RSS

Tag Archives: special effects

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
1 Comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Stuntman’s World by Jim Dowdall

Fom the perspective of one who has been ‘at it’ for rather a long time and should know better by now!

Jim Dowdall

Jim Dowdall

When I came into the industry in the 1960’s as an armourer with Bapty’s, my first film was ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – and what a picture that was to cut your teeth on!

Surrounded by the legendary luminaries of both the acting and technical departments, I began to realise that, despite my mother’s exhortations that I would be destitute for life without the obligatory 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, it might be possible to make a living in an industry that neither required nor asked for bits of paper – and that my single English ‘O’ level was not required on the voyage!

A prior spell working with big cats as a beastman for Bertram Mills Circus, with a bit of trapeze thrown in and a number of other odd jobs, had infected me with the ‘adventure bug’ and, having left the armoury business some time after finishing on ‘Where Eagles Dare’, I joined the Parachute Regiment, got the Champion Recruit’s Cup and thought that the army was going to be my career – but a parachuting accident left me unfit and I was invalided out 18 months later.

It was now the early 1970’s and the film business was booming, so I enrolled with the ‘Ugly’ agency and a couple of others to get some walk-on work and thus acquire the very desirable (and hard to come by in those days) Equity card.

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ - 1989

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ – 1989

 

The Stunt Register was just being formed as a professional stunt body within the remit of Equity and I squeezed in with a few of the stunt contracts I had acquired working for an agency called ‘Havoc…Specialists in Hazards’.Since then, life seems to have been a fantastic whirl of various films, TV shows, commercials and occasionally, live shows (which are always unnerving for their very real inability to ‘go again’)

The normal course of events runs like most productions with a script being offered, various meetings to ‘get the job’ and then the business of breaking down the ‘gag’ to work out the best way of translating the director’s wishes into the camera – and always within the limitations of the producers depth of pocket. Of course, just occasionally, one gets the chance to work on various productions (like the earlier Bonds) where you just said what bits of kit and personnel were required and it was so.

 

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

The early days of Bond were a real eye opener for me as everything (as on all productions in those days) was shot in-camera and we would sometimes have weeks of rehearsals either on location or in the Band Room at Pinewood Studios – which would be fully kitted out with mats, trampolines and all the other bits of equipment which might be required, usually for the ‘end sequence’ in the villains lair, which then had to be blown up over a number of days. When we did the submarine sequence for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (for which the famous Pinewood 007 stage was constructed) filming began shortly after Christmas in a very cold January on a vast stage with a requirement for a number of us to do ‘falls’ into the water. Although we would be paid a stunt ‘adjustment’ for these falls, there was a certain ‘hanging back’ as we knew that it would be unlikely that we would have time to change into a dry costume before take two – and few of us owned such a sophisticated piece of kit as a wet suit!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

Wire work on pictures like ‘Superman’ 1 & 2 was pushing the envelope at the time and Geoffrey Unsworth’s capacity to ‘light out’ the wires was masterful – in those days it was without the benefit of ‘Paintbox’ or such sophisticated bits of kit which would come on stream in the 80s. I remember being on wires wearing a space suit with the helmet sealed on which gave me a limited amount of oxygen before I began to get a bit woozy. I would then see Geoffrey up and down a tall ladder spraying the wires with a black paint aerosol just before we shot. I had to be revived twice with a whiff of oxygen after a couple of …‘sorry, just need a second on the wire spraying’… occasions.

For ‘Flash Gordon’ doubling for Timothy Dalton, we spent weeks rehearsing the fight on the disc floating in space with knives coming up out of the floor. We also all had to learn how to use a bullwhip from one of the stunt boys, Reg Harding, who had been a ‘jackaroo’ in Australia and was a master with that very dangerous (mostly to the user) bit of kit

Hours spent in the chair having prosthetics put on to double the monster on wires

With Michael Caine  on 'The Eagle has Landed' in 1976
With Michael Caine on ‘The Eagle has Landed’ in 1976

 

for Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ meant a 6am start and sometimes a 10pm finish 6 days a week with all the penalty payments and overtime one could imagine – luckily all before Christmas – and the car park at Shepperton Studios, stuffed with a variety of our newly acquired BMWs and Range Rovers after the holidays, became known as the ‘thank you Michael Mann’ car park!

