Sunday, 13 December 2020

Captain's Blog: The Festive season approaches

Wow; works is really kicking my arse right now, so had previous little time to do much of anything.

Work on Fortune and Glory has stalled, work on my secret TM project has stalled, work on my new MS project as stalled... everything is in hiatus just now.

Hoping to get some more free time to turn to production work again after Xmas, so we'll see....

Friday, 20 November 2020

Captain's Blog: "The Zone"

"They call it "The Zone"'; a precisely circular, 1 mile wide area of land in the middle of England. It sits there, day in, day out, swathed in mist, and formed into a dome that never strays more than a few inches one way or another, that covers the area to a height of 304 feet exactly, precisely in the middle; we know, we've checked. More than once.

Well, when I say “never strays”, that is unless it's had one of it’s periodic and unpredictable expansions the Zone goes through every now and then. One moment it's still, gently roiling against what to all intents and purposes is an invisible wall. The next, it's swallowed up a meter, two meters, 50 meters, a kilometre... in the 5 years since the "Event", it's expanded 8 times, all differently, all at different speeds, all precisely centred on ground zero. And no-one knows why.

No-one knows why it happened in the first place either, or how, but the Event changed the world. A mile-wide dome of mist silently appeared literally overnight in a field in England and nothing was ever the same again.

The first people to approach it were driven mad; the first people to try to breach it died; the first people who tried to harness it made it grow. Now, 5 years later, it’s 20 miles wide from point to point and exactly the same height as it’s always been.

They tried to investigate it, obviously. As I said, in the 5 years since The Event happened, it’s swelled 8 times and breached it’s containment on 5 occasions. They just move the perimeter back, now; it’s all they can do.

They sent unmanned probes in, of course. Every one of them failed; they sent in special guinea pigs; every one of them died. Then they figured out why...

Technology goes bizarre crossing what we call The Boundary; anything that uses electricity of even the tiniest amount stops working if it goes from one side to the other without suitable protection. And that includes the human brain. One step inside that misty wall without an isolation suit, and your brain and central nervous system stop instantly as every microscopic electrically charged neuron or nerve signal immediately ceases; at least, that’s what they told us. A quick and painless way to die, for sure, but not one I would recommend to anyone.

It took 3 years of hard, painstakingly gathered evidence to come up with a solution. Along with over 95 million pounds and the lives of over 400 people, of course. And that was just the start...

And then they sent us in.

Beyond the Boundary is a misty realm, dotted with the ruins of the world it’s swallowed. 20 miles of gobbled up land, complete with roads, trees, houses and dead bodies. Weirdly, the animals that got sucked in survived, and no-one knows why that is, either.

The problem is, you push past 20 miles and you don’t come out the other side. The land just gets… stranger. Entire ruined settlements that look like they came out of either a sci-fi movie or a history documentary, or sometimes both, dotted around in almost logical places. Odd objects like monoliths that have never stood on Earth rise up through the mists. And freaky things that have never walked the land outside a horror story call this place “home”.

And that doesn't account for the reports of survivors that somehow didn't get "switched off" when they got swallowed by the Boundary.  Or the other man-like figures that my fellow Pathfinders were always reluctant to put on official reports, for fear of the "scowl" and the inevitable hauling off to be psych-tested to make sure you weren't going to go completely postal at the next opportunity.  Me? I've seen things in there I don't ever want to remember, and certainly aren't going to write down here; I have enough of a hard time trying to blot it out with Scotch and deliberately pretendng some of it never happened without putting it here to constantly remind me.

We’ve been looking for 5 years; looking for an answer; looking for “why”. Why did this happen? Some massive cosmic mistake? A completely random confluence of events? A directed attack? An attempt to contact mankind, or something else? No-one knows.

Oh, there are plenty of theories, of course; an overlap with a parallel world; a breach between dimensions where they all bleed into one. The result of an experiment gone wrong. And that’s just the 3 that get the most traction. I’m not counting the bizarro ones, the mad ones, the internet conspiracy ones, the religious ones.

All we know is it happened, and the Zone is here now, and doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

And pretty soon, I’ll have to go back into it again.

