Beginnings – A Conversation With Production Designer Nigel Phelps

(Ed. note – This is the first in a series of interviews with Production Designers, discussing their first job experiences and earlier films in the entertainment industry.)

NigelPhelpsNigel Phelp’s career began in London where he was studying to be a fine artist. When his school grant ran out, he took a job as a storyboard artist.  Not long after, he was introduced to Production Designer Anton Furst who hired him as a set illustrator for the film, Company Of Wolves. That film led to Furst hiring him to work on Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam epic, Full Metal Jacket.

Commenting on the production years ago, Anton Furst related that Kubrick was happiest when he was shooting with a very small crew. Phelps revealed the reality of that preference.

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Stanley Kubrick with Matthew Modine on the set of Full Metal Jacket outside London. (Warner Bros.)

“Stanley was very fiscally responsible about the expenditures. He knew where every dollar was spent, so that meant that the Art Department was a very tiny group. There were only four people in the entire department which included a single draftsperson. We didn’t even have any PA’s.  There were only a half dozen people in Production as well. We went three months without a construction manager because Stanley had heard that TV shows were able to build scenery much cheaper, so he wanted us to go around to scene shops in London that built sets for TV programs and commercials.”

“For the first three months our Art Department were two Land Rovers, each one towing a little Porta Cabin behind it that was about big enough to get two drawing boards in it. Since it was my first big feature I just figured that was what was typical for an Art Department.”

Hired initially as the Assistant Art Director, Phelps said Kubrick was very good to him and later gave him a bump to Art Director.

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Question – Where was the production located in London?

Nigel Phelps – “The center of production was Stanley’s house in north London, so our shooting radius was within 40 miles from that point. Most of the film was shot at the Beckton gasworks, except for the ending. For the ending scene, they built a set back at the studio, at Pinewood.”

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The main set, the shelled city of Hue, was recreated at the defunct Beckton Gas Works outside London, England where the company was free to dress and add to the existing ruins. (Warner Bros.)

Beckton Gas Works

Q. – Who was the Set Decorator on the film?

N.P. – “Stanley wouldn’t let us have a Set Decorator. We had to do the buying ourselves over the weekends in our free time. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to be able to shop the entire movie from London markets, he let us send a buyer, Barbara Drake, out to Thailand for a few weeks, and she filled two shipping containers and sent them back to England. So that’s how low-tech the decorating process was.”

Q. –So there was never a Set Decorator on the picture?

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The gas works “Hue” set displaying the palm trees imported from Morocco. (Warner Bros.)

“No, just set dressers and a prop master.  Stanley made a deal with the Belgian Army to get the tanks we used. And Stanley did this personally, as he was the producer on the film. We got a load of palm trees from Morocco and they drove them up through Spain and France.”

Q. – Did you have a researcher on the film?

N.P. – “For research, we only had about three or four books and they were on old China. That’s all we could find in England. But Stanley had a couple hundred black and white 8 x 10’s from the U.S. State Department and that was the bulk of our research. I was the only person in the art department who had actually been to Southeast Asia. We did have some good technical advisors because there were quite a few Vietnamese refugees in London at the time.”

Q.- When you were working with Stanley, did he have very specific ideas about what he wanted to shoot or did he look to you to feed him images or ideas?

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Sketch of the courtyard set for Kubrick by Nigel Phelps

Lusthog Squad / Pagoda Courtyard set    (Warner Bros)

N.P.-  “It was a bit of both. Stanley did have a few photos, like the one of the courtyard, and he just wanted them duplicated as accurately as possible. When you did any sketches or concept drawings he would look at them and want to know how far away things were in the picture, how tall walls were, he was absolutely thinking about things as if he were seeing them through a lens. So not knowing how to do lens projection at the time I had to figure out a way to do that for myself, so that when I drew a perspective sketch I could work backward and draw a little plan and elevations to show him what the actual sizes that it would be.

Photo of U.S. Marine Corps base gate set in London.

Phelp’s illustration of army base gate for film set.

And then after you made the sketches, we’d make a model and then that would be photographed and you’d make 20-inch black and white prints of the photos and that’s what Stanley would really look at. He wasn’t very trusting of sketches.

