Welcome back true believer! Tonight, I’m pulling the curtain back on the long-teased super-secret-manip-project that’s been in the works…well a very long time. I think this one may have taken longer to complete than Orientation, which was relatively straight forward by comparison. But for all the starting and stopping, working and re-working, Alpha, is finally complete. For those of you who can’t stand the anticipation any longer, click on the image to the right and godspeed. For those who’d like to get the story behind the story…well, I’d still recommend clicking to the right and watching it; there will be spoilers ahead. Go ahead, I’ll wait here and have a celebratory beverage until you return.
All done? Well, I hope you enjoyed it. Putting it together was quite an interesting journey. It all started a little over two years ago when I came across an image set of Tera Patrick in a mosaic-tile shower. I took one look at the first image and had this vision of all the individual tile pieces flashing and spinning as though the whole shower was a giant hypno-trap. I saved the gallery and marveled at my good fortune for finding such juicy material to work with. I was looking forward to a challenge with this new piece; as it turned out, I got exactly what I was looking for…and then some.
To get things started, I spent some time sorting through the images and figuring out which pics I could use and what sort of story I could tell with them. I had a vague notion of Tera as a domme trapped in her own brainwashing machine; I saw this image of her standing in front of a hatch in the wall that was slowly closing behind her as she did a bit of super-villianess-monologuing until she realized, too-late, what was happening. But I knew what I really needed to do was see if I could animate the tile walls the way I had envisioned.
As it turns out, I couldn’t. The long and short of it is that I could easily isolate the individual tiles and then hand-animate them to do what I wanted, but it would have taken the rest of my life to finish. It was just too complex an animation job to tackle with traditional methods. Adding to that was the fact that I needed to be able to replace certain bits of the background and in case you’ve never tried to clone-stamp a background that is nothing but mathematically-perfect geometric shapes, there is simply no room for error. The smallest mistake was magnified by the otherwise perfect pattern of the background and it would have been so tedious to get every single panel perfect that we’re back to the sun burning cold before I’d be finished.
So, depressed and discouraged, I put away the project and did other things. And I had mostly forgotten about it until nearly a year later, I happened across the complete image archive. Not the 15 low-res pics they give you for free; but over 90 full-res images. The download felt like it would never finish but when I finally opened the zip file and started digging through the contents, all the same inspiration that had slapped me around the first time came back for a rematch.
There were some images that would work absolutely beautifully for my amorphous outline. As I started pulling out frames that caught my eye, I realized I could expand my story well-beyond the four or five images I had originally planned for. The additional poses and facial expressions were instrumental in forging a deeper narrative and armed with fresh inspiration, I set out to get the project under way once more.
Unfortunately, nothing had changed the fundamental problems of being able to replace the undesired areas of the background, to say nothing of the animation or fabricating this hatch-like door from several different angles.
And then one day, it dawned on me that I didn’t really need to animate the whole wall, I just needed to animate a single tile and then duplicate that animation over and over for each tile on the wall. That logic led me to the real breakthrough: I would replace the entire background in the image with a set built in 3D. I’d make walls built from dozens of copies of a single tile so when I animated the master-tile, the whole wall would flash and blink accordingly. But that also meant I needed to build that master-tile from scratch with all the colored pieces in a well-organized layer structure so I could animate them.
I threw out all the work I’d done up to that point and started from scratch in a blank document with a grid pattern overlaid; I pulled up a pic from the image set to use as a reference and a scientific calculator app and spent a week making a mathematically-accurate reproduction of the radial tile pattern. It was the first hour of a climb up Everest, but it was a start. With that done, I built the walls for my set and found a freebie 3D model of a huge bank vault to use for the door. At last, I had my 3D set built. Now all I had to do was everything else.
If I had as much sense as ambition I would’ve kept the image count in the original four to five range, but I just couldn’t live with myself if I did the series and left out any of the things that made me so excited to work on it in the first place. So, with nothing to do but get started, I methodically began cutting Tera out of every pic I had saved for my outline. Then these images were dropped into the set where I’d adjust the virtual camera and lighting to match her. The work didn’t go fast, but within a couple months I had each virtual set for every photo ready to animate.
And even then, I wasn’t half done.
Next I had to actually animate the aforementioned master-tile, which took really a month or so to get a feel for how much movement and flashing would actually sell the shot and at what point it just became too much to really process. After a dozen or more animation tests, I put together a few different variations that I could drop in as needed and rendered a proof-of-concept test with one of my templates just to see how it would all work together. As much work as I knew I still had ahead of me, that test render really gave me the fuel to keep pushing; if I could get everything working as well as that one frame, I might really have something.
As my story came together, I realized that I had two other characters in this piece, one of whom was in the chamber with Tera, and the other in a control room monitoring the whole thing. I was pretty sure I could come up with a model to go in the machine, but the control room pics were going to be like hunting a lion with a piece of celery. I had never even seen pics like what I was envisioning: a woman appearing to operate a control panel or bank of computers, preferably wearing headphones, and at some point getting naked and touchy-feely with herself.
