The eDIT Filmmaker's Festival is reported by Johannes Wolters, where cinematography, editing and vfx flow together in greater context.
Being back in my hometown, Cologne, Germany, and looking back at those three days at Frankfurt, capital of the German and European banking business, is like remembering a fantastic dream. While outside the financial world has been in uproar, the world of international filmmakers met inside the big Cinestar Metropolis Cinema in downtown Frankfurt to celebrate movies, postproduction, the arts of editing, cinematography, visual effects and animation.
For the 11th time, the eDIT Filmmaker´s Festival opened at the end of last month, celebrating the art and science of the moving image. Presented by the State of Hessen and the Hessian Office for Private Broadcasting and New Media (LPR Hessen) and sponsored by the City of Frankfurt am Main the organizers of the festival were able to present a stunning programm with fantastic lectures, panels and screenings.
New international partners teamed up with eDIT: the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and IMAGO, the European Federation of Cinematographers, joined the festival and contributed several events. And while the longtime collaboration with the Visual Effects Society came to an official end (the Society is now joining the fmx event at Stuttgart), the eDIT festival managed to get Tom Atkin, founder and longtime general manager of the VES., as a co-director for the festival at Frankfurt. So one can expect, that in the future eDIT will continue to present major visual effects movies. From 2009 on, there will be also an extra day devoted to the art of cinematography hosted by IMAGO. The goal of the eDIT was defined to create an awareness of the art of moviemaking both for the industry and the audience. As Sebastian Popp, the founder and co-director of eDIT explained, the industry has to face heavy changes regarding traditional jobs in moviemaking. Editing, for instance, will become more and more part of previs. And the director of photography has to collaborate heavily with the vfx department. The traditional division of responsibilities, therefore, is changing right now quite dramatically. And the industry has to deal with that. So the festival will expand their presentations in more and more fields of postproduction to keep track of these modifications. And this years eDIT gave an excellent foretaste of what you can expect.
After the opening gala and introductory remarks, ACE and IMAGO presented two special awards to two living giants of filmmaking: cinematographer Guissepe Rotunno and editor Anne Coates.
IMAGO created the IMAGO Tribute especially for the filmmaker´s festival. The first tribute was presented to Rotunno, AIC ASC. Nigel Walters, president of IMAGO, described Rotunno as the emperor of world´s cinematographers, to which all have to pay tribute.
The founding father of IMAGO, Luciano Tovoli AIC ASC, gave a charming Italo-English speech about his friendship with Rotunno before handing the heavy prize to the moved DP. The director of photography of such legendary films as Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti,1960), The Leopard (Visconti, 1963) and Amacord (Federico Fellini, 1973) worked with other directors such as Stanley Kramer, Bob Fosse, Sydney Pollack Terry Gilliam and John Huston.
The "eDIT 11. Filmaker's Festival Honors" was presented to "Lady" Coates, ACE and member of the Order of the British Empire. Last Year's honors recipient Tom Rolfe,co-editor of such films like Taxi Driver, The Horse Whisperer, Heaven´s Gate or Heat, gave a laudatory speech, in which he mentioned Wuthering Heights by William Wyler as the key experience of young Coates. A young and beautiful Laurence Olivier stole her heart, for whom she has a crush since. So instead of becoming a trainer for race-horses, Coates wanted to become a film director. Through a studio, which concentrated on religious films, she got her foot into the business, after that she got the chance to work as an assistant to Reginald Mills, the editor of the wonderful films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Through that, she became the once in a lifetime chance to work with the striking handsome David Lean. Her golden ticket was the editing of David Lean´s epic classic Lawrence of Arabia for which she received the Academy Award. For five decades Coates worked with the finest film directors of the world. For David Lynch she edited The Elephant Man (1980), for Sydney Lumet she worked on Murder on the Orient Express. She edited for John Sturges, Carol Reed, Adrian Lyne, Ronald Neame, Sir Richard Attenborough and many others. The audience of the eDIT Gala together with Coates were surprised by three video-greetings, organized by the ACE: director Steven Soderberg, for whom Coates edited Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich, stated that if anybody would have asked him about a greeting for the Queen of England or the President of the United States, he would be too busy. "For Anne. V. Coates, however, I am not too busy, because Anne Coates knows more about the art and the craft of film editing then probably anyone walking the earth. What I loved most about Anne was, that she brought no preconceptions to the editing room. Every film was a brand new experience. So she was open minded, she was passionate, she was intuitive, she was methodical. I remember countless evenings where I would leave and Anne would stay behind and working through the night just trying to make the film better. She is an inspiration!"
