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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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Working in Costume – not for the faint hearted! … by Iona Smith Oliver

Iona Headshot

Iona Smith Oliver

After completing a degree in Fine Art at University of the West of England and in the same year losing my Father to cancer, I worked – any job would do, I just wanted to work and keep busy. It wasn’t until about a year later that I had a chance to reflect on the fact that I was really stressed and exhausted, splitting my time between babysitting, pub work and a variety of unpaid internships. Even though I had put in a huge amount of effort, I still had no direction and no career plan for the long term.

I have always had an interest in sewing and alterations and have been adjusting and reconstructing charity shop clothing since I was very young – and I even used to make fur coats and Spice Girl shoes out of old corks, plaster and dental floss for my Barbie dolls. However, it never occurred to me in later life that ‘Costume’ could be a possible career path for me. By sheer coincidence I started babysitting for a Costume Designer who was incredibly supportive in my quest for work and got me onto my first Costume Assistant job, helping her out on an Argos commercial. It was a great first job as I got to experience lots of different elements of filming, not only to do with Costume but also working with green screen, working with a large group of people (what seemed like five Assistant Directors!) and working with puppets and puppeteers. I remember the first time I went into her studio to pull outfits and the excitement I felt at the realisation that this job really ticked all the boxes for me.

From then on I started to be proactive in my search for work and most importantly (seems rather obvious but top tip!) when asked – I told people that I worked in Costume. You would be surprised at the amount of people that are willing to put you in touch with their niece or old school friend or housemate and it is really, really worth following these contacts up! One of the main lessons I learned very quickly was that finding work is all about connecting with people and being present in a community – you never know where any conversation or email will take you. One particular example of this was a seemingly random phone call I got from a Supervisor asking if I could assist her and the Designer on a feature film up in Leeds. I was unable to do the job at the time but we got on so well on the phone that she asked me to assist her on a low budget feature later that year. We have since become great friends and have formed a strong team with the Designer from the Leeds job and have now worked together on several features.

Carey Mulligan as Maud in 'Suffragette' - 2015

Carey Mulligan as Maud in ‘Suffragette’ – 2015

Through the first women I worked with, I was fortunate enough to get a few dailies on ‘Suffragettes’ which was a period feature. It was unlike any experience I had had before. The sheer scale of the production was over whelming. To give you an idea, on one particular day I was one of 18 dailies who were responsible for dressing and assisting 200+ extras. A whole street was shut down in Central London and transformed into a busy working Victorian street, along with horse drawn buses and a hot chestnut stall. This is something I find especially exciting about working for Costume on screen as it is all about making the illusion believable. The attention to detail and the work that goes into these productions does make me feel really proud to be a part of it.

When I’m working on say a 4/5 week shoot my life tends to be dedicated to the process for the whole of the shoot. This is purely because the working day can be anywhere from 12-16 hours and Costume is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave at the end of the day.

There are many qualities I think you need to survive in the world of Costume and I use the word ‘survive’ as it can be an incredibly tough and competitive industry. First and foremost strong people skills are a must! Working with large groups of people for long hours and often under a time constraint, people will get stressed (you may too!) and I tend to have the policy that what happens at work stays at work and doesn’t affect my personal relationships. Problem solving and efficiency is another good quality, as things do and sometimes will go wrong. You need to be able to think fast and act quickly as time is always of the essence.

'Hi-Lo Joe' 2015

‘Hi-Lo Joe’ 2015

I have been working in the industry for just under a year now and, although I have had a wide and varied amount of experience though all sorts of budgets and roles I am now concentrating on being a hard working Costume Trainee. I think you learn and grow from experience on every job you do and in many ways I’m sure this will continue throughout my career. I’m still unsure if I want to be a Costume Designer per se but am very keen to improve my making and construction skills and feel that this may be a large part of my career in the future.

I have been fortunate enough this year to become a part of the 2015 Sara Putt Trainee Scheme and especially lucky, as this is their first year of taking on Costume Trainees. It is so amazing having the support not only from the agency but also from a close network of fellow Trainees. I would really recommend getting involved with a Trainee Scheme as they can be an invaluable resource when learning how to find work and network effectively. Check out my CV (resumé) on this website and contact me via my LinkedIn page.

Iona’s credits to date are: Suffragettes, Hi-Lo Joe, Writer’s Retreat, Foxes, Black Sea, Golden Years, Lady in the Van.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Costume Department

 

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CARPENTER TO CONSTRUCTION MANAGER by Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

How do I see the role of Construction Manager?

The Production Designer has to conceptualise the viewpoint of the script and the Director – and the CM’s job is turning that concept into reality, dealing with the technical, the financial and the scheduling sides.

I’m fortunate to have been brought up in a family with a strong design connection. I was lucky to have been able to crawl around as a youngster behind film sets while my Dad, an Art Director, was working. My first time working on a film set was when I did work experience on ‘Aliens’ with my Father and Peter Lamont in the Art Department. Although I enjoyed this, the element I was most interested in was Set Construction

I left school in 1986 and started an apprenticeship in carpentry & joinery. The company I worked for did mainly television scenery but also some exhibition and theme park work. I left the company after 5 years as a qualified carpenter/joiner and decided to ‘try my luck’ in the film industry as a freelancer, starting with ‘First Knight’ working for Construction Manager Tony Graysmark as a shop carpenter. This suited me very well because I preferred ‘setting out’ and the actual fabrication of the scenery. I worked for Tony again on ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995, then worked on a number of films after this including ‘Fifth Element’ with Ray Barret ‘The Borrowers’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Notting Hill’ with Michael Redding and ‘Love & War’ with Terry Apsey.

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

The front of the hangar with bombers, as seen by the camera

The cast of 'Band of Brothers' as seen by the television audience. It’s all an illusion!

The cast of ‘Band of Brothers’ in front of the hangar as seen by the television audience.
It’s all an illusion!

I was fortunate enough to be supervised by two great Construction Managers – Terry Apsey on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ and Michael Reading on ‘Quills’ and ‘Tomb Raider II’. I was very lucky with both Terry and Michael, as they were very lenient on my slightly rebellious approach to what I did and how I worked.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ - 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre  capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from  the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic  backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing  rooms, costume department, props store etc, to the stage  door exit complete with  stables.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ – 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing rooms, costume department, to the stage-door exit complete with stables.

I started on ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as a Supervisor but was cajoled by Terry Apsey to try my hand at running Carpentry as Head of Department – this is when I started to be exposed to the financial and scheduling side of construction – an area I found that I really enjoyed.

After ‘Phantom’ I ran a television show as Construction Manager, which was great for cutting my teeth. I had a few leads as CM after this but unfortunately all of them

– which, at that time, was a pretty regular occurrence. I had the horrible experience of working on a film that folded owing me wages – something that most film workers have experienced during their career. Around this time I decided to emigrate to Australia with my wife and children – but before leaving I enjoyed working on my last film with Michael Redding as his Head of Department.

When I arrived in Australia I had made my mind up not to be involved in films any more because the work was so fragmented, so I was really fortunate to land a job with a joinery company as their Operations Manager.

Then, out of the blue, I had a phone call from the production office of ‘The Pacific’ – asking if I would be interested in the role of Construction Manager. Luckily, the production had asked Terry Apsey of my whereabouts and he managed to track down my number. Although I had promised myself not to drop back into the industry, the complexity of ‘The Pacific’ appealed to me.

We filmed in the far North of Queensland, the You Yangs Regional Park near Melbourne, around the city of Melbourne itself and in Melbourne Central City Studios. In total there were 105 different sets and we were turning over 2 sets a day to the 2 main units. Some of the sets were worth $50k and a couple were worth $6m each! The overall construction budget was $24m out of an Art Department budget of $50m.

Because the job was so large it had 2 Supervising Art Directors – Dominic Hyman & Richard Hobbs. There’s quite a difference in work practice between Australia and the UK – in Australia the Construction Manager usually doesn’t have financial control but luckily ‘Pacific’ used the UK system where the CM had full financial control of the construction budget.

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television
series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

For me, one of the best things that came out of the ‘Pacific’ project was the fact that, because I needed a crew of 450 and the local crew base wasn’t large enough to facilitate this, we undertook a training scheme – specifically in fibrous work. A lot of the sets were very different to normal film construction and involved some fairly innovative approaches, mainly utilizing civil engineering and geo textiles. Also in Australia, the sculpting department is normally as big as the carpentry department because they don’t usually use fibrous plastering – they mainly sculpt in concrete, which is a very, very cost-effective method.

After ‘Pacific’ I returned to the company I started with when first arriving from the UK, where I moved up to the position of General Manager. Although scenery was not in my company’s portfolio, I very quickly added a ‘special projects’ division to the business and have been lucky to have involved the company in theme park, exhibition and film. 

The CM’s first responsibility is to the Designer – and I often see this as a protective responsibility as far as the budget goes, in dealing with the Producers – and also a responsibility to the Designer in allowing enough time for a design to be constructed properly. Because, as I mentioned, I have grown up in a ‘design’ environment, when I see the blueprints I can visualize the construction methods required and see it in a 3-dimensional image – which makes it very easy to budget and schedule the job.

When you work with a good Production Designer like Tony Pratt, it’s easy to understand what you need to produce. Peter Lamont was very much the same, an Art Director of the old school like my Dad and Jim Morahan – and I’m very lucky, having worked in television, exhibitions and theme parks, as well as films, so now I can bring all of those methods together.

