Friday, September 24, 2010

Fallout Descends on UAT

Story by Trevor Green

An image of a desecrated "Welcome to Phoenix" sign ushers viewers into the bleak, post-apocalyptic world of the movie Fallout. Shots of bombed-out buildings littering downtown Phoenix are awash in sandy orange hues. The jet wash from a military drop ship kicks up dust as weapon-carrying troops hit the ground feet-first. The ensuing events unravel a science-fiction tale rich with espionage, counterterrorism, action and deception.

University of Advancing Technology's Digital Video program utilized its strengths in post-production - editing, computer-generated visual effects, compositing - in making Fallout. The year-long project featured contributions from 31 students and staff to realize the cutting-edge vision, a promotional and educational vehicle for the DV major.

Fallout "The whole thing wasn't so much about the outcome as it was about the process. The outcome is great. What we've got to show for it is just tremendous. It's a tremendous achievement for the students that were involved, and it's a great piece for their portfolio," said Digital Video Professor and Fallout director Paul DeNigris.

Fallout is an Official Selection for the 2010 International Horror and Sci-Film Festival, taking place Oct. 14-18 in Tempe, Ariz.

Fallout 's Wild Cards

Fallout focuses on the investigation of a failed mission by Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism team, the Wild Cards, to stop a group of terrorists holding a suitcase nuclear device. All but one of the Wild Cards appear to die with the nuke's detonation. Military investigator Rawls (played by adjunct professor Steve Briscoe) examines for evidence of betrayal - via questioning and memory extraction - though has his own agenda regarding the Homeland Security department.

DeNigris wove the futuristic story from disparate television and movie sources: military and science-fiction nods to Stargate SG-1; the action and ulterior motives of 24; and minor influences like the colleague tension of The Wire (Rawls was named after a character on the show) and the technology of Minority Report.  He also infused the script with UAT culture - technology and concepts influenced by Leonardo da Vinci Society for the Study of Thinking recipient Dr. Michio Kaku, mystery solving inspired by tabletop games, and virtual reality sparked by the Game Design/Game Programming majors.

DeNigris wanted to have a top-notch team to bring the movie to life. After reevaluating the Digital Video program's focus on post-production, he wanted a project to show his students' talents. In summer 2009, he recruited undergrads from several majors that impressed him with their modeling, texturing, compositing, audio and visual effects work. He sprang the script on them and got an enthusiastic response, and the film took shape over the academic year.

Student Matt Buresh, Fallout assistant video editor/behind-the-scenes editor, came onboard after learning about and seeing the passion of everyone behind the film.

"I naturally wanted to be a part of this awesome project that Paul was presenting to his students. I always take full advantage of any project that Paul presents to his students because it's always nothing but hands on learning that you can really count on to get a well rounded education from," said Buresh.

Fallout The most notable evidence of the team's post-production prowess is the film's imagery. Almost every frame was filmed on the University's green-screen set. The Phoenix sign and city landscapes: digitally manipulated pictures. The drop ship: computer generated. The soldiers setting foot in Phoenix: DeNigris and three crew members in the campus parking lot, jumping off of an apple crate in boots while fans blew sand into the camera.

"It just didn't make sense to do it green screen," said DeNigris of the lone location shot.

The Green-Screen Dance

Filming almost entirely on a green-screen set introduced new challenges. The confines of the small space and blank background forced the actors and crew to plan performer interactions and movements, imagined environments, key lighting and continuous camera movement. For example, filming an over-the-shoulder shot involved switching around actors, lights and props.

"We end up doing this dance every time we do our turnarounds and basically spin the entire room around the camera, which is [the] total opposite of how you would do it on location," said DeNigris.

"We did eventually get over that hump, get over that learning curve and figure out how to be more efficient and really get into the groove of it, and by the end we were just rocketing through our shot list."

While the set's visual challenges could be manipulated, audio distractions could not. Imprecise acoustics and outside noise forced DeNigris to have actors rerecord nearly every line of dialogue. The compromise reshaped parts of the script and performances, and the clean audio was reworked to add reverb and equalization to simulate the movie's environments.

Compositors filled in the green blanks with computer-generated walls, object shadows, particle effects (like fire and glow examples) and motion tracking (ensuring the backgrounds move with the camera). DeNigris had a quality standard to ensure continuity through compositors' works - an assigned area one segment (fight, warehouse and interview scenes) for each artist. The goal was to make sure nothing looked out of place.

"There are some things you never realize are really critical to a movie until you don't have them there," said student Monica Thies.

Educating the Masses

DeNigris plans a multi-tiered approach to giving Fallout exposure. For theaters, the movie will be entered in various film festivals - local and specializing in visual effects, sci-fi and action movies. The movie's physical copy release (on DVD and Blu-ray) will include behind-the-scenes featurettes and options to watch the finished version, green-screen footage and back-to-back versions of both simultaneously.

DeNigris hopes that the labor, experience and spotlight give the cast, crew and DV program positive attention.

"It's designed to be a promotional tool for the DV program as well as an educational tool for future generations of DV students."

The finished movie impressed the creators with how far their vision was captured on film.
"Seeing the final version of it, I was really ecstatic. I couldn't sit still after watching it. It hit everything that we were expecting - plus some. The story sucks you in once you get into the visual effects," said student Mitchell Faherty. "That's what we were hoping for."

Thies was similarly enthusiastic.

"It's a really good project that took three and a half semesters but came out phenomenal for college students and their first time doing it."

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