Production Note 150616: The Funhouse Re-awakens

by Carvin Knowles on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 7:37 am

On the first day of pickup shots, a skeleton stands in front of a black screen.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

After a two and a half year break, I re-started work on The Funhouse Waltz last night. This time, I'm finally getting around to the FX shots, so it's all small-scale shooting on green or black screens (the first one was black screen for overlay). I broke two more skeleton in the process.

Two and a half years ago, I wrapped principal photography, then closed the studio. Then, I packed up the whole production and put it into storage. We had to be completely out of the space by the end of that month. I had intended to move into my new studio space, a newly built extension to our house, in a matter of a couple months. At least, that's what the builders had promised. The final signoff for the new part of the house would take another two years. During that time, our lives were turned upside down by dishonest builders and a clueless architect. It has affected everything, including the Funhouse. But after all this time, I couldn't wait around until my new studio was ready. So I took over part of the kitchen, spread my things all over the table. This little film has taken long enough. The time has come to get it moving again.

Production Note 130716: The Skeleton in the Room

by Carvin Knowles on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 7:22 am

It has taken a few nights of compositing, but my skeleton now walks through the room. Before we finished, he decided to take a selfie. After all that hard work, I didn't think it would hurt...

Our star skeleton's selfie, inside his room in the crypt. Not every character gets their own room.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 250716: Minnie Returns

by Carvin Knowles on Saturday, July 25, 2016 at 7:49 am

...and returning to the stage after a two-year hiatus, Minnie picks up right where she left off. I completed the pickup for her next shot last night. The original plan was to composite her into a scene, but just this once, I think I'll leave her on the black background. When you watch the film, I hope when you watch it the first time, you don't notice. But the second time, watch for it.

Production Note 150816: My Ghostly Star

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, August 15, 2016 at 11:36 pm

It has been a busy few weeks for Minnie. She has walked across my kitchen table several times, with different dramatic expressions, all in front of a black screen. I have been surprised at how she has, so far, ended up exactly where she needs to on the screen. Some of the shots have been quite complex. In one scene she rises up from a stone monument. While shooting, I aligned her using the camera's viewfinder to place her roughly into the right position in the scene. But the moment I began compositing her onto the scene I shot 3 years ago, I could see that she was exactly where she needed to be. No adjustment required. Clearly, Minnie is a professional who knows how to hit her marks. What a star!

Ghostly Minnie stands before her monument.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

So far, I've been shooting her in front of a black screen. The black screen requires no special lighting. And since Minnie is a ghost, she needs to be mostly transparent. That simplifies compositing a great deal. If I had her separate from her background, I would need to shoot her on a very well-lit greenscreen. That requires a bit more work. More lights. More of everything, so that I could make the green background disappear while compositing her onto the scene. As it is, the black background is a shortcut. It won't work for everything, but for Minnie's ghostly appearances, it works perfectly. Once composited into the scene, she moves through the Haunted House and Crypt like...well...a ghost.

Production Note 300816: A Little Batty

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, August 30, 2016 at 8:11 pm

The time has come to try my hand at using a green-screen. My previous attempts have been less than successful. Yesterday, I used a couple sheets of green corrugated plastic, the kind that is used by architects to make models of buildings, as my green background. I made several shots of a bat, flying through parts of the crypt.

During the principal photography portion of the shoot, I placed the bats into the environment, suspended by wires. It mostly worked. But real bats are fast and agile. In the years since I began this project, I have travelled to several places where bats of various sorts are commonplace. I've spent many nights watching bats fly. Sometimes they can be slow and graceful, like the ones I animated during principal photography. But usually, they wheel and flit and tumble quite quickly. I wanted that kind of flight for my bats.

The good news is that my animation worked. The bat wheels and flits and flaps the way I remember real bats flying over my head in Bali, Cambodia, Thailand and Java. The bad news is that my green screen was pretty useless. I'll need to edit each frame to cut out each bat from its background before I can composite them into the scenes. I'm getting plenty of Photoshop practice. Just to add to the madness of this project, I injured my eye the day after my last production note. It's pretty serious and will require surgery. So I have done all this bat animation with only one eye. It's all a bit batty.

