Race Across Space
A Blog Post By Greg
Let’s be honest with ourselves – there have been a fair few surprises this year. As a few people who have seen my ‘Non-Psychic ‘Psychic’ Show’ have said, perhaps I should have seen it coming, but in the real world we all find ourselves doing things we hadn’t expected.
In August and early September I had expected to be out performing shows for the whole month – the Isle of Wight Steam Show, Bekonskot Model Village and the Legendary Llangollen Fairy Festival were just some of the events at which I had been expecting to perform over the summer. What I had not expected was to spend most of my time in the latter half of August and the first half of September writing, filming, and creating computer generated animations for a short science-fiction film set around a team of pilots racing across space. Especially with the spacecraft pilots including marionettes, eggs, and Dodos!
Indeed, Dodos have become a big part of our lives since April. What was once a term for extinct flightless birds has now become one of the most commonly used words around our house. Questions like ‘what colour beak should this Dodo have’ or ‘I think the Dodos will really enjoy this’ have become commonplace. For those of you who don’t know, my sister-in-law Jenny started crocheting Dodos at the start of lockdown and, after we created a magic trick build around them, ‘The Lavender Dodos’ was adopted by viewers of our online shows as the collective name for those who enjoyed the show. We have gone on to create the ‘Lavender Dodos Assemble’ Facebook group, introduced ‘Sparkles, King of the Dodos’ as a character in the shows, and Dodos have become a regular part of everyday life here.
While the whole country was in lockdown we began producing the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show, a fortnightly comedy and magic show going out online. Initially we did this with pre-recorded segments and ‘live’ links, and then due to technological issues we started putting them out every other Sunday with a pre-recorded first segment at 5, and a live improvised story at 6 (which we continue to do). However, as lockdown lifted we started to see a drop off in the number of people watching the pre-recorded show as it went out, and most people were watching it afterwards. So we began to look at ways to modify what we do so that some episodes are designed with the live feel in mind, while others are focused on people being able to watch at any time.
This culminated on Sunday 13th September with the release of ‘Race Across Space’, the first time we have pulled many of the characters from the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show into an extended ‘film’ format, working together and interacting as opposed to all being in their own segments through the shows. If you want to avoid potential spoilers, you can watch the full half-hour film here now:
Creating a half hour film crossing through different characters created a new set of challenges. We needed a single plot that would run through and which would be engaging enough to keep people watching, but simple enough that we could bounce around the various characters (and even throw in some surreal moments) without confusing people or derailing the main through road of action.
A race seemed the obvious solution for this first film. As we wanted the characters to interact with each other, but we also needed to work with many of the characters individually to film, the idea of a race across space seemed to fit best, with each set of characters within their own craft.
Once I had the script written, there were only a couple of minor problems left. We needed seven spacecraft, inside and outside, and we needed to be able to create whole worlds for them to race in.
For the outside shots I wanted to use computer animation to allow us to build the best race possible. I have some basic knowledge of CG animation, but am by no means an expert, and even for an expert the idea of building all of the spaceships and buildings we needed from scratch would be a huge ask, but luckily I got some help. A company named KitBash3D create and sell CG models to use within animations and they had a range of steampunk buildings and spaceships available – and even better, they were prepared to help us out with a special discount to support the show! I now had most of the models I needed to put together in the computer and create the worlds, and animate the races.
We had only one minor issue. My laptop, which Felicity bought for me last year as a powerful laptop to cope with all of our usual computer editing and effects on our travel videos, couldn’t cope with the level of computer animation we wanted. So I then had to become a laptop technician as I bought some more RAM memory online and, with the aid of YouTube videos, upgraded my computer! It still took almost a day to render out each minute of the animation, and we had to delay the release of the film for a week as a result, but we could make the film we wanted.
While I was busy learning to be a CG animator and computer technician, Felicity and Jenny were busy making ‘real world’ magic as they painted the physical sets for our puppets and Dodos. Painting is not my forte (as proved on the one day I tried to help them, and in about five minutes made such a mess of the painting that it took the two of them much of the following day to correct my mess). Once I had been banned from picking up a paintbrush the set design and painting went incredibly, and there was a wonderful moment the first time I saw Bonnie and Any, our marionettes, in front of their set through the camera view screen, and it looked wonderful!
Filming was great fun, every time we added new characters to their sets, and got to try out their scenes, it felt magical. Most of the time, for reasons of time, space and equipment, if we need a backdrop we have used a green screen and edit the background in afterwards on the computer. So to see all of our characters in these wonderful sets was beautiful.
From there it was just a ‘simple’ matter of editing all of the different elements together, and adding the sound effects and music to the video. It always amazes me how much the addition of sound and music completes a video. We find the same thing with our travel videos, and I always like to spend a lot of time choosing the right music for the different moments.
As well as finding the right music for this film, however, I spent a lot of time trying to find the right engine noises for each of the spaceships – using everything from engineered alien sound effects to Aston Martin and aeroplane engines. When they all came together and we had the final video, however, I was incredibly pleased with how the whole film came together!
Just before I wrap up this little insight into the video, I feel I ought to offer up some thanks to all of those who helped make the film, and are responsible for it being as good as it is. Thanks to Felicity, of course, for putting up with my stresses over the computer problems, taking a starring role, helping create the sets, and everything else she does. Thanks to Jenny for painting the incredible sets, and making the Dodos! Also a special thank you to all of those people who provided video or character voices throughout – Robby Measday, The Captain of the Lost Waves, Steve Wardhaugh, Rob Norris, Pete Dodo and Amber Dodo. Thanks to Czech Marionettes who introduced us to our marionette co-stars, and Kitbash3D for helping us get the 3D models!
Finally, thanks to all of you who read the blog, and watch and share the videos which we create to help new people find them.
Thank you for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves and of each other.
P.S. While we wait to be able to do live shows again, our videos are the only way we make money, and we do this through the support of people buying us a ‘virtual coffee’ at www.ko-fi.com/greg.