Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Three Pass Keying Tutorial

Before and After
After enjoying using KeyLight in Nuke to consolidate an edge matte, a core matte and a garbage matte with one node I decided to see if the same could be done in After Effects.  Unsurprisingly it is not quite as simple in AE but after reading the Foundry's user guide and a blog post from Mark Christiansen as well as watching a light wrap video tutorial by Jerzy Drozda Jr, I have found a workflow which meets my needs.

The footage I am using was captured directly from the EX1 to ProRes4444 using an AJA break out box for Rachel McLean's Scottish Arts Council project.  I now realise that 422 chroma sampling is all we were getting out of the camera but I'm sticking with 444 to avoid a rerender.

After Effects Flow Chart

This tutorial covers the whole three-pass keying process but doesn't discuss the principals of keying or KeyLight in any depth.  For a KeyLight tutorial, check out Andrew Kramer's video here.  A still frame of the footage is available here for anyone wishing to follow along.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

'A Stately Suicide' a short film in development.

In late September director of photography, Ian Forbes and his writing partner, Andy Smith came to me for advice on a screenplay they had been working on.  I liked the tone of the story immediately but it was clear to us all that it still needed some work.  I came on board to advise at version three of the screenplay and was asked to direct shortly after that.  We have since been through four iterations and made some drastic changes to the events of the story.

The volatile Lord Spencer must be kept under heavy sedation if he is to be placed in a nursing home without a fight.  When Hannah, his private nurse takes all of Spencer's medication, she must enlist Tony, a small-town waster to find street drugs to replace the prescription.

Hospitalfield house, the primary location for the film

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Burning Building Projection Test

This video shows the current state of my work on Colin Andrews' film for the Scottish Arts Council which is being produced at the Visual Effects Research Laboratory in association with North Sea Screen Partners.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Non-player Character test for 'In-World War'

I was approached by Graeme Turnbull of the Mill a few months ago to do some visual effects work on a film he is involved with called In-World War.  One of the problems was to create NPC's that had their faces pixelated in world space rather than on the cinema screen.  I struck upon the idea of mapping the pixelation onto their faces in 3D but it wasn't until I saw this interview with Digital Domain artist Justin van der Lek on fxguidetv that I realised how it could be done.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Falling Out - Developing the Screenplay

It has been about five months since I first mentioned to my writer Tom K McCarthy that I wanted to make a short film which focused on a small group of people dealing with the immediate aftermath of a nuclear blast in Scotland.  Last week he delivered the first draft of the screenplay.  There are several redrafts needed before we get to a shooting script but we both agree this draft holds the essence of the story we want to tell.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards' 'Factory Farmed' won the 2008 SCI-FI-LONDON's 48 hour film making challenge.

Gareth Edwards is a director / VFX artist currently making waves with his new film Monsters. He has an extremely integrated approach to directing and VFX, previsualizing how he can use effects to solve the production problems of working with a tiny crew and small budget.  Edwards better tells the story by adding elements from subtle signage to giant monsters and adds production value by recontextualizing 'run and gun' location footage and multiplying background actors.

This multidisciplinary approach must come at the risk of neglecting some production challenges in favour of others, however Edwards seems to be able to tackle each creative and technical objective from a storytelling perspective. This approach avoids the
problem, common in less well integrated VFX movies, of including effects which distract from the story rather than help telling it.

Listen to Gareth Edwards' fxguide interview with John Montgomery
Watch his fxguidetv interview with Mike Seymour here.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

My Welcome Intruders

I have recently finished the live action shoot for DJCAD animation undergraduates Daniel Borg and Michael Wilbourn's animation short 'My Welcome Intruders'. After seeing their great character designs and previous cg and match moving work I jumped at the chance to collaborate and came on board as live action director, editor and post production consultant.

Post production on Scott Davidson's music video

This week I finished post production on fellow masters student Scott Davidson's music video. Scott is a director with a background in documentary and drama and has recently been in talks with a local band to produce a budgeted music video for them. In the interim he directed a no budget promo video on which Ian Forbes was cinematographer and I was editor and colourist. The piece is a documentary realist slice of life in Dundee, something which Scott is in a unique position to capture as he seems to know everybody in this town!

The films of James Cameron: pushing the state of the art.

Digital Domain's work for Titanic seamlessly integrates live action, model work, cg and matte painting. They had to develop their own 3D motion tracking software to be able to do so.

I am using James Cameron as a study of a director pushing the state of the art of visual effects for my research presentation on the MSc. By charting his films from The Abyss through Terminator 2 and Titanic to Avatar we see how the needs of his films to show previously unseen imagery lead to some of the most dramatic leaps in effects technology in the past 20 odd years. This is preferable to industry lead developments which tend to reaffirm cinema's novelty aspects and disrupt our suspension of disbelief, cutting us off emotionally from the film and it's characters.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Constructing Meaning in the Collaborative Meaning of Film

This is an abstract I wrote for the research methods module of my MSc. The podcast I refer to can be found here.

