Retrospective on There's Nothing Good on TV
Hi there. This is a blog post “port”, if you will, of my developer’s commentary on my short film, There’s Nothing Good On TV. This commentary will be a copy-paste of the original. However, I may write another retrospective as another blog post. This was originally written in late 2020. or early 2021, and I was a very, very cynical 18 year old. I still am to an extent, and Zero’s world is meant as an outlet for that, but I like to think I am a bit more pleasant to talk to these days.
The idea came to me after watching a slideshow by Jonni Phillips about Just Making Art.
I took this as a chance to help break my perfectionism that’s gotten in the way of me releasing Lots of stuff.
During the year I lived in Germany, I noticed how absolutely inane and propaganda-like american television was. I decided to make this short film about that.
I then set the goal to let my hands and brain stem do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, as long as it fit the theme and each clip used either a new medium or the same medium in a new way.
And so I began. The following will be a scene by scene breakdown of the film, and the ideas and processes that went into making it.
WARNING: The following details the process and meaning behind this in a sort of peek behind the curtain, so if you want to keep the magic or whatever, go back now.
The Apartment Zoom
This was actually one of the last things I did. I thought an establishing shot would pull it together nicely.
It’s a random picture I found online of the fire escape and windows of some Brooklyn brown brick buildings, because it seemed like the type of place Zero would live in.
I took it into photoshop and changed the color look up table so that it was mostly grayscale and sort of, bit crushed for lack of a better term. The picture is actually from the day, but i made it into night.
The window where the blue light is was left green. I then keyed out the green in After Effects, replaced it with a blue glow similar to the blue of the news channel, and did some trick I don’t remember to get an outer glow around the window.
I then added a zoom and a muffled version of the cartoon chattering noise. That’s about it.
The News Channel
This was one of the more fun parts to make. I really enjoyed animating her head, although animating blink in after effects is a mess. You’d think I was inspired by South Park, but I was actually inspired by Worthikids.
The anchor (referred to in my files as “newscaster”, because I forgot the word for news anchor. Turns out it’s “news anchor”.) was subconsciously based on the character Maggie from A Kitty Bobo Show. By that I mean I told my hands to draw a cat in MSpaint, and they created this.
So consider it a retroactive cameo.
A weird thing was after I released the short on Newgrounds, someone commented saying she was cute, and I told him that she was based on Maggie. He then PMd me saying “no pain no gain. that’s all comerade”. I asked him what he meant, and he said I will never know. People are weird.
But I digress.
The Windows error messages for dialog were just a cool way I thought to do dialog boxes rather than a subtitle, which also allowed me to do the news scroll at the bottom.
As for the messages in the error popups, I really like horror that presents its information like this. Paired with the Trevor Henderson inspired drawing of a creature, I think it worked well.
This film was made in 2020, so I hope the metaphor here isn’t lost on you.
This is my only real bit of lore so far surrounding Zero and the city she lives in, Metropol.
The rest of the set is royalty-free crap I found online.
The scrolling text on the bottom is about a former friend of mine. I don’t really want to elaborate at this point in time.
Side note, while toying with ways to make this clip sound cool, I slowed down that stock cartoon chattering clip they use everywhere to see what it actually said. It’s a woman on the phone, saying “aha, gotchya, parking next to a fire hydrant in a one… parking… in a no parking zone, in the wrong direction on a one way street. You’ll probably get 20 years for this. Sorry, but I saw it first. [unintelligible]”
The Talk Show
This one was one of the more fun clips to put together, seeing as both of the characters are paper dolls.
The background was obviously created in Minecraft. I was using the Hafen Resource Pack. I pulled a Homestuck by then changing the image to black and white, and then adjusting the hue.
The city through the window is a screenshot of Las Vegas concept art from Blade Runner 2049. Don’t sue me.
The host of the show is a paper doll tied to a string that I recorded myself yanking up and down in front of my monitor that I had filled with the color green. The green shone through the paper, so to make it less obvious what I did I made her purple, which also contrasted nicely with the background.
Her voice was made using the Speakonia text to speech engine from the early 2000s. It was also used to make some really crappy youtube Sonic the Hedgehog sprite animations I used to watch a lot as a kid. It was a really crappy TTS program, but it was crappy in such a distinctive way that it still stuck with me nearly a decade later. After hunting for a long time, I finally found it. So, of course, I had to use it.
Her design was loosely based on Marnie from the comic nerve Machine. I couldn’t come up with a good dog design, so I just borrowed her head shape.
The original paper doll is now taped to the side of my computer case as a decoration.
The guest is a post it note doodle loosely based on Malloy from the fictional late night TV show Garbo and Malloy from the game Night in the Woods.
I cut it out in Photoshop and applied a basic puppet warp to it in After Effects and synced it to his voice, which was created with microsoft SAM, if I remember correctly.
Him, as a character, is based loosely on Terry Davis, except a little more mentally stable. Poor guy.
The guest is also now taped to the side of my computer case.
it also came to my attention that not everybody could understand what they were saying, so here is the script:
“Let me ask you this: What is a man to God?”
“A man is nothing but a messenger of God’s will.”
