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Iron Sky

by Sven Triloqvist Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 02:05:37 PM EST

With a (partly crowd-funded) production budget of under 10 M€, the Finnish "dark science fiction comedy" Iron Sky (released 2012) is at the very high end of Finnish movie budgets, but pocket money in any major movie production country. A typical UK TV drama series (e.g. The Hour) will come in at 1 - 2 M€ an hour. Marketing budgets can sometimes be double the production budgets once a major distributor picks up a movie, though I doubt if this is the case here. Once a distributor is convinced that a movie has what it takes for a certain audience sector, the showmanship kicks in.

I really liked the movie, though I probably won't watch it again for a couple of years. The script has well thought out and original ideas, variable dialogue (some excellent, some clunky), excellent art direction, world class CGI, variable acting, but considering what they are attempting - the acting (and casting) is great. And world class post production.  

I'd compare like with like - say for instance with Mel Brooks' Space Balls. Iron Sky is much funnier IMO. Or maybe compare with one of my favourite obscure movies: Galaxy Quest, which was bigger budget but eventually grossed nearly 100 M bucks.

But there is no real comparison of like with like. This movie emerged from a huge bunch of SF movie fans living in the industrial heart of Finland - many of them unemployed at the time - who, without any kind of budget, put together a full length `student humour' movie called "Star Wreck - In the Perkinning." And then shared a low-res version online for free. It soon became the most watched Finnish movie ever. When they released a Hi-Res DVD, they made enough money to develop Iron Sky. I.e. - they gave a movie for free and people around the world rewarded them. It is more of a phenomenon than a business model - but bear with me.

I have disagreed with TBG in the past on the qualitative results of everyone having the chance of being creative. Yes, Youtube is full of crap - but all of us were once crap at something. How do you get better at something? With motivation. Does formal training help? Yes, often, but it is not essential.

I have no idea what will happen with the Iron Sky group. But they've proved they can make money for a distributor. Knowing them slightly, I doubt if they will `sell out'. The core group connects with a technical guild of dozens, and a fan base of at least tens of thousands - maybe 10 times that. The commitment of the core group is to those people, not to Hollywood or The Nordic TV and Film Fund or anyone else.

In my experience - because I am one of them - there are plenty of discontented professionals who are, and would be, happy to help young people with energy and passion to learn about the prevailing systems and how to exploit them to the benefit of the audience.

I know that what they create will not fully satisfy me. The music will be alien. The movie production values will offend. I won't get the jokes. What they create is not for me. But they will make movies they think are important in some way, and that's enough for me.

The voice of a sage Elder.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 04:46:11 PM EST
I quite liked Iron Sky.

The thing is, 95% of everything has always been shit. It's just now all published somewhere and it becomes more obvious.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 05:35:16 PM EST
How do you get better at something?

By doing it.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 05:57:11 PM EST
Of course, what some people get better at is playing the game rather than creating a high quality product.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 06:48:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You need to unpack that statement a bit. You may be referring more to the producers than the creators.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 04:00:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he may mean that marketing and schmoozing are more important than talent.

The question is really - what should art be for? If everyone is happy with distraction and entertainment, there's no problem with sort-of interesting mediocrity.

But I think that's setting the bar rather low.

You then get to the suggestion that art is about shaping culture and values. Some people are horrified by this kind of elitist suggestion, but they tend to ignore that art and entertainment do this already.

The reality is you can't do any kind of creative work without having some kind of social or cultural impact and promoting certain values - even if you do unwittingly.

So what kind of values do you want to promote?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2013 at 07:36:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My values are most succinctly expressed in 'Our Idiot Brother' (2011). (WoB: you and Heinz may like this one, even though there's very little Texas in it ;-) ).

Of course, these are not necessarily the values that I follow - but perhaps aspire to.

BTW The ensemblelight comedy movie is not exclusively a N. American genre, but when it works it works.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 21st, 2013 at 02:16:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See "Arts, public funding for".
by Number 6 on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 07:56:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... I saw it in my Netflix "new releases" lineup and was tossing around whether or not to give it a shot.

