2006hrs Wednesday 24th September
The phone rang and Simon and Tim leapt into action, jumping in the car and making their way to the train station. The Swiss squad had arrived.
We had spent the previous two weeks working intensively on the script for the promo, ironing out problems and working in new ideas until we were all happy. On the fifth major revision we hit it right, allowing us to move ahead and start intricately planning every aspect of the production.
The arrival of Marco and Michelle on the Wednesday prior to shooting accelerated and eased the pre-production process considerably. With the beta testing in full swing and program development still in progress, finding the necessary time to organise the promo was proving difficult; extra hands on deck were exactly what we needed.
Josh and Marco have communicated via FXhome.com for two years now, so their meeting was something of a momentous occasion. Language proved to not be a problem thanks to Marco and Michelle's excellent spoken English. For anybody wondering, Marco is almost exactly as he appears on the forums - only louder.
A gargantuan stir fry and a good night's sleep later and we were ready for anything. Which was a good thing, because one of the hardest weekends we had ever experienced was fast approaching...
Costumes, props and construction
Thursday 25th September
Ominous news began the day, as we learnt that Josh was starting to feel ill - no doubt due to too little sleep and too much work. Casting concerns aside, we headed into the city of Norwich to get hold of the remaining costumes and props.
First up were some marine outfits. As we were going to be using extensive greenscreen, traditional camouflage was out of the question, so we went for a white and blue design that wouldn't conflict when it came to compositing. We also bought some balaclavas, which would enable us to use the same actors to portray several different marines. Every shop was incredibly helpful, one even staying open well past its normal closing hours.
Due to some of the stuntwork we would be doing, we had ordered several slabs of foam, to be made into crashmats. Unlikely as it sounds, Norwich's permanent market hosts a foam stall - Mick's Foam Shop - that sold exactly what we needed. Walking through town with four pieces of 8x4ft foam was an amusing sight, and one that thoroughly bemused the innocent bystanders.
Friday 26th September
With our time growing worryingly thin, Friday became the last crucial day - everything had to be set by the evening in order for the filming to commence on Saturday as planned. Most of the day involved getting hold of last-minute equipment and the remaining few props, whilst Josh battled against his worsening illness.
As the evening approached, we loaded up the vehicles and started transporting everything to the set, which was located about 45 minutes out of town. The rain was closing in and Josh was feeling increasingly fatigued. There was no time for whimpering, though, and we forged ahead.
The warehouse was dark and without any power when we arrived. A few moments and a bit of wiring later we fed electricity through the walls from the adjacent factory and rigged up some of the lights. As the building was in mid-construction it still had a dirt floor, comprised of dust, pebbles and Norfolk flint. We thought at first this might be a problem but over the weekend it proved to be an asset - not only was it more interesting visually than a bare concrete floor, it also enabled us to bury wires easily.
For the rest of the night we busied ourselves with building the set and positioning the static lights. We wanted a set that would allow us lots of movement, both for the actors and the camera, and that would also be visually effective. One key part of the set was the construction of several crates using slatted wooden pallets, inside which we placed concealed lights. When combined with some atmospheric smoke the lighting was very dramatic, adding an excellent texture to the visuals.
Once the set was assembled and the lighting was ready to go, we locked up and headed home, ready for a long and hard weekend...
Lightswords, smoke and marines
Saturday 27th September
Josh woke up on the first shooting day to find himself suffering from flu symptoms that would land most people in bed for a week. That wasn't an option for any of us, so we hauled ourselves out of bed and the entire cast and crew moved en masse to the warehouse set.
After a few final set adjustment we were ready to start filming. The first few shots were simple enough. The crew, most of whom had never met before, were starting to get to know each other's work rhythms. Everything was going smoothly.
Then came the lightsword sequence.
Of course, no AlamDV promo would be complete without a lightsword fight. We had decided to flood the set with low-lying smoke for the scene - in theory a simple enough matter of pressing a button on the smoke machine. In practice it proved to be far more awkward. The problem was that the temperature in the warehouse was too low, causing the smoke to rise and clog up the entire shot, resulting in a murky fog rather than a dramatic low mist.
The solution was to bring in an industrial heater to raise the temperature in the warehouse. This it did very effectively, and the smoke started to behave. The inevitable side-effect, of course, was that we all found ourselves overheating - particularly Marco and Steve, who were doing the bulk of the action. Regulating the temperature so that it was warm enough to control the smoke but cool enough for us to work in proved to be something of a nightmare, a constant juggling act that slowed down the shooting quite considerably. Thankfully our team were true professionals and we pressed on despite the heat and humidity.
