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From VFX Supervisor to Viral Short Film Director

Hasraf Dulull

I knew I wanted to work in film when I saw ‘Batman Begins’ and several years later I ended up working on ‘The Dark Knight’ – one of the proudest moments in my compositing career! – Hasraf Dulull

This article is published in Network Nine News – if you want to subscribe to the magazine go to www.network-nine.com or e-mail info@network-nine.com

I am currently a Freelance Visual Effects Supervisor working at Prime Focus London on several broadcast shows and feature films.

I was recently nominated for two Visual Effects Society awards – BBC One’s ‘Planet Dinosaur’  and Nova’s ‘Life Beyond Earth’ – and I’m currently getting ready to release my own short film ‘Fubar Redux’, an epic motion comic film about a political war set in an alternate reality with cats and dogs!

I have wanted to work in film since the age of twelve when my dad put on a VHS copy of the film ‘Bladerunner’… I was totally blown away by it and  would make mini models of cityscapes in papier maché whilst holding a cylinder to my eye like a camera.

I went to college and did a A-Levels in Technology, Art and Computer Science. (there was no clear route to get into films and my parents were pretty strict about me being too focused on the arts, so I compromised with the computer science part)

At the time of college (early 90s) video games were really a big part of my life and I was able to combine my love for cinema with the interactive world so, whilst I taking my degree, I did work experience for a games company working on cinematics and promotional material.  I was exposed to editing and early visual effects compositing and throughout this time I was always trying out camera moves, doing things you wouldn’t be able to do with a real camera like spin around a bike as it’s racing along the track!

During early 2003, the video games industry started to collapse due to big studios buying out the smaller studios. I was then working in a small studio in the North and really didn’t want to move back down South. So, to keep my self in work and busy I setup my own little CG company and was doing animation for music promos and corporate using high end visual effects.. in the evenings I would then work on my own small projects and did a short trailer called ‘The Chase’. I attended an Autodesk event and there was a ‘show and tell’ session but one of the presenters couldn’t make it. I overheard that they were urgently looking for a presenter to show off work and so I volunteered as I had a DVD of ‘The Chase’ with me anyway!

Nervous as I was, I did the presentation and played the short trailer – and it got a standing ovation! I was asked to play it again and Autodesk asked if they could use it for their marketing campaign. I then got offered a job at one of the largest game developers/publishers in Europe and lead their team in creating action packed cinematics and marketing promos for their driving games.

As the cinematics technology was getting more impressive in the games market, the more I wanted to combine the skills I was using with my love for cinema. I started sending out my showreel to companies dealing with VFX in film. Back in those times games and film were seen as separate industries, whereas today the two blend in really well as both use the same tools, craft and technical knowledge (particles, normal map creations, high poly modelling, motion capture, scanning etc).

I knew I wanted to work in film when I saw ‘Batman Begins’ and I said to my partner I would like to work on the sequel if they make one! Several years later I ended up working on ‘The Dark Knight’ – one of the proudest moments in my compositing career!

I started off doing roto and paint at Moving Picture Company and then ended up moving into compositing, mainly because I had already shown my compositing skills when doing complex rig removals plus my knowledge of Shake.. from there it was upwards over the years at several facilities worldwide as Junior Compositor then Compositor to Lead Compositor and then to Compositing Supervisor, which lead me to becoming a Visual Effects Supervisor.

One of the many things I learned working in different areas of the visual effects industry, from feature film to commercials to music promos and even long form broadcast is – it’s all the same in terms of craft, technical and creative workflows.. the only difference is budget and schedule.  With music videos you have very little time to do very ambitious things and usually work crazy hours, mainly for the love of the music track or directors work… I did loads of music promos at Partizan as well as co-directed some with Little Red Robot in San Fransisco with my good buddy Seth Shevosky who is now Exec Producing my short film ‘Fubar Redux’.

Freelancing at vfx facilities on a project per project basis was the best model for me as opposed to being a full time staff artist because it meant I could have more variety in projects as well as pipelines.  To do this I set up my own company – HaZ-VFX.  I started it up as a way to keep on supporting independent projects such as short films and indies, whilst still working freelance on major feature films. 

These indie projects need VFX done to a tight budget whilst keeping production value high.  Also, working on these indie projects keeps my feet on the ground and allows me to still enjoy and appreciate the film making process which you don’t often get whilst working on those big movies doing VFX in a dark room in a big facility. Working on smaller projects in my spare time also increased my experience as a Visual Effects Supervisor and Producer which got me gigs on high-end broadcast projects like ‘America – The Story of Us’ as well as feature films… so yeah, even though the indies are often low pay or no pay at all… it paid off as it enabled my Visual Effects Supervision career.

