As a separate part of my project review I wanted to not only share a handful of the designs from my novel to film project with the wider world but look at the book versus film scenario.
We’ve all heard the phrase “yes I saw the film but I preferred the book”. I see these comments posted regularly on social networks, but why is that? As readers we have a personal experience when we read a book. The author will guide us and entice us with their own vision, but that doesn’t mean we all see the characters or locations in exactly the same way as another reader or even the author. Novels allow us to get inside a characters head whereas film, by comparison, can be more selective. It’s probably because we spend so much time with these fictional people. A book can take anything from a day or two to several months to read depending on the reader compared to a film which is normally set around 2 hours.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two given the time constraints for film makers to produce a believable world. All we can do is to strive for the very best rendition we can, using the best technology, scripts, actors, talent available. Some film versions are better than others for this reason. In many cases some novels are just more adaptable.
My own opinion is that films and books should be treated as two separate experiences, after all, there are a lot of people who don’t read. Films allow a window into an author’s mind albeit for a few hours and makes a story accessible to all.
What’s important is a good story and a set of characters that an audience can relate to.
For this reason I chose The Tube Riders by Chris Ward. Immediately I was drawn into the world from the first page. There was a great blend of character insight and world building without being too caught up in unnecessary verbal clutter. It also had the right pacing for a film and fell into the science fiction/horror/dystopian genre that is currently popular in both film and TV. Given the time constraints of the project I concentrated on a couple of settings and also worked on some visuals as future guidance for VFX. Working without the normal set up of director/art department/producer I had to make my own decisions through discussions with my tutor. I also used some artistic license as there was no screenplay to work from.
The purpose of this post is to firstly share my work, maybe get some opinions or comments and secondly to hear from those who have read books and seen them transformed into films. What are your experiences negative or positive? Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think about the designs or the subject matter.
Below are some photos of scale models for the Medical Research Centre reception area and arena.
The book can be found at:- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tube-Riders-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B007LVFSP8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409468188&sr=8-1&keywords=the+tube+riders
As part of my project I need to look at set extensions, both for the reception space to extend the height and also for the external scenes to change the sky lines. Matte paintings are used behind a built set, filmed action or scale model to extend the set or create a world that would be impossible or too costly to build. In the early days, matte painting was done on sheets of glass. Today it’s a digital composite.
Craig Barron, once matte cameraman at Industrial Light and Magic discusses matte painting.
“Good matte paintings are as much about design and planning as anything else,” states Barron. ” Long before anything is filmed, a matte shot will be carefully planned by us and the film’s production designer. This usually entails producing a number of small test paintings in which we figure out composition, colour schemes, lighting effects and how live action will integrate with painting.” (RICKETT, R., 2000)
An image like this would take many hours to produce, so a production designers job is to produce images or collaborate with artists to design scenes that portray the overall look of the film and act as a guideline for VFX artists.
The videos that I’ve found so far about Matte painting either use photographs or images to start with or draft up drawings then paint over, adding photo elements on top. This video is an example of how the image is built up using stages or layers to produce a realistic view.
From this I have thought about how I go about designing with matte painting in mind. I’m not trained in the art of digital FX like the VFX artists of companies such as Framestore but I can design concepts that convey the colour palette of the film or a certain look to some of the architecture.
I had a go at using photos and digital painting in Photoshop to try to produce concepts/matte painted backgrounds as a guideline image for colour schemes and lighting.
This image is a progression from the first drawing with background and foreground pieces inserted. To finish this digital Matte/concept I would need to add some detail and some more buildings in the foreground. When designing my locations where a CGI is needed or a space that needs green screen I will create a matte concept that will give a good idea of how I want the scene to look as part of the set design.
RICKETT, R., Special Effects: The History and Technique. London: Virgin Books, 2000.
I thought it was important to understand the green screen process, particularly within the sound stage environment as I am designing a set that incorporates green screen elements. I looked at various videos and books and came up with a few pointers in terms of what is needed.