Q. –What scale would you build the models in?

N.P. – “There were a lot of models. Mainly they were 1/4” or 1/2” scale.

Hue street scene set

Notes on building on a budget:                                                                                                  “What you’re seeing here is the entire build for the Hue scene.
There were just four shops in the foreground. There was no reverse scenery at all.
The background scenery ended to the left and there was nothing beyond the Billboards to the right.”        Nigel Phelps                    (Warner Bros)

Q. – How did you manage to work with such a small crew?

N.P. – “If I remember correctly, we worked six-day weeks. But on Sunday we were also expected to go to London markets to look for any set dressing.”

Q. –I’m still amazed you did that picture with such a small Art Department, even working a seven-day week.

N.P. -“The demands weren’t the same then.  You weren’t expected to produce nearly as much artwork as you are now.  It was a completely different level. Now you’re expected to do artwork and models of everything, with jam on it.   But back then you didn’t. You didn’t do endless options and you didn’t do concepts of all the sets either. There were just a lot fewer people involved in the process than there are now.  I wish I’d known then what a unique experience it was. I took it all for granted. It was an amazing process.”

Q.- Now, the Gotham set for that first Batman movie was huge. How many people did you have in that art department?

Phelp’s initial concept drawing for Flugelheim Museum

N.P. –  “I think there were about a dozen of us. Three or four full-time draftsmen, and another few for part of the film and a P.A. (production assistant). We didn’t have Art Department Coordinators at that time (in the business). I worked for the same Production Designer, Anton Furst, on Batman, and we didn’t do illustrations for all the sets on that film either. I was the concept artist for all of the sets and I did the sketches for all of the matte paintings as well. Julian Caldow did the vehicles. There were only two versions of the Batmobile ever drawn. And they were the same except one had a roof and one didn’t, sort of emulating the original TV show vehicle.”

Drawing of Flugelheim Museum interior

Flugelheim Museum set under construction

Panorama of finished backlot set. Gotham City Hall and Flugelheim Museum. Cathedral steps in the background.

Gotham City Hall plate and matte painting design

 

”But I have to tell you that Judge Dredd (1995) was even a bigger than the one we did on Batman. It was massive. It was also the first time that I had worked with concept artists, and amazingly, this group are still some of my closest friends; Matt Codd, Simon Murton, Julian Caldow, Chris Cunningham, and storyboard artist Robbie Consing.

Judge Dred

Illustration by Simon Murton

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Judge Dredd / Lower Megacity One (Matt Codd)

Mid Megacity One

Judge Dredd / Mid Megacity One (Matt Codd)

[Ed. note – Sylvester Stallone had insisted on constant script changes to make it more comedic. He was not thrilled with the end result but he and story creator John Wagner regularly praised the production design and the sets. Judge Dredd was Phelps’ first feature as Production Designer].

Q. –I wanted to ask you about the Trojan Horse on Troy (2004), I thought that design was brilliant, because you usually see it created as this finely crafted giant piece of sculptural furniture that would have taken years to build, and your version was this massive, somber effigy made from destroyed ships ribs, and it actually looked as if it had been hastily built from battlefield debris. It was so evocative of the whole story.

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Replica_of_Trojan_Horse_-_Canakkale_Waterfront_-_Dardanelles_-_Turkey_(5747677790) 2N.P. – That was really the result of a collective design,  The inspiration for that was a picture someone had given me a sculpture of a gorilla. that had been made out of rubber tires, and it was beautiful and expressive, and it occurred to me that that would be the right direction to take for the design of the horse, to take abstract shapes and fashion it from discarded ship parts. It ended up being about 40 feet tall.

Q. –That (Troy) was a massive set too. Were the buildings and temples on the far hills forced perspective miniatures? Surely those weren’t full size.

N.P. -Oh yeah, those were full size. That was a huge set. The studio wanted us to shoot as much as we could in Malta. We had found a great location in Morocco but it was dangerous to go there. So, we found a location in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas which was amazing because it had these huge sand dunes that came right down to the ocean, and so we built a couple of massive sets there. So the streets of Troy behind the gates was done in Malta, but the actual gates and the walls of the city were built in Cabo San Lucas.”