From my point of view, the ‘old school’ design, the ‘pencil’ design, is the easiest to interpret because, with a pencil you can actually ‘feel’ the type of set you need to do. With CAD drawing there is no emotion involved. If I look at a drawing by Jim Morahan or Tony Pratt, or my Dad, I know exactly what I need to do – but if I look at a CAD drawing I have to start talking to people to find out exactly what the set is supposed to look like – the feel, the texture, the finishes.

There’s a guy in Australia called Mike Molloy – he’s not in films but I’ve worked with him in commercial construction work in night clubs, shops etc. I use him because he draws in pencil first. I think now that you can actually get CAD which doesn’t use a ‘straight line’ format so it begins to look like an actual drawing – but all the designers on ‘Pacific’, with one exception, were pencil Draughtsmen – and the only set we had major problems with was drawn on CAD! It was the only one that the Scenic Artists and the Plasterers couldn’t quite get the feel of what exactly the Art Director was after. 

Tony Pratt is very conceptual – very epic in his designs – and I was asked to produce two sets of 90,000sq m in 20 weeks alongside 80 other sets. I know that he worried a great deal for 3 months whilst we were conceptualizing and, in the end, I had to remind him that I was the Construction Manager, so it was my responsibility and not his so that he could stop worrying so much! It was such a pleasure working with him. 

I have to say, never have I seen crews who want to please the Designer more than the Australians – if the Designer gains their respect, they will do absolutely anything to produce the best sets possible.

The big difference between Australian and English crews is mainly in construction techniques. Just as you would find a difference working in Prague – but the results are the same, although the differences are reducing as more and more British guys are emigrating – and both crews learn a lot from each other.

I have found that the Australian approach can be very interesting, for example, Chris McMahon is one of the best sculptors I’ve ever worked with. Sculpting here is completely different, they can do very fine work – they did all the work for ‘Narnia’ & ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ but the most amazing thing is that their sculpture is in concrete – and they’ve devised a method which Disney now uses in the theme parks – they’re extremely talented guys and are more construction based than art based. 

The Scenic Department is very different to the UK. The Paint Department is run by the Scenic Artist who is quite often also the Scenic Finisher. Which sometimes doesn’t work very well! To get the best results I think that you need to specialize – Scenic Artists to do backings with the Scenic Paint Department finishing surfaces.

The most important thing is that the Designer gains the respect of the Construction Crew and therefore will get the best work. In a film every person had their own input, whether it’s a Stagehand sweeping or the Producer who raises the money, all have to work as a team to bring the project together – but I wish that, when awards and praise are handed out that the highly trained and creative Construction Crews – Carpenters, Sculptors, Painters – would get more recognition. After all, it is they who bring the Art Department and the Director’s ideas to life! 

Dominic Ackland-Snow’s film credits include: The Invisible Woman – 2013, Sanctum – 2010, The Magic Flute – 2006, Phantom of the Opera – 2004, Tomb Raider II – 2003, Quills – 2000, Sleepy Hollow – 1999, Notting Hill – 1999, Fifth Element – 1997, The Borrowers – 1997, In Love & War – 1996, Goldeneye – 1995.

Television credits: Parade’s End – 2012, Pacific – 2010, Planet Cook – 2004, Band of Brothers – 2001.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Construction Department

 

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I WANT TO BE A CINEMATOGRAPHER…..OR A DIRECTOR! by Robin Vidgeon BSC

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on  'The Penitant' in Mexico

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on ‘The Penitant’ in Mexico

To be at the sharp end of making a feature film, ie. in the camera department, or as a Director, or any of the other departments involved in bringing the film to the screen, you must start with an understanding of how the jigsaw fits together.

I started working at Pinewood Studios for two years in the camera department straight from school – cleaning boxes and learning what went into those boxes – cameras, lenses and all the equipment necessary to photograph a movie. Most importantly, I started to learn the incredible discipline that goes to make a top camera crew.

Now, many years later, I find myself working as a Cinematography Tutor with the new student film makers of all nationalities, in several top film schools and universities and I find a fierce ambition in both young men and women to work in our industry. On my first encounter with my students, it is so important to gently remind them that they must learn to walk before they can fly. They are undoubtably talented but, as a seasoned Director of Photography, I feel it is my duty to teach them the system which has stood the test of time for more than 100 years.

Film making, first and foremost, is a collaborative venture between many groups of people and departments, all striving to bring the best storytelling film to the silver screen.

Even when a student only wants to be a DoP, he or she must go to the set with an understanding of each job done by their camera crew. In film school, I help them to understand each role – Grip, 2nd AC (Assistant Camera), 1st AC (Focus Puller), Camera Operator and the HoD (Head of Department). I am adamant that, as HoD, I am responsible for my crew at all times and that I can only be as good as the crew I have around me. All departments have one goal, to support the Director and his script – and you need to be punctual, remain calm and enjoy each day’s work, with all its ups and downs.

