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To My Mentor.

August 16, 2015

Not sure how this is gonna go, but let’s give it a shot.

Here at VFS, once we reach Term 4 we’re moved into the studio and each student has their own assigned slot and computer. If you’re reading this you’re probably a VFS student and know it all too well. Anyway, that’s also the moment that we get our Industry Mentors, people that are currently working on shows or features that come to the school, once a week, to give us advice and review our work.

As you might’ve gotten from all my previous posts about hard times and such, I lack social skills and I’m a little too much task-driven. For the VFX folks at 3D111 our mentor was a guy called Werner ten Hoeve. First class, he calls our names as we enter the door. Gotta admit, that makes you feel a little special, he’s not just trying to decipher the names on the fly, he actually took time to know all the faces and stick names to them. He shows us some of his work, explains how the classes are gonna go – “render your stuff to show me, I don’t wanna wait forever while you render and it’s your turn” – and rushes us back to the studio.

For Term 4 he got really close to some of us, chatted a lot, told stories about work, showed us unbelievable work, spent more time with some and less time with others. I was usually one of the fastest to get feedback, I never had much to chat about. I’m not too good at knowing which company worked on which movie, or who’s this or that compositor, so small talk didn’t go far. Eventually we got to talk about filmmaking in general, set experience and all the crazy stuff that happens in real world, and that got me into the conversation – mostly with Sean and Rityka. Then we started to talk about movies, and references – fucking Seth Rogen references, every class, man! – as I started to think that’s not the regular conversation students have with their mentors. At least that’s what I got from hearing the animators and modelers talking to their mentors. We joked. A lot. All the time.

That doesn’t mean Werner was a cool guy that would give an “ok, move to the next shot” easily. Hell no. He also wouldn’t spare hard comments when they were needed. He’s always been very direct about feedback and that got my respect right from the start. I’d rather have my work trashed than waste time working on something that isn’t going the right path. And we had that, several times, thank you very much. I had dealt with picky clients when freelancing back in Brazil, but never like this. The great difference this time was, whenever I worked on the fixes, the shot actually improved – sometimes drastically.

By the end of Term 4 I wasn’t too close yet. Term 5 was the moment when the magic happened for me. I mean, we could talk on facebook, what other mentor does that? I’ve always tried to avoid talking about work whenever we chatted, because facebook isn’t work, right? At some point I hit a wall with one of my tracks. I was three weeks in in Term 5 and still working on my first VFX shot (one which I thought would be simple) out of seven. The track just wouldn’t stick, no matter what. Then, one sunday I didn’t know what else to do to get the shot working and sent him a message out of desperation, shoving all the problems I was having onto his way. I can’t remember what he replied exactly, but based on that reply I changed my way of working. Not trying to get it all done at once. Small steps. Get one thing working, move on to the next, onto the next, and the next and so on until it was finished.

I got that shot done before Wednesday on that same week (we always had Werner’s classes on Wednesdays). Of course it wasn’t final yet, but the track worked and I learned that sometimes automatic stuff won’t help and you need to push through hundreds of keyframes, sometimes it’s easier – and you get to listen great music in the meanwhile. Later on I went back to that shot for some fixes he suggested that made it better (like the ship reveal on the sky).

After that one shot was done, I went berserk on the others, taking them out of the way as fast as I could, as good as it could. Once we had a first pass on everything – except the last shot, but that’s gonna be explained later – Term 5 was getting to its end. During the break I sent him another huge message, saying that I was feeling I could do more and sometimes would have nothing to work on while waiting for feedback. He replied that he was going to push us hard in Term 6. We took some extra time besides all the feedback and shots while he explained me how shotgun was supposed to be used, and we spent over a day setting my account more like a real world one – “do you see the Tasks area? well, put your tasks there. Upload shot versions, not just random things onto Media” and a lot more.

By that moment, I was willing to trust my life to this guy. Aaaaand then I got very fucked up and had to go back home in Brazil. It was week 4 and we just had our last official presentation before Graduation. All my shots were final but the last one. The last one had always been some kind of wishlist. A thing so elaborate that I actually thought I couldn’t pull it off. Thanks to being on that stage I was allowed to present my reel at my class’ graduation ceremony and come up on the stage with them. Werner was very supportive when I told him I had to go home. He came to school off his schedule so we could talk about what I was going through.

While I was home I had plenty of time to think. Process some of the crappy choices I made, think about what I wanted for my life, what I wanted regarding work, and that eventually led to another of those huge messages I sent him. This one was tricky because it wasn’t about anything specific, it was about work in general, all my insecurities and doubts, all my fears, everything I thought I couldn’t handle was there on display and, I have to say, he aced that conversation. By that time he was already a close friend.

I worked on some small stuff for my last shot while I was home, not much. I also spent some time on the WeatherCaster app, but in general I didn’t work hard. I would say “I played around in Nuke”. In the meantime he told me about his request to VFS that he could still be my mentor during this “Term 6 v02”, which meant I would be his only student. How incredible can this guy be? Seriously, not only I luck out to have him as my class mentor, I also get to be his only student for two full months.

When I got back we talked some more. More shit happened, but I was in a different state of mind. Really, I was VERY different when coming back to Vancouver this last time. After our first meeting at the studio, he insisted that we went out and ate something – you could remember I was a little slimmer – which was awesome and the healthy food surprised us by being tasty too.

Another thing I did differently now was I took my time with work. That meaning I went VERY, VERY slowly about things, simply because I had a faint idea of how to get them working but didn’t want to put it to the test and see it crash and burn, you know, like I said in this other post. I always ran my ideas through Werner, to see if I was going right about each shot and this time wasn’t different, even when I presented what I thought to be a series of crazy steps to get the shot working. He had this “I’m about to laugh” look while he agreed upon my strategy. You should remember he’s a funny dude. But he didn’t laugh, he said that “do it!”.

