Categories
Disney Interview

My Interview with the Los Angeles Times about working at Imagineering

I worked at Walt Disney Imagineering from 1989 to 1994. The LA Times recently interviewed me about my experience there. I was let go, along with about 800 other people, when the Disney Decade ended. My heart goes out to all those who were laid off. Hopefully by now they have found new work. Here is the interview and then some videos, including the new Leslie Iwerks documentary about WDI.

Disney Imagineering lays off designers while analysts look for earnings pop at Walt Disney Co.


Shanghai Disneyland
Nearly two months after opening Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney Imagineering has announced a round of layoffs. During the opening celebration for the resort, fireworks explode over the Enchanted Storybook Castle. (Walt Disney Co.)

Hugo Martin and Daniel Miller

Nearly two months after opening its latest theme park, Walt Disney Imagineering has laid off some of the designers and builders who dream up the company’s parks and attractions.

Representatives for Disney Imagineering, a Glendale-based division of the Walt Disney Co. with about 2,000 employees, confirmed the layoffs but declined to specify how many employees were let go except to say that the percentage was in the “low single digits.” Separately, Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. is set to report its earnings Tuesday after the market closes.

With the June 16 opening of Shanghai Disney Resort park falling near the end of the quarter, observers will be curious to see how it affected the parks and resorts division and whether Disney executives shed any light on the new property’s performance thus far.

The $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney Resort, measuring nearly 1,000 acres, is Disney’s most expensive international resort.

Analysts are predicting that the company will deliver earnings per share of $1.61, according to investment research firm Zacks. That would be up 11% from the same quarter a year earlier. During the most recent third quarter, Disney released the blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War,” which has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and “Finding Dory,” which has grossed more than $900 million.

Shares of Disney dropped less than 1% to $95.75 on Monday. The stock is down about 9% this year. Over the past year, investors have been concerned about the lack of subscriber growth at ESPN, the crown jewel of Disney’s media networks unit. Earlier this year, Nielsen Co. said that ESPN lost 1.2 million subscribers in 2015.

“The desire to watch sporting events live and the abundance of sports rights makes ESPN the most valuable piece of real estate in pay-TV today, but we expect slower growth than in the past as competition for consumer time and entertainment dollars increases,” wrote analyst Robin Diedrich of Edward Jones Research in a note published July 29.

The layoffs at Disney’s Imagineering reflect the organization’s variable approach to hiring.

“Walt Disney Imagineering is a project-based organization, and we continually evaluate and adjust our resources to support the design and development of Disney theme parks, resorts and experiences around the globe,” the company said in a statement Friday.

Robert Niles, author of the Theme Park Insider website, said Disney Imagineering hired extra workers to help complete Shanghai Disney, which might explain why some workers are being laid off now that the project is finished.

“I think they absolutely bulked up for this,” he said.

Although the Shanghai Disney project is open, Disney is still working on several theme park projects across the country, including the new Star Wars lands at Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida as well as a new Avatar land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.

Former Imagineer Steve Diggins knows what it’s like to get laid off after Disney opens a theme park.

He joined Imagineering in 1989 and among the projects he worked on was the Visionarium attraction built at Paris Disneyland. That resort opened in 1992 and about two years later he was out of a job.

Diggins said he was aware it was a possibility that he would be let go because “everything at Imagineering is project-related.” Still, it was a disappointment, said Diggins, who remains acquainted with people who work at Imagineering.

“When it happens to you, you feel bad,” said Diggins, who is now a video engineer at KTLA. “I was hoping to stay there.”

Diggins said he expected that some of the Imagineers who were let go last week had to know the cuts were coming.

“They will gear up for a big theme park, and when that theme park [project] ends, some people will move onto other things and it is not always possible [for everyone],” said Diggins, who in the early 2000s had another stint at Disney as an assistant film editor for Walt Disney Television Animation. “I think most people should know this.”

 

Imagineering Documentary Trailer from Iwerks & Co. on Vimeo.

Categories
Documentary Filmmaking People

Hitchcock/Truffaut Documentary

I recently saw Hitchcock/Truffaut on HBO. It is a great documentary about two great filmmakers. It is highly recommended. Here are some background videos and the original audio interviews. I read the book in film school, where it is still required reading.

In 1962, French New Wave auteur François Truffaut, aided by translator Helen Scott, spent a week in Hollywood with his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, discussing the director’s rich and extensive body of work, including Psycho and Vertigo. The resulting 1966 book of interviews, Hitchcock, became a celebrated bible of cinema for generations of filmmakers.

Fifty years after its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut brings this historic summit to life by combining rare original audio recordings and behind-the-scenes photos from the historic exchange. The film offers an eye-opening study of Hitchcock’s enduring genius and legacy, as the two men explore the technical, narrative and aesthetic questions at the heart of his work. The documentary also includes new observations from such acclaimed filmmakers as Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Bob Balaban narrates.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is directed by Kent Jones; written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana; co-produced and edited by Rachel Reichman; produced by Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille; associate producers, John Kochman and Daniel Battsek.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Director Kent Jones on Hitchcock, Truffaut and the Evolution of Cinema

In Hitchcock/Truffaut, director Kent Jones (My Voyage to Italy, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows) explores the landmark series of interviews between French New Wave director François Truffaut and the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. These conversations were later published and helped position Hitchcock as a film artist and inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Wes Anderson—each of whom appear in the film to discuss Hitchcock’s artistry and the impact of the book. Jones, who programs the New York Film Festival, took some time to share his views on Alfred Hitchcock and his secrets as a filmmaker.

HBO: The film offers a rare glimpse into Alfred Hitchcock the artist—one that clashes with his public image as an entertainer. Was that a conscious misdirection on Hitchcock’s part?

Kent Jones: The public persona was a way of protecting himself. John Ford had a public persona. So did Howard Hawks. They didn’t go around waving the flag of artistry in front of the studio heads. If they had, their careers would have been over in milliseconds. And in Hitchcock’s case it was a brilliant idea to turn himself into a personality.

HBO: Toward the end of the film, Hitchcock’s standing has risen in the critical community—yet he still seems troubled about his role as a filmmaker. At one point he sends a telegram to Truffaut saying he wished he could do anything he wanted to do. Couldn’t he have?

Kent Jones:
There’s always this illusion that some people can do whatever they want. People say that about Steven Spielberg—there was this question about whether Lincoln would actually be released theatrically, and someone asked how this was possible, can’t Steven Spielberg do whatever he wants? The answer is no, he can’t. Nobody can. Neither can James Cameron or Michael Bay.

HBO: Why do you think Hitchcock doubted himself as an artist?

Kent Jones: An artist that great is going to be examining themselves and their work closely; they’re always going to be calling things into question. Couple that with the fact that he was working in a genre—actually created a genre—that was “disreputable,” and had gone unloved by critics and people who give awards. All those factors come into play. I was very moved when I came across that telegram because it’s a very basic expression of something common to all of us.

HBO: Do you have any thoughts on the third act of Hitchcock’s career? Did he fade away?

Kent Jones: I would think quite to the contrary. Brian De Palma has one assessment in which he says directors do their best work in their forties and fifties, and then in their sixties they start losing energy.