As the 1980s progressed and the sophistication in filmmaking began galloping forward, commercials became a great laboratory for new devices and gimmicks as the repetition on TV, combined with bulky production budgets, meant that the directors wanted to use every new device that was either coming on stream or was just nudging its way through a crack in the door.

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

For me, this was an opportunity to be introduced to the cutting edge of every new gizmo whether it was the ‘Hothead’ or ‘Paintbox’ – and I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the early experimental work on Libra with Nick Phillips and Harvey Harrison by driving various vehicles either on racetracks or bolted to the side of Land Rovers going over really rough territory.

‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Bond’, ‘Indy’, ‘Private Ryan’, ‘English Patient’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘Corelli’, ‘The Pianist’ etc etc, all have their interesting facets and learning curves which require a certain thought process and how we can make it look good safely (within reason….) and the challenge continues!

The main differences between then and now is that we all have mobiles and email and GPS and CGI … but when it comes down to it, the business still requires a good script, good direction, good actors and good action where required. We are just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, the big difference is that the successful ones can put the linament on the bruises with a £50 note!

Stunt people have, by definition, to be jacks of all trades and sometimes master of one or two – tomorrow might be a stair fall on fire, Tuesday falling off a horse, Wednesday turning a car over, Thursday a high fall and Friday a fight sequence.

I did have a week like that a couple of times. Exciting it is, boring it ain’t!

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins ‘inspecting the meat’

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins
‘inspecting the meat’

Jim Dowdall’s film credits include: Skyfall – 2012, Safe House – 2012, Blitz 2011, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – 2010, The Descent 1&2 – 2009 & 2005, RocknRolla – 2008, Death Defying Acts – 2007, The Flood – 2007, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005,  Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005, Sahara – 2005, Finding Neverland – 2004, The Bourne Supremacy – 2004, Die Another Day – 2002, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Entrapment – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Saving Private Ryan – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, The English Patient – 1996, Batman – 1989, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – 1989, Whoops Apocalypse – 1986, Brazil – 1985, Octopussy – 1983, For Your Eyes Only – 1981, Star Wars V – 1980, Force 10 from Navarone – 1978, The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977, A Bridge Too Far – 1977, Star Wars IV – 1977, The Eagle Has Landed – 1976, Where Eagles Dare – 1968, The Dirty Dozen – 1967.

Television credits include: Eastenders 2012, Call the Midwife – 2012, Richard hammond’s Invisible Worlds – 2010, Rock & Chips – 2010, The Bill – 2004 to 2009, Top Gear – 2008, Dalziel & Pascoe – 2006 to 2007, The Gathering Storm – 2002, Prime Suspect – 1995, Minder – 1991, The Professionals – 1982, Doctor Who – 1975.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

THE BUSINESS OF SNOW by Darcey E Crownshaw

Even today, when filming on real snow locations, the logistics of getting equipment, cast and crew safely on and off the snowbound sets adds a whole new dimension to the challenges faced by any production.  These challenges are even greater when filming on mountains, frozen lakes or within the Arctic Circle.  When a film crew work on an area of real snow, it soon turns to mud any area requiring ‘virgin snow’ can only be used for one take, costumes get wet, cast, crew and equipment freeze, trucks get stuck.  No movie in this age has the budget to wait for real snow to arrive when falling snow or blizzards are required….from an article published in Network Nine News     www.snowbusiness.com

 

Lillian Gish in the 1920 film ‘Way Down East’ working in freezing conditions!

In 1920 D W Griffith made what some people class as the greatest movie of all time, ‘Way Down East’ (1920) starring Lillian Gish.  Mr Griffith wanted realism at any cost, he wanted nothing to do with the white painted cornflakes that were regularly used as studio snow at that time. For the climax of the movie, Anna (Lillian’s character) was to be driven out into the blizzard and stumble on to the rivers of moving ice. 

