The $150 Forced Perspective Miniature – Part 1

Featured

Forced perspective miniature during filming – Photo: Alan Derringer

The Challenge

My professor, Carl, looked at the scene list for my senior thesis film and furrowed his eyebrows. When I told him it was going to be an hour-long black & white film, set in the 1940’s in Eastern Europe, with dialogue in three different languages, he looked at me as if he wasn’t sure if I was being serious.

I assured him that I wasn’t kidding, and I knew that he was thinking it would probably be another overly-ambitious senior film that would never be finished.

He poked his finger at the page.

“So how do you plan on doing this scene?”, he said. “The fire-bombed city scene.”

Now this was the pre-computer, pre-digital, in-camera-effects-only period of filmmaking. Green-screen and blue-screen work was serious money. The only option other than in-camera effects was optical printing, and he knew I couldn’t afford that on a student film budget.

“A miniature”, I said. “A really big miniature”.

“Uh huh”, he said, with a look that told me he thought I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing.

It took about three weeks to truck all the materials to the farm pond where I planned on filming the scene. When everything was finally at the site, we had accumulated over 200 discarded wood pallets, over 24 sheets of plywood of various types and random pieces of drywall and corrugated metal. Since all the materials were donated, I estimated that the final cost of the miniature was $150 based on the cost gas for the vehicles and fire accelerant, i.e. kerosine.

I’d staked out my camera position and estimated that I need a miniature that was about 130′ long to fill the frame from edge to edge when I was shooting with a medium length lens. I planned on a miniature scale of somewhere between 1:10 and 1:12.

My father and I would drag the plywood sheets close enough to the small house on the property to string an extension cord to jigsaw-out the +250 rough rectangle openings in the wood to simulate the windows of the buildings. Once they were staked in place, we stacked the hundreds of pallets behind the wall, just far enough away to keep the flames from setting the plywood on fire before I could finish filming.

When we were done stacking the pallets, we moved to the other side of the pond to look at the finished model.

It was really, really ugly.

There was no detail. No even a coat of paint on the raw wood. But I new that it would look good on film because I had three things going for me: a night shot, shallow depth of field, and black & white reversal film.

The Shoot

The night of the shoot I was nervous. Black & white reversal film is unforgiving. Instead of creating a negative, you’re creating a positive image. It’s like slide film for a cinema camera. Exposure-wise, you have about one f-stop of leeway as far as over or under exposure. You have about a 5 to 7 stop range from pure black to blown-out white. Beautiful contrast, no margin for error. Modern digital cameras, by comparison, will give you up to 15 stops of latitude. I had to re-shoot the opening sequence of the film twice because of a mislabeled ND filter that resulted in over-exposed footage.

This scene was a one-shot deal. There would be no reshoots. The five-person crew was in position.

I’d tried to do some test shots a few weeks before using a bonfire and my lighting plan, but the bonfire was not a good simulation for what would end up being 15-foot tall flames in the miniature.

I used the headlights of a car for the key light on the actress Liana. A fog machine, run by my cousin Greg, was positioned next to the car to give some depth to the background as well as to diffuse the illumination from the headlights. The Assistant Director, Jan, helped the actress into position in the water.

A pumper truck from the local fire department was positioned next to the pond. They showed up hoping to just see a good show, but were prepared for an interesting fire training exercise on the chance that the flames got out of hand.

Scale plan of miniature & camera position.

The Technical Info

If your eyes glaze over reading technical data, you can skip this section and go to the next. I’ll try to keep this paragraph brief, but there are people who like to know this info.

I shot the scene using a Bolex H-16, a 16mm film camera that is spring driven. You have to hand wind the drive mechanism with a crank. It has a three-lens turret with 16mm/f1.8, 25mm/f1.4, and 75mm/f1.9 lenses. The 16 had too wide of an angle of view, so I decided to use the 25mm for the wide shots and the 75mm for the close-ups.

The H-16 did not have an external magazine, meaning that I was confined to a 100 foot roll of film. There would be no time to reload once the fire was started. This would give me 2 1/2 minutes of shooting time. I figured that the prime “flame activity” once the fire was started would last from three to five minutes before the flames would have consumed the majority of the wood and the flames would start to lose their visual impact.

I planned to wait until the flames had reached a peak and then start shooting, getting the wide shots with the 25mm out of the way first, and then switching to the 75mm lens for the close-ups when the fire would still give me great reflections in the water but not have the intensity that it did in the wider shots.

The 25mm, focused at 16 feet away, and with an f-stop setting of about 2.8, would give me a depth of field of about 20 feet total. The Kodak Tri-X 7266 film stock had an ASA of 200, so I had to shoot almost at full aperture to have enough light on the actress. I spot metered several times from her face to the fire after it started before I was sure about my exposure. The f-stop spread convinced me that the front of the miniature would be solid black and out of focus, devoid of detail.

Plan of miniature shoot showing angle of view, focus distance, and depth of field range.

The Fire Is Lit

The pallets had been soaked with 5 gallons of kerosine a few hours earlier in the hope that the fire would spread evenly when lit but not explode the way I thought they would if we had used gasoline.

Only a few minutes after the fire is started, the flames are already subsiding in some areas.

When I gave the word to start the fire, it spread pretty quickly, but without a sudden burst of flame. Within a minute the flames were high above the top of the miniature and yelled for the soundman to start recording. I had rehearsed with Liana as to the sequence that we would follow and it went smoothly, without any stopping for head or tail slates.

The 100 foot roll ran through the camera quickly and when I heard the tail end run through the gate I knew I had better have gotten the scene. The flames were already far below the top of the facade.

Four weeks of work would translate into a minute of the finished film. The shooting schedule would continue for the next 8 months before we would be finished.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what I would do differently.

The Multiscale – Metric Version

Last week I posted the Imperial version of a new tool I’ve updated recently. I promised I’d post the Metric version of the tool this week so here it is. You’ll find the Imperial version here if you missed the post.

If you stack them one over the other, you get a quick scale conversion calculator across 12 Imperial and metric scales. No batteries required.

Download the tool with the buttons below.

Here is the tool layout for A4 format paper.

Ends In 24 Hours – 50% Off

One-Time Pre-Sale Offer + 2 Free Design Books

There are 24 Hours left in our 50% Off sale of the 10-Week Set Design Fundamentals Course.

In addition to half-price off on the course, if you sign up before the October 31 deadline, you’ll get two free design Ebooks:

By Hand & Eye

This is one of the design books on my Top Ten list. Authors Jim Tolpin and George R. Walker examine the role of proportion in design from ancient times to the present. While the emphasis is on furniture design, they show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans.

This is not a recipe book but a guide to a new way of looking at design through the eyes of centuries of artists.

Published by Lost Arts Press, this is just one of a whole line of fantastic books on design and hand woodworking that they offer.

You’ll receive a link after you purchase the course to download the PDF.

Wrand Glossary of Film & Video Terms

This new first edition is the only one of it’s kind; a film glossary created for film designers. Whether you are a novice or an industry professional, you’ll find useful information in this book that doesn’t exist in any other film glossary,. As well as nearly 1500 up-to-date terms on production, cameras, crew positions, post-production, legal aspects, stage equipment, and industry slang, there are hundreds of entries on architecture, hardware, set construction, and more.

The 2023 Ebook is due to be available in mid-December. Series purchasers will be the first to get the book when in becomes available and will receive a download link.

The 10-Week Course Description

This is the only time the series will be offered at this price and it will return to the normal price when the series begins on October 31.

This self-paced online series covers the fundamental skills that a Set Designer in the feature film and television industry here in Los Angeles are expected to have.

This is similar in difficulty to a one-semester graduate-level program at a university, but much of the material presented here is not covered at most colleges and is normally only available at the professional level. I’ve been developing this series for several years, basing it on classes I teach at the Art Directors Guild in Los Angeles.

Here is an outline of the material that will be covered in the series:

Week 1 – The Basics

Standard drafting conventions and symbols for set construction drawings. Set construction: typical flat construction techniques and variations.

Week 2 – Cameras & Optics

Understanding basic camera and lens terms: aspect ratios, focal length, depth of field, sensor sizes, exposure, stage lighting, using camera angle templates.

Scaling from photographs and artwork: calculating dimensions, understanding picture perspective and allowing for lens distortion.

Week 3 – Analyzing the Script / Reference Materials

How to break down a script for set design; using storyboards; techniques for estimating drawing time schedules.

References: using online, printed, and survey photo references; building a reference library on a budget.

Week 4 – Working Drawings

Step-by-step directions on creating proper construction drawings: plans and elevations; details, full-size details, and digital cut files; reflected ceilings and furniture plans; stage spotting plans, and director’s plans.

