Category Archives: Film school pedagogy

«Surviving Bologna» – a presentation, summary

I attended the Swedish Research Council’s annual symposium on artistic research on November 27th and 28th, and while there gave a presentation I had called «surviving Bologna». The talk – and the slides – were in Norwegian, but I have translated the slides, and post them here with some comment (since they are a little cryptic on their own).

I will emphasize: this is not a transcript, and I was a little more detailed and a little less flippant when actually presenting. But the content is more or less the same.

Not much to say about this one; I introduced myself and The Norwegian Film School.

Wasn’t the European education landscape lovely before Bologna? Wild, varied…and somewhat unpredictable.

This got a laugh. And, I’ll admit, I hoped it would.

It’s a fair depiction of how I view the aims of the Bologna agreements: create a uniform landscape where the «product» – the students – are ready for commercial exploitation. (i.e. the labour market).

I started working at the Norwegian Film School in 2009, and around the same time we received word that all arts educations in Norway were going to have to adhere to the new national regulations derived from the European Qualifications Frameworks – the product of the Bologna agreements.

We determined, rather quickly, that we needed to define this turf for ourselves, rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it for us. Most likely in a way we would not appreciate… We did, however, have to teach ourselves some new terminology like «learning outcomes» and «Blooms taxonomy» as we felt we needed to master this language ourselves if we were going to make good use of it.

This also meant delving in to the relationship between conventional academic education and fine arts education.

The more we looked at it, the more apparent it became that our approach to education is fundamentally different from what one finds in (most) academic programmes.

I probably should have put quotes around the word «common» here, but regardless:

As far as I know, the classification of higher education done by the OECD in 1973 was the first attempt to compare higher education systems around the world. One unfortunate byproduct of this work was to place fine arts as a subset of humanities, effectively reducing the importance and autonomy of art schools connected to universities. While there has been much work done the past 15 years to change that classification, it represents a mindset we still encounter every day.

As a result we needed to spend a lot of time and effort creating a new landscape.

In this view, fine arts education is completely autonomous from and parallel to academic programmes – although we are naturally still part of the education landscape. The important point is to make it clear that much of what is applicable to one is not applicable to the other (although there is naturally some overlap as well)

Just claiming a difference is not enough, of course. It has to be clarified.

The $64,000 question.

We can begin to answer it by looking at the way learning outcomes are structured.

Knowledge is key to all education, on some level. We take «knowledge» very seriously indeed. Not only are many disciplines in filmmaking extremely technical, working on a film set can potentially be fatal if people don’t know what they’re doing. Both Norway and Sweden have seen deaths occur on film sets in recent years.

Add to that people are working with electricity, power tools and construction, traffic…there is a lot of stuff filmmakers have to know.


But
– we never formally test the students in what they know. The have to demonstrate knowledge constantly, but they will never be tested in it.

Skills are another important learning outcome under the EQF, and given that filmmaking can be viewed as a skilled profession, acquisition of skills can also be seen as important. And indeed, operating sound equipment, setting proper lighting, creating an appropriately distressed look on the walls of a set; these are a small handful of the many skills Film School students are expected to learn and, in some cases, master over the course of their three years.

Again, as with knowledge, however – their skills will never be formally tested. There is no lighting exam.

How can this be? Well, quite simply, we are not a professional school; our mandate does not end with the skills our students acquire – it begins there.

And that is what «general competence» is about, isn’t? What can the student do with their knowledge and skills.

Although…we never really liked that word «general».

«Artistic competence» is much more telling, and gives us a chance to define what it actually is the students will be tested in (more on that later).

Once we had set the ground rules on how we approach learning outcomes, we need to define the learning outcomes themselves. This was a time-consuming process, and involved going though lesson plans, placing them in some kind of order, identifying holes, rewriting, hounding teachers for revised plans, rewriting those…

In March of 2011 we had a revised and updated description of the Film School’s study programmes.

That left a small problem we had created for ourselves.

Just how does one test and evaluate artistic competence?

Luckily, we have the appropriate tool. Years ago, the Norwegian Film School did what artists around the world have been doing since the origin of art: we stole a good idea from someone else and made it our own.