Over the years I worked with some amazing people from artists to VFX Supervisors to Creative Directors and Producers at various facilities and studios worldwide and that’s one of the things I love about this industry, everyone knows everyone. So, when it came to me venturing into directing and creating my first short film, I knew it had to be visual effects driven.

I was very heavy into 2.5D compositing, this is basically cheating 3D in a compositing environment as apposed to going into actual 3D CG cameras.  I was one of the early users of The Foundry’s Nuke. So I had a good relationship with them and demo’ing the tool often for them in productions I was involved with.  I approached The Foundry with an idea of creating a short film entirely inside of their powerful compositing tool Nuke and emphasising on the key function of a 3D space inside a compositing tool.  I did some presentation boards and tests in late 2009.

Instantly I was getting support from Matt Pleic and Richard Shaketon, senior product managers at the Foundry. They were key in getting all the support I needed to make this short film. I developed a visual style which would work well with the technology but also served the story telling aspect of the film. This style was – Motion Comics.

Motion comics are basically cut down animated versions of each comic book frame using cut outs from the artwork to create parallax and depth with each shot. Examples can be seen on the Blueray of ‘Inception’ with the ‘Cobal Story’ or on the Blueray of ‘Predators’ – which have several motion comic stories which didn’t get covered in the film and of course, there is the ‘Watchmen’ animated comic DVD.

I wanted to use my VFX compositing experience to take motion comic cinema to another level with extra depth and production values but still keeping the core principles of motion comic story telling. With 2.5D compositing this opens up a load of possibilities to push the motion comic visuals with better animation and more depth and cinematography yet treating each shot like a comic book frame or panel with good pacing, framing and action. I wanted to get away from the usual static like animated action or comic book drawn visuals you get in most of these motion comics. I wanted a photography based visual look to the film.

I then did a presentation at the 2010 International Broadcast Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam as part of a show and tell presentation using ‘Fubar’ as a case study. I cut together an early trailer of the shots I had done and made it look and feel like a Hollywood film by bringing in my good friend Deelan Sital who cuts trailers and promos for feature film marketing – and Luis Almau on the audio and score to help package it all up into a nice glossy presentation.

The trailer was received so well that I had people from the audience coming up to me asking when the film was going to be released – and it started getting press and media attention online with quotes like  ‘Platoon’ meets ‘Animal Farm’. This completely changed my concept of the film from being a technical VFX short, so I started putting a story together and brought on a writer friend of mine – Geof Wolfenden.

One of my favourite books of all time is George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. I loved the idea of using certain animals to depict the chain of command politically. With ‘Fubar’ I chose cats and dogs as they have always been territorial animals but, at the same time, reflect certain characteristics which makes them stand out from one another. Each of them have their strong and weak points yet they both strive for territories. I used that to create the world of ‘Fubar’ and the metaphor of what’s happening around us today with the military, government, war, media and politics.

I released the short film in Sept 2011. Again, its success completely took me by surprise – it was getting reviews and press attention from Vimeo – Short of the Week, VFX forums as well as short film forums.  It was getting huge!

It was really great that it was getting so much exposure but, because of its overwhelming success I felt it only right for me to get the opportunity to finish and release the film in its original final cut version – which wasn’t possible due to financial restrictions.  There was so much that could not be shot and animated which, if included, would have completed the film – especially with some of the characters, plot and story elements that didn’t make it.

I decided to figure out a way to fund the extended version and found Kickstarter.com from a friend of mine, who got his animated short funded that way. I liked the idea of crowdsource funding rather than the traditional route of getting funding from a film council funding board etc, because I wanted to own and keep all the rights to my film and do what I want with it.

The idea is if you like the current short film and want to see the full version as it was originally intended, then please pledge and fund the Extended Redux Edition.  In a way it was kinda like the short was a presale version.

This was also my first foray into crowdsource funding as a producer/director, so I was very excited yet scared. One thing I learned is that you have to put so much work into pushing your crowdsource funding via social media and word of mouth. I managed to raise $6.256 from the pledged goal of $5K.  This was enough for me to pay the editor and audio and use it for marketing and PR and additional VFX support work I needed to make the final cut of the film.

