by Eric Jacobus
I spent years doing traditional pre-vis (or “previz”) for action scenes in films and shows like Altered Carbon, Black Panther, and A Good Day to Die Hard. I took this overseas for Heart of a Champion and Man Who Feels No Pain. Previz is a video blueprint for a movie. They did one of the first pre-vizzes for The Karate Kid, essentially a walkthrough of the entire movie. You can see it on YouTube [EDIT: looks like the video is gone. Pre-viz became more advanced with digital filmmaking, which Yuen Wo Ping employed in The Matrix‘s previz, and with 3D tools in the sequel. Serenity‘s previz, done by 87Eleven, employed sound effects, props, and crowds of stuntmen wrecking on concrete and wooden stairs. This was probably when the previz market exploded. Every indie action filmmaker had learned camera and editing skills over the previous 10 years. They scored big Hollywood jobs, but those filmmaking skills sat dormant. Now they could be employed to full effect to sell a coherent action vision. (The industry term, in the action world, is “stunt-viz”.)

High quality stunt-viz became its own selling point. It became common to work stunt-viz into the budget. The market began to demand that stunt-viz include, besides choreography blocking, all camera angles, editing, sound design, visual effects, music, color correction, and if possible wirework.

The limitations of a live-action stunt-viz required constant re-shoots, repeated falls and reactions for the stunt performers (unwelcome wear-and-tear), and many late-night re-edits. The result was the equivalent of a short action film created over the course of a week or two, which the production could use to demonstrate its high-quality action team.

When it came time to shoot, it was anyone’s guess whether they would actually use the stunt-viz. Most of the choreography would inevitably be thrown out due to time or performance constraints. They threw out the entire rooftop stunt-viz for A Good Day to Die Hard, but I never found out why. They might use some camera angles from the stunt-viz, but the DP will have his own vision. (Forget even asking him to come to the stunt-viz session. He won’t.) And if they do use the stunt-viz edit, then you’ve found a unicorn, or the production just wants everyone to be happy so they can traffic heroin on the side.

At any rate, whether or not any of the stunt-viz was used in the project might not matter. The team still got a long gig out of it, and the stunt coordinator got a high quality demo reel with the stunt-viz.

Since then, previz has become an entire market. Halon, Third Floor, and every stuntman on earth has the means to create high quality previz. Some of them are ridiculous in their production value and have so much gloss they could almost be short films. Almost…

What exactly can you do with stunt-viz? Or live-action previz in general? You can polish it up and add vfx and try to make it into a short film. At best, it’s a bunch of stuntmen in workout pants doing choreography in a gym. Live-action pre-viz just doesn’t carry very far beyond:

  1. Reference for the production
  2. A demo reel to pitch for the next production
  3. Fun behind-the-scenes material that you hope will get a couple thousand views on YouTube

The Process Is the Problem

Live-action pre-viz is a process problem. The reason stunt-viz loses value is because film productions are linear by their nature. They weren’t always that way. Chaplin and Keaton films were, in a way, non-linear. They were like live performances when everything happens at once, only with a camera. Set-construction was Keaton’s specialty, and his gags hinged on this process. Chaplin would rearrange entire scenes to get a gag right. Jackie Chan, with the same live performance background as these Vaudeville performers, used the same process to make his great works. These productions were vertically integrated. The auteur‘s vision had perfect continuity because he exercised control over the elements of production. And that’s how you made good comedy. The auteur was a busy guy because he had to ensure every department carried his vision to completion. Or he just did it himself.

Jackie Chan editing Project A in 1983

The studio system commodified film by making the process linear. Set construction was graciously taken off Keaton’s back so he could focus on things the studio deemed more important, like learning his dialog lines to take advantage of the new sound capabilities of film. This was the death of Keaton and the rise of screwball stars who could say funny things in funny ways. Fortunately, Chaplin had a good voice… and his own studio. The filmmaking process would become more like an assembly line.

The linear filmmaking process.

The linear studio system is what we have today. It’s Netflix, Universal, WB, and Disney. Production departments have relative autonomy over their processes. There’s some oversight, but generally these teams are free to do what they need to do, but they do it with caution. Camera team will overshoot (just to cover themselves), and editors will edit the mountain of footage. When a single edit might work perfectly in a scene, the editor might use ten, because ten angles were shot. And you don’t want to throw stuff away. The camera operator doesn’t edit the film, and the choreographer doesn’t shoot the action. The common result is the “Blockbuster style” – lots of camera angles, lots of editing, lots of money. Bollywood and Chinese blockbusters are the same. The linear process is the antithesis of the Chaplin, Keaton, and Jackie Chan genius.

