Reanimating dead walls – The secrets behind the ArtstreetHBG-trailer.

Animation, DIY-builds and hacks, Film

A few days ago I handed over three versions of a video I produced for Helsingborg’s Stad. I guess you could call it a trailer of some sort for the upcoming street art festival ArtstreetHBG. The original seed which sparked the idea for this video was the tagline; “Be there when dead walls come back to life”. After weeks of planning, pitching scripts and drawing up a storyboard the idea was given the green light. While my colleagues were busy hunting actors, clearing permits and making sure we had a casket for the shoot, I started creating props and shooting the VFX-footage.

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The plot is quite simple. Mourning humans carrying a casket. All black. Spray cans, which are alive, are watching, wondering if the sorrow will ever end. One of the cans chooses to act. The can gets hurt (looses cap), and causes an accident. The cascet falls, out comes the body. But the body is actually a dead wall (mono-coloured bricks). The spray can brings the wall back to life by giving it colour back. Everyone happy.

I created black flags for drama and a dynamic image. Black smoke to up the drama some more. I chose bamboo-sticks for the flags so that I could hide the smokecharges inside the sticks. I had two sets of bricks, 16 “boring ones”, and 16 “happy ones”, which I painted one afternoon while my kid was asleep. I had some old spray cans in the studio which I banged up quite a bit to make them look really worn and broken. It’s always nice when the hero has some flaws in your story. The stakes are higher that way. I went and got this spinning breakfast-tray from IKEA which I painted green. After that, I started shooting my cans. I wanted them to be able to bend and spin at the same time in my video to make them look as “real” as possible. I could have used a photo of a can, and the PIN-tool in After Effects to get them to bend, but I think the rotating effects really worked well and gave it that extra nudge.

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Shooting rotating cans on greenscreen.

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Final composition after using the Pin-tool. The can which rolls away was brought to set and thrown in front of the camera after giving it some time to fall.

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The shot from above planned out in the storyboard-phase.

After the casket falls we reach a peak in the video. All hope seems lost but of course, it’s not. It never is. The bricks you see during the fall are the normal, unpainted ones. After getting my “misery-shots”, the pile of “dead” bricks was replaced with the coloured ones. All I had to do in post was to duplicate the layer (I made sure to shoot with a tripod of course), mask out the stones and de-saturate the masked out top layer. After this, I could simply keyframe the saturation back (by changing the opacity of my top layer from 100% to 0%), and voila, boring stones are no more. Add a touch of the 80’s and we’re golden.

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I really enjoy using real, on-set effects where you get the result straight away. I’ve done reverseshots before and this was my go-to plan for the end, when the bricks come to life. I hade the actors throw the bricks into frame twice – so that the shot could be reversed later. I had my multitalented friend Christian walking backwards in frame to sell the effects a bit more.7For the final shot things got a bit more complex. Here I had to shoot a backplate (a clean background of the wall which is blocked by rope and actor in my used shot), and mask out the rope and actor afterwards. It’s not that hard in theory, but on set, with time pressure, it occasionally happens that you forget the backplate. So I made sure to really get that down on the storyboard and shotlist. Here is the original footage for the scenes mentioned before they are reversed and masked. Just look at Christian! Walking like a pro even following the bricks in reverse with his gaze.

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I’m so happy with the final production and I had a blast shooting it. We shot the whole thing in about two hours (!) and got everything we needed pretty much straight away. Of course I couldn’t have done it without the help of an amazing crew that day (and the days leading up to the shoot). There is a massive credits-list in the end of the video and it shows how much work everyone put in just to create this little bizarre, but lovely video.

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The video will be playing before screenings at cinema Röda Kvarn in Helsingborg, on the big screen at the central station, all over the web and with a little bit of luck, on busses and trains. I’m so excited to see how it will be received now that it’s out after one stressful week of editing. Here it is – enjoy.

Shooting a musicvideo – Top 10 tips.

DIY-builds and hacks, Film

So you’re about to shoot a music video (or film) – and since you’re here I bet you’re on a tight budget too. Not to worry, after this you’ll (hopefully) feel a bit more organized. Your first video isn’t gonna be great, but it will be the best lesson you’ll get so you can get up again and make your second video your best video, so far. Let’s dive in.

1. Get to know the track – and incorporate it into every essence of yourself.

Wierd right? But really, the best way to start seeing the video before it exists is to loop that sucker all day everyday. Listen to it while going to work, being at work, going to bed (Warning: your brain might get great ideas around this time – but sleep isn’t gonna be one of them), cooking, shopping, pooping… You get it. You’ll start getting images in your head, and by knowing all the beats and hooks you’re probably gonna get some sweet ideas for editing and syncing images and cuts with sound.

