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STAG WARDS Episode MCXVIII - The Empire Goes Mad

It is a period of civil war. Little Red Ridinghood is on her way to her sick grandma to bring her a big pie. Little does she know that the evil Adolf (who is a dedicated pie-fan) plans to steal her gift and use it to rule the galaxy. Will she be able to break through the enemy lines or will she suffocate in her own intestines during a slaughterous massacre...?

Making the STAG WARDS movie

In mid 1998 I began to test 3D imaging software and I started to develop caracters and a story, and I drawed the storyboard. After some weeks of development I started work on Stag Wards, I created the first scenes and my computers began to render previews. Unfortunately I didn't have the necessary computing power, but in early 1999 I got a new PowerMac G3 and I could finally start to render the scenes in high quality. I extended my computer farm to two G3s and one G4, they rendered for about 18 months, and in August 2000 most scenes were finally rendered...

First drafts...

One of the most difficult aspects was the creation of the caracters. I knew that I shouldn't use much polygons because of the lack of performance, and I also knew that the caracters shouldn't do much movements (because of the lack of time, as I was the only person working of the movie).

One evening I was watching tv, and I began to draw the figure on the left on my PowerBook 5300cs using Photoshop (very slow though...). The basic idea was to create caracters without legs, so they would simply fly or float, avoiding complex walking animations. Finally I also decided that the caracters should have hands, but they should never use them. The only movement the caraters could finally do was turning their heads. On the right you can see the final result: a rendering of Little Red Ridinghood.

Story and storyboard

In the beginning I only wanted to make a short movie of about 3 minutes, but when I finally began to develop my ideas I noticed that this would become something really big. I began to develop the story in my mind, and finally I started to draw a storyboard. About 2/3 of the movie was based on this storyboard, but I didn't know how the movie should end. So I began to animate and render the scenes of the storyboard, and only more than one year later I started to continue the story without any storyboard.

The characters

After I created the Little Red Ridinghood caracter using Stratavision 3D, I began to create all the other caracters seen in the movie (except the ZZ Top caracters, they were created just before the scene was done).

All characters - except the wolf of course - are based on the same model, only colors and some details have been changed. This helped to reduce the amount of work, but the caracters are still well defined. On the right you can see the scene where Little Red and her friends are hiding behind some hedges in the forest - in fact the hedges are made of single polygons, while the trees only contain two polygons (see below).

The bad guys... It is very difficult to create caraters that shall be evil when your caracters don't talk. That's why I decided to use bad caracters that always work: Darth Vader and Nazis. Although I didn't use much details it seems to be rather obvious who's the man you can see on the right...

ZZ Top I already mentioned that I only developed about 2/3 of the movie as storyboard, while the end of the movie was only developed much later. This is how I decided that there should one more special guest at the end of the movie: ZZ Top. That's also why the three ZZ Top caracters were only developed just before the scenes were created. Besides the three caracters I had the model a drumkit for the drummer, which you can see on the picture on the left. In fact I did all modeling by myself, I didn't use any models that were created by other people, although you can find many of them on the internet for example. But I thought it would be important to keep the same design within the entire movie, and it was also a great challenge to solve all the problems that occured, so it was a good way to learn how to work around problems.

The forest

When I started to model the caracters I also did some tests to find out how the software gets along with complex objects like trees - a tree consists of hundreds of polygons, and there are hundreds of trees even in a small forest. I had to find out that neither my software nor my hardware could handle such complex scenes - I had to reduce complexity. Finally I decided to create trees that were very simple - consisting of only two textured polygons.

I created two types of trees (see pictures on the left and on the right), the first type uses different textures in the final scenes. This little trick made it possible to generate rather huge forests, and those trees just look great in the movie.

Animation

Animating the caracters was not so easy at all, even if they were no moving arms or legs. When a scene was done I rendered it as preview (this commonly last about one or two hours), then I made corrections and rendered it again and again, until I was happy with the result. Some very complex and long scenes were corrected more than ten times. The picture on the left shows a scene featuring Indiana Jones in the forest (grid preview mode). You can see the camera (grey) that is shooting the scene and that's invisible on any rendered image (see below).