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Some of Phelp’s sketches of Troy

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The Troy set that was built in Malta

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The company built over 400 feet of gates and adjoining walls at the Cabo San Lucas location. A hurricane destroyed a large part of the set which had to be rebuilt to complete shooting. (Warner Bros)

“We had greensmen working for six months to dress the battlefield and clear it of scrubby undergrowth.”

R. D. Wilkins

Allen Daviau – An Artist And A Gentleman

hqdefault  Allen Daviau, the five-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer of films such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Empire Of The Sun, Avalon, Bugsy, and The Color Purple, passed away on Wednesday from complications of COVID-19.  In 2007 he was given a Lifetime Achievement award by the American Society Of Cinematographers.

His professional film career began in the 1960s where he started out shooting documentaries, music videos and working as a still photographer. He met a young Steven Spielberg in 1967 and helped him shoot his short film, Amblin’. Years later Spielberg was in pre-production for ET when he saw a reel of a TV movie Allen had shot and hired him immediately.

Whenever I saw him, Allen was always personable and kind but it would be a mistake to take him for a pushover. He and a number of others were frustrated when they were denied membership to the cinematographer’ union. Universal had tried to sign him to a contract but the union was a closed-shop in all but name at that time and refused to allow it. Daviau and a number of other cinematographers including Caleb Deschanel filed suit to join the union and were finally admitted.

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I only got to work on one picture with Allen, A feature called The Astronaut’s Wife, production designed by Jan Roelfs. He was outgoing and approachable, always eager to talk shop. There are times when you work with individuals that you hold in such professional esteem that the initial interactions are awkward but that was never the case with Allen. I didn’t get to ask him all of the questions I had buzzing in my head about his other films. I refrained from ‘interrogating’ him the way I had once done to Werner Herzog when I ran into him on the backlot at Warner Bros Studios in an embarrassing ‘fan-boy’ moment.

I never got to ask him about some of the shots in Empire Of The Sun that I had analyzed but I did learn two things: he didn’t like multi-camera shoots and he didn’t particularly like translites. “They’re too sharp”, he told me. Unlike the traditional handpainted backings, they had a crisp photo-quality that defied being able to create a realistic depth-of-field. Even the painted backings often had black or white bobbinet stretched in front of them to create an atmospheric softening effect. It’s ironic that now, years later, a number of companies will custom print backings to create different degrees of softness to simulate an out-of-focus image due to depth-of-field.

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The multi-camera shoots were something he accepted as necessary at times but he felt that they diluted the quality of the lighting. He felt that being able to concentrate on just one composition at a time resulted in a superior product. There were lighting effects that became impossible to do effectively if you had to take other camera positions into account.  He was as technically adept as he was artistic and relied on both his eye and his light meter. He knew that the audience will only see what you let them see. And being able to shoot with a single camera allows you to get away with tricks that are harder to pull off when you have to light for multiple angles at once.

A camera-lover, he told me as part of his endowment to UCLA, each year he would buy a top-of-the-line Leica and leave it unopened in its original packaging.

When he was in Shanghai on Empire, they were unable to get dailies until a week later and playback technology was a long way off.  He had to rely on his light meter and his experience with the film stock to know if he had a proper exposure.

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One thing I learned from him is, there are times when you have to let the details go. We were doing pick-up shots and only had a few days to recreate several parts of the sets from the main shoot. Recreating a portion of the main characters’ apartment was complicated by the fact that the backing we had used outside the huge glass window wall was unavailable.

We found a cityscape backing that was close, but overall the values and details didn’t come close enough to really match the original. I hoped that the shot would be tight enough that the DOF would hide the mismatch, but was dismayed when the director asked for a wider shot. With so many elements to consider, the backing issue was the last thing on most people’s mind . Allan was behind the camera, lining up the shot and I finally called out to him, “But Allen, the backing.” He just looked over at me and raised his hands. He could have just ignored me, or been dismissive or irritated. He just gave a little smile and said, “It’s OK, it’ll be fine.” And it was.

There is an excellent interview with Allen in the 1992 documentary film, Visions Of Light, about the art of cinematography.

