Friday 29 November 2013

Project: Thunderbolt- shooting the pic

Well, after over a year of on-off work, I've finally managed to shoot a pic using the Project: Thunderbolt miniatures.

Quick recap for anybody coming across this now, and who hasn't read the previous blog entries on this project;  as a fan of the writings of Dan Abnett, particularly the fiction work he does for the Black Library, set in the Warhammer 40,000 (wargaming) universe, I decided I wanted to do some fan art.  And being as I was looking to do some experimental stuff with aircraft models, it seemed a good opportunity to combine a shoot with some work based on Mr Abnetts "Double Eagle" book (and its forthcoming sequel, "Interceptor City".

For the project, I built a model of an Imperial Thunderbolt jet fighter, which exists as a design in the Warhammer 40K universe, and an expensive model kit.  Being poor, I decided to build my own based on descriptions in the fiction side of the game, which is why its in 1/32nd scale and uses loads of leftovers from the Britannia Model Village project, bits of felt pen, etc.

I then built half a dozen other aircraft models, all freelance- an Imperial bomber built around a much buggered-about-with (technical term there) Airfix Stirling in roughly 1/72nd, and some generic baddy planes, cobbled together (another technical term) from bits of old broken model kits and toy planes.  Anyway there are some pictures below, also some older posts back through the blog with more info on their construction.

The point of the shoot was to experiment with doing a big, slightly chaotic picture with loads of movement and action, but which didn't need to resort to Photoshop too much- I got sick and tired of combining layers, lots of images of different planes with different lighting, etc, so wanted to try and see how much I could do in-camera.  The image needed to focus on the Thunderbolt, which is assumed to be flying top-cover for a bomber squadron which is being attacked.  Blame too much of a childhood watching films like "Memphis Belle" and "The Battle of Britain".

The effect I wanted was of the Thunderbolt (as the main subject of the picture) to be 'frozen' in the shot, whilst the rest of the battle blurs around it in the background.  The only way to achieve this was to have the model and camera mounted on the same rig, moving through the 'battle'.  However, given that I had made the model rather too heavy-duty, it ended up being far too weighty and bulky for any kind of camera rig.  So the only other option was to have the model and the camera stationary, and move everything else.

The pic above shows the first test.  The Thunderbolt was suspended with thin thread, and three boards were nailed together, and put on castor wheels recycled from a demolished piece of furniture at work.  The test shot shows the concept- the bomber miniature blurring as if it is a slower-moving aircraft being overtaken by the Imperial fighter.

Another major problem though was the need for lots of miniatures; having taken months to build the one Thunderbolt and the bomber, I didn't want to spend ages, and incur costs, making duplicates.  So I resorted to an old miniatures FX trick I read about, which used to crop up on shows like "Space 1999" and "UFO".  The planes were photographed from the sort of angles they would appear in during the shoot, printed out, stuck onto thick card, then cut out again.  They were stuck onto wooden sticks, which (for the sake of anything better) were mounted into the leftover espresso cups from the Dalek project last week.  A bit of cotton wool sprays up as smoke, and hey-presto, an aerial armada without having to make more miniatures.  As blurry background items, it shouldn't be too noticeable.

The above shows the scene partially set-up, with a mix of real miniatures and cardboard cut-outs.  The 'Bat' (as the baddies are called in the books) which is dogfighting with the Thunderbolt is quite prominent, and I spent a little longer on this miniature compared to the other enemy planes.  It also has no cardboard versions, as all those holes in the wings would have been a sod to cut out.  

Finally, ready to shoot- some extra effects were tried, with Christmas Tree lights as flak, some more cotton-wool fire effects, and a whole load of cotton wool and teddy bear stuffing as clouds.  Backdrops were improvised from sheets and blankets.  Oh for a properly-equipped studio rather than a spare room...

The shoot itself took around an hour, mainly because of the trial and error involved with moving the wheeled base around, things falling over, wires breaking, etc.  All the sorts of things which probably used to happen on "Thunderbirds" and the like, when they were doing miniature shoots.  Which is probably why they invented CGI, but I'd rather be doing this that boiling my eyeballs staring at a computer screen all day.

With then intention of not using Photoshop much, I limited myself to a few little touches per picture- some colour tweaks, sorting the background in the top-right corner to get rid of the folds in the blanket backgrounds, and cloning out the threads in a couple of them.  I also added lens flare (though more restrained than JJ Abrams, happily), and experimented with the odd gunfire/extra smoke effect.

I wanted to try something in monochrome, and actually I'm quite happy how it looks, a slightly more 'period' feel.

And finally, I couldn't resist mocking up a book cover/poster.  I know Dan Abnett hasn't finished writing "Interceptor City" yet, but being as this whole shoot has been a massive fan-nod to his work, and I'm really looking forward to the novel, I thought I'd try it.  Apologies if it treads on anyones toes or gets other fans hopes up, if they think this is a real cover/poster.

