All Things Dave
I am a collector of images, sequenced and still. I am a tourist passing through life. I am a film-maker, photographer, videographer, an old school effects craftsman. This website is an attempt to share with you what I am working on and what I like.
David Berry, Curator
Dave Berry by Dave Berry
Born in Ohio, in 1950. Became interested in films as a young child, particularly Science Fiction films (King Kong, all Universal Horror, Tarzan, 50s Universal sci-fi, etc*). While in High School, began making movies and pursuing photography. After 2 years of conventional Liberal Arts education at Denison University, transferred to a new school: California Institute of the Arts, graduating in 1973 with a BFA in film.
A CalArts aside: although I came into CalArts with an open agenda, I immediately gravitated towards film graphics and animation. One of my mentors was Pat O’Neill, and it was through him that I began to use the optical printer. Beyond the technical aspects of the optical printer, Pat was also influential in my personal work. Two other friends and CalArts students were also to become tremendously influential to my work: Adam Beckett and Ed Harker. It was Adam Beckett who brought me to the attention of John Dykstra, who subsequently hired me to work in the Rotoscope Department at I.L.M., in Van Nuys. This was in March 1976.
An I.L.M. aside: The Optical Department was set up and supervised by another CalArts alumnus, Robbie Blalack. Although I was happy in Rotoscope, I did not view myself as an animator, or even as an effects animator. When the opportunity presented itself, I moved on to the Stage, mainly shooting star fields, background matte paintings, assisting Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren or Ken Ralston. My true destiny, however, lay in the Optical Department, and eventually I ended up there for the last 6 months or so of “Star Wars”. I worked up until 1 week before the initial release of the film.
Began career working on Star Wars, in visual effects, specifically optical effects. For the next 10 years worked on various films including Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so on, blah blah blah, ended up winning an Academy Award in 1986 (Visual Effects “Cocoon”). In 1986, began to produce various video projects: pseudo-documentaries, eclectic music videos, travelogues and such, with varying results. Entered the Digital Revolution in 1993. Briefly taught. Continue to explore personal artistic expression through digital media. Still call myself a Film Maker, despite the fact that I rarely handle the stuff any more.
These days I am a collector of image sequences. My basic tools are a Digital SLR camera, an intervalometer and a tripod. Yeah, I’m that weird old guy hanging around trying to blend into the background, recording the moment, lapsing the time.
*I dig these old films and began collecting movie posters some 40 years ago. I mostly collect Lobby Cards. Lobby Cards are 11″x 14″, came in sets of 8 and were distributed to theatre owners for display.
On the Fringes of Frame Rates (or How I Shoot Stuff)
by Dave Berry
(Not that anyone ever asks, but for what it’s worth, some rambling incoherent thoughts on my film process.)
What is a film? A sequence of images played at sufficient speed as to induce the Illusion of Motion in the viewer. The “Illusion of Motion” is sometimes referred to as “The Persistence of Vision” and is the technical basis of modern cinema as developed in the latter part of the 19th century.
In a standard motion picture, there are 24 images per second (the “Frame Rate”): a motion picture camera shoots 24 images per second, and the subsequent “image sequence” is projected back at same speed, thus approximating “normal” film reality.
There has been some debate about how many images per second will most faithfully render reality. Personally, I am not trying to render reality, so 24 images per second is fine by me. It would not seem that big of a deal to increase the number of images per second to 30, as NTSC Video does, but there is a perceptible difference, which while difficult to explain perceptually, can be generally agreed on as “That Looks Like Video” or “That Looks Like Film”. Frame Rate is malleable and thus can be used to artistic effect.
Suppose you increase the Frame Rate x 10 (240 images per second), and then play back the resulting sequence at 24 Frames Per Second. It would take 10 seconds to play back every second filmed, resulting in Slow Motion. The inverse is true: decrease the Frame Rate / 10 (2.4 images per second), play back at normal speed and the result will be Fast Motion or Time Lapse. Then there is Stop Motion. This is classically defined as an animation technique in which inanimate objects are brought to life by some sort of physical manipulation taking place inbetween camera exposures. Stop Motion goes back to the earliest days of Cinema, and has been popular ever since.
Pixilation is a variation of Stop Motion, usually involving live actors, in a sense animating themselves (rather than an inanimate object), to interesting effect. (Today the term has become confused with Pixelation, which can refer to artifacts which can find their way into digital images. I’m old school, so Pixilation will always be related to Stop Motion Animation, as far as I am concerned. Ah, the times we had just throwing that word around, the way it just rolls off the tongue,… but I digress.) Suffice to say, the boundaries between Stop Motion and Pixilation are blurry, indeed. One of the side effects of Pixilation can be a clarity of exposure. Normal movement ends up looking weird (or Pixilated), because there is no Motion Blur which normally occurs when filming movement. But then…, I like weird.
