Category: Tutorials

10 Lessons On Filmmaking From Roger Corman

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

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.

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 ‘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 ‘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).

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.

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 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


Here’s a solid video essay on the late Satoshi Kon’s editing techniques.
Satoshi Kon is a bit of an anime legend who has directed and wrote several great films including Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and one of my favourites, Perfect Blue.

Filmmaker Magazine did a little write up on it, which is decent cinema website that I read every now and again. Tony Zhou also has several other video essays on various directors and techniques worth checking out if you’re learning about filmmaking.


I found this talk by Jonathan Blow, the creator of the 2008 independent game ‘Braid’. The talk covers content such as the best way to go about creating ‘deep work’ or long projects, how to survive these projects and how to allow yourself to receive great ideas.

The talk is really informative and you should check it out if you plan on (or are in the process of) making a large project such as a feature film, independent game or graphic novel.


I created a page of resources for budding animat0rs and filmmakers. It’s not perfect and it’ll be updated every time I find out some new SWEET SWEET FILMMAKING INFO for you all. Hopefully it’ll become a formidable set of resources to help other storytellers learn their craft.

Check it out HERE or hit the tab up top ^^

delicioustip  #214 – tea make all film gud

People Will Try to Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 1

If you’re going to get into solo feature film animation, not a lot of people will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll face a lot of derision from some of these people.

Already this early in my life as a filmmaker I’ve faced disapproval, people telling me that what I’m planning on doing can’t be done and general opposition. I’ve had this sort of reception from many different types of people including family and friends, but what really surprised me was that this response most often came from people who work in the ‘animation industry’. When I was at art school I would walk across to the animation school and talk to the teachers there about animation as they were so called ‘professionals’ in the industry. Whenever we got onto the topic of solo feature animation and what I was planning to do, they dismissed me and said it was impossible.

I recently had a similar encounter and thought I would share it with you all because you’ll likely come across the same thing. I went to a party the other night and began talking to a friend who works at an animation company about the feature I’ve started work on. Now I don’t normally talk to people IRL about my animation because the more I talk about it the less likely I’ll actually get it done and most people don’t really understand or care(and I don’t expect them to), but she asked me what I had been up to and I was a bit drunk. She seemed at first taken aback and then posed a series of arguments as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.

“You should just make a short film. It’ll be much easier and you can try and get it into Annecy.” 

Well there are many reasons why I want to make a feature as opposed to a short film. The first would be that I view the two formats as fundamentally different in what you can achieve with them. With a feature you are able to weave great stories with considerable character development to push your conflict and therefore your narrative. In comparison a short film it is much more difficult to do this because of the time constraint. That is why more short films are whimsical and quaint and tend to lack the depth capable of being generated by a feature. In saying that though it is not a rule, there are short films who do this better than some features but they are very rare. Another reason is the fact that I find animated features more intriguing due to their scarcity whereas animated shorts are everywhere. If I’m to pour my heart and soul into a project for 3-5 years I would rather it have a duration I can really work with to make it great and stand out, rather than another short even if that short was well executed. The third reason is that all my favourite films and most of my influences are features. Why is that? Again, it’s because you can do MORE with a feature film. I like plenty of shorts sure but the films I really take inspiration from tend to be longer form.

“You should collaborate instead of doing it yourself.”

There are pros and cons to everything. Here are some I’ve discovered about the differences between solo and collaborative film making.

Benefits and drawbacks of solo filmmaking

  • Complete control over your project
  • Don’t need to compromise vision
  • Other won’t let you down
  • You will likely develop faster
  • Have to do it yourself
  • It’s more difficult
  • It takes more of your personal time

Benefits and drawbacks of collaborative filmmaking

  • You can use others skills and expertise
  • It’s easier
  • It will take less personal time
  • You will likely need to compromise your vision
  • You will need to pay them in either time or money
  • You will be reliant on others who will possible let you down or doom the project

Both modes of production are valid and it’s really up to you with what you want as a filmmaker. Personally I much prefer the idea of doing it myself and creating something personal than compromising my vision and relying on others. This maybe because I’ve had a LOT of bad experiences with collaboration so I see the pitfalls of it clearly. Perhaps one day I will work collaboratively but not until I’ve got enough behind me to not have to compromise.

“Have you heard of the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’, making a feature by yourself is impossible. You’ll just end up like Richard Williams.”

Richard Williams is an animator who tried to make a feature animation called ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’  for over 20 years and never finished. Firstly Williams wasn’t a solo feature film animator. He had an entire team working on the Thief and the Cobbler. He also wasn’t working on it full time due to his work on commercials to raise money for the expensive cell animation style his team were working in. In my opinion the real reason he never finished it was because he never really wanted to finish it, at least subconsciously. It was his fear of failure masquerading behind perfectionism that stopped him from completing it. While the story of Richard Williams and ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’ is a good lesson on what NOT to do, it still doesn’t really have many similarities to the idea contemporary solo feature animation. Technology has advanced so far that it’s perfectly possible for one person or a small team to complete a feature animation provided they put in enough effort. It’s not even like i’m the first person ever to make a solo feature film. Frank Sudol, M Dot Strange, Nina Paley, Jeff Lew, John Bergin, Bill Plympton, Ray Nowland and others have done it so why can’t I? The real answer is you can if you want it and the only things that can stop you are your health or your will.

“What’s your end game? What do you hope to achieve with this film?”

I hope to make a good film and I hope to say something. There is no other end game. This is the real thing. When I finish this film I will make another. I don’t want to get picked up by any animation company, I just want to have the resources to keep making better and better work and improving. One day I hope to have made good enough films to have some people who find watching them rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant. It’ll be up in a few days.

-Hamish .S


M Dot Strange Talks About How to Make Your Own Solo CG Feature Film

M Dot Strange is one of the foremost advocates for creating your own animated feature. After making 3 solo feature animations he’s got a wealth of knowledge on how to do it, and he’s also got really valuable ideas on personal auteur cinema and storytelling.

M Dot has a new feature ‘I am Nightmare’ that has just been released and he’s selling it here for real cheap. I’ll be reviewing it as soon as I’ve got the money to get a copy.

For now though check out this 30min presentation where he talks about how to create your own CGI feature and goes through his production pipeline. It’s a really interesting watch and invaluable if you want to follow a similar path.