Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Movie Magic is back!

Only every-so-often does a film come along that changes the future of film making forever.

Iconic films of the past have have steered the course of movie making history to where it is today. The landmark films that have made advances in production techniques, cinematography and story telling that have set the benchmark for all other films to be compared against. Such films as Toy Story, Jurassic Park, The Matrix ('The Matrix' I hear you say... yes, The Matrix...with it's revolutionary bullet-time photography). A few films recently have also pushed the boundaries in new CGI and special effects. I am thinking along the likes of The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Transformers and 2012 (if you can get past the dull/non existent plot).

So when I watched the new James Cameron movie, 'Avatar', it felt like I was watching history in the making.
Firstly, Cameron has used a new 3D filming technique that he calls 'real 3D'. It was pleasing to see that the 3D was not some novel attempt to simply make objects come out of the screen and wow people with the 'look, it's right in front of my face' factor. Instead the 3D element gives the film a more realistic depth of field, which feels more natural to watch as this is how your eyes view objects in the real world.

Secondly, whenever I watch a film, I want to be taken on an adventure and lost in the story, I want to feel like I have seen new things and been completely submerged in the surroundings. Cameron does this magnificently with Avatar, he takes you on a journey into another world and envelopes you into a new culture and alien civilisation. You feel like you are discovering the sights and sounds of a new planet for yourself. If you can deliver this experience to an audience, then you know it has to be a pretty good film...Avatar is not just a film though, if you watch it in 3D as it was meant to be viewed, then it is a full on experience to another realm!

Avatar comes fully recommended as one of the must see film of 2009.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Introducing VFX Supervisor Blake Winder

All too often in big feature film productions the praise goes to the director and it is a sad state of affairs that many of the unsung heroes go unnoticed.

Most cinema going audiences these days will see a big special effects bonanza and while they will be aware that a lot of time and effort has gone into making the film, they won't fully understand the level of intricate detail and man hours that have really gone into creating the picture. This is mainly because, for the most part, the effects are not visible. There are so many technical levels involved that are not initially noticeable on the surface.

Even the small things in film that are never noticed, like removing bad camera bounce or correcting a green screen shot that did not have enough tracking markers in place. These can be nightmarish jobs to undertake, but no one ever knows or hears about them. There always has to be someone sitting there hour after hour to make the film seem faultless. Their job is to sell the illusion and make the film come to life, because the second we see a bad special effect, we notice it...and then we are pulled from the story and reminded that it is actually...just a film!

This is especially true as the 'new age cinema hungry culture' feasts on a veritable banquet of DVD 'special features' and a constant stream of 'making of footage'. We feel more savvy with the making of a film than ever before and crave more knowledge into the behind the scenes. But while we are more familiar with the roles of these FX wizards, the average 'movie goer' still won't fully understand the levels they go to in order to trick the viewer that the effects are real.

Therefore it is more important now than ever to have seamless special effects and in turn a good special effect supervisor that is worth their weight in gold. It can be the difference between a good film and a great film.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that visual effects supervisor Blake Winder will be the VFX supervisor for the upcoming film 'The Survivor'. Blake brings a whole host VFX knowledge after working on some truly epic titles such as, 10,000BC, Hellboy 2, The Fantastic Mr Fox, the upcoming release of Green Zone and many, many more.

To view more about Blake's professional work, please visit www.imdb.com/name/nm2791602/

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Bayer re-run Rennie Ice Adverts

Last year I created two 10" adverts for Bayer to promote their new range of Rennie Ice. The adverts ran for four weeks on all major commercial channels including most Sky/cable channels. After the adverts had aired, the sales of Rennie Ice went up by more than 40%.

Bayer were extremely pleased with the results and we were asked to film a pocket pack version to tag on the end of the current commercials. We filmed the pocket pack commercial back in January '09 and so I had completely forgotten that they were due to re-run on air.

