This page will (hopefully) become a little resource to let people know how things are going on making the film. It will also be a place to post anything vaguely related to the making of Storm Ahead. I say hopefully, because it obviously needs to be kept up to date in order to be any use. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t.

14/06/02 Our first production meeting! 
With the trailer out for a month filming for the actual shoot needs to proceed. Whilst on holiday I storyboarded three quarters of the film, and will soon have these roughs finished up. But they are really rough, so Steve Rider (aka Darth Apporth) has kindly agreed to storyboard the entire movie from my roughs. Click here and here for a couple of examples of Steves work.This is great news, because not only will the storyboards become a lot clearer to the crew, but they will also be posted online to make an interesting storyboard-to-finished shot comparison.

My sketches won’t really convey this process well. Thanks Steve.

While Steve was at our house, Tony Serpini (the cameraman – who we met while he filmed a Sat 1 interviewabout Dark Skies) phoned to confirm that the camera we have scrounged (A GY-DV700WE from JVC) will be available for the week commencing July 17th. 

Things are really starting to motor (at last).

20/06/02 Studio secured?
As there are quite a few shots that require a bit more space that the poor old dining room could offer, we have decided to shoot Storm Ahead in a studio. We’re 75% sure we have one on the weekend we need it, but because it’s a favour (again) we can’t be certain. If a real job comes along we are out on our ear. Hence we are walking a bit of a tight rope at the moment, hopefully we won’t fall off.

I have finally sent off most of the storyboards to Steve, so the ball is at least slightly out of my court. It’s nice to know the storyboards are being done ‘properly’ and they will make a great addition to the site when this is all over.

29/06/02 A slow week really…
We have begun modifying the Stormtrooper Armour ready for the shoot at the end of July. Nikki’s movement when in the armour was severely restricted becuase of an ill-fitting suit. Finally I have plucked up the courage to take a hacksaw to it and custom fit the armour to Nikki. However there are still a few shots in the film that just aren’t possible for Nikki to do, well fitting armour of otherwise. For that we have (again luckily) managed to secure some motion capture data of various movements, which we wouldn’t otherwise do doing. A 3-D model of Nikki is going to be used for these shots. It will be very interesting to see if we can pull these effects off realistically. Suffice to say we won’t be saying which ones they are so the audience does at least have to guess.

The other good news is we have sourced a prop ‘shotgun’ which is used in one scene from a person I only know as Shaun. He emailled me a while ago asking if I needed any help. Currently Shaun is making the gun appear more beaten-up so it matches guns in the grand old Star Wars tradition. Thanks Shaun.

There is still lots of work to do before the shoot, it’s a shame ‘real work’ often gets in the way.

12/07/02 Getting closer
Yesterday the cameraman and I went down to the studio to check out the space. It really is ideal for what we need, and I’m very lucky to have been able to pull in this favour for nothing. The studio is owned by a photographer called Phillip Collins, and his company ‘The Business’ has a full cove, and a gantry for filming overhead etc, so it’s perfect. We have ordered two tins of green chromakey paint (the ‘real stuff- not the usual apple green from B&Q’). Honestly I doubt it will make any real difference, but since the other production values are being raised a notch, we may as well do this properly to. We have managed to source a green exercise ball from a sports shop which will serve as an R2-G4 during a scene where Nikki interacts with a droid, allowing me to key out the parts I need and replace them with a CGI droid. PVC and wooden lightsabre blades have been bought and painted in floursecent paint, and our prop gun has been dispatched to us by Shaun Allen, so everything is beginning to come together. There are about 150 shots to film over the course of a weekend, so at the moment we really have no idea how far we’ll get through in only one weekend. Ideally we will shoot the lot, but only time will tell. Some of the shots are easy and can be rattled through, some of them are really complex and will take time to set up. This is where Steve’s storyboards are going to be invaluable, as we can be so much more organised, and shoot all of the shots according to camera/lighting set up for speed.

Nikki has been sourcing the various peices of equipment we need, including a winch/pulley system for the flying scenes. Due to the highly specialised nature of these rigs we have only managed to find one supplier thus far, and the cost (even after ‘look we’re poor’ discount) is 1000 pounds per day, which is more than the entire budget of both Dark Skies and Storm Ahead. So the search goes on. If we can’t find anything suitable (and cheaper) we will use a similar method to acheive the flying shots as we used in the trailer.

The studio is now 99% secured for the weekend of July 28th, although getting everyone to agree on this date is proving difficult. It will be so good to get principal photography out of the way, and then let the real fun can begin. It will also be interesting to rough cut the film, if for no other reason than to see how long the movie will actually run, my guess is about eight minutes. Post production, truthfully it’s the only part of the film-making process I actually enjoy…

16/07/02 We’re flying now
After a conversation with ‘Tumblemoster’ over at the TFN fanfilm boards, we have managed to sort out how to make Nikki fly. The children’s ‘swingset/banana boat combo’ is now the A-frame that will support Nikki during the flying sequences. A trip to the local mountaineering shop secured the purchases of support harnesses, carabiners, and rope (that stuff is so thin!) and we have all we need to create some of the more difficult effects if the film. Thanks Tumblemoster for the great idea. I would never have thought of it myself.

