Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption Episode 1 Part 3

The conclusion of my Episode 1: Tallis blog! Which, coincidental, takes us to the first day of shooting! Due to our extensive caravan of cast and crew split between locations and on-stage sets, we did not film Dragon Age: Redemption in script order. Production created a flow to move from scenario to scenario in the most efficient manner, and it made sense to start the ball rolling with a kind of "warm up" day, involving the scenes with the least amount of cast, and art builds.

Photo 1: This meant starting the first day of filming with the introduction of Tallis, tracking down her mark through the dense forest. It was cool to arrive on set with Felicia Day in full costume, and see people's reactions to it for the first time. We shot out in Malibu, famous for it's beaches, but also thick with wooded hills. Our fantasy location was not far from where the the original Planet of the Apes was filmed.

Photo 2: Felicia got a full day of adventure right from the start: running, jumping, climbing trees! Even the simplest things needed to be done with a full support team for safety. Here, I discuss the tracking sequence with lead stuntman Tim Eulich as Stunt Coordinator Thom Williams helps Felicia reach her perch in the California Oak.

Photo 3: Tallis hunts her prey, perched high in a tree, blending into her surroundings. This scene looks very much as I imagined it when I first read Felicia's script. This was also the genesis for adding the hood to her costume design, as she is pretty famous for standing out with that brilliant red hair.

Photo 4: I got to spend some time up in the tree, too, since it was difficult for Felicia to climb the ladder with the daggers attached to her back. I needed to go up there and clip them on once she was in position, which was rough for me because I am TERRIFIED of heights. She was as comfortable up there as a squirrel, though, so she once again gained points for being dedicated, fearless, and awesome.

Photo 5: Of all the magnificent, monolithic undertakings you will witness as you watch more of DA:R, nothing had as much thought and attention focused on it as Tallis's daggers, how they would function, and how they would be stowed and removed.

Design wise, it made sense that Tallis would use a Qunari weapon, as she WAS a Qunari assassin. BioWare provided us with an extensive weapons chart, and I felt that it was most respectful to the property to pull as many images from that inventory to manufacture as possible. Early talks with production revolved around attempting to find "close matches" from Hollywood prop rental houses, but I was insistent that we create everything from scratch to exactly replicate the game designs.

Photo 6: Although, some alterations needed to be made. But only for practical purposes. BioWare sent us the game asset for a Quinari sword, and everyone agreed that it would be the perfect aesthetic for Tallis's daggers. The BarnYard in-house Armorer, Mazin Dajani, compressed the original weapon into a companion dagger. He built this CG model for comparison.

Photo 7: The hero blades were crafted by Mazin. He cut the blades from bars of aircraft grade aluminum, then ground them down to shape. Mazin wears his own warning label when working in the BarnYard metal shop.

Photo 8: Here are the raw aluminum dagger "bucks" before they were taken to the grinder. It would take Mazin hours of polishing on a buffing wheel to make them perfect.

Photo 9: In the game, weapons are either invisible until you recall them from inventory, or they float behind your back, defying reality and physics. We were creating a believable world, and although I fully support the power of plausibility in cinema, Tallis's trademarked daggers could not just be lifted into frame when she needed them. So we decided to strap them to her back in a criss-crossed fashion, handles down so they can be pulled in a dramatic motion. But making them stay and then be accessible was a project all on its own...

Photo 10: I decided that the safest way to go for the majority of Tallis's travel would be to create lightweight, plastic versions of the daggers in crossed sets that didn't come apart. These would clamp onto the back of her costume, and she could run, roll, and flip with out the fear of stabbing herself or others.

Art Director Bryan Fulk cut the dagger blades from sheets of sintra plastic, then covered the surface with aluminium tape used to join heating ducts.

Photo 11: The sintra daggers were safe for stunt work, but the stunt work was not safe for the blades! Even just running often caused the blades to bend and buckle, which wrinkled the aluminum foil covering, and made them look fake. So many, many copies were made. Luckily, the "wrapped leather" handles were actually resin casts of a sculpture I did for the hero blades, and they slid off the plastic tang easily, so duplicating and/or swapping the handles was not that time consuming.

Photo 12: Here, Production Coordinator Pooja Sharma prepares a flexible rubber copy of the daggers for a fight scene. On set, it was everybody's job to guard and care for all our props. As you can see, there where too many items for just a single "prop master", so it was all hands on deck for the very tedious job of keeping track of and maintaining all the weapons.

In a comment posted on the previous installment of this blog, Emily Kennedy asked how many people work at the BarnYard, and do they each have different specialties.

My staff varies from project to project, and after I ventured into producing my own films rather than work for the studios, a lot of the past few years has kept it to me being the sole resident artist when I wasn't in production. But after I got involved with web series like The Guild, the number of people started expanding with the needs of the shows once again.

Dragon Age: Redemption pulled in an art department of 30 people, at least half of them seeing the project through from beginning to end. If this was a studio picture, I would have started with 100! So it comes back to my first entry, how we had more resources than what is considered "normal" for a web-series, but we really didn't even scratch the surface as far as what was necessary for an undertaking as ambitious as DA:R!

Specialty wise, everyone involved brought something to the table, but I am proud to say that the majority of the crew were experiencing their first time in the art department, and trying things they had never done before. Everyone really rose to the occasion and delivered a tremendous amount of work with the highest level of quality, even though it may have been their first time even attempting it.

Photo 13: As the dagger prototypes were being developed, Felicia spent a lot of time practicing. She dropped by the studio often to test out new versions, and show us her moves. It was amazing how quickly she connected with the weapons, and in no time at all, she looked like a lethal pro.

