Saturday, 27 March 2010

Filmmaking In Three Acts: Act III [Review: In The Blink Of An Eye]

When it comes to editing, if you read only one book you should read Walter Murch’s book. You were going to read two books? Read it twice. As you would expect from the editor’s editor and Ridley Scott’s right hand man, it’s short, perfectly edited and easily readable on a train journey yet covers a lot of ground.

The book includes a surprisingly simple theory of editing (the title is a clue) the history of editing, a really balanced comparison of analogue and digital approaches, anecdotes from his work on some of the greatest films of all time, and many pearls of wisdom. I’m trying out some of these as I continue to work on Bast – I think he may be right about standing up to cut. Ultimately Murch’s description of editing is artistic without being mysterious or pretentious and he is not afraid to talk about “cutting out the bad bits.”

Walter Murch worked on this film which some people think is quite good.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Purrfect Storm

The Eyecat Training Collar has some serious competition - well, it made me laugh. Thanks bro.

In other news, Sci-Fi London is coming in April. I'm getting a team together again for the 48 Hour Film Challenge, but right now I'm still working on post-production for Bast in every minute I can squeeze in.

Demo of post-production work on Bast. I'm working in Blender 2.49. The steps:

Artefact reduction: Quad blurring the Cr and Cb channels in the compositor leaving the Y channel unblurred. You can't see this step at all if you're watching at 360p as YouTube tends to add in some lovely artefacts of its own. If you're watching at 480p look at the candle during this step.

Colour consistency: lift gamma gain balancing in the VSE so all the shots in a scene look similar. Blender 2.5 will include colour balancing nodes in the compositor as well, seriously speeding up the process.

Lighting: adding or reducing highlights - meshes with gradient textures in the 3D scene, multiplied in the compositor.

Gradients and overall colour look: adding local colour uses same approach as lighting step. Overall colour look is a colour curves node that is applied equally to all the shots in the same scene. Here I've just bowed the red and green channels slightly to add warmth.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Reducing DV Artefacts in Blender

MiniDV is a compressed format. It could be far worse - it's still very watchable on TV but the colour blocking is very visible when viewed on a large screen. However the luminance information (Y) is stored at much higher quality than the colour information (Cr and Cb) which provides the DV Rebel with a way of reducing the artefacts. Here's a close-up and closer-up before processing:A noodle network to separate and quad blur the two colour channels leaving the luminance (Y) channel untouched. As luminance is stored at higher quality, the detail in the image is retained, although if you blur the colours too much you can still get overspill, loss of contrast and very very slow rendering. The close-up shows less colour blocking and the picture will stand up to slightly more scrutiny. Quad blur is slightly better than flat blur at preserving sharper edges.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Filmmaking In Three Acts: Act II [Review: DV Rebel's Guide]

Stu Maschwitz's book is far less comprehensive than the Guerilla Blueprint, but what it does it does well. Explanations of how to stage action sequences, including use of airsoft guns, together with the visual effects or special effects needed to stitch it all together are particularly helpful. It’s totally written for the zero budget digital filmmaker and is well suited to short films. The author is an experienced special effects man and one of the developers of the Magic Bullet software package – and here describes several ways of digitally enhancing DV footage, as well as the best description of colour correction witchcraft I’ve yet found. Stu successfully avoids writing an advert for Magic Bullet, sadly instead it becomes an advert for After Effects which features heavily and exclusively. I’m currently working out a noodle network/sequencer setup to remove DV artefacts and perform some of the other tricks in Blender – watch the (CrCb quad blurred) skies.

Stu directed The Last Birthday Card which is used as an example throughout the book. It's a fun & occasionally brilliant short that demonstrates the strengths, and to be fair some of the weaknesses, of the DV Rebel approach. You can watch it here (via bifsniff who also reviewed this book).

The Last Birthday Card

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Filmmaking In Three Acts: Act I [Review: Guerilla Filmmaker's Movie Blueprint]

The way to learn filmmaking is to make a film. However when I'm planning a film or stuck at any part of the process I tend to turn to a small number of moviemaker bibles: this article is the first of three book reviews. The first bible is The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Movie Blueprint byChris Jones. This large book covers each role on a film crew, e.g. scriptwriter, producer, director, caterer, lights, sound, editor etc. It’s written for filmmakers at three different low-budget levels each with a different sized crew and covers the whole process from concept and script to mastering and distribution. It’s more broad than deep, but as it is so comprehensive it’s an excellent reference, and really helped me to grasp the basics.