So what now?  Well, I only ended up doing little tweaks with Photoshop, which was the intention.  But on the other hand, the shoot has taken a bloody long time to come to fruition.  The shoot itself was very involved, messy, took ages to set up and dismantle, and was awfully time-consuming for a single pic shoot.  Add to that the miniatures are a bit too big and bulky to do any other pics with, and this will probably remain a one-off.  I'm tempted to do a smaller, lighter Thunderbolt for the Project:Spitfire pics in the new year, using a camera rig for mounting model planes to the camera for shots out in the real world (thus removing the need to build indoor sets), but we'll see.

The next big builds involve the remedial work for "Welsh Pony" to get that shoot ready; though I've learned some lessons with the motion blur/camera rig set ups here, to try in that project.  There's also a silly "Space Invaders" pic I want to try, if I get chance to build the miniatures…  Hopefully more on that next week.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Genesis of the (Cardboard) Daleks

As anyone who spends any time on this blog will have realised, I am a nerd.  I'm also a colossal Dr Who fan, and have been since watching a rerun of "Genesis of the Daleks" when I was very young.  

With this weekend having marked the 50th Anniversary Special of the show, it seemed fitting to do a project which was a nod to Dr Who in some way.  And with us needing an activity for Scouts/Beavers at our group, I decided to return to something I remember making when I was very young, which are Daleks made from disposable cups and drinking straws.

This time things would be a little more advanced, with the Daleks (or non-specific-science-fiction-robots, if you're a BBC Lawyer who has stumbled onto this blog and is feeling like suing) being kits for the young people to assemble up and decorate in the meetings.

The prototype, along with the bits which make up into the Dalek, and my remote-control Dalek for inspiration.  The basic kit Dalek consists of a disposable Espresso cup (written-off stock from deep in the stores at work), corrugated card, cut-down lengths of cardboard tube, the top from an egg box, a straw, a length of wood from a stirrer, some pins, an elastic band, and some stickers.  Very Blue Peter.

OK so its not Genesis of the Daleks, but then I'm on an even lower budget than the BBC were in the 80's.  I realised the Beavers wouldn't be able to handle the making of the kits, so I part-pre-assembled a load, with them just having to glue the top to the bases, and poke the guns and arms into place.  The cups had to be covered in strips of adhesive labels (bought cheaply from Poundland; honestly, where would my projects be without that store?) after spraying them with white paint didn't work.

The Daleks seemed to go down very well with the Scouts and Beavers, and with a couple of spare kits and the example one I'd done knocking around, I decided to muck around with doing a picture.  I haven't had chance to do this sort of shoot for a bit, and this seemed a good opportunity.

The ultimate form of the Dalek kits- guns modified with paperclips, and pins glued onto the arms as the suckers.

The set for the shoot- really, really improvised.  A few spare barricade bits from the Britannia project, a serving slate, and buildings from a candlestick, two wooden pencil holders, and the grill tray from a scrapped coffee machine.

What a difference some weird lighting makes- done using Christmas Tree lights, a pair of battery LED torches, and a red-tinted emergency light.

Finally, I couldn't resist trying the same set with a couple of toy Daleks, bought broken from a Charity Shop as donors for another project.  

Overall, a nice, quick little project which went down well with the recipients, and it was nice to be able to tie something in with the anniversary of a program I really like.

Next up, hopefully some big developments with the Thunderbolt project… with luck, will be shooting the final pics mid-week.

"Welsh Pony" project; first test shoot

A somewhat delayed post due to a bad internet connection for most of the last month.  Anyway, in mid-October I got a chance to do the concept shoot for the Welsh Pony project.  I got the model to about ninety percent completion, and enough track work to shoot a reasonable (hopefully) looking pic.

After much trial and error, mainly error, I ended up improvising working lights using a string of LED Christmas Tree lights.

The track work, using hanging basket liner and sand as ballast, before it was toned down with grey and black spray paint.

On location- assembling the short lengths of board took over an hour, which rather ruined the plan to have quick set-up and dismantle times.  Problems caused mainly by having to thread the bolts through holes which had got partially blocked with sand ballast.  Anyway, the background wasn't quite what I'd wanted, but with it going dark, and a huge thunderstorm closing in, I hadn't got much choice.

This shot shows the high-tech camera rig...

So what now?  The concept pics proved the viability of doing this as a bigger project, and turned out much as I'd hoped, but also showed up a lot of pitfalls and problems.  Firstly, I need a stronger camera rig that doesn't wobble around co much, blurring the photos.  Secondly, longer lengths of track which don't take so long to assemble.  This has led to the third problem, which is that the wheel sets under the loco are too chunky to go along 0 gauge flexitrack, so I need to acquire some better wheels for the "Welsh Pony".  With bad weather and poor light becoming a real issue, I don't think I'll get time to shoot any more pics this side of Christmas, so at least theres plenty of time to sort it out ready for the 'proper' shoot...