Photo 14: And leaped like one, too! Team Tallis practiced every day for weeks at a park right near my house, so I got to watch the training progress as I walked my dogs each morning! I remember the first day, I had forgotten that they would be there, and as I was approaching the park from a block away, I was impressed by how high a woman was jumping into the air, spinning. As I got closer, I realized it was Felicia!

Photo 15: Art and Print also enjoyed the daily show, as I decided I would bring a camera and hang out for a minute to document the progress each day.

Photo 17: All that fight training was put to the test when Tallis goes up against Brom, played by Greg Collins. He's been on a lot of cool shows, but I don't think anyone's ever had him wear an ear necklace like the one I made him! Or carry a battle axe, for that matter...

Photo 18: This is the game asset we pulled from the BioWare chart. Keep in mind, this chart had HUNDREDS of weapons. We had hours long meetings about which ones we should make, and who should wield them. Felicia and I would narrow down our choices, pass it around production, then send the favorites to BioWare. Mike Laidlaw and the gang were always kind enough to just eliminate the ones that didn't work for in-game political reasons (Like if we assigned a weapon design to the wrong race) and let us chose from the remaining pix.

This war bird was a must for me. I wanted as much rich detail in the show as possible, and this definitely did not look "off the shelf!"

Damn. I just noticed that I didn't paint the attachement point brass on the finals! Ugh, that's gonna bother me forever now...

Photo 19: The game asset was enlarged to actual size, and roma was blocked out right on top of the print. Digger Mesch did majority of the sculpt, and I finished it. The head was sculpted separately because the body was a mirror image, so once sculpted side could be cast twice to make a full axe, and the head dropped on to that.

Photo 20: There were multiple versions of the axe made: a hero, a soft stunt, and a high-impact version. Here, Leo Nasca bondos the hero version. Leo answered the Knights of Good call to help the DA:R art department, arriving at the BarnYard his first day in Los Angeles. He went to school for film audio recording, but just wanted to be involved in any way he could. He has since been in the sound department on almost every project we have done this year.

Photo 21: Here, I apply the final details to all three versions of the axe prior to filming. I trimmed them with hemp rope and copper wire. I originally planned on hanging some leather straps with feathers off of the head, but it seemed like there was enough going on already in the end!

Photo 22: Brom uses his massive weapon to threaten the Tinker.

Photo 23: Alan Baxendale made the Tinker's pack on his first day at the BarnYard. All of the sticks were actually bolted together, but hemp rope was used to lash over the metal fastners and make it look like it was assembled more primatively. All of the bundles and packages were empty boxes or styrofoam shapes wrapped in burlap.

Photo 24: Bryan and Emily stand by with the pack between takes.

Photo 25: They also had to rake all the leaves between shots to eliminate all the footprints from the previous take!

Photo 26: The Dragon Age II game asset for the Templar.

Photo 27: Here's Mazin's real world version. Aluminum blade, brass gaurd plates, urethane pommel, and skinflex handle grips.

Photo 28: The Templar sheild was another example of a very impractical real-world design, but it looks so amazing in the game I had to figure out a way to make it work. Bryan and I mapped out a series of sintra cross sections, made a three dimentional grid, like one of those wooden dinosaur puzzles, and then he filled in the empty areas with WED clay and bondo'd the surface to make the compound radiuses of the sheild. After polishing that out to a smooth surface, the form was waxed, and an 1/8th inch layer of fiberglass was applied. When cured, this was popped off, and the design was dremmeled out of it. Bryan then glued this back onto the form, used Magic Sculpt to bevel all the edges, and molded it.

Here, he lays up a final fiberglass copy of the finished shield.

Photo 29: The copies were then sanded, primed, and painted. Here, Bryan and Frank Bonanno paint in the deatils defore the sheilds are weathered.

Photo 30: The finished sheilds on set. A hero, and 2 stunts. All three survived the shoot completely in tact, despite the beating they took!

Photo 31: Tim doubled for Carin throughout the shoot. I am gearing him up for the first fight scene of the production.

Photo 32: There are still so many crew members I haven't had a chance to mention yet! While all this chaos is going on, my assistant Sloane Grace holds the ship together by getting us everything we need to create our fantasy world.

Photo 33: Meanwhile, elsewhere in the studio, Marissa does physics experiments...

Photo 34: And of course, the BarnYard couldn't bring you any of this cool stuff with out the help and support of The Knights of Good team, Felicia Day and Kim Evey. They have brought me some of the most exciting projects the BarnYard has seen in years. I would follow these women off the edge of the world if they needed me to. And beleive me, Dragon Age: Redemption was as close as it gets to the edge! Wait till you see the next episode.

So that's Episode 1: Tallis! Did I leave anything out? Let me know if you have any questions about this episode. I'll try to answer them before posting art department behind the scenes for Episode 2!

Use the widgets below to share this blog if you liked it, and subscribe to stay updated on future posts. There's a lot of blogging going on for Dragon Age right now. Don't miss any!


  1. Thank you for posting all this, Greg. As an aspiring Production Designer, I really enjoy all the insight.

  2. I actually thought Tallis had two sets of daggers - no idea where I thought she was carrying the first one though... This was because of the fight scene - she was swinging them at 5:19 and then dramatically grabbed onto them at her back after a back flip at 5:28 :)

    It's also quite unfortunate that the video is produced in such a high resolution - at 5:40 you can see perfectly rounded shape of the stunt dagger's edge.

    Of all the props in this fight scene I loved the most the templars shield - it looked really heavy and extremely authentic!

    Can't wait to see the next episode! And more BTS stories :)

  3. Another AWESOME blog post Greg.. I sound like a broken record but I continue to be amazed by your talents.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing work with us!

  5. Amazing work on the gear and weapons! That's all I can say without going on and on about how much I would love a Halloween costume as a Templar. Some how I wouldn't do just as Tallis. ;)