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DYNAMATION … from a lecture by Ray Harryhausen in 1984

Dynamation is a term which was coined by producer Charles Schneer when we started making black and white films together in the 1950s. We specialised in combining live actors with animated models and, since nobody knew quite what stop motion photography was, they would call it an animated film. We were trying to establish a new division between cartoon and three-dimensional animation, so we came up with the word ‘Dynamation’ for that process. As the years went by, the publicity department felt that they had to enhance the word, so we got ‘Super Dynamation’!

Georges Meliés experimented with stop motion photography in France before 1900 with his unique short film Trip to the Moon but it was Wilis O’Brien in America who first found a commercial use for stop motion. His greatest triumph was King Kong which set me off and I have never been the same since!

It left such an impression on me that I felt it was the type of career I wanted, so I made it my business to find out how it was done – hence Dynamation sprang out of the basic O’Brien technique.

The principle behind the technique is that we project a small picture of the live action. Unlike many companies who build 50ft models, we build small models and shrink the actors down to size in order to have control. The larger you go with complicated hydraulically controlled mechanisms, the less control you have – particularly in dramatic situations – so we use a small rear-projected image of the live action behind the animated model, sometimes adding matting process.

When we were presented with the story of Gulliver’s Travels’ we wanted to make it as inexpensively as possible. We had heard of the yellow backing travelling matte process used in England at that time (1959) making its own matte instantaneously using a bi-pack camera. We thought that would simplify combining big people with little people. Since we had planned 150 travelling matte shots, we came to the UK to investigate and we have been here ever since. We used the yellow backing system on three pictures, then it suddenly went out of fashion. That was the darkest day I can remember. Now, of course, we use the blue backing system.

We had just perfected the miniature projection duping process for Twenty Million Miles to Earth where you could hardly distinguish between the original negative and the Dynamation shots – and I would have liked to do the next picture that way – but Charles Spooner said you could not shoot an ‘Arabian Nights’ type picture in black and white, so we made The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad in colour. This took some experimenting as we did not have a choice of colour film which we could use for back projection plates. However, we took the plunge and it worked out quite well commercially. Not too many people found it objectionable to see rather grainy Dynamation shots intercut with the original negative. People who are technically minded are far more aware of that than the average cinema audience, although audiences today are very astute and certainly do not accept things that they would have done twenty years ago.

One of the biggest problems with colour film is contrast and change of colour and we found that the new low contrast print film, designed mainly for television, was very useful. It is much easier to control the colour balance today than it was back in 1958, when you could not leave an unfinished shot in the camera overnight. If you did, it was quite evident the next day to see a colour change jump due to the California temperature drop during the night.

Many times I set my own challenges and I find that my goal is always a little too high for the assets we have. I think that one of my greatest challenges was in Jason and the Argonauts where three men fight seven skeletons. That sequence presented a lot of problems and there were times when I averaged about thirteen frames per nine-hour day – which is less than one foot of film. The accountants got very uptight because they expected me to grind out the footage very much faster than that!

Some of the animated figures used in Jason and the Argonauts

It was necessary for me to handle all the skeletons myself as they had to be synchronised very intimately with the three miniature-projected swordsmen. The skeleton’s feet had to be fastened to the floor and, the minute they left the ground, I had to suspend them on wires for accurate control over the animation. Being keen to make the skeletons look professional, I studied fencing myself but unfortunately, I threw my hip out of joint and had to give it up!

The whole fencing sequence had to be choreographed like a ballet and broken down into numbers. We had to pre-plan the cuts ahead of time through the storyboard – and I cannot stress enough how important that it. When you get on the set you do no want to have a lot of arguments and discussions on how shots should be set up. I always make a number of pre-production drawings which aid everyone concerned in visualising just what the final effect will look like on the screen.

The famous Skeleton Fight from Jason and the Argonauts

I always prefer to animate models of animals for exotic settings and situations instead of using real animals. It is so difficult to find a talented crab who will perform just the way you want, or a baboon who can play chess! You do not want to be at the whim and mercy of a lizard, hoping he will go from point A to point B in so many seconds. I find that real lizards become lethargic under the hot studio lights and barely blink or yawn for the benefit of the camera. The animated ones will perform exactly as directed.

For the bulk of the shots in our films I prefer to use miniature rear projection instead of travelling mattes because it’s easier to execute intimate interplay between actor and model. You have the projected image right there in front of you, rather than wait for weeks to see the combined effect from an optical printer. However, we do resort to many travelling matte shots which, in themselves, are very time consuming to put together.

