Before computers took over special and practical effects, Hollywood had a long tradition of creating sets, costumes, creatures, detailed models and props – all by hand. In classics like Jaws and Star Wars, special effects artists, craftsmen and painters helped filmmakers realize their vision.

An ILM modeler prepares X-Wings and Imperial space ships for their closeup in 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Realistic miniature models, for example, required the skill of a true artisan. Models took weeks or even months to produce and once used, were destroyed. If they were needed for another shot, often times they had to be painstakingly reproduced.

Computer-generated imagery (or CGI) made that process much faster and cheaper, plus CGI gave filmmakers much more freedom. Compared to producing elaborate models, sets or creature effects, filmmakers saw an incredible value in using computer-generated visual effects.

Prop Culture
Today Hollywood is again embracing technology for film production. As 3D modeling and visual effects artists push the boundaries to create realistic effects, many production studios have adopted new methods of creating costumes, props and even those old models: with 3D printers.

Jason Lopes of Legacy Entertainment explains how 3D printers were used for Avatar, Robocop and other films.

Companies such as Makerbot, Formlabs and Stuffmaker have been providing consumers with 3D printers for home use since 2009. Filmmakers are also adopting 3D printing and industrial design technology, moving away from computer-generated special effects in order to design and print them instead.

And it’s not just filmmakers who are embracing the technology. “It’s so convenient and easy, it just makes sense,” says Scott Summit, founder of Bespoke Innovations, a San Francisco, California-based company that uses 3D printers to make customized prosthetics for the physically challenged.

Nowadays, creating costumes, creatures, props and even spaceships is easier than ever. Convenience and ease of use were definitely on the agenda for director Jon Favreau, director of the critically acclaimed Iron Man 2. Favreau needed to quickly prototype and create Iron Man’s armored suit; he did so with a 3D printer.

Legacy Effects used 3D printers to create the armor worn by Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.

A New Era for Cinema
This change signifies a big shift in the way films are made. With the increased use of 3D printers in films like Iron Man 2 and the upcoming epic Warcraft, tech designers are creating a new way in which props are designed and created – and giving audiences more lifelike experiences.

For the upcoming film Warcraft, Peter Jackson’s WETA special effects 3D printed every prop. Here the amazing results are on display at Comic Con.

With a faster turnaround time and, in many cases, lower cost than computer-generated special effects, 3D printing is beginning to take over the world of Hollywood and beyond.

We believe in the future: Currently, Digital Media Academy is the only technology summer camp to offer both online courses and summer camps for 3D Printing.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and even Walt Disney weren’t always the Hollywood successes we know today. Everyone has to start somewhere – now it’s your turn to start following your dreams. With this quick guide, you’ll learn how to become a filmmaker.

The three-act structure is the standard for Hollywood screenwriters and filmmakers.

Write a Story
Since pre-production is arguably the most important step in the production process, you can never be too prepared. As you begin your journey to Hollywood, start with a simple story so that you can focus on production skills.

The three-act structure has been used as a model for screenwriters since the dawn of the filmmaking. By dividing the story into parts called the setup, confrontation and resolution, filmmakers are given a clear format for their work.

Successful production studios often develop storytelling techniques of their own. Pixar developed 22 rules of storytelling that is referenced internally during the creation of modern classics, like Toy Story, Up and Inside Out.

Grab a Video Camera
These days, almost everyone has a video camera. Does your smartphone have a camera? Perfect! Got an old video camera that your family hasn’t used in years? That can work, too…

The quality of smartphone cameras can offer some great shots; use whatever equipment you have available.

Today, most cameras and smartphones come equipped with very capable automatic settings perfect for first-time filmmakers. If you plan to shoot with manual settings enabled, be sure to brush up on fundamental camera functions, like aperture and shutter speed.

Although you can make an Academy-Award-winning film using your iPhone, Digital Media Academy recommends Canon cameras and camcorders to help aspiring filmmakers capture the shots they have always dreamed of. Be sure to visit Canon’s website to find the camera that’s right for you.

