A film of personal significance: Dunkirk

My significant film: Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”



“Cubism is the art of depicting new wholes with formal elements borrowed not only from the reality of vision, but from that of conception.”
Guillaume Apollinaire


What does a quote from one of France’s great early 20th Century poets have to do with Christopher Nolan’s recent “Dunkirk”? Good question. The most exciting elements of the film was the structure itself, a plaiting of three not mutually exclusive story lines.


Before I dig deeper I must announce that I was biased as I bought my tickets, long before that even, probably starting when, at the age of 7 or 8, we took a family holiday from The Netherlands, where we lived (my dad was in the USAF, stationed with NATO at Brunssum), to Weymouth, Dorset, in the UK, where my maternal grandparents lived and where I was born. We crossed the channel- guess where? Yes, at Dunkirk. I had already learned some of the history, from books, films and from my grandparents, unheralded survivors of London ‘neath Nazi bombs. Thus I was roused from reading comics to stare out of the window at pillboxes cloaked in sand, their heavy shoulders and gun loops visible despite Nature’s efforts to heal itself. Dunkirk! It was an exciting stage of the trip.


As I am half British, I entered the cinema prepared to drink deeply of this film, free of expectations because I am a fan of Nolan’s other work and I didn’t doubt he would deliver. That is my bias somewhat explained.


About Appollinaire; he was a cubist and a surreallist poet. His poem “Zones” portrays literary cubism, which amounts to literary 3D, or, to put it another way, simultaneity. In the poem we are privy to multiple views across continents, at simultaneously occurring moments. Since paper and print are not three dimensional, linearity is unavoidable. The same goes for ‘Dunkirk’. The three story lines are at times simultaneous, and other times not. I loved this because it was disorienting. It was just as I imagine battle to be. Stendhal in “La Chartreuse de Parme”, expresses the disorienting nature of battle when the main character Fabrice del Dongo goes into battle to defend Italy from Napoleon’s army. “Stendhal, a veteran of several Napoleonic campaigns (he was one of the survivors of the retreat from Moscow 1812), describes this famous battle as a chaotic affair” (Wikipedia). It is precisely this novel I thought of when I realized what was going on in the film.


In “Dunkirk” Nolan has recreated the sense of cubism Appollinaire describes, by interchanging the formal story elements in a way that not only renders a compelling impression of the confusion of war, but also allows us a three dimensional perspective. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times (2017) also appreciates what Nolan has done: “At first the dividing lines aren’t always obvious as Mr. Nolan cuts from daytime scenes on the ground to those in the sea and in the air, a slight merging of space and especially of time that underlines the enormity of a fight seemingly without end.”


Peter Debruge of Variety (July) concurs, noting “the result is so clearly “a Christopher Nolan film” — from its immersive, full-body suspense to the sophisticated way he manipulates time and space”.


However, David Edelstein of Vulture.com (July) is not so appreciative of Nolan’s effort. “When the structure of Dunkirk becomes visible, when it stands as a mathematical demonstration of brave individual choices lining up in a tidy row, you might realize that you’ve been had.” I wonder what he means by that. As if there were some trick being played on the audience. I contend that each film, realistic or fantastical, has its own ground rules, which we learn as the film begins to unfold, implicitly teaching us how to watch what we are watching. It would be all thumbs and clumsy ugly if it were otherwise, and hugely inelegant. Can we imagine Nolan including a voice over explaining what is going on? Are we so juvenile in our viewing habits as to require such hand holding? I think not. I think Edelstein’s comment reveals him as one who doesn’t enjoy much, as one who takes the title ‘critic’ to the nether reaches. But we are all entitled to our opinions, and I will share another disparaging comment, this time from Christopher Hooten, of the online version of The Independent:


“Nolanoids I know talk about needing to go back and see the movies again as if to demonstrate how challenging he is. But needing to rewatch something because you can’t make sense of it the first time isn’t exactly a testament to a director’s skills as a storyteller.” (2017).


This quote is evidence of childish tit for tat between Hooton and his interlocutors, and such name-calling is, well, uncalled for. I detect more than a taint of harrumphing jealousy, either of the director’s success or of the fact that Hooten is unable to make sense the first or possibly even the second time. Boo hoo.

Debruge also complains of the film: “While unnecessarily confusing at times (and not especially satisfying as a puzzle — at least not in the way the ingenious backward-logic of “Memento” was back in the day), by splintering these three storylines, the director allows us to experience the Dunkirk evacuation from multiple perspectives.” (July)   I think he is missing the point raised by Stendhal and recreated by Nolan: War is Confusing, especially to the active participants.


I don’t go to a movie for spoonfeeds; I go for entertainment, to have parts of my brain twanged, if I’m lucky, and for a glimpse into some aspect of the nature of humanity. In “Dunkirk” I found myself on the battlefield, driven by the unnerving soundtrack with its clock ticking and dread-inspiring sub tones. The camera, and thus the person in the cinema seat, is a participant in most of the action, rather than a remote observer. In the Lincoln Center interview (2017) Nolan mentioned much the same regarding camera placement in “Dunkirk”.   I cottoned on to this immediately as in my current animation project I decided to use the camera in the same way. First, to convey the sense of isolation and abandonment felt by the characters, who, as they move through the city, do not have any bird’s eye views to help them avoid dangers in the road ahead. Secondly, I chose this for a practical reason: to obviate the need to construct extensive and elaborate environments. I’m such a lazy cheater.


My bias was not only apparent but utterly rewarded when the story shifted to scenes of men preparing a yacht to join the rescue flotilla, shot in my hometown of Weymouth. I actually shouted out in the cinema. Some angles showed the pantomime theater at the end of the esplanade, and the reverse shots showed houses very close to where my grandparents lived, and the harbor’s edge where I used to catch prawns of a summer evening. If I started in now about the Spitfire battle I would whip myself into a nostalgic patriotic fervor wholly inappropriate for this venue.


Christopher Nolan is a director whose stories and stylistic choices resonate with me, but what strikes me most are the parallels with my own artistic quest. For him, as it is to me, it is important to portray lost or unknown chapters of history, and in my case it is the soldiering done by colonial conscripts for France in wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. During an interview at the Lincoln Center, Nolan noted, regarding historical topics, that he is ‘always looking for a gap in the record, for the untold story’.   (Lincoln Center). I too, have a nose for those stories.


To quote Appollinaire once more, Memories are hunting horns whose sound dies on the wind.” (Inspiringquotes.com).


Through film and literature we can perpetuate human events which might otherwise be lost or forgotten, we can keep those horn sounds echoing, both for ourselves and our personal links to less known history, and for the next generation. With this filmic cubism Nolan invites us to take part, and to experience. As a filmmaker I aspire to also bring viewers into the worlds I create, and to entertain and ultimately move them. Let the horns blow! (as long as the camera and sound are rolling).



Dargis, Manohla. (2017). “Review: ‘Dunkirk’ Is a Tour de Force War Movie, Both Sweeping and Intimate”. New York Times, July. Online version accessed November 16, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/20/movies/dunkirk-review-christopher-nolan.html?referrer=google_kp


Debruge, Peter. (2017). “Film Review: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk”. Variety, July. Online version accessed November 16, 2017: http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/dunkirk-review-christopher-nolan-1202495701/


Dunkirk Q&A with Christopher Nolan (2017), by Film Society of Lincoln Center, distributed on YouTube. URL: www.youtube.com/watch?v=49Jt5k1W0bw [accessed on 10.26.2017]


Dunkirk Trailer



Edelstein, David. (2017). “Dunkirk Is a Great War Movie Marred by Christopher Nolan’s Usual Tricks”. Vulture, July. Online version accessed November 16, 2017: http://www.vulture.com/2017/07/dunkirk-movie-review-a-great-war-movie-except.html


Hooten, Christoper. (2017). “Christopher Nolan has crafted a minimalist war film with maximal impact”. The Independent, July. Online resource accessed November 16, 2017: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/dunkirk-film-review-2017-christopher-nolan-tom-hardy-cillian-murphy-mark-rylance-harry-styles-a7841876.html


Inside the making of “Dunkirk” (2017) by Popcorn with Peter Travers July 21 2017.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xHKBRtVNE0&t=1155s [accessed on 10.25.2017]


Inspiringquotes. (2017). “Guillaume Appollinaire”. (March). Online resource accessed November 16, 2017: https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/8823-guillaume-apollinaire/page:2


Wikipedia. (2017). “The Charterhouse of Parma.” November. Online resource accessed November 16, 2017:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Charterhouse_of_Parma

How to make your rigged character hold an object

Hi there, and welcome to the first ever EvE: The Will to Live tutorial.

