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UK animation: bigger, brighter, bolder

The UK animation sector has gone from strength to strength in recent years. But with Brexit on the horizon, the industry is working hard to keep the momentum up. Jon Creamer reports 

Rewind to five years ago, and the UK animation sector was looking almost dead on its feet.

 

But then in 2012, a well-fought campaign by industry body Animation UK persuaded government to extend the kind of tax breaks to the industry already on offer to a host of competitor territories around the world. 
 

With a more level playing field created, a cowed industry burst back into life with a host of projects going into production.
 

Oli Hyatt at Blue Zoo says the change from five years ago is “unfathomable. People around the world literally didn’t think we had an industry. That was partly our fault for not selling ourselves well and partly because that was becoming the reality.”


 

Cut to the present, and just in recent months, a variety of UK studios have been expanding including Jellyfish and Axis. Blue Zoo just signed up for a multi-million pound Chinese JV. Now there’s more than just the ever mighty stalwart Aardman as a UK animation business with heft. 
 

Recent changes in kids TV, a big customer for animation (see page ?) are also making things look more positive too. “You wait ages for a bus and nothing happens,” says Animation UK’s exec chair, Kate O’Connor. “Then you’ve got the BBC announcement about new spend, the contestable fund and new Ofcom guidelines for PSBs all happening at once. That’s on top of the boost to the industry with the tax breaks.”
 

There are more outlets now for animation too. SVODs like Netflix and Amazon have become big customers and toy makers like Mattel and Hasbro have become more involved in producing shows based on their own properties. “That makes a big difference,” says Lupus Films’ Ruth Fielding. “It’s another place to go to get a show made and more potential buyers. The golden ticket is the BBC but it’s only got limited slots. Everyone’s still pitching to the same broadcasters, there’s just a slightly wider range now.”
 

 

“There’s probably never been so many opportunities to do something with animation,” says Blue Zoo’s Hyatt. “I’m not saying it’s any easier to get a commission from the BBC or to sell in to Nick, it’s not, it’s harder.” But those new outlets have big budgets, “which holds the other channels to account. If the UK broadcasters don’t keep up then kids aren’t going to watch their channels.”
 

But for the SVODs, it goes beyond kids’ TV. “They’re talking about art house animation, they’ve got ambitions to win Oscars. That could open up a whole new market for everyone,” says Hyatt.
 

Ambitions are sky high in the UK. And that includes movies. “Now it’s easier to reach global markets. The cost of producing movies has come down,” says Axis Studios’ exec producer, Andrew Pearce. “You can produce a blockbuster but not necessarily at blockbuster costs. Illuminations’ films cost around $50m, half the price of Hollywood but not half as good. DreamWorks’ Captain Underpants was produced for $38m in Canada but both those weren’t skimping on creative ambition.” And the UK is in a good place to compete on that stage, he says. “We’re a European studio with lots of European talent and historically a lot of European clients but we’re also very American. That’s true of Britain as a whole. We share American sensibilities and European sensibilities. So we can make stuff that can appeal to a huge market. We could comfortably produce a really high quality movie for $20-30m. I don’t have any worries about that at all.”
 

 

But, of course, not everything is rosy. “The big elephant in the room is Brexit,” says Jellyfish’s ceo, Phil Dobree. And any limits on the free movement of labour will have a big impact on the animation sector that, like vfx, traditionally sources its talent globally as well as locally.  “We’re a talent business. It’s like the Premier League suddenly being told they can’t have foreign players coming in. It would make the Premier League far less globally competitive. It’s fantasy to think that talent can be reproduced and replaced by UK talent in the next two or three years or even ever. If you’re going to be the best in the world, you’ve got to employ the best in the world.”
 

 

The mix is the key, says Hyatt. “The reason we are the best in the world is we’re a melting pot of ideas and cultures rubbing up against each other. Take that away and you’re stuck with a bunch of people with similar ideas and similar upbringings and you don’t get the best creativity.”
 

Brexit could also mean “you may well lose some of the other advantages of being in the EU,” says Lupus’ Camilla Deakin. Access to the Creative Europe Fund for one. “Also if you have to apply for visas, you have to pay for visas. There’s paperwork to be done and if you haven’t got a big company with an HR department...” Animation tax breaks don’t kick in right now if your crew isn’t substantially UK and EU based. Once out of the EU, will European workers on a UK production disqualify it from UK tax breaks? 
 

Even before anything regarding Brexit has become concrete, the effects are being felt. Many studios are already seeing a drift of European workers to friendlier climes. And the perception of a country shutting its doors doesn’t help a globally focused industry.
 

 

With Brexit looming, the need to be globally competitive comes into sharp relief. The tax breaks that came into play in 2013 did give the UK animation sector a tremendous shot in the arm, but those global competitors haven’t been standing still. And tax breaks around the globe are now outstripping the UK’s offer. “The tax breaks have definitely helped,” says Axis’ Pearce. “But actually we still lose a lot of pitches and don’t even enter into a lot against Canada and China and India. Ireland now has a fantastic tax deal so though ours are good and it helps us compete a little bit it’s not good enough to be a serious player.” However good you are “if you have a tax break which is half the size of somebody else’s you’re just going to lose unless you’re the only option left on the table.”
 

The UK has to keep pace, especially if Brexit hobbles the industry in other ways. As a result, Animation UK is lobbying hard to make its voice heard in government. A big part of that is showing government what an important industry animation is to the UK. That’s something that’s been stymied in the past by BFI figures about the screen industries lumping bits of animation in with film or TV or gaming. Other parts of animation are reported as part of the advertising sector. European Sector Industry Codes, where companies report what kind of business they are, does not have an animation option. The vfx industry has the same problem.
 

