UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


Lighting For Effect(s)

Here's something a little different on a Monday morning:

Strobist reader Simon Duhamel, of Montreal, served as Director of Photography for a music video made entirely from still photos for the Canadian rock group, "Aquaplane". The photo seen here is a composite, in which all of the subjects were lit and photographed separately.

The lighting on a set like this is very important, as light helps to sell the idea of the composite once you are finished creating it. Simon worked with a mix of fluorescent lights and AlienBees, which he gelled green to match the overheads. Looking at the background ambient, I presume they just blew them out and desaturated them to kill the resulting magenta shift.

So, why go to all of the trouble to shoot all of these image elements separately? So they could cut and paste them back in and move them around individually in post production. By "sliding" the image elements at different speeds, you can create the illusion of moving through a scene in which time has stopped.

They spent about a month in editing, close-cutting each element so they could slide them around in After Effects, a post-production software package. It's a lot of work, to be sure. But the final result is pretty cool:

The project was by NúFilms, with Gabriel Allard-Gagnon directing.

If you would like a more detailed explanation of all of the work that went into this piece, Hit the jump -- where Simon explains all.

UPDATE: I'd forgotten about this, but a commenter points out that MediaStorm has a very cool implementation of this technique. It's all the more impressive given that it was done after the fact with a pre-existing set of photos from a trip to Cuba.

Simon says (heh, heh):

This project was initiated by NuFilms.ca Director Gabriel Allard-Gagnon. The inspiration came from old school japan animation. The concept was to shoot separately the Background image and each element composing a frame in order to allow each element to slide in different direction and at different speeds to create a sense of depth and 3D environment, but all coming from 2D images.

The whole project was shot on location with a mix of ambient light and Flash, using Alien Bee units. Knowing that every shot would be the result of a composited image, it gave me a lot of latitude to light each scene.

The background images were shot while nothing was in the frame (no instruments or musicians). For these I was using only ambient light balanced with the fluorescent lights. I then took several bracketed exposures to do a simple Merge to HDR. The Instruments were then put in position and lit with Honeycombs. The general strategy for lighting was to light the guys as if the light was coming from the middle of where they were standing, and we cheated sometimes depending on the background and perspective as to mimic the direction of the window light. A light green gel was used to balance the Alien Bee units with the fluorescent lights. White balance was later adjusted in post, creating a preset in Adobe Camera Raw. The ceilings were also de-saturated in post because they were reflecting too much of the green carpeting.

We had to use Honeycombs to control the light because otherwise, it was spilling everywhere and reflecting on the low ceilings because otherwise we were losing the "ambiance". So I had to adapt and make use of Honeycombs to direct the light only on the models. Knowing that everything would be close-cut in post-production, I wasn't too careful with shadows, knowing that we could get rid of them. A little note here concerning the shadows. If you slow down the video, you'll notice that sometimes, there are no shadows at the rockers feet. We were aware of that, but we weren't looking for perfect realism and we decided that it was "acceptable" given the visual effect we were trying to achieve and our deadline.

On the technical side of things, we had to plan each composition and shoot from further away than the actual desired framing in order to have enough space to zoom in so we could "slide" the image horizontally to create the panning effect. This means loss of quality but given the fact that I was shooting huge raw files from my Canon 5D and that we only needed a 72dpi resolution for output, it didn't really have an impact on overall image quality.

The editing process took about a month. Close-cutting was especially difficult because the green carpeting was reflecting on the clothes and it wasn't possible to use any quick selection techniques. So everything was done manually. The drums were especially difficult as you can imagine. Then each layer was retouched using a technique based on painting to give the whole project a more illustrative look. The images were simply composed of .psd files containing all the different layers to be animated.

The files were then transfered over the Off-Line Editor who worked with the director to create the first draft of the video. The off-line editing was done on Avid. It was then transfered to the Editor who animated all the shots using After Effects. Different elements (musical instruments, casings, sheets of paper etc...) that had been shot at different angles were later integrated in the scenes when everything starts to float in the air along with some 3D models of furniture created for the project.


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My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto