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Last year my friends and I decided to make a Warhammer 40k stop motion animated movie. We took 730 shots over the course of a nine hour game that we played over two days. The final movie came out to be just over 4 minutes long. It was absolutely cheesy, and not worthy of showing off, but I did learn a lot from the process, and my next movie is going to rock. I thought I would share some of what I learned with LO, just in case any of you out there have ever thought of doing the same.
The first thing you need to concern yourself with is light. Because this process is going to take a very long time, you don`t want to shoot in a room with windows, because natural light will change over the course of the day. I recommend 3 point lighting; use one bright, directional, stationary light to represent the in game light source- usually the sun. Use a second, dimmer light to cut the shadows. Unlike the stationary `source` or key light, this one can move as needed to eliminate shadows wherever you need to do so. This works for two reasons: first, your key light should always be brighter, and second, this light is just designed to make the shot look better- in the world of the movie, it doesn`t actually exist, and your audience usually won`t even know its there- their eyes will see the bright key light, and their brain will tell them that`s where all the light in the shot is coming from. Your third and final light is your back light; it`s used to distinguish the subject from the background. Again, it should be dimmer than the key light- a nice over head area light should be sufficient here- you`re not James Cameron, and neither am I.
Most important thing is that you need to be able to duplicate the exact lighting conditions for the entire duration of the shoot.
Next, a few couple quick fundamental rules of film. First of all, the 180 degree rule. Take all of your shots from the same side of an imaginary line that runs through your battlefield parellel to the long table edges. If you jump to the other side of that line, you will confuse the heck out of your viewers. This rule can be broken, but it takes set up to do it properly, and it doesn`t always work, so for your first few movies, just stick to the rule. The next is the 30 degree rule. If you want to change angles during a scene with the same subject, make sure that you alter the angle by at least 30 degrees. If you don`t, it`ll look like your film is skipping, rather than an intentional directorial decision.
Finally, you`ll need two extra things that you don`t usually need when playing 40k. First, you`ll need a secondary table for books, dice, tape measures and the like, because you can`t have any of it in the shot. Second, you`ll need a masking backdrop. This can be as simple as a pure blue sky, or as complex as the silhoutte of a distant hive city against the setting sun. You`ll want it to be as long as a long table edge, and about 8-12 inches taller than your tallest piece of scenery. Be aware that you will have to move it during the game to get at the other side of the table; also, a section of this backdrop equal to the length of a short table edge should be non descript enough that you can use that section to mask the short table edges for extreme angle shots.
Playing and Shooting
Now you`re ready to play. Normally in 40k, everybody moves, then everybody shoots then everybody assaults. This doesn`t usually translate to film; it`s more exciting to see a single squad run forward, snap off a few quick shots then charge in and scrap it out. This will fundamentally change the game, so your results are going to be skewed. You can also play it in the normal sequence an rearrange you shots in post production.
Either way, here`s the sequence. Your first shot should be a long shot that captures the whole squad and gives the audience some idea of where they are situated on the battle field. You can take a few of these, moving the models only very slightly- turning them in place, etc- between shots. The reason is your pictures are going to flash by 3 or 4 per second, so you`ll need multiple shots in order to make this setup piece last long enough for the audience to take it in. If you don`t move the models at all, it will look like a still photo, rather than a movie.
Once you`ve got the establishing shots, you may want to do a dramatic shot or two. An example would be the squad leader issuing orders to his troops before they launch their attack. In film, they call this pattern shot-reverse-shot. Take a shot of the commander, adjust the model slightly or zoom slightly to vary the shot, then take another. Repeat this until you`ve got 5-10 shots; you don`t necessarily have to adjust the model every shot, but you want to provide some variety. Another good trick is to shoot the commander in such a way that you include the backs of the heads of those he`s talking to; that way you can adjust them to create motion rather than just the commander. Next, reverse the shot so that you catch the people the commander is talking to and repeat the process with them until you have 5 or 10 shots. In post, you can add voices or text blocks to get the dialogue in there. You`ll need to take enough shots to fill the time it takes to say the dialogue, or for an audience to read it from the text block. Dramatic shots incidentally are the hardest part of the project; you don`t need them for every squad every turn- in fact, you don`t need them at all. But it is dramatic shots which will turn your battle into a story; I recommend capturing one dramatic shot per player turn. Over the course of the movie, I recommend giving each squad at least one dramatic shot. It`s also important to note that they don`t always have to happen before movement; you could have them happen as the squad is aiming and firing or as the squad is taking casualties.
Next, it`s on to movement. I recommend leaving the camera stationary and at the same zoom setting for the entire movement phase (for each squad that is). Conduct movement about a half inch at a time. You can move some of the squad, then take a shot, then the remaining models and take a shot or you can move every member before you shoot. Mix it up a little- have fun with it. Just remember to move every model before you move any model for a second time- unless you want to reflect something like a dark eldar succubus sprinting faster than her troops, inspiring them with her ferocity. Keep repeating the process until the entire squad has finished its movement; for a six inch move, you`re looking at 12-24 shots.