Of course, the fact that Netflix has a voracious appetite, especially after their Starz deal expired, is part of the new distribution terrain ...
... since without independent and foreign releases, their movie lineup would be even more sparse compared to their TV series lineup.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 06:52:32 PM EST
You may want to have a quick look at their first movie 'Star Wreck' to see how far they have (or have not) come.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 04:07:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I loved both SW:ITP and also galaxy quest (one of my favourites).  I shall definitely check out Iron Sky.

I never understood what a perkinning is though?

by njh on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 01:41:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It comes from "In the beginning" spoken by a Finn pronouncing English in the literal Finnish style.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 01:54:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And the protagonist is called Emperor Pirk.
by Gag Halfrunt on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 07:23:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also acted by the guy who managed all the CGI - both in this and in Iron Sky.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 07:40:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw most of this last month - I was cooking a big dinner at the time, and only paid partial attention here and there, but saw a lot of it.

For those who aren't aware, the plot involves Space Nazi's on the Mooon, who are defeated ultimately by President Palin's Space Navy, and the usual hijinks of the main characters.

There were a good number of really funny gags, and now that I've heard the background story, I have to say that the whole achievement is damn impressive.  The movie would have really killed if they'd had the money and connections to get some better comics for the American roles, in particular the evil consultant, who seemed to be mainly doing an annoying impression of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder.  

by Zwackus on Sat Jan 19th, 2013 at 08:34:52 PM EST
This was a originally nerdy group of CGI enthusiasts who built and shared 3D simulations of spacecraft. Computer-Generated Imagery systems are ideal for distributed creation and rendering. In fact, most off the shelf 3D software systems are designed for cooperative working.

A single frame of HDV, in which every light source illuminating the scene is tracked (or traced) through every pixel, may take several seconds to render (calculate) at its most basic. When reflection, refraction, scattering are added, plus depth of field information, a single frame can take from minutes to hours to calculate. There are 24 frames to calculate (for theatrical release) for each second of screen time.

But all the calculating tasks can be divided up and this is what these guys did in their first movie: they had access to 200 home computers of colleagues, friends, nerds and neighbours. That is why the space scenes in 'Star Wreck' were very much better than anything else in it.

To include actors in CGI scenes means isolating them from their background. This is usually accomplished by filming actors in front of 'green screen'. The background can be any colour as long as a computer can detect what is actor and what is background. Later, the actor is 'matted' into the CGI background. The perspective, lighting direction and colour, etc must also match the CGI background.

And if you record the position and motion of the camera filming the actors, then the virtual camera of the 3D simulation can be programmed to exactly follow it. It gets more complicated when, for instance, an actor walks up some stairs: in the studio you have to build some green steps. But this is a million times cheaper than building realistic sets.

Characters can also be created in CGI using motion tracking. First you build a 3D model (a storm trooper is fairly easy, a woman in a flowing silk dress rather trickier) and you identify key points on the model such as ankle, forehead, elbow etc. In the studio and actor is dressed in an all over single colour costume with these same points marked. By tracking the motion of these points on the actor, the CGI model can be made to  perform like the actor.

All this can be hell for the actor, so they say, but in my experience it's not so far from the old single camera process. Unlike theatre, there's no flow of interaction and reaction between actors.

And you are right - the low budget shows with the actors in this movie - although I think they've done a pretty good job. Being a Finn, director Timo Vuorensalo has perhaps only a broad-stroked sense of what 'American' is - but I could point to a dozen US movies that fail equally with 'European'.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 03:56:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope Heinz and I get to see it in Germany; we really loved Galaxy Quest.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 08:22:56 AM EST
That's nice to hear ;-)

I picked up my discounted copy of the DVD at a local department store. Keep a look-out!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 08:39:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 20th, 2013 at 08:30:53 AM EST
I think the basic business model used here is clear enough and is being implemented in numerous artistic smaller businesses.

  1. Build an audience that likes what you have done prevously

  2. Find out how this audience would like to pay you to produce more

  3. Implement this while keeping your audience satisfied

The model is not the hard part, but implementing it is. It is quite common in webcomics, since that is mainly a one or two person team, but still there it is hard. First you need to have talent and a continous production. Then you need the business sense to find a payment model (do you sell physical copies, digital copies, merchandise, status in the fan community, access to yourself or what exactly) which is in tune with your work. Then you need to implemnt your business while keeping up the artistic output. This is quite a list of talents needed. And for now, there is still a lack of good services to subcontract parts to.

