Remember that time your friends took you to a dark room, painted your face black and white and asked you not to move so they could take pictures? No? Because, oddly enough, I do. It actually occurred on Wednesday afternoon between the hours of 5 and 6pm.  Perhaps, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me jump back to the beginning.

Bright Whites: Using Bristol board to brighten the lit space

Much like any new relationship, Project Space Squid and I seemed to be moving along famously. The first few dates were uncomfortable with awkward conversation and clammy hands but after the butterflies started to fly away, everyone relaxed a bit. We became more comfortable with the idea of spending the next four months together and set to trying to make each other happy. However, the honeymoon was almost over. It wasn’t until week two that my date reared its ugly head and revealed its true colours.

Naturally, complications began to ensue. Aside from the typical production nightmares, such as picking a cast, finding locations and choosing costumes, team rats was blessed with the particularly bizarre task of shooting a black and white film without any greyscale. I know I’m starting to get technical, so let me clarify for a second.

The Rats in the Walls was initially going to be shot in the style of a film noir with classical animation; think the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There circa 2001 meets Sin City. I’m aware there are better examples of film noir’s; however the Coen brothers are a tad more accessible than, say, Billy Wilder. Regardless, that was the look we were going for. While this idea was met with thunderous excitement by the entire team, it posed one fairly large problem: how do you blend live-action with classical animation without making it looked like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

After a sufficient amount of time and deep-seeded contemplation, it appeared the best solution was to shoot the film in black and white, but only in pure black and pure white. Now, this may seem confusing, so let me elaborate. When you add lights to a film shoot, you create shadows, and when you create shadows you create a greyscale and your black and white film suddenly contains a smörgåsbord of colours between pure black and pure white.  I haven’t said black and white so much in a single sentence in quiet some time. I hope your beginning to understand the situation. Usually, this type of colour correction can be completed in post-production. Unfortunately, it requires a sufficient amount of time and human resources, both of which we don’t have much of.

In order to limit the amount of work that would need to be conducted in post-production, the idea was to use a plethora of make-up and precisely placed lights and backdrops to manufacture the look for the film. While it all seemed to make sense, the theory needed to be tested. Thus, to accomplish this we would use black and white make-up, Bristol board, duct tape and a single focused light for a test shoot. So, on Wednesday afternoon, between the hours of 5 and 6pm, team rats took a field trip to the black box studio to paint faces and draw scary pictures.

The steps to achieve this shoot were simple. We began by placing the light in the precise angle we wanted to shoot the frame in. Next, using the Bristol board, we filled-in the shape of the light to highlight it and remove any shadows. The edges of the light are then cut-off with black duct tape. That’s me in the picture above doing just that.

Rats in the Wall Test Shoot by Vancouver Film School EBM.

Carl, make-up and duct tape

Using the same black duct tape, we created on the Bristol board the images we want to show in the frame. Now we bring in the actor, Carl Morrison, who lent us his time and face for this strange little experiment. After seeing where the light will cast a shadow on his face and body, the make-up artists literally painted his face white where the light fell and black where the shadows were. Any shadows on his already white shirt are covered with the proverbial black duct tape. Then you take pictures to test the theory.

It may sound crazy, but it actually worked! The picture at the end of this spiel depicts the final product.  Jessica made a few corrections to the original picture (adjusting the greyscale, blowing out the white and adding the rat) in Photoshop and our animator, Vera Varlamova, did some further post-production work to give the picture some finishing touches. That’s it!

It was the first fight between Project Space Squid and I. To be frank, it was worrisome; I wasn’t quiet ready to break-up. There was so much potential. So we worked through it and after a little planning and a little post production work, we’re on the right path again. We actually have plans to see a movie in a bit, so I should get going; PSS hates it when I’m late.

Check back soon for more updates!

Final Product: Let the madness ensue