I was in the middle of reading a treatment for 'The Survivor' when the commercials came on in the background of 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' and took me completely by surprise. It's quite a strange feeling to suddenly see and hear something that you had spent so much time staring at in production. There is a slight synaptic lapse where your brain recognises it, but doesn't register where from...then a millisecond later you realise that you actually created it! It's similar to that split second that you recognise someone you haven't seen for a long time and then realise that it is not them!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The best laid schemes of mice and men.

I have always believed in the old 'five Ps' phrase...'Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance'.

Therefore, I always try to plan a project in great detail. I try to anticipate as many problems as possible and take into consideration all the possible downfalls that can occur along the production process...then I like to firmly cross all fingers and toes in the hope that all goes according to plan!

However, the most carefully prepared plans may go wrong and it is adapting to these external problems and unforeseeable conditions that makes a good project manager.

These problems will always creep in, no matter how hard you try to eliminate them. From unavoidable budget costs to uncontrollable weather conditions you will have to think quickly in order to solve the problem, but you must do this while maintaining a cool, calm and collective council. By staying calm in the face of a problem, you will be better equipped to think more clearly and concisely, but more importantly, you will maintain the confidence from the crew around you. There is no point in Frrrrrrrrreaking out because this has a negative feel that is passed on to the rest of the crew. There is nothing worse than watching a director who has lost control of a shoot, the confidence of the crew and more importantly...him/herself. The director is paid to make these decisions. So while it is fine to be 'frustrated', you should put on a poker face and keep it all inside, the responsibility ultimately stays with the director...and so do the pressures.

Remember that good solid planning is essential to any project, but never be so focused on the 'plan' itself, that it can not change. Roll with the punched and adapt the plan to fit with the solutions needed to get passed your sticking point. The good thing is that if you have planned properly in the first place, you will know it inside out and therefore you will know where and how to restructure the timings and adapt the plan to fit again and move forward.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Shoot always at 4k... but edit at 2k

Most edits, even for the big screen, are created at a resolution of 2k (2048 pixels x 1080 pixels).

However, if you shoot at 4k you have a few advantages. Firstly you have the same depth of field that you get when you shoot on 35mm film. That should already be reason enough! But for me personally, the real bonus of shooting at 4k is that when you edit in 2k you have an oversized image. This might sound like an unnecessary waste of file size and storage, but when you are editing your footage, it means you can change the crop, zoom in and out of the image or even take out any camera moves with steadying effects.

There is a particular shot in Light Rain (below) where we have a slow and steady zoom into Jade's face. This was created completely in post with a slow up-scaling of the image. As the image was originally shot at 4k, we don't lose any of the details or get any unwanted pixilation. This was a real life saver in the edit as the slow move really helped the shot. This really makes it worth shooting at 4k...even with all the extra storage headaches and workflow problems you will incur.

The digital media is recorded on to a 320GB hard drive (approx 3hrs at 4k), or 8GB CF Cards (approx 4 minutes at 4k). As it is a tapeless format, the data needs to be backed up on to portable drives and so a good DIT is always recommended with an onsite laptop and backup drives.

The RED One records the data as a R3D RAW file, which is basically the video equivalent of RAW files in stills photography. This means that you have much more flexibility with color correction and adjusting different levels in post-production without being destructive to the image.

The huge file sizes that 4k will produce can be really problematic in your workflow. Therefore it is best to create an offline edit (low res version) and edit all your content from there. Then once you have all your footage in the correct sequence you can take the timecodes from the offline edit and simply place them into the online edit...hey presto you have a high res edit made from your offline timecodes.

Sounds simple? Well it doesn't always go as smoothly as that and sometime cross-pollinating software is a recipe for disaster as sometimes they don’t recognise each others timecodes, but if you can work through the temporary glitches and buffering issues it will be worth it in the end. And when you see the final results, you won't want to shoot on anything other than 4k!

