In 1977 Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh formed The Human League. After recruiting lead singer Phil Oakey, ‘Director of Visuals’ Philip Adrian Wright and releasing two iconic electronic albums, ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’, the band acrimoniously split. Oakey and Wright retained the Human League moniker, under which they went on to record the transatlantic smash hit album ‘Dare’, whilst Ware and Marsh formed British Electric Foundation (B.E.F.) as an electronic ‘Chic Organisation’.
B.E.F.’s first major project, the band Heaven 17 (comprising Ware, Marsh and lead singer Glenn Gregory) became so commercially successful that B.E.F. soon took a backseat. Nevertheless, in 1982 B.E.F. Recorded ‘Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 1’, an album of cover versions of soul songs featuring the vocal talents of, amongst others, Tina Turner, Billy Mackenzie, Sandie Shaw, Bernie Nolan and Gary Glitter. Although it lead to the regeneration of Tina Turner’s then largely forgotten career and her B.E.F. co-produced comeback single ‘Let’s Stay Together’, it would be a decade before ‘Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 2’ was released, by which time Marsh had long since left B.E.F.
A few weeks ago B.E.F. Released DARK – Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 3. The album’s ethos is dark versions of previously happy pop songs. It’s guest vocalists include Kim Wilde, Boy George, Andy Bell, Sandie Shaw, Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Shingai Shoniwa (The Noisettes), Kate Jackson (The Long Blondes), Sarah Jane Morris, Polly Scattergood and others.
MQD3 has had a long gestation period. I first heard about it two years ago when Martyn and I appeared together on a music video panel at Sensoria Pro in Sheffield (where else). Chatting afterwards in the green room, I dared to ask the question on every fan’s lips…is there any chance of some new Heaven 17 material being released? Neatly sidestepping the question he proceeded to explain that he had just started work on a new BEF album…at which point I immediately offered my services as music video Director/ Producer. At the beginning of this year, with the album finished and signed to Wall of Sound, I was taken up on this offer, with the added bonus that the track I would be Directing and Producing a video for, was the lead track on the album and featured the beautiful and talented Kim Wilde as guest vocalist, giving, in my opinion (and that of many others), her best vocal performance to date.
Whilst I spend quite a lot of time hanging about in nightclubs, I spend very little time hanging about in cemeteries…despite what you might have heard… so the hunt was on for a suitable one. Initially I spoke to the vicars of some Christian churches, all of whom were very helpful and pleasant…until I mentioned that I wanted to shoot a horror themed music video in their church cemeteries…at which point I could practically hear the holy water being readied for an exorcism… Based upon these reactions, I thought it best not to contact any Catholic churches, in case I ended up nailed to a cross…
Next I approached some Local Authority cemeteries, which, because they are independent of religious bodies and frequently need to raise funds for their upkeep, are far more amenable to this sort of thing (filming horror movies that is, not performing exorcisms and crucifixions). London is well served for such cemeteries. In fact there are seven ‘great’ Victorian cemeteries spread across the capital, in various states of repair/disrepair, that have the look and feel I was seeking. Some of these, such as Highgate Cemetery, have been used repeatedly as film locations and charge accordingly. Others, being lesser known, are more accommodating.
If London is well served for cemeteries, it is positively overflowing with nightclubs. After scouting a number of them, I decided upon one suggested by Mark Jones, Head Honcho at Wall of Sound, that fitted the bill perfectly.
When I originally conceived this video I envisioned the cemetery scenes as dark nighttime exteriors. However, this presented some challenges, as there was neither any lighting nor any electricity at our chosen location, giving us three options: 1) bring in lights and a generator and shoot at night, 2) shoot day for night, 3) set the cemetery scenes during the day and give them a suitable ‘look’ during the grade.
