Before we get too far, I wanted to say I have long believed that some kid is going to produce a "Star Wars" level film complete with a great script and amazing special effects on his or her home computer. And there are thousands of us wanting to do it still out there. For the last decade, through failures and successes, I've tried to be that "kid." But it's a tough mold to fill, a lot goes into making a movie of that level, plus I'm not a kid anymore. However, I've always believed that DAZ 3D would be the key to that success. Simply because DAZ 3D puts an army of modelers at my fingertips, in a similar fashion that George Lucas has the entire staff of ILM at his beck and call.
For me, it's all about the models that DAZ 3D has to offer. I learned about DAZ 3D back in 1998, when DAZ was still part of a company called Zygote. I fell in love with the content they were putting out. The Millennium Dragon was the first model I ever purchased. I think a lot of people at that time had ambitions of making a CG movie with the Millennium Dragon. In fact, who wouldn't want to make a dragon movie with DAZ 3D's models today with all of the great animations and sexy armor they have up on the site? And although those early tests didn't work for me, my pursuit of attempting to make a feature from DAZ 3D's models gave me the confidence to integrate DAZ 3D models into my day job, which at the time was the pop-up graphic show, "Blind Date" and "The 5th Wheel." And though I haven't done a DAZ 3D feature yet, I've used the models extensively to create storyboards and concept art, thus allowing me more time to actually write my stories, instead of worrying about models.
As far as the project "COCKPIT" was concerned, I've always liked spaceships, and I don't think there are enough movies with them. I knew that any movie I made would have a limited budget and be limited to a few locations. But if those locations were a cockpit and a green screen, then the stars were literally the only limits. So, I wrote "COCKPIT" as a feature screenplay about a squadron of pilots stranded in their cockpits in space, struggling with what's real and what's not as they are hunted by an alien that can control minds. It has won two awards and was a finalist in several screenplay contests, but the comments of the judges was that the screenplay read as an "EXTREMELY HIGH" budget production, which is a kiss of death for an unknown screenwriter actually getting anything produced.
Even though 96 pages of the movie takes place on one set, the cockpit of the pilot's fighter, the other more ambitious locations such as the bridge of the carrier, alien barracks, landing platform, etc. were driving the budget up. So, with three thousand dollars out of pocket, I made the ten-minute short, "Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement" to prove to the studios (and to myself) that with the right stock models and a green screen, these locations were not budget busters and that a feature could and should be made. Remember the right stock models? DAZ 3D provided many of them.
"How would George Lucas start a film like this?", I thought to myself. He would request that ILM design a bridge. They would sketch up five or ten versions, and he would choose his favorite. In my case, DAZ 3D is my low budget ILM. I type in "bridge" or "sci-fi" in the DAZ 3D store search bar, and I see products like Kibaretto's "The Commander" or Stonemason's "Dark Star". I decide which best fits my story, plop down 30 bucks and get to work. The bridge of the Carrier Constitution was a modified version of "The Commander" product. The cockpit of the bomber was a stock space-shuttle interior from another site, combined with "Sector 15" by Stonemason from DAZ 3D's web store. The exterior of the patrol fighters were "Starhawk" models and the demon is the "RAWN Zombie" character.
The flashback scene was shot as a test in 2 hours in a garage. After a week of CG tests, the look was so cool, that I decided to write the carrier scene around the flashback. We shot everything else in 12 hours. The movie was shot in just 14 hours of total filming.
The CG was another story, because I was pretty much the only one doing all of these effects, and I have a full-time job doing graphics and animation for "Jimmy Kimmel Live". I was only able to work on the movie after hours and on weekends. Also, my wife became pregnant with twins during the process, so that delayed me, too. It took about two and half years to complete. I estimate that if I were working full time on it, it would have taken four months.
My process is as follows: After my script was written, I would visit the DAZ 3D site choose which models or pieces of models would best fit which part of my movie and decide which parts I had to build myself. In some cases, I storyboard by hand but my drawing skills are pretty rough, so in instances where it was important for cast and cameraman to know what I was intending to shoot (like the bridge scene for example) I would storyboard by using the virtual set.
After choosing and purchasing my models from DAZ 3D, I would load them into Poser Pro, and then export them into Lightwave 3D where I had greater control of the camera and lighting (editors note: you can also use the free version of DAZ Studio for setup of cameras and lighting). I'd also export a few humanoid models to use as virtual stand-ins. I believe I used "Michael 2" with the "Gramps Pack" for the Captain. I would storyboard my scene by roughing camera placements in Lightwave. Then I would render these images as my storyboards.
The storyboards become the reference for how we shoot the actors on green screen. We used a smaller green screen (15x15 feet) which limited the number of actors to about 2 in a shot. If certain shots required more, we would have to shoot them separately and composite everybody together. For example, the first shot of the bridge where the camera is panning 180 degrees around, my five actors' elements were shot separately, and applied to strategically placed polygons on the virtual set.
The nice thing about this process is that once you shoot your elements, your camera is already set up in the 3D scene to create your background. You just need to spend time improving lighting and making the textures more realistic.
Don't let lack of an FX team keep your movie from being made. There are a lot of small productions out there that are not complete and will probably never be seen by anyone because the creator is holding out for making all the models and props themselves. Don't get me wrong, it's admirable to be 100% self-created, but for me, story comes first. A good story is useless if nobody gets to see it. If down the road, I can afford my own FX team, then great, but if it weren't for DAZ 3D, this movie would have taken an additional 6 months to a year for me, and would be missing a lot of cool shots.