Production Blog

We interrupt our normaly scheduled Blog for this SPECIAL BULLETIN —
“WAR OF THE WORLDS: GOLIATH” at the Paris Comic Con!

On July 4th, "War of the Worlds: Goliath" is going to be represented in a major Panel at the Paris Comic Con.

Even better, it will be hosted by our writer/producer, David Abramowitz and ALL of our principal voice cast from the "HIGHLANDER" TV series, including Peter Wingfield, Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen and Jim Byrnes!

David will share some of his adventures and insight writing and producing on the film and the voice Talent will share their experiences bringing our cast of heroes to life. We will also be screening our Trailer and 5 minutes of selected footage from the movie showing these talented actors working together.

If you are going to be at the Con in Paris, make the time to catch this event. You will enjoy the Talent and their "take" on the movie and be blown away by the new footage.

Here's a group shot of our WOTW Producing Team and two of our voice actors. From left to right are Leon Tan (Producer), Mike Bloemendal (Producer), Gavin Yap (Voice Director), Peter Wingfield (the Voice of Eric Wells), Joe Pearson (Producer/Director) and the lovely Ms. Elizabeth Gracen (the Voice of Jennifer Carter).

Here's the Heavy Metal Man himself, Kevin Eastman, and "War of the Worlds: Goliath" Writer/Producer David Abramowitz.

The talented Jim Byrnes who plays Teddy Roosevelt in our little epic.

And last, but NOT least, the mighty Adrian Paul in a shot from the Heavy Metal Booth at last year's San Diego Comic Con with Producer Leon Tan. Adrian gave "War of the Worlds: Goliath" the voice of the irrepressible Irishman, Patrick O'Brien.

JUNE 25, 2010

Seoul Production Trip Part 2

DAY 4, May 6th
In the morning I went down to the office of Sun Min’s head of compositing, Tae Hoon Kim. It’s Director Kim’s job to assemble all of the various levels of background, mecha, character animation and EFX into one complete and seamless scene, adding in different areas of lighting enhancement and EFX with After Effects. That’s a big job. To do it, Kim has to heavily multi-task. That’s something that he does it well and is continually looking for new ways to light and enhance scenes.

Here I am with Director Kim, reviewing the “star shell” lighting EFX
for a scene in Sequence 18.

Here’s the original scene, with partially finished lighting and final EFX. Note that the “star shell” flare light in the sky was originally a 2D animation effect and there were no tracer bullets in this shot.

Here’s another shot from the same scene after Kim has taken it a new level, changing the hard 2D EFX of the star shell into a more naturalistic CG effect in After Effects. He also solved the “tracer bullet” animation effect, not only giving us (and ARES) believable looking tracer bullets, but a stream of bullets that actually curves downward as it moves away into the distance, mimicking the trajectory of real life bullets.

The beauty of designing and building these effects in CG is that once they’re “built” you can reuse them from almost any angle and POV. And trust me, we WILL use and reuse this effect often in our movie. ARES needs tracers! Lots and lots of tracers.

Please note as well, the combination of CG and 2D effects on the burning tank in the background. The flame has been done in After Effects, but the smoke is traditional 2D. This heavy combination of the two different effect techniques is one of the many unique ways we are approaching “War of the Worlds: Goliath” and its art direction.

One more shot from the same sequence, again showing some of the various effects that Sun Min’s team of Directors Moon and Kim have developed.

After lunch, Director Sang takes me on a short tour of Sun Min’s “Ben 10“ and “Generator Rex” units. It was good to see a lot of old friends from the “Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys” and “Roswell Conspiracy” days. Later, I watched the first episode of “Generator Rex”. It was very impressive and surprisingly “mature” in content for a Cartoon Network series. Both Cartoon Network’s preproduction package and Sun Min’s execution were first rate. I’d rank this among the top animation adventure series currently running on American TV.

Back in the main offices I requested the layouts for about twenty scenes from Sequence 3 and began reviewing them to make sure that all the elements are in scale and harmonious and have enough detail to convince the viewer that they are indeed in a real city.

