Making Atomic City: Major Production Values on an Indie Budget
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Markus Rothkranz : Making Atomic City: Major Production Values on an Indie Budget
No longer hidden in the mind of longtime filmmaker and effects artist Markus Rothkranz, lives a wonderfully twisted vision of the future. It's a future that George Jetson would be quite at home in - well, almost. It takes place in a future Las Vegas that Elvis would immediately recognize - kinda. It's a future where almost everything is taken to the extreme and in which a future Las Vegas itself becomes one of the chief characters in the story. You see it and you know it's Sin City, yet somehow, it's just not quite right. Think of the story as a sort of Jetsonsmeets- The Simpsons-meets-Max Headroom-meets-every crime fighter duo you've ever seen - well, in a way. This is a new kind of creative storytelling that brings together science fiction, campy Sputnik-era 50s and 60s sci-fi futuristic visual treatments, rock 'n roll, police dramas and the occasional romance.
After seeing it just once, we couldn't forget how funny and well-conceived the story is: There's our intrepid hero, who looks like he might have climbed out of a velvet Elvis painting and onto your television screen. He is the personification of every Elvis impersonator who ever scrunched up the side of a lip or unfurled a sequined 18 inch collar on the streets of Sin City. Joining him is his trusty (and busty) sidekick who looks like she just climbed off a Vegas show floor somewhere - and probably did. Together, they fight for all that's good and right. Doing it all in a flashy red sports car so extreme that Batman would be jealous and even Vegas natives would turn their heads and ask: "Honey, did you see that?" Add to it a supporting cast so irresistible that they will find laughter in most anyone who has breathed air lately. This is character development rarely seen on TV today.
Markus in helicopter during aerial filming.
Longtime Creative Cow member, Markus Rothkranz is an artist and filmmaker whose love of the creative process he traces back to Walt Disney. "When I was a kid, I built my first model set of DisneyWorld's Magic Kingdom - complete with a working Monorail and a horse drawn street car that traveled down Main Street . They liked it so much they flew me to DisneyWorld and gave me a desk in their design department. For a 15 year old kid, it was the experience of a lifetime and it really inspired me.
I never stopped building models and had so much fun with it, that one day I thought that I would try my hand at painting so that I could make my own matte paintings for use in my projects. Model making and painting took me into film production and over the years I worked on the effects teams at DreamQuest Images, Sony and Disney. Getting a chance to work at Disney was like fulfilling a dream that I had had since being a kid and it was hard work but also a lot of fun.
From this and many other experiences, I learned that in the art of filmmaking, you usually raise a lot of money for a project and then hire many people to make the show. It's a system that works but it's not for me. In my world, I tend to believe that it is possible to make $100 million movies on $10 million. Why not, if you can?"
In the late 1990's, Markus co-wrote, was production designer and directed the made-for- TV film, "To the Ends of Time," in which good and evil battle in a world of kings and princes, princesses, beautiful maidens and dastardly evil doers.
"Today, I write, direct, build the sets and the models, set the lights, often act as my own DP and I find a creative freedom in this. It helps that I never sleep! But when your goal is to match the quality of the major films - and do it for far less than it's been done before - it helps to have a workaholic streak.
The story, the setting, the characters, props and the other facets of the Atomic City story had been in my mind for years and like many artists, though it gets rough at times, you cannot let go and you fight the odds to see it all come together in a finished story. The story is so much fun that it's what keeps you going when things get to be more than most human beings would care to handle."
Markus has wonderful model-making skills and in his pirate and fantasy movies, his ships are as good or better than those that you see in big budget films. One of my favorite models is his model of the "Astro" for Atomic City. It's a casino sign which holds a flying saucer that our intrepid hero lives in. In the image just below to your left, you can see a bluescreen shot that is blended with computer footage to give our hero's digs quite a view of Markus's fantasy Las Vegas.
