Saturday 12 September 2015

Mission Dalek; Finishing it, and Summing Up

The last shots required featured the Tardis.  Well, this was an issue, as all three of my toy Tardis (yes, three, if there was any doubt now of my nerdy credecntiuals they're past) had disappeared in the general chaos of the foster kids arriving.  So it was off for a desperate last-minute search of every toyshop in the area.  Finally, I found a Tardis moneybox in a local cheapie shop, and duly purchased it.
Of course by this point I'd had to throw out the sand form the first shoot, so this was shot on a sand-covered piece of artwork which Amy had made at School (its complicated; more in a future post on this particular aspect).
The human characters... hell, this was a cock-up.  Well, I'd made a mistake with the deadline for the project and ran out of time to draw my own, my backup plan of using some I'd drawn for an aborted project from about seven years back fell apart when I melted an external hard drive (no, really), so I was forced to use some stock pics I'd shot for the Steampunk project.  At least the trooper looked fairly futuristic and seemed to fit the part when photoshopped into the background pics.  And the little detail of the Space Invader badge on the lapel is a further note of nerdiness I suppose.
More photoshoppery for the Daleks-eye view.
And so to the making of the film; Amy had used the software programme "Monkeyjam" before, I'd played with it a little bit but ended up having to basically teach myself it in a matter of a few nights.  Not easy, particularly as it kept crashing, losing work, and generally buggering up.  It would have been less of an issue had I not a) cocked up the deadline, meaning I had two weeks less time to act than originally thought, and b) hadn't have started a new day job that week.
Not content with having to learn a whole new programme for editing the pics into a film, I then decided to learn to use another new programme to add the sound.  An entertaining evening was spent trying to do silly voices and sound effects (I hate the sound of my voice, and the Dalek also ended up sounding like a Mysteron in weird sci-fi crossover territory).  But in the end I was able to edit something together, even if it wasn't quite what I'd intended.


Deleted scenes from the cutting room floor... given the time constraints produced from using Monkeyjam, I had to chop all the aircraft scenes, though to be honest I hadn't been that happy with them anyway as they were shot on the last night in Wales, and outside the caravan so not at the beach.  But there are some ideas there for a future shoot...
So to sum up then?
Well, I loved the project and the chance to try something new, working to a very tight deadline and having to improvise something on zero budget, it felt not unlike some of the projects from Uni days.  I like mucking about with miniatures anyway, and love Dr Who, so it was a good combination.  And it was a nice distraction from the stress of starting a new job.
On the downside?  Well, its probably not what the BBC were intending when they advertised the project, it felt a tad rushed, there were several aborted shoots due to bad weather, a lot of late nights, it killed a tripod, an external hard drive and several models, and the final edit had me sitting up until 4.30 in the morning (two hours sleep before work, loved that), and it was so tight to the deadline that it was uploaded with only an hour and fifty eight minutes to spare.
Would I do it again?  Hell yes.  Love Daleks.  
So that done, back to normal updates, we've a mass of projects from the summer to edit and upload.







Mission Dalek; Indoor Shoot

Not much to say about then indoor shoots; it was a week later, back in Yorkshire, shot late at night with a typically improvised session photographed on the kitchen table.  One backdrop (black bedsheet ex-Inflate-Deflate project), some sand being cleared out cheap from The Range, a framework from an old project and a table.  Cardboard courtesy of the Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog; not product placement as such, but admittedly a bloody good brewery. 

 Such models which survived the beach shoot were used, along with close-ups done with the radio controlled Dalek.
Some difficulties were experienced, as above with the backdrop being in shot...
Cotton wool explosion; needing to backlit with LED torches...
Still, there were a couple of pics left to reshoot before the edit...



Mission Dalek; On The Beach

And so to the first night shoot.  We hit the beach, and for the first night in about a month, it was bad weather.  It might not look it, but it was blowing a rather severe gale, too much for shooting pictures.
Anything else?  Well, the tripod broke, the camera got covered in salt spray and sand, and we were in a bad mood, so with time to complete the project slipping away, we grudgingly aborted.
Back the next night, and still a little breezy, but desperation to actually shoot the location pics forced us on.
Nice and peaceful anyway, though the tide was a little higher than anticipated.
An unusual pic for this blog, in that it features one of us; Amy shot a pic of me, with many torches aglow whilst the water edged ever nearer...
Tracking shot with the laser-tank model- 6ft of plastic 0 gauge railway track and the camera rig from the Intercity shoot.

