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Civil Protection: The Tunnel

DaveD here posting this on behalf of Ross Scott:

This is being displayed hopefully not-post-humously, but my access to internet will be infrequent for a little while, so I typed this in advance.
“The Tunnel” is finally released! It feels like some sort of curse being lifted. I have a LOT to say about this episode, so I’ll break it down into chunks:

This is the longest video I’ve created, coming to 26 minutes total. It’s split into two parts on Youtube, I didn’t have time to do an encoding of the unsplit version before I left, but that will be put up on the site as soon as I have access to my computer and internet again. The full size of this episode is 120GB uncompressed, so I need to crunch that thing down.
In some posts I’ve stated before that I have some top-level ideas that I think would blow people’s minds. This still isn’t one of them. I have always wanted to have some variety in the episodes for Civil Protection however, and this is an example of that. This isn’t really like any of the previous episodes. I’ll warn you that this isn’t the funniest one either. I was trying for a balance to make it kind of creepy and develop more of a story versus having some comedy in it. There will be more of a comedy focus in future episodes of CP however.
I think the biggest weaknesses in this episode are that it’s a little slow to develop and I may have left too many unanswered questions. The episode was written years ago and if I were to do it again today I would have made some more changes. By the time I noticed some script weaknesses in it, I had come too far in production to just change everything. This is actually one episode I could see getting a direct sequel, but there’s no way in hell that will happen under current production methods. Also, I noticed after the fact that there are some minor light glitches I might have been able to fix if I realized them sooner, so I recommend not watching this on a screen that’s TOO bright. I might fix them before I release a copy of it on the site, I’ll see. That’s the closest thing I get to a “patch.”
As for the strengths, this is my first real attempt at trying to create something scary (in “Halloween Safety” the scare was more of a coincidence) and I hope it’s succeeded a little bit. I also think this is the most atmospheric of the episodes. When I was working on the editing, it felt a little like Mike and Dave were getting sucked into another reality, I enjoyed that aspect of it.

The length of time this episode has taken has been an embarrassment. To make matters worse, it took a long time for all the wrong reasons. This isn’t the most spectacular looking episode and if it were filmed in reality, most of it could be shot very easily. If I had known how much work this deceptively-easier-looking episode would be, I never would have started it in the first place and would have worked on different ideas instead. It went on and on just because I wanted to finish the damn thing rather than throw all my work out. If you’re wondering what the reasons for it dragging on, here’s quick breakdown:

-The Source Engine. This, far and away, trumps every other reason as to why the episode took as long as it did. This episode was filmed mostly in the Episode 2 version of the Source engine and I ran into far more bugs than I’ve ever faced before. If it wasn’t for some coding help, this episode would have never even been finished. I’m not a programmer, so when I face a bug, I have to come up with some elaborate workaround to it with the SDK tools, or else it can put a halt to the whole production.
I can forgive a company for bugs, it’s inevitable. What makes me bitter though, is I swear Valve breaks as many things as they fix when they make an update. So the engine may receive some lighting update, and then an entity I was using to animate characters no longer functions at all. While I think it’s great that tools are released for free, I have a real issue with how Valve will auto-update the SDK, which can often break important functionality of it, and then LEAVE IT broken. I’m sure they just see it as fiddling around, but from an end-user perspective it feels downright mean when it breaks all the work you’ve been involved with; like someone coming in and stomping on your sand castle. The bug list for this episode was staggering. For future episodes, unless I can solve major, major problems involved with engine for creating machinima, I’m going back to the Episode 1 engine. It really is that bad.

-Work on other things. The episode has been dropped and resumed multiple times. I’ve created 4 other Civil Protection episodes since I first began working on it, started the Freeman’s Mind series, launched the website twice, moved various times, etc. While technically it first started in 2007, it hasn’t been worked on during that whole time.

-People flaking out. I won’t name names (except for Ryan McDonald), but at times getting some people to work on a simple task felt like pulling teeth. I see this more as my fault, since this is very common with volunteer help. If I had been more on top of things I could have gotten more “backup” people sooner. If I could afford to actually hire people, especially an animator, I would in a heartbeat. However, if I were to pay everyone what I could afford out of my own pocket, it would just be an insult (”Congratulations, here’s your 45 cents!”). Don’t get me wrong however. While I did all the work on the older episodes, this episode wouldn’t have been possible without help from other people, some of which did an absolute fantastic job.

-I kind of hate animating. As much as I love creating movies, I find the animation process to be misery a lot of the time. I hope that some day I won’t have to do nearly as much animation work as I currently do. While I did receive some great help in areas , ultimately I think did the majority of the animation work on this episode. This is the last episode where I spend as much time as I do on animating. I’m really getting serious about exploring motion capture and you can expect it to be a cornerstone of future episodes or else I’ll just work on something else.

-I’m not a great manager. While I think I could be a competent manager by itself, I’m not when I’m also a director, animator, editor, and work on more than one series. With more people helping, most things are managed primarily by email, so keeping track of everything can be a bit daunting for me in addition to everything else. Having something like a better project communication / coordination system, or an actual producer or assistant director could help tremendously.
In the future, I expect to address most of these problems and have a complete overhaul of the production process.

Machinima.com has changed their policy on the use of game soundtracks multiple times. Music was very important to this episode for establishing mood and at one point I was told I wouldn’t be able to use ANY game soundtracks. Since then, I managed to get lucky with one or two (and received direct permission from composer Zdeněk Houb), so I at least got to keep the original title theme to the series (for now anyway). Because use of soundtracks is still discouraged, a lot of music was composed for this episode and it really shows. I couldn’t be much happier with how the music turned out. I gave the composers a lot of feedback to try and get the right mood I was after.
Unfortunately, not everyone who composed music had material that made it into the episode; and I felt really bad having to throw out good music that simply wasn’t the right mood I was after for a particular scene. To make up for this, over the next few weeks, I plan to have a “composer showcase” periodically for each person that contributed music to me for the episode, so you’ll get to hear music from everyone who tried to help out, not just the people in the credits.

The immediate future will be involved with me moving and getting a new place set up, but after that, my focus in the shorter-term will be with producing a LOT more Freeman’s Mind episodes and with responding to the many, many emails I am woefully behind on. Months behind. I’ll have a later post detailing my plans for future videos farther in the future.

Hope people enjoy the episode, and if you don’t, just remember I plan on making many different videos.

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