Sunday, July 16, 2017

Part 1 is Done (aka: Who Knew Kids Had Short Attention Spans?)

Part one of the craziest shoot I've ever done is in the can!
We managed to get nearly every shot needed -- some things had to get cut, however. But that's just  the way things go when time is ticking and you've got no budget.

We were on a 4 day schedule that went something like this:
Day 1) 9am-4pm.  Set-up the room. Hang posters, arrange chairs, check light levels... sharpen pencils with the worst pencil sharpener in Ohio.

(of course I didn't sharpen them, I'm the director, my job is to delegate, not sharpen pencils)

Day 2 & 3) 10-4pm approx.  Shooting, panicking, shooting some more.
Day 4) 10-3.  Clean-up: put the room back as we found it, leave no evidence!

Our first actual shoot day went by like a breeze. We were even a little ahead of schedule. 

That should've been a red flag.

Because once day 2 came, all bets were off!
Basically, we ran into all the same issues that any indie filmmaker does: No time, light changes, various things breaking or just going wrong, etc. 
However, all this was made 5 times worse by the fact that we were only able to shoot 6 hours for both days.
Why... KIDS, that's why. 

With such limited time (and of course, limited crew) I was forced to move as quickly as possible, only grabbing the most essential parts needed to tell the story.
So, in the end, I'm saddled with two extremes: shots that are absolute gems, and others that just don't work.
Naturally, I'm going to have to do the best with what I've got, and if it's one thing I've learned over the years of doing things by myself, it's how to "polish the poos." (-- insert image of super shiny bear of very little brain.)

Anyway, I'm working hard in post -- color correcting, compositing, all the usual.
But there's one new trick to add to my bag this time around: Split-Comping.
If you're not familiar with this concept, check out this link here.
I think it's going to be an incredibly useful, if not incredibly difficult, technique that I'll employ to try and fine-tune the performances of my child actors & extras.

I'll be moving forward with part 2 next month. Which means rehearsals, casting, a whole new location, and set decoration are all in the process as we speak.
So, it'll be another whirlwind week, and then a long, tedious time in After Effects for the rest of the month.


Monday, July 10, 2017

One Day Away From The Big Shoot & Teeth

Hey hey, everybody (I say this as though thousands read these ramblings).
Got some big news!
I'm going on location tomorrow to setup for the new short being filmed this Wednesday and Thursday!
And yes, I can even tell you what the title is:

This will be -- and I am aware that I say this every time, but it's always true -- the biggest thing I've tried to do to date.
Now, "big," I realize is a relative term. When I say 'big,' I don't mean big as in this kind of big. 
What I really mean is, 'big' in terms of how many people are involved, how much work it's been/going to be, and how many new things I'm having to learn just to make this happen.
This will be the first time I've every had to shoot with synch sound. 
It will be the first time I've ever had to shoot with child actors, or shoot a location that wasn't my house (or a friend's). 
Just like last time, this production will stretch the limits of what a few people and a shoestring budget can do -- maybe to the breaking point, who knows! Everyone keeps telling me they can't wait to see it, and frankly, neither can I.  It'll be just as much a surprise to me in the end.

It's interesting, well, I find it interesting -- that one could call this my No-Film-School-Film-School-Blog, as I've been chronicling my adventures in independent filmmaking for the past 8 years now.

Honestly... I don't really know where I was going with that tangent.... maybe I was going here.

Anyway, this film is gonna be (hopefully) really cool when it's done, and the date for release is most likely going to fall... somewhere in the fall. 
So, keep an eye out for it.
I will try to post as much as I can, without spoiling too much.
But in the meantime, here's some teeth!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017



Once again I find myself absent from the blog.
Well, the thing is,  I've been working furiously on a new project. And of course... I can't tell you what it's about (isn't that always the way).
However, I can give you a few hints -- the first being: that it is another live action short.
The second: that it has a cast of 15, and it takes place in a school!
Yes, I seem to be moving into bigger and (hopefully) better territory.
So, until I can say more, check out this weird interlude:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Orson Played AIFVF

Just a quick update here, 'F' for Formula was selected to play at this year's Athens International Film + Video Festival!
He was also featured here on Film Shortage a little while back.

I know I'm a little late with this news, but I've really been busy pulling strings behind the scenes -- gearing up for a new short (or maybe two, if I'm lucky).
Last year saw a lot of new challenges met -- like shooting my first ever live action short, the fastest turnaround in (my personal) animation history, and getting into film festivals.
I hope to continue in this momentum and push forward with more new and exciting projects -- of course this means even more live action, and way more VFX!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Halloween Shots (BTS)

Ready? Here we go:
This project was a very last minute thing. In fact, the timeline on this was probably the fastest turnover I've ever done – from concept to final film was three weeks exactly! 
So there was no time to experiment, and no time for mistakes. Thus, the day after I came up with the idea, I was already making puppets. 
First up, was the Snickers Bar, which was never supposed to be in the short in the first place. 
The original idea was for a horror trailer about killer Halloween candy. But, realizing that my time was limited, I decided to cut everything down to the bare minimum – however, as Dad and I talked it over, we just loved the idea of the Snickers so much, that we had to put it in.
So, the bar was made of upholstery foam, wire, and a liquid latex skin, which was then glued down and painted with PAX paint. I purchased a real candy bar (ate it) and lined the wrapper with foil so it would stay in place.

That was the easy part. 
The "Caramel Crab-Apple" was the real trick.
Seeing how I had no real plan, and did't have access to the usual materials (like foam latex or other molding materials that I'm comfortable with) I ended up MacGyvering it.
The puppet was made from a hollow plastic ball, coated in Super Sculpey, where the face and other details were sculpted by my dad. The clay was baked/hardened, and other details (and fixes) were made with epoxy putty.

The legs were made of wire and molded in Echoflex silicone. 
Now, I've only worked with silicone once before, and I'll be honest with you, it was a disaster. 
So naturally, I was scared to try it again. But as I said before, the clock was ticking, and ordering foam latex would've taken way too long to arrive in the mail – so I held my breath and remarkably, the silicone worked.
In fact, I had just enough to finish the apple, and not a bit more.

The legs, then, were affixed to 3 inch aluminum plates. Both of which were lined with magnets – once the legs were pushed completely through the holes, they would stick and were stable enough for animation.

The Crab-Apple on set. Filmed on a green screen, comped into the pre-filmed background.

He was rigged from below with a small ball & socket piece attached to a tripod.

Lastly, I took a day for sound design. I recorded things like celery cracking (when the legs first break through) – drumming on a wood table (for scampering) – hissing, cackling, etc. 
Everything was mixed in Premiere Pro and uploaded right before Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

BEWARE – Happy Halloween!

So here's a short piece that I threw together over the past couple weeks -- and got it done just in time too.

It's just a quick little thing -- and was made completely on the fly -- but I hope it makes you all think twice before biting into that first piece of Halloween candy.

I'll be sure to post some BTS shots soon.

Till then, have a happy All Hallows' Eve!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bait BTS

Bait VFX Breakdown from Santino Vitale on Vimeo.

Visual effects is a funny thing – bittersweet actually – it's something that takes a lot of time, thought, and skill, and in the end, the main goal is to be invisible.
Well, maybe invisible isn't the right word when it comes to a giant rat-monster in one's basement -- but what I mean to say is: Visual effects are done well when the audience doesn't question what they see… till after they've seen it.
Good visual effects should be something you miss, and then when you get home and you're grabbing a snack you say "wait a minute!"
All this to say -- I put a ton of work into every shot. Some shots, such as the opening bed scene, I'm actually kind of hoping you all took for granted. Because, even though it looked like a crane shot, it was actually accomplished like this:

So, yeah, that's me, standing on the bed above my cousin, with dad acting as a type of counter weight -- no, that's not a wedgie, he was actually holding onto my belt to keep me from falling on the 'actress.' 
After I got a usable take, I took it into After Effects for color grading and image stabilization using Warp Stabilizer.
Other smooth shots were accomplished by holding the tripod and using its low center of gravity to prevent that nasty shake that all light cameras like DSLRs are prone to. The rest was shot locked down on a tripod or even on the floor for some really low angles.