Steve and Marco had been working on the choreography for the fight all morning and their efforts really paid off. It's a short sequence, but the power and ferocity in the lightsword swings is unlike anything I've seen before. One wrong move and the actors would have come away very bruised, if not decidedly broken. It was vastly impressive and should make for a memorable duel.
As the afternoon moved into the evening we finished up the lightsword sequence and commenced work on the elaborate marine shoot-out. Originally Simon and Josh were to have cameoed as the marines, but Josh instead found himself shivering in a corner with a fever. Thankfully Richard boldly picked up our fallen comrade's weapon and we swung into action, capturing enough muzzle flash-filled footage to satisfy even the most hardcore action fan. Richard really saved the day and made for as good a marine as we've ever seen. The marine section whistled along at breakneck speed, getting us back on schedule after the earlier smoke-related delays.
It seemed as if we had only just got started, but we were already halfway through the shoot, with just one day left before we had to disassemble the set and clear out. Due to the cast and crew coming together from far away places, there would be no chance for reshoots. This was our one opportunity, and failure was not an option...
Destruction, actors and rigs
Sunday 28th September
The day started early, and we braced ourselves to be in it for the long haul.
Charlie was only able to be with us for one day, due to prior commitments, and this was the day. The character that he plays ties the whole promo together; without him the promo lacks cohesion and drive. Capturing a good performance from Charlie was vital.
Of course, there was no doubt that we'd get the performance - we're dealing with Charlie 'Bud' Vincent here. But it did mean shifting gears a little on the part of the crew, from the action-packed coverage of Saturday to a more intimate, subtle, dialogue-orientated Sunday morning. Charlie was even better than we had hoped, throwing real enthusiasm into the role (and lots of lung power), in the process creating a character that was far more captivating and entertaining than the scripted dialogue had ever implied.
There may have been more quality acting in the day's schedule, but that's certainly not to say that there was any less action. In fact, Sunday had even more exciting stuntwork, with actors leaping away from sparking electrical cables, throwing themselves onto green crashmats and diving through destructible polystyrene scenery. There are few things more satisfying than watching an actor fall into an imploding crate, dust and debris enveloping him and the surrounding area.
We were also able to perform some elaborate individual shots. Although the promo is to show off our forthcoming post-production software, that did not rule out the use of practical, on-set effects - a combination of techniques always achieves the best results, after all. For some shots we had up to nine people involved, each performing a specific task. The dolly-crane rig required at least four people - two to operate the camera, one to handle audio and a fourth to move the actual dolly along its tracks. The most complex shot involved Marco and Steve performing on-screen, Tim operating a strobe light, Simon pumping smoke from just off-camera, Josh handling the camerawork, Jeremy and Charlie manipulating some props and Michelle and Sarah controlling some portable lights.
The last segments to be filmed were the greenscreen shots. These mainly involved Marco flailing about on a chair, trying to give the impression of floating up in the air. Although he felt pretty silly at the time, the final composited shots will be suitably impressive.
0315hrs Monday 29th September
The stars were out and Mars was beaming in through the main door by the time we wrapped and emerged from the smoke-filled warehouse. The sense of relief and sheer joy that we all experienced, having successfully achieved all our aims, is impossible to properly transcribe into words.
It was a memorable experience for all involved. The weekend was incredibly stressful and was physically and mentally exhausting for all concerned - most of us had never attempted anything on this scale before, and certainly not in such a compressed time period.
The weekend and two weeks leading up to it were filled with just about every emotion imaginable. There were even moments of doubt, when it looked like we weren't going to be able to pull it off...but they were only moments: with such a talented group of people giving all their skill and dedication to the project, it could only ever have been a huge success. Thanks go out from all of us at CSB to Marco, Charlie, Michelle, Steve, Sarah, Richard, Jeremy and Anna - we couldn't have done it without you all.
0400hrs Monday 29th September
With a creak of wood Tim pulled down the last of the crates and stacked it neatly on top of the rest of the disassembled set. The warehouse was suddenly empty again, with not a single sign that a film shoot had ever taken place.
Taking down the set was a strange, sad feeling. After such an intense two days of work, we all felt rather lost afterwards. The set had only been constructed two days beforehand, and tearing it down hammered home the fact that it was all over.
Of course, for some of us it is far from over. Post-production beckons - piecing the promo video together will be the ultimate test for Chromanator, AlamDV3 and DigiGrade, straight out of the gate. We're confident they will all pass with flying colours - and, once it is done, we hope that you enjoy the promo video as much as we enjoyed making it.
Until the next time, then...