A DAY BY DAY DIARY OF THE FILMING OF "DOGFIGHT!"
This so-called "VLOG" for my blog is an account of the filming of my latest, no-budget epic motion picture called, "Dogfight!" Filled with personal annecdotes and colourful photographs, it is destined to become a classic read for all aspiring film-makers and would-be directors of miniatures and special effect scenes. In fact, that's all it has in it, just models - no people, no ego-generated tantrums, no hungover technicians and gaffers, and absolutely no worth at all - except to those of us who love a good special effects sequence and who can see the merit in a model or two.
Finally, after two long years of pre-production, storyboarding and building everything from a skateboard-wheeled dolly to a 6 metre long sky background, comes the next entry from GM Productions - "Dogfight!", an epic aerial battle between the airforce's newest and best flying machine and three enemy interceptors from an unnamed country, competing for total air supremacy above Base Wildfire, a secret installation in the heart of "the land down under".
These videolog entries will be updated as often as possible and will form the basis of a full overview of the production process.
Read on, dear Gerry Anderson/Derek Meddings fans...
Monday 1 October 2012 – Set up for opening shot of film, Gareth and Brittany, one of my neighbours and his daughter, came over to help for few hours. Gareth pulled Search and Rescue Vehicle model (cameo from “Avalanche!”) while I panned down from sky and zoomed in to Base Wildfire sign. Shot at 25fps. Next, set up for two tracking shots of Base Wildfire. They will be joined together in a dissolve. Camera vibration too much on dolly, so had to lay down sheets of 3mm MDF to smooth out movements. Used both model stages for depth. Brittany helped by keeping cables out of the way of tracking shot on the homemade dolly and dressed the set with cars and small buildings. After many takes, finally managed to achieve two decent tracking shots of various buildings and vehicles. Shot at 100fps.
Tuesday 2 October 2012 – On my own today. Set up large scale buildings in foreground and used invisible thread to pull various vehicles across the set between the buildings. Shot at 100fps and looked quite good. Need to buy more halogen light stands as shooting at 100fps requires much more light than I have now. Tried wiring up the fan in MFR model to blow dust as it was pulled along, but deemed too difficult. Will get it to work one day! Multi-Building worked beautifully as it has four different faces and can be reused a few times and not be recognised.
Wednesday 3 October 2012 – On my own again today. Did two insert shots of flashing warning sign. Tried wiring in bright LED, however illumination was too centralised with annoying hotspot in middle. Went back to using the torch behind the sign. Seemed to work fine. Varied the angles and distances for the shots. Put more light on sky background than on sign. Flashing light registered more in darker areas of the set. Shot at 100fps. Also took number of 25fps shots of PA system against sky from low angle. Sirens and voice-overs added later.
Thursday 4 October 2012 – Finished off the other flashing sign shots at 100fps and then began setting up for reveal of Bluefire 4 launch area. Had to remove sections of hangar doors and edging to allow doors to open smoothly when pulled from underneath. Took a long time! Section balanced between the two model stages. May have to put screws in to hold it in place. Not sure how to get overhead shot of red hangar doors as camera quite far away. Use a ladder? Or maybe stand on the welded steel table in foreground? Added fencing, crates and plastic panels to edge of 12mm MDF sheet that forms the launch area to disguise what could be seen by camera. Baseboard is painted in light grey not primer grey as in rest of model set. Will leave it this colour as it stands out against the darker grey. Trimmed Bluefire 4 launch bay doors to let them slide more freely. Dressed set with vehicles. May add few signs and flashing lights to provide more interesting details. Stuck “Danger” signs to three, small flashing light units I got from the Queensland Mining Expo months ago. They look good, however hard to see them when shooting at 100fps.
Friday 5 October 2012 – Went and bought another tripod of work lights. They add much more light to the model setup. Cost me $45, along with three extra 500W halogen bulbs at $4 each. Filmed one or two pickup shots of launch area, along with a pan of the set to add to the two tracking shots previously done. These will all be dissolved together to give the impression that Base Wildfire is a huge place, hopefully. Unable to get anyone to help out today – all the model club guys were either at work or busy. Couldn’t get any neighbours either. Need to shoot a couple of scenes of busy traffic around the launch area and require many hands to make it all work. Contemplated shooting it in stop motion animation, but not sure how to incorporate the single frame shots into Pinnacle, my editing program.
