Thursday, October 28, 2010

The first film set at Ellerslie

Here are some pictures from the 3 week set construction in February 2009 for Bush Telly at the Ellerslie International Flower Show.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Working from an old dream

For many years I had this recurring idea about a TV programme to be called Bush Telly. I had some very clear dreams of what the film set would look like. It would be set in an ancient potting shed on the edge of some bush.

Finally in 2008 I got the chance to design and build this set for an entry into the 2009 Ellerslie International Flower Show. The idea was that Bush Telly would then film a series of programmes using the set while the show was open to the public.

By strange coincidence, Salma Abarro had applied for an internship with Bush Telly. Salma was a design graduate from Montreal University and was a Berber from Morocco.

Salma arrived and did the pencil drawings while I made a series of models. Each set of drawings and models getting closer to the images in my mind. The thick set of construction drawings were copied off and later used for finding sponsorship and farming out as much of the prebuilding work as was possible.

The whole design process took two months, and these are the pictures taken by Eric Ning-Yuan Shen from the final 1:20 scale model.

I think we all learned a lot from this experience. The set won the top awards at the flower show for that year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Leaf chair

This is Leaf Chair, a chair that I sculpted in clay in 1998 for Creative Castings to make copies of. It include some small faces around the base that were provided from another source.

Sadly these film photo's don't really do the chair justice but they are the only visual record.

It was really fun to do with vines entwining the chair.

I remember it was hellish heavy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

HDR - high dynamic range imaging

HDR or high dynamic range imaging is a technique to make images closer to what the human eye can see. Tutorials available on the web

Here are some examples of the use of this technique from clips found on the web. Many of them are filmed with a Canon 5d Mk 2, the camera that Bush Telly own's and I am very lucky enough to use.

The HDR Video Demonstration Using Two Canon 5D mark II's from Soviet Montage on Vimeo.

The Dalescapes of Time. A short film by Patryk Kizny from Patryk Kizny on Vimeo.
The Dalescapes of Time.

A short film by Patryk Kizny.

Shot and edited by Patryk Kizny, Guest footage by Agnieszka Gonczarek. The Dale of Jelenia Gora, Poland. August 2010.

HDR Timelapse demo from on Vimeo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Inner Struggle - celebrating the imaginative power of the dyslexic mind

This is a wonderful piece by Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop up in Wellington.

A dyslexic mind is clearly a good start to have in life.

I wonder who did the bronze casting, it's a very well done.

This sculpture garden can be seen outside the Dyslexic Foundation in Worcester St, opposite the Christchurch Art Centre.

It's great to have good public art available for everyone to enjoy - access to culture being a basic human right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Earth Story

Earth Story has to be one of the best science documentary series ever made, right up there with Cosmos made 30 years ago as contender for top position. Here is an introductory clip from the first episode. I have watched this programme many times. Alice in Videoland hold a copy that can be borrowed.

For me the presenter Aubrey Manning treats the audience with respect and capably explains in clear terms complex scientific facts that an interested layperson can understand. I would really like to work on a thoughtful presenter led series like this.

The DVD is available on Amazon.

This review by Frank T says it all.

"Decent science documentaries are a thing of the past now, hijacked by special effects monkeys and producers who've had it drummed into them that "science is boring, so keep it light". So this series, from the late 1990s, may prove the last great science series that the BBC made.

Like Attenborough's early documentaries, "Earth Story" is perfectly pitched at the genuinely curious non-specialist viewer. The presenter, Aubrey Manning, is a biologist who, by his own account, wanted to understand more about geology so as to deepen his understanding of his subject. To have him present the series was a stroke of genius: he comes to the subject fresh and with a palpable sense of wonder, yet intent on understanding it in depth.

Manning gradually builds up a picture of how the landscape and biosphere of the earth reached their current state, from volcanism via creation of the mid-ocean ridges to plate tectonics. What is so impressive is the seamless tying together of the history, the epistemology and the practice of geology into a single narrative. There is enough detail to satisfy the more intellectual viewer, yet enough of a bird's-eye view to keep the more casually interested engrossed. Lastly and not least, the film of some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet is quite stunning. What a wise decision it was by the producers to restrict computer effects to animated diagrams illustrating geological processes - it wouldn't happen now.

