“Just A Little Higher” by Grain of Wood – a music video

Yesterday Grain of Wood launched their new website including the music video I shot for them. It was a project I very much enjoyed as I love working with the combination of music and visuals. The band as well as myself really liked the end result.

The band wanted to capture the feeling of playing live. To show the interaction of the musicians enjoying themselves and playing their instruments. That’s why I hardly used any locked down shots in the video. Most footage was shot with the camera on a monopod or on a slider to give the footage a more dynamic feel.

During the shoot, Davy Landman, who helped me out that day, shot some behind the scenes footage which I edited together in the short behind the scenes video below.

I wrote a blog post about the shoot for this video some time ago where you can read a bit more about the production.

Instructing the musicians before the shoot

Instructing the musicians before the shoot

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Test screening my short film “I Want To Believe”

Post production

Film poster "I Want To Believe"

Film poster “I Want To Believe”

The past two months I have been working hard on my short film “I Want To Believe”. Post production is a strange process with ups and downs. You spent a lot of time behind your computer fine tuning the edit, creating visual effects, fine tuning the edit, doing sound design, audio mixing, changing the edit *again*, and so on.

There were moments of despair when I just couldn’t get something right (motion tracking a camera move) and moments of great satisfaction (getting that motion track finally done and getting that 3D model integrated nicely with the live footage). One thing I learned from that is when things do not go forward, take a bit of distance from it. Leave that shot for a couple of days and then start again with a fresh perspective. My experience is that, most of the time, it actually works and you’re able to figure out a solution for the particular problem at hand.

Test screening the beta version of my film

The film is now 90% done. There is still a bit of tinkering to do regarding the visual effect shots and some audio editing and the final colour grade are still to be done. I decided however to show this beta version to a couple of people.  A test screening to see how they react to it. Some of those people where on my crew, others had nothing to do with the film and went in completely blank. I wanted to get a fresh perspective from other people as at this moment in time I mostly see the things I should have done better or different…

It was good to see that most of the stuff I regard as “should have been better/different” wasn’t even noticed by the “average” viewer. However, I still got some useful feedback on a couple of things I can improve on. Some were already on my to-do list, some were good points I hadn’t thought about. The general reaction was positive and that eased my mind a bit. I was in a state of mind doubting the quality of the end result. Seeing only the things which were not “good” I mainly worried about that. Most of those things I cannot change anyway without re-shooting stuff (which won’t happen!). So maybe I just needed this ease of mind to carry on and finish the film…

 ”You’ve Got To Enjoy The Doing”

Almost ready for the next take. On the set of "I Want To Believe".

Discussing the next scene. On the set of “I Want To Believe”.

Thinking about it I realised it’s impossible to make a “perfect” film. There will always be things you can improve upon. Which is just fine, it means you can work to improve those things in your next project.

“I Want To Believe” is my first narrative film and I wore most of the hats. That was my intention from the beginning. The goal was to make the best film I could at the time with the tools I had and, most important, to learn from it. Going through to process of making this film from beginning to end just to get better at it the next time. I wanted to do as much as I could myself, mainly for learning what it takes to do a certain job within a production. That helps me to be able to better plan future projects and to generally make things go smoother during the shoot. It was also a way to find out which things I want to focus on in the future and what tasks I will be delegating to other people. The downside of this was that the complete post production was done by myself and therefore took quite some time.

I want to finish with a quote from David Lynch about film making.

“You've got to enjoy the doing. You can’t control what’s going to 
happen after you finish it”

This project is the best thing I’ve done in a long time. It was hard work, took a lot of preparation and took even more time in post production but it was all worth it. I learned so much by actually doing it and making this film. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the story I wrote come to life in moving images.

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Colour Grading with Davinci Resolve

Davinci Resolve

I attended a two day course on Davinci Resolve a couple of weeks ago. I also have been reading up on colour correction with the excellent book “Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema” by Alexis van Hurkman. A well worth investment if you’re serious about colour correction/grading. I have been playing a bit with colour grading in the past but wanted to get more serious about it to improve my final image. After finishing the course I knew what Resolve could do and was really impressed with it. I installed Resolve with the intention of using it to grade my short film and the music video I shot recently. However, I started with colour correcting the behind the scenes footage that was shot during the shoot of my short film “I Want To Believe”. This article is about the workflow I used and the things I’ve encountered. I hope this will be of some use for those of you who are starting out with Davinci Resolve.

 

There is no such thing as a free lunch

But first a little bit about hardware. Although Davinci Resolve Lite is free, you do need a powerful computer to be able to work comfortably with Resolve. Lots of RAM and a powerful GPU card is a must. I’m using a PC system with Intel i7 6-core CPU at 4GHz (overclocked), 32GB RAM and a GTX680 GPU card and I haven’t noticed any performance issues yet when working in Resolve. The GPU card and plenty of RAM also adds a nice performance boost when working with Adobe Premiere and After Effects.

 

Workflow

As my camera (Panasonic AF100) shoots AVCHD and Premiere can edit this codec natively I never bothered converting to a intermediate codec. However, Davinci Resolve cannot import AVCHD files so I had to convert my timeline to something else to be able to import the edited footage into Resolve. The two main codec choices are Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD. As I’m working with the PC platform, ProRes isn’t really an option (that is not entirely true but I won’t go into that here) so I installed the Avid DNxHD codec. My workflow looks like this.

AF101 [AVCHD] -> Premiere [DNxHD] -> Resolve [DNxHD] -> Premiere -> final export

For future projects I will first convert the source clips from the camera to DNxHD so I can reference them from within Resolve by using XML or EDL files which eliminates the use of using scene detection in Resolve of the rendered timeline as I have been doing now. This speeds up the process and adds more flexibility when changing things.

 

Using Davinci Resolve

The UI of Resolve does look rather complex at first sight but once you know what everything does and where everything is I find the UI very easy to work with.

Davinci Resolve UI with 2 monitor setup

Davinci Resolve UI with 2 monitor setup

Davinci Resolve is node based, unlike Adobe Speedgrade and After Effects which are layer based. Node based means that you can split up every treatment of your image in separate nodes and chain them together to do what it is you want. I’m used to the layer based way of working but I think I like the node based workflow better. It is easier to see what is going on as you can see the actual “signal path” in the node diagram, something which is not as clear in the layer based approach.

Resolve has some great functionality like power windows, movement tracking and the ability to key frame about everything you do in your grade. For example, it is very easy to track the eye of an actor and change its colour by using the tracking function combined with a power window while targeting a specific colour to change. The sky is the limit here.

The key thing is: just do a lot of colour grading. See what works and when. It’s the only way to get better at this.

 

Exporting from Resolve and importing into Premiere

It was sort of a struggle to render the imported footage from Resolve in Premiere. The imported footage from Resolve looked just fine in Premiere but when I rendered it out there where all kinds of weird psychedelic colour casts in the high lights (see below).

Weird colours in the final output render from Premiere

Weird colours in the final output render from Premiere

There is a setting in the Delivery page of Davinci Resolve which apparently caused this: “Set to video or data level”. I had set this parameter to “Unscaled full range data”, thinking this would preserve all information of the grade. Checking this with the waveform scope in Premiere acknowledged this and the visual preview in Premiere also looked just fine. But when rendering the clips to h.264 the weird stuff above happened. I cannot explain what happened or what caused this strange behaviour…

So I tried exporting from Resolve with the option “Normally scaled legal video”. Basicly what happens is that Resolve renders the video file using RGB levels between 5 and 95%. The resulting image in Premiere looks a lot less contrasty as the black point of the image is lifted and the white point is lowered. After correcting this in Premiere the clips rendered out fine.

A third option I tried, after reading posts about similar problems on the Blackmagic forum, was exporting the footage out of Resolve as an image sequence like DPX. This worked best. No colour shifts or contrast adjustments while playing the clip in Premiere and the final render looked like it should. Only problem with this method is the giant amounts of disk space you’ll need to store the image sequence. A 10 second 1080p clip takes 2 Gigabytes of disk space. Also, rendering the image sequence takes a lot longer. I guess quality has its price…

According to people at the aforementioned forum, the cause of the problem is the Quicktime container used by the DNxHD codec which renders unpredictable results regarding colour space and gamma of the encoded footage. So, be very careful when using Quicktime for exporting your graded footage out of Resolve.

UPDATE: After reading a bit more I found out that the “Render with maximum bit depth” option in Adobe Premiere/Media Encoder causes the same colour artefacts as I described for a lot of people. Unchecking that option will solve this issue.

