Sunday, December 23, 2007

Beowulf - John's review

We had a child-free day on Saturday so Bronwyn and I headed off to check out the new IMAX 3D cinema playing "Beowulf".

Bronwyn and I usually agree on movies, often both liking movies that have had negative reviews. eg We both liked "Troy". But not this time. Bron (see below) feels that the Beowulf CGI approach did not work for her. I thought Beowulf was excellent, with the bonus of easily being the most successful and effective 3D feature movie I have ever seen. I am however a techie who appreciates the cutting-edge work these animators are doing and I may be forgiving a few things. The shyness in showing nudity looks foolish at times but that is probably some producer's decision to make more money by avoiding a restricted certificate. IMHO wrong call, this looks to me like an R13 movie awkwardly trying to change gear down to M, but it's a minor point.

On to my appreciation of what is good here. Top marks to the writers for tying the disconnected events of the ancient story together with a new story arc of cause and effect while still staying true to the distinctive elements of the original. The ancient storyline, of the surprising way to defeat the monster Grendel, is well adapted here. Great characterisation, character design and 3D world design. The artists make imaginative use of their medium to bring their ancient Viking world to vivid life.

Some favourite scenes:
Near the beginning where we join Beowulf and his thanes as they ride a North Sea storm on their Viking longboat.
Near the end there is a magic moment where there is a performance in honour of Beowulf and for a few seconds the bard slips into the anglo-saxon language of the original epic.

Recommendation: If you have any interest in CGI 3D art then don't burden yourself with ice-creams etc cos you don't want any distraction from the amazing immersive experience of the opening scenes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Beowulf - Bronwyn's review

Keep the CGI for Shrek and Toy Story

I can’t imagine computer animation ever working for an adult movie, or at least not one that is meant to be serious and pack a metaphorical punch. I’m prepared to be proven wrong, but alas I don’t think Beowulf is the movie to do it. To put it plainly I found this movie boring.

There’s plenty of action, lots of gee whiz effects, violence, lots of nudity, but it was dull. The only reason I can think of is that the characters, albeit played by mostly quite recognizable and extremely A list actors, were just not interesting. A very fine performance just cannot seem to translate to the screen via the graphics program. It just isn’t the same.

The story was not one I was familiar with, despite hearing about it second or third hand for years. I found the first third particularly almost impossible to watch because a) it was brutal and horrifying beyond belief (do not take your children to this movie) and b) because not only was I watching it in 3D but the camera was spinning around so fast you couldn’t focus on anything.

OK – that all sounds pretty bad. I would say that if it had been live action (obviously some of the effects had to be CGI) and the camera had stayed put a bit more it would at least have been watchable. And it did improve. After Beowulf dealt with the deeply disturbing Grendel (some things are just too creepy for movies) the soulless violence and bleakness eased. Also I had begun to sympathise with Beowulf and his queen, but it took three-quarters of the movie to get to that point. The second monster, the dragon, well he was just plain cool. He still ate people, but it was far less disturbing (these things are totally relative).

John asked me if I would like my book "Askar" ( made into a CGI movie. The answer is no. If you’re making a human drama, it needs to have humans in it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Askar - joys of self publishing

Bronwyn Calder has finally completed writing her epic fantasy novel "Askar" after 20 years working on it. We have been developing a film script version and my students have been creating Askar-themed internet games. What this is leading up to is a new media publishing project.
This gets us into self-publishing which is quite a learning adventure. We are publishing with "" which our writing friends like and recommend - thanks Colin and Joss - see it at..
No e-book version yet. Lots of interesting pros and cons there and a lot of discussion going on amongst us here. A special point here is that "Askar" is big, 464 pages in its Lulu version. Print-on-demand is very cost-dependent on the number of pages so "Askar" becomes relatively expensive as a physical paper book which helps make the case for the e-book. We will probably put up a separate e-book version in a few days. The font/page size for the printed book does not do screen reading well for us, and IMHO an e-book also needs quite different wording for its copyright statement.
We could have reduced the cost a little by going for a smaller font = Garamond 11pt rather than the Garamond 12pt we ended up using. Various people drafted in for their opinion all said the bigger font was worth it.