R.D. Wilkins

 

 

 

You Know Your Set Is Big . . . When You Can See It From A Satellite

It’s there on Google Earth, at least the footprint of it is. You can make it out from an image at 30,000 feet high, there in the giant parking lot of what was once an amusement park.

Set location in Google Earth shot from 30,000 feet

In 2013, pre-production began on the feature film Jurassic World. The picture would require the creation of a fictional amusement park, a resurrection of the island world destroyed by dinosaurs in the first film, Jurassic Park in 1993. Production Designer Edward Verreaux was tasked with bringing the dinosaur park back to life in Louisiana, outside New Orleans. The option that looked the most promising in the area was Six Flags New Orleans which had sat derelict since it was closed as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When the levee broke as a result of the water surge in Lake Pontchartrain, the park was soon under seven feet of water and would remain submerged for over a year. After it was drained, the plan to revive the park was abandoned and it sat empty until snakes, birds and alligators made it home.

Six Flags New Orleans _ Bob McMillan/FEMA 2005

 

The original plan was to build the set within the confines of the original park, using the existing structures as a base, covering up or adding onto buildings as needed and covering up those that needed to be hidden. The sad state of the park was not only worse that expected but it was soon apparent that using the actual park was more trouble than it was worth.

Proposed plan for Jurassic World park set which utilized existing buildings.

Verreaux came up with the solution: the company would create the set in the huge parking lot adjacent to the park, avoiding the problems associated with hiding the structures that didn’t work and not be penned in by the claustrophobic original layout. This not only gave him the ability to expand the width of the streets as needed but allowed the company to have  much easier and safer access to the set.

You can still see the layout of the street and sidewalks as the paint has not faded even three years later.

The footprint of the set can be made out from the satellite photo in the middle of the parking lot

 

The set would be built there in the middle of the huge parking lot. The area between the set and the original park would be separated by a huge green screen, suspended from a framework constructed by the grip department.

Layout of set

 

 

Plan and elevations of the north side of the street-RD Wilkins 2014

 

panorama of Jurassic World street set – RD Wilkins 2014

 

 

View of street from visitors center_RD Wilkins 2014

The Maintenance Alley under construction_RD Wilkins 2014

The street with the original Six Flags entrance in the background_RD Wilkins 2014

Here is a photo from 2015, one year later after the set has been struck and another company is at work constructing the monster oil platform set for the film, Deepwater Horizon.

In Google Earth you can set the Historic Imagery slider bar and see the area transform from its pre-park days in 1998 to today.

Now In Print – The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop

The Art Director’s Guild sponsored a book signing event at their gallery space in North Hollywood yesterday, with co-author Karen Maness on-hand to sign copies of the new book, The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop.

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The book is a cooperative project between the authors, Karen Maness and Richard Isackes and the Art Director’s Guild. With a focus on hand-painted rather than photographic backings, the book traces not only the history and development of backdrops through Hollywood films but the artists who have developed the techniques used and who have passed along that knowledge to successive generations of scenic artists.

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The event was well attended by not only Guild members but by members of the Strang family and the Coakley family of J.C. Backings, the two families which have not only dominated the field in Hollywood but have been the biggest promoters and curators of the art form.

The Coakley family and fellow artists of J.C.Backings

The Coakley family and fellow artists of J.C.Backings

 

 

Co-author Karen Maness graciously signed books all afternoon.

Co-author Karen Maness graciously signed books all afternoon.

This is a big book, and I say that in every sense of the word. Larger than a quarto format at 11 x 14 inches, the hard-cover and cased edition is 352 pages long and weighs in at 13 pounds. Filled with crisp images of both black and white and full-color backings, the photos show the backings not only in a straight-on form but in the environment that they were meant for.  It’s filled with stills from the original films as well as set stills showing them in relationship to the sound stages and the companion scenery.

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dsc_0032This book will definitely appeal to film lovers who have very little understanding of film scenery and stagecraft as well as film professionals who have many films to their credit.

It is available for order through the publisher’s website and will soon make it’s way into bookstores. If you are still making that holiday gift list, this is definitely a book that will have huge appeal to anyone who loves movies. Read an excerpt here, and you can order the book here from Regan Arts.

 

Se Vi Piacciono I Film Epici, Ringraziate Gli Italiani. ( If You Like Epic Films, Thank The Italians. )

Per E.M.A. Un’artista di talento e amica.