Week 5 – Door & Window Details

Diagrams and explanations of door and window construction and various adaptations for stage sets; creating accurate-looking period reconstructions; understanding, using, and sourcing hardware.

Week 6 – Stairways

The fundamentals of stair design: types of stairs, stair construction, how the choice of stair type affects design, and designing elliptical stairs.

Week 7 – Mouldings & Staff Elements

Understanding and using the Classical Orders of architecture; the proportions of mouldings based on style type; using a moulding catalog and creating built-up moulds.

Using plaster staff and compo elements in a set; designing with brick skins and textured surfaces.

Week 8 – Backings, Special Effects, & Visual Effects

Using painted and photo backings: The advantages and drawbacks of various types; creating custom backings; how to calculate correct placement distance from the set.

Special effects considerations: replicating fire, water, and wind effects; understanding legal requirements for special effects work on a sound stage; dealing with practical fireplaces.

Visual effects work: shooting with green or blue screens; using LED walls or volumes.

Week 9 – Backlots & Location Surveys

Shooting on studio backlots; shooting on location; proper surveying techniques; assembling a personal survey tool kit.

Week 10 – Physical Models

The advantages of physical study models; determining model scales; various model types and construction techniques.

Class Materials & Videos

Each week there will be tools, charts, and reference material to download as well as video instruction to help you do the exercises and create your portfolio drawings.

Along with the classes, you’ll have access to a private chat area that is only available to students of the series and alumnae who have taken courses previously. Here you’ll be able to meet other designers, discuss class material, get advice on your career, and exchange ideas and experiences from both the classes and real-world entertainment jobs.

Prerequisites:

– You must know how to draft. Drafting ability is essential to effectively completing the course and ending up with a set of professional quality working drawings. I’ll be offering a course on drafting later in 2022 to fulfill this prerequisite.

– Be familiar with CAD software  –  You are free to use any CAD software you are familiar with. Using software that you are still learning may make the lessons more challenging than you can handle. There is no standard drawing software in the entertainment industry as far as the Art Department is concerned. There are preferences among certain designers but one aspect of the job is a need to create files that can be used by many different other programs. 3D modeling won’t be required for any of the class projects but feel free to work that way if that is part of your usual design process.

There is a 14-day money-back guarantee from the time you begin the series if you change your mind. If you’re unsure about whether the series is right for you, you can schedule a free 15-minute discovery call to talk with me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Sign up for the course and learn more here.

The Multiscale – Seven Tools That Fit In A Book

This tool is one of several which were designed for the 10-Week Set Design Fundamentals Course which is now 50% off until October 31.

A full-size triangular architects scale isn’t the handiest thing to carry around with you.

I have those miniature versions, the cute ones that are about 6″ long and require a magnifying glass to be sure you’re reading them correctly.

It hurts my eyes to try to read the numbers on these things

After I nearly poked a hole in my chest from having one of these in my pocket, I looked for an alternative that might lessen the chances of a trip to the emergency room after falling on one of these.

I found an 18th century drafting tool that was a combination scale and liked the concept. So, I updated and revised it to what you see here. It’s a combination of the six standard scales we use for set design and throws in a protractor as well.

A good thing about it is that it’s not engraved on brass or ivory and it fits in a binder or a book, or you can fold it up and put it in your pocket. But, it doesn’t work very well with a lot of folds in it. Best to leave it as flat as possible. Just be sure you print it out at 100%. Check it with the inch scale at the bottom against a known accurate ruler.

It’s better if you mound it to some thin card stock or manila folder material. Then cut out the little windows between the scales and you’re good to go. Heck, you can even have it printed on a transparency if you want.

Cut out the slots between the scales for use on drawings

Lay a ruler or straight edge vertically on the scales and you have a direct-reading scale conversion calculator. Next week I’ll be posting the Metric version of this tool.

A straight edge aligned vertically will allow you to do quick scale conversions.

Download the tool with the button below.

And, for those of you printing on European A4 size paper, here’s the file you need:

New 10-Week Set Design Fundamentals Course – 50% Off

One-Time Pre-Sale Offer

Wrand Productions announces it’s 10-Week Set Design Fundamentals Course at a Pre-Sale price of 50% off the regular price. This is the only time the series will be offered at this price and it will return to the normal price when the series begins on October 31.

This self-paced online series covers the fundamental skills that a Set Designer in the feature film and television industry here in Los Angeles are expected to have.

