Best Continuous Shots

Continuous shooting refers to an uninterrupted shot in a film which lasts significantly longer than the editing pace of films in general. This type of shot is rare in modern films, but when executed well it stands out from the crowd.  Continuous shots used to be an issue as cameras could only handle a small amount of filming until reels or tapes needed to be changed. For example Rope (1948) wanted a continuous take but cameras could only last up to 10 minutes, meaning clever editing made this possible – i.e. dollying to featureless surface.

In modern films continuous shots are much easier to capture as modern cameras can easily last for whatever period of filming is required. Continuous shots are commonly captured with the use of a dolly shot or Steadicam shot. With so many examples across the history of cinema I have noted the following shots highlighted by WatchMojo.com

This list demonstrates the variety of continuous shots that exist throughout cinema history. Of all listed a few of them stood out, mostly the ones that applied the use of Steadicam.

Stephen Nakamura

A Single Man (2009) is a major influence between Tom and Jacks approach to the visually styling of the film. Whilst I have considered this film during pre-production and composing colour palettes I felt it was worth familiarising myself with this visual style as I approach the colour grading process.

Stephen Nakamura was the digital colourist for the film working as part of ‘Company 3’. Company 3 was founded in 1997, providing post production, colour grading and location services for feature films, commercials, music videos and television. Based across Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and London the company has worked on some of the best films of the modern era. In addition they house some of the best colourists in the industry, Stephen Nakamura being one of the most prominent concerning feature film work.

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Nakamura has worked alongside David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Steve Spieldberg. Credits include Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), Prometheus (2012), Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013), and The Aviator (2004). DaVinci Resolve is one many grading systems he uses in his professional contracts, evidence of this software from dailies of Jack The Giant Slayer (2013) where he could use it to demonstrate an approximation of composited effects.

Nakamura’s path to where he was now was fairly structured with the inclusion of a lucky break. He worked his way through the post-production world in television, soon leading to grading big commercials and music videos. During this path he worked with David Fincher so when the directed finished his first digital movie Panic Room (2002) he opted for an experienced digital colourist in the form of Stephen.

His approach and ideology of grading is inspiring, understanding how it intertwines with other crafts rather than a tool to for his own unique take on the film. Seeing it as an opportunity to help a cinematographers shot fit into the emotional space that ultimately works towards the filmmaker’s vision.

Nakamura’s consideration for filmmaking as a entire process continues when discussing the relationship between VFX and grading, particular reference to Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013). His role was to establish a look for VFX to start compositing within. Once the compositing is underway he can build upon the grade further considering the content of the frame. With this film as it dealt with a lot of chroma and blending he had to weight up the creative and technical elements of grading following the VFX so that he could continue to stylise colour without degrading the blending of VFX.

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Bringing his skills back to A Single Man (2009) there is obvious consideration for the time period and visual style of the director. The palette embraces its 50s heritage with warmer tones, blue in the desaturated greens, subtle browns and creamy soft highlights. This is completed with a refined contrast and crushed blacks for crisp edges, providing structure to the protagonist.

I love Nakamura’s ideology regarding grading and the filmmaking process, it really makes me consider my role in this production. This project is driven by the visual style and whilst it is a great opportunity for me to express my stylistic approach I must ultimately make consideration for Jack (DP) and Tom (Director). I have the freedom to explore but I cannot detach from the artistic intent, my role is to bring this out further, not make it my own representation.

Eurovision Steadicam

A lot more ambitious than I will have to be, however I can still appreciate the huge amount of skill it takes to pull off something this amazing.

The shot consists of a Steadicam operator (and I imagine focus puller) on a segway which he instantly dismounts from as he reaches the stage, stepping off and proceeding to run around the lead singer several times before focusing on the guitarist as he leaves stage.

The Steadicam operator Karsten Jacobsen went on the receive aGTC (Guild of Television Cameramen) Award for Excellence.  Karsten’s advice for drama was to totally disappear so the audience can be taken on a journey by a director, however entertainment requires the camera to add to the excitement of the event.

http://www.eurovision.tv/page/news?id=8453

Production Designers

Following a revamp on the Varisty set I have now found myself undertaking a role in set design and construction. Visiting lecturer and friend James Helps as a really useful connection in bettering my understanding of the role. With Lewys having the knowledge of constructing and designing a set I can build upon my active approach through bettering my understanding of the role.

A production designer will be responsible for the visual concept of a television production, the role does exist in other forms of media and entertainment. In the early stages of pre-production they will work with directors to understand the production brief and start considering ideas. Often drawing up models and designs they will continue to refine their design until approval from the director and producer.

This has very much been Lewys’s role as he was working closely with Minty regarding the design and construction for Varsity and the Elections. Since Minty stepped down I have almost stepped into this producer/director role as I help to oversee the visual concept for the project alongside lighting.

Once approved the production designer will often head an art department. Here is where they start to manage and adapt their design in order to see it physically constructed. Monitoring the project they will also keep an eye on the budget to ensure every is done to schedule, effectively a project manager for the art department. Some may get involved physically with construction whilst others prefer to step back purely as a creative head.

This is where Lewys and my roles have started to intertwine. He is the creative head with the design and has the skills to calculate how best to construct it. My input is monitoring the budget and schedule, my producer skills being put to good use. Between the two of us we are managing to spread the workload naturally and fulfil the production criteria. As we near production I anticipate both of us getting involved with the construction.

Looking back at the professional industry I started to briefly look at some example of set design companies. Giordano Design specialise in television sets along with construction and installation for film and live broadcast. Their company acts as production designer and is able to provide teams of professionals to cover all elements associated with this element of production (e.g. carpenters, lighting designers, decorators, etc).

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Another example is London based Eye-Catching Design. As with Giordano Design they provide professionals for all elements involved with production design and construction, branches across the mediums of film, television and live events. Examples of their work include Dragons Den, Channel 4 Racing and The English Premier League.

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It seems that in the professional industry it continues to be the battle between bringing in freelancers or contracting an entire company. Aside from this project there is potential for me to investigate careers in lighting through a company like this.

Joining The Project

Claudia had spoken to me previously about getting involved with her project ‘E-Bristol’ as the Lighting Designer. When she first approached me I had to decline the offer due to other commitments, but since Varsity has been cut shorter I now have time in my schedule for her project. I asked her about getting involved and thankfully she was still happy to have me on board.

At this stage I want to gain more knowledge of studio based lighting as I am interested in studio, theatre and live events, therefore going gaffer on another location wouldn’t be the best choice in order to gain relevant experience.

I am aware this isn’t going to be the most strenuous project, only requiring around a weeks worth of involvement from myself over the course of the next two months. Nevertheless it is a great asset to add to my portfolio and even more experience dealing with studio lighting in a live event scenario.

Steadicam Posture

As it is a fully body rig there is a lot of information surrounding the best way to operate it concerning posture. In order to consider the best practice you must first characterise the aspects of posture relevant to Steadicam. I have referenced Chris Fawcett’s ‘Some Thoughts On Steadicam Posture’.

“All of our muscles are composed of Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers. Type 1 muscle fibers often referred to as slow twitch, while Type 2 muscle fibers are often termed fast twitch. Type 1 fibers are characterised by smaller size, less force capacity and more endurance capacity. They are dominant muscle fibers in endurance activities….Type 2 fibers are characterised by larger size, more force capacity and less endurance capacity. They are the dominant muscle fibers in power activities.”

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The ability to carry the Steadicam and maintain good posture is best achieved by building up muscles gradually, similar to the way a woman’s body adapts to pregnancy.

Common reactions to Steadicam posture can be summarised into several positions. The first sees the operator fall away from the kit, leaning back to achieve a type of counterbalance. This puts additional strain on the knee and ankle joints as the weight rotates on these axis alone. A second in where the body remains straightened but the body kicks backwards from the hip. This carries the weight through your spine which isn’t an issue for younger operators but can become troublesome over time. The final position sees the operator pull his head and shoulders forward to view the monitor. This curvature of the body causes the weight to shift from the back into the front of the body.

The best practice is to maintain a strong stance keeping the rig close to your body to avoid dragging yourself away with the weight. The idea is to realise what muscles are taking the weight of the rig and relax them, allowing the muscle systems to balancing along the entire length of your back. It takes practice but to summarise it is simply the case of standing up straight and letting your body adjust, you shouldn’t have to counterbalance the rig using your own body.

Set Design Revamp

The set design/build for the project I will now be overseeing as it is closest to my element of the broadcast – visual design. Lewys had previously been told it was not going ahead so he was really pleased to hear that we were continuing to pursue the project and wanted to go ahead with the set build. The main reason for the meeting was to evaluate the costs and rework the idea to something that could definitely go ahead for the new format of the show.

The breakdown for the original design:

  • Set boards – 7 x7mm plywood (£49)
  • Backing – £1 per meter – 9 x 7 (£63)
  • Screen surrounding boards – 2 x 7 (£14)
  • Table 9mm 1 sheet (£14)
  • Acrylic graphics (£20)
  • AstroTurf flooring (£30)
  • Staging belongs to frenchay
  • Paint (£10)

Approximate total cost £191, with LED strip lighting £230 estimate.

Lewys and I then discussed the idea and how we could compromise the concept to simplify and reduce the cost and processing time. The staging is necessary, whereas the AstroTurf I would argue is vital to avoid the amateur studio floor look. We also felt the screens weren’t necessary, instead having one television to play a showreel as the studio will constantly be cutting away to VTs. The back boards and physical construction could also be reduced from the 3 back and 2 kicks either side. Each one is 1.2m wide, the desk is around 1m wide so two boards would be sufficient coverage. It is important to ensure we don’t catch the edge of the boards to show the darkness behind.

For example by ditching 2 kick boards/backing and the tv screen boards we could save £46. Cutting down the set further we came to the following breakdown:

  • 2 backboards with varsity acrylic printed
  • 2 kickouts with uni logos on
  • AstroTurf floor (might get away with 1)
  • Main desk
  • TV screen inside front of desk
  • Paint

We estimate this design costing £124, once LED strips are added around £150. Both Lewys and I were extremely happy with the revamped design and felt like it was effective for the programme. I sketched out a rough design for reference purposes.

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The backboard remains the same with Acrylic letters reading ‘Varsity’ and some additional information, this time two boards wide. Each kickout will feature the crest of either university, printed and mounted to a circular plate that will be surrounding with LED strips. The desk houses a television screen playing highlights throughout the show in the background, it also has a black ‘V’ engraved behind the screen. The red top will be a combination of each teams colours, finally the floor will be AstroTurf.

The build will take a week minimum, more time allows for fine tuning. It will be assembled by March 18th for rehearsals. All materials are local, UWE Fabrication stock a lot for quick access, otherwise 3-4 days for delivery. Worst case we can get the rough design set up by March 18th and continue to finalise it inside the studio.

I am waiting on confirmation of budget from Mike before going ahead with the design. Worst case scenario a potential budget idea could be the main desk, astro floor, and various canvas light up shapes dotted around for depth. The next step/meeting will take place March 5th.

Website Re-Design

I undertook a massive redesign and launch of a brand new portfolio website last year. I was able to work this design into something that was clean cut and user friendly, incorporating a house style for myself through a red, black and white colour scheme. Ever since design this version of my online presence I have fallen in love with it, being easy to update and maintain.

2014 Design

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I opted to create the website through ‘Wix’, an online provider that enables web development of HTML5 websites and mobile sites through ‘drag and drop’ tools. I’m not a web designer and I can’t see myself becoming one any time soon, having played around with many online website builders online I really got to grips with Wix. I love the simplicity in its use, and at the same time you can create something heavily stylised and graphical, a key to standing out in this industry.

Wix gives a ‘.wix.com’ domain name by default unless you choose to purchase one of their website packages, where you can get yourself a personalised domain name. At this stage in my career I don’t feel it is worth investing in and becoming lost in the amass of web content. Instead I found a free domain option ‘.co.nr’ to mask over the wix domain name. As I am directing this site to companies and individuals directly this removes to price of hosting but benefits with an independent address to maintain a professional appearance.

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I built the design from scratch, with all menu buttons located on the left side beside a red dividing bar. All of the content scrolls on the right hand side of the web page, using menu elements for ease of updating by adding items that will push back all of the content evenly across pages. Reviewing this site there is very little to change, I still love the design and use it as a way to define my house style across my self branding.

February 2015 Design

I started by reviewing the content and adding to it as appropriate. The ‘Credits’ section is a full list of every professional project I have worked on and my role, a nice way to keep track of my own progress whether people choose to read it or not. For this I’ve added all of my current University projects along with the BBC Sharpshotz project.

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The ‘Film/TV’ section I chose to only include a few of my current productions, the choice coming down to those that have generated content to feature. This section includes video clips for every menu item, as a result I have added: Lost In A Supermarket (Trailer), Postal Service (Trailer), The World Of The Willows (Trailer), and Bristol Vibes (Alex McKay Rehearsal).

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The other elements of my website have pretty much stayed the same with little content to update. For the ‘Home’ page I have updated my introductory statement by sourcing, reworking and expanding upon content from my blog, CV and positioning statement. I have removed the ‘Table 3 Media’ section as I am no longer pursuing this venture with Daniel Morgan.

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Finally I have reworked my house style slightly by adding boxes to my page buttons. This was purely a stylistic choice, building upon the red box dominance on the page. In addition also changing my title/logo on the site to match this style. I have changed my title of ‘Filmmaker & Media Practitioner’ to ‘Lighting Designer, Colourist & Media Practitioner’. This highlights my particular skills and interests as I approach the professional market, catering for my target audience. Keeping the ‘Media Practitioner’ element suggests I have experience in multiple elements of media production, not limiting myself to just my two specialised fields.

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Dynamic Colour Tests

Unfortunately I was unable to start grading Implication due to the post production schedule having to be pushed. However I did utilise my time by playing around with DaVinci Resolve, I was particularly interested in RAW footage and keyframing colour change, both of these elements will become important factors in future projects.

This first piece of footage demonstrates how far I can push RAW footage. The sample shot on an Arri Alexa was unexposed and off balance, I set a quick goal to pull back the footage to useable range, nothing stylistic, purely balancing. As RAW captures so much information in the high and low ranges , as a result I was able to pull back the lost detail rather than having to dial ISO or other elements from the camera profile. Dragging the mids towards blues counteracts the yellow tinge, after that it was fine tuning to get the best overall image.

I stumbled across some more Alexa footage that centralised around one strong colour component, in this case the BMW car. As this was such a focused and prominent colour I wanted to test changing colours as for future projects (i.e. Implication) I will be required to make certain colours more prominent in the scene. Having matted out the car using the Qualifier tool I then tested a few colour versions:

  • Green – Very clean change, cars looks very metallic. Other blue elements in scene change hue correctly (i.e. sign).
  • Red – Noise on front car. Some gaps on other elements in scene. Potentially resolved with higher contrast or darker mids.
  • Purple – Very clean, back cars looks slightly cartoon (maybe too purple), works well otherwise.

Taking this a step further I decided to keyframe in colour changes so the car would shift as the scenes plays out. As the Qualifier is a separate node I could easily add in keyframes to the single correction layer without effecting the rest of the frame by simply dragging lift, gamma and gain as appropriate. It may be slightly distracting how the other blue elements also shift but as the car is the dominant colour mass it demands attention to the dynamic colour movement.

I am extremely happy with how the dynamic colour change turned out and it has definitely provided me with added confidence for the approaching grading projects. It is likely this was made much easier as it was shot on Arri Alexa RAW with all details intact, nevertheless a good play around with DaVinci Resolve. In future I could also include power window movement to isolate the car.

Having posted my progress to my online presence on Instagram I received positive response to the grading. On one screenshot I asked people to guess the original colour to which no one responded correctly demonstrating how clean the grade was. The below screenshot further demonstrates the positive response to how clean the colour change has been executed, a successful grade!

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Steadicam Positions

I thoroughly enjoyed operating Steadicams in the past, its great to get another opportunity at using the kit whilst its available freely from the University. As a result I feel like I should remind myself the skills and etiquette behind its use.

There are various techniques and positions Steadicam operators adapt in order to capture the desired shot. I anticipate to operate it in high mode missionary, often defined as the standard position for its use. However I am still open to changing operating positions in order to capture whatever shot Kurt (Director) or Jack (DP) require from me.

There are two basic ‘modes’ and two basic ‘positions’ when it comes to Steadicam, these terms are commonly used by operators so it important to learn the terminology if I get the opportunity to operator or assist on a professional shoot. The ‘mode’ refers to how the camera is mounted, whilst the ‘position’ refers to the relationship between the operator, camera and the rig.

High Mode – The most common position where the camera sits on to of the sled between the operators torso and face.

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Low Mode – The camera sits below the sled between the operators knees and the ground, often used for close to the ground shots.

Missionary – The camera points forwards whilst the operator is also facing forward.

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Don Juan – The camera points behind the operator whilst they face forward.

Some additional terminology to consider:

Poor Man’s Low Mode – Inverting the rig so the camera flies low without inverting the camera, a quicker setup but an inverted image.

Goofy Foot – Operating with the arm on the right.

Hard Mount – Part of Steadicam is fixed to a vehicle or other rig.

Soft Mount – Operator wearing the Steadicam is shooting from a vehicle or other rig.