Leap

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Backstory:
I've completed three independent feature films, plus countless shorts and adverts. My first feature was a no budget slasher I shot in 2007 for a budget of $600 called "Wulf". It played a few festivals and then I buried it, considering it my trunk novel. In 2009, I turned my back on horror and decided to be the Christian I considered myself to be. I still wanted to make movies and had an idea to combine parkour and the last days into a movie that was ultimately called "Leap".
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I shot it in 2009 on MiniDV (a Canon ZR800) for a budget of $200. I spent three months teaching my actors parkour and they did most of their own stunts. It screened at a local theater and we sold 200 DVDs. Let's be honest though- it's bad. My heart was in the right place, wanting to share what I was finding in my own personal Bible studies with the rest of the world, but it was poorly executed.
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In 2010, I made the sequel, "Leap: Rise of the Beast". It was the first feature film shot on a Canon Rebel T2i and we only had the kit lens. The budget was $2000 and continued the story I began in the first film: a group of college kids trying to save the world while the Vatican hunts them down. My goal was to make a Christian version of the Bourne series. We had a theatrical screening for it, sold 100 DVDs and then I stuck it on YouTube in 2012 and it now has over 1.5 million views and has made over $10,000 over the past ten years. Most of that money has gone toward purchasing better equipment because hey, tax write-offs :)
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Immediately after Leap 2 came out, I wanted to do something different before finishing the story. So I wrote a supernatural Christian thriller but everyone kept begging me to do Leap 3 next instead. I caved and wrote the script called "Leap: Revelation". It picked up in the middle of Leap 2, followed a new parkour crew and took us to the end of the world. The only thing stopping me from shooting it was the financing. I figured that I'd need $20,000 to do the movie on a "low-budget" while paying for actors and a few key crew members. Unfortunately I never raised the funds.

The past ten years saw me being homeless, getting a dream job as a VFX supervisor, losing everything I owned (including my dog) in a house fire, rebuilding my life, getting a wife, a new dog, and moving back to Montana. Now I run my own production studio called Pyro Studios and I feel like I'm at a point where I want to revisit this material again. I've grown a lot as a person and as a filmmaker and finally feel like now is the time. I've been keeping a production journal on my computer and I'll be sharing that here.

I hope it is useful and I welcome you all along this journey.

-Chris

Ten Years Difference
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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

I’ve been working on this project for two weeks and I haven’t done a journal entry yet. Shame on me. In a nutshell, I’m back working on Leap 3 again. It started two weeks ago when my wife and I talked about how I could feasibly make Leap 3 now. So much has changed in the world, and all of my actors have moved on to other things. Partially inspired by the Matrix 4 and Scream 5, we're toying with making the movie a requel.

I spent the past two weeks working on a vomit draft of the script, mostly to feel out the characters and start discovering the story. I ended up with almost 30 pages before deciding to start over. This morning, I started working on the story again using the Beat Board feature in Final Draft 11.
 
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Sunday, April 17, 2022

It’s been a month since I started on this project. I’ve got all my index cards on the Beat Board, I’m 15 pages into the new draft and I’m much happier with how the story is developing, even if the progress is slow. The story is a bit slower paced than the second film, but that’s partially because this is a requel. It’s not a reboot, and it’s not a sequel. It’s both of those combined.

I’m trying to write this with a little bit of the mindset I had when doing Leap 2. The mindset where I’m not quite sure how we will pull all of this off, but I have faith that we’ll manage. It’s interesting to reflect on myself - I’m not the happy go lucky, naive filmmaker anymore. I’m much more of a realist, and much more aware of how the real world operates. My spiritual journey over the last ten years has been one of immense change and that is now reflected in my writing and filmmaking. That said, I feel like I need to get back to that place of naive. That place where I don’t know what’s not possible. If I can do that, then maybe this movie has a chance.

