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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.


Ten Years Difference
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Another update:
I think I figured out the issue. It wasn't my computer, it was the hard drive that I store this client's work on. I had purchased it almost three years ago and in that time it had been added too, and old stuff deleted, over and over, basically causing fragmentation. This would explain why I was only having issues when the drive was connected and I was in that client's project in Resolve. I narrowed it down to this because after my re-install on the new SSD for the computer, I still had issues while accessing that client's project. I ended up doing a full reformat (not quick) on his drive and haven't had any issues since. This would also explain why I was having issues after a week of no issues (I'm only working on his stuff once a week).

Soooo..... Everything is running great now, both for the movie and my bill paying work.

Movie-wise, I used the FlareFactory gizmo from Nukepedia to touch up a previously completed shot that I wasn't fully happy with. Also started clearing out the garage today to make room for my studio. I need to do some reshoots for the ending of the movie and having a dedicated space will come in handy.
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If you do that, it would be great if we could see a photo or 2 of the actors against the green screen before seeing them against the environment like that. But I totally understand if you don't have time to do that.
You know me, I post about everything lol I'm sure I'll have some pics like that :)
Howdy! I know it's been awhile, so I figured it was time for some updates.
First, we are moved and settled into the new house. And I have my studio/training area all setup. I've been doing Kenpo karate since I was a kid and it's always been my dream to have a place to train on my own. We took the two car garage/shop building and split it in half. One side has all our outdoor play gear (backpacks, canoe, bikes...) and the other half is a training area. I put up shelving to separate the two halves and store most of my film gear on those shelves. The result: If I need some studio space, it takes me thirty minutes to set things up, which really isn't too bad.

VFX-wise: Still chipping away at things. Lots of invisible effects. Lately I've been doing newspapers and removing the boom op from windows that we didn't catch on set. Part of the fun of VFX is learning how the world works. For instance, newspapers don't have white ink. If I need to replace a newspaper, I have to erase the text, keep the paper color, then pick the right blending mode of my new image so that "White" is just "paper".

I did just finish a really tricky shot that was a lot of fun to do. There's a scene where the main character gets a job at the local gas station. He walks by the window outside and there's a "Help Wanted" sign. I was too cheap to buy one, so we just took a piece of paper, wrote "Help Wanted", and gaff taped it to the OUTSIDE of the window. I have no idea why we thought that was a good idea. It looks like trash.

I ended up painting out the paper sign, revealing the glass beneath it, then taking an image of a help wanted sign that I got online and put it back behind the glass with a screen blend mode (I learned this trick as a teen from "The Digital Video Production Cookbook"). In order to smooth the effect, I ended up just replacing the entire window with my effect, rather than trying to localize it to just the sign. A little roto on the actor as he wipes the window and the shot looks great!



I chose to move the sign slightly because I thought the reflection of the tree over the sign helped tie it all in more. I also added some birds to the now-still-image-window in order to bring some life to it.

Looking at my VFX document, my next big shot will be enhancing a clinic to make it look more like a hospital. Signage, extra people, etc...
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Working on the hospital shot today. We shot the scene at a laser therapy place that my wife used to work at. I can't remember the last time that I was in a hospital so I looked up online "hospital signage" and came across some great examples. Reference is always key! In Photoshop, I made some plastic plaques that say things like "LABORATORY", "ADMINISTRATION", "SURGERY"... etc... I added some arrows that looked right, and comped it in to the shot, which is slow motion. Overall, looks really good. Had to roto my wife who plays the surgeon as she crosses the frame, but again, that helps sell it.

My wife suggested adding hyper lapse people walking in front of the shot, I'm debating whether that works or not.
Tried the hyper lapse people, I wasn't a fan. I showed Karissa and she agreed. I added another sign that says "EMERGENCY" above the seating area and called it good. Sometimes with VFX, less is more.

I took a few breaks this weekend and we saw Ghostbusters and Godzilla x Kong. I enjoyed both and had a great time!

