Cinemetrics

Frederic Brodbeck has created a fascinating project which measures data to reveal the visual characteristics of certain movies.

As part of his bachelor graduation project at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, he used software to break down the characteristics of particular films (e.g. editing, colour, speech, motion) and then turned this information into a moving graphic.

He writes:

…cinemetrics is about measuring and visualizing movie data, in order to reveal the characteristics of films and to create a visual “fingerprint” for them. Information such as the editing structure, color, speech or motion are extracted, analyzed and transformed into graphic representations so that movies can be seen as a whole and easily interpreted or compared side by side. Being someone who really enjoys movies and cinema, I always notice little things about the style of a movie, so film and its characteristics were an interesting starting point for this project.

Furthermore my thesis is about generative / computational design and what role writing code plays regarding new approaches in (graphic) design. It was clear that for my graduation project I would use the methods I described in the thesis and that it would involve a certain amount of programming in order to visualize data. However, today there are already a lot of information graphics using meta-data related to film and cinema (budget, box office data, awards won, relationship between characters etc.). That’s why I wanted to use the movie itself as a source of data, to see what sort of information can be extracted from it, to find ways of visualizing it and to create the necessary tools to do this.

This video is a neat introduction to the project:

The films used in the above video are:

This is all possible because digital formats allow us to extract and process the data that makes up a single movie, but what’s impressive here is the tools Brodbeck has used and the presentation of what he has found.

He explains his process:

Extracting, processing and visualizing movie data is something you cannot do manually, that’s why custom software tools were written for pretty much every step of the process. Tools for disassembling video files into their components (video, audio, subtitles, etc.) and processing them (shot detection, average shot length, motion measuring, color palettes), as well as an interactive application to generate and compare different movie fingerprints. Most of the code is available here.

He has also written up his findings as a book:

Although film is sometimes an elusive medium to pin down with raw data, this is an impressive attampt to do just that.

> Cinemetrics
> Frederic Brodbeck at Vimeo> Scientific study to find the saddest movie scene ever

The Dark Knight Rises Starts Filming in Pittsburgh

The Dark Knight Rises began filming in Pittsburgh this week.

Director Christopher Nolan, star Christian Bale and producer Emma Thomas recently spoke at a press conference hosted by the Pittsburgh Film Office.

After words from the director of the film office and governor of Pennsylvania, Nolan mentioned that he was drawn to the “unique architecture” of the city and that it will be “somewhat disrupted” within the story of the film.

Bale also made a joke about wearing the rubber batsuit in the hot weather despite the fake snow being used for some scenes and that they’ll be “fighting on the streets”, which suggests large outdoor action scenes.

Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) used a mixture of British and US locations, with Chicago being transformed into a memorable Gotham City, especially in the second film.

I’m not sure whether the reason for switching to Pittsburgh was financial (better tax breaks), artistic (maybe the look of the city was more suited to this film) or a mixture of both.

In honour of the Batman crew arriving in town, the Batman logo was projected on to the city skyline a few nights ago.

This news report shows that filming is going on in a residential street of the city:

They show the fake snow and the IMAX cameras that the film is being shot on: after filming most of the action sequences in The Dark Knight on the IMAX format, DP Wally Pfister has said he wants to shoot as much as possible in the larger, highest resolution format.

By the way, this is what that house looks like on Google Street View:

It seems odd that they are filming a massive blockbuster on what seems to be a small residential street, but perhaps Nolan wanted the raw feel of an actual location, rather than just duplicate buildings on a large soundstage.

This CBS Pittsburgh report shows a bit more background, including how the production has paid for local residents to take their dogs away for a day (in case they bark during filming) and how a particular house has been completely taken over.

Footage has also surfaced of three Batmobiles, painted in the camoflage colours we saw in Batman Begins.

There are also reports that the film is going to shoot a sequence at Heinz Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which holds 65,000 people.

On the Steelers official website there is this announcement:

Steelers fans can see the filming of “The Dark Knight Rises,” in person as the movie will be shot in Pittsburgh and is looking for fans to be a part of a stadium crowd. The movie is looking for fans to fill a stadium in the Pittsburgh area on Saturday, August 6. The one-day filming runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is open to anyone 14-years old and up. Anyone under 18-years old must be accompanied by an adult. Fans will be asked to bring the same energy they do to Steelers games as they cheer on the Gotham Rogues in a football game against their rival the Rapid City Monuments.