Starting with this tutorial I want to share some of the useful things I’ve learned that help me during the production of this film, on the chance that somebody out there might be wondering how to do this or that, and I can therefore save them some time and, as in my case, blood and tears…

Please check out the video here: (Pro tip: it has behind the scenes bits)

Watch the tut: It's FUNNY!
Watch the tut: It’s FUNNY!


and don’t forget to Like and Subscribe, and Share the love.  Or, in this case, the info.  The more we support each other by Subscribing, Liking and Sharing the better off the viewers who might need or enjoy this content, and the better off the creators who will see they are not just shouting into the void (or weeping), (or growling), and the better off the ENTIRE WORLD because SHARING = PEACE.

To sum up the tutorial:

1: Set the origin point of your object to where you want the character to grasp it.

Object origin placed at handle
Object origin placed at handle


2: Select your object, hit Shift + S  and choose “Cursor to Selected”.

SHIFT+S Cursor to selected
SHIFT+S Cursor to selected

3. Add an empty, (cube or sphere as circles disappear on the horizon) and size it down for ease of use.  Give your empty a name in the data panel such as “Cupcake empty” or “right hand switchblade empty”, because if you are using many, it can get confusing.

Name your empty
Rename your empty something memorable

4.  Select your object again, then shift-select the empty.  CTRL+P and parent the object to the empty.

Parent object to empty
Parent object to empty

5.  Select the characters hand bone in pose mode.  SHIFT+ S to set the cursor at the hand bone location.

Cursor to bone selection
Cursor to bone selection

6.  Select the empty again.  SHIFT+S and chooose “Selection to Cursor”.

Selection to cursor
Selection to cursor to send it to the hand bone (grabber)

7.  Add a the Constraint: Child of.  Use the eye dropper to choose first the rig, and then in the bone name area, type the name of your empty.  Select it when it pops up by hitting return.

Select rig and add bone parent to the constraint panel
Select rig and add bone parent in the constraint panel

Your object will seem to disappear for a moment, but FEAR NOT: click the ‘Set Inverse’ button, and there it is.  Back from the coffee break.

Set inverse
Click ‘Set Inverse’ and see your object magically return

8.  Marvel at your handiwork.  Grab an arm bone and hit R twice, play with the rotation and see how your handiwork performs under severe duress.

9.  But the object is not precisely positioned.

Note position needs work
Positioned but it looks like… not good yet.

OK! Select your object and you may now position it well so the fingers can grasp it nicely.  The beauty of this method is just that.  The empty sticks the object in the right area, and you just reposition the object thereafter.

Repositioned: Niiiiice!
Repositioned: Niiiiice!

10.  If you put the Child Of constraint directly on the object, it is next to impossible to reposition it.  So DON’T DO THAT!

11.  Drink more coffee, (G.A) and start animating!

12.  If you want a character to pick up an object, put one down or throw it, stay tuned for a separate tutorial.  Stay even more tuned for the tutorial on how to do a two-handed grab, such as a cha

If this has helped you, please like my

page and take a look at what’s been brewing.

Peace, cheers, usiku mwema, demal ag jamm!

Meals on Wheels


Automobiles have featured in film since the very beginning, so I would be remiss not to include some in EvE: The Will to Live.  However, modelling a car or truck is time-consuming and if I consume any more time modelling the Time-Bottling Local 210 is going to come pounding on my door.  Instead I have resorted to free downloads from www.blendswap.com and archive3d.net ;  these are great resources but sometimes models are not unwrapped, so you have to do that yourself (unwrapping is the process of marking seams on the model so that a 2d image can be made, the model parts “laid flat”

Here is an example of an unwrapped model's 2d image.
Here is an example of an unwrapped model’s 2d image.

the way we might unwrap a globe of the Earth; after that we are able to map an image texture or paint on that 2d image, which then shows up on the model).

Here is the same layout with the textures painted in.
Here is the same layout with the textures painted in.

