12 Weeks with Nightmare Puppeteer, Week 8: Shooting a Scene

Sep 21, 2021 at 06:00 am by -gToon

This is the eighth episode of a series that will last for 12 weeks where I will learn Nightmare Puppeteer and attempt to create short animated scenes. Along the way, I’ll share with you my discoveries, my mistakes, and my successes using this remarkable game engine. 
Nightmare Puppeteer takes the approach of puppetry where you do something with your hands, but instead of using your hands, you are pressing keys on your keyboard….it’s an animation engine
-M dot Strange
NP is a Game
It’s important to point out that Nightmare Puppeteer is a game and not a 3D application. The gameplay is focused on creating characters, animations, and scenes within the game. And as M dot Strange points out “it’s an animation engine”. Also, the game is built upon the Unity Engine which means it has qualities that only a game made in Unity has (unique shaders and effects, for example). 
Prep for Scene Creation and Capture
I've been slowly putting together scenes from a weird noir series titled "Nightmare Town". I have about half of the scenes I want to create written and ready to shoot. I thought since motion capture is now a part of Nightmare Puppeteer, one of the scenes would be good to share with you one possible way of scene creation in NP. I want to keep this simple, so if you decide to follow along it won't be too long or too complicated. 
First, you have to have your scene ready to shoot. That means you have all of the dialogue and any actions you want to take place in the scene ready to shoot. You don't have to have a scene in the professional format (I hate that format anyway), so make up your own format. One that you can understand and read easily. 
I would also recommend that you include in the scene any camera angles or camera placement ideas you have. They don't have to be elaborate or detailed, but just enough so you can try the camera set-up while you are shooting to see if it works. You can always change it if you find another angle you like. Just be sure to note the new angle in the script. 
Here is a copy of the scene I created for Nightmare Town. It is called "Bobby on the Run" and consists of two characters and two sets. Look at how I placed the camera set-ups in the dialogue and also how I describe the camera angles. You don't have to know these terms, but they are pretty descriptive. Just google cinematography terms or something like that for a basic list of things like CU (close up) and Med Shot (medium shot). 
Creating a shot list
Just like creating a "to-do" list, you want to create a shot list of everything you are going to shoot so you can work faster and more efficiently. You'll have a shot least for each location (set) you are shooting at if the scene is long, but for "Bobby on the Run", I'll only need one list even though I'll be shooting on two sets. Here is my shot list:

  1. Close up of Bobby's feet running
  2. Medium shot front of Bobby running as he moves past storefronts
  3. Top-down shot of Bobby running right to left and then cutting down in the scene (he is turning left into an alley)
  4. High angle with the right side of D in the shot. Bobby runs toward the camera as he's looking back. Stops and turns to face D
  5. A backlit shot of the D looking menacing and huge. 
  6. Close up of D as he leans down to Bobby
The two locations I'll be shooting in Nightmare Puppeteer are, 1, Running Man and, 2, Dark Level Editor. The Dark Level editor is a new scene that m dot strange recently added which has nighttime lighting. I'm going to create an alley using props and lighting much like noir filmmakers looked for a location they could shoot in in the real world. 
One important note: get your main actor set on the left and then the buddy actor on the right. That way they both appear in the scene you are shooting. You can control each actor by pressing the F9 key. You also want to have any audio files ready for the scene. They don't have to be the final performance versions, but something temporary (you can record the dialogue yourself) so you'll have lip sync on the characters. 
A final step before you begin to shoot is setting any visual flavors you want for the scene. I haven't covered this yet, but Nightmare Puppeteer has a variety of visual flavors you can set before you shoot the scene. They are like "in camera" post-process effects. For this article, I'm just going to leave the scene the way it is originally with no visual flavors. 
Shooting the Scene
The first set-up takes place in the running man set. I'll be using the built-in Microsoft Game capture that is part of Windows 10 to do the video capture. So make sure that is ready to go (Microsoft symbol key + G) before you being. 
I'm facing a problem now. Since Bobby is the buddy actor and the D is the main actor. D is the one running in the scene with Bobby behind. That's the way the scene is scripted. I only want Bobby in the scene for the first two camera setups. And since once you create a buddy character and save him, you can transfer them over to the main actor section. This means I have to create Buddy again in the main actor section and save him there.  What a pain!
Ok, I've re-created Bobby and saved him in the main actor save slot. It's time to start the shoot. Click the big red scene button (make sure Running Man is the selected scene) and we are ready to go!
 Using the keyboard shortcuts alt + the arrow keys, I can move the camera around to get the right angle. Once I have the angle, I start the scene recording with the keyboard short cut Windows symbol key + alt + R key. I let the recording run for about 10 seconds and then move the camera in a bit. Another 10 seconds, then move the camera back. I'm looking for exactly the right framing for Bobby's feet. And since the shot will only be 5-7 seconds long, I can experiment a bit. 
The screencap is not a good indication of how the scene will look as I captured it while Bobby's feet were moving. Plus, I think the running motion is too slow, so I'll probably speed it up a bit in the video editor. Remember, Nightmare Puppeteer is not a detailed realistic game. It's abstracted a bit. So when you look at the video above (just click the link to watch), Bobby's feet don't touch the ground like a normal human foot. That's ok because the style of the scene is not realistic. With the right speed and some color editing, the scene should be just right. 

Well, that took a long time. Let's pause here. I'll shoot the rest of the shots next week. Should go smoothly now that we have everything set up. 

Next up: Finish shooting Bobby is running scene

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