But this year, consultants Olsberg SPI will report the animation sector separately. “Now there’s a live survey with animation studios to get information about their size, value, downstream revenue and also their skills issue, how many people they employ and where they are from,” says Animation UK director, Helen Brunsdon. “We’ll have the first cut in September.” And that will be significant as previously animation was seen by government as a £50m sector “we’re putting estimates on closer to a billion. We need to get that data so we can start talking to government.”
 

And when you’re a billion-pound industry, government tends to listen.

Posted 03 August 2017 by Jon Creamer

Slave to the rhythm: How Baby Driver was edited

For Edgar Wright's heist movie Baby Driver, the action – from car crashes to fingers drumming on a table top – had to cut exactly to the film’s score. Editor Paul Machliss explains how it was done.



What was the starting point for you?
We were talking about the film back in 2011. Edgar had already chosen the tracks. Then we arranged them so they could segue and we could put sound effects in between each as place holders to give Edgar the inkling of where he would ultimately take it. In 2012 we did a big table read of the script in LA. He sent that audio to me and we effectively put together a 100-minute radio play of the entire film. It had all the dialogue, music and sound effects, which could be given to producers to say ‘This is the film and we’ve just got to put the pictures on top of it.’

How different was the editing process?
It’s never really been tried to this level. Every scene in the film has an associated piece of music that’s not just background, but each track is pertinent to the scene. Also, each track works within the scene whether its diegetic or the action synchs with the track, or not even action, just regular things like answering phones or opening curtains. The way Edgar’s gone about it is unique.

The shoot must have involved meticulous planning?
In 2015, Edgar worked with [editor] Evan Schiff in LA. They put together animatics for a lot of the sequences. I came on board in January last year and completed any outstanding animatics. We then had another step on from that radio play, we had the animatics too. Because you can’t just turn up on set and hope something like this is going to work.




How did you work on set?
That was the most interesting part of this film for me. During the reshoots of Scott Pilgrim and on World’s End, I’d bring the Avid to the set, take a feed off the video assist and make sure that it was all going to work. This time Edgar said that ‘considering 90% of this film has got to be bang on the music I think I’d like you down on set almost all of the time.’ I became part of the crew. I had my little Avid Media Composer kit on a trolley and I was connected to video assist. It was seat of your pants stuff. Edgar would yell ‘cut’ and turn to me and say ‘how is it?’ We had to do that because you can’t be in the cutting room six months later and realise we missed something.

Did plans meet reality once you got on set?
One motto we had for the film was we were going to use as little green screen as possible. All the stunts, all the driving, all the action actually happened on the roads of Atlanta. So you want to make sure when you’re shooting it you get it right. You knew by a certain beat in the track or by a chord change or fill the car had to be at a certain point. If the shot was a second longer than it should be you couldn’t change the music later, we had to make it fit. That is the whole purpose of the film. The music is driving everything – a drum or guitar line or vocal squeal will tie to something Edgar has pre planned. Hence the animatics, hence the idea of working out every shot. The real challenge was to make all that work out in real life. We got away with it just about.



Was there any way you could tweak things in post production?
You may have to be a little bit judicious with the track and find a point to loop a bar a couple of times. But it has to be a part of the track that can do that and doesn’t feel like you’re looping it. You have to stay true to the song, you’re not doing bad edits. The whole film has an amazing flow to it. You can watch this film as a good old rollicking action film and enjoy it just as it is. But you can also go back and watch it another time and see how meticulous it is on every level.

How long were you editing for after the shoot?
We did go into a full seven months post production schedule. We were joined by friend and fellow editor Jonathan Amos. Jon was able to take the action scenes and kick them up several notches while Edgar and I went through the whole arc of the film and made sure everything else was working. That meant that come the start of august when we had to show the film to the studio for the first time it was in a very good state. I learned from Edgar early on to get it to a really good state before showing it to producers. Let’s make it sound like we want it to sound even though it’s in the offline on the Avid. That helps immeasurably. You’re hearing backing tracks, Atmos, spot effects and if the dialogue’s got to be tweaked we’ll do that too so we’ll present the studio with as well rounded film as we possibly can.


Posted 07 July 2017 by Jon Creamer

The art of the edit

In advance of EditFest London 2017, three top film editors 
tell Jon Creamer what it takes to create the perfect cut


Pietro Scalia
The Martian, Gladiator, Alien: Covenant,  Good Will Hunting, Black Hawk Down, The Amazing Spiderman, Stealing Beauty, Kick Ass, Memoirs of a Geisha

The director editor relationship is a very close one. The early meetings are about what appeals to you about the story and character. You share ideas and themes and you see if you’re talking in the same way. You establish a rapport by how you respond to the material. With directors you’ve had a relationship with like myself with Ridley [Scott], a lot of the time we would talk about ideas or colours or paintings that would come to mind. You share with all the creative people and you have a meeting of minds.

When they start filming and you start getting material now it’s real. You see the colour, the light the director has provided. You see what the actors give you. You react to the material. That first impression of the material when it comes into the cutting room is a very important critical stage. Now it’s not abstract. Before we screen dailies with the director and cinematographer I have my own reactions as a viewer and I make mental notes that I will use later when building the scene. Those initial reactions are very important.



After that stage you start building with all these thoughts in your head. You know what the dramatic beats are of a scene and you build towards that. You could take the analogy of the way painters use a canvas. You don’t start building by minute details, you work the canvas with large brush strokes. You try to feel the shape and movement so you don’t get bogged down and hung up on the details. Yes, you will fine tune but you need to feel the flow. The reworking and re-editing and fine tuning carries all the way through the process of building the film. Every decision is based on how efficiently and succinctly you can focus the story and the character to get the most emotional impact from an audience.

