"Film" at Tate Modern

I went to a private view of Tacita Dean's piece in the Turbine Hall on 22nd February with my friend, the novelist Emma Darwin, and I see she's just posted a piece about it on The History Girls Blog.

This is so much more eloquent and poetic than I could manage that I'm just going to tell you to go and read it. Not only because it's about how older technologies are being superseded by the new (and in publishing, that's just as true with eBooks supplanting paper and physical media), but because she uses it as a jumping-off point for a much broader perspective.

She recognises our place in a continuum where no matter what the current technology is, we as its users and creators gather to talk about and guide its future in the same way that the clergy and stonemasons in a cathedral would have gathered to discuss the continuing construction of their building in the fourteenth century. Their object would have been to make the best possible version of a building that they could, and a group of cinematographers and artists talking about film and its future are concerned in the end with making the best possible image they can, no matter what's behind the lens being used to capture it.

The event was called "A Celebration of Film" and we were guests of ARRI Media, Kodak, Fuji, the BSC, Panavision and various other industry bodies, our thanks to them for an unexpectedly enlightening evening.

A Walk on the Dorset Coast

Something I do fairly regularly, yesterday we walked from Worth to Durlston Castle and back. Unusually the breeze was from the North so we were very sheltered in the lee of the coastal ridge, and the sea was as calm as I've ever seen it at this time of year. The picture looks West a couple of hours before sunset, the colour in the sky and the light were more like a late summer evening. We started the day in down jackets and woolly hats, but it warmed up enough for a couple of layers to be adequate protection. A good day...

Moving to Squarespace

Since the blog at Blogger and the website as a whole weren't getting much attention from me (or anyone else) I thought I'd go to a managed site where I can make updating it as friction-free as possible. Previously, Time Into Light dot com was hosted at Zen, which was fine, but since I'd hard-coded the entire site myself, adding new material seemed like one more thing to have to do. Not to mention I'd learned exactly the right amount of CSS to make everything just a little bit harder than it should have been, and was coming back to it so infrequently that I was essentially having to teach myself all over again each time.

I helped a friend design a site for her Sound & Energy Healing Workshops and used Squarespace after hearing it repeatedly puffed on various Tech podcasts, she was so grateful for the ease of use, after a strong initial reluctance to manage her own website, that I realised I might as well give it a try.

So with the gap in work around Christmas I am dragging some things over from the old site and adding some new stuff, and actually enjoying the process. As I write this, I haven't gone live but I'm hoping the transition will be seamless.

Flickr Albums

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24291842@N04/sets/72157623073282195/ will get you to the previous trip's album.

(Posting partly to stop my blog being considered a 'dinosaur' in my newsreader...)

"Sick" gets its International Premiere

After too long, "Sick" finally has its first European screening at the Lille Short Film Festival in March. It's showing in a programme with six other shorts which will be screened three times over the week of the 21st-28th (Easter week). The Sick People will be going to the final showing on Friday 28th, so I'll be taking the Eurostar for the 1 hour 25 minute journey from St. Pancras International... Details of times, panels and other participants will be posted here nearer the time.


LIFE:XP still
After a drought, two new films in a month: we showed Justin Trefgarne's "LIFE:XP" to cast, crew, friends and employers on Tuesday at the Soho Hotel.

We shot on Fuji 250T stock, mostly pushed 1 stop (processing at Deluxe) with an ARRICAM from ARRI Media and a set of Cooke S4 lenses. ARRI Lighting supplied a generous package, and I had a terrific camera and electrical crew over the five days of the shoot. I didn't shoot with a Digital Intermediate planned, but after some heroic negotiation by our post-production supervisor Capital FX scanned the negative at 2k and we graded the finished 11 minutes at their facility in Oxford Circus in real time, projected on-screen. Then it was recorded back to film on CFX's ARRILASER, and Deluxe made the showprint.

Although it's a science fiction story, there's only one Visual FX shot: Double Negative lived up to their name by making a make-up corridor at Shepperton twice as wide. Also colourist Andrew Lim at Capital FX did a great job with a 'security camera' look for one of the sequences. Apart from the finale on Wandsworth Bridge, the whole shoot was at Shepperton Studios (thanks to Gary Stone), although we never actually got inside a stage.

Once again, Dana Wilson took the stills, no dedicated site or trailer yet but watch this space...

"Sick" is finished and the trailer is online

After some time, the short film I shot for Mike Rymer is finally finished. It's about to go out into the world of film festivals, so until it's had a proper life there, we can't show it online. However the trailer is at Myspace and it will open if you click on the link below.

We shot on Kodak 200T stock, pushed to 400 for the night interiors and exteriors, on a very generous Panavision camera package (Platinum & Primos). Lighting - a 2.5kW HMI PAR and a selection of Kinos and small units - came from Lee Lighting. Deluxe did a great job on the processing and print, and the only VFX elements are the titles burnt into the opening of the film, done at Capital FX in Dering Street.

Christine Hartland was the producer, she and Mike have done wonders to get it this far and we're now very excited about its future. Stills and more information are at the "Sick" website .

Dana Wilson in Africa

Dana Wilson, the very talented stills photographer who took the on-set material for my two most recent shorts - "Sick" and "Life XP" - has left the UK for Africa, where she has started a Blog which makes this one seem trivial, actually...

Please go and visit it - she can write, too!

BSC Show Review, March 2006

(This originally went out on the Cinematography Mailing List (http://www.cinematography.net) but since I haven't put anything on here for a couple of weeks I thought I'd share it with the wider world...)

Just wanted to share a few notes from the BSC Equipment Show today at Elstree Studios. Overall, I think a much more optimistic gathering than last year, and apparently very well attended, but the strongest feeling I came away with was how impressed I was with the new gadgets that people are designing.

I was blown away by the in-camera Pre-Viz system that JDC have designed - they have replaced the glow module on an ARRIcam with a video screen on which is projected the framelines (so the glow functionality isn't lost), but more importantly anything else that can be outputted to video. So they were demonstrating it with a 3D animatic of a giant. The material had been supplied by a VFX house as a 'rough', showing what a CGI character would do in a particular scene. The set has been built virtually in CG and put in the computer: when the camera is put in the physical set, its position is recorded in the computer and encoders from pan, tilt, zoom and track are fed into the set-up as well. Because it replaces the glow module in the optical path of the viewfinder, the image shows up in the eyepiece and on video assist, enabling the operator to operate the shot allowing for the CG element which will be put in later.

I hope I'm explaining this with the clarity it deserves - imagine trying to frame a shot with ordinary actors but allowing for a 16 foot high giant who will be comped in later (this is what they've been doing with the system on the new Harry Potter). This system puts the giant in your viewfinder in 3D, 'acting' in real time as the shot develops, and maintaining correct position as your camera moves. Needless to say, the flesh and blood actors don't have this advantage, but during rehearsal a puppeteer wearing 3D goggles with the same feed, and manipulating a 16' high head, does the moves of the CG character, to give everyone a chance with eyelines, blocking, acting, etc. They can encode as many axes as necessary for cranes or any other 'constrained' camera support, but hand-held and Steadicam are yet to be allowed for (although frankly I wouldn't put it past them to come up with something astonishing to deal with those situations...)

And the same system can work with projecting a virtual set into camera, or indeed anything anyone can spend the money to pre-visualise. I thought it was brilliant - congratulations to Lester Dunton and his colleague Olaf (whose surname I'm sorry I didn't catch) for an amazing job. They were printing off a fresh set of publicity sheets as I visited the stand, so I'm afraid I didn't get a URL for it, but I imagine you can get more information at the JDC website: http://www.joedunton.com/cgi-bin/jdc.pl

Another great design, another Olaf: 'Actor-controlled' lighting from Movie-Intercom (http://www.movie-inter.com). This is a series of lighting control boxes which link together. One configuration provides a fully controllable fire or TV effect with three channels of direct output which can be preset between a maximum and a minimum level - these levels can be 'frozen' to be measured, and the lighting will never go out of the preset range. Another configuration provides a sophisticated version of the 'spot meter pointed at the fire' gag where the output of the meter is used to drive some fixtures to augment the real light from the fire. A small metering box is pointed at the source (a display on the box shows when you're aiming at the brightest point) and the output fed to the control box which can be used to activate anything slaved to it. Point it at a practical on set, an actor can turn on the practical and any other lighting you've provided will come on too. No more tired electricians hovering over a line of switches trying to sync with an actor who has other things on their mind than doing the same thing every take... The box provides DMX out, so you can drive any size dimmer - you could put a light switch in the middle of the 007 Stage at Pinewood controlling a 40W golf ball, point the sensor at the lamp and switch on a 500kW rig with it...