Why this sequence? Once I realized that Sun Min was going to successfully “nail” the render and animation and integration of the large armies of CG mecha in “War of the Worlds: Goliath”, the sequences that have kept me “up at night” the most were the Sequence 9 “Pub Fight” and the Sequence 3 “Morning in New York” sequence, where we travel downtown on 5th Ave. with Eric in a suspended monorail train.

This sequence is very complicated with its mix of retro New York street architecture, CG monorail track and train, and crowds of New York pedestrians and vehicles. When you throw in a low level, high-speed flyover by Richthofen in his tricked out tri-plane things get really complicated and the potential for something to go “wrong”, to be off scale or off model, is great.

This was the first real sequence that Spencer and I conceptualized when he came out to Tripod’s L.A. studio in the winter of ’07. We spent a lot of time on Google Earth plotting the potential routes of Eric’s train in an attempt to maximize his journey downtown with the path that best shows the most “iconic” New York buildings and parks. We settled on a route moving down 5th Ave. from Central Park and then turning left at Washington Square, winding down through China Town and then along the waterfront to the bottom of the island.

The “map” that we plotted for Eric’s train ride from Central Park to the
ARES base at the bottom of Manhattan Island.

Here are some of the key concept designs that were done by Studio Climb for this sequence—

The CG model for the Monorail and Track.
A background layout showing the track moving down a crowded
5th Ave. street. You can see St. Patrick’s cathedral on the left side.

I went through about twenty scenes that contain all of these elements and picked about a dozen to get “special treatment” and revision from Spencer when he arrives at Sun Min early next week.

After work I visited the Gangnam offices of Mojo Digiworks with Director Sang. Mojo is run by an old friend and veteran of the animation wars, Derek Lee. I’ve known Derek since he was the production manager for my partner, Andy Kim, at Toon-Us-In Animation studios back when we did “Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys” series together.

It’s been 3 or 4 years since I’ve seen Derek and it was gratifying to see that he and his associates have set-up a very nice team and facility at Mojo. They are currently in production on a very charming kids series—“Octonauts” and have a number of similar series in their portfolio like “Noddy”, “Pororo”, and “Oliva”. Good work Derek. You and your team are doing a terrific job in this genre.

And thanks for the great dinner.

Day 5, May 7th
Today’s the day of the “Big Production Meeting” with Director’s Sang and Yang.

Last November, Director Sang and I had discussed the possibility of bringing in another co-director to Sun Min to provide the movie with a “second pair of eyes’ to help monitor and check the huge load of work involved—animation checking and timing, character line clean-up and conforming, layout perspective and design, background, prop and character color and detailed lighting intensity and modulation, EFX style and complexity. All of these levels of art direction and supervision go into each scene of a movie like this on literally a frame-by-frame basis.

With Director Yang during my “Skype introduction” of some of the
Studio Climb design team. On the Mac’s screen are Oh Wang Jing
and Wei Siong.

Director Sang brought Director Yang into the team shortly after that November meeting. When the Take 2’s and 3’s on a number of sequences began coming across my desk a few months later, I immediately noticed the positive effect of his input on the work and knew that I needed to get to know Yang personally and give him the feeling that we were all part of a big brotherhood of artists on this project.

Director Yang at work on a scene featuring a close-up of the grim
General Kushnirov.

So after lunch, we all convened in Director Sang’s office and we were off to the races. We started with a scene by scene review of the Take 2’s on Sequence 2, focusing on my retake notes and the sequence’s general tone and value as well as lengthening or cutting some scenes. Yang made some comments and new suggestions that showed me that he had fully absorbed the intent of this sequence and understood it as well or better then I did.

Perfect! As our production budget wouldn’t allow for a full-time overseas supervisor, this was exactly what I was hoping for—another supervising director who could tag-team with Director Sang on alternate sequences. Someone who could “grok” my full intention for each sequence and then act on his own to go beyond the storyboard and design pack when necessary to make the sequence or scene even better.