Lillian Gish wrote …”‘Our house was near the studio and I was to report to work at any hour that snow started to fall, as we had both day and night scenes to film.  It was a late but severe winter; even Long Island Sound was frozen over.  I slept with one eye open, waiting for the blizzard. Winter dragged on and was almost over and still those important scenes hadn’t been filmed. The blizzard finally struck in March.  Drifts eight feet high swallowed the studio.  Mr Griffith, Billy, the staff and assistant directors stood with their backs to the gale, bundled up in coats, mufflers, hats and gloves.  To hold the camera upright, three men lay on the ground, gripping the tripod legs.  A small fire burned directly beneath the camera to keep the oil from freezing.

Again and again, I struggled through the storm.  Once I fainted – and it wasn’t in the script.  I was hauled to the studio on a sled, thawed out with hot tea and then brought back to the blizzard, where the others were waiting.  We filmed all day and all night, stopping only to eat, standing near a bonfire.  We never went inside, even for a short warm-up.  The torture of returning to the cold wasn’t worth the temporary warmth. The blizzard never slackened.  At one point, the camera froze.  There was an excruciating delay as the men, huddled against the wind, trying to get another fire started.  At one time my face was caked with a crust of ice and snow and icicles like little spikes formed on my eyelashes, making it difficult to keep my eyes open.

Above the storm Mr Griffith shouted: ‘Billy, move! Get that face! That face – get that face!’ – ‘I will,’ Billy shouted, ‘if the oil doesn’t freeze in the camera!’ Although he worked with his back to the wind whenever possible, Mr Griffiths’ face froze.  A trained nurse was at his side for the rest of the blizzard and the winter scenes. We lost several members of our crew to pneumonia as the result of exposure…..”

Even today, when filming on real snow locations, the logistics of getting equipment, cast and crew safely on and off the snowbound sets adds a whole new dimension to the challenges faced by any production.  These challenges are even greater when filming on mountains, frozen lakes or within the Arctic Circle.  When a film crew work on an area of real snow, it soon turns to mud and any area requiring ‘virgin snow’ can only be used for one take, costumes get wet, cast, crew and equipment freezes, trucks get stuck.  No movie in this age has the budget to wait for real snow to arrive when falling snow or blizzards are required.

Artificial snows solved these problems but at the same time created a whole bunch of new ones.  Snow Business has dedicated itself to developing and producing new materials and methods of application over the last 25 years.

Unbelievably, white asbestos became popular for a time in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It can be seen in films like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939).  At that time white asbestos could also be bought over the counter (packaged as an artificial snow) for the family use on the Christmas tree!  

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946) used white sand and gypsum to create the snow dressing.  Wet foam was used for the falling snow and this can be seen streaking over George Bailey’s (played by James Stewart) costume during the car crash scene.  Modern dry foams do not do this, they are much more realistic. They have controllable size and rate of fall, the snowflakes look like snowflakes and are self-clearing.  Our dry foam systems are now in use around the world at huge public venues and we used them to obtain the Guinness world record for the largest area ever covered with artificial falling snow (over a mile of Bond Street in London).

For the cavalry charge across the frozen river in ‘Dr Zhivago’ (1965) white marble dust was laid over steel sheets.  Marble dust is heavy, expensive and very difficult to remove, any remnants that remain form a semi-permanent white patch in the landscape.  Today, modern cellulose dusts can be used – they are more versatile, faster to lay and have the key advantage of leaving the location clean. They have even been authorised for use on SSSI and other sensitive sites. 

The ‘ice palace’ scenes from ‘Dr Zhivago’ were created using paraffin wax dressed over white wadding.  Paraffin wax has been used since the beginning of film to simulate ice and icicles but it was only with the making of ‘Day After Tomorrow’ (2004), that bespoke equipment was designed to dress the huge areas quickly and safely.  Modern Ice Waxes have now been developed for spraying which do not yellow under sunlight (for longevity) and are much harder (allowing for use in hot climates).

Three stages of set dressing for ‘John Adams’ in 2008. Left: location before preparation. Centre: prepared with SnowMembrane. Right: set dressed with SnowCel

Urea formaldehyde foam, a two-part foam mix that sets into place, was very popular from the late 60’s to the early 80’s.  It can be seen in ‘Dr Doolittle’ (1969) where it was used to dress the streets and rooftops of Castle Coombe in Gloucestershire.  Urea formaldehyde foam can look fantastic, particularly for large blocks of snow but it is a devil to remove, particularly from surfaces like Cotswold stone.  Modern SnowWhite replaces it, this foam is free of Beetlejuice and CFC’s.  It can be removed easily by jet washing and when disposed of, it biodegrades.