Traduzioni:  Sara Trofa

 

L’Inferno  (1911)

Original Poster for the film

Locandina originale del film. Original Poster for the film

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American director D.W. Griffith is often credited as being the creator of the feature-length film. It was actually the Australians who made the first feature film in 1906 which was called The Story Of The Kelly Gang.

La creazione del lungometraggio viene spesso attribuita al regista americano D.W. Griffith ma di fatto furono gli australiani a realizzare il primo lungometraggio nel 1906 dal titolo The Story Of The Kelly Gang.

But in 1911 with the release of L’Inferno, the Italian industry created not only the first epic film but the first international blockbuster as well.

Nel 1911, con l’uscita de L’inferno, l’industria italiana creò non solo il primo film epico ma anche il primo film di successo internazionale.

Taking over three years to make, the film took in over 2 million dollars in the United States alone. As its extended length meant there could be less screenings per day, it gave the theater owners an excuse to raise the normal prices of admission. It remains the oldest feature film to still exist.

Esso richiese più di tre anni per la sua realizzazione ed incassò, solo negli Stati Uniti, più di due milioni di dollari. La lunghezza del film implicava meno proiezioni al giorno e i proprietari dei cinema ne approfittarono per aumentare il prezzo del normale biglietto. L’inferno resta il più vecchio lungometraggio esistente.

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L'Inferno - 1911 - Blasphemers - Balls of Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credited to three different directors, the film is a live action adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The sets and visuals were closely based on Gustave Dorè’s engravings from his 1857 edition of the poets work which was, and still is, the most iconic representation of the title. Using fantastical, extravagant sets and special effects, the film must have been as terrifying to audiences in 1911 as any horror film of present day. Winged devils, brimstone hail, choking fires, it’s likely there were at least a few trips to the hospital by cast members who spent much time on the production. L’Inferno  remains the oldest feature film to still exist.

Attribuito a tre registi, il film è un adattamento animato della Divina Commedia di Dante. Gli elementi scenici furono basati principalmente sulle incisioni di Gustave Doré dell’edizione del 1857, le quali ancora oggi sono la rappresentazione più iconica della Commedia. Considerati i fantastici e stravaganti set ed effetti speciali impiegati, il film dev’essere stato per il pubblico del 1911 tanto terrificante quanto lo è per noi oggi un qualunque film dell’orrore. Con diavoli alati, grandine di zolfo e fuochi soffocanti sul set, è probabile che i membri del cast impegnati nella produzione siano finiti all’ospedale almeno un paio di volte. L’Inferno resta il più vecchio lungometraggio esistente.     

the-inferno-canto-22winged devils

 

 

 

Left, one of Dorè's illustrations, on the right, Lucifer's depiction in the film.

A sinistra, una illustrazione di Doré. A destra, il ritratto di Lucifero nel film. Left, one of Dorè’s illustrations, on the right, Lucifer’s depiction in the film.

 

Cabiria  (1916)

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It would be the feature Cabiria five years later that would be the most influential silent Italian film of the period. Directed by Giovanne Pastrone, the film was shot in Torino (Turin) and featured massive period sets as well as elaborate and imaginative miniatures which recreated the eruptions of Mt Etna in Sicily. It follows the story of a young girl, Cabiria, who is saved from the disaster caused by the eruption only to be captured by Phoenicians and  sold into slavery in Carthage.

Cinque anni dopo, il film Cabiria fu il più influente film muto del periodo. Diretto da Giovanni Pastrone, il film fu girato a Torino con imponenti scenografie d’epoca ed elaborate e immaginifiche miniature che ricreavano l’eruzione dell’Etna in Sicilia. Ne derivò la storia di una ragazza, Cabiria, che viene salvata dal disastro dell’eruzione solo dopo essere stata catturata dai Fenici e venduta come schiava a Cartagine.

Foreground miniature of the eruption of Mt. Etna

Primo piano della miniatura dell’eruzione dell’Etna. Foreground miniature of the eruption of Mt. Etna

The sets include a massive exterior and interior of the Temple of Moloch which includes a huge bronze statue of the god. During the sacrifice scene, the chest of the statue opens and dozens of children are thrown into its fiery belly one at a time, it’s mouth belching fire as the door swings shut on each sacrifice.

