Monday, February 26, 2007


Rocks. Exciting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I had always planned to keep the design of From Inside (the graphic novel) transparent and free of typical comic book conventions. No sound effects, no word balloons, no crazy-angled panels, no characters bursting from panel boundaries. I had also planned to keep most of the panels in a rectangular, widescreen ratio. In a sense, the book was designed, from the very beginning, to look a lot like storyboards.

One thing I remember being undecided about was whether to lean heavily towards a sepia look or to use a wider, more-colorful comic book palette.

At the time, I had never seen any of of Lars Von Trier's flms. After watching The Element of Crime (1984), my mind was made up about where to go with the From Inside color scheme. The Element of Crime was lit almost entirely with sodium vapor lamps, creating an amazing yellowish sepia-toned color... I loved the color.

With the From Inside film I have pushed the colors even more in this direction. (I should pause here to say Stu Maschwitz kicks ass. If you are a filmmaker and don't already know about the work of Stu Maschwitz and The Orphanage, go learn. Besides the every-day work-horses of After Effects, Photoshop, and Maya, the one tool I have used on every shot in From Inside is the Magic Bullet plug-in, particularly the Look Suite. I can't recommend it enough. Same goes for Stu's new book: The DV Rebel's Guide).

Back to The Element of Crime. Besides the colors, I loved the the slow pace of the film, the dark visuals, and its dreamlike quality. A big influence on From Inside.

This scene from From Inside (it's in both the graphic novel and the animated film) is an homage to Lars Von Trier's first feature film.

I think I read somewhere that Lars Von Trier said his horse shots in The Element of Crime were an homage to Andrei Tarkovsky. Homages within homages.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


This is a shot of the After Effects Render Queue. When that blue progress bar reaches the end in about 2 hours, the last shot needed for the From Inside assembly edit will be done. This is an occasion worth marking around here because the first render took place.... 1 1/2 years ago!


From Inside is the story of a pregnant woman on a train traveling through an apocalyptic landscape. Obviously, I had to pick a good train.

I chose the 20th Century Ltd. I like the name of the train - it sounds like a future that never happened. What I like most about the train, though, is its engine. The J3 Hudson. The J3 Hudson pulled the 20th Century Ltd. from Chicago to New york in the late 1930's - 40's. This is the steam engine that always comes to mind when you think of the golden age of train travel. It is a beautiful machine.

...and if you're making a film about birth on a train, there is no other more aptly-shaped engine.

The train was built in Maya, using photographic reference and by studying these amazing models. The most helpful resource was a set of blueprints supplied to me by the New York Central System Historical Society.

The model I built is not to the exact specifications of the blueprints or photo reference. Concept paintings and sketches made by the engine's designer, Henry Dreyfus, show an engine that has more graceful and exaggerated lines compared to the engine that was actually built. The From Inside engine is a blend of the designer's concept art and the actual, manufactured engine. I also added parts from other engines for a used, retro-fitted look... as though the engineers have made repairs with whatever spare parts they could salvage.

Henry Dreyfus concept drawing

Click HERE to see a short quicktime movie of the first animation I did with the train. Nothing fancy. No textures or smoke. It was a simple test to check the math of the wheel animation. Math? Yep: N=360x(D/(6.28xR)).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


From Inside, the graphic novel, was published in 1994 by Kitchen Sink Press. The book was originally contracted with Tundra, but by the time it was printed Tundra had been purchased by Kitchen Sink Press.

Tundra was a great comic book publishing company founded by Kevin Eastman (Heavy Metal Magazine, Melting Pot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Kevin's idea was to create a place where comic book artists would be given complete control over their books. This was the mid-90's. Creator-owned books weren't a new idea by then, but Tundra made it official company policy with the Creator's Bill of Rights. Tundra was uniquely committed to putting out books that were challenging (translation: low on Commercial Potential, high on Quality). Well, maybe that's not true about commercial potential since they published The Crow and a number of other very popular books... Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, Mike Allred's Madman, Jim Goodring's Frank, a Sketchbook series, work by Kent Williams, Dave McKean, Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, Neil Gaiman, George Pratt, Scott McCloud, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Martin... My friend James O'Barr and I worked together at Tundra - with The Crow and From Inside, and we edited Bone Saw, a comics & fiction anthology.

From Inside took 2 years to illustrate. 366 pages, full color. The first time I saw a printed book was when I was on the set of The Crow movie in North Carolina. Someone from Tundra came to the set with boxes and boxes of new Tundra books... including a box of freshly-printed From Insides. I remember that day because projects that take years to complete are always exciting to see come to an end (it's never truly over until you hold the finished thing in your hands).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The obligatory blahblahblah about storyboards.

85-90% of From Inside animation utilizes original paintings from the graphic novel (11x14, alkyd oil glazes over charcoal and pencil. Made by hand during the dark, pre-digital era). The scanned images are either cut into pieces for animating or they are used as textures on 3D models.

The graphic novel was treated, for the most part, as the storyboard. The storyboards made for the film are quick sketches of the comic panels with notes indicating what sort of pain and misery needs to be applied to the artwork in order to make a good animated shot: artwork extension, camera moves, 3D elements, effects, touch-up, etc.

From Inside might be the most faithful comic book adaptation ever. The film is a panel-for-panel recreation of the book, using actual artwork from the book.

Here is an example showing a panel from the book and a frame from the storyboards:

Click HERE to see a couple of seconds from the finished shot (Quicktime).

A few more storyboards (click to enlarge).


This is what was on the monitor this evening. A 3D scene under construction. Modelled in Maya. Scene 36, shot 13.


From Inside has been in production for about 1.5 years now. This week we are nearing what we call the Assembly Edit stage. This is when all completed shots are put together in rough form. It is basically a first look at the film. Our assembly edit includes roughed-in sound effects, temp dialog and temp music. From here we identify strengths and weaknesses in the story and in the animation.

Most of the time directors find the assembly edit to be one of the more depressing stages of making a movie - probably due to looking at a 4 hour cut and wondering how it will shrink to 90 mins. Not true with From Inside. We are looking at 80+ minutes of completed animation. With animation every second counts... because it takes hours and hours to create a second of animation. Careful planning and sticking to the plan has brought us to an assembly edit that is pretty close to the next stage: Director's Edit.