Spotlighting SOL

Hey there Gang! Today we’re going to talk about a music video we shot from a while ago for the awesome Seattle rapper SOL produced by the duo Kyle Seago and Ryan Hills from Big Time Hype. Great team! We were hired to handle the lighting and grip of this shoot.

The concept was simple— dollying in and out from SOL as he sings, with a hard spot light and little to no spill on the walls. First problem was that there was little structure on the ceiling to attach a spotlight. Now, you could use a menace arm (if we had one), which can support a light on the long arm, but it wouldn’t be as long as we needed. On set solution: I attached a 1000 watt Fresnel light to a short rod then extended 3 arms to the ceiling to strengthen the support. The reason for 3 points was two fold. A) One point would not be strong enough to hold the whole apparatus, and B) There was no point available directly above the apparatus.

Sol Spotlight

Next challenge, balance. SOL was entirely in the frame, including the bright white floor space surrounding him. The bigger the light, the more bounce we got from the floor onto the walls. Solution: we put a lite diffusion, as well as a “skirt” on the light. A skirt is a piece of black fabric (duvetyne) surrounding the light projection to cut down on the spill. Result: bright enough to see our guy, but dark enough to keep the mood and tone of the foreground and background.

Another problem was rigging the camera on the dolly. Ideally mounted on a hi hat but we did not have one with us. (I actually have two, but they were not present). So again, it’s time to IMPROVISE!

Sol Dolly

Like always, when it comes up to increasing height, whether for a camera, or an actor, you can’t beat apple boxes! We strapped one down on the dolly and I screwed on two plates with baby pins. From there, I put a baby/junior adaptor (you can look up the lewd grip slang for this adaptor elsewhere) into the front receptor that is meant for the push bar. With a couple of knuckles, a small arm, and a cheese plate, and bam! Better only a hi hat, but one that sticks a little more out in front of the dolly, perfect for our purpose.

Sure, this was a fairly simple shoot, and the problems were not huge. But sometimes it is the little things that keep the day interesting. These details required attention, and solutions that avoid compromising the shots, because that’s what matters most. I’m glad the results matched Kyle and Ryan’s creative vision. It was a fun shoot and a good time with such great artists.

SOL

Big Time Hype

Useful tools

In the lighting world, one of the most useful items is a good cart. Although it’s not a light, or a stand, or something to rig, you use it on every production. When it comes to improving workflow, a good cart is second-to-none other equipment and an absolute must for any serious production. It’s the backbone of the Grip & Electric (G&E) world.

It’s not often that I come across such an essential tool in the post world in 3D animation, but I might just have recently! There are many 3D programs. At Fifth Door we prefer Cinema 4D. Every program has its value and strengths, but one of the many qualities of C4D is being open-sourced. Anyone who can code can create a plug-in for this ever-expanding program.

Now, anyone who has used Microsoft Office programs knows the power of the Undo button, and some programs you even have unlimited undo’s. Keep that image in your mind for a minute. A major challenge in the 3D world is that we work with a LOT of objects at the same time, with each of them being its own entity. After hours, if not days, of hard work, if you want to undo something from 30 changes ago, and you don’t want to undo all the rest of the work that you’ve done. Because, well, who would?


(Don’t ask)

That’s where this story is leading too. This incredibly cheap, but damn useful tool allows you go back on individual elements.

Basically, you attach this tag to any object you may want to go back and forth on, and hit the button. Before this plug-in, a lot of animators used to duplicate the object on another layer just for safe keeping. But it gets tedious and very messy quickly. Imagine you’re stuck with 6 duplicates that you may not need, BUT you don’t want to get rid of them just in case!

It doesn’t save it automatically, but it’s just a press of the button, and bam, you’ve got all the important stages of your model within a complex project. Again, C4D’s open source allows many groups like EyeDesyn and GSG can develop these incredibly useful tools without charging an arm and a leg.

Maybe it’s just me, but to anyone who uses C4D I recommend making this a part of your workflow, you’ll thank yourself later for this purchase (c’mon it’s only 24 bucks!). It won’t make plumes of fire and smoke, but I bet you’ll use it on every single job, just like the trusty cart on set. The most useful tool really is the one that you use most frequently no matter how large or small.

