Matthew Warner

Movie Production Update

Production of The Cryonic Pharaoh is coming along. I’ve only shot about 4 minutes of this 40-minute movie, but I am learning a ton about motion-capture animation, 3D modeling, Unreal Engine, and cinematography. Although I’ve never been to graduate school, I feel like I’m going through it now. I work on it a couple hours a day.

I don’t (yet) own a $4000 body + finger motion capture solution from Rokoko or the $3600 desktop computer with a high-powered GPU that would probably be necessary to operate it properly. Not to mention the new $1695 Rokoko signal booster to really soup things up. I do play the Virginia lottery sometimes, though; you never know. But you know what, I don’t want to shell out for that level of equipment yet—and the reason isn’t totally financial.

To explain that, let’s consider my 12-year-old son Thomas, who a couple months ago began taking Kendo from Staunton Parks & Recreation. Kendo is Japanese fencing. Its practitioners dress like the Elite Praetorian Guard from Star Wars, more or less. They scream at each other in Japanese as they strike with two-handed practice swords called shinai. It looks like fun. Thomas’ sensei discourages purchasing any equipment for the first few months, and then recommends only buying a shinai, which can be borrowed until then. A while after that, he says, buy the black robe. And after more time has passed, some armor, such as the fencing helmet or chest piece.

The reason for this delayed, gradual purchase of hardware is twofold. First, that shit is expensive. Second, learning a martial art is a long-term commitment. It may take years to develop proficiency. So does it make any sense to shell out for weapons, uniforms, and armor until the pursuit has become part of you? I imagine each acquisition has a psychological aspect. In the mirror, you slowly and literally become a Kendo warrior. Wearing too much of the costume too soon might give you imposter syndrome.

Likewise, I hope you see where I’m going with the prospect of nearly $10,000 in state-of-the-art motion capture technology. I may make another animated film after The Cryonic Pharaoh, and I may not. Right now, I can’t see my path beyond the next five feet of cobblestone, which I found with a compass pointing vaguely in the direction of the film’s completion. Making this movie is every bit a journey that writing a novel or learning a martial art is, and I’m fine with that. But I’m also fine with tabling the decision of whether to permanently change hobbies.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu, on the other hand? Hell yeah, I didn’t hesitate to pay for the leglock seminar I’m attending this weekend. BJJ is part of who I am. Next weekend, I will uke (live training dummy) for my buddy Brian Rose during his black belt test, the culmination of I believe 15 years of training for him. In the fall of 2024, I plan to be ready for my brown belt test. It will require a continued regimen of attending classes 2-3 times a week and also teaching.

Back to The Cryonic Pharaoh. With the recent addition of the Metahuman Animator facial mocap technology to Unreal Engine, film shooting will move into high gear soon. I’m spending hundreds—but not thousands—of dollars on stuff. My most expensive acquisition has been a $449 mocap system from Sony called the Mocopi. It’s not a $4000 Rokoko suit, but it will really help me create my own body animations rather than get them from stock libraries. My second-most expensive acquisition was a used iPhone 12 Mini for $320. Both Mocopi and Metahuman Animator require its super-duper LiDAR camera.

Altogether, I’ve only spent $1600 since I began this last November. $166 of that was a for a used iPhone X that I don’t even need now. $90 was for a 4TB external drive, and the rest were mostly $2-40 purchases of stock 3D assets, when I couldn’t find or make what I needed for free. Yesterday, after considerable deliberation, I ordered a $195 mocap Headrig from Rokoko (not including $50(!) shipping). This may sound like a lot, but it really ain’t. To make a movie on a budget of only a few thousand dollars is called a “no-budget” film, meaning the money is practically nonexistent. The Good Parts cost $5000, and I don’t think The Cryonic Pharaoh will cost half that.

It will be awesome to have the movie done one day, but I am enjoying the journey there just as much. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s the best attitude to have when learning a major new thing. Don’t worry, I will also release a “making of” documentary that contains all my worst bloopers. Here’s one from a couple days ago. I learned not to clap your hands between your face and the iPhone camera.