small time storyteller

Author Archive

American Apparel

Shot and directed by photographer Tony Kelly, this latest commercial for American Apparel pits the superb talents of two break dancers – Lil Demon and Jalen – against each other in this high-rise dance off.

American Apparel by TONY KELLY

Tony was searching YouTube one day for break dancers and came across these two world champions separately. He had the idea of bringing them together for the first time, and having them battle it out against a glamorous backdrop, instead of the grimy surroundings usually associated with the breakdancing scene. The commercial is shot on the rooftop of American Apparel’s HQ in downtown LA to showcase the company’s new kid collection.

For this shoot, Tony paired a Red One camera (MX sensor) with an Angenieux 25-250 zoom lens. The entire commercial was shot at 120 fps for a slow motion effect that is cut to classical music – a strong contrast to the breakdance performances. Tony wanted a colourful, youthful look with glowing, bright faces full of life.

Grey Skyline
Vibrant Colours

A Softer Approach

This was easier said than done. Since it was overcast on the day of the shoot, only the dancers in the foreground had any colour in them; the background was almost completely grey. In this situation, it becomes very difficult to pull an accurate key because you are missing the Hue component for an HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) qualification. A different approach is needed.

I began by adding contrast and increasing saturation a little. You need to be careful though: cranking up the saturation in a desaturated image will introduce noise – the opposite of the clean, youthful look we a going for. Instead, I decided to pull a couple of ‘loose’ keys on the background buildings and then the skyline, adding some warmth in the former and some blue to the latter, creating an almost duotone effect. Because we are introducing colour instead of saturating what is already there, we end up with crisper, more uniform colours. For the sky I further restricted my qualification with a feathered ellipse, essentially graduating the amount the blue added. Now with a much ‘cleaner’ set of colours I applied overall saturation before bringing out the faces a little that were now buried in the contrast.

This approach can work when you are going for a more ‘fluid’ look, where you really don’t care about colours spilling into each other. The pastel feel of the background helps the break dancers in the foreground stand out. Overall, the client was thrilled with the way we managed to transform the overcast photography into the colorful images you can see in the Gallery.

You can see the full commercial on Vimeo.

You can see more of Tony Kelly’s amazing work here.


We The Kings – “Friday Is Forever”

Cruising down the Sunset Strip in a Rock-N-Roll speedboat are punk band We The Kings. This music video was shot by prolific cinematographer Salvador Lleo over the course of two gloomy days in LA.

“Friday Is Forever” by WE THE KINGS © 2011

For this music video, Salvador used no less than three types of cameras – a vanilla Red One, an upgraded Red One and two Canons, a 5D and 7D. In terms of lenses, Salvador shot the band on the boat using anamorphic lenses, before switching to spherical lenses for the night party scene. The Canons were used for pick-ups.

Anamorphic Twist

When you think of anamorphic lenses, Panavision’s Primos or Hawk lenses usually come to mind. How about a set of High Speed 1.4 Lomo Anamorphic lenses, with markings in metres instead of feet? Enough said. “American ACs really love them”, Salvador jokes. He decided to go anamorphic for the exteriors out of practicality – two words you usually don’t find in the same sentence. “They work out great for a small boat crammed full of people!” Indeed.

It figures that in a city known for its perpetual sunlight, both days of the shoot were completely overcast, but then again everyone round here knows that ‘June Gloom’ really starts in May. Nevertheless, the pictures needed to feel sun-drenched and pop!

Base Grade – Overcast Day
Final Look – Sunny Day

For all the ‘speedboat driving’ scenes, I started my base grade by adjusting contrast and density, slightly clipping the boat and keeping it white, then bumping the saturation to see where the colours fell. Saturating an image quickly exposes its temperature, and you can use this information as a guide to achieving your look with the joyballs. In my case I wanted hot and sunny, so I pushed a lot of yellow into the blacks and red into the mid tones, which turned the skin tones golden and gave the trees some life. I then added blue in the gain to counter some of the red contamination I was getting in the road. Because I had clipped the boat with my contrast, I didn’t have to worry about my whites going blue – a risky technique that can work with some careful planning.

To erase any remnants of an overcast day, I qualified the sky and added some blue, and then saturated the greens and the blues to further bring out the trees and the sky. I then qualified the model’s bikini and warmed it up to match her skin tones. Overall, a straight-forward look that instantly transforms the grey raw images into sunny LA, June Gloom or not!

