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Real time slow motion

These Sony Champions League idents, which are currently being used to package Champions League matches for the whole of Europe, were created by Anomaly and directed by Bare Films’ Jim Weedon. The vfx and post work on the clips were by Soho’s boutique vfx house Big Buoy.

The idents were made to market Sony 3d TV sets on a 2d TV screen and consist of two spots – the first, called Fans, shows a fan leading the crowd in a football chant, while the second, called Handkerchief, depicts an emotional group of supporters waving hankies as a sign of defeat.



To attempt to show the extra dimension of 3d, Anomaly decided to go for the tried and tested method of using extremely slow motion footage, spruced up with elements that “very clearly define space for the viewer”. So, in Fans, the extreme slow motion centres on exhaled breath and in Handkerchief, the focus is on frozen water droplets from falling rain.

However, what sets these spots apart from the recent batch of slo-mo ads is Weedon’s choice to create the slow-mo effect using posed actors and a real-time camera rather than going for a slow-mo camera.

Physical props were used for some of the frozen elements, supplemented by additional elements created in cg. The physical parts created by the art department include frozen clothing, handkerchiefs, jewellery and a glass of coke mid spill. The rest of the frozen effects are created in post.

To convince an initially sceptical agency that the cg elements (including cg breath) would sit alongside the physical shot effects, Big Buoy shot a test using a Canon 7d showing some slow panning moves around a model’s head with a few tracking markers.

Big Buoy’s footage went to its cg department, which used Maya fluids to create convincing breath, augmented with live action elements of steam in Flame. This was enough to convince the agency.



The idents were shot on 35mm using an AR Move camera rig for smooth freehand camera moves. The actors were primed to move in extreme slow motion and the footage was shot at 50fps to “take the edge off any little wobbles the actors may have that would have given the game away”.

To ensure the footage looked convincing, Big Buoy did what vfx advisor and lead Flame artist Jim Allen describes as “a hefty amount of stabilising work where actors were unable to keep their movements steady enough, or where people were obviously moving at a different pace to their neighbours”.

With Handkerchief, Big Buoy 3d-tracked the scenes, creating rough geometry to match the live action characters. This was imported into Flame where the rain particle system was created using the Flame particle generator.

Similarly, with Fans, the main breath clouds were created in Maya and exported to Flame where shot steam elements were placed in 3d space to enhance the look. Dust particles and body steam were also added in Flame.

A physical model of spilling coke was enhanced in Flame to “create a sense of movement”, with ice cubes shot separately and comped into the final scene.

Posted 23 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Guide to BVE's seminars

Here's my guide to the best seminar sessions at BVE at Earls Court 2 this week (15-17 Feb).

The Audio Room
On the first day of BVE, the audio room is dedicated to a ‘new radio day’. These seminar sessions obviously have a radio focus, including Monty Funk Productions/Prism Sound’s Pete Nash’s seminar at 1pm entitled ‘The drama documentary – creativity at its best’. Nash’s background is as a sound designer on BBC radio drama docs, which be began working on in the early 1990s.

“I’ve done around 20 of them and they represent the ultimate in crafting sound design, being free of the constraints of video,” he says. “One not infrequently ends up with around 2,500 edits in a 45 minute drama documentary.”

In this session, Nash takes the audience through the making of Laocoon, a drama documentary for BBC Radio 4 about a sculpture coming to life. “I’ll be taking the drama/doc apart and showing how it’s constructed,” says Nash. “I use SADiE as it’s really the only tool that can cope with such large numbers of precise edits in real-time, and without having to watch the system ‘rendering’ all the time. It’s also the primary craft editor of the BBC for national radio.”

From 16 February, the audio room’s focus turns to audio for TV and film – on Thursday, at 2pm, the chairman of the Association of Motion Picture Sound, Chris Roberts runs a panel discussion called ‘From production to post – managing audio workflows’.

“The aim is for the panel to represent a good cross section of those who handle sound media, so we’ll have a sound recordist, film sound syncing specialist, assistant picture editor and sound editor/dubbing mixer,” says Roberts. “I hope to be able to discuss the challenges presented dealing with sound files through the various workflows from production to final mix. As part of this, we’ll cover the solutions that have been discovered or devised, issues with metadata and its importance in workflows and the continued importance of EDL management, particularly for conforming and re-conforming. I’d like the session to be fairly informal, so there will be no ‘death by PowerPoint’”.