In recent movies involving large stadium crowds, such as Invictus (2009), the trend was to use visual effects to fill out the ground, but it seems like Nolan and his team want to create the live action atmosphere of a real game.

One theory about the new film is that there is a strong connection with the first Nolan Batman film.

If you’ve seen the recent teaser trailer, the scene with Gordon (Gary Oldman) in a hospital bed suggests that Bruce Wayne reneged on the deal they struck at the end of The Dark Knight.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the evil that Gordon talks of is something to do with Bane (Tom Hardy) and my guess is that for the new film Batman has to begin all over again.

Not only does Gotham presuambly blame him for the death of Harvey Dent, but I suspect that Nolan wants to bring things full circle with the first film so that the franchise has a neat resolution (I think he has decided that this will definitely be his last).

We shall find out what happens when the film opens next July, but it is interesting to see that they are utilising the exterior locations of an American city.

Part of what has made the franchise work so well is the mixture of fantastical subject matter within a believable, urban world.

It seems that Pittsburgh is going to provide another side to Nolan’s Gotham.

> Official site for The Dark Knight Rises
> Find out more about Pittsburgh at Wikipedia
> Facebook page for The Dark Knight Rises
> Batman News

Cowboys and Aliens

An uneasy blend of Western and science fiction is another reminder of the dangers of pandering to the Comic-Con mentality.

Based on a 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, the story begins in 1873 when the enigmatic Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the Arizona desert with no memory and a mysterious device around his wrist.

On entering the local town he discovers a local lawman (Harrison Ford) is after him, but when mysterious alien forces attack, people soon realise this stranger might hold the key to their salvation.

The easiest way to describe the premise of Cowboys and Aliens is that it plays like an unholy mix of Unforgiven (1992) and War of the Worlds (2005), although it never really works as a western or an alien invasion movie.

Ultimately the biggest problem is that it never rises above its goofy high-concept premise and simply lurches from one set-piece to another, whilst scrambling to find coherence in half-baked clichés.

It’s a difficult film to fully analyse without giving too many plot spoilers away, but the twists range from the predictable to the ridiculous and the presence of five credited screenwriters is revealing.

The huge gaping holes in the story are compounded by thinly written roles: Craig is uneasy as the mysterious loner; Ford hams it up as the cranky lawman; Wilde is utterly wasted in a curious role; and the supporting cast (including Sam Rockwell) is treated little better.

This is not to say that the film is a total write off.

Director Jon Favreau shoots the Western elements with some skill, making great use of the New Mexico landscapes and, in some scenes, cinematographer Matthew Libatique brings the same visual pop  that made Iron Man (2008) so vibrant.

The look of the period is convincingly realised with the production design by Scott Chambliss and costumes by Mary Zophres, whilst the visual effects by ILM (supervised by Roger Guyett) are generally first-rate.

Whilst the cowboys are watchable, the aliens are walking clichés that we’ve seen before in many movies, with the same physical attributes, spacecraft and vague motives that characterise the sci-fi genre.

Although the opening is intriguing, by the end there is very little audiences haven’t actually seen before, including: token memory flashbacks, gruff characters learning to become nice, and traditional enemies joining forces against a common enemy.

At one point, there also appears to be a deeply questionable visual reference to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

After a protracted development history over fourteen years, it bears the hallmarks of an idea that has been prodded and embellished with the sole intention of getting geeks excited at Comic-Con.

In fact, a quick look at the history of this project reveals that’s exactly what happened.

After the success of Iron Man, perhaps Jon Favreau felt he owed something to the fans that went nuts about the project at Comic-Con in 2007 as that film worked and gave a boost to his career.

But Iron Man 2 (2010) and Cowboys and Aliens are casebook studies of the perils of pandering to the fans: both surfed a wave of pre-release hype, but were proved inferior films when they finally came out.

Last year may have marked a watershed for the major studios and Comic-Con: both panels for Cowboys and Aliens and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World got people excited in the fevered atmosphere of Hall-H, but baffled mainstream audiences.