We needed some copies quickly and with Christmas coming we could not get a print job done in time so we are trying home-printing some examples and we have got as far as the first 4 prototypes. In brief, we were able to buy A5 paper and our modest Brother DCP 115 C home inkjet printer is doing the heavy-duty duplex page-printing job reliably and economically. We can get the covers printed on A3 card at reasonable cost by a copy centre. The fun and games is in do-it-yourself paperback glue binding and we have been trying various kinds of glue. "PVA" and "Contact Adhesive(ADOS F2)" both worked with F2 being a quick process, but the spine comes out rather flexible and so wear-creases appear on it with normal use. The latest experiment with "Gorilla Glue" is looking like the best so far. We also need to try hot glue.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Auditions Lesson - learn to txt!

Events around 02 Aug (writeup catch-up). "Askar" is our 106 minute script for an ambitious fantasy epic movie. We are moving on developing it by test-filming about 5 mins of it. I have just read "Five Things I Hate About Microbudget Movies"by "Film Flap":
and Thing Three is:
"Terrible Acting .. You'd be surprised how many talented actors are out there hungry for work. They will do anything (including work for free) to pad their resume, so use them ...Hold auditions and good people will show up."
This inspires me to step outside my usual network and advertise auditions, bracing myself to cope with the flood of hungry actors. Notices on the walls at a drama school and on the internet discussion boards of the local indie scene and the LARPers. Well, Mr Film Flap, only about 4 responses and zero end result from that! Our cast and crew all came via our own network eg our email newsletter and work colleagues getting the word out to their students and rellies. But a lesson here! I am guessing that as a crusty old last-century-indie-relic, I made a mistake in not understanding how important cellphone "txt-ing" is for communicating with the New Generation. I left lots of voice messages then someone explained to me that they don't get picked up because many people can't afford the cellphone call charge to listen to them and you need to use txt to get people together. I'll try that next time and see if that makes a difference. And Mr Film Flap, if you can read this, do tell what strange and wonderful place you live in with all these surplus talented actors floating around - methinks I should go there to make a movie!
In the meantime I am getting into txt with my cast and crew.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

48 Hours Competition - "Dancing with the Pollies"

This year in the "48 Hours Furious Film-making" competition we decided to go with modelling clay animation - that's like the "Wallace and Grommit" movies. We drew the "Romance" genre which led us to parodying "Dancing with the Stars". Follow the link to the iafilm home website for the full "making of" article with photos and video clips. All is revealed on how we got modelling clay characters to talk.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Crash Recovery Success

I was shooting to memory card with a Canon MVX25i, which is the PAL version of the Optura 40. I had a "low battery" warning but I kept going in the hope of completing a shot. The battery died on me. I assumed that the camera would do a graceful shutdown in that event but I discovered that is not the case!
I now had 34 minutes of event filming as a file of length "0". The file recovery was long and difficult. I have written it up as an article in the hope that if this happens to anyone else the information may be useful. I regard myself as an I.T. expert but this would have to be one of the most difficult problem-solving challenges I have faced in a long time. Moral of the story, if you see that battery warning then STOP. It is also a good idea when using Memory Card to stop and restart often so you do not build up a large at-risk file.

The article:

The rescued movie:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog09 - completion

Movie completed and submitted by post to the NZ Film Festival. Editing co-incided with high pressure in the day job and the computer moonlighting job so it was not much sleep for me. Editing ran so late that I used up the week the musicians were available and completed a fine cut on the night of the 19 April, with the fest entry deadline being the next day. I checked the fest website and behold! a 10 day extension - yay! But what to do about music?