Here’s a link to the website, which has videos on how to use it, and much much more!

EyeDesyn StorageBin

Spinning Phones!

A bit ago we were commissioned to light a commercial for T-Mobile for a new phone by the wonderful Garrigan Lyman Group. We’ve worked for them multiple times on similar shoots, and have always been a pleasure to work with and easy to see why they are one of the top agencies around and abroad. Superb Actor and Director Rodrigo Demedeiros was directing and working again with DP Connor Hair who we’ve mentioned on here a few times.

So of course one of our objectives is making phones look great, and one way to do that is to make them spin while playing something. Now most times it’s easy to do this using 3D compositing. It usually looks great and you have a host of options available to you. Doing 3D we whipped this up quick to demonstrate with a few little lighting tricks.

But we were not commissioned to do 3D work on this, we were hired to light and rig it. So GLG turned to Connor and I and asked if we could do it for real. Never wanting to turn down a challenge on the spot we made it happen. Though what you’d usually use to make this happen we did not have. So again, it’s time to IMPROVISE!!!!

What we did have is a c-stand base, lots of clamps, stand arms of all sizes, and a matthews doorway dolly. Lot of indi people I know usually will make a dolly, but I like having a doorway, because I’ve always found you can do a lot of unorthodox things with it with so many adjustable parts. Like an impromptu phone lazy susan.

What we did was take the front wheel off of the dolly, stick them into the base of a c-stand. Then take a 12-inch mathellini clamp, stick a knuckle and with a short arm, arm inside towards the center bolt of the wheel. From there stick a knuckle on that arm and arm straight up. All that should look something like this.

Rig Photo

At the top of the arm we put black gaff type to hide the shiney silver arm. Also to put a little pedistal I just took a simple clothespin, took it apart, and snapped a piece in half, and wrapped it up in gaff tape and put it on top of the arm. We placed the phone on top of the pedistal taped it tight, but dicreatly towards the bottom.

Connor shooting Phone

Lighting it was simple, two kinos behind a 4×4 diffusion frame, and a small Fresnel to highlight the phone and all that looks like this.

Phone Spinning

Now it’s all about spinning it. Mind you that’s not an easy thing, just make sure to give a nice smooth fling. Not too hard, not too soft.

Someone once told me you can make anything that professional rigging and lighting gear can do with a trip to Home Depot. But sometimes when you get to set it’s not about what you intended, but what you can do on the fly. So many of gear I use, while it is expensive, can be used, taken apart, repurposed, and be used to achieve things well beyond their original design. Achieving the types of things that make a typical shoot into a great shoot. When you work for a great Client like Rodrigo and GLG, great is always something that should be in the mix.

Garrigan Lyman Group

Final Video

Post Production

Sorry for the delay from the last blog entry. The last 6 months had been action packed and exciting. Lots of new lighting projects and the company is now expanded into post production graphics including 2D and 3D animations. It’s a bold new direction and we spent last year solidifying resources and relationships.

This month I’d like to talk about one of our first animated projects. The animation was an American Greatest Cookies commercial contest, to which we won the Editors Pick. Our task was to come up with the concept and produce a commercial based on their creative brief. AGC wanted something that was simple, yet tugged at heart strings…with cookies. I don’t know about you, I like cookies and all, but I can’t remember the last time a big event in my life involved a cookie. Nonetheless we came up with this.

Pretty simple. Told from the perspective of a child, the story shows this girl getting a cookie for every milestone achievement. When her sister came down with a mysterious illness (ominous!), she shared her cookie, and then all is well.

Any graphics people reading this I of course know there are many many ways to do things, this is just how I chose to do this animation.

Drawing from my heavy Flash animation background I animated all the stick figures in Flash because Flash files can be imported directly into After Effects. In Flash we took advantage of the Bone tool that connects objects and make them into a skeletal structure.

Flash

Also the Flash files can be imported against an alpha (no background).

The background is made up of a combination of photos and video. Only the pages turning are actual video, everything else was photo. We took pictures of notebook paper on an old desk and put them together in Photoshop, making sure there was room for the video pages to overlay. It helps that After Effects can import raw Photoshop files.

