Top Gun Swede Part 3 – Special Effects

April 27th, 2008 by Clint

This is Top Gun Swede Part 3 – Read Part 1Read Part 2


Removed this guy from most of the plane shots.

One of my goals for Top Gun was to get familiar with doing basic special effects and compositing in After Effects. I had to remove the sticks from every plane butt, and had to remove myself from wider shots. It was lots of keyframed rotoscoping, and color balancing for the fill – I got to know www.creativecow.net very well. On my borrowed camera, lack of manual controls for aperture and white balance gave me four times the work I would otherwise have had.


Highway through the garage zone.

The green-screen shots use my home-built (PVC + sheets) backdrop. The green for the pilot shots was so blown out (bright) that keying out the background took a luma key first, and then a chroma key for whatever green was left. The “sparkle” from Maverick’s helmet is actually the luma key breaking through, but I didn’t have the time or motivation to tune it up.

I added digital clouds to some shots to try and give a sense of depth and speed. The radar shots are based on an online radar tutorial, and the missile lock overlays were manually animated to follow the planes. What a learning curve! I learned painful lessons that I’ll go out of my way to keep from having to learn again.

Thanks again to everyone involved. You make me happy.

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Top Gun Swede Part 2 – Filming

April 24th, 2008 by Clint

This is Top Gun Swede Part 2 – Read Part 1


Work on Top Gun started with building two plastic F-14 models. I embedded two LED’s into one of the models so I could light up the afterburners. I also found two same-size die-cast MiG-28 models at the hobby store. All the planes were hot-glued to sticks for flying around (scchheewwwwwwww!).

The missile shots are mini model rockets painted gray and filmed at the park. Some local kids even helped do a countdown to blast-off (“FWEEE! TWO! ONE!”). The shots launched at the camera were the best. I had no control over rocket flight paths, and knew I’d pay for it if I actually managed to hit the cameras. It reminded me of the time in college I fired a little multi-engine rocket that tore itself to pieces and corkscrewed after my mom and little sister – good times.


Model plane, glued to a stick, taped to a picnic table, camera sideways, and a mini rocket launcher at the correct distance to match the model scale.

The pilot helmets were all photoshop projects printed to paper, cut out, and stuck to a snowboarding helmet with two-sided tape. They looked a lot cleaner than I meant them to in the filming. My car’s passenger seat is the best all-black, close-quarters environment I have, so it makes a great cockpit. Most pilots were filmed in Aaron’s garage in front of my homemade green screen – I forgot to schedule no rain for the weekend.


Nick is testing out my helmet. Jester didn’t make the final cut.


The picture Goose actually took in the “watch the birdie” scene.

I tried my hand at storyboarding, and the drawings all look like I tried my foot at storyboarding. They were the crudest storyboards you can imagine, but Stu assured me in the DV Rebel’s Guide that they don’t have to be high art. They helped me get the scenes I needed, and helped organize eye lines and action lines, which were actually complicated during the dogfights.

“No plan extends beyond the first shot.”
- Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (Well, he said something similar)

We never got an aircraft carrier, even though one is parked in Alameda. No motorcycle ride. No plane ejection. We didn’t finish a lot that was in the production plan. I fumbled that plan into Swiss cheese, but I got enough to tell the story.

Read Part 3 – Special Effects

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Top Gun Swede – 5 Minute Short Film

April 22nd, 2008 by Clint

A short December post by Mike Curtis of the formerly Bay Area HD For Indies said I was going to have a long January. The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced they were hosting a short film competition at www.filmmakingfrenzy.com. Like the characters in Michel Gondry’s new movie Be Kind Rewind, we were to make a low-budget 5-minute re-creation of a popular film.

We set our sights on Top Gun, filming over three weekends. Jets and missiles (mini model rockets) were filmed in the park over one weekend, acting scenes over the next weekend, and pilots in the cockpit with voice-overs on the third. Post-production took every free hour I had for weeks, and an exceptionally patient Marisa to put up with the house in “project mode” the whole time.

Competition Description:
Fighter pilots don’t need a back story… at least not much of a story. We’d rather watch the dogfights.

Thanks to the cast, and congratulations on the final product. This was even more fun than I expected, and the results are better than I’d hoped for.

Read Part 2 – Filming

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Making short films is way too much fun.

December 7th, 2007 by Clint

We spent the weekend from November 2nd through 4th making a short film for a competition at the Pleasanton library. It was the world’s only 49-hour 48-hour competition because of daylight savings time. I picked up the rules the day before and learned you were allowed to do writing and planning in advance – whoops. I wrote for the first day, and we filmed the second day.

It turns out editing is not trivial. I spent half of the editing time getting video onto the computer, and the rest of the time learning from online beginner’s tutorials. Miraculously I got film from each part of the script into sequence, burned to a DVD, and delivered – with 5 minutes to spare. After catching up on sleep, I resolved to let it go and be more prepared next time – I don’t need another long-term project. BUT… I figured I could use the film to get more familiar with the editing tools, so I made this one more version based on the original footage.

The competition was part of a Film Noir program at the library, and most entries were detective noir, which apparently means black-and-white, big-band music, and borrowed Naked Gun lines. I wanted to cram one solid emotion into 6 minutes, skimping on explanation wherever possible. It didn’t work out quite like I’d hoped, but I think someday I’ll pull off a good scene.

We shot on 2 cameras, and making colors match takes genuine magic. Reading Stu Maschwitz’s DV Rebel’s Guide (which I first heard about on Marc Andreessen’s blog), I learned that people who correct color, and people who compile audio are 2 incredibly important and well-paid groups. Unfortunately I read Stu’s book after the competition, so the submitted film had no color correction or audio work done on it. This version is still a bit off, but my magic wand is on backorder, so this is as good as it gets.

The puppets were a joke at the audience’s expense. I wanted to get them hoping it would end before it even got started, so it’s a couple long stretches of dialog. I wanted it to feel like a couple rambunctious teens were making “grown-up” drinking jokes with dad’s camera. I spotted no fewer than 3 people in the screening turn to their friends in exasperation as it was unwinding – success!

Video is nothing near as forgiving as still photography. It’s obvious when you re-size or re-frame a shot because of the low resolutions. I had to re-frame often, and I cringe at the results each time.

I’ll end with a huge thanks to my cast and crew who worked way past bedtime for the sake of art, and to Penny Johnson of the Pleasanton library for putting on such an awesome program.

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