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Monday, April 25, 2022

Today has been an incredible day. First, the temperature hit into the 60’s, which means Spring is here! I woke up this morning, kissed my wife goodbye as she left for work and then I started working on my script for Leap. I finished re-writing the portions I had already done before and now I’m sitting at 36 pages. I feel like the pacing is good, things are really going to start building soon.

After writing for a bit, I finished a video for a client and uploaded it for him to look at. He called me, we talked, and planned some revisions.

Next I changed into workout clothes and took a run over to a park a little over half a mile away. I worked out on the playground and ran back. I’m doing a Spartan race in a few weeks, so I’m trying to get fit.

When I got home, I took my dog out to play frisbee and we enjoyed the warm weather. Getting back, I cranked out a video for another client and got that uploading. And now I’m sitting here on the couch about to throw on a show and do more writing.

It’s amazing how much can get done when you don’t have to work a day job. I really like my line of work.

This is still an "end times" movie that features my views, but it's a personal story at heart. When I did the first movie, my goal was to tell the story from a personal, rather than political view. I broke that rule with Leap 2, making the Vatican out to be the bad guys. This time, we still say the Vatican is evil, but the bad guys are actually based on what we've seen with COVID and politics, as well as what I can read in the source material for the film (a book that means much to most Christians).
 
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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

I mentioned not having a day job. Two years ago I was able to move back to Montana with my new wife and new dog. COVID had just hit, we'd just married, and I was let go from my VFX Supervisor job due to the shutdowns. I had a friend back here in Montana who's family owned a recovery clinic and they needed a front desk person. I apparently have a good personality, and it provided an excuse to get out of Idaho and back to where I love.

After a year and half at the clinic, I was over it. I do enjoy a drink now and then, and somebody like me doesn't wake up and say "Gee, I want to be a receptionist for the rest of my life". I think my friends who own the clinic also knew this and in December 2021 they let me go. Being a good employee doesn't come naturally to me. I always think I can do things better. So I took my final paycheck and formed Pyro Studios, LLC. I've loved fire since I was kid, I think it's very beautiful and I want my work to reflect that. I went down the bank, got an account and Pyro Studios was in business.

My first client came from my church. He's a financial advisor and wanted me to help him improve his weekly update videos he was doing via some conference service. I spent a few hours consulting with him, gave him advice on equipment to purchase and showed him some better software. A week later, he called me back and asked if I wanted to produce his weekly videos so he does't have to mess with it. The guy is in his 70's and money was no object, so every Monday I shoot a video for him and upload it to his YouTube channel which I manage.

With these weekly update videos, I really only need to do one big project a month that takes up maybe 3-5 days of my time in order to make ends meet. So far I've done a few "About Us" videos for local business and even got flown to Chicago for another that I just finished the edit on. The rest of my time, I've been spending on Leap. Working on the story and script. Researching equipment, locations. Getting set up with the Montana Film Commission. Looking into tax credits. I can honestly say I'm happier now than I've been in a long time.

Now that I can focus more on creative projects Leap, I decided to start working on the opening sequence. It's all CG with voice over. I had attempted something like this ten years ago using Element 3D and it just look bad. My time as a VFX sup has taught me techniques and methods that will actually allow me to pull this off. Blender is still my 3D software of choice and I'm using that to create the sequence.

While I cut my narrative work in Avid, I do use Resolve for client gigs because of the fast turn arounds. I also conform and online my narrative work in Resolve, so it's a key part of my pipeline. I'm assembling this CG sequence in Resolve because I don't have to export any offline yet this way. Once I have actual footage from the film and am ready to start cutting, I'll be over in Avid land, but for now, this is working out great.
 
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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The opening CG animation is 717 frames long and takes my Z800 18 hours to render. And I have to render the sequence twice so I can fade between a regular earth and one with bloody oceans. I could composite this in Blender and do it in one go, but I'm more comfortable doing it in Nuke. I'm rendering 1920x806 multilayer .exr files. The layers consist of a background, the moon, the earth, atmosphere and a sun placeholder.

