Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Ten": The (Re)Cast

I ended up changing quite a bit with the original cast and thought I'd share that this week. Instead of a crowded group shot, let's look at them in terms of the scenes that the characters share.

The first scene is between the Governor and our Hero. Clothes and hair changed in both characters. For hair, the color stayed the same, but I was able to acquire (through BrickLink) some more detailed, nicer looking hair pieces.

For clothes, I changed the Governor's blue suit for a different black suit. When I learned that I would have to sand down the necks for easier head movement (as opposed to hollowing out the heads), I became reluctant to do that to the blue suit as it goes for a nice price on BrickLink. I'm not selling it yet, but I like to keep my options open.

The Hero's outfit changed completely because I reconsidered his role. At first, he was going to be a member of the military forces, which meant he wore a uniform. But I decided he should be an independent adventurer kind of like the Sky Captain, so he gets a bomber jacket that I thinks suits him more. Plus, as an independent, he doesn't have to explain to his boss why he hasn't shaved in three days.

After he leaves the Governor, our Hero suits up and meets with his crew in preparation for takeoff. Less changed here as the Hero's spacesuit is the same. The crew's Power Miner overalls are also the same, though I changed their helmets to a darker color and added a visor for when they are doing dangerous work. Also, one of the two crew heads are different. The remaining flesh heads I had for the crew looked virtually identical, so I got a new one off of BrickLink and there we are.

As I said in the original Cast post, I was unsure with the helmet colors of the bad guys and thought I might purchase some extra black helmets for them. I'm glad I did as the faces really pop now and will be much more satisfying in the fight scenes. I also ditched the robot and gave that torso to the lead bad guy so that he shared a similar look to his henchmen.

So now I'm done with the cast (I think).

Next Week: The Three Month Update

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Ten": The Prototype

The Prototype is the spacecraft our Hero uses to fly to the Villain's moon base. My goal was to build a futuristic looking jet that communicates the ability for great speed while also being "functional" (i.e. has a cockpit that a minifig can fit into and theoretically work). This required some LEGO skills that I do not have a great abundance of, but I like to think that after so many weeks work, I did a pretty good job of it.

The very first obstacle was the wings. My original vision was that it should be shaped like a dart and have three fins equidistant apart (think of a tiny cousin of the Star Wars Lambda-class shuttle). I quickly realized, however, that wings pointing downward would make it difficult for the gliding crash landing it has to perform on the moon's surface. Not wanting the wings to be boringly horizontal, I pointed the tips up to just a degree.

This is easier said than done, and the method of attaching the wings to the body at such an angle was quite a chore. Once the method of joining was decided upon, the shape of the wings was next. I really wanted to use SNOT methods with their construction (which is a LEGO term for Studs Not On Top). Having them in a forward-pointing orientation eventually allowed me to create the most aerodynamic design. I was particularly happy with some unique arch pieces from the recent "Prince of Persia" purchase for the back of the wings. A nice fluid design.

The cockpit needed to be detailed and visible, given that we will have multiple shots of the hero sitting inside it. I went through all the different LEGO windscreens there were available and found the best one for the job already in my collection. It had a wide curved pane that wouldn't distort or block the Hero's face in the shots during the flight. Finding the best way for it to fit the ship and appear to have an "airtight" seal was another chore, but eventually resolved itself. Of course, the most fun portion of this was putting in the instrumentation, including a new piece for the main computer screen right in front of the pilot.

And so, that's it. I'm going to take about a week's break now that it's done. Next week, we'll cover some changes I've already made to our cast of characters.

Next Week: The (Re)Cast

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Ten": The Missile and the Corpse

This week was to deal with "The Prototype", but that project is proving more difficult than I had thought, so we have a pair of simpler builds to showcase today.

The first is pretty simple: The Missile. This is the deadly projectile that our hero is sent to stop. Notice there is no detailed bottom to it, and that's because the bottom of the missile will never be in the shot. We'll see the top of it as the hero approaches the silo on the moon's surface and we'll see the shaft as he is in the silo, but never the bottom.

One further note about this build: Over 50% of it is made from parts I recently purchased through Brinklink store proceeds. That little shop is quite productive!

This second build requires some back story. I've been collecting LEGO since I was a kid and I still have parts from Classic Space sets stretching back to the mid 1980's. Now, LEGO is not indestructible. It develops wear and tear in the form of scratches, dirt and, yes, bite marks. The pieces that show the worst wear and tear are naturally the white ones.

While working on the prototype (which is going to be dominantly white in color) I started picking our the grungier white pieces and came upon an idea. The moon's defences has shot down a number of invading forces, and I was planning on this info being revealed in the dialogue between the Governor and our hero, but what if we actually showed one of those shot down ships?