I know it's a radical idea, but before I attempt another green-screen shot, I should probably buy a proper green-screen. But for now, I'm not going to waste a perfectly good animation.

A bat wheels over the coffin of Judge Jacob Whittomb.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 160916: The Cyclops

by Carvin Knowles on Friday, September 16, 2016 at 9:42 am

It's not that there's a cyclops in the Funhouse. That would be a great idea, if I didn't already have a hundred great ideas that need finishing first. In this case, I'm the cyclops. A month ago, I fell walking up the stairs from my studio, shattering my eye-socket and breaking my ribs in a nearly straight line around the middle of my chest. I had major surgery to repair the eye-socket, but until it heals, I have double vision. Now, I'm wearing an eye-patch and I'm not safe to go back to my day job yet.

The "Cyclops Room" is almost ready for its characters.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

So for the time being, I look like a one-eyed monster. And since I can't go to work, I began carefully cutting styrofoam into bricks and gluing them into place, painting and re-painting, building a scene that I never thought I would get the chance to shoot at all. It's like some strange miracle bourne of my own physical suffering: last night, I shot 10 seconds of animation in the new room. It was simple, straightforward, and extremly creepy.


From my previous production notes, you have already seen the monument to Minerva Whittomb. The great spoiler is that it isn't a tomb. Minnie isn't there. Minnie's final resting place is deeper within the cavernous depths. Over the past week, I have built the Crypt of Minerva Whittomb, and it's not what you might imagine. I don't want to ruin the scene for you, but finding Minnie's final resting place is, perhaps, the climax of the film. Once you see that, the only thing left is getting out of the Funhouse...if you can.

Production Note 131016: 21 Years

by Carvin Knowles on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Today, it has been 21 years since I wrote The Funhouse Waltz. That is, 21 years since I wrote the original "Concert Waltz" for strings, organ and percussion with theremin obligato. It was supposed to be a demo. Perhaps it really is. I won't know until I write the rest of it. I wrote the story outline on the day before, which, oddly enough is also 21 years today in the USA. Here in New Zealand, I'm a day ahead.

The styrofoam door lentil for the main entrance to the funhouse is carved but not yet painted.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Tonight, I began carving styrofoam to make the main entrance to the funhouse, for the title sequence. I had told myself that I was finished making complex set pieces for this film. I lied. This one, like most of it, was in my head from the beginning. So I had to make it. It's part obsession and part psychosis. There will be at least two more after this one. The all-important funhouse sign, and the loading area. You can't go on a ride unless you first stand in line, after all. All this for the shortest section of the whole film. The title sequence and opening will last less than two minutes.

It feels weird that I've been on this journey for over 20 years. I need to finish it, so that it doesn't take another 20.

Production Note 241016: Enter The Green Screen

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, October 24, 2016 at 11:54 pm

First, I am happy to report that my eye is healing nicely and I can see in stereo again. It's going well.

Second, my Chromakey Green-Screen arrived at the end of September. Over the last few days, I have put it to use for the first time. It wasn't easy. Seriously, all the documentaries you see about these things make it look easy, but what they don't tell you is that using a green-screen requires expert lighting. Since I'm not an expert, there was a bit of trial-and-error involved.

Back when I was shooting those last few scenes in the "Clown Rooms," I had always intended for a clown to jump up and shoot a gun at the camera. I searched in vain for several months to find a suitable toy gun. Finally, I asked my old friend and prop-maker David Springhorn to make a small gun for me. But by the time I asked him, I was nearly finished with the Clown Room shots. The gun arrived after I had already struck the sets and built the Haunted Nursery. I decided back then to shoot the shooter on a Green Screen and composite him into the shot. Finally, this week, I had that opportunity.

