Monday, December 10, 2018

A Shot from "True Lies"


If I were in charge, I’d create a Visual Effects Hall of Fame, an early inductee would be this shot from “True Lies” (1994). The denouement of an enormous, spectacle-filled action scene is deceptively simple—a classic ‘you think you know what you’re seeing but you don’t.’

In context: we’ve just been through an outrageous action sequence involving a Harrier jet, a crane at the top of a skyscraper and missiles. Lots of quick cutting, action and chaos. After all the havoc, a 19 second long shot of our heroes landing on the ground is a welcome relief.

The shot design: a fancy fighter jet is landing with the camera at a safe distance, slowly dollying forward. The camera move is modest. There’s nothing obvious to subconsciously telegraph to the audience that there are any camera tricks or visual effects used in the shot.

The shot continues: the heat ripple and flying debris feel natural and not over the top. The police car in the foreground physically shields us from the jet, giving us a slight sense of security, even when the jet bumps into it. Again, the camera is being conservative… until the jet lands. The audience is fully expecting a cut to a closeup of Schwarzenegger emerging from the cockpit (rather than revealing the real pilot), but it doesn’t cut. The camera moves closer to reveal Schwarzenegger was in the cockpit the whole time.

Arnold sat in the cockpit of a 7,000 lb fake Harrier jet constructed by the production, which was lowered via a single cable attached to a crane. That’s really Schwarzenegger and Eliza Dushku in the shot. The bump of the police car adds fantastic verisimilitude.


The wire was erased digitally, and the spinning turbines are *not* CG, but are tracked footage of a real Harrier intake. If you’re interested in the SFX & VFX of “True Lies”, you’ve got to buy Cinefex 59 or just buy it for the Cinefex iPad Edition.

“True Lies”, visual effects supervisor John Bruno, physical effects supervisor Tomas L. Fisher. The visual effects for this shot were produced by Digital Domain. DD’s digital effects supervisor was Jacques Stroweis.

Original Tweet. 


Thursday, December 06, 2018

Two Views of "Noises Off..."


As a rabid admirer of “Noises Off...”, the irreverent 1992 film adaptation of the hit stage play, I always wondered how precisely the first act of the film (which depicts the first act rehearsal of a play) would synchronize with the second act of the film (which depicts a performance of that first act, but from the backstage perspective). So I did my best to synchronize the two sections of the film, so here it is: a single 19 and a half minute take of act one of 'Nothing On.'

Two Views of "Noises Off..." on Vimeo.

The stage play of “Noises Off...” is performed first with the ‘Nothing On’ (the play-within-the-play) set facing the audience, and then with the set spun 180 degrees so the audience can see all of the backstage antics. Film director Peter Bogdanovich took the same approach with the movie, with the camera largely remaining on the ‘audience’ side of the set during act one of the movie. For act two of the film, the camera largely remained backstage, with only occasional audience-perspective cutaways.

My approach for my synchronization edit was fairly straightforward. My first task was to create an uninterrupted “take” of the dress rehearsal performance, photographed from the audience view. This meant editing out all of the interruptions from act one of the film, mostly consisting of the director Lloyd Fellows (Michael Caine) bellowing to his actors about sardines continuity, providing motivation for his actors, and looking for Brooke’s lost contact lens.

Once that uninterrupted performance was edited together, I took the backstage-perspective (act two of the film) and cut it so it would be in sync with that audience-perspective performance. This proved to be the bigger challenge, since the backstage antics revolve around the characters’ mischief that nearly sabotages the play many times.


For the backstage edit, I did a few retimes (both speedups and slowdowns) and did my best to synchronize the lines of dialogue. Remarkably, the backstage portion of the film is fairly true to the rehearsal, with a few large gaps where moments of the script were simply not represented. For these giant gaps, I decided to fill the backstage edit with “clean” shots - backstage shots without any characters in frame. I got away with a few choice still frames, but had to create three “clean” plates, painting out John Ritter, Marilu Henner and Carol Burnett out of three different shots. I didn’t want to over use the backstage security guard reactions, gloriously portrayed by J. Christopher Sullivan, since it would quickly appear repetitive.

As the second act rolls on, the backstabbing and sabotage becomes much more disruptive to the performance of “Nothing On”, which was hard to obscure in the edit. Near the end of the edit, I had no choice but to show the massive discontinuities between the near-perfect rehearsal and the mayhem of the performance. I kept the main timing of the major beats (entrances, exits, sound cues) intact, however, as much as I could.