I can't praise this series highly enough. Whatever you want from a science documentary, this will deliver more. It rocks in every sense."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals

I discovered this superb book in 1987 when training at Christchurch Polytechnic. It is the best in its field.

It has very clear explanations on how to patina a range of metals. I tried a range of them when I was blacksmithing and also on some of my student jewelery and bronze castings. Most memorable was the range of colours possible on copper.

The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals was written by Richard Hughes and Michael Rowe, published by Thames and Hudson and is available from Amazon. The local public library and the Polytech library both hold copies.

We have a good FX lab setup now, so it should be possible to try out many of these recipes on upcoming projects.

I would also like to patina some of the hand tools - to make them look really cool.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

BBC Life 103 - 3rd lesson: never ever give up

Filming in the polar ice. Handy if you have good ships, helicopters and plenty of hot food.

Friday, October 8, 2010

BBC Life 102 - 2nd lesson: have fun filming it

This clip shows how monarch butterflies were filmed in Mexico using a cable cam. The shots are just like flying with the butterfly's.

The cable cam looks very light weight and appears to be made out of bike wheels, a central large pulley and two very small wheels to keep the device on the rope. To make one would take some experimentation but it looks doable.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

BBC Life 101 - 1st lesson: not everything is as it seems

In this clip, David Attenborough explains how the talented crew got a fantastic shot of plants growing in an English woodland over several years.

They first filmed a background plate then filmed in a studio using blue screen.

Watch out for the bike wheel, wooden crane and other clever home built stuff - if the pros can make magic out of bits and pieces then ..

I want to do the same with some shots for the next series of Bush Telly programmes, bringing together cross-sections of soils, geography and life

1st lesson: not everything is as it seems

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hamish's toes

This is "Hamish" a clay sculpture I got to make in 1998 of a liitle boy reading a book. It was commissioned by Creative Castings, a Christchurch firm that needed original sculptures in order to make hundreds of copies to sell. I was more interested in creating original work and so was quite happy for someone else to make the moulds, do the castings and sell the work.

Hamish lived next door, so he was the main model. I had worked with Sebastian's mum at the polytech, so Sebastian got to be the model for Hamish's toes.

The casting process that was used lost a lot of the detail but despite that, the sculpture was very popular and sold well across NZ in garden and decorator shops.

Hamish and Sebastian are now young men and both tower above me and their mums yet it only seems like yesterday that that this sculpture was being made.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cloud tanks

Gormenghast was shown here in NZ in the early 2000's. It caught my eye because my parents had read the books and I remembered them talking about it when I was very young. It certainly lived up to childhood expectations.

It was a fantastic series full of wacky Brit character actors. As I later found out it was based on the first two books of a trilogy by Mervyn Peake.

I just found out that there was a book published called The Art of Gormenghast. Looks really interesting - will try to get the local library to get a copy so many can read it.

Apart from the amazing sets, the castle had a strange look about it. So I did some digging around to find out how they did it. Alice in Videoland had the DVD which included "the making of" in extra features.

It turned out that the makers used something called a "cloud tank" (big glass aquarium). A scale model of the castle was dropped into this cloud tank and hazy optical effects were created which was then filmed. It looked pretty good - not like a model at all.

Over the years I discovered that cloud tanks have been used to create the special effects responsible for many famous scenes in well known movies.

There is fascinating explanation on how that mountain cloudy scene was done in Close Encounters.

And then there is the smoky rocket effect in Firefly, a TV series made by Josh Whedon.

I'm planning to use a cloud tank on a film project early next year.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Using Lightroom

I recently discovered the joys of using Adobe Lightroom 2.1 while cataloging several thousand photos for Bush Telly.

Most of the pictures were on Cd's or hard drives in folders named after the photographer along with a note. As the pile of images grew rapidly, it was getting chaotic pretty fast.

So a good bit of
Digital Asset Management (DAM) was needed.

The DAM Book by Peter Krough found in the local library explained a clear method of naming digital photos and what directory structure to use. I had to post a few queries on The DAM Forum to clarify what structure might be needed to deal with fifty different photographers instead of only one. Peter and friends were very helpful.

After the images were sorted, I used Lightroom to add metadata to each image and then exported them as a master DNG files named using this format;


So an example would be SashaShamilov_2010227_02.dng

Lightroom was a real pleasure to use especially with twin monitors. It made the whole job easy and it looks beautiful too - I'm hooked.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Fattest Man in Britain

Most weeks, I don't watch any TV, cos there just so much rubbish on the box. And if there is anything decent it's usually ruined by ads at dramatic moments.