We are very good manipulators in terms of making things work on an emotional level but at the same time you don’t want to manipulate to the point where it doesn’t feel real. That’s the worst kind of manipulation where it relies on all the worn out clichés. It’s about finding what’s truthful. Part of the editing process is to make that which is artificial feel real. Yes of course everything is fake but you always have to be truthful to the material and the emotions.

After the shoot has finished you screen the editor’s cut to the director. At this stage it’s pretty much everything that was shot and is in the script. Seeing the film for the first time is another big milestone because at that stage you don’t know what the film is. The accumulation of scenes or the script is not the film. The first stage is the shooting and the assembly of the first editor’s cut. The second phase is the director’s cut phase and that’s the most creative part for an editor. That’s where you find the film. You reach the length of the picture, you move entire scenes, sometimes you can drop an entire character but you basically build the film. At the end of that time you need to show the best possible film that you have right now to the studio. That’s where the third and final stage begins. You start screening it to the producers, the studio and maybe family and friends and get some feedback. This is the stage where the marketing parts come in. You get into a whole stage of previews and feedback and at the same time you now work towards completing the film. You do temporary mixes to preview the film, you get temp cues from the composer, vfx are delivered and the movie is taking shape. It’s a trying time as all the pieces need to come together. However, when you are in the final mixing stages the one thing to remember is, is that what I wanted in the script? Because now there are so many voices and it’s very hard to hear your initial voice.


Sylvie Landra
The Fifth Element, Leon, Catwoman, Cezanne et Moi, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, 
Un Petit Boulot

Generally I’ll talk with the director before the shoot about the overall shape of the film, its rhythm, its meaning, the message it has to deliver. That makes it possible to get to where they want the film to land and to look like.

I generally start to cut at the beginning of principal photography. It is useful to collaborate with the director throughout the shoot, both for me in the editing room and for him on the shoot to implement the shot list of specific scenes. The great thing with editing is that there are as many ways of approaching it as there are films and directors. Some directors need to have a daily discussion about the film, most of them are so immersed in the shoot they have barely any time left for anything else in their life.

The crucial starting point is to intensely watch the dailies. That is the only moment I have to digest every single frame, the intentions and subtleties of the actor’s performance and every incident that can be used somewhere in the film. The goal is the get the best out of the dailies.



I work as closely as possible with the director. This is the interesting part of the editing process – sharing ideas, finding tricks, reinventing the dailies, shaping the film and tirelessly challenging the cut. You must reconsider what has been done to be sure that it was the right thing to do for the film. Editing can also be seen as a continuity of the writing process. That is the best part of the process I think. I look at editing as like a painter who puts colours together to make a painting. The editing is visible because otherwise you won’t have a painting but invisible in that you can’t see the way it has been done.

How long you get to edit a feature is something that depends on the film and the budget. Let’s say that 14 weeks is standard but it can go from 12 weeks to a year. An ideal time would be twice the shooting duration plus one month. The time you get for editing is changing. It tends to get shorter, sometimes a bit too short for some films, which would benefit from a bit more thinking to reach their right shape. Timing is the main change to editing. Every film is different and needs a different amount of time to build it. Also the number of people you have to deal with has changed. Sometimes the editing room gets filled up with people you’ve never met before in the process.

I would say that there shouldn’t be any difference between editing movies and multi-part series because what matters is the story. And yet there is a big difference, working with a group of editors all going in the same direction, sharing ideas. Dealing with a TV channel and their objectives is another element to have in mind.

A good edit is one that gives birth to the characters and touches the audience. To be a good editor you must challenge yourself tirelessly; challenge your work all the time, get the best of the actors’ performances and shape the film with the best of it.



Jake Roberts 
Brooklyn (pictured),  Starred Up, The Riot Club, Pressure, Trespass Against Us, Hell or High Water,  The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Skins, Misfits

Usually you get involved a few months before filming starts.
I’ll be sent a script. If I’ve not worked with the director before then you meet up, they describe their vision and you give them your thoughts, what struck you about the script, the things you really liked, themes that resonated etc. If you know they’re still working on the script you might offer a few thoughts about areas that you think need work. If it’s a shooting script and they’re heavily into prep then it’s probably best to keep quiet and try to fix them in the edit.

Before I see the rushes I have no preconceptions of how a scene will be cut, whether it’ll be slow or fast, jagged or smooth, nothing. As I watch the material a rhythm and a structure will start to form in my head. This may change several times over the course of viewing as each new angle usually sheds fresh light so you discover the material as it unfolds in front of you. By the end of viewing I tend to have a fairly firm idea of how I think it will fit together only to find, once I start the assembly, that things I thought would work don’t. So you’re constantly revising the plan but certainly by then I have a clear feel for the pace of the scene and that rarely alters dramatically right through to the finished film.



During the shoot the direction comes through the rushes. It should be fairly obvious how the director sees a scene by the way they shoot it. If you get given three angles chances are they don’t want it very cutty, twenty seven you’re probably expected to use most of them, though by no means all. Occasionally when they see your assembly they might say that they had a completely different intention but usually you aren’t far off. Sometimes they had a completely different intention but prefer yours. Sometimes you can see the way they want it go but you have a radical idea in which case I’ll do two assemblies.

Once the shoot is over you tend to work very closely with the director. You work together to constantly refine and reduce the cut until you distill the narrative, emotions and themes into the tightest, most powerful film you can. This is a collaboration rather than a dictatorship. As an editor you’re constantly employing your own taste yet you also adapt your style to a particular director. Some hate to be very cutty, others insist on it. Some hate it when you chase dialogue sync (always seeing the actor who’s speaking lips move), others struggle with any line that isn’t delivered to camera. Some don’t like performances that are too emotional… You get the idea. The point is that the film that results from the collaboration between the director and any given editor will be entirely unique to that pairing.