Next comes shooting. What I recommend is that you dice out the shooting first, and get your results. Write down how many shots hit, how many wound and how many casualties are inflicted. Now you need to film what just happened. There are many different ways to film this- you can show the shots happening one at a time (this is very slow, so if you do it all, only do it once or twice in the entire movie), you can show the shots happening in small groups (this is the most realistic and effective) or you can show the entire squad shooting at once (this is quick and dramatic, but very busy when you see it played back- it makes it difficult for the viewer to process what just happened). What you do is take a shot of the shooter(s), then move them slightly to represent the kick of their weapon as it fires and take another shot. Then cut to the targets; take a shot, then for every hit which does not wound, move the victim slightly; for every hit which wounds but is saved move the victim a bit further than you did the others; finally, for every unsaved wound, knock a model prone. Then take the shot. If there are still shooters that haven`t been filmed, cut back to them and repeat the process until you`ve filmed every shot and every result.
Next, assault. Use the same process for movement to make the squad`s assault move. Dice for everything and write it all down before you move any models. Then use the same process for shooting to resolve the combat, but keep in mind that both attackers and victims will be in the shot at the same time, and that action and reaction occur simultaneously. Try where possible to reflect strikes that make contact and strikes which are parried by having the models make contact, but realize that this won`t always be an option.
Then repeat the entire process with each unit, until the entire turn is resolved. Then have your opponent do the same. It`s a good idea to let the active player move all the models, while the inactive player deals with the camera, or even get a third person to run the camera and have both players move models. This requires a lot of concentration, so if you think writing things down will help, do it. Also, it`s a good idea to shoot a blank shot- a picture of a wall or a written page explaining the preceeding sequence- between each squad`s action and especially at the end of each player turn. Also, your casualties will cause problems for you because of their bases. If you`re insane enough to build casualty models, that`s one solution; another is simply to have casualties disappear like they do in most video games- it isn`t realistic, but it may make your life easier.
Post production is a whole other thing; I won`t spend as much time on it as I did on filming, but I will give you a few thoughts. You can use a program like Photoshop to do some really cool things. You can draw laser bolts and bloodstains into the picture. I mentioned dialogue bubbles earlier; if you use these, put them on their own layer so that you can just lay the layer over top of the next photo in the sequence- that way the bubbles size and location stay constant. Fill your dialogue bubbles with words a line at a time rather than all at once. Provided you do it out doors and you can do it safely, you can even film small, blast template sized fires and then chop out the background and lay the fire over a picture of a squad under the effect of a blast template. If you do use voice, you can use a program like Audacity to add effects to the voice. The more time you put into post, the better the results, but it can be very, very time consuming. Look for the balance.
Once you`ve done all the post production, drop all of your photos (and there will be hundreds or even thousands of them) into a program like Windows Movie maker (it`s what I used). Before you put all the photos on your timeline, adjust the default display time for still photos to somewhere between .25 and .4 seconds (I used .375). Then drag and drop them to the time line; you camera should name all of your files in such a way that they are listed in order. After you play the movie, you can remove all of the blankshots if you like the flow; if not, leave them in while you move things around- they will help you organize all of the shots that need to be moved or altered.
And there you have it. Remember, these aren`t going to be super high quality movies, and don`t expect them to be.Think of it as a moving battle report without any of the usual maps and text explanations and you can`t go wrong. Remember not to get too caught up in dramatic scenes at first- they are very difficult to shoot, so focus on the easy, fun action sequences to learn the ropes. Remember to build credits in if you plan to share your stuff, and read GW`s intellectual property policy first. If you use background music, make sure you have permission. Do a google search for public domain movies- you can rip music out of them and even things like explosions and other special effects shots or sound effects.
Is it a lot of workÉ Hell yeah.
But for those of you looking for something a little more than crunching numbers, this might just be your ticket.
I`d like to thank the Prefect, without whom, we`d never have had the models to do this with. I`d like to thank McBagpipes for indulging the insane idea do this in the first place, and for all his patience during the process; without him, the experiment never would have been possible. I`d like to thank the Warden, who I pretty much have talked into being my next co-conspirator. And last but not least, I`d like to thank Games Workshop for creating such an evocative setting and such fantastic miniatures.
Coming soon: The Witch Hunters of Escutcheon III vs. The Devil Dogs.
Last edited by IofRaw; January 25th, 2010 at 04:50.
So I can't rep you for this - but it sounds like an awesome idea. Not something I would have the patience to try, which probably holds true for a lot of people and would be a big reason why I haven't really heard of anything like this being done before. But it sounds like spectacular fun!
Yeah, that's cool- I like rep, of course, but it's never my sole motivation for posting. And I know there probably aren't very many people interested in this, because it is a huge amount of work. But I like it, and figured I'd share what I learned from the first experiment.
Another think that I've been looking into (because it's easier and less time consuming) is comics. Setting the models up for individual shots in order string a story together isn't so difficult, and with fewer photos to modify, the modifications can be more intensive.
True - I have seen one or two comics around that use actual models to make the strip, and of course there are always those random pictures that are funnier with captions! Much quicker, but you probably don't get the same sense of achievement from finishing that!
This is a very, very strong tutorial, but is there a particular reason that it's in the fluff forum? I mean, I'm going to rep your for the thorough, unique, and extremely useful tutorial, so it's not that I don't like it.
Terminator armor going critical would be like Three Mile Island only very, VERY angry, and carrying a hammer.
LO rules in a nutshell: Don't post unit costs, be polite, rep posts containing of win.
Yeah, you're right- there are better places for it. I put it here because its another way to express fluff, also because it grew out of one of the other discussions here, but once I finished it, I realized it was in the wrong place. I talk big, but I'm still a n00b. =P