I didn’t need much funding since I was doing all the shot creations and animation myself but there were some elements, like the motion graphics of on screen displays, that needed doing and rendering out as elements for me to put into Nuke, so I had some help with that, as well as the extensive amount of rotoscoping required for the DSLR photography I shot with my partner May Ngo for the miniatures – posed marine models, tanks, helicopters etc and, of course, the cats and dogs.

I was able to gain so much interest from the fans and new audiences of the film to allow me to make the extended redux edition. The power of social media is amazing and is definitely the future for indie film making and distribution!

Following the same VFX support model I used for the first version, this extended edition has visual effects technology support from Peregrine Labs (the developers of the powerful depth of field plugin – Bokeh), Gen- Arts (the award winning Sapphire plugins used for years on big movies) and Shotgun (the asset management tool system used in most of the major facilities worldwide).

In fact having VFX technology support not only allowed me to have access to these tools but also free exposure with their marketing team. For example for 2011 Siggraph ‘Fubar’ was used as a demo to show off Shotgun’s new asset management tool and The Foundry had shots from my film in its Sizzle Reel!

‘Fubar Redux’ is now released, it has been selected for the 2012 Cannes Film Festivals Short Film Corner, as well as other festival eg www.fmx.de and can be viewed on www.fubar-movie.com

Haz’s film credits include: Fubar – 2011, Prince of Persia, Sands of Time – 2010, The Conductor – 2010, Don’t Look Back – 2009, The Dark Knight – 2008, Hellboy II The Golden Army – 2008, Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian – 2008, 10,000 BC – 2008, Tales of the Riverbank – 2008, Elizabeth, The Golden Age – 2007, Spring Heeled Jack – 2006, Chicken Tikka Masala – 2005.   Television: Nova – 2011, Planet Dinosaur – 2011, America, The Story of Us – 2010, Inside the Perfect Predator – 2010, The Colour of Magic – 2008, Superstorm – 2007.   Games: Enemy Territory – 2007, Battalion Wars – 2005.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Visual Effects

 

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The Sound Editor

Eddy Joseph using his trusty DAR work station on ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone’

After more than 40 years in the Film Industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this – if you want to make the Film Industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea! Best job in the world!

This is from an article published in Network Nine News written by Eddy Joseph – if you want to subscribe to the magazine contact info@network-nine.com or go to the www.network-nine.com ‘Publications’ page

I left school at 17 with a smattering of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels but no interest in further education. It was thought that, as I was good at mathematics, I would make an acceptable accountant! After less that two years commuting to London and wearing a suit, I left and wandered – somewhat aimlessly – making pork pies, injecting plastic lipstick cases, training as a clerk for the Inland Revenue (oh, the stories I could tell – but I signed the Official Secrets Act!), delivering for the Victoria Wine Company and studying for an HND in Business Studies (didn’t finish that either)

Eventually my Dad, film producer Teddy Joseph, said in exasperation, ‘What DO you want to do?’ Now, I have to say that I had also failed as a singer/songwriter, although I had appeared with Tom and Jerry (later to become Simon and Garfunkel) in a Folk club in Chesham, so my artistic ambitions were severely dimmed. ‘Wouldn’t mind getting into the film industry Dad, like you’.

In June 1967 I was employed as Production Runner on ‘Salt and Pepper’ at Shepperton Studios at £12 a week plus overtime plus holiday credits. It was BRILLIANT! Only problem was, what to do when the shooting was over? A friend I had made in the Shepperton Bar (where else?) called Peter Keen – incidentally a superb sound editor – told me that there was a 2nd assistant picture editor’s job going at MGM Studios in Borehamwood with Archie Ludski and David Grimsdale on Ivan Foxwell’s ‘Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher’. I turned up not having much clue what a 2nd assistant did but, knowing that I wanted to work in the film industry more than anything else, it was a stepping stone. Whilst hanging around the cutting rooms and reading the script a union organiser (ACTT then, BECTU now) knocked on the door and asked to see my ‘ticket’ (Union card). So by lunchtime on the first day of my new job I was ushered out of the studios. The rule  then was ‘you couldn’t get a ticket without a job but you couldn’t get a job without a ticket!’

Another friend I had made at Shepperton told me that Illustra Films, a successful commercials company in Soho, were looking for a trainee assistant editor and, by training in the cutting rooms, I would eventually get my ‘ticket’. Illustra didn’t need a trainee but they did need a bookkeeper! I agreed to sort out their books provided that, when an opening arose in the editing department, I would move across. After a couple of months this happened. I was trained up to assist, to cut Sunday Times commercials, to run around Soho and generally have a great time.  A year later I got my ticket, forgot about working on the production side and got a call from John Taylor, a music editor on a TV series at Pinewood Studios called ‘Strange Report’, telling me that they needed a 2nd assistant picture editor. On that series I worked with a wonderful man,  Keith Palmer, who later took me as his assistant on both picture and sound projects.

