Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where There's Smoke

For "Where There's Smoke" I used a clay on glass technique, where the images of fire where "sculpted" into the clay, down to the glass, revealing the light below. I used black modeling clay, which was completely opaque. This was back lit by a photo flood light. There was a sheet of diffusion filter about six inches below the clay on glass layer. It made the light very bright but glowing more than glaring. Then I placed a sheet of glass painted with fire colors over the clay. I used Pebeo Vitrea 160 paint, it's a glossy transparent paint for glass. It's a kind of enamel paint and smells like nail polish, only ten times stronger. I let a heavy coat of red set up a little and then painted into it with a stiff brush. It made flame like striations in the old paint while filling in the lines with yellow and orange. This sheet of glass was positioned in a random way over each sequential frame "drawing". The glass layer was not flush with the clay. As the clay layer was uneven and changed from frame to frame, the flame glass was always a little higher then the clay. This gave the animated flames a lot of extra glow, and because it changed every frame, it also gave it a nice flicker.

These images show the clay on the glass with the back light on. The second image shows the painted glass layer, and the third image shows the combined elements.

It's like drawing with fire.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I wrote this in 1989 after completing my first (and only so far) feature film "Prisoners of Inertia", which I wrote and directed . I learned a lot being in the driver's seat of such a big rig. I used to distribute my list to students when I taught at the Columbia in the film program. It was printed in the student filmmaking manuel, but I thought it might be of use to any aspiring filmmakers who might drift through this blog.

Jeffrey Scher, CU Film Division adjunct professor and experimental filmmaker, shot a feature film several years ago. Shortly after, he jotted down what he'd learned. These are lessons worth repeating.

  • Never endanger your own or your cast/crew's safety. If there's risk involved, find another way to do it.
  • You set the tone for crew morale—be spirited, supportive, sensitive and sober. If the crew is with you, you'll have a better shoot and a better film.
  • Never say No to an actor—always say Yes... and... It doesn't always matter whether you make the right or wrong choice on a tough call—as long as you are willing to make it work.
  • Keep direction (to actors) private (between director and actor). It makes actors feel less "on the spot" and gives you more credibility.
  • Dress warm: if it's hot, you can discard layers. If you're cold, you lose 35% of your brain functions.
  • Plan but stay flexible: be prepared to react to—and incorporate—the unexpected.
  • Let scenes play out. Don't jump on the end of a scene with Cut! Keep the tails on your scenes and you'll be much happier in the editing room.
  • Think about transitions between scenes, or from scene to scene—especially with time transitions within locations.
  • No smoking / drugs / alcohol on set.
  • Eat normally—avoid the sugar ups and downs of the craft services table.
  • Scripts are written on paper, not stone. Change things to make them work/fit your actors and location. Don't be afraid to respond to on-set revelations. Let actors participate—but then slip away to write actual changes or they will run you ragged.
  • Lock away in the back of your mind just what it was about this film that excited you in the first place, as you're very likely to forget in the chaos of production.
  • When the light is failing, it's quicker to move actors than to move the camera.
  • You did three-quarters of your directing when you cast.
  • Accept your choices and work with them and who they are—don't try to make quails out of flamingoes.
  • Accept "gifts"—wonderful things that spring up on location. Just don't launch down endless tangents.
  • Make triple sure all working props really work.
  • Make sure the sound person gets quiet for room tone.
  • Stills seem like the most insignificant element on the set, but if you don't get them then, they won't exist. And they're very important later.
  • If you know a shot or sequence is important, don't let anybody talk you out of it.
  • Accept compromises when you must. Just try to compromise with wit and optimism—and all the creativity you can muster.
  • Every movie is 3 movies: the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit. Moments that seemed life or death issues on paper have a magical way on set of being irrelevant, and in the editing room, obtuse.
  • Trust your instincts: first guess is always best.
  • Remember: it's only a movie!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Francis Thompson, NY, NY: A Day in New York (1957)

Francis Thompson made this jewel of a film in 1957. He was a painter and art teacher before discovering filmmaking. Inspired by cubism and futurism, this film is a uniquely cinematic celebration of the spectacle of New York City. It is a city symphony unlike any other as it is simultaneously abstract and figurative. Every shot is altered by anamorphic mirrors or prisms that he assembled and manipulated himself. He  turns the city into an optical ballet. He worked alone, almost in secret. He described his production process for a screening of the film on Reel New York. “...it was a magic, secret process of bending, twisting, and turning inside out. It was a self funded project that involved my roaming about New York City with a camera over my shoulder”.

He went on to make many more films including the Oscar winning “To Be Alive”, a three screen celebration of life made for the 1964 World’s Fair. He died in 2003 at the age of 95, after returning to painting in his later years in his East 51st Street apartment.

more about "Francis Thompson, NY, NY: A Day in Ne...", posted with vodpod

Thursday, February 19, 2009

These photographs were taken recently with a Pentax Optio 750z using the built in 3-d feature.  And I have to say, this is one of the most wonderful cameras I've ever used. It can make "free-viewing" stereo photographs, cross you eyes style. In the side by side images below, left and right eye views are reversed so that crossing your eyes will reverse them back.  With crossed eyes, you see the image double, overlapping in the center. The center, merged image when focused on will appear in 3-d. The images are taken one at a time and  converted into a single jpeg by the camera. It's called the "cha-cha" method, because of the little step you make to the side for the second picture. The advantage of this method is that you can control the distance between the two exposures as well as the angle. This allows you to increase the depth of the image by increasing the distance between the two exposures - you have the stereo effect of seeing as if your eyes where anything from a few feet to miles apart. The disadvantage of this method is that anything that moves between the exposures will not merge when viewed. In each of the photographs I took below, there is a kind of subtle stereoscopic reward at the moment the 3d is achieved.  

Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. A classic stereo composition with a path leading the eye to the horizon. 
A very red door in Chelsea.
The soon to be extinct television antenna spotted in Brooklyn Heights.
 Orange boots waiting to cross  Atlantic Avenue.
 Parking lot in mid-town Manhattan - focus on the car in the foreground.
Brooklyn Bridge from Dumbo on a foggy winter morning.
 A very telephoto stereo image. The depth of field compression is rather surreal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To View these images in stereo you must cross your eyes. Don't worry, it's a natural thing your eyes do all day as you look at anything close up. When your eyes are crossed you should see three images. The one in the center should be the right and left images merged. They should be in stereo or 3-d. The effect is dramatic when it happens, but you may need  to work a little to get it. Sometimes you may need to rotate your head a little to align the images.