April, 2017

Catch-Up Time!

Such a long time since the last bulletin; mainly down to being busy working but also, for the last 6 months, having been in recovery and rehab from an operation to free a few trapped nerves and rid me of some unwanted bone growth in my back. 

The enforced time away from work has given me the chance to evaluate my life and how I see the future and, after nigh on 40 years in the Industry, I have decided to take a step back and leave the ‘big uns’ to the next generation, my sons and heirs, Stu and Alex. I’m happy to do “dailies” and the odd VFX/MoCo/Mix & Overlay special but the long duration major features are no longer for me.

I’m also continuing to provide Equipment Hire and offering System Design and Build services

Job wise, the last couple of years has been busy time for the whole family:

For me much of 2015 was spent on “Jungle Book:Origins” with the lovely Andy Serkis directing. Stu operated on the 2nd Unit and we both ended the production with a glorious location shoot in South Africa. Alex, in the meantime, was out in Austria and then Rome on “Spectre” 2nd Unit.

After their work on Tarzan with David Yates, Stu and Alex were asked to do the Main Unit of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. I managed to steal a few days on VFX units and briefly stood in for Dan Hartley on the 2nd Unit.

Apart from a few days for “Doctor Strange” on their VFX Unit, my next ‘biggie’ was Robert Zemeckis’ “Allied” along with Alex as my Assistant/Splinter Unit Operator. Based at the Gillette Building in West London (a fun commute in the mornings!) there were a fair few locations in and around London ending up in the Canary Islands for a week of Sun and Sand!

From there Alex and I jumped straight onto Stephen Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” which started with a couple of months of Motion Capture work. It was the most complex job I have ever had to setup - there were two Motion Capture ‘Volumes’, the main shooting area where all of the action took place, the other (the V-Cam Tent) where the Director could review the shot ‘footage‘, adjust the positions of the virtual cameras and select material he wanted to send to the Cutting Rooms. To facilitate the quickest workflow of all the information, myself and Viktor Lonek (my Qtake Guru)  adapted the Qtake Server system to allow the four picture streams being recorded in the main volume to be, almost instantaneously, available for viewing and playback in the V-Cam Tent and, along with the material from the V-Cam Tent, to the VFX Dept and the Cutting Rooms. This last step in the chain was even more complex as the files produced by Qtake have both a different file format than that required by the Cutting Rooms (ProRes .MOV vs AVID .DNx) and a different naming protocol. So, all of the material recorded on our Qtake systems had to be transcoded and renamed automatically, on the fly, before it got in the Cutting Room’s folders.

Again, I have to express my huge thanks to the guys at In2Core (the Qtake developers) for all their help in modifying the software to make all this possible - there were days when Viktor and I would receive up to three new versions of the application in response to our requests for it to do ‘just one more thing’.

Unfortunately, by the end of the Motion Capture section part of the shoot, I was bent virtually double with the problems in my back, so Viktor continued on the ‘Real World’ shoot - renewing the relationship with Stephen and Janusz Kaminski he’d developed on Bridge of Spies in Berlin.

Alex then went to assist Dave Deever on the UK shoot of “Transformers 6” whilst Stu worked with Andy Serkis again on “Breathe”

Whilst I was laid up recovering, Stu and Alex started on “Murder on the Orient Express” at Longcross Studios. Another pretty exacting job - all shot on 65mm film cameras with a mixture of PAL and NTSC video taps - starting on a very cold, wet and dirty backlot set covered in shredded paper ‘snow’.

George Zador ran the 2nd Unit for us before he was asked to travel out to Belfast to work with the “Game of Thrones” VFX/Motion Control Unit taking one of our rigs set up for Motion Control triggering, with him.

As I write, Alex is in Scotland helping Luke Haddock with some Splinter Unit work and Stu has been doing Artist Test shoots for “Fantastic Beasts 2”, due to start shooting in the summer.

I have been doing a little teaching - I was invited to go along to De Montfort University in Leicester as a Guest Lecturer, talking about the Film Industry and I ran a Video Assist Assistant’s Course for the Guild of British Camera Technicians (GBCT.) Now I’m updating the Qtake rigs to the latest software versions as well as renewing some of the hardware - and still finding little caches of dried out paper ‘snow’ from the MOTOE set hidden deep in the kit!

January, 2015

I would really like to say that the 20 month gap since the last update was purely down to the pressure of work - but I can’t. There have been a few nice jobs, both Operating and/or Kit supply but it has been just laziness for the most part, the joy of becoming a Grandfather for the first time on the rest.

The last 4 months of 2013 were taken up with Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” at Pinewood Studios.

Stu and Alex were with me, initially as Assistant and Trainee, respectively, but then Stu went to Operate on the 2nd Unit and Alex became my Assistant before he too, stepped up to Operate on the 3rd Unit. It was back to 35mm Film cameras again but with HD taps. After ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ I retired the old CinelogX SD systems and now, apart from a few KiPro mini and Atomos Samurai recorders for ‘Run & Gun’ shooting, I’m using QtakeHD rigs.

2014 started busy for us all, mainly on split/pickup/test units for various productions. I went in to Leavesden for a day’s MoCo test on ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ and left 3 weeks later; most of that time spent with their 3rd Unit.

In March I was asked my availability for ‘Testament of Youth’, a low budget production being shot in the Derbyshire/South Yorkshire area. They were looking for crew that were based outside of the M25 ring to take advantage of the tax breaks available to non ‘London-centric’ shoots. At the time I was in the running for another production that, if it had happened, would have clashed. So I put Alex (then based in Stoke) up for the job - which he got! We put together a nice, compact twin KiPro Mini rig (with de-mountable recorders for Run & Gun use) for him with a couple of 17” monitors. It was Alex’s first outing as the Main Unit Video Assist Operator, which he did admirably. It was a little ironic that the production I was holding out for actually went with another Operator, so I ended up doing the odd day here and there as Alex’s 2nd Unit Operator!

Much the same situation arose on ‘Tarzan’ during the Summer when Stu was asked to Operate on the Main Unit, with Alex as his assistant. Dan Hartley handled the 2nd Unit but I, again, was doing short stints on 3rd/Split/VFX/MoCo units for Stu.

In August, I worked on ‘Sense8’, a Netflix original shoot directed by the Wachowski siblings. Shooting in locations all around the world I was fortunate to get the London gig - if you can call 7 long days straight, mostly nights, on location in East London “fortunate”.

Apart from that and a few days providing ‘Poor Man’s’ process (Back Projection) for ’24 Live Another Day’ I was a gentleman of leisure, living off the proceeds of the ‘Tarzan’ equipment hire and enjoying time with the latest addition to the family - my Grandson Max, born in June.

So here we are now, January 2015. I’m sending out “Happy New Year - Give us a job” eMails, Stu has already been offered a picture, but not starting until the summer and Alex is about to start on Bond24: ‘Spectre’ as Assistant to the VA Op on the 2nd Unit.

Again, I’m hoping to be too busy in the months ahead to keep this up to date. We shall see.......

April, 2013

A little while since the last update - which is good since it means 2012 into 2013 turned out to be busy after all.

Things started to pick-up on the eve of my daughter, Laura’s, wedding in mid-August with a call

from ‘Jack Ryan/Maryland’. They were asking if I was available for the show but, only a few days

earlier, I was asked to keep myself available for ‘All You Need is Kill’ (released as ‘Edge of Tomorrow’) at, what for the last decade or so, had become my second home, Leavesden Studios.

As it transpired, ‘Jack Ryan’ needed someone at short notice to test some HD kit and prep’ it for shipping to Moscow for a week’s location work there. They were going to use a local VA Op but,

because the shoot entailed a lot of vehicle to vehicle shooting with HD Video Links, the local guy

didn’t feel confident about using the new kit without a longer prep time than was available - so I

got to go on only my second foreign location in over 10 years (the other one was In Georgia, USA for X-Men:First Class) It was great fun and the job was made so much easier by my two-man Russian VA team of Alexi & Alex.

And then it was back to the UK, put away the HD kit and breakout the SD, CinelogX rigs for

‘All You Need is Kill’ (released as Edge of Tomorrow).  It was good to get back to Leavesden - if a little confusing at first. The layout is still near enough to that of the Potter years so that it’s recognisable and familiar but altered enough to confuse with new passageways where once were brick walls, and vice-versa.

‘AYNIK’ took me and my boys (Stu & Alex) up to Christmas and, after an 8 week hiatus, on until

mid-March. Since then there have been a couple of days testing for a show due to start later in the year and the odd commercial. Mainly I’ve been back in the workshop putting together a new Qtake rig - this time an all-singing-all-dancing Studio rig for Multi-camera and 3D use - to complement my existing Portable system.

It looks like it’s going to be yet another of those years - lots of productions in the planning but not until August/September time. There are some smaller productions about for the summer but no one’s calling yet. So, please, fingers crossed that I’m too busy to update this section of the site for a another few months yet!

July, 2012

Well, what a weird year this has been so far. Apart from a three week shoot on Roland Joffe’s “The Lovers” it’s all been very, very quiet. A number of possible jobs fell at the last fence with Director’s and D.o.P’s choosing other VA Op’s despite long proffered promises from the UPM/Line Producers that the jobs “are yours”. Can’t complain really; the choice of Op is in the purview of the Director and/or Cameraman but it does rankle when you’ve been planning around those jobs both time-wise and financially. Never mind; promising times ahead, lots of jobs starting - same as was said last year. Oh, and the year before that...............

At the start of 2011, I spent a couple of weeks in my workshop concentrating on upgrading my SD kit; installing new computers, bigger hard drives, making the rigs more modular for easier location shipping, investing in new bits and pieces of kit only to find that every job I’ve done since has been HD. And so all the nice shiny new SD rigs got pushed to the back of the workshop and, covered in blankets, have stayed there ever since. The HD kit, in the meantime, has had a huge injection of investment in both time and money. New monitors, switchers, cables, QtakeHD software, all the odds & sods converters and adaptors required to, essentially, bring the HD system up to the same kind of level of functionality as I and my clients are used to from the SD set-up.

Now, with the HD rigs at their peak, every job I’ve been offered, apart from ‘The Lovers’, in the last few months are all shooting 35mm Film. Oh well, “In with the Old, Out with the New”, “What goes around, comes around.” Ummm.... any more pithy old sayings, anyone?

February, 2012

So, finally, after many false starts and excuses - the new website is up and running. A new, crisper layout, up to date info and images and, hopefully, easier to update. We will see on that last one - if I’m busy, will I have time to update? If I’m not, there will be nothing to update it with!

Just finished on “Under The Skin” a Jon Glazer film that, contractually, I’m not allowed to say too much about (Look it up on IMDb) Shooting in Scotland for 8 weeks prior to Christmas and another 3 in the New Year at Elstree Studios and the Underwater Studios in Basildon, it was one of the most physically and technically challenging projects I’ve been involved in in a long time though, as is so often the case, one of the most rewarding.

On the physical side the highlights(?!) were:

Climbing several hundred feet in ankle deep mud, with all the kit, in the pouring rain, pre-dawn, to shoot all day, in the rain, and then, in the dark, slip & slide our way back down to load the kit onto boats to ship back to the mainland. (Do I sound bitter?)

Trekking into a forest in a blizzard again in ankle deep mud (this time hidden by the snowdrifts) again with all the kit only to be evacuated when the wind started to gust up to 100mph. I think the Office took the RED ALERT warnings from the Met Office in the same vain as “Red sky at night; shepherd’s delight”

Technically, the challenge was to provide the smallest possible rig capable of recording 8 cameras and allow the playback of any individual camera. The original thought was to use a Dual Channel Qtake system, recording 4 cameras (via a Quad Split) to each channel. This would require the use of a MacPro tower which, because the whole system - Video Assist, DIT, Camera Tech station, Sound kit as well as the tech’s, Director, D.O.P. & 1st AD -  had to fit in the back of a minibus, was rejected on size grounds.

Fortunately I was already in the process of building a portable MacBook Pro based 4x 2D or 1x 3D camera QTake rig in a Pelicase along with all the monitoring and switching I would need to service a Unit from the case. Based on this I added a few more gizmo’s into the case to allow two Quad Split images to be ‘muxed’ into a Side-by-Side image (ala 3D) to be recorded onto a single channel. The Qtake software then allowed me to demux the SbS to the two separate Quad images and then down to individual cameras. Obviously there was a distinct drop in resolution between the original HD inputs and the recorded, individual, splits but for Video Assist use this was more than acceptable.

The 8 camera shooting in the minibus was a significant part of the shoot but not all of it. Much of the rest was on a couple of ARRI Alexas. Such was the budget on the production that my rig had to double for both the minibus and exterior sequences. As with most of my kit, the Pelicase rig runs on 12volt so can run from battery if need be. Fortunately John Collie, the Gaffer, always made sure I had 240V ac wherever we were (even in the ankle deep mud!) I was initially concerned about how the rig would stand up to the rain, snow, wind blown spray from the sea, mud and all the other delights the Highlands can throw at you during the winter. It survived the whole shoot with little more than a few rusty screw heads despite being dropped into the mud a few times when my wellies encountered an unexpected ice sheet or puddle. What was more gratifying was that one of the Alexas and a RED Epic both succumbed to the weather at one point whilst my rig just powered on through.

I’d like to say thank you to Vlado and his team at Qtake and Viktor Lonek of CEVARS in Prague for the great support they gave me in setting up the software to match my requirements. Their rapid response to some of my requests was exemplary and the likes of Blackmagic, AJA and, even, Apple could learn a lot from them.