 

Il set includeva una riproduzione esterna ed interna del Tempio di Moloch con una enorme statua di bronzo raffigurante la divinità. Durante la scena del sacrificio, il petto della statua si apre, dozzine di bambini vengono gettati nella sua pancia infuocata tutti in una volta e un fuoco scoppia al richiudersi della porta dopo ogni sacrificio.

 

The exterior set of the Temple of Moloch

Set esterno del Tempio di Moloch. The exterior set of the Temple of Moloch

 

In one scene, the Roman navy assaults the city of Syracuse, a massive set and staged battle that would presage the scenes of the siege of Babylon years later in D.W. Griffiths’ Intolerance. While Pastrone’s film doesn’t have the same intercutting as Griffith’s, many of the lighting effects are much more dramatic than Grifffith’s.

In una scena, la flotta romana assalta la città di Siracusa, un imponente set con una battaglia di scena che presagisce le scene dell’assedio di Babilonia anni dopo in Intolerance di D.W. Griffith. Il film di Pastrone non ha lo stesso montaggio incrociato del film di Griffith, ma parecchi dei suoi effetti di luce sono molto più drammatici rispetto a quest’ultimo.

Syracuse set walls

 

scene from Cabiria

 

Pastrone would be the first to put a camera on a dolly and execute the long, slow tracking shots throughout the film that would be so influential to every feature afterwards. In fact for many years any dolly shot or one involving movement was known as a ‘Cabiria shot’. The film was also the first to incorporate flashbacks as a story device.

Pastrone fu il primo a mettere una videocamera su un dolly ed eseguire nel film quelle lunghe e lente carrellate che sarebbero poi state così rilevanti per ogni film successivo ed è per questo che per molti anni qualunque ripresa con un dolly o in movimento veniva chiamata ‘ripresa Cabiria’ (‘Cabiria shot’). Cabiria fu anche il primo film ad incorporare il flashback come espediente narrativo.

cabiria set

The film’s elephants made a huge visual impact on Griffith, and he would insist there be plaster elephant sculptures in the Babylon sets for Intolerance, despite the art department’s insistence that elephants did not exist in ancient Babylonia.

Gli elefanti nel film furono di così grande impatto visivo su Griffith che egli volle avere a tutti i costi degli elefanti di gesso sul set di Babilonia per Intolerance, nonostante l’insistenza del dipartimento artistico sul fatto che non esistessero elefanti nell’antica Babilonia.

 

French poster for the film

Locandina francese per il film. French poster for the film

Cabiria would be the first film to be screened at the White House by then President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Cabiria fu il primo film ad essere proiettato alla Casa Bianca dall’allora presidente Wilson Woodrow nel 1914.

 

While the films may be be very dated to our 21st century eyes, you can’t help but be impressed with the scale of the sets of these pre-computer age features.

Il film potrà essere datato ai nostri occhi del XXI secolo ma è ancora impossibile non restare impressionati dalla portata dei set di questo film precedente all’era dei computer.

 

 

 

 

 

The Original Pre-Viz Tool – A DIY Lens Angle Calculator

 

Some of my collection of traditional studio lens angle templates. The ones on the left are for long lenses while the ones on the right are wide-angle lens. The third from the left is a zoom lens template.

Some of my collection of traditional studio lens angle templates. The ones on the left are for long lenses while the ones on the right are wide-angle lens. The third from the left is a zoom lens template.

 

 

Pre-vis Before Previs

Before the term “Pre-visualization” ever existed, there was the lens angle template. These were a staple of any Hollywood studio Art Department and were used when laying out a set to determine camera angles, backing sizes needed, rear projection screens and planning back-projected set illustrations for the producer and director to approve sets long before there were 3D computer programs.

There was a time when a basic knowledge of optics and lenses was considered mandatory and was necessary not only because the Art Director would design the sets to be shot in a specific way but this information was needed when designing effects shots such as forced perspective sets, glass shots and the like.

Todd AO template

A template for a 100mm to 300mm zoom lens in the Todd AO format. Todd AO was an early 70mm film format with an aspect ratio of 2.20.

