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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
“What is the future of mobility?”
That is the question BMW poses in its four-part webisode series entitled “Wherever You Want To Go: Four Films About the Future of Mobility”. Influential academics, pioneers, and entrepreneurs stir the imagination with their unique visions of the past, present and future of technology, cities and transportation.
The four webisodes are directed by Kurt Mattila. Each episode has a running time of almost 6 mins, and focuses on a particular subject.
Activate The Future was shot on the Canon 5D, a regular in many of todays documentaries. As I have stated before, this lightweight camera offers compelling HD images at an unbeatable price. As the post production tools have improved over the past two years, we have seen the images coming out of this game-changing camera gradually improve. Practically, this means that the bottom end has improved to the point were we are able to capture subtle details without having to expose for the darker areas. You can see this in the image above, where Buzz Aldrin’s suit jacket still has a lot fine detail in the shadows.
Blending Film, VHS & HD
Many times with documentaries, the basic role of the colourist is to ‘even things out’. This is because the material can come from so many different sources: film archives, old TV VHS recordings, and then modern HD video and graphics. Making all of this feel cohesive relies on picking the right approach.
For all the 1970s flying car infomercials, I was dealing with badly deteriorated VHS tapes, with severe white balance problems, interlacing and sharpness issues. Colour balancing and then sharpening the shots made a dramatic difference. At the same time, I applied subtle blurs to the backgrounds in the graphics and models (above) to blend the surrounding shots better with the stock footage. Most times matching saturation and contrast is enough to bring the images closer.
Each other scene had its own treatment depending on the subject matter, and generally I tried to retain a lot of the mid tone in the image and keep the saturation up. With the right lenses, the Canon 5D already produces some very photographic images, so it was just a matter of giving each scene that little bit extra. For example, in the image below of Mike Musto, Editor-In-Chief of ridelust.com, I decided on a cooler look, a nod towards the steely blue BMW commercials we have all seen over the years. I used printer lights to add an overall blue tint, and then desaturated my blacks a touch. I then qualified the skin tones separately to bring back some of the warmth that I had lost. I finally saturated the blue jeans and the red brakes to give a little extra punch.
Working on mixed format jobs is always a challenge, especially documentaries. Filmmaker’s expectations of what a documentary should look like have changed, and with a job as high a profile as this, the clients were every bit as interested in ‘the look’ as they were in the narrative. As cameras continue to improve, those expectations slowly begin to align with what is possible under a constrained budget, and that’s where the colourist can really make a difference.
The award-winning ‘Dragonslayer’ tells the story of ‘Screech’, a lost kid falling in love in the suburbs of Fullerton, California. “[Dragonslayer] is a portrait of a new generation of kids from the rotting suburbs of inland California, and a celebration of what makes them so unique” comments Tristan Patterson, the director of the documentary.
Dragonslayer was lensed by Eric Koretz, and was my second collaboration with this Cinematographer. The documentary was filmed off and on over the course of a year and a half.
Most times documentaries can pose a challenge for a colourist; the very nature of these narratives usually leads to compromised images, hastily filmed in order to ‘capture the moment’. However, I found that with Dragonslayer, this wasn’t your typical documentary!
Eric used the Canon 5D Mk2 as his primary camera outfitted with a variety of lenses: the Canon L series 24-70 and 70-200 zoom lenses, a must in the run and gun world of docs, as well as an 85 T1.2 for all the low light night stuff. When time permitted, a set of Zeiss ZF 21, 35, 50 and 100 lenses were used. The superior sharpness and optical quality offset the inconvenience of using the primes.
Dragonslayer differs from many other skateboarder movies I’ve seen in that it is shot with a more filmic aesthetic, both in terms of the framing and the pace; crazy wide-angle lenses and crash zooms are out, replaced with a more sensitive approach that feels fresh and less pretentious. The colour choices reflect this, and I worked hard to bring out what was already there, striking a balance between the rawness of the ‘negative’ whilst striving for cohesiveness and uniformity. For a colourist there is something very satisfying about the fact that the audience will never see what the ‘befores and afters’ looked like!
The filmmakers also gave Screech a Kodak Zi8 to record his own stunts with. The camera is capable of capturing HD @ 720p, but in one of the those ‘fortunate’ accident moments, Screech flipped the switch to record standard definition!
Instead of fighting the ‘compromised’ images or trying to find a way to ‘fix’ them, I accentuated them further by pumping a lot of saturation in the blues and greens while keeping the skin tones ‘healthy’. One thing I didn’t want to do was stretch the contrast like crazy in order to bury the noise. Instead, I floated the blacks a little and pushed in some grain to hide some of the more offensive noise. The vibrant look goes with Screech’s ‘elevated’ state as he skateboards his way through life. And let’s just say that the use of recreational drugs are rampant in this movie!
Another scene we had a little fun with was the Tattoo Parlour. We really wanted to accentuate the intricate tattoos on display, as well as the vibrant colours bouncing off the walls and the posters. Compared with the natural and softer palette of the rest of the documentary, we wanted this to feel more grungy, more raw. I achieved this by pushing a good amount of cyan in the blacks, and offsetting the coolness with yellow in the mid tones. I then punched the oranges and the reds but protected the skin tones so that they wouldn’t go nuclear! Saturation can be a powerful tool for storytelling, but you need to know where to use it; without being selective you can end up with an image that looks like it’s made of candy!
‘Dragonslayer’ has been an award magnet ever since it hit the festival scene. It recently won the Best International Documentary at the hotDOCS Canadian International Documentary Festival. That’s in addition to the two awards it won at SXSW – Grand Jury Prize For Documentary Feature and Best Cinematography.
To stay up to date with Eric Koretz’s latest work, visit his website.