Until now, no one has created a class that explains cameras to designers.
You’ll not only learn the technical information that will help you understand the mechanic of cameras and optics, but you’ll learn how they capture your scenery and how they can affect your design decisions.
As a film designer you must understand how cameras capture and record images, because that’s how the audience sees and experiences your work.
Few if any film design schools include optics as part of the curriculum leaving film designers with a huge disadvantage when working with the cinematographer on a new project. The information in this course will help you create effective and believable sets that help the camera tell the film’s visual story as successfully as possible.
With this course, you will be able to discuss the camera requirements for your sets with the cinematographer and visual effects supervisor and not be excluded from important decisions that affect your designs. It will further your knowledge for a successful career in the Art Department as a set designer, art director, or production designer.
What you’ll learn in this course:
Cameras – Film vs. Digital
Lenses – spherical vs. anamorphic, prime vs. zoom
Specialty lenses – lenses and attachments that solve tricky shooting issues
Understanding focal lengths
Aperture settings – F-stops vs. T-stops
Dynamic range – over and under exposure comparisons
Lighting – color temperature, typical lighting styles
The Inverse square law of lighting
The basics of optics for in-camera effects such as foreground miniatures and forced perspective sets.
Understanding color grading vs. color correction, and digital intermediates or D.I.’s
Why is resolution important? Understanding the race for more pixel depth.
User Manual – you’ll get a manual with both text and diagrams that explains the concepts of the course for later reference
You will also get access to the weekly Community Lounge where you can get questions answered and meet other members of the film community.
In addition, I’ve included a special section that analyzes a number of the shots from the new German film, “All Quiet On The West Front” (Im Westen Nichts Neues). which won Oscars for both Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction in 2023.
With 3D model recreations of some of the sets and locations, I’ll discuss why certain shots were difficult to get and how they achieved them. I’ll also discuss how physical locations and built sets can sometimes make shooting problematic and how careful pre-planning can avoid frustrating situations during production.
First of all, this is not a paid ad. I’m getting nothing out of doing this post other than making people aware that they may be missing a big opportunity to take advantage of an event where they can learn a lot about the state of current and upcoming technology that is created specifically for the entertainment industry.
Cinegear is an annual expo that takes place in Los Angeles during the summer. This year it’s being held back at its usual spot on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood on June 1 – 4. (There was one in New York in March and there will be a slimmed down version in Atlanta in October). And, it’s free. Admission is now waived, you’ll just have to pay for parking in an adjacent structure.
Known mainly as a product expo for manufacturers and purveyors of cameras, lighting instruments and production equipment, the event is a perfect place for designers and art directors to find out about inventions and equipment that will affect their jobs now and in the future.
People who aren’t camera-savvy tend to be intimidated by the immense amount of hardware on display and assume that they have nothing to gain by spending a day looking at cameras and grip equipment.
Yes, it’s geared toward professional camera crews, but they don’t make you take a test at the gate. The vendors are more than happy to answer any and all questions about their merchandise, even ones that you think might be simplistic. There are also hands-on exhibits and master classes available to anyone.
Where else can you go and see (and play with) every available cinema camera that’s on the market? My daughter loves checking out those $60,000 cameras that she can’t yet afford to rent.
At the Panavision booth they’ll even put any vintage anamorphic lens you want on one of their cameras so you can see them in action.
And it’s not just cameras that are on display. Vendors of new LED lighting instruments, LED wall systems, backings, pre-visualization systems, etc., are eager to show anyone involved in the business what the possibilities are. LED lighting instruments keep getting better, brighter, and smarter. The new Arri LED panels, for instance, are set up to mimic any color temperature or lighting effect.
You can see a map of the vendor sites on their webpage, and you can create your own map to track booths you want to visit ahead of time if a fear of being overwhelmed by the size of the venue (nearly 200 vendors) is a concern. Vendor booths fill 5 sound stages and the entire backlot area.
Master classes are usually held on the last day and attendance quotas fill up quickly, so be sure and make a reservation in advance.
