No Budget VFX Short 'The Green Ruby Pumpkin' Cooks Up an Impressive Halloween Treat
What is it about rhyming couplets that make them perfectly suited for delivering dark tales of things that go bump in the night? We saw their effective use in Bloody Cuts’ bedtime yarn Suckablood and now, in time for the night where ghosts and ghouls invade cities across the world comes The Green Ruby Pumpkin, a passion project from senior visual effects artists Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma:
After a hard day’s work at Digital Domain on blockbuster releases such as Thor and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ortega and Ma diligently put in 9pm – 4am stints on their self initiated Halloween short. Working at the zero budget scale of things, the pair quickly realised that what they did have at their disposal was an ample supply of visual effects knowledge and a living room:
Every shot has a visual effect of some sort, the only thing we built was a 12×12 deck and a 12×12 front porch wall and doorway. This was not because we wanted to be CG crazy but because we couldn’t afford to do it for real, ironically what usually inflates the budget to others is free to us but we couldn’t afford the most basic of props once we ran out of money.
EVERYTHING in the film is handmade when possible, the costumes, the props, the wallpaper is painted by hand with a brush because we couldn’t afford wallpaper, the picture frames were made of cardboard because we had no money for real frames. The only store bought props were the shoes, and the khakis outfits on our triplets. Even the statues on the wall were cast from cheap plaster molds and painted to look old.
This DIY resourcefulness, coupled with the project’s green screen living room setup proved flexible enough to capture all elements needed for the short except for the fully grown adult wolf — that required the much more up close and personal approach of setting up a green screen in the animal’s cage and shooting until the wolf gave them what they needed. 7 hours later it was in the can for the crucial 2 seconds of onscreen time it occupies in the final film. Their human talent were much more compliant, although arguably, the digital prosthetics work rendered onto the witchy Miss Deats made her just as scary as the wolf.
On the kit and software they brought together to handle the array of effects needed for the film:
The entire project was rendered on 7 computers, Running Maya for 3D, Mudbox for sculpting, Mari and Mudbox for Texture Painting, Vray for rendering, Nuke for compositing. A lot of shortcuts had to be used in order to manage our render times, including 3d projections in nuke, miniatures, and practical elements. The majority of the vfx work was just us two, however we had great help from friends on the rigging and animation side of things. We wanted to make sure everything you see on screen was designed and or fabricated by our team.
You can see the project coming together in this making of video:
And here are some before and after project stills:
It seems that The Green Ruby Pumpkin is continuing the trend of self initiated shorts directly leading to career breaks — Ortega signed with Spy Films as a director off the back of this. Whilst not as headline grabbing news as some of the viral video breaks discussed in Short of the Week’s The Viral Experience piece, this kind of recognition leading to a paying gig is encouraging news for anyone working away on their own passion project.
Is this something you’ve been able to achieve with any of your own films?