Broadcast meets IT
The ‘Broadcast meets IT’ section of the seminar programme is, naturally, rather tech-heavy, with sessions covering video standards, IT infrastructures and ‘The Cloud’. One session that should appeal to a broad audience though is ‘File-based workflows mean operational efficiencies – or do they?’, which is being run by ITFC’s senior operations director Lesley Marr at 12.30pm on Tuesday 15 February.

“My experience is that technology suppliers claim file-based workflows improve efficiencies, but, in reality, many facilities struggle with this,” she says. “In this open discussion panel session, we debate whether it’s really possible to create operational efficiencies going file-based and, if so, how? The common assumption is that everything is faster, easier and simpler, but is this necessarily true? You have to integrate legacy systems, add in transcoding time and things like that, and this all stands in the way.”

Marr intends to cover everything from production shooting ratios to post production file formats and the interoperability between different technologies. The panel members will be a mix of technology providers and users, including Chris Wright, md of Dalet, and Niall Duffy, md of MediaSmiths.

Arri Production Skills Centre
Camera and production kit maker Arri has its own ‘skills centre’ as part of BVE’s seminar programme. What’s sure to attract the bulk of visitors is its daily DoP focused sessions centring on Arri’s recently launched Alexa digital cinematography camera.

The seminar, which is being held at 12.30pm every day, has a different DoP each time explaining how the Arri Alexa was used on their production. The sessions include clips from the productions in question.

On Tuesday 15 February, the speaker for the ‘Alexa - the camera of choice’ session is Adam Suschitzky, the cinematographer on Outcast (shot with an Arri D-21) and the well received remake of Upstairs Downstairs, which he shot with an Alexa.
The session on the following day is dedicated to the use of the Alexa for shooting commercials, and will be held by a yet to be announced DoP.

The final day’s Alexa session will be presented by Mike Spragg, who recently shot Kidnap and Ransom with an Arri D-21 and is currently shooting ITV’s Paul McGuigan-directed Monroe on an Alexa.

The Producer’s Theatre
The producer’s theatre has a large number of producer-centred sessions, covering everything from casting actors to 3d, music and pyrotechnics. One of the stand-out sessions is ‘Ad-funded Productions: 5 Top Tips for Success’ on Wednesday 16 February at 1pm.

The seminar is being organised by the Indie Training Fund, and presented by Tiger Aspect’s commercial partnerships director Claire Heys. “I aim to give content makers five key steps to deliver successful advertiser funded deals,” she says. “I want to give them an understanding of an advertiser’s expectations and why they might invest in TV programmes.”

The session covers the best practice in deal making and liaising with the advertiser and the media agency and “client management tips from the start of the process right through to transmission,” says Heys. On top of this, the seminar looks at the new product placement regulations – what they cover and how to put deals together between the producer, advertiser and broadcaster.

Post Production Theatre
The post theatre spans sessions mostly centred on the technology used in post production. Televisual is, however, hosting a session that’s broadly business rather than technology focused. Entitled ‘The Televisual Industry Debate’ and being held at 3.30pm on Wednesday 16 February, this panel session brings together those running some of the UK’s biggest and best post houses to talk about the future of the post industry.

Televisual’s contributing editor David Wood is chairing the seminar while the panellists include Helen Stanley, md, commercials, Framestore and Darren O’Kelly, md, The Mill. The session centres on what it means to be a ‘post’ house in 2011 – is post still a service industry or are post houses now more like production partners to their clients? The panellists will also talk about how they see the post industry developing over the next five years, and whether they believe post will have continued its move up the production food chain and if traditional service-only post houses will still exist. As well as this, there will be a discussion about the key areas of post production in 2011 and whether 3d is here to stay and really worthy of significant investment.

Total Delivery Theatre
The total delivery theatre hosts a series of seminars about web and mobile based content delivery, including IPTV and broadcasting to the iPhone/iPad. One of the highlights is a session (at 3.45pm on Wednesday 16 February) called ‘How to start, operate, monetise and sell your own UGC channel’, which is being held by i2i’s Philip Radley-Smith.

