M104MC – Final Project – Artist Films

Approach and planning.

Over the Winter and Spring period I managed to book in shoots with Mandy Havers and Adie Blundell. As in my previous posts it was hard to pin down all the artists I was going to initially target for my project. By securing these shoots, I had brought my total up to five subjects in total, including Alison Lambert who was the subject of my original Zero Project film. I was happy with my list as these are the most of the artists who sit on the Canal Warehouse Trust board, so they could talk about how the warehouse in depth.

Approaching the films, I took the experience and knowledge I had gained from filming my other projects on the course and added to it by researching more about artist documentaries. The BBC had produced an interesting documentary series called ‘Handmade’, that studied a series of items being made, including a glass jug, a steel knife and a Windsor chair. These films looked at the creation of the items rather than the artists/master craftsman making the piece, something I hadn’t considered for my film. The films were made in the Cinema verite style with little to no words being spoken throughout each of the 29-minute episodes. The difference in my approach would be using the free hand camera style as opposed to the almost choreographed shots used by the filmmakers.

bbc Handmade.png

These films did make me consider if the artworks or the artists were my actual subjects in my films. I concluded that because some of the artists were working on more than one piece at one time that the person should be the focus of the film, although I wasn’t going to completely restrict myself to this so I could look at exploring the relationship between the subjects, their works and the environmental influences from the warehouse/studio.

To be as consistent as possible, I planned to approach the short films in the same manner as the Zero Project, with a single camera with two prime lens options, 50mm and a 24mm wide to allow for cramped spaces. This also allowed me to film with both the ambient light of the studios, due to their fast apertures, and with a shallow depth of field to allow for a more creative shot selection. The drawback of shooting using a shallow depth of field and in free hand is that I would potentially lose shots if I had to try to focus and keep subjects framed. To allow for this I planned to shoot each artist working for around an hour so I would have enough footage to allow for missed shots. I also included an on-camera microphone instead of using a radio mic on the subject as I thought having a clip mic and belt pack on the artist might make them feel more conscious to my presence, although I was shoving a camera in their face which could be a bit off-putting!

The order that I filmed the artist in was John Yeadon, Alan Dyer, Mandy Havers and Adie Blundell. My initial post about filming John can be read here.

I structured each shoot to start with the interview, which ran for about 25 minutes, then filmed the artists working switching between the camera and the 360 cameras. The benefit of using the 360 cameras was I had to leave the room whilst they were filming giving the artists a short break from me being in the space with them. Shooting the interviews first also got them out of the way as not to distract the artists whilst they worked as a couple were a little nervous about the interview, but more about that later.

Filming each individual artist was extremely interesting. They all were working with different mediums and material. John was working on a large 8ft canvas with acrylic paints, Alan was working on a 4ft canvas using chalks, inks, paint and charcoal, Mandy was stitching with leather and felt and Adie was producing 2ft lino prints.

Each studio reflected elements of each artists’ personality in appearance and I wanted to make sure that translated in to the films by capturing the items around the spaces and not just the people.

Each artist responded differently to my presence in the space, some of them ignoring me completely and some addressing me and the camera directly almost in narration to their working methods. This led to me at times engaging with them with a response, although I did try to keep this to a minimum as not to influence their work. Subsequently, Alan, who was working using a method of subconscious painting, said that having my presence in the room actually gave him enough of a distraction that it allowed him to be less conscious of his work and more productive than usual. I’m sure he has probably written a paper on the experience already!

All the shoots for the films went well without any mishaps or complaints from the artists. the next stage was to start to edit the films.

Editing.

jacknicholson_editing_0

Editing took place several months after filming took place. I would like to say that this was a deliberate decision, but with having a newborn child, full time work and a building project for a new venture, the whole project was put on hold until term had finished for the undergraduates at the University and the Media Loan Shop had gone quiet for the summer.

I had a few technical issues to try to overcome to start the editing process. Because of my commitments mentioned above I had to use a laptop to work in the evenings and weekends when life allowed it. Because I had shot in 4K resolution on the GH5 camera, not the GH4 as per the Zero Project, my laptop and iMac struggled to even open the files. To try to work round this I converted a few test file into proxy files, a process that reduces the resolution of files to edit with and then links them to the full resolution files for final export. My tests files took quite a while to prepare to edit with and so I made a call that because I had such a huge number of files from my multiple shoots that I would try another route for editing. I was able to secure on one of the specialist 21st Century Media laptops after my group had finished their last module. Luckily for me the computer was of a high enough specification that with setting Adobe Premier to use the full allocation of RAM and a software update to stop it crashing every few minutes, I was able to open and edit my files.

To get into the mindset of editing the films, I worked sequentially through the artists in stages, firstly putting all the good and interesting clips onto the timeline for each one, secondly putting a rough cut together of the film by culling clips that didn’t work or added no additional interest to the film, then lastly refining the edit, trimming clips down as to pace them with each other. As I did the first stage for each artist in order, this allowed time for me to come back to each film after a short time with fresh eyes.

Some of the rough cuts for the films were initially over 10 minutes long but by leaving them and coming back at a later date I trimmed and cut clips to reduce the films down by 4 or 5 minutes making for a better paced edit. Some clips were tough to cut down, in particular one of Adie Blundell who was addressing the camera about the particular technique he was using and went one to talk about an artist who was using the same process. The whole clip was running at about 4 minutes and was far too long for the film feel of the film, in addition there were some camera movements and re-framing as he moved around that didn’t look good on screen . In the end I had to make a tight cut to include the main point Adie was making mid sentence which affected the existing tempo of the piece.