I had another muso wanting to help, but he was in a small rural town. I posted him the stuff and it got lost in the post. I did however have a Plan B going and that moved into full swing. I had chosen "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens as a piece I wanted to use and I started searching for versions of it on the internet and writing to the arrangers and/or publishers asking permission. After about 8 unanswered emails over a week I finally made a friendly contact. Terry Smythe belongs to the "International Association of Mechanical Music Preservationists" whose members have invented scanners which read the player piano rolls of the early 20th century into computer "MIDI" files. Terry kindly gave me clearance to use his publication of a Liszt arrangement of Danse Macabre. On loading it into my MIDI software, "Powertools Pro", I found I was able to split the left and right hand sets of notes into separate "channels" and give them different instruments. I kept the right channel as a piano but added an asian "koto" voice. The left hand notes became a "string ensemble" and an "oboe".

I have great admiration for Franz Liszt now! It was amazing how well this piece fits with the movie, IMHO because of the way it moves off the melody into atmospheric variations.

For the courtroom scene I wanted another piece by Saint-Saens - the "Fossils" from "Carnival of the Animals". I especially like Tony Matthew's midi sequencing of it which IMO delivers an especially good computer simulation of an orchestra. Tony gave me permission to modify his work for the film. I repeated some sections with changed instrument voices - mostly percussion to go well with the courtroom typewriter as the silent-movie-voice of the characters and something of a character in its own right. I found the "tinkle bell", "celeste", "shamizen" and "koto" worked well. I found that these simulated instruments sound realistic only over a narrow range of notes but I got into making them sound quite different by assigning them well out of their "realistic" range. My favourite experiment was where I assigned some low notes to the "tinkle bell" and it became a woodblock-like drum-percussion track very suggestive of a typewriter.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Recommended Article

Just read an interesting article
Moving to HD Cameras. A filmmaker’s case study by independent film-maker David Basulto, published on the website "Creative Mac". Successful low-budget film-maker gives a good level of detail about how he works.

Entered 48 Hours as "Team MITCIT"

I have done the entry for the 48 Hours Competition as Team MITCIT. So we're now on the rollercoaster ride peaking with that mad weekend 18-20 May. I'm going for technical rehearsal and team workout Tues 15 May 5pm to about 7pm.

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog08 - progress

The last 3 rolls of film are back from processing. I can report success with the experimental modification of the Chinon Pacific camera - see details below. Gate registration is much better. More evidence for my theory that Super-8 cartridges work best with minimum take-up tension. Pressure is on - I am editing this weekend and I need to get it to our musicians in time for them to get a soundtrack together before a film festival deadline April 20th.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Richmond Rd Short Film Festival

I saw the Richmond Rd Short Film Festival last Sat 24 March. Nicely done event. Outdoor screening so I hauled along my cushion, jackets and rugs but on getting there I find that this one has seats! Yay! The films were:

"A Very Nice Honeymoon" by Jeff and Phill Simmonds. Ironic title. About the film-makers' great grandparents' experience of a shipwreck. Animated film in something of the same technical style and production values that you would see in commercial cartoons on TV, but turned to a quite different genre and purpose, and very effective because of that. Its documentary approach leads the audience by degrees to an amazing and emotionally poignant final interview. IMO this film well deserved its audience choice award.

"Brown Peril - The Tim Porch Story" - dir Jarrod Holt and Nigel McCulloch. This was the winner of last year's NZ 48 Hours so I've seen it a lot, but I am always amazed by the number of comedy elements that these people have piled on in layers. The main story is a goodie in itself yet it seems that in every moment they can heap on more and more outrageous and eccentric detail. This won lots of awards at this show and there should be another award for an acceptance speech that was in itself a high energy comedy performance.

"Oh Deer" by Chung Min Moon. Animated fantasy film in an east Asian style. I thought the artwork was good but the rather minimal very computer-animated movement needed something like the human touch of Len Lye's movies. To be fair to the film-makers I'll admit I was seeing this only a few days after the Auckland Festival Len Lye screening so they had a hard act to follow. With my head even more full of Len Lye than usual, "Oh Deer" was like "Tusalava" without the "zizz".