Clint Eastwood, who starred in In the Line of Fire, told the audience, that the experience working with Coates is still one of the fondest memories of his cinematic life: "I have been a fan of Anne since David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and all the other films she did with all the great directors. I ran into some Secret Service guys the other night, [and]they were raving about this special scene, where I am supposed to make out with Rene Russo and all the parts are falling off. That seemed to get a big charge out of them! And whatever they are happy with I am happy with!"
The superficial knowledge of the audience, of clients or producers were a recurrent theme in most of all lectures. The quality of the work in postproduction depends on many elements. On some you might have influence to turn out for the better but on some you simply have to suffer. The demand for cheaper budgets, less and less time for doing postproduction and most of all the inexperience of people in charge of productions together with the rapidly changing developments in visual effects or any other branch of postproduction lead to great irritations.
Postproduction for Television
Randy Roberts, supervising editing producer of all Law and Order installments and current president of ACE, gave a great insight in the monumental amount of work each episode of the series needs. You could see the team on set, shooting on film in New York, sending the material to L.A., and then see grown-up foley men splashing water with tennis rackets and zipping up several bags to "sweeten" the needed sound for each single second of the show. All together worth admiring and also very amusing. Again, I was surprised to learn that the cost of one episode of Law and Order almost equals the total budget of the Academy Award-winning The Counterfeiters.
Bill Kinder presented two speeches about editing and postproduction for animated films at Pixar Animation studios. He offered an unbelievable insight into the work of the leading animation studio and showed how everything comes together in the end in his department: sound, sound effects, music, animation/visual effects crossovers and all the other parts of the process for animated films. Like the famous line in Casablanca, "Everybody comes to -- Bill," in this case.
Dan Sarto (co-founder and co-publisher of VFXWorld) put up a series of screenings of short films from the Ottawa Animation Festival, from AWNtv and a selection of animated films by Andreas Hykade and Soren Fleng. Sarto explains his works in a humble way: "I like doing these screenings. I like showing short films, I like people looking at those shorts. I think it gives people a lot. In a short period of time they can see a wide range of styles and stories and a range of filmmaking that, I think is very inspirational. And these are films you usually can´t see. You might see them hopefully on the 'net, you might see them at festivals, but usually you don´t have the chance to see them."
Sarto also hosted a panel about Storytelling through Animated Short Films with famous animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi and animators Andreas Hykade and Soren Fleng. Bendazzi bemoaned a certain movement in international storytelling. The indefinite quality of a story has been lost over the last decade. During the existence of the Iron Curtain, the Communist countries produced many feature films and many short films using metaphoric film language to put revolutionary messages against the regime into those films. The Western approach to storytelling has been much more direct. Now the metaphoric film language is almost vanished. Bendazzi asked the new filmmakers to know their filmic weapons better. "You need that intellectual sparkle. We need an intelligentsia. We need someone like Jean-Paul Satre, who says that animation is as important as litterature or poetry!" The panel discussed also the need and the addiction to money in producing short animated films. Again today, the absence of people like Clare Kitson in the 1980s, who worked for Channel Four in England and produced the early films of Aardman and Nick Park was heavily bemoaned. Giannalberto later on emphasized his opinion in a lecture about the work of Clare Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff and their Pin Screen animation. The audience was showed the classic films like Night on Bald Mountain, The Nose and Pictures at an Exhibition. Again Bendazzi stated that the audience can be caught up by following the "becoming" of action with no direct storytelling at all. "But keep in mind, you have to find something in common with the audience!" Bendazzi told the ardent students.
Do you remeber the fantastic big whales, floating gracefully at the big walls of the Beijing Olympic stadium at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games 2008? Do you remember the animated tai chi figures turning into a cloud of flowers? Did you know, that these animations were developed at Düsseldorf, Germany at the congaz visual media company? Lars Barth, Uwe Malorny, Daniel Wichterich and Christoph Schmitz presented their work at eDIT. The animations have been seen by estimated two billion people worldwide. The young talents created those images together with the media artist Andrée Verleger and found a great admirer in Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who hired them for the Olympic job. For the big 360-degree projection, the studio created 21 filmbits to be screened with 63 projectors. One film screened simultaneously by three projectors.The greatest challenge was the cultural misunderstandings during the production of the animation. The team animated small group of fish and several dolphins to accompany the big whales, but the Chinese team disliked those very much. They thought congaz was trying to say that the whales are the Americans, the dolphins are the Europeans and the small fish represented the Chinese people. So congaz had to dismiss everything but the whales.
One of the best presentations of the eDIT was Craig Barron's speech about the history of the art of matte painting. He gave an overview of the development of this wonderful art from early Citizen Kane, which has by the way more effects shots than the 1978 Star Wars, to the most recent use of digital matte painting in films such as Zodiac. He showed marvelous pictures of the work of Peter Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock and himself. An extraordinary insight into one of the oldest and most wonderful arts of visual effects.
