Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh Stasis: the video.... finally!

Nearly a year ago now i had the chance to work on a music video with a friend of mine, Horst Sarubin, the video was for Grayson Gilmour's song 'Oh Stasis'. Horst initiated the project as part of his Masters Degree in Film at Victoria University, and through his contacts in the film industry was able to assemble an impressively talented crew to work on the 'no-budget' project.

Here is my original blog post on the shoot: http://lukefrater.blogspot.com/2010/08/grayson-gilmour-video-shoot

...so, what was meant to be a few months of post production ballooned out to nearly a year, as various problems with the CGI effects, editing ..and a fire which decimated the miniatures studio in Kilbirnie (where we shot the video) all contributed to a long delay to the release of the final video.

Last week though, the final touches were put on it, it was colour graded, and the video was given a final release. It was great to see the video come together and see all of the different elements assembled at last. My role as Camera Operator meant that i was responsible for configuring our camera rigs, for shooting a lot of the live action pieces (with our actor Paul), and also photographing the star timelaspes that provide the background in a number of the city shots. It was a great deal of fun to work on and i'm very proud to be a small member of the team responsible for the final product


Drowning Man from Horst Sarubin on Vimeo.



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Showreel: 'At The End of it All'

I currently find myself on a 3 week break from work, the majority of my time thus far has been spent (in no particular order) sleeping, watching movies, drinking in excess, socialising, and watching countless Louis Theroux documentaries on youtube. During this period though, i told myself that i would make use of such a rare amount of free time and finally work hard to go out and shoot and edit a proper showreel piece. Whilst i have done a number of smaller landscape type tests with both live video and timelapse work in the past, i wanted to create something that could stand alone by itself, and hopefully tell a story at the same time, or at the very least convey some connection of a theme or feeling. This was an idea that i knew would challenge me and i knew that going into this project with some set ideas for shots and style was key.

This showreel idea also went with an ongoing dream/goal of mine which is to travel overseas at some point in the future and take my camera gear with me to some of the worlds most stunning locations, and film landscape pieces of them. Among some of the areas that i would love to travel to and film include the Salt Lakes in Utah, Monument Valley, USA, and the Canadian Rockies (among many, many others). So in essence, i decided a short road trip around the lower North Island of New Zealand would suit me well as a trial of sorts. A chance to travel and film whilst understanding the logistics of doing such a shoot. So at midday on Tuesday last week, i loaded up the station wagon, mattress in the back, camera gear in the front, snacks in the glove box, and hit the road. My first destination was that of Castlepoint on the lower east coast of the North Island.


I had actually visited Castlepoint only a month or so earlier on a weekend getaway with a bunch of friends, and was immediately taken with the barren landscape and its 'otherworldy' feel. Huge waves pound the giant rock faces and eastern facing cliffs, which are exposed to all the elements of the South Pacific Ocean. While i did have my camera with me on the previous trip i had only taken a handful of photos, and carrying an additional 20kgs of camera gear to do a really solid shoot wasn't too appealing given the social nature of the situation. I knew i had to return at some point, and soon.

Facing the South Pacific (on my previous trip with friends)

I arrived at Castlepoint at 2pm, after a two and a half hour drive. The weather was well and truly overcast, but thankfully there was little to no wind. With a location such as Castlepoint being so exposed to the sea, any offshore winds caused chaos, and lugging camera gear up the cliffs and filming precariously over ledges would've been a tricky... if not suicidal venture. So with only a light breeze, i loaded up a camera bag with my Canon 7D, a bunch of lenses, a small tripod, and a camera silder dolly i had managed to borrow for the shoot.

Canon 5D mkII, with a Zacuto HDMI EVF, on the Cinevate Camera Slider

For the next 3 hours before sunset i worked my way around the cliffs gathering various shots where i could. The camera slider (basically a small dolly on tracks) was invaluable during this time, and i manged to get some great dolly moves with it which came in very handy during the edit. They really add another level of production values to the film, maybe because i always associate dolly moves on films with bigger crews, but this slider works great on one man shoots.

Just as the sun was setting i set up a timelapse of the clouds rolling by over the lighthouse on the top of the cliff, right up until it was dark.