Desk

Now we begin production in AE. After laying in the background, we made a camera and presto, zoomed in with camera motion and alter the speed of our animation. Even though it’s 2D, we viewed it from a 3D camera within After Effects, so all layers needed to be 3D within AE. Next, we used an effect in AE called page turn to well, make the pages turn. The main challenge was to pay attention to details like the holes on the paper, and such. Little details like that could really give it away.

Page Turn

After that it’s mostly just fine-tuning and tweaking to make sure everything looks good. I always say watch it enough times until you can’t see anything you’d regret showing your harshest critic. We got music from the band, Birdwatchers United, and voice work by Serena Demello. She was actually the voice of both characters, I tweaked her voice a bit in Audition to sound slightly different.

Final

I know some people prefer to do everything in one program, but we wanted to get in the mode of using multiple, because it is our firm belief that in the long run, no one program can do it all. Lately we’re doing a lot of 3D animations in Cinema 4D, but we take that into AE and add a lot of work to it. Just like in Grip and Lighting, no one tool fits every single job, you need a whole truck of tools! In the end it’s about what the client needs, and getting them the best results possible.

Love and War trench camera

Here’s an old one, but a good one. A year or two ago we were approached to do a short film, Love and War, with Gabe Gonda. The film was shot by dual DP team Connor Hair and Alex Meader. The story followed a soldier in WWI and his relationships with various women after his time in the war. Our main character, played by Bjorn Whitney, had to endure being yelled at by many women. This project was remarkable in Fifth Door’s history in which it started a close working relationship with the film’s creative and leadership teams. It led to a number of projects that solidified Fifth Door’s capability.

Fifth Door was contacted to handle the lighting and rigging, which presented some unique challenges. One undeniable challenge in indy filmmaking was that there wasn’t much of a budget, and thus we didn’t have much resources to work with. This usually means you do less, but Gabe, Connor and Alex wanted to do more, and we were happy to get creative and dive head in. In one scene we wanted a super smooth shot in a WWI trench, without putting track in the trench. Meanwhile, we had fog, explosions, and actors running around the camera. We did not have a steady cam, so what to do? Our resources included a doorway dolly, track, a few crossbar (polecat) extension arms, clamps, and steel (cheese) plates. We also had a 8-ft camera crane (jib) which unfortunately was not the sturdiest, and would not reach into the trench at the height we needed. This is what we came up with.

We placed the track on the side of the trench, clamping two polecat arms two keep it sturdy, and reaching down to a steel (cheese) plate. We attached a Canon 5D and tripod head hanging upside down. In post-production you can flip the image to get it right side up. With the floating jib and tripod head, Connor was able to guide his camera through the trench comfortably. Up top we dolly back, but using the arm as a guide to which Connor is controlling. The result looks like this.

I do personally like when there’s a challenge with a set goal that we can really sink our teeth into. The opportunity to try something new. Now of course our way isn’t the only way, but we felt it was the best way at the time, place, and with the resources we had at hand.

More on the movie Love and War can be found here

A Quick Fix demands quick thinking!

This Month we’re talking about A Quick Fix, a short film we helped shoot back last October. It was a great project that was a lot of fun to work on. The director Marshall Langhor, and Director of Photography Thom Stitt were new to us, but we found them very easy to work with from the first minute. Suffice to say jobs like this don’t come around every day.

Most of the production featured around 5 business men in a conference room. 3 of the said men are trying to impress one man who will give them business they so desperately need. Lighting 5 guys in a room really isn’t all that hard. But what we didn’t know was what they needed at the end of the scene. The picture demanded a fast dramatic push onto the boss in the room as he gives the pitch his final thumbs up. Normally I’d just use a cine-slider to get the shot, just sliding the camera on a rail system towards the actor resting on the table. We did not have a cine-slider. There is a tool for almost every conceivable need on set these days, but your not hired to complain about what you don’t have on set, your hired to make it happen one way or another.

Thom told me about this shot, but they had a very low tech way of getting it that probably would have mixed results. With an hour or so before that shot was happening we created this.

small dolly

A cheese-plate, couple mafer clamps, cardellini, and a couple cardelinks, a few arms and knuckles, and took 3 wheels off a doorway dolly. This rig allowed Thom to push the camera forward with relative easy AND allowed him to use his tripod head to tilt up midway. We put a hair light behind him creating a dynamic hair light, and had a few kino’s up top to create a nice fill light. All combined achieved these results.

