View Full Version : "The Groom Lake Mistake" LW & DF...

11-08-2003, 01:51 PM
Hi all,

I've posted a short film I finished a while back, but just getting around to trying to promote a bit. So, if you have broadband...


Since the big push from Newtek marketing is the combo of Lightwave and Digital Fusion, this short fits the bill, as all 3D work is good old Lightwave, and all compositing was handled with DF...

I've had limited feedback on the project, and would love any and all comments! Thanks in advance,

Jim Arthurs

Scott Gammans
11-12-2003, 06:32 AM


Very professional-looking production. The animated alien was freakishly well done--you deserve major kudos for that alone. I only have two quibbles with your clip: The Blackhawk helicopter blade rotation is waaaaay too slow with not nearly enough motion blurring (both the main and tail rotors); my mind was warring between screaming FAKE! and expecting the 'copter to fall out of the sky at any moment. Frankly, the lazy blades ruin the effect for me. This quibble is a little more problematic: the story itself. The first two-thirds of your short plays like a comedy, so I feel let down at the end when the punch line never arrives. I keep expecting a big laugh, a big punchline, something! But all we see at the end is the burned-out corpse of the scientist... a definite downer.
Having said all that, I am still in awe of your "little green man". Even though I was disappointed by the storyline, as someone who has only animated your basic starships-in-flight beginner stuff I have nothing but envy for the modeling skills of organic artists like yourself, and I look forward to your next production.

11-12-2003, 11:00 AM
Hi Scott, and thanks for taking the time to look at the film and comment on it! Very much appreciated! Without comments it's VERY hard to gauge success or failure with shorts.

-The coper blade problem, well, this could be an entire thread (and probably has been!).

It's that old "Wagon Wheel Spokes ain't Turning" effect that you see in westerns. It's too bad you can't just rotate the blades at the right rpm, and let Lightwave do the rest, but since motion blur will break down under these conditions you have to fake the effect. It's all a combination of rpm, shutter speed/duration and frame rate.

It's worth looking at a variety of clips of copters to see the problem in "real life". Here's a link to an example movie of blade strobe in the real world. Very close to the effect I have, but if it isn't 100% right it's 100% wrong I guess...

http://www.imageshoppe.com/video/papache.avi (4 megs)

-As to the story issue, you make good points as well;

The whole goal of a good short film is to bring the viewer to that "rimshot" moment where things are turned around, or otherwise not what they seem (the big payoff). I agree that that moment got diluted down in the film, and is misdirected and unclear.


The payoff was supposed to be the fact that the baby alien was returned to his family, and is seen alive and well beside his parent on the ship at the end.

The scientist was to be more of a louse and generally annoying character, someone who you would be happy to see get punished. The irony is that he tries to use a "found" wallet with someone elses family pictures to gain sympathy from the alien, only to have the tables turned on him. All in all, the irony and impact was way too low-key and unsupported.

Jim Arthurs

11-13-2003, 04:44 AM
Hi Jim,

While I agree about the helicopter blades and the story ending it was very well done. What did you shoot it with?


11-13-2003, 07:23 AM
Wowee. This is so cool. Good show.

11-13-2003, 10:30 AM
Thanks JS and Peter! Again, all comments are incredibly helpful. I encourage anyone to chime in... that's how you make things better and learn.

JS, I used a Canon XL1 in frame movie mode, which produced a semi-progressive image to work with. I've since upgraded to the Panasonic DVX-100 with true progressive. On the web page that links to the movie...


... is a "behind the scenes" link near the bottom with some pictures and some observations on the shoot day.

As I mention there, a real Apache copter came busting through the canyon during our lunch break! Of course the camera was packed down, else I'd of had the best reference imaginable; the actual copter in the actual environment on the same day. :)

Some other observations on the technical end that aren't on the webpage;

-The alien was rendered with radiosity, using a lightprobe image I made on location (remember, the shoot was in spring 2001, when doing this wasn't exactly common practice for the unwashed masses). This same lightprobe image was also used for reflections.

-Motion Designer gave him the "antenna bobble" effect.

-All CG elements were degraded from 4:4:4 to 4:1:1 colorspace to better match the DV backgrounds, just part of the Digital Fusion compositing flow for each shot.

-I worked on the effects on-off when I wasn't on a job for over a year. During this time the hardware and software advanced so much that I could finally get a decent realtime preview of the alien by the end of the work schedule.

Jim Arthurs

11-13-2003, 06:33 PM
Hey there...

I just watched this again, and I really like it.
The compositing work is really good.
The only thing i didn't like WASN'T the chopper blades. They are pretty darn good. (Although I personally would have strobed that final effect a little, I think.)
The thing I didn't find convincing was the steam/smoke/gas release from the spaceship, looking from under the ship, through the ladder at the little weasel scientist guy. There's a kind of glow there, over-saturated color maybe.
The alien(s) in particular are really well done. Even though you went "low-budget" on the physical container, the digital was nicely done, and it didn't take anything away from the story, just kinda stands out as being cheap.

Overall, I'd say great work!
What else you got planned?

11-13-2003, 10:26 PM
Thanks Liquidpope!

All the hypervoxel steam/vapor stuff took forever to tweak! Motion-wise, it flows nicely, I think. The glowing look was intentional, since that shot you mentioned was strongly backlit by the sun. Where the sun hits it it's quite brighter, and much less so in the shadow of the saucer. Maybe too much?

It's interesting to get everyone's opinions on the good and the bad. Of course I've got my own personal hate/love list. ;)

Yes, I should have spent the time on a better prop container. I've got the background for doing that physical stuff, just wanted to concentrate on other things. Lots of fun to walk out there with virtually nothing real and add it all later. Only one crew person and the talent with me that day. Great fun framing shots with nothing but a "C" stand in view!

As to future projects? I've done three short films, this was the smallest budget and the first on videotape. My other films didn't have much in the way of FX. I'd be glad to put up mpegs of the others, if anyone is interested, though they're not Lightwave jobs. They are VERY different that this one, more abstract, and I think better work.

This little show got way too involved. I started it with the very specific idea of creating something for that SCI-FI Channel program called "Exposure". It would have been a shoe-in. Unfortunately, I finished it after the series had went out of production with new episodes.

Not always a good thing to spend forever on a project, when you learn best, I think, by finishing one thing, and moving on. Having said that, I've got a couple projects in the mix. One could be either stop motion with classic ball-socket puppets or CG. Don't know which way to go.

With anything, story is key, and the area I wish to spend the most time on...

Jim Arthurs

11-13-2003, 11:38 PM
hmm.. I really liked it, for whatever reason

how do you get the time, the money, was this just for fun?

also, did you use blue/green screen compositing for when the guy is standing in front of the alien and the saucer?

nice job, anyways

11-14-2003, 08:39 AM
Thanks SamuraiSlayer!

Yes, this was just for fun, and as I mentioned, aimed at that show that's now long gone on the SCIFI Channel, "Exposure".

As to the cost, it was VERY cheap to make, less than $150 to shoot and get all the way into post with. I had all the tools on hand from my work; Lightwave, Digital Fusion, the camera, and it was edited on a DPS Velocity/Reality system.

As to the time, it took over a year to finish because of work commitments and only hitting it a few hours a week.

I either did very careful rotoscoping for the shots where the scientist is in front of things, or used the sky to pull a bluescreen. That worked suprisingly well, even on DV and with a very flat washed out sky.

Jim Arthurs