- The right action at the right time - if there's a certain key action boarded out that should correspond with a point in the script and/or sound effect, then the timing of this relative to the surrounding dialogue should be correct.
- Reactions should be timed relative to their cause - and also given enough space to sink in!
- The first and last shot of a scene can be difficult to judge before the full programme is together, but an approximate length can be guessed at.
- An object coming closer to the viewer at a constant speed will need less duration of each board where it gets closer, mimicking the appearance of an object moving similarly when filmed.
The BAFTA Film nominations were yesterday. Unfortunately, Pirates not only failed to win - they were not even amongst the three animated features nominated in the relevant category.
However, this was more or less righted by the nomination in the 85th Academy Awards - announced earlier today. Pirates is one of five films nominated for Best Animated Feature, and one of three stop motion films within the category! So, fingers crossed for the 24th of February.
Another recently announced set of nominations that I eagerly browsed were those of the Visual Effects Society Awards - having been the previs/ VFX editor on Pirates, I was rather hoping to see a few nods in that area. Indeed, there's an Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture - competing against Brave, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck-It Ralph - all of which are fully CG. I personally attribute a large part of this (corrrectly or not) the seamless overlap between stop-motion and CG to a fair amount of confusion over the nature of the film and its effects. Not only amongst lay-people (although I have had to clarify on a few occasions that the water was indeed generated and yes - CG CAN do that these days), but also amongst VFX pros - for whom I answered several questions on Twitter about the production and stop motion, previs, vfx, CG animation, etc. at the time the film came out.
Pirates also has a Best Animated Feature nomination in the 40th Annie Awards, as well as Outstanding Achievement nominations in four categories: Character Animation in a Feature Production, Production Design in an Animated Feature Production, Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production, Writing in an Animated Feature Production. So... exciting times.
Working on Pirates was an amazing experience in its own right, especially as it was the first feature I ever worked on - but it's certainly amazing and fulfilling to see it get some outside recognition too, from people who didn't actually work on it - or who don't feel they have to say nice things because they know me.
It's been almost exactly a year now since VFX finished on the film, and it's immensely gratifying to see it still making its way out there. I really hope that it continues to get the same level of love and commitment from the rest of the world as those of us involved in its production put in.
It has rhythm, like music. When you are editing, you are creating a musical flow that the audience will get into while they're watching the movie. There's a visual rhythm, there's an auditory rhythm, and those two interact and create something that's a combination. And the ability of music to move people is huge. Anybody knows that, anyone who has had a human experience knows that music is incredibly significant and moving and emotional. But really it's just a collection of sound and rhythm, it's not anything magic - and yet it is magical. And the difference is it's the organisation of those pieces. It's the length between beats. It's the pitch of the note. It's the frequency at which the notes come, and it's the structure and how that structure is repeated. All those things are editing. When you're editing you're really making music.
Jeff Ford - Editor of The Avengers, One Hour Photo, Iron Man 3
The above quote is from a recent episode of the Avid podcast, "The Rough Cut". The whole interview is truly inspirational. Jeff talks of how he got into the industry, the importance of assisting and learning from editors, acting, story, and collaboration. If you're an editor, an assistant, or work in the industry at all; listen to it.
The above quote especially resonates with me as my teenage years were full of music - I played the oboe, and studied music theory. From this there are a lot of lessons in rhythm, structure, and collaboration which can be transferred to editing practice.
I've recently started an acting class (more on that soon), and as it's a beginners class the attendees generally aren't in the industry. One or two would like to write or direct, but generally people are within other careers.
I've been honest and told them what I do. Here's a conversation I had last week after class with a small group:
Them: so what do you edit?
Me: Animation, mostly, at the moment. I have a short film or two coming up on the side.
Them: So where do you go after that? What is it you want to be?
Me: An editor.
Them: No, I mean, would you like to direct?
Me: Nope. I love editing.
Them: But... you already edit. What do you do next?
Me: Edit more. Edit better.
I'm not denying that there are editors out there who have always had their hearts set on directing. After enough sets of bad dailies I have sometimes wanted to make a film under the impression I at least knew a lot of what not to do.... perhaps that's why I'm doing well in animation editing where I have input over the way the framing works, the timing of lines, and the way we actively expect lines to be re-recorded to change performance.