The position of the green screen:– This needs to be at least 8 ft from the actor being filmed (though video suggests 10-15 ft)
Lighting:- Both the screen and the actor have to be lit. The best results can be achieved by using a three-point lighting set up to lit the screen as evenly as possible.
Green Screen:- Needs to be hung in such a way that there are no or few creases or shadows that will make the post-production process more difficult. Fabric needs to be non reflective.
Footage:- Two sets of film footage is needed, one of the actor in front of the green screen and one that is replacement footage such as a matte painting or scene.
I also found a video that explains some of the processes.
My problem is that the area that needs to be green screened is the ceiling. I found some studio images showing part of the ceiling screened but there needs to be lighting rigs and the image shows this.
The question is, is there a way to green screen a ceiling and allow lighting or does the scene need to be pieced together filming several scenes with more than one green screen shot? Or, does the screen even need to extend that far?
This studio image below shows a green screen ceiling with lighting rigs in front of the screen. I need to research this further in terms of the practicalities and find out how easy it is to film this and whether the lighting rigs would just be digitally painted out like the scaffolding support was in Inception.
There have been many groundbreaking film productions over the last few years but Inception is described as one of the few that has been designed entirely in-house. This means from the early stages of concept right through to post production. I looked at the company of Double Negative who took on the massive job of creating dream states in which streets fold in on themselves, huge cities crumble into the sea and scenes where the physical fabric of the universe appears warped and illusionary.
My main task with looking at Inception was to pin down what the production designer does when such a vast amount of visual effects are used. The answer was surprisingly quite a lot in terms of previz.
I looked at the company itself, the articles written and many videos that flesh out different aspects of the production process.
The research is broken down into:-
The design overview
The Production Designer and some of the processes
Double Negative, CGI departments and software (pre-viz to post production)
Director:- Christopher Nolan
Designer:- Guy Hendrix Dyas
Budget:- $160,000,000 (estimated) (sourced from http://www.imdb.com on 28/06/2014)
Production Designer Guy Dyas and his art department team gathered an extensive library of architectural reference, which the vfx team then built upon through post production to develop a strong language of structure and style that drew heavily upon the history of modern architecture throughout the 20th century, especially for the climactic scenes in Limbo. (DESOWITZ, B. 2010)
In terms of building blocks, the Production Designer was involved from the start. It was important to have coherence throughout. Dyas’s team had provided concepts of what various cities were to look like such as the dream state Paris, how it would look when it was folded but no images of how it would go from normal to folded. This was worked out through collaboration. What was groundbreaking at the time was the daylight photo realism of the buildings as a lot of the scenes were filmed during the day. It had to look real, and the visual research that the art department contributed to that. Dneg team raised the bar in terms of realistic architectural lighting in CG. Many of the dream states were designed from locations and through the art departments concepts. Limbo city itself ended up being designed in CG because of the complexity of how it would be achieved, using CG 3D software such as Maya and Houdini and was inspired by collapsing glaciers.
VFX were used to design certain elements of the film due to the surreal nature of some of the scenes.
What was surprising were the number of traditional techniques used alongside CG.
“As with his previous films, Chris got as much in camera as possible and previs became extremely important in technically demanding moments like the Penrose steps: the impossible, ‘endless staircase’ made famous in the drawings of M.C. Escher,” Franklin relates. “For the high angle shot of the looping staircase and the subsequent reveal of the forced-perspective trick, the camera had to be placed in precisely the right position above a carefully designed set. We carefully mapped the distortion patterns of all of the camera department’s lenses and the Aleks Pejic team used them to work out the exact shape and dimensions of the set and what kind of shot would be achievable within the limitations of the location and the available camera setup. The camera, mounted on a 50-foot telescopic crane, had to swing down through a 45-foot arc. At the apex of the move, it had no more than two inches of clearance with the ceiling, so Dneg’s previs had to be spot on.” (FRANKLIN,P., Cited, 2010)
Many of the explosions were made using locations and traditional special effects techniques The three videos I found via YouTube go into more detail about how this was done for various scenes.
