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Making the Cut

August 28th, 2014 by Jonathan Katz

Famed editor Sergei Eisenstein hard at work on his latest feature. As you can probably discern, he took his work VERY seriously. 

When putting together a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is part of a pre-determined whole.  There’s an image on the box, and that’s what you get. When you’ve run out of pieces and the picture matches, you know you’re done.

With editing, it’s not that simple.

The carefully-chosen shots, camera moves, and performances all end up in the same place, the proverbial puzzle box, ready to be put together by the editor. Until the film is edited, the story that was shot (likely out of order) hasn’t been told yet! The editor is as much a storyteller as the screenwriter, and controls many aspects of the film. These include: 

Pace: Editing determines the pace of a scene. Quick cuts and cuts that don’t match heighten a feeling of intensity. Crazy action sequences and car chases are notorious for lots of fast cuts – they have a lot of ground to cover!  But something as simple as a family argument at dinner can become an intense war when the editing takes us around the table.

Acting and reacting: They say “acting is reacting” and editing is, surprisingly, no different. We know it’s important to see a character while they’re talking, but it’s almost more important to see how the other characters react! A shrewd editor can create a poignant moment by mixing and matching reactions from different takes, sometimes even from different lines.

In his book “In The Blink of an Eye,” Academy Award winning editor Walter Murch talks about “the slate piece,” that bit of film shot before they slate and call “action.”  Even though that twenty-second piece of footage was never meant to be in the movie, perhaps the actor had the right look on his face.  Murch reiterates that anything captured on film is fair game for editing.

Continuity: We’ve all seen flubs, continuity errors, things in the background disappearing, etc. We think we’re smart for noticing. Believe it or not, these sorts of errors are at the very bottom of the list of importance for an editor. When choosing between an incredible performance by an actor or making sure the lamp in the background didn’t move, the editor will choose the performance every time.

The Cutting Room Floor: Not every shot makes it into the film. Maybe the tracking shot that took half a day that the director loved just doesn’t work. Maybe the close-up that the actor wanted disrupts the feel of the scene. It’s the editor’s responsibility to be divorced from on-set situations, and use the puzzle pieces they’ve been given to tell a story in the best way possible.


And… that’s a wrap!

Editing is abstract and virtually limitless. Choosing the pace, performances, and shots is a huge responsibility of storytelling.  Movies can be made or broken in the editing room. The next time you watch a film, try paying attention to the cuts – you’ll likely find yourself quickly forgetting about them and getting drawn back into the story. Great editing affects us on a subconscious level and disappears into the film.

This is the final blog for Hulu Summer Film School. We hope you’ve looked at movies a different way and learned something you didn’t know before! Image and video hosting by TinyPic

 Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to see full-length versions of our selections and explore past lessons.

Hulu Summer Film School Week 7: Post-Production

August 28th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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In an interview with NPR, the acclaimed editor Walter Murch (Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now) described his job as “a cross between a short-order cook and a brain surgeon.”

The work of an editor is highly complex. As the last shepherds of the film, they reorder, splice, trim, and shape the raw footage to breathe mood, tension, and structure into the film. Under the guardianship of a great editor, no frame goes unexamined and no contributionwhether it be in acting or cinematographygoes under-appreciatedIn this final week of Hulu Summer Film School, we’re celebrating these unsung heroes by exploring how they carry the film through its final legs of production. 

Required Viewing:

1) Sans Soleil

A fluid travelogue of cinema, Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil explores the mutable nature of memory, time, and its effect on our perception of history. Using elliptical editing techniques to marry documentary and found-footage, Marker’s film sends us from the bustling cityscape of Tokyo to the wilds of Guinea-Bissau in Africa to the extraterrestrial landscape of Iceland, and back again to Japan where we bear witness to a religious ceremony honoring cats. Through all of this dazzlement, Sans Soleil is devoid of synchronous sound and uses an unseen narrator (reading aloud the journal of a fictional traveling cameraman who captured the images we’re seeing) as the binding force for the material. The editorial synthesis of sight and sound becomes simultaneously lasting and ephemeral, not unlike someone trying to recall — and re-experience — a distant memory.