Assemble a Crew
Filmmaking is truly a team sport. With all of the roles that need to be filled on set, creating a film by yourself can be extremely difficult. Grab some friends and #CreateTheNext summer blockbuster!

Every great film has an even greater crew that helped make it happen.

In their most basic form, film crews consist of a director, camera operator and actors. As the complexity of your films (and your budget) continue to grow, additional roles (such as assistant camera operators, gaffers, set designers and script supervisors) become increasingly important.

The best way to become a skilled filmmaker is to be a filmmaker. Like any discipline, patience and precision is required to develop the skills of an advanced filmmaker.

Hit the Editing Room
Thats a wrap! Now that you have captured your shots and filled your memory cards, it’s time to piece your film together the way you always wanted.

Final Cut Pro X is used to edit Hollywood films like Focus (2014), starring Will Smith.

There are a number of options when it comes to post-production software. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X provides users with an advanced and cost-effective video-editing solution, perfect for both Hollywood hotshots and first-time filmmakers.

Looking for some inspiration? Check out some of our favorite Hollywood films edited using Final Cut Pro and start editing today!

Create a Buzz
Now that you have started editing, it’s time to get people excited about the release of your latest film, by creating a web presence.

Promote and showcase your projects using social media like Facebook.

Websites such as Facebook, YouTube and even Instagram, provide filmmakers with a platform to promote and showcase their latest projects. Utilize these platforms and other popular outlets like Vimeo, Twitter and Tumblr to expose your work to as wide a viewership as possible.

Lights, Camera, Action!
Filmmaking is a great way to tell the story you have always wanted to express. Now that you know how to become a filmmaker, it’s time to put these tips and tricks into action. With a little bit of effort, patience and passion, it won’t be long before your film is playing on the big screen.

From extreme sports to family vacations, Lily, the the first-ever “throw-and-shoot” camera, is about to change the way we use drones.

Meet Lily, the first “throw-and-shoot” camera, which follows a tracking device worn by the user for continuous aerial coverage. (Image: Lily Camera)

Drone cameras have given photographers and videographers a new way to view and capture the world around them, but learning to fly them often requires a lot of time, skill and patience.

While the new perspective gives operators a chance to shoot in a way that would otherwise be impossible, it leaves them stuck on the ground controlling their camera. But not with Lily.

The Specs

Lily is the future of personal drones. This autonomous-controlled drone allows its user to capture high-quality photos and videos from above as it follows a tracking device worn on the ground by the owner, as if you were being filmed by a hot air balloon.

With a multitude of functions/views, digital gimballing, image stabilization, fixed focus, and slow-mo capabilities, Lily is just as versatile as it is innovative.

And true to its billing, it is truly “throw-and-shoot.” The user simply tosses Lily into the air and the drone automatically rights itself and starts climbing to the desired vantage point.

In the promo video (see below), a kayaker even chucks a Lily into a river before the plucky drone rises out of the whitewater and heads upward.

In the evolution of cameras, Lily rises to the top while tracking your movements for the perfect shot. (Image: Lily Camera)

Price: $499 (pre-order)
Length & Width: 10.29 in (26.1 cm) x 10.29 in (26.1 cm)
Height: 3.22 in
Weight: 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg)
Battery: Built-in lithium-ion battery (20-minute flight time), 5A charger (2-hour charge time)

Min/Max Altitude above head: 5 ft (1.75 m) to 50 ft (15 m)
Max Distance from User: 100 ft (30 m)

Video Resolution: 1080p 60 fps / 720p 120 fps
Video FOV: 94º
Video Format: H.264 codec, .mp4 file format
Photo Resolution: 12 MP

Memory: 4gb micro SD (provided) and an external memory card slot

Sensors: Accelerometer, three-axis gyro, magnetometer, barometer, GPS, front-facing camera, bottom-facing camera

The microphone-equipped tracking device fits inside a waterproof wrist case, and both come standard with Lily. (Image: Lily Camera)

The Tracking Device has a built-in lithium-ion battery with 4-hour battery life and micro USB charging, and comes with a waterproof wrist case. Inside it has an accelerometer, barometer, GPS, microphone and vibration motor.