The technology in our industry has changed drastically over the past decade – but the role of the DoP has not! When confronted with a set to light, I don’t think …’what kind of camera is on the dolly behind me?’… I’m there because the Director has asked for me and my expertise on the set. Whether the camera is film or digital, my job has changed little. The Operator’s job has hardly changed either, he is concerned with composition and camera movement and working closely with the Director. The 1st AC’s job has seen the greatest change with the arrival of the computor box with a lens on the front. With these incredible sensors, depth of focus has become a real issue. Digital cameras have a much shallower depth of focus, so great care has to be taken with each shot, whether it is with an ultra wide angle lens, or any other focal length up to 1000mm. With new digital cameras coming on stream every few months, it is a constant battle to keep up with this wonderful technology – and with the range of new studio low voltage, dual colour temperature LED soft lights, an exciting new world is opening up to Cinematographers.

So, when I meet a new group of film students who are aspiring to become Cinematographers, I look for talent that will continue to produce wonderful images for the big screen, to entertain audiences all over the world. I try to encourage them to create a story with images that will entertain, make people laugh, cry and leave the theatre feeling that they have been transported into a world of make believe.

Robin Vidgeon is a Past President of the British Society of Cinematographers, a Fellow of the BKSTS and a member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians.

Robin’s film credits include: Following Footsteps – 2010, Nine Lives – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Event Horizon – 1997, Neverending Story III – 1994, As You Like It – 1992, Under Suspicion – 1991, Memphis Belle – 1990, Hellraiser I & II – 1997 & 1998, The Penitent – 1998, The Mission – 1986, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom – 1984, Never Say Never Again – 1983, Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981, The Dogs of War – 1980, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 1977, Rollerball – 1975, The Great Gatsby – 1974, The Lion in Winter – 1968.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Cinematography

 

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THE MAGIC OF MATTES AND MINIATURES by Leigh Took

On a location driven film when is it a waterfall and when is it a working model? When is a backdrop real and when is it a matte? This is the magic created by the skill and craft of the model and miniature effects workshop.

Leigh preparing a matte up an 80’ tower on the 1975 film ‘Last Days of Pompeii’ in Pinewood Studios

Leigh preparing a matte up an 80’ tower on the 1975 film ‘Last Days of Pompeii’ in Pinewood Studios

When I reflect on the last thirty years and how I arrived at this point in my career, the key drive has been a philosophy of enthusiasm and positivity – a strong and continuing motivation to work in film and an optimism that the British Film Industry (and in parallel, my own career) will continue to be successful whatever obstructions are thrown in the way.

Ever since I can remember I have had a keen interest in art (as I grew older this interest refined to painting, design and sculpture) and, of course, film. I was very fortunate to secure work experience at Pinewood Studios where I was able to marry my two great loves – art and film. Cliff Culley, who ran a matte painting company there, was impressed with the artwork I had taken to show him and employed me, along with four other teenagers. At that time, matte painting on glass was a very specialized thing with only a handful of people in the UK doing it, all of whom had ‘come up through the ranks’.

I decided to make myself indispensable to Cliff, managing to help out in every way I could, from making the tea to making sure there was always a clean palette and brushes for Cliff every day that he came in to paint. I became an apprentice and, as with any apprenticeship, the wages weren’t great – but without that initial opportunity I doubt I would be where I am today. Amongst the first films I worked on as a trainee were ‘Warlords of Atlantis’ in 1978 and the Ray Harryhausen film, ‘Clash of the Titans’ in 1981, combining matte work with building miniature sets.

clash of the Titans

‘Clash of the Titans’

Slowly, I got to do more drawing-up or delineation of shots, blocking in colours, steadily taking on more responsibility, until I reached the point where I could complete a shot from beginning to end, with Cliff adding a few dots and dashes to my work… after all, he was the boss!  When we weren’t so busy, I’d use any spare time I had to improve my abilities in storyboarding, designing fictitious sets, developing imaginative solutions, and ways of achieving in-camera effects and optical processes in film and multiple exposures – always bearing in mind the real world of business … budget limitations! All this was done before the introduction of ‘digital’ and it was essential to be flexible and imaginative enough to come up with new techniques for achieving the effects that were needed.As my responsibilities increased and I was completing matte paintings myself, I learned not only how necessary it was to put 150% into every job, but also to handle comments from clients – whether good or bad!  That feedback would always result in me wanting to do even better in the future – and I think that’s another thing that helps keep me going today, the desire to impress … basically, showing off!

Mutant Chronicles

Mutant Chronicles

Mutant Chronicles

Mutant Chronicles

After then working for several years with the master of special effects, Derek Meddings, on films such as ‘Batman’, I started my own company, Mattes & Miniatures, and embraced digital technology. We are fully functional with a matte studio and model and special effects workshops which allow us to combine traditional film techniques with digital post production.

After 30 years, the drive hasn’t diminished and I still feel just as excited when I’m involved in big films as I did as a teenager. After meeting Terry Gilliam on ‘The Imaginarium of  Doctor Parnassus’, I went completely mad for a few days, locking myself in the studio at Bray experimenting! Over the years I’ve built up a collection of equipment there – cameras, motion control, lights – everything needed to get creative! Ultimately we went on to build miniatures from his designs and had a fantastic time shooting them.

Angels & Demons model as seen on screen

Angels & Demons model as seen on screen

 

Angels & Demons model on set

Angels & Demons model on set

 

 

 

 

When bidding on a film, we are usually sent pre-visuals and storyboards, sections of script and a list of requirements. The fun starts with working out the best method of constructing a miniature – what it has to do, what scale to build it to – together with a breakdown of labour costs and materials. After the production has weighed up the methodology and costs, we wait for the go-ahead and, on receipt of a purchase order, invoice and, most importantly, money in the bank, it’s ‘all systems go’! Materials are ordered and technicians employed. Art Department drawings are provided in some cases and we are in constant contact with the director throughout the production. Terry Gilliam, as you might imagine, had a very clear vision in mind and so it was key to have his constant feedback as we were building the miniatures, as sometimes things that look OK on the drawing-board need to be modified once made as a 3D model (and of course everyone has to be clear of the budget ramifications of any changes to original specs).

Other times, particularly on lower-budget productions, rather than starting everything at the same time we design and make on the go, showing designs to directors and perhaps discussing ways to make models by ‘recycling’ things already around the Aladdin’s Cave that is the Mattes & Miniatures workshop in Bray. This was our approach on ‘Mutant Chronicles’.

Leigh Took and the finished model

Leigh Took and the finished model

Working on the model for Mutant Chronicles

Working on the model for Mutant Chronicles

Why bother to make miniatures at all? Why not just create the whole thing in CGI? Well – miniatures offer the opportunity to have a three-dimensional artifact which can be viewed by the camera lens as ‘real’ – and the model can be taken outside – there is no comparison to using actual daylight with a backdrop of trees and landscape in perspective with moving cloud patterns.

I hope these  highlights from my journey, together with a potted description of how I approach jobs, will be helpful to those similarly driven – those with a ‘lust for film’. At the end of my career, which I don’t envisage coming for a good 20 years or so yet (!), nothing would please me more than to have the feeling that, through my own work, I have encouraged and helped others to pursue the career of their dreams and be successful in doing so.

Leigh Took’s film credits include: Bohpal – 2013, The Wolfman – 2010, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – 2009, Angels & Demons – 2009, Inkheart – 2008, Mutant Chronicles – 2008, Stardust – 2007, Highlander, The Source – 2007, The DaVinci Code – 2006, The Descent – 2005, Ella Enchanted – 2004, Guest House Paradiso – 1999, Lost in Space – 1998, The Neverending Story II – 1990, The Rainbow Thief – 1990, Batman – 1989, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen – 1988, Hawk the Slayer – 1980. Television credits include: The First Men in the Moon – 2010, Band of Brothers – 2001, The 10th Kingdom – 2000.

SOME USEFUL VISUAL PROCESSES:

FORCED PERSPECTIVE is a technique developed not only for miniatures but in the construction of full-size film sets – for example, in a street scene, the buildings will start to condense towards the end of the road and perhaps a ramp will be used to create a false horizon (readers take note of the comments on the Supergirl set in Terry Ackland-Snow’s article) It is a natural follow-on that this technique is used in building miniatures which means that a quite large landscape can be fitted into a condensed layered form so that, from the camera’s point of view, it looks like the real thing. The camera position might need to be locked off in a particular position but it gives an opportunity to create depth of field in a miniature.

LATENT IMAGING is an invisible image produced by the physical or chemical effects of light on the individual crystals (usually silver halide) of photographic emulsions; the development process makes the image visible, in the negative. Shoot a plate (a locked off shot of a landscape, say) then mask off the top half of the matte box on the front of the camera so you only expose half of the film. Take a small piece of that film to be processed then project that piece of film through the camera onto a piece of glass, then draw off the shot and extend it up and incorporate it with whatever is needed in the shot – eg castle or distant landscape or sky. Work on the matte painting and scrape away the bottom where the negative was projecting the plate footage, combining a painting with an unprocessed negative to create a final shot.