17/07/02 Got the green light
We collected our two tins of Rosco Chromakey Green paint today, and we are now setting about painting all of the equipment we are going to use, but don’t want to be seen in the final movie. The paint is remarkably ordinary in fact, and just looks like any normal shade of green you can buy from any DIY store. I expected it to have it’s own half-life, or at least leave an imprint on my retina for a few minutes. Still, I suppose it’s nice to have ‘the real thing’ and obviously it is all dependant on how well it can be keyed out. Hopefully there is some difference between this paint, and the cheap stuff I normally use.

20/07/02 An interesting dilemna…
We have just found out that JVC (The people we are scrounging the camera from) want us to insure the camera for a week, which I guess is understandable. However, this is a £15,000 camera, so I’ll find out on Monday how much this is going to cost us, and basically if it’s to much, then no dice. A ‘super duper widescreen camera’ is always a luxury item fort a low budget film, which would be cool to shoot with given the chance. However, since this is a greenscreen film which rarely makes use of the fully widescreen frame (since most of the edges are green, and so can be widened however we want) I’m seriously pondering how much I am willing to spend on camera insurance to get this thing. So far the budget for Storm Ahead has been really small, and I want to keep it this way. I’ll post again on Monday after seeing how much the insurance costs. If it’s to much, I’ll probably just shoot the movie using the mighty XM-1 (GL-1) which was plenty good enough for me when shooting Dark Skies.

24/07/02 Thunderbird are GO!
The path of amateur film-making is not a smooth one. As it turns out we could get the camera insurance for £90 but there was a huge excess on the policy, and knowing my luck, we would end up dropping the camera and have to sell the car to pay for the repairs 🙂 So with this in mind I am dusting down the mighty XM-1 again, and shooting with this. We are actually filming on Friday and Saturday, as the studio is now unavailable on Sunday. We have to paint the cove first thing, wait for it to dry, and then begin shooting, all on the same day…that should be interesting! We will use this ‘drying time’ to set up the rigging, and get everything prepared. We are beggars, so cannot be choosers. So that’s it, finally we’re going to shoot. It could be a total disaster, it could work out brilliantly. The thing I am happy about is if we need to do any pick-up shots, we have the XM-1 all the time, so shots will look the same from shoot to shoot. I was always a little nervous about getting a camera for only one weekend, just in case there were any reshoots involved.

The film has a total of 148 shots, of which 98 involved live action shooting (yup that’s quite a lot of pure CGI isn’t it!) of those 98 about half of them are easy, and half tricky. I’ll repost after the shoot to let everyone know how we got on, and how much of the film we actually shot in two days.

Time for me to cross my fingers and re-read those storyboards…

25/07/02 TGI Friday – The calm before the Storm.
Finally we are ready to shoot this movie. It seems to have been stuck in pre-production for months, but at last it is upon us. We’ve had a few good breaks since the bad news about the camera etc. The first was that the owner of the studio phoned today and said if I wanted I could paint the cove today. I pretty well went straight down there and began painting. It took a good two to three hours, plus it was taking rather longer than the ‘fifteen minutes’ is said it took to dry. If we would have begun painting on Friday morning we wouldn’t have been filming until Friday afternoon. The other bit of luck was something I kick myself for not doing before. It turns out the studio has a support high on the ceiling that is linked into the rafters, and it is very easy to swing a rope over. We now have the perfect harness support all set up and ready. This studio really does have everything we need.

The studio is littered with massive diffuser screens, styrofoam reflector boards, weights, boxes, tripods, lights, power, everything we need and so much more than we have had in the past. It will be really nice to be able to position the lights away from Nikki, becuase most of all in this studio there is space. This is a lucky break for us. I hope we make the most of it.

I’ll make sure we take a few pictures and I will post them here as soon as I can. The next report will be ‘post shoot’ so hopefully I will be happy….although if I don’t post again for eight weeks, you know it didn’t go as well as I hoped! 🙂

26/07/02 Half way to paradise…
We had a good day today. We have 58 shots in the can. Only forty to go. The peculiar thing about filming entirely again greenscreen is some of the shots don’t really look much until after the effects have been applied. One section that really did look good though was a lightsabre stand off in a dark anti-chamber. We were able to get far enough away from the greenscreen to light that, but then have Nikki in total darkness, only being lit by the flourescent tube of the blue sabre. The footage looked really nice. I’ll post a few screen captures over the coming weeks.

However. we can’t break out the champagne yet, we still have a gruelling day tommorrow. Plus the forty shots we have left are basically the flying sequences, so technically these are the most challenging. But it really is a case of so far so good. Nikki is indeed a Trooper, in every sense of the word 🙂

27/07/02 Stormed through it…
I’m pleased to say we finished the shoot, and all of the shots we needed are ‘in the can’ It’ll take a good while to sift through all of the footage to get the good takes, especially as I have a terrible habit of forgetting to turn the tape off after a shot. Nikki did so well, in what was a very physically demanding shoot. Much harder than Dark Skies ever was. Afterwards it reminded me of a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark aboard Captain Kattanga’s trawler, where Marion said to Indiana ‘dammit – where doesn’t it hurt!?’ Completing a movie shoot in two days is great, but really we were doing it all at a more than comfortable pace. The trouble is we were going to lose our tiny window of opportunity to film, so we either shot it then, or faced losing the studio and have to shoot in the dining room or an expensive facility. The decision was basically a no brainer.

