Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007


FROM INSIDE, the illustrated movie

Can a graphic novel be translated directly to film?



From Inside isn't a typical comic book. The things that made it a unique graphic novel are the same things that worked in favor of translating it to film -- things I've mentioned in previous posts: No dialog (no word balloons), no sound effects, a very simple rectangular panel design for every page (instead of crazy-angled panels with characters busting out of the frames).

...and most importantly: no fight scenes.

What do you see?

Most people would answer: "A woman."

That's incorrect. It's a painting of a woman. When we look at artwork, we accept it as a substitute for reality -- whether it's a simple drawing of a stick figure, a painting, or a photograph.

If I were to animate this image, I would cut the figure into pieces: arms, hands, fingers, eyes, eye lids, hair, etc. Each element could then be animated -- bringing the figure to life... but not really.

When I cut the From Inside paintings into layers for animating (like cut-paper animation), I found that there was a point where a certain amount of animation caused the images to switch from being a surrogate for reality (paintings) to being what they actually were: pieces of cut paper moving around.

An example: compare the treatment of still photos in Chris Marker's great La Jetee to how photographs are manipulated in The Kid Stays in the Picture. In La Jetee, we look past the actual photographs and feel as though there is a wider world beyond the edges of the screen. In The Kid Stays in the Picture, we know we are looking at small paper photographs that have been multiplaned -- we don't see a world, we see graphic design.

With From Inside I wanted to maintain the emotional impact that comes with having still images be read as a substitute for reality -- of being evidence, a record, of actual events rather than pieces of paper moving before your eyes. I would animate right to the point where representations became real, physical objects and then take one step back to "painting."

...And I found that character animation got me to this switching point on a much steeper curve than animating inanimate objects -- probably due to some weird variation of the uncanny valley.

Anyway... this is why having no fight scenes worked in my favor. I didn't have to deal with the problem of translating comic book illustrations of figures moving with high energy. If I'd had to, I would have had to either break the "paintings that move" rule I set up for myself and fully animate the action or use stills and hope that you the viewer wouldn't feel cheated by looking at a mere painting of a kick-ass fight scene.

Actually... there was one scene in the graphic novel with a lot of figure movement. I kept the "it's a painting" feeling by using fast camera movement, quick cuts and good sound design. It worked for this scene, but employing those same tricks over and over would have grown tiresome.

(It's not Batman vs. Superman, but there will be blood)

I like on-line comics that are static pages, but animated comics with a bit of motion usually don't work for me -- especially if it's an action comic. Action doesn't have much of a punch when your hero is an inanimate paper cut-out sliding from screen left to screen right. (Excepting the Mr. Incredible & Pals short on the collector's edition of The Incredibles which brilliantly pokes fun at these shortcomings and makes me realize that many on-line animated comics today are a lot like old superhero cartoons).

Also, I don't mean to say cut-paper animation can't build an emotional connection between audience and story. I love cut-paper animation and can think of plenty of examples where I am pulled into a story and don't dwell on how it was or wasn't animated:
- The end titles for A Series of Unfortunate Events.
- This: Dragon
- Stuff that was designed to look like cut-paper -- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends for example.


There are some animated comics that I like because they do not try to replicate the visual language of printed comics. They're more like motion graphics. The animated comics at the Fox Atomic site are a good example (find them within in the comics section -- 28 Days Later, Turistas).


...and this... well... this one walks an amazing line between illustration and animation... and live-action.

Dante's Inferno


Since I don't ramble this much in real life, long posts will now have spoken word versions at the end so you can scroll down and get to the point.

Spoke Word version of this post:
"From Inside is an animated film, but watching it feels exactly like reading a graphic novel."

Thursday, December 20, 2007


The last 3D render is complete...

One more practical fx shot to comp and a few pages of notes to address.

The notes are little things that I need to fix now or they will bug me (forever). Like:
"Hand bigger on pregnant."
"Move the baby on pitchfork scene back 5 or 6."
"Darker dead bodies @ flooded house."
"Cee's eyes should be closed because she has fallen asleep."
"Take blowing hair off apocalypse pull-back, looks stupid."
"Lengthen rails under blood to telephone poles."
"Add piece of train to observation deck, lame."

Won't take long to make these fixes.

My G5 has been on 24 hrs a day for the past 2 1/2 years -- either working or rendering. It can finally catch up on sleep. Not me. What remains: the score and those notes. I can say this, though: the heavy lifting is over.

We will be submitting the film to festivals through the coming year. If it will be screening someplace, you'll hear about it here first.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Friday, November 23, 2007


Another randomly-chosen collection of stills...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



Sewed together with golden thread.


Tired of all train all the time? Me, too. So here is an exciting shot of a book falling down.


No "On The Monitor" screenshots for awhile. The stuff I'm working on now is from the last few minutes of the film. You don't want to see any of that and spoil it. Right?

So, I'm posting random stills...