Timelapsing on the beach

As night fell i was disappointed to see that the night sky was still completely clouded over. As it is so far away from the lights of the city, Castlepoint has the most amazing night sky i have ever seen, the number of stars visible to the naked eye is at least 2-4 times more than what you would normally see. But with it being completely clouded over, i had nothing. So with little to film in the dark (even with trying a low light photography timelapse) i drove up the coast a bit and pulled the car over to the side of the road to set up for the night. Bored, I went to bed in the back of the car at the alarmingly early time of 7:30pm. After an uncomfortable 3 hours worth of sleep i awoke at 10:30pm to find that the cloud cover had almost completely cleared. Disorientated and half asleep i clambered out of the car and set up the camera to do some timelapses of the night sky. The sky out there really is remarkable, even the timelapses that i did capture (and found their way into my video) don't quite do it justice. Perhaps one indicator of how clearly you can see the night sky was that while i was awake till about 1am, i witnessed three separate shooting stars in my brief time looking upwards. Very cool. Three hours of timelapsing, and two glasses of Scotch later i hit bed for the night.

Night sky over Castlepoint

After six hours of broken sleep, i awoke at 7am to capture some quick shots of the sunrise on the horizon, i then ventured back to the lighthouse at Castlepoint to do some pickup shots of a few things i had wanted to get on the previous day. The most important being a steadycam shot running low over the ground towards the shoreline, this being an idea of mine to quickly intercut this shot with other steadycam shots running low over other landscapes. To ultimately achieve this shot and get the camera as low to the ground as i wanted, i had to fly my Glidecam 2000 steadycam (and the camera) upside down, this wasn't ideal (for reviewing footage or filming), and it was an absolute nightmare to stabilise, but it gave me the smoothest shot i could get under the circumstances.

Flying the Glidecam upside down (image flipped in post)

With my filming complete at Castlepoint i hit the road again. I had originally intended to travel North from here to the Manawatu and film there, starting at the giant windfarm there. But somewhere between my less than comfortable sleep in the back of the Corolla and my delight at the amount of footage i had already captured, i decided instead to travel back South to Martinborough and then head home that evening. So as i wound my way through the back roads of the region, on a side mission to find Stonehenge Aotearoa (to see if it was as tacky as it sounded), i stopped at a number of sights grabbing quick shots, anything that i thought might cut well with the footage i had already. It was at the point when i arrived at Stonehenge only to find it closed (oh... such a shame haha) that i turned around to see a picturesque field with a worn down and abandoned farm house at the the top of the hill. The sight just screamed cinematic gold to me. I had found the second loctation (and second half) of my video.

The field.

I immediately parked the car and set off towards the house. Moderately concerned about trespassing, i made my way up the hill in a stealthy fashion... well, about as stealthy as you can be whilst carrying three giant camera bags and slowly negotiating a minefield of cow patties on the way. Upon entering the house, i found it to be a deathly quiet mess, sections of the walls were missing everywhere, mud was traipsed all through the floors, no one had lived here for a long time.

Abandoned farmhouse

The unsettling peace of the house was disturbed as soon as i took my first step into the main room though as i had the living daylights scared out of me by about 15 pigeons that all awoke at once to fly out of the rafters making a horrendous noise. Relieved that my underwear did not need changing, my only regret was that i hadn't set the camera up outside to film the moment haha.

From here i spent the next hour filming various shots throughout the house, i really wanted to play with the idea of silhouettes which was very easy considering the high contrast between the light outside and inside of the house. Not wanting to overuse the camera slider in my film i decided to leave that in car, my shots here would instead be either tripod still shots.

As the afternoon wore on, i was happy with the footage i had collected and i loaded up the car and worked my way home to Wellington, stopping numerous times along the way to collect more of my Steadycam shots for the edit and other complimentary shots too. Exhausted, i reached home in the early evening and hit bed, before starting the daunting task of collating footage, transcoding and editing it.

For the longest time i have had the song 'Intro' by The XX stuck in my head, the pacing and the beat of it really appeals to my style of shooting and editing and i have always wanted to use it in one of my videos. So going into this project i had a good idea that i might use it and had planned a few shots accordingly (the quick intercutting of the Steadycam shots being one of them). While i had collected a lot of footage from other areas apart from Castlepoint and the Farm House, it was obvious to me that these would provide the focus for my video. It was clear that isolation and rawness would be the key themes of my video, it was also quite fitting as my experience on the road, out and about shooting by myself, was also one of isolation and maybe that comes across in the images too. So, after a good 3 days of editing and colour grading i finally rendered it out last night, and i couldn't be happier with the finished video. I feel that while i only really utilised the two locations for it, it still conveys the the isolation and beauty of these two areas, and that my transition between the two locations (via the Steadycam shots) also worked well. So with my road trip and subsequent showreel a success, my time off from work feels a little more complete.

With that, i present "At the End of it All", thanks for reading.

At the End of it All from Luke Frater on Vimeo.

Now, back to Drinking and watching movies.....