And then I went on, as brave as I could, tackling down tracking issues, growing the most confusing nuke tree in my entire reel, sorting out what should be comped first and what would come on top, slowly and always going back to Werner to be sure I wasn’t overcomplicating things (I do that a lot too). The last week rolled by and I was left with just a couple fixes on a shot I didn’t even think I was capable of doing. These were left for the end because… I had no idea of how to deal with them. Yesterday I was at the studio, in pain just with the thought of having to back into Maya to tweak renders and pray to the gods of mentalRay, and talking to Werner at the same time, saying I was about to go and adjust my geo to fix the issues I had left, when he mentored up and taught me some new tricks, which got things working without rerendering. Of course, he also pointed some larger issues which made me keep my computer running renders all night, but not the ones I was afraid of.

This morning, when I sit down at the studio I get a message from him “ready to finish this?”. Last adjustments were done and submitted around noon. By then I shot him a message and went home. I was taking the bike out for my daily seawall ride when I notice two missed calls from Werner and a message of “check Shotgun”. Hell, why check Shotgun if he just called me? So I call him back, expecting some smaller tweaks to be done, easily explained over the phone, but I’m wrong. He was calling to say the shot had been approved and I was officially done with the reel. SERIOUSLY, no one could ever ask for a better mentor than this. I couldn’t ask for a better friend, for I’ve learned from him so much more than what school was supposed to teach me, for I tried for whatever-many paragraphs explain what he means to me and I still couldn’t.

In short, if you skipped EVERYTHING ABOVE, I say that I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without my mentor and my reel wouldn’t be anything near what it is without his advice and support along the crazy ride these last 8 months were. Thank you, Werner ten Hoeve, you earned that first spot in my credits, my friend.

photo credit: Maria Juliana Caicedo Sánchez


The Hardest Journey of All.

August 13, 2015

A little too much on the title, I know.

We all have been through some harsh pathways in our time, that one which you got sick, or exhausted, or that time when everything went wrong, even what was dead right. But, if you are the kind of person that creates things – also known as artist, but not limited to that – you will surely understand what this post is about. The hardest journey isn’t on the outside world. It’s about getting that ONE idea, your favorite, that you think will change your life forever, that’ll show the world who you are, and actually bring it from the realm of thoughts into the hard and limited reality we live in.

I’ve been through it several times, and each one is different, some literally kill the idea, others just transform it into something else – which might be positive or… not. When you’re working on an idea, everything is perfect, our mind covers all the different possibilities, how to theoretically achieve each step, where to go from there and boom, you have an amazing result which you can clearly see BEHIND your eyes. Sometimes I stop at that stage.

Sometimes I like an idea so much that I procrastinate and postpone it to the point where reality tells me “yeah, now you DEFINITELY don’t have time to develop that” and then it’s dead, horror-movie style, coming back to haunt me every once in a while. On the other hand, there are those which I think I can take and bring to life in a viable manner. Of course I’m always wrong. My mind covers all the gaps and tricky parts with some theoretical crap (“If I have enough markers, shouldn’t be a problem to track”) or “I’ll figure it on the go” philosophy, even when I plan for some trouble, most of the imaginary steps are flawless.

So I start, working on the concept and initial steps. I’ll use my latest project as an example, just so this post is a little more understandable. About four or five months ago I was walking home from Gastown with a friend and telling him about this idea for an ad that I had, in which a user was able to control the weather using a phone app. The setting would be one of Vancouver’s back alleys, but shooting it would be a little complex because I would need a camera taking photographs at regular intervals, without moving, for a long time. Vancouver is safe, but I wouldn’t trust sitting beside my camera for two days, fighting off pedestrians, cyclists and cars.

Anyway, I was thinking of how awesome that would be, and what challenges would I encounter. Of course, it sounded cool for me, but I could find enough reasons not to push forward. A couple months forward I was home, back in Brazil, with nothing but spare time on my hands. My hometown weather is so crazy that I could have rain more than once a day and a very sunny sky a few hours from that. The weather app came back to mind and I decided that the to get that started I needed a script, since it was an ad, of 30 seconds or less. Also, I needed to find a place where I could put the camera to get all the weather variations without soaking it on the rain, not a dull composition to look at, not too much sky but at least a little, not entirely inside the jungle and, on top of all that, no cars or people passing by. All of that also would have to match the camera’s view and fit some compositing standards.

Long story short, after two days trying out every single window, door and view around the house, I found a good spot in the garage, taking up one parking spot. Two DAYS, for a place that wasn’t nearly as cool as the one I had imagined, but ok. Next step was to try it on camera, and think about the timelapse settings. In my mind it was like “so I’ll just set it up here, and take an HDR picture – so I have control over exposure in post – every X minutes for Y hours”. Then I got onto the math and I decided I needed 5 raw exposures at max resolution (20 megapixels) every two minutes for FORTY EIGHT hours. I don’t live alone, so there would have to be lots of warning the other people in the house not to go into my “shooting area” and signs and tape. Still doable.

Then I called a friend (Felipe Sampaio, one of the few people I know that can understand literally everything I say when geeking out about comp AND photography) and we started to REALLY set up the camera. Of course, the intervalometer wouldn’t work properly. Took us a couple of hours to sort that out. A little more time to get power to the camera to keep it on for two days straight. A sturdy tripod. Weather protection, tape, signs, which lights should stay on, which should NEVER be on, windows that couldn’t be opened (about this, we’re talking about a city which the average temperature is 30 degrees celsius), then we moved on to the lens. Fortunately, this little bit my mind got right and the 14mm looked nice enough. We did some extra set dressing removing stuff or hiding it from view so it wouldn’t look too cheap.

We let it run for a couple of hours, looked steady, no picture skips, intervals working good, exposure looking nice. Awesome. Let’s start. During the first night, I went down at some point to check it out and ended up messing up the exposure. I didn’t know what I had done until about 12 hours later when I was getting all sorts of under and overexposures. Crap. Start over.

This time I let it run the full cycle, for almost two days, didn’t mess with the exposure whenever I went to check the camera but one of the cards filled up faster than my calculations and I lost an entire night. Crap. Start over.

