I get sent a lot of videos to watch. I wish I had time to watch them all. I do my best, adding them to my VIMEO watch later queue. One of the videos I got sent was by Ross Anderson from Dustfarm.com. This was a seriously impressive piece of work on every level. A music video that looked a million dollars and clearly had taken an absolutely ridiculously long time to make. Then I read that he shot on the Canon 550D, not that it really matters as I always say it’s not the camera, but it’s not a great camera to use for a lot of effects work, due to the well known image issues. You wouldn’t know it from watching it.
The video itself is pretty intense and not for everyone, hence the NSFW warning. It’s a compelling, disturbing and original video that would work brilliantly just as a short science fiction film.
I asked Ross if he would do a nice in-depth blog post for my site and readers. It’s a great read and goes into a lot of detail. Enjoy and learn! Oh….and do yourself a favour: watch the video on a nice big TV through your smart TV, apple TV, Boxee or whatever it is you use. It’s worth it. Just don’t watch it around young kids or at work as it’s got a few disturbing shots.
Directed by Ross Anderson.
Generator, Northern Film & Media and Ross Anderson (Dustfarm Films) teamed up with Young Turks and XL Recordings for ‘Transmission’ to present the stunning new music video for SBTKT’s ‘Trials of the Past’.
‘TRIALS OF THE PAST’ STARS
Caitlin Lumley – Girl/Robot
Diamond Dave Easton — Barber
Tony Goodall – Older Man
Ross Anderson – Directed, Cinematography, Edited, VFX and Compositing
Jesse Davey – Additional Cinematography
Graham Taylor – Prosthetic/Make-up FX
Hannah Day – Prosthetic/Make-up FX
James Hodgeson – Prosthetic/Make-up FX
Hannah Harrison – Prosthetic/Make-up FX
Rosie Davey – 3D Skull Transition
Dave Bishop – Runner/Driver
Shot using the Canon 550d (T2i), Magic Lantern and John Hope’s Cinema Picture Profile.
SBTRKT – Trials of the Past.
Directed by Ross Anderson (dustfarm.com)
In late June I submitted a pitch for a competition run by Northern Film and Media, Generator, the BBC and Arts Council. The winner would become the 3rd Director to make a music video for SBTRKT on XL.
As it would be the 1st music video I directed, I went for a really definite style and atmosphere, people were going to either love it or hate it. Luckily they loved it, sort of… Some of the funders banned it.
As part of this process, I made the 1st part of the video for free (from entering the Barbers to the head opening and revealing all the mechanical insides). As there was no money involved, I took on the role of Producer, Director, DOP, Editor, VFX, Grading… you name it. Then I enlisted some super talented friends to take care of the Prosthetics (GTFX.co.uk) and 3D side of things (Rosie Davey, rd3d.co.uk). This set up worked so well for the 1st half that I just continued with it (with the exception of the talented Jesse Davey as additional Cinematographer on our main filming day). Knowing how I would edit and grade meant I could light in certain ways or put together the VFX knowing how much of it we would see, for how long and what corners could be cut – this was a life saver on time and budget (we had around 10 days from completing filming to submission), not to mention that the Barbershop was covered in mirrors and a large crew would have been a disaster.
After the video was complete it kind of got lost for a while – The BBC banned it from their site while the Arts Council refused to show it at screenings, the reason being it was too violent and dark. So in the end we really had to fight a bit for its release.
Here’s a little break down of some of the decisions I made and processes involved.
As I have worked as a cinematographer quite a bit on other music videos, I felt quite at home here. I ended up using around 10 or 11 lights (excluding practicals) and lots of Flags and Cookies to control things. I used fluorescents and LEDs to create soft wrapping light on Caitlin (girl/robot) and harsh Fresnels/spots on Diamond (Barber) to produce completely different looks for them both and as they were so close together at times, controlling light was a must. I was also mixing different temperatures, while ½ and ¼ gelling tungsten to daylight to create certain colour differences for the grade.
I really wanted to have the look and feel somewhere between Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, so it had to look quite raw and Noir with a strong colour palette.
The camera I used was the Canon 550d running Magic Lantern. I know DSLR’s have some serious flaws, but I think if you’re aware of them, they can be minimized. Little things like NDing practical lights, using shoulder rigs and glide cams, being careful with light ratios, etc. Also, I loved being able to just grab it and get a shot, wherever that might be. Caitlin was a fantastic actress and a real trooper – so if the sky looked particularly good one evening, I could just grab my camera and actress to get a shot.
I used a variety of lenses, many of them old with little imperfections and fall offs – I preferred using one in particular with Caitlin that just seemed right, I think it was an old 60’s 50mm 1.8. Old zoom lenses also looked pretty cool with certain flares, the newer lenses I used felt a little too clinical at times and so I avoided them on certain shots.
