8 Oct 2014

Every Frame a painting

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

One of my fave things to do is read up about directors and the choices they make on set. I am “that guy” who buys the ultra special edition box set of a movie bluray bundled with never before scene extras just so I can get a glimpse at how a director achieved some of the things they did in their film. But another thing I have been enjoying recently is watching video essays that deconstruct a directors motivation for making certain choices in a film. In a lot of ways they help me analyse a directors film with more depth and appreciate the craft that goes into making a seemingly simple scene. One such group of video essayers is a youtube channel Every Frame a painting who debunk many of the our great (and not so great) directors and their various techniques with creating films.

Why do I love watching this stuff? Cause it makes me feel like I am not that far away from making the same choices as these guys. If anything it makes me understand the process of getting to their level (which is still a long way away, but I can dream…) and so it helps me see the road ahead and what steps I need to take to master my craft.

Anyways have a watch, get inspired. This video below is about Dave Fincher arguably one of the greatest directors of all time. Does this guy even make bad movies?

7 Jul 2014

Know your audience

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

I recently came back from a 48 hour film competition in China and had the pleasure of being treated like royalty for about 4 days. We were being looked after in the city of Changzhi and as a result were being filmed 24/7 for a reality TV show on CCTV. One of the things I did notice in crafting our film was when we were in the scripting stages. Jeremy and myself would sit opposite our producer/director Zon and our other producer Johnson and were in heated discussions about what the story should be about. We would argue that the ending should have been this or that, or that there should be a kiss, or that the character should react that way or what the meaning of love was. In the end it came down to cultural differences and obviously, because Jeremy and I were both from a western background, it was hard for us to understand the paradigms of what an asian audience would understand and how they perceive things like love and trust.

Ultimately we had to trust Zon and Johnson and our fellow actors that they knew better than us culturally and wrote the ending that they suggested. And in the end we won a trophy for our efforts and have a pretty cohesive story!

So I learned a valuable lesson. Write your story with the audience in mind. Write to someone. Even if the person you’re writing to is yourself, keep asking yourself “would the audience understand or relate to what I’m talking about? Will they identify with the lead character? Are these events they would relate to?”

Check out our film final here!

Changzhi 48hr film 2014 from Atom Media on Vimeo.

3 Mar 2014

Keeping it reel (you see what I did there?)

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: animation, Rants

So I have a tradition of producing a new reel every year and I do this for a couple of reasons:

It’s nice to see what you have done over the span of one year so you can give yourself a pat on the back.
It’s your calling card for potential employers and clients. You never know what moment will come your way and if you don’t have a reel handy of your most recent work, well quite frankly you’ll look like a C.H.U.M.P.

What makes a good reel I hear you asking? Well for me it’s a few things.

Firstly, keep it short. No more than 2 mins. And if you are going to use a song, use something that people can listen to first thing in the morning. Of course I am sure there are some employers who love listening to thrash speed metal first thing in the morning, but chances are there aren’t too many of them,

Secondly, only put stuff you have actually done in your reel. Or at the very least make it very clear what you actually did. I have seen reels that use small lower thirds titles to explain what they did in that particular shot. In my case I made a detailed list in the description of my reel of the role I played in each video. But whatever you do, do not put stuff on there you didn’t actually do! I know it sounds obvious but people do it. And guess what? They get found out. And believe me, no amount of googling is going to save you from being found out. You will get caught!

Thirdly, don’t use pre-made templates in your showreel. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen someone trying to pass a template as their own work (Videocopilot AE projects and Motion templates are the worst offenders). I mean sure if you’re a DOP and you use a template to spruce up your reel then I can forgive you, but if you’re looking to get into mograph or editing DON’T USE TEMPLATES! It’s a one way ticket on the chump truck.

So there you have it. Pretty straight forward stuff. So what are you waiting for? Get started making that reel or portfolio. Be ready to wow someone at that next network function/family gathering and show them the level of your awesomeness. And if you feel your reel isn’t up to scratch, make one anyways. It will be a good reference to when you look back at your work in a years time to see where you’ve improved.

In the meantime, here is my 2013 reel.