Director Ron Howard (2007) describes his ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other rule’ as a way of fostering a creative atmosphere. He explains that if an objective for the film can be achieved as successfully using a collaborators idea as using his own, then it is a better choice. This is because ‘..they own that, their execution is going to be pure’ rather than guessing at an idea in the directors mind.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

3D Video Capture with Kinect

By combining the color and the depth image captured by the Microsoft Kinect, Oliver Kreylos has projected the color image back out into space and create a "holographic" representation of the persons or objects that were captured.

The possibilities of this technology are of great interest to me, could we see a shift back to deep focus small sensor cameras where the defocus is a post effect? If your focal plane could be dialed in after the shoot then producing an extremely shallow depth of field look could become a lot more practical. The same goes for other depth effects such as haze and atmospheric effects. What if depth compositing could eliminate the need for roto? Maybe I shouldn't hold my breath for that one.

The 8 camera projection project that I am working on for the Scottish Arts council could certainly have benefited from multiple depth witness cameras.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Akira 1988 - Cinematic Design Without Constraint

First three scenes of Katshhiro Otomo's 'Akira' 1988.

James Cameron's 'Avatar' 2009 has been cited as heralding a cinematic revolution, using cutting edge technology to portray an imagined reality in greater detail than previously possible. Over 20 years previously, Katsuhiro Otomo's 'Akira' 1988, showed us an example of world building based upon a cinematic reality which broke free from the physical constraints of live action film making. This was a film made for cinema, created with 16000 with large cels of animation designed for a 35mm print, requiring eight companies to provide the immense budget.
Akira's visual language owes a lot to the study of photographic realism. In the few scenes shown above, we see realistic use of spherical and anamorphic lens flares, interactive lighting, texture, motion blur, camera angles and focal lengths, perspective and parallax as well as incredible fidelity of detail.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Where's the Money Ronnie?

'Where's the Money Ronnie?' directed by Shane Meadows

I had an interesting class on the Animation & Visualisation MSc course this week. We were asked to critique short films or animations which made interesting use of story.

I chose 'Where's the Money Ronnie' because the choice to give conflicting information to the audience made what would otherwise be a simple linear narrative very rich and complex. The film is comprised of four police interviews featuring men who were involved in a series of violent incidents including armed robbery and murder. Each man, Jock, Ronnie, Benny and Zico give contradictory accounts which are sometimes supported and sometimes contradicted by the camera showing the events as they unfolded.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Monday, 4 October 2010

Nuke Projection test

I have been tasked with taking footage of a burning house filmed from 8 cameras, reprojecting it in Nuke and creating a 360° tracking shot from it. The project is due for completion in Jan so I have a while, but given that it took me a couple of days work to get a 3 cam projection of a coke can to look fake as hell, I'm a little aprehensive!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ain't No Disco: 24 Hour film project

Made by Matt and Max on the second week of MSc @ DJCAD, Dundee.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Script analysis check list from Judith Weston's Directing Actors

Judith Weston's book, Directing Actors, is the most helpful book that I've read as a director. As a refresher for script analysis on my upcoming short Insulting Incident I wrote myself a condensed version of her chapter on script analysis. Apologies to Weston for the butchery.

Use script analysis to uncover facts, images and objects held within the script. Use action verbs and questions generated through the process to guide actors to truthful performances. Don't set line readings or decide your playable choices ahead of time, instead gather all the possibilities to give you creative options while directing.


Remove stage directions that describe the characters inner life
, "longingly," "kindly," etc. These judgements encourage restrictive result direction.

Remove directions that depict blocking or business with no plot consequences in order to allow the actor's movement to be generated as a natural part of their performance.

Pay special attention to character's personal objects while ignoring any adjectives or adverbs. Ask questions, for example "What is the history of this object? Who brought it there?". Avoid making judgements, instead, explore all possibilities.

Look for backstory facts in the dialogue, they are part of the reliable skeleton of the script. Backstory facts mentioned in the direction should be considered as imaginative choices, to be used only if you find them helpful.

Directions that give us an image should be considered as potential clues to the themes of the movie.

Highlight directions that describe an emotional event but remove any descriptive words (e.g. "He searches desperately through the pile.."). Translate any psychoanalysing explanations ("He cannot look away") into emotional events ("He does not look away").

After removing unnecessary description you'll be left with very sparse, circled or highlighted stage directions which will contain clues to the physical and emotional life of the characters.


