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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Editor’s Thoughts

… it is almost forgotten that it takes a team of many people with talent to make a motion picture …

I must say, from the feedback I receive, there are so many areas where it’s felt that there is inadequate information and training available. The industry needs young people who are prepared to put in the time and effort to learn the skills and techniques which have been developed and perfected by the professionals who have spent their careers entertaining the audience with their storytelling abilities. 

It’s probably not ‘what have we done wrong?‘ we should be asking but ‘what more do we need to do to put things right?’ in those areas where specific training for the film industry is needed. Quick answer to that is – if you are running a course at whatever level then please enlist the help of industry professionals – individuals, guilds or organizations – to either advise in the initial discussions on course content or attend as guest tutors. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t limit skills training to those who work creatively – production grades coming into the industry may benefit from taking time out to learn about the responsibilities of the crew they going to employ.  An experienced crew member can prevent a great deal of wastage on time and tantrums if they are used efficiently as they will have the ability to read the mood in the meeting or on the floor and change, alter, move and re-invent as often as the director wants with the least amount of fuss. 

Initial decisions on crew, methods and equipment which are based purely on cutting the budget to the bone can eventually become very expensive, as mistakes made due to wrong or ill-advised choices can have a disastrous impact both on the bottom-line and the quality of the finished product.

Keep the feedback coming – I need your thoughts, ideas and comments so that I can make sure that the ‘News’ is covering areas of most interest.

Go to www.network-nine.com and click on the ‘Guilds & Associations’ page to access some of the industry organizations.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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The Special Effects Secrets of Gillie Potter

Gillie Potter 1923 - 2004

Gillie Potter was one of the world’s leading special effects animators and became known as the man who could ‘do the impossible’. His revolutionary work in British commercials advanced the use of special effects in television advertising. He elevated the boring ‘pack shot’ to an art form and invented the device of having live action sequences taking place on a moving product pack.

His commercial work started in the mid 1950s. This work earned him more than 40 international awards, including a Golden Lion at the Cannes Advertising Film Festival and was involved in the production of more than 2,000 ads, including classic commercials for Rolo, Vicks Vapour Rub, Quaker Oats, Nesquick and Shredded Wheat. His special effects work can also be seen in feature films ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Superman: The Movie’ and ‘Jurassic Park’.

Gillie Potter was a living legend, still working because he loved it, right up until his death in 2004 at the age of 80. He was the magician of advertisements during the early years of commercial television. In those days, trick film work was a novelty and, at the morning coffee breaks across the land, last night’s TV ads would be a hot topic of discussion …. ‘just how did they do that?‘. Indeed, when we look at some of his early show-reels today it is difficult to see exactly how he did it – in fact, they often look digital when digital technology was at least 20 years in the future.

The predominant brief at that time for commercials was that they should contain something which was very different from anything that had ever been seen before. Once this challenge had been faced and some sort of presentation devised, the vital next step was to select the most appropriate method to achieve it. This usually turned out to be the simplest way of doing it and that, in turn, often proved to be the cheapest – or at least the most cost-effective.  The budgets for special effects commercials in those early days were actually quite small compared with those of live action shoots.  

Usually, the main sections of special effects shoots were made ‘in camera’ – sometimes using multiple exposure but more often shooting a free-standing optical illusion that Gillie’s small team had created. The final work might be embellished by optical composites but in-camera methods kept overall control in the hands of the production company. This was often the cheapest and usually the quickest method. They had the further, very positive, advantage of keeping down the number of generations, as film stock was more primitive in those days and generation-free digital copying was not yet even a dream.

Gillie had invented a particular device – the groundbreaking technique of putting a moving picture onto a moving pack. He always tried to obey one very important rule – keeping the product identity – which most often means the product pack itself right there in the shot. How many commercials we see today leave no lasting impression of what they were about!  Gillie’s ingenious idea was to build on this important principle by showing a movie of the product being used on the surfaces of a moving (usually rotating) pack of that very product. This seems easy now, particularly with all the digital systems available but at that time, it was something that had never been seen before in a television commercial. Camera people guessed that he must have used a rotating projector but they were puzzled as to why it didn’t appear in the shot at some point. The crucial item here was a small mirror, which enabled the rotating projector to be positioned below the field of view of the camera.