This is true collaboration. So while we spent plenty of time discussing individual scenes, we spent much more time exploring the overall aesthetic of the movie—what does and does not work in our film’s “universe”. What really matters and what can be let go as it is. What rules of design and art direction can be nuanced or “cheated”.

Some samples of Sequence 2 showcasing the efforts of Director’s Sang
and Yang. Lighting and EFX are much improved.

Working on a project of this scale is a highly collaborative process. As I can’t be on the ground in Seoul 24/7 it is crucial that Sang and Yang fully understand my ground rules and intent so that they can confidently and aggressively move ahead on the many creative calls they must make with their team on a daily basis. I want to be “surprised” (ideally in a “good way”) as they interpret some scenes in this manner.

Sun Min’s interpretation of the “skeletonization” EFX was an early pleasant surprise. We did not provide them with a detailed model and breakdown of this effect, but left it up to their EFX team. The result, using a combination of traditional cell animation and After Effects is startling and almost “lurid” with a very “underground feeling”.

When our long meeting/discussion wrapped, I felt great. All of the long hours of travel and the jet-lagged days and nights were worth it. Our creative team was in full synch and highly charged up and motivated for the final, crucial push.

Day 6, May 8th
Saturday is just another “working day” at the job for the hard working Koreans so it’s up and over to the studio and down into the studio’s basement level to review our last sequence’s (Sequence 26) unrendered CG animation. Director Sang sat with me and CG animator Soo Min Lee as we adjusted animation timing and discussed the huge numbers of layers of 2D and CG animation and EFX that will be required for this “big” ending.

Mr. Lee shows me the unrendered CG animation from our last sequence, Sequence 26. I’ve reviewed most of the film’s CG rough animation for placement, scale and timing.

All of the CG renders and animation was handled by the “basement boys” under the supervision of Jay Sik Choi.

“The Basement Boys”. From left to right, Sung Moon Lee, Jay, “War
of the Worlds: Goliath” co-producer, Leon Tan, and Byung Joo-Kang.

Jay and most of his team came out of the CG games industry and had lots of experience in the style of the giant mechas we had built and wanted them to render. It was a great experience working with this talented team of artists on “War of the Worlds: Goliath”. They brought a lot of knowledge and professionalism to their work and together I think we achieved a terrific level of integration between the CG “world” of tripods, airplanes and zeppelins and the 2D world of our human characters.

That evening I trained across Seoul to meet up with director Joe Bum Jin for dinner in the Hongdae district of Seoul. Hongdae is the home of two large universities making it one of the epi-centers of Korean youth culture and on a Friday night it was in full bloom. The streets and alleys of the district were packed with kids out to have a good time with their friends. With all the neon signage and futuro architecture Hongdae felt a bit like “Isla Vista Meets Blade Runner”.

A local store front.

Some of the Hongdae street scene.

And Joe Bum was just the right tour guide. He is the creator/director of what is possibly the greatest animated movie made to date in Korea—“Aatchi and Ssipak”. This movie is almost impossible to describe, but if you took some of the style of “Yellow Submarine” and mixed it with the hyper violence and wit of “Clockwork Orange” and chased it with a Tarantino High Ball, then you’re getting close.

I would say that in its styling, ambition and execution, it’s easily the finest “underground” animated movie ever made, bar none. It’s as far beyond the flawed visions of a Ralph Bakshi as “Akira” is beyond “He-Man”.

Here’s a link to the trailer, which pretty much sums up the film.
And here’s a link to one of the film’s MANY extended, crazed fight sequences.
Most movies would be content to have one or two of these bravura sequences. Aatchi and Ssipak has at least seven of them. Seriously.

For the creator of such an edgy and violent movie, Joe Bum is a surprisingly relaxed and happy man, soft spoken with a gentle demeanor and almost elfin smile. After dinner and drinks we roamed the streets taking in the local scene.

That’s it for this week’s Blog. Part 3 in a week or two.

Production Blog