 

Using noise reduction

I recently bought Neat Video’s excellent noise reduction plugin and saw something strange when using the plugin to enhance low light shots in the behind the scenes footage I was editing. I applied noise reduction in Adobe Premiere and then exported to Davinci Resolve. While colour correcting I noticed horrible banding and artefacts appearing in the de-noised footage. After researching a bit on the internet I am not the only one experiencing this. Unfortunately there is no agreement on when noise reduction should be applied. One half of the people stating that noise reduction should be done BEFORE grading and the other half declaring it should be done AFTER colour grading. My experience is to use noise reduction after the footage has been graded to avoid unwanted artefacts. Check out the screenshots to see the result of the processing of the image. In Resolve I only colour corrected the image and applied some contrast adjustment using custom curves. Applying Neat Video’s noise reduction as the last step results in an acceptable image. Click on the frame grabs below to see a larger version.

BTS frame from camera (Canon HF G10)

BTS frame, straight from camera (Canon HF G10)

BTS frame colour corrected in Davinci Resolve

BTS frame, colour corrected in Davinci Resolve

BTS frame, colour corrected with noise reduction applied

BTS frame, colour corrected with noise reduction applied

 

Conclusion

I love the possibilities Davinci Resolve offers and how much easier it is then using the built-in colour grading tools of Premiere.

If you’re serious about colour grading I strongly suggest investing some time to learn a tool like Davinci Resolve. However, even more important, learn the underlying colour principles. It can greatly improve the production value of your work.

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Monday Challenge: Superhero – Zoë Says No

Film Riot’s Monday Challenge

Some time ago I was watching a episode of Film Riot with my daughter, Zoë. It was the episode with the Superman sketch. Zoë really liked it and that immediately made me think about making her “supergirl” in a movie. Then, a couple of weeks later, Film Riot announced their Superhero Monday Challenge and I wanted to use that idea to enter the competition.

The requirements for the Monday Challenge were that it had to be about a “superhero” and that the duration of the video had to be 1 minute or less.

You can watch my film “Zoë Says No” below.

The YouTube version is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRyV_RSk7IM.

 

What If Your Kid Was A Budding Superhero?

After watching the Superman sketch and seeing my daughter’s reaction I got the idea of making her the superhero. But what could it be like if your kid was a budding superhero? It could be rather difficult at times. And what could you, as mere mortal parent, do about it? Probably not a whole lot I think. So I took that train of thought and wrote the script for the short film.

I tried to make the film not about the default unbeatable superhero but about a little girl who happens to have super powers but sometimes abuses them a bit. Just as most kids try to stretch with what they can get away with ;)

 

The Making of the Film

I made this film as a one man crew. As the decision to actually make this film was kind of last minute, I decided to do everything myself. Which is far from an ideal situation as I was also acting (or better: trying to act) in a couple of scenes. Progress was tracked with the Shot Lister app.

I shot the film on the Panasonic AF101. I used the Voigtlander 25mm and Tokina 11-16mm lenses as I was working in rather confined spaces and needed a field of view as wide as possible. Audio from the shotgun microphone was fed directly into the camera using a Sounddevices MixPre as preamp/limiter. For lighting I used a small LED light and two daylight balanced fluorescent lights.

Most scenes were shot on a tripod. For the low angle shots I used the Philip Bloom V-Bag, a really great tool to get your camera fixed in positions not accessible to a normal tripod. The Kessler Pocket Jib was used for the shots where Zoë is running down the stairs.

The scene where Zoë is flying through the air was shot outside in our backyard in front of a collapsible green screen. I used a fan to simulate the wind.

The special effects were done in Adobe After Effects and I used Davinci Resolve for colour grading. I’m rather new to Davinci Resolve but I love the possibilities it offers and will write a future blog post about my experience with it. I think that putting time in decent colour grading of your footage really can lift the production value of your work.

We had fun shooting this little project but the attention span of a seven year old is not big enough to stay focused for a whole day of shooting.  As I was working alone setting up for a new scene took quite some time so Zoë had enough time off between scenes to get her mind on other things. Definitely something to take into consideration if you’re working with young children.

And now a couple of behind the scenes pictures taken during the shoot.

View of the setup for the opening scene

View of the setup for the opening scene

Using the V-Bag Philip Bloom edition to get a very low angle

Using the V-Bag Philip Bloom edition to get a very low angle

Using the tripod to get a bird's eye view of the room

Using the tripod to get a bird’s eye view of the room

Shooting greenscreen in the backyard

Shooting greenscreen in the backyard

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Photographing the supermoon

Last week I took a first try at shooting the supermoon. In this post I’ll share my experience.

supermoon-057Supermoon

A supermoon occurs when the moon orbits the Earth at its closest point, coinciding with a full moon. The moon then looks very large, especially low on the horizon. This year this occurred on Sunday, June 23rd.