Author Chris Jones worked on the feature Urban Ghost Story with director Genevieve Jolliffe. I'm waiting to receive my copy of this film which was generally well received.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Loneliness Of The Science Fiction Writer [Review: Martian Child]

Martian Child is a film, based on a semi-autobiographical novel, about the relationship between a science fiction writer and his adopted child who believes he is from Mars. It’s a nice gentle but sincere drama, a kind of mixture of K-PAX and E.T. with some occasional silliness. It's reviewed on Mish Sci Fi Musings here – I’m glad I followed up the recommendation and have nothing more to add either about the film as a whole or the adaptations made by the novelist when writing the screenplay.

Two thoughts, though: firstly, science fiction writers are always portrayed as loners in fiction, with Tony Leung in 2046 playing perhaps the loneliest of all. Here John Cusack’s character is doubly alone, having spent his own childhood inventing fantasies, and more recently become a widower. I don’t think this reflects real life, the few sci-fi authors I know or have met seem to be pretty gregarious types.

Secondly, where did all that Polaroid film come from? If I’ve read one blog about the artistic merits of this obsolete photographic format I’ve read about a billion, and every single one bemoans the difficulty in obtaining film stock. There’s even an open-source style project by Polaroiders to invent an alternative. Yet a child in a care home is apparently able to score an unlimited supply: someone should check out that child’s eBay account.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Mega Novella vs Giant Novel part 2: Now Weight For Last Year

I previously commented in this post on the trend of increasing size of science fiction novels. In his author's blog, Charles Stross has answered all my questions, and just about any other question you might have thought of, about the commercial and physical forces that shape the size of the sci-fi novel - including the way his own long novels have been divided up into several shorter texts. Novels are indeed sold like grocery items!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Aspire Two

Something to aspire to: two animated shorts that are clearly labours of love. Christina Beard's film has a traditional narrative, a classical score, lots of action and a great mix of CGI and beautiful hand-drawing.

Marauder's Mistake from Christina Beard on Vimeo.

While Christina's MMO-like fantasy setting allows for some magical touches, Alex Blawion's Blender-produced film is a fantastic voyage that maxes out the senses: a glowing, hooded figure propels itself through crackling ice cubes, swarms of jellyfish umbrellas and a lonely, alien world. The setting reminded me a little of Stephen Baxter's Flux, in which altered humans live and swim in a magnetic plasma.

In-Between Ends from Alex Glawion on Vimeo.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Pandora's (Slightly Smaller) Box Of Oscars

Clearly the Academy Judges agreed with me: there was indeed no argument that Avatar deserved nominations for Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects as these were the three wins. A great achievement, but "only" a good film. In some ways the situation is similar to Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) which was nominated for seven Oscars but only won Best Effects for some impressive envelope-pushing by John P. Fulton.

I have yet to see The Hurt Locker, this year's success story. I missed it the first time around as I'm not all that keen on straight war movies (I prefer films like Lord Of War or Wag The Dog) but I'm now extremely keen to see it. The Academy can be a little proud this year but should still be ashamed of it's failure to recognize female directors: no previous wins in this category and only three previous nominations (Lina Wertmuller - Seven Beauties 1976, Jane Campion - The Piano 1993, Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation 2003) plus two female director winners of the Best Foreign Language Film award. Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola did win Best Screenplay Oscars. [source:]

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The City and the Shawl

Continuous Conveyor Belt City was one of Superstudio's Twelve Ideal Cities. A giant factory rolls across the landscape at 40 centimetres per hour, devouring resources and leaving a trail of brand-new buildings which start to decay after only a few months - richer families move house two or three times per week to stay within the newest, shiniest apartments, while the poor and social outcasts live amongst the wreckage further back along the trail. CCBC is clearly a satire on waste and consumerism, and could theoretically represent any city or suburb, although in this interview architect Octavio Zaya argues that Detroit works on a similar principle albeit at one quarter the speed.

A version of CCBC also features in Tony Ballantyne's novel Capacity: the Factory is transported into orbit, and the City hangs down towards the Earth as The Shawl, with sectors that gradually move down until they are eventually released to burn up in the atmosphere. As with the original CCBC, The Shawl is a symbol of impermanence, the philosophy of the computers and Social Care workers who appear to be guiding humanity in this complex story of cyberspace clones, artificial intelligences and Von Neumann machines.