Low-Light Shooting

Salvador chased the speedboat from the streets of Culver City to Downtown LA, up to Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip and all the way to the ocean, then back to Culver City for the Party scene. As he lost light, he switched from the anamorphic Lomos to the spherical Zeiss lenses, shooting wide open while bumping up the ISO from 320 to 800 (Red One MX) and 500 (Red One) to compensate for the critical low light.

For the ocean drive (above), I spent most of my time re-distributing the light. You can see from the Before image in the Gallery that the band are pretty dark, and overall the image lacks contrast. A quick application of an S-curve snaps the blacks and brings out the boat nicely, while a healthy dose of blue printer lights floods the image with ‘twilight’. A soft inside/outside vignette is used to burn off the left edge and bring out the band. Finally, a skin tone qualification brings back some warmth in the band’s faces.

To visit We The Kings official website, click here.

Salvador Lleo’s website can be found here.


KUDO

Cinematographer Salvador Lleo shoots and directs this latest music video for KUDO. “This is guerilla-style shooting at it’s best – no permits, no lights, no crew!” Lleo jokes. For this one I had to pull out all the stops, charging through a multitude of looks that needed to move with this hip-hop artist’s style.

KUDO in The Studio

Salvador shot this music video all around Downtown LA – Broadway, bridges, tunnels, the LA river – as well as Hollywood Blvd. He used an upgraded Red One camera with the new MX sensor, combined with a standard set of Zeiss T2.1 lenses. The increased latitude in the blacks was instantly apparent as I started pushing in contrast using S-curves; the blacks remained rich despite being bossed around.

Lotsa Looks

I crafted no less than seven looks for this music video, each covering a different location and mood. We wanted to combine ‘classic’ looks like Hi Con Black & White and Fashion-style photography with a more ‘urban’ approach for Hollywood Blvd, the bridge and tunnel scenes, as well as Poster effects for some sections (see below). Making it all ‘work’ together was a matter of keeping the contrast snappy and the images rich with detail.

Hollywood Boulevard Look

The Hollywood Blvd. look was the most challenging. Initially I used lift and gain to add contrast, and then slightly cooled off the blacks. I picked up the highlights using a luminance key and stretched them almost to clipping point and added some blue. To push in the deep greens and blues into the blacks, I brought down the black point in my red and blue curves. This has the effect of ‘creeping in’ the colour (look in the shadows of the door) vs. oversaturating the image with green/blue.

To give the image some ‘bling’, I did two things: first I applied a soft vignette, rotating the hues at the same time. This was carefully planned, with the blues shifting to rich yellows, creating a warmer outside ring that counter balanced the cooler centre. Then I addded more yellow and saturation to the already golden skin tones and hot highlights, giving me a combination of cool and warm highlights. I call this ‘colour tension’, and this can be quite effective with the right application.

You can see the Befores and Afters in the Gallery.

Poster Effects

A series of freeze frames are used to punctuate this music video. Salvador wanted something special for these. I came up with the idea of turning these frames into graphic-style posters, relying on a tool I unfortunately rarely get a chance to use: Colour Map.

Base Correction
Colour Map Applied
Final Grade

At a basic level, Colour Map allows you to define a gradient in the Pablo Paintbox™ and apply it to an image, replacing the colours in the picture with the hues in the colour map, while retaining the relative luminance values. The effect is extreme, but provides a good starting point for our poster.

Once I had applied the colour map, I then brought back the artist’s skin tones by using an HSL qualifier constrained by a roto-spline. I desaturated the skin tones and pushed a lot of contrast into them. This makes him stand out from the background. To finish it all off, I went back to the Paintbox™ and painted some mattes, which I then used to dodge and burn the corners, creating some variety in the green and orange grads.

The final result shows the ‘poster effect’ I was after, and literally took just a few minutes to create in the colour timing session.

The ‘gas mask’ setup was also fun. Salvador shot this in an open door garage, draping a 20 x 20 unbleached muslin cloth to block out direct sunlight and diffuse KUDO’s edges. For these ‘moving posters’ I cranked up the contrast to whiteout most of the background. I then created a ‘wraparound’ glow effect by qualifying a luminance matte and then growing and blurring the matte, while increasing the gain. Finally, I saturated the blues and used an Unsharp Mask filter with customised settings to create a graphics style look.

KUDO’s Facebook site can be found here:

You can reach Salvador Lleo’s personal website here.