The film slate. It's one of the big symbols of film-making. But... there's a point to it. And that point is understood to a greater or lesser degree throughout the industry.
But for an editor, it can be essential communication. We're usually not on set (we're editing the previous day's shots), and the less time we need to spend figuring information out, the more time we can spend being creative.
Here are some notes based on some past difficulties I've encountered when syncing video and audio. A lot of it isn't necessarily intuitive if you haven't spent any time ingesting dailies, so I thought I'd get some general thoughts written down. They essentially form my wishlist of what I'd like to see when I get a new set of dailies.
Other editors may disagree with some points or prefer other solutions, but this is what I am happiest with. Regional variations may apply; almost certainly in terminology.
If you haven't read Creativity Inc, on the formation and rise of Pixar by Ed Catmull (one of its founders); you're missing out. As well as a business biography, there are a huge number of philosophical theories on how to best nurture creativity in the film-making process, and how to bring all employees together to make the best product possible.
My Kindle informs me that I've highlighted 35 sections in this book - for non-technical manuals, I usually will make around 2 maximum per book. So, it's fair to say that a lot of it struck a chord.
I'd like to share a short passage on giving meaningful feedback, which applies to many stages in the film-making process, and certainly not just animation. As an editor, I receive a lot of notes - and sometimes send them out, either on cuts I've made or on scripts and films that other people I know are working on.
A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. “I’m writhing with boredom,” is not a good note.
Over the weekend of 12-14 April, I once again took part in the 48 hour film challenge which is part of the annual Sci-Fi-London festival. It's known for helping directors get a first feature launched, including Gareth Edward's 2010 film Monsters (the sequel to which is now in post, and directed by my NFTS friend Tom Green, for whom I edited the short film Brixton 85 while at film school).
Last night were the screenings of the top 20 films out of the 217 submitted at the end of the challenge. We knew going in that we were shortlisted to the top 10 - and therefore our film was being watched by the jury including Danny Boyle, Warwick Davis, Professor Brian Cox, and Neil Marshall.
I'm very pleased to announce that we came 3rd; we're all very happy. Seeing the top 20 all in one go and discussing them afterwards really emphasised how difficult it must have been to judge such a wide range of topics, and how subjective enjoyment of a film really is.
Here's our third-place-winning entry, as directed by the very talented Christoph Keller (with the support of his team, he'd insist I add):
Written, shot and finished in two days.
3rd place at the Sci-Fi London 48hr Film Challenge 2014.
Title - Life External
Dialogue - He signed enlistment papers. He took an oath.
Prop - Dice. We see a character roll two dice.
Postchat is a weekly discussion on issues surrounding post-production amongst the Twitter community of which I am a part.
This week I was asked to be featured during a discussion on animation editing. I've summarised the proceedings before and tried to link questions and answers together - although at the time a lot of conversations were occurring in parallel, with diversions - and I went back a few times to questions asked earlier. For a full transcript, see this Storify.
In drama, it's said that you write a film 3 times: in the script, during filming, and in the edit room.
In animation, there's less filming ("performance" being shared between the voice actors and the animators)... but the editing is constant. The bulk of the editing happens at the start with the animatic, to find the structure of the film in order to eliminate as much unnecessary animation as possible - but as additional detail is added, the edit must be revisited again and again.
The easiest way to illustrate this is to show you two simple sequences from Q Pootle 5, the preschool series I've just finished editing. Even though we used Redboard for the storyboard and the scenes were set up in 3D space with representative backgrounds, things can still change significantly. And, of course, it's still incredibly basic when compared to an animated shot.
Each video shows the animatic more or less as it went into the animation stage (albeit with notes from the producers), a playblast of the animation stage before it went to lighting, and the final version. I've included the full length of each shot from each phase, so there are black sections where there is no video to cover that part of the shot for that stage.
N.B. The animation stage shown is the trimmed version that was sent for animation approval - not the full length of each shot worked up which may have had overlapping actions or excess frames. It matches closely to the final version in terms of action, but the difference lies in the level of detail and any additional fine cutting. A useful additional stage would have been the blocking or early animation - but this wasn't available when I came to put this blog post together.
Example 1: from "Pootle's New Spaceship"
Upper left: Animatic, Lower left: Animation (playblast), Lower right: Final version (as broadcast)
Audio left: Final (as broadcast), Audio right: Temp for animatic
0:00 - Change of angle, changed early in the animation process to better view both characters
0:11 - Action changed to Ray (the bird) closing the nose cone rather than appearing, but the 'beat' of the action remains the same.
0:12 - In the animatic, I wobbled the image to indicate Pootle (green) and Stella (brown) climbing in to the spaceship. This action was eventually replaced by Ray's reaction and the sound effect.