Plus, with the Lily companion app (available on iOS and Android), you can change camera settings, create custom shots, and Edit and share content you’ve captured. If you want to see Lily in action, check out the amazing video below.

Summer Vacation Filmmaking
Shot by Brad Kremer, known for his advanced digital filmmaking in the the snow-sports community (he’s also filmed for Red Bull, Ubisoft, Nike and the X-Games), the video shows Lily keeping up with legendary Finnish snowboarder Jussi Oksanen.

It then follows a kayaker down some rapids (proving the waterproof shell works by lifting off with ease from the surface of a river) before taking video and photos of a family on summer vacation.

While anyone can use Lily, editing that footage into an extreme sports video or family keepsake like the video above might take a little additional know-how.

If your child has ever shown interest in filmmaking, DMA offers camps where industry professionals teach students digital filmmaking with DSLRs from Canon and show them how to edit their footage with Final Cut Pro. There are even a few courses that combine sports and technology, like the video above!

When the Lumière brothers screened Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat in January 1896, viewers had never seen anything like it. The silent film, lasting only 50 seconds, depicts a locomotive as it pulls into the Paris station. Having seen nothing like it before, the audience fled the theater in terror, thinking a real train was bursting into the theater. An early example of virtual reality, from more than a century ago…

Having never seen a moving picture, audiences were terrified by Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. (Image: B+ Movie Blog)

Uses for Virtual Reality

With the introduction of VR headsets from Oculus, Samsung and even Google, there is no question that virtual reality technology is here to stay. With much of the attention centered around virtual reality gaming, many users are missing out on many of the other uses that have been developed in the world of virtual reality:

Travel the World
Sometimes, traveling sounds easier than it actually is. Virtual reality, on the other hand, takes the stress out of traveling with the ability to transport users anywhere their hearts desire.

The Wild Within takes viewers on a virtual journey through British Columbia’s beautiful landscapes. (Image: Destination British Columbia)

Many directors are using virtual reality to take viewers places they have never been. Destination British Columbia created The Wild Within, allowing anyone in the world to take a trip through the beautiful landscapes of Canada and beyond. With this ability, family vacations may gain a whole new dimension.

Prep for Surgery
Today’s virtual reality technology is allowing doctors and surgeons to practice potentially risky surgeries before entering the operating room.

Medical students are using virtual reality to sharpen their skills before they use them in the OR. (Image: Moveo Foundation)

This virtual training ensures that medical professionals around the world have the access they need to study high-risk medical procedures before they have to perform them. Medical students can also observe surgeries in virtual reality, helping them gain an understanding of the procedure, as well as a taste of how an operating theater functions.

Become Part of the Movie
When director Guillermo Del Toro set out to promote his 2013 summer blockbuster, Pacific Rim, he wanted viewers to become a part of the experience.

Using the Oculus Rift, fans of Pacific Rim had a chance to become a Jaegar Pilot in this combat simulator. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

With the ability to command the skies as a Jaeger Pilot, it’s no surprise that virtual reality is saving the movie business. But how exactly? Virtual reality allows directors to find creative ways to attract viewers. By immersing fans in the film, they become more attached to the to the world of Pacific Rim and other movies.

Work in Space
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has combined an Oculus Rift with Microsoft’s Kinect to allow scientists to control and see through the eyes of a robot.

NASA has combined the Oculus Rift with the Kinect to allow for full-control robots on earth and beyond.

It’s not quite R2-D2, but the robotics engineers and programmers over at NASA are coming close. Using the Oculus Rift to control the robot’s head and a Kinect to mimic movements, scientists are now able to analyze incoming data in real time.

Virtual reality has progressed by leaps and bounds since being worked on by companies like Oculus and Google during the past few years. Do you want to #CreateTheNext virtual hit? Check out Digital Media Academy’s Game Design & Development courses and start creating this summer!

