Visit to Camera Effects Ltd in London

Camera Effects Limited has been going for 21 years. it is an optical house dealing in special effects. David Jefferson went along to their Soho, London studio and met Director Gary Pearlman.

Camera Effects create all sorts of optical illusions and camera tricks. Many animation techniques are used in the process, although it is not character animation of the kind you would associate with Walt Disney. Much of the drawn animation is in black and white, such as masks for matte work. These are used on the aerial image camera, combining various optical elements to produce a very sophisticated end result.

A computer is used to control a camera rig to give very smooth movements.

“One of our markets is feature film special effects and title sequences,” explains Camera Effects’ director Gary Pearlman. “Another area – and our biggest market – is commercial advertising which involves titles, illusions, effects, transitions, in fact anything that is needed we can create. Nine times out of ten we are involved with the advertising agency at the beginning of the production of a commercial. If there is an animation involvement we have our own in-house animators and we also have a list of freelance animators we call on.”

A still from Camera Effects’ show reel demonstrating ‘split scan’ filming.

They also supply a rostrum camera service to animation companies who do not have their own equipment, or who may need work shot with an aerial image camera or a computer controlled rostrum. “We have a fully computerised rostrum, with every axis linked to a computer for very smooth camera movements, called ‘motion control’. We have a second rostrum which is not as sophisticated and is operated manually, but is ideal for certain types of work,” says Pearl-man.

Camera Effects have a number of aerial image cameras which are used for either special effects optical work or animation superimposed over live- action. The camera is at a set height known as the ‘aerial image height’, which allows the animator/artist to work with an eleven inch field area. There is a projector system on the floor, optically positioned and lined up to the aerial image rostrum table. The pre-shot image is projected through a series of lenses, onto a mirror, angled at 45 degrees to the rostrum table. The rostrum table is the focus point of the camera and the projector.

Pearlman explains, “In the first stage of production, the pre-shot image will be projected onto the table and someone from the animation company will come in and rotoscope each frame of the action where they intend dropping in animation. The animator will then prepare cels for filming the animation over the supplied live-action background.”
The painted animation cel can be used as a self-matte because the paint interrupts the
aerial image while the clear areas allow the image to be seen by the camera. In this method the top lights and the projector light is on at the same time so both elements can be shot in one pass. The top lights are polarized so there are no reflections over the projected image. “We use Eastmancolor film for self-matte work. Over the years, we have worked out standard exposures as a starting point, but we still have to shoot tests of the live action to make sure we are getting the right colour and the correct density.”

The other method of combining cels with live action is to shoot in two runs. The cels are prepared as before and then shot once for colour and a second time on high contrast film to make a matte. All these elements are taken to the aerial image camera and then timed and shoot in two runs. There is a matte run with high contrast bi-pack relief positive of the matte of the character. The film is then rewound to the original start point, using the frame counter, and re-exposed for the animation area only. “The art is not to get any line around the character and also to balance the exposure of the two elements, so the animation does not look like an overlay, but becomes part of the live action background.”

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