The first option was explored in some depth with My Director of Photography, Malcolm Hadley and his Gaffer Aldo Camilleri. Having both worked on Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (amongst other things), they certainly knew how to achieve the noir look I was seeking, but following our site recce, it quickly became apparent that the record label’s budget would not stretch to renting the extensive amount of equipment they required for the job.
The second option was explored in equal depth with Mike Quinn, of QuinnZone Studios, who, some of you may remember, did the puppetry and post visual effects on the multi award winning ‘Toadlickers’ video I Directed & Produced for Thomas Dolby.
One of the keys to pulling off a convincing day for night is to avoid capturing the sky, which, given the layout of the cemetery, was going to be difficult to impossible for some of the shots I had in mind. Myself and Chris Carr shot some test footage at the cemetery (both with and without the sky visible) and I sent this to Mike, who then experimented with it in After Effects CS6, to see what could be achieved. Unfortunately the large amount of foliage detail present in all of the shots made it impossible to pull a clean luma key, which effectively ruled out day for night as an option.
In the end we had no choice but to go with the third option of setting the cemetery scenes during the day. Prima facie this may sound a bit crazy. After all, as anyone will tell you, the freaks come out at night, right? Well actually no! In Hollywood there is a long tradition of monsters appearing during the day…and in the movies made there too… It also seems to be the current trend in TV horror series’, presumably, at least in part, to avoid the expense and added complications of nighttime shoots. Furthermore, in the back of my mind was the song’s lyric “You’re all the things I ever wanted, underneath the rising sun,” so setting the opening scene around first light made sense contextually and, unlike ‘day for night’, was achievable technically.
The club, on the other hand, had plenty of electricity and some lovely looking practicals, however, even with all of the house lights turned on, the overall light levels were insufficient to use even as ‘fill’. After a lengthy site recce, during which I blocked out the action for Malcolm and Aldo and we discussed colour palette, it was decided that whilst we would use some of the existing practicals for aesthetic purposes, we would need to bring in a substantial amount of additional lights. Aldo worked out our exact requirements, which consisted primarily of redheads and smaller 300w heads on a chase and Malcolm obtained these from Matt & Elizabeth Day at Clapham Road Studios.
Malcolm and I discussed a number of cameras, including the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, as he knows one of the few people in the country who actually owns one. Quirks and ergonomics aside though, we rejected it as I wanted some very wide shots, which would have meant using the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens, which I hate because it flares horribly (unlike some people I am sufficiently old school to consider camera flare a technical fault, rather than a design feature). Also, as Malcolm pointed out, that lens suffers from significant back focus issues.
After shortlisting three cameras – the Canon C300, RED EPIC and RED ONE MX, we ended up with a RED ONE MX (which Malcolm obtained from Four Corners) and a RED 18-85mm zoom, which turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. On the upside, the quality was superb, and not having to stop to change lenses was a significant time saver. On the downside, the combined weight of the RED ONE MX and Red 18-85mm zoom made handholding/shoulder mounting a physical impossibility.
Special Makeup FX
I have no idea what the collective noun is for the combined forces of darkness, but given that they would be appearing in the video, Special FX Makeup was a major consideration. For this I employed the services of Robbie Drake, whose makeup credits include Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Max Headroom and Misfits.
In an ideal world Robbie would have lifecast our stunt performers, to create bespoke makeups. However, we had neither the time nor the budget for this, so Robbie prepared generic makeups, based upon discussions about what I wanted, reference images that I sent him and the stunt performers’ measurements. He then tailored these makeups to each performer on the days of the shoots, with the help of his assistant Ali Reith.
To complete these makeups, we needed contact lenses and fangs. The contact lenses were supplied by www.FourEyez.com. The fangs were provided by Scarecrow Vampire Fangs, who were so into the project that Linda Camplese & Arthur Howard Goldiner, who run the company, flew over specially to be our fang technicians!
