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An Interview With TheReelTodd

By TronFAQ on Sunday, March 05, 2006 at 7:42 PM
Here is the third in a series of interviews I'm doing. Today's interview is with TheReelTodd, who you may know from the TRON-Sector site. Todd is an administrator there: who has an infectious sense of humor and is considered the "good will" ambassador of the site, that greets new members and makes them feel welcome.

Enjoy this latest interview.


FAQ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you come from, and what are your interests/hobbies (aside from TRON)?

Todd: I was born in Western NY. I grew up in, and spent most of my life, living in the Upstate NY area. I've always been fascinated with technology, sci-fi, and the art of filmmaking -- mostly how special visual effects were created. I saw Star Wars in 1977 with my family when I was 6 years old. It blew me away with its amazing visual effects and engaging story. I remember thinking that I wanted to do that -- I wanted to make cool and fantastic visuals. The same thing happened all over, when I saw TRON in 1982. The film absolutely blew me away with its amazing and groundbreaking visual effects, and incredible 3-D computer animation. After seeing TRON, I knew my future would be in the art of 3-D computer animation. I never did get into 3-D animation beyond the most simple and basic elements of it. The tools just weren't available to me back then. These days, I work at a small company where I manage the Imaging Department. I've experimented with creative production over the years, but never really pursued it professionally.


FAQ: One of your pursuits is filmmaking. What lead you to this area of interest?

Todd: It happened when I was young, 6 to be exact. The experience of seeing Star Wars left me both amazed and creatively energized. I remember when the Star Wars toys started coming out, some time well after the film was released. The toy spaceships were my favorite. While most kids were content playing with their Star Wars ships: I clearly remember thinking how I could make my own Star Wars film now, because I had models (toys) like they used to make the film. Even as a kid, I studied special FX and found it fascinating how blue and green screen matte technology could be used to composite images together. It wasn't until many years later that I finally had the tools to experiment with this kind of imagery. I made some very basic productions when I was in high school. Nothing with any visual effects because we didn't have any visual FX tools at our high school.


I finally got my own video camera when I was about 20 years old. It was a very basic, low-end GE CG 9806 VHS camcorder (I still have it), but I used it all the time and would often partner up with a friend (who was also into film and video production). We'd plan out and produce very basic little music videos. We made a handful of them, one of which is currently available on my website (Cemetery 1993). I experimented with some very basic visual effects in the early 90's (in the form of reflection image compositry), but it wasn't until the late 90's that I finally got my hands on some tools that allowed me to play with some real visual effects. I've always been interested in film and video production, but it is the visual effects part of it that intrigued me the most.

FAQ: As people reading this interview may or may not know, you finished creating your own music video last year called On The Cutting Room Floor Of Oblivion. This wasn't the first film or video you've created, but definitely your most ambitious. Can you tell us the story behind the creation of this video, such as how it got its name?

Todd: On the Cutting Room Floor of Oblivion started out as an office gag, in February 2004. We can be a silly bunch at the office, and often used to play "get that 80's song stuck in your co-worker's head" frequently. I can't remember who, but someone got the 1986 Wang Chung song Everybody Have Fun Tonight stuck in my head and it stayed there for days. I was trying to explain the jittery video effect they used in the Wang Chung music video for the song, to one of the younger workers in the office who had never seen it. We were unable to find the video on the net, so I figured I'd quickly put together a sample of the effect myself.


I embarked on what was to be a short, 3 or 4-day production. I'd put together a silly stop-motion dance sequence for the song intro, and then just lip-synch a verse and chorus of the song to show the jitter effect. In a few days, maybe a week, I'd have a cool gag video to share with the guys at work. I shot the initial footage of the stop-motion dance sequence and lip-synching very quickly. So quickly, that I shot the entire set of stop-motion dance frames out of focus and did a poor job lip-synching. No big deal -- it was just a quickie video. As I got in to post-production, I started having some ideas. I was smart enough (thinking ahead) to shoot myself lip-synching against a green background, just in case I wanted to composite some odd imagery in the background. So I shot some odd things around the house: some of my wife's decorative statues, patterns in the carpet, the pattern on our ironing board cover, the tiles in our shower, and some other things. I just applied some quick image filters to the footage, to make them look really wacked out, and put them behind the headshot close-up of me lip-synching.