The night shoot went well though, if time consuming, we were on the beach from about 8 until midnight, though lots of pics taken.  Next up would be the close-ups which could be shot at home in the comfort of our own kitchen...



Mission Dalek; Special Effects

A quick post on effects... Incorporating oddness, and deliberately unusual issues, I thought I'd use this as a test bed for some techniques I'd been wanting to try for a while.  The above, with the fighter jet, incorporated the camera rig from an earlier experimental project designed to have the camera moving at the same pace as the model.
On a similar note, I decided to try a 'tracking shot' of sort, also reusing a camera rig from a previous project, the one mounted on 0 gauge railway tracks and tracking a battery-operated toy tank up the sand.
I wanted to try some actual pyro effects, as I thought that in long-exposure it would also give a pleasingly odd effect.  Trying out a technique from Scouts, I made some firelighters using petroleum jelly and cotton wool...
Wooooomph, as they say, and fire which burns nicely for a while, long enough to shoot.

I also decided to try using LED lights for flashes- see above.
And above again, backlit cotton wool.  Also, real nerd points here, notice the presence of the Alvis Stalwart (or 'Stolly') vehicle, a 1960's British Army vehicle which looked oddly futuristic for the 60's, and which often crops up in Scifi films when a director needs a vaguely futuristic-looking military vehicle on a low budget (see 'Firefly', 'Children of Men', 'Reign of Fire')


Further tests with Christmas tree lights for 'laser' effects.
Whilst the home-made firelighters were good for a slow-burn, I also wanted a try with something more dramatic, and so poured half a bottle of nail polish remover onto some cotton wool...

Say fare-thee-well-to-thy-eyebrows.  In best Gerry Anderson tradition, one model which took ages to build reduced to scrap in moments; even I was slightly surprised by the ferocity of the fire.  Looked good though.
The homemade firelighters were rather kinder to the models, burning slower...


Mission Dalek; the Recce

As it happened, due to the competition (with its awfully short deadline) clashed with the family holiday to Wales; so this Dr Who film would be shot, as with actual Dr Who, in Wales (abliet North Wales, not South Wales).  Being as a caravan in the woods wasn't what I had in mind for the shoot, I wanted a better locale, and thought of a beach as (as it would allow a lack of passers-by asking annoying questions, a good opportunity for pyromania, and would be easier to scale the backgrounds to the miniatures).

And so to Llandanwg. between Barmouth and Harlech, a nice little stretch of sand which happily had a bit of sea defences and some mysterious rusty bits of metal sticking out of the sand. 

Scaled for toy Dalek later, and we have a base without needing to glue bits of plastic and cardboard together.

Plan made, and location decided, the plan arose to return later that night with the models for the shoot...


Mission Dalek; the Restoration Man

So having come up with a plot, I needed to make sure I had some miniatures.  Observe above, in all its glory, the stock of parts ready for this project.  A mix of model tanks from the Britannia Model Village and Steampunk project, some planes from the Thunderbolt project, and a few toy and model Daleks.  All of which were in somewhat poor condition following months of being in store following the kids arriving, and all the miniatures being stored in the loft.  On the other hand, it once more reinforces the point that one should never throw anything away.  Ever.
The Daleks which would be 'background' items.  Two of them (the larger two) were toys bought from a charity shop ages ago, somewhat broken, the one on the right is one of the older Dapol toy Daleks which I got years ago, rebuilt for a Uni photography project, and which got somewhat mauled afterwards, and two others (not pictured)- a key ring Dalek about 3cm high which I got as a Christmas pressie from the Youngest, and my somewhat treasured 2ft high Radio Controlled Dalek which will be used for close-up shots.
A bit of rebuilding and repainting later, and I had one 'intact' Dalek and one damaged version which could be dismantled into its component parts.
Such aircraft as would be appearing would be represented by the generic designs from the Thunderbolt project; the fighter built from bits of model kits (above) and the bomber which is mainly bits of an Airfix Wellington bomber (below).
One thing I was attempting with shooting the aircraft was to try and match them to the movement of the camera; more on this in the next post.
The 'hero' Dalek would be a Special Weapons Dalek, which in the fiction of the show is a type of Dalek armed with, basically, a bloody big gun (which every time it fires causes a massive amount of radiation to mutate it, leading to the development of personality, emotions etc).  They were described in some detail in the novelisation of "Remembrance of the Daleks" and I liked the description of them, but wanted my own design of them(as the only time they were seen on telly was the old-Dalek design in the TV version of "Remembrance"... look for it on Youtube or something, it is good).  Being as I didn't want to carve-up my aforementioned radio-controlled Dalek, I turned to the model above.
This started off as a money box, I got part-way to converting it into a Boy Racer Dalek for an aborted comic when I was at Uni (I lived in Carlisle; many boy racers, shazzas and kevs, and it seemed a good idea at the time).  Part-way into the project I aborted, and it had been doing nowt since.  But it was about a foot tall (so big enough for close-ups) and the perfect fodder for converting.