They actually sell a very small dolly that looks like a mini skateboard that works well. But we didn’t have that. But when someones asking me if I can do something I don’t like answering back “well, we don’t have that piece of gear.” I prefer to provide solutions whether or not we have the ideal tool, and always get what the production needs done whether that be a big shot, or as simple as a push in.

The Quick Fix does not have a website yet, but we will update one when it is up and running. The production was a pleasure to work on, and we are more than pleased with the final results.

Brightwood Part 2: Beauty and Flight

Continued from our last post on the project, Brightwood. Brightwood deserves two posts because there is simply so much to talk about. Every shot of Brightwood was a treat to work on, and presented many challenges to which demanded creative solutions. Challenges like these are things our crew looks forward to, so this film was a treat.

First let’s talk about creating something beautiful. One scene in the movie was Lauren having a tea party in a rather small cabin in the woods. The cabin had two windows on either side, and one in the back. The Red Epic is used to shoot this scene. It is great with the natural light in this situation and doesn’t need a whole lot of additional lighting, which is not the case for some cameras. We added two Kino on the left windows to also establish the direction of the sun as well as fill lighting. When shooting outdoors, it is important to keep track of the sun. As the sun moves from east to west, it affects the lighting needs on set depending if a scene is completed in under an hour, or several.

kyle

During preproduction, our DP, Connor Hair requested rays of lighting beaming through the ceiling of the cabin for this scene. Fortunately, once we were on locations, the sun was naturally beaming into a window giving us exactly what we needed. Sometimes you can overplan, but the best strategy is simply working with the environment. In very little time we cleared a large area of brush aside and brought a 1.8 HMI on a hi-hi stand. When the sun moved out of position, we replaced it with the HMI, replicating the said sunbeam below. Meanwhile, to get this beam to really pop, a hazer was used to create a natural look, imitating dust in the air.

cabin

Moving on, the next shot was not on the ground! Our production insurance would not allow us to place the camera outside the plane, but shooting out a window was less than ideal. Since this was a rather small prop plane we elected to remove the right seat and the door. Mind you this plane’s slowest speed is 80 mph. Of course, what we did was perfectly legal.

plane1

Building the mount inside the plane is a little more difficult than it sounds. First of all, there weren’t much structure to clamp to, and suction cups were out of the question for two reasons. First, while the Red Epic camera isn’t heavy, the device underneath was an Oconnor tripod head on a cheeseplate, and that was about 40 pounds. Together the set up weighed a significant amount. Second, a plane like this does not have any stable surfaces, the hull is light, made for leisure flying not cargos. I wouldn’t trust them holding under that kind of pull and changing gravity. So we’re clamping. When the plane takes off, the motor rotates a prop, the vibration would be strong so you want to anchor down as tight as possible.

Luckily, we were able to find a few secured rods to clamp to, as well as the bottom of the seats. But in this kind of environment I like to go the extra mile for stability— I added an additional brace for every leg. You may notice the camera was tilted, and that’s on purpose. We were looking to level the shot to the visual in mid flight, which brings up the next point- wind shear. To reduce the wind on the camera and makes it easier for the operator, we attached a flag between the camera and the front of the plane.

plane2

Lastly, attach a ratchet strap or two and make sure your camera operator is very well strapped himself! You can never be too safe when it comes to an operation like this. You get the result below, an air shot of our star Laren riding her bike on some nice looking trails we saw in our last blog post.

field

Working on this film was a joy and brought up many technical challenges that were exciting to solve. We’ve worked on many films, and while some filmmakers were burdened with budgets and have to make sacrifices in shots, I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake. Shots like the one define a true motion picture, but also the dedication of the filmmakers in telling their stories.

More on the movie Brightwood can be found here

Brightwood Part 1: Riding Bikes!

Brightwood was a wonderful short shot in Friday Harbor, WA, and Fifth Door was contracted to do the lighting and the rigging. Brightwood is the story of two adorable little kids and their lives around the island with drug abusing parents. Connor Hair was the DP, shooting on the Red Epic, with director Gabe Gonda. This was our team’s second time working with this duo and it was a great experience.

