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The Ornamental Plasterer

Ken Barley

Ornamental plasterers working in film production are skilled craftsmen, with traditional solid craft abilities as well as being skilled fibrous plasterers. They are able to make complex moulds and model casts from solid plaster or fibreglass.  The job requires extensive experience, combined with creative skills and the ability to work under pressure and to strict deadlines. Film Ornamental Plasterers have usually progressed to this role after spending some time working as domestic plasterers and most will have accredited qualifications, such as the Intermediate Construction Award, or CITB NVQ in Plastering.

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

When people think of plastering they don’t always realise how many different disciplines are involved. To start with, we work with at least 8 or 10 different types of plaster and aggregates plus various vermiculites to get all different textures – this is a hard thing to be able to do.

My supervisor and good friend Michael Gardiner is, without a doubt, the best texturer I have seen. Not everybody can do texturing – it’s an art and you either can do it well or you can’t – and he can! On ‘Sweeney Todd’ he did it on his own just using photographs, every brick and stone finish carved and moulded. He’s never won an Oscar but he sure helped Mr. Dante Ferretti to get one for that film!

We use many types of foam rubber, silicone, fibreglass – all different kinds – mattings, translucent glass for ice etc. In one of the ‘Bond’ films, an ice set was built entirely by plasterers – I know because I cast the bar in the ice hotel!

The first job I did in silicone was on ‘Alien’ in 1978 when I moulded the clay alien sculpture for H R Giger, the ‘alien’ designer. For the first suit mould we used a 7ft man, now of course there is CGI and motion capture. From the mould the first prototype suit was made in a translucent resin, again by the plasterers. 

We use lots of methods for textures and have to turn metal into wood, plastic into concrete etc on a regular basis. On ‘Stardust’ we textured a whole set on smooth ply to make it look really olde-worlde, which saved some of the budget.

I’ve worked on far too many films to remember in this article. Working abroad for me is such a great experience. The films I’ve worked on overseas that I’d like to specially mention for the quality of the architectural work are ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Timeline’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and ‘Mummy III’.

For me the industry has changed over the years, apprentices now do only three years and that’s just not long enough – I’m still learning, so I think that I’ve just finished my 47th year as an apprentice!!  I worry that in ten years time the Heads of Department are going to find it difficult to get craftsmen with enough experience and range of talents to service all the films of the future, unless something positive is done about the situation. Budgets seem to be tighter and tighter with less time to do the job properly without the right training.

Recently I had the pleasure of working on ‘The Prince of Persia’ – what a fantastic job. All the plasterers did fabulous work and the sets were the best, architecturally, I have ever been involved with. Construction Manager Brian Neighbour and the team on that film should be very proud of their achievement. Construction crews don’t get the credit they deserve – all those amazing sets you see on the screen wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the many people working behind the scenes.

Prince of Persia - Sky Chamber

I hope that the next generation enjoy their life in the industry as much as I have. It’s an exciting career with new challenges every day – and you never know where and what your next film will be – but be prepared to have lots of time out without film work, it’s the nature of the beast.

Ken Barley’s credits include: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, ‘Hugo’, ‘Green Zone’, ‘Prince of Persia’, ‘Mummy III’, ‘Sweeney Todd’, ‘Stardust’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Star Wars I, II & III’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Fifth Element’, ‘The Witches’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, ‘Star Wars – Return of the Jedi’, ‘Dark Crystal’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, ‘American Werewolf in London’, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, ‘The Man Who Would be King’.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Set Construction

 

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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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The Art Department

Terry on the set of 'Supergirl' in 1984

The Art Department usually employs the largest number of people on any film crew. On big budget fantasy, period drama or sci-fi films, the Art Department Offices, Drawing and Construction Studios can occupy a vast area and employ hundreds of talented people.

 

The following is an extract from an article by Terry Ackland-Snow in Network Nine News:

I really believe that, in order to maintain the art of draughtsmanship, existing practitioners should bridge the generational gaps between ‘ways of doing things’. The best way to achieve this is to have young people taught by the practitioners themselves – with their knowledge and experience. People starting out in the industry must fully understand the role of an Art Director and the Art Department through basic knowledge in design, camera operation, direction, editing techniques – plus scheduling and budget requirements. The Art Department is unique in running its own budget during a production so, to be a successful Art Director, not only do you have to be able to create and visualise, as well as control and inspire a team of people – but also have a full understanding of the financial aspects involved.

It has always been my aim to make sure that the new generation of film makers are fully apprised of the art of creating illusion on film.  I have, for several years now, successfully run a course which allows people to learn the traditional art of draughting, CAD drawings, sets and models – along with trick photography and CGI.

Having been in this industry long enough to witness all the changes myself, I think it is so important to continue the outstanding work of the Art Department that has been developing over the last century.  I also truly believe that, in order to make best use of the incredible technology available in today’s market, the basic skills which created so many classics have to be absorbed and understood.

To check out Terry’s Film Design course go to www.filmdi.com 

Terry Ackland-Snow’s credits include: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, ‘Papillon’, ‘Death on the Nile’, ‘Aliens’, ‘Superman II & III’, ‘Supergirl’, ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Batman’ and ‘The Deep’

 
 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Art Department, Set Construction

 

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Do you want to work in Film Production ….. ?

So, you think that you would like to work in film production – why?

Wendy Laybourn - Editor

Is it because you’ve seen all the DVD ‘behind-the-camera’ footage and you fancy yourself in that glamorous world, having cocktails with the stars and walking the red carpet at the première of your latest blockbuster? Or, is it because you have an overwhelming passion to see something you’ve been involved in creating, in whatever capacity, up there on the silver screen? If it’s the former, then forget it and find another career – but, if it’s the latter then take care, you are entering a world where creativity walks hand-in-hand with job uncertainty and life will never be ‘normal’ again!

On any feature film, depending on the budget, there will be hundreds of people employed and, for those aspiring to be director, producer, cameraman, please remember that these are only three out of those couple of hundred people and it takes many years of perfecting your craft to reach these dizzy heights.

However, think carefully about the rest of the film crew – divided into departments and each needing skilled, reliable and committed people to produce a feature film to entertain a global audience.

The time to do this careful thinking is whilst you’re still at school – make no mistake, no matter which career path you choose you will always be best served by getting the highest grades possible – but, if you’re mad enough to think that you might still fancy a job in film production, then you need to do a bit of research – and this is what Network Nine can help you with.

We aim to give you enough information about the whole process of film production from the time the producer selects the script to the screening of the film at the cinema so that you can better understand where your particular talents might be best suited.

I’ll be posting articles from the News at intervals but, if you want to make the most of our information then you need to subscribe to the magazine from the web site www.network-nine.com

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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