"Night Vision" dir Zoe MacIntosh. An documentary which I found effective because of a sense of the film-maker's empathy with her subjects.

"The Customer is Always Trite" dir Greydon Little. Humourous observation of the passing parade of supermarket customers from the point of view of a checkout operator.

"Rope" dir Adam Luxton and Jeremy Dumble. An brief incident of attempted suicide gives some narrative structure to what is mainly an exercise in art direction, lighting, photography, and intense acting performance.

"Life after Death" by Guy Capper and Jemaine Clement. Pub philosophers mouthing off with the great original touch that these are animated plasticene sheep. A little like the Aardman productions. Stacks up well in comparison to "Creature Comforts".

"Uso" dir Miki Magasiva. Effective comedy of 2 young men hanging out by a phone box. Great character performances. I nominate "Uso" as the local answer to "Waiting for Godot".

"The Speaker" dir, prod, writ. Tearepa, Savage, Quinton Hita. Slice of life story of a politically motivated tagger and his Maori activist peer group achieves in-depth portrayal of characters who came across to me as struggling in a remarkably real way with their conflicting loyalties and the peer pressure to be "staunch".

"The Knock" dir Miles Murphy, prod Simon Ranginui, writ. Nick Ward. Very stylish horror movie from the NZ Film Commission initiative to make shorts with high production values. Effective intense performances and a surprise ending about which I could say "what I would expect for this genre" but I can only say that in retrospect. Winner of "Best Film" in this competition.

"Chop Off" dir Grant Lahood. Some of the slapstick elements of classic silent comedy grace this strange but original piece about a wood-chopping contest. The logline says "epic battle between young and old" and I felt afterwards that more could have been done to show that. IMO the visual comedy was built more around the competition equipment than around the theme.

A good show giving a great snapshot of short film-making. I came away with the encouraging feeling that IAFILM is operating at an equal level. There seems to be a common element of quirky plot surprises echoed by visual elements running through these. If I read that right our current production "Love Song to Super-8" should stack up well in this kind of company.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog07 - first looks

First look - first impressions - it is working out well. To me the EK64 stock does look grainier than Kodachrome but that gives it a retro look that will work well for this project. I am not sure yet about how much I want to use it on future films.
Frame scans are posted on another site because of display space.
You can see them here ...
IAFILM Current Projects - Love Song to Super-8

The Canon 814E looks more and more like the number 1 camera. One surprise behaviour we have uncovered. We noticed that we got slightly different settings focussing by eye compared to measuring distance with a measuring tape. We went with the measuring tape but the close-ups show that the focussing by eye was the one giving the true and accurate settings. We have some close-ups to re-shoot Monday night:(

Thursday, February 8, 2007

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog06 - film is processed!

The package of Ektachrome films has just arrived back from Spectra Lab, Hollywood, USA. Turnaround time was 14 days from New Zealand. I have unreeled the first few cm of one and I can see it has nicely exposed pictures on it. Tonight I can start running the films through my home-made scan-into-computer machine.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

How best to use YouTube - a new idea!

The story so far. An aim of IAFILM life is to score some high audience figures on YouTube so we can point to these when going for funding of more ambitious movie projects. Experiment 1 was to do "responses" to a big-time film-maker and that went nowhere because the other film-maker did not accept the response - I suspect because of feedback overload rather than any other reason.

Experiment 2 is an intense effort to comment generously on videos I like. Most text comments on YouTube are very simple one liners like "lol" or "wow" or "bravo! excellent video" so it MAY get some attention to make an effort to write meaningful mini-reviews.

For example: ("Le Grand Content" by "enlarge")
"I LOVE this video because I HATE most business presentations I see - and I get to see a lot! It is so good to see such an effective satire. I will enjoy pushing my teaching and business colleagues to watch this! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!"