Preparations

supermoon-006I used the excellent Star Walk app on my iPhone to predict at what time and direction the moon would rise that evening. This app is also very convenient on location as you can superimpose the calculated sky on the view from the camera so you get a very nice view of what will be visible where.

As I would be shooting from a tripod I packed 4 kg of extra weight in a plastic bag that I could hang from the tripod to make sure it would not move in the wind. Another very important piece of gear is a remote control for the camera. The control I have can be used as a simple remote for triggering the camera but also as a timelapse controller.

In the field

Supermoon setupAfter packing the gear in a backpack I went out looking for a good spot. The spot I had in mind didn’t work out to be what I thought it would be so I had to drive around a bit to find a better spot. That resulted in the supermoon already being above the horizon.

I set up my Sirui T-1204X tripod and weighted it down with the weights I had brought with me. My camera was a Nikon D300s with the largest lens I had, an old Sigma 70-300mm. Aperture was at f10-f11 and the shutter time varied between 1/5 s and 1/100 s. ISO was at 200. The time was 9.30 pm.

After having made some test shots I started a timelapse recording taking 3 bracketed shots every 12 seconds (2 seconds for taking the shots followed by a 10 second delay). Unfortunately, after about 50-60 shots the clouds had completely covered up the moon so I had to stop. You can watch the short timelapse movie below.

 

Conclusion

Although I had great fun capturing the supermoon it was kind of a last minute idea to actually go out and do it. Next time I will take more time to plan the shoot and find a good location.

I won’t bother with bracketed shooting next time. I didn’t use the extra shots and it takes up more time which I could have used better to take more photos to have a smoother timelapse movie as a result. I think a 2 or 3 second interval between photos will give a nice smooth timelapse movie.

I used a 300mm lens and I think the larger the lens the better results you will get in a situation like this. The moon will be much larger, have more visible detail and, especially if there is something interesting in the foreground, the overall image will have more impact. I also could have opened the aperture a bit more (say f8) as that would have resulted in a faster shutter time and sharper images.

For more information and tips check out the article How to photograph the supermoon.

Shooting the moon isn’t very difficult, you only need a steady tripod and a big lens. Just try it and experiment!

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Music video for Grain of Wood

Grain of Wood

A couple of months ago I talked with Eric van de Kerkhof about the upcoming album “Welcome Home” of his new band Grain of Wood. At that time he was still in the middle of recording the album but he was interested in making a music video for one of the tracks to promote his music.

I did a photo shoot with the band a couple of weeks ago and last Monday we shot the video in a beautiful small theatre.

Preparation

In the weeks before the shoot I talked with Eric about what he wanted for the video. He pointed me to some videos he liked so I could get an idea how to prepare. He wanted the video to show the band actual making music, enjoying themselves and interacting with each other. He wanted the feel of a live performance.

He managed to secure the local theatre as the location for the shoot. It’s a beautiful small theatre with about 350 seats. We were able to use the location for 8 hours and that included the support of a lighting technician of the theatre to set-up and control the lights during the shoot.

I prepared a shot list using the Shot Lister app on my iPad so I could track our progress and make sure I didn’t forget anything.

Shooting the music video

The shooting was pretty straight forward. I made a short timelapse video while we’re busy setting everything up which you can watch below.

YouTube Preview Image

After setting up the stage and fine tuning the lighting I shot all the angles I wanted. As I was only using one camera, the band had to play their song about 10 times so I could cover all the shots I needed.

I first shot from the back of the band and from the front. Then I focussed on all the individual musicians and I shot several angles from within the hall and from the balcony.

I shot the video on a Panasonic AF101 using a SmallHD Dp1-x field monitor. I had a scary moment when I saw a lot of artefacts on the monitor in the dark areas next to the smoke lit areas but fortunately these ugly artefacts where not recorded in camera. Probably something to do with the compression of the signal via HDMI.

I tried to get some subtle movement in every shot by using a slider or by using a monopod. The Manfrotto 561BHDV monopod is an ideal tool for getting stable shots while still having lots of flexibility and possibility for movement.

Below you can see a couple of pictures made during the shoot of the video. All photographs by Davy Landman who helped me during the day.

Instructing the musicians before the shoot

Instructing the musicians before the shoot

Using the Cinevate Atlas 30 slider for a shot

Using the Cinevate Atlas 30 slider for a shot

Checking our progress with the Shot Lister app

Checking our progress with the Shot Lister app

Setting up the next shot

Setting up the next shot

Shooting from the theatre balcony

Shooting from the theatre balcony

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