HBO: Some would say that Topaz (1969) is perhaps not his best work.

Kent Jones: We’re talking about a moment when all those guys from that generation were struggling. Hawks, Ford. For me, Hitchcock is the guy who easily came out on top. Topaz is the way it is, for various reasons. He wanted to make a different movie and he couldn’t. So he winded up doing this adaptation of this Leon Uris novel. But right in the middle of Topaz is one of the greatest sequences he ever directed, at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Frenzy (1972) is a great movie. It’s just a great, great movie. And Family Plot (1976), you can talk about the Disney-ish aspects of it, but the last time I saw it I found it a very rich experience. So I can’t really agree.

HBO: I remember being very impressed by the energy of Frenzy, particularly at that time in his life.

Kent Jones: Frenzy’s an incredible film, and deeply, deeply uncomfortable. And it’s a movie
that remains absolutely shocking, I have to say. That rape-murder scene is almost unbearable to watch.

HBO: Did you have any other films that are particular touchstones for you?

Kent Jones: Over the years I’ve come to love Saboteur (1942) more and more. I have a special love for I Confess (1953). He goes so deep into the emotion of this guy who cannot share what he knows with anyone. The loneliness of Montgomery Clift’s character is really, really powerful.

HBO: Coming from the silent era, Hitchcock had an almost purely visual approach to storytelling. Is it even possible for a filmmaker like that to exist today?

Kent Jones: James Gray brings that up in the film; he’s very hard on himself and says, “We’re not that good.” But really, what you’re talking about is a different orientation. Arnaud Desplechin talks about it as the “lost secret.” Truffaut said the same thing. And it’s true, to a certain extent. Hitchcock thought that cinema didn’t have to evolve the way that it did. But the fact is, it did. So now we have people who are masters of a completely different kind, like Martin Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson.

 


Here is where you can buy the book.


Here are some cool images from Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.



Categories
Animation Design Disney Filmmaking

Imagining “Zootopia”

One of the things I liked about Zootopia was that it wasn’t a reboot or sequel. I enjoyed the story that had many of the best classic Disney elements, but still seemed fresh. The hat tips to the Monorail (above) and Skyway (below) were nice touches. Here are stories, videos and art work that shows the artistic and technical work that went into this movie.

http://cartoonbrew.tumblr.com/post/134407136122/zootopia-concept-art

Zootopia is a world where humans don’t exist. It’s a big, crowded metropolis where anthropomorphic animals drive cars, fight crime, eat ice cream and ride trains. Prey and predators of varying shapes and sizes coexist in harmony until their prejudices get in the way.

Judy Hopps, a tiny rabbit, can’t be a cop. The police force is a place for rhinos, wolves, elephants and other bulky animals. Nick Wilde, a quick-witted fox, can’t be trusted. He’s presumed to be running a scam, even when he’s not. In a movie about mammals and their stereotypes, creating a diverse range of species is a necessity. The creators of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest adventure combined months of research with custom-made software to create the verisimilitude of an animal-only habitat.


The team comprising directors, engineers and animators spent about eight months studying animals. They went to San Diego’s Safari Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and all the way to Kenya to observe their movements and mannerisms. But to make the characters look like their real-world counterparts, they needed an up close and personal look. The crew ended up at a Natural History Museum, where they studied fur under a microscope and even brought in lighting setups to see how the strands reacted to light.

Simulating the texture and density of animal fur is a daunting task for any animation studio. The last time Disney worked on a furry character was in Bolt, eight years ago. While the studio managed to create a soft, white layer of fluffiness on the superhero dog, the same tools wouldn’t work for the 800,000 mammal variants in Zootopia.

To make the animals look realistic, Disney’s trusty team of engineers introduced iGroom, a fur-controlling tool that had never been used before. The software helped shape about 2.5 million hairs on the leading bunny and about the same on the fox. A giraffe in the movie walks around with 9 million hairs, while a gerbil has about 480,000 (even the rodent in the movie beats Elsa’s 400,000 strands in Frozen).

During the research phase, the team paid close attention to the underlayer of animal fur that gives it plushness in real life. But the same detailing couldn’t be recreated on a computer. “It’s not practical for production to do it,” said senior software engineer David Aguilar as he displayed iGroom at a Zootopia presentation in Los Angeles. “We created an imaginary layer with under-coding so the animators could change the thickness and achieve the illusion of having that layer to create the density of fur.” That kind of trickery made it possible for them to create characters like Officer Clawhauser, a chubby cheetah with a massive head of spotted fur on his face.

The software gave the animators a ton of flexibility. They could play around with the fur — brush it, shape it and shade it — to create the stupendous range of animals for the movie. “The ability to iterate quickly makes all the difference,” said Michelle Robinson, character look supervisor. “You can push the fur around and find the form you want.” From the slick pouf on the shrew’s head to the puffy, dirty wool on the sheep, the grooming made it possible for them to stylize the characters with quirky features.

Before this tool, animators had to work with approximation. When creating the silhouettes or posing their creatures they had to predict the way their characters would change with the addition of fur. “We have to wait hours and hours for renders to come back to see how the characters looked,” said Kira Lehtomaki, animation supervisor. “That works for one character but not for Zootopia. Animators are obsessed with posing and silhouette, so if the render changes shape, any discrepancy can ruin the performances.”

To keep the performances intact, the engineers turned to Nitro, a real-time display software that’s been in development since Wreck-It Ralph (2012).The animators were then able to see realistic renders almost instantly to make decisions on the fly. The tool sped up the process, making it possible to keep subtle expressions on the furry faces in the movie.

While the animals were getting ready to inhabit their virtual world, a team of environment CG specialists put together the backdrops that made their lives believable. The modern-world setting in the movie captures the essence of a city designed for animals. When a train pulls up at a crowded stop, tall mammals step off the train through high doors and tiny commuters scurry through little mouse doors. But the Zootopia zone has different districts to suit the peculiar needs of its many species. Tundratown supports polar bears, and Sahara Square is home to camels. While the rainforest isn’t marked by a specific species, the Amazonian density of the vegetation stands out.

Each environment was meticulously crafted on Bonsai, a tree-and-plant-generation tool that was first used for Frozen in 2013. Once the software learned how to make a tree, it regenerated many different variations to create a rainforest with intricately layered foliage.

It takes a powerful tool to create a universe of complex creatures and detailed environments. Disney’s secret animation weapon is the Hyperion rendering system. It’s an in-house software that has changed the way scenes have been simulated in the past couple of years.

What makes the image generator unique is that it traces a ray from the camera as it bounces around objects in a virtual scene before hitting a source of light. This allows the engineers to replicate the natural movement of light to create photorealistic shots. Disney first introduced the renderer with Big Hero 6 (2014). But with Zootopia, the engineers had to add a new fur paradigm to the existing software. So the renderer also followed the rays as they moved through dense animal fur.

“One of the problems before Hyperion was that you had no idea what the lighting in your scene was going to look like,” says Byron Howard, co-director of the movie. “Now, very early on, almost as soon as we have the layout of the scene with a camera set up, we can get an idea of what that scene is going to look like and do intensely complex calculations. It’s made making films at Disney so much easier.”

