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Co-Founder / Pittsburgh Underground

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movies That Have Everything: It Came From Yesterday PU INTERVIEW!!!

Greetings one and all to Pittsburgh Underground and our EXCLUSIVE PU INTERVIEW with Jeff Waltrowski and Steve Tolin, producers of Clear Conscience Pictures as they premiere their newest film, It Came From Yesterday TONIGHT at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont at 7PM (nab your ADVANCED TICKETS for $10.00).

This amazing sci-fi adventure piece takes place in the late 1940's, launching scientist Professor Jack Cranston into unknown realms of adventure. With the help of his sidekicks, Buddy and Penny Precious of The Electric Club, Jack must unravel the mysterious plot of interdimensional insect-like creatures hell bent on enslaving the entire human race. (check out our PREVIEW ARTICLE).

It Came From Yesterday - Original Teaser Trailer
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

This was an amazing film project that was home-grown, right here in Pittsburgh, Pa using an alchemy of green screen technology, practical effects, and live thespians to create an incredibly surreal and dream-like environment for our unlikely pulp action heroes as they face doom-filled danger from beyond a distant, yet, parallel universe.

 Jeff Waltrowski and Steve Tolin 
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

This three year labor of love is the brainchild of Jeff Waltrowski and Steve Tolin (of TolinFX) making up the team of Clear Conscience Pictures. These two amazingly creative dudes were nice enough to let me ask them a round of 10 questions to give the world some more insight on their film making process, the story of Professor Jack, and the amazing world of It Came From Yesterday - Let's begin....

Click Below To Continue...

PU: It's great to see underground artists from Pittsburgh get together to create amazing projects like It Came From Yesterday. How did you guys meet and what inspired you to create this dream-like, yet incredibly accessible world that audiences will get to experience this week at the Hollywood Theater?

Waltrowski: Steve and I met back in 2001 while he was doing the creature and make-up effects on my first feature, Project: Valkyrie. A few years passed. I was DP’ing a couple of films and Steve had become very successful as an effects artist. I was hoping to get another feature made and Steve, always working to learn new skills, wanted to produce. Whatever the project was going to be, we both wanted to create a world that did not exist and we wanted that world to have a visual quality that was new to audiences. By determining not only what are strengths were, but also what elements we both wanted to see in a film, It Came From Yesterday was born. Our goal was to create a world that felt real but was also a stylized interpretation of the late 40’s.

The Green Screen Process in Action
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: Your movie was completely shot using green screen technology allowing for virtual environments to be added later to the complete the final scenes. What are the advantages to shooting a feature length film using this process and what are some of the challenges you faced as both actors and visual effects artists as a result?

Tolin: The primary advantage is that in regards to production design you are really only limited by your imagination and the amount of time you can put into a location or character. Money is less of an obstacle, because you are not faced with the reality of having to acquire things such as Tuckers and Jet retrofitted biplanes or shoot in actual caves. The biggest challenge of course was that Jeff and I had no idea what the full work pipeline consisted of or how it was normally done. We winged it the whole way and had to create our own way of working from green screen to finished shots. 

Waltrowski: As an director, it made things a million times easier, especially while acting in a scene at the same time. I could focus on the other actors and their performances and not have to be too concerned with the whole mise en scene of it all. We’d worry about that later.

Flyboy (Andrew Blood) Takes To The Skies
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: Understanding how digital graphics and effects software can be utilized as a tool in film making is just as important today to film makers as the actual filming process itself. A lot of us techies are interested in the software/hardware you adapted to create the amazing realities in the picture and how you worked as a team to design the vitual world that your characters lived in. Could you speak to the technical tools you used first and then follow with the collaboration process that each of you applied to bring your unique skill sets to the table in order to knit together such a seamless world.

Tolin: I built all of the 3D model elements in a Maya environment. I think that my many years as a fabricator lent themselves really well to this part of the pipeline because the techniques are very similar. However one must also light and shoot in a Maya environment and I had to lean heavily on Jeff to teach me how to apply real world lighting strategies and camera knowledge to what I was learning about Maya lights and cameras.

