Monday, February 28, 2011

Film Barcodes: The Entire Color Scheme of a Film Compressed to One Image

There have been some pretty cool blog posts lately. This one is quite interesting. What happens when you take a cut of a film, and take a frame from every single shot, compress the width down to 1 pixel and put them all together? Well, you get a film barcode. At least, that's what they're calling it.

The barcode in the article header is for 'How To Train Your Dragon'. At first, it doesn't seem that fantastic, but you've literally got the entire film's color pallet at your disposal. The Matrix's is dark and green. The Social Network's is very yellowed and muted. Pleasantville and The Wizard of Oz are particularly interesting to me because of the sepia/black and white with the introduction of color. Very interesting stuff. I'd love for David Bordwell who covered the Saccade Patterns article I posted, to give his take on it.

Check out MovieBarCode

Friday, February 25, 2011

SoundWorks Film Sound Profiles

“In the struggle to free sound from its second class status in film, the SoundWorks Collection videos have quickly become an important tool for showcasing sound designers, editors, and mixers as principal artistic collaborators in film storytelling.”

~Randy Thom, Director of Sound Design, Skywalker Sound

I've got to share this. I stumbled upon this series a little less than a year ago and have been hooked ever since. SoundWorks, a collection of sound-savvy filmmakers, has been putting together these mini documentary pieces that profile the sound design of popular feature films.

The series sits down with sound designers, composers, mixers or foley artists on particular features and discusses the ins and outs of sound design and breaks down how the sounds of a particular film are constructed and the aesthetic choices and thought that goes into designing them.

Inception, True Grit, King's Speech, Black Swan, Star Trek, Dark Knight, Avatar-- if it's been a sound-heavy production in the last couple years, chances are it's made it into the series.

For a guy who isn't that savvy on the sound-end of production, I find this stuff incredibly fascinating. This is a treasure trove of info and if you're looking to learn a bit more about the commonly-ignored art of sound design, definitely check the videos out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Motion Pictures and Saccade Patterns

I'm thrilled to post this. So back in 2008 when I was finishing up my last semester at Purdue, I took in tandem Italian Cinema and Mafia In The Movies. There, I learned how to analyze films in a totally different and more empirical approach. Both classes were taught by the same incredibly inspirational professor, Ben Lawton.

One of his lessons that really grabbed me was on the eye's movements and how that reflects the analysis of film. So let's start with a quick lesson in biology.

The eye can do two things fixate and saccade. The eye fixates when it focuses on a particular object. The eye can also saccade, which is the motion of the eye as it searches for its next area of fixation.

With that said, there is a principal called 'saccade patterns' in which the eye looks from left to right (in the same way that we read) and up and down. The fixations and saccades are generally caused by a cue or just the general composition of the subject that is being looked at. Basically, your eye wanders in a relatively predictable pattern depending on how a subject looks and behaves (if it can move or change color).

So here enters this incredibly interesting article. David Bordwell is a pretty well-known film theorist and looks at film theory in a pretty interesting and scientific way. I didn't know about this blog until today and I can't recommend it enough. So when you're done reading this, go check out his blog here.

Bordwell and Dr. Tim Smith of Birkbeck University of London have teamed up. Bordwell's knowledge of film theory and Smith's knowledge of cognitive psychology (particularly the movement and analysis of the eyes) provide a great grounds for analyzing film and visually mapping out what an audience member sees and processes while watching films.

The article breaks down a scene from There Will Be Blood, and hypothesized beforehand the cues and frame movements, sounds and facial expressions in the particular scene that would draw the eye one direction or another. This stuff is simply fascinating. Watch below and see for yourself.

As you can see, there's a general pattern to the motion and even though there isn't camera movement, we're essentially "editing" ourselves in the same continuous shot between faces, hands and actions. The article (I think it's Smith) calls the term Attentional Synchrony, which is basically the pattern that the majority of eyes follows and are all explicable by a cue of some sort. A change in eye line, an indexic point of the finger, a turn of the head, an auditory cue from the actor speaking his line.

I really need to read through Bordwell's theories and Smith's research a bit more but I was incredibly fascinated by this stuff. If you want to watch more of Smith's research, a bunch of videos are hosted on a Vimeo account for his research project titled DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movement project).

Research is just in its infancy now for this topic, but I feel like there is a lot to learn from it. Capra changed his filmmaking style mid-career by making his actors play the scenes out 40% faster than their initial comfortable pace. What happened was dialogue began overlapping one another, glances were more aggressive, the cutting was a little quicker and the films themselves were just faster-paced. It created a higher excitement for moments that didn't even demand it. Capra had an explanation for this. He stated that at a normal pace, the viewer was ahead of what was being shown. There was a lot of lead time where the audience already knew what was going to happen because they had already seen and processed the image and had gotten all of the information out of it. By speeding up the pace and providing a bit of chaos, the attention of the audience was demanded in full and they suddenly became participants in the film more than just viewers. They had to listen over one person speaking to hear the other. They had to follow action and figure out the gaps that had been taken out in editing. By gaps, I mean gaps in time. Capra said rather than following the main character from an elevator, having him get off the elevator, walk through a lobby and out the front door of the building, you could simply show the character enter the elevator and then show them leaving the building. It was a matter of being one step ahead of the viewer rather than one step behind.

I think these visual patterns provide a little more insight into that. Watch the clip once again as soon as Paul Sunday, Daniel Plainview, H.W. and Fletcher ALL get involved in the conversation and a back and forth begins with Daniel and Paul, the eyes are moving ahead to the next speaker even before the previous speaker finishes. There's an anticipation that arises once the viewer gets a feeling for the rhythm and pacing of the dialogue. They know that Daniel Plainview is almost finished with his question and their eyes immediately go to Paul even before he starts speaking.

Had there been an overlap in dialogue, the viewer would be struggling to keep up with the back-and-forth the two main players are delivering. I've watched the clip several times and have picked up a few other behaviors that aren't really talked about in the article. One that I found really interesting is the way we look at faces.

In a real face to face conversation, you look into the subjects eyes. But on here, it clearly shows that the audience on average looks at the bridge of the nose. If you look at other clips on the DIEM Vimeo page, that's a common behavior. Interesting, to say the least. What it means, I can't really deduct.

So how does this all apply to filmmaking? Well, it just shows the importance of performance, screen direction and shot composition. I would LOVE to see Smith and Bordwell continue analyzing movies this way. Bad movies and good. I think there's a lot to learn from this type of research.

To read the whole article in its entirety, go here:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

AP-RED Gives 'Your Milkman' and Thesis High Praise

AP-RED-- In this day and age where virtually anyone can make a film, a time of digital SLR’s with HD video capabilities, depth of field adapters, and cheap cameras with interchangeable lenses, young aspiring filmmakers have a tendency to focus on the gear; how filmic, how cinematic, and how aesthetically pleasing their images can be, rather than the root of all films-- the story.

One filmmaker is changing that and is forging his own path... Read More Here

Tyler Bennet over at AP-RED was kind enough to interview me and do a really nice writeup about the project. I think the article described the thesis very succinctly.

"The thesis is focused purely on the way stories are crafted and how they are told. Skubal draws from the greats, exploring the points of success of filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Frank Capra and Walt Disney and may other greats based on how they tell their stories. He has also began a road map with considerable evidence, plotting out the interconnectivity of these filmmakers in their films, styles, stories and relationships with one another."

With that said, and something I'm really learning when it comes to marketing a crowdfunding campaign is that you on your own are limited by the breadth of your own social circle. As soon as press and additional sources start writing about it and help you spread the word, your impressions (not necessarily the number of contributors, but just the amount of people seeing it) increases exponentially. If that happens enough, I definitely think a few of those impressions will lead to contributions. So slow and steady wins the race here, but an occasional press article on what you're doing can't hurt! Thanks again for the wonderful writeup, AP-RED!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Onward with the Thesis!

So another week closer to production on 'Your Milkman', and another book down towards my thesis.

On Friday, I finished up the last book on Norman Rockwell [Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg]. I think at this point I pretty much get where the guy was coming from. Articulating the scope of his work is definitely still difficult to do, (hell, even the books I read took 250+ pages to remotely come close), but I think once I can describe any of these individuals I'm researching, I'll have a firm grasp of what I'm going for on my thesis so I'm not discouraged.

The most interesting content came bookended at both the head and tail of the book. The middle described piece by piece of the two filmmakers' collections in chronology of how they were produced, a few anecdotes here and there and provided a nice historical lesson that illustrated most of his motivations in creating the pieces he did. Interesting, but not pertinent towards my thesis. It was the beginning and the end that really discussed the ties between Rockwell and these filmmakers that I was looking for.

I need to go back to the pages I marked to make some exit notes for myself, but basically George Lucas states exactly what I was hoping he would, in some of the last pages of the book. And honestly, I would kill to work for the guy after hearing it, despite heavy fire from his critics.

When Lucas was younger and involved in the heyday of American Zoetrope, he got it.

And what I'm really noticing, after getting into reading about these individuals on my list, is that they start out in this pure form of an idea. It becomes their compass for filmmaking (or painting in Rockwell's case). They have a style and reason to make these projects.

As their careers progress, the ideal gets tainted and watered down either by their own limitations, the individuals they work with or the film industry itself (Capra and Lucas). Or, in some cases they just use it as a stepping stone to explore their own individual filmmaking voices a bit more (Rockwell and Spielberg). It excites me that I've become aware of these top dogs' ideals and I feel like if I ever had a chance at making a career for myself in the industry, this is how I am going to do it.

So next up on my reading docket is Frank Capra Interviews. I've made it through the introduction, chronology and filmography and I'm liking it thus far. I didn't really know as much about Capra as I did Rockwell, and the author seems to lean towards a realistic portrayal of the man, rather than painting him as a national hero or great American, which I kind of appreciate. Apparently Capra had an affinity for stealing other peoples' stories and telling them as if they were his own and twisting the facts of events in his career to make them a little more magical. Capra was a storyteller and I find it interesting he did such things even in real life to paint a persona of himself that was happier and more wholesome than he probably was. It was public relations before PR was even a career.

I'm digging the book thus far and am really looking forward to reading the rest of it. I also have a documentary coming in the mail that was narrated by Ron Howard (another filmmaker on my list for the thesis, and someone who I believe has a connection with Capra) about Capra titled 'Frank Capra's American Dream'. So this pretty much gets us caught up on where the thesis stands. Damn do I love this stuff.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Screenwriter John August Shares The Wealth

I always love it when people who have made it to the top give back and share a little bit of their experiences and how they got there.

John August
, screenwriter of Big Fish, Go, Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to name a few. He hosts a blog ( that hosts how-to's and provides examples of script outlines, pitches and shooting scripts. Apparently, he also writes as a featured columnist on IMDB occasionally as well in the 'Ask A Filmmaker' section.

Definitely check out the rest of his site, it's chock full of useful posts. What I wanted to feature though, was something that took a little digging to find. He apparently also has screenwriting videos that he calls 'Scriptcast' that range in topics from re-writing dialogue, to improving scene openings, scene description and writing better action. So I wanted to toss up just one of these incredible videos for you to check out.