We knew going into this project that we wanted to shoot our interview subjects with two cameras rolling simultaneously. Doing this gave us some leeway in editing and we didn’t have to worry about jump cuts, if there was a moment when an interviewee paused during a sentence we could just cut in to the close up or pull back to the wide shot and make a seamless edit. This also makes for a more visually interesting production so you aren't locked down to only one angle per interview.
Co-director Sam Reid on The Visuals of The Path
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The digital grading (fancy term for colour correction) of The Path is where the film gets its final visual touches.
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.
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.
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.
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.