Quick View II Anyone?

I still have a small number of the second model of my Quick View camera angle finders available. This is an updated model with all the common digital sensor sizes as well as the standard film formats for easy cross-reference. I’m debating as to whether or not to order another batch, so I can’t guarantee this won’t be the end of them.

I’m selling these at $50, which is $10 off the normal price.

Hold the Bulldozer! It’s time to dance!

Since what we do is to create things that usually have only a momentary physical life, the ephemeral nature of our profession causes most of us to move back and forth from a state of temporary creative satisfaction to a feeling of complete stupefaction that borders on Nihilism. Take, for example, this satirical short film entitled, “The Life Of A Set Designer”.

But there are times when those ‘architectural light reflectors’ get a second life, even if only for a short time. Pernilla Olsson, one of our Art Directors in Sweden for “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, sent me some photos of one of our sets which has had just such a second life. A small country market set with boathouses that we built in a parking lot was not immediately torn down following filming and the lot owners decided to keep them standing.

This summer it became the site of  “Hälsinge Hambon”, a traditional dance competition famous in Sweden. Here are some shots after completion last year, and in use this summer for the dance competition.

Swedish market set

set after completion in 2010

"Hälsinge Hambon" event 2011



















"Hälsinge Hambon" event 2011

Will The Real Ogee Please Stand Up

Here’s a simple quiz. Which moulding profile below is an Ogee?

1. A

2. B

3. Both

Correct answer: It depends who you talk to. There are a number of well-respected architectural books which will tell you it’s “A”. They’re wrong, and I’ll explain why.

The word Ogee is derived from the medieval French term “Ogyve” (Oh-zheeve), which described a pointed arch as pictured below. The word was Anglicized to “Ogee” and in the late 19th century was shortened to “O.G.”

Cut the arch in half and you have a Cyma Reversa, beginning and terminating vertically.

So why the confusion? Well, there wasn’t any in the 18th century. In fact builders and manufacturers of moulding planes were consistent about what constituted an Ogee right into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the late-Victorian academics got involved that things got convoluted, and I think I know why.

Before the industrial age, wood mouldings were made, or ‘stuck’ by hand with moulding planes. The profiles were cut on their side, like those pictured below. To describe a profile, you need to stand the profile up and read the profiles in descending order. But the people that made mouldings were used to seeing the profiles on their sides, so an ogee, or cyma reversa terminates horizontally when viewed as such.

profiles of complex

Then there’s the terminology. Basically, if a Reverse Cyma is an Ogee, then a Cyma Recta is a Reverse Ogee. At some point I’m sure someone decided, “Gee, that can’t be right. A Reverse Cyma must also be a Reverse Ogee.” Makes sense.

Unfortunately as a wise man once said, “The easiest answers are also usually wrong.” Which in this case is true.

The Historic American Buildings Survey

The Historic American Buildings Survey, or HABS, was established in 1933 by Congress to  create work for unemployed architects and photographers during the Great Depression. Their mission was to document as many representative examples of American architectural structures as possible.

The teams of ‘delineators’ and photographers were hired from all over the country and would document every kind of structure, both public and private. The subjects ranging from well-known structures such as Jefferson’s home, Monticello, to simple barns and gas stations.  They didn’t know that much of what they recorded on vellum and in photos would be the only trace left of these structures as a great many of them were torn down over the preceding years.

In 1969, the Historical American Engineering Record was started as a ‘sister’ agency to record historic engineering and mechanical structures. The HABS / HAER collection, housed and maintained by the Library of Congress, now numbers over 500,000 drawings of 38,000 structures that range from Pre-Columbian ruins to the 20th century. Much of the collection is digitized and is available through the Library of Congress website.

Besides containing a wealth of architectural details, the collection is also a virtual museum of architectural drawing styles. As you look through the collection you can see how the drawing styles of the ‘delineators’ changes as the years pass. The very artistic ‘hand’ of the 1930’s and 40’s gives way to the more spare and graphic styles of the 60’s and 70’s. The collection continues to be added to each year and working on HABS surveys is a right-of-passage for many architectural students.