FRONT PROJECTION – tiny reflective glass beads, which are an integral part of cinema projection screens, are used in front projection material. The actor (or subject) performs in front of the reflective screen with a movie camera pointing straight at him. In front of the camera is a beam-splitter – a one-way mirror angled at 45 degrees. At 90 degrees to the camera is a projector which casts a faint image of the background on to the one-way mirror which reflects the image onto the performer and the screen; the image is too faint to appear on the actor but shows up clearly on the screen. In this way, the actor becomes his own matte. The combined image is transmitted through the one-way mirror and recorded by the camera.

To see more of Leigh Took’s work, check out Mattes & Miniatures Visual Effects Ltd www.mattesandminiatures.co.uk

 

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RAY HARRYHAUSEN, Visual Effects Wizard 1920 – 2013

Ray Harryhausen with his VES Lifetime Achievement Award

Ray Harryhausen with his VES Lifetime Achievement Award

I met Ray Harryhausen several times over the past few years. Apart from being hugely talented, he was very generous with his time, especially with young people, always more than happy to talk about his work and pass on snippets of information – all in all, a very nice man.

When I started Network Nine News magazine in 2009, he sent a very encouraging and supportive message which included the phrase …‘it is almost forgotten that it takes a team of many people with talent to make a motion picture’…. I took this as an immense compliment that Ray Harryhausen had taken the time, not only to send the message in the first place, but that he had fully appreciated the reason I started Network Nine News in the first place.

He was an Honorary Fellow of the BKSTS and became a Lifetime Member of the Visual Effects Society in 2011. 

 

Text below from BBC News  

Visual effects master Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion wizardry graced such films as ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and ‘Clash of the Titans’, has died aged 92. The American animator made his models by hand and painstakingly shot them frame by frame to create some of the best-known battle sequences in cinema. His death was confirmed to the BBC by a representative of the family. “Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive,” said an official statement from his foundation. “Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right.” 

Born in Los Angeles in June 1920, Raymond Frederick Harryhausen had a passion for dinosaurs as a child that led him to make his own versions of prehistoric creatures. Films like 1925’s ‘The Lost World’ and the 1933 version of ‘King Kong’ stoked that passion and prompted him to seek out a meeting with Willis O’Brien, a pioneer in the field of model animation.

Harryhausen went on to make some of the fantasy genre’s best-known movies, amongst them ‘Mighty Joe Young, One Million Years BC’. and a series of films based on the adventures of ‘Sinbad the Sailor’. He is perhaps best remembered for animating the seven skeletons who come to life in ‘Jason & The Argonauts’, a sequence which took him three months to film – and for the Medusa who turned men to stone in ‘Clash of the Titans’. Harryhausen inspired a generation of film directors, from Steven Spielberg and James Cameron to Peter Jackson of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame. 

Peter Lord, of Aardman Animations, was quick to pay tribute, describing him as “a one-man industry and a one-man genre” on Twitter. “I loved every single frame of Ray Harryhausen’s work,” tweeted ‘Shaun of the Dead’ director Edgar Wright. “He was the man who made me believe in monsters.” 

The veteran animator donated his complete collection – about 20,000 objects – to the National Media Museum in Bradford in 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Animation, Visual Effects

 

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THE ART OF COSTUME DESIGN by Lindy Hemming

From a 2010 article in Network Nine News ©

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for 'Topsy Turvy'

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for ‘Topsy Turvy’

 

I was born in a remote country village in Wales in 1948, the eldest of 5 children. I was always bilingual, speaking Welsh at school and English at home. Both my parents were creative in a craft way and supplemented their rather overstretched income by making and selling things in our local town market at weekends. During the week my father worked at various kinds of sales jobs and at night he worked as a talented woodcarver. My mother was a teacher – she could draw, design and make clothes – mostly in my case, converting ‘hand me downs’ and sometimes, if we were really lucky, she used new fabric – although in rural Wales this usually meant something in design and fashion terms which looked about 10 years out of date, especially to my beady eye as, even from about 7 or 8 years old, I was very concerned with what people wore and how they looked (I was also very worried that the previous owners of the hand me downs would recognise them on me, in their newly converted state!)

So we spent lots of time hanging around in market places, seeing wild and wonderful people on their one day out off the mountains and later on, when I was about 8 years old, we moved into a village shop where we all took turns to serve and observe.

Anyhow, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in people – who they were, what they did, where they came from, what they thought and why did they dress like that … and what did it say about them – what are they saying with their clothes, hair, jewellery, shoes, creases, wrinkles, wear and tear –  so many clues to be gleaned but never knowing at the time that this weird obsession would one day form the basis of my work.

I didn’t ever attend art school as my father had convinced me that I must do a ‘worthwhile’ job. So I trained as an orthopaedic nurse which, though seemingly irrelevant to costume design, meant dealing closely with people and observing and listening to them, which I later found incredibly useful in my career.

