Introductions. The New Wolf has always attempted to uncover and unearth ideas that are indicative of change. People crave change and movement, it is in our nature; you only have to watch a baby left static in a pram to see that. This new regular feature continues this theme. With all the baby watching now over, we are going to present fresh, innovative ideas from the arts, in business or anywhere beyond. And rather than simply documenting the idea, we will be catching up with the innovators themselves in order to reveal not just the concept and its practice but the people behind it.
On to our second introduction. Meet Benjamin Barfoot, a 33-year-old self-taught film-maker from Devon, and now based in London. His first film in 2004, Signature, was nominated for a Broadcasting Young Talent Award. The film combines 2D and 3D images, or 2.5D, blending animation with live action video. But the idea from Signature turned out to be a wellspring of a bigger one.
“I asked Lee (Lee Wade – producer/software designer): could you make me a filter that would turn people into a rotoscope hand-drawn image?” Barfoot was asking Wade to create rotoscope software that could take live action and automatically transform it into an animated version.
Rotoscope software takes an image and distinguishes the people and the objects in the image through its sensitivity to contrast. The user can then alter those individual elements without interfering with other parts of the image or take elements of the original image and combine them with a new image, a little like green or blue-screen techniques. Most notably, A Scanner Darkly experimented with rotoscope software, and a number of live action films have used rotoscope software for visual effects, while video games have used software to create more realistic human movement. While rotoscope is available to film-makers in video editing software like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut, to create the desired effect it requires an artist to draw on each and every frame, but if successful Barfoot and Wade’s software would do that automatically.
While Wade was creating the software, Barfoot worked on a story to test it with. The idea of a man strapped with dynamite and not knowing where it came from is the central story line of Barfoot’s eventual second film, the sci-fi thriller FUSE. “The idea was in 2006. It died for 8 months. Started again at the beginning of 2007 and we finished it in September 2010.” After over three arduous years of work FUSE was screened at a selection of short film festivals, and to the world at Cannes Film Festival.
At thirty minutes long, FUSE was an ambitious project. “We shot it twice. There were technical problems the first time around. There were performance problems; I thought I was turning actors up to ten, but when I watched it back I realised they were at three or four. I quit my full-time job at MTV and invested almost all I had into it.” Barfoot acknowledges how much of a learning process FUSE was: “FUSE was a four-year film school. Every time we tried something there’d be ten problems. Because FUSE was the first of its kind there’s no manual. We’d have to invent a solution every time. It was easy to lose the story.” He modestly recognises that the project was trying to do too much with the resources available: “I wrote it, directed it, edited it, and did all the after effects. But I never want to have that control again. There are graphic designers better than me and better writers out there.”
Despite the steep learning curve and all the investment of effort, the film was made for just £6,000. And yet this is a film that features scenes with gun battles, multiple locations and thousands of characters. “And why make films when you can make worlds?” Barfoot asks. “With this technology I can invent worlds – I can have my own rules and my own societies.”
Barfoot hopes that the film industry is interested in the software, not merely for Coppercircle (Barfoot and Wade’s production company) but for the industry itself: “My sole intention is to make a British film that’s running a thin line between commercial and art house cinema. Britain needs a commercial hit. Something that is slick and interesting but is very cheap to make and because this software is developed, most of the hard work has been done already. If I wanted to have made Fuse purely with live action, I would’ve needed to hire the locations, if the right location could be found, relied upon weather and dealt with a lot else. With the software I could devise a scene how I wanted. A £4million film can be made for £100,000.”
Next for Barfoot and Coppercircle is to start work on a feature with a new generation of the technology that’s much smoother and crisper than what can be seen in FUSE. He knows the challenges ahead: “raising funding is the biggest challenge. The problem I have is that I’m doing something no-one has ever done before, there’s no track record of whether that could be successful.” As well as the success of the film, he hopes that the feature film will showcase the diversity of the technology in order for film-makers to see the software as a genuine alternative to live action, but still expects that road to be long: “I’ve resigned myself to the long game. It could take five years to develop all of this and I’ll try to build my career up with music videos and live action shorts as I go along but it’s this project that’s my focus. Entering into film is a difficult business and it’s going to be really hard work but I’d never stop because it’s all I want to do.”
Barfoot also has cause for optimism in the reaction to FUSE at Cannes. He speaks animatedly of the place. “It’s mad. You see the most beautiful art and creative people, and the most disgusting behaviour in people there. Everyone’s putting on a big façade telling you that they’re the best filmmaker in the world because you have to if you want to get noticed. Yet, the most successful people there are the ones who don’t tell you what they do because otherwise they’ll be haunted by everyone. I got pushed in front of this guy who was pissed in front of a bar and he loved what I showed him. And the next day I got contacted by a manager in Beverly Hills telling me that he thought there was a lot of work for me in the U.S. market. I got so used to all the bullshit out there and after trying and failing to meet up I left it. In November last year, I thought to myself: who was that guy? So I looked up his name and saw that he’s the managing director of a company that represents film talent, and he personally co-produced one or two really successful Hollywood films. I was nearly sick in my mouth. But in Hollywood you might be a flavour for an hour in someone’s life; you might be one of a hundred other people who he’s doing that with. But I feel a little like I nicked Hollywood in the face, just a little bit. I’m quite chuffed with that.”
Photos in Super Pizza Café, Brick Lane by Holly Aquilina.
Further photos provided by Benjamin Barfoot.