Filmmaker and VFX artist Patrick Kalyn knows his way around the sci-fi and horror genres, having worked on projects that include I, Robot;
The Lovely Bones. His latest sci-fi horror short film is
SpaceX Final Transmission, in which Captain Taylor (Kalyn) transmits a disturbing video message from a doomed Mars colony, warning of the peril that awaits and hinting that the crew has gone mad.
“The setup is that there's a resupply ship inbound with crew on-board to expand operations,” Kalyn explains. “As they approach orbit, all communications to the colony go dark. Days later they receive one final message. I wrote this short to explore how living on the razor's edge of life and death can affect one’s mental state. The themes touch on regret and the loneliness of space exploration. We have a narrator that may not be fully reliable, so the audience must piece together what really happened based solely on his message, just like the incoming crew would have to.”
Kalyn says he made the short as a way for him to dive deeper into the craft of acting, which he hopes will also make him a better director.
“It was the perfect bite-sized project to put DaVinci Resolve Studio through its paces,” he recalls. “I shot it in my living room on a Sunday afternoon with my girlfriend. It was a simple setup, and I used my Fuji XT3 camera, Fuji XF 23mm lens, a few lights and a green screen. The digital environments were created in Maya, rendered with Arnold, and it was [composited] all together in the Fusion page of Resolve.”
The editing process was straightforward as each glitch in the video transmission was in the script and served as a natural time cut.
“I did two to three takes of each section, so the edit was about finding the right take with the right energy to show Captain Taylor's emotional state declining as things get more dire,” he explains. “Once the edit was locked, it was time to add the VFX.”
The VFX-heavy short required some digital environments and green screen keying. Kalyn didn’t shoot a clean plate, so he relied on the clean plate node and increased the erode value, filling in the gaps. It also required some advanced compositing, including the use of Channel Booleans for building the beauty pass of the CG environment, as it was rendered in layers.
“The landscape outside the window is a real photograph of the surface of Mars taken from the Perseverance rover, and once I had the environment built, I wanted to make sure the background wasn’t lifeless,” he notes. “By building and comping code elements on the computer screens, a heads-up-display, dust and debris floating around, dirt and grime on the walls, and even a bloody handprint on one wall, it not only livens up the background but also helps the audience understand that something bad definitely happened. Some lens distortion on the CG background reduced any overt digital feeling and a soft glow married the background to the plate.”
From there, Kalyn moved on to audio.
“The first thing I did inside Resolve’s Fairlight page was work on the dialogue. Inside dynamics I added a compressor and expander to smooth out the dynamic range a bit. In EQ I bumped up the high frequencies at 3000Hz about 2dB for a crisper dialogue since I was just using a lav mic underneath the shirt. Then, +3dB at 200Hz and -3.2dB at 530Hz, which gave a fuller sound to the dialogue.”
Recording in his office, the computer voice had some natural reverb, as Kalyn didn’t have much acoustic dampening at the time. He fine-tuned this by adding additional reverb to match the space on-screen, and used the Dehumaniser plug-in to get a PA speaker feeling. From there he layered in SFX and music from his sound library. With separate SFX tracks for inside the observation deck versus the outside, Kalyn added a heavy low pass filter on the outside track’s EQ, creating the illusion that it’s coming through thick walls.
“I always keep adding sounds until it feels like too much, then I subtract until it sounds right,” he says of his technique. “This is a fun process for me, trying out different sounds to see what auditory image they create when combined. I get to channel my inner musician. It feels like you’re creating a song in the end.”
Ultimately, Kalyn, says it was a new and fun challenge to do everything in Resolve.
“I’m currently putting together my debut feature,” he adds. “It’s a wild high-concept, low-budget sci-fi horror film, and I’m very excited about it.”