The third time, it ran the entire cycle. I got all the pictures onto my computer – over 100gb – and started to look for how to merge all those multiple exposures into HDRs. A couple of hours and I had a software running the conversion. 5 exposures of RAW files into TIFF HDRs. First, my hard drive wasn’t enough to store it all. Second, it would take TWO WEEKS to convert everything. COME ON! Crap. Start over.

Fourth time, by this time the people in the house were already getting mad at the lights on and windows shut. Two more days, I asked, this is the last time. See, how the heck would I have predicted all these fucking-up factors in my mind? Back to the camera, I set it to three exposures, half resolution (still much bigger than my final output), JPGs, to save space and processing time.

This time I didn’t mess the exposure, replaced memory cards before they were full, triple checked the power source so the camera wouldn’t shut down, reinforced my signs and tape, and let it run. FINALLY I was able to get the timelapse. Well, that first part at least. The processing would take two more days. All these steps wouldn’t take any time when inside my mind, this conversion would be done in a snap of my fingers.

A photo posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

Luck kicked in again and the timelapse turned out good. I got all the weather I needed, rain and sun, clear and cloudy skies, a proper exposure at night, everything working. Next step, again, took me some time to figure out. I needed to time the voice over from the script and adjust the timelapse to fit that, covering the climatic conditions in the right times. After Effects time!

A video posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

A few more days went into writing scripts and linking things together. Then I hit a wall on “how the hell can I loop the clock without looping the footage?”. I was explaining the process to my dad when he gave me a great suggestion which worked nicely in the script.

Now, why did I need that done now? In the original plan I had a phone and hands controlling the app, remember? I still had to shoot that element, shoot myself as a scientist, come up with a costume, greenscreen the whole thing, and see if it worked. I started with the scientist part. Cogo (Felipe Sampaio) came over and we spent hours disassembling the living room and fitting it as a soundstage with a load of lights, cables, microphone, camera and tripod. We decided to use a camera which I had never worked before – the original BlackMagic Cinema Camera -, but that should do the job better than my own – Canon 5D3.

A photo posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

Set is ready, time to shoot. I didn’t mention the several round trips I made around town getting shirts, ties, glasses and a labcoat from friends. A few minutes of rehearsal, timing is on, 30 seconds is the max time limit, but I also couldn’t fall too short from that. And we couldn’t cut. Each take had to be good from start to finish. After a few (several) more hours, we got two good versions, one with glasses, one without. Before taking down the set we brought the footage into the notebook and tested the greenscreen key. It worked almost perfectly in the first attempt. Approved!

A photo posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

We still had the hands to shoot, but that would require a different rehearsal, I needed to work on the motion graphics in the phone, we needed more people to handle lights, it wasn’t doable on that day. We took some of the gear out of the living room and into my bedroom (yay, sleep with 3k+ lights and tripods around!).

A video posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

The following morning was all into solving the motion graphics to match the voice over and the timelapse. We got an extra pair of hands, I got several pairs of gloves – I thought it would preven the phone to feel my fingers touching the screen, of course I was wrong – and spent way more time than I like to admit practicing the hand movements and fixing the gloves issue with TONS of white tape, until the phone couldn’t feel my fingers anymore, and still, it would have to be at a very specific angle. How could I anticipate any of that?

Then we moved onto light rehearsing. Lighting had to change during the sunset and there were two nights in the lapse as well. All of this still had to keep the greenscreen evenly lit and not bouncing too much on my hands or phone. We were using the same lens used on the timelapse so distortion matches, perspective feels right and all. It was a 14mm, on full frame. We had to be ridiculously close to the greenscreen.

To help with the light changes we had an audio cue that played whenever we rolled so we could adjust the timing for the lights. “Ok, from this word to this sentence, you have to move the light down and then point it elsewhere before this other word starts” – that’s the kind of instructions we had on set. We were also shooting raw, so reviewing the clips was a little too complex. For that reason we just kept on shooting until the card filled up and we felt some takes could work. After unloading the cards we tested the greenscreen and timing and there were a few special ones in which everything worked together (the variables: phone feeling my fingers, me getting the animation timing right, greenscreen shadows and bounces, sunset light timing, day-night-day-night light transition, camera not skipping frames.

From there I felt I had all the “real world” pieces I need to put the ad together. Time to go into comp and face some different issues!

A photo posted by Tito Ferradans (@tferradans) on

Fortunately, this time the whole imagination idea got most of it right and I could control each element separately. Being so picky when shooting and processing them gave me great power in post, saving me from major issues. I’m not gonna describe the comp process because it would be too confusing (more than the shooting process, definitely), but it had three stages.

At first, when I realized I had everything I needed, I packed everything together and made a quick cheap comp that proved the idea worked. That numbed my mind, feeding it with thoughts of “see, it worked, it’s gonna be perfect!” and then I started to procrastinate because “if everything worked so well up until now, I’m definitely sure something will come up to fuck my life”, I bet you know that feeling. Nothing works without hiccups until the end.

In the second stage I let the project sit in my hard drive for about two months. I eventually looked at the rough version and fed me the same positive thoughts that “yeah, you made it! it’s gonna be awesome!” but that wasn’t enough to gather the courage to actually put the project to the test and push to the end. Then, one day I was biking around and another idea hit me, for a different project, one that I very much liked. Fortunately, I can’t keep TWO things incubating at the same time so, in order to focus on the new idea I had to finish this app thing.

The third stage – current one – is when I decided to face whatever issues would come up when I started to adjust the footage and merge it all together to achieve one final product. I’ve been doing it for a few days and was able to keep it flowing pretty well so far, fixing stuff, getting feedback and adjusting minor details. I was really lucky that the original footage/plates were shot properly and that I could take my time with them. Also, the fact that I had other people involved gives me an extra boost to finish it and don’t be the guy that holds up everyone’s projects forever!

In this entire time I’ve questioned my decisions, thought there would be better solutions for my problems, failed several times, started over about the same amount of times, lost precious time overplanning, and now, close to the end, I realize that if I just kept on going in spite of thinking there would be better solutions or better gear, I could probably have finished weeks (months?) ago. That’s something that also applies to my demo reel and that I’m starting to blend with my work pace.