For more than 15 years, Final Cut Pro has remained the independent filmmaker’s editing system of choice. Its clean interface and intuitive mechanics make for a streamlined post-production process that is hard to find elsewhere. Need proof? Check out these hit movies made with FCP:

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
The Final Cut Pro editing system met Director Jared Hess’ tight budget requirements and helped him deliver a hit. (Image: Fox Searchlight/Paramount Pictures)

John Heder starred as Napoleon Dynamite in the art-house comedy of the same name. With a next-to-nothing budget and no way to hire additional editors to cut the film, Final Cut Pro became the obvious choice for director Jared Hess and producer Jeremy Coon. They edited Napoleon Dynamite in Coon’s apartment, using a $6,000 Macintosh loaded with Final Cut Pro. More than $46 million later, Napoleon Dynamite became a lasting cult classic that helped define a new era of teen-angst comedy.

Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton edited the film using FCP, and shot it using Canon DSLR cameras.

Who says Final Cut Pro can’t help bring animated characters to life? Filmed using the Canon EOS-1D Mark II DSLR, Burton’s grim musical featured his usual dark sense of humor along with many of his regular actors, including the voice talents of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp.

The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Matt Groening’s hit television series made its way to the big screen with a little help from Final Cut. (Image: Fox Studios)

After years of waiting (seven, to be exact) and more than 100 rewrites, Homer, Marge and the rest of the family became a part of Hollywood history, thanks to Final Cut Pro. FCP was used for the film and has also been used for scenes from the TV show.

Enchanted (2007)
Giselle is about to become a princess when her dreams of meeting the perfect prince become a reality. (Image: Disney Studios)

The film payed homage to classic Disney productions (although you’ll find more Disney easter eggs in Frozen). Edited using Final Cut Pro, Enchanted blended animation with live action to create a magical Disney experience.

The Social Network (2010)
Final Cut Pro helped The Social Network win three Academy Awards. (Image: Columbia Pictures)

Academy Award winner for Best Film Editing, David Fincher’s The Social Network immediately caught the attention of audiences around the world. Based on Mark Zuckerberg’s experiences when creating Facebook, The Social Network exposed the controversy that surrounded the building of a social-networking platform.

Focus (2015)
Focus was produced completely with Final Cut, including its titles. (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

Editor Jan Kovac used a few versions of FCPX 10.1.x for Focus – the Will Smith/Margot Robbie con-artist film. Originally, Focus was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but filmmakers used Final Cut to re-frame the film to 1.85:1, which they felt better suited the movie.

Michael Matzdorff, Kovac’s first assistant editor, was so impressed by the editing process that he wrote Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow: Proven Techniques. Focus is also the first studio film to use FCP X.

Other films that have used Final Cut? True Grit and Zodiac.

For a quick, inexpensive and comprehensive editing suite, Final Cut Pro is the choice of editors around the globe.

Making the Final Cut

From animated projects to live-action epics, Final Cut Pro has helped critically acclaimed directors and editors bring their films into the spotlight. With hands-on instruction from industry experts, you can learn how to edit a film using Final Cut Pro. So what are you waiting for? #CreateTheNext indie blockbuster this summer at Digital Media Academy.

They said it couldn’t be done: You can’t edit a major feature on Final Cut Pro.

The editors of Focus, starring Will Smith, use Final Cut Pro X’s advanced features to create a memorable scenes.

But you can. In 2002, Walter Murch used a version of Final Cut Pro (FCP3 and 4) to edit the film Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.

Most recently, editor Jan Kovac used different versions of FCPX 10.1.x for the Will Smith/Margot Robbie movie Focus. Kovac’s first assistant, Michael Matzdorff, was so impressed by the process that he wrote a book about it. The excellent, Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow: Proven Techniques from the First Studio Film to Use FCP X is now available on Kindle and iBooks and covers the FCPX workflow for Focus.

For the Edit
The book was written in collaboration with Brendan Boykin, who wrote the authorized Apple Pro Training Series for FCPX (on which DMA’s Final Cut Pro and Filmmaking classes are based).

It covers the workflow and process of working with FCPX on a big budget, high pressure major studio productions like Focus. I give it my highest recommendation.Matzdorff’s work is full of detailed recipes for the process of assembly through editing and collaborating with other software on a production as complex as this, with VFX shots, color grading and audio mixing.