Later in the film, Marker reveals his affection for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, referring to it as a quest to discover an “impossible memory, insane memory.” Memory and time contort into an endless spiral as Marker showcases still images from Vertigo intercut with footage of his own sojourn to San Francisco to recreate scenes from Hitchcock’s film. The editing is crisp and precise, snapping from a still of Vertigo to its corresponding live action shot in Sans Soleil while the narrator draws a comparative deconstruction of Hitchcock’s film, musing about the impossibility “to live with memory without falsifying it.” Memory becomes a kind of personal armor, protecting us from the harsh iniquities of objective truth and allowing us – both filmmaker and viewer alike – to remake history as desired by the needs of the present.

-Naveen Singh 

2) Breathless

Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film Breathless revolutionized the way films were edited. It made the jump cut a viable way to compress narrative time. The plot is heavily informed by popular film culture from before 1960: a young thug goes on the run from the police with his American girlfriend. But the energy of the film has little to do with the plot and everything to do with the loose way in which the film was shot and the endless invention of the film’s editing.

Consider Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as he takes off in a stolen car in this clip from early in the film. The jump cuts do not preserve continuity of time or space, but there’s an emotional logic to Michel’s tear through France. The film forces the audience to see Michel the way he sees himself (as cool, but playful, full of vibrancy and passion), and Godard’s style is like crazed stream-of-consciousness filmmaking – he captures life the way it is, or at least the way we would like it to be in our mind’s eye.

- Christopher Rowe 

3) Manufactured Landscapes

Much more than any other genre, the documentary’s structure is shaped in the editing room. On a typical documentary production, hundreds of hours of footage will be shot and then brought to the editor who will cut the content down to a 90-minute feature.

A testament to documentary editing can be seen in Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes, in which Baichwal follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he captures various landscapes around the world that have been shaped by industrial production. One of the film’s many visually-stunning shots is a long take of Chinese manufacturing workers lining up to take orders from their managers. The wide angle highlights the sheer magnitude of identically-dressed workers and also serves to emphasize the lack of individualism in the space. This shot is followed by a match cut to Burtynsky’s photograph of the event and then another match cut to Burtynsky’s photo in a gallery space with visitors passing by it. Through this sequence, Baichwal depicts editing’s ability to transcend not only time but also space. As a result, viewers gain a better understanding of the power of Burtynsky’s images to communicate social and economic situations to the rest of the world.

- Kelly Lin 

4) Primer

In “Primer,” two scientists accidentally discover time travel and it slowly affects their lives, over and over again.  It’s fast-paced, yet slow and brooding, and completely immersive.

In this clip, Abe and Aaron discover that time travel may be happening right in front of their noses.  As they are both trying to make sense of what’s happening, the editing is jumpy, frenetic, and a little disjointed, matching the activity of their brains.  But as they reach a conclusion they both agree on, the editing slows down, allowing us to spend a bit more time on each shot.  This subconsciously gives our minds a little space again – a way to say “we’ve settled here,” just like the characters have in the story.

-Jonathan Katz 

Supplemental Viewing:

5) Rashomon 

6) The Pianist 

Extracurricular Links: 

1) The Top 10 Most Effective Editing Moments of All Time – Some of the best editing in film is the editing that draws us so deeply into the story that we aren’t even cognizant that the post-production process is taking place. This video from CineFix takes some of the most highly regarded films of our time and explores how different editorial techniques help them achieve greatness. After watching this clip, check out some of CineFix’s other short form content, all designed to both instruct and entertain filmmakers and movie buffs alike.

2) Vashi Visuals - Run by editor Vashi Nedomansky, this blog gives an in-depth look into the editorial workflow and the reasonings behind editorial choices made both by him and other editors in the business.

3) Movie Editing Techniques from LA Video Filmmaker - This blog post explores the most commonly used editorial cuts in cinema, with gifs to back them up.

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Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to see full-length versions of our selections and explore past lessons.