As I mentioned before, this was mostly a day-for-night shoot, so all the shots had to be graded extensively. And though I only included a few samples in the video, rest assured, you're not missing anything. They all underwent the same corrections -- darken, color grade towards the blue end of the scale, and bring down the highlights. 
In fact, more time was spent rotoscoping the windows that got blown out by the sun than any other effect. 

Now on to the monster.

He's a foam latex puppet, with a wire armature. 
To-date, it's the biggest puppet I have ever made. So big, that I had to build an oven just to fit his 18" X 17" plaster mold. 

Now, I'm a fair sculptor, but I didn't have the time or the confidence to attempt something this complicated. So my dad graciously donated his time and skill to do the job. 
He sculpted it in Super Sculpey, and I made the mold with Ultra-Cal 30. 
The teeth are made from epoxy putty and fired Sculpey. All the tentacles (and tongue) were molded separately, and then attached to the armature through holes cut out of the sides. 
Once the puppet was painted and assembled, I set the stage for animation.

He was on a green screen, mounted to a tripod which poked through a hole in the tabletop. The tripod acted two fold -- as a stable anchor point, and as a means to incrementally raise, lower, or tilt the puppet. I also mounted a small light to a helping hand so that I could animate it to match the flashlight from my live action footage.

Animation took 15 hours over two days. For each frame I had to make 16 moves (tentacles, arms, mouth, tongue, eyes, tripod, flashlight, drool, etc…) and turn the overhead lights on and off. So I was averaging about one second each hour. 

The monster's design was an interesting bit of evolution. We went through a few different versions, some with a rather amorphous shape, others with more anatomy, some looked kind of alien -- but all of them were supposed to be rat-like.

In fact, the whole concept for the film spawned from an old (really old) drawing that I had in my sketchbook. 
Originally it was a little boy and a teddy bear – the monster hiding just out of sight, waiting to pounce.

I of course changed quite a few things, but the end result still contains the bones of the first concept: A monster in the basement, using its tongue (with something interesting on the end) like an Anglerfish to lure its prey. 
By the way, the mouse was a real mouse. And in case you were wondering, it was a freeze-dried mouse that I purchased from eBay -- the little bugger cost me $35!
At one point, we had made a fake mouse, and it was naked and really weird looking. But in the end, I decided the real mouse worked better.

The tongue that you see on the floor, leading from the mouse was a large prop made from thin packing foam, rubber bands, and liquid latex. It was roughly 9 feet long… and looked dumb. 
No, really. After the first four feet or so, it didn't look good on camera. So the part you see in the film, where the tongue starts moving, was actually the tiny little puppet tongue that I animated and composited into the scene. 
And that's what was so ironic -- the little tongue that was never even supposed to be shown, ended up looking better than the big tongue that we made specifically for closeups!

The drool was made from clear school glue and liquid starch -- you can find the recipe here.

As I said before, this short was done in two days, with a few extra hours here or there for reshoots. 
I had made a storyboard, and practiced the shots before filming even started. That way I would be able to save set-up time, because I already knew where all my lights were going.

As you can see, the actual film didn't stray very far from the boards. The reshoots, however, were mainly for unforeseen things like POV shots, or the girl's reaction to the monster. 
Because, on paper, you only get a general idea of how it's going to work, but you don't get to see it in motion, with music, etc. 
I had considered making an animatic, but time was not on my side. 

Speaking of music, I'd like to take this opportunity to say thanks to the guys at Film Riot, for their great royalty-free music packs -- of which, 70% of the film score was made. With the other 30% being me on my keyboard in Garageband.