Archive for June, 2012

Move over Muybridge: Stop motion animation in the Stone Age

June 30th, 2012

Cave animals

Chauvet cave paintings of lions.

Photo by HTO/Wikimedia Commons

Muybridge…Disney…Pixar…may not have been the animation mavericks many believe them to be. There’s strong speculation that cave people were the first to create animation, according to an article in this month’s issue of Antiquity magazine written by two French men: artist Florent Rivère and Marc Azéma. An archaeologist and filmmaker with the University of ToulouseLe Mirail, Azéma, spent 20 years studying cave animation paintings, some of which date back 30,000 years. “Stone Age artists intended to give life to their images,” he states. “The majority of cave drawings show animals in action.”

Thaumatrope How did they animate the images? Azéma and  Rivère posit that the cave people used a torch and an incised disk as a crude form of a thaumatrope. Dubbed “the miracle wheel” and initially developed by astronomer John Hershel in 1825, a thaumatrope creates the illusion of motion by spinning images on a disk. Azéma and Rivère believe that “Paleolithic thaumatropes can be claimed as the earliest of the attempts to represent movement that culminated in the invention of the cinematic camera.”


Honoring Bond and Binder

June 24th, 2012

A main title in its best form is like a prologue to a movie. Ideally, it sets you up for the emotional content of the film and gets you excited about it.

Kyle Cooper, title designer, Rango, Tron: Legacy, Ironman, and Spider-Man 2.

How did we get from here…(View Dr. No opening credits from 1962 below.)

…to here? (View Quantum of Solace opening credits from 2008 below.)

If you’re in Los Angeles this summer, enjoy a little bit of hedonistic nostalgia at LACMA (LA County Museum of Art). To honor James Bonds’ 50th anniversary on the silver screen, the museum is running all of the movies. Also, in conjunction with a former employer of mine, the Loyola Marymount School of Film and Television, the museum has created a video exhibit that loops all 22 Bond opening credit sequences continuously, 14 of which Maurice Binder created.

Binder graphicCharles Taylor wrote about Binder in the July 29, 2002 issue of Salon magazine: “His title sequences are three-minute refutations of the laws of gravity: Figures jump and bounce and run through the colorful voids, or simply luxuriate in midair as if the atmosphere itself had become the most inviting bed in the universe. The sequences are a distillation of the films to color and movement and sex…They move with a deliberate and luxuriant sensuality, drinking in all the nudie cuties prancing and posing through them. It’s pure sex, both hot and cool, urgent and deliciously slow, celebrating both pursuit and release. The sequences are so rich, the atmosphere so thick, you begin to feel as if you could walk up the aisle into the screen.”

So go and enjoy! And notice the changes in actors, “Bond girls,” costumes, music, VFX, and editing styles.

Editing practices, Fun & games, History/research, Visual FX editing

Editing in Japan and other parts of Asia

June 18th, 2012

Ryota Nakanishir

Ryota Nakanishi in Hollywood, 2011 where he

attended EditFest at Universal Studios

Photo courtesy of Ryota Nakanishi

I am delighted to share what Ryota Nakanishi, an enthusiastic reader of my books and this blog wrote me. He attends graduate school of Tokyo University of the Arts is editing Rakugoeiga, a theatrical feature shot in Japan, and completed Moxina, a horror short, shot in Japan and Taiwan) in 2012. He cuts with Final Cut Pro 7 and Avid Media Composer 5 and 6.

Below he compares editing in his native Japan and Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China (where he studied for five years) with editing the U.S., which he has visited and where he intends to move once he’s through grad school. I’m sure he could use some help transitioning to Hollywood so if you’d like to help, contact him at

Editing in Asia

Here’s what Nakanishi reports (with a few small copy edits by me):

First of all, I need to explain the main differences of Editing system between Asia (Japan and Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, etc.) and US to understand my enthusiasm on reforming Asian editorial methodology.

1) Although U.S. editors have master shots and coverage, Asian (in Japan, Taiwan, etc.) editors don’t get these shot varieties. Most directors just shoot what is on the storyboards, so all we can do is to edit in the order of the storyboard description with little or no coverage. This is very mechanical, not artistic or organic. (Akira Kurosawa followed U.S. standardized film editing system. And he was correct. Others, like John Woo, also work this way. But they are the exceptions and work out of the reach of the usual bureaucracy.)

