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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

OFFICE HOURS: what's it all about and other useless details!

Hi, I’m Shane Sheils, co-writer/director of Office Hours.
Hmmm, that kinda sounds like something Troy McClure might’ve said on The Simpsons!
Anyway, I thought it’d be “nice” to fill you in on what’s the story on Office Hours and really what the hell this whole filmmaking fuss is all about.
Well first here’s a bit of background info stuff.

It all began with To Shoot A Rurf. Well actually it started before that, but those other films were really just test runs and mainly dipping our toes into the animation water.
When I say “we” I mean myself and Paula Sheils, my co-writer/director/composer/producer/etc, but unfortunately I’m the idiot that is in charge of the animation and visuals. The reason? I have the “background” in animation and I can draw “good”. The thing is, I “studied” Classical Animation – which, in normal human language, mean’s 2D hand drawn animation like the old Disney stuff before Toy Story came along. I was a crap student. I never completed any assignments, I fell asleep in class and I hated it. Why? It was boring as hell, that’s why! I didn’t like being told what to do. Drawing should be fun and done for enjoyment. C’mon, it’s about using the right hand side of the brain – it’s not meant to be wasted on tedious repetitious lines and squiggles. Heres the thing, most animators end up doing the crappy work that people who watch movies don’t notice. Who the hell would seriously want to be the guy/girl that cleans up the lines on drawings all day? It’s not creative. It’s no different than dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s”, the kind of work even the most uncreative pencil pushing office worker could do. Do I sound bitter? Heck, yeah! Classical animation robbed me of my love of drawing and I wanted out of that place fast! I also studied live action filmmaking – which I was much happier and better at – but live action equals money. I like films to look great, ye’ know sweet visuals, moody lighting, great locations, blah, blah. All that generally requires money, and anyone that knows me or has visited or, well you should know I’m a big believer in “cost saving measures”. Oh and live action also throws up the problem of dealing with stupid people. I’ve been pretty lucky that most people I’ve had dealings with were nice and tried hard, but there are always a few gimps that can mess up your whole day by doing stupid crap or simply just messing you around!

They say never work with kids or animals. It should really be “don’t work with gimps”. Myself and Paula put 100% into whatever we do and in return we expect at least the same in return. Some times that just doesn’t happen. Gimps create problems for you to deal with. Live would be much nicer if all the gimp-bags of the world were stuffed in a sack and dumped in the nearest river. I salute all the gimps that have crossed me – you will never get the chance againJ. Word of advice to those who are starting out in filmmaking: believe in what you do, trust your instincts, don’t get too comfortable in what you do – always be aware of what others are trying, learn from not just your own mistakes but other peoples mistakes too. Vary your interests. If you wanna do some animation stuff, don’t turn your back on live action, books, magazines, newspapers, and all the various pictures, photo’s, drawings and visual stuff out there. Slip a little of your personality into your work. Don’t be a carbon copy of somebody else. Put a little bit of your character into your movie, it could be anything like a hobby or a way of thinking or talking or acting, just do it. Can’t afford expensive equipment and tools? Don’t make excuses; just find a way around it. When we were planning a live action film called The Darkside, we didn’t have a camera, lighting or anything. Everything just fell into place, as if by magic. Remember, expensive equipment didn’t exist years ago and amazing films were made. Those guys just did their best with what they had, used their knowledge to find cool ways to do cool things that had never been done before. The same goes for story and plot. If everybody wrote and made the same films, the world would be a very dull place. Sure there are rules for story arc and all that kinda thing but rules exist to be broken! Don’t make the film others want to watch, make the film you wanna see. If others dig it, then great; but accept that your film may only find an audience with a few people. Shorts, in particular, are a tricky thing to work with. They are supposed to be a way to present and try out new ideas, but mostly they just turn out to be mini rip-offs of other feature length movies or TV dramas. And the people who watch shorts can vary from drunks in pubs, eager to laugh at anything remotely funny, to pretentious twats waiting for a literary reference to some boring old dead guy who wrote poncy poetry!

