Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Birth of Death

Every species contains a vast amount of information about the world, how it evolved , how it continues to develop, and how we may find a harmonious place within it, the loss of a species is the loss of a biological library. A tropical forest does not resemble a local market, it is thousand times more complex than the Chandni Chowk. Biota craws, swims, swoops and slithers; it buzzes, bores, and burrows, it rots and oozes through forest floors, and estuaries; it take wings, and is submerged in rich black soils; it permeates, devours, and is fecund. But this life has no voice other than out own because extinction is silent and mute. The lost tamarins of Brazil’s Atlantic clear-cut forests cannot speak to us through the tropical plywood panelling in a mobile home; cannot explain that out new habitat wiped out their own. They will not be heard from again. The poet and essayist Gary Snyder writes: "The ending of the lines of so many found sorrow and grief. Death can be accepted and to some degree transformed. But the loss of lineages and all their future young is not something to accept. It must be rigorously and intelligently resisted. Defend all these plants, bugs, and animals equally? Little invertebrates that have never been sent to a zoo or wildlife magazines? Species that are but a hair away from one another? It isn’t just a case of unique lineages but the lives of overall ecosystems ( a larger sort of almost – organism) that are at stake. Some archly argue that extinction has always been the fate of species and communities alike. Some quote a Buddhist teaching back to us: "all is impermanent", indeed. All the most reason to move gently and cause less harm. Largely highly adapted vertebrates once lost, will never return in the forms we have known them. Hundreds of millions of years might elapse before the equivalent of a whale or an elephant is seen again, If ever. The scale of loss is beyond any measure the planet has ever known. ‘Death is one thing, an end of birth is something else’.

We will face what naturalist Jack turner calls the "final loss" – the point in the not-too-distant future when environmental degradation on the planet will no longer require our active participation.

An illustrative example of this principle is a pond when it begins to receive large run-offs of phosphate containing detergents. Ordinarily, as fish create waste and die, detritivores decompose the waste into inorganic products that feed the algae population and invertebrates that become in turn food for the stable fish production. When phosphates drain into a pond, the influx causes the algae to bloom faster than it can be consumed by the slower-breeding fish. As the algae dies, the decomposition uses us much of the available oxygen, causing a die-off in the oxygen deprived fish. The dead fish are more waste, creating more algae, since the fish are not consuming it. The increased level of decomposition lower the oxygen levels even further and what was once a carefully constructed and balanced closed system collapses under the burden of rapid and accelerating growth. Today, we face similar prospects on a global level. Because of potential interactions and feedback loops within the global climate system, a global warming cycle, once begun, may well progress on its own, regardless of whether we continue to combust fossil fuels or due to the release of methane gasses in the Arctic Tundra.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


During the making of THE MATRIX there were few IT companies which went bust as they underestimated the ‘render time’ for the million of Agent Smith fighting Neo. I told myself ‘so much for render time’ in disbelief. The stark truth is that it is true and as we today move onto more monster render time with the release of Dreamworks Animation new flick Mosters vs. Aliens it nothing but draws us to today’s post on Monster PCs. Read in more details in Digital Studio’s May issue.
The liquid like monsters in Monsters vs. Aliens with their transparent bodies and arms and mouths that disappear would have continued to remain a figment of the artist’s imagination without the power of IT system that helped to render them.
More importantly, this film has been designed for 3D viewing and this bought a whole new set of challenges to the team at Dreamworks Animation.

In the case of Monsters Vs Aliens, it meant the film required more than 4o million computing hours to make – more than eight times as many as the original Shrek and nearly double what it took to create Kung Fu Panda
Stereoscopic images literally double the number of images to be processed because you have to use two cameras – one representing the left eye and one representing the right eye. The processing power to render a 3D scene, therefore, demands even more horsepower from the CPU and graphic cards.
In Monsters vs. Alien, DreamWorks Animation artist rendered nearly 100 terabytes of disk storage; it rendered more than 30 sequences in the movie that would have taken more than 1000 years to render on a single workstation, created one of the most technically challenging sequences of the film involving a flyover of a town, including houses, hills and trees; and also staged an explosion in one of the battle scenes, which required more than three terabytes of disk space alone and bridged 300 physical miles.

Such Monster PCs for this animation film was provided by HP –
Several hundred HP xw8600 workstations were used on site for simultaneous processing. Xeon Quad Core processors while graphic acceleration is provided Nvidea and ATI. Some of the scenes were so complex in details, shades and camera movements that a single scene could use 100 of gigabytes in storage space. This is where the super fast SAS HDDs 15 krpm comes very handy, as well as large RAM memory capacity features on the xw8600.
The war with render time is raging on….