This is handy screensaver as a good reference for all the different format sizes.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Survivor - Preview Poster

Here is a mock poster preview for a short film I am developing called 'The Survivor'. It perfectly hits the tones I am trying to explore in the book and this snap shot is indicative of our hero's lucid dream state.
This is the look and feel I want to have in the 'journey' part of the film. But how are we going to film it to look as good as this poster and stay on budget?...CGI?...water studio with green screen? Model miniatures? On location with heavy post-production VFX? So far, I have no idea which route will be the best one, but all I do know is...where there is a will, there is a way!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Correcting Movie Mistakes

Here from Ridley Scott's epic 'Gladiator', you can see a big 'movie mistake' on the back of the chariot. In all the action, the gas cylinder that was used to thrust the chariot over has become visible as it dislodges its hiding place.
The likelihood is that it was just missed when the director viewed the rushes and then it was too expensive or too late to re-shoot the scene.
The point is that these things can happen at any stage in film making and noticing them before release is the hard part. However, once you have spotted a mistake, you can either choose to ignore it or you can correct it in post-production (but this can be costly and time consuming - so your budget and deadline might suffer).

If you do choose to ignore the errors and bury your head in the sand, you are only inviting criticism on the production values of the shoot. Just because YOU didn't originally notice the mistake, does not mean that an audience with fresh eyes will miss it as well.

All too often a big film will go out with some pretty big 'known' mistakes, but when you have the pressure of a big studio breathing down your neck, it is a risk you have to take into consideration.

This is a before and after comparison of a mistake that crept into the shooting of Light Rain.
The scene shows people taking shelter from a heavy deluge. We had two big rain towers providing rain FX in front of the cast, but in the distance and out of focus we did not have the need for any rain FX. There is no point in spending money to wet down an area that is not clearly visible...but it did mean that in the background we found a rouge pedestrian happily walking across the set during a take. Clearly it was a small problem, but one that was ruining the shot.

Here we had our story saying that the rain was so bad that people needed to take cover...and then, just in the background we had a figure slowly meandering across the concourse with no umbrella! Clever!
So we decided to correct this shot. Fortunately we had the expert knowledge of VFX supervisor (and all round nice guy) Blake WinderBlake has worked on some really epic Hollywood films from Hellboy 2 to 10,000BC, so digitally removing this figure was not going to pose any problem for Blake...in fact he did it in a few hours with a fairly simple mask.

Yes, it is such a small detail to remove...and yes, it did take extra time and budget...and yes, most people might not have noticed the figure or perhaps they would have been too distracted by the rest of the action in the shot. But in my opinion it is the small details that matter. It is the fine refinement and attention to detail that others wouldn't have bothered to correct that takes a film to a more polished level...and ultimately it makes for a better final film.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Turning bad photos in to good ones!

When I am not filming, I like to take photographs with my Nikon D60, I find that it helps to improve my composition and framing of shots...plus it is a lot cheaper to take a quick snap than to wait till the reccie stage of a shoot. Practice makes perfect (so they say) and it is a great exercise to hone the skills and keep an eye out for new ways to position a camera.

Stills photography is very much like shooting film photography...in fact, it is exactly the same apart from with stills you have a single picture and with film you have 25 stills in every second!

However, when taking a still, you need to have a good image as the viewer will scan every area of the picture for much longer - it will be subject to total scrutiny. In film, you can get a way with certain errors (to some extent). That does not mean you can be sloppy in production, but it does allow for certain 'natural' mistakes to be glossed over a little bit because the eye is distracted by the move of the camera, the action in the scene or the viewer is completely engaged in the dialogue.

With that in mind, how do you take a good photograph? Well to be honest, there are plenty of websites out there that can help you learn composition, framing, focus, lighting, etc. But the best way is to pick up your camera, go out and learn from your mistakes! It's simple, the longer you spend with a camera in your hand; the better you will be at improving the shots you take.
http://www.photo.net/ is a truly fantastic site that has tips and advice for all levels of photographers. Their learning section is extremely useful and you can get good advice on treating your photographs in post-production too.
The above photo comparison was not taken with my usual camera and so the picture had a lot of problems with it. When I was looking at the potential shot, I was trying to get the light to crack through the trees and give a lens flare across the image. Then I wanted some of the bracken to have flecks of light highlighting the foliage to make the scene magical and atmospheric.

