By Published on .

I'M NO STRANGER TO COMPUTERS. WHEN I WAS A creative director I helped four major New York agencies computerize their creative departments. Before that, 10 years ago, when I was a copywriter, I was using a word processing program on my own Atari 800 when everyone was still pounding out copy on yellow copy paper.

It was the only computer in the agency. Over the years, with staffs getting smaller, workloads getting heavier and money getting tighter I found the computer was the way to do more work, faster and better. This same mindset applies to the production side. Timetables are compressed, money is always a problem. Once again, faster and better is the goal and technology is a tool to help achieve it. So I've added to the requisite cellular phone, fax machine and light meters (incident and spot), a Canon L1 videocamera, a Quadra 840AV and a PowerBook with a cellular phone interface to send and receive faxes anywhere.

Iuse the Canon L1 (Hi-8) for location scouting, set building and talent. It allows me to see things and record them for preproduction purposes, using the lens selection and camera angles I would use on the actual shoot. It eliminates much of the confusion experienced with polaroids and still photos. Once the information is captured by the L1 it can be downloaded to my Mac, viewed on a monitor or output to a Sony Video Printer.

My Quadra 840 is set up as a director's production tool, not as a business (estimating, etc.) computer. On it I can preproduce a commercial and shoot it before we actually do anything. Along with Quark, WordPerfect, PhotoShop, Illustrator and Excel, I use two programs especially designed for film production: Virtus Walkthrough Pro and Adobe Premiere. Virtus Walkthrough Pro is based on a 3-D CAD program with features that make it especially suited for the film industry. As with any CAD program, you can design a set in blueprint and elevation views and see the results in a 3-D modeled effect that you can walk through. And, as with other programs, you can indicate styles, colors and textures.

What's exciting about this program is that it also allows you to pick a film format, lens and lighting to view the virtual model. It presents a simulated experience that allows you to dolly, boom, pan, crab and zoom. You can view the set from a high hat or a Titan crane. Your equipment can be either Hi-8 or 16mm Arri cameras or a 35mm Panavision in 1:33 or 1.85 format. The lens choice is variable from 15mm to 500mm, and you can set an overall key light and individual positive or negative fill.

Of course, this program can also be used to plot moves on location. The significance of this for preproduction is the ability to see your set before you build it. As a director, you work with your space before you're committed to it; you know how much set is enough and how much is a waste. With production dollars tighter than ever, this technology presents an interesting approach to preproduction: You know exactly how much set you need and how to use it to the best advantage, with no money wasted on props and set construction that won't be seen. This seems like a small point, but the dimensions of a set affect everything. It's sort of "The House That Jack Built"; sets grow geometrically. The bigger it is, the bigger the stage, the more lights you need, more props, more people, more trucks, more everything. Sets that aren't big enough restrict your ability to move and deliver beautiful film, but sets that are too big can pull the profits out of your pocket and put you out of business. Working with your set before you build it is a way to assure that you can get great production values to show up onscreen, and you'll be in business to shoot another day.

The program allows this information to be output in a number of ways. A wire frame version runs on my PowerBook. Individual views and blueprints can be printed out in b&w or color, and you can record camera moves of the virtual set on videotape. The information generated by this program can then be shared with the production designer, the art director, the DP, and everyone else associated with the production, including, of course, the client. Nobody is surprised after the set is built because everyone is working with the same vision in their heads. The program allows the level of detail to be as simple or as involved as you wish. I find simple geometric shapes provide enough information to deliver the promise of this technology on the production side. The program is fast, user friendly and inexpensive. It's also fun. It allows creative experimentation with no meter running.

While Avid has gained a strong foothold in postproduction and has seen some application in production, I use the technology in preproduction also. The Avid used in post is a Mac-based, high-end system that requires a rather substantial investment in storage and capture hardware; however, Avid and Adobe make programs that can offline edit on the Quadra 840AV. The input/output is not full-size, real-time, 30 frames/60 fields, but it is sufficient to get the idea-I find quarter-size, 15 frames works well for preproduction. Also the Adobe program, Premiere, looks and feels like the Avid program but actually works better than Avid at this level. I use Premiere to develop my shooting boards.

With Premiere, I can output a storyboard with frames weighted to time. The time frame can be 1 frame to 30 frames per second. The program is fast, easy and intuitive. It presents an easily understood graphic/diagrammatical representation of the scenes and timings. But Premiere doesn't stop there. The same materials used to generate a shooting board can be output as an animatic with an aligned audio track, supers, fades, cuts, dissolves or just about any effect you would want. In addition, as preproduction/production proceeds, the Premiere materials can be updated to include supplied footage, location photos (remember the Canon L1), rehearsals and/or actual production scenes. The use of this Avid technology in preproduction helps solve a big problem inherent in storyboards-time is a dimension that is not clearly understood by all the parties involved. Avid allows everyone to experience the time element before it becomes an issue, which helps assure that the shoot can focus on performance, and it can eliminate the need to cover a number of options because of unforeseen issues.

Patrick Peduto, who has been a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, Y&R, McCann-Erickson and JWT, was most recently senior VP-creative director at DMB&B/New York, where he directed many Burger King commercials. In May of this

Most Popular
In this article: