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Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning

Pages:  production and shoot - post-production

Cameras and lights

When we started filming the movie we had very little equipment. We had the Sony DSR-200P dvcam, couple of work lights (that cost some 25e), an old portable TV and a broken wheelchair. A lot of the movie is shot using that setup.

From 2001 to 2004:

Most of the equipment we had in 2001

Most of the equipment we had in 2001 while filming the Hesburger scene.

Equipment in 2004

Some of the stuff used in the last shoots in 2004. Lights, a dolly track, a smoke machine...

Most of the movie was shot with the primitive makeshift equipment, but in the last pickup shoots we did get to play with some more professional gear. Stuff that most filmmakers would propably consider the bare necessities... But since we didn't have access to that kind of stuff we used what we could.

One of the problems we faced was that the school building that doubled as Baabel 13 had several huge windows. We couldn't block them, so the logical solution was to shoot when it was dark outside - good thing Finnish winters are long and dark.

"The bluescreen studio"

Most of the film was shot against a bluescreen and the actors composited to virtual sets. This was simply because building real sets was completely out of our price range.

It's not entirely accurate to say that the movie was shot in Samuli's living room, since in the beginning the bluescreen was located at a spare room at his mother's house. The room was, if possible, even smaller and it was most likely the only bluescreen studio in the history of cinema with a wood oven for baking bread.

The bluescreen was a piece of cheap linoleum (some 50e in the 90's), the kind you see on the floors of apartments you wouldn't want to live in. It was painted with blue chroma key paint. This actually turned out to be a pretty good idea. The color was even enough if lighted correctly and the bluescreen proved to be robust enough to survive sevene years of filming and women with stiletto heels.

The bluescreen studio in 2000

The bluescreen studio in 2000, with a very young looking Timo.

The bluescreen on the floor.

The bluescreen lying on the floor. It's just as cheap as it looks.


We also wanted to create better interaction between the actors and the virtual elements, so we had to build some blue props, like consoles the actors can hit and hold on to when the ship shaes, or the steps Pirk climbs to his chair in the beginning. Since what you would see on screen would be computer generated, the real world props only had to be approximately of the same size. These props ended up costing 0e, since they were build from scrap wood and covered with pieces from the bluescreen we already had.

In addition we had some real world props, mainly guns. The P-fleet hand twinklers were made from water guns by painting them black. Since they had been used in the previous movie, we wanted the same specific model, Super Soaker 50, it wasn't sold any more so we asked for people to send us their old water guns - and they did. The Baabel 13 Plasma Ball Cannons were cap guns (pretending to be 9mm Parabellum, a favourite gun amon scifi prop makers) with barrels cut and the guns painted silver.

Many of the real-world guns used int he movie came from fans. The military scenes were done with the help of airsoft hobbyists who owned a huge selection of gun replicas, from assault riffles to machine guns as well as uniforms. The Flush costume was originally built for a costume party where Jarmo saw it and asked the makers if it could be used in the movie.

Atte taking apart a wooden pallet.

Atte "Master Carpenter" Joutsen taking apart a wooden cargo pallet to build the consoles.

The empty Flush.

Flush on a lunch break: The empty costume stands alone.

Chroma key

When you've shot the bluescreen scenes the work is not yet even half done. After that comes the compositing, separating the actors from the blue background and putting the entire scene together. At this point careful planning will save you a lot of time and trouble. As you could propably guess, we learned that the hard way...

The first thing one learns is that you have to light the bluescreen evenly, this makes it possible to create a good composite. That doesn't actually get you that far, since then you notice that if you are to create a illusion of a real enviroment, you have to match the lighting on the actors to the lighting in the virtual set. Sounds obious, but it's not that easy, here is when careful planning comes to use. storyboards are pretty much a necessity, just to keep the camera angles synchronized, if you shoot actors on different takes.

You can read more about the keying process on the next page.

Storyboards from the year 2000

Storyboards for one of the oldest surviving bluescreen scenes in the movie.

The bluescreen console in action.

The bluescreen console in action.

The sound

Making a movie is all about cheating. Making a low budget movie means you have to cheat even more, making schools look like space stations and turning living rooms into studios. And the most difficult thing to cheat are the viewers ears. There is only so much you can do to sound on a computer, you need a good recording of the sounds to start with. There's no way around that. Beliewe us, we tried. The main problem was echo. Every place sounds different. You can tell where you are by the sounds you hear and how they sound like. Speech sounds very different in a living room of an apartment than, say, a huge spaceship.

The main focus was trying to create a neutral sound, wich could then be edited on a computer. The first (and pretty much only thing we could do) was to try and kill as much of the natural echo of the locations as possible. We tried to get the microphone as close as possible. We learned that taping blankets and pillows on the walls helped to kill the echo. In many professional productions everything is dubbed, because getting good enough sound on location is so difficult. That was luxury we couldn't afford. Not only because studios would cost money, but because dubbing has to be done very well so that it won't sound fake. And that requires acting skills as well as technical skills. The dubbing we did we did in Samuli's closet, because being filled with clothes it was the most echo-free and most easily soundproofed room in the apartment.

In addition to the dialogue a movie also need a lot of foley sounds, that help to create illusion and a sense of place, for example foodsteps and wind. We did our best to record as much of the foley we could, but a lot of existing sound libraries were also used. Still, trying to get some unique sounds was very interesting. Like mixing mayonaise and water and several kinds of papers to get the right kind of squishing sounds for the opening scene where Pirk is stuffing his face with hamburgers.

Eventually the sounds were mixed, mostly using Sony's SoundForge. The last mix was made by Saija Raskulla at a mixig studio in her school. There is no substitute for good equipment and talent while working with sound.
Recording the foley

Timo and Atte recording foley sounds in the late summer 2005. At night.

Quick dubbing action

A fast and dirty way to prevent echo is to pull a blanket over you head while dubbing. Really.

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