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Anyone who’s watched Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver surely remembers, or has remained haunted by, many images from the film, most of which — if not all— began as humble pencil drawings. Like many major motion pictures, Taxi Driver began not just as a script but also as a storyboard, the piece of comic book-like sequential art filmmakers use to plan shots, camera movements, and character placements. Some directors, like Ridley Scott, spend time crafting detailed storyboards, while others, like the thoroughly improvisational Werner Herzog, don’t use them at all. Scorsese falls somewhere in between, sketching out storyboard panels that feel more like brief notes to himself and his closest collaborators. You can see them alongside the Taxi Driver scenes they produced in the video above.
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SOURCE and Credit: FRAMESTORE
Alfonso Cuarón’s remarkable blockbuster Gravity has enjoyed fantastic critical success, collecting enough stars from film reviewers to fill the galaxy it so devotedly depicts. But how were those stunning images made? By taking a film crew up 372 miles above the earth? In fact those mesmerising images were planned and created here in Soho, London. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster made in Britain, from pre-production, through filming, to its extensive time in post production.
“I first heard about Gravity at the beginning of 2010,” says Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber, a long-time collaborator of Cuarón’s and the man he approached to help realise a film no one knew how to make, “Alfonso came in and talked us through the movie for 45 minutes and it was gripping. We all came out really excited having heard it.” At that point it was unclear to what extent visual effects (VFX) and Webber’s team at Framestore would be needed.
“There was a stage initially where it was going to be made with actors in real space suits,” Webber continues, “they would have been hung up on wires on partial sets and we would have extended it and put in the background.” In the end considerably more of it is CGI than first discussed, and in fact considerably more of it is computer generated than real. In the majority of shots the only elements captured with a camera are the faces. The vastness of space, the Earth, the stars (all 30 million of them), the space shuttles, Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station (ISS), the copious and equally villainous fragments of debris, even the space suits: they were all made by visual effects artists at Framestore.
It was no simple process – everything had to be fastidiously planned. The first step down the three-and-a-half-year road to making Gravity’s visuals was the pre-vis, a basic animation process common to all films that blocks out the action in each scene before filming starts. But for Gravity it was anything but basic – it was meticulous. “We spent about a year planning it before we shot it. By the time we turned up on set the film was pretty much locked” says VFX Producer Charles Howell.
Webber elaborates on the need for such a detailed plan: “It needed to be heavily pre-vised for a number of reasons, obviously technically as we needed to work out the camera moves but also because when you’ve got a 12 minute continuous shot and it’s set in space where you’ve got a camera that can roam absolutely anywhere and you’ve got people that can roam absolutely anywhere too – upside down, underneath, over the top, everywhere – the degrees of freedom are much greater. Therefore to design the shot creatively so that it worked without the benefit of editing [Cuarón is famous for his long shots] takes a lot of work, so pre-vis was a big process.” It was lit by cinematographer Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki during this period – an unheard of move for live action, but a necessary one ahead of a very complicated shoot at Shepperton studios. Even the use of Stereo 3D, so often criticised as an afterthought, was planned during pre-vis with Stereoscopic Supervisor Chris Parks. The original script did read ‘Gravity: A Space Adventure In 3D’ after all.
With the pre-vis complete, Webber and his accomplices set about creating the techniques that would help simulate micro gravity – cutting out the need for hundreds of trips in ‘the vomit comet’, the specially designed aircraft that Nasa use to provide a few seconds of near weightlessness. Both Tim and Alfonso had been up in it themselves for research, but instead chose a combination of motion controlled cameras and light rigs. Collaborating with Bot & Dolly Motion Control and the on-set special effects team (the masters of physical, in-camera effects as opposed to the computer-based world of visual effects), cameras were strapped to huge robotic arms and George Clooney and Sandra Bullock were put in a variety of different rigs, many newly developed for the film. Then the solution of the lightbox was hit upon and the cramped LED box known on set at ‘Sandy’s cage’ took over a large part of the filming responsibility. In its standard configuration the box would be a 10m cube, with huge LED panels containing almost two million lights making up its walls.