This is similar in difficulty to a one-semester graduate-level program at a university, but much of the material presented here is not covered at most colleges and is normally only available at the professional level. I’ve been developing this series for several years, basing it on classes I teach at the Art Directors Guild in Los Angeles.

Here is an outline of the material that will be covered in the series:

Week 1 – The Basics

Standard drafting conventions and symbols for set construction drawings. Set construction: typical flat construction techniques and variations.

Week 2 – Cameras & Optics

Understanding basic camera and lens terms: aspect ratios, focal length, depth of field, sensor sizes, exposure, stage lighting, using camera angle templates.

Scaling from photographs and artwork: calculating dimensions, understanding picture perspective and allowing for lens distortion.

Week 3 – Analyzing the Script / Reference Materials

How to break down a script for set design; using storyboards; techniques for estimating drawing time schedules.

References: using online, printed, and survey photo references; building a reference library on a budget.

Week 4 – Working Drawings

Step-by-step directions on creating proper construction drawings: plans and elevations; details, full-size details, and digital cut files; reflected ceilings and furniture plans; stage spotting plans, and director’s plans.

Week 5 – Door & Window Details

Diagrams and explanations of door and window construction and various adaptations for stage sets; creating accurate-looking period reconstructions; understanding, using, and sourcing hardware.

Week 6 – Stairways

The fundamentals of stair design: types of stairs, stair construction, how the choice of stair type affects design, and designing elliptical stairs.

Week 7 – Mouldings & Staff Elements

Understanding and using the Classical Orders of architecture; the proportions of mouldings based on style type; using a moulding catalog and creating built-up moulds.

Using plaster staff and compo elements in a set; designing with brick skins and textured surfaces.

Week 8 – Backings, Special Effects, & Visual Effects

Using painted and photo backings: The advantages and drawbacks of various types; creating custom backings; how to calculate correct placement distance from the set.

Special effects considerations: replicating fire, water, and wind effects; understanding legal requirements for special effects work on a sound stage; dealing with practical fireplaces.

Visual effects work: shooting with green or blue screens; using LED walls or volumes.

Week 9 – Backlots & Location Surveys

Shooting on studio backlots; shooting on location; proper surveying techniques; assembling a personal survey tool kit.

Week 10 – Physical Models

The advantages of physical study models; determining model scales; various model types and construction techniques.

Class Materials & Videos

Each week there will be tools, charts, and reference material to download as well as video instruction to help you do the exercises and create your portfolio drawings.

Along with the classes, you’ll have access to a private chat area that is only available to students of the series and alumnae who have taken courses previously. Here you’ll be able to meet other designers, discuss class material, get advice on your career, and exchange ideas and experiences from both the classes and real-world entertainment jobs.

Prerequisites:

– You must know how to draft. Drafting ability is essential to effectively completing the course and ending up with a set of professional quality working drawings. I’ll be offering a course on drafting later in 2022 to fulfill this prerequisite.

– Be familiar with CAD software  –  You are free to use any CAD software you are familiar with. Using software that you are still learning may make the lessons more challenging than you can handle. There is no standard drawing software in the entertainment industry as far as the Art Department is concerned. There are preferences among certain designers but one aspect of the job is a need to create files that can be used by many different other programs. 3D modeling won’t be required for any of the class projects but feel free to work that way if that is part of your usual design process.

There is a 14-day money-back guarantee from the time you begin the series if you change your mind. If you’re unsure about whether the series is right for you, you can schedule a free 15-minute discovery call to talk with me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Sign up for the course and learn more here.

Why I Love The Pencil

Chris Schwarz over at Lost Art Press contacted me back in February to see if I would be interested in doing a hand drawing in a late 19th / early 20th century style for a limited-edition poster to commemorate the 5th anniversary of his excellent book, The Anarchist Tool Chest. I was more than happy to agree to the assignment not only because I consider the book to be a classic, (Schwarz has been a leader in not only creating a hand tool renaissance among woodworkers but creating a whole new philosophy in the way we look at furniture and the process of creating it) but I was also excited to do a drawing entirely in pencil., something I hadn’t done for quite a while.

Except for the occasional quick sketch, it’s rare I don’t do a drawing now on anything except the computer. After digging out my good pencils and tools and some good vellum from storage, (the new stuff is made for plotters not pencils and gives horrible results when you try to erase something), I made a test drafting just to refresh my pencil skills as well as brush up on my hand lettering technique.