We’ve got some good stuff in there I know, the flying sequences worked very well. It took us a long time to set up, and get Nikki into the harness and costume, but once she was in the rig there was no hanging around (har-har) We rattled through 15 shots in about forty minutes.

So that’s it, all of the stuff I hate about film-making is finally over. I’m sure we will do a few pick-up shots in the meantime, but really it’s the fun part for me now; editing, effects and ‘fiddling’ with the movie to get it how I want. We have passed the first big milestone. We still have a few more that aren’t even on the horizon though.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts. 1. Storyboards are a must have. 2. Stormtrooper armour just isn’t close to being comfortable.

10/08/02 Capture the moment
Having returned from a trip away it’s now time to capture the footage and really begin to work. Whilst in the US I bought a nice new (fast) 100GB internal hard-drive, I captured all of the footage (about seventy minutes) and now have to work my way through this footage to get the five or six minutes of ‘good shots’ that I can begin keying and applying the myriad of effects to.

There are a lot of shots that I’m really pleased with, on the whole it all came out pretty well. Nikki’s bruises have healed, and now it DID seem like a good idea to shoot it all in one go. During the shoot I’m sure I said it was a stupid idea.

There is a sequence set in a dark anti-chamber where Nikki has a smackdown with a couple of droids and the Sith Trooper, and we used a floursecent tube for a lightsabre. That sequence turned out much better than I thought it would, and wouldn’t have been possible in the dining room, we just wouldn’t have been able to get far enough away from the greenscreen to light that, but keep Nikki in the dark.

Click here for a quick close-up of one of those pictures, and here for another picture from the shoot.

Next it’s going to be a rough cut of the film (including storyboards as placeholders for the fully CGI shots) as I want to get a feel for the length of the film, and don’t want to do any effects work for shots that I will later cut from the film (which I did before with Dark Skies) plus it’ll help me know whether we need to do any pick-up shots or not.

23/08/02 Trooper CGI 
Anyone who has ever worn trooper armour will know that you really can’t do an awful lot in it. Movement is restricted at the best of times. We don’t actually want this to restrict the storytelling though, so I am building a 3D trooper, for the more athletic feats in the movie. Once it is finished, I can prepare it for animation, and the motion capture files we have.

The 3D Model needed to be done even if we could have filmed everything, since the Clones tubes should actually have troopers inside, hence the need for the model anyway. So at least the work won’t go to waste on only a few shots. Next up I think I’m going to redo the Sith Trooper, he plays such a big part in the film the model has to be as good as I can make it. Basically I’ve got a little better at modelling since I first did him, so I’m probably going to start again with him.

Either way, I’m now really starting to get into post-production, I’m looking forward to having all of the models complete, so I can begin putting final shots together – this is however, still a little way off.

23/09/02 CGI Blues
The trooper test was pretty successful, and I’m sure we can get that to work well in time.

I’m now in the process of creating all of the 3D models that will be used throughout the film, and there are a lot, since the film in entirely greenscreened. Everything in the background has to be created from scratch, plus a lot of shots are entirely CGI with no actors at all. It’s slow progress, but progress is being made. I’m pleased with the way things are going, and the look of the film is improving, and actually going away from the storyboard now.

Nothing like sticking to your gameplan – and this is nothing like sticking to your gameplan. That is the luxury you have with a greenscreen movie, if you want to change the entire setting, you can, even after the movie has been shot. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have all of the 3D models completed, but even though this is a fantasy film, the actual production methods are alas very much based in reality.

20/10/02 Hardly Storming Ahead…
Wow these entirely greenscreen/CGI films are hard work!

It is often said that shooting in a forest is a cop out (usually by people who don’t actually make films) but I can really see the beauty of these ready made locations right now.

I wanted to make a second Star Wars move becuase there were so many things I wasn’t happy with in Dark Skies, mostly the effects (or rather lack of effects) in certain areas. So this film is everything Dark Skies wasn’t. But just when I thought I knew what went into making a Star Wars movie, I went ahead and wrote a story that totally disregarded how hard it would be to make.

I think it’s fair to say I am stretching myself again this time, and when you are learning how to do things as you do them, it takes time. Weeks are quickly going past, and huge sections of the film are NOT being finished. But progress is being made, and I am so, so much happier with the look of this film than the last one, hopefully it will all be worth the wait, becuase there is definately going to be one…

30/10/02 Thankyou DVMatte Keyer
During the making of Dark Skies I spent many, many nights trying to get half decent keys using the standard Colour Difference keyer in After Effects (a tutorial of which is available here)

Thankfully since then I bought the Composite Toolkit from DVGarage, which contained, among a host of other things, the DVMatte keyer. (incidentally there is a ‘testimonial’ and examples of Storm Ahead on their web page) This entire package makes keying so much easier than before, meaning I can spend my precious time improving the overall look of the film, and not just acheiving an adequate key.