2. Make a storyboard – it’s cheaper and you’ll spot the pitfalls before you’re on set.

Storyboarding out your video will save you a great deal of time and pain on set. You’ll see how your story fits together (or doesn’t) and you’ll be able to change it just by spending another A4 paper, instead of spending more days reshooting or trying to make sense of the material you have in the editing stage. It doesn’t need to be pretty – as long as you know what’s being portrayed. It also gives you a greater sense of what needs to be arranged when it comes to props, actors, gear and locations. There are plenty of places where you can download printable storyboardtemplates, but a marker and a sketchpad works just fine.

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Storyboard – Just do it, you’ll thank me later.

3. Avoid making your story too complicated.

It’s a music video, not a blockbuster. But that doesn’t mean lower your ambitions. No sir! Never. What I’m trying to say is you can do a lot with a little. Make sure to switch it up with different angles (wide/close/high/low/static/moving) and remember, sometimes simply switching locations does loads. Nobody wants to see a band perform for 4 minutes from a single tripod. But make sure your story is doable otherwise you’ll end up with angry artists and low self esteem.

4. Work with what you’ve got – make your story awesome.

There’s nothing better than getting production value for free. So start asking around and look around you. Does your second uncle have an old broken helicopter in his yard? Then center your story around that! Does your neighbours ex own a bar? Do you know anybody who’s got something unusual and special? Borrow it. You can write a plot around anything so make sure you use all the spots and objects you can get your hands on to make your production stand out from the norm. Be weird – in music and film there are no limits. The only rule is: never be boring or un-original.

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Minimal set with cheap props and some harsh dramatic lighting (from: Tyler – “Apathy”)

5. Get the best footage you can – with the best camera you can.

Now I’m not saying you’ve got to rent an ARRI or RED to make a video that looks good. I’m saying, get a hold of the best camera you can. If you can get your hands on a old vintage camera with physical film in it – use that. Borrow a DSLR-camera if you don’t have one. The shallow depth of field always gives you cinematic points and they usually shoot in full HD. Everybody knows somebody with a GoPro. Get creative! Those suckers mount on anything and you can always correct the lensdistortion in your editing software afterwards.

6. Surround yourself with creative people.

If you get people involved who are creative like you – you’ll feed of each others positive energy. People love to help out when they can – especially if you offer them a part or a special credit in your video. Build props, hammer out a story, edit in teams. And if you’re all by yourself – do exactly what you feel like doing no matter how insane your idea is. If enough people tell you “you can’t do that“, you’re on the right path.

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DIY-cart for camera and actor (used in: Tyler – “Apathy” during the one take scenes)

7. Time flies on set – plan ahead!

This is where the storyboard comes in handy. Hopefully if you make it onto a set you’ve remembered all your gear and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to shoot, and how to shoot it. Make sure you take breaks to eat and drink – when people get hungry they get tired and cranky. And at that stage everybody wants to go home, and start to make compromises. This is a bad idea – and can easily be avoided by showing a banana into your head.

8. Editing made easier – Yes, storyboard again.

I hope you all know the basics of shooting a band with instruments? You re-shoot the same song over and over again from different angles, with the song you’re gonna use in your final video in the background – right? This makes syncing up the track quite easy in your editor. I know there are loads of great plugins and software which makes this even easier but if we’re going old-school on this – a tip is to add 4 loud beeps or something before the track you’re using on set. These 4 beeps will show up in your audio track of your footage in the editing software and you’ll sync that shit up in no time. And since you have your storyboard and listened to the song a thousand times before – you’ll know exactly how, when and where to cut right?

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DIY-slider built with old tripod and carbox-railing.

9. Ctrl-S all day long.

There is nothing more soulcrushing than having your software die on you because you’ve made your video awesome with so many sweet technical and complex editingmoves that your CPU just can’t handle it. Save constantly – and backup your footage! It might take some time to copy your files, but it will take you even longer to drag your whole operation out again and re-shoot.

10. Tutorials.

Nowadays we have the power to do so much, right at home with our visual media it’s mind-boggling. Don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you. I promise you, whatever idea you have for building a rig, a cheap prop which still looks great or if your video needs 5 exploding cars and severed heads – there will be at least 10 tutorials on YouTube just on that, all that, just for you, for free.

There it is. My top ten list of things to consider while shooting a video. You might find your own way though – I’m simply passing on what has served me well since I began. And a final word of sincere advise:

DO NOT compare yourself with Hollywood. The game is rigged in their favour. They have the manpower, studios, actors and gear to make their productions insane. But what they don’t have is the freedom you as a small time filmmaker possesses. You don’t need an ok from a studio executive, and you don’t need to worry about how well your video will perform around the globe. So use that – and remember; Be creative, original and believe in your idea. Good luck!

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DIY camerajib/crane built with gym-weights, industrial lightstand and fencerails.