Nick Khoo reel 2013 from Nick Khoo on Vimeo.

26 Feb 2014

We got a review!

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

I know I bang on about my feature a lot but you never stop loving your kids right? Well a few weeks back I submitted our feature film Shot down for review over at filmthreat.com and essentially if you give them $20 USD they will basically give you a review. Sounds dumb I know, and they even say on their FAQ that they don’t promise you will get a good review. But I guess I wanted to know where my film stacked up and what areas I needed to improve on. Ultimately the goal was to get a fairly objective view and see what a person who didn’t know me from a bar of soap thought of the film.

Well I finally got the review back written by the awesome Mark Bell. Check it out here!

So some interesting excerpts were “As far as originality of narrative goes, there’s not much in Nick Khoo’s Shot Down that you probably haven’t seen addressed time and time again”

but they also said “The film has a great energy about it, and the imagery is stylistically creative, playing with the edit and utilizing effects and animations to make something exceptional from the common.”

and “The performances in the film are strong too”

So I actually found the review quite encouraging. Why? Because the film was entertaining. Not original, but it was entertaining! And as a first time filmmaker I was trying to see if I could hold up a 70 min narrative and apparently I did “exceptionally!”

So to everyone involved, give yourselves a hand. This was no easy feat and we gave ourselves this opportunity and no one can take that away from us :)

and if you haven’t already seen our amazing film, watch it here for free! Why? Cause I love you guys that much :)

Shot Down [The Full feature film] Duration 70 mins from Nick Khoo on Vimeo.

24 Feb 2014

Guardians of the galaxy – Meet Jean Claude Van Damme

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

I have prekeyed footage of Van Damme and the Guardians of the galaxy trailer, how could I resist????

22 Feb 2014

Jean Claude Van Damme film contest

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

If you head over to funnyordie.com they have a competition where you are given Jean Claude Van Damme filmed against a green screen which you can download and insert into a short film. In my opinion this is possibly one of the most brilliant short film contests in history! Check out the example the Rocketjump/FreddieW guys did as an example of what you can do:

And this was my attempt goofing around with one of the elements.

Sadly it’s only open to US residents and you have less than 2 weeks to crack it out but if you are a US resident and you got some free time up your sleeve you should do this. It looks like a wicked amount of fun and seriously how often will you be able to say you had Jean Claude Van Damme star in your movie ;)

I had met Craig at a party almost a decade ago but prior to meeting him all I knew about him was that he was a traditional 2D animator at Disney studios in Sydney. Of course being the animation geek that I was I knew I had to meet this guy and sure enough after meeting Craig I immediately knew that this guy was going to go places. And go places he did!
His list of incredible credits include working as an animator on animated films such as “Legend of the Guardians” and “Happy Feet 2″, the completely underrated live action epic “John Carter” directed by one of my fave directors of all time Andrew Stanton and of course the upcoming Marvel epic “Guardians of the Galaxy”.

He also recently just completed his first non-animated short film “The Uneducated” which took him a painstaking 22 months to complete.

I recently caught up with Craig while he was working at MPC in London (over the interweb, not in person sadly) to talk about he got started in animation, how he ended up working for some of the biggest names in the business and also about his fantastic short film.

NK: What got you into animation and was there a specific moment where it clicked with you that you wanted to do this as a career?

CR: When I was a kid, I always loved to draw and I loved watching animated films and Saturday morning cartoons. In many ways I learnt about the world first through animation. Learning about different animals or my concept of different cultures or
of what America was like all came through the medium of animation. A little warped my reality was, but quite a magical and colourful perspective. When I found out that people made these movies, I was hooked. I wanted to be where the magic was.

NK: How did you get your break into the animation industry?

CR: My mother worked with the neighbour of the Unit Director at Walt Disney Animation Australia. He was generous with his time and had lunch with me a budding animator, disillusioned with school. He told me what I needed to improve with my sketches, but mostly instilled belief in me that I could make it. I left school the next day and went to an art college over the next 2 years, I was applying to a traineeship at Disney and after being knocked back twice I made it in.