Clearly when I looked at the pictures I had taken I was very disappointed. The image is under exposed, the lighting is minimal and fairly flat, the clarity of the image is not very good and the saturations of the colors are a bit lost. All-in-all, it was a nice idea that didn't work in the camera...but that does not mean you have to hope for better next time as you press the delete button. Have you ever considered reworking your images in post-production?

The big secret is that every single professional film you have ever seen has been treated/corrected in post in some way or another...films are NEVER released using the footage straight from the camera...so why can you not retouch your stills in the same way to get the effect you want?

This photograph was about 30 mins worth of work to correct to the finished image and I think it is much closer to what I had originally wanted in the camera.
Firstly I adjusted the exposure and increased the saturation...then I added a light layer to emulate rays of light shining through the trees and of course the all important lens flare (lens flares in post are massively over used these days and can make an image look tacky...but when used correctly, they can really sell the scene).
Then I used the dodge tool to pick out certain highlights on the bracken, by increasing your lights and darks, you are actually affecting the lighting in the scene and making the image less flat...and therefore, visually more interesting. Then I applied a quick warm filter and a bit of contrast and then hey presto!

What was once an image that was heading for the trash icon has now become an image that I really like. Most photos can be improved with a bit of post-production, so why not try reworking some of your old pictures to see if you can improve them? You might be pleasantly surprised!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Little Spitfire video makes film critic's choice

My 2007 music video has this week become the critic’s choice by the UK’s largest independent movie review site. Two years after winning ‘best music video’ award at End of the Pier International film festival, it has resurfaced in popularity.
MiShorts say, 'Our monthly films reviews are provided by Future Movies, one of the UK’s top review websites. Their editors are a recognised source of movie reviews worldwide and regularly appear on the world’s largest review website, Rotten Tomatoes. You can trust these guys to tell you what they really think about our films'.
Guest critic, Jay Richardson is an award-winning arts and entertainment journalist. He writes reviews and features for Future Movies, as well as regularly contributing articles for the Scottish and Irish national press.
Jay says,
This award-winning, debut promo from rock band Little Spitfire prompted their signing to an independent label and stands as a starkly memorable calling card for director Neil Horner. Conceived as a riposte to traditional broadcast media’s impenetrability, the band is discovered flying a plane at an enemy control tower, assaulting it with their sound. Shot on digital with bold use of colour and black & white supplemented with sparing use of blue and green, the desaturated 3D footage distinctively pairs elaborate make-up with green screen technology, producing dramatic action shots that ape Japanese anime in the harsh, almost spectral intensity of the band’s expressions.
Thanks to Jay for such a nice review (of course I completely agree with him! :D ) and thanks to MiShorts for making it their official choice.

Little Spitfire and many more great films can be seen here at Mishorts.

Friday, 30 October 2009

More than meets the eye?

Eye Eye..Wot 'ave we 'ere!
On the left is a print advert for the Government's new 2009 'Think' campaign...this one is for the drug driving awareness advert and the effects of cannabis on pupil dilation.
The advert was created by advertising agency Leo Burnet and illustrated by Sean Freeman. The agency's Johnathan Burley said, 'The challenge for my team was to bring "Your eyes will give you away" to life in posters...we wanted to do this in a visually arresting and unusual way.

The image on the right is an illustration that I designed in 2005 as an experiment. Clearly there is a quality issue between the two comparisons, but when you are doing it quickly for fun (2hrs), you don't take the time and do the appropriate research you need to do on a professionally paid job.

I had to take twice when I first saw this advert as it is so similar! At first I thought there might have been some sort of 'borrowing' of my idea, but on reflection I prefer to think that it is just a coincidental case of great minds think alike! However, I am comforted by the thought that I designed and created this a long time ago and it has taken four years for the industry to catch up!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Filming on the Red One

