Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption Episode 2

I hope you enjoyed my companion blogs for the first episode! I imagine that you have come for more, if you did. If you haven't seen the art department behind-the-scenes about the Chantry, Qunari, and the Tallis costume, click here! The path will bring you back to this entry eventually...

The world of Dragon Age: Redemption gets larger in Episode 2: Cairn, showing us the rogue Elf culture of the Dalish. If you have yet to see this episode, watch it below.

Photo 1: After Tallis slays Brom, she and the Templar part ways to find Saarebas. While Tallis uses her wit and cunning, the Templar uses a magical object called the Phylactery. It contains the blood of the mage, and glows when pointed in the mage's direction. This leads the Templar to a Dalish camp.

Photo 2: In Felicia Day's script, the Phylactery was mentioned, but not described in detail. BioWare provided us with images of the game assets, but they were all simple vials or jars of blood. I wanted this particular version to have a presence, and importance. It also seemed that the Chantry used the Phalacteries as tracking devices, so I thought it should be slightly more functional looking than a jar. I proposed the idea of it looking like a compass to Felicia.

Photo 3: She liked the idea, and it made a lot of sense that Cairn could wear it around his neck like a medallion, or easily hide it under his breastplate. The next step was to get the guys at BioWare to sign off on the design, so Kevin "Amish" Ivers elevated my rough sketches to this refined concept art for approval.

Photo 4: BioWare gave me the thumbs up, and I started engineering the thing. I realized that the center "hour glass" actually needed to be real glass, and since we needed multiple copies, it had to be made to very specific tolerances so all the parts were interchangeable. Amish did a Sketch Up schematic, calling out all the specs, and we farmed the glass out to a local scientific equipment manufacture. This was probably the single most expensive purchase for the whole show!

Photo 5: I sculpted the outer ring in a mirrored face, so I could cast 2 of the same piece, flip them, and make a back and front from one sculpture. Just like what we did for Brom's Axe. This saved sculpting time, plus the plastic outer ring needed to be in two halves in order to insert the hour glass. I made the center support bar out of brass bar stock that was highly detailed with an intricate acid etched pattern. I had a 9" piece that I was saving for years to use on something special, and when I decided it would be the Phylactery, Pooja tried to find more stock. I didn't remember where I got the original piece, but we searched everywhere and no one sold anything like it anymore. Hence, only the hero Phylactery has etching on both sides, and one stunt copy has etching on one side! The rest just have solid brass bar stock. :(

Photo 6: Once the whole Phylactery was assembled and painted, I filled the hour glass with fake blood. The glass was opened on one end and the ring had a hole that lined up with the opening. I used a syringe to inject the blood in, and then used a micro-fine steel rod to bleed air out so the blood would settle in the lower chamber. Once the hourglass was full enough, I dried out the hole with alcohol and cotton swabs, and sealed it with silicone caulking. It was very delicate work...

Photo 7: Meanwhile, next to my desk, Marissa was pounding coffee beans with a meat tenderizer!!! I'm not sure if this was another physics experiment, or if our coffee grinder broke...

Photo 8: When Carin finally finds the Dalish camp, he is met by a band of angry Dalish Warrior Elves. The leader of this guard is played by Timothy Lee Depreist. Here, Costume Designer Shawna Trpcic works her magic to transform pieces of existing costumes into Elven fashion that jumps right out of the Dragon Age game. Shawna knew what was hiding in every corner of the costume houses we used, and pulled every possible texture and finding to make the DA:R wardrobe as rich as it could possibly be. You are already a fan of her work, even if you don't know it. I'll give you the short list: Angel, Torchwood, Dollhouse, Firefly , Power Rangers, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog .... any of those ring a bell?

Photo 9: Here I am casting Tim's ears for his Elf appliances. Tim is an old friend of mine, and for years he has had an "office" at the BarnYard in the form of an vintage camper. If you are a fan of The Guild, you've seen it in the Christmas video I directed, "The Guild Sells Out: Bladezz Blade!" Tim is one of the best model makers out there, having worked on blockbusters such as Men in Black and Daredevil. We were building models for "The Hulk" at the BarnYard years back when he confessed to me that he really wanted to try his hand at acting. I encouraged him to go for it, grab a BackStage West and send in some head shots. To my surprise, he picked one up over lunch, and the first number he called, booked the role! Since then he has been on almost every crime investigation drama on TV. He also started practicing Yoga, and is now a top instructor for the Hollywood elite, including Eliza Dushku and Tamlyn Tomita.

Photo 10: Producer Kim Evey had met Tim during a visit to the BarnYard, and threw his hat in the ring to play the Dalish Warrior. Felicia agreed that he had the right look, and it was really exciting for me to be able to tell him he had the part. It was fun having so many important people in my life all be involved in the same project. It was also fun to be able to transform many of them. This is Tim in full Dalish gear. Everybody loved those bows...

Photo 11: Did I mention that EVERYBODY loved those bows! It became a favorite photo op on set, second only to being hugged by Doug Jones! Here, Art Department Coordinator Pooja Sharma does her best Robin Hood!

Photo 12: Once again we went to the BioWare weapons chart to look for a Dalish Long Bow. There were many options, but of course, my eye went right to the most intricate design! As I've mentioned before, I was feverishly fighting to avoid the "off the shelf" look that so many low budget fantasy films suffer from. I wanted to pick as many designs that were uniquely Dragon Age as possible.

Above, you can see the original game asset on the left, and our final prop on the right.

Photo 13: We took a different approach to this prop. Since I was so short handed on staff, and everyone was working beyond full capacity, it was hard to schedule in detailed prop building jobs like the Dalish Long Bow. So it was time to bring in the robots!!!

Mazin Dajani had constructed a homemade CnC machine in the corner of the BarnYard earlier in the year, and he convinced me that it could do the days of sculpting work necessary while keeping all the talented human hands free.

The bow was built in Studio 3D Max, then the upper half was computer cut in dense blue insulation foam. This was sanded smooth and molded, two copies where cast in fiberglass, then attached with a handle in the middle to form a whole bow.

Above, Leo Nasca patches the seam with Evercoat glazing putty.

Photo 14: We didn't have the budget for ANY custom made bows, but I really wanted them in the show, so I paid for all the materials out of pocket. The original plan was to just have one hero prop for Tim. But so much work went into it, and it looked so cool, I decided to pull more copies since the mold already existed. Here, Shanna Choung does a pass of sanding the Bondo spot putty on one of the copies.

Photo 15: As each bow was finished, it came to me for a final once over and some finish sanding.

Photo 16: The next step was painting. Each bow was base coated in a slightly different brown, all Testors enamel sprays. After that dried, I did a wash of burnt umber, wiped it down, then a thinner wash of black, wiped it down again, and then a dry brush of a light tan to simulate wear on the corners.

Photo 17: Sitting across the table from me as I painted was Emily Kung, who used cardboard poster tubes to create these arrow quivers. She wrapped them in leather, and added straps and fringe, each one completely different from the others. I remember this night specifically, as we pulled an all nighter to get the Dalish camp set, and around 4am, the power went out! It was January, freezing cold, and we were all sitting in the dark. At first, everyone thought we blew breakers because of the space heaters everywhere, but that wasn't the case. Then I had the horrifying thought that I may have forgotten to pay the power bill amidst all the chaos!!! But after a bunch of us wandered onto the street, it was evident that the whole block was shut down! A transformer a few streets away blew, and took out the grid. It didn't look promising, considering there was a bunch of work to do before leaving for our 6am call!!! If only we had some muffins!

Photo 18: Did I mention EVERYBODY loved the bows!??! Erika Ladd, Pooja, and Red 5 do their best Charlie's Angels!

Photo 19: But remember, the bow chooses the archer...Oh, wait, wrong fantasy realm...

Photo 20: The Templar is allowed into the camp under Tallis's instruction, and we get our first glimpse of the nomadic Dalish life. As travelers, the Dalish keep everything they own on wagons that are pulled by mighty steeds. The wagons have colorful sails to help them move effortlessly along. BioWare sent these game design layouts with scale and texture for us to follow.

Photo 21: John Bell constructed the wagon hulls from 1/2" ply and 1x3s. The wheels were plywood rings with dowel spokes, and luan wrapped around the outside.

Photo 22: The wagons were painted in several shades of brown, and then dozens of bright red fabric panels were laced onto them. We had a whole team of people working on the sewing and painting of the sails, as each wagon had over a dozen individual pieces, and all the yellow stripes had to line up in the end. Here, Katie Moest sorts out the finished panels for each wagon.

Photo 23: The biggest and most structural wagon belonged to THE KEEPER. This wagon required an interior, and it was scripted that no one could see what Tallis was doing once she entered it. I tried to incorporate the panels from the open wagons as sun shades, and have short pony walls on the sides to give it more solidity, since this wagon housed valuables.

I also incorporated the built in chest of drawers, since the wagon gets ransacked. I though having drawers open, missing, and stuff hanging out would express that visually, while still making sense for the lifestyle of a nomad.

You can see the opening for the "secret" panel in the lower right hand corner.

This whole wagon was built as a "wild" set, meaning all the walls can separate to make more room for camera and crew. But it was never shot that way, and stayed in tact the whole time.

Photo 24: Once the location was chosen, I sketched this quick layout of where I though everything should go, and it was sent out to production for a sign off or corrections.

Photo 25: Ultimately, we made 6 wagons in all, two of which were heavily damaged by Saarebas's clan. The wagons all had to be transported in pieces and assembled on site. I was hoping to have a few days to do this, but we only ended up with an afternoon the day before filming. Here, Frank Bonanno and Red 5 layout the sails in numbered order for each wagon at the Malibu location.

Photo 26: This differed from the game art, but I wanted to put a slightly more natural element to the Dalish wagons, so I made the masts from Yucca trees instead of milled lumber. Yucca is pretty light weight for 12 feet of tree, but even still, John Bell was the only one of us who could carry more than one at a time!!!

Photo 27: A finished Dalish wagon, after the wrath of Saarebas.

Photo 28:The Dalish camp was only the third day of shooting, and my team was already pretty worn out. We had survived weeks of pre-production, and now the grueling schedule of principle photography was crashing down on us. The day after we shot this scene, Felicia emailed me, stating, "I had a total trippy experience looking at that Dalish Camp, it was like it walked out of the Game. Unreal, thank you for your artistry." The team was super excited to hear how pleased she was, and that invigorated everyone to push onward for the next several weeks of filming.

Photo 29: I still have a few more things to talk about in the Dalish Camp, like meeting Josmel, but I'll save that for the end of the week. Don't forget to "thumbs up" on the Dragon Age: Redemption Episode 2 video if you liked it. It means a lot to the project, and the more positive feedback we get, the sooner we will be able to bring you more projects like it.

Also, leave me some feedback on this blog, too. What is your favorite prop from DA:R so far? There's so much more to come, don't forget to share this blog with others, and sign up to be a member yourself!


  1. Amazing job Greg and everybody involved in this production.
    I'm curious, what do you do with all the props you build? do you keep them, your house must look like disneyland only geekier and cooler.

  2. Ha! I have a basic agreement that I own all of the things I make for shows, and the production owns the copyright to use the image of those props in the film. Once a project is completed, the props are stored or displayed. Generic ones get reused in future projects. The BarnYard is a bit amusement park-like! Maybe I will give a tour in a future blog post!

  3. That meat tenderizer looks like one of those columns from the guild hall. Is that one being reused as well?

  4. Awesome work Greg! Can't wait to see more.

  5. Oooh, yes! Do a tour of the BarnYard post! That would be slick.

    I adored Episode 2 of DAR! Felicia was right, the Dalish camp looks weirdly come to life from the video. It was perfectly constructed to look both sparsely nomadic yet full and robust. Big red sails make such a visual impact.

    I am amazed at how much you were able to do on a shoestring budget. In your other post where you said you had a crew of 30 to do what really needed 100, it made me start wondering: when you approached people to work with you did you tell them you had no money first or that you had the coolest job ever first?

    My favorite prop so far has probably been the phylactery. In DnD I have always wanted them to be ornate. The bearer holds the only key to destroying an immortal when holding one. It should look incredible. I love the way you styled this one to resemble a compass. It is gorgeous.