Tag Archives: Composition

Art & Design in The British Film #30- Lawrence Paul Williams

Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.

This chapter deals with Lawrence Paul Williams (1905 – 1996)

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Compressed charcoal sketch for “So Well Remembered” RKO Pictures 1947
(Please click these thumbnails to enlarge them)

he became the prime mover in a scheme to start a ‘ Society of British Film Art Directors and Designers’, similar to the Society of Motion Picture Art Directors in America, of which he is also a member. The English Society had as one of its main objects the cultivation and improvement of pictorial design and quality in British motion pictures.

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Compressed charcoal sketch for “So Well Remembered” RKO Pictures 1947

thumbnail of Sketch - So Well Remembered
Compressed charcoal sketch for “So Well Remembered” RKO Pictures 1947

thumbnail of Sketch - So Well Remembered
Compressed charcoal sketch for “So Well Remembered” RKO Pictures 1947

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Compressed charcoal sketch for “So Well Remembered” RKO Pictures 1947

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Compressed charcoal sketch for “Brief Encounter” Cineguild 1945

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Compressed charcoal sketch for “Brief Encounter” Cineguild 1945

Link to Art Director Lawrence Paul Williams’ IMDB page.

A visitor to the Stoll Studios in the silent picture days of 1928 might have found two young artists fighting a duel with prop swords which were eventually broken in the conflict and for which they had to pay out of their meagre salaries—one would have been Edward Carrick, the other, L. P. Williams, the young man who wanted to streamline motion picture production.

He has since gone a long way towards doing what he wanted and is now Technical Director to the Denham and Pinewood Studios and doing his best to introduce all the most up-to-date scientific ideas and machines into his studios, with the idea that the more you perfect the machine the easier it is to work and so allow for more freedom of expression on the part of the artists who are expected to use them.

`L. P. W.’ studied architecture at the Architectural Association between 1922 and 1927 and then joined the firm of Mark Henri and Loverdet, who, as well as being the best scenic artists of the time, were also undertaking a number of large contracts for interior decoration for which they needed architectural assistants.

Not far away in Temple Road, Cricklewood, were the Stoll Studios and Williams soon found himself there as Assistant to Clifford Pember, who was Art Director for Herbert Wilcox at the time.
Some months after he was given the chance to design the settings for a film entitled ‘On Approval’ and he never looked back—carrying on as Wilcox’s designer and artistic adviser on all his successes including ‘Nell Gwynn’, ‘Victoria the Great’, ‘Sixty Glorious Years’, and ‘Nurse Edith Cavell’.

When Wilcox went to America, L. P. W. went too, and established there a reputation as a No. 1 Art Director. He worked chiefly for R.K.O. and was Art Director on Hitchcock’s ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’.

War came and he joined the Royal Engineers and, on return to England in 1945, was David Lean’s Art Director on ‘Brief Encounter’, a fine piece of film making. R.K.O. then made a picture entitled ‘So Well Remembered‘ which L. P. W. was naturally called in to design.

About this time he became the prime mover in a scheme to start a ‘ Society of British Film Art Directors and Designers’, similar to the Society of Motion Picture Art Directors in America, of which he is also a member. The English Society had as one of its main objects the cultivation and improvement of pictorial design and quality in British motion pictures.

Because L. P. W. was educated to be an architect, he always found figure drawing difficult, but he has never tried to avoid it, having learnt that a background without figures is devoid of human interest.

Now his figures, which are sometimes very humorous, are often the most important elements in his designs. He draws with conte in a style all his own—very direct in approach, very simple in treatment—and always with a great sense of humour.

Lawrence Paul (aka Bill ) Williams retired from art direction in 1947.

(Excerpted from: “Art & Design In The British Film” A Pictorial Directory of British Art Directors and their work. Compiled by Edward Carrick, 1947 )

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Transformations Through Light – Photos by Helmar Lerski

There’s an interesting reference resource for all you CGI modellers and lighting artists looking for new ways to build on the standard three lamps setup. Take some time to study an exhibition of eighty-eight photographs by Helmar Lerski (1871–1956) currently showing at the Ubu Gallery in New York and running until the 25th of June, 2010.