Radley-Smith says the session is aimed at companies and individuals wishing to become online content aggregators, broadcasters or “to just jump on the internet TV band wagon.”

He aims to cover issues including what’s required to customise an ‘out of the box’ channel to create your own channel. The session also looks at key factors such as who is going to watch your channel and submit content to it, how to market and promote your channel and, of course, how to monetise your channel.

Production Theatre

‘Production on a budget’ kicks off the seminar programme in the production theatre at 10am on Tuesday 15 February. Presented by Urban Fox’s Christina Fox, “This session is designed to help anyone buying shooting kit on a budget to get the best value for money,” she says. “We’ll take people through the most essential features on a camera and help them decide which is best for their shoot.”

By the end of this session, Fox says, visitors will be able to “understand the differences in cameras, have a list of essential equipment with which to get started and also have a summary list of microphones to consider.”

Posted 14 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Sky's refreshing new promos

Sky's been busy commissioning some beautiful promos for its channels of late - here are two that have recently landed in my inbox.

Sky 360
The first, Sky 360, is a 50-second stereoscopic 3d promo for Sky’s film channel that centres on the eye-catching, impressive vfx work of MPC. Directed by Sky Creative’s Esther Wallace and Nick Tarte, Sky 360, slowly spins around an ever-changing landscape in a 360 camera move, gorgeously showcasing different genres of films.



“This is our invitation to enter another world.  We wanted to create a 360 pan around massive, epic landscapes populated by movie iconography. The journey takes us through a range of emotions – in a similar way that a movie would do,” say the directors.



The five main genres in the promo required different landscapes to be created – a desert for a western, space for sci-fi, a city for a romantic comedy, countryside for a period drama and an icy Christmassy scene to represent family. 



A stereo camera on a circular dolly track was used to capture the live action footage on each of the locations, but much of the locations themselves were cg creations made by MPC.



Working alongside Sky Creative from pre-production onwards, MPC created each of the fully cg environments and rebuilt the live action shots in the promo, with everything being made in stereo.



“This was a job that required very specific timings and planning from 3d pre-viz,” says 3d supervisor Duncan McWilliam. “If we could prove all the permutations worked in a pre-viz accurate to real world scale scenarios then we knew the shoot would work....give or take.”



Click here for more information and to view the promo




Sky Atlantic Bringing Cultures Together

Branding agency Heavenly has created another not entirely dissimilar set of Sky promos, for the launch of its Sky Atlantic channel (the home of HBO).

The set of five idents, called Bringing Cultures Together, explore the similarities and differences between the UK and the US by subtly cutting between the two iconic locations as the camera pans across the scene. The series of short promos consists of Bridges, Trains, Bright Lights, Cafe Diner and City Cab.


















To view each of the Bringing Cultures Together promos, click here.

Posted 09 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Molinare re-launch for Spring

Most of the management team has quit Molinare as the Indian owners gear up for a big relaunch of the company. So, what does the future now hold for one of London’s longest standing post players? Here are the thoughts of acting CEO and md, Molinare's COO Scott Holmgren.

“The beginning of the year has seen several changes at the top of Molinare’s management structure, with both Mark Foligno and Richard Hart choosing to pursue outside interests within the film industry. Moving the company forward will require a strong focus on not only our sales efforts but on creating efficiencies,” says Holmgren.

“This is coupled with significant expenditure that’s seen upgrades and expansion in all departments. A relaunch of a new Molinare is planned for the Spring,” he adds.

“Over the past five years Molinare has been very successful within the feature film market, but we have always had a very strong offering in TV as well. Our recent film offering has tended to overshadow the TV work, and this is something we want to rectify,” he says.

“This isn’t limited to drama either – we want to build up our portfolio of fact ent and docs, along with shortform/commercials work, produced via our internal creative agency.”


Posted 02 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

World's first slo-mo 3d ad

Glassworks recreated monster trucks, Minis (using CAD data from BMW) and tyre stacks, and performed stadium extensions (doubling the size of the stadium) and crowd-replication using bespoke software, as part of its vfx and stereo 3d post work on the filmic new Mini Vs Monster 90-second cinema and TV spot.



