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.
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??
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
A lot of times when you’re using your smart phone camera to take a shot of a set or location it would be nice to know what the equivalent view would be with a 35mm cinema / video lens.
I ran the numbers for most Apple devices and came up with the following equivalent focal lengths for both 35mm still cameras (full frame) and Super 35mm size sensors. Remember that although both formats are based on 35mm film stock, the frame for a still camera is a 1.5 aspect ratio with a frame width of about 1.417 inches. A Super 35mm frame is a 1.35 aspect ratio and the frame width is .980 inches.
Why only Apple? Well, the company readily makes their devices lens and sensor data available and it was easy to calculate. In the next post I’ll show you how to measure for your devices’ angle of view if the exact focal length isn’t published.
Please note in the following table the focal lengths for the given device have been rounded up to the nearest whole number so the equivalent lengths given are approximate.