Read the review at New England Film
What makes shots look expensive, sexy and, above all, trailer-worthy? That's the question posed by Hot Moves: The Science of Awesome, a new instructional DVD from Hollywood Camera Work.
DVD producer-director Per Holmes studied the "big" shots commonly used in major Hollywood movies and developed this DVD to break down the theories and principles that make up these power-packed shots. From start to finish, the nearly two-hour DVD presents these shots as recreated by Holmes using realistic animation software.
Separated from the context of the original movies, and without the distractions of dialogue and music, filmmakers can easily see how these shots are constructed and their emotional impact on an audience.
Hot Moves is not about camera coverage or expressing the story, which are concepts and practices covered in detail by Hollywood Camera's six DVD master course in blocking and staging. The new Hot Moves disc purports to "just be awesome for its own sake," and it succeeds mightily.
The DVD states that all hot moves derive from only a small number of techniques and their combinations. Through extensive use of realistic animations, the Hot Moves DVD displays these camera move techniques in clear detail.
Many of the moves covered in the disc are high-budget shots, or involve computer generated visual effects. But, as noted in the DVD, a pivot move is the same whether it revolves around a pair of actors standing in a room or a helicopter flying around a building, so all of the basic techniques can be applied to a production with any size budget. It is then up to the director to figure out where these "hot move" shots are appropriate and support the story.
Hot Moves creator Per Holmes' six DVD set entitled The Master Course in High-End Blocking & Staging is the definitive visual instructional on understanding actor placement and camera moves. It probably offers more information on visual esthetics than one would get at film school. With Hot Moves, Holmes continues the tutorial on film with examples specific to epic movement shots.
Hot Moves piggybacks on the six DVD master course with explanations and examples of grid theory, stacked moves, angles along paths, camera rolls, shots from high up, aerial chases and flying camera moves.
Although one could start with this DVD and gain an immense understanding of creating awesome camera moves, it would be helpful to first have a basic understanding of cinematic camera techniques. Two exceptional books describing directorial techniques are Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll and Master Shots by Christopher Kenworthy.
Holmes spends a significant amount of time on Hot Moves, and previously in the 6-DVD Master Course, explaining and presenting the theory of parallax. Simply put, parallax in filmmaking is when the background in the shot moves at a different speed relative to the actor in the foreground.
Imagine an actor running through a meadow. The tall grass he's running through whooshes by, yet the mountains in the distance cross the screen much more slowly, while objects in between move by at intermediate speeds. Likewise, an actor driving a car is stationary relative to the camera in the passenger seat, while the street signs speed by and the distant mountains creep across.
This is described as parallax. It's what gives the viewer a sense of the depth of the physical space in the shot. Conversely, used in certain ways it can cause the viewer to lose perspective of the space in the shot for a specific effect.
In moviemaking, parallax is an important concept. For example, Hot Moves shows how a shot dollying straight in toward an actor is made much more powerful by using a long lens and angling this move slightly to create parallax movement with the background. The uneven movement between the foreground subject and background gives instant emotional punch to the shot. The harder the angle of the camera move, the greater the parallax with the background. One surely has seen this effect in shots where an actor stands atop a desert mesa and the camera flies around him.
Hot Moves advances on basic parallax effects by demonstrating how to use vertical as well as horizontal shifts. The disc shows how to place the camera on different vertical levels than the subjects, such as on top of a building or under a bridge.
Unlike some of the other shots on the DVD that are more big-budget oriented, understanding the power of parallax in a dolly move is a no-cost way to turn a decent shot into an awesome one.
In Hot Moves, we see the awesomeness of creating a track move with the camera in "mid-air," either physically as with a helicopter cam, or virtually with special effects. Pivots
Hot Moves presents excellent examples of pivot moves, where the camera slides past a character but stays locked onto her. Typically this move would be used to follow a second character moving in the middle background. Again, using a longer lens adds to the parallax effect of the pivot creating a powerful shot.
Pivot reveals are shots where the camera tracks past the foreground character and then reveals a second character behind. This is such as classic dramatic shot you'll begin to notice it in almost every movie or TV drama after seeing it in this DVD.
The concept of keyframing a shot involves the camera moving from an opening composition to a separate end framing. It's the concept that drives most dolly or tracking shots.
In Hot Moves, the idea is to move the camera in more extreme ways between the keyframes. It's one thing to track the movement of actors walking into a building with the camera track on the sidewalk. It's quite another to do the same camera move, but with the camera track running down the side of the building.
Grid theory is where the DVD gets into the deep theories of how the human brain processes movement on the screen. In this case, Hot Moves theorizes that our brains layer imaginary grid lines over wide scenes, much in the way a cityscape is laid out in a grid.
Picture a camera sweeping down toward a city street. While the camera moves toward a car in the street, portions of the buildings simultaneously move up and out of frame. Thus there are horizontal grids and vertical grids moving in opposing directions -- and with parallax -- that can be used to emotional effect by the filmmaker.
The lines of the objects in the shots can appear to topple or run past, depending upon the camera angle and direction of movement. Understanding this effect can help the filmmaker know where to place and angle the camera when shooting a moving car, for example. The placement can result in either the feeling of speed or slowness of the car, regardless of the vehicle's actual speed.
Learning to move the camera relative to the grid lines in the shot can result in different objects moving in opposing or contrasting directions, rather than simply seeing everything moving in the same direction.
Understanding the movement of these imaginary grid lines, as expressed in the real edges of buildings, objects, streets, etc., offers the filmmaker the ability to manipulate the emotional impact of a shot.
The Hot Moves DVD shows how amazing shots are created by adding simple techniques such as rolling the camera slightly, or tilting the shot, or crossing the action at an interesting angle.
These kinds of movements will give shots imbalance, weightlessness or dreamlike qualities, and should be used with caution to complement the story and never just for effect.
A fun section of the disc presents shots from high angles -- leaning over buildings and bridges, tightrope walkers and such -- that will guarantee to churn your stomach. Hot Moves shows, however, that just sticking the camera out over a high up building will not always have a dizzying effect. There are special techniques that must be employed to gain the powerful impact of these shots -- and the disc shows just how to do it.
Many of the camera moves describe in the DVD can be accomplished by a simple dolly on track movement, or perhaps a steadycam. Others might require a large crane or 3D visual effects. CGI was once an expensive proposition for any filmmaker, and sometimes still is. But many CGI effects have become feasible in the hands of talented VFX artists with low-cost software.
Camera movement in and of itself does not necessarily lend itself to an impressive and awe-inspiring shot. Creating an epic camera move involves planning and executing a shot with an understanding of the power techniques described in this DVD and the effects they will have on an audience. The shaky swish-cam technique seen in TV shows like The Office and Modern Family is a cheap way to run longer takes by panning the camera all around the scene. But while they may have a dizzying effect to the viewer, these cheap shots are neither artistic nor awesome.
Hot Moves never tries to create a never-before-seen shot. Rather it focuses on identifying and deconstructing the most powerful shots used in film and television today.
As one watches the DVD it's impossible to not think "oh yeah I've seen that shot before!" Which is precisely the idea, because now you can break it down and see how and why it works, and then use it in your next production.
Peter Bohush, New England Film