Dendretic salt was very popular in the 1980’s but as with all salts (and sand) it moves in a different way to real snow and more importantly is poisonous, corrosive and capable of doing severe and expensive damage to any location. Magnesium Sulphate was considered at that time as the best snow available (until SnowCel was invented), although it was very expensive it had the advantages of a lovely sparkle and being non-corrosive.  As with all salts it is heavy and, when laid outside, will completely disappear with one nights’ rain.  It cannot be dressed onto roofs or foliage and it has the disadvantage, when used in quantity, of killing plant life. When it is washed into porous stonework, it leaches out over decades leaving an ugly white tidemark.   All unacceptable to the property owner!

Artifical snow and ice on location

Today, there are many types of paper-based products on the market that can be used as snow but caution has to be exercised as many of them contain salts, fungicides, pesticides and even Borax.  The SnowCel range is the only product specifically designed for use on movie sets (fireproof) and locations (chemical free).

Modern paper based snows are light and can be laid at amazing speed.  The delivery systems blow the snow into the air so that it settles just like real snow, the material passes through a high-pressure water mist so that when it makes contact it ‘bonds’ to the surface (sticking inches deep even to inverted surfaces).   The paper does not kill or damage plants and cannot be absorbed into porous stonework thus avoiding any later staining. 

It is crucial to ensure that before any snow is laid, the location is correctly prepared.  Huge rolls of SnowMembrane (600 sq m) are used to cover lawn and garden areas before any loose snow dressing is applied.  The membrane allows water and sunlight to pass through whilst still being strong enough to gallop a horse across. On wrap, snow is washed off the trees and shrubs on to the membrane, the membrane is then rolled up to leave a spotless location underneath.

Falling snow technology has moved forward tremendously in recent years.  Modern ground based machinery can deliver vast amounts of snow into the air almost silently to fill acres with realistic, slow-falling, self-clearing snow.  Gone are the days of plastic flake or the Polystyrene beads that seem to last forever haunting old movie locations for many years whenever the wind changes. 

On any modern movie snow set you can expect to see a combination of seven or eight types of snow in use at any one time.  SnowMembrane to protect the location. SnowCel Full Size paper to give depth, SnowCel Half Size paper to give refinement.  SnowSparkle top dressing to add that ‘twinkle’.  Polymer top dressing for improved tracks and pick up on costume, PowderFrost or SnowEx to fill in background, BioFlake for use as falling snow and IceWax white to simulate that frozen mountain ‘crust’ to break realistically under footfall.

Snow being laid

Gone are the days of dressing snow by hand using scoops, shovels or stirrup pumps.  Machines create a natural dressing at a non-stop rate of up to 2 sq m per second.  Modern artificial ice is sprayed by all electric, computer-controlled technology at a rate of up to 1 sq m per minute.

Gone are the days of toxic materials and damaged locations. By selecting the right material and processes and by doing the correct preparation, any location can be dressed realistically and can be left undamaged.  Work is completed regularly on the most sensitive of sites, including SSSI, English Heritage and National Trust properties.

Modern materials are recycled, eco friendly, biodegradable and incorporate low embodied energy.  The paper used is chlorine free, the cellulose is from managed, renewable sources. Work has already started on auditing each type of snow in order to issue a full eco-rating covering its manufacture, use and disposal.  That way we enable productions to make even better and more informed choices for filming.

CGI has created the opportunity for filmmakers to make even more ambitious snow and winter effects movies.  Films such as ‘Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Alien vs. Predator’ and ‘Star Trek’ allow practical snow making skills to be developed even further, ensuring the continuation of the industry into the future and benefitting all productions through the availability of better equipment and materials.