At each stage of the editing process I had to render out the film, a process that took around 30 minutes each time. If I didn’t do this then the playback of the film stuttered and I couldn’t finalise the edits being made.

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Rendering videos to help improve playback in editing

Whilst I was editing the films, I caught an episode of the BBC documentary Imagine… This particular episode looked at the artist Tacita Dean and her record setting three simultaneous shows at three different London galleries. She is a multi-format artist, but works with film. One of her films drew my attention as it was working in a similar style to how my films were starting to evolve into. The film ‘Michael Hamburger’ made in 2007 is a study of the elderly translator and poet who has taken on the task of saving rare varieties of apples. I took great confidence in the direction my films were taking from the small section of her film.

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Colour Correction.

When setting up the the GH5 camera, I selected a shooting profile that flattened the colours in the camera files creating a wide dynamic range to be captured. This is something that is regularly done in films when using modern digital camera. The colours are then corrected in the post production process. Adobe Premier has a section for colour correction that allows different film presets to be added as well as curve and contrast controls. A new technique I researched and implemented was to take a still from the film and to import it into Adobe Photoshop. I do a lot of photographic editing and thought that I would use my strength in knowledge of Photoshop and apply them to my films. I used a non destructive editing technique that exported the corrections I made in Photoshop and applied them as an adjustment layer on a separate video channel above the clips in the project, dragging it to cover the whole piece. Once the project was rendered, it applied the changes to the clips across the whole project. If needed, the settings could be altered in the adjustment layer via the effects panel and re-rendered to apply them. I added sharpening to the video to give the films a nice crisp look. The colours were adjusted to give additional depth and counteract the flat camera profile. I was conscious when making any adjustment as not to change the colours of the artist’s work beyond recognition, but to improve it sympathetically to improve the look of the overall films. Once I had the adjustment layer nailed down for John’s film, I applied it across all the films and interview pieces to give the same pallet for the whole project. I made minor adjustments to the levels on each film if needed any.

Below are samples of the images before colour correction took place.

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In the image below you can see the adjustment layer has been applied in Adobe Premier. The colour pallet has improved significantly from the samples above.

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In the image below you can see the sharpening is being applied to the film via the effects panel in Adobe Premier.

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Audio.

Whilst filming, I monitored the sound recording with both headphones and watching the meters on the camera. I used an external Sure VP83 on board rifle mic that gave excellent quality and good signal levels. When I came to edit the sound for the films I only had to make a couple of minor level adjustments on individual clips. There was a lot of ambient background noise caused by fan heaters used in the studios because of the cold weather at the time of filming. I did delete the soundtrack on a couple of clips by un-linking them from the video file to combat this and extended the audio tracks from either the preceding or following clips to cover the deleted audio. This was a benefit of shooting long continuous clips and using the audio from the files as a traditional wild track. I didn’t enhance any of the audio tracks for the films with reverb as I thought that the mic gave a good sense of spatial awareness.

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Example of using another audio track for a different clip

Preparing for Klynt.

Being an online documentary, I couldn’t use my files in the maximum 4K resolution. You have to be mindful of what platform the project would be viewed on and the connection speed of the device to the internet. Having massive files could leave a potential viewer waiting for an age for the file to download in able to playback a video. If like most humans you have better things to do, you would simply give up and not continue to watch the rest of the project. To improve the speed of downloads and to balance the required playback resolution of the viewing screen, the nice people at Klynt have published a guide to the best settings to export you films and audio at. Below is a copy of the information.

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Each individual film would have to be exported to meet the requirements above. To do this I had to modify the settings in the export media window in Adobe Premier.

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Adobe Premier export window

 

As you can see from the screen grab above there are various sliders and panels that you can enter the exact bit-rates and file formats needed to meet the required export settings for Klynt. I had the bright idea to save the settings as preset to make my life easier for exporting all the file exports needed for the complete project. Also, if at any point in the future I wanted to re-edit my films and export at a higher quality, for instance to meet any improvement in technology or to cut the film as a traditional documentary for broadcast, because I filmed everything for the project in 4K resolution, I can export the using the same process in Adobe Premier.

At this point I had completed four new films for Alan Dyer, John Yeadon and Mandy Havers. The films were all exported and individually saved as separate files ready for inclusion in the Klynt site build.

To add to these films I had to make some modifications to the original Zero Project film of Alison Lambert. I dug out my archived hard drive to find the Adobe Premier project file of the film but couldn’t locate it. This was very strange as I had all the source files and the exported finished films on the drive. I can only think that the project file was stored in a buried sub-folder on my old iMac at work that had been switched for a new one and I hadn’t back it up at the time. This was a lesson learned as I made duplicates of all my working project files for the documentary. I was able to import one of the finished versions of the film into Premier as a single file. This allowed me to add the adjustment layer to Alison’s film to colour correct it to fit in with the other films. It was quite interesting to see the results of using the adjustment layer as I had previously used a colour grade preset on the film. The film looked a lot better and had more depth to it. As with the other films, I re-exported it to the Klynt settings ready for the build.

 

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