This is the «hensiktserklæring», which can be translated as either «declaration of intent» (more literal) or «statement of intent». I prefer the latter, primarily since the «declaration» seems unnecessarily bombastic.

For every production exercise the students make throughout their studies at the Film School, the students must write a statement of intent. Early in the studies these are quite simple, but as they progress through the programme they become more and more elaborate and detailed.

We (the teaching staff) put together the teams (one member from each of the disciplines we teach). Each team has to come up with a collective statement of intent and each individual team member must then write his or her own. These are written with guidance from each students’ teacher, and must be completed before the main creative work begins. For example, a director will hand in the statement of intent before principal photography begins, while the sound person (who will do both production sound and post sound) will hand hers in once she has seen the locked picture edit.

So – what goes into this thing?

First of all, the student needs to describe what she wants to achieve with this exercise – artistically / creatively. We give the students fairly specific tasks for the production exercises, and so they are already set on a fairly narrow path, but there is still a fair bit of leeway to be creative and express oneself artistically.

The key is that they are specific; the example I used in the presentation is «I want the audience to feel sad, even cry, at the end of the sequence.»

Ok. How?

This is the key to an effective statement of intent: the how.

«I am going to work with my actors to help them find a way of conveying the pain the character is feeling without slipping into cliched gestures.»

«I will find use a still camera with only subtle movement that finds a framing that leads the viewer closer to the character and their emotional state.»

«I will create a soundscape that gently brings the audience into the characters head at the same time as the camera brings us physically closer to him. I will highlight this with instrumental music that is melancholy without being sentimental.» 

All made-up examples, but they give an idea of what the statement of intent could contain.

We are extremely rigid about never commenting on the «quality» of a finished production exercise in an evaluation situation. To put it bluntly: we leave it to the film critics to opine about whether a film is good or not.

What we do it read through the statements of intent and discuss and analyse whether the intent has been achieved. Why and why not are key questions. A good quality evaluation situation can only occur if the statement of intent has been specific – and ambitious enough to allow for the possibility of failure. If students never fail, they’re not trying hard enough…

Procedurally it’s simple: the whole class and all the teachers gather; we see the film and hear the statements of intent read out loud. We then discuss these statements with the members of the team. Often another film team will be assigned the task of leading the discussion, both to ensure that everyone participates in the end and also to ensure that the students get to speak first.

Invariably it takes a few months for the students to get the hang of this process, but generally they become quite adept at it during the second semester of their studies.

A long-term benefit of this practise is that it teaches the students to reflect over their own artistic practice constantly, leading them to become more confident and skilled artists.

The final stage was to define the structure of the educational programmes at the Film School.

The Norwegian word here is «emne», which, depending on the country you’re from, could be «subject» or «class».

You take a certain number of classes throughout your degree programme, with some electives along the way, and this way construct a programme that leads to a specific degree. Most of these classes, or subjects, are relatively self-contained, with their own set of requirements for successful completion.

At the end of each one you get a certain number of points or credits, and when you have enough – you graduate.

Not so at the Norwegian Film School. Although we on paper do have subjects, these subjects are fluid and blend in to each other. They are integrated, and none of them are completed before the entire programme is completed.

It is only at the end, after completing the 3-year, integrated whole, that you will have competed all the subjects.

Which, of course, means there is only one exam. At the end, and it’s for the whole pot of 180 ects credits.

The basis for the exam is the examination film, a 25-minute dramatic film the students have made in teams the final year. In addition, all disciplines other than director and producer have a personal project they have completed which gives them an opportunity to explore some aspect of their specific discipline in more depth.

As with production exercises, the statement of intent is key. The film will not be judged on some theoretical measure of quality, but the students contribution is judged on the basis of their specific and detailed intentions.

What the exam really tests in the end, is: has the student been able to use the knowledge and skills they gained to develop as an artist?

Each student should have a much greater understanding of what kind of artist they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, where their potential lies. Insight is key, both for developing as an artist and, more prosaically, for passing the exam.

What about the other way around? How does the Film School develop?

