Hike on Miracle Trail

Little Jenny and her father enjoy their hiking. On a bright sunny day they head out only to find that this particular hike will be an event to remember.

Watch the Film

Pre-Production

Because the film was originally intended for a 36-hour competition and because I waffled making the decision to make a film for it, there wasn't much time to develop a quality script. Then again, I struggle devoting time to writing anyway.

All I can really say is that if you want quality story, don't skimp on development. I always seem to race into my own projects without devoting sufficient resources to making the story really sing.

Of course in a short film competition there will always be sacrifices, so this isn't necessarily a criticism of this project. I just want to encourage you to devote as much time to story as possible before you shoot. A rock solid story can make up for a host of other shortcomings.

Production

On a warm Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2011, Adra and I ran to the church to pick up Kaddo. After stopping at Subway to grab lunch for our shoot, we stopped by the house to get Julie and our little cast and crew of four headed out to the lake.

We shot the car scenes before lunch before we headed to our afternoon shoot location and sat and ate our lunch.

Following our repast, we headed along the river to grab various shots of the father/daughter hike.

My directing was lackluster to say the least. Because of the short pre-production time I didn't really have a chance to plan out shots or composition. Additionally, I was unable to share my thoughts with my cast. Granted they're not professional actors, but without a pre-production meeting, I couldn't share what little vision I had with them. Each shot was a challenge for me to convey the emotion, movement, and dialog. Everyone was patient with me and we managed.

Lighting

Because of our limited (zero) budget and limited crew, we shot with no lighting of any kind save for the sun. No reflectors, no diffusers, nothing. But because the dirt was light in color, it acted as a sufficient reflector and lit our talent well. The truth is that we don't have much in the way of lighting, something I hope to acquire someday.

Sound

My wife Julie reluctantly came along as our sound technician, but faithfully and tirelessly worked with us throughout the day. Though she isn't excited at the prospect of film making, it was a welcomed blessing to have her along.

Our rig consists of a homemade windscreen housing a Rode NTG-2 jacked into a Marantz PMD660. Some gaffer tape kept our recording deck strapped to Julie's leg.

Unfortunately the wind was brisk all day and even with the windscreen we managed to record plenty of noise. Julie did manage to get some good dialog for the bulk of the shoot.

Finally we wrapped up our shoot and headed home.

Post-Production

Copying the data to the computer was itself a long process. Watching the progress bar and knowing the time limit on the competition hinted at the difficulties to come.

The film needed to be three minutes or less and my first cut was over fourteen. Trimming down got it to seven minutes. As I edited, I realized I would never finish the film on time to the quality level I was willing to share. At that point I had to give up on completing our submission before the deadline. It was at this point that I abandoned the project for several months.

Visual Effects

Our short film was only intended to have a couple of FX shots: the teleportation. After further review, I realized there were some other issues I needed to address.

License Plate Replacement

I would rather not have our personal license plate appear on the Internet, which meant I would have to replace the plate with something else. Because there is text on license plates, it was of course a possibility to add meaning to the film. I chose HIKERZ to impress on the viewer that they are avid hikers.

The replacement was done with both the point tracker in After Effects and the Mocha planar tracker that ships with After Effects. Each one has its pros and cons, and each applies to different situations.

In several shots the license plate either moves completely out of frame or at least a majority of it does. This made the tracking difficult.

The planar tracker did a fair job of using the entire back panel of the tailgate. Though the plate and the tailgate are not on the same 3D plane, the tracking was sufficient for these simple shots.

There were a series of rotoscoping issues when it came to Kaddo's hands passing in front of the plate. This included the shadow of his hand and that of the tailgate handle passing over the plate and changing its lighting appearance.

Shadow Removal

Upon working in the editing room, I noticed that our two characters returning to the car were also returning to the shadow of our microphone boom.

Using the Mocha planar tracker on the ground surrounding the car made this removal very easy. Paying close attention to the ground to the left of the car in the shot will reveal that the ground is somewhat distorted as I remapped it to cover the shadow. Mocha provided a rock-solid track for this fix.

Teleportation

The two shots involving the teleportation were extremely different in their level of difficulty.

The disappearing shot was done handheld and thus required a number of tracking attempts to get a blank plate positioned on top of the characters to make them disappear. The AE point tracker was used to get a lock on the background and then match a portion of a previous frame to that movement.

The second teleportation shot was much more forgiving as we shot it on a tripod. Because I hadn't properly anticipated the visual effects requirements, I had to grab several frames from the footage and blend them together in Photoshop to eliminate the two cast members.

Particle World and Mesh Warp were used to distort the background and create some particles for the effect.

Audio

After much of our audio was filled with wind noise, I had to recreate the background noise and all the Foley. I used dozens of effects from the Digital Juice Sound FX kits. The music from the film also comes from their royalty free collections.

Many hours were spent adding audio to all the scenes. It's a very critical part of any film, so I wanted to make sure that what was seen was also heard. I can't say that I'm a sound design wizard, but it was sure fun to recreate what we heard out there.

Good ambient noise is an important element to include. In this case it was harbor noise with wind. I also included water sound effects in the shots where water can be seen.

One last key with sound design is to make an audio level pass to make sure you don't peak your levels. If you allow your audio to go above the maximum, you risk strange effects during playback. These may include a permanent scream following a peak... very annoying.

Call to Action

In this day and age of YouTube, Vimeo, and similar websites for sharing video, many people enjoy shorter entertainment options. If we can create some shorter projects, which are much easier to produce, we can perhaps horn in on the material the lost are absorbing.

If feature length films are out of your reach, try creating films that are ten minutes or less. You may end up with quite a following, and you can share a large amount of good Biblical knowledge in a short time.

While I don't see "Hike On Miracle Trail" as being a film that will greatly influence a large number of non-believers, it does attempt to normalize prayer.

Keep up the faith and keep your devotion to serving God through film.