In 1974 I assisted Leslie Hodgson on ‘The Odessa File’ and subsequently, an ITC/RAI TV series ‘Moses the Lawgiver’ starring Burt Lancaster. When all the editors had left, Roger Cherrill (the owner of the Post House) asked me to be the sound editor on the re-cut feature version. The main editor was Gerry Hambling. I assisted him for a few years on films such as ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Fame’. Then in 1981 Alan Parker asked me to be the sound editor on ‘Shoot the Moon’. That was my first film as Supervising Sound Editor and sound editing has been my life for 30 years.

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS ARE NEEDED?

I progressed through a form of apprenticeship. I don’t think that there were any film courses when I started. Unfortunately, the editorial structure has changed since 35mm magnetic and not many sound editors now have the luxury of an assistant – but I learned from watching over the editor’s shoulder and absorbing the knowledge by a form of osmosis.

There are many courses now at film schools and universities that flirt with sound editing and design and some, like the National Film & Television School, which specialise. The problem is always how to leap from the confines of education to the élitism of the cutting room. Luck, application, hard work and more luck are needed – and it is still ‘who you know’ more than ‘what you know’.

To answer the question. There are no specific qualifications required to start sound editing. It would be useful to have a technical background and a working knowledge of ProTools or a similar sound editing tool. A degree, HND or BTEC in some area of sound could be an advantage but is not necessary. Indeed one of the foremost sound designers in the UK left school at 16 and started straightaway in the cutting rooms.

HOW DO YOU HAVE TO INTERACT WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS?

We couldn’t operate without a close relationship with the editorial department. In fact, it was always the picture editor who chose the sound editor. That isn’t so much the case these days as sound editors can be appointed by the director, producer – or be a part of a post-house package . The sound editor’s loyalty, however, must always be to the director and the picture editor.

We should be able to take the editor’s working track, which may include sound effects that we have already supplied and start from there. The picture assistant should be encouraged to liaise with the sound department whenever changes are made to the picture.

ANECDOTES – PROBLEMS – PRIDE

I was interviewed in the mid 90’s by a director who was looking for a sound editor for his high profile project. ‘I shall expect alternatives for the sound effects’ he said. ‘Oh’ I said ‘you’d better look for someone else. I don’t lay up alternatives’. ‘Why ever not?’ he questioned. ‘Well, when I track-lay the effects that I feel are right for the particular scene, I move onto the next scene. Surely you should employ someone who is confident in their creative ability?’ I got the job, didn’t lay alternatives and was never asked for one!

Using a synchroniser on ‘Angel Heart’ in 1986 at Elstree Studios

 

During the crossover period between magnetic and digital sound, we realised that the new technology was really not tried and tested. We were the guinea pigs. One of the problems was how to keep the projector, the 35mm recording master and the digital play-off tracks in sync. On one film the re-recording mixer and I were so concerned about sync slippage that we transferred out all the dialogue premixes onto 35mm and I spent all night re-cutting those premixes so that they were perfectly in sync with the picture.

‘Angel Heart’, directed by Alan Parker in 1986, was a wonderful film to work on. Apart from it being a fascinating film for sound design, most of the post-production was done in Paris!  Although we started the premixes in Elstree, we finalled in Los Angeles at Warner Hollywood Studios. It was my first experience of mixing in Hollywood! 

MENTORS ETC

One of the reasons I moved over to sound editing was having the privilege of working with Alan Bell. In 1969 I was the 2nd assistant picture editor on ‘I Start Counting’, a thriller directed by David Greene. The editor, Keith Palmer, brought on Alan Bell two weeks before the end of principal photography to do the sound. This practice has long gone. It is now considered perfectly acceptable to start the sound department after the film has been locked, rarely leaving enough time to think the project through. Alan was a stocky, heavily bearded ex-Merchant Navy man with a penchant for roll-ups and drink. Many drank then – in fact it was normal to have a couple of pints every lunch-time. It didn’t seem to affect efficiency and creative perception! An early scene in the film featured a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) going into the woods to play in a deserted cottage. In the corridor near Alan’s room I could hear strange bird coos and wing flaps. What Alan was doing was laying pigeon sounds as if they were emanating from the roof of the porch so that whenever Jenny (or anyone else for that matter) went in or out of the cottage the birds would be disturbed. I realised then how important ‘sound’ was to story telling and that one sound could create or destroy a mood.