The Oscar-winning 'Topsy Turvy'

The Oscar-winning ‘Topsy Turvy’

Eventually, encouraged by the example of friends, I attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and studied there for three years, encompassing Stage Management, Design and a notably bad attempt at acting an old woman in a Checkov play!  It was at RADA that I first encountered ‘Costume Design’ and loved it from the first moment, knowing that it encompassed everything I was interested in.    

It’s my strong opinion that before all else, a person who wants to be a costume designer needs to have an innate, inquisitive and abiding interest in human beings of every age, type and class (this justifies my nosiness!) and be strong enough to hold on to an idea and play a long game … have patience … because, in its simplest form, what designing costumes for film, television, theatre or commercials is all about, is clothing the human body in something which the designer believes will speak both to the actor – who wears the costume – and to the audience, thereby playing a part, however subtly, in creating the character ‘with’ the actor – thus providing more information to the audience and helping with their understanding and enjoyment of the play or film. This applies equally to both ‘period’ and ‘contemporary’ films.

The work is often so subtle that it is pretty subliminal. It is a good exercise to watch contemporary films and think about the garment choices that have been made and whether you think they are perfect. Often, uninitiated audiences think that in a contemporary film the actors are wearing  their own clothes.

A costume designer, like most kinds of ‘designers’ by definition is going to spend a huge portion of their life solving problems and being creative within prescribed parameters which arise, not  solely from practical and financial reasons – but from having to take into consideration and often incorporating the ideas and opinions of many other people during the design process; director, producer, studio executives, accountants, actors, et al (not to mention the egos which come with the territory!) It is agreed, I think, by most of us that contemporary costumes are much more difficult to execute, precisely because so many people feel they know what a character would/should wear – with period costume there is a barrier called ‘historical accuracy’ which quiets the suggestions of the … ‘wouldn’t it be good if ‘ … or worse …‘my wife loves shopping, maybe she could do your job’….

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film‘The World is not Enough’

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film
‘The World is not Enough’
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first work as a costume designer was at a fringe theatre on Tottenham Court Road called The Open Space Theatre. I was the general and often only costume person and so designed, made, shopped, washed and ironed. I was then fortunate to work at The Hampstead Theatre Club as a designer for several years, simultaneously looking after and supporting a young son and daughter. It was a fantastic opportunity to really find out how theatre costume design worked at a time when there still was political and experimental writing and producing happening. I worked in Fringe Theatre for about 10 years in all and gradually was asked by directors such as Michael Rudman, Mike Leigh, Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre, Howard Davies and Nancy Meckler to work on bigger and more mainstream shows, consequently working in the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the West End of London and Broadway in New York. The magic was, at one point, having  five shows running simultaneously in London!Anyone who has worked in theatre will know that, whilst it is the most satisfying design experience there isn’t, even at that level, a decent living to be earned for a costume designer. So, for that and other reasons, after about 15 years I began to hope that I might be fortunate enough to be asked to design the odd film or two! Good fortune, in the forms of Richard Eyre and Mike Leigh, smiled at me and for the ensuing twenty-six years I have almost exclusively designed for film.

How is this different … well, initially you feel it must be, as the method of production is so different – but all the costume design basics remain exactly the same …

Firstly, there is an interview/meeting situation where you are asked to read the script and then go to meet the Director and possibly the Producer. At this time you are expected to have had some ideas and make some observations and even, if you feel an idea or two forming, you can look out some reference/research to show them, which is a useful aid to your interview and gets them reacting, thus giving you an idea of what they might be thinking. Mainly though, they will be looking to see if you have ‘suitable form’ or a CV which interests them and whether they feel they will be able to work creatively with you. Often they are also thinking of how you would get on with the actors they have in mind – whether you will ‘gel’. IF they decide to engage you, you will have more meetings with the director to discuss his/her and your vision of the film and who the characters in the story are, what their background is and how do we feel their clothing reflects their personality. You will begin to draw your ideas, not necessarily fully-blown costume drawings but sketches and details that you think of, or see, in reference material.

This part of the process is really fantastically enjoyable – a time when you can do loads of research and learn about the world that the film is portraying, whether it be historical or contemporary – it is equally challenging and equally important to come to a conclusion and be clear about what you would aim to do with each character. It could mean spending time in libraries, art galleries, magazine shops, in a hospital or a factory, or just riding on public transport. Collecting things which reflect the colours or textures you want to use and swatching for fabrics either with the intention of using them to make the clothes, or to show alongside your drawings as an aid to understanding what you mean. Often on large films, there isn’t time for lots of drawing and I often use tear sheets and collage boards to get my point across – for contemporary work they are sometimes clearer.

It’s at this time that you consolidate the LOOK and collaborate with the actors. It is important to them during their creation of the character that they know what the person they are creating will look like.

Here is also the time for you to explain your ideas to the Hair & Makeup department who ideally are working towards the same goal as you. It is important in film to lead a creative ‘team’ of people and share information – failure to do this can have horrible results.

