Arms Race in Australia

The Adelaide Fringe Festival was held at the start of March, purported to be second largest only to the Edinburgh Fringe, and Arms Race found its way to the Steampunk Spectacular, a weekend of wonderful props, costumes and steam-driven frivolity. All three nights sold out and themed movies were shown on a special STEAMPUNK MOVIE CONTRAPTION, including Arms Race which was apparently very well received.

Unfortunately none of us could be there, due to being inconveniently located in the UK (and while writer and actor Chris Burdett was coincidentally in the right country at the time, apparently Australia is quite big and he was on the wrong end), but it sounds like a great event. If you’d like to know more check out the Steampunk Spectacular website.

If anybody else would like to show Arms Race, give us a shout.

In other news…you haven’t heard the last of Arms Race.

Arms Race at SFX Weekender

This weekend Arms Race is heading to the SFX Weekender. Director Nigel Clegg, writer-actor Chris Burdett (Private Higson) and actor Wayne Bolt (Mech Pilot) will be attending the convention, so do keep an eye out for them and say hello – they’ll be the ones wearing It’s A Trap! t-shirts/hoodies.

In case you’re new to the Arms Race short film we thought this was a good time to have a recap of all the exciting stuff we’ve posted, starting with…



The poster campaign

An interview with director Nigel Clegg

A closer look at the props

Post-production diary

Shooting diary

Steampunk gatling guns, binoculars & backpacks

The Arms Race project began when director Nigel Clegg built a steampunk gatling gun – as you do – and found himself needing a project in which he could show it off. Two further props were designed and built after the script was written: a pair of binoculars with mobile lenses by Pete Ayre and a backpack for fueling the gatling gun with power and bullets.

Due to the nature of the film it wasn’t possible to linger on these beautiful props for as long as we’d like, so here’s a chance for a proper close-up examination. Click any of the images to embiggify.

If you like the look of these props but haven’t seen them in action yet, here’s the film for which they were created:

Director Nigel Clegg interviewed

Arms Race director Nigel Clegg has been interviewed by the Spiffing Review podcast. He talks about the genesis of the Arms Race project, techniques for building steamtech props and miniatures, how to work on a tiny budget and what’s he’s going to be working on in 2011.

You can download the podcast episode by clicking here.

Alternatively, you can subscribe on iTunes.

For more information check out the Spiffing Review website.

The post-production of Arms Race

Arms Race was shot in late summer 2009 and was released in November 2010. For a 5 minute short film, that’s a rather long gestation period.

This is due in part to it being a volunteer project, with the work taking place in evenings and at weekends in small chunks. Such is the way of micro-budget indie filmmaking. Compounding this were the visual effects needs, requiring additional shoots of stunt performers and the miniature robot, the construction of additional props for the cockpit interior and the creation of several matte paintings. All these pieces then needed to be combined into the visited film, plus there was a 5.1 sound mix, a colour grade to be completed and music to be sourced or composed. Even for a short film there are a remarkable number of moving parts.

The miniature shoot

The robot required its own special shoot on a small greenscreen stage. It was as very simple setup, with a ‘lazy susan’ turntable used to make rotating the animatronic creature a little easier. The robot was built on a ‘Robosapien’ chassis, with a completely custom skin giving it a unique appearance for Arms Race. Its actual motor functions remained the same, however, somewhat limiting its performance capabilities. The VFX shots involving the robot were designed to fit around its abilities.

The robot’s faceplate was painted blue as we were still unsure exactly how it would be portrayed – would the pilot be visible through the faceplate, or would it be opaque? What colour would it be? What would it look like from the inside? The blue would make it easy for us to replace it with whatever we wanted once we got to the compositing stage.

Filming two armies

The shot of the armies fighting in the distance, as glimpsed by Clinton through the binoculars, was one of the trickiest shots to conceptualise and execute. It involved several pieces, starting with the miniature greenscreen shoot above as well as a lengthy ‘stunt’ shoot involving different actors flinging themselves around. Multiple shots of the various actors would later be mixed together to give the impression of large squads of British and Russian infantry.