There will ALWAYS be a better way to do things, faster ways, cleaner ways, better gear, better software, better plugins, but if I keep on waiting for them, I’ll never get anything done. We have to kill and mutate our ideas several times in the process of bringing them from our minds into reality. It’s up to us if this compromise will still keep them true to their original form or if they’ll get completely diluted and shapeless, turning into something that you’ll look back and think “heh, this is nothing like what I thought!”. I have several of these too, and even though they mostly don’t make out of my own audience, they’re important to learn the kind of things I can change and give up and the ones I have to carry along.


The Legend of Kagan’s Bono.

July 22, 2015

The story below is a midnight inspiration for an inside joke among no more than three people in 3D111. I’ve put too much effort into the writing and didn’t want to lose it, so here it is. If you don’t get it, don’t worry, just enjoy the narrative for itself. It all began with this video and youtube’s automatic subtitles, at the 1:03 mark.

It finally came to me, the explanation for the myth, and the reason we are not encouraged by the school to model real people:

So, in the past, VFS had this insanely good student. He always knew he’d go for modeling. He aced all modeling assignments in less than a few days. His only weakness, and what he wanted to work while at VFS was character modeling, to photorealistic levels.

Coming from the UK, his childhood was filled with U2 songs, so for his end of Term 2 pitch, he said he wanted to model the entire band, posed as if they were performing. He was adamant, and even though everyone said he wouldn’t have enough time for the task, he went ahead and started modeling the lead singer. He obsessed about quality, he wanted to do 4k renders and kept on pushing details into the model and textures, getting to the point of having geometry for skin pores on Vox’s face.

Term 4 went by, Term 5 was just a flicker. He was doing good work, yes, but not anywhere near the amount of things he had set out to do. By Mid Term 6’s Presentation, all he had was the upper chest and head of Bono Vox, real to the point that Bono’s mom wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a photograph of her son and a rendered image.

Instructors came down on him, but hey, he had done something amazing, so it wasn’t entirely a waste of time. Everyone hated the guy for monopolizing the render farm and classrooms. Feeling proud of his master piece, this innocent student sent a message to the guy who was his inspiration along the year, his reference, actually, being more specific, to his AGENT. No reply.

Finally, graduation came down and along with it, a huge lawsuit against the school for “stealing the looks of Mr. Vox”. The course administration was baffled, not able to understand how all that paperwork and lawyers got their timing so precise around the main event highlighting their student’s work.

It turns out that email the kid sent out included a high-res still render and an invitation for the Grad. Dates, addresses and names included.

Sorting stuff out on the fly, VFS decided to go through with graduation, but held back on that particular reel, which wasn’t projected with the others. Kagan was called up on the stage to get his diploma without actually presenting anything to the audience. His smile outshined all his classmates, though. No one understood his reasons until a few hours later.

It end’s up Bono Vox had come to Vancouver, in person, to meet this kid who apparently knew and idolized him so much. Kagan never showed his work before an audience, but he had the pleasure to present it to the one guy who mattered. For about twenty five minutes he rambled about the level of detail, textures, poly count, rigging and being production ready. Then the lawyers copied his files and deleted the originals. As his sole demand, Kagan requested a photograph with his idol, which was taken on site, the very studio we attended.

Hence, whenever someone is going for a risky move during school, something that might turn out great or a massive failure, they call it “Kagan’s Bono”. A gem never seen, but that everyone knows it exists. And if you don’t think any of this is true, try checking the only framed photograph on the Staff Area. Can you tell if it’s a render or a real photograph?


The Hardest Fucking Year of My Life.

May 27, 2015

It’s exactly a full year since I left home and arrived in Canada.

The promise – the dream – was the motto “This is MY year“. Just coming out of university, shooting a guerilla-style webseries of my own creation, a beautiful – and smart, and funny, and hot, and talented – girlfriend by my side, as excited as I was to get here. Living together without having to share the apartment with anyone else. Making all the decisions, living abroad for the first time for the both of us. What the hell could go wrong?

I came in almost three months earlier while she wrapped up her degree. In the meantime I would find us proper housing, set up the place, get used to the life and start classes. Summer in Vancouver, again, what could go wrong? I came with a friend, with everything set up to stay at another friend’s place, one I hadn’t met before but sounded quite the nice guy. He’s a nice guy indeed. Day one we went to sort out all the practical stuff – phone, id, bank account, all that crap – and he let me stay at his place until I could find my own. We had a lot of fun during the first month, and I ended up getting an awesome apartment in an awesome building for a very good price. Me and May worked everything out for the apartment. Before going to IKEA we tore their website apart, figuring which pieces of furniture I should get, and where to put them in our home so it was a thing we built together and not the hack and slash it would be if I did it on my own – just to give an idea I lived a month with just a mattress on the floor, a sidetable doubling as dinner table, bike, notebook and a cool red armchair we got off Craigslist.

Every day was a different adventure and we walked a lot. A LOT, as in over 15km daily, exploring the neighborhood, enjoying the canadian politeness, getting lost, feeling lost, and getting used to the new environment. Classes started and the excitement went up even higher. What a shit ton of new stuff to learn. Damn, 3D modeling? I’ve tried it before on my own at least once a year and never got past the first week of tutorials since the menus always got fucked up. Everything else was kind of ok, but we had an absurd amount of assignments each week, cramming in knowledge the best way possible, taking notes and fighting off the always approaching deadlines.

Since my life was pretty simple in this first term, I had no worries about anything but getting that shit done. One sentence summarizes it all: “Wake up, get to school, get home, sleep. Repeat”. I was like clockwork for I had nothing else.

The term was getting close to the end by the time Nicko arrived to stay a couple weeks at my place. Was it a couple weeks? It sure as hell felt like it, considering the number of nights we went on modeling stuff, discussing lineflow, playing Left 4 Dead, The Last of Us, and messing around with MEL scripts. Not long after that May arrived. I got very anxious about one week before and could barely eat with anticipation. It was just the beginning. My appetite wouldn’t recover any time soon, but I didn’t know that yet.

