Design by Committee


A Roadmap to proper designing and billing for you and your client.

I've been in the design business for 25 years.  As one who designs things for a living, you nearly always answer to a higher power... be it a client, a boss, you name it.  Satisfying your clients with your design skills can sometimes be easy, sometimes hard and I have seen all types, all scenarios, all situations and all levels.

The Best Case Scenario

A client hires you to design something.  They trust you, they know you are the expert in this particular field and not them.  They take your word for it.  They realize that your 1000+ hours doing what they are asking for outweighs their 2 hours of thinking about it.  They turn over a list of Design Directives or a Creative Brief and you get to work.  Once finished, you show them their product.  They look it over, sleep on it, show it to their stakeholders to get feedback and devise a list of revisions (this is perfectly normal).  As humans, we have to realize that we aren't perfect and that counts certainly for our communication skills.  Sometimes parts of Design Directives become lost in translation and require tweaks.  You make tweaks to your design and BAM!  Revision 1 hits them and they love it.  Mission accomplished.  

Most Common Scenario

By far, in my years of designing things, I would say the most common scenario would be a slight alteration to the above paragraph.  Read that one again, and add a "Revision 2" to the mix.  I will admit that most times it takes the client and designer 2 revisions to reach a final.  The key to the success of both scenarios is that your POC (Point of Contact) is in charge.  It is essential that your POC "own" the project ultimately having the final say in it's creation.  PERIOD.  After all, what else is their company paying them for?  It's great and even essential for your POC to get stakeholder feedback on the initial version.  This gives the stakeholders a voice and makes them feel more part of the team, also giving them a chance to think of things that your POC didn't.  

Design by Committee

This scenario is the world's worst.  Not only for the designer, but for the client themselves.  It is costly and far from productive.  It wastes time and money on line items that just don't matter.  Some of you might be wondering, "What the heck is Design by Committee"?  Well, I am here to tell you.  In this process, your POC isn't in charge.  He doesn't have an "ownership" in the product design.  He is simply a "middle man".  He translates the needs of the committee to the designer.  In this scenario, the "design process" is owned by a conference room full of people.  Most of these folks couldn't design their way out of a paper bag but what they DO have is an opinion and they darn well will tell it.  Design by Committee will cost the company huge overage costs in revision after revision after revision and leave the actual designer working on the product for an exorbitant amount of time.

Advice to Client and Designers

Clients.  Choose a proper POC and let them own the project.  Let them make decisions, do not micro-manage them.  Give them your thoughts and advice once, but after that, trust they know what they are doing.  You hired them, let them to their job.

Designers.  When quoting a design project, work off the 1 Version and 2 Revisions List method.  The communication and flow looks like this:

  1. Get Design Directives (Creative Brief) from Client
  2. Hop on the phone to clarify any questions about the Design Directives
  3. Do the work.
  4. Turn in a 100% completed project preview for the client to look at.
  5. Client looks it over and makes a list of revisions.  This list can be 1 item or 50,000 items (whatever).
  6. Turn in Revision 1 project preview for the client to look at.
  7. Client looks it over and makes a 2nd list of revisions.  This list can be 1 item or 50,000 items (whatever).
  8. Turn in Revision 2 project preview for the client to look at.
  9.  Client approves the product, invoice and get paid.  The invoice should come with "2 FREE Revision Lists".

____ DERAIL _____

10.  If the client comes back AGAIN with a 3rd revisions list, estimate the time it will take to make those changes and send them another quote to approve.  This quote's cost will be in addition to the original quote's cost.  If this happens (and continues to happen), then you have found yourself a "Design by Committee" client.

You know the 3-point lighting you learned in college? You're doing it wrong.

I'll assume everyone reading knows the typical 3-point lighting setup used in cinematography.  You have your KEY light which is your main light source, goes on one side of the face, slightly higher than head level.  The FILL light which fills in shadows caused by the KEY light, goes on the opposite side and traditionally is about head level.  Then finally the HAIR light, used to separate the subject from their background, is behind the subject, typically on the same side as the KEY, higher and spotted down.  Below, although crude, I have illustrated my basic 3-point lighting methods using a 3D program.  I realize that 3D programs come close but are not exactly 'real world' but hopefully it will illustrate my point sufficiently.

