Understanding the Cinematography of Janusz Kaminski

We’ve blogged in the past about understanding the techniques of some the best cinematographers working today. Now I want to turn the spotlight on arguably one of the most prolific cameramen in modern cinema; Janusz Kaminski.

Since first working together on Schindler’s List, Kaminski and Steven Spielberg have developed a loyal partnership and an immediately recognisable visual style.

The primary characteristic of his work is he doesn’t use light to represent reality but to create an atmosphere, very similar to a painter.

This superb video essay from wolfcrow breaks down the different visual styles and preferences of Kaminiski; from his use of strong backlights to his love of lens diffusion.

You could call this look film noir with soft light.

There are many detractors to this visually bold style, and many filmmakers and cinematographers alike prefer a more naturalistic look but to quote the video “the audience doesn’t care”, and I totally agree.

Anyway, enjoy the video and I hope you can learn something about this unique style.

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How to Block a Shot like a Master Director

When it comes to directing, the fine art of blocking and composition is a skill set that separates a good filmmaker from a great filmmaker.

Blocking is cinematic choreography. Simply, it’s the precise movement of an actor in relation to the camera.

Think about it – who decides where and how actors will move during a scene and when and how they will deliver each line of dialogue. Answer: The Director. And how the director answers these questions will significantly shape a movie.

Most aspiring (and even some seasoned) filmmakers overlook the power of good blocking and they do so at their own expense – as well as that of the audience.

This superb video essay from Dan Fox delves into this much overlooked and under appreciated directing skill, and how the clever staging of actors and camera movement can enhance a cinematic moment and reel your audience in.

If you’re a budding filmmaker that wants to direct think carefully about every scene in your film. Think about different ways to direct, ways that don’t just involve a shot/reverse shot formula.

Seek inspiration from the films you love and don’t simply point the camera at ‘talking heads’. But above all – don’t be boring. Remember you’re telling a story and your direction is how you weave that story. If you’re asking people to spend their time and money – you better entertain them!

Watch. Enjoy and learn.

How Hitchcock Blocks a Scene

Here’s a fantastic video breakdown by the one and only Nerdwriter on YouTube. He talks you through an early scene from the film Vertigo and discusses how Alfred Hitchcock says so much – not through dialogue but through the positioning of the actors.

I’ve embedded the video below, as you watch it ask yourself how you might block the scene, are you you’re pushing yourself beyond the mechanics of visual storytelling (wides, mids, close ups etc)? Good blocking of both actors and cameras is something we don’t see very often these days and it’s a great shame. Not only is it an incredibly valuable storytelling tool, but it requires consideration, understanding and mastery to implement successfully. Surely, at the end of it all, that’s what we’re all striving for.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, who are your other favourite directors for their blocking? Spielberg is our number 1. 

P.s. If you’re not currently subscribed to The Nerdwriter I’d highly recommend it; check him out for all things art, culture, politics and movies. Always an interesting watch!

Secrets Behind the Cinematography of The Revenant

I’ve recently discovered this in-depth video breakdown by the Cinematography Database for The Revenant shot by now three-time Academy Award winning director of photography and master of the craft, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki.

Header-Logo-220x80This video is part of a much larger body of work by DoP and all-round awesome guy, Matt Workman.

Matt’s passion is clear to see, his knowledge base vast and his attention to detail is inspiring. And what he has created and is continuing to build is an incredibly thorough and informative “resource for modern cinematographers”.

Seriously, I am blown away by the depth of knowledge shared in this video and if you are at all interested in studying and learning from the masters, you should just sit and watch this video over and over.

How to Get Better at Anything: The Power of Inspiration & Action

TFA fan art 1

Hi all, hope you’re well. We’ve been in the thick of it recently, filming the first 14 night shoots for COSMOS in September and have plenty of content to come in regards to the film’s progress and tutorials. We can’t wait to get it out for you and hope it’ll prove useful for your filmmaking adventures!

For now though, here’s something slightly different. I wanted to briefly talk about the value of inspiration and the power of action; and how both of these are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to filmmaking (and any creative outlet really) and what benefits you gain from both.

Is there something that you want to get better at, advance your knowledge and understanding of? Something you want to truly master or even take the first steps towards learning? Is there also something that is holding you back, that voice in your head saying: “I’d love to do that but…” or “I’ve always wanted to try that but…”. It’s a common problem, people have that spark of excitement but struggle to nurture it into a roaring flame and instead put it off for another day or reside themselves to the fact that they’ve got other more important things to be doing. So what can we do to give us that extra drive, that push we need to get started?

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One Simple Trick That Will Improve Your Film Lighting

reverse key banner


“What’s this?!” I hear you cry sceptically,

“Are you going to offer some kind of Holy Grail of lighting that will instantly make my movies look better?!”