NK: When you started working at animal logic was the transition from 2d animation to 3d animation hard or had you always known how to animate a 3d character?

CR: Well, I couldn’t have told you where the shift key was on a keyboard. I had to do a bridging course in IT just to get into the 3D animation module I wanted to study. For me, it was always about the magic of flipping the pages and seeing your drawings come to life. Computers I had always seen as geeky and I hated them at first, but once I got over the technical side and realised they were just a tool, I learnt to enjoy and focus on more than just the draftsmanship of Animation and really get into the performance. I think I’m a better 3D animator than I ever would have been a 2D animator.

NK: What did you find was the biggest difference between animating in 3d vs 2d?

CR: You don’t have to draw in 3D. In a way, that makes it easier. You don’t have to think about drawing and acting, or about difficult perspective, foreshortening etc. It’s pure acting. There are also many different ways to approach 3D animation, there’s motion capture and keyframe, but also different tools that you can use. Sometimes I look more at the motion and flow of a shot than the particular poses, and find those nice poses later. In 2D it’s always about your key drawings, and therefore it’s very planned before you go ahead and animate. 3D can be a little chaotic, but you have the benefit of instant playback. Perhaps a limitation in 3D is that you can’t always get the really wild shapes that are staples in toony animation transitions. You’re locked into what the rig can and can’t do.

NK: And for anyone aspiring to get into animation what advice would you give them to get into the industry?

CR: I think life drawing still helps even if you can’t draw and are simply focused on 3D animation. Learn gestures, posing and anatomy, because it develops your eye. Also sit down somewhere public and watch people. How do they walk, talk, act. Observe as much as you can. It’s what actors do and you are essentially an actor who’s never seen on camera. Also this is an industry that doesn’t necessarily look for degrees (maybe in America) It’s all about your showreel. Keep working on your showreel. Do an action shot and an acting shot, it can be 10 seconds long, just make it the best you can and send it off to studios looking for an entry in. Get to know the people in the industry as best you can. My ticket in was my connection with the Unit Director.

NK: You just spent 22 months making your latest short film “The Uneducated”. How did the inspiration for this film come about?

CR: I had an idea swimming around in my head about some intellectual debates between atheists vs theists. I took the best points from each and chose to dramatise it using two children. As I mentioned before, I had a very magical perspective of the world through animation when I was growing up and I wanted one of the children to represent that, the other to be a child prodigy at the height of knowledge and existential strife- and let those two world views collide.

NK: What would you say was the hardest part about making the film?

CR: It was my first time in live-action film making. In animation you have the ability to control everything and feel out the performance exactly as you imagined it. With real actors, especially child actors, it’s a wild beast that’s in your reigns. Each take you’re trying to tame it to what’s in your head, but you have to let go and find out what it is. There’s a lot of thinking on your feet and you’re always racing the clock.

NK:How did you feel watching the film in front of an audience? Were you nervous? Excited?

CR: I really hate watching the film with people. With a film of this personal nature, it’s like you’re naked in front of them. But strangely enough, after it’s played, I had this confidence come over me. You kind of think well, it’s all out there, people are either going to like or hate me, but there’s nothing I’m hiding anymore. Also if anything sucks, you can’t blame it on anyone. I was the writer, I was the Director, every good and bad decision falls on me.

NK: You mentioned that you spent a lot of time doing visual effects for the film, what effect did you find particularly difficult to solve?

CR: We shot in a classroom, in the basement of the a school and recreated the sunlight, coming through the windows. We had always wanted a playground to be outside of the windows, so we knew that we’d need to recreate every shot a window appeared in with a VFX plate of a playground and children playing around. There was a lot of rotoscoping frame by frame and we had 70 vfx shots to get through, more than half the 14 minute film! It was a delicate juggling act with 3 compositors on board trying to achieve the right look consistently. There was also a shot with animation, which I wanted to feel like a child drew it. Each sheet was coloured in painstakingly with crayons, pen and paper, then scanned into the computer and touched up.

With the VFX, we’re getting some of the best compliments, being- ‘I didn’t realise there was any in there.’ Such is the same with animation. The best work should be invisible.


