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.
My collaboration with Cinematographer Salvador Lleo continues with Tsuyako, a story set in postwar Japan, where a factory worker and mother must decide between duty and love, her family and freedom. The short was directed by Mitsuyo Miyazaki in her home town back in Japan.
The five and a half day shoot was a gruelling one, with 14 hours of footage for a running time of 27 minutes. Capturing that amount of footage in that short amount of time also meant that compromises had to be made, specifically with the lighting setups of each scene. Welcome to the world of Indy filmmaking!
The images that Salvador has captured for Tsuyako do justice to the textures and the nuances that come from hundreds of years of aging. This is the kind of stuff that is hard to reproduce on a soundstage, and from the images below you can see why. The weathered wood, the scratched steel, the dirt and grime and hard graft are all on display. For Tsuyako, Salvador used a set of standard speed Zeiss lenses T2.1, along with his Red One camera. He felt that “the low contrast and soft quality of the glass helps to round off the ‘digital edge’ of a super high resolution digital camera such as the Red One”. And he’s right, because in the absence of film stocks, you need to make the glass work harder in order to create the images that you want. Salvador’s philosophy is that “the pairing of old and new was optimal for creating a more organic and filmic image that is in tune with the period piece”.
The factory scenes were a lot of fun to colour time, specifically because of the way that Salvador used fluorescent lighting: as a fill light to his warmer tungsten key light. The secret to working with any fluorescent source from a colour timing perspective is avoiding clipping. Although this may sound like common sense, it is even more profound when using this kind of light source, because fluorescents tend to leave a horrible green ‘residue’ around the clipped areas vs. daylight or tungsten. Keep the whites legal though and you will get some strong yellow/green seeping through the image that will add body to any industrial-type setting.
Tsuyako recently won the Future Filmmaker Award at the 2011 Palm Spring International Shortfest. You can read about the awards in the festival press release here, as well as in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
For more stills from the movie, visit the Gallery.
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.
For an HD version of “Bottom Of The Well”, please visit my Vimeo site here.