Filming on the RED was a new experience for most of the crew on the production of Light Rain. We chose to use this as opposed to the Arri D21 for a variety of reasons - the main one being cost. But with over four times the resolution of HD, for the first time a digital camera is achieving the same quality as a film camera!
The RED has a great reputation in the industry for producing images of a comparable quality to the that of a 35mm camera, so at a fraction of the cost it is no wonder that big Hollywood blockbusters like The Knowing, The Lovely Bones, District 9, Gamer, Angels and Demons (and many more) are choosing the RED over the more traditional and more expensive film alternatives.
Typical high-end HD camcorders have 2.1M pixel sensors and record with 3:1:1 color sub-sampled video at up to 30fps. RED offers the super 35mm cine sized (24.4×13.7mm) sensor, which provides 4K (up to 30 fps), 3K (up to 60 fps) and 2K (up to 120 fps) capture, and all this with wide dynamic range and color space in 12 bit native RAW. At 4K, that’s more than 5 times the amount of information available every second and a vastly superior recording quality. There are two major benefits gained from these formats; when shooting at 4k the depth of field is the same as 35mm film, giving a look that is appreciated by most directors. When shooting 2k it is possible to shoot high speed, up to 120fps, which is the rate we shot at for al of the slow motion shots on Light Rain.

Even at its lowest setting, the RED One has a bitrate of around 225 Mbs, much higher than the 140 Mbs of HD-Cam and considerably higher than the BBC minimum requirement for HD material of 100 Mbs.

Jason Torbitt was my cameraman on the production of Light Rain, he has used the RED a few times now and so he had some good feedback to give...
'Once we, as a crew, became familiar with the regime of drive changes and card changes, and waiting for the camera to initialise, it was very straightforward to operate. The camera menu is thoughtfully laid out in a well-organised way, and makes it straightforward to locate and adjust settings...
Most importantly, the quality of the image and the sheer beauty of the pictures which come from the RED, for the price, are quite incredible. With a depth of field so shallow it could easily be mistaken for 35mm, and full HD images where every drop of water stands out to the human eye, it looks stunning!'
As a director using the RED was quite an effortless process. It comes with an on-board 5.6" LCD screen which is very clear, even in bright light with rain drops all over it! I could easily view the screen which is either mounted on the camera or hand-held with a 2m cable. And it was also possible to connect up to an HD Monitor where I could view the playback at a higher quality and check the framing, composition and focus.
It also had the added bonus that the lenses where easy to change. Most lens changes require quite a bit of dexterity and time, but the RED was quicker and easier which gained valuable time in change-over between shots.

However, I can't sing the praises of the RED too much. As Jason reminds me that it becomes a very bulky creature when it is fully-loaded with accessories. I remember on the day of the shoot I had allocated 30mins of stedicam work for Jason and this meant running along side the actors with a very heavy rig. I don't think I was too popular at that particular time! Add to that a production matte box, filters and follow focus, handheld work with the shoulder brace on an 85mm became a definite challenge, but at least he had a good workout!
Jason also mentioned that there are also some minor glitches and errors which can occur, including errors with recording to the drives, or issues with capturing in post.
'There are also odd faults with differing builds. One such example is during playback. I’m told it is a problem which sometimes occurs with Build 17 – that if sound is being recorded directly into the camera, during playback of files a green flashing occasionally flashes up on the output image. This is resolved by disconnecting both EVF and the LCD, then reconnecting them...and the fault is cured!'
Unfortunately camera errors can occur on any camera, but as technology increases and brings more options and menu setting, the likelihood for errors increases. From a director's POV the worst thing would be wasting precious production time trying to fix them or wasting time trying to work out the menu screen. That is why it is an absolute MUST to have a qualified DIT on site at all times. If you choose to cut this cost from your budget to save a few pounds, you are risking everything...my advice is, don't be penny wise and pound foolish...always to have a DIT on site!

So with a good DIT available and a cameraman with hulking muscles, I think that the RED ONE is the logical choice for any director who wants to achieve a high quality finish at a fraction of the costs. I can't wait to use it again!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Perfecting Perfect Photography

Mazda 3 Photo Retouching
Great photography is a master class in itself, but all too often the photograph is just the first process in a long chain of production.

Above is a 'before and after' comparison of some recent work I did for the new Mazda 3. It shows three possible reasons for retouching a photograph.

1.Mistakes. The photograph was originally shot at a studio in Europe. This means that the car was a left-hand drive and therefore the driver, wheel and column needed to be painted out.