Partly thanks to the keyer I have completed quite a few shots this week, and (although I have a heck of a lot more to do) I can honestly say progress has been made. I am really happy with the look of this film so far, it is visually much more interesting (to me!) than the last one.

I’m really torn between showing a few more ‘Select’ images, and just keeping the entire thing under wraps until it’s all done. It’s hard to do, but I’m going to try keep it a big ‘secret’ for the time being. Sorry 🙂

30/10/02 If you want to get ahead
One of the things I really wanted to do this time out was create all of my own 3D models.

Little did I know exactly what I was letting myself in for. The main thing I have really struggled with are Übernurbs (the name for Electric Image’ Subdivision modelling system) and without being able to crack Übernurbs I could not actually model the all important head of the Sith Trooper. This failing was seriously hampering production, since the Trooper is a major character in the film.

Well, the good news is today I actually finished modelling the head. After five failed attempts I finally managed to get it using pesky Übernurbs. Now I can finish texturing the model, and then begin the fun part of setting it up for animation. This is a huge breakthrough for me, and one that really is a milestone. I cannot begin to tell you how long I have been trying to learn and understand how to use Übernurbs. If you look int he trailer, you will see the angle used for the Sith Troopers enterance was very deliberate, you basically cannot see the head, becuase, at that point it was not finished.

But now it is. This has been another good week for production, after too many quiet/slow weeks.

16/11/02 Knocking down fences
When I thought about making Storm Ahead I sat and thought ‘what did I want to see in this film’ and set about creating the story and set pieces, with absolutely no idea how I was going to make any of this. Therefore each phase of production has been a challenge. To take that initial idea and make it actually happen. We’ve figured out the flying, we’ve finally figured out the Sith Trooper, and the last piece of the basic puzzle was how to show hundreds and hundreds of Stormtroopers inside their cloning pods.

When the trailer for Storm Ahead came out, I hadn’t figured this out, which is why all of the pods are always empty. Now it has been sorted out, so another hurdle has been overcome, which this film is really – creative problem after creative problem, solving ‘how am I going to do that?’ time after time.

Chances are no-one will actually notice this stuff when the film finally plays, but for me it is very satisfying to have figured out. So currently I am rendering out the 3D backgrounds where a large chunk of the movie takes place, basically inside the main Cloning facility. Rendering these backgrounds takes a long time, and each night I set up a different render for a different background. Once they are all done a lot of shots should start falling into place. Creating a Stormtrooper inside a cloning pod which was small enough to render eighty at a time was a major stumbling block for me, a block which thankfully has been passed. In the end the solution was painfully obvious, but I just took a long time to figure it out.

Here is an ‘artsy’ picture of one of the cloning pods. Times that by eighty and you have one very slow render…

23/11/02 Render, render, render
Well, I’ve now managed to get quite a few clone tube backgrounds into place, by setting each one up overnight to render. One of them took two days to render, and I’m not entirely sure whether I will use it now. I have a laptop and a second G4 sat in the room as well, so I am seriously considering setting up a little ‘render farm’ to spread the load of these renders over three computers.

As the shots get more complex I can see this taking weeks to render. Most of the stuff renders really fast, but the clone tubes (I guess becuase of the way I have set them up) take an age. Hopefully it is worth it.

I re-textured the SIth Trooper head to a point that I think I am happy with it, and will begin adding him to a few of the shots which I am really looking forward to. He is a mean looking thing that Nikki says is frightening, and Sophie (our daughter) always gets scared over. Personally I only see a CGI model with texturing issues, but there you go. Click here to download a 995k on2 movie file of just his head spinning around and see what you think.

01/12/02 What a peice of Junk!
In order to enter the cloning facility undetected Jade posed as a cargo delivery trooper on a routine part drop for the still under construction cloning facility. So basically I wanted a ship that was a little beaten up around the edges, almost like the ‘Landrover’ of space ships. I have had an image in my mind for quite a while now, and I assumed it was Boba/Jangos Slave 1 that I got this image/inspiration from.

Then I saw a trailer for Minority Report (a favourite of mine – great art direction) and I realised I had the image of the PreCrime Hovercrafts in mind, and not Slave 1 at all. Having seen a picture of this to confirm my inspiration Jades ship was finally born. I have spend the past week re-modelling my last effort (which I wasn’t very happy with) and re-texturing it. The ship is chrome, albeit a beaten up chrome, and it is the fifth select picture on this site. Click here to go to a select picture of the ship approaching the planet where the Cloning Facility is.

Over the next week I will finish off the detailed texturing, and render a static view of it, to put it into the 3D Models section for closer inspection. Christmas is coming soon, and I am really hoping that the ‘proper’ workload slackens off so I can spend a large chunk of time movie-making. My wife has promised that the work will end since January ’02- Nikki has either been fibbing to me, or her crystal ball is well and truly broken.