[Image credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios]

From Engadget

https://the-disney-elite.tumblr.com/post/137709732203/zootopia-travel-posters-via-the-art-of-zootopia

From Inside Zootopia: An interview with visual development artist Nick Orsi

From Animation Scoop.

Categories
Cinematography Filmmaking Technology

“On the Set with Video Assist” and Jimmie Songer

noisy_toy

Photo from the Jerry Lewis Comedy Museum.

While I was at CineGear Expo, I met Michael Frediani at the SOC booth and thanked about about his research into Jerry Lewis and told him I would post his article on video assist. I also included an article from the 695 Quarterly about Jim Songer about his development of thru the lens video assist. There is a lot of debate on the topic of who “invented” video assist. Like most technical innovations there is no one single inventor, but many improvements from each contributor. Here is the earlier post about Jerry and video assist.

Audio interview: Jerry Lewis + Peter Bogdanovich

Video assist section starts at 1:09:09.

Jerry Lewis was an influence on Francis Ford Coppola.
ONE FROM THE HEART, Francis Ford Coppola, 1982
ONE FROM THE HEART, Francis Ford Coppola, 1982

Francis Ford Coppola later developed his own “electronic cinema” previsualization called Image and Sound Control. 

As well as being an entertainer, “Jerry Lewis was a major innovator in motion pictures,” stated director Francis Ford Coppola. “His invention of putting a video camera next to the motion picture camera so he could play it back and direct himself, has been used for decades by every director in the movie industry. I watched him on the set of The Ladies Man in 1961 and was amazed by his groundbreaking innovation, the Video Assist.”

The wonderful book DROIDMAKER by Michael Rubin has more info.

 

Two articles from Peter Glaskowsky at CNET.

Video assist predates Jerry Lewis ‘patent’

Jerry Lewis and the elusive Video Assist patent

 

This illustration, from an article written by Jim Songer for American Cinematographer magazine, shows a Panavision camera with the video assist subsystem integrated into the loading door. Jim Songer and Video West
This illustration, from an article written by Jim Songer for American Cinematographer magazine, shows a Panavision camera with the video assist subsystem integrated into the loading door. Jim Songer and Video West

Jimmy Songer and the Development of Video Assist

by David Waelder

From IATSE Local 695 Quarterly

Video Village is a standard feature on the modern movie set. Producers, writers, clients and others can view the action clustered around a monitor far enough away from the set to stay out of trouble. Their segregation in the video ghetto allows camera people and others to go about their tasks without the distraction of people jockeying for position at the viewfinder. It also helps makeup and wardrobe personnel to see how their work appears on camera and it has become an essential tool for the director and continuity person. Even the sound crew benefits by having extension monitors to see the frame and position the boom microphone. All this is made possible by a video assist system perfected by Jimmie Songer, a Local 695 technician.The advantages of using a video camera as an aid to directing movies were apparent from the very beginning. Several directors began to set up TV cameras adjacent to the film camera so they could see an approximate frame. This became a common practice particularly on commercials where the placement of the product is crucially important. To match the view and perspective, assistants would carefully adjust the aim and image size to closely approximate the view of the film camera.

Of course, that isn’t really a video assist system. The image is useful for the simplest shots but not much help when the camera moves or the lens is adjusted. Every setup change or lens adjustment necessitates a recalibration of video camera position and exposure settings. To be a fully functional system, both the video and film cameras would have to view the scene through the same lens to avoid parallax errors and exposure sensitivities would have to track together. This presents a series of technical challenges.

It was a cowboy from East Texas with little formal education who took on the challenge and worked out all the engineering obstacles. Jimmie Songer grew up on a ranch in Burleston, south of Fort Worth, with a keen interest in how radio and television worked. He and his friend, Don Zuccaro, would purchase crystal radio kits, assemble them and string the antenna wire along his mother’s clothesline.

As a teenager, he took a road trip that would set up the course of his life. He and his friends traveled north as far as Bloomington, Indiana, when funds began to run out. Looking for a job to replenish assets, he applied to the RCA plant on Rogers Street. Ordinarily, his lack of formal training would have been an impediment but RCA was just then experimenting with designs for color sets and there was no established technology to learn. By diagramming from memory the circuit design of a popular RCA model, he demonstrated familiarity with the major components and was hired on the spot to be a runner for the engineers developing the new color system.

His duties at RCA consisted largely of gathering components requested by the engineers and distributing them. Along the way, he asked questions about the function of each element and how it fit into the overall design. He stayed about a year, not long enough to see the model CTC4 they were developing go on sale. That didn’t happen until a couple of years later in 1955. But, when he did move back to Texas, he had a pretty good understanding of how video, and color video in particular, worked.

Graduating from crystal radio sets, he and his friend, Don Zuccaro, made a mail-order purchase of plans for a black & white television. Components were not readily available at that time but Jimmie and Don were ingenious and purchased a war surplus radar set with A&B scopes and cannibalized it for parts. The task of hand-winding the tuning coil was simplified because Fort Worth had only one TV station so there was no need to tune anything other than Channel 5.

With skills honed from building his own set and working at the RCA plant in Indiana, Jimmie Songer quickly found work with appliance shops in the Fort Worth area that were beginning to sell television sets but had no one to set them up, connect antennas and service them when needed. This led to an offer, in 1953, to work setting up KMID, Channel 2, in the Midland Odessa area. After a few years with KMID, he worked awhile in the Odessa area and then returned to Fort Worth but he stayed only a year before setting out for Los Angeles in April 1963.

In Los Angeles, he worked at first for a TV repair shop in Burbank while he tinkered with his own experimental projects. Hearing that Dr. Richard Goldberg, the chief scientist at Technicolor, was looking for people with experience with color, he sought him out and secured a job calibrating the color printers. Dr. Goldberg was also developing a two-perforation pull-down camera for widescreen use. Songer became fascinated by the possibility of using that design at 48 fps to make alternate images, one atop the other, which might be used for 3D and built some experimental rigs to test the idea.

This work with Dr. Goldberg in the early ’60s brought him to the attention of Gordon Sawyer at Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Sawyer wanted him to help with an ongoing project for Stan Freberg involving simultaneous video and film recording. Freberg was using side-by-side cameras to create video records of film commercials. The side-byside positioning produced parallax errors but his commercials were mostly static. Generally, the results were good enough for timing and performance checks. But issues of accurately tracking motion would arise whenever the camera did move and Stan Freberg wanted a better system.

Under general supervision from Gordon Sawyer, the team first addressed the issue by adjusting the position of the video camera. They attached a small Panasonic camera to the mount for an Obie light. This put the video lens exactly in line with the film camera lens and only a couple of inches above it. Left-right parallax was effectively eliminated and the vertical alignment could be adjusted to match the film camera with only minimal keystone effect. By affixing a mirror just above the lens mount at a 45-degree angle and mounting the video camera vertically to shoot into the mirror, they reduced vertical parallax to almost nothing. Jimmie Songer addressed the keystone problem by devising a circuit that slightly adjusted the horizontal scan, applying an opposite keystone effect to neutralize the optical effect that was a consequence of slightly tilting the video camera to match the film camera image. Most of the time, this system worked well but there were still limitations. The video system needed to be recalibrated with every lens change. Even with careful adjustment, use of a separate lens for the video meant that depth of field would be different so the video image would only approximate the film image. Blake Edwards knew Gordon Sawyer and approached the team to design a system suitable for movies with moving cameras and frequent lens changes.