“Precisely. Now, let me ask you the same question, rephrased slightly: What is a man to a random number generator?”
It’s one of the coolest things I’ve written so far.
H.264 compression really did a number on this one, huh?
With this one, paired with the next segment, I hope my own bitterness for this type of show shines through. As in, the shows about people with endless budget buying excessively large, hideous houses, while people starve on the street.
“Darren is the guy who puts spikes on places birds might sit and poop. Barbara makes artesianal wicker baskets for Etsy. Their budget is 4 million dollars.” That sort of thing.
Anyway, The shopper on the shopper cam is a face I doodled in MSpaint and made a looping GIF. Their voice is my own voice, leaned back in my chair with an accent and with a million voice filters over it, but it still doesn’t mask how stupid my voice sounds. The fact that there is a facecam was probably inspired by japanese television.
The house itself was originally going to look like an actual house, but I found a texture online of a wall with windows that looked funky stretched across the model, so I used that.
The backdrop is an unlit inside out ico sphere in blender with Giygas on top of it (I really like how Giygas looks), spinning around with the house in the center. The black was keyed out in AE and replaced with static, an effect inspired by the music video for Guilloutine by Death Grips, who I was listening to a lot while making this.
I made the background tune in like, 2 minutes in Beepbox. There’s not much more to say about this clip.
This was created to contrast with the house show. People don’t have much empathy these days, do they? (or ever, really.)
Why Dr. Phil specifically? Well I thought it would be funny if I turned his eyes upside down like the glorious Meatball Man, and I was right. Also I think he’s creepy.
Yes, I know Phil backwards is Lihp, not Liph, but Liph is a lot more fun to say.
Here, Speakonia makes another appearance. The static filter on it really gave the Blender Intel AI Denoiser a real run for its money; the weird jiggling on the table surface isn’t supposed to happen, it’s an artefact of how I rendered this film.
This was one of the earlier parts I had done (because it was the easiest), so I don’t totally remember what was going through my head. The politician himself was animated in Blender. I think what he’s saying was something I came up with in the shower as something unhinged that a politician would say.
I don’t remember much else, sorry.
The Boots Ad
This is based on a real ad on a bus stop for some boots I saw a while ago. It basically said “you will never retire; buy some boots that will work with you to the end.” and it struck me as particularly dystopian.
The blue is to imitate one of those infomercial ads for something that Anthony “Sully” Sullivan would sell you with a special TV offer. I could have taken it further, though.
The tune is something I made in a minute in Beepbox as well.
The Police Ad
Again, this was made in 2020, I don’t think I need to explain what this is about.
The death machines are concept art for the Battle Gear from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, with some filters applied and the words “WAR PIGS” crudely photoshopped on the side. Metal Gear tends to influence everything I make to some degree; I don’t totally know why.
The background was created in a cool raytracing program someone wrote in PICO-8 that I found.
These mostly static segments are meant to flash by quickly to give off the impression that Zero is flipping through channels, although I admit they went by maybe too quickly. I know that changing channels doesn’t create a test pattern, but I could not be bothered to simulate what actual channel switching looks like.
I don’t really know what to write for these segments, so they aren’t particularly interesting, sorry. I do have a lot to say about the composition and animation, though, so, stay tuned for that.
I have a particular disdain for this show. I have watched it turn pleasant children into asshole teenagers more than once.
MSpaint is the way to go if you want to make something look like crap on purpose. It’s a real boon. Thanks, Microsoft!
The yelling is actually a sped up segment of a compilation of every time MC Ride from Death Grips screams in a song that I found on youtube. I thought it was so funny, I had to use it for something.
It recently came out that Ellen treats her staff terribly, which isn’t honestly a suprise. When I was like, 11, I was way into the Ellen Degeneres show for some reason. I don’t know why.
I should have put outlines around the text, because the bottom part doesn’t show up at all in the final render. Here’s a closer look.
The sound is the MC Ride compilation again, but this time slowed down.
Also, the filter over Ellen is a simple Emboss filter in Photoshop.
Let’s all be racist under the guise of stand up comedy! Thanks, Netflix!
I hope this stock photos guy doesn’t mind me using his picture for this, or that I shrunk his face down because I thought it would look funny, and I was right.
The Vanilla Ice Project
This is a real show. It is a home renovation show featuring Vanilla Ice, of Ice Ice Baby fame.
I think the concept of Vanilla Ice in a home improvement show is absolutley hilarious. It also doesn’t help that he looks like this now:
Absolutley slays me.
I don’t have much to say about this one. If you’re one of these people in this photo I found while searching “straight couple” on Google, sorry.
Zapfino is kinda hard to read if it’s going at a million miles an hour, huh.
The Blender Stuff
This whole “rendering in Blender” thing grew out of laziness. When it became time for me to do this part, I was originally going to animate Zero in 2D on top of some photos of a messy apartment. But, I didn’t want to draw that day. “I’ll do it in Blender instead! I can make things in Blender. It’ll be easy.”
Narrator: he was wrong.
Where do I even begin. I guess I’ll start with the apartment.
