Great book – The Wizard of MGM: Memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie

61Nm6iAkQaL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_
Terrible cover, great book – The memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie

I recently finished reading through this brilliant look at mattes and miniatures. Don’t be put of by the cover, this book is an excellent memoir from MGM’s head of effects during Hollywood’s golden age. The manuscript, that Gillespie penned in the sixties, has only recently been published, and so it does suffer from slightly below par photographic illustrations, but this is amply compensated for by their quantity, coverage and the privileges of the authors extensive access.

vlcsnap-06297
Miniature effects scene from Thirty Second Over Tokyo

Penned decades before the pre-digital era, the focus of the book is made up of practical and optical effects, mostly by miniatures and matte paintings. The language verges a little towards lines that sound like they came out of Mad Men at times, but not too much. Gillespie can definitely tell a good story, loves a tangent, and goes into he kind of in-depth details that will make Cinefex jealous.

Fascinating and brilliant, can’t recommend it enough!

Available from Amazon

* I borrowed this shot from one of the best miniatures resources on the web, the blog of Kiwi, NZ Pete (can’t find his real name) – Matte Shot – a tribute to Golden Era special fx

Trying something new: A 1:6 scale miniature set, with 3D tracking and digital extensions…

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.

Shot of the in-progress, 1:6 scale, miniature set, featuring snow and ice effects
A shot of the miniature including snow and ice effects.

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.

Detail shot of 1:6 scale miniature set, featuring snow and ice effects
Detail of the miniature in it’s current stage of development.

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

An earlier shot of the miniature set, prior to adding snow and ice effects.
Shot of the miniature prior to the application of snow and ice effects.

 

Elysium FX: A micro featurette for Wired by FX Guide

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.

Ray Harryhausen 1920 – 2013

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.

3D Printing as a Design Tool

The use of technology as a tool within the design process has always fascinated me. Over the past couple of decades, our industry has been revolutionised in ways that would have been difficult to imagine in times prior to the 1980’s – think CAD, 3D, Photoshop, scanners, digital cameras, LED lighting, laptops and justabout anything connected to the internet or requiring a charger!

Recently, 3D printing has been gaining prominence. As the powers and capabilities of the hardware and software improve, the costs become lower and the technology becomes ever more accessible. Whilst exploring a tangent on Google, I stumbled upon this wonderful video from Makerbot highlighting the work of theatre set designer, Kacie Hultgren. Kacie uses a 3D printer from Makerbot to “print” detailed scale models of props and sets for the set design models of Broadway productions she is working on.

For Kacie, a 3D printer has enabled her not only to save time, but also to plug a gap that existed in commercially available content.

A number of her designs are now available as ready printed models, or as open source downloads from Thingiverse that you print on your own 3D printer.

This ability to not only print designs for presentation, but then sell designs and models digitally suggests a paradigm shift in the way that designers work and market their work. There are downsides, not least the potential for piracy that has afflicted the music and film industry. Hopefully, designers will be quick to embrace this opportunity, but even quicker to design a means of securing their IP.