I had a very clear vision of how I wanted Kim and everyone else in the video to look and had many detailed discussions with my Costume Designer, Christopher Wilmer, about how to achieve this on a budget. Although a couple of very hip fetish fashion houses had offered to lend us a shiny black rubber catsuit and corset for Kim to wear, there were some concerns about how she, and more to the point, her stunt double, Chris Webb (who would, of course, have to wear exactly the same outfit), could move and fight in something as restrictive as rubber, so, in the end, we decided to use PVC, as it would give us a similar look, but would allow a much greater range of motion.
Christopher then tailor made Kim and Chris matching catsuits and corsets, which he somehow managed to fit in with his heavy schedule working on Sam Mendes’ West End theatre production of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
As a biker, playing a biker, Kim’s co-star, Dean Pidoux, already had some of the clothes needed, the rest of which came from Christopher’s personal collection. Christopher sourced clothing for the monsters from charity shops, which he then customised/ distressed, the exception being the Demon’s clothes, which were tailor made. Then, on the day of the first shoot, the clubbers, cast by Spirit Model Management, brought a selection of outfits (according to my brief) from which I picked out what each would wear.
Shoot #1 – Nightclub
With just ten hours in which to rig and de rig two different club wide lighting setups, get the cast in and out of hair, makeup/Special Effects Makeup and wardrobe, block and rehearse an action sequence with a stunt performer, and film one third of the video, every second counted. So, in this respect, part of the club’s appeal was that its two floor layout meant we could use the downstairs dressing room for Kim’s hair and makeup and the rest of the downstairs area as a hair, makeup and wardrobe triage for the cast; whilst upstairs, Aldo and his team of four sparks installed our transit van-full of lighting and Malcolm’s camera department set up the RED ONE MX, undisturbed.
At Malcolm’s suggestion, we divided the club into zones and, starting at one end of the club, and working our way through to the other end, did all of the shots that took place in each zone, which meant we were shooting out of sequence.
Part way through the club scene there is a big reveal and a corresponding change of colour palette, which we achieved with a lighting change (rather than in post). Consequently we needed to do two passes through our zones, one for all of the ‘pre’ (reveal) shots and the other for all of the ‘post’ (reveal) shots, as myself, Malcolm and Darren Baba, my first AD, referred to them throughout the shoot.
We rated the RED ONE MX at its native ISO of 800 and shot 4K at 25fps, tweaking the lighting and the club’s smoke machine as we went, and using a set of Tiffen white pro mists where necessary, to create the look that I wanted ‘in camera’. For monitoring I used a mix of the on camera monitor and a Panasonic 17” Director’s monitor. The club’s Pioneer CDJ 1000s and PA were used for playback, though to the surprise of some of the crew, I used very little playback, as I’d forensically worked out my shot timings in advance and Kim, being the consummate professional that she is, knew the timing of the song inside out.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, we did not use a Digital Imaging Technician on this or any of the other shoots. Whilst, in my opinion, there are some very good arguments for DITs, as we proved, they are not an absolute necessity, even when sooting with RED. Instead I simply took the hard drives & CF cards away at the end of each shoot, downloaded them straight to my Mac and then backed them up.
Shoot #2 – Cemetery
The clubbers were not required for this shoot and because we were using available light, neither were the sparks, so there were less people to manage. Nevertheless, it was just as intense, as, once again, we only had ten hours and this time had to rehearse, block and shoot two fight sequences (one of which involved two attackers and Kim’s stunt double), get four stunt performers in and out of Special Makeup FX (one of whose makeup took two and a half hours), get Kim, Dean and the biker gang in and out of makeup and shoot scenes with all of them.
Our base was a smallish classroom in the cemetery grounds, into which we had to fit Kim Wilde, her manager, her stunt double, Dean Pidoux, Dark Morte, The Druidess of Midian, Stevie Saint, James Ford, three stunt performers, Robbie Drake, his assistant Ali Reith, our four hair & makeup artists – Jade Sawyerr, Anna Inglis Hall, Grace Keen & EK Gerdin-Miosga, Christopher Wilmer, his costume assistant, Jonathan Wolfe, Malcolm Hadley, his camera crew, Aldo Camilleri, two runners, Darren Baba, myself and all of the kit, making it, at points, somewhat reminiscent of the cabin scene from The Marx Brothers’ ‘A Night at The Opera’.