Making an effort to comment on a very popular video does result in the comment only being visible for about 5 minutes until it is swamped off the comment front pages by the "lol" and "wow" brigade. Does that comment do something useful for IAFILM in its short readable life? Let's find out.

Most of these comments are visible by clicking on videos in the "favourites" section of Channel Iafilm.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How best to use YouTube - continued

On Sat 27 Jan, see below, I wrote of my experiment to produce and post a clip "CheekyGirl10..." as a response to someone else's high profile clip = "Poor Pluto" by "LonelyGirl15". Well that was 4 days ago and so far "LonelyGirl15" has not accepted my submission as a response so no result yet on that experiment. The good news is that the "CheekyGirl10" clips are scoring better than any of my previous ones just by normal osmosis or whatever it is that brings viewers.

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog05 - In the clutches of Chinon

Late last night I went further with dismantling the Chinon camera from inside the cartridge chamber. 2 screws removed and out came the backplate. 2 more screws and the clutch removed nicely as a unit. It is adjustable, but this one was on its lowest setting and still seemed tight. So a deep breath and following my new theory that minimum take-up reel force is good, I replaced the strong spring with part of a ballpoint pen spring. Today we had the last day of pickups and I did some shots with the modified Chinon. It transported OK including running one entire cartridge on its own so I nervously await processing to see if less torque fixes the jiggles.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Love Song to Super-8" -blog04 - camera experiences

Our Super-8 experience is going to depend on how well 25+ year old secondhand cameras have survived. We have started out with 4 cameras on "Love Song to Super-8". In brief: a Canon 814E is looking like the champion.
In detail:
Canon 814E - lens performance unknown as yet, we have had one mediocre EIA1956 result of 500 horiz line pairs but that was with way outdated b/w film with dodgy processing - so we don't really know. BUT the Canon is standing out as giving rock steady registration. My guess is that it has a better(lower) tension on its take-up clutch than the others. The others just pull too hard.

Sankyo 620 SuperTronic - reasonable lens performance = about 550 line pairs horiz, small registration jiggle. Kinda average. Dedicated animation stand camera on this project so it can live permanently with a close-up lens and a vertical mount.

Sankyo ES44 - low-light champion but failed on set just whirring and not transporting. My guess is that a release solenoid has failed or jammed. It lasted just long enough to get an action scene where we ran the ES44 at 9 frames per second and got the actors to act out in slow motion movement - aiming for a strange quality of movement when sped back up in post. Changing between cameras is a trap - under pressure I forgot to pay attention to the ES44's unusual daylight filter switch so did an entire scene (fortunately) set to daylight while lit with artificial light. We anxiously await the result back from the lab. Maybe it will make sense as an orange-toned scene? Maybe we can correct digitally?

Chinon Pacific 200/8 XL - this is a good-looking and nicely ergonomic unit to use and our EIA1956 tests are showing excellent lens performance up to 720 line pairs horizontal which rivals HD cameras. BUT its registration is awful. Bad jiggle and one sequence shows film going momentarily out of focus which IMO is the gate spring bending under pressure. This hints at the awful truth. The take-up transport just pulls with too much tension. Just putting a finger on it makes that very clear. We've pulled this camera off the project and replaced with the Canon 814E but I am trying to figure out how to reduce that take-up tension. I have been able to partially dismantle by easily removing the film chamber backplate but I can't see enough yet to get many clues. This would be a brilliant camera if I could fix its transport problems.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Love Song to Super-8" -blog03 - black-and-white film

We are shooting the main storyline in colour with Kodak's new Ektachrome 64T stock. 7 rolls of that is in the post to Spectra Lab in California so we don't know what that looks like yet. Some of the films-within-the-film are black-and-white. I am doing hand processing so we have our first results with new Kodak 7266 stock. The raw results appeared very bleached or over-developed but I am almost certain that I got my developer formula wrong with too much KSCN clearing agent. The good news is that on scanning into the computer and applying digital contrast and brightness corrections the results look great. We discover we can get an enormous improvement on the raw image.