The use of LEDS allowed Chivo to light the actors which much greater flexibility than traditional film lights – the different colours reflecting off the Earth, moonlight, sunlight and starlight could all be replicated. Bullock would be strapped to a rig in the centre of the box as the camera moved around her, achieving the illusion that it is her that moves. The camera could zoom in and out from any position and it would race towards her and stop dead, just centimetres from her face. It was a highly unusual, VFX-led filming process. “When I was on set with the lightbox and the robots I thought ‘I’ve never seen a set-up like this’ says Framestore VFX Supervisor, Rich McBride. “I’d just never heard of anyone doing anything like it. I knew this film was going to be groundbreaking.”
“We were providing motion control moves for the rigs, but also generating a full immersive digital environment on-set using LED screens” explains CG Supervisor Chris Lawrence. “Having to control that in real time was an interesting challenge! I don’t think there’s great precedent of that being done before on a movie. At the time we did it I don’t think anyone had done it the way we had with a box that completely surrounds an actor and having to bring live CG elements in.” Cuarón himself has said that he sees the technique as the next step in cinematography because of the amazing complexity of colour that LED lights can give, so we may see the it become more common. After six months at Shepperton the film was shot, but it certainly wasn’t finished. Cuarón had captured the human performances – the raw emotions of Bullock’s character Ryan as she tries to stay alive in an inhospitable place – now it was time to head back to Framestore to create the universe around her.
For Cuarón accuracy was paramount. He wanted the film to feel like a space documentary gone wrong and for everything to be rooted in reality wherever it could be. “There was an awful lot of research to be done in the way things look and the way things work in space, the way things move” says Webber. “We had to retrain the animators to an extent as they are so used to portraying weight. It’s one of the hardest things to portray and our animators have it in their blood. Then suddenly there is no weight. The physics of outer space are completely different, it’s not just the zero gravity, it’s the zero air resistance, so once something starts moving it will keep moving and it won’t ever slow down. Things like that. We had little physics lessons with a whiteboard and discussed the implications of the physics with Alfonso.”
“He’s is a stickler for reality up to the point where there is no other way. We went to every length to be real and to desperately find ways to fit in with the story in a way that was possible in space. But every now and then you have to break it. At one point we were talking to an astronaut about how a shuttle disengages and he told us that one initial process of it take four minutes. Obviously we weren’t going to sit there for four minutes while something happened! That would make for a dull film.”
Building the galaxy’s biggest junk pile
One of the most difficult tasks was building everything. Just as they would be on a traditional set, every element had to be made in CG. “Building the space suits, the space shuttles, the Hubble Telescope, the ISS and everything else was a huge challenge because people know what they look like” says Howell. “The interior sets, which are all CG inside the ISS, were phenomenally detailed too, and every bit of that had to be modelled by someone. It took over a year to build everything. We never really stopped – we were constantly adding detail.”
Leading this digital construction team was Ben Lambert, who is proud of the lengths they went to make the models as accurate as possible. “With the ISS in particular it’s made up of around 50 modules, each sent up at a different time over the last 25 years. It’s the galaxy’s biggest jigsaw, but also its biggest junk pile – there’s actually a lot of redundant technology up there. So we couldn’t just throw a great big sci-fi kit all over it, make it look cool and put shiny chrome aerials on there. We had to source photographs really carefully. You could probably look at one of our interior shots and a photo of the ISS and work out what module the scene is in, it’s that accurate.”
Another demanding process was getting the faces shot at Shepperton to line up exactly inside their CG space suits – a difficult task even when the camera has been programmed. “You could plan an entire shot, but you couldn’t plan exactly what Sandra was going to do once she was in the box” says Compositing Supervisor Anthony Smith. “It’s like we made three films – we pre-vised a film, we shot a film and then we made another that was based on what we shot. Everything had to be fitted to what happened on set.”