Today, I started on VFX for the funeral scene. Pretty basic stuff that I have already attempted in the trailer: painting out crew members and adding a CGI casket since I didn't want to pay for one. I've really been having a lot of fun using my VFX knowledge for "world building" and finishing in things we didn't have the money for on set. In 90% of these cases, I planned to do them that way from the start in order to keep the budget low. I'm wishing I had been keeping track of the time I've spent on VFX, it'd be fun to see how much I would cost lol
Working on some more funeral shots. When we shot it, I measured out a space in front of a head stone 2 feet wide by 7 feet long and marked it out with tennis balls - or as we called them, tracking markers. I always keep a bag of them with my kit because you never know when you'll need them to help track a scene. Especially when shooting in a grassy area, adding markers can help beef up tracking data. The downside of course is that they'll have to be painted out, but that's easy.

In the middle of the markers, we put an ice chest so the actor's eyelines would be accurate. They're all looking at the same spot and they're looking at the proper height. I tracked the shot in Blender and actually got one of the best tracks of my career right out of the gate. After aligning the scene, I plopped in the casket model and snagged an HDRI of a park from HDRI Haven to use as an environment map. I also got on Blend Swap and grabbed some grass that I scattered around the base and set the material to be a hold out. The result is that the casket actually looks like it's sitting in the grass at the actual cemetery.

The entire shot took me about two hours to complete and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The last time I did a funeral scene was in 2009 on the original Leap movie. I had zero VFX skills at the time, so we just always made sure that the "casket" was just out of frame, or blocked by the attendees. It was a relief this time to actually be able to show it.


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I'm about two-thirds finished with the VFX and my hard drives just hit 51% today. They're only 8TB, but I did the math before filming and realized that's all I needed. I have two of them, mounted at X and Y so that there's no way the drive letters can get screwed up. They are kept in sync using "Free File Sync" https://freefilesync.org/ (not sponsored, just a cool tool). So far, my VFX take up 832 GB of space. That's all the .exr plates and finals, as well as any CG assets I had to make in Blender. It's really not too bad at all.

It's crazy to think that when I did "Leap: Rise of the Beast" in 2010, I spent $200 for two 1 TB drives and that was plenty to do the movie - granted shooting on the Canon Rebel T2i helped as a 16GB card could hold 48 minutes of footage. Now, you can spend just $300 and get two 8TB drives to do a film, in RAW, with lots of VFX. It's really not that expensive, although I am realizing that my perception of what's cheap and what's not has changed over the years as I've grown up and become more established. Doing "Rise of the Beast" for $2000 meant that my $200 drives took up a tenth of the budget. Now that cost is more like a drop in the bucket.

Today I had to remove a water bottle from a shot that almost a thousand frames long. I also did a phone screen going off to wake up a character, and now I'm starting on some green screen driving shots.

I also started setting up my studio last week for the upcoming reshoot. My current green screen wasn't large enough, so I bought a 10x12 on Amazon for thirty bucks. It's perfect! The screen is 10 feet wide and fits my existing frame like a glove. It drops down and curves onto the floor giving me just enough space to film what I need to. The goal someday is do have a permanent cyc built into a corner, but this will do nicely for now.


Still have to steam out the wrinkles and hang sound blankets around the set, but we're almost ready to start testing. The scene will involve a human and an angel that is eight feet tall. I need to experiment with eyelines and such so that it all looks good when it's comp'd into a wasteland.
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Karissa helped me get some background plates for the green screen driving yesterday. The shot is pretty specific: Blake's dad is driving himself to a hospital, only to have to stop and find it overrun with hordes of people. The plate of the dad driving was the last thing we shot, and we chose to do it with a green screen for safety issues. The background would need to be in an area that matches with the hospital, and would need to start as driving and then come to a sudden stop.


Filming back in September 2023

I looked around online for driving backdrops, but nothing matched what I needed, so I decided to do it myself. I toyed with buying a new GoPro and suction mount to get the shot, but really didn't want to spend the money for something that would be used once. Instead, we came up with using my iPhone 14 Pro and my DJI Osmo Mobile 6 stabilizer. We found a road that looked like it could match cut with the hospital setting and my wife sat in the bed of one of my trucks with the stabilizer while I drove (she can't drive stick).