3 Feb 2014

Easy Kinetic Typography – An After Effects Tutorial

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: animation, Tutorials

There are heaps of Typography tutorials out there. So why did I bother doing another one? Cause mine is the easiest! Enjoy!

29 Jan 2014

47 Ronin OR how not to not write a screenplay

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

So it’s easy to be critical of movies nowadays. Everyone shares their 2 cents about how they could make it better and I am no exception. But with that being said, I still love going to the movies and although 47 Ronin was not perfect I still had a decent time and got what I wanted which was namely :

- Seeing Keanu Reeves in a movie again.

- Japanese Samurai fighting monsters

On those accounts alone I got my moneys worth but upon leaving the cinema it dawned on me that no matter how much money is attached to a film, for some strange reason the area that they could always spend more time with with the least amount of expenditure is the script. Why oh why did they just not rewrite the script a few more times? It wouldn’t have been that hard. And the mistakes to the story are seriously screen-writing 101 mistakes. *sigh*
And with that being said here are the top 5 things you shouldn’t do as a screenwriter
warning spoilers ahead!:

1. Don’t use dialogue for exposition
47 ronin opens up with 5 mins of expository dialogue that honestly bored the pants off me (don’t be afraid true believers, they definitely stayed on) and when the film finished I actually thought they could have easily cut off that scene and it would have still been fine. Yes it’s easier to open up a film using narration but seriously, unless you absolutely cannot think of another way to tell this section of story ( and I promise there is always a way) you need to show the story and not use dialogue to underwrite it all. At the very least don’t use dialogue, inner voice or narration as the spine to the movie. It is boring!!!

2. Don’t give your main character(s) no internal struggle

Keanu’s character Kai is some sort of half human half demon but in the end we find out that he’s just a human who was taught by some demon monks. In any case they didn’t quite explain anything. My biggest gripe with the character was that there no internal struggle in him. Sure he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Samurai but in the end what did he conquer emotionally? Was it his fear that he wasn’t good enough for the princess? Was it that he didn’t feel honoured to be amongst such amazing warriors? Was it he hated living in Japan and was white? In any case the gravitas of this character’s emotional journey was never felt and although the action scenes were cool, there was no weight or heft to the reason they were fighting.
3. Don’t make your antagonist(s) boring and cliche

A good protagonist deserves a good antagonist. The bad guys in 47 Ronin definitely felt they served a plot more than their own motives. Especially the main villain who was just awful. I mean he was smarmy and cliche to the nth degree. Yeah I know we’re supposed to hate him but I also want to respect how remarkable he is at carrying out his plan. But when push came to shove, you just needed to get him in a room on your own and cut him down. So lame. And how did Kai kill the witch exactly? She was much more fearsome adversary but I didn’t quite understand how she got defeated. Did Kai have some sort of special sword that was able to kill witches?
4. Make your supporting character serve a purpose for your protagonist

Well the movie didn’t completely blunder this up but it wasn’t exactly done well. If you must write a cast of supporting character with dialogue give them reason to be there. Essentially if they aren’t helping the main character achieve their main goal then you really shouldn’t write them into the story.
5. Spend the majority of your time making sure the ending is good

I’m pinching from Robert McKee from the movie Adaptation but I liked how he put it “You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit”. The end of the movie ends in ritual suicide! What kind of person would walk out of that thinking they were heroes? They all freaking died! A movie that also ends with everyone dying but with a more “honorable” outlook is the Last Samurai. You feel bad for the guys but you also felt like they went out with a fight. The end of this movie made me feel like Japan during the Edo period just plained sucked. It’s Harikiri for every bloody thing you do wrong.

There were more flaws but ultimately those were the most horrendous to me. And trust me I know these are mistakes because I have made them in every one of my films including this one I completed recently. Enjoy!

26 Jan 2014

Why Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. A rewrite

Author: nickkhoo | Filed under: Rants

One thing that always bothered me about the Star Wars prequels was Anakin’s journey to the dark side. To me the motivation for him deciding to follow Palpatine always seemed like a plot point to get to but not a true revelation of why Anakin becomes Darth Vader.

