10 Lessons On Filmmaking From Roger Corman

Here’s a great article from Filmmaker Magazine on Roger Corman’s ‘10 Lessons on Filmmaking‘.

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Roger Corman is a filmmaking legend who has produced over 400 hundred films and directed dozens more. While many of the films he worked on are undeniably genre trash, he has also worked on some greats such as The Masque of Red Death (1964), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Intruder (1962) and Forbidden World (1982).

Roger Corman knows how to get shit done and he’s definitely worth taking some advice from.

-Hamish .S

Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

THE OPTIONS
Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1
2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1
1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

DISTRIBUTION AND EXHIBITION
Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

TESTING ASPECT RATIOS
I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

THE VERDICT
The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S

New Studio!

Underground Animation has been down for a few days because I forgot to pay some bills, haha whoops.

I’ve been a bit absent on here lately because I’ve been moving into a new house(still no internet) and I’ve also found a cheap studio to move into. It’s been a while since I’ve had a studio. I’ve just been working away in my bedroom for the last few years. While I’m a firm believer in working wherever you can (not having a studio isn’t an excuse not to get shit done), having a place outside your bedroom to go and work is really nice. But y’know if for some reason I can’t pay studio rent anymore I’ll just find some other way to get by and make my film.

Here are some pics of my new work-space.

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My film is progressing along pretty steadily. I’m still writing, fixing things and improving the screenplay. It’s definitely taking form. I’m about to start storyboarding so I’m researching aspect ratios and looking into the one I want to use and the look I want the film to have. It might seem like an insignificant decision but it’s essentially picking the way you’ll be framing your world and it’ll have aesthetic ramifications from the storyboard to the editing. I’ll write a post about that pretty soon.

In the meantime check out this great post on Monster Brains about an exhibition featuring the works of four of my favourite animators, Ladislas(Wladyslaw) Starevich (1882-1965), Jan Svankmajer (1934) and the Quay Brothers (1947). It contains a fascinating video detailing a lot of the work in the exhibition.

600full-wladyslaw-starewicz (1)Ladislas Starevich and his daughter Irene Starevich. The collaborated on several animation together from 1930-1958.

Hope you’re all kicking ass creatively.
-Hamish. S

Great Women Animators!

I’ve recently stumbled across an excellent website called Great Women Animators.

The website is a database of female animators from the 1800’s through to the present. It also covers both animators working in the art world and cinema industry, which is great as there sometimes can be a bit of a divide as to what animation resources cover.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list of women working in the animation field, but as it says in the sidebar, it’s always going to be a work in progress. The database contains several of my favourite animators such as Suzan Pitt and Caroline Leaf, but there are many more that I’ve never heard of. I’m keen to dig in over the next few weeks and find some great animation I haven’t come across before.

Untitled-1

I probably don’t need to say it but initiatives like Great Women Animators are a great way to address the gender inequality in moving image and the greater culture which it represents. According to a multiple of sources there are far less Women working in cinema than men. I have not been able to find any statistics on equality in the animation industry itself, but I imagine animation is a ‘bit’ better than the cinema industry as a whole, but probably not by much. The website also has a great resources section if you want to continue delve further.

Hopefully databases such as Great Women Animators help young women(and everyone) to find artists that inspire them and encourage them to dive in and start making. Initiatives like this create a great way to discover new artists that can inspire and influence your work, so check out the website or accompanying tumblr!

The website is run and maintained by Canadian artist/illustrator Heather Kai Smith who’s work you can check out here.

Great Stuff!

-Hamish S

CHIPS Zine – NSFW

I’ve been making a comic zine called ‘CHIPS – A Tale of Lust’ in my spare time, mostly when I need a break from working on my animations. The zine is about a half-man half-seagull creature who has a sexual fetish for deep fried foods.chips togetherI’ve completed 3 issues so far and I plan to make 2 more to complete the series. When I’ve finished the 5 issues I’ll combine them into a bound book. I really enjoy making comics although I can’t draw very well. I think I’ll continue to make comics on the side of my other work for fun after CHIPS is finished. Creating comics is quite similar to animation and cinema, and a lot of the same knowledge and skills are used. There are some key differences though. If you want to get into making your own comics, I recommend Making Comics and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Those two books helped me heaps in understanding the syntax and techniques specific to comic narratives.

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Did I mention that all issues of ‘CHIPS’ unfold into A4 posters? YEAH THEY DO! You too can now have avian erotica on your walls!

My distributor Caldera Press will be selling CHIPS at Other Worlds Zine Fair this Saturday May 23 if you’re in Sydney. Otherwise I’ll update this post soon with an online store if anyone is interested :D

-Hamish .S

I’m Still Alive!

I’m still alive and still working on my film!!!

I’ve almost finished my feature screenplay but I have a little way to go. I just need to tighten up the dialogue, the ending and sharpen the premise and I’m done. Well… kind of done anyway. Writing a screenplay is one of those things where even when you’re ‘done’ it’s liable to still need adjustment and work later on. So as soon as I hit 95% on the screenplay I’ll move on to other parts of pre-production. The story is way better than it was, however I’m still having some trouble with getting the dialogue how I want it. Dramatic yet not cliche or hackneyed. Sounds simple yet it seems to be harder than I imagined.

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I’ve also begun to do research and environment concept art which is really fun. I’ll do a post soon on various other parts of the pre-production I’m working on, such as character design, environment design and directing voice actors.

Also, as soon as I can afford a decent mic I’ll start working on some videos highlighting and reviewing rare animations that I think are interesting. I have to study and examine other animations and films anyway so I thought if I document it and make videos about them,  it might help people discover some new stuff they’re into. I’ll also get a basic camera soon so I can make production video logs of my film-making process, video tours of my studio(*cough* bedroom) and other content. In the future I should be posting at least once a week! ><

That’s all for now!

-Hamish .S