You got a job at Marie Calendar’s because they tasted your grandma’s signature apple pie recipe. Now you work the line building pies. There are fifteen stations of the Marie Calendar apple pie. Your job is to cut the apples. The guy down the line puts marshmallows in the apple pie, because they sold 80 million applemallow pies in China last year. You wish you could make your grandma’s apple pie, but hey, it’s a job.

The Non-Linear 3Viz Process

I did some motion capture for God of War and some other games. One day I walked past a sound booth on the way to the mocap stage, where a sound designer was working on the sound for today’s mocap shoot. This broke my linear filmmaking brain. How can you predict what the sound design will be for something you haven’t even shot yet?

Game design, and 3D filmmaking in general, is not a linear process. It’s a spiral. I snapped this photo of the game design process during a Unity presentation:

This isn’t a revolutionary way of thought. This is how great action and comedy were made almost a century ago. Sometimes, great ideas are very old. The process also applies to virtual production, which is when 3D engines and filmmaking cross paths. In a virtual production, you can motion capture animal movements and stream it live onto an LED wall or into a green screen, composited on the fly, and tracked with the camera movement. Once disparate processes of filmmaking suddenly collide into the same moment. The auteur’s vision can be executed at every second, but only if he can grasp the tech.

That’s the moment I took a right turn from the traditional, live-action world and began learning Unity, Unreal, MotionBuilder, and the Xsens system. We created action scenes using these tools, pitching them as high-end 3D pre-viz, which I dubbed 3Viz. With 3Viz, we could shoot and edit the pre-viz, or we could ship it to the production and let them do it. Reshoots and re-edits in 3D were as simple as moving some camera icons around, altering the timeline a little, and re-exporting. A reshoot might take a couple hours for a single person. The alternative was the live model, which meant getting our 15 stuntmen together again at the gym and re-shooting and re-editing everything.

The goal of 3Viz is to get the director’s action vision solidified before post-production, before cameras roll. The director might want to change the environment to accommodate the action. He might want a character to be 30 feet taller. Or move the sun 90 degrees west. All of this is 3D modeling 101 and requires a few clicks. Finishing the 3Viz mocap, shoot, and edit requires a team of 4-8 people, who can work remotely from cruise ships or hot springs at the same time and see live updates. The film is pre-finished this way.

The 3Viz is sent to all relevant departments. Art department replicates the textures when painting the set, carpentry builds the set that the director devised for the action, wardrobe is looking at the asset costumes, and camera team has a very defined shot-list. Any shots they can’t accomplish practically have already been sent to VFX, who are using the camera animations created in the 3Viz to build those VFX shots. VFX also have the motion capture files, character assets, and anything else for creating VFX shots in post. Publicity are using the assets for creating posters and social media posts to promote the film. Sound department is designing a soundscape based on the 3Viz edit. The composer has already playing to the 3Viz, and his music can be played on set like Morricone’s.

Cameras haven’t even rolled yet, but the film is almost done. During shooting, production can change the lighting on the fly to reflect the 3Viz using LED walls, and other lighting setups were pre-programmed weeks ago. Dailies are passed to the editor, who edits to the same 3Viz edit that he’s supervised for the past few months.

Post-production? What post-production? Clean it up, take a week-long vacation, and release the movie a month after shooting completes. The result is an action vision that is exactly the way the director planned it.

Cabin Fever is a demonstration of the 3Viz process which allows continuity of vision throughout the entire production. 3Viz can be a pre-viz and just stay that way. Only shoot what you need. Mocap for a day, edit for 2 days, and it’s done. Iterate away. But all the assets acquired during pre-viz can be kicked up to production and be worked into the final product.

In the case of Cabin Fever, the 3Viz IS the final product. With some facial capture, finger capture, asset creation, additional lighting and all that, we could have made it look as good as a Pixar film, but the action and the comedy, the bread and butter of the project, remain the same through all this. We hope you enjoy the short, but even more we hope you like the process. We cover that at the 5-minute mark.

Email me at eric@superalloyinteractive.com if you’d like more info, or if you wanna give it a shot.