It took longer than expected to assemble the stop motion dance sequence. A few days turned in to a few weeks. Soon, there I was -- doing a very silly stop motion dance in my living room, followed by a headshot of me lip-synching the song. Behind my head were some odd things I filmed around the house -- and by now, I had applied a series of image filters to my own image to make it look much like it is seen in the final video. The short office gag video started morphing in to something much bigger. Weeks turned in to months. I found myself having various ideas that I wanted in the video, but many of the ideas were a little bit more than I could pull off with what I had to work with. The video editing application alone, gave me a hard time the whole way through the project. Though I had a lot of ideas for this video as I got further in to it, I also had some severe "creative constipation". That's what I call it. It's like writer's block, but more general. Sometimes weeks or more would go by, when I would not even touch the project. Doing battle with the video editing application I was using -- and also having trouble coming up with ideas for some parts of the video -- slowed things way down. The video editing application was the worst though. I just wanted to put things together. I had all the pieces, but the application was a pain in the ass to work with. It crashed very frequently, became very slow and unresponsive to work in with every addition I made to the video, and would flat-out just not work properly at times. I knew I was doing a lot more with the app than it was designed to do, but I didn't have access (nor could I afford) to upgrade to better tools.

Many times throughout the production of this video, I simply walked away and scrapped it. Nothing was worth this much trouble. Each time I walked away, it was only a matter of time before would find myself having trouble sleeping at night: because of video ideas that would haunt my thoughts. This is, in fact, is how I ended up with the name of the video: "On the Cutting Room Floor of Oblivion". The video came very close to ending up on the cutting room floor of oblivion. The name is also a play on one of the lyrics "on the edge of oblivion" in the song.

FAQ: Before I continue, I'd just like to state that I think the work you did on Cutting Room Floor, well . . . floored me! The fact that -- despite the simple tools you were forced to work with, and the sheer amount of time and effort required -- the video turned out so well, just boggles my mind. This was obviously a labor of love, and whenever I need inspiration all I have to do is look at that video and think: "Todd never gave up, so I shouldn't either." You are a true guerilla filmmaker, in the finest sense. Working with modest resources, to create extraordinary results.

Todd: Thank you very much! :-D Yes, it was indeed a labor of love . . . and a little bit of obsession at times. I take what you said as a big compliment and really appreciate your kind words about my work. The fact that my creative labor has become an inspiration to you makes it all the more meaningful to me. I really think that's great!


FAQ: Shortly after you completed the video, it was screened at The Little Theater in Rochester, NY. What was it like at the event that night, and what was the reaction when your video was presented? How did it feel to have your video shown on the big screen?

Todd: It was really cool to see my work on the big screen in a theatre like that. My production was not the main event or anything -- people were not coming to see my work, there were several shorts screened, but it was still cool. The audience reaction to my humorous, animated music video was only lukewarm though. There was some laughter, but not at all the places I would have expected to hear it. Oddly enough, the audience pretty much made no noise during any of the handful of productions screened that night. There was no applause, and not much display of emotion (of any kind).


Well, except for the chicken cruelty documentary. It just so happened that my production was being screened the same night a "controversial" documentary about cruelty to egg-laying chickens was screened. The documentary was really very well done on the technical and production quality end, but it seemed very shady and misleading to me in terms of content. There were a lot of activists in the audience that night, and they really ate it up. The chicken documentary was the only production to get any applause at the end; mainly from the pockets of activists in the audience, not the whole audience. Yes, the "chicken people" were the rock stars that night.

During the Q&A session following the screenings, they fielded a lot of questions: while the rest of us producers just kind of hung out in front of everyone for a while, patiently waiting for a question to be asked of us. Although it was really neat seeing my work on the big screen in front of an audience, it was shown to an audience that had little interest or appreciation in the kind of silly and light-hearted production I was presenting. Oh well. I still made some people smile and laugh. :-) Perhaps I would have gotten some applause if I had included some animated chickens in the video? :-P

FAQ: Cutting Room Floor has a wonderful retro 80's theme to it, and there are several nods to various pop culture items from that era in it. (Including some cleverly hidden easter eggs.) One of those references, is to TRON. When was the first time you heard about, or saw, TRON? What impressed you the most, about it? Did you see the movie, or play the arcade game, first? Did you own any of the Atari or Intellivision TRON games? And you own a Tomy LED Light Cycle game, correct? Which is one of the TRON items that made an appearance in the video.