This shot has a great Whoooooosh sound as the camera passes between the two large boulders. Did you ever notice almost everything in Lord of the Rings goes "Swoooosh" as it passes by the camera? Birds, flowers, sandals, candles, even smoke.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


The texture inside the incubator was made by scanning a piece of raw meat. The faces of the gauges are from WWII German fighter planes.

Monday, November 5, 2007


A cave-in...

Sunday, November 4, 2007


You need smoke or fog in your animated movie? Here are your choices:

1) Use a plug-in or a particle generator... which, on the low-end looks like a plug-in and on the high-end looks great but takes 80 years to render... and if you need the fog to blow around in a certain way it helps to have a degree in physics.


2) Buy a $30 smoke machine, some black paper, and a flashlight:

Adjust contrast and levels, scale, add blur, composite:

These shots are from a dream sequence. Dream sequences in From Inside are animated 12 fps (instead of 24). That's why it looks a little choppy. This is actually helpful for stretching (slowing down) the fog footage. No frame blending necessary.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


The image on the left is what a shot typically looks like as rendered by Maya. This is before color correcting and compositing.

Most of the 3D elements in this Maya render have been output as separate layers. The ground, the bridge, the train each exist on separate layers so they can be manipulated independently. Actually, the bridge is rendered in two layers because (you can't see it here) there is a part of the bridge that passes in front of the train earlier in the shot. That part of the bridge is on a separate layer, too. Some parts of the image are rendered in separate passes. The ground layer, for example, was broken into 3 passes: color, shadow 1 (shadows cast by the train), and shadow 2 (shadows cast by the bridge). So, not only is the ground a separate layer, the light and shadow that make up the ground are also on separate layers.

Besides lousy color, there are a lot of problems with the Maya render. (Click the image to enlarge it). Check out the edges of everything... The beams of the bridge are all very hard-edged. Same thing with the edge of the train. See that lower part of the passenger car? Looks like a crisp machine-made edge. That's bad. There is no shadow under the train. What shadows there are, are too hard and too dark. There isn't much depth of field; the tracks are hard-edge an in-focus all the way to the horizon. The horizon is a hard edge, too.

The Maya renders also don't have any particle effects -- no smoke, steam, fire...

These are all things that could be rendered by Maya (or whatever 3D pipeline you like), but those solutions are either beyond my computing power or would increase render times to something unmanageable.

So I usually fix it in After Effects. With duct tape.


Looks like HO scale....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


On the monitor. Train. Bridge. After Effects. Render.


Grinder Tool & Die - the studio where From Inside is being made. Yep, that's it: a single G5, Dual 2.7. You're laughing now, but a few years ago, when the film was started that machine was the top of the heap.

This is also the studio where most of the music I've made over the past 10 years was recorded. Yes, that's it: a single Ensoniq ASR10. You're laughing now, but a few years ago when -- never mind.

...although, this, I swear, was recorded in Ibiza, Dublin, and Brooklyn

...and this was sort-of recorded all over the place, too.

Okay, I exaggerated about recording so much in this little studio. But this graphic art stuff was absolutely all made at Grinder Tool & Die.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The From Inside short film will be screening at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, October 19-25, 2007.

The From Inside short is a 9 minute film which serves as introduction to the From Inside feature length story. Working with the first 15 minutes or so of the feature length film, I cut together a piece that stands alone. It doesn't give much away in terms of the feature-length story, but it serves as a great introduction to From Inside: the visual language, the characters, the world...

More info can be found here:
Toronto After Dark

Stills from the short:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I am very excited and pleased to announce that we have found the voice of Cee.

Corryn Cummins.

Corryn brings to the role a perfect sense of sadness and persistence, of softness and strength. There is only one character in From Inside who speaks; Cee. The emotional weight of the entire film rests on one voice. Corryn carried this weight with heart-stirring quiet ease. She is Cee.

We recorded voice this past weekend in LA at Titmouse Studios.

Titmouse Inc.

Corryn in the booth

Ekaterina Slepicka, engineer (thanks Ekaterina and Titmouse!) and Brian McNelis, producer

The Director

After recording voice, editing at Red Velvet Studios, LA

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Checking renders. The top shadow pass is flickery and fuzzy. The bottom one is not. This is a frame from a shot that is 150 frames long. The shadow pass took 4 minutes to render each frame. Since the top render was so lousy and since I forgot to turn off shadow casting for the rail, it had to be re-rendered. That's a 10 hour mistake. I'm fired.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Killer shadows. More killer shadows.

This is from one of the train pick up shots I mentioned... oh, about 8 years ago.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I am interviewed by Mister Phil and Charlito at Indie Spinner Rack. They do an awesome comics podcast and I had a great time talking with them.

Make sure to check out their archives -- some great interviews to be found there.

Thought I'd add a few show notes. So, check out the interview at ISR and come back to this post for some extra comic book geekness below:


Indie Spinner Rack #93
Show Notes

Thanks to Charlito and Mister Phil. It was great talking with them.
I loved Mister Phil's story about the From Inside stand at the comic book store. Awesome.

Warren Publishing:
These were big magazine-sized comic antholgies published through the 70s and early 80s. Mostly black & white, occasional color pages. All the greats: Alex Toth, John Severin, Richard Corben, Frazetta, Neal Adams, Al Williamson...