Credits:
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY ERIC JACOBUS
PRODUCED BY ZAC SWARTOUT
ERIC JACOBUS AS “THE MAN”
DENNIS RUEL AS ZOMBIE, ROBOT, AND “BERNIE”
SET TECH/BEHIND-THE-SCENES/TITLES MARK R. JOHNSON
MOCAP SUPERVISOR/UNREAL TECH/MOTION EDITOR MIKE FOSTER
MOCAP TECHNICIAN CORDERO ROCHE
LIVE VCAM OP JEREMY LE
PA’s – CHRIS CORTEZ & DANIEL SHEPHERD

MUSIC: “HOME ON THE RANGE” BY CHRISTIAN LABRECQUE
“DAWN OF THE DEAD” THEME BY GOBLIN
“A HAPPY DAY” BY Z80
“GODZILLA THEME” BY ARTIFICIAL FEAR
“TERMINATOR THEME (COVER)” BY NEON FRONTIER

POST-PRODUCTION BY ERIC JACOBUS
BUILT IN UNREAL 4.23
SHOT USING GLASSBOX DRAGONFLY
SOUND DESIGNED IN ADOBE
MOTION EDITED IN AUTODESK MOTIONBUILDER
SPECIAL THANKS TO TJ GALDA AND ALINA KLINAEVA

CREATED WITH 3VIZ
COPYRIGHT SUPERALLOY INTERACTIVE 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Nerdmacia recently interviewed Eric Jacobus at FestiGame in Santiago, Chile about his work as a stuntman in God of War. Below is the Google translation of the original interview.

At Festigame Coca Cola 2018, we were able to interview Eric Jacobus briefly, Kratos’ double of action in the new God Of War game. We asked him some questions related to his work and what it means to be double action, and this is what he answered.

Nerdmacia : Being double action must be a very fun job. How was it that you became one?

Eric: Uff is a long story, but very nostalgic for me. It happens that I grew up in the era in which feature films were at their peak (mid 80’s and part of 90’s), and I have fond memories of having seen very good shows on MTV and other interesting movies. I remember that I began to imitate everything they did, the pirouettes and other things. That was on my side, but in Hong Kong I had some friends who made action movies at a low price, so we finally decided to get together and started making independent films in the patio of our house. Over time we had the attention of several people for what we did, and then in the 2000’s Youtube was born, a platform that allows you to upload content for free. So I made my channel, and I started uploading the content that we generated in that place, and that was when the bomb exploded. They began to see us from many parts of the world, not only people, but also important companies. So the work began to viralize and began to have more attention, and the next thing I knew was that I was already working as a full-time action double. So eventually I came to Sony to work on the new God Of War.

Nerdmacia : Could you tell us about your experience of working in a video game?

Eric : It’s very different to work in a videogame than in a movie. I thought I was going to do more things than I actually did, but it turns out that in a video game you only do twice as much as a 3D model, it’s not that you’re really participating. In addition Kratos is played by 2 different people, on the one hand is Christopher Judge, who is the one who lends his voice and movements in general, and then I am double acting. So yes, it’s very different. In this game it only required, to give you an example, of about 8 hours working out every day, which is very exhausting, whereas in a movie it is much easier to divide the times, and it is a lighter process in the long run.

Nerdmacia : Working in videogames and traveling through fantastic worlds should be a truly unique experience. What was the first video game you worked on and how was the experience of seeing yourself in a world that does not exist?

Eric : The first video game I worked for was Mafia III from the 2K company, since fortunately I had a friend who was involved in the production and I lived a few blocks away from him at that time. Then he contacted me mainly because they needed a guy who accepted all kinds of beating haha, that is, stabbing, kicking, shooting, so my first job was capture movement and I remember being days and days and days in that and had to recreate falls and different types of pirouettes that in the movies is very rare to see, and not only for one person, but for several at the same time. In the game we see children falling, old people falling, women falling, then I had to, as I say, receive all kinds of beatings haha. It was very funny because I ended up being the laughingstock of everyone, but finally that is what led me to success. The truth is ironic.

Nerdmacia : How long does it take you to make a scene on average?

Eric: Again, it’s a totally different process in video games and movies. In a movie, a scene of fights takes a lot of minutes to shoot and if it does not go well you have to do it again and so on until someone says “I liked it” and then it’s cut and that’s what’s left. In a game like Mafia III or God Of War there are several cameras and with different angles each, then they are not even minutes. You simply do a pirouette and say “cut” and then do another and “cut” again. And in the end all those divided shots unite them, and the whole sequence appears. In movies it is longer, but by not being divided, you get to enjoy the process much more. But that’s what it’s about being double, of putting all your energy into what you do, whether it’s a lot or a little.

Nerdmacia: In an interview that we did earlier you mentioned that you had a very serious experience with one of your knees. How was that and what health measures are taken to ensure that nothing happens with the production?

Eric: Oh yes, my knee. It happened that right in the recordings of God Of War I fell badly in one of the many pirouettes, and I began to have a very sharp pain in one of my knees. I did the work, but obviously many people in production realized that I was limping, so one of them, Carlos, comes up to me and says “Hey … how’s your knee?”. Of course nobody wanted to stop the production but Carlos told me that, if necessary, we would stop it if my pain continued. The pain continued, but Carlos was very kind to me, almost an angel … he gave me some medicines and advice so that it would not happen again, and in fact he helped me a lot in those scenes so that he did not have to suffer so much. Finally the pain healed thanks to his advice and I have not had a bad experience like that again. But of course, at the time it was very scary.

 

It’s still January but California-based stuntman Eric Jacobus has already had a very busy 2017. From promoting his new short Blindsided and writing the feature film adaptation to working as a motion capture stuntman for numerous video games, Jacobus had momentarily stepped away from the Tekken IRL series. In his Armor King IRL video, Jacobus polled his YouTube subscribers, whose numbers recently surpassed 50,000, asking them which character they’d like him to reenact next.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 7.31.03 AM.png

The fans spoke, so Jacobus gave them what they wanted.

Jacobus notes on his YouTube page that Devil Jin’s movelist has some real-world origins but is mostly a mishmash of Karate techniques.

Devil Jin’s movelist is built off Jin’s Tekken 3 movelist utilizing Mishima-Style Karate, which is shared by Kazuya, Heihachi, Jinpachi, and a few other characters. According to the Tekken Wikia, DJ’s movelist has elements of Shito-Ryu, though it seems like more a general amalgamation of Karate elements with its front-stance punches and abundance of front kicks, plus all the laser beam attacks. It’s be a stretch to say Devil Jin’s style is applicable in real-world situations, though the fundamentals of his basic attacks definitely have their place, as do most of his throws.

Jacobus added another poll to this Tekken video asking users who they want to see next. Make sure you turn on annotations and vote to tell him which one you want.

I’m making action filmmaking tutorials now for indie action filmmakers, martial artists, and stuntmen and stuntwomen, a series I’m calling “Indie Action Essentials”. The first skill I’m tackling is the Hong Kong spin, or the “HK”. The video includes all the steps plus what padding I recommend when doing the stunt on hard surfaces.

If you have any requests for tutorials you’d like, comment below or at the video’s YouTube page. I’m always listening!

HK Spin Tutorial.mp4_snapshot_02.27_[2013.04.23_09.13.41] copy

It’s been a long time coming since the last indie action roundup, and since there’s been so much good stuff released lately just featuring various Stunt People members and associates, it’s time to resume the madness and show you exactly how indie action videos are superior to Hollywood’s latest stream of ooze (though Captain America was a pleasant surprise).

I gotta hand it to Ed Kahana first. His latest film Relic Hunt is an Indiana Jones-type action adventure with a killer fight scene plus some motorcycle stunts. Features Lucas Okuma, Bryan Cartago, Alvin Hsing, and Caitlyn Corson.

Next is Dennis Ruel‘s feature film Unlucky Stars which is nearing completion. Check out Steve Yu, Vlad Rimburg, and Jose Montesinos, along with Shawn Bernal, Manny Manzanares, Sam Hargrave, Roy Chen, and Ken Quitugua.

Last is Clandestine, the latest Thousand Pounds production which successfully raised a big chunk of change on Kickstarter. This fight features Brenden Huor facing off against a crowd that includes Alvin Hsing, Bryan Cartago.

Matt Somerville has released his promo trailer for “Foruson.” The trailer was shot purely for promotional purposes, and most everything that was shot is in the trailer.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=16524223&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Foruson trailer from Matt Somerville on Vimeo.

We’re going to try and get hold of the bar fight, since that one was shot with continuity.

Now that I’ve made the case that even in this economy filmmakers are still incredibly well off, I thought I’d go a bit further… no, more like jump off a cliff, and make the case that because it’s so easy to make films, it’s possible to make money (hopefully profit) at the cost of the Hollywood studio system.

A lot of us are done with Hollywood when it comes to action films. Occasionally there’s something ground-breaking like uh, well you know, that one action movie that came out. I can’t think of the name, probably because I’ve been inundated with explosions from 50 angles, badly wired fights, generic kung fu poses by Angelina Jolie, and any other characteristic of the typical blockbuster action film. Most of you in the indie action community look at these and think, “I can do better than that.” And you can. You prove it daily. Maybe you can’t make an explosion as big, or as big a car chase, but you can use raw talent in ways Hollywood can’t. Here’s why:

Hollywood is so big that it’s become efficient only at making profits, and inefficient at making quality action (or insert your favorite complaint here).