SNOW BUSINESS FILM CREDITS INCLUDE: The Way Back – 2010; Star Trek – 2009; Benjamin Button – 2008; Quantum of Solace – 2008; The Golden Compass – 2007; The Bourne Ultimatum – 2007; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005; Nanny McPhee – 2005; Batman Begins – 2005; The Day After Tomorrow – 2004; Phantom of the Opera – 2004; Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Askaban; Cold Mountain – 2003; TELEVISION CREDITS: John Adams – 2008; Emmerdale – 2008; Eastenders – 2007; Hogfather – 2006; Dr Who – 2005; Band of Brothers – 2001  

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Art Department, Set Construction

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

F.A.B! by Gerry Anderson MBE

Gerry Anderson (1929 – 2012) with Thunderbird 2

This is an article written for Network Nine News by the legendary Gerry Anderson in 2009. Gerry sadly passed away in 2012 but his story continues with the new Gerry Anderson Legacy Site www.launch.gerryanderson.co.uk

Born in 1929 in London into a poor family, education wasn’t high on the list of priorities and being evacuated during the war didn’t help at all – so, with extreme optimism I decided that I wanted to be an architect and applied to enter a training course! Luckily, the local polytechnic had other building-related courses and I found that I had an aptitude for fibrous plastering and creating decorative pieces which were used for film work. I enjoyed this work enormously for some time but developed an allergy to plaster and had to give up.

I had developed a passion for film work by then and so spent the next few months tramping round the film studios looking for a job.  Eventually, I was taken on by the Colonial Film Unit which was run by the Ministry of Information. Filming was on 35mm and they had a 6-weekly rotation programme so that the trainees got comfortable with all the disciplines – camera, picture editing, sound, direction, projection- and under the guidance of the legendary George Pearson I found that I had a great affinity for editing. George gave me a piece of advice which I’ve always remembered … ‘when you are filming don’t forget to shoot a few feet of a bowl of tulips for cutaways!’ ….

Growing in confidence I applied for and got a job with Gainsborough Studios in Shepherds Bush as 2nd Assistant Editor then worked my way up to 1st Assistant on ‘The Wicked Lady’ in 1945, ‘Caravan’ in 1946 and many more – all for the princely sum of £10 per week! 

Then, as did everyone in those days, in 1947 I was ‘called up’ for National Service with the RAF, where I spent my time as a Radio Telephone Operator.  It was a requirement that, after National Service, everyone was re-instated into their previous job but Gainsborough had closed and I was re-located to Pinewood Studios – then moved to Shepperton as a Sound Editor working on films such as ‘They Who Dare’ in 1954 for the acclaimed Director, Lewis Milestone (‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, ‘Pork Chop Hill’, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘) who terrified everyone on set – although I got on with him very well. 

‘Thunderbirds’ character Alan Tracy with Chief Puppeteer Christine Glanville

In 1956 I formed a production company with Arthur Provis – I think that we were one of the first (if not the only) small production company working at that time, calling ourselves AP Films and renting space in an Edwardian mansion in Maidenhead. We had a filing cabinet, a telephone and headed paper, so we were ready for anything!  However, six months went by without any offers and we all had to do extra work to keep ourselves afloat – then the phone rang!!  It was a lady called Roberta Leigh who had 52 scripts for a children’s series called ‘The Adventures of Twizzle’.  We were over the moon, our big chance to show what we were made of – then she dropped the bombshell that it was a puppet show – but, we were hungry for work and even the modest budget and the tight schedule didn’t put us off.

I hated what I had already seen on television as puppet shows and so we decided to add a few ‘film’ techniques to make the sets more realistic with cut-outs in mid and foreground to add depth – also, whenever the puppets were meant to look at each other they always seemed to miss the eyeline as the puppeteers, who by now we had moved up to a high gantry to give more set space, had a very restricted view, so we painted arrows on the puppets heads to make it easier! 

Every episode we made we got a little better. Christine Glanville was the chief puppeteer and made the heads herself from cork dust, glue and methylated spirits – which was infinitely better than the original papier maché as they could be sanded down to a smoother finish. Eventually all the puppets would be made of fibreglass. We noticed that, as the puppets eyes were made of wood, the grain was very noticable when they moved – so we called in William Shakespeare!  No, not the bard but a nice man who made glass eyes – and he produced the first pair of plastic puppet’s eyes for us. As he said, he had never ever been asked for a pair of false eyes before!

