The making of KNIFED
I decided to shoot knifed for two reasons.
First of all I wanted to see how I could cope in “extreme” conditions, by that meaning I was completely alone and 100% exteriors. Different times of the day. Freezing cold.
Secondly in this part of Italy it does not rain that often and never you mind about snow. It was quite peculiar and I was eager to see how the woods would have looked like. Damn beautiful.
There is a third reason. I wanted to make up a simple story without too much hassle, no lines, no storyboarding, no actors, no audio recording.. no nothing. Straight and simple, just planned on the fly.
I shot it over two days because the first day I was literally freezing just by holding the metal legs of my tripod. Could not think straight so I had to come back one more time, also overnight I figured out I would have to make few more shots to have all the visual imagery I was after.
Knifed was shot on a hacked GH2, patch is by Andrew Reid of EOS HD http://www.eoshd.com -hi Andrew, how you’re doing, excellent book your GH2 Shooter’s guide. His patch runs around 80mb/s, Andrew thinks this is more than enough and besides this there’s not a lot of significant improvement. I used a Sandisk Extreme 30MB/s card, no hiccups whatsoever, spanning was never a problem . Bear in mind I had lots of details in the woods, although the snow might have covered up some.. but the whip pans definitely stressed the hack so.. I must say the patch is definitely good in terms of reliability.
Lenses. I was in between the sale of my Zeiss in C/Y mount and the arrival of my new set of LOMOS. More on this in future posts. But I had a Cooke Kinetal 25mm t2 and a Takumar 35mm f2 at hand, so I could make something out, a 25mm is a 50mm on a regular full frame and that is what Cartier-Bresson had for years on his Leica camera, so.. Plus I had a 17mm Canon FD 17mm f4, not a fast lens by all means but decent.
Here’s what a Cooke Kinetal 25mm looks like:
Bad news was that right in the middle of the shooting the 35 mm fell out of my shoulder bag, I forgot to zip it up and soon I was punished for it. Below a shot of the Tak 35mm f2 after the rescue, I put a lid on and cuddled this sweet lens for good 5 minutes so I could be forgiven?
However I was lucky enough to walk away with a little dent on the front barrel, nothing too serious, it could have been far worse. Lucky day. Besides the Tak 35mm f2 is not that common and not the most inexpensive out there. As I said, I cuddled it and we made up.
I know you might wonder how the Cooke Kinetal performed on a cropped sensor. Well I was quite anxious to see that. It vignettes, no surprise as this lens is for 16mm film, around 80-85% of the frame is covered.
Because the barrel extends towards the sensor when you focus, you get more coverage as the barrel moves backwards, focusing at infinity. If there was no vignetting you might have had some indeed lots of smearing, you could see that anyway in the visible area. That is no surprise and it’s not a fault of this nice piece of vintage glass: the sensor of GH2 is wider that 16mm and no smearing would be simple daydreaming or wishful thinking.
Apart from that the lens is dead sharp in the center, punchy, contrasty and definitely snappier than a Cooke Speed Panchro. Bags of personality and yes, cinematic. This is definitely something I look for in a lens.
My copy is in superb conditions, no fungus, no haze, no oil, no separation and Ex+ cosmetic conditions. A rare pearl.
Obviously I had the Arriflex Standard to M 4/3 adapter with me. The unit came in a PL mount but I disassembled that to get the original mount. On this adapter you can in the future have some Speed Panchros too, just the prices have gone through the roof right know because of all the DSLR craze. PL lenses would be expensive as well, and rare to find on Ebay. My adapter is not the best in the world, Ciecio7 on Ebay would have done way better but it was a bargain and it came with the lens.
The shots at the beginning, from the windscreen, and the shots in the garden with the wooden table & co are all taken with the Kinetal. Unfortunately all the shots I am in are taken with the Takumar, so you can’t really see what this Cooke lens is about on skin tones. How about nature though, here is one more frame grab taken with it, have a look by yourself …
Depth of field is not shallow at all on Knifed. You might say this is not very cinematic and you’re indeed right. Thing is that if you’re alone is too difficult to focus correctly so I had to make a choice. Walk home with something usable or risk it and come back again, but would the snow be there again?
I left it a little bit more shallow when I was walking in front of the camera and grabbing steadily the tripod but I worked that one out pretty easily because distance was fixed.
Another problem is how much the Canon FD flares in the middle. At certain angles you get a halo, a white spot right in the middle and if you do not have an external monitor you won’t even notice it. It’s tiny, it’s not so clearly there but once reviewing at home you will see it and chuck all the footage away, very upsetting. You need a matte box with it, no way around, or at least a hood but not too sure this one will work out. Or you might look for a better coated version.. quite possibly my copy is not even a little coated.
I like flares, but when in control. I had my matte box along, thing is I just did not have the time to set it all up every time. Most of the shots have been taken with 4×4 NDs on, actually I had two, 0.3ND and 0.6ND which allowed me to tame the strong sunlight without over exposing and keep optimally the shutter set at 50. My NDs are made by Formatt Filters, they are the glass version and they do not come for cheap.. quality stuff has always a price.