Below is a beautiful example of a drawing of hardware from 1940. The influence of that period’s drawing style in set design drawings will be obvious to those who have been in the industry since the pre-CAD days.

hardware from the La Rionda Cottage, New Orleans, 1940

Below, a drawing of details from an early Texas home, drawn in 1934.

Texas residence moulding details, 1933

Many of the structures documented were only photographed, but quite a few were documented with drawings as well. A typical survey may include as few as 3 or 4 sheets of drawings. Some contain as many as 20 to 30 sheets of drawings which include moulding and hardware details.

Some, like the 1883 Gruber Wagon Works in Pennsylvania were done as an ’emergency project’, executed when a structure was either in danger of being demolished, or in this case, on the verge of being dismantled and moved to another location. The Blue Marsh Lake Project in the area was the reason for this structure’s relocation.

Documented in 1974 by the HAER  in 11 sheets of drawings and 215 photographs, the wagon factory was a rare existing example of late 19th century American industrial age. It contained most of the original belt-driven machinery, still in their original locations.

1974 HAER survey plan of the Gruber Wagon Works



Longitudinal Section

photograph of forge area

photograph of workbench

As a reference and research site for our line of work, it’s pretty hard to equal it. Drawings can be downloaded as a reference tool in either a smaller file size for letter-size copies, or at full resolution for larger prints.

You can search by site name, region, building type or one of a dozen other search terms. But, plan to set aside a fair amount of time when you do a search, as you will quickly find yourself distracted by the huge variety of the material in the collection.

You can find the site at:


Scandalous Confessions – Part 1

OK, maybe it’s not that scandalous, but if I’d titled the post “Unusual Construction Detail” most of you wouldn’t have bothered to read this.

Anyway, the ‘scandalous’ part is that yesterday I went to tour the Gamble House in Pasadena for the first time ever. Seriously. People who know me and my mania for architectural detail think I’m kidding. It’s always one of those things I’ve meant to do, but because of ‘close-proximity syndrome’ I’ve just never gotten around to it. It was worth the wait.

Yesterday my oldest daughter graduated from the Junior Docent program there and part of their graduation duties was to give their first tour of the house to their parents. So, having my daughter show me around the place was a proud moment. You could say that every inch of the house was designed but that wouldn’t be true. It’s more like every half inch. Photographs do not do it justice.

Due to some nasty weather, the ceremony was held in the basement, a place normally off-limits. I looked around at the brick foundation walls of the deep room, surprised to not only find a full basement but a deep one at that. Being that the Gambles were from Ohio I guess It’s not so surprising. I noticed an unusual tie plate that connected the heavy sill joist to the brick and then realized they were spaced fairly closely together all around the foundation.

tie plate in the Gamble House basement

I was assured they were original to the house. Apparently the first question the Gambles put to the architects they interviewed was, “what do you know about earthquakes ?” The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was no doubt fresh in their minds and, being Midwesterners and having no direct experience with quakes, the prospects of even a less damaging quake was terrifying.

The tie plates appear to be about 14″ wide by 12″ tall and are about 3/8″ thick. Each has about a 4″ x 3″ hole punched in the center and is lagged into the brick in two places and the sill joist in three places with what appears to be 3/8″ or 5/16″ bolts. There is a metal spacer between the plate and the joist that is the full width of the plate and is about 1 1/2″ high by 1″ thick. The holes in the plates are aligned with half-brick wide openings in the top of the foundation.

The question in my mind is, were these plates specially designed for the house or were they a readily available item? Considering the Greene’s extreme attention to detail and Henry Greene’s engineering skills, I wouldn’t be surprised that this attention would include parts that few people would ever see. If anyone knows more about it I’d love to hear it.

row of tie plates

Sign Letter Visibility And Focal Length

How big is the moon? Or, more to the point, how does the moon appear to change size so drastically? If you go outside at night and hold a ruler out at arms length, the moon will measure about 3/8″ in diameter. It will fit on the nail of your little finger.