"Circle Dance" is the classic experimental Super-8mm genre that EVERYONE did, of dancing and spinning while holding a camera at arm's length pointed back at one's face. Performed here by Linda Whitcombe playing the part of "Glenis".

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog02

This is a "silent" movie and we were expecting that shooting would be fast and easy compared to shoots where we need to worry about sound recording. Not quite true! Our 2 previous drama movies for the "48 hours" competitions were done in 1 room in front of blue and green sheets. "Love Song.." is reminding us that it is hard work to go for a visually rich movie largely done in real locations with the lining up and setting up of many camera angles!

First up was a Courtroom scene where our tragic film-making couple, "Mike" and "Glenis" are having a "custody battle" case over their films. We travelled 50km north to the Helensville Museum and used the 1864 vintage Courtroom there.

First look from the shoot ...


Going for visual jokes involving attention to detail takes a lot of time. We had surreal miniature policemen played by children wearing false beards achieved partly with crepe hair and spirit gum. Looks great but takes time to get them ready, and with heavily-dressed children on a hot day we had to work very fast with the filming eg raising the percentage of hand-held camera work.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

How best to use YouTube?

Do we show vid clips on YouTube, hopefully for public recognition reward, but maybe hurt commercial opportunities? Lots of indies are commenting on this as a big issue! I'm going for selecting clips and making clips especially for the iafilm YouTube channel.
The big issue to me trying to "build a profile" or should that say "indulge my ego by showing off" is that after the excitement and nervousness of setting up a YouTube channel comes the anticlimax of only getting a small audience. Max views so far is about 200 for the quickie alternative-news "Raurimu Spiral". I want audiences to love our more-crafted work!

Experiment. My latest made-especially-for-YouTube is "The cheekygirl10 Guide to Len Lye". In 4 days it has collected 20 views. So now I have submitted it as a "response" to the lonelygirl15 clip "Poor Pluto" and I am curious to find out if this response approach boosts the audience ratings by kinda hitching a ride on a famous clip. This experiment now depends on the "lonelygirl15" film-makers accepting "cheekygirl10" as a response. Watch this blog for progress reports.

With "cheekygirl10" we try for a general satirical take on "lonelygirl15" by filming genuine spontaneous responses from a cheeky and articulate 10-year-old host in contrast to the set up of lonelygirl15. It was a difficult decision as to which LG15 clip to respond to. "Poor Pluto" is in my opinion the best of LG15. It shows "Bree" commenting on something apart from her personal world and visually the mobile is a little like the kinetic sculpture in our vid.

"Love Song to Super-8" - blog01

The "push" to get blogging is the latest iafilm movie: "Love Song to Super-8". For this short film we are experimenting with an open show and tell of ideas as we make it rather than the usual big secret until the ta da! premiere. A little bit restricted though because we want to enter it in a film festival that likes to do exclusive premieres, so it's not much video on show but we'll cut loose with ideas, script elements, photos and share the results of the tech experiments.

Starting with what it's about:
"Mike and Glenis are the king and queen of Super-8 art film-making until Mike falls in love with a video camera. Glenis, feeling betrayed, is driven to passionate and furious revenge using Super-8 film-making equipment as tools and weapons."

Comedy Parody, especially taking the mickey out of "Fatal Obsession"(1987). We also aim to poke fun at any passionate obsession with technical points of difference eg the Film vs Video rivalry, the PC vs Mac rivalry, the Ford vs Holden rivalry.

The Tech Experiment:
Earlier experiments (see - the iafilm home website) that John's old Super-8mm cameras may well have a new life shooting Super-8mm film which we then scan directly into a computer. A love-match of the best of the old and the new? How to find out? Make a movie this way! We are aiming to shoot everything in Super-8mm so that it will be possible to play the result in the original Super-8mm on special occasions - AFTER it has been safely digitised.