Saturday 6 October 2012 – Managed to trip over an extension cord and bring my new tripod lights crashing to the concrete floor. Bugger! Two bulbs written off and one face plate hinge damaged, but swivelling still works okay. Replaced bulbs and the lights tested out alright. Whew! Still couldn’t get anyone else to help out – all busy. Had the day off and worked on my blog instead. Took some still shots of the model setup to illustrate my Forced Perspective Model Photography article, No.40, for the blog. The tripod lights seem to cast a yellowish tinge to the model set. Doesn’t seem too bad though – gives it a daylight look. Finished off the new blog entry at 11pm that night. E-mailed Daniel Battley from ABC Tropical North TV earlier on in the day. He wants to assist me with the movie and is chock full of computer and film editing knowledge, as well as being a Special Effects fan, but he had family commitments and couldn’t help out over the weekend. No shooting done at all.
Sunday 7 October 2012 – Ready and rearing to go on the filming, but no helpers again today. Seems everyone was either working, at home with family or watching the Bathurst car race. Yawn! Couldn't get up much enthusiasm myself today. Decided to put this Videolog up on my blog. Got work all this coming week teaching Preps at Marian State School, so no filming at all for next five days until the following weekend when I hope to get a few helpers. Model set still looks damn good in the shed. Very happy with the way the background horizon and sloping hills look in-camera, although, to be honest, you can hardly see them at all, but they manage to give the overall impression of distance. Can't wait to continue getting some good footage for the movie, as what I've seen so far looks like it could have come straight out of "Thunderbirds", "Captain Scarlet" or "Joe 90"! Just what I've been trying to do!
Just got my better looking half to take a few behind-the-scenes shots for a bit of fun. Enjoy!
Just got my better looking half to take a few behind-the-scenes shots for a bit of fun. Enjoy!
Saturday 13 October 2012 - "Dan the Man" from ABC Tropical North arrived just after 9am and proceeded to educate me about computers and blogs. Head is still spinning! Spent all morning doing this stuff. Dan, my Technical and Computer Advisor, a new title I've just made up for him, is invaluable to the process! He is very patient with me! With Rob and Dan hidden under table, and Gareth on smoke machine, along with his daughter, Brittany on camera, we managed to achieve just 6 seconds of usable footage in six, long and gruelling hours. Got good shots of Bluefire 4 being revealed after opening of underground hangar doors, as well as two shots of it rising up ready to be launched. What a session! Two of the most difficult shots are in the can, thanks to the patience and hard work of friends. Truly a collaborative effort. Should be some good bits on the ABC website too, thanks to Dan. See: www.abc.net.au/open
(Search for "Plastic Stories" and please add some comments on the site!)
|(Above & Below): The Bluefire 4 aircraft in its underground hangar before being elevated to stardom.|
Thursday 25 October 2012 - Finally, after many fruitless days waiting for a few more hands to help out, success! Neighbour Barry and his friend from work, Colin arrived on doorstep. With three of us, managed to get good shots of Bluefire 4 elevating on launch ramp amid copious amounts of smoke. Colin had fun with that! Also got a few shots of trucks starting up and evacuating the launch area, as per storyboard. Smoke machine worked a treat and provided much needed atmosphere for ramp elevation, as well as for ignition of Bluefire 4's engines. Filmed from number of angles to achieve good coverage for editing later on. Used a pedestal fan to blow smoke in right direction. Hydraulics on launch ramp consisted of pair of aerials from a TV set ("Bunny Ears"). They worked far better than expected. Shot from two angles at 100fps. Also began editing some pre-takeoff sequences together. Including titles, etc. Bluefire 4 launches about six minutes into the film. It all looks quite good and very "Andersonesque". Laid a temporary soundtrack over the edited bits. I'm getting excited!
|Colin on smoke machine duties and Barry burning his hands under the launch ramp set. (Both guys had a ball!)|
Tuesday 30 October 2012 - Managed to find time to set up the two tables with "clouds" in order to shoot scene of Bluefire 4 breaking through cloud layer and into open sky. Used toy/pillow stuffing from local Spotlight for clouds - looks quite realistic through the lens. Needs smoke to really make the shot. Wanted to shoot the scene this afternoon, but no help forthcoming. Need three of us to film the scene - one on camera, one on smoke and the third on the model itself. Looks quite realistic through the camera. Picked up laptop - all is okay - corrupted logon ID or something? All data restored and safe - whew! Work tomorrow, so probably no shooting until Saturday.
Friday 2 November 2012 - Derek from the model club arrived early and we managed to get a shot of Bluefire 4 emerging from a cloudbank. Looks quite good through the camera. Shot at both 25fps and 100fps. Normal camera speed appears good enough for the shot.