I don’t feel comfortable getting into details about our things, but I’ll say things weren’t great. Term 2 was going extreme and I had a share of sleepless nights. Now, a little bit about myself and work: I love what I do, as in I love the work, figuring out things, solving problems, fighting shaders and painting crap on Photoshop. The downside: I never learned how to turn it off. Back home, I used to work on set, and once you leave the set, there’s nothing to work on. We always had time for each other and never thought much about it, just felt natural. Was there any other way of being? Not that we knew of. In Vancouver that wasn’t quite the case. You can always get up at 5 in the morning to check renders and set them right, or dream about a particular fix for a comp and get up to test it out. Maybe my mistake was having the possibility of working from home. Maybe that’s what kept me alive for so long.

Back to the time issue. There I was, struggling with an even higher stack of assignments, May was living her Term 1, which is always amazing and inspiring, and even though I spent a reasonable amount of time at home, I was never entirely out of thinking about modeling and texturing the damned character, environment, rendering the Later Alliegator and storyboarding the Alien Encounter. All of that while trying to come up with any brilliant ideas for the reel. Writing it down now makes me question how the fuck didn’t I notice it was a recipe for madness.

Term 2 was finally over, but the damage would come in its wake. It was during Term 3 that I started going down, double guessing my decisions and the whole point of being in Vancouver. For quite a while I didn’t feel like doing anything at all but watching TV. I started to wonder if my pitch for the reel would work at all, I kept getting the “keep on doing what you doing” feedback, which is disturbing when you’re in for the learning. After about a month of “keep on going” we had our individual meetings with our Supervisor and that was something in the lines of a nightmare. At this point I hadn’t yet learned that criticism isn’t personal and I was still very attached to the story I wanted to tell. Silly me. Everything went upside down and I didn’t touch anything related to my reel for about three more weeks. Then, lightning struck in the Term’s last week and I got a surge of inspiration to get things moving again.

In the meanwhile I had several emotional breakdowns solved singlehandedly by May, and later on, with my parents and therapy/counselling. But the beginning was hard. I was already skinny by this point. We wouldn’t go out to eat for I’d feel sick right before starting to eat, I wouldn’t eat what we cooked at home because it got me nervous for unknown reasons, I wouldn’t eat at school because I felt insecure about myself in several aspects and playing it cool so no one would notice. For more than a month I carried a bag of nuts and raisins inside my coat so I could eat whenever I felt I wouldn’t get instantly sick. I kept the crisis from anyone – even May and my parents – for a very long time, thinking – hoping? – it was just a ‘thing’ that would wear out soon enough.

We also had the near-freezing experience to add some more layers of damage and the winter itself made me miserable. The temperature NEVER drops below 23 where I come from. My most extreme situation before Canada was 8 degrees and not even for more than one day. The lack of Sun, short days and constant raining boosted the cold-and-alone feeling. Until this point I used to bike to school, but I was feeling so weak by not eating that I just stopped until I recovered or the weather improved. Neither of which happened.

For our christmas break, the original plan was head to Los Angeles and enjoy the Sunshine State for a few days, since we’re so close to it, when compared to Brazil. I didn’t feel anything like doing that anymore by the time we got to December. I just wanted to go home. I needed something I knew, I couldn’t stand feeling lost or insecure anymore. We came home for less than ten days and saw 2014 turn into 2015 inside an airplane. Most depressing New Year party of my life and I’m comparing that to the previous year when one of my cats DIED. The best thing during this short break was being beside May. I feel like home wherever I am with her.

2015 has been so fast so far that I can’t even explain. And still, it feels like a decade since I left home a year ago. Days feel like weeks and one week seems to last for about three, based on the amount of stuff we do and work on and think about and deal with, not only at school but regarding our apartment – bills, dishes, laundry, insomnia, changing the sheets every once in a while, keeping it kind of clean – and the messed up reality of work permits for international students.

Things haven’t improved, overall, in my daily life – I still don’t eat properly, don’t sleep all too well, and things are far from fine with the love of my life. Last saturday I got sick. Hardcore sick. My appetite had ups and downs over the months but then it was absolutely gone. Nothing could go down, I couldn’t stand looking at food or drinks. I think it was something I ate. This was one of my worst fears while losing weight: getting to a critical point where a flimsy flu could knock me dead. No improvement on Sunday. On Monday May escorted me to the hospital where I hang while waiting for test results and diagnosis. The doctor prescribed me some pills and it seemed to work. Then Tuesday come to prove I had NO IDEA how sick I could endure. All these days I barely left the bed. It wasn’t just the sickness, I didn’t feel inspired or motivated to work on anything or even watch TV. God bless all those books and comics I hadn’t read yet, for that was all that kept me from total boredom and despair.

Being sick sucks. Being sick and alone is even worst. May had her assignments to do at school all day and I can’t stand the idea of holding her back at all. So I spent hours and hours chatting with my parents. Hell, I think I dehydrated from all the crying too. Remember that thing of being unable to turn my tasks off? Well, that expanded to all aspects of life. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to feel better soon, how I wanted to be a better boyfriend, to work harder, to enjoy the sun outside, to enjoy A DECENT FUCKING MEAL WITHOUT GETTING SICK BY JUST THINKING ABOUT IT and so on. And no signs of getting any better.

Wednesday evening, talking to my parents, they suggested coming back for a while, to get better. At the moment, it felt a little desperate. “I can push through this! There’s only a month left!”. Five minutes later it felt like the world’s greatest idea. It was just a month, but then what? I would miraculously heal as soon as school was over? What about work? What would I be doing? If I’m planning to stay on Canada, it sure wouldn’t be feeling the way I did for a long time. It didn’t get better at all over time. It was time for a change, and a radical one.

I don’t know if the sickness wore off naturally, or if my unusual state of happiness kicked it down, but I was able to actually accomplish a lot in that last Thursday, letting everyone know about the problem at hand, contacting the school administration, instructors, close friends and solving any pending issues related to my return. I can’t describe how much better I felt for all the things I heard from my class, and not only that, but every one that played a part in this story. Helped me figure out some issues and also part feel as of the group, embraced by plenty “get better”s and “see you soon”s.