Study each characters lines and paraphrase their situation with the pronoun "I" rather than "she" to avoid making judgements about the character. Encourage any actor resisting a character to do the same, no person thinks they are really bad, everybody has their reasons for their actions.

Avoid "It's just...", "Obviously.." and "I assume..." snap judgements. You can't expect to inspire anyone when you minimise important events. Our artistic goal is to illuminate human events, not minimise them.

The technique of Three Possible. When you first read a script there will be lines that you don't understand. Don't rewrite, instead attempt to find out what they might mean. Non sequiturs and contradictions - even lines that at first you don't like - can be gold. Any time you don't like a line or it doesn't make sense, make a quick list of three things it might possibly mean. Don't try to find the right answer, just scribble down your ideas without evaluating them, eventually the insight you have been resisting will come.


1. You don't have to be creative to come up with them.
2. They are the skeleton of the script, its infrastructure.
3. They are magic keys to the subworld.
4. Both are great ways to give direction.
5. They help you avoid arguments with actors (they are indisputable).

Facts and Evidence. Facts are very powerful for actors - the magic "as if". The actor creates a simple set of circumstances, allows himself to believe them, and then functions as if he were in those circumstances. Some facts will be clear, others we will deduce by looking for evidence and following clues. "Facts" are events that have happened or circumstances that are true before the scene starts - the character's situation. "Events" are things that happen in the scene, but once they have happened they become facts. Don't forget - characters, like people, don't always tell the truth. They don't always know the truth. They may not admit the truth to themselves, and, of course, sometimes they lie.

Questions. Questions are the most important product of script analysis. Make a list of them. If a character says, "Why are you shouting?" instead of assuming that the second character is shouting, ask questions: Is the other guy shouting? Or does the first guy have a low threshold? Could it be that what actually bothers him is the content of that the second guy said? If you ever find yourself jumping to a conclusion, put it in the form of a question. If you find yourself saying "Obviously this has happened before," turn it right around and ask, "Has this happened before?". One question you should always ask is, "What in this scene is happening for the first time?". Turn negative judgements into questions. Rather than "Stephen is not a good employee" turn it into "Is Stephen a good employee?"

Script research - Sometimes a question will be answered, and a fact gleaned, from rereading a script. Or a new question will be generated.
External research - Always find out the meaning of a word or idea you don't understand.
Internal research - Your experiences, observations and understanding of life can help you connect to the script. Stories from your past are a great way to show actors your personal connection to the project.

Images and Associations - Unpack images from the dialogue and screen direction and use free association to uncover prevailing images personal to the character or thematic ones of the story.


History - Character biographies can be created by the actor or writer. These are facts that are not in the script so they should only be used if they stimulate the imaginations of the actors and catapult them into their sense of belief in the moment. Questions are the tool that gets us into imaginative back story.

What Just Happened - Useful if there is a gap between the previous scene and the current one. By filling in the moment-by-moment life of the characters before the scene started we create a sense that the scene is "in the middle of" something.

Objective/Intention/Need - Come up with as many candidates for each character's objective as you can think of. If you're not sure, don't anguish over it, jot down three bad ideas to get you started. If you are sure what the objective is, jot down alternatives anyway and consider the opposite of your original idea. Keep to one objective per scene per character unless a character has different objectives for different other characters.

Issues/What's at Stake/The Problem/The Obstacle - Don't allow yourself to think that any character is "just reacting", in other words leaving them with nothing at stake in the scene. A characters through-line or primary engagement is not always with the other person in the scene. The primary engagement may be with an image or memory, another person who is not present, or even an object. Making choices about whether the primary engagement in this scene is between the two of them, or elsewhere, will affect your directorial style.

Action Verbs - The action verb is what a character is doing to get what she wants. Sometimes a scene will work with only one action verb. Often verb changes when the "beat" changes. Translate result based direction into an action verb. For example, if you want the character to shout with a raised fist, perhaps the action verb you want is "to threaten" or "to incite" or even "to beg". Playing the opposite verb from what you would expect can have good results and loosen up an actor.

Adjustments - Using a metaphor or parallel by saying "let's pretend", "as if" or "it's like when" is a powerful tool. By adding and adjustment to an actors choice an undercurrent can be added to add depth to the performance. Some "quick fix adjustments"; parent/child, high status/low status, good news/bad news, bug/suppress.

Subtext - Using an adjustment to change subtext can help when a performance is getting heavy-handed, loosing its connection and humor or what is at stake.

Physical Life - Pay attention to the physical objects and activities of the characters' world. Objects interacting with the characters' can become characters in the scene. It is through their physical life that actors create characters who live in a different time period from their own.


