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As a young boy growing up in the late 70’s I was massively influenced by Evel Knievel and Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), however the ‘Wonder Woman’ theme to this sketch wasn’t originally part of the plan.

02 Story

The story begins in the shower...  

I’ve always loved seeing faces in objects; I see them everywhere.  Each day I’d be greeted with a squeegee watching me (in a somewhat menacing manner).

Then, as I wiped the steamed shower door another face would be waiting.  This daily encounter eventually began to formulate into an idea for my next ‘Evel Knievel’ short film.

I’d already filmed a shower sequence in a previous EK sketch so having him doing the dishes was an obvious next choice.  I loved the juxtaposition of the real-life Evel Knievel (a no-nonsense tough guy) doing such a mundane chore - especially wearing rubber gloves.  This thought alone made me laugh out loud; it’s the absolute OPPOSITE to what I imagine the real-life EK ever doing, so from that moment I knew the idea HAD to be brought to life. 

Idea: Evel sees ‘faces’ within a massive stack of washing up, which his nemesis the Evil Chicken appears from and attacks him.  Simple.

I began with a quick recce of my kitchen for potential faces that EK might see whilst washing up.

Followed by a (very) rough storyboard to get the key ideas/beats down. 

Based on this, I grabbed a few video clips of EK in situ by the kitchen sink.

I wanted to gauge how some of the ideas might work through a lens rather than a storyboard sketch (plus this process always helps me to ignite fresh ideas).  Using these clips/storyboard frames I put together an edit - this was extremely clunky but I could see the idea definitely had legs.

As with my previous EK shorts I would shoot it all as live action.  There’s something about the ‘non-perfect-ness’ of it all which I love.  One of my favourite films is Caddyshack - the brilliantly funny movie starring Bill Murray and the gopher (the hero of the film).  The gopher puppet is SO obviously not real - even if you watched it in 1980 - yet there’s such a lovable charm to it that all disbelief goes straight out the window.

Having said this, I’d still be relying on some modern techniques to help me get there...


The main one being Unreal Engine (UE), the “paradigm-shifting” real-time animation software that everybody’s raving about.  The whole point of this project was for me to use it as a vehicle to try out UE, and to see what all the fuss is about.  As an animation director it’s something I’ve been keen to use for some time, so this was an ideal opportunity to jump on-board.


My initial intention was to combine mostly live-action shots with a handful of ‘impossible-to-shoot-for-real’ type shots produced entirely in UE.  However I quickly realised that a far more realistic - and effective - approach (at my current learning stage) would be for me to use UE as a tool to pre-visualise and edit the short BEFORE I shot it for real.  

I created a simple - yet accurately scaled - 3D model of my kitchen using Maya, along with relevant props which I then exported to Unreal Engine.  I also had a 3D model of Evel Knievel and the chicken from a previous project so I exported these to UE, along with a basic shark model.

I then rigged these with controls in UE to allow simple animation/puppeteering.

Unreal Engine certainly has a steep learning curve, requiring a slightly different way of thinking to what I’ve previously been used to.  That said, it's a truly incredible tool which - as a film-maker - helped me in SO many ways; it enabled me get my ideas down super-quick, and to explore/eliminate possibilities in a way that I simply can’t imagine how I would’ve achieved otherwise.  

For this project I wasn’t concerned with it looking too realistic either (which UE is more than capable of) - I just needed it to read clearly to convey the story/message. 


The main thing that blew me away however, was how quickly it accelerated the creative process.  'Amazing' new ideas are often had whilst shooting, but in most cases it’s often WAY too late by then to do anything about it.  Unreal Engine helped me reach many of these ideas/happy accidents near the beginning of the process rather than at the end.

The whole ‘Wonder Woman’ theme is one such example...


From exploring various opening shots it was clear that EK needed to be actually holding/scrubbing something.  I initially imagined this to be an espresso mug or something miniature that EK would be physically capable of holding (he’s tiny), but when I rummaged around in my drinks cupboard I found an old Wonder Woman shot glass that was the perfect size.  Best happy accident ever.