The show is called “Transformations Through Light”, and it demonstrates Lerski’s skill at moulding his model’s features into dramatic volumes; a skill he learned and practiced as a cinematographer in the avant-garde German cinema of the nineteen twenties and thirties.

His compositions lent an air of grandeur to all of his subjects, even though many of them were beggars, labourers, and people found in dole (welfare) queues.

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(Aus dem Werk) “From The Factory”, 1936
(Please click this image to enlarge it)

Lerski was involved concurrently in the two major, emergent mediums of his time: film and photography. Born in Alsace in the then German city of Strausburg, he became involved in the theater and, in 1896, moved to New York to pursue a career in acting, eventually working at the Irving Place Theater and later the German Pabst Theater. It was in this setting that Lerski first became aware of the unique visual effects achievable with stage lighting. Drawing from his acting experience, he began investigating photography as an artistic medium after meeting his wife, also a photographer. While photographing their colleagues, Lerski experimented with a series of portraits that severely manipulated the lighting effects. The resulting images formed a base for his later success in both commercial and art photography.

Extreme close-up of dramatically lit male model.
(Verwandlungen des Lichts) “Untitled” 1936

Extreme close-up of a boy from Yemen, dramatically lit.
(Yemenititischer Knabe) “Yemenite Boy” 1933.

Close-up of a farm labourer's hands holding the handle of a tool.
(Hände eines Landarbeiters) “Farm labourer’s hands” 1944

Extreme lighting on the face of a housekeeper, by Helmar Lerski.
(Die Hausangestellte) “The Housekeeper” 1929

This body of work upholds the artist’s declaration that “in every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on.”

Among Lerski’s many models was a young Francis Bacon, who had a dramatic studio portrait taken by Helmar Lerski, “a Swiss photographer and cinematographer”. Bacon was later to tell Stephen Spender that he had been very impressed by the work of the photographer who had produced striking effects using mirrors and natural light filtered through screens, but that he could not remember the artist’s name.” (Surprise!)

Not all of Lerski’s subjects were portrayed in this stark dramatic style, he made some dreamy portraits of a fellow film maker Leni Riefenstahl, who incidentally lived to the ripe old age of 101.

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(Click for pin-up size version)

The Tate Modern has a small collection of Lerski’s work.

There’s a tiny link to a PDF of thumbnails of all the photos in the Ubu Gallery page, and here’s a direct link.

Link to The Ubu Gallery

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Art & Design in The British Film #29 – Alex Vetchinsky

Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.

This chapter deals with Alex Vetchinsky ( 1904- 1980 )

He is an artist of the cinema and does not pretend to be a painter of pictures. His work is never self-conscious and he has that carefree approach which allows him to sketch on any piece of paper that is handy and failing that on the back of a studio ‘flat’.

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Pencil sketch for “October Man“. Two Cities Films.
(Please click these thumbnails to enlarge them)

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Pencil sketch for “Hungry Hill“. Two Cities Films.

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Pencil sketch for “Hungry Hill“. Two Cities Films.

ALEC VETCHINSKY is generally known as ‘Vetch’— he is one of those genial unpretentious beings with twinkling eyes, very much liked by all who come in contact with him.

He is an artist of the cinema and does not pretend to be a painter of pictures. His work is never self-conscious and he has that carefree approach which allows him to sketch on any piece of paper that is handy and failing that on the back of a studio ‘flat’.

He does not keep his sketches but the few one comes across here and there possess qualities that often far excel the more conscious ‘masterpieces ‘ that others put into frames.

Vetch studied to be an architect at the Architectural Association, where he was awarded the ‘A.A. Diploma’ in 1928. After 18 months in an architect’s office, he went to Gainsborough Pictures and worked as an assistant.

The picture on which his work as an Art Director first drew attention was ‘Tudor Rose’, made at Gaumont Studios by Robert Stevenson. This was followed by a number of other successes such as `Sunshine Susie’, ‘Love on Wheels’, ‘Owd Bob’, ‘Michael and Mary’ and in 1936 ‘Bank Holiday’, an ambitious film for studios with such limited stage space, in which. the backgrounds were most successfully carried out. Then in 1938 came Hitchcock’s ‘The Lady Vanishes'; 1939, ‘Night Train to Munich’ ; 1940, `Kipps'; 1941, `The Young Mr Pitt’.