In the story, our hero, Stan Velvet, is an inept, bumbling but lovable private detective who one day finds our femme fatale wandering alone in the desert, suffering from amnesia. Stan brings her back to his over-thetop 60's Sputnik-era digs that fulfill the promise of what the future was to have been.
Markus laughs: "We were all fed the image of what the future was going to be. We'd all have flying cars and wrist-watches that were video phones. We'd all take trips to the moon on Pan Am. It didn't happen and so I took all of those images, the pop-art and the style of that period and made it all into a story where it did happen. And our brave and trustworthy hero is there to save the day, when needed.
"Together they try to find out who she is and why she was wandering in the desert alone. Soon the storyline unfolds and they find themselves each week digging up another governmentburied mystery out in the desert. '
Markus's character development will leave you in stitches, laughing. There's Stan's Dad who looks, talks and lives like Tom Jones and is the mayor of Las Vegas. Stan's Mom is a clone of Bette Midler and is sensational in her part. Our villain, Doctor Cosmo, is a dead-ringer for Sean Connery, and works on clandestine government research projects. Soon it becomes clear that our heroine has run afoul of the evil doctor who left her in the desert to perish. Each week they unearth another of the Doctor's dastardly projects which seem to be buried everywhere and just a bit below the surface. It is campy and very funny.
"It's all built around the mythos surrounding all of the real covert government projects that happened in the deserts around Las Vegas following World War II and far into the Cold War," says Markus. "While the characters are comedic parodies, they are also extensions of the character types that all of us have met and known in our own lives and that is what makes it even funnier. We see ourselves and others in the characters. It all plays into a story that is quite funny but very approachable for audiences."
A final composite of the Astro model into which our hero drives his ride.
During our conversation, we spoke of how the community at Creative COW has played into this and Markus commented that: "I am a tinkerer and I am always pushing the limits of what I can do. I want to be around others who share the same passion and creative drive and I've never found a better place for that than at Creative Cow. Having the input and support of others has been great; especially when I was looking for trustworthy information on making the jump into High Definition. Creative Cow really helped me figure out what is really going on and what works - and what doesn't. There is simply no way one person can learn everything and stay on top of it all and so I appreciate the community.
The future monorail is better than the real one in Las Vegas
"I became acquainted with the Cow through a trade show where they were giving out "Bovine Bessie's Caribbean Style Chicken Sauce." They were so relaxed and friendly that I felt I was in my old home town . Later I visited the site, which turned out to be quite like that as well. In most forums I'd visited, you could ask questions and never get a satisfying answer. At the Cow, you often get multiple answers, each with a different viewpoint on whatever subject you are asking about.
"I try to offer ideas and input from time to time and in areas like 3D modeling and animation, I think I rock some boats as many argue that you have to have Maya or SoftImage to make a movie. I make movies and TV shows using Cinema 4D and Eovia Carrara. Maybe years ago certain tools were the only game in town but today, all of these tools are so powerful and feature-packed that it really comes down to the artist, not the software. That's good because it really should be about the artist and the story, not the tools."
Doctor Cosmo plans his next dastardly deed.
When asked about Atomic City and the chances of seeing it on-air sometime soon, Markus says: "We have been meeting with a couple of interested parties and the meetings have been very positive but there is nothing firm as of today." When asked about future projects, he points to "... a movie I've been working on is now underway and I am very excited about that. I'll give you more of a report on it when things are nearing completion. It should surprise many as it has a very strong story, has good characters and a real sense of visual appeal. All-in-all, I think it's one that is sure to make use of all I've learned over the years."
For Atomic City trailers, making ofs and other goodies or to learn more about Markus Rothkranz and his career, projects and art, please visit him online at www. atomiccity.tv and at www.astrofilms.net. Both sites have a lot there including trailers, galleries and images from his work, as well as many other things to explore.
Find more great Creative COW Magazine articles by signing up for the complimentary Creative COW Magazine.