The limitations could only be resolved if the video camera used the very same lens used by the film camera. Accomplishing that would require exact positioning of the video lens and adjusting sensitivity of the system both to obtain sufficient light for exposure and to track with the film exposure. Jimmie Songer set about developing a system that could be built into a Panavision Silent Reflex camera (PSR) that used a pellicle mirror to reflect the image to the viewfinder. They left the image path from the lens to the film completely untouched but introduced a second pellicle mirror to reflect the image from the ground glass to a video camera they built into the camera door. This one design change eliminated many of the limitations of previous systems in one stroke. Since the video used the film camera lens and picked up the exact image seen by the film and the camera operator, issues of parallax and matching depth of field were completely eliminated. There was no need to recalibrate the system with every lens change and the video camera was configured to use the same battery supply as the camera. The introduction of a second pellicle mirror did flip the image but Songer corrected this easily by reversing the wires on the deflection coil. But the issue of having sufficient light for the video image still remained.

In one way, a pellicle reflex system is ideal for video use. Unlike a mirror shutter, the pellicle system delivers an uninterrupted image to the viewfinder so there is no need to coordinate the 30-frame video system with a 24-frame film camera. While there would be more frames in a single second of video, the running times would match and that was all that was important. Furthermore, the video image would be free of the flicker seen in the viewfinder of a mirror shutter camera. However, the pellicle mirror used in the reflex path deflected only about one-third of the light to the viewfinder. That was no problem when filming outside in daylight but there was insufficient light when working interiors.

Jimmie Songer needed to make three refinements to the system to address the exposure issue. First, he replaced the vidicon tube that was normally fitted to the camera with a newly available saticon tube that was more sensitive and also provided 1,600 lines of resolution. That helped but wasn’t enough. He then adjusted the optics so that the image, rather than being spread over the full sensitive area of the tube, was delivered only to the center portion. By concentrating on the image, he obtained more exposure and adjusting the horizontal and vertical gain allowed him to spread out the smaller image to fill the monitor. But, there are limits to how much can be gained by this approach. Even with a high-resolution saticon tube, the image will begin to degrade if magnified too far. There was still not enough light for an exposure but the video system had been pushed to its limits so Songer turned his attention to the film camera.

Recognizing that the ground glass itself absorbed a considerable amount of light, Songer contacted Panavision and asked them to fabricate a replacement imaging glass using fiber optic material. Although the potential of using optical fibers for light transmission had been recognized since the 19th century, the availability of sheets of tightly bundled fiber suitable for optics was a recent development in the 1960s. The fiber optic ground “glass” was the trick that made the system work, allowing the video camera function with the light diverted to the viewfinder.

Jimmie Songer and his assistant used the system, first called “instant replay” but now renamed “video assist” to avoid confusion with sports replay systems, on The Party in 1968 and then Darling Lili in 1970. It worked flawlessly, delivering the exact image of the main camera so Blake Edwards, the Director, could follow the action as it happened. It never held up production; to the contrary, Edwards said that it streamlined production because the certain knowledge of how the take looked freed him from making protection takes.

After Darling Lili, the key figures behind the project formed a company, Video West, to further develop the system. They met with rep representatives of the ASC to draw up a series of specifications for video assist systems. Don Howard was brought in to interface the camera with the playback system and operate it in the field. Harry Flagle, the inventor of Quad-Split viewing technology and one of the Ampex engineers who worked on the development of the Model VR-660 portable two-inch recorder, joined the team soon after.

They next used the system on Soldier Blue, directed by Ralph Nelson, and then Wild Rovers, again with Blake Edwards. It proved so popular with producers that Songer and Don Howard, his assistant who was primarily responsible for operating and cuing the video recorder, scheduled projects months in advance and went from film to film. The work was so tightly booked that they sometimes had to ship the camera directly from one project to the next without a return to the shop.

Jimmie Songer joined Local 695, sponsored by Gordon Sawyer, shortly after Darling Lili and continued as a member until his membership was transferred to Local 776 in 1997. In the course of his career, he obtained seventeen US patents for a variety of innovations in high-definition TV and 3D video imaging.

In 2002, he received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy for his work developing video assist. He lives today on a ranch near Fort Worth but continues to refine the video engineering work that has been his life.

Video Assist

A quote, attributed to Tacitus, claims that success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan. It’s just so with the invention of video assist which is claimed by several people. Jerry Lewis is often cited as the inventor and he certainly incorporated simultaneous video recording in his filming practices very early. He began development work in 1956 and first used a video record and playback system during the filming of The Bellboy in 1960. He used the system to view and evaluate his own performance immediately after each take. But the system he used on The Bellboy was the simplest version; a video camera was lashed just above the main lens and would be adjusted to approximately match the view of the film camera lens with each setup. Later, Jerry Lewis also worked to develop a system that would use a pellicle mirror to view the image through the primary lens.

The assertion that Jerry Lewis “invented” video assist is overstated. The original patent for a video assist system dates to 1947 and subsequent patents in 1954 and 1955 added the refinements of merging optical systems to eliminate parallax and adding a second beamsplitter to permit simultaneous use of video and film viewfinders. The integrated video systems that came into general use in films were the work of many individuals each building on the accomplishments of predecessors. Jimmie Songer’s contributions were many and essential as recognized in 2002 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Glossary for highlighted words

Deflection coil – In a CRT (cathode ray tube), the beam of electrons is aimed by magnetic fields generated by coils of wire surrounding the tube. Adjusting the electrical energy sent to different coils directs the electron stream.

Obie light – A diffuse light mounted very near the camera lens, typically just above the matte box, to provide soft fill on faces in close-ups. Lucien Ballard, ASC developed the light to photograph Merle Oberon after her face was scarred in an auto accident.

Pellicle mirror – A semi-transparent mirror used in optical devices. A pellicle reflects a certain percentage of light and allows the remainder to pass through. In the Panavision PSR camera, a pellicle mirror deflected approximately 30% of light to the viewfinder and passed about 70% to the film plane.

Saticon tube – A saticon tube is a refinement of the vidicon tube design that adds particular chemicals to the photosensitive surface to stabilize the signal.

Vidicon tube – A vidicon is one of the early image capture devices made for television cameras. An image focused on a photoconductive surface produces a charge-density pattern that may be scanned and read by an electron beam.

 

Categories
Cinematography Filmmaking

Vittorio Storaro ASC at CineGear 2016

I went to CineGear this year. It was great, was able to catch up and reconnect with some old friends and make new ones.

  • I got a picture of the new Leonard Nimoy street sign on the Paramount lot where the Expo was held.

Nimoy sign

He was also a photographer as well as a director and did many projects at Disney including Body Wars.

  • Zeiss was there with a cut away of one of their lenses.