At this time it is very important to meet with the Production Designer, who will have probably been engaged months before you and will have a broad vision of what the whole film should look like and is responsible to the director for the overall look of everything. He/she can take part in the costume design process and can help you greatly with things like the overall colour palette of the film and what colour the sets are which – don’t forget – your costumes will be standing in front of !!

Also there will be the Director of Photography to liaise with. The DoP can be ones greatest ally or downfall. Faces and fabrics change radically in different lighting situations and obviously, so do colours – I’m sure that you know, different film stock will alter the whole look of the film.

Armed with all this information, now is the time to go and meet the actors starting, most sensibly, with the principal actor/actors or STAR …. you will probably be the next person after the Director and Producer that the actors will meet and so you become the representative of the Director’s vision of the film. This is not always a welcome position to be in, especially when the actor discovers that the director’s lifelong concept may include something radical for instance like …. ‘everyone wears a shade of blue’…. and the actor …. ‘Hates blue, every time I’ve ever worn blue the film was a flop’…. ‘under no circumstances’…. etc. Now you’ve got it! You are up and running, carrying the torch (concept) and trying to negotiate the minefield of everyone else’s ideas, without letting the torch going out!

My film work could be divided into pre-and post ‘Bond’. Before the fateful phone call asking me to come to Pinewood Studios for a meeting with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, I had been working consistently on smaller British films, often financed by Channel 4. My previous work with Mike Leigh on ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the theatre led him to ask me to work with him on ‘Meantime’ (one of my favourite films) then ‘High Hopes’, ‘Life is Sweet’, ‘Naked’ and ultimately ‘Topsy Turvy’ for which both Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud (Hair & Makeup) and I were awarded Oscars. That was, sadly, my last film with Mike Leigh and really I have not changed my way of working from that time – which came from his unique method of improvising everything. Mike Leigh is a National Treasure!!!

Amongst many other films, I have also worked with Steven Frears on ‘My Beautiful’ Launderette’, and (another favourite film) ‘Funnybones’ directed by Peter Chelsom – I also designed the very successful ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ for director Mike Newel.

Angelina Jolie in the title role of the 2003 film ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ Another distinctly original costume design

Angelina Jolie in 2003 as ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’

When I was told about the ‘Bond’ interview by my agent, it seemed as if someone was playing a prank so far was it outside my normal film experience. So legendary and so glam! Anyhow, it was and is, a fantastic relationship with the Broccoli family who are the dedicated and hands on custodians of their ‘Bond’ world.

What fun and what a privilege it is to travel the world and see it whilst working. Since designing the look of the two new  ‘Bonds’ and creating the look of Angelina Jolie as the ‘Tomb Raider’ (1&2), I have worked on mostly American studio films. During the past few years I was fortunate to be asked by Chris Nolan to design the new ‘Batman’ films. This has been a new departure for me involving learning lots more about different technologies of costume such as ‘Batsuit’ design and manufacture – and the new Joker was just a pure joy to create!

 

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ - 2008 The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality - twitchy, grubby, corrupt

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ – 2008. The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality – twitchy, grubby, corrupt

This past year is typical of my varied work experiences. Firstly America to work with Martin Campbell on ‘Edge of Darkness’, a dark Boston-set contemporary thriller, then quickly back to London to work with young director Louis Letterier on the new ‘Clash of the Titans’ – phewww.!!! Now a rest!

 

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ - 2010(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ – 2010
(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

I feel that I have had the most fantastic opportunities in the world of film and theatre to have worked with some really good producers, directors, actors, production designers and cinematographers – but most of all I have had the pleasure of being able to be surrounded by some of the absolute best technicians in the world in my own department. Supervisors Dan Grace and John Scott. Assistant designers Jaqueline Durran, Michael O’Connor, Guy Speranza, Andrea Cripps, Graham Churchyard, Maria Tortu and Gabriella Loria. Cutters Anne Maskerey, Jennie Alford and Alison O’Brien. Dyers/distressers Tim Shanahan, Vicky Hallam and Steve Gell – and so many makers, wardrobe men and women, sculptors, leather workers, embroiderers – all of whom are artists who are loyal and dedicated to producing the best in their own disciplines.  Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my work life and for the opportunity to write this article!   

Lindy Hemming’s film credits include: The Dark Knight Rises – 2012, Clash of the Titans – 2010, Edge of Darkness – 2010, The Dark Knight – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, Batman Begins – 2005, Tomb Raider 1 & 2 – 2001 & 2003, Die Another Day – 2002, Harry Potter – Chamber of Secrets – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Topsy Turvy – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, Blood and Wine – 1996, GoldenEye – 1995, Funny Bones – 1995, Four Weddings & a Funeral – 1994, High Hopes – 1988, Wetherby – 1985

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Costume Department

 

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