I then gathered the rest of the dirty pieces and places them in a basket and worked on a ship just from that, with the intention of making the design look very much like Classic Space but with bits of it blown off and decaying. The above is the result. If nothing else it proved a morale booster: While the Prototype continues to confound me, I was able to build the above in about fifteen minutes with my daughter sitting on my knee.

The spaceman corpse was another fun idea. I have a number of torsos where the old planet symbol is fading or nearly faded off. I plopped a skull head on him and outfitted him with the space suit and presto: A callback to a distant LEGO age (Not only does this closeup give you a good look at the spaceman, but it also gives you a better idea of how grungy those bricks really are).

The more I thought about this the better I liked it. The Governor can have an additional line to the hero about "the surface of that moon is littered with shot down craft. It's like a graveyard". And that will be linked back to whent the hero lands and sees the corpse. Being that the corpse's craft and his own are both white, he can have a "There but for the Grace of God" moment when he passes it by. Maybe he'll even throw it a salute. Great stuff.

Next week (I swear): The Prototype

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hey! You found a non-LEGO related post! Five points Gryffindor!

Of the movies that routinely sustain a beating among critics, Superman Returns comes up again and again. There has been an increase of this lately as the latest "reboot" is in the works and pieces of casting news leak out every now and then. And yet, the movie holds a special place for me. For one, it was a very significant film for Mrs. Mosley. Shortly after seeing (and loving) it, she delved into her inner geek and discovered a whole world of fanfic and community that she has found endlessly rewarding. For that alone, I owe Bryan Singer a debt.

But the other reason is that every frame shows Singer's love of the original. There was genuine affection there and a desire to replicate that experience with a few modern tweaks. As an extension of the original two films, it worked wonderfully well. It's few faults (Spacey Lex's real estate scheme was nuttier and made less sense than Hackman Lex's) can be forgiven.

I bring all this up because another wunderkind director has decided to replicate another movie nostalgia. This time, J. J. Abrams has conjured up a story that seems like a lost Spielberg film done sometime between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Little surprise, then, that Spielberg helped produce the thing. The film is called Super 8. Have a look:

I have no doubt that Abrams and Spielberg, men from two different generations that yet share the same passion for filmmaking, took particular glee in making their protagonists budding filmmakers as well. And it gets to me, too, especially in the middle of the LEGO project as I am. It's an escapist fantasy that I would like to escape into, just like I did thirty years ago at the now-demolished St. Johns Theater off of Roosevelt Boulevard. I am so there.

In the end, I guess this was a LEGO-related post after all. That's OK. You can keep the points.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

"Ten": The Chroma Key

For this first green screen test, I got some standard green poster board and propped it onto the rear of the studio table. Then I took three pictures: one of the Ground-To-Air guns in front of the green screen and two different shots of the skyscraper. (Given that the Chroma Key feature of the Power Director software is for video, not stills, I can't show the finished product. But here are the three test photos for the hell of it):

I uploaded these and tested the first shot with a green screen star field behind it and the other two shots with one of the Fort Matanzas blue sky pictures I took.

The result? Promising. I didn't make any effort to get that screen and the lighting exactly right because I'm still learning, but even with a slapdash effort it looked pretty good. One corner didn't show the green screen effect, but that was because of a shadow and is easily fixed the next time. More troubling was the green aura around the guns and the skyscraper. With better lighting, this again may disappear or be minimized. However, I did discover that once the video is transferred to black and white, these effects are less noticeable. Those effected the most were the antennae on the guns, so those might eventually be pitched, which is no biggie.

I'm encouraged by these initial test and can't wait to take it further, and there's the possibility of getting some fabric to replace the poster board. But before that can be done I need to construct more of the sets and props including... a very daunting design indeed.

Next Week: The Missile and the Corpse

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: March 2011

As I mentioned last month, the pic for March is American Gangster, which is the second time Ejiofor starred alongside Denzel Washington in as many years. Ejiofor plays Huey Lucas, the younger brother of Denzel's drug kingpin Frank Lucas. The exchange doesn't really give Ejiofor a memorable line, but it is notable in that Frank gives Huey a warning that he himself eventually doesn't heed for a single night, and it's this one slip up that leads to his downfall.
Frank Lucas: "What is that you got on?"

Huey Lucas: "What? This?"

Frank Lucas: "Yeah, that"

Huey Lucas: "This is a very, very, very nice suit."

Frank Lucas: "That's a very, very, very nice suit, huh?"

Huey Lucas: "Yeah."

Frank Lucas: "That's a clown suit. That's a costume, with a big sign on it that says
'Arrest me'. You understand? You're too loud, you're making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."