Barron's introduction to the screening of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times presented the comedian in a way that he could be appreciated by a modern audience. Chaplin's superb use of every trick of the trade and the clever visualization by Barron of how Chaplin did it -- for example, the hilarious roller-skate-sequence in the department store, were really eye openers.
And speaking of eye-openers: Andrew Chapman from Double Negative gave a speech about the various effects Guillermo del Toro used in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
Del Toro himself stated in an interview that in a genre movie like Hellboy, he believes that texture is text, that form is content. "We are illustrators!" Del Toro declared, "and in an illustrated book, the artist is as important as the tale. And therefore I think in genre-filmmaking the texture and the color is as much part of the story as the screenplay. Cannot be dismissed one or the another. So for instance puppeteering, if you don't do the puppets, it's a different movie.I can´t separate the pupeteering from the CG animation. When I go on and direct animation, the animators want to kill me. And I told them in Hellboy II: 'You are going to kill me, because there is very little money, and I am gonna demand photographic perfection.' And they laughed. And then three months later I said it again, and less people laughed and like a week before we finished everybody was [with] black eyes and unshaven and I said, 'Your guys hate me!' but nobody laughed anymore. I am obsessive about 'that should move a little more realistic[ly]!' because I come from animation too. CG is a very good tool. People tend to think good tool, bad tool. But there is no bad tool. Its as stupid to try screwing a screwdriver with a hammer. It doesnt make the screwdriver better as a hammer. It just depends on the task at hand."
Academy Award winner Joel Hyneck (What Dreams May Come) spoke about the problems bringing alive a terra-cotta army and a selfhealing emperor made of terra-cotta too, but with a very burned face inside.
That presentation was only topped by the performance of Academy Award winner John Nelson, who presented the wonderful art and effects of Iron Man, for which he probably will get nominated again. After both lectures, you simply would have to become a visual effect animator. But Nelson's lovely wife explained afterward, that you have to keep in mind, that you pay a heavy price for being involved in this business. "John comes back home after virtually leaving for six months or so and then he can´t stop giving commands! But I worked in the business also, so I know how to deal with that!" she said laughing.
Alex Lemke, visual effects supervisor, presented his work on the upcoming German adventure-fantasy movie Krabat. Based on the famous book by German author Ottfried Preussler, who won many prizes for it, amongst them the European children book award. Young orphan Krabat lives in the 17th century and finds his way to a dark mill, where he learns the art of millering and witchcraft together with 11 other boys. Marco Kreuzpaintner who directed Trade, produced by Roland Emmerich, starring Kevin Kline, returned to Germany to helm Krabat. Claussen+Wöbke+Putz Filmproduction known for their work on the Academy Award-nominated Jenseits der Stille or German mainstream productions such as Anatomy with Franka Potente, were assigned to do the visual effects.
Lemke joined as visual effect supervisor, having previously worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sweeney Todd and Troy. The budget for Krabat was 11 million €, less than 10 percent from that was spent on the visual effects. Neither the director nor the editor Hans Jörg Weißbrich had any experience of dealing with an visual effects film, which had "certain" consequences during the postproduction of the films. Keep in mind that if you shoot a movie in the German language, that kind of budget, 11 million € is already on the edge of recouping the money, due to the limitations of selling the picture internationally. And this has also affects the work of German visual effects houses, because of general funding reasons there is only very little money left for vfx. Lemke had to deal with only two month preparation time before the shooting started. With 81 shooting days (more than Iron Man!), on several locations in Romania, Germany and Austria, Lemke was able to oversee the whole shooting process. Being in charge, he put up a specific team of various artists for the show and kept the work inside Germany. They also put up the technical equipment, that was needed for the task.
In the end, 388 visual effect shots were created for the film in 2K resolution, about 24 minutes of screentime. "Funny thing is," mentioned Lemke, "that many German critics wrote, that it was nice to see that Krabat didn´t have much vfx!" Also some scenes of the transformation from the boys into ravens were already planned during preproduction. The director wanted total freedom in shooting the film. A short chain of command was needed and a team of experienced artists, because they had to deal with difficult charatcer animation and cloth simulation. "It's always the people, that bring the most benefit to the project, not the location, not the hardware, not anything else!" stated Lemke. "We tried to put out the best quality we could. One thing I am very proud of, is, that we were rendering our stuff in linear fload internally. This allows you to do color grading on a very extreme level and some other changes later on, that otherwise would be very hard to do. The other thing I am always interested in is higher image resolution to work with." He found a way to get not only 2K scans from his scanning house, but the raw scans in 2.7 K resolution for the same price.