Monday, June 6, 2011

48 Hour Filmmaking

As i mentioned in my previous post, i recently spent a weekend working with a bunch of friends on a 48 Hour Film, as Part of the 2011 V 48 Hours competition. It was a hectic weekend of little sleep and frantic writing, shooting, and editing. In the end though it was a great deal of fun and i thoroughly enjoyed working solely as Director of Cinematography on the team and being able to focus on just the lighting and camera decisions.

The genre that our team was given was "Body Switch". While this genre would normally lend itself very well to a comedy or perhaps a thriller/action movie, our writing team instead took it in a different direction, writing a small drama about the events of one day in the life of one young man who relives it through the eyes of four of his friends. In the end i think it was a brave decision by the writing team to write a drama in a genre that was dominated by comedies. But i feel that while the film maybe didn't quite capture the tone or idea we were going for, that it was none-the-less a pretty impressive effort, the Director (Ollie) did a brilliant job in tying it all together in the edit suite in less than 4 hours. The score by Samora O'Neill is also a very strong part of the film, tying together the narrative superbly, and the cast were brilliant keeping the dialogue natural and fun.

So with our film in with 10 mins to spare on the sunday night, we all felt pretty stoked, it was a pretty massive achievement through one weekend. While it didn't get any further in the competition than the initial heats, i'm still really happy with how it came together and how relaxed the shooting environment was, i hope to work on another project with this bunch very soon.

Below are a few of my favourite shots from the film:

and here is the final film: "Breadcrumbs"




Sunday, May 29, 2011

The anatomy of the '47A Productions' Logo

About five years ago when i first started getting into Directing and Producing my own videos, i got to a point where i decided that i needed to create a Production Company name, if not because it gave my end product a little bit more legitimacy, then certainly because it just seemed cooler. So me and my two best mates, Derek and Adam, put our heads together to think of a name that (a.) had some personal significance to all of us, and (b.) wasn't already in use somewhere else in the world (that we knew of). For the longest time we were fixated on 'Aurora Productions', Aurora Terrace being the street where our flat was and being an infamous one at that with its steep incline, one of the steepest in wellington and a constant barrier on any walks home from town. After discovering that a Production Company with that name already existed, we went with 47A Productions instead (our flat being number 47A on Aurora Tce).

Our first use of '47A PRODUCTIONS' came with our 2007 short film 'Scarfology' a mockumentary on the danger of Scarves in modern society. We entered it in the Vic Uni short film awards that year, winning Best Comedy, Best Doco/Mockumentary and Best Action. Since then, 47A PRODUCTIONS was used on any film project Me, Derek and Adam made together, while also being adopted by myself for my own personal and paid work projects/jobs.

So with a name sorted, we just needed a logo, something cool looking to adorn the beginning of all our videos. My initial efforts at designing a logo had the right feel, but it was rather lacking:

In 2008, i was in the midst of my post grad year of Film at Vic, and with the release of my short film 'Vanished' fast approaching, i knew i needed a stylish and more professional looking logo. Luckily, i was fortunate enough to be flatting with a Design student at the time, and Alex (bless her) graciously offered to design me a Production logo for the company. After a few concept stages, i really took a liking to her integration of a house into the 'A' as a starting point, and after some further tweaking and adjustments to the font the final logo was settled upon:

It was bold and simple, the white on black really stood out. I was stoked with it. As for presenting it before the film in the credits, I had remembered seeing The Assassination of Jesse James that year and really liking the logo for Brad Pitt's Production Company 'PLAN B', it was a plain black bold text in a white rectangle box. again, bold and simple.

With that in mind, i cropped our logo the same way, to give it a nice clean look:

From there, i also toyed with the idea of getting some t-shirts made just for fun. I still want to do these someday! haha....

So to bring this story full circle, today i was thinking about how nice it would be to have an animated '47A Productions' logo at the start of my films. This was another idea that Derek, Adam and I had always thought about, but we didn't quite have the skill or animation software to pull it off. Our original idea was to have a cartoon car struggling to make its was up our steep street, eventually passing a small house at the top and then have that morph into our logo. While i'm still fond of that idea, i'm still not quite at a stage where i feel like learning the animation software to do it well enough, or paying someone to create it for me.

So today i set about making a simple animation video for the logo just to freshen it up a bit, while nothing too fancy, it's amazing what you can do by editing photos for a stop motion effect and adding some sound effects. So with that said, here is the 47A PRODUCTIONS animated logo that will precede all of my video work from this point on:


As i said, nothing too fancy but i think it's rather effective and looks like it has some solid production values to it. It will at the very least work well as a place holder while i think of some other ideas.

