Been quiet here a while, but that’s only because I have launched fully into the short film project so casually tossed out in posts below.
Head on over to Red Zone Film to watch the burgeoning insanity of one man’s journey into filmmaking.
I’ve had a few messages asking me about my Chernobyl photos so I thought I’d write a very quick recap of my trip there.
I went out to Chernobyl in 2007. This was back before Chernobyl started to become a bit of an ideas playground for film, TV and video games. The first major piece of media to showcase Chernobyl was probably the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl which came out later in 2007 (and is probably the most faithful and accurate rendering of Chernobyl in terms of geography and such).
I booked my trip through a travel agency called Solo East. They routed me into Kyiv via Amsterdam for a 3 day trip. I stayed in a downtown Kyiv Hotel, the Hotel Lybid, which was very nice and all transfers to and from the airport as well as the day trip to Chernobyl were included for about $922, or £468. (A goddamn bargain if you ask me).
I got my trip price a little cheaper because I joined up with a group that was already going. The more people that go, the lower the price, up to a maximum of maybe 15 or so. The bulk of that group I went with were Finnish students on a trip, but there were three other guys travelling singly as well.
The drive to Chernobyl takes about 2-3 hours through some very rural and pretty pot marked countryside. I went in May so it was nice and warm and the drive was pleasant enough.
Your first hint of anything Chernobyl-y is a military checkpoint on the very outskirts of the Exclusion Zone. The zone itself covers 30km, and there’s some long drives in between the various parts of the zone. Your passport details and visas, if required, are all forwarded to the Ukrainian authorities before you go, and these are given a quick second look at the first checkpoint.
Into the zone, you then drive maybe another half an hour before coming to Chernobyl – that is, the town of Chernobyl which is kind of like the main accommodation and resource centre for people still working there. It’s a number of dormitories, offices, equipment centres etc, and also the base of operations for people on a Chernobyl day trip. Here, you meet with your guide, you get a brief history of Chernobyl and the accident, and then you’re back on the bus.
You drive on ten, fifteen minutes and then stop on a main road leading to the power plants themselves. You pass NCPs 5 & 6 first which are eerily half-constructed as all progress was abandoned soon after the explosion. Here you get a good view of NCPs 1,2,3 & 4 which occupy the same long turbine building. NCP 4 is the one that exploded.
Your guide will probably also show you his dosimeter from which he takes regular readings throughout your trip to assure you you’re not going to be receiving any nasty amounts of lingering radiation.
Another five minutes in the bus and you stop outside NCP 3&4, at a distance of maybe 2-300 yards. This is the closest you’ll get to the reactor building itself, unless you get clearance to go into the building, or are part of one of the many work details still ongoing. (It’s a pervasive myth that Chernobyl is abandoned, but it’s really just as busy as any other scientific facility – perhaps more so due to the level of security and safety personnel). You get to take pictures and such and then it’s back on the bus.
Ten mins north and you’re into Pripyat (pronounced Pri-peet, not Prip-ee-at, I know, I heard it from the locals with my own ears, dammit). Anyway, Pripyat is the constructed city that housed the workers of Chernobyl NCP. It was home to around 50,000 at the time of the accident, so most of the place is apartment buildings. In the decades since the explosion, the place has become overgrown with trees and animals as the forest reclaims it.
If you’re part of a larger group like mine, you’ll likely be escorted to the best places. The fewer people you’re with, the more freedom you’ll have to explore, but I’d stay pretty close to your guide. Pripyat is still dangerous in terms of falling debris, dilapidated structures and lingering radiation.
You spend a good hour or two hitting the major sites. The abandoned hotel and central area, the KGB building, the amusement park and infamous Ferris wheel. You see a school, the hospital, and the local swimming pool and gymnasium. The bulk of the place has been looted over the years so there’s not so much to look at, and some of the stuff that is there has actually been brought by outsiders.
From here, again, depending on the number of people you’re with, you’ll go on to see one of the vehicle and aircraft graveyards, the abandoned river barges, a local church which operates to this day, some of the outlying villages that were abandoned or destroyed, and then finally you come back to where you first met the tour guide for a delicious lunch.
And that’s about it. You leave the way you came in, and are subject to a radiation scan and final security check. It’s a pleasant enough 2-3 hours back to Kyiv for a full day’s trip and a lot of memories.
Kyiv itself is a very vibrant city, lots of people, lots of activity. Very clean and safe from what I experienced. I didn’t get to go in the subway, but apparently it’s a bit of an adventure as everything (as you’d expect) is in Cyrillic so finding your way around can be a challenge (read: utterly impossible).
I can certainly recommend Solo East who arranged all this for me. Great transfers to and from the airport, and the Hotel Lybid was comfortable and like most hotels in any major city.
I would certainly love to go back to Chernobyl, it’s quite an experience, though I’m not sure that original feeling I had when I went there would return. It felt very much like an adventure the first time, but now with the imagery appearing more frequently in games and films, I’m not sure that would be the same. It’s well worth it if you have an interest in the disaster. The thing to remember is that it really is a kind of graveyard, both literally for those who died at the plant and spiritually for those who were forced out of their homes. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go, and don’t let the fear of radiation put you off. The people there take it very seriously, and the amount you receive is less than what you’d be exposed to on a transatlantic flight.