Saturday 3 November 2012 - Turned aircraft around and shot number of scenes of it flying down into cloudbank. Wrong angle, ie. left to right instead of other way round, but may come in handy. Ross from model club was there four a number of hours to help out. He was on smoke and plane, I was on camera. Shot at both 25fps and 100fps. Put both tables together, end to end, for tracking shots. Ended up about six metres long. Covered with white cloth and polystyrene foam, then added clouds so grey model stage wouldn't show through. Took more than an hour to set it all up. Set up plane at one end on pair of parallel lines and pulled it through the shots. I stood on a ladder and filmed model flying across cloudscape while Ross added smoke and dragged plane along with third wire. Filmed at both speeds, however 25fps showed too much of the stage and background. 100fps was perfect for the shot and it actually turned out pretty well! Bluefire 4 just skims the tops of the clouds - something I had hoped to achieve. Repeated it a few times and then tried tracking shot on homemade dolly, following plane above clouds. Ross got his walking exercise during that time! Shots look really good, quite realistic and with very few support wires showing. Smoke in shots helps out a lot. The music will really make the beauty shots of Bluefire 4 that much better when added to this "freedom and grace in the sky" sequence. Maybe I can get the model to be a little more graceful and acrobatic?
Sunday 4 November 2012 - Set up model ready for panning shots as it flies over clouds, but unable to find extra hands to help out. Did some quick flybys with stationery camera shooting at one spot, but needed a pan of moving model and more smoke to bring the scene alive and provide interest.
Monday 5 November 2012 - No shooting done today. Model setup ready for panning shots of Bluefire 4 against clouds and sky. Ready to go! Continued editing the film in Pinnacle. With titles, etc. the aircraft launches at just over six minutes into the film. Have to record the voiceovers to add later. Wrote the script for them today. All sounds military and plausible. Got to find some siren/klaxon sound effects to put with the voiceovers to make it all appear more realistic and full of tension. Hopefully will get the panning shots done tomorrow and then change the cloud set around to film shots of both the enemy aircraft and Bluefire 4. Looking really good so far! Still have more closeups of Bluefire 4 to do, some with moving clouds beneath. Hope the model is large enough to withstand close camera scrutiny!
Tuesday 6 November 2012 - Downloaded some siren/klaxon sounds from soundguys.com, as well as some more explosion effects. All up, they cost about $50, which I thought was quite expensive. Came across Detonation Films, a small company that provides video clips of explosions, smoke effects and burning car and aircraft models for free downloads. Amazing what you can find on the Internet! Maybe a couple of their clips can be helpful. Neighbour Barry came over in afternoon and we shot furiously for half an hour and got sixteen takes of Bluefire 4 skimming over the clouds, from a variety of angles. Some very useful footage was taken. Edited it into film to add to the "freedom and grace in the sky" sequence. Just need some closeups of small model, as well as large scale wing section with moving clouds and smoke beneath to put into this section and then it's on to do battle with the enemy fighters! Dan over this afternoon to look at what I've got so far and maybe to record the voiceovers for editing. Trying to get first third of film completely edited before moving on to the rest of it.
Wednesday 7 November 2012 - Dentist visit at 11:45 today. What fun! Had some success before enduring dentist this morning. Set up large scale wing section G-clamped to a step ladder, used the remote for the camera and operated smoke machine, as well as sliding the wheeled table beneath the model to achieve a couple of decent shots! Talk about multi-tasking! Took shots of clouds travelling beneath wing section with added smoke for atmosphere. Most turned out pretty well and all on my own too! Quickly edited them into film before going to dentist. Still need some high angle shots of large scale section, as well as small model positioned above clouds, with moving cloudscape beneath. Will enlist some help for those ones.
Dan turned up this evening and we managed to record the voice-overs in just under an hour. Now to put them into Audacity and add effects for Dan's voice as Central Control and my own as Bluefire 4 pilot. Such a learning curve this computer stuff! Dan showed me what to do - let's hope I remember it all!
Thursday 8 November 2012 - Managed to get a couple of shots of the small Bluefire 4 model against the cloud background. Multi-tasked once again! Set smoke machine pouring, remotely operated camera and then slid table out from under model. Camera mounted above model on tripod captured just what I wanted it to see. Model mounted via a lead pencil stuck up its pipe and then G-clamped to a board which in turn is G-clamped to a ladder. Nothing but the very best in high-tech filming gear for this production house! The shots look great - the aircraft passing over the cloudscape at 100fps. Edited into the film, with music background, they look they actually belong with the rest of the sequence. Very happy so far. Unfortunately, I managed to knock over one of my tripod lights - yes, the very same one that took another beating from me a couple of weeks ago. Lost another bulb, but still seems to work okay.
Edited the voiceovers and sirens into film - made it look and sound so much better - first third is now fully completed and runs about 8:30 minutes. Few more flight shots to do and then it's on to the battle between Bluefire 4 and the three enemy interceptors. Still haven't finished my rolling sky - need it to achieve quite a few shots of speeding aircraft.
