Thinking Metal : Showreel

Last updated : 01-Jan-24

Showreel : Sirens Promo Movie (2018)

Sirens was an album by SkinMechanix that somehow became completely and utterly trapped in development Hell. I think we worked on it for around five years between 2014 and 2019, before the whole project was just abandoned as a non-runner.

I tried to kick-start the project one last time in the Autumn of 2018. Jules and I mounted a camera on an improvised gimbal, headed up to the local nature reserve, Rainton Meadows and began shooting amongst the fading foliage with the leaves tumbling around us and that gorgeous, flickering amber light hovering stage left. That was pretty magical, actually. Most of the footage was captured in less than an hour, before we were moved on by look-i-loos, who had never seen anybody shooting a movie before.

Later, I added the Chess Board sweeps and the Moon transitions because they gave the movie an enigmatic theme. I shot the whole scene at 60 fps so that, back at home, I could add some neat Under-cranking to give the movie an other-worldly feel. The icing on the cake was the fake bokeh elements which, once over-laid, took the movie to the next level. With the moody piano / synth backing, I thought the end result looked really good although, upon reflection, I think Jules' improvised costume would have looked better without the mask. A basic face-covering would have looked less contrived.

Why did Sirens die? Simple, really. Too many competing projects, all screaming for attention, all demanding their time in the Sun. Sirens just couldn't compete with that level of interference.

Showreel : Quietly Yours (2016)

This is an early version of the track, Quietly Yours, featuring the visuals we put together for the Never Mind the Ramones III concert.

The CGI was scripted in Processing, a Java-like programming language, and rendered into short segments of between three and twenty seconds. Those segments were then compiled in iMovie as a rough cut. Live action was added later although iMovie consistently messed up the drop-in points and no end of editing would fix the problem so... We left 'the mistake' in as a feature.

I love Quietly Yours. I think the guitars work astonishingly well and it's one of those tracks that just cries out to be properly finished and released.

Showreel : Glorianna (2016)

This is an early version of the track, Glorianna, again featuring visuals we put together for the Never Mind the Ramones III concert.

The theme was Age & Attachment, and how memories become so much more important as you grow older, as your past recedes into the distance. It's also about attachment. We're not supposed to become attached to stuff, so say the mystics but... blah! What do they know? The curse of aging is that we forget so much. Hanging on to little things keeps the memories alive and if we don't have memories then what do we have?

The stills were taken from the Synchronicity photo session from 2015. I used a large number of found objects - trinkets, knick-nacks and ephemera that I'd accumulated over my (then) fifty five years. Look closely. There are some interesting items in that collection. There's a Dutch Atlas of the World dating from 188 that belonged to my Great Grandparents. There's a collection of lenses and prisms which belonged to my friend and mentor, David Sinden, sadly deceased and greatly missed. There are a couple of Masonic devices lying around. Not sure who they belonged to. One of my Uncles, I think. And, of course, there's my Teddy Bear, Edward, my first true possession.

And so on...

Glorianna was inspired by an actress friend, whom I will not name. I met her only once but made such an impression that she stayed in my thoughts for many, many years. She was regret made real, made solid. Tangible even. She was not a happy soul. She said that she had sacrificed everything for her career - a family, marriage, children, a proper home, everything. However, aside from a few TV & movie appearances, she remained a minor bit-part player all her life. She had only one lasting relationship, alhough she insisted, to the very last, that it was strictly platonic. Her partner, John, was too selfish to love, she said. She eventually died alone in a hospital bed and, whilst her obituary made it to The Times, very few people made the effort to attend her funeral. Alas, her not-insubstantial fortune ended up being donated to a Donkey Sanctuary.

Was it all worth it? I suppose Donkeys have to eat, too.

Showreel : Passengers (2018)

Passengers was composed, written and edited in just a single day in the run-up to our performance at the 2018 Northern Electric Festival. However, the accompanying visuals were never used because, as we discovered on the night, there were six other bands all sharing the same tiny stage and there wasn't enough room for our projection screen. So, yeah... :)

The music for Passengers was very heavily influenced by Adam Lastiwka, perhaps best known for the incidental music to the TV series Travellers.

As with Quietly Yours, the visuals for Passengers were scripted in Processing and assembled into a rough-cut in iMovie. However, I wasn't happy with the end result, which seemed bland and uninteresting, like we were repeating ourselves.

With time running out, I came up with a solution - we would combine the previous movie sequences into a new, updated version using a split-screen technique, which I'd seen (and loved) in movies like Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming. Split Screen is a means of depicting the same story as it unfolds from different vantage points.

And because there did not appear to be any suitable split screen systems available in either iMovie or DaVinci Resolve, I wrote my own, again in Processing. The effect works well although, upon reflection, I should definitely have used the available time to sharpen up my keyboard skills instead of writing software. The performance was not one of my sharpest.

Showreel : Romance and the Telescope (2017)

Romance and the Telescope began life as one of our stage movies - a series of short clips intended to sit behind the band as part of a bigger performance. I liked the imagery so much that I decided to build on the idea and so, over the next couple of weeks, I worked the concept up using a storyboard into a full movie.

