cinematography

The Look of "The Ride" with Director of Photography Sam Reid

Note: The screen shots in this post are JPEG compressed images and are not 100% accurate to watching the movie in motion but should give a general idea of the look

 

Hello! Sam Reid here, co-director and director of photography on “The Ride”, the Batman and Miami Vice mash-up fan film we released earlier this month. When Stephen Pace contacted us about putting together this idea he had been dreaming about for a long time we were hooked! He had a vision and it clicked with our sensibilities. Us also being huge Michael Mann fans definitely helped too!

In this post I’m going to provide a little insider information on the visuals of the short film and the process we employed to get the look of the “The Ride” to your YouTube screen.

 

Left: Raw image       Right: Final colour graded image

 

Camera

“The Ride” was photographed using the Canon C100 mark 1 using Canon zoom lenses. Since we were shooting most of this movie at night and with natural street light I shot with the lenses wide open at an f-stop of 2.8 which gave us a shallow depth of field (out of focus background) to work with.

I used my go to Ninja Star external recorder which allows us to shoot in the ProRes 422 format, this is something we always employ at Guerrilla. The benefit to shooting in this format is that it’s edit-ready needing no conversion and on top of that it is a far superior format when it comes to image quality; images look sharper and the noise is tighter making colour grading much easier.

For certain shots like Joker and Harlequin’s car’s tire and hood and the plate shots for the greenscreen we obviously shot this with GoPros. We used two hero 4s shooting in flat picture mode to get the best dynamic range and employed a variety of GoPro arms and suction cups. This was our first time using these cameras on a car driving 50km/h in the city so we weren’t certain they would hold, especially since it was lightly raining that night. Luckily for us they did, those things are beasts!

 

Lighting

When it comes to lighting we used a variety of lighting sources including natural day light, Edmonton street lights and a few of our own lighting instruments for interiors. The finale inside the warehouse employed some 150, 300 and 650 watt tungsten sources (3200k) gelled to daylight (5600k) which fit in with our established cold colour tone. Stephen also brought along a fogger that really helped set the atmosphere and made for some fun back lighting effects.

 

Colour

This was the first short film I colour graded using DaVinci Resolve 12. Before this I had done two corporate videos using it and was amazed at the quality and control I had with the images. Since I’m shooting in a flat setting with the C100 and GoPros I can have more control over the contrast and colour in Resolve, I can get the blacks just inky enough and the highlights rolled off to a more pleasing filmic look.

I decided for the city shots to play up the sodium vapour look of the street lights so to do that I had to put a little more yellow and orange into some of the shots, particularly the first scene with Joker and Harlequin getting into their car.

For the look of the phone call scene I wanted to achieve a moody feel that jived with the dialogue between Bruce and Selina. At first I was thinking a warmer feel to suggest the sun was setting but the more I played with the colour of his scene against hers I found the colder steel blue look seemed more fitting. There’s also something about the shot of Batman against the sky in silhouette that just works better in a bluer tone. Catwoman’s shots were shot inside of Mercer Tavern and we were getting this very nice lighting kick on her left shoulder that was coming from the sun bouncing off the yellow tarps at the construction site across the street for the new arena in Edmonton. This was pure luck, it gave a really nice contrast against the cold day light key lighting her.

The inspiration for the grading on the final scene was my favourite movie Blade Runner. I figured if I’m working with a smoky look why not rip off the best? I still worked with a colder feel for that scene too.

The final pass was to degrain and regrain the whole movie shot for shot. I’m not a big fan of super clear images but I like having control in how much grain there is in the shots. One of the benefits of the ProRes format’s compression is the fine grain structure with the c100. Using a noise reduction program I have it’s very easy to remove the noise without destroying the detail of the image. Then using another program that mimics the grain structure of different 35mm stocks I add back in some grain to give it an even texture throughout.

 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this gave you a little insight into the visuals of “The Ride”. This project was a lot of fun to work on and we had some wicked talent in front of the camera. So in the words of the great Phil Collins “I’ve been waiting (to post this blog) for all my life!”

 

 

Fun Trivia: In the scene above some guy walked into the shot on the left side of frame and slowly backed away, it was funny but we didn't want to leave that in the final cut so we did a digital zoom out for the final shot to cut him out and it ended up giving the shot a little more life too.