And so it was, that I was always attracted to the fringes of Frame Rates and variations of Stop Motion and Pixilation. Back in the day (ok, a long fucking time ago), one of my first cameras was a Braun Nizo S-56: a Super-8 movie camera to be more precise. This camera gave you a lot of options in the matter of Frame Rates. “Normal” Frame Rate in Super-8 is 18 Frames Per Second. The S-56 could vary the Frame Rate to achieve Slow Motion, Fast Motion (Time Lapse) or Stop Frame (Animation). I used them all, but my favorites were 6 Frames Per Second and The Single Frame Trigger. An example can be found in “teleVisions”, shot around 1975:
This film was created from 2 simple layers superimposed: Images of old movies shot at 6 Frames Per Second off of an old Black & White TV superimposed over single frame images of street pavement filmed one frame at a time, at random, in Venice, California (where I happened to be living at the time). Seriously, I love pavement textures, and continue to collect them:
Being naturally lazy & cheap, I doggedly continued to shoot Super-8 film into the early 1990s. I did occasionally lug out the 16mm Bolex Camera, and I began to experiment with home video formats (Regular 8, Hi8, DV). But all the things I could do easily in Super-8 were cumbersome or impossible to do with the other cameras. And I never reconciled The Film Look vs The Video Look (which had a lot to do with Frame Rate). I longed for the 16:9 format and increased resolution (everything I had done up until that point had been 4:3 and marginal quality resolution). This was especially aggravating after having worked professionally in Motion Picture Optical Effects for over 10 years, and being used to working with wide screen formats for Motion Picture films such as VistaVision & Panavision. Then, the Digital Revolution began. It did not happen all at once but it began to transform the film making process. Jean Cocteau said “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper”. Although I would argue that film has been a legitimate Art Form since it’s invention, there is no mistaking the impact that Digital Film Making tools and techniques are having on film making as it relates to Cocteau’s sentiment. Friends, we are in a Golden Age for film making. Perhaps it is not as apparent in the Cineplexes today, but look to what’s happening on the internet where an astonishing variety of personal film making is exploding onto the scene. Turns out, being lazy & cheap is well suited to the Digital Film Making process, and thus, I made the change to Digital. I may still cling to the term “Film Maker”, but there’s no film involved in the process anymore, at least for me.
So, today my primary tools are: A Nikon D7000 Digital SLR Camera, a tripod, a MacPro, After Effects & Final Cut. The Nikon can do everything my old Super-8 camera could do, but bigger & better. I do not have a lot of fancy gadgets beyond the camera & tripod. I collect time-lapse scenes, so my gear is ready to go at all times, in a small backpack in my car, because a lot of successful time-lapse is about being in the right place at the right time (this is a metaphor for my life). Clouds and natural phenomena are swell, but I am fascinated by the interaction of people (especially tourists!) and architecture within this environment. The fact that my gear set up is so minimal, I can blend in much easier and not draw too much notice. When the opportunity is there, I like to place myself in scenes, a kind of “artist’s signature”.
The Nikon D7000 has a built-in interval timer (or intervalometer), which is nice. Before the D7000, I used the D70S and the D90 and I had to use an external timer. I used one called “The Time Machine”, custom made by Mumford Micro Systems. It is a great device and I still use it occasionally when I am using more than one camera.
There is the matter of flicker inherent to DSLR time-lapsing. This is usually attributable to the constant opening and closing of the aperture between exposures. While this is not a problem in normal still photography, it can be very distracting in time-lapse photography particularly in sky or cloud backgrounds. It varies from camera to camera and lens to lens. The best work-around is to use a manual aperture lens, with slight modifications to disable the electronic and mechanical connection between the camera & lens, in a sense “breaking” the lens. The consequence of this is that the aperture will remain fixed for the time-lapse sequence, but focusing and exposure will have to be done manually. To determine exposure, I rely on a reading of the histogram in the levels display on the camera. Once you get the hang of it, it is very reliable. Exposure values must be kept constant and care should also be taken to set the White Balance to manual, and the ISO readings to manual. On occasion I still use non-modified lenses depending on the shot I am trying to obtain, and sometimes I have to deal with flicker. There is software available which can “de-flicker” time-lapse scenes. I have had success with GBDeflicker by Granite Bay Software, which works as a plug-in for After Effects. Much of my Time-Lapse work can be seen in The San Francisco Variations. Too lazy to shoot your own time-lapse? Check out Dave’s FREE time-lapse collection! on Vimeo, all downloadable for FREE!
Time-lapse purists will shoot in RAW mode, but I am content with JPEG for the time being. My post production process is fairly straight forward. I copy the files to my MacPro, and arrange each time-lapse sequence in it’s own folder. I use a simple naming convention which contains the date the scene was filmed, and the order in which it was filmed so that everything sorts chronologically. I maintain a simple data base of scenes I have filmed using File Maker Pro. I make at least 2 backup copies of everything I film. The sequences are then imported into After Effects and converted into movie files (ah, After Effects! How I can sing the praises of this remarkable piece of software!) . My output format of choice is 1920 x 1080p at 24 Frames Per Second. Since the full resolution images from the D7000 are much larger than this format, I have a lot of latitude in recomposing scenes. I can also make adjustments to color and contrast, and if need be, correct any unsteadiness or bumps in the image. That said, I tend to be pretty much a purist in terms of composition, in that I like to output scenes pretty much the way I framed them in camera. I could say more about time-lapse, but you would be far better off checking out the Forum at Timescapes.org run created by Tom Lowe, Master Time-Lapser.
When I am shooting Stop Motion (Pixilation), I am still basically set up for time-lapse. The camera is automatically shooting at intervals, and I do all the “manipulation” between exposures. It helps if I am close enough to the camera and I can hear the shutter trigger. Some of what I shoot, for lack of a better term, I call Single Frame Collages. These I have collected for many years, back to the Super-8 days in the 1970s. In most all cases, these are composed and edited “in camera”. They are not arranged in post. Example:
Variations of this include “animating” the camera through a landscape: