Incorporating video into the mix. Doing art instead of commercials. Sony a99 "footage."

Erin Moves in Mad Hip Beat and Gone. from Kirk Tuck & Will van Overbeek on Vimeo.

Go directly to Vimeo via the link and see it in HD for the full flavor.

I wrote earlier this week about shooting video of an actress for projection on a giant screen. The video content was used as part of the set design and arc of the story for the Steven Dietz play, Mad Beat Hip and Gone. I just wanted to flesh out what we did and how.

As many of your know I do a lot of project work for Zach Theatre here in Austin. The production they are doing now is a play that investigates that period between World War Two and the 1960's, best exemplified by novelist, Jack Kerouac's book, On The Road. The play is about two young men who are in the car following Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy. It's really a wonderfully imagined play about the need for meaning and connection.

The set designer imagined a set that is framed by weathered and distress, corrugated steel. The heart of the set is really a giant projection screen some 34 feet wide and 40-some feet tall which pulses with still images providing scenery cues to video providing emotional resonances. Video designer, Colin Lowry, asked me to collaborate with him in making both still images and video that would be content for the play. We did images of the male leads that included driver's license photos and mug shots. We did silhouettes of one character's father, complete with a baseball glove. And we did slow, bittersweet video of the actress who plays the love interest of all the proto-stream-of-consciousness road poets.

To produce video that's interesting is always a challenge but much of the pressure is relieved, in this instance, by good acting on the part of the stage actors and the charismatic allure of the actress on video.

We set up a light gray seamless backdrop in the rehearsal space and it anchored the still and video work and gave it a visual consistency that held the projections together. I lit the background just enough so that it would accurately retain its tone. One broad, 5oo bulb LED panel, used directly.
We lit the actor with two 1,000 LED panels projecting through a one stop silk diffuser. We used a fourth light, a 500 bulb LED panel, as a kicker light.

I wanted to use the Sony a99 camera for the video because I was comfortable working with it, having done a number of interview and other creative projects with it, previously. I also wanted to use it because, in conjunction with a Sony 70-200mm f2.8 lens, used at f4, I could control depth of field and push out any detail in the background that might have been distracting. Amazing what you notice with forty feet of information on the long side.

Colin requested that I shoot at 24fps so I set the camera at 1/50th of second shutter speed, f4 and used the ISO to adjust for the correct exposure. When you implement fully manual exposure in the Sony a99's video mode you disable autofocus. Fine by me. I used the camera's focus peaking feature to ensure good focus under dicey conditions. It worked great.

Colin and I took turns directing and ended up with plenty of footage to pare down. Erin was a consummate pro and, since Colin wouldn't be using the camera audio, we were able to direct her verbally during the takes.

The video footage and the photographs ended up being projected digitally. And they looked incredible. The production has become a critical success already.

So today I decided that I wanted to share a bit of the video footage to show which choices I made in the creating it. I wanted inky black, dramatic shadows on opposite side of Erin's face from the main light so I used no fill. You can see the effect as she turns into the shadow.

I took the footage and did an edit in Final Cut Pro X. I  used a program called  Compressor to output the images as 1080p HD video in order to upload it to Vimeo. The music I selected is royalty free music that comes with iMovie 11 and is available across the system in the Apple OS. I'm not a sound designer and I'm sure there's better stuff to put in a music bed but you can always just turn off the sound and evaluated the visual stuff...

I am captivated by the movement and the tones as they shift across Erin's face. The video adds a really wonderful layer of context for the play. I hope you enjoy what you see here...


Racecar said...

Excellent video, like the music too!

robert quiet photographer said...

Nice! And thanks for sharing technical details.

Joe said...

Really nice footage! I'm interested in the LED panels but I'm unsure of how powerful they are. What ISO were you using at f/4 to shoot the video/stills?

Kirk Tuck said...

If I remember correctly we were shooting at ISO 400. So, figure 1/50th of a second f4.

Joe said...

Hmm, that's not bad. Thanks!