TECHNIQUES & TECHNOLOGIES

I started working on 16mm and 35mm (both picture and sound), editing in mono on Synchronisers and Moviolas. Sound accuracy (on 35mm) was to one sprocket or 1/96 second. When the mix was complete an Optical 35mm Negative would be shot, processed overnight and, after the print had dried, played back the next day. The last mono film I worked on was ‘Another Country’ in 1983, although I had track-laid and mixed for 6 track Magnetic and Dolby Stereo on ‘Pink Floyd the Wall’ in 1982. The Dolby 2tk Stereo was a fantastic advance which I enjoyed using on ‘Birdy’in 1984.

On the Todd mixing stage in Los Angeles for ‘The Commitments’ in 1992. Alan Parker in the foreground with Eddy 2nd from right

The first ‘digital’ film for me was ‘Damage’ in 1992. Louis Malle’s sound recordist, Jean-Claude Laureux, decided to record the production dialogues digitally on a DAT machine. Louis requested that the dialogues should be edited digitally. I was offered the sound editor’s job by John Bloom provided that I learned to use a Digital Work Station. I only track-laid one more 35mm magnetic film after that. My first DWS was a DAR 8 track and I stayed with DAR until ‘Cold Mountain’ in 2003 when Walter Murch suggested I should use a ProTools system.

When I started, I was taught how to scrape the magnetic oxide off the track to reduce clicks, sibilance and to create fades. How different it is now! There were also a maximum of 3 sound editors on a film. The sound effects editor supervised with a dialogue editor and a foley (footsteps) editor – each editor had an assistant. Now there can be as many as 10 editors but only 2 or 3 assistants on the big films and there is much more specialisation. There are sound editors known for certain facets of sound for example, vehicles, guns, animals and atmospheres. There are usually 2 dialogue editors, one for production dialogue and the other for ADR. You may get a foley supervisor and several foley editors and, of course, specialist sound designers.

After more than 40 years in the film industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this –  if you want to make the film industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be  humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea!  Best job in the world!

Eddy Joseph’s credits include: Green Zone – 2010, Nowhere Boy – 2009, Last Chance Harvey – 2008, Quantum of Solace – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, United 93 – 2006, Corpse Bride – 2005, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – 2005, King Arthur – 2004, Cold Mountain – 2003, The Life of David Gale – 2003, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone – 2001, Enemy at the Gates – 2001, Angela’s Ashes – 1999, Lost in Space – 1997, Evita – 1996, Michael Collins – 1996, Interview with a Vampire – 1994, Little Buddha – 1993, The Commitments – 1991, We’re No Angels – 1989, Batman – 1989, Angel Heart – 1987, Birdy – 1984, The Killing Fields – 1984, Fame – 1980, Midnight Express – 1978, Sunday Bloody Sunday – 1971, Salt & Pepper – 1968

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Sound Department

 

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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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So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

I miss being a 3rd AD. Every day is new and, because a 3rd doesn’t have to worry about the grander things on set, you can use every moment to watch, listen, learn and implement. I might, at that time, have only been good at making tea and getting the right lunch orders but one has to treat EVERY job as if it is the most important thing in one’s career.

This is from an article written by Terry Bamber in Network Nine News. If you want further information contact me through www.network-nine.com

Sadly, on recent projects, I have had to sack youngsters who have not fully understood the importance of a Production Runner’s job and the dedication and tenacity required. Indeed, everyone’s job on a film is important – right through from the cleaning staff to the Producer – producing a film from script to screen is a joint effort undertaken by every individual in the crew.

The great thing about youth is the experience of turning up each day to be amazed by a wonderfully exciting day. Visiting the set to collect the Camera Sheets from the Camera Clapper/Loader, the tentative approach to the Script Supervisor for her notes to take to the Production Secretary. To make a great cup of tea for the Production Secretary (as she was then called) and to be praised for it used to make my day!

I was working on ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ at Pinewood and was having a wonderful time as Production Office Runner when the Production Secretary gave me permission to join the 3rd Assistant Director on set to get some floor experience – this brought on a whole new set of challenges!

So, the 2nd Unit was going to shoot on Sunday to help finish the film on time. It had taken me quite a while to understand the complexities of ….‘Tea, medium brown, with a dash of milk and a level teaspoon of sugar’.… it’s almost impossible to make a medium brown cup of tea, with just a dash of milk …. but I digress!