IMG_9422

As I began to layout the drawing I suddenly began to realize both the differences and advantages of hand drafting over CAD:

1 – There are no in-your-face interruptions such as email, instant messaging, software update notices, news alerts, etc.

The process of creating a working drawing has been hi-jacked by software. There is this fallacy, particularly among those who don’t draw, that the computer is doing the bulk of the work. This is patently false. The computer is just a fancy pencil. It can give the veneer of respectability to a drawing if you don’t know what you are looking at, but the document is worthless if the operator does not understand the basics of creating a working drawing. Also, the process of creating a construction drawing happens to a great extent in your head, not in the computer. A lot of the work on the screen is preceded by a good deal of mental gymnastics, which is why set designers hate to be interrupted. Stop us in process and it will take 10 to 15 minutes to return to the zone where the true work gets done.

When you are drawing with a pencil you are in a completely different mental space that requires you to constantly visualize the object in your mind. This not only makes you work in a much deeper state of concentration but forces you to think many more steps ahead in the process of breaking the object down into what needs to be drawn to communicate its complexities.

FullSizeRender

2 – You have to think differently about the drawing.

The draftsperson is no longer spending brain power on software or hardware concerns. There is also the endless-zoom mentality where the operator does not have a realistic idea of the scale of the elements. The ability to zoom it 10,000 percent on a document is what leads to prints in which the dimensions and notes are virtually unreadable unless you’re using a magnifying glass. There is also an economy in a hand drawing that is absent from a CAD drawing. You only show what is important for that sheet.

Also a line is what you say it is. With CAD and 3D modeling there is this expectation of perfect scalability throughout the model. That may be a good thing if you are designing a high-rise where there are dozens of other engineers and companies involved but for set design it adds a layer of unnecessary work.

Where you were once chastised for drawing too many brick details on a facade, I’ll regularly get a digital model where every fastener is completely detailed with threads. This is why during the pre computer days it was considered that a good working rate for a draftsperson was a sheet a day, while the rate for most modern computerized Art Departments is calculated at 3 to 7 days per sheet. We used to fear that the computer would make things so much more efficient that less people would be needed. Just the opposite happened. Where a typical feature film used to have 4 to 10 Set Designers, on bigger shows now, there will  be as many as 30.

Proof for final offset prints. photo by Chris Schwarz

Proof for final offset prints. photo by Chris Schwarz

Detail of nice crisp detail of the poster by Steamwhistle Press. Photo by Chris Schwarz

Detail of nice crisp detail of the poster by Steamwhistle Letterpress. Photo by Chris Schwarz

The print is being offset printed by Steamwhistle Letterpress in Newport, KY. Only 1000 of the prints will be made and copies will be available on the Lost Art Press website.

Here is a video Chris made at the shop while the first prints were coming off the Vandercooke press.

 

Letterpress Print Run from Christopher Schwarz on Vimeo.

 

 

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

Last Minute Holiday Gifts For Set Designers

Beware. This is what happens when you give a set designer a crappy holiday gift. source: Awkwardfamilyphotos.com

Beware. This is what happens when you give a set designer a crappy holiday gift. source: Awkwardfamilyphotos.com

So, it’s just 12 days until Hanukkah and 13 until Christmas and you still haven’t gotten that special set designer in your life a gift. You could just give up in defeat and buy them that same aged cheddar cheese sampler you got them last year, ( which they carefully hid underneath your car seat and is the reason it smells like mold inside ) or you can get them something decent like one of the the items on the list below. At this point you’re probably going to have to resort to hideously expensive 2nd day air shipping, but who’s fault is that??

Best Value  –  Spike GPS device for smartphones and tablets – $299

The Spike GPS device for smartphones and tablets

The Spike GPS device for smartphones and tablets

That may sound like a lot of money but that’s 50% off the introductory price of $619. I got one of these during their Kickstarter program in 2013 and have been thrilled with it. This device does everything my $500 Bushnell rangefinder does and a lot more. Take a photo of a building up to 200 meters away and then take measurements off the screen, even after you’re back at the office, even weeks later. Easily get accurate heights, door and window sizes, measure billboards, estimate square footage. You can instantly send the photo to someone else with the measurements, GPS coordinates and square footage. Soon to come are the capability to turn your shots into a Sketchup model and point cloud scanning of irregular shapes. For iOS and Android devices.