When it comes to the animation some might assume much of the movement was achieved through motion capture, but as it was impossible to observe movement happening in zero gravity, much of what could be captured wasn’t relevant, despite being very useful as reference. The vast majority of the animation was actually painstakingly key-framed by hand. It wasn’t just the two actors that needed animating either: much like the Earth looming in the background, Gravity’s camera is in many ways another character. “We spent as much time animating it as we did the astronauts” says Animation Supervisor Max Solomon. “It’s used to disorientate the audience and to try and break the sense of there being an up and a down. We kept it shifting constantly.”
To render Gravity on just one machine you would need to start before the dawn of Egyptian civilisation.
Alfonso Cuarón’s characteristic longs shots made the whole process more difficult. A common remark from the VFX team is that there was nowhere to hide, no quick ways of establishing a shot – everything they created was on full display, maybe for ten minutes at a time. Their work had to stand up to intense scrutiny. “The amount of planning and additional work that came about because of the long shots was enormous, it shouldn’t be underestimated.” says Chris Lawrence. After hitting a button the team would often have to wait more than two days to see if a particular simulation had worked.
It wasn’t just the long shots, the whole process took a very long time and an awful lot of computer power. To render Gravity on a single core machine with a single processor in it and be ready for 2013 you would need to start before the dawn of Egyptian civilisation. Renders rarely look right the first time and comments need to be given and addressed – typing into a program called Shotgun, Gravity’s VFX Co-ordinators wrote the equivalent of four copies of War and Peace while taking notes during feedback.
One sequence that had people tearing their hair out is ironically one of the film’s most calming, when we see Bullock’s character Ryan curled up in the foetal position, floating in the relative safety of the ISS. It was filmed with one of Bullock’s legs strapped to a stool, with three robots, one for the camera, one to control a spotlight behind the ISS porthole and the other to move the porthole all revolving around her. In the finished shot it is her that spins around, both legs free, removing a space suit which never really existed. “It was one of the hardest shots” says Rigging Supervisor Nico Scapel. “We’d already built the suit, but now we had to take it off. We were really worried about it for a while.” Entire sections of her had to be made in CG, including the leg that had been strapped to the seat on set, and there are countless techniques used at every point. “It’s always difficult when you have interaction with a live actor and CG dynamics because you need to match the movement with something that has been shot” says Simulation Supervisor Sylvain Degrotte. “I’d like to see what the audience thinks is CG and what is life.”
“There are always bits people will assume are CG, like the wide shots of the shuttle, because they know it can’t be filmed” says Webber. “But there are bits that people just assume have been filmed, for instance a mid-range shot when she’s working on the Hubble [image above]. Lots of people have seen it and asked us what we did there – they had no idea that it’s basically all CG apart from her face. It’s like on Children of Men, [for which Tim supervised the delivery of a CG baby, and was nominated for a VFX Bafta] when I last worked with Alfonso, when someone came out of the cinema saying something along the lines of ‘I can’t believe they got that woman to give birth on screen’ and then you just think ‘yes!’”
That’s the aim for Gravity: that those years of extremely hard work by over 400 people went unnoticed and people walked out of the cinema wondering how they got a film crew up into space. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job.
To read the full list go TheBlackandBlue
“Operating the wheels needs to become second nature as it can be a disaster if the technique of operating distracts from the relationship that an operator has with the subject.
When I was starting I practiced doing figures of eight with the wheels and progressed to signing my name with them. I don’t feel the need to practice anymore but I do reassure myself that I can still sign my name each time I start a new film, if I am using a gear head.
A gear head is not everyone’s choice and I don’t always carry one but it does have distinct advantages on certain set ups and on certain films.”
“I am very wary of showing too much in the way of plans and diagrams. Not because I am secretive and I don’t want to give away something that is personal. Not at all!
I just remember that when I began as a film maker and a cinematographer I never watched another cinematographer at work. The closest I ever got to seeing ‘how it was done’ was by shooting some documentary footage of Doug Slocombe at work on ‘Pirates of Penzance’. I loved seeing him work but it had absolutely no influence on the way my work evolved.
Our styles could not be more different. That’s my point really. You can’t learn your craft by copying me or anyone else. I hope what I do can do is in some way inspire others but I would be appalled if I though my work was being studied as ‘the right way to do the job’.
My way is just one of an infinite number of ways to do the job.”
“Sometimes, as with the death row scenes on ‘Dead Man Walking’, it is better to compromise composition, lighting and perhaps even sound a little and shoot with two cameras in order to help an actor get their performance. Sometimes it is better to go wider to include a prop in frame than break an actor’s concentration.
When an actor appears on set ready to do a take it may be too late to change anything. At that time if I see a bad shadow or an eyeline that is slightly off I might talk to the actor or I might not. Perhaps I might think it better to change things for take two. If not then I judge it my mistake and I must try not to let it happen next time.
In the end a film can look lousy but work because of a great performance but not the other way round. That’s something always worth remembering.”
“I do have a problem with the ease with which you call what we do ‘art’. That is for someone else to conclude. To me it is a job, a creative job that I love to do but a job nonetheless.
The collaborative aspect of the job is very important but then so is the hierarchical nature of a film crew. Every film is the Director’s film and we must never lose sight of that.”
“Cinematography is more than a camera, whether that camera is a Red an Alexa or a Bolex. There is a little more to it that resolution, colour depth, latitude, grain structure, lens aberration etc. etc. etc. The lenses use for ‘Citizen Kane’ were in no way as good as a Primo or a Master Prime and the grain structure in that film is, frankly, all over the place. But the cinematography? Well, you tell me.”
“I usually do suggest one format over another for a particular film but the final decision belongs with the director, as with any other aspect of production. Like most of the decisions I make it is, for the most part, an instinctive one based on a sense of the film I get from reading the script.
Some films, like ‘The Assassination of Jesse James…’ or ‘Jarhead’, lend themselves more obviously to a wide screen format whereas I could never imagine ‘House of Sand and Fog’, “The Man Who Wasn’t There’ or even ‘Shawshank Redemption’ in a wide screen format.
I would say my preference is for a wide screen image shot in Super 35mm on spherical lenses but the majority of films I have shot have been standard 1:85.”
“In the final analysis you can only judge picture quality by eye and make a personal decision as to what you like and what you don’t like. Perhaps some people really can not see a difference between a 2K scan and a 4K scan of the same negative and I am sure some people really do prefer the look of an image produced by the Red Camera to one shot on film.
The choice of a camera system is no different than the choice of a lens set, a camera position or where to put a lamp.”
“I don’t know what other cinematographers do but my assistant hires our crew. We do sometimes take on a local PA but not often a trainee. Everything is done on per project and the budget has a big influence on who we hire and where they come from. I tend to do lower budget films and hence we hire at least the loader and the PA locally. Sometimes the 2nd AC also.”
“Personally, when I am shooting a film I am totally focused on the job in hand and find even having a silent observer detrimental. There are many people who ask to be a part of my crew or to merely observe on a production that I might be shooting. Because of my hesitancy to accede to their requests perhaps my consequent feeling of guilt has led to the creation of this site.
For good or bad I never, as a student, had the luxury of observing another cinematographer at work on a set. It was only when I came to work in the US that I actually visited another set. I say this because I genuinely feel that cinematography, like photography in general, is not something that can be learned but, pretentious as it may sound, can only be discovered.”
“The 1st AC’s job is one of the most responsible on the whole crew. I know I could never do it and I have great admiration for someone who does the job well. I have worked with the same 1st AC for many years and we are very much in sync. I do think judging focus is very much intuitive but it is also the job of the operator to watch for image sharpness and for the timing of a pull etc.
Sometimes, as when I am making up the shot or on a particularly tight close up, I will work on a fluid head and have one hand on the focus knob just as if I were shooting a documentary. When you are working fast and without real rehersals, as is becoming the norm, there is little choice to do otherwise.”