I had something to finish off this post, but writing it wasn’t the easiest of tasks and I’m ending it just like this.


Paperball Productions, para J.G. Fiuza.

April 16, 2015

Numa aula de Team Building – que é uma coisa louca, que não vou entrar na discussão agora – nosso professor explicou que é moleza pra gente contar as piores situações que já passamos. Fazer graça da desgraça é fácil, difícil mesmo é a gente falar das coisas que tem orgulho de nós mesmos. Não por arrogância, mas por ser genuinamente orgulhoso de ter feito algo específico. Então nos reunimos em círculo e cada um foi falando do momento que mais tinha orgulho de si mesmo, de achar que fez a coisa certa, de ter conquistado algo que outros disseram ser impossível e por aí vai. Bom, o meu vai aparecer nesse post aqui, que tem um nome tão emblemático, mas vou tentar contextualizar melhor, e aprofundar em detalhes que acho que só eu mesmo sei ou pensei a respeito.

Esse post começou a ser escrito no dia 24 de Julho do ano passado, mas foi nessa madrugada que me veio a inspiração pra terminar. Na verdade, a inspiração pra passar do primeiro parágrafo. Na verdade, o título já tá equivocado, porque falar da Paperball não é algo muito preciso ou exato. Nessa mesma matéria, de Team Building, Kieron, que era o professor, falou que se ele sentar pra conversar com alguém, ele consegue identificar os elementos chave na história daquela pessoa que fizeram ela chegar onde está nesse exato momento de sua existência. Fiquei com isso na cabeça por meses (literalmente), achando meio claro que eu sabia esses momentos, mas destilar direitinho cada um deles não é fácil. Sempre que eu falo ou lembro da Paperball, a tendência é dizer que éramos um grupo de amigos que fazia um monte de coisa doida, inclusive vídeos e atividades culturais de diversos gêneros. Bem amplo e vago, o que esperar de um bando de adolescentes?

Sempre achei que a entidade “Paperball” fosse uma das cartas responsáveis por me colocar em Vancouver, hoje, estudando efeitos especiais. Depois de muitos minutos revirando na cama e pensando sobre isso, na falta de algo mais produtivo pra pensar, concluí que não foi “A Paperball”. Na verdade, essa coisa toda de Paperball só começou porque em 2004 eu fiquei muito amigo de um camarada apelildado de Donk, mas que hoje em dia eu raramente chamo pelo apelido, por motivos que desconheço.

Bom, pra começo de conversa, eu não faço idéia do que deu partida na amizade. Eu não sou de muitos amigos e geralmente lembro como as coisas começaram, mas nesse caso tá difícil. Não to a fim de fazer um post narrativo, porque ando meio fraco nesse aspecto, mas vou dizer o porquê eu acho que a amizade deu certo. Fazer em terceira pessoa também não tá rolando, e como foi aniversário dele anteontem, vai como se fosse uma cartinha, porque ele merece, e o correio não vai me ajudar sendo que eu já comecei a escrever atrasado.

Véi, em primeiro lugar, a menos que eu tivesse uma idéia MUITO imbecil – e olha que a marca pra definir esse nível de imbecilidade é beeeem baixa -, você nunca virou pra mim e disse “man, não faça isso, porque é tosco”. Podia ser tosco, podia ser burro, podia ser puramente engraçado, a gente nunca foi de se dizer não, e sim de comprar a idéia e ir até o fim, especialmente se não tivesse nenhuma obrigação de chegar a lugar nenhum e não passasse de uma piada. A gente sentou pra estudar logaritmo um dia, pra passar numa prova de Matemática, e – juro por deus – acho que esse dia é o único motivo pelo qual eu sei Log até hoje. O objetivo dessa citação é meio que se a gente ia fazer alguma coisa, não ia ser pela metade, ia ser pra ficar foda, mesmo que a referida coisa fosse… estudar log.

Ao logo de 2004, 2005 e 2006 a gente levou isso a níveis mais altos com INCONTÁVEIS trabalhos de literatura, apresentações sobre qualquer assunto, mentiras orquestradas de forma minuciosa, regs de adolescente- onde eu nunca bebi, e você mesmo bêbado sempre foi uma excelente companhia. Na verdade, o fato de sermos tão diferentes a respeito de muitas coisas, de visão de mundo, de história de vida, opiniões, somado à sua grande facilidade de expressão – leia-se: você fala pra caralho, sobre qualquer coisa que você tenha uma opinião a respeito, ou seja, tudo – mas ao mesmo tempo, aberto a ouvir meus argumentos, muitas vezes sem pé nem cabeça, muitas vezes mais acertados que os seus, heheheh, não é algo comum de se encontrar.

O texto tá indo rápido e já cheguei na parte de me contradizer. Lembra quando eu falei que você nunca virou e largou um “man não faça isso porque é tosco”? Bom, não era exatamente o que eu queria dizer. Na real a gente disse isso um pro outro uma pá de vezes mas a conversa nunca acabava aí. Geralmente esse era o ponto de partida pra chegar em algo possivelmente menos tosco (algumas vezes era algo mais tosco), que ambos concordassem. A gente projetou um carrinho de rolemã e foi buscar a desgraça na puta que pariu, depois do mototáxi mais absurdo de toda a minha vida (possivelmente o ÚNICO mototáxi da minha vida), e eu nem lembro mais pra que era o diabo do carrinho! Gincana? Alguma coisa dessas?

Aprendi um monte de coisa com você, Fiuza. Aprendi a falar em grupo, aprendi que minha opinião tem valor e que muitas vezes importa mais o “como” se diz do que o que está sendo dito de fato, aprendi altos truques de direção (“MÊTA!” com acento circunflexo e tudo), aprendi muito mais do que jamais saberia sobre Salvador, aprendi que não posso odiar todos os advogados do mundo, que generalizações geralmente te levam pra um erro crasso, que ir tomar sorvete na Cubana no meio da semana num intervalo do trampo é sempre uma opção válida. Que tomar sorvete na Cubana é sempre uma opção válida, com trampo ou não. Aprendi onde ir pra arrumar uma janela de carro arrombada, quais os melhores amigos pra um reveillon completamente sem noção, aprendi que uma amizade de verdade não morre com a distância e que o tempo longe é bom pra ter novas histórias incríveis pra contar.