One of the scenes we were filming this day involved Sir Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the main baddie in the movie.  He is hiding from Bond in the final shootout. I had to cue Mr Lee when he had to step forward from this hiding place.

The first rehearsal commenced and my mind went into overdrive.

Was I supposed to cue Mr Lee as soon as I heard the 1st AD’s voice or leave it a beat and then cue Mr Lee?….    Would Mr Lee see me move my arm to indicate it was his cue for action?….   Should I look at Mr Lee straight in the eye or avert eye contact so as not to distract him?…. 

The first rehearsal started. I could feel perspiration on my forehead and my hands were getting clammy. Suddenly the rehearsal was cut short. Oh Gawd! – had I missed the cue? I stared into the dark of the set and mumbled to Mr Lee that we had stopped ‘I can hear that dear Boy!’ he said. Oops – it was then I remembered the advice my Dad had given me ….‘Keep quiet and people will only think you are an idiot, open your mouth and you remove all possible doubt’….

Communication

One of the worst jobs for 3rd Ads, especially now with so many departments having their own walkie-talkies, is ensuring that batteries are always charged and that you have a check list of which department has chargers, ear pieces and spare batteries. Obviously, you must make sure the Assistant Directors are all catered for but once again, think ahead!! If there is a scene involving action cars then work out how many radios will be required for the drivers to receive their instructions.

As the Second Assistant Director has to make a report at the end of each day noting call times, the time the principal cast were on set, ‘wrapped’ (that is finished work for the day) on set and time they left the studio or locations (this also applies to Background Artistes and Stunts) it’s a great help if the 3rd Assistant is totally thorough in noting these times. It could have a big impact on any overtime that may be incurred by all the elements of the cast.

When the unit breaks for lunch the 3rd AD should find out from the 1st who is in the first setup after lunch and ensure they get their lunch quickly so they can have their makeup/hair and costume checks on time, before coming back to the set. However, sometimes the crew will work a 10 hour straight-through day and then it takes much tighter management to ensure that the cast get enough time to eat. This is when teamwork from all the Assistant Directors is brought to bear. A 1st AD once said that on every shot there is always a perfect position for the 3rd to be to make sure that everything is covered.

A few basic things to remember on set:

ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR RADIO – NEVER, NEVER HAVE TO ASK THE 1ST AD TO REPEAT HIM/HERSELF!! THIS IS A CAPITAL OFFENCE!

THINK AHEAD. PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING.

POLITENESS TO EVERYBODY and SMILE, SMILE AND SMILE, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!

NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING – ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL COCKUPS!

LEARN FROM EVERYONE IN ORDER TO MAKE YOURSELF A BETTER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR.

Terry Bamber’s film & television credits include: ‘World War Z’, ‘Ra.One’, ‘Katherine of Alexandria’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’, ‘102 Dalmatians’, ‘The World is Not Enough’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Luther’, ‘Poirot’, ‘Dinotopia’, ‘Cadfael’, ‘Young Indiana Jones’, ‘Jeeves & Wooster’, ‘Paradise Club’, ‘Max Headroom’.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Production Office

 

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The Script Supervisor

THE SCRIPT SUPERVISORS’ JOB … one of the best kept secrets in the business!

Emma Thomas

The job of a Script Supervisor requires a high level of concentration, stamina and an eye for detail. These skills are often required at times when you are at your lowest ebb and it’s the last hour of the day or night shoot. Even with all the courses available it isn’t a job you can learn from a manual.  Learning  ‘on the job’ is essential because each project is different and requires a number of different personal skills. You need to be a team player but stand your ground and hold your hand up if you make a mistake. Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently! 

 

FEATURE FILM SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

We provide an invaluable link between the Director and the Editor. We need to have essential knowledge of shot/lens sizes, shot descriptions, screen direction, slating, set ups with single and multiple cameras. In some cases we need to keep track of all sound and camera rolls especially where there are multiple units shooting (mainly for features).

We need to have essential knowledge of breaking down a script, page counts, individual scene by scene timings, story day/year breakdowns, back and cross matching the story particularly in drama productions.  We log all pertinent information for each department; detect overlooked coverage, stage direction, action and dialogue. We are responsible for overall timing of all productions which involves a daily update. This is often completed at the end of a 12 hour filming day. We must also have knowledge of post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.  In particular CGI information for feature films.