To do the films myself and Paula wanted to make we simply couldn’t achieve it properly in live action-land.
Attention turned towards animation. So I come full circle again to the animation “thing”. Ah, but this time it was different, now we were in 3D animation time. Yeah, but that 3D stuff is pretty costly, isn’t it? It is if you’re a rich idiot. I’m a poor idiot. I discovered the wonder that is Blender3d (, a free 3D animation programme and sequencer with advanced texture unwrapping and a fantastic in-built render engine. I’ll say it again – Blender 3D is FREE. That’s 100% free, not shareware or one of those featureless demo programmes that expires after 21 days. And it’s very reliable and dependable. Again, if you’ve visited our Dwarfed Films blog, you’ll have heard plenty about Blender as well as lots of other essential freeware programs for video/ audio/image editing. We even have an Essential Freeware List on the Dwarfed Films site with links to all the software.
Ok, if you’re still reading, then great – I appreciate your time – but you’re probably still wondering what this has got to do with Office Hours, or what the hell I’m even talking about. Be patient, we’re getting there.
So, like I’ve said, we did a few shorts, mainly as testers, using Blender 3d to see how the whole 3d thing might work out. This lead to To Shoot A Rurf. Visit or to find out more about this film and lots of images and background making-of stuff. For those too lazy to bother checking out these sites right now I’ll just say that To Shoot A Rurf utilised everything I NEVER learned from college life all those years ago. Yeah, It’s true, I learned nothing, nada, zilch. To Shoot A Rurf was a complete course – self taught – in 3D animation. In the previous shorts I’d handled lighting, camera work and basic texturing fairly well( My experience in live action lighting and camera work slightly helped but 3D lighting is more complex than the real world lighting situations). What I learned –through trial and error – on To Shoot A Rurf, was delicate character animation, cloth animation, fluid animation, physics animation setups, particle effects such as smoke, complex UV mapping, particle hair and lots of other stuff. It was a real learning experience – maybe no different than most self-taught users of Blender – but it was also one of the most rewarding filmmaking experiences I’ve had. Literally every day I learned something new. The picture edit and composing the music and all the other elements on To Shoot A Rurf was very enjoyable.

Actually To Shoot A Rurf is probably my favourite film. It is totally mad, utterly surreal and it has a quirky sense of humour running throughout it’s 8 and a half minute running time. I just watched it again today and I was struck by a number of things. The lighting is fantastic and the mood is set up right from the opening shot. The music, which Paula and I composed and performed, is great. The music accompanying the singing Rurf, Rurfetta La Fey, is like a gonzo version of a John Barrymore Bond theme. The liquid metal mirror snake is cool. It’s hard to believe that it was an afterthought that I decided to add to the movie because I simply wanted to animate a mirror snake! Ya see that’s the cool thing about making movies – anything is possible and you can add cool stuff just because you feel like it. Now I admit To Shoot A Rurf might not be to everybody’s taste. Maybe it’s a bit too “out-there” or seen as experimental.

Now we come to Office Hours, which will be a more “logical” picture. The story is far more straight forward, for a start.
The script was written by myself and Paula a few years back. It was originally planned to be a live action short but the To Shoot A Rurf lesson showed that it was doable in 3D. The story tells the tale of a lonely office worker who falls in love with a mannequin head he discovers in a trash can outside an old back street lady’s fashion shop. After his cruel boss gets killed in an accident, he digs up her body and steals it – taking it back to his office cubicle where he stitches his beloved mannequin head to the decomposing decapitated body. A freak-lightening storm brings the mannequin to life where it goes berserk and tries to kill the man who must fight for his life against the bizarre zombie.
It’s a romantic/comedy/zombie movie, all very tongue in cheek. To Shoot A Rurf (TSAR) was very surreal and weird. Office Hours is weird but in a less “mondo bizarre” way. Plus Office Hours looks way better than TSAR. Office Hours is being rendered out in hi-def format, the characters and backgrounds are more realistic and highly detailed. Actually realistic is not the right word for the characters – they occupy a place in between cartoonish and realistic.
Lots of tests have taken place for every aspect of the picture, and they need to: rendering at full scale can take a long time. 3D animation is more enjoyable to do compared to classical hand drawn animation but it can still be a pain! Working on To Shoot A Rurf, for example, thought me a lesson in using strand particle’s for human hairstyles. The particle hairs would sometimes react weirdly to movement giving the impression that the lead characters hair was alive! Also during rendering I noticed that depending on the camera lens used (yes-3D animation uses camera lenses just like live action filmmaking) and rendering size, the character would sometimes appear to be balder or hairier in certain sequences. Irritating stuff that only becomes obvious once a sequence has been rendered out – thereby wasting a lot of time on re-renders and fix-ups. Cloth animation also proved dodgy. Blender doesn’t have a dedicated cloth animation system but instead I used “Softbody” settings. These control the elasticity and fluid-like motion of an object and by tweaking you can achieve acceptable cloth like movements, except sometimes it doesn’t work out how you want it to. The lead character in To Shoot A Rurf magically opens his hand (after being attacked by a “liquid metal” mirror – don’t ask, just go check out the film instead!) and finds a mini version of himself standing in his palm. The mini character is wearing a tuxedo jacket on which I applied a cloth-like modifier. Sometimes it moved nicely, other times it behaved erratically and went “through” the characters body or stretched weirdly. Trial and error, people, trial and error is the only way to get through awkward situations! Office Hours will present as many hurdles to cross and lots of technical difficulties, but it will be worth it in the end!

So stick with the us and follow the whole process of the making of Office Hours by visiting this site or our main site

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