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iPontificateFrameForge 3D Review: Previsualizing Film & DV Projects


- May 27th, 2005

Innoventive Software developed an application aimed at filmmakers called FrameForge 3D Studio. Developed by Ken Schafer, creator of Movie Magic Screenwriter, the app is presented as a new way to previsualize film and video projects by being totally computer based instead of having to rely on hand drawn storyboards. Storyboards, for those not familiar with the term, are comic book-like cell drawings of what a film project will ultimately look like when completed on the screen.

Storyboards are essential in the pre-production process by taking the script to the next stage from the page into the visual realm. From there the Director and Director of Photography can work out and play around with the shots that will be needed when principal photography actually begins.

One of the problems with most smaller budgeted features, shorts, or industrial projects is that you need to know how to draw in order to create storyboards. This is a problem with meager cash flows that can't sustain the hiring of a professional artist to draw out every shot in a feature-length film. This is a very tedious process that can run into hundreds of individual cells, each hand drawn.

The biggest benefit with using a product like FrameForge 3D is that those without drawing skills can now illustrate their ideas in a visual way. The application also features support for integration into script writing programs such as Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. Shot management can be accessed right from the script with a little image box that correlates to the action and scene occurring on the page.

The app ships with a very detailed user manual for the many options that it can handle and manage.

When first loaded, you are given a blank tiled floor for placement and construction of the virtual set. By dragging and dropping objects from the object library onto the blank palette, you can slowly build a 3D mock-up of the location that you will ultimately be filming in. These objects include walls, cars, streets, lamps, trees...pretty much every prop one would use in a real world environment. I built a street with cars parked along one side, street lights and fire hydrants included.

The object library features a hefty set of buildings and wall textures for creating the virtual set. Thematic object packs are available such as the Crime & Justice Expansion Pack that includes courtrooms, SWAT teams, the Media, and Police Cruisers. The Military Expansion Pack features military vehicles including jets and tanks, even explosions and machine gun muzzle flashes. Another cool feature is the Panorama backdrops that can be placed around the set for complete 360 degree background. It's also possible to create your own panoramas from location photographs and some basic image "stitching" software.

The Blueprint view where the set is constructed piece by piece
Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image)

After creating the 3D set in the blueprint view, 3D actors and cameras can be placed in the set. The actors can be positioned and placed anywhere in the set, and can be customized by adjusting wardrobe colors and body positioning. Heads, arms, legs can be turned into a variety of positions and poses depending on what the script calls for.

Adjusting an actor's wardrobe and pose
Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image)

In addition, the camera options are very detailed and adjustable. You can select frame ratios such as 1:85 or 2:35 CinemaScope for the viewing windows. Other camera features include the ability to define lenses and zooms. You can place a prime 35mm lens onto the camera with detailed camera notes for reference when on location.

The view before storing a shot
Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image)

Once you place the cameras into the scene, you can move the camera in any real world position such as pan and tilt, you can even do crane shots for overhead views. One problem I found however is that it is very slow having to walk the slider control to get the camera position you require. There are tabs at the bottom that when pressed, move the camera head at an excruciating pace. The slider control is supposed to make it faster, but you are required to continually slide and grab the tab over and over.

After you have placed the cameras and worked out the shots, you create the storyboards in the Storyboard Shot Manager by selecting the sequence in which the shots are viewed. By moving from one camera to another and storing the shots as they unravel in a scene, the digital storyboard has been created for viewing. The storyboards can then be exported as Flash animated slideshows, or can be imported into Final Cut Pro to expand on the slideshow feature by creating shot durations and fine tuning the action.

Additional options for props and objects
Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image)

The greatest thing about the app is the pre-planning features that the program offers. As a DP, I am always having to draw out maps of locations with camera positions and actor placement for reference by the Director and lighting department. The blueprint views and virtual set construction provides an easy source of reference for when the shooting begins. Now I can simply create the location as it exists, play around with the camera positions, then print out the schematics of the scene for everyone on set.

Overall FrameForge is a cool application that really fills a void for filmmakers who need to illustrate their visual ideas without having drawing abilities. Trying to hand draw forced perspectives without any drawing skill is a nightmare. FrameForge takes care of these with ease. While I have only been using the application for under a week, I think once a user practices and develops more skill with the application, the time saving will become apparent.

Currently, I would still hand draw out my personal storyboards because one of the most important features with storyboarding from a photographer's point of view is the creation of lighting moods within a scene. Using graphite and ink is still easier to create shadows and dynamic lighting scenarios than what the application provides. While it is possible to adjust lighting in the application, it is only overall tonal changes that can be adjusted.

Its not possible to create shadows or pools of light with what the app currently offers. If dynamic lighting were possible, with the ability to place film lights into the virtual set for mapping and mood, I would immediately put down my pencil and go all digital.

FrameForge 3D Studio is available for US$349.00 from the FrameForge Web site.

With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.

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