Who am I? Well, I suppose introductions are in order. The name’s Ramsey, Michael Ramsey. More properly, I suppose it’s “Corporal Mike Ramsey, D Squadron, 22 SAS”, if such things still mattered. They don’t, incidentally… I’ve not been a soldier now for 3 years at least, and it’s been 2 since I last drove through the gates to what the smart arses in R&B call “the Foyer”, the latest incarnation of the departure point into the Zone.

It’s a square mile of concrete, muddy field, gravel and tarmac… which keeps being moved every time the bloody thing swells. I know it’s moved since I was last there, as I’ve seen the news reports; it grew again 3 weeks ago and another 5 miles of England’s Green and Pleasant Lands are now gone into that foggy hole where nothing ever comes back from.

Apart from the Pathfinders, of course.

That’s what we were called; Pathfinders. A good enough name for what we did. Trailblazers was considered a little too outre, and Guinea Pigs was frowned upon as too negative, even though that’s what most of us were.

20 of us to begin with, fresh faced, eager and from different backgrounds; scientists, doctors, soldiers, engineers; of those original 20, there ain’t many of us left. 2 died of some weird infection that they contracted on the other side; 4 died as a result of complications from injuries caused by accidents, 1 died in a scuba diving accident, 1 was a victim of a hit and run and another was murdered by his wife when she found out about the affair he was having with her best friend.

10 of us died fighting the things that crawl, flap and skitter on the other side. Occupational hazard, they call it, and it is, really. Not that it makes it any easier, of course.

I guess that leaves me and Ian Parker; he got injured rescuing a load of civilians who got caught in the Boundary when it last swelled; he still walks with a limp, but he managed to save 3 of them before the rest of the coach party crossed the Boundary and just “stopped”, as most things do. He’s project director, now; riding a desk and not a trail quad or armoured car.

And me? Well, I retired. More correctly, I was retired, mainly because of the way I drank, I guess.

Or maybe it was the way I woke up screaming in the night and couldn’t remember why.

Or the 3 times I nearly killed my camp mates in my sleep without even waking up.

My wife left me before then, thank christ; the last thing I wanted was to wake up and find me standing over her bloody corpse. I can’t say I blame her, to be honest; if I was shacked up with some borderline psychopathic loon who could kill a man with a toothbrush, I’d have fucked off pretty damn quickly, too.

So, I was psych-evaluated, poked, prodded, tested, considered “safe” to be let go, plied with enough secrecy documents to sink a battleship and quietly shipped off to my “retirement”, with the obligatory warnings not to talk about what I’d seen, or done, or I’d spend eternity rotting in a dark cell somewhere where I’d never see the light of day again. Either that or, depending on what I blabbed or wrote about and who to, end up meeting with a dodgy looking bloke at some ungodly hour with a sharpened umbrella or a silenced 9mm.

I wasn’t interested in either of those, naturally. I just wanted to be left alone to drink myself slowly to death, preferrably somewhere nice and warm and not damp and cold. That feeling brought back too many memories of fumbled, mad scrambling in the dark, running firefights and warm, sticky blood on my hands.

They replaced us as we “dropped out”, naturally; fresh meat for the grinder, all fresh faced and young, eager to please their superiors or governmental leash holders. Promises of fortune and glory, enough cash to sleep comfortably for the rest of your life, fame and celebrity always makes sure there’s a line of hopefuls from all over the world ten miles long, champing at the bit to step up and be the hero. I know; I was one of them when I started. That soon wore off, tnough, and I can’t say I was sorry when I drove out of those gates for the last time, hoping… dreading I’d never, ever have to go back.

Of course, I never expected to get a call from Parker. Hell, I never expected what happened to prompt that call, either. But, as one of my dead colleagues always used to say “once the Zone has it’s hooks in you, you’ll always end up going back, whether you want to or not”.

And I sure as hell didn’t want to. But I wasn’t given a lot of choice… and,to be honest, I think a part of me needed to go back, one last time. Just to… I dunno. Say goodbye, maybe?

Weird, I know. I don’t expect anyone who’s never been in there to understand what I mean, but there’s this niggling voice at the back of my mind that still, even now, whispers in the quiet of the night “but what does it all mean?”

I guess that voice is happy it’s got another shot at trying to find out. And, strangely, so am I..." 



Some snippets from a background document that details some of the story behind a project I'm toying with.... keep an eye out for more....

