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Star Ranger 7's four year journey

Cast, Crew and Clients: Marc Kimball and Michael Harnois produce their own film By Ko Maruyama
In the 23rd century, Star Rangers are the peace keepers of the galaxy. For now they are under the power, Marc Kimball and Michael Harnois. It actually started back in 2004 - a whopping 4 years ago when Marc and Michael decided that they would take on a film production - - IN ADDITION to their regular gigs. They jumped, feet first into the project, enrolling friends and several feet of greenscreen.

Star Ranger 7 marks the company's third independent production. Using off the shelf software like MAXON's Cinema4D, Luxology's modo, Adobe's Creative Suite and SmithMicro's Poser. It was only a matter of time before Marc and I wound up in some of the same places (even if it took 4 years).

I asked Marc a little about what went into his epic personal production and you might be surprised to find it reflect the way you've worked on similar personal projects yourself.


Ko: Hey Marc let's take a walk down memory lane for a minute first - to four years ago in a land of slower, smaller computers. When you started working on SR7, what kind of hardware did you use?

Marc: Michael Harnois, my film partner owned a Sony PD 150 DV Camera, so we knew that keying would be a challenge. Our personnel and work schedule was such that we had to have a camera at the ready.

When I first started designing Ranger in 2004, I had a G4 Dual 800 4G ram / (140G Internal Hard Drive and 200 Startup Drive) at home. Most of the modeling were designed and created on this system.

At work I had a Mac G5 Dual 2G with 4G ram. (140G internal Hard Drive and 250G Internal drive). Once the models were completed they were imported into C4D for UV mapping & texture mapping with Body Paint and Photoshop.

K: Not top of the line for the time, huh?

M: No. In 2007 The Troupe purchase the first generation Intel MacPro Dual 3.0 MHz. (4 internal 500 G drives). More that half of the film was rendered using this system.

In 2008 we upgraded to a MacPro 2 x 3.2 Ghz. Quad-Core Intel Xeon with 8GB 800 MHZ DDR2 FB-Dim, 500G internal Drive and 2.5 TB Raid, Nvidia GeForece 8800GT graphic card, Kona 3 Card for video capture and display.
This is where I made up a lot of time and was able to complete the rest of the film s rendering and compositing.

K: But still enough power to get everything done.

M: Yes, the project was designed around the older systems and for the first year I was building assets for the film. Starting with the ships, Space station and Sets, all created on MAC Dual 800 and G5. It did take longer to render previews for lighting and texture maps, but I was use that. But when it came down to the compositing and 3D animations for final effects It was amazing how fast and more creative I could work with the New 8 core mac pro systems.

K: At the time, after you finished the final script, did you have software to help you in storyboarding or previz? Or did you do it by hand, if at all?

M: Once the script was completed I took a few weeks and created hand drawn boards on paper. Rough drawings for position only. . .  nothing like what Hollywood would create). We then scanned them and merged the script with the drawings in a Word doc. I then created an itemized list of every ship, space station, sets and digital props and CGI actors I would need for the movie.

K: Digital Props? Did you have to build in practical props between the actors and CG props or actor to CG actor?

M: In the film their were only a few places where the actor had to interact with an CGI Character. We sometimes used a C-Stand or a person to stand-in where an CGI actor would be. In the end I thought we pulled it off. We did build set pieces for the Star Ranger Cockpit, Guns, anything actors had to pickup or touch but we did it on the cheap side like going to the dollar store to pick up two flashlights for the joysticks, old mac keyboard buttons.

K: Although you only had a Sony PD 150 to shoot with, you still went forward with your green screen photography, hoping to key the elements from the footage. Was there any specific software that helped you to pull clean keys, or to help soften and composite the resulting matte?

M: Yes. I was one of the beta testers for a new keyer from Red Giant "Primatte Keyer 3.0" which was design to handle DV compressed video as well has HD. I conducted some test shots that were shot on our digital green screen stage and was surprised how well it keyed. We knew that we d have issues with wide shots because of the lack of detail in dv but we were creating a very high-energy action film for the web and knew we could get away with it.

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