New Zealand producer, scriptwriter and animator Lewis Roscoe aims to produce the "world's first CG animated web horror series", The Arksville Homicides. We got in touch to ask Roscoe about the technology behind the scenes.
The series is set in the late 1960s, in the fictional American town of Arksville, Pennsylvania. It follows, as the title suggests, a series of homicides that take place in the town. Corrupt officials, organised crime and a satanic cult all conspire to make the manhunt for the killer a difficult one. You know, difficult enough to span a whole series.
Roscoe has been working for the last eleven months on the prologue and teaser for the series.
The aim of the crowdfunding campaign is to raise $10,000 to fund "roughly" 4-6 episodes, in a 20+ episode first season.
Roscoe plans to release one ten-minute episode every four weeks, via "YouTube, Blip.tv, Vimeo and other media formats". When the first season is complete, a DVD will be produced -- pledges of $50 or more include a copy of this DVD as a reward.
Hosted on Indiegogo, the campaign is set up such that Roscoe will receive all pledged funds, even if the $10,000 goal is not met. Thus, the more interested parties chip in, the better the result for all.
The campaign closes on 1 November.
The Indiegogo page provides a breakdown indicating roughly how the funds will be spent, a somewhat rare, but useful and encouraging sight in a crowdfunding campaign.
40% of the goal ($4,000) is earmarked for equipment (specifically, 'animation stations') to speed the CG rendering process. Roscoe tells us that, though he's "probably not the ... techiest person when it comes to hardware, at the moment I have an [Intel Core] i5 Quad Core 2400 3.3Ghz with 8GB RAM and an i7 Quad Core 3770 3.9Ghz with 16GB RAM, which share the render load." He aims to get at least another Core i7-based PC to cut the render time down by a third.
Most of Roscoe's PC hardware is purchased from local vendor and system-builder PB Technologies.
In terms of other production hardware, "sound capture is quite easy, you can use an iPhone to record foley sound (post-production sound effects) and clean it up on Audacity". For voice audio, Roscoe uses a desktop microphone with a windshield, and also edits in free software package Audacity.
A priority item on the shopping list is PrimeSense Carmine 1.08, an Israeli-designed 3D image sensor that can be used for motion capture. "Up until now I've been using off the shelf motion capture files, and then tweaked them with keyframe animation to tidy them up a little," Roscoe said. PrimeSense Carmine "will allow me to record everything myself".
Motion capture data from human actors is used to bring lifelike movement and expression to 3D animated characters, a very difficult and time-consuming feat to accomplish 'by hand'.
Most work is done in 3D modelling and animation package Maya, with Adobe Photoshop for UV mapping, texture and bump mapping. Compositing is performed in Adobe After Effects and video editing in Adobe Premiere. This is a common, well-established toolchain for such work.
All of the programs Roscoe has used in production have worked "pretty darn well", he says.
We noted that the rendering of the prologue/teaser shows good animation, but very basic lighting and texturing that make it look much like an episode of 1990s rendered TV Show ReBoot. (In today's animation terms this could be seen as a duel-wothy insult, but we are paid to ask the hard questions.)
This is at odds with the much more realistic texturing and rendering of characters (particularly faces) in some of Roscoe's behind-the-scenes footage and still frames on the website.
We asked whether this was compromise for the prologue due to the long render times he spoke of, and what level of realism he intends for the final production series.
Roscoe told us "The prologue was sort've a trial for me doing a massive environment (the big grassy plains) which meant long render times and repeated drab texturing, in hindsight I should've made it much smaller with seamless 2D Backdrops. Something I will employ for the rest of the series."
He has recently brought another animator onto the team, who "specialises in lighting", and spotted the same issues we had mentioned. "It'll be awesome to see the upcoming improved look", he said.
Given the digital assets being produced for the series, we asked if Roscoe had considered producing, or licensing someone to produce, a companion game to the series, or other interactive content.
"That would be fairly epic", he told us, and "if anyone is interested in doing something like that, contact me!"
Roscoe can be contacted via The Arksville Homicides Indiegogo page.
As a message to readers, he stated his mission is "to prove that high-quality (a fair way to go in my case) original (not pre-existing computer game assets) CG ongoing productions can exist online, without big studios backing them, home-grown, grass-roots productions made by people like the viewer, and if successful, show that in today's age of digital tools, anyone can get behind their computer and with the right level of commitment, make something awesome."
"There should never be a monopoly on creativity."