In Nuke, I bring in the .exr sequence and pull out the layers with shuffle nodes before merging them together as I like. Working this way gives me control over each element's color and blur so things composite exactly the way I want it.

Finally, I'm tracking the sun placeholder and replacing it with a flare gizmo (think a free version of Optical Flares for Nuke) that I can keyframe the intensity of to fit the shot.

I reordered some temporary VO as if I was the main actor since I haven't started casting yet. It sets the tone for what the movie will be. Once I cast the part of Blake, I'll have him redo the VO in his voice.

All in all, it's coming together well!

Side note - spent the past few days re-reading the entire production journal for Leap: Rise of the Beast it's got me all kinds of excited. I really had a great time shooting that film and I'm hoping to recapture that experience.
 
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The first render pass finished last night and is looking great! Today I setup the second pass for "blood" and rendered a single frame to check it. This *should* be the final comp for the shot when the second pass finishes tomorrow. I'll just replace the single frame Read node with the animation and it should just work. Fingers crossed.
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If you've never looked at a node graph before, I'll walk you through it. Unlike layer based compositing where you literally stack one image on top of another in layers, and each layer contains effects for that layer, nodes work by building out a literal flowchart. Under the hood, this is actually what After Effects does, but then hides it with layers. With nodes, you take an image, do something to it, and composite it on top of another image using a Merge node.

In the shot above, the gray node in the upper right is my 1st Read node. It's a multi-layer exr file from Blender. Almost immediately, it's branched off into different segments and the multiple layers are brought out with the dark purple Shuffle nodes. The large colored blocks are called backdrops and are just a way to group and organize the composite.

In the section called "Blood", there is another gray Read node. This is/will be the second render pass with the oceans turned to blood. I shuffle out the ocean and merge it on top of the regular version. To the right, you can see a group called Blood Ctrl. This is a tool I built - Nuke is great for building your own tools - that uses a noise texture to animate the blood on in an organic way. I control it with a Color Corrector node by playing with the brightness and contrast. This animated, controlled noise texture is shuffled into an alpha channel which is being used as a mask on the Merge node. It's like a more elegant version of "track mattes" in AE.

Finally, way down in the bottom right, hidden offscreen, is a Write node that saves the entire composite back to disk. For my testing, I'm using a png image sequence (never EVER render a movie file, if your computer crashes, you have to start the render over). For the final render, I'll be using dpx.

The advantages of using nodes is numerous. First, there's no precomps. I can see the entire shot at once. Again, there is zero need for precomps with nodes! Second, it's easy to reuse elements in a comp without bringing in another copy of it to a timeline. The computer reads the information once and you just pipe it around. The improves resource management. Also, a node comp is so much easier to come back to months down the road. Since I'm doing this shot before I've even finished the script or shot a frame of footage, if I decide to change something a year from now, it'll be easy to come back in and figure out what I did.

So that's my primer on nodes and why we're using Nuke for "Leap".
 
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You're on the right track. Node based workflow is really the best way to go. I think that most people find it very counterintuitive, and end up getting scared off, but once you get over the initial frustration curve and understand it, it's actually more intuitive than anything else, and as you said, easier to read later on when you come back to a project. Really, in general, modular design and logic is the wave of the future.

Good job setting up your composite! Davinchi Resolve actually features node based workflow, and is a really great primary editing program. Most people that use it don't even realize it's there, but it's incredibly useful.

On the audio side, I'd also recommend that you try out the demo of Izotope Ozone. It can boost your audio clarity by about 15% across the entire film with a few clicks. They also have a product called RX, which is useful in surgical repair of issues like wind noise on microphones, and other unwanted sounds picked up during recording.
 
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You're on the right track. Node based workflow is really the best way to go. I think that most people find it very counterintuitive, and end up getting scared off, but once you get over the initial frustration curve and understand it, it's actually more intuitive than anything else, and as you said, easier to read later on when you come back to a project. Really, in general, modular design and logic is the wave of the future.