Well… actually, yes. Quite simply if you put into practise the information below your movies will almost immediately look more… well movie like. It’s a simple yet incredibly effective lighting technique that should change the way you place your lamps… forever!

So, what is it exactly that I’m eluding to? Why, it’s Reverse Key Lighting of course. Don’t know what that is? You’re in luck, read on.

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Listening To Space (Sound Designing)

COSMOS Banner Listening to Space

COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 16:
LISTENING TO SPACE (Sound Designing)


A great film once taught us that out there, in the cold vastness of space – no one can hear you scream… Why?

Sound waves (as we perceive them) need a medium like air to travel through, and in the vacuum of space there is no such medium. So to the human ear at least – space is silent.

However, this is not the whole truth.

On August 16th 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a steady source of radio waves that became known as the “Wow!” signal…

Wow_signal

There is much speculation as to the origin of the “Wow!” signal and perhaps we will never know for sure if it was of extra-terrestrial design. But it certainly makes you wonder.

The field of Radio Astronomy observes astronomical objects by studying their radio wave emissions. These astronomical objects, such as stars and galaxies, naturally emit radio waves which travel across the vast ocean of space at the speed of light – an astounding 186,282 MILES PER SECOND! (The equivalent of flying around planet Earth 4.6 times in a single second!) (more…)

Creating Fantasy User Interfaces (FUIs)

COSMOS Banner FUIs

COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 15:
CREATING FANTASY USER INTERFACES (FUIs)


You’ve probably never heard the term ‘Fantasy User Interface’ but I can guarantee, you know exactly what one is.

An FUI is the super cool and futuristic computer display system found in movies, TV shows and computer games. Obviously these FUIs are not real computer programs but bespoke animations created with the purpose of helping tell the story. In modern filmmaking, most of these FUIs are added in post production but some films still feature on-set displays that the actors can interact with.

For COSMOS we need to create several FUIs of our own, and in researching the topic we found ourselves entering a vibrant sub-culture of FUI designers and admirers. If you’re interested in learning more about the cool user interfaces in your favourite movie, please check out Kit FUI which is basically an IMDb-like database for anything and everything FUI. You can also lose hours marvelling at the intricacy of these designs and enjoy the talents of their creators such as Jayse Hansen, OOOii and Mark Coleran.


 

green screenMoving onto COSMOS we need three different displays for the three main characters to work from. As discussed in a previous post about Building the Goodman Satellite in Blender, we’re big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!). (more…)

5 Top Tips for Filming on Location

5 Location tips


“By failing to prepare… you are preparing to fail” — Benjamin Franklin

Shooting out on location can be one of the most exciting, rewarding but testing aspects of filmmaking. Working outside the comfortable studio environment inevitably brings with it many challenges – juggling time pressures and permissions of locations, working with the available light and around the changing weather all while lugging your gear from here to there.

But thankfully, the very nature of this high stress environment breeds highly capable and efficiency filmmakers. You learn how to control what seems uncontrollable, how to make the most of the time available and how to creatively solve the never-ending challenges.

Zander grass

One man and his camera

The most extreme form of this filmmaking is found in the world of documentaries, where you’re tasked with capturing real life as it happens, no rehearsals, no retakes, no second chances!

I can personally vouch that for the budding filmmakers, there is NO better training in the world than working on documentaries. And even if you’re planning a career in shooting drama, I’d recommend a ‘stint’ on docs to put you ahead of the crowd in no time.

So, here are our Top 5 Documentary Tips for Filming on Location

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Creating the ‘Astro-Nuts’ Baseball Caps

COSMOS Banner Astonuts caps

COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 14:
CREATING THE ‘ASTRO-NUTS’ BASEBALL CAPS


Due to budgetary limitations the filmmaking Art Departments, such as Costume Design, are often overlooked by independent filmmakers — when money is tight the camera becomes top priority and every other department seems to cascade beneath in a perceived order of importance.

'Astro-Nut' Photoshopped Concept

‘Astro-Nut’ Photoshopped Concept

But dressing your characters in a costume that reflects their personality and profession will not only dramatically increase the production value of your movie, but more importantly help your audience believe in your story.

As filmmakers we MUST strive for a high level of production value across ALL creative departments — there’s no point shooting our films in stunning 4k resolution if the costumes look like an after thought! We may get a few excited comments on the ‘dynamic range’ and ‘digital noise’, but no one will believe in our characters.

For proof if proof were needed, here’s Baz Luhrmanns excellent podcast on Costume Design for his epic AUSTRALIA.

Costume Design is fundamentally the expression of character through clothes, but it can be much more than that. Everything we learn from costume, we find out about the life of the character and the world that they lived in.


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