 

 

On The Rocks: A Few Words On The Aspect Ratio

Hey everyone this is Sam Reid here with a quick blog entry! A big thank you again to all those who have supported us on this movie, we are grateful for all your help on this. I figured I’d give you all a little write up on one of the things we are doing with the look of the movie; shooting in the aspect ratio of 2.00:1 and why we chose it!

Back in April of this year I worked with Justin Cauti, Justin Brunelle and Carlee Ryski on a one-day project. It was a short demo scene we shot for Carlee that was an excerpt from a screenplay by Cauti. That project was the first time I tried shooting with the Canon C100 using only natural light. We did something else new too; we framed with the 2.00:1 aspect ratio in mind.

I’ve seen this ratio used before, mainly on all 3 seasons of House of Cards and more recently Jurassic World. But my first knowledge of it came way back when Apocalypse Now! was released on DVD and the film’s cinematographer decided to crop the film from 2.35:1 to 2.00:1. I don’t know if cropping a masterpiece like that was a good idea (it’s the original 2.35 ratio on Blu-ray) but I’m no Vittorio Storaro.  

Early in pre-production Justin Kueber and I talked about shooting On The Rocks in this format. What I liked about it was that I would get the benefit of framing for wider shots but at the same time have a little extra frame space at the top and bottom which would allow us to fit more of the tall mountains and hills of the badlands. 

Even though we are framing for 2.00 we are still shooting in 1.78 so this allows us in post to shift the frame up or down if needed to slightly reframe the shots or stabilize them.

Below is an example of a shot we did featuring the Drifter character as photographed in 1.78:1 and then properly matted to 2.00:1. For fun I also made an example of what it would look like in the more traditional 2.35:1 format. 

Full open matte 1.78:1 aspect ratio as photographed

Full open matte 1.78:1 aspect ratio as photographed

Final matted 2.00:1 aspect ratio as intended

Final matted 2.00:1 aspect ratio as intended

2.35:1 version for comparisons sake

2.35:1 version for comparisons sake

I like how the 2.00:1 format is a comfortable middle ground between the two. It gives that wider, more cinematic feel to the movie and crops out some of the dead space in the shot. But it also allows for some breathing room to the frame and preserves more of the sky. 

For this shot in particular we wanted to draw a visual comparison between the Drifter and the mountain which I hope has an impact on the impression the audience has towards this character. Every project is different though and it's all about choosing what works best for the story you're trying to tell and the characters within it.

That's all for now though! I hope this gives a little insight into the thought process behind the visuals of On The Rocks. I can't wait for next week when we travel back to Drumheller for two more days of principle photography!

Sam Reid

The Path: Sam Reid On The Visuals

Co-director Sam Reid on The Visuals of The Path

 
Justin Kueber (left), Sam Reid (middle) and Shawn Knievel (right) sharing a few decent laughs before rolling the camera with Riley Alexander (kneeling)

Justin Kueber (left), Sam Reid (middle) and Shawn Knievel (right) sharing a few decent laughs before rolling the camera with Riley Alexander (kneeling)

 

To cover the visuals of The Path I'll first talk about the settings in the camera that myself, co-director Justin Kueber and cinematographer Shawn Knievel worked with while photographing the film.


Canon 60D picture settings:


In my experience with shooting with the Canon 60D I've found that customizing your picture settings in a specific way produces way better results than shooting with the standard factory presets. The Path is the first project of mine that I utilized my own custom settings. The Immigrant: Revenge of El Diablo was photographed with the standard picture settings. It isn't anything too complicated at all, it's simply turning down the sharpness setting to 0, the contrast to 0 and the saturation down one or two notches. 


The sharpening setting adds contrast to edges which produces gross looking halo effects around people and objects. It gives it a harsher digital look which, quite frankly, looks like garbage. I can also just do this myself in post production so it's better to shoot it clean and I can artificially sharpen it as I see fit later. With The Path I didn't do any post sharpening.

The three of us gather around the camera for playback.

The three of us gather around the camera for playback.

By completely flattening out the contrast, the camera records more information in the darker areas of the image and rolls off the brighter parts of the image better. In post production I now have way more control over the density of the image and can create a more pleasing image.