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The mistake that many beginners make is that they turn on all of these lights at the same time, then maybe tweak their intensities until they get what they want.  Some will get lucky and dial in what they want especially if they know what lighting ratios they usually are after.  The key is to turn your lights on one at a time, starting with the KEY and really look to see how it works.

  In the following scenario, I have assumed that we are in a 100% dark room for simplicity's sake.  That said, let's start with no lights turned on. 

I see nothing!  (That's the point)

I see nothing!  (That's the point)

Next, let's turn on ONLY the KEY light and see what we get.  I have the subject standing right up against a brick wall, which we will talk about soon.  But Take a look at what the KEY light does by itself?

Key Light only.  (To make ratio math easier, let's say it's set to 100%)

Key Light only.  (To make ratio math easier, let's say it's set to 100%)

See how the left side of our object is well lit but falls off towards the right.  This look is more dramatic.  Do you like it?  Making a NOIR film?  Then you're done.  1-point lighting.  If your aim isn't to make a NOIR, let's go ahead and add in the FILL light.  I have set the FILL's intensity to 50%.  Take a look at the difference it makes in the mood.

Key Light set to 100%, Fill Light set to 50%.  This makes a 2:1 ratio.

Key Light set to 100%, Fill Light set to 50%.  This makes a 2:1 ratio.

Now, we can see the pimples on the other side of this actors face.  Much better.  That said, we still have a nice dramatic falloff between the KEY and FILL side.  Have you ever heard someone talk of "Flat lighting"?  This isn't it.

Although this looks decent, our actor isn't popping like he should.  The background seems to compete a bit with him.  Let's fix that by adding a couple of more things.  First up, a HAIR Light.

Key Light set to 100%, Fill Light set to 50%, Hair Light set to 100% and spotted down.

Key Light set to 100%, Fill Light set to 50%, Hair Light set to 100% and spotted down.

Our lighting setup is complete.  However, that dang brick wall background is still competing for screen time with our main actor.  It's pretty, and lovely and all but I find that my mind concentrates more on it than him.  "And the Oscar goes to..... THE BRICK WALL!".  Um.  No.

If you can help it, never shoot your subject up against a wall.  Your scene needs DEPTH and your focus needs to be clearly on your subject.  Let's fix it by moving the actor away from the wall a bit and even opening up our Iris to make our Depth of Field shallower. 

Here we separated the subject from the background and even opened up our iris.  Doing both, achieved a shallower depth of field

Here we separated the subject from the background and even opened up our iris.  Doing both, achieved a shallower depth of field

Doing the above made the background an 'after thought' and gives our brain a rest so that it can really focus and concentrate on the actor.

In closing, cinematic lighting is all about pushing or pulling the drama using light and dark.  Remember, don't be so 'flat' with your Key/Fill ratio.  A bit of chiaroscuro is a good thing.

Oners in Cinematography pt 2

Oners in Cinematography Let the Audience Feel More a Part of the World.

A previous post explained and showed what a "oner" is, please check it out here.  I ran across another one I did on a past film and wanted to share it because of it's artistic quality.  The scene was set in a comic book store, full of toys and books.  The Director's vision was to have the male actor introduce the actress to her deceased son's world, a world of fantasy where he lost himself between the pages of a comic book. 

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My best interpretation of the Director's feelings for this scene was to envelope the two actors inside this world and make the audience feel as if they were looking through a toy and comic fantasy snowglobe of sorts.

I thought a curved dolly track oner would be a perfect application for this.  In this scene, the toys and comics play a character and gets nearly as much attention and screen time as the other characters themselves.  I felt that this was a constant reminder to the audience.  A reminder of the world the actress was being introduced to.

View the entire scene here:

This Scene is too Deep for your Target Audience

These are the words I heard from my distributor of this film, "This scene is too deep for your target audience, they will never get it.  Let's cut it down". 