Once again we shot at 4K on the RED ONE MX at 25fps, this time at ISO 100, without the director’s monitor (or playback, which was unnecessary), meaning I was reliant upon the on camera monitor…and my eyes!
As the weather was sunny with fast moving clouds, Aldo kept an eye on the sky, predicting lighting conditions like a seer. This enabled Malcolm to match the lighting between shots with reasonable consistency. For fill we used two 1.2mx1.2m Ecotherm boards that I had brought along. Although these are actually thermal insulation boards, their silver covering makes them ideal for use as large reflectors and as a result they are used by many within the industry for this purpose.
Shoot #3 – Cemetery (again)
As mentioned previously, the only downside of the RED ONE MX, Red 18-85mm zoom & on camera monitor, was that their combined weight was so great that every time we needed to change setup, it took two people to move them and the tripod they were on, so despite having a shoulder rig, handheld work was simply not an option. As I wanted some handheld shots of Kim walking and singing and some handheld cutaways of the cemetery, we returned to the cemetery with a Canon C300.
For the shots of Kim we used a Canon EF 50mm F1.2L lens and a set of Tiffen Pro Mists. For the cutaways of the cemetery we used a Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8 L USM lens. Everything was shot with the C300 on a Steadicam rig supplied by Tiffen. Rather than ‘pull’ the ISO, we rated the C300 at its native ISO of 850 and used its built in Neutral Density filters to compensate for the rather bright ambient light, shooting at 25FPS with a 180 degree shutter angle. Playback came from a hand held, battery powered boom box, with an AKG D130 mounted on the C300 to record a reference audio track for post lip synching.
Shoot #4 – Studio
I also needed some cutaways of the clubbers which were done at a studio in Central London, with myself behind the camera and Tobias Fearnside matching the lighting as closely as possible to the club setup. Originally I had anticipated this being a green screen shoot, but when I discussed it with Mike Quinn, he mentioned that he had just been on location in LA, working on some pickups for the new Muppet movie, which were all shot against black. Though he did not say whether this was because it’s not easy being green, he did say that using this approach, everything cut perfectly…and if black is good enough for The Muppets, it’s certainly good enough for me, so we shot against black, as it’s clearly the new green.
Once again, we shot with the Canon C300, this time with a Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8 L USM lens and a Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM lens. I rated the C300 at ISO 850 and shot at 25 FPS with a 180 degree shutter angle. No playback was used during this shoot. As we did not have a smoke machine on hand, I added ‘fog’ (and a strobe) where necessary, in post, with After Effects CS6
Although Adobe had given me access to Creative Cloud beta, which I was champing at the bit to try, the combination of a tight deadline and the need to exchange files with Mike, who was using Adobe Creative Suite 6, meant that I decided to play it safe and use Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 for the edit.
One of Premiere Pro’s great strengths is its ability to view and edit footage in real time at reduced resolution, without affecting actual resolution, making it possible to work with RED R3D files without the need for an expensive Red Rocket card. Although Premiere Pro CS6 will comfortably preview 4K R3Ds at quarter res on my Mac, because the maximum resolution needed for delivery was only 1920×1080, I edited in an HD sized sequence and resized my footage accordingly (by simply clicking in the context sensitive menu on the timeline). This gave me the added flexibility of being able to reframe, pan and zoom in and out of a few of the Red shots without any loss of quality. As I had originally wanted to do a dolly shot into the biker gang at the cemetery, which was simply impossible with the budget, resources and shooting time available, it was fantastic to be able to achieve this convincingly in post with Premiere Pro!
