Behind the Scenes: The Art of Motion

After months of hard work I have finally put up my new 2011 motion reel on my website. If you haven’t seen it yet please be sure to check it out on my website. Since the entire reel was shot on the Red One Digital Cinema Camera I have uploaded it in a larger than normal size so that the quality and sharpness is apparent. If it takes a little longer than normal to load please be patient. It is worth the wait!

In many ways I feel like I am late to the game in terms of doing video. Everybody and their dog seems to be doing video these days in addition to still photography because it is now built into most digital SLR cameras. The technology has made it more accessible for the average still photographer to jump in and get their feet wet in the video world, whereas before most folks just didn’t have the expertise, knowledge or equipment to do video or full 35mm motion film productions at all, and even fewer had the abilities to do it well. And that was why I waited. I knew I didn’t have all the skills to pull it off at the level I was aiming at and I knew I needed to build a team of people who could help me execute my ideas in a way that fit with my brand. And while the DSLRs can create some stunning video, I was looking for something to set my brand and myself apart from the rest of the pack.

Last fall, while traveling I found the perfect team to work with and we set out to make a demo reel to show clients our abilities. The whole point of this reel was to show that our “production value” is quite high and that we have a mastery of the many different aspects of shooting a motion piece including camera movement, lighting, sound, interviews and story telling. I think we pulled it off quite well. And judging from the responses that clients have shown they seem to think so as well.

The reel focuses on four athletes: a yoga instructor, a professional cyclist, a world-class gymnast on the rings and a pro-caliber BMX rider. We shot everything here in New Mexico. The most scenic segment we shot was with the yoga instructor, Gretel Follingstad, in White Sands National Monument. The landscape really dovetails nicely with her movement. We chose to shoot in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1) for this segment and for the entire reel precisely because we wanted to show the landscape like this and also because it helps to set the reel apart from those shot on HD video in the 16:9 format. We have nothing against that format – we just went super wide for this reel. Gretel’s amazing ability and limber body really shows through in a few shots here. The crew was audibly exhaling when she did a few advanced maneuvers.

Next up was Michael McCalla, a pro cyclist on the Scott USA team. He lives and trains in Santa Fe and we chose a few of the roads he uses on his normal training rides to shoot with him, which were quite scenic. It was also very cold that day but Mike went without leg warmers or jacket. By the end of our shoot he was so cold that he was visibly shaking. One of my favorite shots in the entire reel is of him blasting by the camera at about 50 mph. You could hear his deep dish carbon fiber wheels from a half-mile away and the sound of them slicing through the air as they come by the camera was like a gunshot – if you crank the volume on the reel you’ll hear it. For the scenes where we are in front of Mike as he is riding we had the Red One on a 19-foot crane mounted in the back of a truck (see image at the end of this blog post). It allowed us to have full range of motion and really get creative shots of Michael cranking along. As a cyclist myself, it was great to see Michael in action.

CJ Maestas is the current national champion gymnast on the rings – and he just happens to live and train in Albuquerque, NM at the Gold Cup Gym. In fact Gold Cup Gymnastics has produce a dozen Olympians in the last decade. For this segment I wanted to light him on the rings in front of a white background and then turn that into a high contrast black and white segment. We had about 20,000 Watts of lighting and a huge white background hung behind CJ. Because of the set up at the gym we had the camera on a 19-foot crane pretty much the entire time so we could get it up level with CJ. Of all the segments for this reel, this was by far the most amazing to shoot. It was incredible to see CJ do his routine and to see him hold these poses again and again. Another one of my favorite shots is the one of CJ falling out of the iron cross and then bouncing up and down at the bottom of the frame as the rings clink together above him. That was his last go at the end of the shoot and he was so exhausted he just fell out of the iron cross. Watch closely on the shots of him doing the iron cross and the maltese (where his body is parallel to the ground) and you’ll see just how hard these moves are and how much will power it takes to keep himself in those strenuous positions. Just a few weeks ago I found out that CJ has moved up to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. If all goes well and he stays at his current level he will be headed to the 2012 Olympic games in London.

