a film by R. Zane Rutledge
F R O M T H E T R E N C H E S
Visual Effects by 668
by R. Zane Rutledge,
writer, director, co-producer
(...camera operator, water boy, wasp wrangler...
and now...visual effects supervisor)
O c t o b e r 1 9 9 8
my unfinished directing "debut" in 1994, I've learned a few things.
Besides the fact that making movies is hard.
is ever "done."
nothing is impossible.
AN APT NAME
spending '94 in the Texas heat, my two close friends Jance Allen
and B.Z. Lewis and I finally packed our bags and left the small
town we'd called home twice...once as children, and now again
as hopeful filmmakers. We were low on cash and low on steam, but
at least we had a rough cut of a wacky pseudo-western I'd dreamed
up a year before--a clash of gunfights and philosophy, a story of
ghosts and eternal friendship.
and B.Z. still had months of audio editing ahead of them, and I
still had to figure out some way to carry the project on from rough
to final cut, as well as contribute to putting a roof over our heads.
It wasn't going to be easy.
things kinda unraveled from there. Desperate for finishing money,
my co-producer Karen Inwood started pursuing Hollywood distribution
channels, finding a tough sell with an unfinished film and somewhat
nebulous possibilites for getting to the final cut.
weeks before every major festival or film market we'd get a string
of sleazy offers. We had the opportunity--numerous times--to simply
give the film away. Get nothing or very little money up front
and a lot of empty promises on the back end. But the worst part
of the deal was that these distributors wanted to finish the film
themselves. And I for one had a lot of problems with that.
final consensus between myself and most of the crew was that we
had to finish the job ourselves, at the risk of never seeing a release.
Unfortunately, between time at work and access to equipment, the
film stagnated. It was soon clear it wasn't going anywhere.
years later, Jance and I had a new business in similar channels--this
time, visual effects. We'd both worked for two years at Colossal
Pictures, a creative mecca of technical and artistic animation,
doing wacky things with pixels and paper, traditional and computer,
developing skills tailored to the moving image.
skills, and the tools used to achieve them, eventually found their
way into our own home studios. As freelancers, we soon partnered
under the banner 668,
determined to carry on with desktop filmmaking and break-the-rules
effects imagery. So far it's proven worthwhile.
The most significant single discovery was probably Adobe After Effects, which actually started with Jance at Colossal. I was pretty involved in deep 3D stuff, using SGI computers that I couldn't afford to support at home. But pretty soon I found the 3D world constricting on its own, and started reaching back out toward broader disciplines. 'Filmmaker' is the all-encompassing title I was still looking for, and After Effects was just one of the tools I needed.
changed fast. Right before we left Colossal, DV
hit. I bought the first Sony DV camera--the VX-1000--because the
quality was finally high enough for broadcast, and of course the
editing was finally lossless. This for little more than the 16mm
camera I had bought to shoot HIT. And of course DV and non-linear
editing plugged right in between After Effects and low-budget filmmaking.
the emerging technology just naturally brought Hell Is Texas
back into the light.
challenges of resurrection are numerous. When I shot HIT, I had
no idea I'd even have these tools available. So I certainly didn't
shoot with them in mind. And I'd do a lot different now, if I were
starting today. But you can't go back; a lot of the challenge in
finishing is making something I'll be mostly happy with, with my
new sensibilities and a lot more experience. There are a lot of
things I can't change, can't fix without reshooting, which isn't
an option. But...there's an incredible number of things I can
SALVAGE, FX, AND ADDED PRODUCTION VALUE
things are happening with the Hell Is Texas final cut.
I'm tightening the edit. No more "gotta be 90 minutes" drag-out.
So the existing footage is going to get shorter. Of course #2 and
#3 will make up for some of it...
I'm salvaging shots that I originally thought were unusable. Some
of it's color-correction or painting out a continuity flaw. Our
16mm camera had pretty awful side-to-side shake at the head and
tail of most of our mags; some good shots were thrown out in the
rough cut because with the shake it wasn't usable. I'm stabilizing
and reconsidering that footage, thanks to After Effects.
of the film has flashback sequences to the 1800s. (Yes, a low-budget
period piece. Nuts, ain't we?) So now I'll be able to enhance these
sequences with color treatments and some effects filters. There's
a number of subtle effects to build...Smoke and light rays. Two
or three ghost sequences, some vanishing and appearing that can
now be done right.
of course in the added production value department: I'm letterboxing
editing with Radius'
new EditDV, after transfering all my original footage over to mini-DV.
I've always been a big fan of Radius Edit--the Avid-style interface,
and the slick metal button look. Mainly I'm impressed with the pristine
quality of DV, considering my rough cut was a third generation on
3/4". It's amazing the difference three generations can make. Because
Radius' software is totally QuickTime compatible, I'm able to use
a really low-quality MJPEG compressed version of the rough cut as
a guide, and my old Miro card as an analog input for it. This way
my reference barely takes up any disk space and yet it's incredibly
easy to match my clean DV footage to each cut, quickly rebuilding
the rough cut in EditDV. Once this software has batch capture, editing
will be a dream.
have recently added Puffin
Designs' Commotion to my bag of tricks. This application is
the perfect compliment to Adobe After Effects. It fills all the
gaps between AE and Photoshop, and it truly taps the power under
the hood of your Macintosh. Commotion addresses a set of post-production
tasks that After Effects just doesn't address. It excels at what
After Effects does poorly or doesn't even attempt to handle. Like
detailed rotoscope work. Retouching. Garbage mattes. You can do
some of these things in After Effects, but not easily. These are
interactive, painterly tasks, not rendering tasks. Commotion is
the missing link. I've got one "wire removal" shot that's actually
a big clumsy rope. Commotion, once again, will handle this like
got to give a lot of credit to the original CoSA team that developed
After Effects as well. AE has been stuck at version 3.1 for a few
years now, and no one really notices. It's not that it couldn't
be improved in a few areas, it's just that what it's primarily used
for--compositing--it does extremely well. No need to fix what ain't
to tools like After Effects and Commotion, there's very little I
can't do on my home Mac. These are effects that would cost hundreds
of dollars an hour in a Flame suite, but I can tinker and experiment
with my footage, building composite shots and camera effects that
I never dreamed of back in Texas. All in the luxury of my own home.
just to clarify, I'm not aiming to compete with Titanic or
Star Wars here. In many cases, I'm looking to pull off effects
Hollywood can afford to do for real--pyro effects like bullet hits,
gunfire, sparks on swords, heat distortion, that kind of thing.
(Though we did shoot some real pyro stuff as well.) In one case
I'm dropping an actor into a scene he wasn't at (due to scheduling).
I'm also building cinematic camera work that would normally require
lots of gear, cranes, safety considerations, and tons of time. Instead,
we simulate a lot of fancy camera work in post, using ElectricImage
and camera projection or a multi-plane composite in After Effects.
As they say, the sky's the limit.
have no specific plans for the final release of Hell Is Texas.
I won't make promises on when I will finish or where it will go
not making this final cut for Hollywood. I really don't care about
that. And I've got to earn a living and move on with other projects
as well. But now I am really excited about seeing it completed.
Being able to add this level of polish and excitement elevates the
film somehow even beyond where it started.
now I'm finishing it for myself, and for all the other people who
gave their time and energy to the project. I want them to all have
a final copy, whether Blockbuster ever does or not. Those friends
joined us purely on a belief in the story and my conviction that
I could pull it off. That we could beat the odds and actually make
this beast. There've been some tough times and I've had my doubts.
But now I think I can finish it and finish it right. Now...I think
I see the light...
Hell is Texas ©1999 by Puppy Dog Head Productions. All Rights Reserved.
668 ©copyright 2000 by r zane rutledge. all rights reserved.