Waltrowski: Once Steve’s CG elements were rendered, they would be sent to me for compositing. I used Shake for that purpose. Compositing starts by first keying out all of the green screen. And then creating the illusion that you’re subject is living in that CG space. This is done mostly with color balancing, creating a depth of field, and several other boring sounding techniques. It also involved layering in any live action effects like explosions and bug ooze that were shot separately and multiplying one Bugman into an army. 

Steve Tolin and Bugman Sculpture
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: Not every effect was realized in a computer for your movie - You do have a number of elements of the film that were created by practical effects artists from the creature designers, mold makers, fabricators, and painters. At what point do you feel practical effects should take precedent over digital ones and what steps were taken to insure that the practical effects blended as well as they did into the digital look of the overall film.

Tolin: Any time that I build a monster, I would prefer to sculpt it and paint it. Mostly this is because it is more creatively fulfilling and just more fun for me. But really, I feel that practical effects should be used any time that a better artistic result will be achieved. I am of the opinion that practical and visual effects should never be in competition with one another. I think that because they are being used harmoniously is the reason why the two blend so well in ICFY. I believe that as a painter I want to use the best brush for any particular stroke. Fan brushes just make better spruces.

Waltrowski: Steve had a great mind for knowing what would work best and when. A good example of that are the baby bugs, which alternate from being a practical puppet to being fully CGI. It was also really great to have the Bugmen be fully realized practically as a man in a suit which helped put ICFY into the same family as films like This Island Earth, Creature from the Black Lagoon and, of course, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla.

Steve Tolin and Bug Sculpture
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: What amount of time was spent on your shooting schedule vs. your digital effects shots. Did these processes work in tandem or was one process done before the other? Also, are their any particular scenes that you crafted for the movie that you are particularly proud of?

Tolin: It took two weeks to shoot and about two years to build all of the digital elements. The entire movie was shot before we began building anything in the virtual world. In fact we had never even used the programs except for a couple small tests before we had finished shooting. Our plan was- let's get it shot based on what we think we know and then figure out how to solve all the problems we just created for ourselves once we learn how to use the software. 

Waltrowski: We did have the advantage of a long prep period, which gave us a chance to plan out every shot for the film, so we would know what we were doing when we shot it and hopefully our theories would work out in post. It did turn out that we were able to accomplish a lot more in post than we thought possible.

I think the scenes that I am most proud of, from a technical aspect, are the aerial scenes in the final Act. There was a lot of planning and blocking out of that sequence from Steve and myself and the animation is some of Steve’s best work. I think all the elements from the performances and effects to the score and sound design in those sequences are topnotch.

PU: There are a lot of schools in the area that can help aspiring film makers achieve the skills that they need within the industry, but as most of them know, once they are out of school the hardest part of breaking into this business is networking. As Pittsburgh film makers, what advice can you give to the kids out there on networking in our local film community and the industries that are the vital links within it - practical and digital effects, costuming, puppeteering, film scoring, etc...

Tolin: I found it very useful to do a bunch of work for free or next to free. Get to know as many people and create as many opportunities as you can by getting involved in as much as you can. Every movie set has a least a couple dozen people on it that you didn't know before who are all going to be working on something else soon and your job is to be the one they think of when they are asked, "Hey do you know someone who..." . Do the best work you are capable of always and be a professional, even if you feel like you are surrounded by people who don't recognize it. Don't try to pin yourself down into to narrow a definition of what kind of artist you are. You may think you want to be a DP, but find out that you've got a passion or knack for costume design. 

Waltrowski: Since the time my first film was release to now, there has been kind of an importance put on social networking thru sites like Facebook and Twitter and that’s become a huge part of getting recognized and meeting new people and making connections. It’s almost not enough to be a good artist or a good actor or a good storyteller. Now you have to be a good marketer as well. Promoting yourself and your product in the online community and in person on whatever film sets you can get on will help insure that you continue to make movies.

Professor Jack and the Electric Club 
(from right to left): Andrew Blood, Nayli Russo, Joel Ripka, and Jeff Waltrowski 
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: Tell us a little about the film itself and the genesis of some of its core cast of characters: Professor Jack, his brother James, Penny Precious, Buddy, Flyboy, and the Electric Club. 

