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Movies – in search of Space Monsters

Designing the probe sprites and AT-AT walkers in Photoshop

I think it’s interesting sometimes to see how people work.

Last night I spent an hour or so redesigning the probe from Hoth Strike to fit in to my HTML5 version of the game – Rebel Rescue. I’m using a full screen gradient that contains a fair amount of orange / yellow so I wanted to enhance the colours on the probe to better fit the backdrop. This involved adding a blue stroke to the sprite.

Photoshop screenshotphotoshop

Designing the viper probe in Photoshop

As you can see I colour fill the sprite to reflect the amount of damage it has sustained in the game. This is done with the Photoshop blending options – Color Overlay (Red 255,0,0)  > Screen. I adjust the slider to achieve the desired levels. The lowest sprite is pretty much 100% opacity.

I’ve clearly used a lot of license in creating these sprites !

I always find it useful to have the sprite at its 100% scale whilst I zoom in with a single pixel brush to add the detail. I added an in-game shot so that you can see how it should look in the final game.

AT-AT spriteThe AT-AT walker that you see buried in the snow started out as a 16 frame animation. I tried and tried to get a satisfactory level of animation but ultimately ditched it.

As you can perhaps see from the image above I  went to the trouble of articulating most of the “body” parts as separate layers in Photoshop. But when it came to actually performing some kind of stop-motion on them I just found it too hard.

That’s why the game changed from being an attack on the walkers to being about simply rescuing fallen pilots. I set the game some time after the events in the film and buried the walkers in the snow. Much easier :-)

The walker incidentally is hand pixelled. My source for the job was a toy AT-AT from my youth. Nostalgia at its best.

Wake Wood and the Hammer revival

Wake Wood poster imageWhen I was younger I adored horror movies. To a certain degree I still do although over time I’ve become less interested in the kind of show-me-show-me-show-me style of horror that studios spit out these days. Think Saw or Hostel and you’re on the right lines.
Those films have their audiences I know but they’re not for me.
I always much preferred ghostly tales. I guess this is why I fell in love with the J-Horror of 10 years ago – The Ring, The Eye, Dark Water. Essentially ghost stories with an original cinematic twist. But even they got a bit boring. A good idea is cool but not if it’s repeated 17 times.

Back in the day Hammer studios produced some real killer titles. As a kid I remember watching Dracula movies late at night on my old black and white TV (the ones where you had to twist the dial to tune the blessed thing in !). I must have been no more than 10 or 11 years old. The impact of those films is still with me today.

It was never really the visuals that gripped me more it was the story that was being told. There was (and still is) a penchant amongst British movie makers to have the actors tell you the story rather than relying heavily on staging or visual effects.

When I read on Mark Kermode’s Film Blog that Hammer was resurrecting itself and releasing stuff like Wake Wood I sat up and took notice.
It seems to me that there probably is enough of a retro fascination to see such films succeed. But I think in order for it all to work Hammer needs to stick to what it did best and not sway too far from what it was famous for. I dread the thought of Hammer going gung-ho for CGI in its films, for example. It really wasn’t what made them so good.
With any luck the script writers for the “new” Hammer productions will have a love for the classic Hammer. They’ll understand that there was always a story to be told before there was blood to be spilled. The story might never have won too much critical acclaim amongst the high-brow authors of the day but they were enough to set you up for a thrilling hour and a half of film fun.

According to some accounts Wake Wood falls down in the story department. I’ll reserve judgment until I actually watch it. But far more exciting for me is to see Hammer Horror appear in the news again. Hopefully this will give rise to many an effective spooky movie spawned from these fair shores.

A creative life

I think the first time I ever realised that real life wasn’t really all that good was around the late 1970s. As a 7 year old boy in 1977 Star Wars came at just the right time. By then I was already spending much more than 50% of my time in my own carefully crafted alternate universe, so to see this fantastic science fiction vision of conflict and self-discovery in a distant galaxy unfold on the big screen was pretty much to cement the fact that I should hand over a far greater proportion of my life to the “pretend” worlds.

Even at age 7 I knew I wanted to spend my life “creating”. With a pencil in my hand I could draw and write all of the wonderful things that I was dreaming up. And boy did I dream some stuff up.

In the years that followed Star Wars we saw such classics as Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner hit the screens. The timing of these movies was just perfect. In school I was surrounded by like-minded kids. We all dreamed of creating our own adventure stories. Naturally we all placed ourselves smack bang in the centre of each great quest. Our imaginations were running riot when the next great event in our lives came about – the home computer.

As 12 year old kids with wild imaginations and the yearning to create and tell stories Sinclair’s Spectrum, Commodore’s C64 and Atari’s 800XL provided a perfect outlet. We would quickly learn to write BASIC programs and before very long were creating and telling stories to one another in digital form. Anyone old enough will remember the delight of getting your first text adventure up on the screen:

You are at a crossroads. Do you turn left toward the Village or right toward the Forest.
(L)eft, (R)ight

Such games were a blast to create and a lot of fun to play. You never really knew the ending you just knew of a ton of great situations to place the player/reader in.

It was around this time in the early 1980s that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series of create your own adventure novels emerged. They were essentially the same as our simple text adventures but included a bit more of an RPG element in that you had to protect your stats and inventory. Who could ever forget their first quest in to Firetop Mountain ?

Shortly after what I fondly remember as an exciting and creative time in my youth the reality of life started to creep in. Exams and the inevitability of further education started to raise their ugly heads. I hated exams and hated school. I learned a great many things at school but nothing like I’ve learned since. I guess the most important thing that school gave me was a safety net. A safe place in which I could safely escape to my comfy cosy world where I would simply create. If I could go back to 1983 I’m sure I’d like to think that I’d do it all differently. Make more of my life. But to be honest I think I’d quite honestly do it all exactly the same.

So zoom forward the best part of 30 years and where am I now ?
Well I work as a web developer. I still create but this time I get paid for it. How long that will last I just don’t know but I’m enjoying it.
I also have a wife and children. I have responsibilities. I have a house to maintain and cars on the drive.
What free time I get is spent collapsed in front of the television or with my wife. It’s hard sometimes just remembering that there’s more to life than family and responsibility and that you are married. Life it seems is just as much work as work is !
I wouldn’t change it for anything.

But I still, all these years later, have the same urge to create and tell stories as I did when I was a young boy. I still imagine far off worlds populated by magical and mythical monsters and young heroes battling with ancient sorcery and fantastical weapons.
My outlet however isn’t a word processor to collect such ideas it’s a blog. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. I seem to spend more time talking about writing than I actually do writing.

So I called time on it. I decided to relive my youth and start writing again. Start creating. I’m pleased to say it’s going very well and I have a wonderful repository of fantastic ideas and mini stories taking shape. Long may it last :) What’s really incredible is that this whole process has dug up a ton of characters and story-lines that I dreamed up as a 10 year old.

Thoughts on a home-made ghostly movie

I am somewhat pre-occupied with the idea of shooting my own film. I have been for a while if I’m honest. Thing is, as much as I have ideas for a cool plot and visual style I have no clue whatsoever how to shoot a film. Even the basics are a mystery to me – framing, lighting and pointing a camera at the subject !
I could probably get by with my small family digital video recorder for the the simple job of shooting a rough film but for a larger more polished job I’m at a loss.

So first things first I think I’ll spend some time trying to figure out a story and cool characters.

In terms of a style I’m drawn to all things spooky. Supernatural stories always get me since I’m easily disturbed by things that I read or hear. Japanese ghost stories such as The Grudge or The Ring re-ignited my love of the genre a few years back.

So what ideas do I have ? What could I possibly come up with ?

Well for some detail I have to look back to the works of Lovecraft, Poe and even H.G Wells and Mary Shelley. I’ve read a lot of Lovecraft but not a jot of Poe or Wells. I recently downloaded the Frankenstein audiobook so hopefully in around 7 hours worth of playing time I will be that bit more enlightened as to the neat tricks of telling a spooky tale.
It’s the Victoriana that gets me. I love it. I’m often drawn to any television dramas that are set around that time – even though I may never actually watch them – since they are so stylish. I love to read about how people of a certain class became obsessed with discovery and exploration. What a magical time it must have been. Little wonder that H.G Wells, Jules Verne et al had so much to write about.

I’m hoping to just get as many ideas down as possible and start making sense of it all at a later date. Researching this kind of thing is a wonderful way to waste an evening once the kids are in bed. I can see some late night reading and web surfing with a low light and glass of whiskey for company.

Dracula 1979 – the awful transformation of Mina


Mina's awful transformation

Mina's awful transformation

The scene with Mina in the mines from Dracula 1979 on YouTube.

As a young boy watching the 1979 version of Dracula with Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Trevor Eve, Jan Francis and Donald Pleasance to name but a few I was horrified at the transformation of Mina. The effects of becoming a Vampire were so visual, so catastrophic to her that the image of her stumbling through the mines in rags and with those awful bloodshot eyes and pale, flaking skin has remained imprinted on my brain for the last 30 years. Utterly terrifying.

I don’t think I’ve seen too many scenes in a movie that have left such an impression. Sure the Exorcist had plenty scenes of a similar style but they were used so much you almost became desensitised to it. With this short 2 minute scene played out between Olivier and Francis (and later Pleasance) you have something that is both heartbreaking and horrific at the same time.

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