Dynamation is a word which really means using every trick in the trade – but there comes a point in the economics of doing stop motion animation where you cannot do as much as you would like to do in the way of retakes and careful matching. The time factor is quite considerable. The ideal situation in the future is the Chroma Key method as used in television. When this method has the same resolution as film, you will be able to make instantaneous travelling mattes. I believe that some companies are working on this at the moment.

In recent years there has been a great exposé of the ‘behind the scenes’ details of making complicated special effects. It is my belief that it rather spoils the illusion when the audience is told how it is achieved. It is like a stage magician who tells everyone how he achieves his illusions of magic – soon the audience loses interest in the show!

 

 

 

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The Art of Illusion … by Wendy Laybourn

THE BOOK!

I’ve been really busy for the past couple of years helping my Art Director friend Terry Ackland-Snow to write a book about working in the film Art Department. We decided to call it The Art of Illusion: Production Design for Film & Television because illusion is what making a film or a television programme is all about – what the audience sees on the screen isn’t altogether real!

Like all good things, this project was started over a glass of wine. Maybe I should think twice next time – but I’ve really enjoyed working with Terry and helping him to pull this whole thing together.

Essentially, the book is aimed at anyone wanting to make a career in film production and it will take you through the processes involved in creating a film set step by step. Film sets have been constantly developing from the simple canvas backcloths used on theatre stages, right through to the present day where computer generated effects augment the highly sophisticated art of designing, building and dressing sets.

The Art of Illusion will be available on 11th September from all good bookshops and on-line providers with ISBN number 978 1 78500 343 1. If you want to pre-order you can take advantage a discount offered by the publisher, Crowood Press on Crowood Press

 

 

 

 

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GIVE THEM A BREAK! … an Editor’s Thought

Wendy Laybourn - Editor

Wendy Laybourn – Editor

From time to time I’m asked to speak to young people about the realities of working in production. Although many won’t make it into the business, there are always the few passionate and talented individuals whose determination to succeed deserves a helping hand. So, if you’re involved in a production, why not make an effort to include at least one or two of these young people, even if it’s just for a few days. You may very well be disappointed – but it’s more likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Everyone in the industry is very aware that there isn’t enough well-trained ‘new blood’ coming into production – and we all know that the colleges, universities and specialist schools can only go so far in the training process and that ‘on-the-job’ training is the most important aspect – but if the students, trainees and apprentices can’t get a ‘job’ how are they going to learn their skills and keep the reputation of British craftsmen and women at the forefront of the global film industry.

So, Producers, Directors and Heads of Department – take a chance and give these eager young people a break!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Editor's Thoughts, Uncategorized

 

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Open Source for Film and TV Production … by Daniel Mulligan, M.D, Rogue Element Digital

Editor’s Note for those who are not familiar with Open-source software.

It is computer software with its source code made available, under licence, in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software is developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is the most prominent example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open-content movements.

The open-source model – or collaborative competition development from multiple independent sources – generates an increasingly diverse scope of design perspective than one company’s development alone can sustain long term.

Dan Mulligan

Dan Mulligan

There’s nothing like a new project to make you feel excited about life – and excited is definitely how I’ve been feeling since I embraced the Open Source concept by adopting an Open Source policy to my companies’ camera and workflow divisions.

My background is in cameras. I started out assisting and focus pulling before moving up the ranks to Camera Operating for F1, BBC Dramas and eventually Second Unit Cinematography for Feature Theatrical Productions. During this time I set up Rogue Element Digital and Pure Digital Services, companies that specialise in all aspects of digital cinematography including camera rental, workflow services and location post. Both ran very successfully until 2011 when I was offered a job by Technicolor to set up and run its Digital/Data Operations. As locations and digital dailies supervisor I was involved in a variety of projects including Jupiter Ascending’, ‘Mortdecai’ and ‘The Man from UNCLE’.

Fast forward now to the summer of 2014 when my time at Technicolor came to an end. After a few weeks break to watch the FIFA World Cup, I decided to resurrect my existing business and start trading again – only this time with a difference. Just prior to leaving Technicolor I developed an interest in the Open Source concept and started researching it in more depth. It seemed to me that if Open Source could be applied to film and television production, there was the possibility to really revolutionise the industry and encourage creativity in an entirely new way.