The templates were for a single lens, usually a prime lens, and were made using 1/8″ or 1/4″ thick plexiglas. The projection lines were scratched or engraved into the acrylic, sometimes by a Set Designer but other times they were made by the studio sign shop. Some of my examples are obviously done with a hand held engraving tool while others have been done with a lettering template and have inked letters.

Todd AO lens template

Each template had two sets of projection lines, one set for the horizontal plane (for use with a plan view) and another for the vertical plane, for use with scale room elevations. Most are made for use with 1/4″ scale drawings but they are accurate for any orthographic drawing because the angle is unaffected by the scale. Most will have markings to note the distances from the lens entrance pupil in 1/4″ scale.

angle of view

The “Quick View”

By the 1990’s, there were so many different formats and lens combinations most of us in the Art Department in Hollywood carried thick manila envelopes of acetates of the various focal lengths, but I always seemed to be missing one that I needed and I found some were inaccurate from being cloned so many times. In 1998 I designed a device that had all the available formats and prime lenses  so you could just dial up the one you needed. I redesigned it in 2008 to include the digital formats but sold out of them a year ago.

I stopped having them made since they were expensive but hated to see them become obsolete since they are still so useful. For a director, they are the perfect way to see if a shot is possible at a location or see the limitations of a particular lens on a set when you can’t rely on wild walls.

Making A Quick View

Yours won’t be on Lexan like the originals were but will be sturdy enough plus cheap enough to replace if it’s damaged or lost. Download the files below and take them to your nearest copy center and have both the dial and the nomen printed on clear acetate. They don’t have to be printed at exactly 100% but they should be at the same scale to each other. Then you just line up the center marks and use a compass point or push pin to pierce the centers, creating a pivot point in place of the brass rivet as in the photo above.

The diagrams from the original instruction manual will explain how to use them. You’ll note that I’ve added a feature that wasn’t on the originals, a protractor which will tell you the angle of a selected lens.

Quick View II User Manual_2

Quick View II User Manual_3

QuickViewII_nomen

QuickViewII_dial

20 Films To Watch For Armistice Day

It’s been 100 years since the start of World War I. On this Armistice Day (Veteran’s Day in the U.S.) it’s a good time to reflect, or learn about the first ‘modern’ war and it’s horrible legacy which still has a hold on us today, as seen in this article in the Telegraph about excavations at the Flander’s battlefield.

Hearts_of_the_World_poster

The world’s film industry was quick to turn stories from the war into movies, starting in 1917 when the British government invited D.W. Griffith to come to Europe and gave him access to the from lines where he shot footage for Hearts Of The World, a Paramount picture designed to change American attitudes about the war and encourage the public to push the country to become involved in the war.

Here are a list of my 20 favorite films about the conflict, in the order they were released. They are from different countries and reflect different parts of the war but they all have in common a goal of trying to look at the war from a human level, stripping away the glorified attitudes that started and perpetuated the conflict for 4 years.

  1. J’accuse – France 1919  (director Abel Gance shot footage during the war resulting   in realistic and haunting scenes)
  2. The Big Parade – USA 1925
  3. Wings – USA 1927   ( the first film to win an Oscar for Best Picture )
  4. Four Sons – USA 1928
  5. All Quiet On The Western Front – USA 1930
  6. Westfront – Weimar Republic 1930
  7. Niemandsland – Weimar Republic 1930
  8. The Dawn Patrol – USA, 1930
  9. Berge In Flammen – France, Weimar Republic, 1931
  10. Grand Illusion – France 1937
  11. What Price Glory? – USA 1952
  12. Paths Of Glory – USA, 1957
  13. Lawrence Of Arabia – USA, UK 1962
  14. King Of Hearts – France 1962
  15. Oh! What A Lovely War – UK , 1969   ( has an amazing cast)
  16. Johnny Got His Gun – USA, 1971    ( inspired the song “One” by Metallica )
  17. Gallipoli – Australia, 1981
  18. Capitaine Conan – France, 1991
  19. Joyeaux Nöel – USA, France, UK, Germany, Romania, 2005
  20. Das Weisse Band – Germany, 2009