Scott Pilgrim bombed and although it is still early days for Cowboys and Aliens, which opens in the US this weekend, the early signs aren’t good and it may even suffer the ignominy of being beaten by The Smurfs movie this weekend.

One of the early marketing problems it faced was that some people mistakenly thought the premise was comedic, which although not true, does actually speaks volumes about the deficiencies of the film.

The final film feels like the result a studio pitch-meeting that geeks were invited to (“Cowboys and aliens? Awesome!”).

But the Comic-Con mindset is all bout celebrating what a movie could be, rather than what it actually is: in recent years list of Comic-Con flops grows ever longer (Sucker Punch perhaps being the ultimate example) as the hype of Hall H fades into the reality of the multiplex.

Maybe its time for the studios to allow filmmakers to focus on making better films rather than whipping up hype at conventions several months before it has even been released.

There is a director who has managed to do this very successfully. His name? Christopher Nolan.

> Official site
> Reviews of Cowboys and Aliens at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> More on the original graphic novel at Wikipedia

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 29th July 2011

NATIONAL RELEASES

Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount): The latest installment of the Marvel cinematic universe traces the origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a plucky soldier who is transformed into Captain America in order to fight the Nazis during World War II. Directed by Joe Johnsoton, it co-stars Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving. [Read our full review here] [Nationwide / 12]

Zookeeper (Sony Pictures): Comedy about a Boston zookeeper (Kevin James) who gets some life advice from the animals under his care. Directed by Frank Coraci, it co-stars Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb and features the voices of Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Nick Nolte and Adam Sandler. [Nationwide / PG]

Horrid Henry 3D (Vertigo Films): Adapted from the children’s books about a naughty little boy (Theo Stevenson) named Henry, this co-stars Anjelica Huston, Rebecca Front and Richard E Grant. Directed by Nick Moore, for some reason it is being released in 3D. [Nationwide / U]

ALSO OUT

A Better Life (E1): Drama about a Mexican father (Demian Bichir ) and son (Bobby Soto) who struggle to survive as immigrant workers after their truck is stolen. Directed by Chris Weitz. [Key cities / 12A]

Arrietty (Optimum Releasing): The new film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli is a version of The Borrowers, based on Mary Norton’s 1950s novels, where miniature people live under the floorboards. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. [Key cities / U]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases including The Eagle and The Lincoln Lawyer

The Saddest Movie Scene of All Time?

The Smithsonian magazine recently reported that The Champ (1979) contains the saddest movie scene of all time.

Although you might think that such a claim was the result of a reader poll or a subjective list by journalists, it turns out to have a basis in science.

Franco Zefirelli’s boxing drama starring Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and Ricky Schroder has a special place in the hearts of scientists, who have used a scene from the film (spoiler alert if you click through) to gauge subject’s emotions.

Richard Chin writes in the current issue:

The Champ has been used in experiments to see if depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people (they aren’t). It has helped determine whether people are more likely to spend money when they are sad (they are) and whether older people are more sensitive to grief than younger people (older people did report more sadness when they watched the scene). Dutch scientists used the scene when they studied the effect of sadness on people with binge eating disorders (sadness didn’t increase eating).

It dates back to research conducted by the University of California in 1988, when psychology researchers were looking for movie scenes that triggered a single emotion at a time.

The emotions and films used to trigger them were as follows:

After numerous tests it was found that the pivotal scene in The Champ triggered sadness exclusively more than any other film they screened (Bambi was second).

Since then the three-minute clip has been cited in hundreds of scientific articles and even been used as a humane way to make test subjects sad in other studies.

But of course, emotions triggered when watching a film can be acutely personal and sad scenes can easily lapse into sentimentality.

With that in mind, here are some of the saddest movie scenes I can think of which don’t fall into cliché.

There is the montage sequence from Up (2009):

This scene from The Elephant Man (1980):

Then there is this scene from Terms of Endearment (1984) – spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it:

Then of course, there is the pivotal flashback scene from Sophie’s Choice (1982), which deserves a category all of its own (major spoiler warning for that one).

Any other suggestions?

> Original article in The Smithsonian
> The Champ at the IMDb
> PDF of the original study ‘Emotion Elicitation Using Films’ by James J. Gross and Robert W. Levenson in ‘Congition and Emotion’ (1995)