During the many years I’ve spent in this industry I’ve seen a few changes and re-iterations of the current digital workflows and it has struck me how much we rely on proprietary systems for most delivery. There’s nothing wrong with this because, for VFX to DI to onset LUTs and more, they do a good job. However, my research into Open Source led me to believe we could do more and I started asking myself some fundamental questions:

What if we could ensure that 4K cinema (and beyond) was fully open to everyone? What if digital filming equipment could be made available to all via a transparent open policy? If this was possible, could we expand 4K out of the domain of paid professional feature projects and make it accessible to filmmakers who couldn’t normally afford to work with 4K cameras? If we took a truly Open Source approach to film and television production, couldn’t we liberate the creative spirit and inspire freedom of expression?

Of course, having a dream is all well and good but if you want to make dreams come true you need to get practical. And that’s exactly what the Open Source movement is doing.

What Areas Can Open Source Be Applied To?

When you start discussing Open Source in relation to film and television production, you soon recognise that this topic has many strands. Basically, it covers everything from cameras and location post through the entire production pipeline and workflows including sensor processing, transcoding, VFX, DI and colour, LUTs and more. In reality though, the first areas that need to be tackled are digital camera technology, network/server support and delivery and distribution.

Ideally we need to see products and solutions maturing and establishing credibility through proven use. People who have open sourced their work and their projects by allowing access and inviting collaboration need to be recognised. We also need to give people the freedom to study, understand, modify and sell their products or derivatives so that the ideas and principles of Open Source can be consolidated within a forum.

To this end, Open Source Cinema UK has been set up to help develop and create solutions for Open Source Film production. The aim of this web site and community forum is to introduce new ways of working so that we can enhance creativity, cut costs and explore different approaches to technological development and financing.

Open Source Digital Cameras – The First Link In The Chain

If we want an Open Source film and television industry, then the first obvious step has to be the development of an Open Source digital camera. As a former cameraman, it was hearing about an organisation called apertus° and the work they were doing that first got me interested in the whole Open Source concept.

Based in Vienna, apertus° is an Open Source cinema organisation founded by film makers and financed through crowd funding. The people behind the company were galvanised into action when they became concerned with the expensive and limited tools they were forced to work with every day. Instead, they wanted access to affordable devices and technology that delivered the highest possible image quality and could be customised to exactly suit their needs.

I heard about the initiative and when I learned that they were developing an Open Source 4K camera, I decided to pay them a visit. I was immediately struck by how little Open Source, for both software and hardware, is utilised by the Film Production community. Certain single elements are there, Blender for 3D, DCP creation, but nothing has been created and developed as an entire production workflow for shooting films digitally.

Since its formation in 2007, the apertus° project has applied an Open Source philosophy to everything it has developed. As no patents have been filed, anyone can access the technology behind its cameras and people are actively encouraged to adapt, modify, repair and even replicate them. To date, reaction has been very positive. Not only has the company achieved – and exceeded – its initial crowd funding target but it also has the backing of some very important film makers and cinematographers, including ASC and AIC Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer and Emmy and Academy Award-winning DOP and Visual Effects Supervisor, David Stump.

The Axiom Open Digital Cinema Camera

The first product developed is the AXIOM camera, which is due for beta release in April at NAB 2015. Initially it will only be available at cost to the community that backed the crowd funding campaign. Rogue Element was one of those backers and we are delighted to be supporting this venture by investing in a number of 4K Axiom camera systems and making them available to the UK rental market.

With an Open module approach, we anticipate that users will soon suggest the modules they want to see adopted. This perfectly fits the goal of creating a free and open technology for today’s professional cinema and film production landscape and making all the generated knowledge freely available. By creating and building an open modular camera system consisting of several hardware and software parts, the company has already evolved into a platform for film-makers, creative industry professionals, artists and enthusiasts. They are more than just a software/hardware collection; they are a knowledge library – an ecosystem of people supporting each other and advocating freedom.

Software For Collaboration, Innovation And Delivery

The introduction of the Axiom camera inevitably makes other areas of the production process ripe for Open source treatment. First among these is workflow, which is why Rogue Element, in conjunction with the Open Source community, is creating OpenFlow, a complete suite of workflow solutions to ensure that Open Source is at the forefront of film and television production for years to come.

The 4K CMV12000 CMOSIS sensor adopted for the Axiom will need processing and transcoding. Cinema DNG is being adopted for the initial RAW workflow and from these Masters other copies can be created.