Good job setting up your composite! Davinchi Resolve actually features node based workflow, and is a really great primary editing program. Most people that use it don't even realize it's there, but it's incredibly useful.

On the audio side, I'd also recommend that you try out the demo of Izotope Ozone. It can boost your audio clarity by about 15% across the entire film with a few clicks. They also have a product called RX, which is useful in surgical repair of issues like wind noise on microphones, and other unwanted sounds picked up during recording.
I first got into nodes when I was hired as a VFX sup for a documentary series. With what the director was wanting to do, I started researching how Hollywood does things and set out to replicate the workflow, including adopting Nuke. I've spent a year and a half screwing around with Fusion (standalone and Resolve) and making tutorials for YouTube with it, but I just prefer Nuke at the end of the day.

That said, if I were giving advice to an new filmmaker, I'd tell them to get Resolve because it covers the entire post pipeline seamlessly.
 
My blood red ocean render finished and looks great! I dropped it into it's place in Nuke and everything works well - except for one bit: My noise texture that drives the transition effect is a flat, 2D image. The earths that I'm fading between are round and rotating. So the shot doesn't look right. Five minutes ago, my plan was to go back into Blender and do the transition in the shader settings, for the earth, but then it would all be baked in with no ability to adjust the timing later without another 20 hour render.

As I was just sitting down to write this update, I had an idea: Apply a noise texture to the earth and render that as a pass. Should only take a few hours and then I can use that to drive the effect in Nuke, changing the timings as needed. I'll report back with what I find.

Script-wise, I'm sitting pretty at 40 pages. I'm worried it might be too slow, but I'm going finish this draft and see where we come out before reworking things.
 
You can map that noise image onto a sphere in element 3d inside AE, then use a temp output from nuke as a semi transparent overlayer to align your spherized noise layer to your scale and spin from the nuke output you already did, then use the AE output layer as your noise layer in nuke for the final render. That will render much faster, you can probably get it done in a half hour.
 
You can map that noise image onto a sphere in element 3d inside AE, then use a temp output from nuke as a semi transparent overlayer to align your spherized noise layer to your scale and spin from the nuke output you already did, then use the AE output layer as your noise layer in nuke for the final render. That will render much faster, you can probably get it done in a half hour.
Cool idea! I haven't sat down to do it yet, but I'll probably just use the Eevee render engine in Blender which is just as fast as Element and will be easier since I don't have to align anything.
 
Small update for today. There's a massive earthquake scene at the end of the first act and I've been thinking a lot about how I want to pull this off. Just for fun this morning, I put my cinema camera on a tripod and locked down all the axis to the point where they just barely moved. I set the lens to 105mm (the most telephoto I can go), framed up a shot with multiple depth planes, hit record and started violently shaking the tripod head handle. Having all the movement almost locked down damped things nicely and it actually worked! Since the camera is really moving, there's a slight bit of parallax and since my camera has a global shutter, there was no JELLO!

I brought the shot into Resolve, added eight layers of sound to it and it looks great. I rendered and saved the test to add to a future BTS video. My next test will involve an actor or two doing the scene like in the movie. Pretty cool though how an old school effect can work well and doing it in camera with this particular camera yields a better result than doing it in post.

I bought this camera (Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4K) in 2016 because of the global shutter and because it was a camera I could grow with. For the first couple of years, I shot at just 1080 in ProRes 444. More and more recently, I've started shooting narratives in RAW at 4K, especially since I can bring back highlights. The more I'm messing with RAW recording, the more I'm thinking I'll shoot this movie in 4K RAW. I have two 128GB Cfast cards that gives me 22 minutes each when I'm recording at RAW 4:1. So I'd have 44 minutes total. When I shot the last Leap film (Leap: Rise of the Beast) on the Canon Rebel T2i, I had one 16GB card that gave me 48 minutes of record time. I never needed more than that for a single day, so it worked great. If I can shoot a similar ratio this time, I shouldn't need to offload cards, but I'll have my laptop on set just in case. I really need to do a short film soon to test all this out.
 
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