Zeiss cut away

Stage 19 Kane

  • Panavision showed the new DXL 8K camera. The footage shown was very nice!

panavisionDXL

  • The best thing was seeing Vittorio Storaro ASC.

He talked about working with Woody Allen on his new film for Amazon Studios, Cafe Society.

This is Woody’s first digital feature and Vittorio used the Sony F65;

“I had seen that the Sony F65 was capable of recording beautiful images in 4K and 16 bit-colour depth in 1:2, which is my favorite composition,” Storaro said. “So when Woody called me this year asking me to be the cinematographer of his new film with the working title ‘WASP 2015,’ my decision was already made. I convinced him to record the film in digital, so we can begin our journey together in the digital world. It’s time now for the Sony F65!”

He spoke of the Technicolor IB process, light, shadows and color and said that digital makes it too easy.

He stated that a trend that has emerged with the use of digital cameras is that “people want to work faster or show that they can use less light, but they don’t look for the proper light the scenes needs. That isn’t cinematography, that’s recording an image. … I was never happy in any set to just see available light,” said Storaro, who has won Oscars for Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. “Even in very important films that take Academy Awards, you can record an image without location lighting. But that’s not necessarily the right light for the character. We have to always move a story forward, not step back.”

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

He elaborated on his work with Coppola and that he hasn’t used anamorphic lenses for many years. Sorry Mr. Tarantino.

The best and most important part though, was when he got even more philosophical. He mentioned Mozart, the Lumiere brothers, Newton, Caravaggio, architecture, and Plato and the Cave. From his website:

Ever since Plato’s “Myth of the Cave” we are used to seeing Images in a specific space. In Plato’s myth, prisoners are kept in a cave facing an interior wall, while behind them, at the entrance to the cave, there is a lighted fire, with some people with statues and flags passing in front of the fire. At the same time, their shadows are projected onto the interior wall of the cave by fire’s light. The prisoners are looking at the moving shadows in that specific area of the wall. They are watching images as a simulation, a “simulacre” of reality, not reality itself. The myth of Plato is a metaphor for the Cinema.

He believes that film is a collaboration as opposed to the auteur theory and emphasized the importance of story.

“You need to find the balance of technology and art,” continued Storaro, who was inspiring and thought-provoking in his speech, also raising an argument against the use of the term ‘director of photography’ to define the role of the cinematographer. “That’s a major mistake. There cannot be two directors. … Let’s respect the director,” he asserted, saying that ‘cinematographer’ is the appropriate word, and adding that it’s not interchangeable with photographer. “Cinematography is motion, we need a journey and to arrive at another point. We don’t create a beautiful frame, but a beautiful film. That’s why I say ‘writing with light.'”

lastemperor

 

Categories
Photography

Jeff Bridges and his Widelux camera

I have always enjoyed Jeff Bridges in films like The Fisher King, both the original Tron and Tron Legacy, as well as the overlooked Lucas/Coppola film Tucker. When I found out he was into Widelux photography I was excited to show some of his photos on my site.

 

tucker
Francis Ford Coppola & George Lucas with a Tucker car

From the New York Times Lens Blog.

Some photographers are drawn to dramatic events in exotic lands. Others are compelled to stay closer to home and burrow into the stories they know best.

The actor Jeff Bridges gets to do both. He photographs the world he grew up in, movie sets — each one a world never seen before. And he earns a little more than your average photographer while doing it.

Since 1984, Mr. Bridges has documented the sets of most of his movies, compiling a large collection of wide images that give an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at movie making.

“My photography is mainly focused on my work making movies, which I’ve done my whole life,” he said in a phone interview. “I think I have a perspective that not many people have. And I get to take advantage of all of the strange sources of light on a set.”

Though Mr. Bridges is better known for his acting roles — The Dude in “The Big Lebowski,” Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” Kevin Flynn in the Tron movies — he will receive special recognition tomorrow at the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Awards dinner in New York.


This is not the first time Mr. Bridges has been honored: he has been nominated for six Academy Awards and received an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as Otis Blake in the 2009 film “Crazy Heart.” But he says it is “wonderful to be recognized by people who love photography.”

Mr. Bridges uses a Widelux camera for almost all of his photos because he says its ultrawide images are close to how the human eye really sees. It’s a quirky camera that allows photographers to emphasize both foreground and background. In the introduction to his book “Pictures,” published in 2003, Mr. Bridges wrote about his favorite camera:

The Widelux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.

The Widelux has a lens mounted on a moving turret. As the lens moves, a slit shutter sweeps across a wide plane of film, creating a sometimes blurry cinematic effect. It can take two and a half seconds for a normal exposure (at one-fifteenth of a second). This gives the photographer less control of the result, because when one starts taking a picture, it is hard to know exactly what will happen two seconds in the future on the far side of the frame.

“I look at the camera as sort of a missing link between motion picture photography and still photography,” Mr. Bridges said.

Photography is different from movie making because it is more of a solitary endeavor, even when one is photographing a lot of people. But in both disciplines, the product doesn’t always turn out as expected.

“You show up, you practice, you have as much technique that you can bring, and then the reality has much to give to the experience,” Mr. Bridges said. “That’s what makes it such a joy to look at the contact sheets. You see what you thought you had and you did, and what you didn’t think you had and you got, and that’s very similar to making movies.”

Mr. Bridges has acted professionally since he was a young child, when he appeared with his father, Lloyd Bridges, star of the television series “Sea Hunt,” on that show. While attending high school in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he built a home darkroom in a bathroom and fell in love with black-and-white printing. As his acting career took off, he left photography behind — until he appeared in the 1976 remake of “King Kong,” in which he played an paleontologist who always carried a camera. That rekindled his interest, and after his wife bought him a Widelux, he brought it to the set of “Starman” in 1984.

His co-star Karen Allen suggested they make a book of photos for the cast, and for almost every film he has been in since then, Mr. Bridges has made a special, limited-edition book for the cast and crew.

His purchasable collection, “Pictures,” was published by PowerHouse Books, and he donates the proceeds — including from sales of individual prints — to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and several organizations that fight hunger in the United States.

At times, his photographs form a visually refined family album that includes his father; his brother, the actor Beau Bridges; and his fellow actors. They provide a behind-the-scenes view of movie making and sometimes resemble early silent slapstick shorts more than they do fine art films.

Mr. Bridges revels in using the Widelux’s long exposure time to take in-camera photos of his acting friends (Slide 12 and above) making comedic and tragic faces. During a single exposure, they run from one end of the frame to the other and pose goofily for the camera.

He wants to publish a book of his newer images and intends to continue photographing the sets of his movies.

So, Mr. Bridges will abide. You can take comfort in that.

 

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Above photo set from Fstoppers.

The Widelux his wife had given to him barely leaves his side, as you will notice in these rare black-and-white photographs from behind the scenes of some of his movies. Co-star cameos, interesting anecdotes, and filmmaking secrets are revealed in his galleries which have also been published into a photo book, Jeff Bridges: Pictures.

Panoramic photos by Jeff Bridges while on the sets of _Crazy Heart_, _Iron Man_, _True Grit_, _TRON: Legacy_, and The Amateurs._

“The Wide-Lux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual.”

