October 7, 2003
Opticals and Special Effects
Tonight we begin the discussion of the processes which
you, as the editor, will add to your edited film to create your final
released film -- opticals, for this evening.
An optical is, simply, any manipulation of the originally
shot image. Simple opticals such as fades and dissolves involve opening
or closing the aperture on an optical printer (or creating the same
effect in a computer). More complex effects, like green screen and 2D
and 3D modeling can combine material shot on set with images created
of locations that could never be obtained economically in the real world.
The Optical Process
handout sheet gives you an overview of the path that your original negative
would take to get to an optical.
the Indian shaman scene from NATURAL
BORN KILLERS, edited by Brian Berdan and Hank Corwin,
we will look at a wide variety of the type of opticals that are possible,
even using the film process. Note that even such a simple effect as
the subtitling of certain shots requires opticals. Other opticals in
the scene include green (or blue) screen, superimpostion, step printing
(in which a frame is printed more than one time to give a slow, stuttery
effect) black and white and short shots. In the still frame from tonight's
scene shown on the right, the wolf (actually seen out of a door over
Juliette Lewis' shoulder -- her face is cropped in this frame excerpt)
is inserted into the open door frame, most probably using the blue or
green screen process. In this technique, the principal photography took
the shot of Lewis against an open door which was filled with a solid
blue or green screen. In post-production, the optical house removed
every part of blue or green (being careful not to remove any from Lewis'
body or anywhere else in the scene) and replaced it with the howling
The why behind this type of optical is usually found in
our famous scene analysis. At one point in the scene does Harrelson
pass the point of no return, ending in the shaman's death? How does
Stone choose to show the nobility, wisdom and calm of the shaman versus
the confusion of the two dangerous runaways? Who is in control of the
In previous semesters, rather than using
NATURAL BORN KILLERS, I used a scene from MOULIN ROUGE as an example
of what can be done with opticals. I doubt that we'll have any time
to look at both tonight, so I thought I'd include a bit of discussion
of that scene here on the site. Click
here for that page.
also am handing out two pieces on THE
MATRIX. One of them, an interview with the film's editor, discusses
the overall process that the Wachowski brothers brought to the entire
process. The second handout is with John Gaeta, the visual effects supervisor,
obviously a crucial member of the team. If we get a chance, we'll take
a look at a seqence incorporating some of the signature effects that
they talk about in the interviews. If not, try and look at it for yourself.
In the sequence, Neo, the Keanau Reeves character, after
seeing a cracked mirror regenerate itself, sticks his finger onto it
and watches in horror as the mirror surface begins to crawl up his body.
This all takes place during a lightning storm from outside. Though the
lightning effects were probably practical (that is, done during production)
such effects are sometimes added in post-production. In the old days,
short two-frame bursts of white leader worked as a cheesy substitute
for lightning. Even these two-framers need to be done optically, since
no lab printer can handle shots that short, and still maintain accurate
There are a lot of other special effects used in film
today, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious. The shots we've looked
at tonight fall into the former category. Most films today use CGI (in
addition to traditional opticals), quite often in the latter category.
A picture of an optical film printer can be seen by clicking
Pages for ROSWELL (not available online)
- Over the next week or two you will be editing this sequence from
the television movie which has nothing to do with the television
series. One thing that we will start to learn through this process
is that, even though there are a string of different scene numbers,
these scenes are really all one -- at least in terms of the emotional
beats. Go through the pages (you're getting lined pages and most
of the facing notes pages -- the first one is, unfortunately, missing)
and come up with a scene analysis. Look at the footage. Does it match
- 35mm Optical Processes
- A small chart which describes the paths taken by a piece of negative
as it goes through one of two optical processes -- traditional film
or computer graphics.
- Compositing -- How It Works
- These images will be used in conjunction with my discussion tonight
to describe the technical process of compositing.
- Moulin Rouge Composite
- This excerpt from the Animal Logic FX house web site gives some
highlights of how the opening sequence that we looked at tonight was
- Interview with Zach
Staenberg, editor of THE MATRIX
- Staenberg talks about the process of editing the film with particular
emphasis on the special effects integration. This is how many CGI
intensive films work today.
- Interview with John Gaeta,
VFX Supervisor, THE MATRIX
- This link acually links out to the site where the interview exists,
so you can play the Quicktime movies associated with the interview.
