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The Master Stroke

Behind the Scenes

The Challenge

With the purpose of creating a series of high quality tutorial DVDs to become an international training benchmark, Studio Scotland Ltd's director of photography, Stewart Menelaws, teamed up with technical lime mortar application experts Ugo Spano and Douglas Johnston to achieve the formidable task of converting, and in some instances highly technical, methods of good building and restorative practice into an easy to understand and entertaining tutorial series. It was also the intention for the tutorials to appeal to the seasoned professional tradesman and beginner alike.


Douglas Johnston (Technical Advisor - St. Astier Limes)

"From the very beginning of my involvement with producing and distributing traditional building materials a little over 20 years ago, it became apparent that there was a skills and knowledge gap in relation to traditional building practice.Working with a number of organisations to try and bridge this gap for at least the last 15 years has only been marginally successful and along with a number of colleagues of a like mind, it became apparent that we really needed to do something more radical to try and change the way training was being carried out.

Due to our previously very successful working relationship with Studio Scotland Ltd on a couple of other related subjects, we took the decision in conjunction with them to create a base of knowledge based DVD’s aimed specifically at our target market.

This format, established in conjunction with Studio Scotland Ltd marketing expertise demonstrated that through training and product placement, we could easily be in a position to radically change the knowledge base of the industry in a time scale we would have considered unimaginable a few years ago.

It’s a joy to work with seasoned, innovative professionals who know what is important for a successful production and can deliver the goods on time."

Featuring lime products provided by St Astier Limes, the tradesmen in the tutorial series used the same materials and application practices deployed on famous ancient restoration and new-build projects worldwide.


In the photographs above you can see the lime production plant CESA which is located in St Astier, in the Bordeaux Region of France. Here, the underground lime caves run for more than twenty miles and are quite spectacular.

In The Making:

The product

Douglas Johnston, technical director at Masons Mortar (UK) is a regular training advisor for The Charlestown Workshops, located at The Scottish Lime Centre Trust, Fife, Scotland. Douglas, a keen film enthusiast, understood that if they could produce a series of DVDs that could be made to exacting standards, it could revolutionise working practice throughout the industry. Working with technical advisor Dr Ugo Spano and research analyst Laurent Tedeschi of CESA they developed the St Astier Limes website which is the international benchmark for technical information on Lime mortar production and application.


Douglas, working in conjunction with SLCT director Roz Artis-Young, said that their initial attempt to start a series of tutorial DVDs for Charlestown Workshops resulted in a lot of footage but no direction - until the film & video production company, Studio Scotland, was contracted.

Roz Artis-Young (Director Scottish Lime Centre Trust)

"The Scottish Lime Centre Trust took the decision to enter the digital age by putting some of our training materials on DVD. Our initial toe in the water experience with a production company was less than satisfactory, resulting in lots of footage but little in the way of direction. On a recommendation from our web designers we opened discussions with Studio Scotland, not without concerns particularly as our first experience was so inconclusive and disappointing. However from the outset, we felt at ease, thought we were in good hands and realised very quickly that the mistakes that had gone before were well understood and would not be repeated.

The reality has proven to be everything we hoped for and considerably more. Working with Studio Scotland has been a breath of fresh air. The delicate way they have handled our shy, nervous crew has been professional to a fault. The results are better than we could ever
have imagined - Talk about chalk and cheese.

There is no substitute for working with professionals and there is no question Studio Scotland are all of that, they make the whole process easy. Lots of people are nervous in front of a camera, but Studio Scotland staff are patient, helpful and courteous to a fault, and the results, well, we think they speak for themselves and everyone who has seen the end result agrees. We intend to make many more DVD's with Studio Scotland in the future, it's been one of the best things we have ever done."


On recommendation Douglas contacted Stewart Menelaws, director at Studio Scotland, as a former engineer Stewart and Douglas did not take long to work out a productive plan to produce a series of high quality tutorial DVDs, to become a benchmark for professionals and DIY enthusiasts working with the application of lime mortars.