However, gradually new services are created. Kickstarter is the big example, and it is making things easier for payment models that is compatible with it. Like for Order of the Stick:

Author raises $1m to self-publish Order of the Stick webcomic book | Books | guardian.co.uk

When the costs of keeping it in print proved too high, Burlew turned to Kickstarter following repeated demands from readers, launching a project in January to raise the $57,750 he needed to rerelease the books in print.

Yesterday, he closed his fundraising project with 14,952 backers and $1,254,120 raised, making The Order of the Stick Kickstarter's most funded project by a single person ever and the most funded creative work the site has ever seen.

"I'm still shocked," Burlew said. "I was tragically underprepared. I never thought we'd get anywhere near the response we've gotten, and it's been a daily struggle to keep up with the progress of the whole thing. What I was thinking when I hit the Launch Project button was something roughly analogous to, 'I hope I'm not making a terrible mistake.' As it turned out, I wasn't."

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 21st, 2013 at 08:21:15 AM EST
In the Iron Sky business/creative model, what interests me most is the possibilities for decentralized production and the convergence of several developing 'motion picture' technologies.

The technologies are Text-to-Speech, Simulated Characters, Virtual Locations, Compositing, Colour Correction, and Sound Design.

Text to speech: Still clunky if you put in ordinary text, but various people are working on new diacritic tools for better expression control. You have certainly heard computer voices without being aware of their origin, though their use is rare in drama. I doubt, being at the tail end of my working life, that I will be replaced as a professional voiceover artist by text-to-speech. But younger speakers sure will be.

Simulated characters: As described in the diary: a character is modelled in 3D and then operated by capturing the movement and gestures, in 3D space, of a real person (not necessarily an actor). An actor's subtleties of gait, posture, gesture and facial expression, combined with spoken performance*, achieve an overall matrix of different signals that are hard to replicate in simulated characters. But I could imagine a future motion gesture library that could be applied to any model. That is, a gesture sample.

* Even if the voice is dubbed later. See Andy Serkis' work on Gollum for LOTR.

I would also guess that, while some will strive to create believably realistic  characters to replace actors*, many will develop new art forms in which faces, gestures, artificial speech - all from libraries - are combined to create

*Animation became popular on US TV in the Fifties because there were no residuals to be paid to actors, and voiceover artists would agree to a flat fee = more profitable because of low rerun cost.

Virtual locations: As described in diary: Capability of building convincing 3D simulations of any location, under any condition.

There is a vast library of 3D objects, environments and rendering resources already online.

Compositing: Assembling all the layers and elements in an artificial 3D media space. It's a theoretically lossless process to endlessly copy/paste/render/rinse/repeat Orcs into a scene, until you have the right source of horde heading across the plain. In practice, the HD files today are so large that there has to be compression of the information. But compared with film, it's a joy.

Colour Correction: This has exploded in the last 5 years here in Nordialand. I don't know elsewhere. Correcting colours in movies has been around since Technicolor, but today I'm amazed what a good colourist (and compositor) can do. Compare, if you will, A Touch of Frost and Engrenages.
I include Colour Correction in this list although strictly it is a stable developed technology. But when you see a sensitive pro working on the transformation of raw footage, it becomes as crucial as the sound track. i.e. it's a developed skill in understanding the technology.

Sound design: For me, it's 50/50 for sound c/t picture. The keen aspect now is that several skills can now be gathered into typical desktop multi-track sound processing software. Editing and sweetening now come together so the sound designer can handle music, dialogue, effects, Foley etc as one dynamic aural landscape.

Way back at the start of my career, I was dreaming of the movie camera as a pen (yes, all my ideas are stolen from the Nouvelle Vague). An instrument that would free the film-maker (l'auteur!) from the shackles of immobility - to be able to follow in real time and in real places with real people in real stories.

45 years later, the darshan is shared. For me, that's the biggest change I have witnessed.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 21st, 2013 at 02:39:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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