Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Blackout Shot from "Hulk"

"Hulk" (2003). Visual effects by ILM. Visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, compositing supervisor Marshall Krasser. Matte painting and compositing by Todd Vaziri.

This shot began with some pre-dawn helicopter footage that slowly panned across the San Francisco skyline, showing the city losing power. I stabilized and degrained the footage, and created a few key frames on which to build my single, large painting. The city's lights were hardly visible in the footage.

To animate from lights to no-lights, I had to paint out all the lights of the city, which took a while. Then, I had to repaint every single light on the skyline as a separate layer (to animate later). Even after repainting the entirety of San Francisco's lit skyline, it wasn't visually impressive nor dramatic enough. So I basically tripled the amount of buildings and lights that are actually on the skyline. I think the original idea was to replicate the pan but starting tight on the hangar (the cause of the energy drain) then zooming out to show the skyline seemed like a better idea. I added a lot of heat lightning in the sky, and for extra credit created and animated planes in the sky and ships in the bay.

Director Ang Lee specifically wanted this shot to start at 1.85, then end in a super-wide aspect ratio, which was tricky to nail. I did the entire shot in Photoshop and After Effects on a single Mac (with two other Macs to help with rendering).

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Interpreting a Performance Through The Years

An actor's subtle, spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment decision during take 16 becomes forever immortalized on film creating cinema history. For example...

1977 interpretation of this micro-moment: Obi-Wan is emotionally preparing himself to tell a boy how his father was murdered.

1983 interpretation of this micro-moment: Obi-Wan is emotionally preparing to obfuscate the truth about a boy's father's turn to evil.

2005 interpretation of this micro-moment: Obi-Wan, remembering how he left the boy's father for dead, readies himself to obfuscate the past.

(a potential reality: Marcia/Hirsch/Chew/George chose a take with AG hesitating. AG hesitated because he momentarily forgot his line.)

Original Tweet

The Amazing Borg Queen Shot from "Star Trek: First Contact": Visual Effects Hall of Fame

If I were in charge of the universe, I’d create a Visual Effects Hall of Fame, an inductee would be this shot from "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996), directed by Jonathan Frakes. In a movie filled with spectacle, it's a quiet, jaw-dropping moment.

The introduction of the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) shows off the hybrid robot/humanoid nature of the Borg, with her seemingly humanoid head and shoulders (delivering dialogue!) being lowered and attached to a robotic body.

The first part of the shot is a challenge unto itself: a severed human torso being lowered by cables onto a body. The extra added challenge is that the body needs to be assembled and walk toward camera in an uninterrupted shot.

Alice Krige was photographed while mounted onto a motion control crane in makeup and appliances. The rest of her body is angled backwards, plainly visible to camera. Her head and shoulders, blending with the makeup effects, sells the effect. You don't notice her real-life head tilt. Krige's first performance was shot with a motion control camera sync'd with the crane (so the camera move and Krige's arc can be replicated precisely take after take). Later, Krige in full head-to-toe makeup and costume acted out the 2nd half of the shot, walking toward Data, also mo-con.

The massive shot required assembling two different pieces of performance (Krige on crane/Krige walks toward Data), blended with morphs and secondary animation (check out the hooks that pull the skin on her chest into place). Also the massive paintout of the camera and Krige's body.

And there's nowhere to hide the transitions. No lightning flashes, no smoke, no camera shake, no characters walking in front of camera (to hide a transition). It's all right there, in front of you.

Up to this point in film history, the accumulated cinematic vocabulary of a shot like this instructed audiences to expect a cut just as she's lowered into her body, since a shot like this had never really been done before. NO CUT. Then she walks toward camera. Awesome.

The Borg Queen shot: visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic, visual effects supervisor John Knoll, visual effects art director Alex Jaeger, makeup effects by Todd Masters. Read more about the making of the film's effects in Cinefex 69.

Here's John and Alex talking about the shot in an 11-minute featurette.

Direct YouTube link

original Tweet

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Shot from "True Lies": Visual Effects Hall of Fame

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.

In summary, contrary to what the mythology might be, there is no way those two shooting stars you see in "Jaws" were real-life shooting stars photographed in-camera during filming. Those shots contain animated effects work to simulate shooting stars.

/fin 🦈

For more reactions, visit the original Twitter thread.

Update, 10/24/2021, from Paul Hirsh's fantastic book "A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away: My Fifty Years Editing Hollywood Hits":

As I watched [Jaws], I noticed something odd in one of the later reels. In a low-angle close-up of Roy Scheider showing the early evening sky behind him, I saw what looked like a brief fiery streak in the sky. Later the evening at a party at Steven's hotel to celebrate the opening, I asked him about it. "Hey," he called out, "Paul Hirsch saw it! He saw the UFO!" As I had suspected, that streak was deliberate; it was a little foretaste of Steven's next picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.