The only minor drawback of working at quarter res is that it is a global setting. Whilst 4K R3Ds are of such high quality that even at quarter res they are still easy to work with, unfortunately the same cannot be said for C300 MXF files, which play back perfectly at full res, but, because they are only HD resolution, suffer at quarter res. The upshot of this is that because I had mixed RED ONE MX and Canon C300 footage on my timeline, I had to keep toggling playback resolutions, which was a minor annoyance. I hope that in a future version of Premiere Pro, Adobe will add a way to set playback resolution on a per file format basis, so that one can mix different file formats on the timeline and have them play back at a mix of full and reduced resolutions by default. Certainly I intend to submit this as a feature request.
Post Visual Effects
In an ideal world the video would have been edited and graded before any Post Visual Effects work commenced, to enable the effects to be tailored to the video’s final look. Then, if necessary, things could have been tweaked. However, very tight deadlines meant that Mike needed to get started on the effects ASAP and for this he needed just the actual frames upon which he would be working his magic. So the first order of business was for me to edit the sequences that required effects. The big question was once they were done, what file format should I send him?
The answer that we decided upon was R3D, as this left our options open. There was just one small problem…Premiere Pro does not export to R3D (as I understand it, because RED won’t license the format). So I had to (not for the first time) invent a (very convoluted) workflow, which, in this instance, involved using Redcine-X Pro.
Although Redcine-X Pro (which is a free download from RED’s site) is primarily used by DITs, it includes the abilities to import EDLs and export to R3D, so in theory, I should have been able to export an EDL from my Premiere Pro timeline, import it into Redcine-X Pro and export the results as frame accurate clips for Mike. In practice however, Redcine-X Pro refused to read the Premiere Pro EDLs and no one could work out why not?
Thankfully Redcine-X Pro also reads XML and happily imported the ‘Final Cut Pro XML’ I had exported from Premiere Pro (ironically). Yay!…I foolishly thought…until I checked the Redcine-X Pro timeline and discovered, to my horror, that some of the clips had not exported from the Premiere Pro timeline at all and others had exported with the wrong ‘in’ and ‘out’ points. After consulting with RED, scouring the web for answers and finding none, and banging my head against a stake for a while, I finally figured out what was going on.
The clips that had exported with the wrong ‘in’ and ‘out’ points had been retimed in Premiere Pro, so either Premiere had not exported this information, or Redcine-X Pro could not understand it. The solution was to go back into Premiere Pro, change the timings of these clips back to 100%, rejig segments of the timeline accordingly, re-export it as ‘Final Cut Pro XML’, import this new XML into Redcine-X Pro, export it from Redcine-X Pro as R3D and provide Mike with a manual note of all the clips I had retimed, the percentages by which I had retimed them and low res QuickTimes of these sequences, at the correct speed, for reference…I told you it was convoluted…and that only solved one of the problems…
The second and seemingly even more unfathomable mystery was why some clips had completely failed to import into Redcine-X Pro? After banging my head against a stake some more, I eventually figured out the problem was that the unimportable clips were all Premiere Pro ‘subclips’ and that there was also a problem communicating this information between Premiere Pro and Redcine-X Pro. The equally, if not even more convoluted solution, was to go back into Premiere Pro, create new edits from the original clips that matched the subclips frame for frame, swap these new edits for the subclips on the timeline, do yet another ‘Final Cut Pro XML’ export from Premiere Pro, import this into Redcine-X Pro, then export the results as R3D. If you feel exhausted reading these last few paragraphs…spare a thought for me!
Now that I finally had all of the files Mike needed, I was able to Dropbox them to him, which, with my super fast broadband connection only took…three and a half days (sic)…which is about three and a half times longer than it would have taken me to do the roundtrip to California to hand them to him personally. Isn’t technology a wonderful thing? #InformationSuperDirtTrack
Rather than wait several more days for Mike to Dropbox me back the finished files, I suggested that as we were running identical software and plugins, specifically AfterEffects 6 and Red Giant Trapcode Suite 12, he send me the After Effects files and assets, minus the R3Ds. I would then drop the R3Ds into his After Effects files and render them locally. Before Mike started on the effects proper, we did a test run and found this worked a treat.
