Technique

Pre-visualising video with animatics by Glenn Dixon

Video above produced, filmed and edited by Glenn Dixon Visuals for Conduct’s Rapid Design and Validation process. Pre-visualisation was an essential part of the pre-production process.

Animatics are the first glimpse of a concept translated to video. They are storyboards edited to dialogue and music allowing the production team to experience motion and timing. Communicating through animatics reduces the ambiguity of orally describing a scene, shot or edit.

Many of my clients appreciate the experience of pre-visualising a video before we begin filming. When the project scope allows for the creation of an animatic, many issues can be identified and solved before they become problems further down the production pipeline. I aim for speed and clarity over beauty. The purpose is to clearly communicate and align on a vision. Together we undertake a rapid prototyping process until we are ready to proceed with the next stages of production.

My process involves photographing hand drawn storyboards and adding them to a Premiere Pro sequence. I record my own voice reading the script, source a sample music track and add these to the timeline. I time each storyboard to the script and music to see if the sequence I planned on paper works in a video. If I need to add a new shot, I will create a quick photoshop sketch and insert between existing storyboards. For a three minute video, I typically spend two - three hours on an animatic.

I’d like to sign off by sharing this spectacular and insightful side-by-side comparison between Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and an original animatic.

Discovering the style of a video with diary sequences by Glenn Dixon

While in pre-production for a video project, I create a specific sequence or timeline to explore story ideas. It’s a great place to begin playing with editing techniques and developing a style that will eventually inform the video. I use this space to test image and sound juxtapositions, colour treatments and editing rhythms. This diary usually begins before any principal photography so I use video footage from other projects as placeholders. 

"I have to go through this diary process, so that I've answered all the questions that I've had for myself."

— Hans Zimmer | Composer

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Screenshot above: Example of a diary sequence in Premiere Pro.

To refine an idea I copy and paste a new section further along in the sequence. I don’t delete anything. This way I can see the progression of ideas and can revisit earlier fragments of thought. It’s the result of continually posing and answering questions. How can this interview transition into that exterior shot? What visuals can compliment that interview dialogue? Does this music tell the story of this place?

The idea of keeping a video diary was inspired by an online Masterclass with Hans Zimmer. It's a superb video series providing insight into Hans’s process for composing film scores. The chapter “Music Diary: Sherlock Holmes” is of particular relevance to this post.

"I try to figure out stylistically, harmonically and sonically where this is going.” 

— Hans Zimmer

PROBLEM SOLVING IN WATERCOLOUR by Glenn Dixon

This artwork compliments a fascinating filmmaking assignment I am currently working on with La Trobe University. The series explores La Trobe Universities' partnership with ReMSTEP, a national initiative to drive major improvement in the quality of science and mathematics pre-service teacher education.

My principal challenge is to create visuals to compliment a one-minute voice over that will introduce each film. The voice-over references online curriculum resources, providing context to the story. As these resources are static text documents, they do not lend themselves to becoming powerful visual overlays let alone the opening shots of a film.

My solution was to commission Ray Eckermann (Small Mountains) to re-imagine my films as large watercolour artworks. I sent Ray the rough cuts and he represented the key narrative points in his beautiful illustration style. I was able to film close up shots of the physical posters and integrate them throughout the film. This offered tremendous creative flexibility in the edit and the films are more powerful as a result.

Ray's ability to encapsulate the key messages in my films provided me with a deeper awareness of what my films are communicating. There was an instance when Ray’s draft came in and it did not match my vision. It soon became clear that my rough cut was not communicating our intent clearly enough and we revised the film accordingly.

This creative solution has offered additional surprising benefits; As these films will be used in classroom contexts in addition to their training purposes, educators can print the posters off and display in the classroom while they run these activities with students. It's a lovely tangible experience that connects the film to the classroom.

We are completing post-production tasks with the first five films in the series with another to film to shoot in May. I look forward to sharing and discussing the finished films when we are ready to publish them.


Gallery above:  Original watercolour prints by Ray Eckermann.
Photograph below: Early sketches with my notes in red.

Lighting interviews with natural light by Glenn Dixon

I love that filmmaking requires you to do more with less. For assignment work I often travel with a single LED Litepanel and a flex fill for lighting my interviews. With these limitations, I have trained myself to use natural light to my advantage. For ninety percent of my client projects, I am the production crew. I typically capture six or more interviews during a single day in addition to BRoll and I don’t have time to manipulate excessive equipment across locations by myself. The aim of this article is to map out my process of selecting and lighting an interview location as a small footprint filmmaker.

Things I look for when selecting a space for an interview are (in descending order of priority):
1. Quiet space (ability to control and minimise background noise).
2. Acoustics (carpeted or acoustically dampened environments over hard reflective surfaces).
3. Available natural light (large windows).
4. Depth and background (lowest priority).

Once a space has been selected, I setup my equipment near a window in the room. I usually turn off the overhead fluorescent lights and base my lighting design on a daylight colour temperature. Positioning the interviewee’s chair at an appropriate angle to the window allows me to control the degree in which the light will wrap around the interviewee’s face. Depending on the situation, I will either place my 1×1 Litepanel on the window side to boost the key or on the short side of frame to fill in the dark side of the face. I will adjust the shutters/curtains on windows at the rear and side of the room to control the ambient light.

The biggest challenge with this approach is the dynamic and fluctuating nature of natural light. An overcast day is optimal and will provide more consistent lighting. On a day with scattered cloud, the light will change significantly as the clouds move across the sky. Not only will the light intensity change but so will the colour temperature. If your interview runs for a considerable amount of time, colour and lighting inconsistency will certainly be present. Many of my films are BRoll heavy so I’m not super fussed about subtle changes in light and colour temperature in an interview, most of which can be minimised with colour grading. From a creative and logistical perspective, I prefer inconsistencies in lighting than hauling extra gear across the country.


Photograph above:  Screenshot from a film I am working on with Mohamed Nur.
Photograph below: Peter Maggs adding some flare to the scene while I light the room for an upcoming interview. On location in Woolsthorpe, VIC with the Deparment of Education and Training.

'EVO Experience' with Stillmotion by Glenn Dixon

Seven storytellers from across Australia were given 72 hours to produce, research, direct, shoot, edit and premiere a film for a local non-profit with the mentorship of the Stillmotion team. Our filmmaking collective partnered up with Melbourne based One Girl and were challenged to craft a film for their annual ‘Do It In A Dress’ campaign.

The two key ideas that resonated deeply with me during the process:

1. Keywords.
During pre-production, brainstorm five keywords that encapsulate the film. Every production decision you make from that point on (interview questions, filming locations, camera movement, lighting design, sound design etc) is filtered through these key words to ensure every choice you make has clear intent and justification. These keywords provide a rigorous foundation for the production crew to engage with and ensure discussions have clarity and relevance. I love the idea of a client signing off on five keywords as a form of accountability. Rather that a client dictating the way a story must be told, the only thing you are held accountable for as a filmmaker is creating a compelling story that has every decision filtered through the five agreed upon keywords.

2. The Interview.
Invite your interview subjects into a place where they feel comfortable to express themselves. Ensure the interview is a conversation, not an artificial construct with a start/stop format. From the moment the interviewee arrives in the building, no reference to the filmmaking process should be made in their presence. The lighting should be setup, sound levels checked and cameras rolling before they sit in the interview chair. Do not ask the interviewee to perform for camera. Find a way to get them to speak honestly and on topic by using subtle gestures in addition to verbal and non-verbal communication. Above all be aware of how your presence is reflected in the behaviour of your subject.

Do it in a dress: Interview

Patrick [Stillmotion Director] encouraged us to create a mental map of how we would guide the interview to ensure we covered everything we needed. Bringing printed questions to an interview pre-determines the journey of conversation and can make it feel like an interrogation. Be present and engage in an authentic dialogue - the resulting footage will be all the more powerful as a result.

I feel incredibly privileged to be part of something so purposeful and to use the power of story for good! As a professional learning experience, creating a film that will have a genuine impact on the world is incredibly rewarding. I am so thankful to the EVO team [Mary, Joyce and Patrick]  and the participating filmmakers for the journey - I do hope we make an opportunity to work together again soon! The film is now live via the Do It In A Dress website and is embedded below. While you are watching, consider what our final set of keywords might have been! (Reveal at the bottom of the post).

Do it in a dress: Premiere

Our Keywords:
Enrol. Dress. Movement. Education. Excitement.


Photograph above:  Planning in the MUSE workbook.
Photograph middle:  Setting up for an interview at the One Girl office in Collingwood. Crew sitting in for pre-flight checks!
Photograph below: Premiere screening on the last day of the EVO Workshop.