Photographer of the Week: Inge Morath

"To take pictures had become a necessity and I did not want to forgo it for anything."

Inge Morath was born in Graz, Austria, in 1923. After studying languages in Berlin, she became a translator, then a journalist and the Austrian editor for Heute, an Information Service Branch publication based in Munich. All her life Morath would remain a prolific diarist and letter-writer, retaining a dual gift for words and pictures that made her unusual among her colleagues.

A friend of photographer Ernst Haas, she wrote articles to accompany his photographs and was invited by Robert Capa and Haas to Paris to join the newly founded Magnum agency as an editor. She began photographing in London in 1951, and assisted Henri Cartier-Bresson as a researcher in 1953-54. After her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller in 1962, Morath settled in New York and Connecticut.

Photographer of the week: Christopher Anderson

"Emotion or feeling is really the only thing about pictures I find interesting. Beyond that it is just a trick."

Born in British Columbia in 1970, Christopher Anderson spent much of his early years in Texas, where his father was a preacher, before moving to New York City and then Paris. His life in photography began in the photo lab of the "Dallas Morning News" where he learned to develop film and print pictures. In 1993, Christopher was hired as a staff photographer for a small Colorado newspaper. Never comfortable with the idea of working as an employee, he left the newspaper in 1995 and began doing freelance assignments.

Initially working in color, Anderson began photographing a wide range of subjects for magazines. In 1996, he became a contract photographer for U.S. News and World Report. Working now in b&w, Anderson was honored with the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award. Later that year, he photographed the stone throwers of Gaza, and was named Kodak's "Young Photographer of the Year". In 2003, he published his first monograph, Nonfiction, published by deMo.

Monday, July 20, 2009


A film review reviews a film just being released; after a free lunch and sometime over hot brewing coffee & here in Dubai over nachos and tantalizing cheese, a film is dissected into ordinary pieces of information - some taken from release publicity information and sometime out of thin air. This post dissects a film review. Pay for your own popcorn!!

A film review can tell us much (who looks great, what’s stupid, what’s funny and what’s not), its limits, its tasks largely for evaluation rather than other forms of engagement that are the provenance of academic film studies.

The terms in which many praise the best cinema as an art produced by individual genius directors invite critical scrutiny too. In the genre of writing about cinema most familiar to you, the popular press movie review, you’ll find those terms circulating abundantly. Superlatives rule, of course: best, greatest, fastest, most horrific, most realistic, most gripping, most provocative, funniest, and so on. If acting frequently recedes in the language of film analysis, it reigns in the genre of the review, where thick description of appearance (soft blond hair, a curving upper lip, a boy honed by workouts for a year) vie with assessment of the plot. Thumbs point in two directions only: a film is a winner or a loser.

Here is a review in its entirety of a loser, the 2005 film Wolf Creek:

An initially promising horror film that turn exploitive, “Wolf Creek” fails to deliver the requisite payoff considering its leisurely pace. It bears the almost always dubious label “based on true events,” and details the unfortunate fate that befalls the two young British women, liz and kristy visiting Australia, and the local bloke, Ben, they hook up with for a road trip across the inhospitable outback.

Writer-Director Greg Mclean admirably attempts to breathe some life into the genre by taking his time to get into the gore, but rather than yielding interesting characters it merely deflates the suspense. The ambling first half follows the trio as they make their way to isolated world creek crater, and though the actors are appealing enough, their characters remain ciphers. Its difficult to care one way or another whether they win the lotto, get abducted by aliens or are cut to ribbons by homicidal Samaritan. (crust 2005)

Calculating his own response according to genre conventions of the horror film, Kevin Crust’s review condenses the essential evaluation into two terse paragraphs: featured actors, director, short plot summary, adherence to generic expectations, final say so. Since the press relies on the promotional junkets engineered by the studios and their personnel, moreover, they tend to repeat the very language and sound bites of the press releases or “exclusive” interview: several reviews may use the same phrases (“inhospitable outback”), tell the same story of on-location romances (like fabricated by publicists), faux-bemoan costly set construction or the like. Focusing on plot, starts and directorial intention, most popular reviews (and there are exception and exceptional reviewers) assume passive audiences and rarely access those elements of the cinema I have argued to be most powerful: its capacity to provoke, enlist, and stimulate our imagination and critical engagement in acts of world-making.
The thoughtful critic is aware of himself as responsive to a given film in all these ways, yet careful not to take the self as the measure of all possible forms of engaging with it. He or she is careful, too, not to take the text as fully present or yielding to the critic’s tool, either; Raymond Bellour’s close analysis remains paradigmatic for their awareness of the elusivity, or unattainability, of the film text as such.

