Making the 2018 Christmas special
In 2017 a group of content creators got together to make an unprecedented series of interwoven videos. A single story as told by many commanders in their own personal style - all culminating in a finale which tied everything together. It was a phenomenal undertaking and pretty much nobody watched it. Not the whole thing anyway, some of the more popular channels who took part saw good views but only a few watched all of the videos sequentially in the way they were intended, which was a shame.
So the impetus to repeat the process again was, let's say - diminished. There was clearly the desire to do something from some of the content creators, myself included, but nothing on the scale of what came before. The amount of effort and organisation which went into the previous story was significant. If I wore a hat, I'd take it off for those who made it possible. Greytest, I'm looking at you here buddy.
Time went on and it was looking more and more likely that a second YuleTube would not happen, I was unsure about my own involvement too. Personally, I'd had a rough year, my video output levels had dropped significantly.
I'd recently released "Pain in the Colonia Pt1", a video which took several months to complete to a lacklustre reception. I'll admit, I was feeling a little deflated about that and the prospect of doing it all over again over the run up to Christmas filled me with a sense of dread. But I wanted to do something, as did the other creators in our close knit group - The Mostly Aimless. I didn't want to let the side down.
So I decided to put together 4 scripts telling a simple story about a bad guy, El Scorbius. A pirate so violent and nasty that the universe itself would come to judge him. I'd opted for a dark comedy variation on the Christmas Carol story by Charles Dickens. El Scorbius had his motivations for his murderous rampage and would become more and more unhinged as time went on, culminating in a finale where he gets his comeuppance.
With the scripts done, I had to decide on a presentation format.
The problem with the way I typically make videos is that they take a lot of work and time to get the character animation and lip syncing working properly. This honestly is the largest time sync in my videos.
I can spend 12 hours on a piece which lasts 5 minutes. That's just the lip syncing. Then there's the facial animation to think about, then the movement.
Then scene set-up, lighting, camera placement and that's all before I've started filming in the game to get backgrounds and then superimpose the CGI onto the footage.
A new approach
I decided to do these videos as simply as possible. I wanted to get one video out per week. An unprecedented pace for me. So it was back to basics. Head shots and pretty much completely using external shots of ships from different angles. El Scorbius would be wearing a full dark visor for the close-up shots so no lip syncing.
I then had to work out how El Scorbius needed to sound. I always prepare my audio first. I get the show sounding how I want it to and then build upon that with visuals. I played with a few voices myself and settled on a bombastic angry voice which was pitch shifted down 3 semitones with a little added chorus for good measure.
I'd need extras for the other parts. I really wanted to get a rich tapestry of voices which could add real character to the parts and there were quite a few parts to fill.
The Mostly Aimless
Luckily, In our group, there are some wonderful people who were more than willing to step up and help to make these videos possible, without them - there would be no Christmas special. So before I go any further, I'd like to thank Nuke, Nyx, Tant, Turjan, Tato, Cosmic Dust, Ellie, Plater, Mach1ne, Hunter and Jayne for their help.
There were more people who helped out too, but these guys were a rock.
MVP award has to go to Nuke as he helped me to flesh out the character, the ship build and the violence needed for the show - actually performing most of the stunts for El Scorbius to boot, second being Nyx who was the literal punching bag for pretty much the entire show. His bank balance suffered for your entertainment. Thank you guys and thank you to everyone who helped.
Making 4 Episodes in a month
Each episode took around 5 hours to complete. This does not include the time spent filming or recording and mixing audio. I'm talking about assembling the footage into an episode. It was tough, the deadline approached faster each day, but I was making progress and in the first week I managed to release the first episode. Tasty Cargo. I won't spoil the story, If you've not watched it, here's a link.
As soon as that video was released, I immediately began working on the next 2. I needed voice parts from other people which always takes a little time.
Once the actors had moved their social lives around just for little old me, they sent me their recordings and I must say, I was impressed.
I've been impressed with the work everyone's done to be fair however a lot of the people who assisted had never recorded for a show before. They did a great job.
Episode 2 came together nicely, and once again it fell to Nuke and Nyx to assist with the filming. Thankfully, we were able to use the public Beta of Elite Dangerous for the 3.2 Q4 update. This meant that Nyx's bank balance wouldn't be affected on his real account. So we set about exploding Imperial cutters, Type 9's, Belugas, Orcas, Dolphins and a Chieftain. Hunter was also a stunt double for one of the episodes, taking take after take of damage, resetting the shot and going again.. just to get the sweet explosion from various angles that I wanted.
The victim in Episode 2 was a good friend of mine Cosmic Dust. His previous work on my Mining Class video made him the perfect choice for a snooty imperial commander in a rather splendid imperial cutter. A role which he slipped back into with ease and gave what I believe to be an even better performance to his previous outing.
So at the beginning of the 3rd week, the video Imperial Hospitality was released.
I was running low on time, the 25th was my deadline for the finale and I'd still got 2 episodes to make. The 3rd episode and the finale.
The Deadline Cometh
It was time to knuckle down and get the episodes completed. So I set to work on the audio for episode 3 and 4 mostly at the same time. Then it came time to put the 3rd episode together and I realised that I didn't have enough footage. The beta had ended and I needed more shots of exploding Belugas and Orcas. This meant only one thing. Nyx would now start losing money for his live account.
Thankfully he answered the call and asked the very reasonable question.. "How many ships am I going to lose this time?".. I gave him a number, which turned out to be far lower than reality.
As luck would have it, the Q4 live build had been released the previous day and there were some glitches with server instancing. This meant that when the ship had exploded, that it often reappeared in the same spot. No rebuy needed.
So we didn't tell anyone and carried on filming.
We also captured all of the footage for the finale, including a cameo from Plater.
After piecing together all of the footage, including 3 combat scenes, the video was ready and on the 23rd of December, the 3rd episode Radio Etiquette was released. This was taking a lot longer and a lot more effort than I originally thought. Thank goodness I hadn't opted to go down the lip sync route.
It was Sunday the 23rd of December. 2 days before Christmas. I had only Monday to get the finale completed and published.
The script to the finale was also the longest of all of the others in the series. Turjan had recorded his parts and expressed his concerns that this was going to run on for a lot longer than any of the others, by quite long time.
It would also need me to make an effect which could be show ghosts.
There's nothing within the game which can be used to mimic a ghostly presence. So with that in mind which recording the footage over the previous week, I made sure to record a backplate for the shot and use that to make the ships partially transparent.
A great idea in theory. However, the process I'd chosen was causing some serious performance problems in After Effects. It made the preview window slow down to a crawl. I was becoming very concerned with the amount of time it was taking to put the video together.
I also had to cut a scene which Turjan had recorded for a couple of reasons. First of all because I had no footage I could use which would make the scene work and secondly, I needed to cut for time.
Kill the Puppies
However, the there is a phrase used in film making "Kill the puppies" - while it sounds horrible it simply means that you shouldn't get too attached to a scene as it could end up on the cutting room floor if it doesn't server the story or hurts pacing.
I worked frantically all day, all through the night and eventually at 7am on Christmas day, it was time to start the render. With fingers crossed I started After Effects with the task and went to sleep.
At around 10am on Christmas day, I checked the rendered video and uploaded it to YouTube, just in time for me to drive to my Mother's house for Christmas dinner. Just in the nick of time.
So with that we had The Reckoning.
I had a really good time making the videos. It was a lot of hard work and the deadline was a lot tougher than I thought and I learned some new tricks.
I'm also quite proud of some of the shots I was able to achieve with game footage alone.
There are a lot of pieces of music in this episode too.
Music for last year's YuleTube videos were mostly provided by the incredibly talented Tom Cook (ToCoSo). Unfortunately there wasn't enough music to use for the entire El Scorbius series. I needed more music and I couldn't ask Tom - who is a professional musician - to work as hard as he did last year where he poured many many hours into music for the entire community free of charge to be used across the whole project. It gave the YuleTube project a consistent feeling.
I needed a lot of music. So for the first time I used the YouTube royalty free music library. I honestly found it to be a little limiting, but as luck would have it, I found some great classical tracks and some dramatic tunes I could use.
This saved a lot of time and helped to set the Christmas tone and while it's not as good perhaps as a bespoke scored soundtrack which S1 Studios would normally produce for me, it fit the story pretty well.
So I'll end by thanking you for making it through this blog post, it's quite a long one - but then it does cover making 4 videos in a single month.
So all that remains is to remind you to Take care, have a good time, and fly aimless - now, I need to get back to my nice chilled class of Jacobs Creek.