Frank is armed and dangerous, in front of the new Green Screen.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

But there was a new problem. Originally, I had intended our old friend "Happy" to pull the trigger. But we had just seen Happy reaching for the camera a moment before in the shot. It couldn't be him. And all the other clowns were in the shot, either just before or just after the shooter. I was in an odd logical dilemma.

Then I remembered the one lost clown, "Frank." Frank was made in the first week of pre-production back in 2006. You can see his freshly-painted head drying on the window-sill, next to the Devil, on the first Funhouse Waltz page on this website. At the time, I had considered Frank to be too ugly, too creepy to be a circus clown. But here, in the last part of the Clown Rooms, everything was slightly out of control. Frank was perfect. After waiting all this time for his moment of fame, Frank was a star...for about one second of screen time.

Frank's freshly painted head dries with the other character heads on my window-sill in December 2006.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 281116: No Cue for This Ride

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 11:55 pm

I have been busy. I have built the front entrance to the Funhouse and the loading area, just inside, where an old abandoned ride car sits on its rails, waiting for someone to climb in. I have also made the old, rusting sign that sits on the Funhouse roof. That one was especially fun, since all the ironwork is made from old, vintage Erector sets. In order to make them look old, I soaked them in salt water and let them rust. I used all the leftover ironwork as the cue dividers inside the loading area, though in the final shot, they were shoved out of the way to make way for the camera dolly. They look like just so much broken debris inside the entrance to the ride. Nobody will be standing in line anyway.

The unfinished Funhouse sign and walls for the entryway sit on the work bench in my shed.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

For the last couple nights, I've been shooting the "loading area." Built like a stage set, it has three walls, and since the music for this shot takes just over 30 seconds, I've been counting the frames and taking multiple shots to show the detailed room. Not much happens here. Almost all the animation is about the camera moves. But there's lots of details to see, and quite a bit of foreshadowing in a short amount of time. It's not an exciting part of the film. But it is absolutely necessary to set the scene.

You might think twice about entering the Funhouse if you read the notice next to the door.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Every "dark ride" has its rules. These rules appear to have been written a long time ago.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

The finished entrance to the Funhouse. Yes, those are dried weeds taken from my garden.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 020217: The Final Month

by Carvin Knowles on Thursday, February 02, 2017 at 11:14 pm

I have begun the final month of production. I began shooting this insane project in March of 2007, so by March 1 of this year, I want to be finished. You'd think that I would just finish off with what I have already built and be done with it. And that would be the smart way of doing all this. But if you have read this far, you know that I just can't do things the easy way. So I've been building more crypt on the kitchen table.

Tonight, I have, once again, started shooting. For the next few weeks, its all about walking skeletons. This is the part I had long intended. I had always intended to use a Green Screen. But the Green Screen is too much work to use for everything. Besides, I want the skeletons to look as if they are really there. And the only way to do that is to really put them there.

Production Note 130217: Hard Working Skeletons

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, February 13, 2017 at 11:56 pm

Another late night of animation. The final section is banging along! I've been keeping my skeletons working hard in this new section of crypt.

Hidden behind the camera in this shot, you can barely see the candles that are lighting the crypt. The flicker of the candles gives the whole scene a flickering effect. As an added bonus, the camera doesn't always know how to interpret the rapidly changing light. As a result, the whole scene comes out a little grainy. I don't have to add any filters or digital effects. It looks lo-fi because it IS lo-fi.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 020317: That's a Wrap!

by Carvin Knowles on Thursday, March 02, 2017 at 2:22 am

On the last night of shooting The Funhouse Waltz, my ghosts have been waltzing on the green screen. This shot was particularly difficult. I needed to make their movements seem natural. It took 4 tries. After that, I re-dressed the table to shoot the Funhouse roof for the very first shot. As much as I wanted to work fast, it needed to be right. So I'm finishing a little late tonight. Here are a few photos to document the moment...

Photo by Carvin Knowles

Photo by Carvin Knowles