In one scene, we were tasked to make a rig that shows our main character played by Lauren Brooks-Wilson riding her bike down a street, and one with her little brother played by Jonah Beres riding on the handlebars from a low angle. We decided a process rig was the best option for this shot. We acquired a flat bed trailer, mounted the bike towards the back of the trailer, and took the chain off of the pedals. This way Lauren can pedal all she wants, without worries about keeping balance. This is not only important for safety but also allowed her concentration on acting. I can’t stress enough how much consideration you should give to the safety of the actors.

Bike mount

After the bike was secured, we proceeded to light our subject. Our main drive path was a heavily wooded area that offered only pockets of light. To maintain a steady glow of sunlight, we placed an Arri M18 HMI at the corner of the trailer (HMI is a fancy light that simulates sunlight). An M18 was a bit strong for this purpose however the 1.2 HMI was not up to the task for various reasons. When securing a stand to a trailer you want to make sure it doesn’t wobble. We added a mounting plate at the base to anchored it, ratchet strapped the base of the stand, then reinforced with an arm from the shaft to the back trailer wall. Between Lauren and the light we put three layers of diffusion (Lee 250) to bring down the light level, and spread it. We secured both sides of the diffusion flag, PLUS added an arm on top. When putting flat and big on a moving vehicle there is no such thing as too secured. Safety is the key. It’s hard to see- pressed against the back wall is small 3k generator, aka gene (Gen-ni), which was just the right amount of power for the 1.8 HMI. Besides, it’s small size fitted the trailer.

Bike Light

Our next task was the camera. For this particular shot, it’d be a shame to limit yourself to just one position or angle. Our solution was a cheese plate dolly running along speed rail track. Regretfully our lowboy stands were not low enough for the angle so we ratcheted down two full apple boxes high. We could have put plates on them too but we were running out of plates. Therefore we ran ratchet straps through the boards of the trailer and finally attaching a safety line to the camera.

bike camera

We found a stump for Jonah to stand on while sitting on the handlebars. I rode along with our DP, Connor. In addition at the end of the trailer we placed one of my trusted Grips Kyle to make sure no one fell off the bike.

At first we tried to go down a gravel road, but a bumpy road does not lend itself well for this. We ended up going out on the paved road, amongst the trees. Below is the final product, keep in mind the still doesn’t do it justice! In the movie this shot is in slow motion and is pure beauty. For those who think this may be a lot of work for a shot, do consider that our actress was free to concentrate fully on her character, and not on avoiding a crash. The result speaks for itself, it was absolutely worthwhile.

brightwood screenshot

Let’s move onto a much simpler rig. We wanted to get a shot of Lauren riding around free, getting her perspective from the bike. The obvious choice was to mount the camera to the bike. Though it would be much more difficult than it sounds for two reasons: room and weight. The bike frame is small, and in order to get true leverage, the camera would be close to either the wheel or the peddles, which would impede the ability to ride. Regarding weight, a 9-year-old girl on a small bike weighs about the same as a Red EPIC with grip gear, unlikely to allow for a safe ride.

bike mount 2

As you can see above we stripped the camera down to its bare essentials- taping the filters onto the lens. We used a max of 6 knuckles, 1 cardellini clamp, and a cheeseplate, which weighed less than Lauren on the bike. Though we had to raise the camera up to a height that made it top heavy. So we arranged for a crew member to run behind the bike for support. Below is the result, which reminds me of a snorri cam shot from behind, except instead of connected to the subject, we’ve connected it to the bike.

brightwood screenshot 2

The only change I would make to that rig was a friend’s recent suggestion- extend a few arms similar to training wheels using wheels from a wheelchair. With the wider wheels you might be able to go over more areas, but also increasing stability.

Next we’ll be talking about the other parts of Brightwood. We did a lot of interesting rigging on this short, and as seen above we achieved some beautiful cinematography that I would put next to anything. Till next time!

More on the movie Brightwood can be found here

The Car mounts of Dick Licker!

Back in August Fifth Door Films took on the lighting and rigging of the feature film Dick Licker by Brady Hall. Dick Licker is about a young boy named Richard trying to prevent the marriage of his mother to a man with the last name Licker, thus his name changes to Richard Licker, and we all know the name Richard has a shorter version. The script was hilarious! We were interested from the get go.