This was quite a tricky thing to do as you then have to paint back all the glass reflections over the top of the treated areas.

2. Imperfections. Even the best photographs will have imperfections somewhere in the composition. Technology and bandwidth has moved on at such a pace that mega pixels, bitrates and download space has vastly moved on as well. Viewers these days can expect to download higher res images without impacting on file size restrictions. This means that the days of hiding imperfections in a small unseeable image are long gone and images that can be zoomed into need to hold up under a closer scrutiny.

People know what to expect and they are becoming more aware of quality as they become more familiar with image based home software. Nowadays ALL people are amateur photography critics as they can expand their knowledge with Photoshop and display their own work on social sites like Flickr, Picasa and Facebook.

The average user has become wise to photography techniques and can spot imperfections a mile away. So for expensive high-end advertising you need to have a perfect image - one that sets apart from average standards.

In this image, the natural lighting in the studio caused a lens flair to refract on the Mazda logo on the bonnet. So naturally the client wanted to have a clear view of their brand logo.

3. FX. I am a strong believer that if it is at all possible then you should always try to capture the whole image in the camera without the use of FX. But naturally there are times when due to time, budget, weather,etc it is not always possible to capture the correct shot. Hence post-production FX are recruited!

Here the client wanted the effects of speed and motion blur on the car. Naturally it would be more dangerous to shoot a moving car and also you lose the control on where the motion blur affects. By shooting a static car, the photographer is able to control the lighting on the car and get a crisp and detailed image. By adding the motion blur in post, we can affect certain areas of the car while maintaining the clarity and detail of the rest of the vehicle.

Friday, 16 October 2009

NEW FILM: Julian Barnes' contracts have arrived

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters is a novel by Julian Barnes published in 1989. It is a collection of short stories in different styles; however, at some points they echo each other and have subtle connection points. Most are fictional but some are historical.

"The Survivor" is the fourth story in this novel. It is set in a world in which the Chernobyl disaster was "the first big accident" with the expected next step being nuclear attack. 

The main character in the story is a woman who is so disillusioned with her life, she feels that the only way to escape and manage to survive the 'end of the world' is to take to the seas. Which she does with food rations and two cats. The story is mainly consisted of her struggle to survive a nuclear holocaust and we are informed of this through a series of lucid dreams and rants.

"Frequently brilliant, funny, thoughtful, iconoclastic and a delight to read." -- Salman Rushdie, Observer

It is no doubt that this great story would make an equally great film. So with that said I have great pleasure in revealing that I have now received the signed contracts from Julian and his agent to start work doing just that. The plan is to start treatments as soon as possible (now) with a view to completing principal photography in September 2010.

It is certainly a daunting task ahead of me for the next year and all I keep hearing in my ears is how Steven Spielberg said he never wanted to film on water EVER again after the nightmare it caused on 'Jaws'. Add animals (two cats) to the mix and we have a recipe for a very frustrating shoot. - But if you don't stretch yourself, try new ideas and push your boundaries, then how will you ever improve as a film maker?

You can view more of Julian Barnes' work here at his official website http://www.julianbarnes.com/

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A lovely little animation

I found this animation while trawling through dozens of videos on Radar Music Videos.com. It reminds me of an old Bombay Sapphire Gin advert that was created by Psyops www.psyop.tv/bombay  It is a lovely style animation and some very nicely executed ideas to go with the song...good work guys!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Light Rain Premiers at the Roxy Bar

The 5th Renderyard Short Film Festival runs from 10th to 11th October and supports the screening of new short films. The Festival also includes music videos, film titles, scripts and film scores.
The Festival is held in London and Spain each year. They screen at the best screening venue in central London which is the Roxy Bar & Screen in London Bridge.

This Year 'Light Rain' has made the official selection and is available to view on Sunday the 11th of October from 2:15pm onwards.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Up and Running on empty

So here is the first post of many to come.

Nothing to report really, I just wanted to write the first blog. Like writting on the first page of a jotter or school exercise book.
At the moment the blog is running on empty, but hopefully it won't take long to add some interesting content.