After the war he worked on a number of more ambitious films like ‘Hungry Hill’ in which some very fine work by Vetch was made unconvincing by the action that went on in front of it, a common occurrence in films, which require the united effort of a number of artists to achieve the best results.

Sometimes the designer is the only person on the picture who can appreciate the fundamental principles that govern the making of any work of art. The result is then patchy, to say the least.

Vetchinsky has more recently designed the sets for ‘Escape’ and `October Man’.

He has always been keen on making the fullest use of all the tricks of the trade in order to help create dramatic effects, and on these last two pictures he has done so most successfully.

(Excerpted from: “Art & Design In The British Film” A Pictorial Directory of British Art Directors and their work. Compiled by Edward Carrick, 1947 )

During his long career in British studios, Vetchinsky worked alongside many other artists and technicians, and two of them are included in this series: See John Howell, and Maurice Carter. (You can also find them in the list below.)

Link to article at filmreference.com
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Two Colour Keys From “Snowballs”

A little explanation: “Snowballs” was the original working title for “Balto“.
These two keys show the interior of a gold dredging machine in Nome, Alaska.
The quality isn’t great because they are from colour copies, but the vision is spot on.
Click ‘em to enlarge ‘em folks!

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Workshop interior.

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Gold dredger interior.
Production designer Hans Bacher turned out hundreds of these small magic marker masterpieces at amazing speed.

I certainly learned a lot about the importance of tonal values from studying these keys.
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Wall To Wall Wallpaper

If there’s any truth in the slugline of this blog: “The Art that feeds animation“, then I think these images of historic wallpapers are excellent examples of the aesthetic river that has flowed uninterrupted into the deep pool of animation art.

Paper Panoramas

This post focuses on a small but important product of the wallpaper industry in France from just before the beginning of the 18th Century. Shortly after the French revolution (1789) when a new monied bourgeoisie emerged, the wallpaper industry began to offer some novel wall coverings that were an immense change from the simple repeat pattern papers that their customers were used to.

Their inspiration is believed to have been the large painted Chinese screens that were beginning to be imported into Europe.

The art form that arose from this combination of cultural influence, an emerging market and a new mass production attitude to traditional art, was the panoramic wallpaper. It provided an (almost) instant gigantic 360 degree mural painting of endless exotic vistas. It was a sensation.

The panoramics formed only a small percentage of the wallpaper factories output, but they upheld the brand values of the time, much as couture fashion collections drive the sales of ready to wear clothes in the high street today.

They were far too expensive for the common man, and they required some novel manufacturing techniques to produce them profitably.

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(Click these images to enlarge them, as usual)
This section of a panoramic is from a huge set called “Eldorado” that was designed by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs for the Zuber company of Rixheim, Alsace, France, in 1849.

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The pictures below will give you an idea of the scale of these mural size wallpapers, even though they have been insensitively butchered cropped to fit the low ceiling of this room in a house in Birmingham, Alabama. (USA)

If you have the money, you can still buy these panels from Zuber, the original manufacturer, and still in business. Prices start at around 30,000 dollars.

thumbnail of Eldorado installation 1

Compare the photo below with the printed image at the top of this post –

thumbnail of Eldorado installation 2

Several technologies have contributed to the manufacture of wallpaper. The earliest technique1 was to print with inked wooden blocks using a simple registration system to apply the colours accurately in a repeatable way.

The woodblock printing process is very labour intensive.

It starts with the designer producing a full size painting. The painting is transferred bit by bit onto pear wood faced wooden blocks. Each block must be carved so as to transfer a different area of colour. The 1000 or more blocks needed for just one scenic could take 20 engravers close to a year to complete.

The softly gradated skies were painted by hand using large blender brushes.

Given that the number of wooden blocks was large, and that they needed to be applied with exactly the right colours and strictly in the correct sequence, it was small wonder that some of the printers went mad. A dozen copies of a popular panoramic would take up to a year to print.

More pictures:

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The Japanese Garden, designed by Victor Potterlet in 1861

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Hindustan, designed by Antoine Pierre Mongin in 1807

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Isola Bella, by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs.

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Isola Bella, by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs.

You can see some ingenious cheats in this sample, used to try and reduce the amount of labour involved in producing these huge handmade prints. Have a look for all the clever repeats in this conservatory window below, and how they have been integrated into the unrepeated elements.

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Consevatory Window, printed by the Jules Desfosse company.

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Trompe L’oeuil Ceiling, by Zuber
This cunning design could be extended with sideways insert panels to achieve a race track plan.

These last two pictures are from a panoramic by the Zuber company, called “Views of Brazil”. Design by Jean Julien Deltil in 1828

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The caption reads “The Virgin Forests” and shows indigenous naked rainforest people engaged in hunting pursuits.

This last picture below uncannily prophesies the later arrival of Northern farmers who want to cut down the rainforest and introduce cattle for the lucrative burger trade. 2 You can see the cattle eagerly rushing in from the left.

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If you take the time to feast your eyes on these wonderful pictures, you’ll soon recognise similar elements shared by these decorative printed panels and the scenic compositions that typify the backgrounds seen in animated feature films.

  • Stereotyping of locations
  • Simplified colour schemes
  • Bold shapes
  • High chromatic content
  • No obvious focus point

In their time, these panoramas were all enveloping in their sensual richness and highly exotic too. They fed into people’s desire for the mysterious and the fantastic; just like cinema, really.

In fact, I believe that it’s the very cinematic quality of these panning printed landscapes that so strongly appealed to my animation eye.

I’d contend that these 18th and 19th century artefacts qualify as clear cut precursors to the dominant 20th century animation aesthetic. I’ll try and pull up a few examples and show them here. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment box.

Links:
The Wallpaper Museum.
Massive list of historical wallpaper info. (Take a reel of cotton with you!)
Zuber.
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Footnotes for this post:____________________________________
  1. From around 1740. []
  2. Just kidding! []
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Rowland Hilder

The work of Rowland Hilder (1905 – 1993) is held up for your admiration in this snow scene, #3 in the advent series.

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The painting is from an advertisement for beer, and it’s titled ” Whitbread Stout at the Cross Keys Inn”
Please click the thumbnail to see a bigger version.

I swiped this mini-bio from the Kings Gallery website… Continue reading

Art & Design in The British Film # 14: John Howell

Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.

This chapter deals with John Howell.

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(Click thumbnail images to enlarge)

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Fame Is The Spur was Honor Blackman’s first screen appearance.

John Howells started his long cinematic career in the 1930’s. After the second world war he practised as an Art Director up until the early 1970’s. when he switched to sound engineering and dubbing until the early 1990’s.1

Continue reading

Footnotes for this post:____________________________________
  1. See the first comment below. []
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Autumn Through The Letterbox

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been collecting images from my hard drive and cropping them to exactly 770 x 140 pixels. The reason for this is it’s the size of the header image on the portal style blog I set up for the students I teach at Ravensbourne College.

I’ve started with a seasonal theme –

thumbnail of Autumn in Rudgwick Green, Sussex
Autumn in Rudgwick Green, Sussex

Please click the thumbnails to enlarge the pictures.

The students are encouraged to post their own images up to the blog, but it’s been a couple of weeks now since it was set up, and nobody has yet mailed in a picture. Perhaps this is because they are still in the pre-production phase of their final year films, and don’t consider their work to be ‘polished’ enough just yet.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having fun playing around with composing pictures in this elongated letterbox format. It’s certainly a challenge to work outside the normal 4:3 or 16:9 ratios.

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Autumn on Colley Hill, Surrey

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Autumn on Redhill Common, Surrey

thumbnail of Autumn on Reigate Hill, Surrey
Autumn on Reigate Hill, Surrey

And just to show that Surrey is not entirely covered in bosky hills, here’s a picture of a local landmark that to my eyes at least, is an astounding masterpiece of landscape design.

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Junction 7 of the M25, Merstham, Surrey

You can only see the top three decks in this picture, but the top deck is 210 feet above the bottom grade, as road buffs like to call it. A magnificent structure that fits snugly into a 770 x 140 format.