Here is the model all nice and ready to star in EvE: The Will to Live:

Tbovu_Jinja dalladalla_WIPThis is a typical minivan used for transport in Tanzania.  Even though the country where the story takes place is not named and I have made deliberately ambiguous, my point of reference for the many details is Tanzania, and in particular, Dar es Salaam.  Notice, for example, that the terminal stops are indicated on the front (also the back) as well as a notice about fares on the passenger door.  After that you’ll find all kinds of decorations, or none at all.

What is interesting, I went to Kampala, Uganda, in 2010 and found their minivans have no decorations at all.  Instead, the driver or the conductor or some ‘piga debe’ (tout) leans out and shouts where they’re going.  I assume that allows them some flexibility to alter their routes.

I visited Djibouti in 2011 and my mind is blank on the transport issue.  The population was not dense at all, and the city was pretty small, walkable, but I can’t mention anything other than taxis.

In Luxor, Egypt, they also have caleches, horse-drawn carts, which is a charming way to get around that beautiful city.

Enough Talk!  Pictures!

I call it the Lugger, a mini pick up truck that often has a box mounted on the back.
I call it the Lugger, a mini pick up truck that often has a box mounted on the back.
The Lugger with it's big brother, what I have called the 'FUJO'. (swahiliophones watacheka)
The Lugger with it’s big brother, what I have called the ‘FUJO’. (swahiliophones watacheka)
early sedan
Mama’s car, texturing in progress.


Here we see the car coming to life with a bit of dust and interior work done.
Here we see the car coming to life with a bit of dust and interior work done.

Here’s an example of a background prop, an oil tanker from archive3d which I have modified and detailed.

This oil tanker represents a shout out to a good friend and his family business in Iringa, Tanzania.
This oil tanker represents a shout out to a good friend and his family business in Iringa, Tanzania.

Let’s Roll!

There are not too many vehicles in motion in the film, because the story takes place at the tail end of the evacuation, when most people have already left.  However, I can’t do without a little vehicular action.

Lugger road test 1

Above is the first test of blazraidr’s Blender Car Rig  which is super cool and saves too much time.  When it’s one lone fanatic doing all the work, sometimes you have to invest in the cutting of corners.

Dear reader stay tuned, more animations, crazy and cool, will be created with cars racing from zombies over rough dirt roads.  Dramatic chase music (or banjo plucking) fills your mind.

Please share this post liberally.  Or right-wingedly, depending on your slant I like everybody!

Go to our facebook page to like and share!

For 3d modellers and blenderheads I highly recommend Chris Plush’s exciting new Jeep modeling training!


Lo poly house project

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to share a bit of my evolving process, in this case real estate for EvE: The will to live.    Here are some of the houses I have created for the scenes.  They are somewhat lo poly, for those who don’t know, it means the underlying geometry is quite simple, which can reduces rendering time, (producing final images easier).

BOARDED HOUSE DEAD HOUSE Mkaa shop (CHARCOAL) copy roof ao bake3

However, I have some scenes coming up with landscape type views, and so I need to fill up the background.  The problem is my houses are not just one piece, and that makes spreading many of them around a scene not so easy, and also, it increases the rendering time.  I came up with a quick method for creating them, and here are the first ones.

Lo poly house 1 pic Lo poly house 2 pic Lo poly house 4 pic Lo poly house 3 pic LP 1 colThis last pic shows the diffuse texture map.  I won’t say it was a total cinch to make them, as I wanted not to just whip them up but devise my own work method, so that it becomes easier.  I will share  that in another post, but basically it is just using a cube, extruding and dividing the top face for the roof, using a mirror modifier and painting most of it in Blender.  The doors I added in photoshop.    The textures are from my own photographs, from textures.com and from the very nice brush pack from Blender Sensei.

Some of the bricks don’t match at the corners but that’s not a problem as these will be scattered in the background.  I almost made roofs only but sections of wall can still be seen.  Here are some test images of that background population.  I was able to easily distribute them across the landscape with a great add-on from AFX labs called Group Clusters. It saves tons of time when spreading a group of models and can stick them nicely to the surface, as you can see.


Lo poly house scene pic 3 Lo poly house scene pic 1These pics were super fast to render, but I also noticed I need some variation in the roofing colors.  New roofing picsTo that end I cracked open my Quixel Suite, because I have used and reused all my roofing textures and need a way to get more variety quickly.  Remember, it’s just me making everything (almost: 97.47%) for the film so I have to be pragmatic, finding shortcuts wherever I can. Note: I have made over 70 buildings, more than 50 zombies, (all rigged, with facial expressions), and I don’t know how many cups of coffee to get me this far….  plus bricks, guard rails, boxes, cookies, candles, pencils, etc. etc. etc.