My editing process was quite straightforward. The play within the movie is a farce which luckily contains several slamming doors—the perfect synchronization device. After I edited the dress rehearsal footage into an uninterrupted version of the play, I grabbed the backstage footage and started synching door slams. Once I bracketed a section of footage, bookended by door slams, I looked at the clip and gently retimed or edited the chunk so that the lines of dialogue overlapped. Frequently I’d have a version of the “backstage” dialogue at a low gain, so you can hear a bit of an echo. I ended up with around 140 cuts.


The film (and the play on which it’s based) is remarkable at how it weaves the lines and actions of ’Nothing On’ with the back. I particularly love the synchronized backstage and in-play “Oh my God!” outburst from Christopher Reeve.

Another nice moment is John Ritter’s in-play line “He’s searching for something!” which synchronizes nicely with Michael Caine searching Denholm Elliot for the missing bottle of booze.


Editing all of this "Noises Off..." footage together gave me even more respect for the technical craftmanship of the screenplay, choreography and performances of the film. Not nearly enough platitudes can be given to Ritter, Henner, Burnett, Caine, Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, Reeve and Nicollette Sheridan for their remarkable, distinctive performances and dedication to these highly technical roles.






Friday, November 23, 2018

"The Fugitive" Behind Bars


This little business from "The Fugitive" (1993) of Dr. Richard Kimble sneaking around a hospital hiding ‘behind bars’ during his escape. Those bars are probably part of the location and not art directed and built by the production. Either way, a classy, understated bit of visual flair.


I can imagine a scenario where the crew started blocking the scene on location and someone had the idea of Kimble taking a moment behind those bars, and the subsequent discussion. Is it too “on the nose”? Is it too stylish for a movie like this? Shoot it two ways, for safety?

Another great example of this, from Walter Chaw from "Strangers on a Train" (1951).





Original Tweet.



Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Terminator 2" and Explosions


I'm thankful for "Terminator 2" (1991), the only action movie I can think of that took the time to show us how a fiery explosion could plausibly occur after a major vehicular collision: two, quick closeup shots of a battery lead sparking, igniting the leaking fuel behind it.


As an aside: I've been looking at T2, frame by frame, ever since its CAV LaserDisc release and this is the first time I ever noticed the first shot of this GIF has added (digital) camera shake, to help with the edit and better tie it in with the chaos of the preceding crash shots.)

original tweet


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

"Patriot Games" Diopter


Vashi Nedomansky and I joke around a lot about split diopters on Twitter, so it's time for some real talk. Shoved smack in the middle of a traditional Hollywood narrative film, they're jarring and bizarre. And the best use cases for split diopters take advantage of this. Out of context and as a still frame, this split diopter shot from "Patriot Games" (1992) seems utterly ridiculous.

"Two planes of sharpness? The only shot in the movie where this happens? Puh-leeze. It's a trick shot. The cinematographer is just showing off, whatever."

But here's the shot in context. Ryan is desperately trying to piece together fragments of his memory from the traumatic event that opened the film. The split diopter shot is from the point of view of his memory, not an omniscient, objective observer. It's supposed to be weird.


The bizarre visual nature of the split diopter feels right at home for a dream sequence, or a personal flashback moment--the shot is literally Ryan's POV as he's visually searching his memories for details, looking for evidence. An innovative use of the split focus shot.






Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Caddyshack" Long Lens Focus



A shot from "Caddyshack" (1980), filmed with a long lens, with a dramatic focus change. The same shot at 8x speed.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Robert Patrick, "T2" and Blinking


For "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), Robert Patrick learned how to fire a gun without blinking, to prepare for his role as the T-1000, a killer robot.

πŸŽ₯ 4 shots
πŸ€– 16 rounds
πŸ‘ 1 blink

The GIF at the top of this post is real-time, as it was seen in the film. If It Were Made Today™: would still have Patrick train to fire the weapon without blinking; the one blink in this sequence could be digitally painted out by a talented paint artist.






Original tweet. 



Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Cold Open for "Better Call Saul"


The cold open montage from “Better Call Saul” S4E07 is one for the ages. A narrative and technical masterpiece.

✂️ Edited by Skip Macdonald
⌨️ Written by Alison Tatlock
πŸŽ₯ Directed by Deborah Chow

original tweet



Apple Event Film 2018 vs. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"


While the music was from “Fallout”, the inspiration for Apple’s terrific opening film for the iPhone event was clearly “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”.

direct YouTube link



Monday, September 17, 2018

Twitter and Quote Tweets


Seems to me that Twitter should allow users to easily be able to view all "Quote Tweets", just like users can easily list a Tweet's Likes and Retweets.

My quick and dirty mockup of how Twitter could implement Quote Tweet tracking. Clicking on the "Quote Tweets" gives you all the instances, which is just a Twitter search for the URL of the original Tweet. This seems like low-hanging fruit.



