Archive for the ‘ Pre-Production ’ Category

Lights! Camera! …

I simultaneously got lots and nothing done today. With a vague plan of beginning the shoot with the ‘alcoholic’ flashback (or more commonly known as storyboards 24 through 26), I went about getting the lighting set up. I’m currently still working on this. It’s beginning to dawn on me how difficult this task is going to be in the little time I have left and the perfectionist inside me is going to be the one to suffer if I’m to complete it on schedule.

I’m trying to figure out how to get the top-down shot of the machine in bed showing the full extent of the situation. I got inspiration from Andy Kennedy’s camera rig and decided to construct my own. It’s all nailed together, the tape is just stopping the wood from splitting! It will be fixed to the wall and will give a nice overall shot of the set. I held it up and took a quick snap to see how it looked from above..

Top-down camera rig

test shot with camera rig

The lights, I quickly realised, are much to harsh and cause the shiny bits of the machine to overexpose. I tried balancing the big diffuser I made yesterday in front of the suspended light but I haven’t figured a way to kep it from falling. I then made a smaller flared diffuser from cardboard, tinfoil and Ripstop Nylon. This made the light source slightly larger and softened it greatly enabling me to eliminate most of the harsh reflections.

Cardboard cut to shape and taped...

... cover in tinfoil ...

... form to shape ...

... cover with material ...

... and light up!

I haven’t decided on the final positions of the lights yet and have just been testing different angles and camera positions. I’m going for a sinister type of lighting and will do a small bit of experimenting to achieve the right look. The drinks carousel needs to display Isopropyl Alcohol labels in order for the scene to make sense. I will design these tonight so I can print and affix them tomorrow. I hope to shoot the 3 storyboard frames tomorrow.

Light experiment 1 (without diffuser)

Light experiment 2 (with diffuser)

In other news I figured out that if the tape speed is running at 7½ ips (inches per second) and that translates into 190.5 mm then when I’m shooting at 24 fps the tape will need to move at a speed of 15.875mm per frame. This may not be the best way to approach this problem of consistent spool rotation but it may be handy to know…


How to destroy the spare room…

I’m currently waiting on a few bits and pieces before I can start shooting this animation. My supervisor said to get on with it and just start but some things I just can’t start without, like lights for example. I ordered cable for my floodlights a week ago and am still waiting. In the meantime I’m trying to figure out the logistics of each shot, and also trying to design a cool way of representing the heart. Right now I’m thinking of using a handful of small watch batteries with little wires hooked up them. I have a picture in my head of how it should look so I’ll play around in Flash and see how it looks and if it looks good animated.

I’ve put together a (quite large) light diffuser from scraps of wood I found and some cheap material I bought recently. I have no idea how it will work until I get the lights fired up. I also decided to rip up the carpet in the room. Carpet didn’t seem very hospital-y. Floorboards aren’t ideal either but are somewhat better.

Prepping the patient

I'm usually a very tidy person...


Homemade diffuser

Homemade light rig

Don't tell my landlord!


I chopped up the storyboards in Photoshop and used After Effects to create a rough animatic. This now gives me a good idea of the length of each shot and the overall piece.

Shooting Sequence

I made this little chart to help see what shots I could get done at the same time. Shooting it out of context will save me a lot of hassle and time.

Shot sequence and continuity notes


Draft Script




Mechanical Sympathy


Tom McDermott











A medical chart is attached to the foot of the bed. It reflects the patient’s deteriorating health. This is displayed in frequency response graphs which are shown to have been getting progressively worse over the past few days.

On the patient’s bedside table there are various items. An audio equipment magazine is visible, its front cover featuring the latest in digital personal audio players. Beside the magazine is what looks like a box of tissues – in fact they are screen wipes. The table also contains a tub of cotton buds and a tablets – these are revealed to be LR44 batteries. The shelf below has some screwdrivers of varying sizes. A vase of coloured wires, with their ends splayed outwards to form a flower shape, adds a bit of colour to an otherwise dull room.

An array of machines are stationed at the bedside. All are whirring and clicking and performing a specific observing or assisting duty. It is clear that the patient is in a critical condition and these machines are providing life support. Suspended above the cluster of machines is an intravenous drip bag containing a black liquid. The label on the bag says “WD40 – 450ml”.

The wires are bunched together and all run in the same direction – to the patient. The IV tube is being fed deep inside the machine along with the various other wires.

Inside the patient there is a beating heart. There are various wires running in and out of the various arteries – RED wires in the arteries and BLUE for the veins. The heart is beating slowly and mechanically. This is the heart of a machine.

An old reel to reel TAPE MACHINE is lying on the bed. Attached to it are a set of 70’s style chrome headphones. The headphones have a medical ID wristband attached. The bed has crisp white sheets (apart from an ominous, fresh-looking oil stain) and one thin white pillow which is propping the machine up slightly. It’s outer cover has been removed and is suspended above the machine by a string and pulley contraption normally used to restrict movement of a patient’s limb.

