Pimpin’ my rides

posted in Projects on January 31st, 2007

After doing enough research for my movie, I had a quick look at ways to alter the content that was available to me. I made a decision that would basically nullify all the effort I put into researching various cultural and architectural aspects of Middle Eastern countries.

To save time, I wanted to utilize stock content that was readily available to everyone. Content that wouldn’t have to be altered in any way and would just be used “as-is”. The decision basically came down to me having to write a story that fit the environment (the movie sets, so to speak) rather than building an environment that would fit the story.

Back in the summer, I found this acceptable, after all, I was no “modder” (eg.: a person who is capable of modding computer games) and I didn’t think it was necessary to become one, just to create a movie.

Now, in retrospect, I think I made a very poor choice back then, I’ve been working on my own mod for the past two weeks and I must say, I find the whole process very enjoyable. I’ve “pimped” rides and repainted some stuff, I even built custom effects. I’ve analyzed and tweaked weapons, vehicles and characters.

Sure, it’s hard work, I had to learn a new scripting language (CONScript) and experienced loads of crashes whenever I wanted to test something, but in the end, I think the time I put into acquiring these skills might be very useful in the future.

The resulting mod will, however, not be used for my movie. Even though it’s highly suitable and works just fine, I decided that teaming up with the US: Intervention would enable me to utilize the game engine a lot better. Not just because they have had more time to finish their mod, but also because they are looking to promote an upcoming version of their modification with a little movie, a movie I am going to make for them.

Don’t think of the project as a sell-out though, because, if you ask me, there’s a difference between teaming up to achieve the same goal in a much more efficient way and still getting to keep your own story as opposed to teaming up with someone and rewriting everything to fit their needs.

As far as my mod is concerned, after taking some time off, I’ll release it to the world. I don’t expect it to be successful at all, but if it makes a future director’s life easier, because of the things contained within, I’m happy.

Here’s a little bit of trivia: the icon I’m using for the mod, is actually something I made back in my freshman year at college. It was one of those introductory classes, where one of my tutors told us to draw the most basic icons we could come up with that were related to a certain topic. I think we made at least 40 different icons, but the camera turned out best. It’s simple, basic, a bit childish yet clearly conveys it’s meaning. A perfect fit for the mod.

As far as the text goes, I call it a “community movie mod” because it’s not aimed at gameplay, it’s highly biased towards the US side, with only few modifications to the MEC side and no changes at all to the other armies. The mod includes stuff that wouldn’t be used in normal gameplay, but might be very handy for movie makers.

The “community” part of the mod stems from the fact that I didn’t create it on my own. Yes, I compiled the knowledge and items I found, but I’m not the author of many of the items included within. Basically, 90% of the content is available out there, for people to use, but many people, will not have the time or knowledge to integrate them into the game, so therefore, as a way to say “thank you“, I built this mod.

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It’s all about the research

posted in College, Projects on January 30th, 2007

When I first started drafting scenes for my movie project, I decided that I wanted this project to be as intensive and educational as a standard college project. I wanted to have the feeling that it wasn’t just a fun thing to do, I wanted to learn something, I wanted to expand my knowledge in ways that would later benefit me, both personally as well as professionally.

I started out with a basic planning that included the various steps. First of all, to write a credible story, I had to get a better understanding of the way people “down there” think. What might be totally acceptable to us (think: revealing clothes worn by females) is totally unacceptable in other cultures. Sure, I did know that much, but all the knowledge I had, prior to getting accustomed to the culture, wasn’t nearly enough.

Sure, I’m a westerner, my target audience are westerners, but there’s such a thing as sticking to the facts and even though it was going to be a fictitious story, I wanted every aspect of it to be as real as possible. Every last piece of information I gathered had to be able to withstand scrutiny.

Local movies are a great way to get to know a culture better, but it’s hard to find the right kind of movie. There are lots and lots of televised stories out there that label themselves “local” but many of them are actually made to appeal to a broad, western-oriented audience. Well, long story short - I found a couple of movies, most of them lacking good subtitles (not to say there were no subtitles available, but the quality of the subtitles was well below par) and decided to not watch them for the story but rather for the people.

One of the movies I analyzed is called “Kurtlar vadisi - Irak“, (translation: “Valley of the Wolves - Iraq”), a movie which starts out after the infamous hood event that took place on July 4th, 2003, shortly after the war began. The movie focuses on the way the people feel after being treated like animals and while the director exercised his artistic freedom to amend the story a little, I think he did a great job in portraying the issues that arise during the situations that were discussed in the movie. It might not have been the best research material I could get, but it certainly had many valid points and taught me a lot about the subject I was researching.

Other than a couple of movies, I also read a lot, both online and in books I retrieved from my mother, who spent a considerable amount of time in middle eastern countries. She also helped me in getting some parts of the cultural information I had compiled right as far as interpersonal contact was concerned. Thanks for that, mom!

After getting myself acquainted with the subject, I, by accident, came across two people, one, a Native Farsi Speaker, who moved around a lot and ended up in Canada and a person who moved from Iraq to the UK. Both of them were more than willing to elaborate in detail how they felt about their respective cultural background and about how they perceived daily life in the Middle East.

While books and movies are a great way to get to know something, I find that talking to people who actually experienced these situations, a lot more informative and a lot more entertaining.

After getting my facts right for the Middle Eastern side of the story, I wanted to get some more information about the American side. Once again, Wikipedia was able to provide me with a lot of the information I looked for and thanks to it’s great cross linking system, I came across many other resources that taught me about various other aspects that would later contribute to my story.

As fate would have it, I met an ex Marine who immediately jumped at the movie idea and agreed to help with the tactical information and experience I was lacking.

Yes, it is a movie, a very-low-budget one at that and yes, 99% of the people watching it will not catch small things like troops that cover each other in a very specific way or radio chatter that is very “to the point”, but for me personally, these things are important. I believe that these are the details that either make or break a product.

In a few days, you should be able to judge for yourself if my research paid off. I already know that it did, I’ve gotten to know some pretty interesting people and learned a fair bit about Arabic countries.

So, as far as the research is concerned, I think that the amount of time I put into it certainly meets the expectations I had before I started out. I think I’ve done more and better research for this one project than I’ve done for quite a few, bigger, projects in the past.

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it’s a free space!

posted in College, Projects on January 23rd, 2007

Yesterday marked the official beginning of the “Free Space” project, I discussed some time ago right here.

Here’s a short recap: a year ago, we had a project called “Free Space” which disappointed me a lot, the whole project wasn’t fun to do, nor was it educative and in the end, I nearly ended up without my ECTS.

I didn’t want this year to be a rerun of my first “Free Space” and decided that I’d take matters into my own hands and do something that would link up with the stuff I’m looking to do in the last two years of my time in college. Long story short, I pitched an idea about making a machinima film and my wish was granted.

So here I am, busy writing, rewriting, restructuring a story that includes references to modern politics, real events and some easter eggs. A story about the war (some) soldiers are facing during the actual war. I think it’s gonna be a nice cocktail of drama, action and suspense, but you’ll be able to judge by yourself soon.

My team is spread around the globe, most of them come from the UK and Western Europe in general, but there are also a few hailing from Northern America. Since the time differs as much as eight hours between some of my team mates, we needed a place to store information online, accessible to everyone at any time.

Back in the summer, when I started out with this project, I put most of the content into a forum that was accessible only by invitation but it didn’t work. There was little to no markup possible and copy would look the same, basically important stuff wasn’t easily distinguishable and people didn’t know what to read and what not to read.

The first solution I tried was WordPress, which works amazingly well for just about any content management but sadly didn’t work at all for this project. In the end, I just set up another subwiki in my Pimki installation and I find that to be working perfectly. Granted, I hack my Pimki (which by itself is a hack of Instiki) installation quite a bit to strip out features I didn’t need and hack in others I desperately needed, but all in all, the framework is the same and it just works.

Remote team management is so much easier if your team knows how to get to the content they need and if they are able to contribute to it without having to sign up for accounts, that’s a great plus for everyone.

