Top 5 Universities to Consider If You Want to Work Within Cinematography

As a cinematographer, you do not just watch movies but are a part of the movie albeit not as an actor. The cinematographer organises the shooting of the movie in terms of lighting and angle shots, and you should have a thorough theoretical and practical knowledge of the subject. You want to be in a creative, vibrant area like London and New York and the competition requires you top choose the University carefully. The first university to consider is UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television which specialises in directing, film and television writing, editing and cinematography.

shutterstock_227589325-1Be Guided on the Choices you Make

Knowledge is power and bawabatalsafa.com offer excellent information and guidance on places of study as well as being a tool for employers to advertise their jobs. You’ll find advice on which universities to choose if you want to become a cinematographer. Bande à Part is a Film School in Spain. Teachers have contact with the professional world and know precisely what film disciplines you require to get a good job in this field. A Master in Film Distribution and Marketing is available at Birmingham City University- Faculty of Performance, Media and English and spans all aspects of the film development cycle, allowing students to work on real film projects.

Become Practically Involved

The cinematographer knows lights and props like the back of their hand, and the fourth university that offers cinematography is the Boston University. It offers a Master of Fine Arts program in Cinema and Media Production where students finish the course in one calendar year, not two. The course is designed for experienced filmmakers looking to take their filmmaking to a new level. Columbia University School of the Arts is our 5th choice where students can be tutored by film legends and learn how to recognise new opportunities. Students will also be able to take part in the Columbia Undergraduate Film Productions and get involved in real-life projects around filmmaking.

Modern Ways of Prototyping

building-very-detailed-maquettes-for-movie-setsEven if in the history of cinematography models very skilled technicians were working by hand, modern times have generated alternative ways of building very detailed maquettes for movie sets. These are achieved with the help of the 3D software. They are built at first with the computer, in the virtual world, adjusted according to preference, and finally milled, 3Dprinted or rapid prototyped.

The computer-aided design software enables a skilled designer to produce a highly detailed model, without any loss of material or endless hours of work. This technology became available in the late 80s, and was used at first to produce models and prototype parts for the different industries, such as the automotive, nautical or aeronautical.

The models that are generated on the computer must proof a series of rigorous requests, depending on the manufacturing method. For example, if milled, the model is not allowed to contains holes in the model bigger that the diameter of the drill bit. If the hole in the model is bigger that the drill bit, the milling machine will think there is a hole in the model, and actually destroy the whole mock-up.

The 3D printing process is even more rigorous than the milling procedure. As the tolerances for this model are sometimes divisions of the millimetre, the 3D data model has to be ‘water tight’. This means it is not allowed to have any nanometre hole. If only two poligons of the computer generated object do not touch, the final 3D printed model will be a failure. This rigorousness has its good points too. The models created with this method will have outstanding details, meaning that even the smallest maquette could create the impression of a real set in a movie. The Iron Movie, released in 2010 made great use of the 3D printing technique. The Iron Man gloves and parts of the suit that were too hard to be computer generated with a green screen, were directly 3D printed, part by part.

Maquette Builders

maquette-buildersMaquettes are small scale models which illustrate in three dimensions a scale model of a model that is to appear in a movie. They can be filmed using special techniques, such as the Schüfftan Effect. It is mainly used to lower the budget of a movie and shot scenes in fantastic landscapes and imaginary buildings, without too much effort or expense.

Old school models, architectural or other types, were built from a variety of materials, all cut and assembled by hand. These were paper, cardboard of different thicknesses or colors, wood blocks, wood sheets, plastic sheets, foam, foam boards, polystyrene or other materials and composites. The architectural model types can imagine the exteriors, interior models, landscapes, urban models, space ships, planets, galaxies or other imaginary objects.

Models are built in rigorous scale, which may vary from 1:2500 for city maps or site plans, to 1:100 for house or office layouts, to 1:2 for details or even 1:1 for completely full size details. The scales used need to be respected each time, because maquette makers buy sometimes predefined parts for their models. These can be trees, cars or people of certain scales, and they would fit into the model and give a correct impression of the scale, but only if completed with the right scale parts.

One classic example from the cinematography history is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. Stanley Kubrick appointed the aircraft manufacturer Vickers Armstrong to build the whole Discovery interior set, inside a twelve by two metres design, which would rotate at the speed of 5 km per hour to give the impression of floating into space. The Star Wars Series were also using scale models for the costume of the Storm Troopers, Darth Vader, The Death Star, the light sabers or different aircrafts, such as the Millennium Falcon or the X-Wing Fighter Jet.