On a side note, I spent last weekend working on a 48 Hour Film with some friends, it was a brutal weekend of very little sleep, lots of junk food and some stressful moments leading up to the hand-in deadline. We got it in with 10mins to spare, and it was a great cast and crew to work with, lots of fun and a great environment to throw ideas around in. In the end i think we made a solid little film too. It was exciting to work on it solely as the Director of Photography too and only have to think about shot selection and lighting etc, whereas in the past i have been involved in Directing and Producing too and that can really wear you down both creatively and physically. I hope to be able to post the film here and write about it as soon as it is finished in the competition (possibly in the next week).



Saturday, April 2, 2011

...and now for something a little different.

Recently i was asked by some friends if i could make a video invitation for their engagement party. The video would be shot using miniature figurines and a cardboard set, it would tell the story of my friend Calvin's proposal to his fiance Pam. At first i'll admit i was a bit reluctant, mainly because my current job has me working long hours leaving me little free time in the evenings, and come the weekend i'm generally pretty exhausted and enjoy just lounging about the house and taking it easy.

However, Pam and Calvin's enthusiasm for the project and the length they went to in creating the very cool sets and figurines totally won me over, and i really got into a creative frame of mind with the project. While also embracing it as something new and challenging, as i my background is mainly in shooting live action video and landscape photography/video. This project presented a new set of problems and issues which i hadn't come across in my previous film experience and they were fun and challenging to work through.... but also frustrating at times haha.

The shooting stage is set (Canon 7D, and 70-200 2.8 L IS)

Upon taking delivery of the sets and figurines, i went about clearing out the garage to create a studio space for the shoot. Due to the nature of the setup, i had initially thought about shooting the piece as a live action video which would be simple to shoot and edit. I had immediately ruled out stop motion video as i knew i did not have the time, experience, patience, or precision needed to do it successfully. I then had the idea to find a nice middle ground between the two methods; i would have the action play out like a live action video (albeit a little slower) but shoot it using the high speed burst photo mode on my Canon 7D. I shot the action at 7fps, which meant that roughly 3 1/2 seconds of shooting would equal 1 second of video, so as long as the action was paced slowly enough it meant that the video would have a stop motion feel and i would be able to shoot it in a fraction of the time.

The makeshift stage, built from pieces of a slat bed.

In order to create a stage where Pam and Calvin could manipulate the characters, clouds, and waves of the set, i found some pieces of an unused slat bed in the garage and i knocked up a makeshift table. This worked perfectly as it allowed me to tape down the set pieces and stagger them to create some depth to the image, while also meaning the puppeteers could move the waves and figurines from below the stage.

Calvin manipulates the clouds for the opening shot.

So, last sunday whilst we were all moderately hungover, Pam and Calvin came over and we spent a good 3 hours filming all the different actions and shots. As i mentioned earlier, the story is based upon Calvin's proposal to Pam which took place at sunset on the beach. The directions given to me by Calvin was to make the video about 45 seconds long and to set it to the song 'Love Love Love' by Avalanche City. so my basic idea was to have enough coverage shots of the set, the waves, the clouds and the characters arriving at the beach, and then have the clouds reveal a wedding ring i the sky, followed by a few close up shots and some subtle changes to the faces of the characters.

Final shot, daytime.

The final shot of the video is a wide shot of the couple holding hands which slowly pulls out (via a digital zoom done in post) and it fades into a night time shot of the same scene. This was done by carefully shooting the two shots right after each other and replacing the background for a night time scene, and colour balancing the night time scene for a blue moon-like-hue. I then did a digital dissolve between the two shots in post.

Final shot, night time.

Over about 3 or 4 nights i rendered all of the photos into their finished 10-20 second videos, and set about editing the video together. Whilst at first i found the idea of telling a story using just cardboard figures quite difficult, using a song and thinking of the piece as more like a music video/story really helped and i think i was able to create a simple and effective retelling of Calvin's story which also captures a fun and creative type feel, which also i think symbolizes their relationship. Overall i'm very happy with how the finished project turned out, and Pam and Calvin were thrilled with the video too. congrats again to the happy couple!

Finished video below:

Thanks, Luke.

from on Vimeo.

...more timelapses! of course.

An ongoing fascination (maybe to the point of obsession) of mine is filming timelapses of the sky. When the compositions work it is a incredibly rewarding experience and it really justifies the good 1-2 hours that you can spend sitting by the camera while it takes a photo every 10 seconds. On the otherhand, for every timelapse that is stunning to look at there are usually two other ones that were awful or just didnt quite work and you can end up kicking yourself for exposing it incorrectly and for wasting so much time while you were freezing your butt off as the camera just ticked away taking photos for final 10 second timelapse video that you wont even use! it is definitely a love hate relationship haha.

In saying that though, i do really enjoy the results, and while i still haven't quite worked out a finished project for all my timelapses i still see the value in them. In the meantime, here is my latest batch of timelapses (with a few older ones in there too).