Rendered (from above). The picture on the left shows the same scene, but now it has been rendered. The camera has disappeared, and you might notice the different textures I used on the trees, as well as the shadows that are invisibe in the preview mode. Of course this shot from above has never been used in the movie...

The final scene. This is the final scene as seen in the movie, shot by the camera you can see on the first picture of this series. It was always difficult to avoid tree shadows in the forest scenes, and I didn't want to use any artificial light. Therefore I removed trees behind the camera in many scenes.

Adolf's army. This is one of the scenes I had most problems with. There were a lot of soldiers in a single room, and even if they only consisted of few polygons the complexity was so high that my PowerMac 7300 with PowerPC 604e processor and 128 mb of ram refused to render the scene. But I was lucky and only a few days later I got a new machine (a white/blue G3), and the scene could finally be rendered.

Scenes inside the castle. There are many scenes inside the castle, and there are many rooms. But after all it's just an illusion, the inside of the castle doesn't exist - it's always the same set, I just moved the walls so that I could easily create new rooms.

There has never been a plan of the inside of the castle, and I would even say that there is no logic at all... But when you watch the movie you definately won't notice that the caracters always act on the same place!

The reactor room. One of the most complex objects in the movie is the reactor room. I wanted it to look like the reactor in Star Wars - Return Of The Jedi, but it didn't seem so easy to simulate such an atmosphere with my possibilities.

But I finally made it, using a red light that I placed right into the reactor core. The pink reflection you can see on the outer reactor wall is produced by this single light, and I think it looks just great.

Post production

Picture size and frames. The movie was rendered at 640 x 360 pixels (16:9 format) and at 12 frames per second. In a first step all pictures had to be resized to PAL format (720 x 405 pixels). Then the number of pictures has been doubled - each frame was used twice, so that the movie now used 24 frames per second instead of 12. But to make the movie suitable for video (PAL), the scenes have finally been saved as 25 fps films. This also means that the final video version runs about 4% faster than the originally rendered scenes. Left: original image

Blurring effects and minor corrections. The originally rendered images looked a bit cold to me, so I added a blurring effect I especially created in Photoshop for this movie. This effect also hides some very hard edges the rendering software (Stratavision 3D) produced and I really disliked. But there were also some corrections to make, as the rendering software sometimes "forgot" to render smaller objects. I don't know how this could happen (I don't think it was my fault), but I finally had to do corrections using Photoshop on many frames. Left: blur has been added

Motion blur The major problem was the fact that the entire movie was rendered at 12 frames per second - this was something you could notice during scenes with faster camera movements. To reduce the problems all scenes have been imported into Apple's Final Cut Pro, a professional cutting software, and a motion blur effect was added. This effect improves most scenes with faster movements. Nevertheless I finally decided to re-render some very difficult scenes at 24 fps. I'm now very happy with the results, but maybe I'll do a "Special Edition" in a few years that will be 100% 24 fps, we'll see... Left: motion blur has been added

Cutting the movie
I started to cut the movie in late December 2000 using Apple's Final Cut Pro. The cutting process had been delayed because some of the video equipment I needed was out of stock, and the release date had to be rescheduled (initially I planned to release the movie in late 2000). 

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The story

Little Red Ridinghood is on her way to bring her grandma a pie. But during her way though the forest she notes that someone's following her. May it be the evil wolf? After some while she finds the dead wolf, murdered by Darth Vader. Vader then steals the pie and brings it to his master, the evil Adolf who is living in a castle.

Little Red is frustrated, so she looks for help. There are some cool guys ready to help her, including Indiana Jones, Batman & Robin, Rambo & Conan (so we have both Stallone and Schwarzenegger), Vincent & Jules (from Pulp Fiction) and Superman. They penetrate Adolf's castle, retrieve the pie and finally even destroy the castle by attacking the castles' main nuclear reactor. Adolf and Vader end up in prison, and everyone's dancing happily while ZZ Top are performing "Sharp dressed man".

At the end of the movie it then becomes a bit more philosophic as you can see a monolith in the lake near Little Reds' house.

Trivia:

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