Visit Jeff Bridges for more info. Sources include IMDB and Wikipedia.

From Lomography.

Categories
Animation Television

Animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston on The Tonight Show

Here are Frank and Ollie promoting their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation on the Tonight Show. Both Frank and Ollie were Disney Legends and The Illusion of Life is still one of the best books on animation. I was lucky enough to meet them both. They are asked about working for Walt and some of the controversies surrounding him. Great interview!

 

Disney did a great documentary about them. Available as a DVD or on streaming. I recommend this film to anybody interested in Disney history or animation.

frank&ollie 


Frank and Ollie Trailer by cine_trailers

They also have a website http://www.frankanollie.com/

 

 

Categories
Cinematography Filmmaking

Color in Film: the 10 best film color systems

The Red Shoes, Director of Photography Jack Cardiff BSC (above)

Since we are now going through a film usage renaissance, I thought a good historical overview of color film processes was in order. Technicolor and Eastman color color are just two of the many mentioned here (courtesy BFI). Most are now defunct, but of particular interest is tinting, used in The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger.

Do you know your Technicolor from your Kodachrome? The science of colour in film, which will be explored in a second annual event at BFI Southbank in March, has brought us many innovative systems over the past 120 years. Here’s an expert’s guide to 10 of the best.

by Uli Ruedel BFI

The Red Shoes (1948) in Glorious Technicolor

The Red Shoes (1948) in Glorious Technicolor

In early 2015, the BFI hosted Colour in Film, an enthusiastically received symposium held by the Colour Group, an interdisciplinary society bringing together experts in the field of colour. The event highlighted issues of colour film restoration, and how and where these related to the discipline of colour science, furthering the interaction between these two vibrant but thus far largely separated communities.

We are happy to announce that we can now embark on our next step to extend Colour in Film into a regular scholarly event to foster and grow the interaction between the colour film restoration and colour science circles. The international conference Colour in Film will begin on 2 March 2016, 14.00 at BFI Southbank with specially selected colour film screenings contextualised by expert introductions as well as an opening reception. It then continues with all-day presentations on 3 March, 9.00-17.00, at Friends House near London Euston Station.

Many of the colour systems featured in the conference appear in the below list, which we first published to coincide with the first Colour in Film session in 2015. Even within the year since this first conference, trends in film exhibition and restoration have shifted, so we have updated and amended the list below accordingly. Colour in Film is a joint initiative of the Colour Group, the British Film Institute and HTW – University of Applied Sciences, Berlin.

What IS colour? Colour is a sensation, a product of the human mind, as we shall learn in this year’s keynote address by Prof. Andrew Stockman. Yet it can be measured – or rather, derived from measurement – as we learned at the 2015 event and shall be reminded this year by Prof. Mike Pointer. Since the beginning of film and photography, attempts have been made to capture and reproduce colour. And some of these systems are especially beautiful where they do not reach their goal, ‘natural colour’, but rather achieve a heightened sensation of colour and emotion that we still struggle to understand and reproduce in restoration – the main, and vastly interdisciplinary focus of our event.

Such colour systems include:

10. Eastmancolor

So called LADs (Laboratory Aim Density charts) with ‘China Girls’ allow assessment of select defined colours as well as of skin tones in these Eastmancolor clippings

So called LADs (Laboratory Aim Density charts) with ‘China Girls’ allow assessment of select defined colours as well as of skin tones in these Eastmancolor clippings
Credit: U. Ruedel

Often maligned, perhaps in comparison to the ‘Glorious’ Technicolor it replaced, or for the fading of some materials, Eastmancolor and similar colour negative processes are often too easily dismissed, ignoring their revolutionary accomplishments. In the 1950s, they overcame the registration and fringing issues of Technicolor and, in this manner, made colour film ready for the widescreen revolution.

They developed the chemistry pioneered by Kodachrome reversal and Agfacolor negative stocks further by introducing the colour ‘mask’ that is responsible for the typical orange of colour negative films, making printing and copying in colour much more feasible. Under severe threat from digital projection nowadays, modern, analogue colour film still remains the top standard for any large-screen colour moving image experience, especially on the large 70mm film stock, just so gloriously revived by Quentin Tarantino for his The Hateful Eight (2015).

9. Dufaycolor

A Colour Box (1935), Dufaycolor reversal colour positive

A Colour Box (1935), Dufaycolor reversal colour positive
Credit: BFI National Archives. These and other colour treasures were documented by Professor Barbara Flueckiger in a joint project with BFI for her Timeline of Historical Film Colors

With its mosaic of red, green and blue colour areas known as a réseau, Dufaycolor was an additive system, that is, one creating colour in the same manner as, say, the modern red, green and blue pixels of a computer monitor. It’s even tempting to see its mosaic colour pattern, which blends at sufficient viewing distance into the intended colours, as a precursor of the modern colour pixel.

This complex process emerged in 1933, though was soon to become outdated due to more effective subtractive systems such as Gasparcolor, Technicolor, Kodachrome and, eventually, colour negative film. But this was not before making some of the most beautiful British colour films possible, including the famous abstract films by animator Len Lye, such as 1935’s A Colour Box, seen in the above frame grab. Significant progress in the restoration of Dufaycolor has been made within Prof. Barbara Flueckiger’s DIASTOR project, and will be showcased in the 2016 Colour in Film screenings.

8. Colour separations

Principle of colour separations, starting from an Eastmancolor LAD (digital simulation)

Principle of colour separations, starting from an Eastmancolor LAD (digital simulation)
Credit: U. Ruedel

It bears repeating that the most stable colour records are those separated into black-and-white film strips, representing the three primary colours, each as a black-and-white master positive or negative. Technicolor produced its negatives on three black-and-white film strips or (for animation) as three successive images on one strip, in each case separately recording and rendering three basic colours. They still hold up breathtakingly, copied onto modern film or remastered to the latest DCP or high-def formats. Gasparcolor used the same approach for its negatives, and to this day, copying colour materials onto three separate silver gelatin, black-and-white images remains the most durable colour record for moving images ever invented.

7. Two-color Technicolor and Two-color Kodachrome

Much like Technicolor’s revolutionary colour system in the 1920s, the earliest Kodachrome (related to the later, better-known reversal process one by name only) used only two primary colours, red and green-blue, with its respective photographic emulsions on two sides of a single film strip. Both systems are somewhat similar in their photographic-chemical approaches, if not in detail, and their limited colour rendition might not accurately represent the scene photographed, but could beautifully render skin tones in a glowing, sometimes nearly marble-like beauty.

Technicolor’s implementation (in two different versions known as Technicolor No. II and No. III) enjoyed quite some success in 1920s cinema, more often than not for select sequences highlighted by their ‘natural’ colour, like the religious scenes in Ben-Hur (1925). Famous features entirely shot in the process include Douglas Fairbanks’ The Black Pirate (1926), preserved at the BFI in its proper colours resembling period book illustrations, and Michael Curtiz’s pioneering early colour horror films, Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). For the definitive history of two-color Technicolor, look no further than James Layton’s and David Pierce’s magnum opus published by the George Eastman Museum.