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Captain's Blog: Moviestorm forums rise, Lazarus like, from the dead!

Surfed in to flick across the MS forums for inspiration (as I often do), then noticed something...

The long missing logo and banner had reappeared (so used to a blank banner and the "logo" text in the top left it took a while for it to click....)

"Hmmm," thinks I, "I wonder if this means posting works again? I may as well try while I'm here...."

And, lo and behold, it does! So the forums look like they are back in business, for a short time at least.

I doubt it means anything in the long-term; I suspect it's a byproduct of the work they're doing on the site for FirstStage, their VR offering that they've been working on for all this time.  

I also highly doubt it means any focus will get turned back towards MS, either now or any time soon, which I believe is a major shame; with iClone now the only "affordable" (for whatever your definition of "affordable" is!) other option in the marketplace for 3d animation these days, there's a massive gap in the market for the ease of use, ease of pick up and ease of production workflow that MS offers (for those of us who don't have a bottomless wallet, a machine capable of challenging Deep Blue for computing capacity and more hours in a day than the 24 we mortals have to operate with!)

While I appreciate iClone (especially the latest version, where the gfx alone are sweeeeet), the majority of people don't have the time and money to pour into a bottomless pit to produce the kind of smooth produce that MS can still come up with.  With a bit of focus and effort on development (moving it to a 64 bit base for starters would be a massive help performance wise!), some clever marketing and a lot of extra content options (covering more than just the bog standard "contemporary" stuff it does, very well it has to be said), and a better modding workflow (especially for those of us who just want to reskin a model without needing a degree in rocket science to do so!), I reckon that MS could be lifted from it's position as the "also ran" of the second generation of home animation software into a real contender. 

Yeah, I know I gripe about MS a lot here, but that's because I am really bummed that it had massive potential and got kicked into the long grass.  I appreciate ShortFuse are a business, and have to look out for their profit margins and their staff, and especially in these volatile, Covid-strewn days that's more important than ever.  But they should at least make the code available if they aren't going to do anything with it, or drop the price to a lower level to try to attract people who haven't had a chance to experience it's little foibles yet.  100 sales at £50 or £75 quid for the product must be better than 10 at £150 (even my terrible maths knows that's a much better turnover than it must currently be doing!)

MS was a trailblazer and the real spiritual successor to the mantle that The Movies originally donned, in my opinion.  It made movie making accessible for everyone, just like TM did, originally for free then for a very reasonably fee (slightly less reasonable these days as it's been languishing for some long with no-one touching it), and there is so much more it could do if it was given a dust-off, a bit of spit and polish, an update here and there and repackaged for a new decade.

How's about giving it a try, ShortFuse? There's life in that old dog yet.  Just don't take it round the back and pop it in the head like they did with Old Yella πŸ˜‰

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Captain's Blog: Fortune and Glory Part Two released!

I'm trying to keep this to a weekly slot if I can, but ahd to rush to get this instalment done due to it being the half-term school hols over here in the UK, so had to use a week of my leave up to entertain my daughter; 4 year olds take a lot out of you at my decrepit age!

Anyway, Part Two is available exclusively on Vimeo as before, due to the strike, I'm not risking uploading this to YT, so it remains a "Vimeo Exclusive" ;)

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Captain's Blog: Privateer Part One and Moviestorm Projects for the future...

As discussed briefly here and elsewhere, Privateer is also a go!

Part One (reminiscent of my writing of old, in that it's 12 mins of mostly dialogue, required to fill in the background and kick start the story) is available in the usual places...

I enjoyed getting back into MS* and reacquainting myself with my projected "replacement" for The Movies; I could never get the hang of iClone (I just never had the time to delve into it's complexities, even back when all my free time was "free" to spend on movie making activities, and I certainly don't have the time (and money, and suitable machine!) these days!).  I'm just sad that Moviestorm appears to have just been dropped wholesale (despite the assurances as recently as 3 years ago that development was "on hold" while they concentrated on their new endeavour); no new posts can be made to their forum since July this year (it looks like the forum was effectively "shut off" around then); no staff contact works, the membership has probably scattered to the four winds and their only method of contact now appears to be through Leakbook (which I refuse to use for a variety of reasons), but it still does the job nicely, with all the extra content that's been added over the years by the talented modding community.