Sunday 25 November 2012 - Managed to get neighbour Gareth and his daughter Charlotte over to help re-do one or two scenes with large scale enemy aircraft section on fire. Then reversed the burnt and damaged section to film from another angle for a different scene. Certainly got my use out of this piece! Took me a few days to make cheaply and a couple of hours to totally destroy it. Constructed from old plywood, cardboard tube, balsa piece and bits of tubing, all mounted on tubular section of PVC pipe that I found lying around. Probably cost me about $20. Used old fire extinguisher to put out fires in between takes. Sprayed powder everywhere and made quite a mess!
|Half burnt and covered in fire extinguisher powder, but still have shots of it to complete! |
Will post a photo of it after it's completely destroyed!
|Neighbour Gareth helping to set up the enemy aircraft large scale section prior to setting it alight.|
The fans blow the smoke and flames in the right direction.
Monday 26 November 2012 - Managed to get Ross from model club over for about four hours and we achieved quite a few shots. Filmed enemy interceptor model, in opposite direction from yesterday, for scenes of Fighter #1 diving towards the ground in flames. Mounted it on aluminium tubing pushed into tailpipe and suspended flaming cloth in front of it to make it appear to be on fire. Not as successful as having the cloth mounted behind the model. All shots filmed at 100fps to slow down the appearance and movement of the flames.
|Model mounted on rod as is the kerosene-soaked cloth just in front of it. Not very successful.|
|From the right angle, flaming cloth should align with model in near background to make it appear|
that the model itself is on fire. Camera tilted to achieve the diving angle.
Went on to film some shots of the small scale pilot from Fighter #1 floating down on his escape parachute. Tried catching him in fall using 100fps, but ended up using 250fps as he was travelling way too fast. Ross dropped him from top of step ladder. Shot many, many takes to get just three decent shots of him descending properly.
Went on to re-shoot two scenes of Bluefire 4 banking and turning to attack enemy interceptors, filmed this time at 100fps. Looks much better this way, more smooth and graceful. Also re-shot one scene of enemy interceptor turning and climbing up over camera, far easier with two people doing the shooting. Ross operated camera and smoke and I could concentrate on how the model should move in the frame. All-in-all, a good day, with many shots accomplished, thanks to Ross's help.
Tuesday 27 November 2012 - Neighbour Gareth arrived and we spent nearly one and a half hours setting up for a shot of an enemy interceptor diving through the clouds. Had to use a ladder at one end of the shed to suspend the model and let it slide down fishing line towards the cloud tables. By this time neighbour Barry was here and he used a fishing rod to attach to the model which was now strung up in reverse so we get a shot of it erupting from the clouds and climbing into the sky. Worked quite well, especially when the pitot tube of the model, a large nail, became embedded in the support timber at the top of the ladder. Caused quite a gale of laughter!
|The enemy interceptor model firmly embedded into a timber support high above the floor. Neighbour Barry |
used way too much strength with the fishing rod in pulling it up the support lines!
|The model is released by Barry and slides down the lines and through the clouds.|
Sunday 9 December 2012 - Well, the movie has been edited, saved and burnt to disc, clocking in at about 16 minutes. With two added extras, a "Making of..." with behind-the-scenes video mostly taken by Rob Grinberg and a slideshow of the models, backgrounds and filming, the entire entertainment package comes to 33 minutes. Really happy with the way it has turned out. Thanks again to Dan Battley who spent hours turning some of the rough footage into something worthwhile and tweaking some bits I wasn't overly pleased with. I bought the cases, printed some DVD labels and case covers and assembled it today, along with some help from Michael, a good friend visiting from Brisbane. Needless to say, he received a free copy for his troubles! He seemed pleased!
If you get a copy of this DVD package, just think of all the hard work and dedication that some friends of mine and myself put into it - without them, the film wouldn't exist. Some feedback on what you think of it would be very much appreciated.
Wednesday 2 January 2013 - On the advice of a good friend of mine, Jim, I have totally re-edited the film down to about eight and a half minutes. In the film industry himself and having done a lot of professional models and Special Effects shooting, Jim suggested trimming the shots down to about half their length to create shorter and therefore more interesting sequences. I took his good advice to heart and am happy to say that the shorter version is far more exciting. It was heartbreaking to cut out a lot of shots because they had taken so long to set up and shoot, but Jim's advice was very sound. I've called the new version, "Dogfight! Redux" and am attempting upload it to YouTube soon.
Tuesday 8 January 2013 - Well, after much swearing and gnashing of teeth, "Dogfight! Redux" is finally on YouTube and out there for people to see. It took a while to organise and upload, but it's finally done. There are one or two very minor edits that probably need looking at, however I'm extremely happy with it and hope that you enjoy it as well. Please add some comments and suggestions and tell your friends all about it. The YouYube address is as follows:
Now, what to do for my next epic motion picture...?