Tag Archives: Friday Fundas

Chroma Key – How to make Superman fly the sky

Chroma Key – How to make Superman fly in the sky

In the previous Friday Fundas section I mentioned Cinema is a magical medium and how optical illusion can create perceived reality with techniques like Forced Perspective. One of the readers had asked an interesting question on how scenes similar to Kumbakarna and the tiny soldiers, Gulliver and Lilliputs are made. While some of the scenes may be forced perspective but the scenes which involve the Lilliputs walk over the giant body of Gulliver is covered by what is known as the Chroma Key Compositing or Chroma Keying Technique. This also popularly called as the Green Screen effect or the Blue screen effect.

The basic of Chroma Key is overlapping two images and make them merge with each other. Let us consider the flying action of Superman and the image of sky behind him. As images are built of pixels you would want to replace the background from the image of superman in flying action with that of the image of the sky. In order to achieve it you would want to make any pixels around Superman transparent. Well Chroma Keying is the technique to do that. The technique involves choosing certain color range of pixels and making it transparent.

A shot from Man of Steel using Chroma Keying
A shot from Man of Steel using Chroma Keying

In the initial days this was done using a blue screen at the background and then blue color was made transparent to merge with another frame to make it look like they are happening in the same space. It should be noted that no other character or object in the first scene should have blue color. As Superman has a blue costume instead of a blue screen a green screen could be used. In the modern days a green screen is used prevalently as the image sensors in digital video cameras are more sensitive to green there by allocating more pixels to green channel.

Prior to the digital era Chroma Key was also performed on the films. It was popularly referred to as Matte technique. The technique is as old as 1930s. The scene comprises of two scenes one the foreground shot and the other the background shot. The background of the foreground shot when taken would be a blue screen. Now the camera color negative of this shot was printed onto a high contrast black and white film using either a filter or the black and white film to limit the blue color. The resultant film produced transparent color wherever it found blue. The end result is the foreground object with a transparent background. This is called the “Female matte”. This was now copied onto the high contrast negative of the background scene which is called the “Male matte”. The end result is the negative of the film with both these scenes merged with each other.

One of the key challenges in this technique was camera movement. The camera movement used when shooting the foreground should be used exactly the same way while shooting the background scene. Later techniques were developed to automate this process to move the camera exactly the same way.

Well next time you see Superman fly or Batman jump across buildings you would remember there is always a Chroma Key behind it.

Related Posts: Forced Perspective | Bullet Time | Friday Fundas Archive

Creative Geography – How Aamir Khan went from Chicago to Switzerland within minutes

This week’s Friday Fundas covers yet another interesting editing technique in movies popularly known as Creative Geography.

Creative Geography is an artificial landscape that is created in movies. This technique was invented by Russian film maker Lev Kuleshov. You might also remember few weeks back I had covered another popular experiment called as Kuleshov’s effect in movies which was done by Lev Kuleshov. Creative Geography involves a subset of the montage in which various segments are shot at different locations. But in the way it gets assembled during editing, all these appear to be one continuous location.

Consider a shot involving a person walking into a big bungalow and then the next shot shows him walking into a large hall. These two locations could be entirely different and in fact miles apart. But in the way the editing is done it appears to be a continuous space for the viewers. The shot of the person entering the bungalow is shot first and then the next shot is shot entirely in a different location in a hall where the person is walking in. The costume of the artist is maintained the same for the sake of continuity.

Let us now look at some examples of this in Indian movies

Dhoom 3
Dhoom 3

In the recent Bollywood movie Dhoom 3 starring Aamir Khan, the entire story is based out of Chicago, Illinois in the United States. However the climax portion of the movie where Aamir Khan rides on the top of a bridge is shot in Contra Dam, Ticino, Switzerland. Actually he starts his bike in Chicago and within few minutes he is in Switzerland. In the movie the dam is shown as a location in the outskirts of Chicago. This is achieved through editing and thus it forms the creative geography for the movie.

Nayagan
Nayagan

Similarly in the Tamil Blockbuster Nayagan the entire movie is based out of Mumbai and follows the life of a Mumbai don. The climax portion of the movie is shot in College of Engineering, Guindy. The college in Guindy becomes part of the creative geography of Mumbai for the movie.

This is again an elementary technique used in movies and it is used by the film makers to achieve the desired outcome of the image they had while writing the script. Next time when you watch movies look out for its creative geography. You will start appreciating the amount of efforts the film makers undergo to give a visually compelling product.

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

When Resul Pookutty received the Academy Awards Awards for best sound mixing for his work in the movie Slumdog millionaire many of us came to know the existence of department of Sound mixing in movies and the background score is not just limited to background music but also includes sound mixing.