2) In U.S. and most English-speaking countries, the directors and the cinematographers work in the double system (A and B cameras, etc. and a sound recordist), but in most Asian countries, they don’t follow this universal standard. They use the single system (only one camera and a sound recordist) as their traditional system. Sometime we receive only one long take.

3) In U.S. editors make the editor’s cut, director’s cuts, producer’s cuts, studio cuts and network cuts. Asian filmmakers work in the director’s system, so there are only directors’ cuts: Directors sit next to the editors to order the cutting from the beginning to the end of the editorial phase.

Nakanishi’s goals

These are main differences, and also are difficulties for Asians. My main purpose is to study and adapt the universal (U.S.) standard (this has nothing to do with any nationality) of the film editing system in Asia to improve our entire film production quality. To achieve this goal, I read your books to study the universal standard = Hollywood standard of film editing. This is my big challenge on film editing work in Asia. My resolution for improving editing is to use the three-act structure to write scripts, the double system to shoot scenes, and continuity cutting for editing the materials.

If we can learn and master the universal standard (U.S. system) and make it our own national standard, we will get rid of many cultural limitations in Asian societies. Then Asian filmmaking can be more diversified and Asian countries can become venues for international filmmaking, meaning, American and European filmmakers would shoot here. This is my idealistic perspective of our efforts and what I am trying to do at university. Luckily, many of my colleagues agree.

Joy’s last word: I will keep in touch with Nakanishi and report back on his progress in changing the system.

Editing practices, Technical & process

The United States of Movies

June 7th, 2012

Cinema Nation

According to the web spot where I found this map, it began life as a T-shirt, titled “One Nation under Cinema” designed by Scott Snyder of Portland. Here’s a more readable version with a couple of changes:

US Map

Of course many more movies were made in each state but these were Snyder’s first choices. What would you pick?

Fun & games

Is 35mm dead? Projecting the future:
Print vs. digital theatrical projection Part 2

June 1st, 2012

Increasingly, studios are securing film prints in vaults and only sending DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages – hard drives with files of the movie) to exhibitors. In an April 12 article in LA Weekly,Forward key “Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling,” reporter Gendy Alimurung stated, “The six major studios spend $850 million a year to have release prints made, and an additional $450 million to deliver them.” She also reported that theatre owners received this letter from 20th Century Fox in November 2011,: “The date is fast approaching when 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight will adopt the digital format as the only format in which it will theatrically distribute its films…We strongly advise those exhibitors that have not yet done so to take immediate steps to convert their theaters to digital projection systems.”

For chain and first-run theatres, conversion to digital is a no-brainer. For art houses, classic theatres, and other independent exhibitors, adopting the new format is financially prohibitive. John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, warned at the association’s annual convention last year, “If you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.”

Beyond the financial aspect, some moviegoers and cinema owners want both a print and a digital choice, like book readers have. And then there are the folks such as projectionists, curators, post personnel, and couriers whose livelihoods are threatened and have been extinguished by digis and the businesses like labs and film stock manufacturers – just think Kodak – that they’ve shut down. Also, ponder how editing and cameras have gone digital.

But this is not to decry DCPs or take a Luddite leap back to the days of film only. Rather, the big question, as I ended Part 1 of this two-part series remains: How will digital stack up against print in the future?

The Future

As discussed in my March two-partner, ““Digitally yours forever: Where and how is preservation going?” a major downside of going digital lies in its preservation. Film and people graphic Studios tend to look at short term profits and ignore that their product may not be available for future profit if DCP sources are not properly migrated to new formats as they evolve and vaulted properly along the way.

Losing data or having it become corrupt is also a scary but realistic nightmare and has occurred on major films, as Alimurung notes, on Toy Story 1 and Toy Story 2. She quotes an engineer, Shawn Jones, “Digital snowballs on you. It starts simple. Then as you grow and use more of it, your costs quickly escalate.” Digital data cannot just be vaulted and abandoned, like film negative. Data and its devices require testing, playing, and maintaining at regular intervals. And often it’s repurposed for games or videos or otherwise manipulated, so maintaining and preserving it is an active, ongoing job.

Sad and frightening to think that we’re creating more content than ever every day yet its life may be snuffed out more quickly than ever.

History/research, Technical & process