Last but not least, ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Pablo Helman explained various effect shots of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Helman, of course, is in great awe of Steven Spielberg: "He knows everything about iconic images! He wants you to focus your eyes on a specific thing! So he works with contrasts and brightness. For instance, the shot, where Indy is looking up to the explosion of the atomic bomb. The first thing you see after opening your eyes after the bright flash is the silhoutte of Indy. And Spielberg does that on purpose!" As Helman stated, the big three challenges for this film were environments, creatures and the various simulations of destruction. "We were shooting anamorphic with the same lenses that we have used in the other three movies. This was the premise to match the look of the other three movies." Again, the visual imagination of Spielberg and his vast knowledge about creating visual effects saved lots of money and time during the very expensive production, because the director is able to decide at a very early stage of development, if something is good or bad.
Helman's credo about vfx is, that people can tell if something is shown completely in one technique alone. So he tries to combine some of them to create something really unique. "Janusz Kaminsiki, the DP, asked me, if I wanted to have smoke in some of these scenes. If it would have been 10 years ago, I would have said no! But today I want to have smoke in those scenes, so I want marry the reality of a shot with the bluescreen-elements in a better way." He explained in detail the creation of various shots like the opening scene with the big Area 51-storage place, the ant scenes, the car chase and the final destruction of the pyramid. Helman was especially proud of the opening of the film at Area 51, when Indy and the Communists are entering the big hangar.
"The opening shot there was supposed to be 50-feet high in the air, looking down. But the set that we had on the movie was only 30-feet high. So we had to calculate how to shoot the shot for the amount of perspective that we had to do. We had to replace virtually everything in the shot." Helman showed the original, unaltered footage they shot for the scene with a little storage room with tiny doors. "We had to roto all the actors out of the picture. You probably ask yourself why we did all that. Steven Spielberg does actually feel better, if he can shoot something. He is convinced, that the shot looks much better, if you do that.
"If it would have been a George Lucas movie, everything would have been done with bluescreen. But that´s okay. We know and Steven knows that this will take a long time. This shot actually ended up taking eight months.
"And that is one of the things nobody notices. It's kind of thankless. You know, I do read the critics. I do confess that I read those things. And you read such stuff like, 'Oh, they used such incredible set pieces! Wonderful!' And you want to shout out, 'Dude, they weren't big set pieces, we did it!' But when the movie comes out, you can't tell anybody. So you are looking forward to those events like eDIT to tell the people about it!"
The audience were surprised to learn that a some shots didn´t made it in the final film, because the producers wanted a PG-rating, so some things in the end were too scary for the targeted audience. So let's hope for the DVD!
The 11th edition of eDIT The Filmmaker´s Festival ended with a screening of Pixar's WALL•E, which happened to be a fantastic finale to a great event. Having heard all the speeches, conversations and discussions about filmmaking and postproduction, with all senses sharpened for the high art of moviemaking and storytelling, this particular film showed the future of cinema, highlighting every aspect, that had been part of discussion at this years eDIT. The public screenings of excellent movies, short films and student films will continue to create an awareness in the public mind for these gigantic efforts in moviemaking.
Talking afterward to the various students from Germany, most of them were thrilled to be at the eDIT filmmaker´s festival: "Absolutley wonderful!" "Too bad that the panels and lectures were limited to one hour. So it wasn't possible to get into much details, because all the themes were very complex. But anyway, being allowed to listen to these great people of the industry is very inspiring and a great start into the new semester to learn everything in this field." "A great motivation!"
And as for all their teachers, Professor Tillmann Kohlhaase from the Hochschule Darmstadt summed up the events of this years eDIT:
"The mixture of big budgeted American films together with small German productions like Krabat or The Counterfeiters is wonderful. It brings out great contrasts, but at the same time, you can see that the ideas, the passion, the inspirations are the same! And its great to hear again and again, that all has to be done in the benefit for the story. At the moment, I think especially in Germany but also in other countries, for instance, the vfx are mostly seen only as eye candy to bring the audience into the cinemas. It is great to see the development of eDIT Filmmakers Festival into a big forum, where everything comes together: editing, camera, vfx, the whole postproduction process. All the people of the different disciplines come together to discuss things. A big marketplace for new ideas for everyone working in post."
Johannes Wolters studied German history and literature at the University of Cologne. He is now working as a freelance journalist for daily newspapers, film magazines and radio concentrating on animation and visual effects. In 1995, he created the International Nights and Days of Animation Cologne (INDAC), a small animation festival. He is currently transforming the festival into a network for German animation and visual effects artists and rebuilding the German ASIFA.