This was also perfect for the story; the real-life Evel Knievel was well known for his drinking (apparently no stunt was ever attempted without him enjoying a shot of Wild Turkey whiskey beforehand).  He was also a renowned womaniser, so the two ideas collided in spectacular fashion:


EK + Shot glasses + Wonder Woman = BINGO!  

This opened a whole load of possibilities - like a game of solitaire when a single card suddenly opens up the remaining pack.  Forget the initial idea about Evel randomly washing up a pile of pots and pans - now he’s washing up a colossal MOUNTAIN of used shot glasses, whilst dancing to the 70’s Wonder Woman TV show theme tune!  This now made much more sense to me as there’s a real-life connection to it all.  

In UE I was able to quickly test this ‘shot glass mountain’ idea to see if it would read well.   It made me laugh so was definitely a keeper.  The flip-side to this idea was that these hundreds of shot glasses would all need to be done in 3D, and the last thing I needed was to have a giant stack of refracting glasses in every other shot.


The beauty of UE was that I was able to instantly re-frame all relevant cameras throughout the whole film to avoid seeing the stack of shot glasses.  That’s why there aren’t many wide shots.  (I would actually have liked a wider ‘establishing’ shot somewhere within the first few shots, but for the ‘shot glass mountain’ gag to work this would have exposed it too soon).

Story-wise, I now had shot glasses everywhere - which raised other questions...  

Is this the morning after a heavy night’s drinking session?  If so, is Evel hung over?  Is he in a bad way??


This ISN’T how I wanted the audience to see him; I wanted him to appear upbeat from the outset, despite the colossal amount of washing up in front of him.  This is why he’s ‘Dad’ dancing/singing off-beat at the beginning.  It’s crucial that he comes across as a happy-go-lucky guy, endearing/like-able - NOT a messy washed-up drunk (who deserves to be attacked by a chicken!) 

Loads of ideas were born throughout the previs stage - including him wearing his apron: whilst researching ‘Wonder Woman’ references I stumbled across novelty ‘body’ aprons which sparked the idea.  Similar to the washing up gloves, it appealed to me because it’s not something I imagine the real-life Evel Knievel ever wearing.  Again, Unreal Engine meant that I could quickly test this idea by updating the EK model to see how he looked wearing an apron across all the shots, in real-time, and whether it would be distracting or not.  Boom, it worked!   This was when it really sank in for me just how powerful UE is.


Same goes for the chicken.  I already knew it would be appearing from the shark’s mouth, but now the idea of having it dressed as Wonder Woman was the EXACT explosive comedy entrance I was looking for.  I sketched a quick image of how the chicken outfit might look and applied this design to the UE chicken model, which was then instantly updated across all shots.  I actually spat my coffee out through laughter when I first saw it - always a good sign that I’m onto something.

I could’ve continued for weeks getting carried away with more and more elaborate ideas, but I also had to be realistic about what I could physically achieve on my own.  A big part of the process was knowing when to stop.  


Besides, I now had a load of props to build...


EK’s washing up gloves were the hardest prop to make, simply because they were so small/fiddly.  I spent a whole afternoon making ‘back-up’ pairs but in the end the hero gloves stayed on throughout the entire shoot.

The chicken’s outfit also turned out to be much harder than I expected - it’s body shape was unconventional to say the least.


The shot glasses were a challenge, as I needed so many.   I put a message out to some local friends asking if they had any shot glasses I could borrow... “sure, we’ve got 4.  How many do you need?” would be a typical response.  “Ideally, around 400” I’d reply.   Eventually I’d gathered enough to populate the shots - some of which I created Wonder Woman and Evel Knievel stickers for.  I even found some ‘proper’ Wonder Woman shot glasses in a charity shop.  Miraculously, over the duration of the project only one glass was broken. 

The Jaws/EK mug was a fun prop to have in the background too - I created this as an obvious reference to the shark, but more of a nod to Evel Knievel’s real-life plan to jump across a shark-infested pool.