If you do go, save time by registering beforehand and skip the long line at the gate:
This years’s show should be well-attended. It’s been 4 years since the last show at Paramount. Last year there was a much scaled-down version at the Los Angeles Convention Center which was disappointing to say the least.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
I love well-made tools, especially dividers. So when I got an email from Robert Lèvy in Switzerland describing a new set of dividers based on the Golden Proportion, I was very interested. He was kind enough to send me one of his tools on loan to examine and try out. The dividers are everything I would expect in a tool; beautiful, easy to use and very well made.
The packaging is as well thought out as the tool itself. It comes in a black box stamped with the logo and name in gold. Inside, in black tissue, is a very nice calfskin case which is also stamped with the logo. The leather (real) and the stitching are very good. Unlike a lot of faux leather cases you see today, this one, of real leather, is well constructed both inside and out. The top flap is held closed by two magnets, both stitched into the leather, and the inside of the case is lined with a soft microfiber fabric. On the back of the case is a leather loop for attaching it to a belt.
The tool itself is excellent in every way. Laser cut from 316L stainless steel, it holds up to oil from hands. The lettering is laser engraved and the arms of the dividers are connected with permanent flush rivets. Rivets are usually the weak point of dividers as they are either set too tight or they quickly loosen up after some use. These rivets are not only well engineered but they are set at a perfect tension. The arms move easily but stay where you want them so gravity won’t pull them to a wider setting during use.
One of the great thing about these dividers compared to others based on the Golden Proportion is that this tool’s 8 arms give you multiple proportions at once, not just a single one making it possible to lay out the primary, secondary and tertiary lines for a drawing. Drawing a volute is actually easy, and explaining a relationship between a cubit and a handbreadth and showing the golden proportion relationship of body parts is simple with these dividers.
Rather than go into a long-winded article on Golden Proportion, go to Robert’s website. You’ll learn everything you need plus get more information on his device, which by the way took the Silver Medal at the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions this year.
The dividers are now at an introductory price of 295 CHF, or about $298 US. This is a very good price for a tool of this quality. Buy one while you can. Very well made specialty tools like this won’t be available forever.
Here is a video on using the tool to lay out regulating lines.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In February I posted an article about using your hand in photographs as a scale reference but didn’t go into how you extract that information once you have a copy of your photos. Here are three methods, two analog and one digital, that you can use to figure out hard dimensions from objects in photos.
Equal Space Dividers
Once you have had some practice, this is the fastest method of the three, even faster that the digital method and you can use them right off a photo from a book or even a smart table screen. If you don’t have a set of equal dividers, also called 10 point dividers, you can buy a new pair for between $250 and $300 from various sites such as this one, or this one . They sometimes show up on Ebay but plan to pay around $75 to $100 for a used set.
In this photo of a 1840’s Greek revival casing, we’ll scale the actual size using the hand in the photo as a reference nomen.
The first thing you’ll want to do is draw lines outlining the sides and edges of the moulding details, then you’ll draw a centerline through your scale, whether it’s a hand or tape measure. Then draw a line parallel to this at the top of the picture crossing the outlines. Now continue the lines perpendicular to this new datum line so that they are parallel which eliminates the perspective/foreshortening effect of the photo. Then mark a known distance on the original centerline, in this case it’s the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the end crease which is 3 3/4″.
Now transfer these two points to the new datum line at the top of the photo. With the dividers, open them along this datum line allowing the distance between each point to equal 1/2″. They can represent any distance you want them to, but 1/2″ works best for this example. This means that 7 1/2 spaces will equal 3 3/4″ scale inches along the new datum.
Once you have these marks set, carefully move down to the bottom of the page and mark the distance at the first and last point. As each space represents 1/2″, the distance over the width of the dividers is a scale 5″ along the nomen line. For accuracy you’ll want to continuously check the spacing of the dividers against this ‘master’ to be sure you haven’t changed the setting. Most dividers are manufactured with fairly ‘tight’ joints but you can easily bump them while you’re working and throw off the setting.
Now we have a scale to measure the spacing between each of the line extensions above the top nomen line. You can mark the distance at the middle point and reduce the spacing of the dividers to equal 1/4″ in scale and so forth. I came up with an 8″ width, which when I checked the casing with an actual measuring tape, found it to be in reality 7 7/8″ to 7 15/16″. Not bad, well within the accuracy of most applications.