OpenFlow will also develop software that embraces open collaboration and allows a more efficient and faster software suite to be developed by anyone who wishes to contribute. Think of an open and freely available code that can be adopted and worked on by anyone, creating an extremely fast and efficient software workflow designed purely for the task at hand, whether this is to create copies for Editorial or other viewing versions to take onwards to VFX and other departments. We will also apply Open Source to DI and colour, thus allowing full access to the Masters and their colour science. It is very exciting – by making formats such as Open EXR and Cinema DNG open to all, we can achieve real transparency as well as better, faster results.

Ethical Film Production

As part of its plans for 2015, Open Source Cinema UK will be embracing other new approaches to film and television production, including the adoption of more ethical solutions.

An example of this is Fairphone (www.fairphone.com), which incorporates social values and ethics into its supply chain to create a product with longevity and repairability. This type of thinking can easily drip down into film production. For example, why not use electric vehicles and location generators that incorporate battery power and newly developed Hydrogen Power options? This isn’t wishful thinking or science fiction as this efficient technology is already being used on some BBC wildlife Productions to power cameras left in place for days at a time.

Aligning an ethical approach to programme and film making with new and developing Open Source Hardware and Software is novel, but there is a growing requirement for these kind of services and in a few years it could well be a lot more common than it is today.

So Where Does All This Lead?

While the Open Source concept may still seem unfamiliar to some people, there is no doubt that it will eventually become perfectly normal for both hardware and software development and in terms of services and equipment procurement.

IP restrictions are already being lifted and when this happens you soon get a global community of many thousands who are collaborating and engaging in product development. The evidence for this lies in software such as OpenOffice and other free/libre OSS solutions, as well as hardware support for Cloud and other media services.

Align this approach with an ethical supply procedure and there is no reason why Open Source solutions shouldn’t become an established part of film production during 2015. Digital productions, in particular, are increasingly relying on software to drive evolving hardware such as sensors and storage. Given that productions, especially those destined for TV, have seen an increase in shooting hours, it is perhaps inevitable that cheaper Open Source technology will come into its own as a way of cutting costs.

Personally I can see immediate benefits for Arts-based productions on ever tighter budgets but still needing 4K to support broadcasting requirements. Surely with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 all actively looking for new ways to save costs while retaining quality, the future must include embracing an Open Source and ethical production environment.

by Daniel Mulligan, Managing Director, Rogue Element Digital

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Cinematography

 

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‘Do You Have What it Takes to Survive in Feature Film Production?’

You might think that this title for my series of e-booklets sounds a bit harsh – but if you’re already trying to find a job in production you’ll know that it’s very competitive and you have to have nerves of steel, combined with an … ‘I’m going win at all costs’ … attitude, as well as exceptional skills.

If you’re still at school and considering any sector of the production business as a career, it’s essential that you are fully aware of the type of training and qualifications you’re going to need before you enrol on any course or apprenticeship scheme.

A major feature film can employ hundreds of people in several different departments, all with specific skills. There are many more creative, technical and business skills involved than you may realise – Producer, Director and Cinematographer are only three people out of a possible crew of 200-300 very talented people. A comprehensive film or media course might give you basic understanding and information – and you might pass your course with flying colours – but there is so much more to learn about the range of jobs, skills and crafts which go into the finished movie.

The only way to fully understand the way film production works is to listen and learn from the professionals on the job, there is no other way if you really want to make your mark in this business. This is where my booklets might come in useful. They are a bird’s-eye view of each department with job profiles, suggested qualifications and links to important web sites, magazines and helpful books. The information is supported by articles written by film professionals, with helpful tips and a realistic view of working this amazing business.

Find my books on www.amazon.com and search for Wendy Laybourn

Production CoverTHE PRODUCTION OFFICE

This is the engine room of the production process and controls the entire film from script to screen. This department takes care of the ‘business’ side of film production.

 

 

Art Booklet Cover WhiteTHE ART DEPARTMENT

This creative and talented department is the design centre of film production. They transform the Production Designers sketches into technically correct drawing for the Construction Crew.

 

 

Construction  Booklet Cover White 2.qxdTHE CONSTRUCTION CREW

The skilled members Construction Crew converts the blueprints from the Art Department into three-dimensional sets.

 

 

 

Camera Booklet Cover White.qxdCAMERA, GRIPS AND LIGHTING DEPARTMENT

Camera, Grips & Lighting crews work together to make sure that the Director’s concept for the film turns into images which the audience sees on the cinema screen.

