Category Archives: Video

Vanity Project: First Hurdles

No small part of the issue with remastering Star Wars: The Gifted is what’s left of it. There’s no original footage—only the final cut of the film. That means that everything we did to the original tape—capturing, rendering, visual effects, the whole shebang—is there to be worked around.

SWTG was shot on NTSC VHS tape, which in and of itself is a poor medium to capture from. Wikipedia tells me that VHS records 333×480 pixels per frame at 30 frames per second. The source footage was captured by Chris in an early build of Premiere at 640×480, at 30 frames per second. I believe it was captured using the old Cinepak codec, which would explain a lot of the artifacting and blockiness of the footage and why it kind of looks like an old FMV videogame. For an example of what I mean, check out the heavily- banded opening shot of a pan down to Earth, lifted from one of the movies and compressed all to hell:

In the real Star Wars film this was ripped from, the planet was detailed and had smooth gradients where here it’s posterized and flickery.

Still, 640×480 would be something to go on. I could reasonably upscale that to 720×480 NTSC widescreen and do my best to fix the quality issues, smooth out the posterization that happens with Cinepak.

Unfortunately, I don’t have true 640×480. I also don’t have 30 frames per second.

Details for SWTG’s final cut–the only remaining footage.

The entire film is at 15 fps. And many of the visual effects shots weren’t done at 640×480—they were rendered out of Premiere as 320×240 filmstrips that we edited in Photoshop. You can see which shots were done at 240 versus 480; the tightness of the halos on the lightsabers are a dead giveaway.

Click to embiggen. Notice the difference in compression artifacts and overall quality.

Chris and I split the VFX work, and since this was my first time using Photoshop, I did the task based on a tutorial he found online without too much observation of what I was doing. The tutorial gave settings to make great-looking lightsabers at 240×320; some of the filmstrips I got from Chris were 640×480, which meant the lightsabers’ halos came out tighter and more solid. (I also just flat-out did some of them wrong, but that’s another story.)

So the film was not only captured at a mediocre resolution using a weak early-90s-era codec that resulted in horrible-looking banding, but the footage I have left to work with runs only at 15 fps and frequently drops from 640×480 to 320×240. Further, the DivX codec used to export the final movie resulted in lots of blocking, ringing, and colour noise.

There’s a general rule when upscaling that the more source pixels you have to upscale from, the better the final product will be. That’s why some BluRay players do an awesome job upscaling DVDs. But I don’t have that luxury. Those pixels I need simply don’t exist.

I’ll need to find another way.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,

Trevor

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Vanity Project

2012-2013 is the 10-year anniversary of the first student film I made. I did choreo, cinematography and visual effects for my buddy Chris’ Star Wars fan film in the second half of grade nine. Armed with a VHS camcorder and Photoshop 6, we put together 17 minutes of fanboy magic that have formed some of my fondest memories of high school.

The title card from Star Wars: The Gifted (2002)

Chris posited in the film that George Lucas was a historian and activist, not a fiction writer, and came to Earth from Coruscant to spread knowledge of the Force and the evils of the Empire. The Jedi had long ago had a presence on Earth, and only the planet’s youth and insignificance protected it from the turmoil of galactic events. Now, however, the last vestiges of the Sith had turned their gaze towards the planet, and a pair of Force-gifted youth were mobilized by the spirits of the Great Jedi Masters to defend the planet from the insurgency. The two grapple with tough choices about their friendship and feelings for one another, as well as sacrifices they will be called on to make for the greater good.

Chris & costar Michelle as Eric and Robin, unassuming Force-gifted youth (Star Wars: The Gifted 2002)

Periodically, I’ve watched it and thought about our grand plans. We had entered preproduction on a sequel in my grade 10 year, with a full script, expanded cast, shooting models (one, a table-sized Jedi temple), props and costumes all complete. But one thing led to another and the product, and its final future episode, were abandoned.

While episodes two and three of our trilogy only exist in dim memory and dusty Word documents, Star Wars: The Gifted very much exists, and I’ve dabbled in remastering the film for a couple of years now. In 2010, I built some art assets based on conversations Chris and I had about what the original intent was for many of the scenes. We essentially set ourselves on the task of doing what Lucas said he was doing from the Special Editions onward: going back and doing what we would have done if we had the technology to do it.

..like seeing the Jedi Temple more like how Chris envisioned it and in line with what the movies presented, instead of not at all.

Some of what I’m planning to add or have brought into the mythology is new, of course, things we’ve spun since then that would better contextualize the universe. Some of it is designed to lead into sequels that never existed and never will exist. It’s a complete vanity project, meant to test some of my technical ability and so that I can experience this particular magic again.

There have been some things significantly holding up the project. For most of the time I wanted to do it, I only had a crappy laptop to work on. What Lappy can’t handle, however, the Obelisk, a fairly-new desktop built for editing and gaming, can do nicely.

For example, Lappy couldn’t even handle this quick colour-grading test from last year decently.

It’s time to stop doing tests and experiments, though. I’ve come up with some ideas on how to salvage the footage (there’s no original footage left, so all the remastering will be done from the existing final cut of the movie). Chris and I combed through the film to reframe shots and establish how we were going to add new visual effects or footage to make the story clearer. I’m sure there will be many more conversations about what’s going to end up in the final remastered version, and plenty of nitpicking over content.

Addition of badass spaceship: non-negotiable.

One thing’s for sure. Getting to see this old project fresh, being able to put this remastering project to bed, will be a way to exorcise some of my filmmaking demons. I don’t do as much film work as I’d like, but making short films just is not really in the cards for me right now. This is a low-impact way to complete a “new” project and turn something I was proud of into something I am proud of.

See it again… Or, more likely, for the first time.

More on the technical front in the next Vanity Project post. For now, I ask: what was your biggest Star Wars fantasy as a kid? I’ve fallen out of love with the franchise, but I can’t describe how much I loved the idea of being a B-Wing fighter pilot, like Rookie One was in Rebel Assault 2.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,

Trevor


Why Windows? (Video Redux)

Hey everyone,

So some time ago, WMPowerUser.com posted their call for video entries for a contest. Seeing as I was writing Why Windows? at the time, I figured I couldn’t go wrong adapting it to video. It answered pretty accurately the call:

Unless your device was supplied by your company, all of us made a conscious decision to buy and use a Windows Phone 7 handset.  Sometimes I am sure the decision is difficult for others to understand, given the small number of Windows Phone 7 users at present.

That is why we are running a campaign this month to help tell the world why we all chose to use the slickest operating system in the world, and to help things along we are offering cash prizes.

The competition is called “The WMPoweruser.com Why I chose Windows Phone” contest and will require entrants to upload a short video to YouTube explaining why you chose a Windows Phone over the other competing devices and operating systems.

So I did.

Here it is, for your enjoyment:

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,

Trevor


E3 Day One Roundup

Trying something different with Bent today, and as I know some subscribers/readers aren’t familiar with my entertainment-only stuff, I thought I’d post it here too! More to follow.

See more funny stuff like this at http://bentthepodcast.com!