Just as in the photos below, one silhouetting a hawk and the other an 8 foot statue, when shot with a camera it’s apparent size will vary according to the focal length of the lens it’s shot with.

photo by Charlie Riedel AP






Photo by Joseph Rodriguez AP

Take sign letters. An Art Director once gave me the chart below which is used to estimate the visibility of letters on signs, depending on the size of the letter and how far the viewer is standing away from it.  Obviously contrast plays a big part here, so this formula works best with red or black letters on a white background. Different colored letters or a darker background can reduce this distance by at least 10%.


These numbers, of course, only hold true when viewing them with the human eye. It’s obviously a different story if you’re shooting with a wide angle or long lens.

I’ve created a formula for applying the above data depending on the focal length of the lens being used. These focal lengths are equivalent to Super 35 or a 35mm size digital sensor.

To use the chart, just multiply the letter size by the multiplication factor. For instance, if you have a 24″ letter (or object) and shoot it with a 35mm lens, it will appear the same size as a 10.3″ letter would to the naked eye. The number in parenthesis is the division factor.

Please note these are rounded factors and the true result will vary according to the camera and sensor size as well as the lens. To convert the focal length of another sensor size, refer to the previous post on focal length conversion.


Lens Focal Length Comparison Chart

I created this chart last year for an article in September’s Perspective Magazine. Since then I’ve been asked for it several times and decided I should just post it where it’s easily accessible.

Using a straightedge, his chart will allow you to find the comparable focal lengths of lenses available in many of the popular digital sensor sizes as well as the typical film formats. You can download the PDF by clicking the link below.

Lens Focal Length Comparison Chart

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. . .

It was in the 1920’s that the Art Director first gained a prominent position within the industry. Suddenly directors were forced to consider designed sets that were made to either strongly suggest camera position or to lock one in, as with forced perspective or foreground miniatures.

Men who were trained architects and designers who had been sucked into the studio system had to deal with people who were jealous of this new intruder into the filmmaking process, and did all they could to minimize their influence.

Joseph Urban (1872-1933) was a trained Viennese architect and theatrical designer who had not only designed numerous buildings throughout Europe but was well-respected for his theatrical designs for the Ziegfield Follies. Convinced to come to Hollywood by Randolph Hearst to design a Marion Davies picture, Urban soon found he was unwanted by studio carpenters who were used to building whatever they felt like rather than working from drawings. One carpenter distrusted his designs for a Spanish house and brought in his own reference to copy. Urban had to gently point out that the man’s pictures were actually of a French chateau.

Photo of Joseph Urban

Photoplay Magazine in October of 1920 described a meeting Urban had with one director who described a Buddist Temple that he wanted constructed for a dream sequence.

“You build it right there, about three feet high”, the director told him. “I wheel it up or push it back –  she gets big or she gets small, just as I place the platform; you know what I mean?

“Yes”, murmured Urban, “I know. You want a rubber temple.”

Urban would go on to serve as Art Director, Set Designer and Set Decorator on nearly 30 pictures, as well as simultaneously having a successful architecture career on the East coast.

You can read more about him here:




Apple Releases New Location Survey Tool

Actually that’s not entirely true. It’s not really a new tool and it wasn’t made specifically for location survey work. The iPhone has become a ubiquitous item on film sets now. The number of apps created specifically for film work is over 50 with others being released monthly.

There have yet to be any released specifically for the Art Department but quite a number of them, including those designed for other occupations, are really useful to have.

Among these are the two apps, Photo Measures and My Measures And Dimensions. Both work very similarly and are great for recording and transmitting measurements of locations or of objects.

Basically they both work by either taking a picture with the phones camera or importing an image from the library. Them, dimensions are added, both linear and angular.  Zooming in to the photo allows for accurate placement of arrows as well as allowing you to delineate small details. Notes can be added as well using a text tool.

As you can see, both applications are very similar, but one advantage of Photo Measure is, the basic application is free as compared to $2.99 for the basic My Measures. Photo Measures also has an enlargement window that makes it easier to precisely place dimension arrows. Give it a try and see if it’s useful for you. If you don’t own an iPhone, many apps also make versions for the Droid.