This is the apartment. The wall behind us that is not visible is white and featureless, as to reflect light back into the scene like a photographer’s reflector thing. Notice there is stuff on the floor: a shirt, some soda cans (yes, that’s what those are), and untextured pizza box. Originally, the camera swivel from the TV to Zero was going to show the entire living room, stuff on the floor included, but I couldn’t get it to look good in such a confined space. I’m no Hideo Kojima.
The purple cube on the entertainment center table thing is supposed to be a gamecube, but I didn’t bother to put any detail other than the vague colors on it.
Fun fact: the Venture Brothers poster was actually added into the scene the day before the show was announced to have been cancelled! The brick texture with the window in it is on a separate plane object, not the wall of the room (which is behind it), because I couldn’t get the brick texture to map on the wall correctly. The window is actually emitting light, but if it was strong enough you could clearly see where the emissive texture was and it looked like crap.
The entire lower half of her body is modelled, and the tail is animated, but it doesn’t show up in the film at all. It also looks like hot trash, so maybe that’s a good thing.
The Death Grips poster I added because a) I was listening to a lot of it at the time and b) it’s a band I thought Zero would like. The The Thing poster I added for the same reason. I didn’t want the walls to be bare; on top of being visually unsettling, Zero is also the type to have posters everywhere.
The TV itself is just black. The screen is a plane with an emissive texture that is playing the clip.
I really did put a lot of things that nobody can see in this scene, huh. That’s poor planning and spontaneous descisions for you. I wish I had put some stucco normals on that green wall.
Zero is a terribly rigged model with basic mouth movements. I am working on getting better at character modelling. However, it was just barebones enough to accomplish its task of moving her head and arms.
I tried to go for the clay stop motion look here, which is why I put a depth of field effect on the camera to simulate a macro lens.
The clay material itself is interesting:
First, on the model I put a deform modifier with its texture being some cloud noise. I then keyframed the strength modifier. I’ll go into keyframing later.
Then, I found a bumpmap of some fingerprints and put them on the material as a bump map with some noisy specularity to simulate the shininess of finger oils and clay. I then rotated the fingerprints on keyframes to make it look like they were moving around.
For the keyframing, I used hold frames (“constant interpolation”) so make it look like stop motion, which has no inbetweens. I only moved the fingerprints and the displacement map whenever the model itself moved. My reasoning is this: in real claymation, you only touch the model when you are moving it. There’s no point in touching the model if you are having it stand still. The fingerprints change position whenever our imaginary animator touches the model, so I should only change the fingerprints and smushiness whenever the model moves. So that’s what I did.
I think it came out pretty well, although it could be better. The head snappiness was also inspired by Worthikids.
I almost forgot to talk about her voice! I was inspired by Banjo Kazooie to cut up voice samples and shuffle them around in a random order. I deliberately did not add pitch variation, because Zero’s voice is largely monotone. I could not find a voice actor (read: one of my friends) to do a sample voice for me, but luckily I found a perfect voice online: Billie from the series Big Top Burger! Specifically, the part at the end of my favorite episode Zomburger where she says “Is this… normal, food truck stuff?”. I cut it up and shuffled it around to create her lines. If you listen closely, you can still hear parts of the car engine hum in some of the phonemes, despite my best efforts to noise reduce it.
Rendering this and making this was just a complete nightmare, oh god.
My process was this: I rendered in Cycles at 32 samples, and used the Intel AI denoiser (which works WONDERFULLY, save for that jitter I mentioned earlier), rendered out as PNGs, which I then composited with the audio.
I rendered in Cycles deiliberately, because it had the right kind of light scattering that I wanted, and that Eevee simply could not provide.
However, this, of course, meant it took about 24 hours to render. What fun! To make matters worse, just when I had rendered everything but the part with Zero in it, I had discovered that I could render in half the time and have the Denoiser do the heavy lifting. Welp.
Also I figured out after I had finished everything that I can animate exposure levels, which would have made some things on the TV easier to read. Sorry.
The only last little things I can think of are that I added that air conditioner sound and police sirens in the composition, to make the space feel whole. That AC sound is almost the exact sound the crappy window unit in an apartment I spent a few years in as a kid made. I wanted to add a slight echo/distance fade to the TV as the camera moved further, but I couldn’t make it sound good. Also, there are a bunch of lights that illuminate Zero that come from offscreen that have to real canon source. Such is the way of set dressing. The lights fade in right when the camera spins around, otherwise they would have interfered with the Television In The Darkness thing I was going for. I really liked detailing the scene, like adding a red power LED to something behind the TV.
The Thumbnail was made using a scatter volume in front of the TV, set to a transition frame with a test pattern. Not much more to it than that.
Here’s a closer look at the NO SIGNAL thing. Yes, it does hit the corner, but offscreen. Also yes I know the Chinese is cut off, that’s MSpaint’s fault, not mine.
Also, note to self for the next project like this: Be more organized. Claytest.blend is the blender file for the film. Such is the way of these things.
Anyway, I’m starting to get tired of writing, so I’m gonna head out. If you found this boring, sorry. If you would like to know more, feel free to send me a tweet or DM via Twitter. I’m always online, unfortunately.