Second, the “text” may be high or low or in between. Bollywood films, Hong Kong action films, B-westerns, melodramas, and dated instructional film all solicit responses worthy of understanding. As with the school of popular culture are wont to lob exaggerated claims for its “subversive” or “progressive” potential. But careful ethnographic studies of working class television viewers or of women who habitually read romance fiction teach us that these lowbrow text live in fascinating worlds: where housing estates become microcosms for studying familial relations, or where the very act of reading becomes a vehicle for housewives to claim legitimacy as autonomous people with expanded knowledge of the world and right of time for learning and imagination. Studies of film fandom similarity reveal extraordinary cultures of reception, in which acts of productive engagement (fan fiction, contributions to story lines, blogs and fan sites) blur the lines between original production and derivative reception, professional makers and amateur watchers.
Constance Peley’s studies of Star Trek “slasher” fiction in which fans rewrite the social and sexual lives of Kirk and Spock, appreciate the fan’s intimacy with the series.
There is no better critic than a fan. No one knows the object better than a fan and no one is more critical. The fan's stance towards the object could even be described as tough love. The idea is to change the object while preserving it, kind of giving a strenuous deep massage that hurts at the time but feels so good afterwards (penley 1997)

If you ever tried to explain to a friend what the film you just saw was “about”, you find yourself stumbling in the realm of meaning-making: if you risk the further effort of condensing it into a sound bite what a given film’s message was, you are in deeper. As you know from both of these experiences, however, the terms fail satisfactorily to translate the experience of watching an interesting film, coming to understand the terms or assumptions of the world it constructs, and bringing those assumptions with you back into the light of the day outside the theatre or its your everyday world.
“Making meaning” is of course, a slippery phrase. One constantly thinks, even or especially when one claims to be simply “taken in” by a narrative or an experience.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The FILM lifecycle

Let me take you through the lifecycle of how a film is made from the scratch. It is an exhilarating experience being in a shoot and if you have been in one – the enormity of the scale of production and how logistics are handled is itself is a remarkable breakthrough.
But with the independent film sector exploding in past years, it becomes increasingly imaginable for any given person with a good idea, more frequently a bad one, to undertake a film project.

In the United States, Michael Moore’s pit-bullish documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and cult breakout Mormon-inflected narrative film Napolean Dynamite (2004) both cost less than a half-million dollars to make. Did you know that Jonathans Cauette’s autobiographical film Tarnation (2003), about his relationship with his mentally ill mother was edited at home on his laptop, reputedly cost $218?

Now that you have had your lessons in this blog on film studies and some background history: let me take you through the first stage of a film making experience:

PRE PRODUCTION : This is followed by – logically enough - production and post-production, and together these three steps describe the process of making movies at whatever scale, from artisanal solo efforts at home or on the soccer field, through larger yet still modest productions such as Moore’s with location shooting and a sizeable crew, to extravagant studio productions with the imprimaturs of Kong or big name directors in Japan or New Zealand or Sound Africa.

Pre-Production: Involves the elaboration of an idea from inchoate premise to a plan of movie-making and includes all the tasks one requires to plan for movie-making and one must complete before actually shooting a film. In the case of small scale film, pre production begins with elaborating on an idea over several written stages. A proposal sketches the idea in a nutshell, whether it’s focus for a documentary (follow eight kids through a spelling competition), an experimental film (put one camera on the Empire State Building for eight hours), or a narrative film (tell the story of 1919 ‘black sox scandal, when the Chicago white sox baseball threw the World Series). (These proposals incidently evolved into Spellbound (Jeffrey blitz, 2002), Empire (Andy Warhol, 1964), and Eight Men out (John Sayles, 1988) respectively).

A proposal evolves into more elaborate version, still a nascent idea, called a “treatment”, in which , for a narrative film, the characters but especially the structure and logic becomes clearer, a treatment explains how the plot advances, how dramatic action unfolds, and how characters function in terms of that structure. From proposal to treatment, from treatment to script or screenplay: a screenplay follows a common format and supplies full dialogue between characters, the location of every numbered scene, and all the action in the story.