For every workshop, every lecture, every production exercise: students give us feedback, most often written feedback. The purpose is twofold: we believe that when students give feedback on a given workshop or other module, they raise their own awareness about what they’ve learned.

The other side of it is we can constantly monitor what’s working and what isn’t, and dynamically adjust the course of the education. We use this feedback both to adjust what’s coming for the current class, and of course to plan an altered course for the next class.

As a result, we never have successive groups of students who have identical experiences – although the broad strokes are certainly recognizable.

Ok, so this slide didn’t really work.

I tried to draw an analogy between being out on a dark night experiencing a meteor shower and both being awestruck by the beauty and gaining an awareness of your place in the cosmos, and the experience you get when faced with great art. I then went on to say we want to produce artists who can give an audience these experiences.

A little bit about what’s next for the Norwegian Film School.

And referring back to the flowers at the beginning: we want fine arts education to partake in designing the landscape. It has to be done by people who understand how this kind of education works and what it needs.

There wasn’t much time for questions, unfortunately.

On Creativity

I read Stephen Downes’ blog regularly; I always find it thought-provoking and interesting. Today was no exception.

Today’s entry, entitled No Paradox Here (go read it at the source) inspired me to think about my own work at The Norwegian Film School, where creativity is our bread and butter…

Specifically, Downes quotes Spencer, who writes:

Creativity: It happens when students have freedom and limitations

His response is:

Creativity is possible even if there are limitations, but only if there is freedom.

Well…not exactly. And it depends on how you apply limitations and freedom.

We are a school for creative artists (filmmakers), and the entire programme is built around the conscious application of limitations in order to stimulate creativty. It’s not our own invention by any stretch, but we have over the years refined teaching methods that enable the students to both explore their own creativity and push the limits their own abilities through the imposition of limitations.

In our experience, too much freedom stifles creativity rather than encouraging it. (And yes, we do realise misguided use of limitations can also stifle creativity.) By specifiying a series of condititions for each film exercise the students are given we give them a well-defined area to explore, encouraging them to make mistakes and take chances within those limits.

There is theory for this, and we lean on Vygotski with his development of the concepts scaffolding and zone of proximal development, and also conscious of the importance of letting the students reach a state of flow. Being an arts school where all the teaching staff are practicing filmmakers, not trained educators has led us to set up weekly staff meetings where we discuss the students development, future teaching plans and the practical and theoretical aspects of this pedagogy.

So, in this case, Spencer is correct: creativity will only happen where there are both limitations and freedom — the limitations designed to encourage creativity and the freedom to explore within these limitations.

But Downes is also correct: this is no paradox. Rather, it is a necessary condition for creativity.

Insight Out raw

I attended the 2012 Insight Out seminar at the film school in Potsdam, Germany from March 19 to 23 this year. I am dumping my “raw” notes here; they are unfiltered, unspellchecked and a little unstructured. They are useful to me – if nothing else, the act of taking notes helps me remember things – but probably not to anyone else…

