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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Australian hard rock band Airbourne give it everything they have in this music video, which pits two unlikely contestants against each other.
The music video was shot by Salvador Lleo in Los Angeles on a Red One MX camera using Zeiss T2.1 lenses. Four main setups – the band’s performance, the two contrasting training scenes and the final boxing match – were given a distinct look.
Hot and Cold
Every good boxing match is preceded by training scenes of the boxers preparing for the fight. To accentuate the different training styles and psychology of the fighters, we decided on two contrasting looks: a warmer, more natural look for ‘Average Joe’ Washowsky, while going for an uninviting, fluorescent-lit feel for Rich ‘The Machine’ Ballard. It’s always easier to push an image towards a specific look when it’s already leaning in that direction.
For the warmer scenes, I used the joyballs to push some red in the shadows and yellow in the mid tones. This gave the image an overall warm feel but kept the highlights clean. I then used a luminance map to select just the blacks, pulling down the gamma and desaturating them. I usually try not to use the lift when targeting just the blacks because I like to retain some of the subtle details in the shadows. Finally, any greens or blues were neutralised by bringing down the saturation and density.
For the cooler look, I started off by reducing the gamma and snapping the highlights to add contrast. Whenever you have fluorescent lighting in a scene, usually just adding contrast will bring out some of that green in the image. I went further by pushing cyan in the gain, but cooling off an image in this way can inadvertently tint highlights in an unnatural way. The way I fixed this was by using a hicon to key back to the base layer and recover some of the original colour.
Both of these treatments worked very well on most of the shots, with very few tweaks needed to even them out.
A Guinness Moment
The climax of this music video is the boxing match between ‘Average Joe’ and ‘The Machine’. The boxing ring was built on a stage, and lit with nine 6K skylights using 4×8 bounce cards for fill light. This gave the images a very cinematic feel.
Both Salvador and the Director initially wanted a black and white look reminiscent of Raging Bull. I’m a big lover of Black and White photography, but felt that it would feel pretentious for this application. However, I understood the desire for a classic style, and suggested a ‘weathered’ look along the lines of those UK Guinness commercials from the nineties. Going more in this direction would give us the same ‘classic’ feel, without having to get rid of all the colour!
I used a different technique for this one. The idea came from some cross-processing experiments I was trying out a few weeks earlier using the Curves in PhotoForge2 – a cool little iPad app.
After desaturating the overall image, I brought down the density to hide a lot of the spectators in the background and bring out the boxer. I then used RGB curves to push contrast into the Red and Green channels, while at the same time applying an inverse contrast curve to the Blue channel. This has the effect of cooling off the low to mid range, while keeping the highlights (skin tones) unaffected. Curves are great in that you can easily slide the points along the scale, until you literally ‘mix’ in the colour you want. The end result is almost a monochromatic version of the original image. However, unlike a black and white treatment, this look retains a lot of the subtleties of the original colour.
After establishing the look, it’s down to finessing; I used an asymmetrical shape to sink the boxer further into the darkness, animating it off as he lunges forward. I also then decided to bleed back some of the original blue and red from the fighters’ boxing gloves, adding a little spice to the ‘tinted’ look. You can see some examples of this in the Gallery.
You can watch the HD version of “Bottom Of The Well” on YouTube.