Todd: I first learned of the film in a TV special called Computers are People Too, months before it was in the theatres. They showed some footage of a new and amazing technology: 3-D computer animation. Along with clips of TRON, they showed other examples of 3-D computer animation, including the Triple-I demo of a shiny 3-D man in a tuxedo and top hat, juggling. I was absolutely fascinated with the way a computer could be programmed to render these 3-D images with such depth and perspective. I had never seen anything like it before -- it was completely new.


It was probably the 3-D animation in TRON that impressed me the most. The way the Recognizers moved about, the scenery and landscape, the Solar Sailer, Sark's Carrier, the Tanks . . . and my favorite scene: the Light Cycle competition. Again, this kind of 3-D animation was completely new at the time, and it totally blew me away. I loved the perfect look of everything, and how they looked like they truly had depth to them. I loved knowing they were all generated on a computer, and only existed in cyberspace (though the term "cyberspace" itself did not yet exist). The whole film was amazing, really. From the concept of being digitized in to the computer, to the wonderful adventure that was told of Flynn's tale. It was an awesome film, period.

I first saw TRON when I was 11, in the summer of 1982. My grandparents took my little brother and me to see the film. It totally blew me away and I loved every micro-cycle of it! My grandfather fell asleep.

I saw the film first. I had the opportunity to play the arcade game a while later, at a local Chuck E. Cheese. The TRON arcade game was where most of my game tokens ended up that night!

I had an Atari VCS, so I had (and still have) Adventures of TRON, and TRON Deadly Discs. Adventures of TRON really wasn't much of a game. It was a poorly done "Donkey Kong" looking screen where you'd collect all the bits on each level, then enter the stream in the middle of the board. The TRON Deadly Discs game was more fun: taking place in an arena where three guards would rez in one at a time, trying to take you out by shooting at you. You had a disc with which to derez them -- the disc would return to you each time it hit a wall, or when you pressed the fire button again. I played that game more frequently of the two. One of them (don't remember which) came packaged with a TRON Arcade-looking joystick. That was really cool, though it was a little difficult to play games with. Its innards were very brittle and it broke (internal directional actuator) within a few months of getting it.


Yeah, Tomy's TRON handheld game. I still remember going out to the mall to buy that as a kid, not too long after seeing the film. It was the coolest handheld game I ever had, and I played it very frequently. It had an awesome Light Cycle game in it -- which is what appears in the video. I was originally going to show bits of an entire round in the game: Light Cycles, the Disc Ring game, and defeating the MCP. But it seemed like a bit much in the video (too long), so only the Light Cycles made it in.


FAQ: When did you first find out about TRON 2.0? And what did you think of the finished game, when you finally bought it?

Todd: I think it was a few months or so before it was released. There were two sources I learned of it: on a filmmaking message forum, and in a magazine a co-worker gave to me. I don't remember which was first now, but I think they were within a month or two of each other. I was not highly impressed initially, after reading a tidbit about it on the internet and the write-up in the magazine. I remember thinking it had a TRON look, but was turned off by the fact it looked like they basically changed the look things, like the guards (ICPs), etc. I was also initially disappointed thinking there would be no traditional (film) Light Cycles in the game, which I later found to be not true.

My immediate thought, after embarking on the Single Player adventure, was basically: WOW! From the opening sequence of the game, I was hooked. I clearly remember not wanting to stop playing it once I started. I played it pretty much every single moment of free time I had, that first time through. I didn't really care much for some of the story elements in the game -- and there were other things that bothered me -- but as a whole, the game ROCKED!


FAQ: Your favorite part of TRON 2.0's Multiplayer is Light Cycle racing, and you started a fun thread on TRON-Sector where yourself and other players discuss the action on the "game grid", as we like to call it. A thread that's still active, even though it was started almost two years ago! Can you describe to others, what makes Light Cycle racing fun?

