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How I Shot the Two Stop-Mo Spots

I'm still getting emails about the two Portland Center Stage spots, which is  cool.  Emails are fun.  In addition, the volume of emails and the questions regarding such have led me to believe a full post is in order.  So here that is; the full post.  I'm by no means a stop-mo expert, but these spots were pretty interesting to shoot. I'll roughly translate the info into a general Q&A. -- What Camera Did You Use to Shoot 1080 24? Nikon D-80. It's a prosumer still camera body, 10+ megapixels, very ergonomic. In this lineup Canon has the 30d and Sony has a new one called the Alpha. I had experience with the Nikon D-70 and stayed with the D-80 b/c I like how it fits my hands - makes me want to pick it up (which is important, if you're a camera). The Canon 30d is also a very fine camera, a bit more expensive, but very very sweet. Lenses? Both spots shot with Nikon's 18-135mm zoom. It's a very slow lens (f4+), but zoom was important for a couple of reasons (more in a bit). I'm still working on my lens collection, continually trolling ebay (this is where things can get expensive). Did You Shoot RAW, or What? I hardly ever shoot RAW format. Little, if any, of my stuff goes to large format printing, and I personally don't find the increased detail editing controls with RAW all that much better than shooting hi-rez JPEG. RAW is definitely better, but not that much better, IMHO. If I'm editing photos, I usually have 40+ open at a time and with RAW, that's just silly. This is personal preference and that's just how I work. Using RAW stills for a motion/broadcast/film spot is cool too, but it depends on your final output. For me, I knew MY final output would be HD, and the CLIENT'S final output was web, so shooting RAW here was a bit overkill. For the sake of speed and efficiency, I actually shot the spots at about 1K resolution. 700+ stills uncompressed at 10MP apiece is A LOT to ask of even of best desktop 'puter and knowing final output resolution was negligible, I just thought this was the way to go. Saved a bunch of drive space, too. For a BIG shoot with a BIG budget or even somone besides my alias editor Stump Blanketship driving FCP, I may have thought about shooting RAW, but for Stump's sake I made it real simple (well, relatively simple. Stump is a damn fine editor - I'm lucky to have him). How'd You Do It? The stop-motion? Yes. Stop-motion is easier than you may think; it's really a patience game. For the "Bad Dates" spot, I had some really nice visuals to work with and a nicely lit set piece, so I just set up shop there. I had already written out the VO and had a rough storyboard in my head so the goal was just to match the shoe action with the pace of the script. Moving the shoes around is simply that, move a bit at a time, snap, move, snap, move. For this process, I HIGHLY recommend a loyal assistant, or at the very least, a SHUTTER REMOTE. For the "Fences" spot, there were no specified props or characters to work with, so my goal was to make a baseball field come alive. The hardest part of the spot was finding a nice looking field that would let me shoot there, and I landed the 2nd nicest field in Portland, at the U. of Portland (PGE Park - the minor league team's field - was cordial, but this didn't fit into their opening week festivities. I can't imagine why; perhaps a "location fee" would have helped. Mmm, next spot's budget....). Yeah but, How Did You Move the Field Around? That was the trick, instead of moving the field, I moved the camera - position of, and tripod head axis (pan/tilt), and ZOOM - sometimes all at once (in little increments). That was really fun; I had a good time in the sun shooting the baseball field pix. Again, I showed up to the field, alone, with only an idea of what I wanted. The fun part was figuring that out on the fly, as I had an hour to myself. You Don't Storyboard? Not for my own devices. I storyboard when a client needs to see 'em, or when I can't already see it in my head, or I make lil' stick figure ones if only to show the rest of a crew. It's hard to effectively storyboard when the location variables are not already on-lock (urban term), and plus, for me, I like the organic challenge of directing on the fly. It's like a live, moving painting that you're in charge of - at least that's how directing feels to me. Non-storyboarding doesn't mean ill-prepared, just that I like making decisions after I see things come together visually, in real life, in real time, in the moment. DP Rodger Deakins has a great line, with a very sly smirk on his face, in the extra features of House of Sand and Fog where he pokes fun at director Vadim Perelman for showing up to the set with an intricate book of storyboards. Deakins basically says something to the effect of "I made him throw them out", which is funny because in the moment of having the actors and crew and everything on set you just know you'll see something better than you did with a pen and paper (special effects laden, SCI-FI epics excluded from that statement). Enough With The Storyboarding, What are You the Storyboarding Master Or Something? No, I'm not, sorry to run on that tangent. It's Okay. I Left The Subject of This Email Querry Somwhat Vague and You Went With It. Wanna see the spot? Yes. That's Pretty Cool. You Do The Color Pass in After Effects? Thanks and no. I...er...Stump shies away from AE as much as possibly b/c he's much better with the color tool in FCP, and it's much faster than importing and exporting files a bunch of times. AE is sweet but - HE - did a bunch of AE work some years ago and prefers to let the motion graphics artists stick to AE while he works inside FCP. No doubt Apple's COLOR has him very stoked. Wow! Thanks For The Reponse! I Think I'mma Try Shooting Stop-mo Too! You're welcome, thanks for writing. You should go shoot some stop-mo - it's fun; bring your patience. Any Other Tips? Can't say it enough - camera remote. Awesome. If I think of anything else, I'll post something in the comments. R A D , Y O .

6 Responses

  1. As always nice to get some good insight behind the scenes :)

    July 21, 2007 at 6:42 am

  2. The ‘Fences’ spot looks great.

    I disagree with your opinion regarding storyboarding. If the shooting schedule permits, take advantage of the unique opportunities that the location provides to ‘direct on the fly’. But only after you have coverage. Then, if your inspiration doesn’t pan out, you have a solid foundation to fall back on. Having your boarded shots means fewer surprises at edit. And your editor will thank you when they don’t have to dig through cut-aways – assuming you remembered to grab a few – when the ‘something better’ you saw on set won’t cut.

    August 3, 2007 at 6:02 pm

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  4. jim

    ha finally you leak the info jk

    nice work

    August 14, 2007 at 8:10 am

  5. Dale

    I agree with comment number 2 on storyboards. When working with inanimate objects they may not be so important, but they can still be very useful for making sure your shots will cut together well. Where they are absolutely essential is where you have actors and will need the angles and lines to work together.

    August 15, 2007 at 8:08 am

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