A cigarette advert which had cigarettes, packets and disembodied titles built up into an increasingly impossible pyramid before the whole structure collapsed, with the cigarettes all landing neatly in their packets. Few viewers ever guessed that the sequence was shot by laying the packet and the cigarettes on a glass table and shooting upwards, from below. The text pieces were to be stop-motion animated onto the film afterwards, so it was vital that the artist’s hand should maintain the correct separation throughout the main shoot. Particularly delightful is a move in which the text of the word ‘tipped’ goes off balance and the letters are meticulously animated to take up a sloping format and then corrected, when the hand goes in to make the line level again.  

This might well have been the very first use of video assist in a commercial shoot, as the cameraman and the director were able to co-ordinate the whole procedure with an improvised form of closed circuit television from a video camera strapped alongside the 35mm film camera.        

This article is published with the kind permission of the Potter family. There is a DVD of this interview, which outlines Gillie’s techniques in detail, particularly useful to course leaders and students who would like to experiment with their own in-camera effects. For more information on purchasing the DVD Network Nine News info@network-nine.com

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Special Effects

 

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Do you want to work in Visual Effects…?

 

Dayne Cowan

Visual effects, or VFX as it is commonly abbreviated, is an exciting, constantly changing and rapidly growing area of the film industry. These days, it is all pervasive. In many feature films, such as ‘Avatar’, it’s use is completely obvious. In others, such as the ‘The King’s Speech’, it’s success depends on it not being seen at all – but it is there regardless!

This article by Dayne Cowan was published in Network Nine News magazine – for further information or to subscribe go to www.network-nine.com

So what is it like to work in this field, how do you get in to this line of work and what does it take to succeed? Before the advent of university degrees designed for this industry, you could come at it from several angles. When I started, it was common for your fellow artists to have backgrounds in architecture, fine art, computer science or mathematics. I’ve even met people who had degrees in robotics!

This Visual Effects industry demands a curious mix of technical and artistic skills. The left and right brain need to work together, which can be harder to achieve than it sounds. You need a very strong eye for detail and aesthetics, coupled with the ability to cope with some extremely complex software and hardware. The software packages that have so much depth that it isn’t uncommon to go for 16 years without even venturing into certain aspects of it.

Of course, not everyone has a perfect mix of artistic and technical talent but fortunately, there is room for many diverse talents in between. Specialist areas range from colour experts to character designers, to computer programmers, to concept artists and editors.

All these disciplines mean that the experience and entry points are highly varied but the bulk of people in the field share a common experience. Most will work as either 2D artists (compositors), or 3D artists (note: not 3D as in ‘stereo’!) and around 80% of any crew in a VFX facility will fall into these two categories. It’s also worth noting that the distinction between the two is blurring over time, as the software and skills change. Perhaps in the future they will all just be referred to as ‘VFX Artists’.

For everyone in the industry there are some common factors. The job is demanding and can be very high pressure work with tough deadlines. The hours are usually long, typically with a burst of weekend and late night work towards the end of the project. Most of that time is spent behind a computer, where you often lose track of time.. ‘wow, midnight already?’…. so your partner needs to either be very understanding or working with you!

Being a creative process, never expect that your first effort will be the last and never mention that dreaded word ‘final’ The work you produce is going to be poured over many times by many people – sequence leads, vfx supervisors, directors and so on – before it gets approved. Work can often be ‘unapproved’ and worked on further – so be ready for that. It’s hard to let go of that piece that you’ve laboured over for hour after hour but sometimes that’s what you have to do. Shots get changed, work can be omitted from the film. Patience and perseverance are vital! Start by being your own strongest critic. Does it actually look good or right? Would you want that work projected on millions of screens worldwide?

Being a creative industry, not everything that occurs is rational, logical or predictable. It helps to be able to keep a level head and, although we long for it, there is no ideal and it is your ability to solve those inevitable problems with a good natured approach which will set you apart as a skilful and reliable practitioner.

Last of all, be persistent, have a good enthusiastic attitude and keep it fun. After all, no matter what happens, you have to enjoy your work!

Dayne Cowan’s credits include: ‘Battle Los Angeles’, ‘Paul’, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’, ‘The Reader’, ‘10,000 BC’, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Mee-Shee: The Water Giant’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’, ‘Below’, ‘Thunderpants’, ‘Blade II’, ‘Dragonfly’, ‘Revelation’, ‘The Beach’, ‘The Avengers’.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Visual Effects

 

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