It’s a wonderfully interesting read for anyone using FCP. The book is not a how to use Final Cut Pro book, as Matzdorff makes clear at the very beginning, but it does have a lot of great insights and details in the process, and what could be done with the application to bring the project to fruition.

From FCPX to the Audience
The dailies and cut versions were viewed by the studio and test audiences throughout the process at 2K resolution output directly from FCP, from the projects used in editorial. There was no conforming from an EDL cut list.

All this is possible, of course, because the original material was shot using Arri Alexa cameras and recorded using Light Iron recorders with careful backup and data wrangling throughout the on-location production process. FCP’s standard titling tools were also used to make the titles that appeared in the finished film. No added software needed.

Final Cut Pro X gives you professional dynamic tools for creating titles and effects (without spending a fortune), like those seen in Focus.

It’s All About Workflow
Just like the book points out, modern production isn’t about shooting and then editing and then adding sound and VFX: It’s about workflow. It’s a continuous process of media moving through stages through various hardware and software. And before you begin, whether on a giant major studio production or one with a more modest budget, every step of that workflow needs to be tested thoroughly.

In addition to the digital media workflow, you need to test metadata workflow, all the information about the media, the notes from script, director, camera, and sound. All of this has be preserved and attached to the media and updated as it changes.

FCPX loves metadata and has countless ways of collating and presenting it to the user. Because Focus was captured in the ProRes 4444 and RED RAW media formats, VFX could be created directly from the editor, reinserted and output for finishing without any conforming process.

The book provides a fascinating look into the intricate process of major motion picture post production.

Tom Wolsky is a lead instructor at Digital Media Academy and the author of numerous published books about Final Cut Pro. He has decades of professional television experience, including his years of work as an industry-respected producer for ABC News.

Capturing the perfect image is tough. When your little brother isn’t photobombing your shot, then it is probably the sun (or lack of it) washing out the colors in your scene. Final Cut Pro offers built-in tools to help both new and experienced editors easily control color in their films.

In this How-To, you’ll discover the basics of color correction using waveforms and other professional techniques.

What You’ll Learn in this Video:

  • How to correct color in video using Final Cut Pro
  • How to use the Inspector
  • How to read wave forms
  • How to manually adjust color levels
  • How to manually adjust exposure
  • How to map individual samples to keyboard commands

Lights, Camera, Action!
Want to #CreateTheNext heart-pounding edit? Come to Digital Media Academy this summer and learn how to make movies working as part of a real film production team in DMA Studios or learn how to create Hollywood special effects using the same professional editing and special-effects techniques used in blockbuster films.

Filmmaking courses at Digital Media Academy places students in production teams simulating a real-world production environment. Using cutting-edge Canon cameras and top of the line Apple computers, students become independent filmmakers as they  plan, shoot and edit a film of their own.

Visit Digital Media Academy’s YouTube Channel for more How-To’s and helpful advice.

Considering a job in the music industry? Aside from being an artist, possibly the most important role in the music business is that of a music producer. It’s true: you don’t have to be a musician to get into the business; the people that sit behind the mixing board can be equally important. Depending on the project, a music producer can wear many hats:

1) The Idea Guy
A music producer can help gather ideas for a recording project. The truth is, artists actually hire music producers to help pull songs together. The production of an album is essentially a CD of 12 to 15 “ideas.” Take, for example, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This concept album was made while working with producer George Martin. The Beatles changed music.

2) The Sound Guy
When the idea of the album is agreed upon, the music producer gets ready to listen. The producer will be responsible for making the decisions of song and musician selection and working with the band to bring the sound together.

The Music Producer often oversees the music and band from the mixing board.

Lots of times a band will go into the studio with the general idea of an album and a notebook full of songs. The producer’s job in that situation is to help select the best songs and determine which songs best support the overall concept and idea of the album.

To bring an artist’s vision to life and the songs to their full potential, additional musicians may be needed. Maybe the chorus of a song would benefit from a horn section…but none of the band members play any horn instruments. Or maybe a band member needs to be replaced. It’s the producer that’s responsible for making these tough decisions, which can ultimately make or break the album.

