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Filming the Fantastic

A Guide to Visual Effects Cinematography By Ko Maruyama
Filming the Fantastic
A Guide to Visual Effects Cinematography

"Filming the Fantastic" has been recently released in its second edition.  The book by Mark Sawicki is not only a "guide", but a personal discussion about the ebbs and flows of visual effects trends, and stories of universal truths. Sawicki's book is a great read for directors, VFX supervisors, post-production teams, artists, and - naturally -  those who gather around the eyepiece.  

It is obvious, from the title of the book, that this will have appeal in circles of DPs, but it is written in such a way, that anyone who is interested in the production of filmmaking will enjoy it as both educational, historical and personal.

One of the drawbacks of books that speak technically to DPs - or any books that speak in terms of technical direction - is that technology changes faster than film rates.   Of course, there are necessary reasons for talking about technology, elements of photography, and methods of recording the image, but Sawicki does a great job to balance that with a good dose of theory and low-fi techniques that have been field-tested successfully.

This book is for both students and for professionals (even pros are continuing to learn always).  From the fundamentals of a well composed shot, to the well-planned practical effects shots, the book will help you get on your way to your first film in the can.

For the student, the book holds great value. It's the kind of book that you'll benefit from whether you're a budding DP or director, or if you're an animator.

Animator?  Yeah.

There are many rules and theories that Sawicki explains in his book that apply to setting up a shot.  It doesn't only apply to those looking through the lens of a Red EPIC camera, but applies equally to those composing a shot with CG characters, a CG camera and CG lights.

Props Department / Model Building.  Yeah.

There are several chapters dedicated to model building, props, and forced perspective that will help you communicate better with the DP.

..and let me stop here for a minute, because I just buried the lead..

This book is not only for DPs, but for everyone on the film involved with the production and post production of visual effects shots.   It will help you to communicate with each other.  If nothing else, a well oiled team looks shiny and woks well together.

What didn't I like?
Some parts of the book dig up some of my painful past.   
Television?  I hope that standard definition television never comes around again, in any form.  And while it may be important to understand analog signal's problems to move forward - let's just move forward.
Cineon? Same. No, worse.  Although there is some benefit to talking about bit depth and the method of scanning film to digital.  Students can't afford processing, and professionals are shooting on stereo digital cameras now.

There are other parts of the book that are irritatingly right.  Yes.  I really should pay attention to my scopes.  Students, pay attention.  Color correction is an artist's job.  It is not something to be taken lightly with the wave of a hue rotation wheel.

But what really kept me reading through the book?
What did I really enjoy?

After parts of the good, important, and necessary instruction, Sawiki gives us the fun stuff.

Remember, Sawiki has been out there, shooting these plates.  The anecdotal notes that fill purple boxes in some chapters are worth the cracked spine alone.  

The fun stuff in the book is not just about war stories, shared from the comfort of an overstuffed armchair, but procedures that you can execute this weekend.  As a VFX and Post Production supervisor, I know that the instruction in the book is not the full story, but it is for those who SHOOT the plates.  Pairing up with a dynamic post production compositing team is a completely different phase in a long process of filmmaking.

Shooting miniatures, simple practical photography tricks, and other "it doesn't have to be complicated" tips fill the book.

Plus, my absolute favorite part of the book - an introduction to some characters in the circus of production.  

Mark Sawicki has been teaching visual effects for over 20 years at UCLA Extension.  This book is definitely some of the great teachings that Sawicki has to offer, relayed in a tone which you might find at an intellectual dinner conversation; not stuffy - just all of the stuff that is important to know (with a couple of jokes and war stories peppered in).

If you've decided to start making movies on a small consumer camera, or if you've taken delivery of your second RED camera - check it out.  It's available at

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:animation, creativemac, visual effects, RED epic, canon, DSLR photography

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  • Filming the Fantastic by DMN Editorial at Mar. 26, 2012 2:17 pm gmt (Rec'd 1)

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