TELEVISION SCRIPT SUPERVISOR (Studio-based TV, Sitcoms, Entertainment, Factual, Drama, Documentary)

We provide organizational support for the Director in terms of studio technical requirements, rehearsal schedules, props lists, studio schedules – culminating in a master camera script from the Director’s notes.  This is then distributed to all departments including Lighting, Camera, Sound and the rest of the Production Team. We must have essential knowledge and experience of studio shot calling, bar counting to musical productions with responsibility for overall timing of the programme and absolute timing on live productions. We must have experience of Outside Broadcast shoots, transmissions and again post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.

Most dramas today are edited as the shoot progresses.  So it is even more essential that we provide accurate and concise notes for the Editor on a daily basis. We  used to draw a lot of continuity pics on our script as we went along. Today use our digital cameras instead.  We also used to stand next to the camera team a lot more but as we work on more HD dramas, there are monitors on set to check the shot size and reference details. It is still handy to know the shot/lens size in case the monitor goes down at that crucial moment – or you’re stuck in the middle of a field with very little electrical back up. I would encourage all trainees to learn the basic skills and not rely on the monitor so much.

Emma Thomas’ Film Credits include: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (AKA Pirate Radio), ‘Captivity’, ‘The Mark of Cain’, ‘Jack & the Beanstalk’, ‘War Bride’, ‘Some Voices’, ‘Elephant Juice’, ‘Among Giants’.  Television Credits include: ‘Luther’, ‘Spooks’, ‘Horne & Corden’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Miss Austen Regrets’, ‘All in the Game’, ‘Last Rights’, ‘Whose Baby’, ‘Canterbury Tales’, ‘Teachers’, ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Production Office

 

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STORYBOARD MAN!……or how to tell the story in pictures

The following is from an article by Martin Asbury in Network Nine News.  www.network-nine.com

Martin Asbury

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention.

Cutting my speed to 150 m.p.h. I fly low in a sweeping curve, banking with my crimson cloak streaming out behind me. I swoop in a wide graceful curve over the Film Studios dropping down and landing lithely in the car park on the balls of my feet – like a cat.

The security guard outside the Production Office instantly recognises me. “Thank God you’re here!” he exclaims.

As I stride into the office the Co-ordinator screams with delight. “Thank God you’re here!” she squeals. “The Director – he’s in his office” she smiles wanly. “Go on through.”

Brief, firm knock on the door and I enter. The man at the desk is slumped, his head in his hands. He raises his head, grey faced rheumy blood shot eyes staring at me.

“Storyboardman! Thank God you’re here!” he says. “No problem sir.” I reply. “I’m here to help.”

Quickly I undo my compact drawing tools, sitting opposite him and fixing him with a reassuring yet piercing gaze. I open my sketch book.

“Now what’s the first sequence in the script?”

In the past the making of a film was governed by the script. It was honed and nurtured and worked upon, re-written and re-written. When completed to everyone’s satisfaction it was almost set in concrete. It became the Bible – but these days there appears to be more impediments and pitfalls than ever to this process. Constant writing and re-writing of the script through the prep period can only increase the budget and cause wasted effort. I tell stories in pictures – I have told stories in pictures for all my life. So, if I were asked to direct a film, I would for sure write or draw down what I wanted to do before shooting any sequence – a shot list or stick figures.  It is common sense. Nobody in their right mind would walk onto set with no preparation and no plan.

All those people waiting – all the actors, the producers, the first second third fourth fifth sixth and seventh assistant directors, the lighting cameraman the gaffers, the stage hands, the assistants, the stand-bys – well, you know how it is.. and you are there with nothing in your head..  everyone looking..  it doesn’t bear thinking about!  So, the need for storyboarding becomes obvious.

Over the years they have been used extensively, from ‘Gone with the Wind’ and virtually every film since. On the basis that one picture tells a thousand words, a finished board shows everyone what the director has planned, what they have to do, where they have to be and what they are going to try and achieve.

The Director leans forward conspiratorially. “I need something really dramatic for the opening sequence.”

I tap my pencil. “How about an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then pan followed by a jib up, jib down low angle Steadicam handheld Skycam sort of locked off shot which favours the star?” I say.

He gasps. “Is that possible?  Can we do that?”  

“We can do anything.” I reply.