I didn't read Eerie, Vampirella, or Creepy as much as the magazine 1994. I was lucky to have a drug store where the register didn't mind selling kids magazines that were clearly labeled as "Provocative Illustrated Adult Fantasy."

I loved the work of the Spanish and Filipino artists in 1994: Alex Nino, Jose Ortiz, Alfredo Alcala, Rudy Nebres. The work by these guys looked (and still looks) like nothing else being done in comics (so, seek out old copies of 1994, kids). Their black and white work was a heavy influence on me.

I've always thought that the artists whose work you copy (what? I didn't say "trace") when you are learning are the ones that influence you the most - even if whatever you end up doing in your own work doesn't look similar. For me, those artists were Alex Nino and the other 1994 contributors. Man, they loved their black ink.

Alex Nino:
wikipedia article re: Warren
Comics Journal article about Warren Publishing

Here's a page by Alex Nino. Amazing:


Tundra was an independent publisher founded by Kevin Eastman (Melting Pot, Heavy Metal, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Tundra contracted From Inside, but the book was published by Kitchen Sink after acquiring Tundra.

Here's a Comics Journal interview with Kevin Eastman about Tundra and his work. It's a pdf from the Heavy Metal site. Kevin publishes Heavy Metal magazine now.


Caliber published my first series, Ashes. They published The Crow, Dead World, Baker Street, Kabuki... my last comic book series Golgothika.... the anthology Negative Burn...

Caliber published a ton of really great black and white comics before they folded. Most of the books are still in print. Check the site out.

Official Caliber site

Old friends from the Caliber days:

Nate Pride

Vince Locke

James O'Barr


Guy Davis
Be sure to visit Guy's Illustration section... and the Comicwork section... and the Marquis pages... you know what, just click through his entire site. I've just decided Guy Davis is one of my top 5 favorite comic book artists.

Who are the other 4? Paul Pope. Frank Miller. Pander Brothers. Michael Manning.

Grinder web site My music, illustration, album covers, etc

Golgothika pages

The big chair!


Star Trek #6
It's the first comic I ever read. I must have been about 5 years old

I was thinking about this Star Trek comic and how there was another comic I saw when I was young that made me want to seek out more comics. That book was Adventures on the Planet of the Apes. A friend of mine owned the comic, but something about the book disturbed him so much that he wanted to get rid of it... by giving it to me.

The reason why the book bothered him was because there was a drawing of a decomposed person on one of the pages. I held the comic up to him and said "You mean THIS picture?" He was so upset when he saw the drawing of the skeleton that I thought he was acting... so I kept showing it to him... until I finally figured out that he wasn't pretending.

I was about 8 or 9 years old. That was probably the first time I realized that art could have a very real effect on people. Even little 2"x3" panels in a Planet of the Apes comic book. I looked at the kid I had turned into a puddle and thought: "Awesome." (Actually - if I remember right - my exact thought was "With Great Comic Book Art, Comes Great Responsibility.")

Sometimes I am amazed by what you can find on the internet. Issues #1-4 of Adventures on the Planet of the Apes in pdf format.

Check out issue 1, page 6:
Fucking scary!!!!!!!



What's a fanzine? That was how bloggers blogged before the internets were invented:
Factsheet Five (the meeting place for all fanzines)


What is a "render wander?"

That's what happens when the progress bar on your computer says "Rendering" for 3, 4, 5 days in a row.

Let's say a shot is 10 seconds long. That's 240 frames. Depending on the scene's complexity, it could take my computer up to 15 minutes to render each frame. Shall we do some math?

240 frames X 15 minutes each = 3,600 minutes (ie: 60 hours... ie: 2.5 days).

Here is a quote from Michael Bay about rendering Transformers animation: “The visual effects were so complex it took a staggering 38 hours for ILM to render just one frame of movement,” reports Bay, “that’s unheard of in this industry.”

Let's say there were 25 minutes of special effects in the 2.5 hour Transformers film (that might be a low estimate). There are 1,440 frames in 1 minute of film. 25 minutes = 36,000 frames.

36,000 frames X 36 hours per frame = 1,296,000 hours. (ie: 4,000 days. ie: 148.4 years).

I gather, then, that Transformers is still rendering? (I'm kidding. I know there was a room someplace at ILM with 1,296,000 processors in it - each one working on a single frame while the animators were asleep). (I'm kidding again. Animators don't sleep!).

Anyway. The point I believe Michael Bay is making here is that the longer your rendering times are, the more kick ass your film is.

And the longer you have to wait for your renders to complete, the more often you go for a render wander. You get up. Wander. Eat. Read. Whatever.


By themselves, a lot of the windows, icons and menus in Maya (3D animation program) look interesting to me. With the addition of a couple textures and some brush strokes they make for nice abstracts.

That's what I do for render wanders. Stare at the monitor until it starts looking like abstract art. Or robots. In disguise.

Here is the Maya screen that became the artwork at the top of this post:

Here's another window:

And what it became: