Red Cube PicturesRed Cube Pictures

How Was it Made: Entry One, Part 1

Who is Sir Colonel Walter S Houghington III?

This was the question not only on our minds as we developed the man and his story, but also on the minds of every industry professional with whom we shared our completed feature length screenplay. Who is this guy? He’s a new hero in the vein of Indiana Jones, but with more of a Douglas Adams spin. Sounds great! And what’s it based on? Nothing. He’s an original concept. Oh dear…

And that’s where it would usually fall apart. In the current film climate, studios are becoming increasingly skittish about taking on original stories and characters — especially if it includes large budget items like aerial dogfights and ancient temples. It’s a frustrating reality to come up against, but makes perfect sense when you’re the one whose wallet is in jeopardy. So our next move was obvious; we’ll just go ahead and create some excellent content and say, “It’s based on this,” from here on out!

We wanted to put together a nice, slick introduction to the character. We thought of two different scenarios (we’ll talk about the second in a future post!), the first of which was simply, why not just start at the very beginning?

EntryOneScript1

 

THE CHRONICLES OF SIR COLONEL WALTER S HOUGHINGTON III: ENTRY ONE is extracted from the prologue to the feature length screenplay, written by Colin A Borden; the comedic and sometimes harrowing story of Walter S Houghington’s journey “from Orphan Boy to Hero.” It had the right mix of action and excitement, showed the interplay between Walter’s storytelling prowess and the actual events, and would set the appropriate tone of our swash-buckling Adventure film.

We drew up some plans, sketched storyboards, talked with a production designer, and even scouted a location or two (Does this stretch of California look enough like the Zulu lands in Africa?), but a terrible elephant followed us into every room — this was, essentially, a period war picture, and those things are EXPENSIVE.

war

Research Board for Zulu War

Without the proper funding, we wouldn’t be able to give this live-action battle the proper epic proportions the story and tone required. So it was back to the drawing board. Drawing board…? We had a great script and a great concept for how to shoot it with storyboards already drawn up, why not just cobble those together into one exhilarating moving image?

After some research, we found the animation style known as a Motion Comic. Created by the comic book industry to add some more excitement to the reading experience, motion comics are exactly what they sound like; animated comic books. Also sometimes called limited animation, motion comics set out to create the illusion of movement with as few elements as possible. Famed examples of limited animation include the old MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE cartoon, wherein they used the same loops over and over in new contexts, and today’s ARCHER, in which a single 2-D, layered image is manipulated by bending and stretching in a computer graphics program (This is how we’re currently animating IN HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SEWERS!). It’s a tried and true industry method that we knew animator Ben Callahan could master!

Motion comic animators take a single panel of a comic book and break it up into hundreds of layers so as to extract every essential element from the original image, without damaging the artist’s original design. Those layers are then fed into a computer animation program (we used Adobe After Effects) where they can be sliced and diced, shrunken or enlarge, bent, mirrored, warped, and any manner of manipulation the artists can imagine. The whole process boils down to basically playing with paper dolls. For added realism, the animator can add environmental effects (such as smoke or rain), camera movement, and depth of field; everything that will give the single shot the proper amount of pace and tension the story dictates. Here is a neat example by artist Jake Hughes.


A full cast of actors is brought in to give voice to the characters, like in any cartoon, and music and sound effects are added. This all in service of creating the feeling of seamless motion. The real joy of the motion comic is that it asks for audience engagement. For instance, you may hear the echoing footsteps through the long, dark hall, but the character’s actual animation is limited only to a still image that glides from one end of the screen to the other. Your brain understands the inherent tension and fills in the rest.

Now things were beginning to fall into place for Red Cube Pictures. We had the story, the format, and the plan of attack. However, the original storyboards for ENTRY ONE were just sketches to be used for reference by the production crew and were, therefore, uh… lacking…

Professionally rendered storyboard.

Professionally rendered storyboard.

We could use the camera angles, blocking, and pacing they dictated, but the actual elements would have to be completely redone. Going back to an old technique used by the pulp novella cover artist greats and to ultimately save on time, we took reference photos of every shot and every character. Producer Rob Overbeck and writer/director Colin spent an afternoon posing for every character necessary. Every character.

Rob and Colin, from reference to royalty.

Rob and Colin, from reference to royalty.

Before sitting down to do any drawing, we animated the simple boards to a rough reference track of audio. With a better idea of the pace and motion, we carefully noted what elements would have to move in each shot. For instance, one of the simpler shots called for Young Walter to lift the oversized helmet from over his eyes so he could see the raging battle before him. We would need Walter’s body on one layer, his head on another so he could peak, a separate arm to reach out for his helmet, the helmet itself, and the basic foreground and background British War HQ set elements.

A look at the layers for shot 4E

A look at the layers for shot 4E

And so, the art and animation departments (Colin & Ben) set to work creating the visual side of ENTRY ONE and the world’s first introduction to Sir Colonel Walter S Houghington III. Things were looking pretty good; we knew what Walter would look like. We knew what he would say. But what did this guy sound like…?

We knew that in order to sell the whole package, Walter had to have a certain gravitas to him. Something unique, but recognizable. A certain sex appeal. In translation; a professional celebrity. This would pose something of a problem, since, again, we didn’t have much in the way of money. However, we knew we’d only need the actor for a short afternoon of pajama wearing voice work. Therefore, we were empowered by the fact that we could offer a semi-reasonable dollar figure with a very reasonable work day, which is generally appealing — especially when coupled with a great script. We have quite a few industry contacts, yes, but in order to find the right actor, we’d have to rely a great deal on serendipity. Enter serendipity from stage right…

Kneel before serendipity.

Kneel before serendipity.

Continued in PART 2!

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