15/12/02 Shipshape
A fairly slow time for the fanfilm, but a way to busy time for work. A few things have happened though, one is that I have rendered out a little test animation of Jades Ship, although now I’ve seen it I want to change a few of the textures. I wanted the back end of the ship to be ‘beaten up’ and the front end fairly new looking. The theory was that this cargo ship is a little like container lorries that pick up an entire back end before each trip, therefore the back end was meant to look older than the front. The difference isn’t really working, so I’m going to grunge it all up. Here is a link to a 880k test animation of the ship straight out of the renderer (sorry about the lens flare ) it is compressed using the on2 codec. The wording on the side says….Cargo. Pretty creative huh?

I now realise that this site is so slow that it’s almost grinding to a halt, suffice to say I am working on this problem and will have a solution in the next month or so, in the meantime, apologies for the shocking transfer rates.

The main interest (at least for me) is that I have finally managed to set up four computers (our older Mac’s) into a little network render farm. I bought an airport basestation and three card and installed them this weekend. This will literally cut render times by two-thirds which is great news, since there is still a lot of rendering to be done. Renderama, the EI Universe networking programme is so simple to use, and it works really well. So I’m very pleased with this bit of technology.

22/12/02 Teaser?
Viewers of a website called TFN Fanfilms may know about something called the TFN Fanfilm Teasers, which are small fifteen seconds slots where anyone can publicise their film. There are quite a few of these ‘in the queue’ and one of them is for Storm Ahead.

Don’t expect an extensive plot, becuase in fifteen seconds you won’t get one. But you will see a little bit more of the film, and I am quite pleased with the teaser. I’ll post a larger version here on the Storm Ahead website once it is shown on TFN.

After a few emails and phonecalls to my server hosts it turns out my suspicions were correct, and my bandwidth was being capped. I’m pleased to say it is now back to full speed after the pathetic transfer rates of before, so hopefully things will continue as normal, which is another reason why I wanted to create a teaser. There hasn’t really been any new content for a while, and this seems like a nice way to show a little more of what I have been doing.

Some of the render times are horrendous for this film, which is obviously making things go a lot slower than I thought they would. One of the shots in the teaser has been rendering for the past week. I can render about ten frames per night, even using Electric Image which boasts ‘the worlds fastest renderer’ those dang pods are real render hogs! Anyway, this is the last post before Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone, and I am looking forward to having a period of no work, and lots of free time to devote to film-making and rendering.

Look for the teaser on TFN in a couple of weeks.

03/01/03 Every Storm Cloud…
After working on this project off and on for over a year I have decided to put Storm Ahead on hold. Please allow me to explain the reason by telling you the story of this particular fanfilm maker…
(Since this post is SO verbose I have highlighted the main paragraph in Purple. Scroll down to that if you just want to cut straight to the chase. If not, enjoy the novella…

I initially saw a few fanfilms on TFN and decided I wanted to make my own. There were three things I really wanted to do. I wanted to make a fanfilm with my entire family – this could serve as a really cool ‘photo album’ for all of use. I also wanted to make a film that TFN might host (after all that’s where I discovered the entire genre in the first place) I wanted to make a fanfilm that actually set a deadline, and hit a deadline. On August 12th 2000 I was really pleased when Darryl at TFN told me they would host the film – basically I had achieved all three of my goals right there.

For me this was total success, and everything I ever wanted from the project. However towards the end of making the film I began to realise how dodgy some of the film really was, but since I didn’t want to tinker around forever I released the film, and was already planning my second Star Wars epic – Storm Ahead. I began production of Storm Ahead two weeks after the release of Dark Skies, planning a film that really pushed my knowledge, with the sole purpose of seeing just how good I could become at creating special effects. Dark Skies taught me one thing early – I have no interest in being a Movie Director. The physical shooting of a movie is such a chore for me, just a means to an end. But get the footage into a computer, and begin to tinker with it, and I am in my element. When I ‘marketed’ Dark Skies I basically told no-one about it’s progress, I released two really short trailers one month and two weeks before the launch, so it effectively came out of nowhere. It was really important to hit a deadline for me, since fanfilms were notoriously late in coming to fruition. With Storm Ahead I wanted to try the other extreme – so I started to ‘hype’ the film by creating a website as soon as I had anything to show. I would add to it every week with something new to show how things were going. I even decided early on that I would set a few release dates that I had no intention of hitting, just to see what this did for the films interest/hype.

After a few months of friends coming around to our house to watch Dark Skies (since no-one we knew in the UK could download a 70 MB internet file) Nikki suggested we hire a cinema for one night, invite all of our friends, show the film and then end those tedious ‘movie nights’ at our house, where we had to sit through Dark Skies over and over. I was dead against this, since this was a pretty big 250 seat cinema, and I was convinced about eight people would show up. But Nikki being Nikki took the bull by the horns, booked it, paid for it and demanded I produced an invitation for the event. I procrastinated – until in the end Nikki took that bull again and ‘designed’ her own invite. It was a valiant attempt, but made me cringe even more than the thought of showing my film in a cinema to eight people. So I produced an invite and she emailled them out to friends. At best we were looking at eighty people, which was adequate if not spectacular. One of the people she emailled had a son who was a reporter. He saw the invitation and decided it would make a cool news story for the local paper. He phoned and asked us if we wanted to be ‘interviewed’ We chuckled and agreed, thinking it would be a nice momento and some real icing on an already fully baked cake to get into the local paper. He came around talked about the film and then watched it, and said he would definitely get it in the local paper and perhaps more.

