objects travel at very high speeds). Green was also used prominently to fill out the technological background of the ship.
My biggest limitation was a lack of funds or resources to build sets. Fortunately, the style I was going for allowed me to build the set almost entirely out of tricks of light and depth of field. Black flock was first hung up to cover all the walls of the studio, creating a completely dark frame as the base starting point for every shot. I found that attaching pieces of white tape to the background and then throwing the tape out of focus could result in some interesting patterns. Lighting the tape with gels allowed me to turn the patterns whatever color I wanted.
I then discovered that if you placed an object with a lot of holes in front of the tape, and shot through it, you could get a very interesting effect when the focus was set in front of the holes. Each hole effectively became a perfectly round “pixel,” and the tape would determine the shape formed by these pixels. Pegboard with evenly spaced holes was painted black and placed over the tape. The end result had a surprisingly digital look for something created in a completely analog fashion.
A few pieces of scrap metal were used to provide some base shapes, and projectors, flashlights, and laser pointers provided other effects. Foreground elements included plastic tubes, milk crates, and other stuff that was lying around.
On low-budget shoots, greenscreen work can often end up looking muddy & un-photographic. Even if you have great resources for post-production, you can find yourself on set lighting to get a good key instead of lighting for a mood or the content of a scene. If you can afford to take an open-minded approach, I think there are always alternatives to greenscreen and CGI. They are of course useful tools under the right circumstances, but I think many filmmakers over-rely on them, and have forgotten how effective the old techniques can be. Seeing an actual effect right through the lens gives you so much more control on set, and when you do need to combine multiple elements in a shot, there’s so much you can achieve with very simple compositing, as opposed to generating all your material on a computer.
Shooting the footage used for this trailer took a lot of time and effort, and there’s a lot more work I need to do to complete the final film. This is a completely indie production with no outside funding. If you want to help us make this film a reality, please support our project on Kickstarter! Check out our page for more info, and if you like what you see, pass the link along!