I also wanted to reference the Evel Knievel toy, so the radio was a great place to do this (his actual Stunt Cycle appears in the background of a few of the shots). Plus I HAD to celebrate Evel’s favourite drink.

Creating this film I had many limitations.  I alone would be doing everything on the shoot (operating the camera whilst trying to puppeteer Evel, a shark and a messed-up chicken), so - from a practical point of view - using Unreal Engine helped me identify exactly which shots needed to be shot in a certain way ie. locked-off, multiple passes, against green etc.

It also enabled me to best position the camera where I could puppeteer without me getting in the way (too much) - reducing the amount of ‘fixing’ to be done in post.

More than half the shots were shot locked-off (no camera movement) simply because I couldn’t do more than two things at once. Knowing that I'd need to give some of the shots a bit of 'life', I’d shoot foreground/background elements separately, then add any camera movement in After Effects.  

Notes were prepared for each shot with all the relevant information...

I knew I had a limited time window to work each day (between midday and 4pm, based on the sun's position), so I needed as much of a head-start as possible, ie. no last-minute scramble to rig something knowing the sun was about to disappear.


These notes were also invaluable for the ever-changing daily shot order/timings etc.  For instance all ‘front-on’ chicken shots HAD to be shot before 12:30 otherwise I’d lose the sunlight on the side of it’s head/body - making it look flat-lit/terrible.


With 40 shots to complete, this ‘paint by numbers’ approach was crucial.


Having said that - despite all these detailed notes/preparation - the only thing you can be certain of whilst shooting live-action is that there will always be curve-balls.  Many of them. 

The first curve-ball was the sun, which I had limited control over.  I’d done the initial recce in April when the sun was at a low-ish angle.  By the time I actually shot the film throughout May the sun was much higher.  This meant that for some shots EK’s face was totally in the shade, so I had to shoot him separately against green screen in a different location.

The entire shoot was very much dictated by the weather/sunshine, or lack of it.  I had a few lights/bounce cards etc., but I was mostly dependent on natural lighting.  The moment the sun went behind a cloud, the kitchen became like a dark cave.  Sometimes I’d have to wait 3 to 4 days before I could continue - unlike Unreal Engine, where I got used to having constant perfect lighting ALL the time. 

On the one specific occasion I that wanted an overcast day, of course the opposite happened.  The sky was dense with cloud cover, yet there was a very slight opening in the cloud formation allowing the sun to beam DIRECTLY into my kitchen.  Even my neighbour’s house was in the shade!  I waited a good hour before a cloud finally obscured the sun.  When it did - and under much heightened pressure to get the take I needed - I pressed ‘record’... but the battery was flat from all the waiting.   Nnnoooooooooo!!!

Puppeteering the shark was a mission, but this was more regarding it’s location than the actual puppet.  


I’d intended to puppeteer it with rods, but I soon realised this wasn’t going to work - my main issue was when the shark got wet it became REALLY heavy/awkward to puppeteer with rods (of course it’s obvious). 

Not only that but it also completely lost its shape/volume too.  It just looked like a sad, soaked, shapeless puppet being pushed/pulled about with rods.  Yes the rods would be removed in After Effects but it looked awful.  Not a shred of life there.


So puppeteering it by hand rather than rods was a FAR better option.  The performance difference was night and day, plus having my arm up it gave the shark a lovely characterful shape/plumpness.  The downside to this meant I’d somehow have to position myself IN the kitchen sink to do the puppeteering.  My position would also block all the natural light from behind the shark too - not ideal but it was my only option so I had to make it work.

Typical shot of me spinning lots of plates: In a strained/awkward position (A), watching slightly delayed camera sync on ipad (B) whilst waiting for the correct light/sun/clouds. When all’s good I cover the shark with fresh soap bubbles (C), then press 'Record' on my camera remote (sometimes I’d use a stick for this if the ipad was too far to reach with my free hand).  I’d then attempt to get some kind of ‘performance’ out of the shark/chicken - before the weather changed.