“The first thing I should say is that I work with a very special assistant and he rarely needs to work from marks. If I am shooting hand held, as I was in the boxing for ‘Hurricane’ or for pretty much all of ‘Jarhead’, my assistant will attach a remote focus to the camera or I will control the focus myself. I find this is the only way sometimes, especially if I am ‘creating’ shots as things unfold. I spent many years shooting documentaries where I always controlled the focus myself as the kind of films I was shooting demanded a very instinctive way of following the subject.
You could use a fast stock to get a greater depth of field but, in truth, it would give you relatively little advantage. You might need to build the light levels to an F8.0 to gain any real advantage from lens depth of field. I would suggest using an experienced assistant at the end of a remote focus system.”
“My equipment list actually changes very little from film to film. Of course equipment has advanced and that has made for different choices but the basic idea of the package is the same.
I have worked with Andy for some time now and I rely on him to test the package before a shoot. We work together on concocting any special items such as the ‘helmet cam’ for shooting the game in ‘The Ladykillers’ and we usually spend a day shooting tests even if the film is quite straightforward.”
“I generally feel intimidated! One of my first films was with Richard Burton and I felt intimidated by his talent (‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’!!!), at least I felt was until he gathered the crew, thanked us all for one of the most pleasant days he had ever experienced on a film, and then told us he had in fact felt totally intimidated by our youth!”
“As I have said before every director is different and may require something different from a cinematographer. The onus is on the cinematographer to find out how best to work for and with a director and with other members of the crew, for that matter.”
To read the full list go TheBlackandBlue
To create the world of Asgard in Thor: The Dark World, filmmaker Alan Taylor enlisted the help of digital effects company The Third Floor. Using a process called previsualization, The Third Floor created fully rendered low-res CG sets and characters, allowing the director to see, plan out, and experiment with scenes before shooting them.
This is one of the most interesting music videos I have seen in a While.
Directed by Fleur & Manu
Produced by DIVISION
Editing, grading & compositing at Home Digital Pictures
SFX by Machine Molle & Mathematic
Please read the related article here: cinema5d.com/news/?p=22066
When director Jan Woletz asked me to join his team as a DP and help creating a teaser for his (hopefully) up coming “Wienerland” web series I immediately said yes!.
Besides the fun of realising other peoples dream, it was a good chance to quickly test before and in between takes the new Sony A7 that landed a day earlier on our desk (together with the A7r and the RX10) and give it a run for a “low light” test.
To the full article: cinema5d.com/news/?p=22066
Read the details on this review here:
Instagram is an incredible resource for all kinds of images. I wanted to create structure out of this chaos. The result is a crowd source short-film that shows the endless possibilities of social media.
The video consists of 852 different pictures, from 852 different instagram users. If you are one of them, shout and I will add you to the credits.
music: The black Keys – Gold on the ceiling
This is a very interesting making of an underwater shooting, a friend of mine from Mexico did, held at Cenote Car Wash, Quintana Roo, México. It talks about the vision of the photographer and the inspiration behind the shooting with a free diver champion.
MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci has described Prager’s work as “intentionally loaded,” saying “it reminds me of silent movies – there is something pregnant, about to happen, a mix of desire and angst.”
Inspired by the photography of Weegee and Enrique Metinides, and films such as Metropolis and Un Chien Andalou, Compulsion confirms Prager’s vivid cinematic aesthetic. Unlike her previous work, however, the protagonists remain anonymous and distant.
By Scott Beggs
Terrence Malick loves using images of fire and water in his films. He also loves earth and air, so he’s got all of 450BCE’s favorite elements locked down. This minute-long exploration fromkogonada juxtaposes scenes from Malick films in order to find some structural and contextual similarities between the way the filmmaker uses those first two elements.
It’s gorgeous, as Malick’s work tends to be, but it’s also fascinating to see how he captured some of the same shapes from two very different entities, as well as how people and other natural structures impact the visuals. The video composition is truly stunning, but more than anything it goes to prove how deliberate Malick is as a filmmaker (even when, you know, he’s slicing entire performances out of the final cut).
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