Putamerda, com você eu aprendi a contar histórias. Verbalmente. Aprendi a xingar, porque palavrões são elementos chave em qualquer história, aprendi que a mesma história pode ser contada toda semana, com várias atualizações e upgrades e ainda render um monte de gargalhadas, aprendi que se apropriar das histórias dos bróders não é crime, e que quando alguém reconhece o evento, fica ainda mais engraçado por causa da cara de “ei, mas você não tava lá, tava?” do sujeito.

Derivando de contar histórias, um dia a gente resolveu brincar de filmar coisas com uma Sony Cybershot que tinha lá em casa. Photoshop era divertido, mas por que não colocar movimento nas coisas? Assim nasceu “Apanha Mas Não Morre”, seguido por outros clássicos de churrasco mas nenhum sinal concreto de que aquela brincadeira de filmar palhaçadas ia levar a algum lugar. Quase dois anos passaram até que ficasse claro pra mim que aquilo era MESMO o que eu queria. Dois anos de reg quase todo fim de semana ao redor da mesma mesa de pedra preta, conversando e comendo o que quer que estivesse ao alcance até altas horas da madrugada. Depois de um tempo brincando de vídeo, começaram a surgir chances de ganhar uns trocados com material pra aulas de… literatura. Tinha que ser, acho que era uma ironia divina, sei lá.

Nesses trabalhos, sempre foi você que definiu o fio da meada. Por onde seguir, que opinião a gente tava defendendo, porque ficar em cima do muro não leva a lugar nenhum, e por aí vai. Eventualmente eu larguei Ciência da Computação e resolvi que ia fazer Cinema. Cinema, com letra maiúscula, porque era isso mesmo que eu achava que ia acontecer. Promessa de primeiro milhão aos 25. Bombamos essa. Ainda tenho três dias sobrando no meu calendário, mas não tô achando que vai rolar. Anyway, fui pra São Paulo, fazer cursinho e depois USP. Você nunca achou que eu tava fazendo errado – diferentemente de sua opinião sobre minhas ex-namoradas. hahahaha – e de São Paulo, agora tô aqui em Vancouver, mais longe de minha cidade natal do que jamais estive antes.

Trabalhando no meu projeto final – que pra mim tá sendo muito mais tenso do que o TCC na USP – percebo que tô precisando de umas fotos de referência de luz de faróis de carro. Pqp, não tenho carro aqui, então a primeira coisa que me vem na cabeça é pedir ajuda no famigerado Chat PBP. Você e Piu respondem quase de imediato e me mandam coisas incríveis, muito melhores do que eu esperava – ou precisava! Acho que foi isso que eu me toquei enquanto rolava na cama de madrugada: a gente sempre soube quando o que quer que estivesse em questão era muito importante pro outro. Não precisava ser algo verdadeiramente importante pro mundo, ou pra vida, mas para aquela pessoa, naquele momento.

Passou seu aniversário e eu tava tão imerso aqui nos trabalhos de fim de Term que nem mandei parabéns, então, depois desses sei-lá-quantos parágrafos, te agradeço por tudo que a gente fez junto (highlights memoráveis para Reveillon em Morro e São João em Cruz, que não foram mencionados acima) e tudo que a gente ainda vai fazer – aquele rolê de Kombi pelo Nordeste?. Parabéns por tudo que você conquistou até aqui, te desejo todo o sucesso do mundo, sorvetes da Cubana, nascentes e poentes nessa vista incrível da sua janela, tudo de bom com Piu (Piu, o que você decidir eu assino embaixo) e uma cachacinha, que pra você quase sempre vai bem.


Piu, não me mate. Eu não quero roubar ele de você. ;)

Hovering Lights Specials

Diegetic Cinematography.

February 1, 2015

The second part of the previous post, and this is where things should start to get at least a little more interesting.

Working on my demo reel for Vancouver Film School, I decided to, besides all the VFX stuff and technical aspects of it, try some new stuff with cinematography, experimenting with a style that always gets my attention for it brings together a series of elements I believe work amazingly in terms of immersion and getting the audience into the story head on. That is diegetic cinematography, is making the camera a part of the characters’ world. It’s an object that they see, use and interact, which is also used to tell the story. This has some immediate consequences that aren’t standard through film history like “there is no fourth wall”, the characters know they’re being filmed, they interact with the camera but just because they have a relationship with the one holding it.

We’ve seen it before several times among sci-fi – Chronicle (2012), Cloverfield (2008), Project X (2012), Project Almanac (2014) – and the whole genre of “Found Footage” horror – Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007), V/H/S (2012) or [REC] (2007) among many others. I won’t focus on the horror movies at this point. There are huge articles about the Found Footage genre, and I’m no expert, but I’d like to discuss what this kind of camera work brings to the story: first of all, the audience knows exactly as much as the characters. Hitchcock says the key to tension is giving key information to the audience, that the characters don’t know about. Like whenever we know the killer is at the victim’s house way before the crime takes place in the screen. We – as audience – worry because we foresee what’s going to happen and it’s the wait that causes the thrill.

When the camera is a character, if the audience knows something, so do the characters, and here the thrill comes from the fact that we have the suspicion that something bad might happen or WILL happen, but we don’t know exactly what, when, or to whom. Whenever it hits, we’ll be as surprised as they are, thinking of ways out the same way they’re doing. For me, this is a boost in terms of imersion and also a challenge. Since we’re so close to the characters, whenever they act in really stupid ways we’re thrown out of the movie, they’re not convincing anymore. Like any horror movie, when people go to “check their basement when the lights go off”, or think it’s “a good idea to face the bad guys breaking into their homes”. Regular people like you and me would never do these things, I don’t have a hero complex, if I think it might be dangerous, I’ll flee or hide!

