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RAY HARRYHAUSEN, Visual Effects Wizard 1920 – 2013

Ray Harryhausen with his VES Lifetime Achievement Award

Ray Harryhausen with his VES Lifetime Achievement Award

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

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

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

 

Text below from BBC News  

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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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

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Animation

 

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From VFX Supervisor to Viral Short Film Director

Hasraf Dulull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Visual Effects

 

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Do you want to work in Visual Effects…?

 

Dayne Cowan

Visual effects, or VFX as it is commonly abbreviated, is an exciting, constantly changing and rapidly growing area of the film industry. These days, it is all pervasive. In many feature films, such as ‘Avatar’, it’s use is completely obvious. In others, such as the ‘The King’s Speech’, it’s success depends on it not being seen at all – but it is there regardless!

This article by Dayne Cowan was published in Network Nine News magazine – for further information or to subscribe go to www.network-nine.com

So what is it like to work in this field, how do you get in to this line of work and what does it take to succeed? Before the advent of university degrees designed for this industry, you could come at it from several angles. When I started, it was common for your fellow artists to have backgrounds in architecture, fine art, computer science or mathematics. I’ve even met people who had degrees in robotics!

This Visual Effects industry demands a curious mix of technical and artistic skills. The left and right brain need to work together, which can be harder to achieve than it sounds. You need a very strong eye for detail and aesthetics, coupled with the ability to cope with some extremely complex software and hardware. The software packages that have so much depth that it isn’t uncommon to go for 16 years without even venturing into certain aspects of it.

Of course, not everyone has a perfect mix of artistic and technical talent but fortunately, there is room for many diverse talents in between. Specialist areas range from colour experts to character designers, to computer programmers, to concept artists and editors.

All these disciplines mean that the experience and entry points are highly varied but the bulk of people in the field share a common experience. Most will work as either 2D artists (compositors), or 3D artists (note: not 3D as in ‘stereo’!) and around 80% of any crew in a VFX facility will fall into these two categories. It’s also worth noting that the distinction between the two is blurring over time, as the software and skills change. Perhaps in the future they will all just be referred to as ‘VFX Artists’.

For everyone in the industry there are some common factors. The job is demanding and can be very high pressure work with tough deadlines. The hours are usually long, typically with a burst of weekend and late night work towards the end of the project. Most of that time is spent behind a computer, where you often lose track of time.. ‘wow, midnight already?’…. so your partner needs to either be very understanding or working with you!

Being a creative process, never expect that your first effort will be the last and never mention that dreaded word ‘final’ The work you produce is going to be poured over many times by many people – sequence leads, vfx supervisors, directors and so on – before it gets approved. Work can often be ‘unapproved’ and worked on further – so be ready for that. It’s hard to let go of that piece that you’ve laboured over for hour after hour but sometimes that’s what you have to do. Shots get changed, work can be omitted from the film. Patience and perseverance are vital! Start by being your own strongest critic. Does it actually look good or right? Would you want that work projected on millions of screens worldwide?

Being a creative industry, not everything that occurs is rational, logical or predictable. It helps to be able to keep a level head and, although we long for it, there is no ideal and it is your ability to solve those inevitable problems with a good natured approach which will set you apart as a skilful and reliable practitioner.

Last of all, be persistent, have a good enthusiastic attitude and keep it fun. After all, no matter what happens, you have to enjoy your work!

Dayne Cowan’s credits include: ‘Battle Los Angeles’, ‘Paul’, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’, ‘The Reader’, ‘10,000 BC’, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Mee-Shee: The Water Giant’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’, ‘Below’, ‘Thunderpants’, ‘Blade II’, ‘Dragonfly’, ‘Revelation’, ‘The Beach’, ‘The Avengers’.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Visual Effects

 

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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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