Touted as “the world’s first slo-mo 3d ad” and directed by Robert Jitzmark from Swedish production company Camp David for BSUR Amsterdam, the commercial focuses on slow-mo 3d footage of the distressed audience response to a monster truck attempting to jump over an extended line of new Minis. Will all the shiny, sparkling new Minis survive the jump?



Glassworks’ challenge, through its office in Amsterdam, was to seamlessly integrate the cg elements (including fire effects, the audience, car reflections and stadium extensions) into the stereoscopic shot footage.



“The first step was recreating all the props like the truck, tyre stacks and stadium, to create a virtual representation of the real set. We also received the CAD data from BMW, enabling us to place cg Minis in our 3d space,” explains lead 3d artist Markus Lauterbach.



“Making use of Glassworks’ new stereoscopic tracking software, we started to track the motion of the camera rig being used on the shoot,” he adds. “Our work pipeline, enabling an immediate preview of the stereoscopic cg content, was an enormous help in finding the ideal depth, and most convincing 3d effect for each individual shot.”

Posted 19 January 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Confessions of a hire company

It's a very tough market for camera hire firms reveals Mark Sloper, director of the 400 company. I’m currently putting together Televisual’s extensive survey of the camera hire market, which results in the Top 10 rental cameras feature to be published in the February issue of the magazine – for more info on this feature, see below. As part of my research for the feature, Mark Sloper, director of the 400 company, emailed me the following comment, which makes very interesting reading. He is happy to share his opinions, so here they are in full:

“This has been our annus horribulus. We’ve had to buy HD equipment obviously for projects at Easter 2010 and then have had them sat on the shelf as the industry can’t work out what it wants to do. Thankfully, the BBC news and entertainment departments have stuck with good old DVCAM utilising the dependable DSR-450.  Without stable ongoing work as a BBC supplier we’d be not be knowing what to do with the volumes of kit we’ve invested in.
 
We’ve been sticking with tape-based HD cameras such as the Sony 900R and BBC-approved Panasonic HDX900. Production companies and broadcasters are still unhappy with file-based card cameras because of the issues involved in archive and storage – how many hard drives do you need to store it to future proof it!? A tape simply sits on the shelf for future access, tried and tested.
 
We are interested in the Sony PMW-F3 Super 35mm camcorder, not only will it hopefully get rid of the silly DSLR cameras that are infiltrating the industry through students (they can’t capture motion) but hopefully it might even spec up to take on the infamous Red.

We’re hoping a full size model appears with the same inner workings and interchangeable lenses so that proper cameramen can put it on their shoulder without a Heath Robinson invented brace. The Panasonic 101 we have the same feelings about.
 
We’ve invested in some Sony EX3s but are finding issues with the cards and transfers – we lend the cards to clients to download their images but inevitably we get asked to dump it to tape! How ironic and it’s totally common. We sometimes don’t get the cards back for weeks and it seems unfair to charge a client for a little card so we take the brunt.
 
The rates are going down and down, unless you’re guaranteed x amount of days on different shoots and it’s for definite, it’s becoming more and more difficult to make the cameras pay their way. Luckily, because we’ve been going over 15 years, we’re able to boost our paltry hire charges with accessories, lenses, lighting, sound and grip.

There’s NO discernible difference with a good prepped SD lens as opposed to a newly-badged HD lens, most camera people have worked that out. We’ve just shot a cinema version of the British Superbike season for release in March using a five year old Panasonic VariCam at different frame rates. We’ve had differing cinema screenings and it looks superb – the right kit on the right job as they say. Check out the trailer (see below) and it looks like the very latest digital technology. It aint.
 
Anyone considering buying kit this year – DON’T. It all looks set to change again with the major manufacturers realising they have to price the latest new kit according to the marketplace. Here comes the PMW-F3 that’s going to blow all our EX1s and 3s out of the water, and just about every thing else too.”





The results of Televisual’s fourth annual survey of the camera rental market are revealed in February’s Top 10 rental cameras feature. The results are based on a survey of around 25-30 hire companies, which complete a survey form providing details of how often each of their most popular cameras has been hired out over the past year.