The machine is in a bad shape. Silver duct tape is holding some parts together as is some twine. It is very dusty and old looking.  One of the devices is a microphone which is monitoring one of the speakers on the machine. This data is shown as a frequency response on one of the life support monitors.

The tape machine is active and a spool of tape is being passed through the appropriate erase and play heads before being collected by the corresponding empty spool opposite it. This action is assisted by one of the life support machines which is turning one of the internal wheels of the machine which in turn moves the spools. It is obvious that if this wheel didn’t turn then the machine would stop playing.

Behind the spools reveals the face of the machine. A set of eyes, eyebrows, a nose and a mouth are clearly identifiable. The face is visibly sad. A wash of cold blue light bolsters this feeling of melancholy.

The tape machine looks out through the slowly turning spools. It’s vision range is limited but can just about make out a few photographs in cheap frames which have been placed at his bedside. The first one that comes into view is him and his Cassette Player bride at the steps of a church. She is wearing a wedding veil and he a bow tie. The scene in the photo begins to play like a video clip as memory takes over…



The church doors open as the bride and groom shuffle out into the sunlight. There is the sound of applause as well as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Both machines are sparkling clean and the bride’s veil is blowing slightly in the wind. Their respective headphone sets are linked together to represent this new bond. The sounds get distant with increasing reverberation as the memory fades.


The machine’s heart rate has increased slightly and both the heart itself and the monitoring machines reflect this change. This memory clearly has had an impact on the Tape Machine.

The picture frame beside that shows a small red cassette Walkman and a small think pair of headphones with bright orange earpads. Again the picture starts to animate as the Tape Machine recalls a past memory…



Both Cassette Player and Tape Machine stand either side of a crib, peering in at their newborn baby. The crib is a product box with the lid open and lined with a small blanket. The Red Walkman is cooing and gurgling inside. The parents’ headphones are still linked together. This memory soon fades too.


The heart now has begun to beat quicker than before and the beeping from the life support machines have increased and become louder. New warning noises have also begun to sound. The WD40 drip is almost empty at this stage and the reel being played on the machine is about three quarters of the way through.

The Tape Machine looks away from the photographs, allowing his gaze to rest on a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. This liquid is normally used in minute doses to clean the play heads of such tape machines. Upon seeing the alcohol the Tape Machine becomes extremely anxious and a new warning sound begins to repeat from the life support. This sound is extremely shrill and suggests some sort of emergency. Oil begins to leak from the machine as it starts to rattle and shake.

Flashes of memories appear as the Tape Machine appears to be having a seizure.


INT. Grubby ROOM – LAte 80’s

The tape machine is surrounded by bottles of Isopropyl Alcohol. Many of the bottles are empty and lying on their side. The Tape Machine’s play heads are dripping with the liquid. The Tape Machine’s tape reel is playing erratically.

The Tape Machine has drunk so much that it goes on to get sick. This is represented by the tape that is being passed through the heads getting snarled and tangled up.


The machine is shaking uncontrollably. Parts are starting to fly off as a result and some of the life support wires have become detached. Clear liquid is forming around the eyes of the machine. It appears to be crying.


INT. Grubby ROOM – LAte 80’s

A close up of the linked headphones. The bond is broken as the Cassette Player removes her headphones and pulls away and leaves him.


Black liquid is leaking from the heart as it continues to beat at an extremely fast pace. The tape reel is still playing and is almost finished.


INT. Grubby ROOM – LAte 80’s

The tape Machine stands alone looking into the now empty crib. The child has also left.


The Tape Machine gives a final jolt. Suddenly the magnetic tape finishes playing from the reel and Red closing leader tape passes through the play heads. As it does, the machine stops shaking, the heart stops beating and the machine becomes very still. The life support also becomes silent apart from a 1KHz tone signifying the death of the Tape Machine.

The leader tape finishes playing onto the collection spool. This spool spins quicker now that it is not pulling tape through a series of play heads. A section of leader tape is protruding and causing a flapping sound as it hits various parts of the machine as it revolves. This continues for a few moments until the play head pops back up and the room is completely silent. The number dial reads ‘0000’. The headphone set has fallen to the floor.

Props 2

Now that I have my new story the hunt for new props has begun. And this can mean only one thing – more cycling! The bonus is that I am getting to know Edinburgh extremely well. I’m getting great exercise also, though admittedly just my legs. I’ve got the legs of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the belly of Danny DeVito. I could probably stage a one-man version of Twins right now …

This week I have been mostly collecting:

An Ikea floating shelf
Ikea Frack Mirror
Wallpaper Pasting Table
Set of drawers (Used these just for the runner attachments and threw away the wood)

I know it’s an odd bunch but trust me it’ll make sense soon!

That lot adds up to 16.6 miles. So let’s see what that’s done for the overall milage of the project, shall we? The previous distance was 41.6 miles so the new total is 58.2. I’d love to hit the 100 mark but I can’t see that happening. I do have a nice long cycle tomorrow though so you never know!

Watch this space.

*EDIT 08/02/11

4 bottle optic carousel

New distance = 62.9 m