On another note, thanks to this movie I’ve even expanded my Python skills a little bit. The game I’m using to create the movie is based on the Python scripting language and hacking it is insanely easy (well, not insanely easy, but let’s just say it’s working for me). The result? I’m creating my own mod, aptly titled “ Machinima”. I consider it a community mod targeted at fellow movie makers who might not be able to use the content because they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

Both the mod and the hacks I made to Pimki will be released once I’m done with the movie (though, not immediately afterwards, I’ll probably take some time off). I found that various sites that were rich with information contributed passively to the making of this movie and as such, giving something back is a logical step to me.

That said, it’s time to go back and create some more storyboards.

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a failed project?

posted in Projects on January 3rd, 2007

Some time ago, I invited a few people to start a new blog. To ensure that their first experience would be one of bliss and not of technical terms that scare them away, I offered to host their blog, acquire a domain and even set up the whole magic.

Now, some four months later, it’s time for a short recap:

I started out with the following statistics:

  • 66% male
  • 66% Dutch
  • 66% of the content will be written in English

Of the three people I talked to, only one really took me up on my idea and started a blog. Since the beginning of September, Ben has written ten posts. It’s less than I expected, but I’m still glad he takes the time to write. After all, both his and my life has been so hectic that we rarely got the time to talk to each other and his blog provided me with the opportunity to follow his life every now and then.

The other two people decided not to go through with the blog because they believe their (possible) content to be boring and uninteresting. Which is, at least if you ask me, the one thing that keeps more people from blogging. It’s a pity, because one way or another, all our lives have those certain events that are interesting, both to one self as well as the world.

That said, I’m glad that Jack started to blog more often and after some coercing, Josef and Kevin started blogs too.

So, do I consider the “get more people to blog” - project, a failed project? No. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to turn out but all in all, more people, some due to my influence, are blogging now and that’s all that counts.

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It’s about how you sell it

posted in College, Projects on December 11th, 2006

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a Battlefield 2 based movie. Machinima movies always intrigued me and I wanted to shoot a film in 2006 anyway, so I thought that I might as well combine those two.

During the summer months, I started writing a story about the war some soldiers have to fight during the actual war. Since the movie is based on Battlefield 2, we’ll have loads of American and Middle Eastern actors and I’m doing my best to create micro stories around each and every important character. Granted, only five or six of them really are important, but you’ll probably know a lot more about them by the end of the movie.

I’m not willing to break the story yet, but I wanted to talk about something relating to this movie:

During my first year in college, we spent two weeks in a short-term project called “FreeSpace”. The idea behind said project is that the only thing your tutor gives you is a word, no idea, no limits, just a word. Ours was “waiting room” and during the two weeks the project lasted, we (a small group of four students) came up with a less than greatly executed solution. Don’t get me wrong, the idea we had really had (and has) potential, but the way we executed it just wasn’t up to par.

Those two weeks were really the only time during that year I regretted, I didn’t learn anything (new) and we (all) created tension that, for a certain part, still lingers around and influences current decisions, nine months after “FreeSpace” concluded.

This year, I wanted to do something different, I wanted to do something productive and expand my knowledge. Normally, “FreeSpace” in the second year links up with a very short internship (of ten working days) at a company that will probably help you make a final decision as to which profile you’re going to choose for the last two years of your college career. I was really looking forward to that internship and even got in touch with a print shop, because, well, printing stuff, the right way, is something I’m interested in.

Long story short, we were supposed to have some sort of orientational period this year but it won’t be an internship - a pity, if you ask me. Then again, I already know what I’m going to do next year and I don’t want to waste another two weeks, just to regret them two months from now (FreeSpace is coming up at the end of January 2007).

So, not wanting to waste another two weeks of my short time in college, I decided to put in some work and talk to the man. I pitched my idea for the movie in the most business-like way I could imagine and guess what? It worked.

Turns out, the people I pitched my idea to where sold after about the first minute, out of the ten minutes I talked. Apparently, it’s just about how you sell it and if you do it the right way, your college will even give you permission to play a game and earn some credits with it.

(Naturally, I’m not just playing a game, I’m actually writing a scenario, drawing up story boards, locating suitable actors and supporting actors, dabble with Adobe Audition to clean up the audio, work with Adobe Premiere to cut and edit, use Adobe After Effects to create flashy effects and finalize the whole thing in Flash Video with Adobe Flash.)

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