Kinect for Filmmakers

I was hoping that people would take the Kinect, Microsoft’s new controller-less gaming add-on for their XBox360 games console, and somehow hack it into an affordable motion capture system for low budget filmmakers.  But I didn’t expect the progress to be so rapid.  Already cropping up on YouTube are videos of people using it to control virtual puppets, and using two of them at once as a real time 3D scanner.  The future looks bright not just for controller-less gaming, but for low budget filmmakers.  To complete the circle, here’s an actual real puppet reviewing the Kinect – a device which might not only cause the demise of his own felty kind, but by the end of the video seems to cause his.

I blather about Kinect for filmmakers for five minutes on AudioBoo here.

Building an IKEA Studio

MavArt Sound Studio A ProgressI’m currently building a small recording booth in my study using mostly IKEA furniture, so this article on MusicRadar How to Build Your Own Studio in 11 Easy Steps was a well-timed read for me (even if not all of their eleven steps seem that easy to me!).  I like their idea of plonking a whole new pre-built building down and fitting it out from scratch, but that’s not an option for me right now, so I’m using one side of my study/granny flat, some large IKEA cupboards, and some padding from IKEA and Clarke Rubber.  I’ll post photos of my progress as I go.

It’s not designed for music production, with sound proofing strong enough to acoustically isolate a drum kit.  I just need the ability to record voice and Foley performances without the sound of my PC fan and hard drives chattering coming through onto the recordings.

It’s coming along, but it’s taking longer than I expected (of course) and the booth door is still going to be a challenge.

The Wilhelm Scream

The Scream

Even as a kid, I knew there were sound effects out there that were being used over and over again in films.  Certain rock-falling sounds, certain gunshot sounds, certain horror sound effects.  Before I started to take a strong interest in post production I could tell that there were sound effects that “did the rounds” amongst sound mixers.

Tonight a student asked me about one of them and he reminded me that this one had a name – The Wilhelm Scream.  For a history of the scream (“screams plural actually) read this brief history from, where you’ll also find a list of films that it has appeared in. To hear a few different takes of the scream in medium quality, check out this freesound page.  Anyone my age or younger who has watched (and rewatched) films edited and/or mixed by Ben Burtt will instantly recognise the scream(s), but I didn’t realise until tonight how far back its history went – all the way to 1951.

Now if I can just figure out a way to incorporate it into a future project, I’ll be happy.

Star Wars Episode III

I just watched the trailer for the next (last?) Star Wars film. Almost the entire first half was footage and audio from the original Star Wars film (the film everyone else now calls “Episode Four”, but what most of my generation just call “Star Wars”) and the other previous films. The trailer looks great, with lots of shots that suggest some fun scenes. One shot that caught my eye was a brief one of C3PO standing in what looked like the hallway of the Tantive IV Rebel Blockade Runner, a ship we first saw in the opening shot of the first film. Interesting…

Will it be a good movie? There’s no doubt that it will be a great moment when Anakin Skywalker puts on the Darth Vader mask, breathes like Darth Vader, speaks with James Earl Jones’ voice, and is backed up with John Williams‘ Darth Vader Theme – I hope that moment is handled well. But will it be a good movie? Hmmm… It’s got Chewie in it (and a whole load of other Wookies). It’s got a big lightsaber fight between Anakin and Kenobi. Hmmm… Yes, it will rock. Yes. It will. It will (performs Jedi-mind-trick on self).

The trailer reminded me of my trip to Sydney in December 2002 where I saw the Star Wars exhibition. I took a few snaps with my 2MP digital camera of the props, costumes, and models on display. Here are some of them:

Star Wars Exhibition

(click for a larger version)

The Ladykillers

A review of the classic 1955 movie “The Ladykillers”, released on DVD.

image of Ladykillers title cardThe Ladykillers

I’ve been a big fan of The Ladykillers for a long time. My initial interest in the film was because Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness were in it, so I eventually tracked it down many years ago on late-night television. And it’s true that Guinness is terrific as Professor Marcus, and Sellers, in his first feature, showed a lot of promise – even if he was still a bit inexperienced.

image of Mrs Wilberforce
Mrs Wilberforce takes a nap – maybe for good?

But what I didn’t expect, when I first saw it, was to be so impressed with the whole cast – Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Danny Green, and most of all Katie Johnson as Mrs Wilberforce. This little lady, who was seventy-seven at the time, gives a quiet and almost minimalist performance that gently but firmly dominates the film, despite (or because of?) the fact that she is surrounded by the relatively over-the-top antics of the male cast. She is perfect, and this is a nearly perfect film.

I recently rediscovered and rewatched the film thanks to three things: Kareena buying me the DVD of the film (what an amazing new transfer compared to the versions I have seen!); news of a recent remake (the trailer makes it look like it could be rather bad, but if it leads people to the original, then it’s a good thing); and stumbling across a great web page that compares the locations in the film to how they look now (I’ve always found that sort of thing interesting). Here’s a review that contains no spoilers for the second half of the film.

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Suspended Alibi

A below average thriller that is interesting only for the glimses of a vanished England.

Title: Suspended Alibi
Where:ABC TV
When:2 February 2004 – 2:00am

As the film Suspended Alibi opens, all seems well in the household of Paul Pearson (played by a wooden Patrick Holt). Their house is large and attractive, situated in a leafy suburb that seems green even when viewed on black and white film. Lynn, his attractive if stuffy wife (played by Honor Blackman) sits on the couch wearing a starched dress and a concete hairdo.

Withing minutes of the film starting, she is screaming unconvincingly as her young son dangles a worm in front of her. I’ve seen Ms Blackman do much better in other films so I’m going to blame the script and direction for her passionless performance in this one.

But this peacefull if dull existence is not all it seems. Paul, a newspaper editor, has been having an affair with Diana, his fashion reporter (played by Naomi Chance, who manages to act around some terrible lines). So – right at the start of the film we discover that the central character, the one we are presumably meant to be cheering for, is a cheating cad. Mind you, given the bland stiffness of his wife Lynn throughout most of this film, who can blame him?

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Surprisingly good horror-action film from a first-time director. 8.5 out of 10

Title: Underworld
Where: Balmoral Cinemas, Screen 7, Queensland, Australia
When: 26 January 2004 – 9:20pm

I went into this film with very low expectations. The seen-too-often trailers for Underworld, with their Matrix-style slow-motion acrobatic gun battles and cast members strutting around wearing black clothing of various tightness and glossiness, made the film seem so preposterously pompous and self-consciously cool that I was sure it was going to be a silly, silly film and a drag to watch.
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