Every scene has a central emotional event, something that happens between the characters who are interacting. It can be subtle, but if nothing happens in the scene, the scene doesn't belong in the script. A helpful way of identifying the event of a scene is by breaking it down into beats. The procedure in figuring out beats is first to identify every change of subject, no matter how brief, then we want to identify three major beats: beginning, middle, and end. Look at each beat, it's subject and who brings it up, this will help you then identify the major beats. Each major beat has a domestic event (what the characters know they're doing) and an emotional event (the emotional subtext). As a director you must create the emotional event to keep the audience involved in the story without forgetting the domestic event which gives the scene it's texture of life.

Don't be distracted by stage directions - concentrate on relationships. Replace adjectives with verbs, images, facts, events and physical life. Know what the movie is about, who the characters are, and be able to back up your ideas with evidence. Have alternatives, in case your favourite ideas don't work. Keep rereading the script and rethinking and deepening your ideas. The directions that I think most actors respond to best are the ones that show insight.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Thursday, 8 July 2010

'Meta' VFX breakdown

Visual effects break down of some shots from my short 'Meta'

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

'Meta' post-production workflow

This is the post-production workflow used in the making of my graduation short 'Meta'. Thanks to Ian Forbes for all of his help on workflow and colour grading.

Useful links;

Video Copilot has extensive AE tutorials including a comprehensive basic training course.

The guys as Popcorn Island have created an excellent script which allows you to import your FCP edit directly into AE with no rendering. Its called FCP2AE and saves you spending hundreds of pounds on Automatic Duck.

Stu Maschwitz has a great colour grading tutorial which covers some basic but extremely useful colour theory. It uses Magic Bullet Colorista but the concepts are the same for other grading tools.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Articles from 'Two Adverbs'

Found a couple of useful articles on, one on writing loglines and one on writing pitches.

Although these are written with screenwriters in mind I think they will help me with festival submittions etc.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Lightroom pics

I processed a 249 pic photo album in four hours yesterday thanks to Adobe Lightroom. Can't stand putting images online without processing and so have never made albums of more than 20 pics when using Photoshop. I love this program!!

My Time Based Art & Digital Film degree show catalogue page

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Hangrip solo shooter rig

Made this solo shooter rig using most of the parts from my Hangrip V8 kit and an extra baseplate and rail. Had to use the extra base plate to allow the lens to clear the follow focus mount. Haven't tested it in the field yet, my main concern at this point is that the weight of the shoot 35 cinefocus might cause it to shift. Might have to invest in some 15mm rails too....

Checkout for their excellent configurable camera grip solutions.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Scotsman Arts review: Dundee degree show 2010

Many thanks to Susan Mansfield for her complementary review.

'Here is a strong pack of young artists, not afraid to be large in their vision, to explore other worlds, utopian or dystopian, and to look back at our own world from the vantage point of another. And nowhere was this more clear than in Time-based Art, where a strand of ambitious narrative film is led by Matt Cameron, who seems to have enlisted most of his classmates as the crew of his short film, Meta. The result is a gritty sci-fi drama of parallel worlds and life-sapping addictions which would stand comfortably alongside professional low-budget films.'

Monday, 12 April 2010

After effects CS5 ....good things come to those too late!

The post production for Meta is just about coming to a close. 60 VFX shots in two and a half months; not bad I'd say! About half of those involved some level of rotoscoping, some shots so complicated they took days to do. And it's all finished just in time for Adobe to announce their magical new Roto Brush for After Effects which seemingly reduces time spent working on roto mattes to a small fraction of what they used to be.

Thanks Adobe, I'm sure I'll love using it next time but for now I'm more than ready to render and leave the edit suite.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I've been giving myself a wee Aristiotle refresher course to get myself tuned up for writing a treatment for a short film (a requrement for the NFTS directing fiction course) and came upon this useful resource;

I know it's not meant to be good practice to write by the rules rather than letting the story 'come alive' rada rada.. but reading this has so far helped focus my existing story ideas into a series of cause and effect events rather than a jumble of happenings. Here's hoping for success...

Friday, 26 February 2010

Post about post (and fatigue)

I've not posted in a while as I've been absolutely consumed prepping, shooting and now doing post on my graduation short 'Meta'. The film is a kind of grim take on 'Romeo and Juliet' meets the 'Matrix' ...on crack!

The pre-prodution process can be traced on our Tumblr site;

The shoot was done in two blocks, one over three days at six different locations and another over four days at a single location. It went very well, professional and fun despite the bitter bitter cold. I couldn't have hoped for a better crew and cast to work so hard for no pay!

The edit was locked by the second week of Feb and I am now up to my neck in the 60 VFX shots which have to be completed by the mid April. Before the degree show in May the sound design, music, VFX, colour grade, encoding and bluray burning all need to be completed for 'Meta' and 'Feet for Hands'. That's on top of getting a web site up and running, applying to the NFTS... maybe I won't be posting much more frequently after all!