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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Previsualizing a feature film with Moviestorm

Chris Bouchard is an independent filmmaker working in London, UK.  He learned his craft by participating in his student film-making society at York University while he was supposed to be studying engineering. He worked on a lot of low budget films in various roles before trying his hand at directing and producing. “It was all very informal,” he says. “Basically, learning on the job.”

Now 30 years old, his day job is visual effects engineer at Oscar-winning post-production company Framestore. They’re one of those companies you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re in the industry, but you’ve -undoubtedly seen their work, which includes high profile movies like Harry Potter, Avatar, Clash of the Titans, Sherlock Holmes, Chronicles of Narnia, Troy, X-Men and The Dark Knight, as well as the title sequence for Doctor Who and commercials for companies such as Coca-Cola. Chris spends his days researching and dealing with technical issues for these sorts of high-budget blockbuster projects.

To satisfy his creative urges, though, Chris continues to make his own ultra-low-budget movies. He hasn’t directed as many as he’d like, he admits, but the one he’s most proud of is a 40 minute unofficial Tolkien adaptation called The Hunt For Gollum he made in 2009 which was shot on a budget of £3000 and has now been seen by over 10 million people (watch it free on YouTube). He’s also created trailers for a post apocalytic movie called Human Residue, and shot a sci-fi short called Clone

He’s now working on his first feature film, Looking Over The Dragon, which has just finished shooting. It’s set in the London borough of Hackney, and it’s about a drug deal gone wrong. He used Moviestorm extensively in the planning stages of the film (the 4 months leading up to the shoot).

Chris discovered Moviestorm almost accidentally, and immediately realized its potential.  He explains, “I remember being in hospital and having a lot of time on my hands whilst finalising the script. I was using Celtx to write the script, and noticed on a banner ad from Celtx a link to Moviestorm. Previz has always been something I’d meant to look into but in the past I hadn’t really tried anything out. I had a good look at the website and immediately decided to try it out for myself. I was amazed at what it could do. The simplicity and ease with which you could theoretically build a sequence of shots with characters, dialog and camera moves, was brilliant. It was exactly the tool I needed to plan shots for a live action movie such as this, and it was also amazing that many of the props (cars and guns) were built into the package with ready made animations. I really enjoyed the process - it took time to get to grips with but all the building blocks of a scene were there from camera controls to lighting, and virtual actors. It was fantastic that it was easy to record in the lines and see how they sounded as well as visualising the blocking of where characters might be standing in the location when performing.”


He used Moviestorm to previz ten key scenes from the movie. “Moviestorm was a really good help during my shot planning process,” he comments. “It’s a really powerful preproduction tool - not just to visualise shots, but to help tune the dialog and plan camera angles. I was able to tweak the script on the fly, by being able to ‘watch’ the script and make refinements by trial and error. This helped me give the actors a refined script that flowed better, or didn’t lose momentum.” 

Once Chris was happy with the scenes, he then put them onto a laptop which he took on set as a reference aid. “It was a really useful tool during the chaos of filming,” he says. “It’s also a good way to aid communication from director to crew. I could show the director of photography what shots I had in mind, and help him to plan his lighting accordingly.

Chris worked with the Moviestorm development team to add some features that made it more useful in a live filming environment. As he points out, “film sets can be so frantic that you need to be well organised with shots numbered and easy to identify. I pointed out the need to export storyboard frames, which they added in the next release. In future, I’d also love to see more professional features such as shot numbering and accurate film lens information.”

Moviestorm will definitely be part of Chris’s working methodology from here in. “Although it certainly takes time to master, it was very useful in helping plan shots to tell the story, and have confidence they will edit together to tell the story in an interesting way. It’s something more people should look into. Directors can benefit greatly, as can storyboard artists, VFX artists, set designers and even writers - the scope for experimentation is huge!”

We look forward to seeing his movie when it’s finished!



More info:

The Hunt For Gollum: Web site | Wikipedia | IMDB | YouTube
Looking Over the Dragon: Web site | IMDB | Stills
Celtx: Web site | Twitter
Framestore: Web site | Wikipedia | Twitter
Chris Bouchard: IMDB

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