There were quite a few driving scenes, including action shots of people throwing things at each other and diving out of cars. The first shot we set up was a basic car mount.

Dmount1a

The shot involved three actors, two in the front seat, one in the back seat. A frontal mount is a very simple mount, but holds many variables. First, we needed to include the entire front interior in the frame. The use of a wide lens meant moving the camera as far back as we could. As you can see the camera hung a bit off the front hood. You want to test if the panels were flimsy before deciding where to place the suction cups. A flimsy hood makes an unstable camera if the cups are placed improperly. Done correctly the hood of the car could fly off given the weight of the camera. Therefore, always add a ratchet strap to strap through the camera. Meanwhile, I like to line the fender with painters tape to avoid scratching the paint. You should ratchet the mount firmly, but not tight. If you go too hard you risk damaging the car with pressure, which would actually make the mount less secure. For those producers reading, they will sigh in relief knowing we take these things into consideration.

Next is to consider the cinematography of the shot. As you look around you notice the windshields picking up the refection of the sky. To kill this reflection we took a top floppy 4×4 solid flag. The advantage of a top floppy is you can drape it over the back of the car. Of course a 6×6 is a really good fit, but I found a 4×4 usually gets the job done— and faster. It’s also easy to add a couple arms to the mount to carry the end of this flag without jeopardizing it’s integrity. Inside the car we needed a hint of light on the actors. Rosco makes a light kit that plugs into the car for this exact purpose. They are great but expensive. In this indy we took a car inverter, plugged in a couple kino tubes, and attached it to the dash. Below is the result of the shot.

dlscreen1

Our second mount aimed at the driver’s side window. We needed it to see beyond the driver, into the car next to him with the actors exchanged shouting with each other. There is a very specific mount for just this purpose called a hostess tray, but I stuck to my method. Car doors are usually pretty flimsy so you should be careful where you place the suction cups. The back two arms are usually trickier. I don’t like attaching cups to rolling windows, they are not sturdy, and you wouldn’t want to go low because you want some leverage on the back. For this reason, I extended a longer arm going out to a non-rolling window. Though the increased length isn’t ideal either so I reinforced with another arm as seen below on the right.

dl3

We decided to add a fifth arm attached to the top of the camera just for a tad more security. Since the scene was driving away from the sun, our finishing touch was a piece of foam core in front of the side mirror to bounce off some natural sunlight onto the driver. Thus achieving the shot below.

dlscreen2

Our third mount was in interesting one. We had to show a stunt man diving out of a moving car. Our DP, Sam Graydon wanted to position the camera towards the upper back corner of the SUV. With any side mount, you typically have to stick out the mount for a good shot, while limiting the mount as much as possible to minimize liability to other motorists. The window on the back was sturdy enough for the mount so we attached two cups to add some leverage, the same for other side, but went towards the bottom of the car.

dlmount3

Add a ratchet strap! Usually it’s not required, but it never hurts to be cautious and make the producer feel better. That is, until he sees the stunt man does the tuck and roll. Of course, there was another man in the car controlling the wheel. Here is the shot:

dlscreen3

These were all basic car mounts, but achieved great shots that you see in many movies. Once you do a few of them, you’ll find that they don’t actually take much time to set up. However, even with all the details mentioned in this post, I would not recommend anyone to just go out and do them without experience. Takes a lot of practice and working with someone who has done this before. I’m grateful that at Fifth Door, we have a good grip crew to do this safely and with great efficiency!

Find out more information on the movie Dick Licker here

Welcome to the Fifth Blog!

Welcome to the ever expanding page of Fifth Door Films.  We’ve been having an exciting summer in 2011.  4 feature films in the can, and a multitude of commercials and shorts completed and on the way.

Fifth Door has been providing grip and lighting crew and gear to various productions around the area.  This has been doing well for us, but we are ever expanding.  This summer we completed works on a small studio in Fremont which will be our base of operation for our studio shoots as well as our post production team.  We hope to do full productions in the future, and have a few planned to start shooting in the beginning of October 2011.

Keep updated here as we post more and more news on whats happening at Fifth Door.