Each camera is then ranked on the number of hire companies stocking it and how much usage it receives. Last year, Sony’s file-based HD staple, the EX3 (pictured), topped the list, while its long-running tape-based SD model, the DSR-450, came in second.

Sony dominated the list, with only the Red One stopping Sony from taking all the spots in the top 10. However, Panasonic and Canon in particular had a wide selection of models just outside the top 10 so this year’s results may well include a wider range of camera manufacturers.

The results of the survey are published in the February issue of Televisual, which will be out on Monday 7 February. If you run a camera hire company and haven’t yet received a survey form, please email jake@televisual.com.

Posted 10 January 2011 by Jake Bickerton

3d predictions for 2011

A lot of industry hopes are pinned on stereoscopic 3d this year, with a sizeable selection of production and post outfits having invested heavily in cameras, 3d rigs, stereoscopic fixing and finishing systems, and so on, over the last six to 12 months.

And while stereo 3d is proving a draw for cinemagoers, with five of the top 10 films of 2010 in the States having been made in 3d (including Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland and How to Train Your Dragon), it’s a less rosy story when it comes to 3d TVs.

Reportedly, only two percent of all TVs sold last year worldwide were 3d models, while even modest estimations beforehand had anticipated 3d TVs representing at least five percent of total sales.

This isn’t completely surprising when you look at what’s available to watch for owners of 3d TVs – a solitary Sky channel and a small assortment of expensive 3d Blu-Rays (assuming you’ve also invested in a 3d Blu-Ray player).

However, things are looking up. Market intelligence company iSuppli predicts that bv the end of 2011, sales of 3d sets will have tripled compared to 2010, to about 12 million sets and by 2015, almost 80 million 3d TVs will have been sold.

Furthermore, stereo 3d company 3ality Digital’s CEO, Steve Schklair, who’s a bit of a 3d guru, has issued a series of predictions for 3d in 2011, and they reveal a wide variety of potential opportunities. Obviously, he’s a vested interest in stereo 3d being successful, but his predictions make interesting reading:
 
1. Passive viewing 3d TVs will become widely available
2. Episodic television series will begin shooting in 3d
3. The first sporting event will shoot with only one crew on the field (3d) instead of two crews (2d and 3d). The one crew will transmit both the 2d and 3d images
4. The Super Bowl will be broadcast in 3d (early 2012)
5. Mobile devices – smartphones, gaming devices and tablets (including the 3d overlay for iPad screens) will hit the market and energise both 3d gaming and shorter-form scripted entertainment.
6. There will be outdoor entertainment and advertising with giant 3d LED screens
7. Affordable consumer 3d video cameras will become available

You can read a Televisual interview with Steve Schklair at IBC here

Posted 04 January 2011 by Jake Bickerton

UK vfx showcase on Narnia

The latest installment of the Chronicles of Narnia – Chronicles of Narnia : The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – is the most recent blockbuster film to make extensive use of London’s vfx houses, with MPC, Framestore, The Senate VFX, Cinesite, The Mill and Prime Focus all working on the movie. Here’s a breakdown of what each of the companies did.

MPC
The principal vfx supplier was MPC, which completed more than 700 vfx shots on the film. The bulk of its work was creating and animating the mouse Reepicheep, the dragon Eustace, the Dawn Treader ship and a sea serpent. As well as character creation, MPC also worked on extensive digital environments.



MPC had already created Reepicheep for a previous Chronicles film, but with the mouse featuring prominently in over 200 hero shots in The Dawn Treader, MPC decided to update the character to “take the spotlight”.

The vfx house’s art department designed in what it describes as subtle changes to help create a “wiser and more mature Reepicheep”. And MPC’s animators even went so far as to take fencing classes to “learn the moves and tricks of the trade” to ensure the little mouse’s sword skills were tip top.



When it came to the dragon Eustace, the main challenge for MPC was conveying emotions through facial expressions alone, as Eustace is unable to speak.

For the giant sea serpent, which appears in a 180-shot ‘dark island’ sequence in which it attacks the Dawn Treader ship, MPC designed in ocean surfaces and splashing water effects for the serpent’s interaction with the sea. The serpent itself was designed with blubbery skin and “hundreds of articulated feelers” (whatever these are) by MPC’s art department.