I started hunting for pics of ladies wearing headphones. That led me to search for ‘sexy lady deejays,’ which produced a few pics of some naked women behind the DJ booth surrounded by ravers, but nothing that could really count as a check-mark in the ‘useful’ column. And then one day, this image set just dropped out of the sky and into my lap. It was exactly what I needed and even if it wasn’t I had to make it work because nothing else even came close. I hunted for hours trying to find the complete gallery, convinced that, just as I’d experienced with the images of Tera in the roman shower, if I had the full set, I’d magically find the images I needed.
And that’s pretty much exactly what happened.
I finally got my hands on the whole set and low and behold managed to piece together five or six images that were exactly what I’d spent weeks looking for. I had to replace a head or an arm here and there to get her posed and looking in the right direction, but the hurdle was definitely behind me. I just needed to drop in a computer or two to give her something to be working with. After my success with the vault door, I checked the google 3d warehouse and found a great looking model of the most recent iMac. I spent some time fiddling with 3D lighting and tweaking the rotation and scale to get it living in the same space as the room…
…and then the real panic set in.
Like I said before, I was confident I’d be able to find some images to use for the model who is already in the conversion chamber when the story picks up. That confidence, as it turned out, was completely unwarranted. I probably went through a dozen or more different permutations and in each case I’d find one or two images that were absolutely perfect and several more that I couldn’t use at all. It was maddening. I needed five or six distinct shots from similar angles of a model who could really sell how intense this brainwashing contraption was. I needed serious heat in these photos and finding that along with the practical requirements was just next to impossible.
But once again, my patience paid off and I found an image set that had a model sitting in a corner, legs splayed wide and doing a fine job of convincing me that sitting in that corner was the hottest fucking thing she had ever done. I started dropping her photos into the outline; everything seemed so promising. I immediately got underway masking her from the photos and dropping her into my virtual set; and then another funny thing happened.
I went completely insane.
I managed to cull three really solid images but the forth was eluding me. I panicked, I went mad, I had come so far and finally found the one image set I knew would work and here I was, thwarted again. I hastily decided to throw it all out and begin the search anew. I was so certain this image set wouldn’t work, I actually made a post where I described my woes and put up one of the images as a teaser of what might have been. I had another photo set in the back of my mind I thought might work and even though I really didn’t want to use them, I convinced myself this was the way to go.
Somehow in my haste and frustration I had completely detoured around the fact that all I needed was one more image; and that I had bits and pieces I could make work from three or four pics if I just combined them together…like I’ve done dozens of times before. So, after I slapped myself back to sanity, I took a deep breath and photoshopped together the last images I needed for my eponymous character.
Realizing, I had completely lost objectivity for the project, I decided to put it down for a while. And about three days into this self-imposed hiatus, I found this image set of a cute redhead, wandering through the jungle. As I detailed in my post here, I’ve never taken a vacation from one project with another, but I was so energized by this new material, so desperate to feel productive, and so determined to not get burnt out on Alpha (as I had now started calling it), that I just embraced the workaholic within and threw together the Kia and Kaa series in a few days. It was a much needed break and gave me the reserves I needed to charge down the home stretch.
With animation complete, I started working on the mock-computer screens for the control room pics. Those went together quickly, but I really wanted to animate the video feed from inside the chamber. I did some quick masking on a few of the pics from the original shower set that I loved but hadn’t really found a way to work in, dropped in an animated tile-wall behind them, and holy-cow-in-traffic, I was finished!
Who am I kidding? I’m never finished.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I had been thinking about an epilogue frame to end on. I had saved an image of this woman in a mink coat in the back of a limo, sipping champagne. I wasn’t really sure how to use it, but it just felt like the right note to go out on: victory. For someone, this has been a very elaborate plan and now its culminated. I wanted to tie the story together and to do that, I really needed to see where all the puppet-strings led. I needed to put a face to the mysterious Brianna Tess.
So I sat down one day and started looking around for some material to forge my new ending and I had one of those moments that famously led Jung to coin the term ‘synchronicity.’ There on the page, was a thumbnail of Tera Patrick her head tilted back, hands gripping the side of her head, mouth forming a soft ‘O’ shape. She looked like a woman trying to fight off some insidious thought reprogramming; and finding out how good it felt to lose that struggle. And there, right beside that image was a thumbnail to another gallery. In this image, Carmella Bing was perched in a chair, head leaning forward, intently studying a laptop screen in front of her, while one hand worked between her legs.
I just stared at the screen in disbelief. Right there in front of me, was the final frame for my manip. I grabbed the two images, put them together with my animated background and, for the first time, scanned through my animated series in its finished form.
I always like to save the writing for last. I’ll make notes along the way, but I don’t really like to put pen-to-paper until the final stage. It always feels like a well-deserved-reward after all the tedious work. When I finally sat down to start typing out the captions for each frame, two years worth of ideas, snippets of dialogue, and prose came pouring out like a swelling river. I literally couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with my brain. But an hour or so later, I was done.
No seriously; done for real this time.
It was just a short while ago, as I merged that text with the images that I had first imagined so long ago, I realized just how much work this latest project has been. I was thinking about all the roadblocks and dead-ends I’d overcome and I decided to try and document the process as best I can here at the end. If for no other reason than I think my brain is all-too-eager to let go of these events and one day I might want to come back and read about all the little battles and skirmishes along the way.
So dear reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little (and by little I mean fucking-huge) tale, but moreover I hope you enjoyed Alpha. It wasn’t always fun, it wasn’t always easy, but it was certainly an adventure!