The Secrets of Animation: An Exploration of the Guiding Principles behind The Secret of Kells

August 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Lin


Whether your interests lie in CG or stop-motion, traditional 2D or puppetry, there’s a famous set of 12 Principles used throughout the medium to give all these forms the illusion of life. Popularized by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, the goal of these principles is to cultivate believability and style. Let’s examine their use in the Hulu Summer Film School selection, The Secret of Kells.

The Secret of Kells tells the story of Brendan, a young monk in search of a legendary crystal that he can use to complete the Book of Kells.

1) Squash and Stretch - Squash and stretch is the extending and compressing of a character’s body to create the illusion of weight and volume. In this scene, squash and stretch is used to establish how two of Brendan’s mentors, Brother Tang and Brother Assoua, are different not only in height but also in the way their bodies move to form expressions.

2) Anticipation - Animators use anticipation to prep the audience for a forthcoming action. In this scene, Brendan pulls the quill back in anticipation before touching it to the book to make the line.

3) Staging -  This is the concept that every pose or action that a character takes should clearly communicate a character’s goals, attitude, mood, or reaction. Compare these images of Brendan from different scenes. Notice how each pose is different from the other and expresses a clear emotion. If you were to make a silhouette of the character’s pose, you would still be able to tell that these are distinct poses.

4) Straight Ahead & Pose-to-Pose - More related to process than product, this principle highlights the two major methods of animation production: straight ahead and pose-to-pose. Straight ahead animation is popular in stop-motion animation. In this process, the animator will animate one frame at a time in chronological order. Pose-to-Pose involves creating key poses and then adding the in-between “filler” later.

Pose-to-Pose: To animate this scene from The Secret of Kells, animators first developed these key poses for Brendan and his mentor, Brother Aidan and then passed the scene on to other animation studios in Brussels, Belgium, Brazil, and Hungary to fill in the action between these poses.

Straight Ahead: By contrast, on their 2012 feature, ParaNorman, stop-motion animation company LAIKA employed the straight ahead production process, moving their figures ever so slightly, taking a picture, and repeating again.(This gif is a time-lapse of how the animators from ParaNorman were able to make Norman come to life.)


5) Follow through, and Overlapping Action - Follow through is the concept that when a character stops running or performing an action, their body parts stop moving different times. This one is kinda difficult to see, but if you look closely you’ll notice how when the magical forest fairy Aisling jumps, her body stops on a rock but her hair continues to move a couple frames after.


Tied to the concept of follow through is overlapping action. This concept posits that when the body is in motion, certain parts will inevitably move faster than others. In this scene, take note of how the philosopher Colum-Cille’s arm holding the cane moves at a faster rate than the rest of his body.

6) Slow-In and Slow-Out - The more frames of an action there are, the slower the action will seem. The less frames of an action there are, the faster the action will seem. Thus when animating an action scene, animators will add more drawings to the beginning parts of the action, less towards the middle, and more again towards the end, creating the effect of a slow-in and a slow-out. In this scene, notice how the action seems to slow down when the bell is at the highest and lowest portion of its arc and speeds up when the bell is in the middle of the arc.

7) Arcs - Almost all of life’s actions have a slightly circular flow to them. Thus animators will often animate actions with an arc trajectory. Sometimes this principle can be exaggerated to add appeal to a character, as in this awesome curvature animation on Aisling’s hair!

8) Secondary Action - This is an additional action that helps to supplement the main action of a scene. For instance, in this scene where Brendan is walking, the movement of the character’s legs and feet are the main action while the movement of the character’s arms, head, and subtle body motions make up the secondary actions of the scene.

9) Timing - By incorporating more or fewer drawings into the range of an action, an animator is able to mimic the laws of physics to create either slow and smooth movements or fast and crisp movements, as seen here.

10) Exaggeration - Exaggeration involves broadening your character’s facial features, poses, and expressions to add greater understanding to their movements. As a result of the principle of exaggeration, it is pretty clear to the audience that this goose is terrified!