Day 1
_________________________________________
Session 1
general overview of workflows and formats in digital film and home entertainment
– by Flying Eye – media management consultants; ie getting the techies and creatives to understand each other.
Background: jan. 19th Kodak files chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Film continues to dominate archiving, but digital acqusition taking over in production – one could say has taken over.
SDTV –> HDTV –> 4K (digital cinema)
Digital workflow allows for crossover between production and post; this is not only possible but even likely. (and desirable?)
– fewer steps digital – digital than film-digital
– DCI is still active; produces SMTE standards. last revision 26.01.2012 http://www.dcimovies.com
– DCI focusess on distribution & security
– DCI also gives specs for testing of distribution
Last 3 years have seen an almost exponential growth of digital and 3d screens compared to film-only
Rumour that Hollywood will stop releasing 35mm in 2013. This will have a major effect on those screens that have not converted to digital –> but what about arthouse? archiving? less industrialised territories? second run? festivals?
Issues:
– projection brightness
– higher framerates (48fps)
– heigher resolution (8k+)
(these last two have big implications for production and post pipeline)
– industry still learning to handle 3d
– film language for 3d still under development
As always, the choice of camera is chosing the right tool for the job – should not be a choice based solely on technological considerations
Interesting development also in DLSR; both Canon and Nikon have released new cameras this month. N D800 (better colour but more noise) and MKIII (less noise but more moire and false colour)
Brand new! Digital Bolex announced last week.
Acquisition formats
– resolution
– bit depth
– compression
– colour space
mm.
Field recording: disk based, flash memory (SSD, etc.) and tape based
With online storage of masters, one can move away from a “sequential” post to a collaborative one.
– also Cloud-based. Example, Hugo Cabaret moved 3PB data between 11 different collaborators in post. ref Pixomondo – teams all over the world working on the same production.
Consumer delivery: IMF – interoperable master format
– standard for mastering for all consumer delivery formats.
Frame rate: 24 vs. 25 fps –> DCI compliance requires 24 BUT the latest standards allow for 25 fps DCPs for cinematic release; but even though the standards exist, the equipment to play 25 fps is not widespread.
___________________________________________
Session 2
Broadcast Changes.
John Ive from IABM (http://theiabm.org/)
represents the broadcast equipment manufacturers
analogue –> digital –> IT/IP
– this last element is what has actually changed workflow
More delivery platforms and consumption habits are changing; leads to both creative, business and technological need to adapt.
– how to future-proof in a situation where change is accelerating?
Drivers in the consumer world
– live programming
– multichannel pay-tv
– recorded media – multi-format
– video on demand
70% of tablet owners use them while watching TV (UK)
Daily viewing hours still increasing
From tape to file – file = video + audio + metadata
Analogue and digital are still linear / sequetial workflows –> IT/IP changing all that
IT is faster than real time and paralell
“ingest once, use anywhere”
But why are we struggling?
– have to unlearn ingrained workflows
– exponential rise in content
– formats!
– cost of investments and upgrades
– too many things changing at the same time
Metadata – provides the context necessary to make sense of data.
– there is no “one size fits all” as different organisatons need different metadata.
Workflow
key in IT-workflow becomes media asset management.
Existing cloud services – worth checking out to see the (possible) future of media asset management.
Security is an issue in cloud storage
– local laws where the servers are; which agencies can access my files?
– leakage and hacking?
_______________________________________________
Session 3
Peter Adams – editor of Anonymous
editing and VFX
– shot on Alexa
– communication between editing, VFX and production was key in both prep and production
– got technical files from the camera. DP predefined different luts that were applied to the dailies and a form of pre-grading
–> gave DP a chance to pre-grade, and the looks were changed along the way.  Eliminated dailies colour grading and predefined som set-ups for the colour grading
– raw material recorded to hard drives, copied at the end of each day by a quality controll dept. – replaces the lab
– this dept. produced timed and synced dailies, already logged and organised.
Editor and director watched dailies at the end of each shooting day
– Started editing while the shoot was going on.
– often involved sound and vfx while cutting scenes in order to get the full effect
VFX and editing started working and testing together about a week before production started.
– technical compatibility as important as collaboration
Good communication also key to ensuring efficiency; avoid wasted labour
– back and forth collaboration allowed adjusting plans to ensure maksimum efficiency