I’ve used Technicolor’s CineStyle picture profile before and just don’t understand it unless that’s how you want the look. When I used it, I ended up trying to crush the footage and would get banding in gradients and reduced skin tone ranges. I instead went with John Hope’s Cinema profile which was a lot closer to what I needed – that way when it came to grading I could push it much harder (and I did). I also lit things fairly flat but precise, then when it’s pushed in post it feels like there’s a little more in the dynamic range and skin tones. Camera compression tends to ruin the party, so I like to get stuff moving in the direction I want before post.
Prosthetics and VFX
This was the 1st time I had worked with such heavy make-up effects and what I didn’t realise was how much time it eats into while filming. We had the Barbershop for a day and night (Diamond, who plays the Barber, owns and works in the Salon – but as it’s his business, we could only have it for a day) and there is a lot of downtime involved for such heavy effects. Graham and his team (GTFX) did such an amazing job with the time and resources they had but it’s inevitable that certain things won’t work or don’t go to plan. You either have to quickly film around things or try to fix it in post (I hated saying that, as it was me that had to do it).
GTFX’s work started in pre-production and I think they ended up with 1 or 2 weeks to complete all their stuff… Caitlin had to have casts done, molds fitted, and basically sit for hours having the make-up applied, then try to act for hours wearing it. I think at one point I asked her to cry, but realised she actually was just crying. Did I mention she was a trooper?
When it came to the VFX, they had to be done fast but effectively. I loved being able to add and mix different FX techniques with the already fantastic prosthetics, which really helped keep a retro future feel with the video. I used photoshop and After Effects for as much of it as possible, layering, tracking and blending elements. I think you can really build some effective VFX this way.
It would be difficult to explain all the different VFX techniques used, as there were just so many of them – so I’ve created a few VFX breakdowns.
With the 3D work, Rosie Davey managed to get me an outstanding piece on a crazy deadline (I think she had 2 or 3 days), but it became a real nightmare integrating in to the plate shot as we had no motion capture rigs or anything that could recreate the camera move (there wasn’t enough time to do a 3d camera track and match that to the actual 3d camera track, while getting the fast movement that was required inside the head). Eventually I tracked both the plate shot and the 3d camera and used a parent camera for the transition – luckily this seems to work pretty well within the shot.
Grade and Final Elements.
The colour grade was really important to get the feel I wanted – I went Orange and Teal (I know, I know), but wanted to push it away from the typical clean Hollywood version of it. Outside has it’s own version and the barbers shop has it’s own warmer version. Once the girl has her head cut, it gradually changes to slightly murkier, sicklier colours. So the colour grade evolves with the video and changes with it’s atmosphere.
The lens flares were a combination of actual onset flares, flares filmed with an anamorphic adapter and composited and flares created in post-production. I tried to keep certain flares to certain characters or objects – for instance, when the robot is about to be revealed I used more blue anamorphic flares filmed on an adaptor, which I tend to associate with 80’s Sci-fi and adventure films, hopefully it helps prepare the audience for something cool about to happen. The warm sun flares were part of the sweaty, blind lit feel of the barbershop, which really places the whole video I think.
To keep the rough and raw feel of the video I tested a lot of different film grain packs and techniques and ended up with an old 35mm stock from Cinegrain, which really gives it the right look. I certainly didn’t want an ‘old film’ effect or anything, but it’s just enough to subconsciously feel I think (word of warning – grain is a nightmare to encode for the web and unless the file size is much bigger than normal you end up with a very smeary video, so be careful).
The dust became a bit of a character itself, it was intrinsic to the mood and feel and really helps to distinguish itself from other videos, but it was a headache! I ended up creating huge plates filled with blended HD versions so I could track and pan it to every shot. Yes, nearly every shot was tracked in order to place multiple passes of dust… that happened. Myself and GTFX also spent hours firing air canons of rubble and flour against black screens to film smashing and debris composites, which is actually a lot of fun. I really recommend filming elements during downtime – snow, rain, dust anything really – it really comes in handy during projects like this.
The last thing I did was go about removing people, lights and rigs from the mirrors. Some advice: never shoot a video where you can see yourself in a bunch of shots, it’s not funny in post. If I did my job right, hopefully no one will ever notice all the work that went into removing them.
There we have it, this just touches on a lot of the work that went into this video, but with the team of fantastic people I had to work with, it really was a pleasure.
Beyond all the technical stuff I really hope the video has a cinematic feel, hints of narrative and elements of genres and suspense that pulls it away from standard, glossy run-of-the-mill music videos
Hope everyone enjoys it.