In addition to this, my arm would get completely numb from wearing an overly-tight cut-up sock - intended to help my arm blend ‘seamlessly’ with the shark’s belly and bubbles. 
My 12 year old daughter would get home from school and say “most of my friends come home to their parents doing normal things. My dad is sat in the kitchen sink making weird chicken noises, with his arm up a shark’s bum”. 

The ‘shark emerging from under the water’ shot required a bespoke setup, as it would’ve been tricky/impossible to shoot in the actual sink.  Luckily I had an identical old washing bowl in my garden shed, so I cut out a section to give me/the shark access from underneath (any excuse to give a power tool a spin).  I shot this at a similar camera angle to the hero ‘sink’ shot, then composited the shots together in After Effects.  

A few of the other highly technical rigs I built...

Between midday and 5pm our family kitchen would become a complete ‘no go’ area.  At the end of each day all the gear/light stands/props/shot glasses etc. etc. would be stacked up in the corner of the room. This went on for weeks! 

When there was sunshine there’d often be laundry outside on the washing line.  I obviously didn’t want to see this in any shots so I devised a simple way of dealing with it... (when my wife wasn’t around).

In addition to this I’d constantly be placing markers/tape around the kitchen area to indicate the position of a tripod or prop, as the weather would often turn whilst shooting so I’d need a reference to precisely reposition these things when the sunshine returned (usually later in the week).  

The ‘mountain’ of shot glasses was obviously not shot for real (try stacking that lot in real-life!) however there are lots of other - more subtle - effects going on throughout the whole film (only four shots didn’t have any VFX work). 

For instance, I also wanted a stack of glasses on the wooden draining rack, yet I didn’t have enough (and even if I did there’s no way I could stack that many glasses without them sliding off/smashing to pieces).  

So I piled as many glasses I could gather, secured in place with clear sticky tape.  I then took individual photos for each shot (from a similar camera position), which I then later combined/tracked/composited back into each moving shot in After Effects.

Another example is the rack of Wild Turkey whiskey bottles.  Rather than filling the rack with 10 bottles I ‘economically’ used just a single bottle.

Other elements include the graphic stars - incorporated as a reference to the 70’s TV show.  I also tried the chicken appearing with an 'energy burst' but this obscured the chicken too much.  I even considered having the chicken perform Wonder Woman’s signature 'spin' as it emerged from the shark’s mouth, but - from a puppeteering point of view - I knew that this might be biting off more than I could chew!

VFX breakdown of a few shots...

One of funniest aspects to this project was recording the audio, but like every other stage it wasn’t without its problems...

Firstly, quite literally the VERY moment I attempted to record any sounds, EVERYONE in my neighbourhood decided to use their chainsaw. I didn’t realise so many people even owned a chainsaw let alone could all be using one at the same time.  (By pure coincidence, the last time I’d heard anyone using a chainsaw was when I was recording the audio for my previous short film.)

I also had someone in a small aircraft circling above my house for 20 mins, not to mention a bumble bee in the kitchen (who I'm certain was trying to mate with the chicken), a load of squawking seagulls having a party somewhere nearby, my fridge-freezer making strange noises etc. etc.  It was never-ending. 


When I finally finished all the “clucking” noises I had a sore throat for DAYS. 

Below are a few comparisons between the previs and final film, which clearly show how strikingly similar they are, and how it was all figured out in Unreal Engine beforehand.  (I refer more to the framing and composition - not so much the look.  Though I'm well aware that UE is capable of producing FAR more realistic renders!)  

Previs/Final comparison...

To wrap up: there are so many other aspects to making this film that I could share. I’ve had countless laugh-out-loud moments, and - as ever - learned lots about how NOT to do things! (certainly regarding dragging a chicken out of a shark's mouth). 


I also can't imagine a better project to get me started with Unreal Engine. It has truly inspired me - and I'm already looking forward to using it (in much greater depth) in the next EK film...

Cluck Cluck!! 

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