Finally, I got asked if Call of Duty: Modern Warfare got it right. Yes, and no. Pripyat looked very good, almost spot on. It’s not really as bleak as the game makes it looks though. they obviously did that for atmosphere and tension, but when I was there, it was bright sunshine, blue skies and green trees. They got Pripyat’s geography down quite well, but condensed this and that for gameplay purposes. The sniper shot you make, from the hotel for example… in real life, the Chernobyl plant (where the meeting was taking place in the game) is at least 2 miles away, so that would have been one hell of a shot. The only other inaccuracy is the sense that, as I said before, nobody’s there. In reality, the place is crawling with people, and in 1996 when that mission took place, you’d be bumping into villagers, Ukrainian military, UN science teams, engineers, constructions crews and, of course, the odd minibus full of tourists taking pictures. = )
The short film prep continues, and switches into higher gear. Nothing to post about here quite yet, but hopefully soon.
Meanwhile, Absolute Write went to town in its usual April Fool’s Day manner this year with an ‘Avatar Thief’ idea that played out over the course of the day. I was on banner duty as usual, and came up with this ditty at the 11th hour which thankfully seemed to go down very well. As with many projects, things didn’t fully click into the place until I found the right mindset. It was hard to put the notion of the day’s events into a box for design purposes. I was hitting my head against the wall until I finally went for a midnight walk and hit upon the idea of looking at this event/theme as though it were, say, a Pixar movie. That soon led to the art gallery motif, and from there the rest of the design fell into place in the nick of time.
Object lesson: when in trouble, go for a walk.
And yet, with the wealth of cameras and equipment available today, there’s really no excuse not to. We can’t all afford Canon 5Ds but there’s likely a suitable piece of kit for every budget and, like most things in life, you make do with what you have. In the end, it’s all about the story, and the emotion and engagement you can create in your viewers.
As a screenwriter of some 10 years now (J. Christ…), it’s been interesting watching the rise of digital media bear its influence on the industry. Good writing is always the most important factor in advancing as a screenwriter, but there’s a serious advantage to be had in creating something supplemental to bolster interest from producers. Anything you can produce that helps you communicate your ideas (but always backed up with a good script) can help. A three minute mood trailer, a 90 second sequence with some CG in it, concept art, whatever. It makes a difference.
It used to be that this sort of thing took place once there was already some interest in a project, but these days a short video can get serious exposure and lead to meetings and development ka-ching all on its own. Good producers will always read scripts and value their importance, but an increasing number of releases are low-to-no budget (fake doc, found footage) and a good sense of how to work and tell stories within that kind of stripped-down production can be valuable.
So what in the hell am I doing? Well, weeding through the ideas tall grass at the moment, but the passion is there and smouldering. In the meantime, one doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration…
Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games are known and respected for their high-impact graphics in game, but less focus falls on their equally impressive loading screens. Presented as a sort of HUD / terminal / computer display, they present the player with the information they need to understand the level ahead; what’s involved, what’s at stake, etc. They’re often supported by great voice-overs, but they work just as effectively without the sound.
London-based Spov has done the loading screens for every Call of Duty game since World At War, and they’re currently working on Modern Warfare 3. Having met some people at the company briefly about 6 weeks ago, but sadly just missing out on being able to work for them, I went away still intrigued by the idea of what it would take to produce such a loading screen. I had some down time between projects of my own, and so set out to produce a Call of Duty-style animation that told a complete story in keeping with the tone and typical content of the games.
I ending up overshooting by about a minute (the game loading screens are typically 1.25 minutes), but knew I could have cut down bits and pieces if needed. I’ve left the longer version intact on this site to showcase the entire project.
From start to finish, the animation and all of its requisite polishing took almost exactly five weeks. A day or two over. And that was working quite intensively, but not 9-5 by any means. I had a number of false starts, black holes and sanity-questioning interludes, but I saw it through to the end and am pleased with the final result.
The story presented in my animation is of a smaller scope than you might typically find in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare titles, because I didn’t want to try to predict or compete with those games. If my story were to fit anywhere at all within the franchise, it would have to be as part of some kind of reboot.
Finally, because I knew my project wouldn’t feature any kind of voice-over work, ensuring it stood on the visuals alone was vital. Hopefully, the viewer will have some sense of what is actually supposed to be happening, though I’d just add that if things seem rather frantic, there is a replayability issue at stake, as your typical loading screen is likely to be viewed dozens of times as the level is retried or replayed, so there should be an attempt in their design to show new things to the player each time.
I’ve got some extra material relating to all this that I ended up discarding along the way, and I’m planning to throw it up alongside the main video in the coming weeks.
The finished animation is below, in the ‘Work’ section, in standard definition, or follow this link to watch in HD on Vimeo (fullscreen recommended).
Check out Evil Iguana’s latest video – a spoof/paraody of the upcoming 2012 Dark Knight Rises film. I only did a couple of quick ‘n dirty transitions for this, but it was fun to work on as always.
And a Happy Birthday to Craig. =)
Added Shot List .pdf to Contact section, and updated Free Fall video in Work->Video with tweaked CG shots and some other colour correction alterations.
Hi, and welcome to my online portfolio. This site will serve as a showcase for past and current projects, and hopefully create opportunities for networking and collaboration. Feel free to look around, and don’t hesitate to get in touch using the Contact section.
Chris Hyde graduated from the University of Abertay, Dundee in 2003 with a Ba (Hons) in Computer Arts, and has since worked as a writer for hire and digital artist on a variety of freelance projects with particular strengths in After Effects CS5, 3DS Max, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.
Chris is a film, TV and game enthusiast, a keen runner and amateur astronomer (weather permitting).
Represented in the UK and abroad for screenwriting by Andrew Mills of Michelle Kass Associates. 85 Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0AA.
T: 0044 (0) 207 439 1624
Online resource for writers of all disciplines; interviews, peer critique and forums.
US comedy, parody and improv videos including spoofs of Twilight, Harry Potter, Inception, and home of The Allen & Craig Show.
Thanks for taking the time to look around. Feel free to get in touch with questions, comments or for further information.