If only I could get to grips with the texturing and additional model content side of the modding workshop; I can bring in Sketchup models fine, but adding new textures to models is currently beyond me, which precludes certain types of movies from being made.

Still, got more plans for MS movies going forward (the resurrected idea for Shadows of Albion, my "between seasons" project vaunted in 2009 that morphed into me joining forces with K4 to create Blackstar Rising, went to my wife to be written then disappeared when her laptop effectively exploded and the WIP script (such of it as she'd managed to get written) bit the dust as she had no backups of anything; this one may be revisited and finally made as MS now has the available content to do a sci-fantasy tale).

Lots of life left in the "old dog" yet, and testament to the incredible community and developers who came up with it to begin with that it's still more than capable of turning out decent flicks even after 5 years of sitting fallow on the shelf, gathering dust...

 

* - as a "bronze subscriber" of old, I have the option to sub for a fiver a month or £25 for a year, so bit the bullet and went for the latter; as mentioned elsewhere on here, I originally thought that  £150 was the only perpetual option available, but there is a £50 "theme bundle" license that, because I own all the other packs I've purchased over the years, might be a better long term option when I've got 50 squid free to chuck at a piece of software; just about to go through the pain of moving home so have other priorities at present!

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Captain's Blog - Fortune and Glory: Part One released on Vimeo

Designed purely as a fun project and inspired by Biggsy's latest "experiment", here's Part One of a short serial emulating the 30's and 40s serials; no mods, music straight from The Movies game, no VOs and "silent movie" type title cards' enjoy Fortune and Glory on YouTube...

Or, alternatively, you can watch on Vimeo instead... your choice :)

UPDATE - I had a warning notice from YouTube arrive overnight saying it had been taken down because of "hate speech"!  Needless to say, I was shocked, appalled and concerned that something so innocuous would be seen as such, until I figured out "hang on; the Youtube algorithm has probably had a fit because of the newsreel footage of Hitler and the German army that I included as scene setting right at the top!", so have sent off an appeal against the strike and takedown, so we'll see.

UPDATE 2: They refused to reinstate it following an appeal, so I did write to them to ask what it was that was causing the issue so I could re-edit and reupload it, but no reply so far.  As a result and rather than risk any further chances with strikes against my YT account, I've decided just to up these to Vimeo in future rather than YT, just in case.

In the intervening time, you can exclusively view Part One on Vimeo at the link above 😁

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Captain's Blog: New Projects Underway!

Yes, I've at last sat down and started something 😁

First, a The Movies project, inspired by Biggsy's Last Day in Justice silent short. Very cool little short with some clever editing work and appropriate music, it inspired me to metaphorically punch some Nazis, so Fortune and Glory is on the designer's desk right now; no real mods (as my TM install saved folders appear to be pretty corrupted, and didn't install properly after moving from the (apparently) damaged backup drive I had them on.

Next, a project from an unfinished script I started writing years ago for TheBiz collaboration project, which I've now started filing in Moviestorm; Privateer, a steampunk tale of adventure and derring do in the clouds and on the battlefields of an alternative earth...  I just need to source a decent couple of airship models (as the ones available on Sketchup didn't really come out that well on import).

The second one has enabled me to reacquaint myself with very rusty skills and relearn how to do stuff in MS, so the first set of shots are a bit choppy :)  I don't really have much time to go back and reshoot these at the moment but will do so eventually; I just want to get the shots down and done first then see how it looks, then worry about the rest later.

I'm about halfway through the written script as it stands at the moment and I even remembered how to import Sketchup props so was able to find and bring in a horse-drawn carriage that enabled me to shoot the first scene and not have to completely redo it (I did cut a bit of dialogue out as it was getting very long and talky, so chopped a chunk out which a) doesn't add much and b) didn't actually take away anything from the story anyway, so it's all good πŸ˜†)

Deep War is currently on the backburner; just as Mr DeBoing agreed to start building some mods for me, his external drive went poof, taking with it all the remaining bits of Tank and any enthusiasm at present to do any mod work (despite his first attempt at the "hero sub" looking extremely cool!)  So commiserations to Mike there as he lost quite a bit of personal data, which is more important than him catering to some old hack in his kitchen writing scripts and coming up with little movies!

