Editor’s Note: In his session “The Illusion of Creating Speed” at Promax Europe 2018, director and action design expert Lawrence Ribeiro explained how to fuel your video content with speed and action, without blowing up your budget, your client relationship, or your bieg idea. This is an excerpt from his book, “Action Realism: The Art of Action.”
There are the arts and sciences. Then there is observation. What is observation, and how is this used? Or, more importantly, how can this be used by people in the film or advertising industries?
Trackers, Native Americans and cowboys who lived out in the plains, could read the land, look at the sky, blue as can be, and were more accurate than the modern-day weatherman. Why is that?
Military units that have basic training so as to not be detected by the enemy, skills like not breaking branches or scraping bark, being quiet, or if there is snow, swishing away footprints, etc.
I have spent a lot of time in various locales where I met people who knew the land and environment better than I did, and they were able to share with me. For example, if you are consumed by the forest and can’t orient yourself, get to a higher vantage point and look down to assess the surroundings. Most of the time, there will be this streak of trees where the color of leaves will be distinctively different from the rest of trees in the area. This is a sign of disturbed soil, which is usually a trail, a creek or an old logging road.
Somebody had to observe this before they could share it.
What I’m getting at is developing your ability to observe. If you were to do an observation drill, you will see that your skills have actually been lost.
For example, in a non-creepy fashion, look at someone. Really look at them. In the position that they are in at that given moment. What do you see? Do you actually see both ears? Don’t assume they have both ears. Or even one ear. Do you actually see an ear, or is it covered by hair? This is key.
Look at another part of the body: look at their hands. Do you see all the fingers? Or just some fingers? Maybe even partial fingers? The minor details can be the difference between making something interesting and not.
When you are on set and working in stunts, developing this skill can save your life! But it is also important simply for getting that shot you intended to get.
Moreover, your powers of observation enhance the image quality of what you are seeing. Your responsibility is to get the shot. Do you think your skills will develop more after doing an observation drill? Because after all, the final product is for the audience. You can make the images better, and in the case of action, more dynamic and visceral.
Fine arts and painting schools still use the above drill. It’s standard operating procedure.
In summary, when creating action, take responsibility for the space around you so that you or somebody else doesn’t get hurt or killed. Use observation both to protect yourself and those around you, and to increase your ability to enhance the image.
Lawrence Ribeiro is an award-winning director specializing in action and dynamic sequences. He has published two books, was a featured speaker at Promax Europe 2018, consults for major corporations and serves as a finalist judge for the Emmy Awards.