There were many cases of actual sets being built and only a small amount of CGI work done. One example was the Penrose Steps scene in which stairs were built in such a way to create an illusion. This needed to be precise to work and is another example of how the Production Designer works with the Director at pre-viz stage in science fiction. If they can do it as a set instead of digital matte/animation, then they would do it. Sometimes it’s the preference of the Director.
Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.” (LOPEZ, J., 2011)
The Penrose Steps:- Inception. Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception (photo by Stephen Vaughan)
It’s clear that it takes a collaborative approach to produce a film like Inception. It had to look real, which meant the best available photorealistic software combined with traditional methods that the art department could provide like scale models and actual built sets. It’s about using the best tools for the job. Sometimes VFX works for some design as the artists possess the skills to animate a difficult scene, other times it’s better to use a set designed and built by the Production Designer and art department, using CG to paint in or remove support structures.
LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” . Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 28/06/2014] Vanity Fair, 2011.
Looking at post-production and visual effects companies I can start to piece together some of the answers to questions about the production designers role in terms of CGI, visual effects and what happens later on at post production. From reading a few articles and speaking with Framestore it seems that visual effects are very much a part of the pre-production/production phase with plenty of collaboration between the VFX houses, director and production designer. But what does the production designer need to know in terms of the skills and knowledge of the VFX process?
This answer is more elusive. I discussed the possibility of the production designer gaining further skills for future film making in case study 1. Matthew Gant replied that he thought it to be unlikely that the production designer would train to have other skills as the job entailed so much already. There wouldn’t be time for the PD to sit all day at the computer doing the work of the VFX artist .
That said, does the production designer need to have knowledge or an overview of the process, even if they don’t know how to produce it themselves?
There are a handful of designers than I have come across that have appeared to integrate with the effects/CGI process.
Alex Mcdowell – Minority Report
Guy Hendrix Dyas – Inception
Both films were groundbreaking in different ways and these will feature as my next case study/studies
I will look at these designers and films in regards to the production designer/VFX/post production design process in particular what they needed to know about the VFX department when designing sets, whether there are limitations to consider? Also other aspects such as changes in the film-making process…
“From 1999-2001 he worked with Steven Spielberg to design and develop a world for the film Minority Report, prior to a completed script. The process that evolved changed the nature of his film design process from analogue to digital, and profoundly affected the nature of all digital production, pushing a radical shift towards a non-linear workflow. Since then his work has built on the dynamic relationship between creativity and emergent technologies.” (http://www.xmedialab.com/mentor/alex-mcdowell)
I looked at Alex McDowell early on in my project and he is one of the designers that seems to be at the forefront of the non-linear way that film making is evolving.
I will also look at the company 5D Institute: The future of narrative media that Alex McDowell is a part of that thinks of story telling as a collaborative process with no boundaries.
Both Minority Report and Inception were considered groundbreaking in terms of the design processes, Minority Report for how it opened up the non-linear design approach and Inception because it was designed/produced completely in-house at Double Negative and pushed the boundaries of photo-realistic daylight architecture.
“Aside from the development of the Limbo City shoreline procedural layout system, a key area of CG R&D was in lighting and rendering. But Inception required an even higher level of realism than Dneg has achieved with Gotham City or the magical worlds of Harry Potter. That’s because all the environments are seen in broad daylight. Lead by CG Supervisor Philippe Leprince, the Dneg team raised the bar for photorealistic architectural lighting, and recent advances in fluid dynamics and rigid body animation were brought together in the scenes of destruction and disintegrating reality.” (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)
Inception also worked in a similar way to Minority Report as a non-linear creative approach.
“There was no formal postvis period: instead postvis became a continual part of shot development, running pretty much all the way up to final delivery in May” (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)
So films such as Inception do seem to have the approach that was initiated by Minority Report. It works for the multi skill/lateral thinking collaboration between all design departments from pre-vis concept to post production VFX etc.