All the editors featured in this article will be speaking at ACE’s EditFest London on June 24th, sponsored by Televisual. For more information please go to: www.americancinemaeditors.org


Posted 20 June 2017 by Jon Creamer

How to shoot anamorphic on a factual budget

When BBC Studios producer/director Stephen Cooter won a Horizon commission for a new factual film about the search for extra-terrestrials, he wanted to match the style of dramas like The Crown, Doctor Foster and the most recent series of Broadchurch that shoot in true anamorphic widescreen.


The trouble was the factual budget. But together with DoP Paul O’Callaghan, the pair found an innovative way of using regular stills primes and specially-sourced adapters to create a true anamorphic image without using expensive and bulky anamorphic lenses. 


He explains how they gave the film a distinctive cinematic feel.

 

Shooting Anamorphic for BBC Horizon – by Stephen Cooter

 

In early 2016 I pitched an idea about the scientific search for extra-terrestrial intelligence to the long running BBC 2 science documentary strand Horizon.  As this was to be a film about searching for aliens, I was keen for it to feel like a science fiction movie.  My references at the start were Steven Spielberg’s 80s classic “ET”, Spielberg and JJ Abrams’ “Super 8”, Abrams’ Star Trek re-boot and the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things”.  BBC Studios and Horizon have a long track record of technical innovation and this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new.  

 

 

I discussed the project with DoP Paul O’Callaghan who I’d worked with on previous documentary series including Brian Cox’s Human Universe and Forces of Nature.  Paul has shot numerous advertising projects using anamorphic glass – lenses that create the widescreen aspect ratio most commonly seen in feature films - and we talked about the idea of using something similar to give the film a truly cinematic look.  

 

Anamorphic shooting has already begun to creep into terrestrial drama productions, including the BBC’s award-winning “Doctor Foster” and the latest series of ITV’s “Broadchurch”.  For a BBC2 factual commission, the challenge was to find a cost-effective way of shooting anamorphic given that anamorphic lenses can cost up to £500 a day to hire.  

 

Paul and I had used an anamorphic adapter combined with regular prime lenses to film the title sequence of Human Universe and Paul had subsequently shot a couple of features and adverts using lenses he had adapted himself.  We decided this was the best approach as it produced a true anamorphic image, but was a fraction of the size/weight and cost of dedicated anamorphic lenses.   

 

For Horizon we used an uncoated “Iscorama adaptor” - a vintage anamorphic adapter from the late 1960s/70s.  Paul made a custom mount and had the lens adapted, improving the close focus performance and adding a focus gear ring.  We combined this with Zeiss stills primes and an Arri Alexa Mini shooting in 16:9 mode, which when de-squeezed created a 2.39:1 image.  On the road we used DaVinci Resolve to pre-grade and de-squeeze rushes ready for the edit.  

 

 

There were some technical challenges shooting with the setup, particularly because although the close focus of the lens had been improved (from 7 to 5ft) it was still quite poor in practice and close diopter filters needed to be used a lot of the time. The adaptor set-up limited us to just 3 focal lengths - 35mm, 50mm and 85m.  We initially thought this might be a hindrance, but in practice, it gives the photography a consistent and considered feel.  Aside from the cinematic aspect radio, the uncoated glass gives the images a softer more organic look, the image is lower contrast and the lens flares more easily. The vintage glass had good resolution but avoided the clinical, over-sharpened look modern lenses can produce on hi-res digital cameras.  

 

Overall we are both extremely proud of the look we achieved.  While the set-up used is in many ways unique, it demonstrates that this style of shooting is possible on a documentary budget.  And as such, could represent another major crossover from the big screen to factual television.  

 

Stephen Cooter is a Producer Director at BBC Studios Science Unit.  Paul O’Callaghan is a freelance Director of Photography.  

 

Horizon: Strange Signals from Outer Space! will be broadcast on BBC 2 at 9pm on 16th May 2017 in 16:9.  In what is a first for a Horizon in its 54 year history, the film will be repeated on BBC2 at 11.15pm on 18th May in its original 2.39:1 anamorphic aspect ratio as well and being exclusively available in widescreen on the BBC iPlayer from 9pm on the 16th May here: 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p052kf3f

Posted 15 May 2017 by Jon Creamer

How Cinesite conjured up American Gods

Aymeric Perceval, Cinesite’s vfx supervisor on Amazon Prime’s 10 part adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, explains how the story of a battle between old and new gods was brought to the small screen

When did you get involved with the project?
Kevin Tod Haug, the client VFX Supervisor, contacted Cinesite Montreal initially in April 2016 to talk about ‘out of this world’ environments and ‘epic’ set extensions for an afterlife sequence which was going to be imminently filmed in Toronto and in Oklahoma. Very quickly, we also got involved in the look development of the storm, which is a character in itself, alongside other sequences. In total, we worked on 18 different sequences split over 5 episodes (1, 2, 3, 4 and 8). Although Cinesite’s work covered a good range of visual effects, they were predominantly driven by environment work.



What was the brief for the look, what were the references?
American Gods was a very interesting creative challenge for the crew. Fuller pitched it as “a cinematically aggressive show with tonal wonkiness”. The challenge was finding the balance between developing realistic effects to support the narrative whilst inviting the audience to believe in other visual possibilities and to be taken on a fantastical journey.

From the set extensions and constellations of the land of the dead to the evolution of the storms, the series allowed us immense freedom to invent, create and interpret concepts for which there was not always specific references we could draw from. Hopefully the end result is both rooted in realism and rife with otherworldly activity!

What were the most complex shots?
I have to be careful here to avoid spoilers! Complexity wise, some of the biggest shots we achieved for American Gods are no different from the ones we’d create for a blockbuster movie. However, a TV schedule and budget constraints forces you to work faster and around a smaller team of generalists. You do not have time to develop a full pipeline; this is where Cinesite’s experience and solutions developed for previous shows came in very handy.
One of the most demanding sequences we delivered was the audience’s introduction to Anubis and the afterlife.



How was this achieved?
The sequence starts with a typical Kevin ‘impossible camera move’ going through multiple apartment plates, each representing a faith, and joined together by CG transitions. This obviously represented quite a challenge as all the cameras needed to be stabilised, retimed and reanimated to give a straight but not continuous movement. CG elements were introduced to help the transitions.

After a few shots of blue screen cat comps, we jump into substantial set extensions where the cast exit a two-storey apartment (built on stage) and climb an infinite wall going back in time. Each shot had to be a continuation of the previous one with the exception of a different geometry containing several ages, construction styles and materials.

Celestin Salomon, our lead modelling and texture artist said: “It was a very interesting job to first match the original building floor, then to build the transition to different construction styles: bricks, old damaged bricks, medieval rock wall, big rock blocks and finally a sculpted cliff. We created finely detailed displacement maps which gave the multiple walls a richer and more realistic look.” This result was then topped up with a layer of matte painting to push the photo-realism further. In lighting and comp, we focused on giving grandeur and openness, avoiding a claustrophobic feeling, even though we were often looking flat at a wall, never getting the perspective points in frame and keeping the on-set lighting.

Finally after completing the climb, the actors enter Anubis’s kingdom: a fantastical desert, halfway in between Earth and another dimension. This part of the sequence was filmed on location in Oklahoma.

The reality of shooting across multiple days and different times of day meant that we initially had to heavily manipulate the scans so they matched each other. This adjustment had to be detailed because a neutral grade was not enough and yet we didn’t want to affect the original material too much.

Then we replaced the sand dunes because they were not as pristine as the showrunners wanted them to be (i.e. too many human footsteps / car tire marks). We completed the dune environment with blowing FX sand passes in order to give the shots a bit more life. For the sky, our lead compositor Remi Martin played with multiple layers of constellations and stars, using space and long exposure night photography as reference. We then added fx passes and other 2d elements to avoid it looking too familiar. Because there was no sun in this universe, we used the constellations as light sources matching the lighting on the actors. In the end, we had to design every angle differently in comp which allowed our compers to experiment and have fun with Remi’s set up, it also helped us fine tune each one of them up to the last minute.

credits:
Visual Effects Supervisor: Kevin Tod Haug

Visual Effects Producer: Bernice Howes

Cinesite Visual Effects Supervisor: Aymeric Perceval
VFX Executive Producer: Marc-Antoine Rousseau

VFX Producer: Alexandra Added

VFX Editor: Christopher Hills-Wright
2D Supervisor: Benjamin Ribière

CG Supervisor: Nicolas Dumay

Posted 04 May 2017 by Jon Creamer

Technicolor’s Peter Doyle on HDR colour finishing

Check out the video, it’s Technicolor’s supervising visual colourist Peter Doyle talking through his working process during production, the technology he uses and examples of his work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.


Posted 31 March 2017 by Jon Creamer

REPORT: The Top Ten Rental Cameras

Televisual’s annual top 10 listing of the UK’s most hired cameras is now in its eleventh year. 
Jon Creamer counts down the most rented models of 2016, and reveals the models everyone will be hiring in the year ahead

There’s been a change at the top of our survey of the most hired cameras this time. The Canon C300 has been supplanted by its nearest rival, Sony’s FS7 after four years at the top.

The C300 is still an extremely popular camera, it’s an “industry workhorse” with the benefit of familiarity to most operators but “it has really fallen out of favour,” says VMI’s Barry Bassett, “with the C300 Mk2 and Sony FS7 taking its place.” The launch of the C300 Mk2 has inevitably taken some of the C300’s share with hire companies seeing a big rise in popularity for the Mk2 since its launch. The C300 Mk2 ranks at number seven this time.

Of course, Sony has now brought out its update to the FS7, the FS7 Mk2. Only recently released, the jury’s still out on its eventual impact. “It’ll be interesting to see if we have any demand,” says Finepoint’s Giles Bendig. “We don’t think it offers enough for the price but we will watch it closely.” It is though at the top of our list of cameras most hire cameras plan to buy next year.

2016 has also seen Arri’s Amira and Mini hold strong (the Mini is joint top of the list of cameras most hire companies will be buying in 2017). Arri remains the firm choice for drama productions but there are others challenging it to a small extent. “The Alexa family still ranks top in our drama portfolio however the Varicam 35 has sidelined the Alexa in a few productions,” says Provision’s Danny Howarth. VMI’s Barry Bassett also sees Panasonic as getting a toehold in drama: “The Panasonic VLT Varicam has its fans but drama remains an Arri choice.”

The Red Weapon with its 8K Helium sensor is also seen as a camera with a future: “With ProRes, less noise and great low light, it is one to watch out for,” says Visual Impact’s Nick Hill. “Red Weapon will make significant gains,” says No Drama’s James Jones, “especially as more 8K Helium equipped cameras arrive on the market and the options for more refined after-market accessories become the norm and enable solid on set workflow.” 4K continues its march. This year, camera hire firms report that the percentage of their business that is now 4k cameras is 42%, up from 33% last year. Not a huge shift, but a noticeable one.

1 Sony PMW–FS7

Average Day Rate £154
position last year - 2

Hired from
247kit.tv, Bluefin, Finepoint, Hotcam, New Day, Procam, Pro Motion, Pro Vision, Run Hire, S+O, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, Video Europe, Visual Impact, VMI

Hired for
Notting Hill Carnival (Finepoint) Take Me Out, Ex On The Beach, Not Rocket Science (Hotcam) Mysteries at the Museum (Bluefin) Gino’s Italian Escape, Hospital, Tales from Northumberland, Sam Faiers: The Mummy Diaries, Inside Britain’s Railways, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, Katie Price’s Pony Club (ProVision) Alternative Cuba and Egypt Specials, corporates (Bluefin) All Round to Mrs Brown’s (New Day Pictures) Sex Pod (Run VT) Nick Kicks, Educating Joey Essex, Through The Keyhole, Don’t Tell the Bride, FIFA promo spots (S+O Media) Hunted 2, Bizarre ER (Shooting Partners) Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport, Young, Gifted and Classical, Sean Conway: On the Edge (The Kit Room) Hairy Bikers, Bradley Wiggins, The Gadget Show, Fake, Falcon Force (VI Rental) 100% Hotter, Child Genius, Game of Clones (Pro Motion) Planet Earth: Mountains (VMI) Inside the Factory (247kit.tv) Let It Shine, Celebs Go Dating, Rookies, Motorheads, Food Unwrapped (Procam)

The FS7 has been a big hit for Sony since its launch, putting Sony back to the front and centre of the mainstream factual market. Rosemary Hill at The Kit Room describes it as “truly the camera of the year for the factual market. The fact that people can easily use their existing EF lenses, the internal slow-mo and better ergonomics mean it has really taken off for factual, docs and current affairs filmmakers.”

Olly Wiggins at S+O says the camera has become very popular with entertainment work too and “also very popular as a second camera to accompany the F5 and F55. Its versatility with mount options, frame rates and its small size have secured its application across a wide gamut of work.”

Josh Portwine at Shooting Partners, says that one of the key drivers of its popularity has been the “ergonomics of the camera. Whilst the C300 remains a quality camera and is still an industry work horse, you need a shoulder mount to comfortably shoot with it. The longer body and monocular feature of the FS7, combined with the ability to add v-lock batteries (via the XDCA adaptor) all combine to make a well-balanced camera.” New Day’s Brad Day points to the FS7 as a “lightweight” camera that has the added advantage of being “easy to operate and suitable for most productions. It also has 4k internal recording.”

Bob Mann at 247kit.tv says 2017’s absence of the World Cup and the Olympics means broadcasters will need a lot more content and “the Sony FS7 will go from strength to strength to help fill the demand for this.” But, says Simon Hotchkin at Run Hire, the FS7 could now become a less popular hire camera. “Due to its reduction in price, more and more of our clients are buying the FS7 as an investment instead of hiring it out.”



2 Canon C300

Average Day Rate £140
position last year 1st

hired from
247kit.tv, Bluefin, Hotcam, New Day, Pro Motion, Pro Vision, Run Hire, S+O, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, Visual Impact, VMI, Procam

hired for
The X Factor, Ex On The Beach, Celebs Go Dating, First Dates (Hotcam) Fortitude doc (New Day Pictures) Nightmare Neighbours, First Dates, Operation Gold Rush (Pro Motion) Dance, Dance Dance VTs, Piers Morgan, Exposure (ProVision) Watchdog, Pretty Little Pageant Queens, Sex Pod (Run VT) Swim The Channel, Very British Problems (S+O Media) Great British Railways, The Mosque (Shooting Partners) American Justice, Dispatches: The Great Benefits Rows (The Kit Room) Sewing Bee, Eat Well for Less, Muslims Like Us (VI Rental) Saving Lives at Sea (VMI) Mysteries at the Museum (Bluefin) Question Jury, The Jump, The Stunt, Ancient Assassin, The Real Story, The Hot Seat, Selling Houses (Procam)

Despite the emergence of the C300 mk2 and the FS7, the C300 is still hugely popular. “It’s still pulling its weight,” says The Kit Room’s Rosemary Hill. “A camera we all know and love.”



3 Arri Alexa Mini
Average Day Rate £444
position last year 10

hired from
247 Kit.tv, No Drama, Procam, 
Pro Motion, Pro Vision, S+O, Shift 4, 
Video Europe

Hired for
Warp Films’ Ghost Stories, Smuggler’s British Army ad, Beautiful Productions’ Umbro Velocita ad (No Drama) Boots Beauty TVC, Crackanory, Drunk History, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe (S+O Media)  live music events, commercials (Pro Motion) Troy, Izzy Bizu promo, Sky: Sports & News (Procam)

The Alexa Mini has shot up the chart this year, in part due to its ability to give the Alexa look for a low daily rate. “It’s on 90% of camera lists for commercials,” says No Drama’s James Jones. “Arri have completely nailed it, as long as you accessorise it with the right kit it covers you for almost every situation.” It’s the camera’s small size that makes it a winner too. “Whether it’s with the use of gimbals or filming in confined spaces. The camera allows you to achieve shots that you wouldn’t be able to get with a larger camera,” says S+O’s Wiggins.



4 Arri Amira
Average Day Rate £356
position last year 3rd

hired from
Procam, Pro Motion, S+O, 
Shift 4, Video Europe, VMI, 
Visual Impact

hired for
Witless, Drunk History, Jamie Oliver’s Superfood, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, Cunk on Christmas (S+O Media) Elephant Family and Me, Travelman (Vi Rental)live music events, feature doc (Pro Motion) Josh II, Man Down III (VMI) Made In Chelsea, Needles and Pins, SAS, 12 Days of Christmas (Procam)

The Arri Amira is going from strength to strength at the high end, says Shift 4 md, Alex Thompson. “2016 has seen the Amira continue to dominate the higher end work.” As 4K continues to bed in, its popularity has come about “not only because of the price point, but the lens flexibility and quality of image too.” Similarly, Olly Wiggins at S+O points to the Amira’s popularity in drama and ads. “The camera is still so popular due to the images it can produce and its versatility across a whole range of applications.”



5 Sony PMW-F55

Average Day Rate £263
position last year 6th

hired from

247 Kit.tv, Bluefin, HotCam, New Day, Pro Motion, Procam, Pro Vision, Shift 4, Visual Impact

hired for
The Voice, TOWIE, BGT, Saturday Night Takeaway (Hotcam) Top Gear (New Day) King Tutankhamen (Bluefin) Gino’s Italian Escape, Hat Hair (ProVision) Portrait Artist of the Year, Ladies of London, All at Sea, Twisted Tales, The Big Picture (Procam)





6 Canon XF-305

Average Day Rate £102
position last year 9th


hired from

HotCam, Run Hire, 
The Kit Room

hired for
Britain’s Got Talent, First Dates, Celebs Go Dating, The Voice Kids (Hotcam) Diva Brides, Britain’s Horror Homes,
Baby Faced Brides/Mums (Run VT)







7 Canon C300 mk2

Average Day Rate £188
position last year n/a


hired from

Finepoint, No Drama, S+O, Shift 4, The Kit Room, VMI

hired for
MOBO Awards, London Food Festival (Finepoint) Car Share, Maker Projects, Interxion (No Drama) Duck Quacks Don’t Echo VTs, McDonalds - Good Times TVC (S+O) Women Who Kill (The Kit Room) Febreze commercial (VMI) The Last Miners (247kit.tv)



8 Arri Alexa
Average Day Rate £538
position last year 4th


hired from

Finepoint, Pro Vision, Video Europe, VMI

hired for
Red Bull Freestyle Football (Finepoint) Bentley Productions’ Midsomer Murders, Hillbilly Films’ The Level (VMI)




9 Sony PDW-f800
Average Day Rate £258
position last year 4th


hired from

Finepoint, HotCam

hired for
FA Cup, Premiership Rugby (Finepoint);
The X Factor, BGT, Take Me Out, TOWIE (Hotcam)





10 Red Dragon
Average Day Rate £582
position last year 7th

hired from

New Day, No Drama, Visual Impact

hired for
GBA (New Day); Loki Productions, Bentley ad; Nomad Films, Nissan ad, (No Drama); Changing World, Wild West (VI Rental)













Planned investments next 12 months
247 kit.tv Arri Amira, Arri Alexa Mini, Sony FS7, Canon C300 mk2, Sony A7S Mk2, Canon 5D Mk4

BlueFin TV
Canon C300 Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony F55

Finepoint Canon C300, Sony HDC4300, Sony FS7

New Day Pictures Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

No Drama Alexa Mini, Red Weapon

Procam Arri Alexa SXT, RED Helium, Sony FS-5

Pro Motion hire Arri Amira, Canon C300 Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony FS7 Mk2

Pro Vision Arri Alexa Mini, Sony A7S Mk2, Sony FS7 Mk2

Run Hire Sony FS7

S+O Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

Shift 4 Arri Amira, Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C300 Mk2, Canon C700, Sony A7S Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony FS7 Mk2

Shooting Partners Canon C300 Mk2

The Kit Room Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

Video Europe Sony HDC 4300, Sony FS7 Mk2, Red Raven

Visual Impact Red Weapon Helium 8k

VMI Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C300 Mk2, Canon ME20F-SH, Panasonic VLT, Red Epic W



HOW THE TOP TEN WORKS
At the beginning of the year, Televisual sent survey forms to a wide range of camera hire companies, both large and small. Each was asked to list their five most rented cameras of 2016, along with the percentage of hires each model received. An overall ranking of the UK’s most rented models was then created by multiplying the average percentage usage of each model by how many hire companies listed it in their top five. Many thanks to the hire companies who took part.

This artice is taken from the February edition of Televisual. To subscribe, visit http://www.televisual.com/subscriptions.html

Posted 02 March 2017 by Jon Creamer

The art of the drama grade

Drama report: The grade provides a stylish and consistent ‘look’ to a drama, but a great grade can enhance mood, focus and narrative flow. Jon Creamer asks the experts



Simone Grattarola
Time Based Arts
War and Peace, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror: White Christmas, Marvellous, War Book

Because we’re more of a commercials facility we tend to get involved in TV dramas when they’re being made by a director or director of photography that knows us. So because I have that close relationship with them already I’m often involved quite early in the process at the point of doing camera tests. So we’ll contribute at an early stage with references and creating LUTs [Lookup tables]. The DoP will ask my advice on things like what the resolution is like on a particular camera when you make it more ‘contrasty’? Is it still holding up? is there detail in the highlights? Essentially they are trusting your eyes as well as their own. You become part of their camera department.

We’ll spend a day grading a 60-second commercial and we’ll only get two days to grade a 60-minute programme for broadcast. But I can bring some of the attention to detail that is involved with commercial grading to longer form work. You have to temper it though because the budget isn’t there all the time in the broadcast work and you have to work at a faster pace than in commercials. Also television drama is narrative driven, you’re not crafting a look from every single frame. People appreciate that it’s a moving image. Also, it’s often been crafted more by the lighting cameraman on set. On Peaky Blinders, for instance, it’s beautifully crafted already so you’re standing on the shoulders of giants on a show like that. It is all in the lighting so you’re an enhancer as much as anything. On War and Peace there were a lot more set ups and a lot more exterior daytime shots so I was contributing more on that. I have a relationship with (DoP) George Steel so he would send me stills during shooting. That meant that we had quite a firm idea of what we wanted before we got into the nuts and bolts of the grade.

You have to have a bit more empathy when you approach long form grading. You have to position yourself as an audience member. We have a projection suite as well now and we look at that as well as the monitor. It gives us a different way of looking at the drama on a larger canvas.