6. Gasparcolor

Ship of the Ether (1934)

Ship of the Ether (1934)
Credit: BFI National Archive. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Admittedly short-lived after its 1933 introduction, but vibrant and pioneering, Gasparcolor was a so-called dye destruction system, requiring extensive exposure. Animation scholar William Moritz described the system by its “perfect hues for animation,” and it was this way it was used by artists such as Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye and George Pal. For a while it was the only technically serious competitor to Technicolor. For the most recent restoration study, consult HTW graduate Andrea Krämer’s master thesis (in German), available through the Timeline of Historical Film Colors.

5. Kodachrome

Introduced in 1935, the Kodachrome reversal process was the first successful colour system employing what we know today as colour development, using so-called couplers that create the dyes within a film upon photographic development. Available as a reversal material only, it entered the amateur movie market while the cinema market was only slowly moving towards Technicolor.

Most Kodachrome films are vibrant (even a national park, Utah’s Kodachrome Basin, has been named after the system) and quite stable, and thus home or non-theatrical movies shot in the format can provide rare historic colour images such as those of the Second World War or the lives of ordinary people.

4. Agfacolor

Developed in Germany in the 1930s, but tainted by its emergence in the state-controlled cinema of the Nazi era, Agfacolor was the first successful colour negative material, and as such, a major innovation and a technical predecessor of the American Eastman colour negative introduced in the 1950s.

In the post-war era, the material’s typical pastel hues offered a beautiful alternative to America’s more candy-coloured Technicolor and Eastmancolor materials for the national cinemas, say, of Scandinavia or Germany, and its equivalent East German successor Orwocolor (renamed in 1964) has similarly recently been re-appraised, such as in the 2013 Emulsion Matters series at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna. One of the most important – and problematic – Agfacolor films is Veit Harlan’s Opfergang (1944). Extracts from the ongoing restoration of the film by Murnaustiftung will for the first time publicly be shown by Prof. Flueckiger during the 2 March Colour in Film screenings.

Opfergang (1944). Excerpts of the new restoration of this Veit Harlan film will be premiered during the 2016 conference, Colour in Film

Opfergang (1944). Excerpts of the new restoration of this Veit Harlan film will be premiered during the 2016 conference, Colour in Film
Credit: By courtesy of Murnaustiftung, Wiesbaden. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Die verwitterte Melodie (1943). Orwocolor safety print of this Agfacolor film

Die verwitterte Melodie (1943). Orwocolor safety print of this Agfacolor film
Credit: U. Ruedel

3. Tinting and toning

Even in the earliest silent movie era, the majority of films were in colour, though colours were subsequently applied to the black-and-white image rather than naturally photographed. Tinting would literally bathe the entire image in colour dyes, resulting in subtle or saturated, vibrant, incredibly transparent colours that often are still impossible to fully match with today’s photographic or digital imaging methods.

Colour in Film offers the unique opportunity to see extracts of German silent films films chemically tinted following the historic processes. These will be screened on 2 March in comparison with modern analogue and digital restorations, presented by Anke Wilkening (Murnaustiftung) and Prof. Ulrich Ruedel (HTW Berlin). We will also be treated to the most recent restoration techniques to best digitally approximate the look of tinting, in Der Märchenwald, ein Schattenspiel (1919), presented by Prof. Flueckiger.

Der Märchenwald, ein Schattenspiel (1919), which will be screened during the 2016 conference, Colour in Film

Der Märchenwald, ein Schattenspiel (1919), which will be screened during the 2016 conference, Colour in Film
Credit: By courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Der Märchenwald, ein Schattenspiel (1919)

Der Märchenwald, ein Schattenspiel (1919)
Credit: By courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Toning, in contrast, would replace the black-and-white silver image with one equally crisp and defined, but comprised from inorganic pigments such as the well-known sepia brown or Prussian Blue. These chemistries were measured and their palettes will be explored in depth in Prof. Ruedel’s 3 March presentation.

Tinting and toning could also be evocatively combined, yielding two-colour, yet artificial images of particular beauty, such as in the brand-new restoration of Fritz Lang’s melancholic masterpiece Destiny (1921), freshly restored by Murnaustiftung and to be explored by Anke Wilkening in depth in her 3 March talk.

Dänische Landschaften [Danish Landscapes] (1912)

Dänische Landschaften [Danish Landscapes] (1912)
Credit: Joye Collection, BFI National Archive. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Essentially a silent film technique, tinting would also occasionally be applied in the sound era, perhaps most recently in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) to suggest the heat experienced on the Earth as it drifts to the sun. For our recent sci-fi season, the film was digitally restored by the BFI, drawing on this rare original tinted print (note the typical image squeeze, meant to be stretched to CinemaScope dimensions on the screen) as a colour guide.

Tinted frame for The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Tinted frame for The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Credit: BFI National Archive

2. Hand and stencil colouring

Adapting an approach well known for, say, photographic postcards from the 19th century (but dating back even to prehistoric cave paintings), hand and stencil colours were made from solutions of synthetic dyes applied to films shot on black-and-white materials, much like in tinting but selectively, thus to create the first ‘colour’ films.

The Cascades of the Houyoux (Province of Liège, Belgium) (1911)

The Cascades of the Houyoux (Province of Liège, Belgium) (1911)
Credit: Joye Collection, BFI National Archive. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

The version done frame by frame, by hand, copy per copy, would be the most laborious, but soon French production company Pathé would establish its semi-automated stencil colour system, where, once stencils were cut for every colour for a given film, they could more easily be brushed onto numerous copies, and benefit from very concise outlines. Artificial but also incredibly beautiful, whether lavishly applied or selectively, naturalistically or fantastically, these colours still exert their magic spell on an audience after more than a century.

1. Glorious Technicolor

In the year of the 100th anniversary of the company that developed it through the years (‘Glorious Technicolor’ is actually the fourth Technicolor system, with two-color Technicolor systems No. 2 and 3 its most important predecessors, see above), Hollywood’s first enduring colour system easily makes the number one spot on this list. With prints that are essentially made in a lithographic, ‘dye transfer’ process, its vibrancy is reminiscent of the earlier, ‘unnatural’ applied dye colours, yet it was the first system to offer full ‘natural’ colour photographic moving images.

The Red Shoes (1948)

The Red Shoes (1948)
Credit: BFI National Archives. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger, Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Hollywood classics like Gone with the Wind (1939) are unthinkable without the systems, but there were also, in their aesthetics, distinctly European and British implementations of the system, such as The Red Shoes (1948). Even after the bulky Technicolor camera had to succumb to the use of Eastman colour negatives in conventional film cameras, Technicolor printing remained the preferred way to ensure vibrant prints even from Eastman negatives, well into the 1970s, for everything from spaghetti westerns to Hammer horror. This may be the subject of a future Colour in Film edition.

Want to know more? Consult the Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Timeline of Historical Film Colours

Timeline of Historical Film Colours

The BFI National Archive’s vaults are home to a host of treasures reflecting the international history of film colour, including British contributions ranging from early colour systems such as Friese-Greene to the unique aesthetics achieved with American Technicolor by cinematographers such as Jack Cardiff.