 

 

 

Book 5: Production & Post Production Sound

PRODUCTION & POST-PRODUCTION SOUND

If you are fascinated by the sound effects, music and dialogue which brings the visual images of a movie to life, then this will be an interesting and informative read, especially for anyone who is already dedicated to finding a job in ‘sound’.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Editor's Thoughts

 

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BEING A JUNIOR COLOURIST … by Aurora Shannon

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

Aurora Shannon

Aurora Shannon

I first discovered filmmaking during a summer course where I wrote and directed a 16mm short called ‘Noise’. I had just left school with little idea of what I wanted to do except for a general sense of creativity and this inspired me to study BTEC ND Media Moving Image at Lewisham College and BA(Hon) Broadcast Post-Production at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, as well as joining a number of young people’s filmmaking groups and courses, where I continued to experiment with filmmaking and animation throughout my studies.

The transition to post-production came very naturally to me, as I found the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital tools incredibly creative. During my time at Ravensbourne where I was, in effect, training to be an editor, I discovered colour grading on an old Avid Symphony. There were only a few basic tools – saturation, brightness and so on – but seeing how they could transform an image was inspiring and, after discovering how to key and change a colour on Quantel I, was transfixed.

Half way through my last year I decided to focus solely on colour grading and spent my work experience unit at Soho Images, as it was the only facility in London to have a laboratory for processing film, a telecine for grading rushes and digital intermediate for grading features, all in one location.

I worked as a Runner but spent as much time as I could sitting with the Features Colourist Rob Pizzey, just watching what he did and asking the occasional question. He seemed to be impressed by these questions and he asked me to stay on, so I was offered a four day a week Runner position in the digital intermediate department – which is now known as Company 3 London. I did this job throughout the last term of university and so, by the time I graduated, I had already stopped being a Runner and was Assisting in scanning and recording.

'Quantum of Solace' (2008), the first film I assisted on with colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008), the first film I assisted on with Colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

A few months later I was asked to assist Stephan Nakamura, a Colourist from Company 3 LA, who came to London to grade ‘Quantum of Solace’, although in reality it was the other way round with him very patiently teaching me how to colourtrace and do other basic tasks! After that project ended I carried on as Digital Intermediate Assistant and had the privilege to assist some of the best Colourists in the business, Rob Pizzey, Adam Glasman, Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephan Nakamura and Mitch Paulson, on over 70 features.

 

'Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ' (2011), the first short that I graded with director Jack Ryder
‘Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ‘ (2011), the first short that I graded with Director Jack Ryder

 

One of the most embarrassing things that happened while I was assisting and still learning the basics of grading, was when I was asked to do a grading test with a cinematographer I really admire, as the Colourist was unavailable. I was reassured that he would just tell me what he wanted me to do and it would be very simple – but every time he asked me to do something like ‘move the highlight towards magenta’ it would go the other way, the exact opposite – until he eventually gave up on the session. I then found out that there are two modes on the system, the Da Vinci Resolve – rank and vector. I was accustomed to using vector as it’s the default but the Colourist had his project set to rank, meaning that everything is the opposite like on the older systems – so I now double check before I begin!

'Arthur Christmas' (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with stereographer Corey Turner

‘Arthur Christmas’ (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with Stereographer Corey Turner

My proudest moments have always been when I’ve really pushed myself, which happens to some extent on every project I grade. The best yet was asking one of our clients if I could grade the short she was editing, when I hadn’t yet done any – and then watching it on Sky Arts with my family on Christmas Day – which was pretty special and extremely rewarding as it kick-started me into grading my own projects.

'Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

‘Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

A disappointing occasion was when I was approached to grade a really great documentary after the director saw some of my work, but I was unable to meet their deadline and had to pass it up and it went on to win an extraordinary number of awards – but then really surprising things can happen too, I met a friend of a friend at a pub and went on to grade both of his shorts and will be grading his first feature later in the year.

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

'Snow White and the Huntsman' (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of colourist Adam Glasman

‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of Colourist Adam Glasman

As my colleagues saw me doing this they began to give me little bits of work – or I asked and sometimes got a ‘yes’ – so slowly my confidence and their trust in my ability built up over the course of about three years until I was doing the video grades, trailers and affiliated commercials, cut changes, new shots and scenes, ‘outsourced’ shots with complicated grades, visual effect backplates and providing additional grading hours on big projects.

'Dead Cat' (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

‘Dead Cat’ (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

Eventually, as clients responded well and I demonstrated that I was ready to take on ‘proper’ work, I was promoted to Junior Colourist. The work is similar to what I did before but the grading side, which of course I enjoy the most, has increased significantly, along with the prestige of the projects that I get to lead on.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to make a career in post-production is to do as much work experience as possible whilst at university so you can find out exactly which aspect you want to pursue – be persistent, learn from your mistakes and, above all, be patient – there’s a lot to learn and there are no short cuts!