What makes a good grade is being prepared and being involved early on in the process. You prepare well so that when you come to the work you bring your ideas but you don’t necessarily run with just one idea, you try things and you experiment. I like to try to build in a day before the actual grade for a playtime grade. For me that prep allows me to be instinctive in the grade itself. In commercials you’re sat down in front of the client and you’ve got to pull something out of the hat in an hour or two. You can’t do that in broadcast work. You have to be well prepared. That building block is essential. From then on you’re using your experience and appreciating the subject matter and appreciating subtlety.

To be a good colourist you have got to be a good listener and a good interpreter of other people’s visions whilst also having one yourself. There’s an art in interpreting other people’s visions. Also, when I’m teaching assistants I always teach them that grading is also about being able to match things, to be able to analyse reference frames and be an amazing mimic. You have to understand what is in that particular frame: What colours are there in the blacks? What colours are there in the highlights? What the skin tone is doing in that shot and how do I match it to the next shot? You need to have the ability to analyse all those things really quickly as well but that takes a lot of experience. The more work you do the better you get.



Paul Staples
Encore
Humans, Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Mr Selfridge, Murdered By My Boyfriend, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

I very much enjoy being involved in the creative process from the beginning and generally, being engaged from the pre-production stage onwards is a successful way to work. The DP and/or director will shoot camera tests prior to production filming. Along with this test footage, they will share with me stills from films, fine art, and photographs that act as a mood board. This gives me a sense of what they are aiming for and informs the look I develop as I get to work on the test footage. Sometimes the look will come in our first session together, otherwise the DP and I will continue to work on it as the series moves in to production. Whilst shooting the DP and I will share shots and feedback and continue to develop the look until we reach and hopefully even surpass his vision for the project.

Principally I listen to what the client is trying to achieve and enable it. So much of our job is listening and engaging with a creative dialogue surrounding colour and aesthetics and drawing out the vision of the filmmaker. To do so, I may offer ideas and suggestions but ultimately I do feel strongly that we are here to enable the filmmaker’s vision, not swamp it.

The first stage is establishing a general look that we are happy with. Then we will spot through the episode, getting a better feel for the show. I’ll then go back and start to fine tune. I then tend to work in a linear way, getting each scene and shot as I want it before progressing. However, going back to a shot or scene several times is also common. I wouldn’t suggest that there are too many hard rules in reference to process, I think it’s just that the way you are taught stays with you.

I feel that I work quite instinctively but that has been primed by a lifetime of visual study. I studied photography and just loved being in the darkroom. Moving in to grading was a very natural extension of that training. Of course you continue to absorb and analyse. My clients also keep me primed as to the shows to watch out for.

A key question is if the grade will need to reflect a change of period during the series. Recently I graded Undercover for the BBC. The series included flashbacks, however there was also a whole episode that was in flashback. It was vital that I knew this as it would massively inform the grade. The look of the flashback sequences had to be different enough for the audience to register that they were in different period but as an entire episode would be in flashback, the look also had to be not too distracting resulting in it becoming tiring to watch.

To become a good colourist you need a combination of both hard and soft skills. I’d say a good pair of ears and the ability to pick up on non-verbal communication are essential. You need to have the ability to read between the lines and understand what the client is asking for even if they may not be asking for it in technically literal terms. Also of importance, is the ability to deliver a grade that wouldn’t perhaps adhere to your first instincts but is one that suits the piece.



Gareth Spensley
Molinare
The Tunnel, The Durrells in Corfu, Doctor Who, London Spy, The A Word

I always try and get involved in a project during prep. At the prep stage we’re often initially talking about base LUTs for a show, general concepts of contrast, saturation, tints and tones. On most of the larger budget projects we’ve had a dailies colourist or an experienced DIT doing a leveling pass through the rushes so they are the ones worrying about any exposure shifts; such as from sunny to overcast takes. 

The real starting point of the final grade for me is when I sit down to watch the offline edit. I generally try to let this be the first time I see the narrative run through in its entirety. I’m looking to see where the rushes are working and where I feel I can help the flow of the story. This is my first view and I try to hold on to any ideas I form about characters and plot points; instances like important lines of dialogue where my eye took a while to find the speaking character in a wide shot. This is my chance to establish when I think background details like windows and lamps are adding depth or becoming distracting. I’ll use these thoughts later when I’m in the grade to shift the emphasis from the backgrounds to the characters.

The brief from the director and DoP can take the form of a purely technical conversation or set of notes, or it may range to detailed creative references and swapping of mood boards. I believe in thorough testing and grade setup time. Creating a ‘look bible’ on selected scenes can be invaluable in focusing the production before we commit our efforts to grading a long running series. Allowing everyone in the process to take a copy of the test scenes away to watch over a few weeks really helps make sure the final grade will go smoothly.

I believe in doing several passes of the grade. I find a brisk first pass based on instincts often yields a great starting point. Then I like to watch this through and decide what’s flowing or what is jumping out, adding layers of secondaries in subsequent passes once I have a solid base grade. At this stage I’ll be looking to get the director and DoPs detailed notes on where we’re at. I often prefer to do this in run time rather than in a stop start manner. For me it’s about assessing the grade as a viewer rather than falling into the trap of over analysing a still frame.
 
It’s about consistency - anyone with an interest in Photoshop can make a single image look great. The toughest part of the job is taking a “look” and imparting that creative idea to all the locations and setups in a narrative.
For The Tunnel we found a great look for low-light interiors that needed some careful consideration when adapting it to a bright, sunny exteriors. This becomes trickier on multi-part series that may be shooting across seasons and we’re often asked to lock down a look while the series is still being shot.

Great grades come from collaboration. I think the best grades I’ve been involved in come from good production design, good costume choices and great photography. 

Posted 15 December 2016 by Jon Creamer
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