Alongside looking at these examples I will integrate the design process of my project as I need to know what has to be done in order to produce my sets and location alterations. World design is a term that is being used more and more as film making becomes more organic. It is a term that I came across initially through my love of gaming and creative writing. I will also look at world building as an approach.
It’s clear from reading articles over the last few weeks that there is a shift in not only how films look but how they are being made. Traditionally a film goes into the pre-production stage, is designed, filmed and then any edits or visual effects are done in the later stage of post production. Now what seems to be happening, certainly with larger companies is that filmmakers/directors are approaching the post production/VFX companies directly to make their films. Inception was one of those films that was done entirely in-house. AWN’s (Animation World Network) Bill Desowitz spoke about the new trend of VFX companies handling films in their entirety.
“This allows for better cooperation between artists and a broad scale understanding of the film’s intentions rather than parceling off the film into pieces to be assigned to different studios, which creates a disjointed artistic experience. ” (DESOWITZ, B. (Cited 2011) Boogiestudion.com.2011 [Online])
Some companies such as Framestore have a pre-viz department as well as post production services allowing for films to be designed in-house, so for science fiction and fantasy films it could be something that happens more and more in the future. It would be interesting to see if smaller companies would have the capabilities to do the same, or whether this is purely the arena of companies like Framestore, Method Studios or Double Negative.
I approached Framestore to ask them whether the production designer is part of this pre-viz stage and they confirmed that their designers are involved with the design process from early on, collaborating with the production designer. They also directed me to the art department site where many of the concept images are produced. However, that said, it does not always follow that they do the VFX for that film later on. An example of this is World War Z in which they produced only concepts. From left to right World War Z and 47 Ronin where they designed many aspects from pre-viz to VFX/post production The images are concept art, environments and creature design and VFX.
“Framestore astounded me with their combination of technical skill and artistry in creating the world of 47 Ronin. From conception at its art department right through to execution by their incredibly talented VFX team, they created creatures, FX and environments that are truly unique. Thanks Guys!”47 Ronin director, Carl Rinsch. http://www.framestore.com/work/47-ronin [online – sourced on 11/05/2014]
Most films are still packaged off to several companies all over the world. But these are large budget films so have the money to employ production designers, art directors etc to oversee the process.
I looked at Inception and found that the pre-production/art department and VFX both worked on concepts with the production designer and the art department team researching architecture to provide a solid visual foundation. I will look at Inception and Double Negative in the next VFX post in more detail.
What is evident is that companies such as Double Negative and Framestore work with production designers at an early pre-viz stage, research, concepts, VFX planning etc whether they are all in-house or packaged off to various VFX studios.
This is a brief breakdown of some of the companies and their services:-
Double Negative :- Concept/pre-viz/VFX designing Inception in-house, bringing in other designers.
Framestore:- Art/Department/Concepts/Pre-vis/VFX/Design etc working on films such as 47 Ronin and Gravity
Method Studios:- Art Department/Concepts/Colour/Design/VFX working on films such as Divergent and Cloud Atlas
Scanline VFX :- High end VFX/ Colour/Titles and mainly post production, on films like Divergent and 300
Sony Imageworks :- VFX/Animation/3D, film such as Spiderman and Godzilla
Boogie Studios:-VFX/Sound/3D/colour/post production
DESOWITZ, B., (cited 2011) Oscar nominated Inception helps to develop a trend in the VFX industry. Available at:- http://www.boogiestudio.com/blog/2011/01/26/a-look-at-vfx-oscar-nominated-inceptions-formula-for-success/?lang=en [sourced on 22/04/2014]
I have broken down the elements of the next phase of research for post production into a diagram. This is to give me a plan of how to approach such a vast and constantly evolving part of modern-day film making. Before completing the set design and location element of my project I need to really understand what is happening now and how it affects science fiction film design. There are other considerations including the budget of the film and the size of the post production company involved too.