Storyboards are not gospel. They serve as a starting point. They can be, and often are, discarded when events or maybe better options present themselves on the day. They can show what to do but, more importantly, what not to do. A whole 360º set might not be necessary to build. A scene can possibly be cut without detrimental effect to the story or can be revealed as being too costly. They can show whether set or location, when explosions and other special effects might occur or how, for example, to shoot the double of the star in one location whilst at the same time the star himself is shooting on another set elsewhere. They can show how to heighten drama with oh-such-cunning angles and camera moves and, of course, are almost indispensable to the ubiquitous car chase. They save time. They save money.

A side door opens and a large-framed man is framed in the frame. I frame a clever remark but the Director leaps to his feet.

“Problem solved!” He bellows. “Thank God for Storyboardman! What we’re going to do is: an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then…”  

“Stop!”  The Producer steps forward, face grim. “Slow down! We may not have the money for it.” 

“But..but.. “ The Director gulps. “What about my dream?.. my vision?”

A successful storyboard will reflect the director’s vision, the concept that he has nursed for many months and translate it into usable workable drawings which the whole of the production team will understand. Everyone hopefully singing from the same hymn sheet. To achieve this the artist should try and get inside the director’s head – not to second guess him but to realise his dream for the first time in a visual way.

That sounds grandiose but nevertheless is essentially true. The storyboard is the very first time the script is translated into pictures.

Every director is different and every director wants something different. Some will be most specific about the way they see a sequence down to precise angles, framing and composition. Others will talk you through the scene detailing particular shots they are anxious to include -; a pan here, a track there, low or top shots, the lens to be used, the composition needed -and the storyboard artist will then make the smooth transition and join up the dots.  Others will allow complete carte blanche and the artist can make his own individual pass at the scene, presenting his own take to the director for perusal and criticism. Rarely in such a case does the director accept the offer-up completely and he might not like it at all – but usually much more discussion follows until he is satisfied. He may accept some of it, alter and revise bits or just cherry pick what he wants. All the time though, he is the sole arbiter of what is finally presented to the film’s producers and the rest of the unit.

The Director, leaning against his desk. “We cannot proceed unless we have a plan.”

Storyboardman  “… and I have that plan.”  Quickly I stand up. The Producer’s eyes widen as he takes in my perfectly formed body. 

I am resolute.  “Let me explain.” I say. I outline my extraordinary idea and with every second see him slowly relax, taking it all on board. I finish talking. I am satisfied.

He lowers his gaze. “You really are the one.” He mutters. “Truly  you are wonderful!  I never would have thought of that.”

The storyboard artist is to the director what the concept artist is to the designer. He is a utensil, pure and simple. If he is worth his salt he will support and aid the director in all his endeavours. If successful, his boards can save a huge amount of money and prevent an equal amount of heartache. If nothing else they can offer up a back stop – a safety net if you will – and be the building blocks to gain the most out of any given sequence. They can kick off discussion or decision.

Nowadays with the advent and growth of the use of Previs, the line between the two approaches has become somewhat blurred. Previs are fantastic. They can be totally accurate in that they can demonstrate what any scene will look like from any given camera position, any lens, any lighting source. Clearly a wonderful tool for any director. At the moment they are expensive and take quite a while to produce but I am sure all that, in time, will change. When that day happens maybe storyboards per se will cease to exist – but I hope not. I still feel that the immediacy of drawing to the director on the spot cannot be substituted. A sudden change to shooting requirements can necessitate an instant storyboard. The good artist can block out a whole sequence in a couple of days and provide a cost-effective kick start for the whole creative process.

I quickly draw 1000 frames a day and complete the whole film in two weeks. Needless to say the whole of the production team is overcome and in awe of my dexterity and expertise.

As I present the final sequence to the gathered company the Producer rises to his feet his eyes watery and sad.

“Hey you guys – the Production Company has decided that they are against the whole idea. They are pulling out. We’re not going to make the film after all. See you on the next. Sorry about that….”

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention. An accomplished storyboard is good for what it tells you. If it is drawn well with excitement feeling and vigour then all to the good but it is all about information and communication. For that is why we are all involved in this business. We inform, we communicate, we tell stories and all in pictures.

Martin Asbury’s credit list as a Storyboard Artist includes such films as: ‘Malificent’, ’47 Ronin’, ‘Skyfall’. ‘Snow White & the Huntsman’, ‘The Cold Light of Day’, ‘Captain America’, the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Wanted’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Resident Evil’, ‘Chicken Run’, ‘Entrapment’, ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Alexander’, ‘Troy’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Legend’.

He also took over as the artist for ‘Garth’, the cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror, from 1971 until its final episode in 1997. www.martinasbury.com

 
 

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