Initial Powered Tracking Shots

After a few weeks of trial and error, I have finally managed to put together the set up that can deliver the kind of shot that I’m after. The following clips are initial tests, shot on a fairly overcast day. The first clip is a prototype of the curb tracking shot I intend to shoot in various locations. Although not stictly a curb, the wooden step in my back yard is a convenient practice subject. In this example the meeting point between horizontal and vertical planes is approximately vertically centred. The camera lens is approximately 12cm above the floor and is zoomed in to a 35mm equivalent focal distance of 70mm. Actual focal distance is 40cm which is the diagonal distance between the lens and floor/step meeting point. There is a slight slip in the shot just over half way through – one of the many lessons learned on the way is to make sure the shooting surface is stable during the course of the shot 😉


Once I shoot a real curb, I intend to vary positioning of the floor line in frame, distance to the curb etc until I come up with optimum settings that I can repeat to (hopefully) create consistent footage.

The second clip is a separate test exploring the idea of observing a subject presented in an environment. In this case the object is a piece of old rope that is quite weathered. I have arranged the subject, so the composition is not complete observation as the step shot is, more of a naturalistic composition. In this case, the intervention I made was minimal – I just laid the rope out in front of the camera. The feather stuck to the rope and all other bits and pieces are naturally occurring.


I’m fairly happy with both clips as a starting point for development.

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Critique – ‘Robinson in Space’ (1996, Patrick Keiller)


‘Robinson in Space’ follows a format established by director Patrick Keiller in ‘London’ (1994) and also in earlier shorter works. On the surface, the film comprises of a pastiche of short static shots taken across the UK (mainly England) accompanied by the words of an unseen narrator (Paul Scofield) who is Robinson’s traveling companion. The fictional story is used as a vehicle to deliver an almost ‘state of the nation’ type cultural and economic synopsis of modern Britain which includes statistics such as import/export figures per port. The narrative (entirely written by Keiller) merrily skips between fact and fiction with reference to events that take place in works of literature that share the locations featured in the film. In this way many more terms of reference are introduced than would be possible with the format of a straight economic/cultural essay (which the film mimics). Alongside writers Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, Keiller has taken his place in the development of a very British form of Pyschogeography that has flowered since the 90’s. In interview with Andrew Stevens of 3am magazine (July 14th, 2010), Keiller acknowledges this development although shuns the actual term ‘psychogeography’. Of the film, he says

Robinson set out with the idea that the UK is a backward, failing capitalism, because it has never had a bourgeois revolution (the ‘Nairn-Anderson thesis’, also alluded to in London), but by the end of the cinematography this had given way to one in which the familiar (and enduring) manifestations of the ‘problem of England’ are revealed as symptoms, not of failure, but of neoliberalism’s success. The UK’s economy may have been unpleasant to live with, but its unpleasantness was not the result of failure.

Critique – ‘Decasia’ (2002, Bill Morrison)


Morrison, B. (2002) Decasia: the story of decay [DVD]. bfi.
A silent film produced to be shown alongside the original music score of the same name, crafted of decomposing historic film stock where the artifacts created by the decay process are as much subjects of the film as the images themselves. Featuring corrosion and nitrate smears, this is a film about how film dies. Comprising historic, mainly pre-war film stock which contributes to the feeling of the identity of the subject matter being obscured by both time and physical decay. Director Bill Morrison talks in interview about the film being in part a response to the universal construct of an illusionary sense of permanence developed in order to mitigate the inevitability of our own mortality and that of our current form of society. Michael Gordon, composer, talks about the sense of ‘covering up of beauty’, as if the film artifacts are a veil.
I have personal experience of watching film artifacts develop in real time as I used to project loops of old 8mm stock in dance clubs – sometimes the loop would catch on the spool and the heat of the bulb would destroy the film. The result would be seen as pinpricks quickly turning into amorphous blobs overrunning the frozen frame. As far as I know, Bill Morrison did not deliberately damage the film stock used in the making of Decasia. This action would perhaps create a film with an entirely different sense of purpose.

Research into Practice – Week 8 – Lecture – Postgraduate Writing

Nic Maffei delivered a lecture on the subject of post-graduate writing, particularly with reference to the current Research into Practice module. The 2000 word report that is to be delivered at the end of the module has become a bone of contention for some students due to its wide open nature. No example reports from previous years are to be distributed, not even any example titles are being shown. The report is to be a process of discovery on a subject that is to be agreed between Tutor and Student. I for one am keen to get the title nailed asap and get the work done as I may well be busier nearer to the January deadline – hopefully title agreement will happen in tutorial this week. My tutor is Tom Simmons, and I have already suggested the title of ‘use of artistic intervention to add a narrative dimension to the representation of commonly overlooked space‘ but I didn’t get a resounding thumbs up. Since then, I have drawn back from the idea of dealing with narrative, mainly because during my 2 years part-time study at NUCA, I’m keen to deconstruct the subject of Moving Image and Sound as much as possible and deal with significant subject areas at a granular level. Narrative is one of the areas that I intend to turn my attention to at a later date. So for now I intend to constrain the scope of research as much as possible to  the realm of ‘observation’.

Critique – ‘Proximity’ (2006, Inger Lise Hansen)


Produced in 2006. The film is deceptively simple, establishing a shot format from the onset that does not change throughout its near 4 minute duration. There are very slight variations to scene composition, but essentially the film is a series of upside down images of beach and sky stitched together as time lapse. There are no sudden changes, although there is an almost pastoral dynamic. The odd upside down car zips along erratically (thanks to the manual time lapse technique) on what must be a road near to the inverted horizon point, a few distant people scurry back and forth similarly. The only camera movement is sideways which results in interesting perspective play as features such as striations in the sand are seen from progressive view points resulting in some classic visual distortions. The upside down-ness of the film is possibly it’s killer feature – as our eyes adjust to the initially strange image and stop trying to invert it, we become disoriented and begin to see an opposite geometric arrangement – almost an Escher-like illusion is created. Like a word that is repeated over and over again until it sounds meaningless, the viewer is led to question the very essence of what they are looking at – inverted beach and sky or abstract form?

Upside down images must be particularly resonant to our subconscious brains as the image that gets projected onto the back of the retina throughout our lives is actually upside down – it is somehow left to the ‘software’ of our brains to rectify this ‘hardware’ deficiency. Perhaps it is this neural ‘software’ that Hansen is targeting?

All time lapse has a feeling of de/reconstructed time and Proximity certainly promotes this dimension although the idea of scenes being presented in order brings a certain sense of comforting familiarity which helps the viewer to mitigate the disconcerting effect of upside down film! There are 4 distinct scenes – what looks like a sunrise scene followed by 2 brighter and a final darker scene in which drops of water seem to appear in the sky portion of the image making it look more like a sea lapping the beach.

Research into Practice – week 7

Independent study week, check out recent practice here

Inspiration – ‘Rabbit’ by Run Wrake

Phenomenally inspiring animation, especially due to the fantastic storyline. One aspect I find particularly effective is the way labels are used to identify all objects in view (except for the human protagonists). As I am looking at ways of creating narrative through intervention it struck me that a very simple device that could be used to create a narrative dynamic would be to either deliberately mis-label subjects/objects, use a word related to their intention or some other insight into their ‘purpose’.

Here are some initial ideas –
In this image, a single word is used to describe each subject’s status.

In this image the, the words used are intentionally extreme in order to add narrative tension. Although each word is derived from corresponding status words in the previous image, they make us view the image in a completely new light, as they act as dramatic signposts that direct us to imagine our own ‘what happened next’.

Initial Tracking Shots

This is an example of the tracking shot I have been trying out. The problem I have been trying to overcome is that I have been unable to move the camera steadily when recording video, particularly when any unwanted movement or wobble is accentuated by zoom. Instead of shooting video I have tried shooting a sequence of stills with a view to animating them as a stop frame sequence, as seen here. This has some distinct benefits – the image capture quality is so much better whan shooting still over video and the ability to slow shutter speed below 30th or 60th of second (ie typical video capture rates) is a massive advantage. The main problem is the number of shots required to get a smooth movement when focussing on a near field subject. In this experiment I have shot from approximately 40cm away, zoomed in slightly. Each shot was taken an eighth of an inch sidewise from the last, that’s well less than half a cm, and the movement is still quite jerky thanks to the level of the zoom. Note that the noise in the video has been introduced during transcodimg for the web – the original image quality is almost flawless.

Initial Ideas

I started the course without an immediate artistic direction. Although I had lots of ideas – nothing stood out. I decided to concentrate on developing my technical videography skills in the mean time.

One technical interest has been depth of field and how to achieve a shallow depth of field (DOF) effect so crucial to bringing drama and focus to an image. I have a Casio Ex-F1 camera which amongst other attributes has a fairly deep DOF typical of many non-DSLR prosumer cameras. I looked into using a DOF adapter of which there are a few, but for the cost and clunkiness, decided against this. Instead, I turned to Macro where extremely shallow DOF is the norm. I had been looking at the weeds growing out of the curb and thinking about how much detail is commonly overlooked by us in our everyday lives.

I began to think about tracking shots along curb sides and how the view of road edge/curb detail tells us something about the people that frequent a particular area. I had also been wondering about how to bring a sense of narrative to the curb idea. Initially I had been thinking about post-production motion graphics and animating text and/or shapes along the vertical face of the curb to tell a story.

Looking at David Levinthal’s work made me think about introducing models and this seemed like a quick way of testing out some ideas.

The first issue with macro is focus – it’s almost impossible to ascertain correct focus from a camera monitor screen, no matter how large and bright. The second problem is position. Using a macro lense, the camera must be positioned absolutely accurately to ensure the optional focal point. The third problem is control, with the camera on the floor and the image composition subject to disruption from wobble, its difficult to control the shot. I found a fairly clunky computer program that enables PC control of the Casio which has been a godsend. Although the live image shown on the computer is not good enough to test focus, a shot can be taken and checked in detail before more shots being taken at a given setting.

For the first tests I decided to dispense with video and just shoot stills to figure out what the issues might be. The results are shown below.


Research into Practice – Week 5

The New Russian Dolls rocked the house! Group presentation to be found here New Russian Doll response to Bruce Mau manifesto