Having worked exclusively in digital formats for the past 15 years, I have recently been making a concerted effort to resurrect some of my practical design skills. Around five years ago, I started to sketch more frequently, as I began to take on more of a design lead on projects. It proved a great complement to pixels.
More recently, I have looked to expand upon this positive experience and started to explore the use of miniatures in filmmaking. The shots below are of a miniature I have been developing for a sequence of shots based on a snowy environment I have designed. Two faces of a section of a building have been constructed, and set within a snow covered landscape. This miniature set design will ultimately be extended through the use of digital set extensions and 3D tracking.
The shell of the building was made out of foamcore, which was then clad in balsa. The balsa was ridiculously pristine when first applied, but has since been aged and weathered with heavily diluted ink washes. The snow is a combination of polystyrene base, on top of which, model railway snow effects and marble dust (to add sparkle) have been applied. The icicles are made by applying model railway water effect gel to waxed paper. Once dried, they are glued to the eaves of the building. It’s not finished yet, but so far, it’s proved to be a hugely, enjoyable indulgence.
As with any miniature, depth of field has proved problematic. The only way to counter this, has been to dramatically stop down. Testing has shown f16 to be the absolute maximum, but to achieve optimum results, I am going to need to reduce the aperture even further. The direct consequence of this, is that I then need ridiculous levels of light.
I’m currently looking at stop motion techniques to achieve small apertures, with less light and longer exposures. This approach will allow for better digital environments through better depth of field and improved image quality and resolution compared to video capture.
I wanted to post these before Fortitude is screened tomorrow, as I started work on this last Autumn but business has been very busy and limited the opportunities to work on these kinds of personal projects.
Work schedules permitting, I’m hoping to have the first sequence completed by the Spring
A very concise micro featurette by FX Guide, for Wired, that looks at the push to get back to doing more effects in-camera. Whilst the reviews for the films story have been reserved (listen to Mark Kermodes review for BBC Radio 5), there is no denying that visually, it looks stunning. Despite being introduced as a look at the return to in-camera effects, the miniatures used in the movie flash by too quickly. At the same time, arguably the showpiece of the whole film is the Elysium Torus, but that’s a CG effect. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad way to waste 3 minutes on a Friday.
As a kid, this (Valley of Gwangi, 1969) was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen when it appeared as the Saturday night movie on our black and white TV*. This movie, along with the Seven Voyages of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts were quite magical. I knew that they were models and miniatures, but I didn’t care because they were beautifully crafted and to me, seemed full of life. It was not until my teens that I discovered that the same man, Ray Harryhausen was responsible for these films, along with a whole host of other fantastic visions.
Sadly, Ray Harryhausen passed away yesterday. The obituary in todays Guardian does a better job than I ever could, but it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that cinema has lost one of it’s true greats.
*It was the mid-seventies in a tired seaside town in North Yorkshire and I would have been approx six years old. Colour TV had been invented (I’m not that old), but only a few of the neighbours had it.
“My intention is to highlight the artistry of VFX by showing you the canvas. At a time when even Hollywood can’t seem tell the difference between Oscar-winning Visual Effects and Oscar-winning Cinematography, I think it needs to be made clear which is which. Without the fantastic VFX work by talented artists, Hollywood films would not be what they are today.” – Before VFX Tumblr blog
An in-depth look at the digital environments created by MPC for Prometheus.
I found the quality of visual content in Prometheus surpassed anything offered by the story, but this is a Ridley Scott film after all and by the laws of cinema it couldn’t look anything other than magnificent.
The digital environments here are comprised entirely of landscapes inspired by the scenery of Iceland and Wadi Rum in Jordan. Visual Effects supervisor Richard Stammers talks us through the process of creating the surface of planet LV-223, from initial location scouting, through the use of Google Earth, to the final construction and composition of the digital world.
This feauturette is better than the special features supplied on the DVD/Blu-ray and well worth your time.