Formatting the screenplay according to a standardized protocol allows everyone who might be involved with the production of a narrative to understand every scene’s components and demands. Popular software packages such as Final Draft or Sophocles permit to make it possible to identify a scene during shooting a scene where each scene is numbered. Because each page of a screenplay occupies roughly one minute of screen time, knowing the page count of a given scene is crucial.

From screenplay to shooting script: this expanded version of the screenplay adds all of the information necessary to transform the screenplay into actual images and sounds. To realise the film, every shot, every camera setup, and every movement is planned in advance in the shooting script and often to storyboards, sketches of every shot which suggests further visual information about each shot’s realization, from scale to proportion, to angle, to screen direction. While some directors rely more heavily than others upon storyboards in pre-production planning, the work of pre-production maximizes the chances of making a good film in the end.

Subsequent stages of pre-production follow from having a screenplay or a developed film property, and whoever is ultimately responsible for financing the film must give it a “go” or a “green light” before it enters the following phases of pre-production, planning. These includes casting (of principle actors, extras, stunt doubles and the like, either through an agency or casting director or by choosing your friends wisely,) location scouting, research – production design.

Production Design (generating the overall “look” of the film through the art director’s supervision of set d├ęcor, design and illustration, as well as costume design), set construction and costume. All these activities must, therefore, adhere to a strict budget, administered, and supervised by a line production, so called because the budget divides along a line containing “above the line” costs of story rights, scenario, producer, director, cast and fringe benefits; and “below the line” cost of just about everything, including extras, staff , art and set costs, light platform, labor and materials effects and miniatures, and the like. The production budget determines all that follows in the next phase.

The production phase technically encompasses, for a feature film, only the activity of principal photography, that is, the shooting and sound recording of the principal performers and the essential actions. But even principal photography enlists the services of the small army of talented labourers. Captured by the first unit of production, the director, and principle actors, the principle photography is the meat of the film, supplemented by the work of the second unit, which contributes inserts, backgrounds, aerial photography, special location shot, action sequences, and the like. For a smaller production, various combinations of technical expertise in crew draw from these general structures.

Assistant Director: Assisting the director, a crew of five involves itself closely in decision making on set and, perhaps most crucial, in tracking what actually gets from script to film. Formerly known as the “script girl” (definitely a gendered term!!), the script supervisor keeps track of what is to be shot (and what sound recorded) in each scene as well as that is actually shot; the supervisor times the script, anticipating the final length of the assembled film and records detailed notes to assist the director in moving from scene to scene. For those viewers who avidly note mistakes in continuity ( a character is bare-headed when leaving the house, but miraculously appear with a beret in the exterior shot), the script supervisor, the dialogue director tracks changes in dialogue from rehearsal, where actors often forge new approaches to the script or tweak its details, to what makes its way to the take. And finally, Cuer who work with cue cards and Teleprompters if they are to be used, records out the director’s crew.

Directors work closely, of course, with actors, primarily with those principal actors (often called lead actors) or stars, and, as we know, not every lead actor is a star.

The cinematographer or director of photography generally chooses cameras, film stock to slating takes and taking production stills to use in publicity. Frequently the cinematographer sits at the director’s side to watch rushes or dailies, those take recorded during each day of shooting, to evaluate what needs to be re-shot.

Sound crews similarly record all elements of production sound, usually divided into the categories of sync sound (recorded in synchronization with the camera) and wild sound (not synchronized), both of which belong to the category of live sound, recorded during shooting (as opposed to post production). The production sound crew assists with booms for microphones (operated by the sound assistant or, predictably, the boom operator) and affixing smaller microphones on set. Later the sound crew, led by a production mixer, combines a preliminary sound mix, much of which changes in the post production phase, when our Foley artist steps in to perform replacement sound effects, from footsteps through squealing tires to raindrops dancing on tin roofs.

Rounding off the production team, a Flock of managers attempt to control the chaos of principle photography. In addition, a film publicist stokes interest in the production in the trade press, leaking bits of the story or tales of the production to maintain interest until the film’s carefully calculated release date.

Finally, there is also a mysteriously named crew responsible for electricity, and a crew responsible for moving and hauling work together on set. The gaffer is the set’s key electrician, his assistant the best boy. The key grip is the supervisor of the grips, who do the physical work of setting up dollies and cranes, laying tracks for dollies, controlling camera cables, and the like.

As these physical labours of filmmaking yield to touches of buttons, and as analog film yields to digital media, increasingly films are actually made in the post-production phase, a world rapidly changing due to the constant invention of software used for digital effects or computer generated imagery.

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