So that’s my post on lo poly houses:  I wouldn’t want to live in one, but they sure fill up a background nicely.



Goba Angle House

That’s what I called this for some reason.  Shot this house on the way home one day.

Interesting house for modelling
Interesting house for modelling something different.

Then created a house loosely based on it in Blender.

Zombie builds house in the middle of service road at Mbezi.
Zombie builds house in the middle of service road at Mbezi.

The challenge for me was the angled roof, as I haven’t been satisfied with my results on those, and this time I tried out the Knife tool, and it came out pretty well.

I also used Aidy Burrows’ technique:  block out a rough shape, and then use a plane textured with a tiling texture and “wallpaper” it across the outside.  Then, just imported my pre-made windows, roofing and bits of wood.

This concocted image is just an experiment gone too far: ‘how would it look in a photo?  Oh, yeah, ok, then, the zombie shadows must go on the ground, too, oh, and this, that, oh, the lighting is backwards, oh well, who cares, it’s a test.’  It was fun, but as always I remind myself, the film will not finish itself while I fool around in Photoshop.


A first post about 3d modelling: Mama’s shop

EvE: The will to live is set in an unspecified East African country, and since I live in one, specifically the lovely Tanzania, I use my surroundings for inspiration.  Here is a model of a common sight, the genge (gengay), small shops you find in neighborhoods.  Our version of the Kwikee Mart.

Here is the original,

Convenient neighborhood shop.
Convenient neighborhood shop.

and then the same pic with the model squeezed in for fun.

The shop you may see in our film.
The shop you may see in our film.

I do my modelling in Blender blender-socketand I set up this image in Photoshop.  Since this is my first post about modelling, I want to acknowledge my mentors,

Chris Plush and Aidy Burrows of CGMasters.

Get over there and learn some great stuff!
Get over there and learn some great stuff!

You can absolutely learn tons of stuff from the awesome free tutorials on the web.  But if you live in a place where your network (mtandao) is often slow or tricky, it is hard to learn from video tutorials, as it is tough to rewind, or the image quality is bad and you can’t see what buttons or keystrokes are being executed.  Thanks to my buddies Nick Reynolds and Mathieu Roy, I was able to procure Master It (blender of course) Vols 1 & 2 by Chris Plush and the Complete Environment and Animation Project by Aidy Burrows, of CGMASTERS. I learned so much from them, and continue to learn as I use them as a resource because I tend to forget the stuff I don’t use on a regular basis.  They also have a library of free tutorials which is how I first got to know them.

I also learned character rigging from Lee Salvemini and I will post about that later.  (hint: screencapture 90 mins of free tutorial in 5 min increments from Andrew Price’s Blender Guru website).

Blender is free and open source, (and a small download, too!) so it is a great way to get your feet wet.  I know it may look intimidating at first, and I actually started in the 3d tracker mode  with the awesome Sebastian Koenig, and his Track, Match, Blend tutorials so that I could learn to do Matchmoving, and once I got familiar and all friendly-like, I “EXPANDED MY HORIZONS”.

As you can see.


An example of animation using a reference shot

Adam runs, then turns toward Eve...
Adam runs, then turns toward Eve… (click HERE)
I run for the cause: Better Animations Now!  (donate today)
I run for the cause: Better Animations Now! (donate today)

Here is an example of using reference shots to help set up an animation.  They really help with pose and timing.  Then you can tweak and adjust to your needs, as well as set up the camera moves you may want, as in this example.  This is a simple GL render, from blender; these are fast renders that help you quickly see how your work is progressing.

Greetings from the Z side!

What's wrong with a little self-promotion.
What’s wrong with a little self-promotion.

Today we are launching our website to promote our new film, EvE: The will to live.  It is still in production, but with festival deadlines approaching I am drinking more coffee, and strapping on my good spurs.

If you like animation, action, Africa-related films, horror, zombies, cg projects, Blender, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Fuse, Quixel Suite and we have a lot of good stuff to share with you.  So stay tuned, and please also drop by our facebook and give us a LIKE, and maybe even a SHARE.

Have a great day!