But there was a real treat on TV1 last Sunday night. The Fattest Man in Britain was so well done. Timothy Spall played the lead part. Loosely based on something that actually happened, it's the very human story of a big man who realises his self worth through finding friendship. It also takes the piss out of all the exploitive TV shows that invade peoples privacy. Very funny and touching at the same time and well worth watching - hope it comes out on DVD.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Spring cleaning my studio

I took advantage of this beautiful weekend to spring clean my studio. After the Bush Telly filming at Ellerslie earlier this year, returning stuff just got dumped everywhere, and the door locked - "out of site out of mind". I then spent months over winter editing the footage and planning for future filming, so this was the first opportunity to finally sort the mess out.

I have changed the layout so that I can easily make props, miniatures, small table top sets, and film equipment. Pride of place at the moment is a ride on dolly which is nearing completion. It will take a tripod or pedestal camera support, and can be used on track or flat ground or board walks in the bush. I also want to make a cable cam for filming high up in forest canopy, or vertically up a tree trunk or cliff, plus a table dolly.

There should be enough room to set up to film time lapse or miniatures for later compositing.

I need to put a lot of unwanted stuff on Trademe, to make room for future film projects. Should be a ball this summer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life is trouble, only death is not

If you want to watch a film about a living force of nature, Zorba the Greek must be up there. Directed by Mihalis (Michael) Cacoyannis, and wonderfully filmed and acted on location in Crete, all the characters are very authentic.

I think this must have been Anthony Quinn's most outstanding work. He was also in Lion of the Desert, which I really liked and have seen several times since 1981 when it first came out. Lust for Life is another film he was in that I must get out on DVD. I think he was one of those great actors that improved with age.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The inspiring set design's of Tony Geddes

About 13 years ago, I came across an exhibition in the Christchurch Arts Centre of the stage set designs of Tony Geddes. Here are some photos I took at the time.

Tony, the genius set designer at the Court Theatre  was to become a great inspiration to me some years later, when I finally meet the man.

The exhibition contained dozens of models and drawings of Tony's work. I was completely taken by the rich imagination and fantastic worlds created for stage plays on display.

Some years later, I ended up working at the Court Theatre workshop building these marvelous designs. There were other set designers as well but Tony was my favourite. Each of his set's had a life of it's own and had a richness that added to each play.

During each production week, Tony would rapidly finish off each set with fantastic paint effects. He had excellent instincts based on natural ability and honed by the impressive experience of 200+ productions. It was pretty amazing to be there and watch.

As the set workshop engineer, I often got to meet Tony in his design office to help figure out the underlying metal structures required to bring his ideas to fruition. All around the walls were these models which are a national treasure just like Tony. One day it would be great if they could go on permanent display somewhere to inspire future generations.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Life is beautiful

I watched the great Italian film Life is Beautiful from 1997 a few weeks ago. Roberto Benigni directed, co-wrote and played the leading role.

Both tragic and very funny at the same time, the film is about a father who uses his wacky imagination to protect those he loves the most, his wife and son including when they are sent to a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.

The whole film also mocks the insane absurdity of the Nazi rationalisations during that time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Slowly by slowly

My mate Sasha Shamilov has a new web site.

Sasha has lived the life of Indiana Jones many times over. His parents and grandparents were Chechen, a people who were deported en mass by Stalin's murderous thug's in 1944 from their homeland in the North Caucuses to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Sasha ended up in New Zealand in 1994 and has been a stateless person ever since. He has worked and paid taxes, but successive governments have refused to give him NZ residency. They have tried to deport him three times without success including some months of unjust imprisonment. Despite all this, Sasha has shown great strength of character. You can read Sasha's story on his web site.

Sasha is a highly skilled welder, wonderful photographer and shares my love of natural beauty. We are both part of the Bush Telly film crew and spend many hours designing and making camera equipment to film nature. My wife adopted him as a brother so he is now family.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ask David Mullen ANYTHING

David Mullen ASC is an American cinematographer with a bevy of credits under his belt.

He is also very generous with his time answering questions on a number of web site forums.