For the last segment of the reel we tapped local hotshot BMX rider Matthew Gannon and filmed him doing his normal routine at the Santa Fe dirt jumps. We hauled over 500-pounds of gear out to the location, which was back breaking labor but it worked out well. Matthew had some very funny quotes as well during his interview about lost girlfriends and broken teeth. While the windy conditions and the dirt jumps themselves that day weren’t conducive to back-flips, Matt got after it and rode pretty much non-stop for about four hours. It was impressive to see him so easily perform these maneuvers. I have since shot with him again on another assignment at a skate park in Albuquerque where he was throwing back-flips on command dozens and dozens of times.

Along with the motion reel I have also posted an article on my website about “Our Philosophy on Video” productions. I must say that it is hard for me to call the footage that the Red One produces “video”. The camera shoots at 4K resolution, which is 5 times more resolution than HD video and that equates to a 12 MP image for every frame at anywhere from 24 fps to 60 fps. It produces higher resolution footage than a full 35mm motion picture camera. And the new Red Epic, which we’ll have soon, is even higher quality. Here’s hoping that with the launch of our new motion reel that we’ll be working in that realm a fair bit in 2011. Without further ado, here is our philosophy on motion and video productions:

Our Philosophy on Video and Motion productions

At Michael Clark Photography we pride ourselves on top-notch quality in everything we do, whether shooting stills or motion. With the recent jump to producing high-end motion footage we have kept that principal in mind and we have put together a team of expert cinematographers, sound engineers, lighting techs, grips and production staff for our motion projects. We have the ability to pull off complex camera movements, professional grade lighting and sound, expert editing and post-production. In addition to the technical aspects of your project, we are dedicated to the story and telling that story in a manner consistent with your branding.

We use the best digital capture cameras on the market to fulfill your needs and we match the right tool to the job. Currently we are using the Red One and the Red Epic cameras made by Red Digital Cinema to shoot the bulk of our motion projects. There are very few production companies in the outdoor adventure market using such high-resolution digital cameras to capture adventure and the stories that go along with it. The result is that the final output at any size, even for the web, looks sharper and has better color than normal HD cameras. These cameras also allow us to be more creative and do things no other cameras can do. That means your brand will look better than the competition.

The Red One is a 4K camera, which has five times the resolution of normal Full HD cameras. It is currently used to shoot motion pictures and advertisements worldwide. The Red Epic is a 5K camera with eight times more resolution than normal Full HD cameras. Beyond the resolution these cameras also have a dynamic range that puts them in a whole other category well beyond any normal or even pro-caliber HD video camera. This allows us to capture the entire set of tones in a scene, even in challenging high-contrast situations. The Red Epic is the standard for the digital cinema movement. These cameras are heavy duty, workhorse cameras and have been used to film a significant percentage of the feature films now being produced for Hollywood.

Of course, all of this tech-speak doesn’t mean squat if the end product isn’t well put together, visually stunning and entertaining. To that end we carefully plan out our shoots, making sure the entire team can execute what they need to do at the right moment so the end result fits the production and so we can come in on budget. In the planning stages of any production we create a detailed layout of every shot we’ll be going after if possible, and then once on set we can use our time efficiently and wisely to get the best possible footage. What this means in the end is that you have a well-constructed piece that you can be proud of and with which you can elevate your brand.

All of this isn’t to say that we don’t use other cameras including HD video cameras and Digital SLR video cameras when the project and budget would be better served with those tools. Depending on your budget and needs we can scale our pre-production, camera, crew and post-production to your needs. If you are looking for the best quality currently available anywhere then look no further. We look forward to speaking with you about your next project.

Above: The Red One mounted on a 19-foot crane set up in the back of a pick up truck for shooting with pro cyclist Michael McCalla.

Of course I have to give a lot of credit for this production to the team that worked incredibly hard on this project with me including Charles, Nelson Joey and Steph. Without their help this would not exist. I understand now why Hollywood movies have 60 people running around on set dealing with all of the odds and ends that have to be dealt with. Shooting something like this alone just doesn’t happen.

Look for an expanded Behind the Scenes article in the upcoming Winter 2011 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter.

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