How did Thomas Brin start?
Thomas Brin at bubble tram dock
 Gardens of Tomorrow: Episode III Now Playing!



Episodes 1 & 2
The Adventures of Thomas Brin started out as a single movie-making challenge from DVinfo.net. In fact, for that effort, the original 3-minute short was awarded Outstanding Visual Effects!

We did not intended to create an iconic science fiction serial (okay, here's our marketing bravado once again). We embarked on the movie-making challenge for several reasons: to experiment with new videography techniques, to learn new software, and to broaden our content-creation production horizons. Up until this movie short challenge, the only video projects we've worked on were non-fiction, natural-history-based projects. We looked at this process not as a contest but, in the true spirit of the challenge, an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and force ourselves to learn.

So, with that in mind, we decided to produce a fictional piece. Jeff's two favorite fictional movie genres are romantic comedy and science fiction. Not wanting to force our actors and crew to attempt a possibly cheesy 3-minute romantic comedy, he decided to do something more ridiculous--shoot a SciFi movie short. This, of course, created all sorts of technical challenges since most SciFi has some degree of VFX (visual effects).

Randy Kelly (a.k.a. Thomas Brin) irons the greenscreen
Randy Kelly (Thomas Brin) irons the greenscreen
Jeff had always wanted to learn how to shoot and key green/blue screen scenes, so he took it to the logical extreme and decided to shoot most of the 3-minute short in front of the green screen. The crew had absolutely no experience working with green screens. But that didn't stop them from deciding to shoot 15 scenes in front of the green screen, each requiring a different CGI image and/or animation. It was supposed to be a challenge after all!

Of course, the next challenge was to learn how to do CGI (computer graphic imaging). Jeff had experience coding software but no experience creating 3D scenics or animations. He decided that this was a great opportunity to begin learning that process as well. So, 2 days before the theme of the DV Challenge was announced, he downloaded a fully-functioning demo version of Cinema 4D. He worked with it for about 7 hours, trying to get the basic idea of wireframe modeling. The only problem was that he could not save any of his work since it was a demo version. Not wanting to spend over $2000 for the full package, Jeff looked for an alternate 3D modeling software package and stumbled upon DAZ Production's Bryce software. It cost $99 and that made him happy.

So, when the Challenge theme was announced on Thursday morning, July 7, 2005, Jeff spent a little time thinking about a story line then started to create wireframes for the scenic backgrounds that would be used for the green screen scenes. By the end of the challenge, he had created 13 static scenics and 2 animations. His workstation was on all night, every night that whole week rendering frames for the scenics. In between renderings, he worked on editing.

Gardens of Tomorrow: Episode 1 is the outcome of that first challenge. Of course, the version available today on thomasbrin.com is a "Director's Cut"--a fully realized version with errors corrected and small changes made from the original version submitted for the contest.

Everyone involved in producing the first episode had a great time. On the first day of shooting, we spent about eight hours in total acquiring our footage. Some of the highlights from that day include the wonderful catering and craft services provided by Jeff's wife April. Not only was lunch fantastic, but she brought a five-pound box of blueberries to the set. Five of us consumed the entire box in less than five hours. Jeff had almost two pounds of berries himself!

So, how did this 3-minute movie short for a simple challenge grow into the Adventures of Thomas Brin? Well, when the following DV challenge was announced, Jeff wanted to continue exploring VFX techniques. So, he decided to create Part II (now called episode 2) of Gardens of Tomorrow and push the limits of his VFX knowledge.

From there, it was a small step making it into a web-based vodcast series. Many people expressed their appreciation for the aesthetic of the Thomas Brin shorts. So, we decided to turn it into a video podcast series, making it available exclusively on the Internet.

Jeff considers the next shot
Thomas Brin crew has lunch together


Episodes 3 & 4
By December 2006, the Adventures of Thomas Brin had been downloaded 1.2 million times (episodes 1 & 2 combined). This meant that our cutting-edge, episodic vodcast cinema series had reached a tipping point--the point were the next episode would either push us into a higher level of Internet awareness, or simply push the series into oblivion.

So for Episodes 3 & 4 (E3 & E4), we knew we had to up the ante; we knew we had to concentrate on those areas of production where we fell woefully short in the first two episodes.

Is it the lights or is this garage hot?
Randy Kelly (Thomas Brin) irons the greenscreen

Of course, there were lots of areas to focus on. The first two episodes were shot as part of an Internet, short-form movie challenge. There were strict time guidelines to follow and we had to incorporate a specific theme into each episode. Since we had only 8 days to script, shoot, and post-produce each of those episodes, we did not have the luxury to spend time on achieving proper lighting angles, blocking, cinematography, or even directing the actors. Fortunately, we have talented actors who managed to create believable characters with little direction.

To be honest, even if we had had more time, we did not know much about the various skills required to shoot compelling, good-quality movie shorts. So, our two main goals in the first two episodes were to learn basic green screen techniques and VFX animation. To help us increase the overall quality of the series, we decided that E3 & E4 would not be entered into any challenges. This gave us the time we needed to focus efforts on improving our entire suite of production skills.

As all of our fans know, we took our time to improve our skills. That is why there was an 18 month time lag between Episode 2 and Episode 3. We think the wait was worth the effort!

We believe the difference in overall production quality between the first two episodes and the next two is clearly evident. With more sophisticated lighting, better scripts, focused directing and acting, and our much improved and bigger studio garage (a.k.a, the Studiage), E3 & E4 demonstrate a big step up (almost major?) in production values. We also put a good deal of money and time into upgrading our post-production suite of tools. We added several new, high-end software applications for creating more realistic, better quality 3D landscapes and animations, and we purchased Shake 4.1, Apple's award-winning 3D compositing application--the choice of Hollywood editors. We now have the capabilities of high-end graphics houses--well, we have the tools at least, the capabilities will come with experience.

Episode 4 is still in post-production, with an estimated release date of late fall or winter 2009. How many more episodes are planned for the Adventures of Thomas Brin? Well, we won't spoil the fun by telling you, but we will say that Season 1 (which will actually span 3 years--hey, this is new media after all) ends with Episode 5.

When the series finally wraps, we hope you will be able to look at all the episodes and see the evolution of movie makers. By then, our skills as cinematographers and story tellers will be worthy of at least modest praise.

Thanks for watching!