MPC’s work on the Dawn Treader ship varied depending on the scene the ship appeared in. For some, a complete cg ship was built while, for other sequences, MPC added surrounding ocean to a land-based physical set of the ship.



The vfx supervisor for MPC was Adam Valdez, cg supervision was by Kevin Hahn and animation supervision was by Gabriele Zuchelli.

Framestore
Framestore was responsible for the next biggest batch of vfx work on the film, working on around 280 vfx shots. The company’s key role was creating the God-like lion character Aslan – once again, Framestore had already brought the lion to life for the previous installment of the Chronicles series, so its work was focused on further refinement and improvement of the character design and animation.



On top of this, the 170-strong Framestore team also worked on the one-legged, giant-footed dwarf characters, the Dufflepuds, and vfx-heavy sequences including a standing wave and bringing a picture of a seascape to life.



The Framestore team, led by vfx supervisor Jonathan Fawkner (who also attended the shoot) worked on the rigging of Aslan to “bring it in line with Framestore’s centralised rigging tools”.

“We had shots where Aslan was walking and you saw his full body. The old rig didn’t allow the legs to be stretched far enough to make the gait look realistic,” says head of rigging Nico Scapel. “When this issue arose, we were able to iterate a change on the rig and then see a render the next day, which makes a huge difference.”

The animation of Aslan, which was handled by a team of eight at Framestore, had to be done within the constraints of him being a God, so should show “minimal signs of normal animal behaviour.” So, the team implemented “subliminal signs” that the creature lives, such a breath cycles, blinks, nostril flare, a slight shift in weight, a swish of the tail, and so on.



For the seascape picture sequence, where a picture of a seascape comes alive and waves start to roll and churn before water engulfs the room, Framestore combined a wet and dry set of the attic room with the picture hanging. The actors did their parts in the dry set, while a set of the same room was descended into a water tank to create the effect of the water rising as it enters the room.

Next, Framestore augmented water filmed gushing out of the painting on set, as there was a limit to how much could realistically be pumped into the set. To create the desired effect, Framestore used a “moving painting effect, using Corel Painter’s overpainting technique – we’d take moving footage of water and then, on a still frame, we used the impasto-like brush effect to give us something that looked a lot like the source painting but was based on footage of moving waves,” explains lead compositor Jan Adamczyk.



Finally, the Dufflepuds were created by mixing real actors for the top half and cg for the lower bodies, skin and cloth. Over 250 performances of the actors bouncing around and acting were filmed on blue screen, which were then scaled down to dwarfish size, tracked and given an animated leg and composited into the scene.

The Senate VFX
The Senate VFX produced the next largest amount of vfx work, completing 250 vfx shots for an opening sequence of King’s College, Cambridge as well as the creation of the star Liliandil, which takes on a human form.

Cinesite
Cinesite’s main work on The Dawn Treader involved creating the White Witch character. The vfx house’s team, led by vfx supervisor Matt Johnson and 3d supervisor Stephane Paris, scanned principal photography of the actress Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch, to generate a 3d model of the actress’s head.

The 3d model was then rigged and animated using Maya, to match Swinton’s live performance. Cinesite then added cg hair and a shroud of upper body mist to enhance the effect of her being a mythical, floating creature.

Cinesite also created green mist tendrils, which take on the form of the greatest fears of the crew of the Dawn Treader. Other Cinesite vfx included creating set extensions of The Goldwater Island sequence, and extending the bejewelled valley.






The Mill
The Mill’s work focused on the Naiad water nymphs and their movement through the sea and around the Dawn Treader ship. The company spent six months on research and development and concept work to achieve the desired look for the characters.



Prime Focus
Prime Focus completed the film's full stereoscopic 3d conversion. It converted 1,500 shots into stereoscopic 3d for the 115-minute movie. The globally focused post facility spent 24 hours a day across three different time zones working on the conversion process. In total, it delivered 600 shots from London, 550 from Los Angeles and 350 from Mumbai.

Posted 17 December 2010 by Jake Bickerton
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