Around 250 set-ups were needed for a half-hour episode and the 1/3 life size sets were built on moveable stages to be wheeled in and out very quickly.

‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ – Lady Penelope and Parker on an undercover mission in France!

So successful were we with ‘Twizzle’ and before the series was finished, Roberta Leigh came to us with another new series, ‘Torchy the Battery Boy’.  The budget was increased to nearly double and the team wanted to see how far they could go to improve the look and ‘workability’ of the puppets – finer wires, a spring in the jaw to snap the mouth shut to simulate speaking without the head bouncing up and down as the puppeteers jerked the wires. Eventually mouth movement was controlled by an electro-magnet device – another first – this was when we came up with the name ‘Supermarionation’

We were working on 35mm film with a Mitchell camera and I wanted to see what the TV audience would be viewing as we were working. I bought a lightweight video camera and fixed it to the Mitchell camera we were using so it looked directly down the lens, linking to a monitor and giving us a constant picture.  This ‘Video Assist’ technique was soon adopted by the film industry worldwide.

The next series,  ‘Four Feather Falls’ finished in 1960, and ‘Supercar’ came along in 1962 with the support of Lew Grade and the ITV network. Eventually ‘Supercar’ was broadcast coast-to-coast in the USA and became the top rated children’s programme.

‘Fireball XL5’ followed closely behind in 1963 with ‘Stingray’ in 1965 made in our new home in a large warehouse in the Slough trading estate.  I think that ‘Stingray’was possibly the first puppet series to entertain an adult audience, was shot in colour and had an enormous budget at that time of £20,000 per episode.

Gerry leaning on FAB 1 – a full-size working model of Lady Penelope’s car in ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’

While ‘Stingray’ was still in production I was writing a new series which eventually would be called ‘Thunderbirds’. Public response when the series was aired was phenomenal! Apparantly the astronaut Alan Shepherd was a fan!  The very futuristic ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ came out in 1968 followed by ‘Joe 90’ in 1969.

Shortly after this Lew Grade came apologetically to me and said that, as all the programmes we had produced were being repeated so much on television, we were drowning in our own product so unfortunately, I would have to switch to live action!  What joy – all I’d ever wanted to do was live action!  So ‘UFO’, ‘ Space 1999’ and ‘Space Precinct’ followed

Major developments and change have always been an essential part of the industry. Puppet work has been superceded by CGI and we dipped our toe in the water with ‘Lavender Castle’ and re-made ‘Captain Scarlet’ in 2005 using the latest software – except that I still worked with film people for storyboards and set design to make sure that it had that ‘3-dimensional’ film feel.

The 2005 CGI version of ‘Captain Scarlet’

I always remember something that Lewis Milestone said to me way back in 1947 when I was working with him.  He said ‘Do you want to be famous?’ … I was slightly taken aback by the question but obviously answered ..‘Yes’‘Never second-guess your audience’ he said ‘make what you want – if they like it you’ll become famous, if they don’t you might as well open a greengrocer’s shop!’  I have lived up to this advice throughout my career!

I really enjoy what I do and can’t imagine retiring – the technology and techniques during my career have changed so much and continue to evolve, so it makes each fresh project an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Ed: Gerry brought much joy and entertainment to several generations of of fans. Hopefully, through re-runs and perhaps through unfinished projects which may be completed in the future, his legacy will continue.

Gerry Anderson’s film & television credits include: New Captain Scarlet – 2005; Lavender Castle – 1999; Space Precinct – 1994; Dick Spanner – 1987; Terrahawks – 1983; Space 1999 – 1975; The Protectors – 1972; UFO – 1970; Doppelganger – 1969; Joe 90 – 1968; Thunderbird Six – 1968; Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons – 1967; Thunderbirds are Go – 1966; Thunderbirds – 1965; Stingray – 1964; Fireball XL5 – 1963; Supercar – 1960; Four Feather Falls – 1959; Torchy the Battery Boy – 1958; The Adventures of Twizzle – 1957

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Animation

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Visual Effects

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 
9 Comments

Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Special Effects

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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’.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Production Office

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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’.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Set Construction

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: