Titanic Remembered

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Last week was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. At her launch, she represented a new, golden age of science and technology, luxury and opportunity. She was an unprecedented monument to man’s greatness… but only for five days. James Cameron’s 1997 film, technically groundbreaking though it was, emphasized the pride of enlightened humanism while ignoring the true lessons of history, and turned a true story of heroism into groundless class warfare.

According to Paula Parisi’s gushing book Titanic and the Making of James Cameron, the director would actually go out of his way to enforce the brutish behavior of his cast. “Stop helping people,” she quotes Cameron barking on the water-logged sinking set. “I hate that. it’s every man for himself.” Despite being overbearingly demanding in his pursuit of the physical accuracy of costumes, props, and sets, James Cameron would chastise extras for modeling the very sacrificial character that made the actual sinking of the ship iconic.

The legacy left by the Titanic and her passengers is much bigger than mere records broken by a gigantic ocean liner or a gargantuan Hollywood blockbuster. The cultural impact and character lessons of this event should not be forgotten or ignored. Last week The Vision Forum put on a centennial celebration of the lives and examples of those who lived and died, underscoring the Christian principles that we should remember.

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Drew Struzan and Navigating History

I’ve received a lot of comments, emails, and at last week’s NCFIC conference, lots of questions about the DVD cover for Navigating History. Lots of you have wanted to know who did it, how it was done, why it was done, and if I realized that it was copying Indiana Jones. In short, I painted this poster in an effort to communicate the vision of the first season of the Navigating History show, and I did my best to copy Drew Struzan’s style, partly because he set so many of the visual precedents that we associate with adventure, and partly as a tribute to him.

Navigating History: Egypt

Drew Struzan, now retired, was in many ways the most successful movie poster artist in the history of film. His technical ability was unmatched, and his aesthetic style was incredibly appealing, but his greatest skill was capturing the best elements of a film and making them stronger. He made adventures more adventurous, dramas more dramatic, and the posters were almost always better than the movies. When I became a man I put away childish things (and then watched as George Lucas made them into stupid, infantile things), but even so… I’ve got to admit that looking at the posters makes me want to watch Star Wars again.

Even though his work only involved creating advertising materials for films that were already complete, I believe that he had a significant influence on the direction of Hollywood in the 80s. Films with Struzan posters did well financially, and sequels, spinoffs, and imitations seem to follow the essence of the posters as much as the plots of the films. Also, in the same way that John Williams brought film scoring back to a symphonic and orchestral base after the improvisational synth soundtrack trends of the 70s, Struzan brought more of a fine-art sensibility of portraiture back to advertisements that were becoming crude and intangible.

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Navigating History: Completed

Well, it’s been a busy year filled with many different projects, most of which are winding up at the moment. Earlier this week, we finished the very last of the Navigating History: Egypt masters and proofs, and here’s the first look at the Navigating History: Egypt materials. As you can see, there’s the DVD set with three discs filled with extras, a 220 page book packed with full color photos, and a 39″ timeline that covers 4500 years of history.

You can read more about all the bits and pieces over at Western Conservatory, and here is the new trailer, complete with finished color grading, HD, and spoilers:

It’s been a long time coming, but everything should start shipping in a week or so. Take a look at the cover art for the DVD case and book and let me know what you think.

The Board

Over the last few years, I’ve touched on screenwriting rather infrequently. I’ve discussed theme, how to write a simple pitch treatment, and analyzed other people’s stories, but most of the time, I’ve focused on color grading, computer gear, and cameras. It’s a little unbalanced, because post-production is such a small part of what makes films great.

If you haven’t read my article on Three-Act Structure yet, you should. This post will make more sense if you do, and so will the three books on screenwriting that I recommend.

I’m a big fan of Syd Field and his gamechanging book Screenplay, which was published in 1979. Prior to that, there wasn’t that much material on how to write movies, and what there was hadn’t been too specific on details. Field is the one who really nailed down the concept of plot points being part of a three act storyline.

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Homeschool Dropouts Production Notes

A common idea in modern journalism is that for a documentary to be “fair,” its creator must have no biases about the subject in question. Even if this were remotely possible from an ideological standpoint, the filmmaker would still have to know nothing and care nothing about the subject or message of his film until its completion. It is a ridiculous concept.

As many readers know, the Botkin family is extremely pro-home-education, and has been since the early ‘80s, and so when we began work on Homeschool Dropouts in August, we were already familiar with the history and current state of home-education movement.

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Shooting and Posting on the 5DmkII

As I’ve mentioned before, we shot the documentary Homeschool Dropouts on the 5DmkII in August, and posted it during September. It was a great learning experience, since it was our first time shooting video on a dSLR. Below is the worst shot from the project – all of the 5D’s image issues are visible in it. All of them can be avoided in-camera and all but one of them can be repaired in post (not counting the awkward composition).

Above is the final image as it was rendered from After Effects. Firstly, we have repaired the exposure. This was a very early shoot, before we started using the Magic Lantern firmware, and without its live histograms and zebra bars, getting the right exposure was tricky. Even though the camera only saves an 8-bit image, there is lots of room for correction, and since it comes from a 14-bit sensor, there is a surprising amount of latitude recorded.

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Photoshop Color Tutorial

Ok, so I recorded a video tutorial of a few Photoshop tools as an experiment, and I think it turned out well enough to post here. It’s just the basics of color correction using levels and hue/saturation, with some background on how those two tools work. Perhaps in future I’ll get more into using them in After Effects to adjust video. Also, I covered how to use the channel mixer to get richer black and white images from color pictures, and how RGB images store color data. Have a look.

Let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in future tutorials, and I’ll see what I can do. And, for those of you who would like to post this video on your own blogs, you can use this embed code:

<embed src=”http://www.isaacbotkin.com/mediaplayer.swf”
width=”600″ height=”450″ allowscriptaccess=”always”

Men O’ War on Newtek.com

A few weeks ago Kurtis Harris contacted me about Men O’ War. After discussing how the film was made, and the role that Lightwave had in its production, he asked if he could post an interview with me on the Newtek site. I feel very honored to have a profile posted there, and you can read it here. There some information mentioned there that I didn’t post about here, so it should be of interest to the animators among my readers. In other news, I’ve also posted a larger version of the video for download here (50mb xvid).

Men O’ War: Music

The final touch to the project, which pulls everything together and does more to communicate the mood of the scene is the musical score. The music needs to match the scene, both visually and emotionally, and also fit in with the sound effects and dialog. Our score was (unfortunately) created without any real instruments whatsoever, and composed, performed, and mixed by three people on a single computer running Cubase.

Rather than recording the analog audio feed from our electric piano, the computer recorded the MIDI signals created by each keypress. This enabled us to go back into a performance and adjust each note’s position, length, velocity, and expression, or move them up and down across the scale, or change their tempo. This is particularly important for adjusting each track to better match the instrument that is playing it.

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Each of these performances sits in a track, and can also be manipulated on the timeline, as well as copied and pasted, extended, shortened, and affected by filters without destroying the MIDI data. At any time, any note can still be changed. We now have all the parts for the orchestra laid out and assigned, and it’s time to attach instrument sounds to them.

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