Patience and more patience

Often the crew would need to wait for hours before filming could begin as technical issues arose. On one day, due to situations outside their control, they were unable to film a specific project and had to pack up and travel a 8 hour round trip to another site to get the footage required.


It wasn't all work

Working in the region of Bordeaux certainly had its moments and the St Astier technical team and the film crew spent each evening for 5 days sampling the fabulous wines and French cuisine. While Stewart and Douglas where tucking into the fresh oysters Roz turned pale when a plate of Cows Head pate was placed in front of her. One of the American technical visitors played safe with burger and chips while Ugo and our French hosts CESA ordered things we couldn't even pronounce.


Film Video Production

Broadcast High Definition was chosen for the video format so that the material shot would be of the highest image quality, ensuring maximum detail in grains of sand, the consistency of a mixed mortar, the finish of a render and other areas of close-up work would be captured faithfully. Using Sony broadcast cameras, Studio Scotland adopted the XDCAM HD 422 workflow, employing the stunning imagery of the PDW-700 2/3” 1920x1080p camera with high quality Fujinon HD glass.


Filming lime production/application is not exactly the environment you want to take expensive imaging equipment, so the cameras were fitted with high quality glass filters to stop the very expensive HD lens front elements from being etched by lime dust or scratched during sandblasting operations. Storm jacket covers, manufactured in the USA, were used to protect the camera body.


Of course timing is often critical and the film crew needed to fully understand what was about to take place and what elements of the overall procedure would be important to the viewer. To aid filming operation the crew implemented a special tracking dolly that runs on rails, aluminium ladders or beams - this enabled quick camera angle changes while the skilled tradesman went about their work.

High Definition Monitoring

Shooting 1080p high definition with a top end camera requires very close scrutiny in regard to focus - focusing is critical and here the crew uses top quality Sony LMD High Definition broadcast monitors, for colour and focus accuracy. Attention to detail and due diligence are paramount when filming action close ups.


Surface Repair of Masonry

At nearly 90mins long, the Surface Repair programme covers a wide range of stone and masonry repair techniques and the use of lime mortar.

Filming has taken place in both controlled training environments and on-site projects showing detailed examples of a variety of work. Colour matching, mixing, tooling and creative approaches are just some of the topics covered in this exciting title which is available in DVD or digital download.


TransMineral USA

Established in 1997 in the San Francisco area of California, TransMineral USA is credited for having revived the use of natural hydraulic lime in the construction arena throughout the United States. Thanks to his stewardship, President Michel Couvreux has single-handedly rendered the name "St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Lime" a household name, synonymous today as the top "green" exterior and interior finish product for new-build, straw bale, and restoration construction projects.

As an architect, Michel Couvreux knows design and construction and is thoroughly qualified to advise on all aspects of NHL applications and product lines. His long-time association with St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Limes—a finely reputed product from his own native France—uniquely equips him with the detailed knowledge he aptly uses in advising and recommending the best applications and techniques for natural hydraulic lime.

With a proud history since 30 BC, St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Limes prospers today in the able hands of TransMineral USA.

Michel Couvreux - President of TransMineral, USA

Michel Couvreux (President - TransMineral, USA)

The Master Stroke DVD Tutorial Series... "The quality, content, and superior instruction are astonishing in these professional Master Stroke DVD Tutorial series. They should be considered the bible for all lime mortar applicators-amateurs and professionals alike."


Scottish Lime Centre Trust (SLCT)

SLCT has a close working relationship with Studio Scotland who have produced a number of DVD projects for the Trust. Roz Artis-Young (Dir of SLCT) contributed advice on The Master Stroke DVD tutorial series.

SLCT was established in 1994 and is a registered charity in Scotland.. Its aims and objectives are to:

  • Promote for the public benefit the appropriate repair of Scotland's traditional and historic buildings;

  • Advance education through the provision of advice, training and practical experience in the use of lime for the repair and conservation of such buildings and

  • Promote the preservation and development of Scottish building traditional, crafts and skills.