By bumping down the colour saturation I've found it just puts less stress on the compressor in the camera. Plus, I can always increase the saturation in post.


Widescreen Framing:

We decided in prep for the film to shoot and frame for the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. We wanted The Path to have that cinematic feel that you get with that format. A lot of the shots we had planned were also very wide so having less empty space on the top and bottom of the frame just made for nicer looking images.

An example of the 2.35:1 widescreen framing

An example of the 2.35:1 widescreen framing

 

Using the Magic Lantern software on the canon, Shawn was able to see what the film would look like in 2.35:1 by adding the matte feature which places black bars on the top and bottom of the video output from the camera. This perfectly recreates the widescreen look. The actual black bars are not recorded though so when we import the footage on to my computer we can see the extra frame information at the top and bottom. In Final Cut Pro there is a 2.35:1 masking feature that crops the top and bottom image to the way we intended it. 

Unmatted version as recorded on the camera

Unmatted version as recorded on the camera

Matted 2.35:1 version as intended and framed for. Note the less dead space at the top and bottom of the frame

Matted 2.35:1 version as intended and framed for. Note the less dead space at the top and bottom of the frame

 

The great thing though is that we can actually re-frame and adjust shots using this matte feature in Final Cut Pro. So, let's say during photography the camera tilted down a bit by accident, we can fix that by doing a key frame adjustment. The shot will now be completely steady. This also becomes huge ally if you accidentally caught a boom mic at the top of the frame and you need to cut it out. In fact, we had one shot where at the top of the frame a house was visible but, once we placed the 2.35:1 mattes on, the house was cut out.

Unmatted version as recorded on the camera

Unmatted version as recorded on the camera

Matted 2.35:1 version as shot. As you can see, the top of his head is cut off and the balance of the frame is slightly off center. This was a moving shot and was also accomplished by laying the camera on Shawn's leg so this result is still very impressive.

Matted 2.35:1 version as shot. As you can see, the top of his head is cut off and the balance of the frame is slightly off center. This was a moving shot and was also accomplished by laying the camera on Shawn's leg so this result is still very impressive.

Matted 2.35:1 version with center adjustment. This places the the man's head just near the top of the frame without cutting him off and the object of his attention, the book, at the bottom of the frame without any dead space below it.

Matted 2.35:1 version with center adjustment. This places the the man's head just near the top of the frame without cutting him off and the object of his attention, the book, at the bottom of the frame without any dead space below it.

This clip shows a comparison between the unmatted, matted and re-framed/stabilized versions.

The second shot of the man crouching down is the best example of the re-framing and stabilization done in Final Cut Pro.

 

Digital Grading:

The digital grading (fancy term for colour correction) of The Path is where the film gets its final visual touches. 

Contrast: 

First step in the grading is balancing out the contrast and density of the image. In the following images you can see how the image looked coming out of the camera with the flat contrast and how it appears after some contrast tweaking.

Raw camera dailies

Raw camera dailies with tweaked contrast and density

 

Colours and Tones:

Tonally it made the most sense for the colours to lean more towards blue. The only time we shift towards warmer tones is at the very end of the movie which fits with the change in mood. 

Red is a colour we use for thematic purposes in the movie so in Apple Color I was able to select only the red parts of the image and adjust everything else independently. So what this does is allow me to make the red stand out more. In the image below is a look at the key I was able to pull of the red colours.

The red key done in Apple Color

The red key done in Apple Color

 

Similarly to the red key, by selecting the skin tone and the greens of the trees I was also able to tweak those independently of the rest of the image. I muted the greens of the trees in many shots which aided in making the world around the man seem a little more lifeless.

Raw camera dailies

Raw camera dailies

Final digital grade

Final digital grade

So there you have it, that's the thought process and work that went into the visuals of The Path. I must say that while this film does have a lot of post production processing and adjustments to it, it can only be as good as what we got on the day of shooting. That's why having someone as talented as Shawn Knievel behind the camera composing the shots, making sure it's in focus and manipulating the sun light for proper effect is the most important ingredient of all.

Cinematographer Shawn Knievel

Cinematographer Shawn Knievel


-Sam Reid