Two days passed with no more thought about the news story until Peter (the journalist) phoned and said that ”The Sun’ newspaper (the largest circulating UK newspaper) wanted to run with the story and asked if this was okay. Now I was officially freaked out. Contrary to popular belief, I get slightly embarrassed at this kind of limelight, and was cursing Nikki for bringing this upon us all. Nikki was loving it 🙂 That evening we got a call from GMTV (The biggest breakfast TV show in the UK) asking us to send them a tape of Dark Skies since they might run with this story as well. By this time I was reaching for the Oxygen Mask, and Nikki was jumping up and down with glee. A film was biked up to the studios, they watched it, and at 8.00 PM we got a phone call asking if we could come in the next morning to go on the show. Not just Nikki and I, but the entire cast. Sadly Jason (Anakin) couldn’t make it because of work commitments, but the rest of the cast got ready for a 4.00 AM wake-up call and a car to take us there.

We got to the studios and the butterflies had already begun for me. I tried to convince myself that everything would be fine, and because we were on so early everyone would probably miss our appearance anyway. One of the first things that happened was a PA came up to us and said ‘You’re the people that made that Star Wars film aren’t you – they love it, they’ve already played two clips (and the show had only been on for 20 minutes) Butterflies began to swarm inside my stomach, and then I saw a copy of the Sun newspaper on the table. I opened it up and saw a tiny picture on Page three and started to calm down a little, that wasn’t to bad – but then I read ‘See centre pages for story’ I opened the centre pages to see a Double Page spread all about Dark Skies, and at that point I new this wasn’t going to slip by unnoticed. 

My kids were 5 and 7 at the time, and likely to do/say ANYTHING in front of the camera (as had been borne out whilst filming) and we were just going onto GMTV – live. Anything could happen. The first thing that did happen was the ‘grown up’ cast (dressed in full robes) walked down some steps into the Studio with dry ice pumped around. My Mother-in-Law tripped down the steps and almost fell flat on her face – cut to David Nutley who looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. My worst fears seemed about to be coming true. The UK was going to see a bunch of freaks who made a Star Wars film make utter fools of themselves on live TV. But from then on everything went okay – Jack and Sophie answered their questions really well and made both Nikki and I such proud parents. After our stint we all went off again and I breathed a sigh of relief, we’d got through it. Next we were on again in about 45 minutes, in the real ‘primetime’ slot. We did this segment, they showed loads of clips from the film and I started to relax a little.

Once it was over we got into the taxi, and everyone was talking over the top of each other. I was fairly quiet, honestly just so relieved that we had got through everything and hadn’t made total asses of ourselves. I began to actually reflect on the entire morning and how weird it had all been.

Then Nikki’s mobile started ringing.

By the time we got home there were seventeen messages on the answer phone from various media companies asking for TV, Press and Radio interviews. In a period of absolutely no good news to report this was a ‘fun story’ for the media, about one happy family who made a film. A story to make people smile. Nikki has always said that when you are presented with an opportunity you must take it, in case you regret it later. So we decided to basically do all of them and see what happened. We did interviews for BBC1, ITV, Channel 5, BBC Radio, Wales, Leeds etc, etc. We even did radio interviews as far away as Australian and South Africa. Emails were flooding in from all around the world, people in Japan had seen our story in their local paper, Switzerland, New Zealand, Poland, it was totally out of control, and out of our control (It appears The Sun newspaper has a HUGE and fairly influential international online readership) The webstats on our site went through the roof. We had 250 thousand hits the day we went into the Sun Newspaper, and kept up these figures for weeks. In the end our bandwidth was measured with a TB after the figure. People were slaughtering the Dark Skies site.

Throughout this period we actually contacted no-one, they were all coming to us. However this changed when I phoned up Adobe and spoke to their PR agency. I was getting heaps of publicity that was totally useless to me. Nikki and I run a tiny advertising agency, nothing, nothing, nothing to do with special effects, Star Wars fanfilms or TV shows. Because everything exploded we didn’t have time to plan anything. Our company website was woefully out of date (and sadly still is!) so I thought of other ways to turn this publicity to some use. Someone must want a site that was gaining so many hits – so I phoned Adobe and Apple Computers. I asked Apple if they wanted to loan me an Apple monitor for a couple of weeks, so when I was being filmed, I would be filmed in front of their computer. I would then talk about how I made it on an Apple, and show the’ digital hub’ in action, in the real world, by a normal person. Perfect right? Wrong, they basically told me to get lost – which is why throughout all of the interviews, radio, tv and Press you never hear me mention their name, the most I’ll do is say ‘created on a home computer’ Bitter – moi? 🙂 Adobe on the other hand were great, and could see an interesting PR story. I did an interview with them, and blagged a raft of free software for doing it. My much loved Adobe After Effects 4.1 (which I made Dark Skies with) was now AE 5.5. Premiere, Illustrator and Photoshop were the latest versions, and Adobe had a link on the Dark Skies site and a little PR story to boot.