Even though we were just shooting backgrounds, it was a lot of fun! I love shooting this way, where you don't make a big production out of it. You just take advantage of weather and equipment you have, and just go do it. The only problem we had was that I wanted to shoot with Blackmagic Camera on my phone, but the f-stop control was greyed out and wouldn't let me adjust the exposure. So I downloaded the legacy version of Filmic Pro and we used that instead.

I trimmed and timed the background plate in Resolve to make sure that the stop happens when the actor hit the brakes. The shot was comp'd in Nuke, again using the 3D compositing abilities to add realistic camera vibration to the virtual camera. The end result looks pretty good.


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Looking really good! Nice work on the casket composite.
Thanks! I'm sure it could look better, but I think what I have is usable.

My next big effect is an aerial shot of a house in the morning. I need sprinklers to start spraying, but instead of water it's blood. Trying to figure out the best approach for this. Maybe a particle sim with weight painting?
It's funny how sometimes the biggest VFX are actually the easiest to do, while the small, invisible stuff can be infinitely more difficult.

Referring back to the previous entry, I was able to accomplish the bloody sprinklers with a simple particle system in Blender. I actually found a tutorial I followed for an anime style sprinkler, I just had to tweak the textures and render settings to make it photo real. The next part - staining the grass blood red - I thought would be tricky, but it was actually pretty simple. In Nuke, I branched off from the main read node and colored the entire scene blood red. Next, I drew and animated some simple roto shapes that followed the path of the sprinklers where I wanted the ground red. I multiplied the alpha of the roto with a basic noise texture and tweaked the settings to where it looked pretty good. Finally, covered it up with some blur and used this noisy/blurry alpha mask to drive the reveal of the red parts of the scene. Worked pretty well, and took less than an hour!

So that was easy, but now I'm working on a bit where I need to paint out cars from a highway outside a window behind my actors. The location they're in is supposed to be in the middle of the mountains and completely isolated. Usually, I would just take a still frame of the slightly blown window and track that into the shot. The difficulty on this one is that the Liz character is standing right in front of the window and has long wavy hair. The shot is around 400 frames long and the window will need to be replaced for the entirety. I'm HOPING that I can run this through Rotobrush 3.0 in After Effects and it will be painless, but we'll see. I've used Rotobrush a lot on this film to generate mattes when I don't want to roto by hand. The process is to just apply Rotobrush to a clip, do the work, then add a curves and boost the black levels all the way up. This generates a black and white render that I can bring into Nuke and use as a mask.

My biggest concern with this shot is just all the wispy hair. I hope the "refine edge" function can be of help. Otherwise I might have to do 400 frames of hair by hand. Ouch.
Ya shudda shot with sodium vapour light! 🤓 Old tech that I learnt about only a couple of weeks ago:

You're telling me! lol I first heard of that tech when researching "The Birds" years ago and wondered why it wasn't around anymore. I saw Corridor's vid when it came out and didn't realize how rare that prism was. Crazy!
Decided to take a break from the difficult stuff and move on to actually comping the test shoot I did two weeks ago. It was just myself on my green screen, playing two parts, but it allowed me to see technically if this crazy idea that I have will work. I'm not posting any pics right now because I look ridiculous in the test, but I'm excited by the results! I think the ending of this film can actually have a Marvel scale feel to it :)
Had a lovely little experience today where Nuke decided that it didn't want to open. I went to my office and sat down at the desk at about 9am this morning to get started on work for the day. I went to launch Nuke and it froze up on the Command Prompt that opens whenever I launch the program. Tried again, same deal. So now I restart the computer, even though I had just shut it down yesterday to blow out all the dust. Computer reboots, same deal. So now I start looking online for help. Took me about three hours, but I found others that had had the same issue with the same version. The suggested fix was to delete my license files. I deleted the two I knew about and still it wouldn't open.

Finally I did a Windows search for foundry.lic and found a few hidden files that I didn't know about. Deleted them, rebooted the computer and Nuke finally launched! Except now it complained that it wasn't registered. So I had to go back in and re-install my licenses. It was 1pm by the time I could actually work on my first shot of the day, but hey, at least it's working again :)