This post was written by Matthew DeLisi.

The way people have done things in the past has always inspired and intrigued me. Growing up, I loved watching behind-the-scenes documentaries about movies I loved. Like most kids, Star Wars was a huge inspiration. Seeing Industrial Light and Magic create magic out of cardboard and string made my imagination go in a million different directions as a kid, and still does to this day.

When I first got started my filmmaking journey, I came in around the time of the DSLR revolution. The “do-it-yourself” zeitgeist was raging in the industry and growing up with a very punk rock mindset, I wanted to see what I could bring to the table with my limited resources.

BTS on 'I Look Pale'Photo provided by Matthew DeLisi

As I grew and started shaping a career for myself, people would constantly tell me I couldn't pull off these big ideas I had because of budgets and time constraints. But, I found with a little creativity and some willing friends, I could prove those people wrong.

Eventually, my ideas became bigger but my budgets did not. I wanted more and more even if the things I wanted couldn't even exist with all the money in the world. That's when VFX became intriguing to me. I could craft anything in my mind inside of a computer and make it a reality.

Long story short, I ended up starting a VFX company called BRAINCHILD VFX and that's where most of my work resides today. But, to connect all of this backstory and history, this is where I Look Pale comes into play.

"I Look Pale!" from BRAINCHILD VFX on Vimeo.

I Look Pale is a micro short that puts technique and in-camera VFX first and the story second, mainly written to elevate the technique. The idea came when I started seeing some breakdowns of old movies from the '30s and '40s where they were pulling off these mind-blowing shots all in camera (no 30-hour renders required).

A light bulb went off as I started dreaming about how to pull these same techniques off but using modern tools.

We all are aware of the XR walls and Stage Craft by ILM, taking the old technique of rear projection and using camera tracking and real-time rendering to capture results in camera. But, what about the others? The first technique I wanted to pull off was matte paintings. While I didn't have the time, nor skill to try and paint something that was photoreal, I did however have the tools and skills to create a render in 3D. My tool of choice in my 3D work is Cinema 4D, but free programs such as Blender or Unreal Engine are available and do the same thing.

I ended up making two different renders. One was an establishing wide shot (a location I could have never found, but could dream up easily in 3D) and the second was a tighter shot of that location but with a transparent alpha channel so I could use force perspective to place my actress in the matte painting at the correct scale. Combining these two retro techniques was a double whammy for me.

The rendering process for 'I Look Pale'

Photo provided by Matthew DeLisi

OK, so I have the render and now I need a physical version of it to shoot. Luckily for me, I have a friend (Trey Elsik) who buys a lot of random things at auctions and he happened to have two super high-quality Canon photo printers at his house. So, I purchased some transparent paper to mimic the glass the matte painting would have been on in the '30s and asked him to print out the renders.

The next technique I wanted to pull off was a scene with a miniature. I had an idea of how I wanted to pull it off, but first I wanted to mock it up in 3D and not waste materials. What was so cool about this process was that once I mocked up my initial idea in 3D, I found that it didn't work that well.

After toying around I was able to figure out this “lazy susan” style setup to get it to look like trees were moving in the foreground and background. I would have never figured that out without the digital tools at my disposal.

Now that I had a plan, I worked on building the miniature out of foam core while Dylan Oglesby (one of my art director friends) built the lazy susan contraption in his shop out of everyday materials like plywood, a drill, and some tape. Alongside bringing these retro techniques back to life, I also wanted the short to be accessible for anybody to do these things with limited resources and/or skills.

BTS on 'I Look Pale'

Photo provided by Matthew DeLisi

Finally, I had to pull off my third retro technique. This one came directly from the 1937 movie, Sh! The Octopus. They used red face paint to paint in all of the death makeup and then canceled it out with a red filter so you couldn't see any face paint. I believe they used a special filter to transition from red to blue so the makeup would look like it would suddenly appear on the actress's face. Note: this can only be done effectively in black and white.

We opted for a modern approach using LED lights to transition from red to green (we found that green worked better than blue) by manually triggering the transition from an app. My makeup stylist, Lindsey Akers, advised me to use red lipstick instead of facepaint for better results.

Finally, my wife Davis DeLisi is an amazing graphic designer and made some retro titles for me as well as the perfume bottle logo for our fake perfume in the short. My DP, Jason Hassell, researched old-school lighting techniques to really sell the look and feel. Both of the actresses in the short (Fallon Gyurko and Gabi DiPace) are also stylists so they styled themselves and they did an insane job. Everything seemed to come together perfectly... well except for the shooting on film part.

We shot the entire short on the 1960s 16mm film camera to put the icing on the cake for these effects. While I love film, I just didn't trust shooting the entire short on it. So, I brought my personal digital camera to capture shot-for-shot digital and film. Unfortunately, we inverted the film camera on the second take of the day and it messed up the entire roll. We only shot two rolls so most of the main stuff was lost and couldn't put a full edit together. Thankfully we had everything captured digitally.

BTS on 'I Look Pale'

Photo provided by Matthew DeLisi

All in all, I wanted to show young and seasoned filmmakers alike that you can make anything if you have a good idea, cool friends, and a passion to pull something off. I also wanted to emphasize that so many of these cool techniques still work today with modern technology. DIY doesn’t have to look DIY.

These techniques can be a cheap way to bring production value to your project and keep the warmth and magic of cinema alive in a very digital world.

This post was written by Matthew DeLisi.