This offer is only good until December 23 with the offer code FRIENDSOFIKE14.

By Hand & Eye – $16.00

BHAE_scan_cover_500_1024x1024

Another gem from Lost Art Press, this is probably one of the best design books written in the last 100 years. It outlines the world of design without a rule and using only dividers and proportional methods. I covered this in a previous post and always recommend it. It’s so popular that it’s currently out of print and only a digital version is available. Buy them this and a good pair of second hand dividers from Ebay and you will completely change the way they think about design.

Drafting Apron – $25.95

apron1

Harkens back to the days of graphite dust, arm protectors and a time when you didn’t have to worry about hours of work disappearing from a computer failure. Hide a box of Tombow pencils in the pocket and watch them weep with joy.

 

WE Wood Watches – $75 to $150

we wood watches

WE Wood watches are beautiful analogue timepieces made from a number of hardwoods and use precision movements. Each one is absolutely unique due to it’s wood case.They’ll have something nice to look at while they’re waiting for their render to finish or that endless production meeting to come to an end.

FastCap ProCarpenter Lefty/Righty Tape Measure – $8.99

29855-01-1000

Most measuring mistakes that occur while doing a survey come from misreading numbers upside down when you’re measuring from right to left. This tape solves that problem by having the numbers read correctly no matter which way you hold it. The same company also makes the Flatback tape which works like a flexible story pole, making it possible to easily measure round objects. You need this.

 

 Magna Tip – $2.49

MagnaTip

This little guy will save you when you’re surveying alone and have a metal surface to stick it to. It attaches to the end of most 1″ wide tape measure and becomes a third hand. Especially good if you’re trying to measure something overhead. A great stocking stuffer.

 

Tape Tip – $4.95

Tape tip

Another little device that’s a lifesaver when you’re trying to measure inside corners. Attaches to the ends of most tapes. Inexpensive enough you can buy one for your whole art department.

GripTip – $3.00 for two

Unknown

OK, you’re saying, enough with the survey stuff. But this little gadget will save you someday when you’re trying to measure that stone or brick wall and the end of your tape keeps slipping off. The serrated edge will bite into just about anything and stop the cursing fast! At $3.00 for two, you can afford to have several in your kit.

Smartphone Projector – $27

smartphone projector

For the gadget lover, this is a low-tech projector option that works with palm-size smart phones, not the phablets. Made from cardboard, the device works with simple lens physics as the image and light from the phone is projected by way of a convex lens onto any white surface up to 6 feet away. You’ll need a dark room though, it won’t work in a brightly lit space. A great way to share when you don’t happen to have a 27″ monitor in your bag.

Geometrigraph – $14.95

Geometrigraph set

First manufactured in the late 1800s, these two stainless-steel templates were designed to make it possible to create curved, parallel or perpendicular lines as well as circles, angles and a range of polygons from 3-sided to 20-sided. By using the inset shapes of various curvatures with the circles and polygons, you can create an unlimited variety of ornamental designs.  All this can be done without using any other drawing instruments; all that is needed is paper, a pin, and a sharp pencil or fine-tip ballpoint pen. Two nickel-plated steel T-head anchor pins are included.  The templates are suitable for designers of inlay in wood, graphic artists, quilters, sign-makers, innovative youngsters, etc. The set comes with a 16-page instruction booklet explaining the various uses as well as showing numerous examples of typical designs. Remember the Spirograph? Well this is it’s Granddad.

Tape Measure Uniform – $42.00

GetImage.ashx

For those times when you need to stand out and let people know there’s a Art Department professional on the job. Or, more likely what it will be saying about you is, “Yes, I am a proud member of the Art Department and I have gone completely insane from breathing Spray77 and Zip Kicker fumes, living on stale coffee, doing endless revisions and dealing with constant software issues. So just stay away from me and no one will get hurt.”

 

 

Really, Really Last Minute Gifts

When you realize you’ve really screwed up and forgotten someone and have no time to run to the store, much less order anything, you can always gift a good app.

Log onto the Apple or Android store and gift your so-important-you-forgot-about-them friend one of these apps and your reputation will be saved:

I own and can recommend all these apps.

BuildCalc – construction calculator – $19.99

Magic Plan – indoor mapping, survey tool – free, pay per use

Photo Measures – saving and sharing measurements – $6.99

Artemis – professional director’s finder – $29.99 *

pCAM – camera info calculator – $29.95 *

Sun Surveyor – sun and moon calculator – $6.99

Stereo Calc – 3D stereo film calculator – $39.99 *

Moviola Pro Camera Guide – extensive database of camera info – $3.99 *

I.D. Wood – samples and data for 200 kinds of wood – $4.99

* iOS versions only

 

 

 

Exhibition Of German Expressionist Film Artwork Now At LACMA

IMG_6069

At the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art now until April is a special exhibition of artwork and posters from the German Expressionist period of the silent film era, 1919 to the mid 1930’s. Produced in association with  La Cinémathèque Française and the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, the show features over 150 pieces of artwork from classic films of the German UFA studio.

Along with many posters are a large number of original set and costume design drawings which are seen together for the first time here. Most of which have not been on display here before and others only seen as small images in publications.

Of course artwork from the most well-known films are there; The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, The Nibelungen, but there are many others from more obscure films as well including Robert Hearlth’s original schematic of the forced perspective backings from Der Letzte Mann which were such a sensation.

One of Ernst Stern's drawings for Waxworks, which indicates the set design, platforming, camera position and lighting.

One of Ernst Stern’s drawings for Waxworks, which indicates the set design, platforming, camera position and lighting.

A watercolor and charcoal drawing for one of the sets for Dr. Caligari by Walter Röhrig

A watercolor and charcoal drawing for one of the sets for Dr. Caligari by Walter Röhrig

It was common during this period of German cinema for Art Directors to work in teams of two or three people, dividing the design duties among themselves as matched their individual abilities. A perfect example of this is the work of Otto Hunte and Erich Kettelhut on Fritz Lang’s The Nibelungen. Here is a drawing by Hunte of the dragon by the waterfall.

Gouache painting of the dragon for Die Nibelungen by Otto Hunte.

Gouache painting of the dragon for Die Nibelungen by Otto Hunte.

Being the more technically trained, Kettelhut elaborated on the design by drawing the technical requirements of the dragon to carry out the action called out in the script.

Technical drawing of the Dragon by Erich Kettelhut

Technical drawing of the Dragon by Erich Kettelhut

Kettelhut carefully described how the giant action prop was to be built and operated both with stage requirements as well as the on-board personnel’s responsibilities.

drawing describing how each part of the dragon was to be operated by stagehands.

Enlargement of Kettelhut’s drawing describing how each part of the dragon was to be operated by stagehands.

The size and depth of the recessed path required for the props operators.

The size and depth of the recessed path required for the props operators.

Kettelhut called out the length of the neck as well as the tension springs, framework, control cables and hoses required for the creatures fiery breath. He calls out "only rubber!" for the mouth area.

Kettelhut called out the length of the neck as well as the eye detail, tension springs, framework, control cables and hoses required for the creatures fiery breath. He calls out “only rubber!” for the mouth area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the scene from the film where Siegfried finds and kills the dragon. The effect is quite crude by our modern film standards but must have been thrilling for a public new to such spectacles. Imagine the lot of the half dozen stagehands stuck inside the big, airless prop as it bellows smoke from inside it. Notice the large forest and mountain sets created for the film, truly epic efforts for the time.

The World’s Oldest Film Scenery?

The title ends in a question mark because I’m not sure I have a definitive answer yet on my search for the the oldest existing scenery from a film. So, I’m asking everyone out there to help me with this quest.

The stage of the oldest intact film studio in Sweden, and maybe the world. photo by Reinhold Fryksmo

The stage of the oldest intact film studio in Sweden,  and maybe the world. photo by Reinhold Fryksmo

 

Let’s use this as a starting point: in Kristianstad, Sweden there is what is reported to be the oldest intact film studio from the silent period. Inside the studio museum (Kristianstad Filmmuseet) is a display in what was the original glass-walled studio space. It is dressed as a set from the 1909 film, Fänrik Ståls Sägner, one of three films made at the Kristianstad Biograf-Teater that year. The scenery appeared throughout the film apparently as the same space was used for a number of different scenes. The main element is a multi-panel theatrical style flat painted with a Trompe-l’œil design. If this is truly the original set piece then this is in excellent condition for a 105 year-old flat.

A closer look at the flats. photo by Lotten Bergman

A closer look at the flats. photo by Lotten Bergman

So is this the oldest film scenery in existence? I’d love to hear from other Art Department people out there from around the world with older examples.