Training - SLCT Workshops

SLCT runs workshop training courses which are highlighted in the infomercial below.


Haynes Period Property Manual & The Masterstroke DVD Series

A new period property manual written by Ian Rock, to be released by "Haynes" in June, came to Studio Scotland to utilise a wide selection of stills photographs from the DVD series "The Master Stroke Tutorial DVD Series". The images were reformatted from the High Definition film masters to accompany this latest work by the author.

Ian Rock MRICS (Author – Haynes Period Property Manual)

"Haynes Manuals are well know for their Step-By-Step photo features that clearly explain how to carry out repair and maintenance work. For the forthcoming Haynes Period Property Manual we were looking for technical images to illustrate how to use traditional lime mortars, plasters and renders. The Master Stroke DVD Series is the ideal partner for a book of this type. Studio Scotland came up trumps with a selection of good quality images from the series. As a chartered surveyor I found the DVD series very useful. For anyone carrying out repair work or maintetance to old buildings, an hour or so's viewing before starting the job would be time well spent."


The crew were confronted with many challenges, whether filming in underground mines, close proximity sand blasting or simply trying to deal with harsh sunlight destroying render detail. For locations where the sun was creating hard bands of light over the area to be filmed, the construction crews were employed to rig a huge framework of poly sheeting that acted as a giant diffuser, this technique is often used in the movie industry. In other situations, giant ground sheets or haps were lifted by forklift to cover large window sections.


In the caves at St Astier in France the crew resorted to using the headlamps of trucks and other vehicles, covering the beams with diffusion material to get a softer quality of light.

While it is common place to use standard broadcast tungsten lighting fixtures such as Arri 1k and 2k products, Studio Scotland were the first UK production studio to purchase the all new LED600 CoolLight panels which gave them greater control as these lights were lighter, do not heat up, and can run off of industry standard broadcast batteries as well as mains power.

Grip Equipment

As already mentioned, a special dolly unit was employed to capture various angles of work being carried out. The crew also employed fork lift trucks, camera cranes and camera stabilisation equipment. For most of the overhead shots, scaffolding was erected and aluminium ladders were attached so that the camera ladder dolly could run down a section of wall as it was being filled with mortar.


Sound Production

Where needed, Keith Elman, the sound engineer, would use a range of Sennheiser microphones to capture high quality audio to be edited later.

It was decided to use a voice over style rather than a presenter or individual tradesmen explain what they were doing. The reason was simple, because these DVDs would be full of valuable information it was clear that trying to manage people who, while highly skilled at their trade, would never be able to work to a tight production schedule, continuity would be compromised.

Professional voice artist Jeremy Hitchen was employed to voice over the final scripts. With so many technical words used this was no small task for Jeremy as getting the right inflection on the voice is absolutely imperative particularly where a sentence could be taken a number of ways.


Post Production

To achieve the professional voice over for each tutorial the process is long indeed. After filming is complete (or mainly complete) the work continues to the studio edit suite where each tutorial is meticulously constructed on a very powerful high definition editing system. Footage is checked and marked, then finally cleared for inclusion. After several weeks, a rough master is produced that follows a general outline - this outline is used to help create a test voice over script - the resulting 1 hour production is compressed and uploaded to a web server where St Astier Limes technical personnel scrutinise the information and the delivery method.

As an aid to clarify the more complex issues, graphics and illustrations are generated to accompany the video elements. The script then goes through a process of editing and fine tuning until accuracy, comprehension and fluidity work with the video elements. While the technical content is of course singularly the most important part of each DVD, it is also imperative that this content is delivered in an easy to understand format and has an element of being entertaining to watch. The resulting high definition masters are then transferred to a standard definition platform to satisfy the DVD PAL format market. High definition versions are available as digital downloads.

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