Hollywood is like AIG and GM. They read charts and predict future profitability based on statistics and make crummy deals with huge groups of people, resulting in poor action films. The only difference is that Hollywood’s still profitable, and it still earns an audience because most believe there’s not much else out there competing with it.

Here’s an example from Heatseeker (1995) with Gary Daniels and Keith Cooke, two of the most talented screenfighters in American cinema history, going head to head:

Bad. Boring, lots of bad fog, bad editing, bad choreography, bad camerawork, bad everything. The cameraman wants to shoot multiple angles of the fight so he can’t be blamed by the editor for not getting enough coverage (which could destroy a cameraman’s reputation), so he consults with the director, who has Keith and Gary perform the fight repeatedly. While the two go at it all night, the cameraman is 300 feet away getting a master shot (just in case any closeups don’t look good), then he puts on the 105mm telephoto and shoots a few more takes, then comes the 50mm, etc. Gary and Keith have to run through the same, long sequence (hopefully broken up somewhat), over and over so the cameraman can get his shots. Any intricate handwork or subtle moves are impossible in this situation. The cameraman could care less if a move connects or looks bad because he’s just getting his coverage. He’s not there to critique martial arts. They fill the scene with fog because keeping the audience around this whole time would be torture. Shooting “around” the audience isn’t an option because the cameraman insists he needs full freedom to get coverage, thus fog is used. Plus fog was cool in the ’90s.

The choreographer has no say in any of this except where the 2 guys’ hands and feet go. When the cameraman moves to an angle where a certain kick suddenly doesn’t look so good, the choreographer’s hands are tied. Keith Cooke’s amazing high kick goes to hell from this angle, and Keith’s the one who looks like a fool. The choreographer (and Keith) let it go and hope the editor doesn’t use that bit. Then the editor makes coleslaw out of it. Case in point: even if you’re as gifted as Keith Cooke or Gary Daniels, a studio system can still make your fight suck.

Here’s a counter-example. Gary Daniels in Gedo – Fatal Blade (2001):

Gary Daniels six years later, but working with a crew that has full control over not only the choreography, but also the camera placement and length of shots, which in effect gives them control over editing. Limit the editor’s options and he has to cut the action the way you shoot it. The ability to just shoot what the shot requires means they don’t have to repeat the same 60 moves all night. Instead they focus on 1-8 moves per setup, and the energy is obviously better because of it.

The difference between these two clips is that the fight from Heatseeker employs Division of Labor to accomplish the goal. Definition by Adam Smith:

Smith saw the main cause of prosperity as increasing division of labor. Using the famous example of pins, Smith asserted that ten workers could produce 48,000 pins per day if each of eighteen specialized tasks was assigned to particular workers. Average productivity: 4,800 pins per worker per day. But absent the division of labor, a worker would be lucky to produce even one pin per day….

Don’t get me wrong: division of labor has brought about wonderul economic wealth. I love it because it makes laptops cheap and pencils magically appear in abundance almost everywhere for next to nothing. The exception is with filmmaking, especially action filmmaking. The clip from Fatal Blade integrates all the necessary elements without so much division of labor, and instead uses a unified vision to accomplish the goal. The modest action set-piece ends up being far more energetic, and probably cost a lot less to film.

An indie filmmaker can see the problems, and he’s able to use his small crew to make something that easily outshines the best martial arts scene Hollywood has to offer.

Maybe the problem you see with the studio system is with their storytelling, or their cinematography, or lack of a certain racial makeup. Whatever it is, if you’re identifying the problem, odds are a million other people are too. That’s your audience, and they’re waiting for something good to come out. It’s no hard task to convince them to buy your energetic, raw-talent film on DVD for $15 instead of paying $20+ to sit through action drivel that leaves even the most catatonic person feeling somewhat lost after two hours.

They kick ass, take names, and look gorgeous doing it. Steve and Stephen, a pair of renegade vigilantes, are out for justice. But when a new, orgasm inducing drug known as “booche” starts becoming an epidemic, their once quiet streets are quickly transforming into a sex-crazed wasteland. Features stunts by Eric Jacobus and Ray Carbonel of The Stunt People.

sexual-tension-poster

Host: greenbergbrothers@gmail.com
Price: $7.00
Location: Roxie Theater
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San Francisco, CA 94103 US
When: Saturday, May 30, 12:00PM
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