Waltrowski: Back in the late 90’s, while I was a student at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, I was working on a short subject that was based on the serials of the 40’s. Jack and the Electric Club were born from that. That turned out to be a pretty successful exercise for me as a storyteller, and it was always kind of a long-term goal for me to make a feature around those characters. 

Jeff Waltrowski  Discusses the Scene with Sunny Day (Erica Highberg)
and Stan Maxx (Steve Foland) 
(Clear Conscience Pictures)

PU: You have a very swashbuckling score for the film that never misses a beat composed by Matthew Tait along with the 1940's vocal styling’s of the mesmerizing Erica Highberg as the unforgettable nightclub singer Sunny Day. Could you tell us how you met both Matthew and Erica, share some of their backgrounds with our readers, and elaborate on the process utilized for choosing the immersive music for your film.

Tolin: I grew up with Matthew Tait. He and I spent many sleepless nights filming horror and "action" movies with an old VHS camera that I had. It was those nights that truly sparked my interest in making movies. Matt has always been a huge movie nerd since he was a kid. He managed and led a punk rock band for 10 years after we graduated high school and had gone our separate ways. When I told him I was producing a movie, he was very excited by the prospect of scoring it. Jeff and I thought we'd give him a stab at it and he blew our minds immediately. This was not the kind of music Matt normally wrote and he has no formal training. He is just a super gifted musician. 

Erica I met on one of the first movies I ever worked on. A very bloody horror movie shot in Pittsburgh in 2001. She and I fell in love during the filming of The Traveler and we have been together for over ten years. She and I have really forged our entire careers together, tempered in the struggle that exists with following the path of a professional artist. Erica is an amazingly talented actor and singer and has the sort of sensuality that makes for a perfect Sunny Day. She and I are two of the most tightly entwined couples I know. Two years ago we were married and we have the most beautiful daughter two humans have ever created. Jeff and Matt can speak more to the immersive music bit.

Waltrowski:  Matt’s music is a signature piece to this film. I found that during the creation of ICFY, Matt was the easiest person to convey the tone ofICFY to. Nerds have a language that they speak. It sounds like English, but no ordinary human can make sense of it. It’s filled with words like, “Midichlorians,” “Zod,” and “Kobayashi Maru.” When I needed to express an idea to Matt, I just need to use a word like that or mention Ellen Ripley and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Having grown up on the same films as Matt was essential to him getting what ICFY was all about. Coming into a project like this and knowing exactly what it should be musically because you’re familiar with the subject matter and you live and breathe this kind of score made all the difference and I think he left a huge footprint on the film.

PU: In the film, most of the action takes place around 1947 with a heads up to our audience that Professor Jack will be returning in the future. Can you give us any ideas as to what might be next for Professor J and how far along the timeline that his adventures might reach? The 1950's? 60? Possibly even early 1970's?

Waltrowski: One of the most fun things for us while creating this world was being able to throw in references to other adventures, which made this fictional universe exist outside of the single story that ICFY tells. Not only in the writing, but there are visual clues throughout the film that hint at places we could take these characters. It gave us a rich tapestry that brought a whole new level to the film. It also gives us a springboard for more stories. How far up the timeline we ultimately go is anyone’s guess, but we do have a pretty solid framework of what we’d like to do in the future. Hopefully, we’ll get to share it. 

PU: Finally, I couldn't help but read all the Liberty Newspaper headlines during the opening sequence of the film and although I'm curious if we'll ever see the likes of the Beast of Hiroshima or the Laughing Bandits, I have to ask... which was deemed cuter - kittens or puppies? 

Tolin: The Beast went missing in 1946. Hopefully we've seen the last of the Laughing bandits. As for kittens and puppies... the debate rages on!

A BIG thanks to both Jeff Waltrowski and Steve Tolin from Clear Conscience Pictures for taking the time to give us the skinny on their latest and greatest sci-fi indy epic, It Came From Yesterday. Don't forget, you can nab your ADVANCED TICKETS and check out all the fun TONIGHT and TOMORROW at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont starting at 7PM!

Stay tuned for more Movies That Have Everything here at Pittsburgh Underground!!!

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