Todd: For me, it goes way back. When I was a kid and saw TRON in the theatre, there was no Multiplayer Light Cycle game that I could play. I played Light Cycles in the TRON arcade game, and on my Tomy TRON handheld game. And they were fun. But it wasn't really Light Cycles the way it looked and felt in the film. With TRON 2.0's online Multiplayer Light Cycle game, I finally found myself able to rez-in and enjoy it the way I had wanted to do, for more than two decades! I really sucked at first, but loved playing it anyway and got better in time. The game is very addicting. An added element of fun that I really didn't expect: was meeting other TRON fans who were actually fellow 30-somethings out there, playing the game. I got to know many of them as "the regulars", and half the fun of the gaming experience was joking around and chatting with these cool folks I'd meet up with. Between meeting up with great personalities, and the thrill of trying to out maneuver the other light cyclists, the experience is a very exciting and enjoyable. I just wish there weren't so many bugs in the Multiplayer Light Cycle game.

FAQ: Have you tried either of the other Multiplayer game modes (Disc Arena and Derez)? And have you played any of the custom maps out there? If so, what do you think of them?

Todd: I've enjoyed all the online Multiplayer games that TRON 2.0 has to offer. The Disc Arena is a lot of fun, especially when you get some good team-action going on. The Derez/DM game is good fun too. I've had the bits blasted out of me plenty of times in there. I don't play the Disc games frequently though. My true love is the online Multiplayer Light Cycle game.

I've had the pleasure of playing on several custom Light Cycle game grids, but I never got around to installing any of the custom Disc maps/arenas. The custom Light Cycle grids I've played on have ranged from neat to amazing. I've seen several outstanding custom grids. My favorites are the TRON themed ones, though I do find the non-TRON themed ones cool as well -- if a bit odd to see Light Cycles on them. I tip my hat to the creative talents behind each of them.


FAQ: What do you think of the current state of affairs, on the TRON 2.0 scene? How do you feel about BVG's lack of support?

Todd: In a word -- sad. I can't believe they put this game out, as amazing as it is, and then just let it dry up. It is obvious so much work went into it, and by very talented people. It's a damn shame BVG just walked away from it, like dumping an unwanted puppy in an alley. Well, more like they gave up on it and locked it up in the "do not ever show the light of day again" vault. The talent pool at BVG during the making TRON 2.0 was obviously very high. Too bad such poor management was (and probably still is) in charge at BVG. Such a waste.

FAQ: Rumor has it that you have considered making a TRON fan film. I think I can speak on everyone's behalf when I say: "TheReelTodd, will you do it? Please?"

Todd: Oh, it's no rumor. :-) I generally kept quiet about it for a long time, but I've been more open about it in the last year or so. My original plan was to produce a short TRON fan film that would explore . . . well, I'd rather keep quiet on the plot. :-) That seemed a bit more than I could do, so I started focusing on getting a TRON music video put together. I wanted to be the first to produce a TRON fan film or music video. That was before I learned of the Regurgitator video that was made in the late 90's. They did a nice job, too. I used some TRON film footage to put together a quick demo sequence, for a guy who wrote a cool song called Digital Risk -- a song that immediately put TRON imagery in my head. But that project fell through as well.



Just to get something going, I set out to construct my own TRON-themed circuitry suit. I had done visual FX demos, and figured out a workable formula for generating the glow effect of the circuitry for motion video. But my search for suit components didn't go well, and I threw in the towel before I even gathered up the materials. This put my TRON project on hold indefinitely. I'll say this though -- should someone step forward and provide for me a TRON circuitry suit of the specifications and particular color scheme I need for the visual FX, I'd definitely move forward on a TRON project. So I'd love to do a TRON project, but it doesn't seem likely to surface any time soon.

END OF LINE.



I'd like to thank TheReelTodd for agreeing to do this interview, and for providing such insightful and entertaining responses.

You can find out more about him and his work, plus see his On The Cutting Room Floor Of Oblivion video, at his personal site: TheReelTodd.com.
 
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1 comment so far.

  1. Anonymous August 15, 2006 7:03 PM
    The Todd Rocks!

    I just had to add that to the interview.

    -Z

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