Shot-designer-2Thanks to Hollywood Camera Work's new app Shot Designer, you can now design and block camera coverage of your scene almost as fast as you can think it -- even on your mobile device. An intuitive interface allows precise control for plotting (and animating) all the essential aspects of shooting your scene in a classic top-down diagram style. A limited (single-scene-at-a-time) release is available for free, and the $20 Pro version has some key perks too. Read on for the intro video and a more detailed list of Shot Designer's features.

Here's the basic rundown of what the free version of the app allows you to design (and why it's so cool):

  • Camera placement and angle of view
  • Character placement and angle of orientation
  • Animation of camera/character paths -- multi-step blocking, akin to storyboarding 'keyframes' in a moving shot
  • Shotlists -- items are easily connected to points in the diagram
  • Importing storyboards -- also easily connected to points in the diagram
  • Director's Viewfinder -- uses your mobile device's camera to visualize various focal lengths
  • Built-in Set Designer -- customization of floor-plans
  • Lighting Designer -- light type/placement and orientation
  • Pre-made Plots -- easily load and modify common setups
  • iOS and Android compatible -- includes smart-phones (where 'Pocket-Blocking' truly applies)
  • Mac and PC compatible -- but not in direct connection with your mobile (see Pro options below)

These videos demonstrate how elegantly each of these features is implemented, and in a design perfect for mobile situations. I gave the Mac desktop version a shot, and it is indeed as intuitive, simple, and easy to use as it seems (although, for a computer with a keyboard, it may be too simple -- more on this below).

If all of this seems too good to be true, here's the list of things you can only do with the Pro version:

  • 'Scene Freeze' -- allows you to snapshot a configuration you can return to if you want to, say, experiment and revert
  • Exporting to PDF, MS Excel, or JPG, plus emailing your layouts and shotlists
  • Unlimited Folder Structure to get as complex with your planning as you need

That's right -- you can't export to any of those formats without purchasing the upgrade. In fact, with the free version, you can't actually save your scene in any traditional sense (short of taking a screen-cap of it). So even though you can run Shot Designer for free on both your PC and your mobile, you can't transfer files back and forth between them -- and again, you can only work on one scene at a time.

Not to mention it looks as though the desktop version of Shot Designer (and I'd assume the same would be true of the Pro desktop version, though anyone who owns it may let me know if this is incorrect) has only one input method -- clicking. This actually makes sense, given that its design makes it entirely practical to use on something like an iPad, which really only has the input method of 'clicking.' Scrolling works too, but again, that's because you can scroll on a touch-only tablet.

I only stress these limitations of the free version of the app because, actually, it seems to me like Shot Designer Pro is a fantastic scene-diagramming engine, and one that is almost certainly worth the $20 it costs. And if future iterations maybe worked in hotkey options for desktop versions, and if the company is able to provide the syncing systems it's looking into, I can say that I myself would be happy to lay down one Andrew Jackson U.S. for it. Here's Hollywood Camera Work on the sync feature they envision (and why it isn't ready yet):

Sure, we could throw in the DropBox API, and you'd be syncing soon. However, that precludes the ability to collaborate in real-time, and leaves Shot Designer a single-user app. In our vision for the future, productions simply abandon paper and do all the shot management in Shot Designer. The Director blocks there. The DP does his lighting. The Script Supervisor logs the shots, and puts in the Director's edits for him. All at the same time. This takes heavy lifting that requires a dedicated sync service. Our goals? First, real-time sync with a max of 5 seconds delay. Second, delayed real-time, so that two people can get on different airplanes, and their changes are intelligently merged -- any sync conflicts that require any babysitting would be a deal-breaker. Third, heavy encryption. We have users who work on blockbusters who can't touch it without heavy and documented encryption. We need to see how people at large use Shot Designer before we can decide which sync road to take.

Especially if/when that vision comes true, I think Hollywood Camera Work has a serious filmmaking asset on its hands. What do you guys think? Do you feel that this could become an incredibly useful pre-production tool? Have any one of you already used it on any shoots you've worked on?

You can find the links to both the iOS and Android versions below, as well as the link to the desktop version at Hollywood Camera Work's website.