I'm also toying with finally getting around to Shadows of Albion, the long-teased and never really started sci-fantasy script I was going to do as my "between seasons" project (which instead turned into Conquest: Blackstar Rising", which I don't regret one bit.  Mixed blessing, as in the intervening years, MS now has sufficient proppage and costumes etc for me to finally be in with a stab at making this, so that's floating around in the back of my mind, too.

And the ever present, niggling beast of Odyssey that never seems to want to completely go away...


So, lots to keep me occupied... I just need to finish scripting and shooting all these and then see what's next 😊

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Captain's Blog: In which I go all "Youtubey"

Well, I've only just gone and done it!

I've finally updated my Youtube channel after years of neglect, and those who have an interest can find the entirety of the completed Odyssey episodes uploaded there if they have any desire to watch or rewatch them.

 The playlist comprises -

  • The initial subtitled pilot episodes (in all their "gory glory" πŸ˜‰), all combined into one long video;
  • The 6 part finale (my first endeavour to include voice actors), again combined into one long movie;
  • Episodes 1-7 of Season One;
  • Episode 1 of Season Two;

I've also included the Interlude Episode that was due to sit between Episode 1 and 2 of Season Two... and which now stands as the last existing Odyssey episode, effectively.

Well, enjoy or not as you desire; once again, even after all this time, honoured and humbled by the experience of working with a stellar voice cast which I was lucky enough to get for this, from the regulars to the guest stars... love yah all, guys, and thank you for allowing me to make my imagination reality with this, even if we never got to finish it!

As an addendum, I'm still toying with the idea of an "Oddyseymentary" to act as an overview of the series and outline what the actual plan and end was supposed to be; an insane, massively ambitious end it would have been, too, and with enough hooks that there could have even been a follow up (mostly planet-based, think more DS9 than S:NG)... but that's potentially a tale for another day... which is edging closer as I went back and reviewed the episodes when I uploaded them and got all nostalgic again...

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Captain's Blog: Lament for Times Past and Whither Hence?

 ...which is just pretentious double-speak for "what shall I do now?" and "where have all the flowers gone?", in effect.

Well, there's Deep War that I'm intending to make (underwater sci-fi mini-series; I don't have the resources, either voice actors nor time, at the moment to commit to a longer option), amongst a few other half-baked ideas whizzing around in my brain, but if there is no audience these days (with TMU seemingly all but abandoned except by a few die-hards and the movie site effectively slowly ageing away like a fine wine.... no surprise as the dearth of regular content over the years that's been uploaded seems to suggest), is it worth expending some much time and effort as I used to?

I'm being honest, here; I used to love making movies and a lot of that was satisfaction that the finished product struck chords with a lot of people who made some very nice (and, I'm pretty sure, overly nice) comments (that I'm almost definate in some cases were a lot nicer than the product actually deserved!)

Well, there's always a market for smart, intelligently told stories, so I'm told, so we'll see 😜)

Which segues me into my long point; whilst it's sad to see the old girl (TMU and the attendant community) slowly ebbing away, to be honest it's not a massive surprise.

Some left when their passion to make movies left them...

Some left when the cost of making movies became too high (either in terms of cash to purchase the needed resources to make the films they wanted to make, or in terms of time they could spend on such projects)...

Some have moved onto bigger and better things (mainly the iClone community, which appears to be the only one of the "Big Three" of my time still surging ahead, with The Movies slowly withering on the vine, harder to get working with each iteration of Windows, it'll eventually die off completely when the last user can't get it running on their machine, and Moviestorms left to rot as Short Fuse drop what could have been a world-class, easy to use animation engine into the dust to concentrate on their new VR pre-viz tool)...

(/rant on

In an ideal world, MS would have been kept running alongside the development of this, but sadly this ain't an ideal world; I can still vent my frustration at the company for not prevailing with it, even in the face of the obvious need for them to move on to other things to keep their company afloat.... but, still charging £150 for the full product (and a load of packs I don't need as I bought them with points years ago) as a permanent license is ridiculous, given the complete lack of support and development the product has had in the last few years.  I'd buy it in a heartbeat, I like it that much, but not for that price.  And there's no option for a permanent license other than that; everything else is "rent for x period of time".

Drop the cost and I'll think about my last purchase from you in deference to the initial efforts you put in to creating a decent tool whose future was let slip by lack of development and promotion, despite a glowing start.... 

/rant off).

It's a shame, but I suppose it was idealistic to expect the "old crew" to still be hanging on in there, 9 years after I had to withdraw, still soldiering on with the same passion, wit and intensity as when I left.

I salute, applaud and respect the efforts of thebiz, JohnnyEx, Mac, Bezzer, Biggsy and the crew (not to mention the Big White Bwana, Ken himself, without whom our little "haven of insanity in a crazy world" would have long ago sunk to the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker) to still keep the old ship a-sailing, even as the leaks sprang open and she slowly began to slip beneath the waters, but am resigned now to realising that those heady days of fun and laughter, tears and anger and late-night movie production meetings til the early (very early in a lot of cases, thanks Chris, K4 and NorrieπŸ˜‰) hours are long gone, never to return.

I've spent many a happy and nostalgic hour pouring over the forums and re-reading some of the old threads; remembering faces old and new, conversations, dramas, jokes and above all the hours and hours of effort we all threw into our passion..... making movies.

Well, for me at least, that passion has experienced a resurgence and I'm back at in, in some form or another, for a while at least.

It'd be nice if there were a few more of the old crowd still around who'd like to take a spin around the block with me as well, if only the "once around" for old time's sake...

Wow, that was a lot more melancholic than I was expecting to write, but "nostalgia weighs heavy on the soul and mind, as age weighs heavy on the body" as someone should have said (if they actually haven't already, and I'm just paraphrasing without realising it 😏)

Damn my stream of consiousness writing :)

Monday, 28 September 2020

Captain's Blog: Eldritch Part Three (Rough)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I managed to dig out some old bits and pieces of stuff when I started looking at getting back into movie making; one of these was the unfinished rough of Eldritch Part Three (available on Vimeo (and embedded above), as apparently the TMU movie site is borked these days and I can't upload or embed it there).

It has little to no music, is exceptionally rough round the edges and is definately showing it's age (don't expect a lot if you want to watch it!), but it showcases (I hope) where the story was going to go.  Featuring the acting talents of the esteemed Macwemyss, Norrie, Bezzer and the less esteemed me, I'm uploading for posterity if anyone has a hankering to see the unfinished article.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Captain's Blog: False starts and new beginnings...

After a false start... or two... or three.. years(!), I'm finally in a position to start thinking about machinimating again... but doing what?

I've managed to finally get The Movies working (as far as I can tell) on Win 10 (still need to check how it renders, etc), and recovered some mods, textures and even script files from an old hard drive I checked recently, so I've got at least a basic start.  But what to do with it?

Moviestorm appears to have shrivelled on the vine (sadly, as that had massive potential, but ShortFuse nowadays seem to be focussed on their new VR app and have left their former flagship project to wither on the vine like a red headed step child (shades of Lionhead there, I feel).  If they ever decide to drop the price of the perpetual license (I own most of the content packs and with a 4 year old in the current financial climate, shelling out £150 for a piece of software that I used to love, which has effectively been abandoned, isn't an option, plus I need the modding workshop which, last time I checked, I couldn't get to work, so that's not an option), I'd probably pick it back up like a shot.

iClone I just can't justify; while I have v4, I never really gelled with it and just don't have the time to devote to learning how it all works these days, plus the amount it'd cost to get what I'd need to do half what I'd probably like to with it just isn't an option.

Most of the "old school" team have gone, moved onto other things a loooooong time ago, and my old haunts and hangouts are nowhere near as lively as they once were.  I don't have access to the same talented crew of enthused people I used to work with, and I have a lot less time now than I used to have to devote to such creative endeavours as I once did.

But, I'll do something... even if just to prove I've still got it... but I dunno what, yet :)

If anyone is still around, drop me a comment below or even drop in and visit TMU again, even if just to shoot the breeze (although if you want to enthuse me with something new, I'm all ears πŸ‘‚)


Captain's Blog: The Festive season approaches

Wow; works is really kicking my arse right now, so had previous little time to do much of anything. Work on Fortune and Glory has stalled, w...