Our actual film premiered the week after to a packed house – some coming to see a Star Wars film, some coming because there were three camera crews there filming the event. Either way it was a wild roller coaster of a week that just came totally out of the blue. Once the dust had settled it felt really strange trying to go back to making Storm Ahead. In some ways it was almost guaranteed to be ‘less successful’ than Dark Skies depending on how you measured success. Over Christmas I asked myself why I was making this film, and came up with the answer I already knew. I wanted to see how good I could get at special effects, and use Storm Ahead as a ‘shop window’ to show my skills. 

I remember a member on the TFN fanfilm boards (ironically called Fourfools) posted a thread saying that a company called DVGarage were going to release a product called the ‘3D Toolkit’ It seemed to be just what I was looking for. A raft of tutorials held my hand through the creation of my own 3D models, the site also seemed to say that it came with a product called Electric Image – a 3D programme that had been used so effectively in my all time favourite Star Wars fanfilm Duality (If you haven’t seen it yet – you really should. It’s my kind of Star Wars movie and beautifully done) EI had cost a fortune, but here seemed to be the same product for an ‘early bird’ price of $99 – including training. I decided to take a leap of faith and ordered the kit. A few months past (where I occasionally wondered if it was a scam!) and then the toolkit arrived. It was jam packed full of great stuff, and tutorials that showed me how to create my own 3D – something I’d always wanted to do. Dark Skies used models other people had created, which I always felt was such a creative cop-out for me. This time I was making my own. Fairly quickly I was up and running and making my own stuff, and I realised this was why I was making another film – because I really got a kick out of creating my own stuff, on a computer for people to see. I made a trailer which basically showcased everything I knew at the time and I was happy that I was on the road. This diary basically charts the course of the next year as the film gradually started to go from germ of an idea to full production. 

Attack of the Clones was about to premiere and GMTV again phoned. They asked Nikki and I if we wanted to go to the Royal Premiere, watch the film and then review it on the programme the next day. This time I was all for it! Yeah GMTV. Sadly, since they had left it so late no-one could get tickets for the hottest show in town so that didn’t happen, a real heartbreaker for me at the time. Instead they did a couple of little slots on the programme showcasing the trailer to Storm Ahead, and again The Sun ran a double page spread – and again the phones started ringing. But this time we decided to say no to them. For a few reasons. 1. I didn’t really have anything to talk about, it was only a one minute trailer, and 2. I was paying a fortune in excess bandwidth charged for my website. Literally every time we went on anything I got a bill the next month to prove it. There was no point, and we had nothing to gain. We went on GMTV, the Sun Newspaper and Meridian (our local TV station) because all three were so great to us last time, really professional, and did a slick job that we were pleased to see.

I also got a call from a person in Sweden who wanted me to go over there, and talk about how I made my Star Wars film, all at their expense. Amongst others the roster included a person from ILM, a person from Digital Domain, and a guy who made a Star Wars fanfilm from England. Adobe phoned me soon after our return, and asked if I wanted to do a lecture on how I made these films, and how I used Adobe products to do so. 

Because I love their software I was happy to evangalise about it to whoever would listen, I prepared five shots from start to finish, took a video with me and Nikki and headed to London. It was at a place called the ICA and I talked through the shots, how I’d done them, before and after etc and then I showed the film. To end the talk we gave away free Adobe Software to people in the audience. Someone somewhere has the After Effects Production Bundle for successfully telling me that Anne Mears played the part of Emperor Palpatine. 🙂 After the talk we went to the bar and were swamped by people from the audience, everyone was interested in the film, how we made it and what we had produced. I got to talk to the lead UK programmer of Adobe After Effects and he said he loved to see his software being used by someone like me. He also told me just how easy some of the stuff should have been if I had used the programme to it’s full capacity :). There were people from the BBC (staff – not cameras!) Aardman animation and a load of fairly big cheeses – all who said they just came along because they’d heard on this strange Star Wars film made by a family from the South. 

Looking back if I could only have two things to take from this entire advetnure this night would have been one of them, and having a tape of my children being absolute angels on GMTV would be the second (much watched and adored – closely followed by my Mother-in-Law falling down the stairs 🙂 ). It was a blast for us, and really nice to see these people interested in our film. I was supposed to be paid for doing the lecture, a sum of money, and one piece of software of my choice. Instead I said they could keep the cheque, I wanted more software 🙂 So along came the Adobe After Effects Production Bundle, Go Live, Live Motion etc etc. It’s fair to say I now have all of it, and I now use it all the time. 