By cutting along the way, the editor had a cut ready for a (internal) screening about 2 weeks after principal photography was finished.
– worked another 2 weeks on a directors cut
– another couple of weeks, then another screening
Editing moved to LA, but VFX still in Germany.
– an assistant stayed in Babelsburg, but editor and main assistant moved.
– conference calls with VFX every two days.
– used a watch folder (dropbox) and a player called cinesync – which allows you to draw on images and the drawings are synced real time between LA and Germany
– moved editing to London in so the director could do ADR with the actors
Recreating historical London from before the fire: combination of VFX and production design – CGI and sets, set extentions, etc. This required extensive previsualisation between those two depts. – but editing was not involved in animatics, etc.
______________________________________________
Session 4
s3D Now! – research project
On the effect of 3D on storytelling, production and sound, in addition to testing workflows
3 main research questions
– optical phenomena in 3d and their limits
– staffing on 3d productions
– sound in 3d films; how is it different from 2d
Project entails a short film, a behind the scenes doc and a book
Sound for 3D – there is no litterature right now
– how does 3D effect set sound and post sound?
some challenges
– clocking with many devices
– stereographers equipment is noisy
– same is true of data wrangler
Shooting
– more wide shots, longer shots, fewer ots. –> difficult to get mics close
Post
– need 3d image for sound post in order to miks to the correct space
– increased detail level in sound design
– new approaches for surround channels since the audience is inside the space and sound must reinforce this
– may need different playback systems – eg. 7.1
Sound concept
– must remember the room / space is a stylistic device ie. a storytelling device
– directors must learn to include more departments
MORE PREP.
3D Alliance Karlsruhe
investigating storytelling in 3D
forms alliances between art and science (esp. mathematics)
Beyond – 3d filmfestival
* 3D symposium 22-24 june. *
Working towards directing attention from technical aspects to creative aspects
big challenges: no standards and lack of educated people.
3D requires a new dramaturgy; one that uses space actively
– both in terms of staging and emotionally
Requires new rhythms in editing
“in 3d, the post people become painters”
___________________________________________________
DAY 2
Session 1: The Law of the Internet with Prof. Jan Bernd Nordemann
Intellectual Property rights: remember everyone who has had creative input in the film — editor, cinematographer, actors, composers, etc. — owns the intellectual property rights to their work. The Producer needs to remember to acquire all these rights for distribution.
– in particular internet and “all unknown media” rights
– need explicit agreements for “non film use” –> for example merchandising, books, etc.; also prequels, sequels, remakes, etc.
Old programmes – anything before 1995 – are problematic for internet distribution
– especially from before 1965
Why? Before 1965 no mention of unknown media in contracts. –> rights remained with the creator/author
In 2008 German law granted distribution rights to producers for content created 1966-late 70s for what were “unknown media” in that time period. ie. video, internet.
– The authors can make a separate remuneration claim to a governing body.
In US the situation is different under “work for hire” provisions –> producers retain more distribution rights
In the case of full funding by a broadcaster, the internet and unknown media distribution rights may be with the broadcaster. At the very least, the broadcaster retains the “7-day catch up” distribution.
– VOD a separate issue.
No one “right” on the net. Many different forms and rights of distribution on the net.
– EST – electronic sell through (purchase)
– VOD – on demand viewing by time-limited download, but not sale.
– Streaming – on demand viewing, but no downloaded copy for viewing
Remuneration
– free
– free with advertising
– pay-per-view
– subscription
– etc., etc.
Geographically limitet rights – based on geolocation of IPs
– there is a question about the EU; must rights be whole EU or can there be rights specified for individual states
Music rights are the most complicated thing, in part because of national composers & musicians rights organisations. In some cases, rights must be negotiated with individual performers and composers –> this is a major hurdle for film distribution.
Another aspect: live streaming of TV.
Creative Commons. Has become part of the copyright system, but is free of remuneration. –> since it is noncommercial there is a limit on the kinds of content that will be CC licensed.
Platforms have to adhere to national laws for all territories in which they are available.
– example: youth protection (age limits) could determine at what time you can stream certain content in certain territories
Piracy. Still unresolved. Copyright vs. individual freedom.
_________________________________________
Session 2: Production Designer Sebastian Krawinkel about Anonymous
Every scene in Anonymous was designed, and built either physically or digitally.
Used a modular system – elements that could be moved and reused in different ways.
Original idea was to shoot plates in England, and use them in CGI. In actual fact only one plate was used.
Made models which were shot, then manipulated in VFX to create London
Art dept. researched and built large parts of 16th century London – Art. dept. made many 3D models, then handed these to VFX for completion.
Krawinkel had 12 weeks prep for research.
Based sets and 3d designs on contemporary paitings of London. Houses based on existing houses that survive from that era.
Extensive previs, both 2d and 3d
Close working relationship between Art Dept. and VFX in prep.; sharing of concepts and files; planning of physical and digital elements
In the interiors, modules were built and reused in many sets; simply fleshed out with some unique elements in order to distract the eye from the reuse of elements,
Primary interior lighting from candles; used “candle wranglers” and special 3-wicked candles. (Chose to shoot Alexa because the candlelight caused noise in in the footage from the Red camera that was tested)
In certain situations, the modular sets were combined with CGI and digital sets
Used 5 different sets, so that while one was being filmed, the other 5 were in various states of preparation.
Modular system works when architecture is geometrical, the director is very visual and can see possibilities, and the AD can make a schedule that works.
__________________________________________________
Session 3 – 3D storytelling and workflow planning
Part 1 with Ludger Pfanz
3d has a history all the way back to Lumiere and Meliers
Digital 3d allows perfect sync in projection
Theses
– 3d starts with the script
– from “frame” to “stage”
– space has meaning
– depth dramaturgy
How to organise space for 3D
– Topos: space –> space has potential and dynamism
“What is not in the script cannot be staged” – scriptwriters need to learn to write for 3d space.
– for example, in Coraline the day world is flat, while the night world has a lot of depth
Can layer an image to have more going on different levels –> mise en scene
Alex Weimer & co. – “Lost Place” a case study in 3D filmmaking
Mystery thriller, based on real backstory of US cold war experiments.
How to make the 3D count?
Things that lend themselves to 3d
– ensemble cast
– limited number of locations, which are explored by the characters
Depth chart: an analysis of the script to decide which scenes need more or less depth, where parallax is in front or behind the screen
Can increase Vertigo-effect by increasing inter-axial distance between cameras (for example) –> puts a strain on the viewer
Production considerations
– stereo rigs can weigh in excess of 40 kgs.
– changing rigs can take several hours of calibration
– stereographer becomes a key crew member; important to give them the time and space to work
– special rig for steadicam – down to approx. 25 kgs.
– stereoscopic mirror rig eats about 1 stop
Editors observations.
kept each eye separate – even on separate hard drives
Used Avid media composer 6 – latest version has 3d capability; allows linking two picture and one sound clip to create a stereoscopic clip.
What about pacing? – the pace of the editing and choice of footage to use determined by the action and shots exactly as with 2d
Cut in 2d, then view sequence in 3d.
Some differences
– backgrounds are a bigger distraction in 3d – even if out of fokus. Need to be aware of this
– tracking shots can, if necessary, be held longer in 3d.
– lens flare and reflection is a bigger problem in 3d.
VFX and post production; on set data wrangling
– data integrity key; backups and more backups.
– DIT followed file naming convention agreed upon in prep.
VFX did on-set check and screenings of footage; used After Effects since the editing workflow had not yet been established
Involved in prep in order to avoid overwork in post 😉
gathered textures, etc. on location
built websites, graphics, phone apps, etc. etc. in advance so they were filmed “live” during production – again to avoid work in post.
Have not yet decided on software package, but considering Fusion rather than Nuke.
Big challenge creating effects that also have to have depth.
_______________________________________________
DAY 3
Session 1 – Case Study ARTE – broadcast workflow in the transition from tape to file
ARTE is a grouping of public television networks; French and German cooperation, started in 1992
Head office in Strasbourg
Tapeless: started with SD tapeless in 2001; went live in 2005
Introduced HD in 2008
APIOS: database for managing broadcast assets; uses metadata to automate programming, archiving, etc.
– also manages audience number, etc.
– this system is available for all now, can also be used for archiving, vod, etc.
HD-tapeless: decision to go tapeless made in 2008
BCE won the contract to effect the changeover to tapeless
APIOS is based on Oracle and on Windows-only.
Going tapeless has much simplified by removing steps, need for synchronisations
(MAM = media asset management: key feature of tapeless system)
In a changeover like this, change management — training & listening — are key
To any such system, metadata is key –> it is crucial that this is entered and managed correctly.
_________________________________________
DAY 4

Session 1: Case study Melancholia: Pan-european co-production with Peter Hjorth
check http://www.gearless/MEL%20VFX%20featurette%201stcut.mov

NB: Peter works exactly the way we want to teach Digital Visual Design.
Melancholia had collaborators from Denmark, Sweden and Germany on the post production effects.
Peter worked as a “VFX Director” – closely with Director, DoP and PD throughout the production cycle
Partners in VFX included:
– Pixomondo in Germany
– Film Gate from Sweden
Peter and his VFX producer Karen were hired at the script stage
– made some models, working with the scientists who provided a large amount of the background reseach for the film.
– first VFX breakdown and budget already two months before preproduction started; worked closely with the films producer to find a solution that works with the total budget

Storyboard
– Peter worked with Lars, DP, PD and 1st AD
– final film very close to storyboard
Developed the colour and look of the Planet Melancholia; worked with Gaffer and DP so they could find a gel they used to give the effect of the light from Mel. shining through windows, etc.
Predefining what is needed; working with production to ensure what is needed is filmed.
Karen did cost estimates to see what is best done on set, what is best done in post.
The general trade-off is big, wide shots better as post VFX, while smaller, closer shots better as on-set SFX
Involved in planning 2nd unit shooting – ended up saving time and money
Made a production plan for FX shots

Financing
breakdown based on final script
gave all studios same breakdown, storyboards in order to get best possible bids.
shots were cut all the way until the end in order to make the budget work, or in some cases redistribute resources
Economy not the only factor in chosing post studios
– artistic style and visual understanding
– experience and capacity
– key competences
– personal contact
– location (travel time for Peter and Karen) –> this was a factor in chosing German Pixomondo over a Canadian competitor.
Tight schedule: shooting finished in September; film had to be ready for pre-Cannes screening in March
Budget har to consider shooting costs, personnel, construction, post hardware, travel, file transfers, etc. etc.
4-country co-production; there are national demands for where budget is spent – VFX also has to help by spending in those regions… (plus a large list of other investors)
— Worth noting that Film i Väst (Göteborg & Trollhättan) is a major booster of filming and post in that region —

The Shoot
Peter on set all days when vfx-shots planned
Input in how actors responded to the Melancholia planet in the sky
participated in shooting reference elements, plates, inserts, spinter unit with sfx and art dept. (most high speed); 2nd unit of varying sizes (inkl. model shoot), special elements (in this case, Northern Lights on Iceland), pickups (greenscreen)

Editing
Important to keep track of the shots used, that the vfx plan is still being followed; see if new shots come up, etc. –> important to follow up that the total VFX shots stays within the budget.
Peter takes job of VFX-editior: does rough versions of vfx shots once there is a “real” cut of the film available
Make vfx-demos for the post studios involved, allow them to start sketching their versions while waiting for the final version of the picture
Post studios provided temp versions for screenings

VFX
Online of film to vfx studios
briefings and presentation of shorts
VFX production schedule finalised
maintain communication and make visits, viewings — this is key to ensure what is delivered is what was wanted.
VFS shots to foley, sound editing, music
Coordination important, to ensure everyone knows who does what, when, and also movement of files, scheduling of approvals and viewings, etc.
Important also to coordinate with Producer to fit promo and trailer production into the schedule; they can really destroy a post schedule otherwise.
Peter works much like a director with the vfx-providers; is the creative leader of the team and needs to get the most out of the different artists.
– tools like Skype and Cinesync are useful, but there is no substitute for sitting and speaking in the same room.
worked with ftp –> still the easiest way to distribute files.

Grading
Peter supervises the delivery of every vfx-shot; also attends final grading
involved in creation of LUTs for dailies; ensure all vfx shots work with the LUTs
Grading requires delivery of alpha layers; mistakes in grading can ruin the effect of compositing!
Things like stars can cause major problems in downconversion for release formats — all these versions must also be checked.

This case shows how important it is for the FILM that the VFX director is involved from script to delivery.

Q&A
Alexa – shot 10-bit log with on-board compression codec.
______________________________________________
DAY 5

Session 1: Visual effects photography and 3D with Mark Weingartner
Visual effects and CGI are not the same thing: not all vfx are CG, although they may have CG elements.
– many elements, plates, miniatures, etc. are shot, then manipulated, composited in post.
Useful book: VES Handbook of visual effects
Things like Vistavision still used for f/x
For 3d models – use lidar scans instead of photos for plates.

Session 2: “101 It’s Easy” –> new company helping production companies make transition to file-based
Protection of media is key
Digital allows sharing and collaboration to a much greater extent; this increases complication
Cloud-based file management is key to collaboration and sharing; producers need a system that can be secure but flexible.