The thing with this filters is that you WILL get funny reflections in the footage if the area around the front barrel is 100% covered. This is why you get foam rings to stick in your matte box, different sizes as well.
My matte box is not the best thing after sliced bread, and changing foam rings was not going to be an easy thing. So I wrapped around the lens some cloth in a fashion that no light could come in. These filters act as mirrors, you’ve got to be very careful not to let light coming in from behind you and the matte box. I spoke to Formatt about this, they were not surprised at all, it’s meant to be normal.
In Knifed there is tons of post production. All of it was carried out in After Effects CS5.5 .
The car shots were quite challenging. Shooting from the windscreen, driving and handheld the camera was tricky. Actually results were pretty awful straight off the card.
To fix that I used the built in Warp Stabilizer plug in, it takes lots of time to process the footage and then you have to play around with the settings to get the desired result. Footage gets cropped and that leads to resolution loss no matter what. Again having more time I could get better shots trying to fix the camera inside the car. Even better to have it outside the car with those sucker kits. One problem you have to face with the GH2 and DSLR in general is rolling shutter. You get that jello effect I hate. Mind you the GH2 has the little of all, check out the 5D MkII. I hope in the forthcoming future a new breed of mechanical shutters will take the place of this electronic ones, CCDs did not suffer this problem as much, CMOS do as they do not scan the whole image at a time.. and delays lead to the skewed effect. Luckily enough The Foundry comes to the rescue with the Rolling Shutter plug in for lots of platforms, including AE. And it delivers.
The other inside shots were taken putting the tripod in the boot, securing it to avoid excessive wobble, careful on gas and on turns. Result was good so I had not to over-process the footage
I am not a colorist by any means, far from it, but it was quite a struggle to match the different lenses used and the different times of the day. Some shots were taken at around 3.30PM and the light was simply beautiful, sort of peachy, as opposed to the cold bluish shadows. I decided to go for that look through the whole footage.
Some shots were over or sub-exposed so I had to work with After Effects and masks in order to bring out/down the highlights. The GH2 AVCHD is quite baked in so it tends to fall apart pretty quickly, definitely there is not as much room as RAW shooting.. but still something can be done. Obviously it would have been way better to get exposure right at the time of shooting rather than tweaking things in post.. but being alone in the field, doing exteriors and not always behind the camera can indeed lead to mistakes.
The knife is part real and part CGI. You can see that clearly. It would have been way better to model the knife in Maya, Cinema 4D or other 3D app but I have no skills in that. Probably you could grab some pre-made models, instead I opted for a 2D knife. Not quite the same but still decent. I had to work around with light in After Effects to match the position of the sun. Go for some light glow effects and flare to give it a more realistic feel. In the end it’s still fake but I trust it’s acceptable for this level of production. Not a Hollywood movie you see!
Tracking motion is essential in most CGI work. To get better results try to boost contrast up until you burn things out, but your tracking references are contrasty as hell. If you loose tracking increase tracking areas, that it’s gonna take more time inevitably but after all you want perfect tracking. In my case I had to remove object from the shots, so it was vital to get it right. Tedious job, I know, get it tight in camera and save yourself lots of time!
Further CGI was introduced at a final stage, that is the mist/fog. I used a combo of pre made keyed footage (Andrew Cramer’s Action Essentials) and Trapcode Particular. The first was mostly used in static shots -or with little movement, the latter in the steadycam shots, to give a better motion feeling.
I added some flares to the knife stuck in the wood so you could see it before the final deadly throw. I had to play heavily on CC too in order to brighten up the spot it was stuck in. The way I did it was to double the footage, mask the area of interest and then play with CC. Ideally on set you would have proper lighting and, once again, get it done there and then. Although environmental light was changing quite rapidly so it would have been difficult in any case.
The steadycam shots were taken using a Glidecam 4000 HD pro. I used to have a Steadycam Merlin but I switched to the Glidecam for lots of reason. I guess I will have to leave this to a later post, it deserves its own discussion space.
You might wonder why I have given the 2.66 anamorphic look at a non-anamorphic footage, shot with mere spherical lenses. Mainly because I will be shooting my forthcoming music video in true 2x anamorphic and I wanted to have a taste of it. To see what extreme black bars look like and the impact it has on the imagery. Indeed true anamorphic is way different, from depth of field, bokeh, colors, flares, framing to name but a few but I wanted a little dive in. The cropped footage adds some drama to the footage in my opinion and also I had the chance to re-frame some 16:9 shots the way I liked if I was sitting behind the camera and properly directing instead of acting, directing, operating.
I will get into anamorphic details further on, it indeed deserved it own space and consideration. For the time being, I am in love with it. For sure it’s something I would like to explore deeper and deeper, it’s complicated stuff.
Btw I edit in Premiere CS 5.5 and although it has seamless integration with AE in a way that you can import projects on one another, I like to export footage for post from Premiere and import it into AE. I use the uncompressed AVI option, render at maximum bit depth, pay attention the pixel settings (GH2 = square pixels).