Or you can bypass the optical sensor and use the box which senses the current going to the practical - the actor can turn off the TV set with its remote and turn off your TV effect simultaneously. The unit will also drive domestic ballasts for flouros to make dimmer & flicker effects. Olaf Michalke took me through the possibilities, my thanks and congratulations to him too.

LED lights were much in evidence, Dave Amphlett at Gekko (http://www.gekkotechnology.com) was showing his great Kisslite, a dimmable ringlight (tungsten or daylight) with built-in filter holders, since it effectively replaces a mattebox, and a three-LED on-camera kicker which I just want to have standing by all the time.

Howard Smith at Mk V (http://www.mk-v.com) has modified an all-terrain Segway to use as a Steadicam platform - you start constructing entirely new kinds of shots in your head when you see an Operator coming towards you on board a foot-controlled 'personal transportation system' spinning his revolving 'Alien Revolution' sled like a cheerleader spinning a baton (imagine a human-scaled version of the machine that drilled the Channel Tunnel...). He'll be at NAB next month, so some of you'll get a chance then to see the most eye-catching floorshow I caught today.

JDC's stand was also showing the Perfect Horizon stabilization system (http://www.motionpicturemarine.com/content/blogsection/4/31/) which looks very clever but you'd want to try it out on something more random than a deflated SpaceHopper.

I've left the bigger companies till last - they have their own Marketing Departments - but Panavision's Hylens system deserves a mention: motorised behind-the-lens cartridges containing diffusion, ND or even glass matte elements, driven by a remote control looking suspiciously like a PlayStation Console... PV mount only, expect to see a bunch of commercials using it in much the same way that the swing-tilt lenses drove new visuals. (It's on the front page of the Panavision website: http://panavision.com/)

Also Cooke had the only model so far of their 15-40mm T2 Zoom, interesting to compare with Angenieux's Optimo - that extra 5/6 of a stop seems to be worth about 1-1.5kg in weight...

All the booth-hopping meant I missed the discussions and panels going on on-stage - perhaps someone else who was there could summarise?

I just want to re-state how impressed I was with the innovation and commitment shown by the developers of the technology I saw: given the small size of this industry and the limited market for some of these items, the amount of work involved seems heroic and those who put themselves out there with their products deserve every success.

Crispin writes and directs "Clever Dick"

Crispin Whittell, for whom I shot "Hot Dog", has a new play coming to the Hampstead Theatre. It's a follow-up to his show "Darwin In Malibu", which was terrific, and is a comedy about Richard Feynman and the Manhattan Project. So really it should be about physics, but if anyone can make that accessible to a non-scientific audience, it's Crispin.

He's directing it too, and I might be biased but that's definitely a good thing.

Opens 18th May, runs until 17th June

(There are scenes from "Hot Dog" on my reel - download from the main page - and I'm going to ask him if I can put the whole film up on the site. It's very funny and although my lighting has improved since then I'm still pleased with it as a piece of work)

"Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it"

I never got to Tate Modern while it was possible to walk around "Embankment", the Rachel Whiteread installation of plastic boxes, but I managed to visit in time for the 'de-installation' (today and on-going, I should say), and I can't believe the event itself was better than watching it being destroyed.

First of all, the giant crane in the Turbine Hall still works! I don't know why I find this surprising but I suppose I imagined that the cost of maintaining and running it would be prohibitive. Do they employ a full-time crane driver? Or is it a job-share with some other rarely-needed skill? (Chimney sweep?)

So a team of men in high-visibility vests and hard hats load boxes into big nets, which are lifted on to the central walkway, where another team loads them onto a conveyor belt which carries them into the back of a truck - the truck is a 'Mobile Plastic Shredder' and the conveyor drops the boxes into a hopper which does exactly what it says on the label. The shreds of white plastic are carried by another conveyor into builders' bulk bags, about five feet high and three square at the base, and I don't know how long they've been at it but there must be thirty already waiting to be shipped and the piece looks to be less than one third 'de-installed'.

There's a time-lapse film of the installation on the Tate web-page, I hope there's someone shooting the de-installation too.

My favourite detail - one of the smaller boxes has been cut open at the top by the demolition team and is being used as a bin. It's nearly full of takeaway coffee cups, and could be a piece in its own right...