While reading on this subject to see what other people think, I came across a very small number or articles, none of them really deep, and with very different opinions, so it’s time to make clear that I’m not defending that the viewer is a character in the movie, since we see through a character’s camera. A movie is much different from a game, all the choices have been made from the start. There’s no interactivity, I’m not saying we’re seeing through the eyes of a character. I think first person videos are awesome, but I wouldn’t say that is diegetic cinematography because there is no camera. We act different when we’re just talking to someone versus when we’re on tape.

Using the argument of “we remember things” as a comparison to recording is not valid. We haven’t got to a point where people have cameras embedded into their eyes yet. The proof that people act weirdly on camera, even if the camera is someone else’s eye is all the hard times Dr. Steve Mann goes through. There’s also a great Black Mirror episode (The Entire History of You, 2011) about implants that turn our eyes into cameras, but that’s still sci-fi, and it takes place somewhere in the future.

Following this line of cinematography, Christopher Campbell wrote an article discussing why that is weird, bad in a standard way, but interesting if done properly since it’s different from anything we’ve seen so far. He specifically talks about Hardcore, currently in post, made by the same guys who did the Biting Elbows – Bad Motherfucker music video, which is shot entirely from the protagonist’s point of view (POV). Campbell makes a comparison between literature, games and movies, establishing a clear difference between books written in first person and movies in first person.

So, my definition of diegetic cinematography requires a physical camera being held by one of the characters. When that happens, the camera usually has a specific purpose inside the film itself. In Project Almanac they’re documenting their progress through an experiment, in Cloverfield, the guy is in charge of filming the farewell party for one of the main characters. Project X and Chronicle, though, have very different approaches that make sense in today’s culture. The title says it all, Chronicle, “a historical account of events arranged in order of time usually without analysis or interpretation”. There’s no manipulation of time, the editing just goes forward. We don’t see the same moment twice, we don’t have flashbacks or forwards. Phones can shoot video, we have a plethora of social networks based around video, or that support to video uploads (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram and so forth). We take way more pictures in our everyday life just by having a half-decent camera in our phones. We don’t worry that much about framing, image stabilization and such for our videos. These are just small chunks of memories, shot in chronological order. They’re usually more important to ourselves than to others. Sure we share them, our current culture revolves around showing where we’ve been and who we met, all very much time stamped.

Nikon just released a whole campaign based around that, calling the current generation “Generation Image“. Not so long ago we had (we still have some) very long discussions regarding what “qualifies” a photographer. Are amateur photographs taken with a phone camera as valid as the ones taken by someone who studied the craft for years and use expensive gear with the single purpose of taking photographs? If we’re talking about interviews and scheduled events, sure, that is debatable, but what about natural disasters, conflict areas and other situations where stuff just happened, and when the Professional gets there, the event is already past? What tells better the story of a gas explosion inside a shopping mall: a high-megapixel count photograph of some ruins with sharp focus hours after the event or one taken in the food court with a phone, at the time of the explosion, all blurry, but good enough to understand what’s happening? Nightcrawler (2014) is a great movie kind of related to this subject, with lots of camera on the screen, but no main diegetic cinematography.

John Powers, when writing about Chronicle, has an interesting point when he says this shift between traditional media/cinematography and amateur recordings began back in 2001, with the attack at the World Trade Center. While most media networks were running towards the area to shoot their own footage, thousands of people around the buildings were already doing this on their own, simply because they could. I’ll come back to John’s review later on.

It’s not hard to tell the difference between a professionally shot video and one done by someone who had the sole purpose of recording the events. Actually, it’s quite easy to spot which is the Pro and which is the amateur. Then Hollywood comes in and turns the “amateur look” into a style. What are the benefits?

First off, it has a much more “real” look, as if that isn’t a movie, carefully written, planned and executed. We relate to the characters because that’s the way we’d film if we were in that situation. The handheld, shaky camera, also called “documentary camera” has this name because documentaries usually have small budgets and it’s focused on reality. Real people, real lives, real intentions, no actors. When the first portable camera came out, documentaries blossomed. After some time, what was considered a flaw – the shakiness and curiosity of documentaries cinematography – was brought into fiction with mockumentaries, behind the scenes that seem as amazing as the real scenes and much more.

Steve Bryant, in his article about the camera becoming a character, says this is a negative thing. What should work as a bridge between audience and show actually sets them further apart because there’s now two layers of fiction (behind the scenes AND the show) instead of just one (the show) and we don’t notice that. We feel closer to the actors, we think we know the ones behind the characters, when what’s really happening is the actors are acting about themselves as well. It’s confusing, but makes a lot of sense in the end. How does this relate to the diegetic cinematography thing? Well, the show wouldn’t count as diegetic cinematography, but the behind the scenes would, since many times the camera operators are just as real as their subjects.

Ok, so we got a reality and empathy bonus because that’s how the audience would film. I also believe this is much easier for the actors, because it’s much more natural. The hard part is making it feel right. Once you know how to handle a camera, professionally, it’s easy to make a mess and say it’s amateur. The key is to know how much messier it should look, which are the main points and reactions the audience has to see and which ones are best when just outside the frame. How close to danger are our characters willing to go? What’s their relationship with the person handling the camera? Do they care, are they pissed about it? Are they filming just to keep a record of events, or for sharing? And the ever present question “what’s more important now, the camera or whatever’s happening at the same time?”, this will mostly dictate framing and might have influence on editing as well.

There’s one issue, though. One downside that’s very hard to avoid: sequences of shitty, blurry, shaky images while our characters run. For many people, these are huge turn-offs. They feel sick, dizzy or worse. I myself have a high threshold for shakiness, but every once in a while I see something so confusing that makes me question the process.

This is what I’ve been experimenting recently to tell my story loaded with visual effects. I’m wondering which side will win: the reality from the cinematography, or the out-of-this-world aspect of the visual effects involved. I’m also gonna question the editing process, but this post is already too long and confusing to include that!