0:23 - Engine start time decided in animation, but the false start matches timing.
0:24 - Pootle's blustering was cut down in response to animatic feedback from the producers. The shot duration changed accordingly.
0:30 - Hugely different angle, hence different duration. The new angle allowed the point of the shot to be conveyed a lot more quickly.
0:36 - Filling in the animation and letting the animator work the shot as they wished resulted in different timing for this shot, with a more tentative lift-off.
0:40 - A much more cinematic feel for this shot than depicted in the board. Lovely - and a brilliant case for collaboration and encouraging everyone to not be afraid to try things out that are different to what's already there.
0:50 - It was decided after the animatic that Pootle should feel less hesitant about the instructions he's been given, and we shouldn't draw quite so much attention to how bizarre it all seems (in case he doesn't seem in control of the vehicle - preschool audiences aren't as appreciative of mild peril as older children!)
1.01 - End of scene trimmed. The starts and ends of scenes are easy places to add or lose time when cutting to an exact duration.
Angles changing between animatic and animation is a common thing - if there's time and it's a big enough change, new boards will be drawn up to illustrate the intended shot; but often it's quicker and easier for the director to just get it worked up in layout and changed to their specification.
Example 2: from "The Cosmic Whipple"
Upper right: Animatic, Lower left: Animation (playblast), Lower right: Final version (as broadcast)
Audio left: Final (as broadcast), Audio right: Temp for animatic
0:04 - Adding the rock in the middle of the crater for Oopsy to climb up was a late addition, but added some action to the shot, and was a good opportunity for our most hyperactive character to expend some energy. Of course, this changed the framing a lot from the animatic. And the timing.
0:08 - Blink and you'll miss it: a minor trim to the final at a late stage. A massage of an earlier trim.
0:13 - Shot extended for new action.
0:20 - There were several shots boarded for this short section of varying duration, but I ended up resizing them in the animatic and merging them at that stage. This accounts for the variation in line thickness and framing.
0:24 - Dead space cleaned up in the fine cut
Often, I would adapt a storyboard to use in an animatic, if it had an element I wanted. This could mean re-sizing, or using a part of a board to replace a part of another board to clarify timing. This often meant a note was added for animatic approval - but I kept my timeline organised to show that it was all part of the same shot, and the metadata reflected that. Sometimes an animatic would end up being the best approximation of the framing from the available boards - I'd put priority on the composition in terms of whether it was a 2-shot, wide, close-up etc.
For additional information on the stages noted above, please refer to my previous blog posts on editing animation:
Part 1: Editing an Animatic
Part 2: Editing Animation
Part 3: Editing Animation (the final stages)
Part 1: Editing an Animatic
Part 2: Editing Animation
If you've read the previous parts of this series, this is the part which has the least 'editing' involved - and also the stage where most of the raw materials for the action are together and now fully staged and animated - basically the part where for drama, the editor would start.
However, because we don't have multiple readings from multiple angles and very little in the way of handles, the creative job's basically over. However, there's still work to be done - and elements to be added which will affect the optimal cut point of any two shots.
Among the people I know from the National Film and Television School is Helen Piercy - with whom I have previously worked on an animated sonnet by Shakespeare voiced by Alan Rickman, and various school projects.
Helen is currently doing a lot of work with children and young adults in the form of animation workshops across the UK, and as a result was approached last year to write a book/ kit to help children make their own animations.
This book has now been released, and it's fantastic. I have a copy in my edit suite, and it's a big hit with the animators (and others) at the studio. The age guide is ages 8+, but there have already been reviews from much younger children starting to make their own films using the book and kit as a guide.
The kit includes several sets, characters, and props - plus a "director's handbook" which gives an introduction to animation and different styles, as well as hints and tips on making your own films. Find out more at the webpage on Helen's site, or by watching the trailer below:
I'm currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon on my Kindle for the half hour or so I spend each way on the underground to and from work. I'd put it off for quite a while (in fact, I think I have the paperback somewhere), but I'm glad I've finally gotten around to it.
I just had to share this excerpt*, which shows a wonderful set of ideas in the creation of a comic book super hero and the setting up of backstory and motivation to make the character feel more real. The importance of this process cannot be understated if you're looking to create something truly special, and I think that the way it's been written as a discussion amongst friends (in themselves working through the setup to the core of the story) is wonderful.
“My guy flies,” said Davy O’Dowd. “That I know.”
Joe shot a look at Sammy, who clapped a hand to his forehead.
“Oy,” he said.
“He flies, huh?”
“Something wrong with that? Frank says this is all about wishful figments.”
“Wishful figments. You know, like it’s all what some little kid wishes he could do. Like for you, hey, you don’t want to have a gimpy leg no more. So, boom, you give your guy a magic key and he can walk.”
“Huh.” Sammy had not chosen to look at the process of character creation in quite so stark a manner. He wondered what other wishes he might have subsumed unknowingly into the character of lame Tom Mayflower.
“I always wished I could fly,” Davy said. “I guess a lot of guys must have wished that.”
“It’s a common fantasy, yeah.” “It seems to me that makes it something you can’t have too many of,” Jerry Glovsky put in.
“All right, then, so he can fly.” Sammy looked at Joe. “Joe?”
Joe glanced up briefly from his work. “Why.”
“Why?” Sammy nodded. “Why can he fly? Why does he want to? And how come he uses his power of flight to fight crime? Why doesn’t he just become the world’s best second-story man?”
Davy rolled his eyes. “What is this, comic book catechism? I don’t know.”
“Take one thing at a time. How does he do it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Stop saying you don’t know.”
“He has big wings.”
“Think of something else. A rocket pack? Antigravity boots? An autogyro hat? Mythological powers of the winds? Interstellar dust? Blood transfusion from a bee? Hydrogen in his veins?”
“Slow down, slow down,” Davy said. “Jesus, Sam.”
“I’m good at this shit. Are you scared?”
“Just embarrassed for you.” “Take a number. Okay, it’s a fluid. An antigravity fluid in his veins, he has this little machine he wears on his chest that pumps the stuff into him.”
“Yeah, he needs the stuff to stay alive, see? The flying part is just a, like an unexpected side benefit. He’s a scientist. A doctor. He was working on some kind of, say, artificial blood. For the battlefield, you know. Synth-O-Blood, it’s called. Maybe it’s, shit, I don’t know, maybe it’s made out of ground-up iron meteorites from outer space. Because blood is iron-based. Whatever. But then some criminal types, no, some enemy spies, they break into his laboratory and try to steal it. When he won’t let them, they shoot him and his girl and leave them for dead. It’s too late for the girl, okay, how sad, but our guy manages to get himself hooked up to this pump thing just before he dies. I mean, he does die, medically speaking, but this stuff, this liquid meteorite, it brings him back from the very brink. And when he comes to—”
“He can fly!” Davy looked happily around the room.
“He can fly, and he goes after the spies that killed his girl, and now he can really do what he always wanted to, which was help the forces of democracy and peace. But he can never forget that he has a weakness, that without his Synth-O-Blood pump, he’s a dead man. He can never stop being … being …” Sammy snapped his fingers, searching for a name.
“Almost Dead Flying Guy,” suggested Jerry.
“Blood Man,” said Julie.
“The Swift,” Marty Gold said. “Fastest bird in the world.”
“I draw really nice wings,” said Davy O’Dowd. “Nice and feathery.”
“Oh, all right, damn it,” Sammy said. “They can just be there for show. We’ll call him the Swift.”
“I like it.”
“He can never stop being the Swift,” Sammy said. “Not for one goddamned minute of the day.” He stopped and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. His throat was sore and his lips were dry and he felt as if he had been talking for a week. Jerry, Marty, and Davy all looked at one another, and then Jerry got down from his stool and went into his bedroom. When he came out, he was carrying an old Remington typewriter.
“When you’re done with Davy’s, do mine,” he said.
*represents a tiny percentage of the book, reproduced with the intent of educational purpose and discussion.
As in the previous post, the following notes relate to my specific experiences - mainly as editor on a 52 x 11 minute animation series. Review stages and timings vary significantly for features and other forms, and in my experience by project too.
A bit of self-promotion here: the series I've been editing for the last year... almost to the day, Q Pootle 5, is beginning transmission on Monday 29th July.
It's on the UK channel CBeebies (various worldwide deals are in place, so hopefully not too long before it reaches other territories), at 8.15am weekdays. Further information on the CBeebies website (click the image to go there and view the opening titles and a short clip).
It's all very exciting. And quite a few of my friends both in and outside of the industry have children in the exact target age range - so I'm looking forward to getting feedback from them.
Production continues apace - I'm currently on the 45th episode animatic, with another 7 to go after that - and then the workload starts to decrease. We just delivered episodes 23-26 this week, marking the half-way point... which means that on Monday I was responding to requests from people at various stages of animatic, layout, blocking, animation, amends, lighting, and compositing for 23 different episodes. At the rate of one episode per week, there are still 26 weeks to go until the series is complete - at which point there will be 520 minutes of animation across 52 episodes, not including titles and credits.
Animation: it takes a long time.