Resul Pookutty receiving academy award
Resul Pookutty receiving academy award

In this week’s Friday Fundas we will see one of the basic ways of classifying the sounds in movies. It is done in the following two ways

  1. Diegetic Sounds
  2. Non-Diegetic Sounds

Diegetic sound is basically the sound that arises from the elements of the surroundings. These are natural and realistic sounds of the particular scene. Often this is confused as recording the real sounds during shooting. Actually diegetic sound can be composed, mixed and recorded during the dubbing of the movie. But they would represent the typical sound that would arise in the scene. For example the character is sitting in the hall, reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. The ceiling fan is turned on. The sounds of a ceiling fan, turning pages of a newspaper and placing of the coffee cup onto the table are all diegetic sounds for this sequence. These sounds can be recorded live or created later in the studio.  These are sounds that can be heard by the characters on the screen. The opening scene in Slumdog millionaire where Jamal is interrogated by a police officer is an example of Diegetic sound. The sound you hear is from the police office blowing the smoke on Jamal’s face. In the Korean movie The Chaser diegetic sound is used predominantly to build the suspense of the scene.

Non-Diegetic sound arises from outside the story space. Usually this is used to create a specific mood to the scene. For instance in the above sequence where the character is reading a newspaper, he is seeing a news article that is shocking, now a background music conveying the shock of the character is added to the scene. This coupled with the reaction of the character helps in creating the mood for the scene. These are sounds that cannot be heard by the characters on screen. Other sound elements like narrators voice is also a non-diegetic sound in the context of the movie. In the Tamil movie 7G Rainbow Colony Yuvanshankar Raja composed a background music using a symphony orchestra that goes well with the mood of the scene. As director Selvaraghavan explains it, even if you are not watching the visual the background music would convey the mood of the film. This is an example of Non-diegetic sound.

Film is a visual media and to connect the audience to the images on the screen sound mixing plays a vital role. Diegetic sounds connect the audience to the environment of the scene while Non-diegetic sounds connect the audience to the mood of the film. Normally in a movie you would have a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Next time you watch a scene from a movie identify the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Read more Friday Fundas

Kuleshov Effect or How Hitchcock turned a kind gentleman to a dirty old man

Kuleshov Effect 

In the last Friday Fundas section I had covered one of the basic units of film grammar Reaction Shot. In this week’s Friday Fundas I am going to cover a related topic called as Kuleshov Effect.

Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov demonstrated a very powerful editing technique in cinema during the 1920s. His experiment involved shooting 4 different shots.

1. Face of an actor with a neutral expression

2. A bowl of soup

3. A dead girl in a coffin

4. A hot woman on a divan

Now he created three films out of these shots. In the first film he alternated between the face of the actor and the bowl of soup. In the second film he alternated between the face of the actor and the dead girl in the coffin. In the third film he alternated between the face of the actor and the hot woman on the divan. He now showed this to three different set of audience. The audience who watched the first film said he had an expression of hunger. The audience who watched the second film said he had an expression of grief. The audience who watched the third film said he had an expression of lust.  Many of them also complimented the acting performance of the actor. But in reality the expression of the character was the same shot. Kuleshov proved that audience when watching a film bring in their emotional reactions to the shot. This would mean that two unrelated shots in reality can be assembled together to create a new meaning. This is the power of editing in films.

An editor should be able to define the meaning the film wants to convey by arranging the shots in a specific order.

In one of his famous interviews Alfred Hitchcock explains the importance of Kuleshov’s effect. He calls it the pure technique of assembling the shots in cinema.

He shows the shot of him squinting, followed by a shot of a woman with a baby playing in the park. Then there is a shot of him smiling. He represents a kind gentleman who loves babies. Now he replaces the shot of the woman and the baby with a shot of a woman in a bikini. You see him squinting at something, then the woman in a bikini is shown and then the shot of him smiling is shown. The whole meaning of the scene changes now. He suddenly becomes a dirty old man.

Watch the video here.

Thus is the power of Kuleshov effect. The power of editing involves assembling of shots to evoke the desired emotions from the audience.

Isn’t it amazing that most of us emote the same way to a particular scene? The magic of cinema continues…

Related Articles: Reaction Shot  | Over the shoulder Shot | Types of Shots | Breaking the 4th Wall

Friday Fundas: Reaction Shot

Reaction Shot 

In this week’s Friday Fundas we would see one of the basic units of film grammar – Reaction Shot.

A Reaction shot is the one where the camera moves away from the main sequence to show the reaction of a character to the main sequence. It could be a response to a dialogue or an event in the preceding shot. Reaction shots are usually a medium close up shot.

The famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a great example of a reaction shot. You see the killer approaching the shower and opening the screen. Immediately the next shot is the woman screaming and then the scene shifts back to the killer and proceeds from there. This might appear to be trivial. Now try to imagine the entire sequence without this single shot you would not feel connected to it.

Reaction Shot - Psycho

Reaction Shot – Psycho

The reaction shot is usually present in the shooting script. When the screenplay is written there would be no mention of the reaction shot but when the script is converted to a shooting script there would be mentions of reaction shot.