My original tweet.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Birth of Sandman


For my money, one of the great visual effects shots of all time. "Spider-Man 3" (2007), with visual effects by Sony Pictures Imageworks.


direct YouTube link



Thursday, September 13, 2018

When You "Buy" a Movie on iTunes



There's been a lot of chatter about what exactly does it mean to "buy" a movie from iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the other online movie services.


Rene Ritchie says that when iTunes severs a licensing agreement for a particular film, the film disappears from the iTunes Store. You can no longer stream the film from Apple servers, even if you "bought" it. (However, if at some point you had downloaded the movie to your Mac/iPhone, you would still be able to watch that movie, even after it leaves the store, apparently.)

If Apple (and Amazon Prime Video, Comcast, etc.) were a little more honest about what it meant to "Buy" a movie on their service, I think the user interface buttons would look a little different.







Wednesday, September 12, 2018

An Editing Trick in "Terminator 2" and "The Road Warrior"


To add impact to a shocking moment of extreme violence, director Jim Cameron and the editors of "Terminator 2" used a very old-fashioned, low-tech editing trick.


A single frame of solid white was added into the edit precisely at the moment of impact. Nestled within a predominantly dark sequence, the quick 1/24th-of-a-second flash of bright light shocks the audience and makes the moment that much more striking.


"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1982): another example of adding a single bright frame in the middle of the edit to intensify a moment of personal violence.


Unlike the "T2" example, the frame is a single frame of overexposure (rather than a white solid color).


There's also jump cut to a different take a just before the head butt, which is hardly noticeable in real-time, especially with the added subsequent flash frame.


Another example from "The Road Warrior", again with a single frame of overexposure to punctuate the impact.








Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Myth of the "Jaws" Shooting Star


The GIFs below were part of a Tweetstorm where I attempted to debunk the whole "the Jaws shooting stars were real and actually happened on camera" mythology. These read better as tweets than as a blog post, so see the thread here, if you want.

All these "Jaws" tweets reminds me to dig up my half-finished project files debunking the whole "those shooting stars were real" myth.

A'ight , I'm just going to post these in their current state, w/no context. I planned to talk day-for-night, fast lenses, film stock, exposure of stars, depth of field, motion blur, tracking, hand-drawn animation composited into live-action... but nobody's got time for that.

I planned to talk day-for-night, fast lenses, film stock, exposure of stars, depth of field, motion blur, tracking, hand-drawn animation composited into live-action... but nobody's got time for that.



For more reactions, visit the original Twitter thread.


Motion Smoothing is Bad


Just about every single TV sold in the U.S. has ‘motion smoothing’ switched on by default.

The TV attempts to create additional temporal frames, to make the motion feel “smoother” and less jerky. This makes movies (shot and projected at 24fps) appear smeary and wrong.

Films seen on a TV with motion smoothing on are not being presented properly. The “new” look changes the emotional impact of every single scene. This is not how the film was intended to be seen; this is similar to the appalling process of colorizing black & white films.

Check out the Twitter hashtag #tvninja - a TV ninja is someone who stealthily turns off motion smoothing on a TV owned by friends, relatives, or Airbnb.

Directors who have publicly fought motion smoothing include Reed Morano and Rian Johnson, who, as far as I know, came up with the hashtag #tvninja.

More, please.

Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson Battling TV Motion Smoothing


Motion smoothing goes by many different names (Auto Motion Plus, TruMotion, etc.). Turn it off. Here's a great blog post by Stu Maschwitz from 2011 properly titled, "Your New TV Ruins Movies".


"Darth Vader Being a Jerk", HD Restoration


I made a Special Edition High Definition restoration of Doomblake's video, "Darth Vader being a Jerk."

direct link to YouTube

I used an HD source of "The Empire Strikes Back" and did a frame-by-frame restoration of Doomblake's edit. Later, I realized I messed up one of the edits (a second cut to Piett), but I liked my cutaway to Veers more, so I kept it. Making arbitrary changes to source material is a Star Wars Special Edition trademark, so why not continue that tradition. I also added titles, and an actual introduction and conclusion. The audio of the new sequences is mine, but the audio from Doomblake's amazing editing is pure Doomblake.

Update: Doomblake deleted her/his YouTube account, but the good news is that I kept an archive copy of the clip.


A Low-Tech Effects Shot from "Mission: Impossible III"


This is one of director J.J. Abrams' favorite visual effects shots from his film, "Mission: Impossible III". Rather than have actor Eddie Marsan forcibly shove the prop into Tom Cruise's nose, J.J. came up with a different idea on how to accomplish the shot.

direct link to YouTube

Watch his full TED talk from March 2007 here.



Interview with "Rogue One" Animation Supervisor Hal Hickel

Hal Hickel, promoting "Rogue One" on home video, with Alan Tudyk (voice of K-2SO)

If you want to hear a fun interview with ILM animation supervisor Hal Hickel, check out his appearance on the podcast Talking Bay 94, episode 15. Hal talks about his career, how we made Tarkin and Leia for "Rogue One", and about those amazing Yoda “Empire” tests that I’ve seen with my own eyes.

Overcast link: https://overcast.fm/+NSZm6kEaA

iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/talking-bay-94/id1388494261?mt=2



Monday, September 10, 2018

The Cinematography of "Jaws"


I read this somewhere.

In an attempt to answer the question "What is great cinematography?", a solid answer is "if you can jump to any random frame of the movie and it looks *good*, THAT'S great cinematography." 

So I tried that with "Jaws" (1975):


"Jaws" cinematographer Bill Butler was nominated for an Oscar for his work on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" that same year (1975). He shared the Oscar nomination with Haskell Wexler.



Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Comparing the Color of Two "Halloween" Blu-ray Editions


Whenever there’s a chance to do an apples-to-apples comparison of something related to the art and science of filmmaking, I’ll jump on it.

“Halloween” (1978) has seen approximately 70,000 different home video releases, including multiple iterations on DVD and Blu-ray. I personally own two versions of the movie on Blu-ray: a 2007 release, and a 2013 release, which touts a new HD transfer supervised and approved by the film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey.

Rarely do studios use the name of a crewmember to help sell a new pressing of a library film. Intrigued, I wondered exactly how different could the color grading would look, with an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2007 Blu-ray release of the film. I randomly chose frames from the film to compare; I didn’t specifically seek out dramatically different color grades.


Usually when a film-to-digital transfer is completed without the involvement of the original filmmakers, educated guesses (based on the cinematic memory of whoever is behind the controls, the best film prints available, old transfers, etc.) must dictate the exposure and color choices that are required to be made. Color grading (and film-to-digital transfers) are completely subjective; in the end, “what should the film look like?” dictates how saturated, bright or contrasty the movie appears. These are creative decisions.


Even though the discrepancies between the transfers are, at times, inconsistent, the general look and feel of of the 2007 release is much brighter, warmer and saturated. If this 2013 release is truly Cundey’s original vision for the film, he always intended the print to be much darker, cooler and more muted than the 2007 release.

There is no single “correct” way to process and grade a film. Just as a filmmaker chooses the colors and textures of the film’s costumes, the filmmaker chooses the look and feel of the color grade. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and, in a perfect world, new film-to-digital transfers should be supervised by the original filmmakers. As you can see in this comparison, the 2007 “unsupervised” transfer is bright and colorful, which was not the intent of the cinematographer. For some context, take a look at this blog post from Stu Maschwitz, which shows some feature film comparisons of "before creative color grading" and "after creative color grading".


I tried to do more research and hear directly from Cundey himself, but I couldn’t find any interviews with Cundey about his involvement with the 2013 Blu-ray release. At one point, HalloweenMovies.com apparently hosted this photo of Cundey working on the transfer (the link is now dead, and I was unable to find an Internet Archive version).





The Other Marty McFly, HD Analysis


Back in July of 1986, Starlog Magazine printed an article by Bruce Gordon about "Back to the Future", in which Gordon ponders the idea of the alternate universe created in the Robert Zemeckis time-travel film. Gordon talks about the opening of the film, as we see Marty and Doc get ambushed by terrorists. Gordon speaks of a mysterious figure in the background of this opening scene, which takes place at Twin Pines Mall.

At the very instant that Doc tosses his pistol to the ground (and all eyes in the audience are following its path across the pavement), a silhouetted figure steps into that light. Less than a second later, the figure is gone, Doc has been shot and the chase is on.

I thought it would be fun to look at the artifact that Gordon supposes is "Marty II" in HD.


Clearly, it's "Marty II" back there. Or Bigfoot. Gordon wrote follow-up articles after "Back to the Future Part II" and "III" were released. They're available online via the Internet Archive.

“The Other Marty McFly” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #108, July 1986
https://archive.org/stream/starlog_magazine-108/108#page/n69/mode/1up

“The Return of the Other Marty McFly” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #54, May 1990
https://archive.org/stream/starlog_magazine-154/154#page/n12/mode/1up

“The Other Marty McFly Rides West” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #170, Sept. 1991
https://archive.org/stream/starlog_magazine-170/170#page/n15/mode/1up