This method is not only more accurate than the equal space dividers but is a cheaper method as well, just not as fast at first. I have a set of Mitutoyo digital calipers which run about $180, but you don’t need anything that accurate. You’re going to be dealing with nothing finer than a thou of an inch and even that’s pushing it. A $12 pair like these are more than adequate, in fact this $9 cheap plastic pair are even better as the sharp points on the jaws of the better calipers will rip the crap out of the surface of the page of a book or the emulsion of an enlargement. They’re a lot safer to use when you’re scaling off a computer screen as well! They all have the ability to be set for decimal inches or metric.
The nomen in this photo is a Keson Pocket Rod, a retractable builder’s survey pole, ( don’t know if it comes in a metric version) if you don’t have one, get one right now. You’ll wonder how you got by without it. With a graduated scale in the photo it’s easy to find a correct scale. Turn the calipers on, squeeze the jaws together and zero out the reading. then you just set the jaws between a one foot increment and record the reading.
In this example 1 foot equals 2.665 inches. Divide this number by 12 and you come up with .222 inches equaling 1″ in the photo. Record these numbers for reference at the top of the photo. Remember that this equivalent will only be accurate over the whole area of the photo if you have been careful to make sure your camera was perpendicular to your subject matter.
I could go into allowing for foreshortening and lens distortion calculations but that would take an entire chapter of a book.
I know there are a number of ways to scale from photos digitally but if you pla
n to do any 3D modeling with them, Sketchup is a good place to start.
In Sketchup you’ll create a horizontal face and import your photo using file/import. Be sure to import the image as a texture. Stretch the image to fill the face and click. The image will tile itself over the face, so just trim the excess repeated images.
Create a Group and double-click to open it for editing. This is an especially important step if you already have other object or images in your model file. With the Pencil tool you’ll draw a line along your nomen marking out a specific distance, in this case 12″. the longer the line the more accurate your scaling will be.
With the ruler tool, measure this line from one end to the other. Ignore what it tells you the length is. Type the length you want it to be which will appear in the Value Control Box in the lower right corner of the window. When you hit return , a box will appear asking you if you want to resize the object. Click ‘Yes’ and the object will shrink/grow to the correct size and your photo image will now be at full size scale.
Now you can trace any area you like and the tape tool will give you a correct length, providing you are measuring in the same focal plane as the nomen. Obviously if you are measuring something in the foreground or background the measurement will be off, which is why you need lots of survey photos if your subject is complicated,
I like photographing architectural details. But they’re only really useful if I have a scale in the photo. Measurements written down in a journal somewhere are bound to get separated or lost and the photo won’t do me much good if I want to replicate the detail. I rarely carry a tape measure with me all the time and usually carry a small paper ruler in my wallet, but that often gets lost of left behind.
When those times occur where I need a scale in the photo, i just use my hand. It’s handy because it’s always with me, I know how big it is and I can always refer to it later when I’m scaling the photo. It’s my built-in story-stick.
The hand has been a measuring device for thousands of years and is still used as a measure of the height of horses in the U.S. and UK. The hand’s width was standardized at 4 inches by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the hand’s breadth, (just across the 4 fingers) at 3 inches, making the average finger width 3/4″.
The first joint or distal phalanx makes a handy scale for small details as well.
And don’t forget your shoe makes a good scale object too.
So what do you do with these? How do you translate these into working documents? Next time I’ll explain the basics of scaling from photos using dividers.
But in the mean time, this video by writer and woodworking instructor Jim Tolpin and animator Andrea Love gives a great intro into designing with hand and body proportions.
Google announced last Friday that they were going to start offering their Pro version of Google Earth at no cost. The Pro version was meant mainly for developer, architects, contractors and real estate agencies who need both more advance measuring tools than the basic version offered plus higher resolution printouts.
Here is a table showing the differences between the two versions.
The Superdome is 66.82 Smoots In Diameter
Unlike with the free version the Pro version allows you to measure diameters, heights and 3D paths and polygons.
How Accurate Is It?
I decided I’d test the measuring tools on something small to test the accuracy. I zoomed over to Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse which I built the model of years ago based on HABS surveys. The footprint measured out to be accurate within 99% and the height to within 98% accuracy. That’s pretty amazing.