Session 3: Dolby PRM-3200 reference monitor
John Bleau
New monitor a response to the lack of a proper display in post after CRT discontinued.
– main problem is there is no longer a universal reference standard
– LCD and plasma have severe colour and black/contrast limitations.
– OLED and plasma have a short life
– DLP best colour, but poor contrast, poor blacks
Dolby monitor 40000:1 contrast, 12-bit colour. Can handle raw output from Alexa, for example.
$40,000 –
Calibration probe is another $30,000…

Session 4: Digital Gremlins! with DP Keith Partridge (films extreme locations, etc.)
or… the many deaths of digital footage…
One way to kill a camera…–> drowning
Cameras don’t like water! Adventure cinematography can get wet…
Other ways –> dropping and freezing.
Logistics of the shoot determine choice of equipment
When one is in a remote location it’s crucial to use things one is familiar with –> if something goes wrong you can quickly fix it / find a solution

Session 5: Pixomondo and Hugo Cabaret
shot on Alexas with a 3d beamsplitter rig.
extensive metadata recorded
Nuke for compositing
VFX involved in setting up the LUTs
One pitfall of 3d: stereo artifacts
– 2-stage removal process: automatic tools followed by manual cleanup
– not all stereo artifacts are in camera; some are real-world etc. occlusions and reflections –> in both cases they are visible to one eye and not the other; creates an annoying effect and need to be dealt with.
Tools used included both rotoscoping and CGI
in this case: vfx was not involved in chosing shooting format.

Session 6: Summary
SD and tape (with the exception of HDCamSR?) are gone from post; soon from production?
Codec chaos…
Film?
In broadcast today, 1080i50 is the format — but not the format of the future.
How many pixels are enough?
Chosing a camera today is becoming as much a creative choice – much as chosing a film stock (Kodak vs. Fuji) was before
Next technological advancement on display side is autostereoscopic (no glasses) –> holoscopic interesting but still a ways off
Stereoscopic 3D is here to stay, but needs to be driven by story, not money!
Filebased –> leads to demands on coordination, integration and compatibility in order to allow effective creative sharing.
– key question is how to make the technology/infrastructure invisible so the creatives can get on with their work!
Archiving: digitise tapes or lose them. Film is still supreme on the theatrical side, but what will replace it? Very important to resolve this.
In broadcast, adminstrative and production worlds are moving closer – driven in part by consolidation of databases. How close should they get?

As an aside, this was the first time I used my iPad 2 as my primary computing device for an extended period.  The laptop stayed in the hotel room while I wrote, checked mail, etc. on the iPad with my Logitech fold-up keyboard (Norwegian link). The battery lasted all day without trouble (used about 10% per hour when in use constantly – just as advertised).

Film school pedagogy – a preamble to some musings.

In the last few months I find myself increasingly engaged in discussions about film school pedagogy and, more specifically, the dearth of literature devote to this topic.

From what I can tell there are three published works about Film Schools and how they structure their education.

  1. Heidi Philipsen of The University of Southern Denmark published in 2005 her PhD thesis “Dansk films nye bølge” (The New Wave of Danish Film) about the pedagogical principles at the Danish Film School.
  2. Canadian filmmaker Paul Lee published in 2001 his PhD thesis “The FIlmmaker as Artist-Educator” submittet to The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
  3. In 1990 American Sociologist Lisa Henderson submitted her PhD thesis to the University of Pennsylvania entitled “Cinematic competence and directorial persona”, a study of an unnamed Masters-level filmmaking programme in New York City.

The three works are quite different, although the Henderson and Philipsen works are both field studies of established film school programmes.

What I find interesting is how little bearing these works have on my own experiences working at Film Schools before I came to Norway. As a result, through the discussions I have it becomes apparent to me that I should mine my own experience in order to write a contribution to this area.

The three film schools I have worked at – Vancouver Film School, the Canadian Film Centre and The Norwegian Film School – are wildly different, and an attempt to integrate what I have learned form the three will at very least be interesting to me. With any luck it will be interesting to others as well…