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Introduction to Motion Control: An IMIS event

Most of us remember the scene of Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts across the Great Lake with Hagrid, as the castle looms out at us from the darkness. Or have that legendary image in our minds of the Imperial Star Destroyer gliding ominously through deep space in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. But we also have most likely seen any of those commercials in which leaves of lettuce, slices of cheese and tomato and pieces of chicken fall exactly in place on top of a loaf of bread in slow motion. Funnily enough, all of these have something in common: they have been filmed using motion control.

What Is Motion Control?

The guys from Mark Roberts Motion Control, Peter Rush and Dorian Culmer, were there to tell us all about it. Motion control is a means to create difficult or “impossible” camera movements and special effects by accurately controlling the trajectory of the camera. Cameras are mounted onto robotic rigs controlled by a piece of software, and they’re able to move at very high speed with incredible precision. Therefore, the same movement can be repeated again and again, for example, to generate special and visual effects.

Although it seems like a pretty modern development, motion control actually started before digital times. Around the 80s, there was a very busy scene in London in particular, to create everything that wasn’t digital. As machines and skills improved in this area, they started filming models – which is how the previously mentioned Harry Potter and Star Wars scenes were made. Models were the main reasons for motion control; first they would film the model, and then they would integrate it with a background and other elements to create a scene.

London became the centre for commercials in the 80s and the 90s, with many big-time directors today, eventually moving on from commercials to film. A higher demand for fast machines surged, machines that could shoot a commercial in 1 or 2 days, or that could film 3 to 4 movements per day. This requirement was different of that in Hollywood, and it was Mark Roberts who started meeting this demand by creating these machines. The first one of the notably mobile machines was called “Cyclops”, which is still a company staple today, capable of filming 3 meters per second with great accuracy using high-end cameras such as the RED Dragon, flawlessly shooting in 6K.

Uses Of Motion Control

Motion control has countless uses, the main ones focussing on VFX creation and live action. Since the camera can follow exactly the same very precise path repeatedly, it is possible to get different layers (actors, background, foreground) that can be overlaid and matched together at the time of compositing. This can also be used to “clone” people, change foreground and background objects, for morphing – which is when one person transforms into another person or thing, a very popular use – or to put things together that couldn’t have possibly been filmed together.

Other uses within VFX include being capable of shooting a scene very accurately so that only one pass might be necessary in post – for example when the camera goes through a glass or an eyeball. It can also shoot forwards, backwards, change the scale (size of the movement) and the time of the movement. The latter is another very popular use, which is combined with compositing to create scaling shots – the most recent example is 2015’s Ant-Man. To create the main effect seen in the film, it is necessary to have exactly the same camera movement for the man and the background to later put them together, otherwise they wouldn’t match. Along the same lines, it is also possible to do scaling by taking footage that has been filmed without motion control, first by tracking the movement to create the initial camera path and then filming the foreground or background with the same path to put the scene together afterwards. Alongside with these, it is also widely used for VFX previsualisations.

Additional uses of motion control include high speed shots, with rigs that can film 4 metres per second (3 metres per second on tracks), which are popular with food commercials, since it can trigger other movements – this is how the ingredients fall on top of the bread. It is also utilised in animation – it is possible to create stop motion or go motion that have complex camera movements – in sports, such as the Olympic Games or Formula 1 and for space research.

Is Motion Control Necessary?

Sometimes it may seem that motion control is unnecessary. Why not fix it in post? Since the quality required in cinema features is an expensive and slow work path, it makes post-production for high resolution sequences also very expensive. It can also be very difficult when it comes to fixing incorrectly filmed VFX shots. Thus, it is normally more efficient to shoot correctly the first time using motion control rather than fixing it in post.

The one thing that motion control requires however, is lots of planning to be done properly. Therefore, the director usually gets together with the VFX Director and the DOP or Operator, and decides if it’s necessary, and if so, how to best work out the shots they need. The disadvantage is that most people aren’t actually aware or don’t know how long it takes to use motion control, or how much money they need to get it right properly. For this reason, if deciding to use motion control, it is best to get someone on board who is properly trained, knows the equipment required, how to use it and how long it will take. This way, the shoot will be properly planned and therefore the production will end up saving more by getting it properly done the first time, instead of wasting valuable resources such as time and money due to a wrong kit decision or last-minute changes.