It is interesting to note how the stuff I learned while making these films has seeped into the work I was doing most of the time. Suddenly a clients website would have a 3D file on it, or a movie clip, or a fancy title sequence, all things I learned from making a Star Wars fanfilm. With the newly acquired software we now offer way more than we could before, and even my skills in programmes like Photoshop (which I have used since Photoshop 2) have greatly improved. This has been a huge, exciting learning curve that I have been able to bring to bear on my normal work, allowing us to do more interesting, exciting things for us, our clients, and ultimately their customers.

But it doesn’t end there. No-one has ever mentioned it (and I haven’t either) but my Uncle is called Colin Nutley. Do a Google search on Colin Nutley and you will see that he is a pretty ‘big cheese’ in Swedish cinema. One of his films was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for best foreign film (it didn’t win – he was robbed 🙂 ) He watched Dark Skies and seemed to like it, not so much the content, but the look of the film. When he saw the Storm Ahead trailer he asked me if I would be interested in working on something with him. Throughout all of this stuff it never really occurred to me about using this knowledge in a truly commercial way. I guess because I’m still learning, still have a lot to learn and will continue to learn. But suddenly I was being gifted a chance to work on something big, and real. This week the project has been ‘green lighted’ and I am beginning to do test shots at 2k resolution for a film. This is a huge opportunity for me, and the reason why Storm Ahead is being put on the shelf. In a way Storm Ahead was being made as a stepping stone to special effects – because of a lucky break and a family connection I am being given that stepping stone early. Even the biggest fanboy can probably appreciate that this is just too good an opportunity to turn away, and also understand why I cannot do all things – A full time day job, special effects for a film, and make a fanfilm. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and I don’t want to compromise the special effects by ‘wasting time’ on a second Star Wars film.

Storm Ahead isn’t canned forever, but it is in deep, deep hibernation. Basically I will be working on this real project for the remainder of 2003 so I apologise to anyone looking forward to seeing the film. Thankyou so much for all of your kind words of encouragement and emails, they were a great help. Because of this I have also decided not to release the teaser trailer just yet. Maybe later, in a few months, but at the moment there is nothing to gain for anyone. People interested will be frustrated, and I will have to answer new emails saying ‘Sorry, I’m not doing the film any more’ 

Talk about ending on a low point huh? The reason I have told you this long winded tale is (a) to explain why I am not making Storm Ahead any longer and (b) to hopefully encourage anyone who is thinking of making a film to pick up that camera, that mouse, and get working. Star Wars fanfilms can be an incredible opening into other things, for people that take the time to actually make a film, and not just talk the talk. What has happened over the past two years has been a blast, and WAY beyond my wildest dreams when I started making a fanfilm with set goals. I thank Nikki for most of this, for her persistance in screening the film – without this (and if I had had my way) the journey would have ended with TFN, and I also thank her for her constant support and encouragemnet throughout making both films. In fact, I’m sure Nikki will probably pursuade me to finish Storm Ahead once this next project is out of the way.

I really hope this story is proof that the world is crying out to see what people can do when they put their minds to it. Fanfilms are really hard work, and they are a long road to travel, but with a little luck (or a lot in my case) the rewards are there to be taken. I can honestly say that even if making a Star Wars fanfilm wasn’t life changing, it certainly may end up being career changing. It’s been a great ride, that just keeps getting better and better. I wrote tutorials, and I write this in the hope that it might inspire even a few people to pick up a camera, finish that effects test, or make a movie. If you are looking to make the world stand up and notice, turns out you can do a lot worse that make a Star Wars fanfilm.

31/01/03 A real tease…
Okay, I guess it’s a shame not to show anyone the ‘TFN’ teaser, especially since I quite liked it. Since the post above has been up for a good few weeks, and anyone that is interested will know that Storm Ahead isn’t coming out any time soon, I feel it is now okay to show the teaser.

It is being posted onto TFN fanfilms tomorrow morning, so if you are a really early bird you might consider this a sneek peak. But chances are you are actually reading this after it has already been and gone of TFN. So without further ado, I present to you the TFN 15 second Teaser for STORM AHEAD

04/02/03 Untangled Web
It’s a pathetic update, but I finally got around to fixing the front page which had a fair few rollovers that didn’t work correctly. Plus it now has a healthy dose of SHINE on the type to give it some pazazz.

Following the introduction of a Windows Media file in the TFN teaser section I have also recompressed the original trailer and now offer that in Windows Media format as well, especially for the PC community who cannot download Quicktime becuase of firewall issues.

Gone also are the on2 versions of the teaser and trailer, so now it is only available in Sorenson 3 or Windoze Media files. I may get around to updating the other files on the site to Sorenson 3 – then again I may not…

22/06/03 A long time ago…
It’s been a while since I posted anything on this site, and it’ll be long time before I probably will again. Sadly this has nothing to do with STORM AHEAD, but I have nearly finished a website for my Uncle (the Uncle whose film I am working on at the moment) Not much interest for a Star Wars fan, but possibly interesting for people wondering what I am working on instead. That said, the film I am working on isn’t posted onto the site yet, but will begin to appear in the coming months.

Waffle aside click on to see what he has been up to over the past twenty years, and what I have been working on for the past few weeks…