In film restoration, rendering historical colours faithfully in modern photographic or digital copies remains a substantial challenge. Improvements have been made both within the analogue realm and by the extended possibilities digital restoration offers. Still, many existing copies only to a limited extent reflect original colour appearance, and even in brand-new restorations, the colours of originals can turn out to be beyond the range of modern films or digital colour spaces. Thus, ‘passive’ conservation to protect original materials for the future in state-of-the-art film store facilities remains of the highest priority, but so does further research and documentation on the colours of 20th-century motion pictures towards improved understanding and more faithful restoration.

The BFI has always been engaged with these problems, ranging from issues related to the very earliest colour films to the authentic colour rendering in major BFI restoration projects, with scientific research and outreach informing such endeavours. Recognising the quantum leap towards documentation of historical colour systems facilitated with her Timeline of Historical Film Colors, the BFI’s conservation managers and curators were thus delighted to welcome the University of Zurich’s Professor Barbara Flueckiger to the J. Paul Getty Jr Conservation Centre in March 2014. In a joint project and with help from the conservation and collection teams, various colour systems evidenced in the rich collections were to be visually documented for dissemination within the Timeline website.

During two days on site, Professor Flueckiger thus captured numerous high-quality, colour-calibrated digital images of a carefully selected, yet extensive number of historic colour prints, often on volatile nitrate stock, from the BFI’s vaults. The high-quality images thus generated now form part of the BFI’s Collections and Information Database and are available both to specialists and the public through the galleries in the Timeline of Historical Film Colors.

Colours captured range from the early, ‘unnatural’ tint and stencil colours in the BFI’s remarkable Joseph Joye Collection to the pioneering ‘natural’ colour systems such as the additive Francita and Dufaycolor processes, the latter famously employed in films by Len Lye and Humphrey Jennings. They evidence both colour fading such as in Dufaychrome and the gorgeous, resilient colours of, for instance, Gasparcolor (typically employed in animation, but also used in rare London documentary footage). They also comprise the most famous systems such as Technicolor (and even its variations among different archives’ prints) and effectively forgotten ones such as Cinechrome, Spectracolor, Chemicolor and Dunningcolor.

Buy Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé on BFI DVD

Categories
Animation Technology VFX

Face2Face: Real-time Face Capture

I have already blogged about software that allows actors facial expressions to be edited in post. Now take a look at Face2Face: Real-time Face Capture. It can map new facial expressions real time over video. While very interesting from a technological viewpoint, the idea of ‘photoshopping” video will certainly affect journalistic ethics and the trustworthiness of video evidence.

From Michael Zhang Petapixel.

Face swap camera apps are all the rage these days, and Facebook even acquired one this month to get into the game. But the technology is getting more and more creepy: you can now hijack someone else’s face in real-time video.

A team of researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and Stanford University are working on a project called Face2Face, which is described as “real-time face capture and reenactment of RGB videos.”

bushhead

Basically, they’re working on technology that lets you take over the face of anyone in a video clip. By sitting in front of an ordinary webcam, you can, in real-time, manipulate the face of someone in a target video. The result is convincing and photo-realistic.

vladimirhead

The face swap is done by tracking the facial expressions of both the subject and the target, doing a super fast “deformation transfer” between the two, warping the mouth to produce an accurate fit, and rerendering the synthesized face and blending it with real-world illumination.

techdemo

To test the system, the researchers invited subjects to puppeteer the faces of famous people (e.g. George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger) in video clips found on YouTube. You can see the results (and an explanation of the technology) in this 6.5-minute video:

Proc. Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR), IEEE, June 2016.

Abstract

We present a novel approach for real-time facial reenactment of a monocular target video sequence (e.g., Youtube video). The source sequence is also a monocular video stream, captured live with a commodity webcam. Our goal is to animate the facial expressions of the target video by a source actor and re-render the manipulated output video in a photo-realistic fashion. To this end, we first address the under-constrained problem of facial identity recovery from monocular video by non-rigid model-based bundling. At run time, we track facial expressions of both source and target video using a dense photometric consistency measure. Reenactment is then achieved by fast and efficient deformation transfer between source and target. The mouth interior that best matches the re-targeted expression is retrieved from the target sequence and warped to produce an accurate fit. Finally, we convincingly re-render the synthesized target face on top of the corresponding video stream such that it seamlessly blends with the real-world illumination. We demonstrate our method in a live setup, where Youtube videos are reenacted in real time.

See Matthias Nießner for more info.

 

It can also be done with 2 live cameras.

ACM Transactions on Graphics 2015 (TOG)

Abstract

We present a method for the real-time transfer of facial expressions from an actor in a source video to an actor in a target video, thus enabling the ad-hoc control of the facial expressions of the target actor. The novelty of our approach lies in the transfer and photo-realistic re-rendering of facial deformations and detail into the target video in a way that the newly-synthesized expressions are virtually indistinguishable from a real video. To achieve this, we accurately capture the facial performances of the source and target subjects in real-time using a commodity RGB-D sensor. For each frame, we jointly fit a parametric model for identity, expression, and skin reflectance to the input color and depth data, and also reconstruct the scene lighting. For expression transfer, we compute the difference between the source and target expressions in parameter space, and modify the target parameters to match the source expressions. A major challenge is the convincing re-rendering of the synthesized target face into the corresponding video stream. This requires a careful consideration of the lighting and shading design, which both must correspond to the real-world environment. We demonstrate our method in a live setup, where we modify a video conference feed such that the facial expressions of a different person (e.g., translator) are matched in real-time.

Categories
Animation Art Documentary

Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully painted feature-length film about Vincent Van Gogh

Telling the story of Van Gogh’s life through fictional interviews with the characters in the artist’s works, Loving Vincent will use a new oil painting for each shot, with movement added from one frame to the next by a painter’s brush. Producer and co-director Hugh Welchman, who won an Academy Award six years ago for Peter and the Wolf, plans to employ 42 painters to make the animation, recreating Van Gogh’s life using workstations designed for ‘stop-motion painting’.

The painters will be allocated landscapes or portraits to work on in a process that the studio has created from scratch. “No one had set up an infrastructure to make painting animation at scale,” says Welchman. “Disney did this for 2D, Pixar for 3D, and Aardman for stop motion – but no one has done it for painting animation.”

Using an approach that mirrors the master-apprentice workshops of Michelangelo, Rubens – and, today, Damien Hirst – the workshop will have a prolific output, producing each frame in just 40 minutes. But it won’t be a canvas sweatshop. “Some painters will be part-time because of personal limits of concentration,” says Welchman. “Some of our best painters find that five hours of intense painting is enough for one day.”


Welchman is keen to use the technique again, and says that the studio’s painters will be showing animations on giant screens in London this June. After the film is completed, a quarter of the paintings will be selected for a touring exhibition; the rest will be sold off.

Drawing its plot from 800 letters written by the painter, Loving Vincent is a fresh take on someone whose life has been well documented – and it might be more fitting than a conventional biography. In his last letter, Van Gogh said: “Well, the truth is, we cannot speak other than by our paintings.”

By Fiona Macdonald

Images from Colossal

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