Events

Concept vs Instinct: A Screenwriting Workshop with Award-Winner Corey Mandell

Come join us as award-winning writer Corey Mandell talks about his views on instinctive vs conceptual writing. He has written numerous projects for Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Working Title, Walt Disney Pictures and many more.

Corey will:

  • Talk about the difference between ‘instinctive’ and ‘conceptual’ screenwriting
  • Give an idea of how he one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other
  • Share his experiences with working for high-end production companies and A-listers

Come along to this gem of an event, meet new people and get some insight into the ins and outs of the various ways to write for the big screen.

About Corey Mandell:

Corey Mandell is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter who has written projects for Ridley Scott, Wolfgang Petersen, Harrison Ford, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, John Travolta, Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000, Fox Family, Working Title, Paramount, Live Planet, Beacon Films, Touchstone, Trilogy, Radiant, Kopelson Entertainment and Walt Disney Pictures.

His Professional Screenwriting and Television Writing Workshops offer an alternative to the same old tired rules and formulas found in most screenwriting classes, books and seminars. This innovative program is the only one to teach creative integration, script testing, compelling conflict, organic story design, strategic rewriting and story mapping. With these tools, writers are able to create the pitch-perfect authentic scripts required to break into, and thrive in, the current marketplace.

In the past three years, graduates have gone on to sell or option scripts to Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Disney, Fox, MGM, Universal, Showtime, FX, USA Network, NBC, HBO, MTV and AMC. Others have been staffed on such shows as Community, The Fosters, Jane the VirginBonesJustified, BoJack Horseman,Young and Hungry, PlayingHouse, The Mentalist, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Up All Night, State of Affairs, Rosewood, The Leftovers, You’re the Worst, Pretty Little Liars, Treme, The Blacklist and The Leftovers.

The Workshops teach the essential skill sets required to write at a professional level, both for feature films and television. The classes are offered live in Los Angeles as well as online using video conferencing to allow participants to see and hear each other in real time. These highly popular classes draw students from across the US, Europe and Australia.

With the recent explosion of television pilots being bought, and a healthy rebound in the feature spec script market, there’s never been a better time to jump into the writing game. One script absolutely can change your life. But it’s got to be the right script. If you’re serious about developing the skills required to launch a career, these workshops can help take years off your learning curve and significantly increase your chances of success.

The Fine Line: Representing Reality in Drama Documentary Filmmaking

Come join us as writer, director, producer Tim Conrad will talk about his experiences interpreting reality in award winning drama documentaries. He will:

  • talk about the benefits and disadvantages of dramatising factual material
  • share his experience with working to tight schedules and various locations all over the world
  • give his take on dealing with interviewees, the compromises that have to be made and the potential dangers that come with it

Come along to this gem of an event, meet new people and get some insight into the ins and outs of successful short filmmaking.

About Tim Conrad:  

Tim Conrad has worked in the UK film and television industry for over 30 years.

After three years at film school he started working as a Camera Assistant on documentaries, dramas, and feature films, which led to him to become a cameraman, working on documentaries and corporate videos.

In the late 80’s, Conrad discovered his passion for directing and soon set up his own production company making music videos, corporate videos and commercials.
After a successful 10-year run, he sold his company and moved into writing and directing for television.

He has since made numerous documentaries and drama-documentaries for UK terrestrial channels and US cable networks such as National Geographic and Discovery. I have also written, produced and directed some award-winning short dramas.

Today, he works as writer, director and series producer in specialist factual television, mostly making drama documentaries.

Tim Conrad’s Filmography:

  • Mafia Killers with Colin McLaren (TV Series documentary, 2018)
    – Vincent Gigante ‘The Oddfather’
    – Henry Hill ‘The Goodfella’
    – Anthony ‘Gaspipe’ Casso
    – Carmine “The Snake” Persico
    – Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano
  •  Autopsy: The Last Hours of (TV Series documentary, 2017)
    – Steve Jobs
    – Prince
  •  Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen (TV Series, 2016)
    – Shots in the Heartland
    – Wrong Place, Deadly Time
  •  Princess Diana’s Death: Mystery Solved (TV Movie documentary, 2016)
  •  The Wives Did It (TV Mini-Series, 2015)
    – Deadly Threesome
    – Guns, Lies & Sister Wives
    – The Polygamous Prophet
  •  Did He Do It? (TV Series, 2015)
    – Execution in Question
    – Reputation of Evil