For those who need a little refresher.

Episode I

Anakin is a small boy who lives with his mother and is born into slavery on Tatooine. By chance 2 Jedi knights, Qui Gon Jin and Obi Wan Kenobi, come to Tatooine and come across Anakin when they enter the junkyard where Anakin works. One of the Jedi knights Qui Gon takes a shining to Anakin and senses the force is quite strong with him. After a long pod race and some wheeling and dealing, Qui Gon manages to secure Anakin’s freedom but unfortunately has to leave his mother behind. Anakin is soon flown to the Jedi council to begin training.

Episode II

Anakin is a teenager and is now training to be a Jedi Knight under the guidance of Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s also introduced to Senator Palpatine who suddenly takes a shining to young Anakin and immediately starts trying to win his trust. He also re-aquaints himself with an old friend Padame whom he helped rescue in Episode I. Padame is now a senator representing her country Naboo in the Galactic Senate. A threat looms to kill Padame and she decides to flee to Naboo for refuge. Anakin is assigned to protect her while she is on Naboo and eventually they fall in love. While on Naboo Anakin gets visions of his mother in pain and decides to fly back to Tatooine to investigate. He arrives a little too late and only manages to find his mother just as she is about to die. He flies into a rage and kills the tribe of Sand people that captured and murdered his mother. Anakin and Padame soon return to Naboo and decide to get married in spite of the fact that it is forbidden for Jedi Knights to get married.

Episode III

Anakin is now good friends with Senator Palpatine who starts asking favours of Anakin to spy on the Jedi council. Anakin reluctantly accepts. Anakin’s arrogance also begins to grow as he starts defying Obi Wan’s directions and believes that his true potential is being stunted by Obi Wan. Anakin soon has a vision which now sees Padame dying and as a result he starts freaking out that she will suffer the same fate as his mother. Palpatine senses Anakin’s fear and starts to feed him the idea that there is a way to bring people back to life but it can only be accomplished through the dark side of the force. Anakin soon realises that Palpatine is a Sith Lord and reports it back to the Jedi Council who take action. The Jedi’s come to confront Palpatine but unfortunately find he is far too powerful. However Jedi Mace Windu finally has an opportunity to strike down Palpatine and end it all but Anakin steps in and cuts off Mace’s hand. Palpatine uses this opportunity and kills Mace. Anakin pledges his allegiance to palpatine in exchange for his knowledge of the dark side and thus Darth Vader is born.

So on paper most of those plot points worked, but there were some fundamental issues with how we get there and to me a lot of it stems from episode III (which is still my fave but it definitely needed to tie up some of the plot threads better).

1. The love story didn’t make sense

I get that Anakin and Padame are supposed to fall in love and love is a major driving factor for people doing stupid things. And I don’t even think it was neccesarily chemistry between the actors that didn’t work. It was more the question of why were they attracted to each other in the first place? I probably would have written it like this…

Anakin is put onto security detail with Padame on Naboo and at this point is not interested in her. They are simply acquaintances.They get to Naboo and she gets a little bored and asks him to have dinner with him. Anakin reluctantly accepts and they have dinner but is a closed book about his personal life. They continue to do this over a few nights and every night Anakin continues to be a closed book about things. But one night he decides to open up and tells her about his life and how he misses his mother. As soon as this happens, an assassin comes in and attempts to kill Padame. Anakin hides her and goes after the Assassin. The Assassin finds Padame and is about to kill her point blank when suddenly Anakin comes out of nowhere and strikes the Assassin down. Padame is relieved and gives Anakin a firm hug. Anakin is overwhelmed with the affection from Padame and realises how starved he is of physical contact and the general closeness of other human beings.

They soon become close friends and spend a lot of time together but no one has confessed their love of each other yet. They then go to Tatooine after Anakin has his vision of his mother’s death. Anakin still attempts to rescue his mother, she still dies, he goes skits and kills the sand people but he never tells Padme what he did. He brings back his mother’s body and buries her. Anakin soon gets a call to go to Geonosis from Obi Wan to check out something. Anakin and Padame go there and unfortunately get captured and are still fed to the creatures in the arena.

In this moment before they are getting marshalled out they both realise that this may be their inevitable death. Anakin confesses his love for Padame and that the last few days with her have been the best days of his life and that if he were to die today he would have no regrets. She responds in kind and they kiss.

They get rescued and are taken back to Naboo where Anakin finishes out his security detail. They DON’T get married and simply maintain a secret relationship with each other.

2. Anakin’s turn to the dark side

This was a weird series of events. It wasn’t so much that the series of events didn’t make sense, it’s just that if it was going to be a pivotal moment in why the character becomes Darth Vader it has to be a true revelation of the character. Up to this point his loyalty to the Jedi order may have been a little tentative but deep down inside it seemed like he followed the rules because he believed they were doing the right thing. He may not have agreed with all the rules, but he still followed them! So it was weird that when Mace dies and Anakin realises what he’s done, he doesn’t try and arrest Palpatine or at least try and subdue him so they can lock him up. I mean he just saw how evil Palpatine is. Why would he suddenly want to pledge his allegiance to him? I mean Anakin’s probably relieved that Palpatine is still be alive so he can save Padame but he just murdered a whole bunch of Jedi’s. So what reason is there for you to pledge your loyalty and start murdering younglings?

Well if I had to redo this section it would have been that Palpatine found out about Anakin’s secret relationship with Padame in Ep II. He uses this info to blackmail Anakin into spying on the Jedi Council’s dealings and sabotaging some of the Jedi council’s plans making them look like they were the ones responsible for starting the Clone wars. During the same period the Jedi council is growing impatient with Anakin’s arrogance and are threatening to throw him out of the council. Mace Windu in particular is really starting to annoy Anakin. Meanwhile Padme is pregnant. Anakin also starts dreaming of Padme’s death. His anxiety grows.

Anakin begins to feel ostracised from the other Jedi’s and starts to confide in Palpatine particularly about his visions of Padme’s death. Palpatine then starts telling him that fear can be a wonderful ally and that if used correctly can be a source of great strength (obviously counteracting what Yoda said about fear leading to suffering).

Palpatine then tells Anakin about other aspects of the force the Jedi did not reveal to him that would help him save Padme. Anakin is desperate to know how to protect Padme and starts learning these new techniques not knowing that he is slowly getting seduced by the dark side.
Palpatine soon convinces Anakin that it’s the Jedi who will ultimately kill Padme and so hatred and distrust grows towards the Jedi in Anakin’s mind. This ultimately leads Anakin getting kicked out of jedi council as he is too arrogant to complete the rest of his training. Anakin soon finds out that it was Mace Windu who spearheaded the campaign for Anakin to get kicked out of the council.

Weeks pass and Anakin finds Mace Windu and tells him he just found out Palpatine is a Sith Lord in a bid to get back into the council. Mace takes a team to investigate and tells Anakin that if he is right he will reconsider his reappointment to the council. Mace turns up and confronts Palpatine ordering his arrest. Palpatine confirms he is a Sith Lord and then introduces him to his new apprentice Darth Vader. Anakin steps out and confronts Mace. An epic battle ensues with Anakin slaughtering the jedi and eventually cutting off Mace’s hands. Anakin exchanges some parting words and kicks him out the window.

Anakin then goes to the high council and kills the younglings and any other remaining Jedi.

Padme soon learns about Anakin’s dark side and the atrocities he’s committed from Obi Wan (killing younglings and jedi) and flees the planet. She has her kids but due to complications dies at birth (which seems a lot more plausible than her just losing her will to live). Obi-Wan goes to Mustafar in an attempt to stop Anakin’s killing spree only to be met by one of the powerful beings on the planet. Anakin’s strength is far too great for Obi-wan to overcome so he lures him into a place of arrogance and forces Anakin to attack him from the low-ground. Anakin of course attacks and gets dismembered and yes the rest is history.

so that’s my 2 cents on re-writing the prequels. Let me know if you think I am completely crazy and I shouldn’t be wasting my time writing star wars fan fiction or if you really liked it!