I hated to lose it but when you're working for "the man", and you're not Steven Spielberg, you need to follow their rules.  It's a shame indie films do not have "Director Cuts" because this scene's emotion was straight out of my adolescent, sexual tensioned mind.

My Dog the Champion Scene 55.png

I can remember as a kid the first time I interacted with a girl in a "I like you, do you like me" kind of way.  I was so scared and awkward.  I knew what I wanted to say but saying it felt like standing on the edge of a 500ft cliff not wanting to jump off.  I felt I got stellar performances out of these two wonderful actors and we worked hard pulling it off. 

I love the subtle facial expressions as they both struggle to reveal their emotions for each other. 

Sadly, the scene was severely cut down in the distributed version because at the time, I made movies for children.  The target audience would just not get the subtle nuances of emotion shown here.  This early cut still remained scattered under a sea of files on one of my hard drives.

Watch the full scene here:

Oners in Cinematography invoke unblinkable emotion

When I was storyboarding for a recent feature film, I had a mantra, "Don't cut unless there is a good reason to". 

Pulling from some ideas from directors such as Steven Spielberg (Jaws) and cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men), I was careful to keep eyeballs on the shot by simply not cutting. 

Oners prove to be very tasking not only on the camera crew, but the actors, the art department, the effects department and scores of background actors.  Pretty much everyone on set feels the pain.  But when you finally pull it off, there is really no better feeling of teamwork on a movie set.  It's like a carefully choreographed dance with about 100 moving parts, everything has to be meticulously timed to go off perfectly. 

In traditional filmmaking, you have your 3 common shots to tell your story.

  1. WIDE

The WIDE shot establishes the scene.  It lets the audience get their bearings on where they are.  The MEDIUM goes a little closer and pin points the current related action.  The CLOSEUP goes in even closer and tells the audience who they should be listening to or looking at.  The art of cinematography "guides" the audience through the Director's story, sometimes gently holding their hand and other times grabbing their hand so hard it hurts then weaving and dodging through the story like a thrill ride. 

A Oner, does all of this without cutting.  Instead of cutting from the WIDE to the MEDIUM to the CLOSEUP, it uses camera movement or actor movement to form these shots organically.  What the audience doesn't know is, it wasn't as organic as they thought.  It was carefully choreographed to achieve this goal. 

Below is a Oner shot by me, but took about 100 people to pull off.  See if you can pick out the different 'common shots' within this one seamless shot.  Watch it twice, once as an AUDIENCE member and once as a FILMMAKER.  Try and think about the camera and how it moves through the environment and who and what all is BEHIND the camera.




NewTek's Lightwave 2018

So I just upgraded last week to the new 2018 version of Lightwave 3D by NewTek.

I have to say, being a long time Lightwave user (1.0) this is by far the hardest version to use.  I feel like they have exposed nearly every control to the user in a very 'programmerly' way.  Maybe like they threw all the renderer's functionality into a bucket, swirled it around, and dumped it on the screen.

I am sure it's new features are robust, but learning to use them is very counter intuitive especially for old school Lightwaver's.  NewTek has lost their user-friendliness on this application.

I'll also mention that the online documentation leaves a lot to be desired as well.  Nearly all of my reading trying to learn the 'new' application has left me with partially documented panels and large wholes that just don't explain much of anything. 


Monkey Island Tribute Speed Illustration

When I was a kid, I played this amazing computer game on the Amiga called Monkey Island from LucasArts.

I have so many fond memories of that game!  When thinking of new speed illustrations to do, I figured there was no better way to show my childlike nostalgia.  Set to the fitting soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean, watch each step as I draw this iconic scene in #AdobePhotoshop.


Soonwell AB Mount Batteries

After renting a few of these from time to time, I decided to order some for myself.  If you're looking for some inexpensive power for your camera/rig then these batteries are really top notch.  I slapped one on my RED camera rig for an entire day of B-Roll shooting and at the end of the day, the battery meter still showed full power. 

Even if you're not on a budget, these batteries get an A+ from me.