11) Solid Drawings – This principle posits that the basic ideas related to traditional drawing should also be applied to the animation space. This character sheet shows how the artists designed Brother Aidan’s cat Pangur Ban, taking into account the various poses that the character would assume and the perspectives at which it might be depicted.

12) Appeal – This concept is hard to pinpoint but easy to identify. Simply put, appeal relates to the idea that images should be able to craft a connection with their audiences. This does not necessarily mean that the image has to be cute and cuddly, but rather that the actions on screen will spark the interest of the audience. In The Secret of Kells, the filmmakers use a variety of different setups and textures to spark the interest of the audience, including this beautiful triptych set-up.

By employing the 12 Principles of Animation, The Secret of Kells is able to achieve not only believable characters but also a compelling story. To learn more about the process that went into creating The Secret of Kells, visit The Secret of Kells official blog and wiki page.

Additionally, be sure to visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to learn more about Animation and view the full film (for FREE!).

Last comment: about 7 hours ago 3 Comments

Hulu Summer Film School Week 6: Animation

August 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Picture this: A character sits at a table and takes a sip from a glass of water.

In the live-action world, this shot might take 15 minutes to set up and shoot. In the animation world, this seemingly simple action might take 3 months. Not only do the characters and sets have to be designed, rigged, and modeled, but the sound of the character drinking and putting the glass on the table has to be recorded; the movements of the character, the character’s clothes, the chair, and the water have to be animated, and don’t even get us started on if this scene were crafted in traditional 2D.

Welcome to the world of animation where artists begin with a blank canvas and from that blank canvas, they build a world. This week’s Hulu Summer Film School selections explore a wide variety of animation styles and how animators use their tools to create worlds that extend beyond our wildest imaginations.


Required Viewing: 

1) Sita Sings the Blues 

Director: Nina Paley
Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” is a charming and unique collage of animation styles and narrative strands, that, when considered as a whole, exemplifies the ability of an auteur animator to pioneer her vision with near complete creative control. As a medium, animation offers the potential for a purer authorship than live action because it limits the contentious issue of sharing authorship across many different roles. “Sita” offers different tellings of the traditional Indian story of Ramayana about the troubled love between Sita and her neglectful lover Rama. Paley was eventually able to distribute the film through a Creative Commons license which let her use music that would otherwise be protected by copyright law (in one strand of the film, Sita sings Annette Henshaw songs from the jazz era). In addition to Paley’s role as narrative auteur, “Sita” becomes an intellectual embodiment of her artistic creed. Paley is an advocate of the free culture movement – best summarized by the title of her original song, “Copying Isn’t Theft.”
-Christopher Rowe

2) The Secret of Kells 

Director: Tomm Moore
The 12 Principles of Animation as illustrated through The Secret of Kells

3) The Muppets Take Manhattan 

Director: Frank Oz

Whether puppetry should be considered “animation” is a polarizing topic among film buffs, but there’s no denying that the form of theater performance is deeply rooted in the simplest concept of animation: Performers animate inanimate objects to tell a story. Just like in traditional pencil-and-paper animation, this effect is achieved not only through scenes that are “drawn” out, but also through the sounds and movements of the made objects to create an illusion that it is all real.

Operationally with Jim Henson’s puppets, one hand manipulates the head and mouth while another manipulates the hands and arms. Because of this, the puppets’ faces remain static so emotion is primarily expressed through tone of voice and arm movements. Through her powerful voice and aggressive arm movements, you can tell that Miss Piggy is tempestuous; Kermit is mild-mannered because of his permanent pensive eyes and soft movements.

Jim Henson’s “Muppet” characters are a definitive example of puppetry used in movies. In “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” the group of fuzzy, big-eyed characters hit the streets of New York City. With puppetry magic, these furry objects sing, dance, and feel sadness and happiness all while experiencing what it’s like working at diners, being broke, and having failed dreams in the big city.

-Sheila Dichoso

4) The Secret of NIMH 

Director: Don Bluth

A cult favorite of many established animators today, The Secret of NIMH draws on classical animation techniques to tell the tale of a field rat who seeks help from a colony of other rats to try to save her sick son. In many ways, the story behind the film is as compelling as the film itself.