3) The Advice Guy
Once the musicians and songs are selected, the producer then becomes the coach in the studio. The producer is now responsible for getting the musicians to come together and create their ideas. A producer might help a drummer find his “groove” or help a guitarist find a different approach for his solo. A producer may also provide spiritual support, giving a vocalist the confidence they need to give their best vocal performance.

4) The Scheduling Guy
It’s the producer’s job to keep the production on schedule not just in terms of finances and release date, but also in terms of morale and fatigue. Getting a record released on time doesn’t matter if your vocalist was worked to death and didn’t provide his or her best performance.

Artists have their work cut out for them in the studio, while the producer oversees the process and makes sure the absolute best work is recorded.

5) The Follow-Up Guy
Once the production is completed, the musical artists get to go home, or back on tour. But the record itself is far from being finished. The producer oversees the final mixing and mastering process. The mix brings all the audio elements together, while mastering gives each individual track the same overall sonic quality. This is all the responsibility of the music producer. A producer may also work with a record company to determine upcoming track releases and tour appearances.


No matter the genre…be it Hip-Hop, Pop, Rock or Electronica…there are many incredible jobs in the music business. A music producer brings everything together and makes it sound great. If you want to learn more about making music, explore DMA’s Music Production camps.

See what teens made at Digital Media Academy film camp this summer in Chicago!

This video was made by shooting hundreds of individual JPEG photos and piecing/editing them together in Final Cut Pro. This was made during DMA Film Camp in Chicago this past summer in the Teen Film Editing and  Filmmaking Course. Learn how to make a movie like this at a DMA course this summer!

Written By Ben Waggoner

Wow, the year just keeps skipping past; this post has been on my to-do list for a month now. And my video compression classes are approaching at a rapid pace, with signups for Digital Media Academy @ Stanford University already open!

These classes are among the highlights of my year. I never learn faster than when I’m teaching, particularly when I get the great students that attend the sessions. Skill levels vary widely, and the course is designed to accommodate that. But everyone’s got something unique they’re trying to do, whether it’s a supervisor of a high-volume compression department getting up to speed on new formats, or an educator incorporating videos of marine animals into the classroom. And it’s those real-world projects where the rubber meets the road. The focus of the classes is on hands-on art, science, and craft of video compression. It’s all about how to get the best results out of real-world content with real-world workflows, within all the real-world constraints we have to operate under.

” When Microsoft was recruiting me back in 2005, one of my top requirements was that I keep on teaching these classes, with full freedom to cover the formats and technologies that matter, even if competitive with our own. It was an easy sell – they understand the value of me understanding everything. And of course, now that VC-1 is a SMPTE standard and Silverlight is getting H.264 support, the era of proprietary media formats is over anyway. So while we’ll certainly spend time with VC-1, WMV, and Silverlight, we’ll also cover MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Flash, DVD, Blu-ray, Ogg Theora, and other formats and players based on class interest.

Class time is roughly split between lectures/demos and hands-on time doing projects. Each student gets their own workstation loaded with the latest and greatest compression software and related tools.

And I really encourage students to bring along some of their own content and projects, particularly one’s they’ve been having trouble with. Nothing beats that kind of variety of real projects to teach the tips and tricks of our craft.

DMA computer training classes offer Stanford Continuing Studies academic credit, and so are generally covered by corporate education benefits.

Stanford University: August 10-14

Mastering Video Compression

This is the one that started it all; 2009 makes it a full decade since the very first 2-day class I did for the Stanford library science department on authoring QuickTime for education . We’ve been doing the current week-long format for eight years now. The program that ran that class evolved into the Digital Media Academy, which now runs a very wide variety of classes. My 9 year old son came along last year to take a great LEGO Robotics course the same week. He and James Clarke (who took the class) really hit it off; the three of us can deliver quite a whirlwind of nerdish intensity.

Since it’s a one week intensive, it works as a destination class; we get people flying in from around the world. On-campus dorm rooms are available (and quite nice; I stay in one), with other lodging options available, and a meal plan.