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Rejecting Limbo

How a new director saved his frozen script with $3K and DAZ

“Find a way.“

In the world of DIY filmmaking, this is about as close as you can get to a commandment. For Jesse Griffith, it was the only way he could get his movie made. Jesse is what the industry calls a triple threat: he can write, he can direct and he can animate. However, it was his writing that would push him into filmmaking. As a life-long fan of sci-fi movies, Jesse always wanted to create a “Star Wars-level” film with his home computer. His excitement for this concept only grew when he began manipulating 3D scenes and figures with DAZ products.

“I don’t have a big studio paying my bills, so I always have had to look for ways to do more with less,” says Jesse. “DAZ is perfect for that, which has always made me think it would be a great tool for filmmaking.”

Inspired, he decided to write a script. He called it “Cockpit” and by all measures, it was good. His story - which focused on the struggles of a stranded crew of pilots against mind controlling aliens - became a finalist in numerous screenplay competitions and even won four awards. This recognition couldn’t overtake a singular problem though. Namely, the fact that studios don’t trust untenured talent with big budgets. All outside projections of his script suggested a big budget, which meant Jesse’s film looked like it might be stuck in a perpetual state of limbo.

What the studios didn’t count on was Jesse’s tenacity and ability to create new opportunities out of 3D graphics tools. In his day job as a graphics animator for Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jesse had found great results for eye-catching backgrounds and 3D models with DAZ’s software packages. And since he now needed to prove that his story could be both visually striking and affordable, he became convinced that DAZ’s huge catalog of online assets was going to be the way he could satisfy both goals, in spectacular fashion.

Fearlessly, Jesse decided to make a 10-minute teaser to “Cockpit,” which he entitled “Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement.” Today, this short has won 14 awards at many notable sci-fi film festivals, but at the time, it was simply a means to an end. A way to show the studios that his screenplay could and should be made.

DAZ’s software became his go-to tool. Beginning with concept storyboards and extending into green screen visuals, DAZ’s highly adaptable models proved integral to the CG needs of this DIY production.

“How would George Lucas start a film like this?” Jesse mused when asked about how DAZ fits into a moviemaker’s workflow. “He would request that ILM design a bridge. They would sketch up five or ten versions, and he would choose his favorite. In my case, DAZ is my low budget ILM. I type in “bridge” or “sci-fi” in the DAZ search engine, and I see products like Kibaretto’s “The Commander” or Stonemason’s “Dark Star.” I decide which best fits my story, plop down 30 bucks and get to work.”

This easy access to attractive resources, like 3D depictions of bridges, allowed Jesse to construct the very sets that the studios had thought untenable, at a fraction of their projected cost structures. The sets also became malleable environments that he could stage his characters in. Suddenly, this “non-drawer,” had visual storyboards that he could pass along to his crew, which enabled everyone to get on the same page quickly. This was key due to the project’s bare bones, $3,000 budget.

During post, the same footage Jesse’s crew had shot against green screen covered garages was given new life thanks to the 3D backdrops Jesse had picked up in the DAZ store. A simple DAZ store bridge, when tweaked in Poser, and elevated in Lightwave, became something that looked extraordinary, instead of awkward. This was important to Jesse. If the sets didn’t look believable, he would lose his audience.

“The last thing I wanted to do was draw people out of the film,” said Jesse. “I wanted them to feel like they were there with the actors, not snickering at some shoddy graphics. With DAZ, I was able to transport them into this world I had created without diverting their attention away from any of the drama I had built into the scene. DAZ was a big reason for that feeling.”

Now with a host of awards and momentum under his belt, Jesse has shown that independent filmmakers don’t need elaborate, multi-million dollar VFX houses to make stories come to life. With a little creativity and a healthy dose of drive, it is clear that tools like DAZ and Lightwave can help filmmakers realize their visions. Jesse is living proof. And to this day, he still encourages other burgeoning directors to use the same tools he does.

“Don’t let the lack of an FX team keep your movie from being made,” says Jesse. “There are too many routes around this problem for you to get stuck. And if you are doing most of the production yourself, your friends and family will thank you for choosing DAZ. It helps you see them again a whole lot faster.”

Trailer: “Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement” Trailer
Full short: “Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement” Short Film

About Digital Art Zone

Digital Art Zone (DAZ) is a leading provider of 3D software and content. DAZ publishes DAZ Studio, an easy-to-use and robust software tool with a simple user interface. The software allows digital artists to easily add and manipulate models and morphs, adjust the textures applied to 3D models, add and adjust lighting and fine-tune the render process. Regardless of artistic background, DAZ empowers anyone to create better graphics faster through its powerful tools and content. For more information, visit