Perhaps it's the lack of perceived credit/ glamour in the eyes of the public that puts the job down? I'd imagine most people on the street would find it very difficult to name any editor. Ask them about directors, and the job becomes much easier. It's true, our sector of the industry does seem to get marginalised (I remember commenting on Twitter one time when I noticed the editorial department credits of a feature film listed below on-set catering) and ACE and MPEG are actively campaigning for greater festival recognition of editors (see editorspetition.com for more information). Editors are traditionally seen as the quiet workers behind the scenes, and that's how a lot like it. But the lack of recognition for the job as a craft, and to want to always learn how to do your job better, does sometimes grate.
Today I asked a difficult question at work. I asked whether any of the characters in our preschool-targeted animation series were left-handed.
This may seem like a bit of an odd question to ask - especially for an editor. After all, we're not in the dark ages where we consider lefties to be the acquaintance of the devil, and although modern world languages seem little biased (see this Oxford Etymologist blog entry for a brief history and explanation of this post's title), it surely doesn't matter? As far as story goes, it's like asking what colour a character's eyes are, right?
Well, yes and no. Whilst there are those who'll tell you about the left-handed person's tendency towards creativity and/or power and/or intellect, the major impact it has on film tends to be with regards to framing.
Most people will have a dominant hand, with which they perform the majority of action. In live film it's easy. Without overwhelming reason (e.g. biographical) to write a character with a preference for one or both hands, an actor will be right-handed or left-handed, and through a quick blocking or rehearsal run all accommodation for a slight edge to one side can be made. In animation, however, there is no actor from which to draw such idiosyncrasies. The animation equivalent would be the person who actually animates that character in that particular shot - and there can be many animators working on the same character over the stretch of just a few minutes of screen time. Plus by the stage it gets to the actual animation, several other processes will have been completed - and changing around the composition of a shot (for example swapping character positions or moving a piece of set) may be impossible.
On Pirates, as the previs department's editor (before/ concurrent with my VFX Editor role), I saw a lot of this sort of problem come through. Our characters had a tendency to swing swords around a lot, gesticulate wildly in the direction of something or other, swig grog, and other piratey-type things. And one of our storyboard artists was left-handed.
... and sometimes we would get boards through as above, to recreate in previz. Obviously maintaining the framing whilst using his right hand would result in the sword crossing his body and face - or the shot could effectively be flopped. It's a creative decision that has to be made at some point, and in animation it's best to get as many decisions out of the way in as early a stage as possible, owing to the increasing levels of complexity and number of people involved as storyboard goes to animatic goes to previs and/or layout goes to animation goes to compositing and lighting goes to....
So. It's important to know, and establish. Because there are other reasons to flop a shot during the animatic stage for reasons of comprehension, or deeper understanding of the 3D environment in which the characters will interact (not always available during the storyboard phase), spatial logic... all of which may throw a previously 'correct' shot into disarray. I'm always aware when flopping a shot of possible effects on continuity, but tend to go for the eyelines of the still images that I'm working with as a priority. I manipulate a lot of the boards in whatever way I can to best tell the story. Sometimes new boards are made, sometimes a picture-in-picture or animatte effect works best, and things are zoomed and otherwise reframed all over the place - with notes on camera angles frequently discussed with the episode's director.
Which brings up the third 'creative' option: cheat. How many people are honestly going to even notice, let alone make a big deal out of it? I mean, nobody so far as I can see seems to have noticed which pirate was left-handed (hint: it wasn't the Pirate Captain), although the impact on the geography of certain action moves and even his costume was significant while we were making the film. But even then, that rule was stretched when we had good reason.
I got my first business cards when I was 20. At the time, I considered it pretentious - and I'm sure that was also the view of my peers when they happened to notice, but the fact was that I was starting to be asked for my phone number and email address by people who may want to pay me money for work.
These cards were very formal based on a template at the company I ordered from, and were basically what I thought a business card should look like; if slightly different from the black text on white card "business" business cards. I didn't have a website, and just a single personal email address through which all of my email went. I still have a stack of them somewhere, gathering dust.
Time passed, and as I prepared to move on from film school back into the world, I got my own website and domain - and therefore new cards. This time I went with a style which has usually been described as funky. Again, they were based on a website template with custom colours, but they were significantly less formal; whilst still standing apart from the black on white formality.
These are currently the cards which I give out to the places where I work, and at certain other times - usually for people who already know me but don't yet have the full set of contact details. They fit neatly into existing systems for card indexing, they're reasonably distinctive amongst many cards, and all of the information is on the front with a plain white back (for additional notes). What they lack is any aspect of me - after all, they're once again based on a template at the site I used.
So what I now have are these half-sized cards from moo.com (they also do full-size, postcards, stickers....)
Utterly generic front (top left) with all of the relevant information, but on the back I was able to select photos to upload. I selected images from 3 different projects to match different areas of expertise:
- Pirates (bottom right) - on which I was VFX Editor, and certainly the film which I'm most likely to mention to people at networking events. By giving them this card, they can associate that conversation with my information.
- Cherry on the Cake (bottom left) - an animation graduation film from the NFTS, representing my interest in animation editing.
- Brixton 85 (top right) - a short film at the NFTS, and one of the most successful from my time there. The director Tom Green went on to direct episodes of Misfits, and is currently working on a BBC drama. This card therefore represents my interest in drama editing, and from my showreel it's usually the clip that people most remember when I'm meeting up with them to discuss work.
I carry these cards around with me at all times in their nifty custom case, and by far collectively they're currently my most-used. Certainly in networking contexts, being able to hand someone my card and show them the image from the film most relevant to the type of opportunity I may be offered, and then talk a little about it - it's a great visual aid, and hopefully something which will inspire them to check out my website to find out more. Next time I order them, I'll probably get different sets with different job titles - these were a trial on a special order, and they'd only accept one 'front' - but they've proven to be pretty popular.
Then, of course, there's the issue of social networking. I have a large number of links (LinkedIn, Twitter, various UK job site profies) on the top right of every page of my website - do they belong on a card? Increasingly so, it seems. And since I know that I've instantly followed (or at least looked up) someone on Twitter when they've included their username in a presentation, it seems increasingly relevant. At least until the next big thing comes along?
This film has a lot of Aardman firsts – it’s the first stop-motion feature for which they’ve used previs to guide the floor when setting their shots up. It’s the first time they’ve managed their VFX in-house, with a team of around 100 VFX artists up in Bristol working on the 1500+ shots which are in the film. Every single shot has some form of visual effect, some are entirely CG, and some have additional characters or buildings added in amongst what they shot on the floor. But it’s all entirely in-keeping with the Aardman style. I challenge anyone to tell me where the stop motion animation ends and the CG begins!
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is released in the UK on Wednesday 28th March 2012 (today).
Principal shooting on The Pirates! has finished. The cut is (mostly) locked. Many of the sets have been dismantled, shooting crew have left, and we can still get parking spaces if we arrive slightly late. We even have Shaun The Sheep setting up where the Pirates sets used to be.
We had a spectacular wrap party last weekend at Bristol's Mshed, where everyone dressed up as Pirates, Scientists, and some of the lesser-known (and potentially spoiler-y) characters.
We have 4 more weeks of work before final delivery. That's two before Christmas, and two after - in which all versions are finalised, confirmed with edit (who'll be finishing in London by that point), and delivered. It's getting quite close - after 5 years in the making.
However, it's proving quite difficult to get the company to get out of the mindset that now that filming's finished the film is over. Yesterday (Friday) afternoon and this weekend, half the phones aren't working while they "upgrade" the system. We've had whole days of not being able to access the viewing theatre. And we're not a small department - we've easily over 100 people. Plus there are outsourced shots to be approved. And still some final bits of sequence which aren't even locked yet.
So, please - everyone.
It's not over when the fat/ thin lady sings at the Wrap Party.
Some of us are still going, and really hoping to not have to work over Christmas - with or without added disruptions! Spare a thought for your post people this Christmas. We're still working really hard to make everyone look good.