Computer Generated Imagery

computer-generated-imageryComputer Generated Imagery, or simply CGI, is the ultimate invention of the modern era that directors and technicians in the movie industry use to produce appealing visual scenery. The visual scenes might be flat or static, but also dynamic. It is usually 3D, but it can also be in 2 dimensions, as in classic animation, made with Adobe Flash, or drawn by hand with a tablet or a mouse.

The 3D virtual world is an interactive environment. Its broad availability of the specialized software makes it possible for anyone to produce the 3D data that can be used for commercials, movies or television. CGI animation, virtual world or dynamic CGI renderer are terms known to many people, due to its spread and popularity over the internet.

The spectrum of things CGI can replace is very broad. They can be landscapes, architectural scenery, anatomical models, cloth and skin and many more. Natural looking landscapes don’t have to be built anymore by hand. Computer artists have algorithms that produce fractal landscapes in minutes, depending on the technical specifications of their computer. At the beginning, the computer generates a rough triangulated surface, but as the artists demands more detail, that can be added with new nodes to the existing basic mesh.

The architecture requires a bit more time to be produced, as detailing is important for the final result and the designer or the architect has to create a certain harmony between the building, its environment and other edifices.

CGI can also generate a skeletal animation that is clothed with a desired shape of an animal, alien, fantastic character, which is later rigged onto it. These models are most commonly used for animation movies and movies for children, such as Finding Nemo from 2003, Toy Story from 2010 or Inside Out from 2015.

The Miniature Effect

the-miniature-effectScale models are used to create the miniature effect motion pictures and television. They are usually combined with matte shots or high speed photography, in order to create a gravitational effect, which makes the scene more convincing and believable. The contemporary film industry uses the computer generated imagery directly to achieve this kind of result.

The miniature or the matte, the painted background, are shot very close to the camera lens. The miniature itself has to be overlit, in order to balance the overall exposure and eliminate the depth of field, that otherwise would betray the use of a fake scale background. This practice is called forced perspective.

This technique goes back the early age of the cinema. The technique was used at the beginning to present to the public things that did not exist in reality, like skyscrapers, aliens, or to make scenes that would be very expensive to film in reality, like floods, fires or explosions.

Georges Méliès included this double exposure in his film Le Voyage dans la Lune. Metropolis, from 1927, Citizen Kane from 1941, Godzilla from 1954 or the Ten Commandments from 1956 also used miniature effect scale models.

The epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968 was and still is today one of the best movies in the history of cinematography that used the scale models technique to create convincing scenery. The Star Wars 1977 title, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek from 1979, or The Terminator, from 1984 have all parts that were filmed with the help of miniature technique.

Starting with the beginning of the 90s, the miniature effect started to be overtaken by CGI, Computer Generated Imagery. Still, there are some very recent movies that still make the most of miniatures to film some scenery. Some of them are Titanic from 1997, Casino Royale from 2006, Interstellar from 2014 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from 2015.

Chroma Key Composition, AKA Green Screen

green-screenThe green or blue screen effect is widely used in modern cinematography for generating compositions with two video streams. The technique relies on the color hue, or chroma range, hence the chroma key naming. It is used to remove the background from a subject shot, which is later made transparent with the computer, allowing the post production team to place a different background behind the actor. The technique can be used with many different coloring background, but green and blue are used because these colors are more distinct in hue from the majority of skin colors so there’s less risk of making mistakes.

An example that will be familiar to most: weather forecast presenters are shot on a green or blue screen, which is replaced live with a large computer-generated map. Note that if the presenter will wear blue or green at the moment of the broadcast, these will also be replaced by the background video.

Larry Butler invented this method in the 1930s. The escaping from a bottle genie scene from The Thief of Bagdad, released in 1940, is the first known scene to be shot on a proper blue screen. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Special Effect.

The Warner Brothers Studio began a collaboration in 1950s with the researcher Arthur Widmer. The collaboration perfected the blue screen technique.

Engineer Petro Vlahos observed that green and blue colors have similar intensities in the real world scenes. For this refinement, he was awarded the Academy Award in 1964. The 70s and 80s added several improvements to the blue and green screens technique. A camera film would split its beam into two projects, with the help of an optical printer. This allowed the post processing to combine one frame at a time, one of the actor with one frame of the desired background. The Empire Strikes Back, one of the Star Wars saga movies, released in 1980s, made use of a quad optical printer, which allowed a faster and cheaper process. The brain behind this innovation, Richard Edlung, also received the Academy Award.

The Matte Effect

combine-one-or-more-images-into-a-single-final-shotThe Matte effect is the evolution of the Schüftan effect. It is used to combine one or more images into a single, final shot. It is mainly used to introduce the shots of the actors into fantastic or sci-fi background, such as spaceships, scenic vistas, planets or a field of stars. Unlike the Schüftan effect, which makes use of maquettes, the matte is relying on large sections of painted canvases.

Take the example of a group of actors that the director wants to film in front of a store, but with a massive city and sky above the roof of the store. This is achieved by filming the actors in front of the set, which is the store, which is has a huge matte canvas with the sky and the huge buildings placed behind. There would be two mattes placed behind the store, one in vertical position and the other in horizontal position. This is a classic example of a static matte.

This procedure was invented by the Lumière brothers, the fathers of cinematography. They used cut-out cards to obscure their backgrounds. For live action portions and moving background, they simply did not expose the background portions of the film. Later on, the cut-out background would be placed under the live action film.

A classic example of the use of this special effect, which was a novelty at 1880, is the Great Train Robbery, released in 1903. In one of the movie scenes, a train is seen placed outside the window of a ticket office. The technique is used in a different shot, as seen from the train’s window.

An advanced procedure is the travelling matte. It gives a bigger freedom of the composition on set, but it requires a more complex process. This process has been replaced in modern cinematography by the so called blue or green screen.

The Schüfftan Effect

bluescreen-effectEugen Schüfftan was the inventor of the process now known with his name, the ancestor of the travelling matte and the bluescreen effect. It was used mainly in the first half of the 20th century, to create the illusion that the actor is on a stage with a fantastic background.

The famous German cinematographer refined this effect when he was working on the Metropolis movie by Fritz Lang, released in 1927. There is evidence that other movie technicians made use of this effect before Metropolis, but not with the same success. Fritz Lang, as director, desired to introduce shots of skyscrapers and other fantastic buildings in the backgrounds of the scenes.

Schüftan used some special mirrors, which transformed the shots of the miniature skyscrapers into the huge and realistic background still appreciated to this day in the movie. He achieved this effect by inserting a plate of glass tilted at a 45 degree angle, right between the camera and the miniature skyscrapers. He used the viewfinder of the camera to outline the glass area where the actors would be placed. The outline of the actors would be translated onto a mirror, and the reflective areas would be removed, leaving once again transparent glass surface. When the glass with the actors would be placed in the original camera with the skyscrapers, the parts would blend in, and it would reflect the stage behind the actors. The actors would be placed a few metres away from the mirror, to create the desired size ratio between them and the proportions of the skyscrapers.

Many directors, including Alfred Hitchcock (in 1929, in Blackmail and The 39 Steps, in 1935) or Peter Jackson (in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, in 2003) used this process. Throughout the years, the process was replaced by the matte shots technique, allowing directors to match shots filmed at different times and adjust them in post production.

Special Effects Make-up

special-effects-make-upSpecial effects make-up, prosthetic makeup or FX prosthesis are the tricks that make-up artists use to create the illusion of advanced cosmetic effects. These techniques involve sculpting, molding and casting, helping actors look like monsters, zombies, with advanced skin plagues or scars or even aliens. John Chambers, the makeup artist responsible for movies like Planet of the Apes, The Island or Dr. Moreau or such TV shows as Star Trek, improved and made this technique into what it is today.

A few steps are required before the prosthetic. The process starts with taking a mold of the desired body part, either if it is the face, the hand or the leg, so that the make-up artist can create a base that will fit perfectly to the anatomy of the actor that will impersonate the character. These molds are made from silicone rubber, which are safe to use on the skin, or from prosthetic alginate. The alginate mold is inferior in quality, compared to the silicone rubber. This requires a second layer of plaster or fibreglass bandages, which will add support.

This is the process for creating the negative mold, subsequently filled with gypsum cement, usually Ultracan 30, to create the positive mold. The desired form of the design is thereafter sculpted on top of the positive mold, which will be applied on the face, hand, feet or any other body part of the actor. The edges of the mold are very thin, in order to create a seamless blend with the body part that it is applied onto.

The last part of the process states in taking two more mold parts. The final prosthetic, made of silicone, latex or gelatine is made from the negative. This part is applied on the face of the actor for the role. Its edges are blended seamless with make-up, and painted in the desired colors to create wounds, a natural skin tone or a fantastic look.