I often follow his thread on Red User and listen in on the discussion. Its a great way to learn from the pros and always sparks a trip to the library to get yet another book out or searching on the Internet.
I really love this shot from Manure which he worked on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The grimy faces of Moby Dick

I watched the DVD of Moby Dick over the weekend. It is a film adaption made in 1956 by John Huston of the book written by Herman Melville.

I like the way it is narrated by the young sailor Ishmael played by Richard Basehart. Three things about the film really struck me.
  • How much full of splendid physical character the actors were - not a buffed bod to be seen and plenty of wrinkles.
  • Their speech was magnificant.
  • How much public attitudes to whales have changed.
Its a great tale and worth watching. The DVD has a slideshow of photos from the making of the film including the whale.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Beauty of the Power Game

A recent post on Red user net was about this stunning slow motion footage of women tennis players. The clips can be watched on the New York Times. These women are superb athletes.

There is also a related article "How Power Has Transformed Women’s Tennis" and a slide show "Women Who Hit hard".

The images were filmed with the new high speed Phantom FLEX camera from Vision Research. The camera can film 1080p full high definition video using the high frame rate of 2,800 fps.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sebastian's Voodoo

Sebastian's Voodoo is an outstanding short film by Joaquin Baldwin about a little voodoo doll that saves his mates. He made this while he was a student at film school.

This guy is pure talent.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sand volcano's erupting

 There was a 7.1 Richter earthquake in Canterbury early hours of Saturday morning. It was pretty amazing. I stumbled out of bed in a daze and held onto the book cases to stop them falling over. For which later I got royally told off by my better half.

Luckily there was no loss of life, owing to the building code in place, but I think this natural disaster will turn into a social disaster for many people in the months to come.

In many parts of the city there was soil liquefaction and the curious phenomena of sand volcano's popping up everywhere with the roar of gushing water. I found these sand volcanoes (also known as a sand boil) fascinating and quite beautiful. The strange thing was that the mouth was often very clear of sand or silt of any kind as if they had been washed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Moving and funny

My friend Pavla lent me Koyla which I watched today. It's a Czech film made in 1996 by director Jan Svěrák that is set in 1988 as Stalinism was finally crumbling.

Its a really neat story about a middle aged single musician who's life is beautifully interrupted by a child. Its wonderfully told and filmed and well worth a look. The director's dad Zdeněk Svěrák, both wrote the script and played the lead role.

Prague is such a beautiful city.

And I really liked his apartment.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It was a handy thing

Back in 1984, I found myself in a room one day that had some clay in it and feeling bored, I thought - why not use the clay to figure out how metal bars deform when blacksmithing. Well that kept me busy for an hour.

So I was still holding this ball of clay in my hand - looked at it and thought - why not copy that - so 8 hours later - here was a clay hand holding a clay ball of clay.

I was gobsmacked because having never done art at school or played with clay before - here was a fairly accurate little sculpture that had a part of me in it. Then someone walking past offered me $200 for it!

It was quite a cathartic experience - my whole world changed at that point. Here I was finally able to express what I thought and felt in something I could make. On that day I decided I wanted to become a sculptor.

The hand was never fired and today sits by the drawing board in the office.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Patch's Place

In 1999 I got asked by Chris Ragg to help him make a set for his children's puppet TV show Patch's Place.

Having never designed or worked on a film set, I visited the Court Theatre Workshop and asked if I could do a few days work experience to get an idea where to start. Brian was the Workshop Manager at the time and he said yes with a big grin. After a week of helping I was offered a part time job as the Engineer doing all the metal bits. But that's another story...

So with a bit more confidence under my belt, I made a small model of the house in Patch's Place and showed it to Chris. Chris liked the design, so I went ahead and made it in my home workshop out of bits of customwood, old sacking, paint and plaster. It was made to come apart easily for shifting and putting in storage when not filming.

Chris had done these wonderfuly expressive drawings of creature puppets for the series. He made the creatures himself, found friends and family to write the script and help crew. I got roped in to be on 3rd camera.

It was a marvelous effort. Later on Chris went to Australia with a great show reel to break into the industry.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anthony Jarrett was immortalised

In 1987 I found this fantastic newspaper picture of Anthony Jarrett winning a race. He has this amazing expression on his face. So I made this small 1/4 life scale marquette one afternoon. It was done in clay and was drying out rapidly. Got some photos before it dried out. It's one I would love to have another go at sometime.