Gaeta is credited with coming up with many of the stunning visual
effects in this film, including the freeze frame bullet shooting.
He talks about the process of thinking up, assigning, and executing
the effects. Very telling. The handout that you received in class
is an extraction from this full interview. Read this for more information
on specific shots and how they were created.
- Script Pages for
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
- For next week's discussion of using sound in films we will looking
at a scene from THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Here are the script pages for
that scene. If you'd like to download a PDF version of the script
here. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read this (don't worry,
you've probably got it)
- What Directors Look For In
- This article, reprinted from the Editors' Guild Newsletter, excerpts
interviews from a number of directors who tell us just what they are
looking for when they work with an editor. It's all about collaboration,
at least with the good directors who I've worked with.
- Mark Goldblatt talks about
the changes in editing
- In this interview, Mark talks about CGI, stylistic changes, and
many of the developments in editing over the years.
- Luis Mandoki Interview
What does a director look for in an editor?
- Anne Coates interviewed by Walter
- Coates, who cut OUT OF SIGHT as well as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and a
wide range of other films, discussing the process of sculpting. Here
is one quote from it:
The Moviola is sculptural in the sense of a clay
sculpture that you're building up from bits, whereas the Kem is sculptural
in the sense that there is a block of marble and you're removing bits.
Assignments for Next Class
- Read Chapters 10, 10A, 11 and 11A
- This should take you from opticals through the beginning of sound
prep, which will lead into our discussions next week.
- Cut Scenes 76-79 from ROSWELL
will being a week or two long exercise editing a sequence of scenes
television film directed by our own Jeremy Kagan. Here is a description
of the plot of the movie, from a submission from IMdB.
At an army reunion, Jesse Marcel still finds he is treated with derision
by his colleagues for claims he made years ago when serving in Roswell,
New Mexico. Marcel finds the reunion provides him with more information
and a fresh perspective on what happened. In flashbacks he remembers
his original discovery of a suspected crash site with unearthly metals,
his report and the following coverup. However as more witnesses confide
in him how much can he believe is true, a problem that becomes even
more pronounced with the input of the mysterious Townsend.
THAT YOU WILL BE CHANGING PARTNER ASSIGNMENTS THIS WEEK -- if you
were an editor last week you will be the director this week, and
- Read the scene from THE ENGLISH PATIENT
- Do a scene analysis in much the same way that we've been working
on your own scenes. Try and find the beat(s) in the scene. Where are
the turning points? What happens to Caravaggio and Muller during the
course of the scene?
(Page will open in a new window. Close it to return
to this page.)
Logic MOULIN ROUGE Web Site
- The CGI house that created many of the special effects for the film,
describes how some of them were done -- including the effect of zooming
out to a distant shot of Paris and then slingshotting back into the
Moulin Rouge. The site has some wireframe shots and, on the Paris
Vista page, an amazing Quicktime movie which shows part of the
opening sequence and then breaks it down into its components including
the wire frame, the textured wire frame, shadow passes, matte paintings,
live action blue screen, mattes and even the film scratch elements.
The components take a very long time to download but are really worth
- A very extensive site, full of articles about the special effects
work on many movies over the last five years. Interviews, detailed
behind-the-scenes, and more. Well worth the trip.
Blue Screen/Chroma Key Page
- This site wants to take the place of a book on the blue screen,
but it's really just a great place for a user and fan of the process
to put up links and talk about the process. Has some good descriptions.
Strokes for Different Folks
- It is possible to set up your Avid keyboard in a zillion different
ways and, as a result, a zillion different editors have done just
that. Here is a page with a few samples of how some editors have set
Tips and Tricks and other articles
- Post Producer Magazine has a number of articles on post-production
(on pre-pro and production also, for that matter) which might interest
you. Some article subjects are A+B roll editing, Avid Secrets, conforming
from an edit list, DV aspect ratios, sound for video, timecode, and
many many more.
a problem with the Avid???
- Avid Knowledge Center is a huge library that can provide you with
all sorts of solutions to questions and facts about the machine and
how to edit on the system. You need to register to get to many of
the features but they don't charge for it and you just have to fill
out a few short questions.
- Avid has created a really fantastic
Film Guide which basically details the entire film process from
pre-production through the editing, sound and negative cutting processes,
chock full of great illustrations. You can also find it on the
24P Web Site. Be careful -- it's a REALLY BIG FILE!!! You might
want to save it to your hard drive and print it out.