Yes, the story is personal. I read Physics at University. Jules was reading languages and the Humanities and, seemingly, we did not have all that much in common at first sight. However, we did discover a mutual interest in Astronomy. I remember walking home from a party one night and pausing not far from the Boating Lake in Newcastle's Leazes Park. I took a few moments to point out the planets Jupiter & Mars, Saturn too, if memory serves, and Jules was apparently hooked. We're still together forty two years later.

Of course, if I had to do the movie over again then I'd certanly do it differently. For a start, I'd explain why the characters are blurred and badly drawn. It's because, way back then, we were too young to know much about the world, never mind ourselves. Hence, we're blurred at the edges and there's a degree of uncertainty about who and what we are at that point in our lives. That's quite deep and not at all well explained. I'd certainly improve the flow of the movie, maybe merge the Moon scene in with meeting the girl for the first time, and I'd redo some of the sound effects. I also earned a copyright strike from YouTube because I used a sample of some road noise that wasn't original.

Why haven't I re-worked the project? Because I updated my Mac and the package I used, Black Magic's superb DaVinci Resolve, would no longer run on that operating system. When I eventually got around to installing a new version of Resolve, the project itself would no longer load. I still have all of the sources so I guess I could re-edit in Final Cut Pro. I'm not that much of a masochist.

Nevertheless, I'm quite proud of Romance. It's my first movie with a proper story. I hope you enjoy it too.

Showreel : The Hoppings! It's coming back! (2017)

The Hoppings is the largest travelling fun fair in Europe and takes place annually on Newcastle's ancient Town Moor. At the time, it was managed by the Freemen of Newcastle and, as a Freemen of the City, I was providing support for their web pages and digital media.

I edited a collection of clips left over from a shoot with Dene Films way back in 2011. I then added our own sound track, a rock-based number called The Art of Falling by SkinMechanix and I thought the results looked pretty passable. Alas, the brand management peeps decided they didn't like our track and, instead, went with an utterly bland, poorly filmed and poorly edited home-brewed effort cludged together by someone's nephew over a cheesy dance backing.

Sucks, eh?

However, I'd already sent our short film over to the offices of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and they used the movie as part of their promotional strategy for the event. Launched on 23rd June 2017, the video was seen by more than 11000 people in one night, which was pretty staggering at the time.

Showreel : Mandorla

Roberto Miller's Mandorla, is a film that explores a man's search for a meaningful life despite conflicts between his inner and outer worlds. Ernesto is a visual artist and seeker stuck in a corporate job, who is drawn by magical visions to a medieval French city. There, he seeks an elusive banker to help him unlock an obscure dream. However, his spiritual quest comes at a price, and threatens his job, his family, and his sanity.

Logoscape was the second track on Ion's 2007 album Future Forever. At the time, it was just a low key three-minute filler that formed a bridge between the bright and optimistic opening title track and the sombre and more downbeat Minerva. Logoscape took a matter of minutes to compose. Probably not even that.

And yet here, five years later, it's promoting a major independent movie, a movie which was backed by one of the best known producers in Hollywood. It even found itself in the sound studios over at Industrial Light and Magic, smoothed and caressed by none other than Oscar Winner, Randy Thom.

Pinch me. I'm still dreaming.

Showreel : Zyra's Song (2016)

A promo film for SkinMechanix, Zyra's Song was an experiment in CGI animation combined with live action.

The brief went something like this : "Easy going, arty but without being pretentious."

The movie was put together over three weeks in the summer of 2016. The animations were created in Processing by adding persistent particle trails over a collection of stills. These were later merged with footage from an outdoor shoot at the local nature reserve, Rainton Meadows. There's some gratuitous use of under cranking to create a dream-like feel and two very silly dogs, who enjoyed themselves enormously. Jenny discovered that running bare foot through such long grass wasn't easy and the insects were certainly biting that day, too.

We were really pleased with the end result, which was shown as a backdrop at many of the concerts around that time.

Caution: There is some nudity in this movie although it's tastefully filmed and edited.

Showreel : FreeFall (2012)

Produced for ambient electronica double-act Thorpe Cloud, the brief was as simple as it was complex - "Concert visuals of around fifty minutes duration, walking around an abandoned spaceship."

With limited time and no budget, we were stuck for a solution until I stumbled across the perfect location in the virtual world, Second Life.

To capture each scene, we used a simple off-the-shelf screen scraper, uShowMe, saving each sequence to disc as a QuickTime Movie file. These were then assembled using iMovie because it was all I had available. Quick 'n' dirty works every time.

However, the greatest challenge wasn't so much technical. Sourcing more than fifty minutes of footage so that we could hit the required duration proved quite difficult. We succeeded by capturing the same scene from several different angles and by adding in other locations with similar themes from elsewhere in Second Life. We were incredibly grateful to those residents of Second Life who created this amazing space. Alas, the entire island disappeared without trace a matter of weeks later so we were very lucky to find it when we did.

With the Thorpe Cloud performance out of the way, I felt that it would be a shame if the film was never shown again. Fortunately, shortly afterwards, I received an invitation to deliver a talk about our soundtrack work to the students of the second year Sound Design course at Northumbria University and I was able to show them what you could do with limited time and no budget. The ambient soundtrack was added to create impart a dark and mysterious feel that would be spooky and atmospheric but without falling into the usual horror movie cliches. It works pretty well, I think.