Flash back to 1979. Disney Animation Studios was in production on The Fox and the Hound. Animator Don Bluth was dissatisfied with Disney’s increasingly computer-based modes of production and wished to revive the traditional animation techniques used by Walt Disney in the 1930’s. With a rag-tag team of sixteen other Disney animators, Bluth left the studio to form Don Bluth Productions. Their first feature was The Secret of NIMH. By placing a deeper focus on character body language and detailed backgrounds, Bluth’s team was able to create one of the most vibrantly animated films of all time and spawn subsequent Bluth features including An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven.

-Kelly Lin

Supplemental Viewing:

5) Tatsumi

6) Alois Nebel

7) My Dog Tulip 

8) The Cat in the Hat

Extracurricular Links: 

1) CartoonBrew - The go-to destination for information on the latest news and trends in the animation industry. Be sure to check out their Animated Film Preview guide about the animated features getting released this year as well as their collection of the best student and studio short films on the web.

2) Monsters University Progression Reel – These days it takes a village to make an animated film. Watch this video to see just how many different teams touch the footage before it is released in its final form.

3) ParaNorman: This Little Light - If your interests lie in the stop-motion animation realm, then you’ll definitely enjoy this ParaNorman making-of video from the wizards at LAIKA about the extensive process that goes into the creation of a single prop from the movie, a little light. Watch the trailer LAIKA’s latest feature, The Boxtrollshere.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to see full-length versions of our selections and explore past lessons. 

Setting the Score with Source

August 8th, 2014 by Jonathan Katz

A character flies down the street in a brand new hot rod.  He makes a turn at breakneck speed, burning some rubber.  All the while, we hear rock music turned up to eleven as he careens down the road.

But when he parks the car, that loud music is now much softer, and sounds like it’s coming out of the car radio!  How did this happen?  What’s the difference?

When music appears in a film, it falls into one of two categories: source and score.

If the music is coming from headphones, a radio, a speaker, even a human being’s mouth, it’s source music.  The characters can hear it, the audience can hear it, and its origination point is clear – it’s coming from somewhere within the world of the film.  Think of a character singing “Happy Birthday” or a couple dancing to music at a party.

If the music is not coming from an identifiable source, it’s score.  The characters can’t turn it on, nor turn it off, and they certainly can’t hear it.  The music is there to heighten the scene, highlight the story, or even help to connect a montage together.

“A Hard Day’s Night” begins with the Beatles comically avoiding screaming crowds of fans as they make their way to the train station.  It’s all set to the title song, but it’s being used as score.

How do we know?  The Beatles are running around without their instruments, and Paul isn’t even with them!  He’s busy hiding behind a newspaper.

The music isn’t coming from anywhere on screen.  It’s only there to entertain us, highlight the craziness, and introduce us to the film.

Not too much later, on the train, the Fab Four take a much-needed break from their capers and settle in for a card game.  It isn’t too long before instruments appear out of nowhere, and we get the second song of the film, “I Should Have Known Better.”

This time, we see the Beatles perform, and the music is clearly coming from their instruments and their voices.  Here, the music is source.  As further proof, there is a small audience of girls listening to them.  Since other people within the film can hear them, the music is source.

However, what makes “A Hard Day’s Night” so brilliant is that it blurs the lines between source and score.  Are the Beatles really playing that song on the train right now?  Those instruments did, after all, appear out of nowhere.  Yes, we can see John Lennon singing, but the scene feels more like a music video than a character breaking into song and dance.

In fact, it was this film that pioneered so many of the music video techniques that we’ve become used to.  Imagine that – the Beatles innovating things that were ahead of their time.  Who knew?

Check out the film and decide for yourself what is source and what is score.  No matter what you decide, the timeless tunes of the Beatles continue to inspire and entertain us all.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view A Hard Day’s Night and learn more about Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design. 

Last comment: about 7 hours ago 1 Comment