New Titles: Cinematic Storytelling, After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques, DSLR Cinema

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know

I first picked up Sijll’s book at the Showbiz Cafe in New York City and couldn’t put it down. It’s like candy for filmmakers. 100 examples of cinematic technique, 100 definitions of cinematic tools and almost twenty basic building blocks of cinematic language taught by example from frame grabs and script excerpts from 100 major motion pictures. “Extreme Close-up” from Kill Bill Vol.1, “Symbolic Use of Music” from the Shawshank Redemption, the famous “Crane Shot” from Touch of Evil… and so much more. Perfect for the beginning filmmaker and fun for the weathered pro. I’ve seen just about every one of these films and as I read the technique title, four times out of five I guessed the film and scene, its that iconic. Artists learn by viewing other artists work.

I like how this book gives “Other Films” suggestions on where these techniques can be found beyond the initial example. This nearly 260 page, wide-format paperback book (7.7 tall x 10.8 wide) makes for a good coffee table book as well. The only oddity I found was some formatting problems in the Table of Contents, but this is a minor glitch in an excellent, instructive and entertaining book.

Rating: 4

After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques

“This is emphatically not a book for beginners,” is explained early in this nearly 500 page paperback how-to book. The first section covers overviews and explanations of some of the more complex functions of After Effects, which I found very informative. Section Two, “the heart of the book,” covers color matching, keying, rotoscoping and motion tracking; all the effects I most want to use in AE. Section three covers best practices.

Having used and reviewed many how-to-books, I did get frustrated with the lack to ‘spelled-out’ instruction for the simpler tasks. The book instructs the user to make a garbage matte or use a side-by-side Composition and Layer view but doesn’t explain how. Advanced motion/compositors of other programs will find this frustrating. If the fluff and sarcastic humor was replaced by instruction for all procedures, compositors of other programs would be able to understand and follow. Additionally, I couldn’t read most of the print in the screen shots. Part of this has to do with the small font and over-crowed text in the AE interface, but there are ways to make it readable in a how-to book. With so many other means of software instruction, many of them free, I’m surprised at these shortcomings.

I love the sidebar Tips and Notes and for those so inclined, the book includes Hack Shortcuts (manipulating code) and Scripting. As an advanced user of other compositing software, I was really looking forward to test-driving AE with all the Section Two topics, but found it difficult. It seems this book has a narrow audience: Intermediate AE users who know their way around Adobe After Effects CS5 and want to take it to the next level.

Rating: 3

DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video

It’s rare for me to make a simple, blanket, superlative statement like this, but I absolutely love this book. I’m usually suspicious of technology specific books like this that would logically become outdated with the release of ‘next years model’ of camera or technology, but this book is different for so many reasons. Its difficult to narrow down what I loved most about this 320-page soft cover book, but pressed I would have to say the professionals’ comments. Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) shooters from around the world explain their experiences with this new technology and I couldn’t get enough (luckily Lancaster has a website where the fun continues).

This book accomplishes something that many try: to be relevant to beginners through advanced users. Lancaster masterfully covers the basics of video production in a way that I feel is understandable to a newbie while injecting enough ‘stories from the trenches’ and real life applications, challenges and shortcomings of this emerging filmmaking style in order to keep a 20-year seasoned pro interested.

A major shortcoming in books such as these is being vague about workflow or gear. Lancaster doesn’t fall into these traps. Both are mapped out to the last detail, with pros and cons, and there is no shortage of cons. The author is honest and upfront.

The book is inspiring, well written, excellently paced and chock full of pictures, screen shots and illustrations that tie everything together. One of the best cinema production books I’ve read.

Rating: 5

Morgan Paar is an adjunct professor of film/video production and post-production at Bronx Community College in New York City and an independent cinematographer and editor specializing in international documentary production.

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