I have to admit - there are some things you get the opportunity to do for work that you loathe. And there are things you get to do that are so fun and awesome you really want to pinch yourself and make sure you're not dreaming; you can't believe you're getting paid to do what you love. This is how I feel about cinematography - working as a director of photography in film; it's just all so fun and cool...
"THE LONG WAY HOME" was a project I worked on inspired by grid-lock and the horrific traffic you experience when you live in Southern California. Many times I wish I had a hover-car or a large mech that I could simply walk over the fools in front of me to get to where I am going. Not that I want to crush people or anything like that... but think of it as demolition derby meets death race meets mech warrior. I was talking to a friend in Hollywood who laughed and said, "We ought to film something like that." And the rest is pretty much history. I was tasked with designed and building two different machines. The "Hero" mech and the "Bad Guy" flying marauder. I went to the local thrift stores and hobby shops, purchased several model kits, some odds and ends, a broken robotic T-Rex from the thrift store, and I purchased a couple of model paint kits.
I designed the "Marauder" by taking the cockpit area of an Apache Attack Helicopter and the wings and engines of an A-10 "Warthog" fighter/bomber and cutting them together. The Mech was something unique. I used the body of an F-111 Steath Fighter and the feet of the broken robotic T-rex. The legs I made to articulate (we were originally going to shoot the film as a stop-motion video) - and I made them and the main drive train from wood and the odd computer part. I used a hard-drive enclosure case - one that had a metal mesh grill on 4 sides with LED lights under the grill to make the EMP weapon - the big "ears" on the mech.
Once I got into it - it took about 3 days to complete. I spent a lot of time on the paint jobs, making the fighter looked worn and beat up. I wanted everything to have a feel of use and authenticity when we finally got around to lighting it and shooting it. I wanted my mech to be unique. I wanted it to be a formidable machine - nuclear powered and extremely robust, like a stealth bomber on the inside with a hard outer shell more akin to something that might actually be built and not so much a futuristic fantasy machine. I wanted to give it the feel of what you might expect the guys who design and build nuclear submarines would make.
I created several mini-sound stages in my apartment to do the shoot. Originally we were going to shoot an entire scene and see how it went... but my friend who wanted to use this to get us both into the film/stop motion business - let the project blow up way out of proportion in his own mind. He decided we needed seed money to get the right camera equipment to shoot it. I wanted to use my Nikon D1x. It was plenty strong enough to handle the task at the time - which was 2007 - HD TV was still years away. We ended up doing a series of "test promotional" photos. And the project never happened. I did however make two really cool - original models which I have in my office to this day. And I got a lot of experience shooting models and miniatures. It is VERY difficult to shoot them and have them look real - full size. They basically have to be made perfectly, painted perfectly, and you need to be able to shoot them in lighting that is motivated for "real life-size" objects.
Visual Story is something you spend a lot of time learning in film school. Can the visuals of your film tell the story in such a way that the audience doesn't need dialog to understand what is going on... So let's give this a try! Here are the frames that I shot from the story that never got off the ground, "The Long Way Home"
The answer is yes... I built a cockpit set in my office. It was made out of foam-core board (black) - my tablet and PC monitor - some transparencies with a fake HUD printed on them, a bunch of computer cables and wires, and an old flight simulator joystick. :D
Honesty I can't remember a time when I had THIS much fun shooting something. It was all about problem solving. Really fun stuff.
The cockpit was a trip. I made cardboard arms for my office chair - then set the joystick inside and taped the mess out of it. The flight-suit is a real flight-suit - purchased at a military surplus store. So where the emblems on his suit. There was the old vacuum cleaner hose that was used for his life support and the helmet was a thrift store buy - I taped over the "Yamaha" logo on the top of it. Before the SyFy network was doing stuff like this - I was there in my apartment doing it.