Mike has written a guest post about exactly how he used AfterEffects 6, Red Giant Trapcode Suite 12, and Video Copilot Action Essentials 2 to do the Post Visual Effects, which I’ll be publishing soon.
Throughout the entire process I used a hacked EVGA GTX 670 FTW graphics card in my Mac. Although the EVGA GTX 670 FTW is technically a PC graphics card, OS X 10.8 recognises it and with a few simple tweaks so does Adobe Creative Suite 6, which makes it possible to take full advantage of CS6’s Mercury Playback Engine (which one cannot do with the Mac’s standard ATI Radeon HD 5770).
Most people are aware that the Mercury Playback Engine substantially speeds up the GPU enabled filters and effects in Premiere Pro and After Effects. What many people seem to be less aware of is that it also speeds up rendering times and this is where I saw the most benefit, with renders that I would have expected to take 75 minutes or more with ATI Radeon HD 5770, completed in 15 minutes or less. I shall be posting more about the EVGA GTX 670 FTW GPU and how to enable it and other 600 series GPUs in a future post.
The video was graded by Tom Russell, a Senior Colourist at Prime Focus, in one of their Baselight suites. I cannot recommend Prime Focus highly enough. They are highly expert, excellent at what they do, lovely to work with and have facilities that are second to none, so it was an absolute pleasure to spend a day and a half in Tom’s company and something of an education to see him at work. During our time together, Tom said that anyone can put together a grading room, it’s the monitor that’s important. I think he was being rather modest. Anyone (with enough money) can put together a room and, for that matter, buy a Grade One monitor, it’s the eyes and experience of a colourist that’s important, as he proved.
Prime Focus asked me to supply an Uncompressed YUV 10 bit QuickTime of the final cut, so I rendered Mike’s After Effects files to this format, dropped them onto the Premiere timeline, then output it accordingly. At over 50GB the resultant file was way too large to Dropbox to them, so it was taken in to them, for ingest, on a firewire hard drive.
We started off by making extensive use of masks and vignettes to relight the intro and first verse, in order to create a first-light-of-day-ish look. Whilst creating this illusion, we serendipitously discovered that if we pushed the blue on the C300 footage, purple started to creep in. I really liked this effect as it was a little surreal and otherworldly and seemed to make Kim’s PVC catsuit pop. However, although Tom could easily match the RED ONE MX and Canon C300 footage without this push, the better colour accuracy of the R3D files meant that when they were pushed, the same purple did not appear in the RED footage. But given that this was a music video, we both felt it was fine to use a little creative license and to mix these two looks.
Grading the club sequence was a much simper affair as Malcolm, Aldo and I had already created our ‘look’ in camera. Finally, as per my original discussions with Malcolm, the zombie/end sequence was given a blue/green look to contrast with the red and yellow colour palette of the club.
Delivery was 720p for an exclusive worldwide premiere on MUZU, 1080p for subsequent use on B.E.F.’s YouTube channel and, excuse my language, 1080i for TV, as none of the TV stations to whom the video was potentially going, broadcast in progressive…in fact, some of them are still broadcasting in 576i…which really puts the Quad HD debate into context…
Last month, Zacuto invited me to the London Screening of their Single Chip Camera Evaluation, in which Robert Primes ASC put 12 cameras through 15 tests. The results were shown to industry audiences around the world and the discussions that followed were filmed, edited and combined with Primes’ test footage, to create ‘The Great Camera Shootout 2011’. Like the 2010 Shootout, this latest documentary is being released in three monthly instalments, the first of which is available now on Zacuto’s web site. Continue reading “The Great Camera Shootout 2011”