In the best tradition of a Benjy project, I had no budget, no time, and a box of odds and ends, so spent a productive evening gluing random bits of pen lids, torches, and old toys to the Dalek to convert it into a Dalek with a big gun (which would light up- good old Poundland and their torches).

A bit of judiscious repainting and weathering later, and shazam; didn't need to be too neat as the whole shoot would be done at night anyway.

Airfix and Citadel kit parts, highlighter-pen cap, and mini speaker components...

...more speaker parts, more kit bits, a pipe from a mini air-pump, and a torch.

I don't know how well this shows up, but one issue with the need to shoot the pics in a hurry was that I enede up having to paint the models in a real rush, and thus got caught out in a rainstorm, so the model got wet.  I initially despaired somewhat, then realised it had added a nicely battered patina to the surface of the model, which fitted the general air of neglect and battle-damage I was aiming for.
Next up, the recce for the shoot. 




Mission Dalek...what is it all about then?

Right, well the last post up on here was regards the "Mission:Dalek" film, which I (Ben) didn't explain about in too much detail, due to how relieved I was to have completed and submitted the film for the BBC contest for which it was created.  So having done the film, consider the next few blog posts a DVD Special Features section of sorts. 
The background is that as part of the BBC "Make it Digital" season, they were running a competition to make a short film for the relaunch of Dr Who, editing existing clips to show how the Doctor ended up back in contact with the Daleks whilst on the hunt for Gallifrey.  Being as I'm a massive Dr Who fan, but also somewhat digitally inept, I decided to enter but do motion capture using still photographs, inspired somewhat by the shoot I did a couple of years ago (see above) using a couple of toy Daleks, some Christmas lights, and some odds and ends.

Plotwise, there isn't a lot you can do in 90 seconds; even less in a minute which is what it turned out I would be limited to by the software I would be using.  I wrote a short story version of the plot first, then decided what I wanted to do in the shoot.  I decided to use the 'classic' Dr Who theme known in fan/nerd circles as the "Base Under Siege" trope, which usually sees our eponymous Time Lord, a couple of main characters, and a load of disposable redshirts trapped somewhere being menaced by the baddy of the week.  Only this time I decided the Daleks would be the kind-of goodies, fighting off the baddy humans.  Somewhat leading on from this, and incorporating the need for stop motion, such human characters as would be featuring would be hand drawn, making it look a bit like an animated graphic novel, with the main action being Daleks fighting Tanks (as Daleks are meant to be sort of Tanks themselves, and its not something really seen in the TV shows).  For the sake of animating it, I would be playing to the strenfths of stop-motion and making it look deliberately trippy and jerky, with influences from Amys long-exposure "Light Trails" project thrown in with my traditional miniatures work.
The main characters would be a human soldier interrogating a damaged Special Weapons Dalek, chosen because in the canon of the show, these are meant to be insane Daleks, radiation-mutated to the point where the redevelop emotions and personalities.  I decided this simply to have a model which looked a bit different, and which would offer a bit more dialogue than simply shouting "Exterminate".  Flashbacks would show the battle; humans trying to stop the Daleks transmitting an important message off world, concealing the fact they had discovered Gallifrey, and trying to keep the secret of it away from the humans (who it would emerge had been working for the Doctor all along) in an effort to stop the Time War restarting.

Anyone who has failed to follow the above so far should probably tune out of the next few posts, and wait for business as usual  to resume...  If you're still looking, then the next few posts will chart quite the disastrous and challenging process of making this film...