Images from "The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean"

courtesy of New Line, Medusa and Sciarlò

Visual Effects, Set extension & Virtual Sets

Me leaning on Mike Connor's Motion Control with extended arm, on the set of Renzo Martinelli's film "Vajont".

To create the dam for Vajont, I suggested creating a 1/8th segment of the dam, mounting it on semi-circular rails with the same width and radius as the real dam, and then shooting it in eight different positions with the same motion control movements.


In agreement with set designer Francesco Friggeri, all this was done close to the real location, so that the backgrounds were shot directly with the actors so that green screens were not necessary.


This also meant that the extras could be multiplied to give the illusion that hundreds of workers were engaged in the construction and completion of the dam.


Two segments of the dam were made, one for the dam under construction and the other with the dam completed. The lower part of the dam was made by extension in cgi.

Thanks to Martinelli Film & RAI Cinema for the images

I have worked with Mike Connor on many projects over what seems like an enormous period of time. In retrospect, perhaps it was after working on some of the Mulino Bianco commercials in the early 90's that our desire to raise the benchmark for visual effects for films in Italy was born.

I had spoken, around that time, with the artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, Gillo Pontecorvo. He was very much in agreement that most Italian filmmakers did not know what could be done with digital technologies. So he suggested we take charge of the beautiful Salone degli Specchi at the Hotel Excelsior in Venice, and spend time during the Festival explaining our work, showing that it was not just about creating dinosaurs like those in Jurassic Park; and explaining that digital visual effects can also save money and offer spectacular virtual and set extentions, something even more the case with today's LED Walls.


As soon as I explained the possibility that we had been offered, Mike enthusiastically agreed to bring his Motion Control equipment to Venice, so he could show the directors what could be done by shooting and post-producing using that equipment.

Well, the ten-day demonstration turned out to be a success, in fact we didn't have to wait long before we were asked to take part in a major film project. The first Italian director to understand the potential of these digital techniques, was Giuseppe Tornatore. He told me that he wanted to make his next film 'The Legend of the Pianist' look like a film  with a hefty budget even though it actually had a much more contained budget. He had understood how virtual sets could offer the creative solutions he was looking for, and at a reduced cost compared to physical construction costs etc. So, the story board artist got busy after Giuseppe's creative explanations, and I discussed with Mike how we could make each one of these scenes with a relative economy.


In the end we worked on some 450 shots, for which I put together a temporary consortium of post production companies in Europe.

Many of the scenes were particularly fascinating, and one of the most inspiring was, without a doubt, the piano dance. In this scene, Tim Roth sees his trumpet player friend suffering from seasickness because the Virginian is in the middle of a violent Atlantic storm. Tim Roth suggests to his friend to take the brakes off the piano and come and sit with him. The trumpet player, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, says the idea is madness, but eventually allows himself to be convinced.

Thus begins one of Giuseppe's many brilliant creative ideas, the grand piano dancing to the rhythm of the stormy ocean, and our trumpet player friend gradually feels better, even sipping a bottle of champagne grabbed from a passing table.

There were several meetings with Giuseppe, and with the film's highly talented production designers Francesco Friggeri and Domenico Sica, to decide how to realise not only this scene, but gradually the entire film. In the old days we knew that the great Fellini had used a hydraulic platform to move the set, but this was not very practical for the ship's 1,000 square metre first class salon. At the very least it would have taken some engineering, time to build, and a substantial amount of money. Giuseppe also explained that the piano with our pianist and trumpeter would have to break through a decorative glass wall at the end of the scene and fly down a narrow corridor before crashing into the captain's cabin.

We all talked about it together, and came to the conclusion that it would make more sense to move the camera, not the set. Especially since Mike could program his motion control to create the rolling and pitching of the ship, allowing the very skilled camera operator Enrico Lucidi to follow and dynamically frame the dancing piano. The piano itself was moved by men dressed in green who pulled or pushed it along with our actors, always staying behind the protagonists and the piano in the 23 shots in which we broke up the sequence.  

We prepared an audio tape with timecode so that we could run motion control at precise points, and to give playback to Tim Roth. We shot empty shots with the same camera movement to make post production very simple.

Giuseppe wanted an animatic of the scene and we submitted it to the great Ennio Morricone for his opinion, especially in sync with his music. Ennio wanted it to be a little faster, and we satisfied him. 


DAVID BUSH - LONDON, UK   david.bush@me.com   Flat 21, 70 Tavistock Road, London W11 1AN, UK . +44 7447 575 512  davidbush.org

8K MOBILE DIGITAL LAB - LONDON, UK  is a division of WOTAN FILM Ltd., 542 Uxbridge Road, Pinner, Middlesex, HA5 3QA, UK  8kmobiledigitallab.com

MIKE CONNOR  - LONDON, UK  wotanfilm@btopenworld.com   +44 7802 255 620     mikeconnorcameras.com

ALBERTO PARODI - GENOA, ITALY  - MULINETTI STUDIOS  alberto@logicalbox.com via Antonio Gandin, 70-1, 16142 Genova GE, Italy.

   +39 347 255 4249,  +39 010 860 6220      logicalbox.com

PAOLO SAVIOLO - VALLETTA, MALTA - LUX MARIS ltd. director@luxmaris.eu   171 Old Bakery Street, Il-Belt Valletta VLT 1455, Malta.

+356 7704 1824        luxmaris.eu


Thanks to RAI Cinema & Martinelli Film for the stills

Mike is director of photography in 5K and 8K son the film "My Story" based on the life story of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. The film, directed by Ahmed Kamel was a world first to go through the Mobile Digital Lab.

Me supervising visual effects with my Indian assistant Ashish Tyaghi for the Rose Movies production "Drona" in Rajasthan, Northern India.

Me grading colour and stereo 3d together in Genoa, as this technique offers the best results for 3d films. I made some tests for an important director in China, who exclamed when seeing the results of 20 different scenes that I had done to prove the point "They look like Caravaggio paintings".

Mike is director of photography of the short film "Appasionata". The short won an Oscar as Best Foreign Film in the Long Island Festival Short Film Festival. It has also been shown in some 29 festivals around the world, including Shanghai.

Mike shooting a film about recruiting for the Swedish Air Force.

The producer was Patrick von Faber-Castel of "Travel to Romantis".

An example of saving construction costs by using virtual sets. This was for Florestano Vancini's "E' Ridendo l'uccise".

We didn't have the comfort of Motion Control for moving the camera, but the genius chief grip Luigi Rocchietti using a Black and Decker drill and a large elastic band, made a makeshift "hot head or repetitive pan" that governed the wheels of the old Arri style head to satisfy the director's desire to have camera movement on the scene.  

This photograph shows me and Francesca Rotondo working on solving the problem with Luigi's help. We were looked on as being mad to start with, when I suggested this.