All these different pieces were combined with stock footage of explosions, computer generated muzzle flashes and tracer trails and a matte painting of the battleground (created by Nigel Potter) and several layers of grime representing the binocular lenses to create the final shot.

The edit begins

Tarantino has said that the final draft of a screenplay happens in the movie’s edit. With micro-budget films this can be even more true, with production limitations and resource juggling prompting unexpected tweaks and ┬áchanges.

The editing process is complicated yet further when visual effects are involved, as crucial shots will often not even exist yet, necessitating the use of placeholder which are never really suitable substitutes. First comes the rough cut, a very loose assemblage of the live action footage. Generally unwatchable, this tends to be a meandering sequence of shots lacking any sort of pacing, sound mix or atmosphere of any sort. It would be a long haul before the film began to resemble its finished state and before that the visual effects would need to be completed.


The VFX fell into a few categories: the gatling gun, cockpit interiors, cockpit viewport and the robot itself.

Here’s a frame from one of the gatling gun shots, without any VFX:

First up we have the CG muzzle flash itself, positioned and rotated in 3D to match the barrel’s orientation. We used FXhome’s VisionLab Studio for this, which has probably the easiest and most effective muzzle flash generator you can find.

The appearance and behaviour of the muzzle flash was based on the minigun in Terminator 2, which has a two-part flash consisting of the large spread and forward ejection seen in the image above as well as a thinner, longer ejection without the rear halo.

Although the prop had an authentic rotating barrel it wasn’t able to eject empty shells in a convincing manner. Given the nature of the weapon as presented in the film it looked very unrealistic for it to be firing without any kind of shells being ejected, so some CG shells were composited in:

The bullet chain coming out the side of the gun looked great in the shots showing the weapon being attached to Private Higson. Once the gun started to fire, however, it became rather obvious that the bullet chain wasn’t moving. With the barrel rotating, muzzle flashes roaring away and empty shells ejecting out the opposite side, the stationary bullet chain was breaking the illusion of the weapon being operational.

The solution we arrived at was to apply a variety of distortion and blur filters to give the chain the appearance of undulating, rapid movement. The end result is subtle but certainly helps to disguise the chain’s immobility, especially when seen in motion:


Praise for Arms Race

Arms Race was released this week and has prompted some excellent people to write some lovely words. Here’s what people are saying about the short film, in no particular order:

“One of the craziest shorts I’ve ever seen! Well done, that was really, really well shot and edited. Zulu meets Metropolis via Dad’s Army…or something. Anyhow, congratulations!”

“Brilliant…. very Terry Gilliam.”

“Finally! I’ve been waiting ages for this and I’ve got to say I’m not disappointed! This short film was amazing – I’ve never come across steam punk before but I think it’s a brilliant idea.”

“Bloomin´╗┐ mental! In a completely positive way. Well done guys!”

“I’m planning on shooting a steampunk-style Jane Austen parody early next year, and the costumes and props here really gave me some inspiration. Excellent!”

And my personal favourite:

“Skikkelig imponerende!”

Click here to watch the film!

Watch Arms Race now!

At last, Arms Race is now available in glorious high definition! You have a couple of options…

Download and keep the movie in HD with 5.1 surround sound

Download the mobile version for your iPhone/Android/Tricorder

Or simply click play below…

If you like the movie please do tell your friends about it and send the links to anybody you think might be interested!

Creative Commons License
Arms Race by Nigel Clegg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Arms Race premieres tonight!

This evening at the York Tavern in Norwich we’ll be premiering the Arms Race short film as part of an evening that will also involve a general knowledge and film-focused pub quiz (the reasoning being that it’s difficult to gather people together in one place and give it a sense of occasion when the film is only 4 minutes long!). Full details can be found here.

For everybody that can’t make it we’ll be putting the film up for free on YouTube the day after the premiere and we will of course link to it from here. We’ll also do our best to publish some photos and an account of the premiere evening.

Thanks to everybody for the support!