Usually this is determined by the director’s vision for the script.

Panchathanthiram
Panchathanthiram

In a comedy film the reaction shots play a very important role in making audience laugh. If you can think of comedy movies like Panchanthanthiram you would now be able to relate to some of the very effective reaction shots.

Usually the reaction shot occurs post the actual main shot. However many film makers have improvised on this to show a reaction shot before the actual main shot to make it more dramatic.

Jurassic Park - Reaction Shot
Jurassic Park – Reaction Shot

In the movie Jurassic Park as the crew is taken for the first tour around the Park they spot the huge herbivores walking around. Initially Spielberg shows the reaction of the people in the Jeep and then later shows the actual scene to which they are reacting to. This is the first time the audience see a full dinosaur in the movie and this just increases the anticipation and prepares the audience for something spectacular.

Few directors have omitted reaction shots on certain occasions to create a suspense that would be later revealed in the movie.

Sixth Sense Restaurant Scene
Sixth Sense Restaurant Scene

In the movie Sixth sense restaurant scene director Manoj Night Shyamalan does not show many reaction shots during the most part of the conversation Crowe’s wife’s face is not shown. Only later when she is signing the cheque her face is shown which works effectively to conceal the secret the climax would reveal later.

Whether reaction shots are present or not present they are very essential to the visuals. Effective use of it is elementary to an engaging movie.

Friday Fundas: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing

In this week’s Friday fundas we would see a popular technique used in screenwriting called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a technique screen writers use in the screenplay that gives a hint or clue to the audience as to how the plot would unfold.  This is a very useful technique in preparing the audience for the upcoming events in the plot and when they occur it is convincing. In a good screenplay you always find a foreshadowing event placed in the first act or the beginning of the second act of the script (see 3 act structure for more information on three act structure).

Let us look at some examples of foreshadowing in popular movies

Avatar - Jake Sully runs out free
Avatar – Jake Sully runs out free

In the movie Avatar Jake Sully is shown running out of the base first time he is connected to the Avatar. Later in the movie he becomes part of the Na’vis and fights against the humans. You find this convincing as he is not connected to the mission and would do what he believes in.

Baasha Medical College scene
Baasha Medical College scene

In the Tamil blockbuster Baasha, there is a scene where Manickam played by Rajnikanth is negotiating for a medical seat for his sister. He tells his name is Manickam but he has another name… and after so muted dialogues you see the dean of the college very frightened of him. This is a very good pre-cursor for his past life which would be revealed in the second half. Imagine if this was not there and all of a sudden he becomes a don in second half it would not have been so convincing.

3 Idiots Pen Scene
3 Idiots – pen used in space

In the movie 3 Idiots there is a scene where in Virus is displaying a pen that can be used in the space and it has been given to him by his professor.  Rancho stuns him with a question as to why pencil was not used in space. Towards the end of the movie we see him giving this pen to Rancho and also explaining him the logical reason of why pencil was not used in space. This simple scene conveys how Rancho has become the best student ever for Virus. It is so effective due to the foreshadowing sequence in the beginning of the script.

Friday Funda: Parallel Cinema

Parallel Cinema 

Parallel Cinema is a term that refers to the film movement in India during the years 1940 to 1960 wherein new age of film makers emerged and they started to make movies which are very close to reality and not having typical Bollywood commercial entertainer which had all the song and dance. This movement was heavily inspired by Italian neorealism and French new wave movies. This originated mainly in the Bengali movies and then spread across to other Indian film industries.

Satyajit Ray is considered to be the father of parallel cinema. Before he took his first movie Pather Panchali he had assisted Italian film maker Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, French film maker Jean Nori’s The River. He said his first movie had a lot of influences from them. This was the birth of parallel cinema. Post this many able film makers started to make parallel cinema. Some of the prominent film makers of parallel Cinema are Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Basu Bhattacharya, John Abraham (director who made critically acclaimed Agraharathil Kazhuthai), Mrinal Sen, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Girish Kasaravalli, G. Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, J Mahendran, Balu Mahendra and many more. They redefined Indian Cinema and made it shine on global stage. It is during this time when many Indian movies became regular feature at prominent international film festivals like the Cannes. Also movies like Pyaasa by Guru Dutt still features as all-time top 100 movies in Time Magazines movie list. And rightly the period of 1940 – 1960 of Indian Cinema was considered to be the Golden Age for Indian Cinema. Many of these were commercial success as well.

It then prevailed very strongly till the early 90’s. State government used to fund a lot of parallel cinemas which was very encouraging. However post the 90’s the commercialization of cinemas became very prevalent. Production houses had to make commercial success to thrive in the economic conditions and the cost of making a movie started growing high. Thus we don’t see much of parallel cinema coming out as it used to. Hope the government starts another movement to let the artists express their view in pure artistic format thus giving us some gem of movies.

Today you can see many of these movies digitally restored free at http://www.cinemasofindia.com/. This is a great initiative by NFDC.