'Rush' (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle - and also provided additional grading for the main version and  the trailers

‘Rush’ (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle – and also provided additional grading for the main version and the trailers

Aurora Shannon, Junior Colourist at Company 3 London

Aurora Shannon’s film credits include: Jack Ryan; The Counselor; Captain Phillips; Rush; World War Z; Les Miserables; Skyfall; Frankenweenie; Anna Karenina; Snow White & The Huntsman; Wrath of the Titans; The Woman in Black; The Iron Lady; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; The Inbetweeners Movie; The Decoy Bride; Paul; Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time; Nanny McPhee Returns; Green Zone. Television credits: The Gruffalo; The Promise; The Special Relationship.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3381741/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

 

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The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013

VES

Visual Effects Society issues White Paper: The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013. A Comprehensive Analysis of Business Drivers and Best Practices

Industry Experts Cite Improved Business Management as Key to Adapting to the Dynamic Global Marketplace; VES Commits to Further Action

Los Angeles (July 16, 2013) – Today, the Visual Effects Society (VES), the industry’s professional honorary society, released “The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013,” a strategic analysis of the business drivers impacting all sectors of the VFX industry working in film production – those emanating from within the business infrastructure and those imposed by a global economy – and presentation of solutions to mitigate instability. Initial recommendations focus on improving business and financial management acumen among artists and facilities management through training programs and new standards and practices. The whitepaper is the first outcome of a working group of diverse industry stakeholders convened in March 2013 by the VES, which has committed its continued leadership to forge and execute a blueprint for action.

“In recent months, worldwide dialogue in the visual effects community has created a sense of urgency to address the complex pressures on artists and facilities dealing with issues of frayed business models, financial instability and an increasingly ‘nomadic’ workforce operating without a secure vision of the future,” said Eric Roth, VES Executive Director. “The VES saw a need and an opportunity to take a fresh and comprehensive look at the global issues at hand. We’re proud to have initiated a vital effort to analyze and update the business models that govern our industry and hope this resource serves as a catalyst for change.”

This VES whitepaper is the result of a rigorous process, which incorporated input from more than three dozen industry representatives including artists, studio, business and labor leaders and facility executives, whose companies have operations in eight countries and 15 cities around the world, as well as data from several online surveys and published works. (Note: participants are listed in the paper under Section 5: Sources). It was co-authored by two widely respected professionals, Carl Rosendahl, Associate Professor at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University and former President of PDI/DreamWorks, and Ken Williams, CEO and Executive Director of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC and co-founder of Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Four complex independent drivers of this widespread industry shift were identified: growing competition nurtured by technological advancement and globalization; varying tax incentives and other government dynamics; industry dynamics related to an unpredictable production pipeline and pricing models for bidding and managing jobs; and non-business motivations that may contribute to counterproductive business decisions.

“The collection of challenges facing the VFX industry related to workflow, profit margins, business models and workforce issues ranged in characterization by participants from natural business evolution to turmoil based on their individual position and geographic locale,” stated Rosendahl. “But ultimately, the perspectives and information coalesced into two distinct categories – those factors outside of our control and endemic to the realities of a global economy, and those the industry can and should take ownership of.”

In the category of impressionable factors, the immediate need to improve business knowledge for artists and facilities was widely cited among interview participants. As such, the paper presents a number of important actions the industry can adopt to increase business and financial management acumen, including: development of industry standards and practices; fixing current models; considering alternate pricing models to fixed price bidding; exploring flexible business and staffing models; and continuing to assess the relative costs/benefits of forming global business and labor organizations.

“In this new landscape, companies will continue to pursue options they believe will enhance both efficiency and profitability,” said Williams. “It is our opinion that widespread participation by artists and facilities in a focused business training program would result in better forecasting, bidding and managing of jobs, a more educated and empowered workforce, increased transparency and accountability – and would usher in a more stable, influential VFX infrastructure with a greater skill set.”

The VES and its working group will advance this process through continued discussion and development of business guidelines, training program elements and other recommended ideas. In addition, a series of public forums on specific business and career management topics relevant to artists and facilities will be explored as opportunities to continue the public dialogue.

“It is clear from this analysis that certain business practices have contributed to today’s uncertain business climate,” said Roth. “Many dynamics are outside of our reach, but this strategic roadmap can help us alleviate some of the insecurity. Now is the time to embrace change, to chart a better, more sustainable future for this industry we all love.”

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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Visual Effects

 

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