Tag Archives: music video

Directing Postmodern Jukebox’s Don’t Stop Believin’ in ‘one take’

If you are of a certain age, or maybe have an affinity for ‘80s rock, you are familiar with Journey’s hit, Don’t Stop Believin’. Well, the band Postmodern Jukebox has put a contemporary spin on the song, and it’s amazing. The band called on KRC’s Abraham Roofeh to direct their new video, which evokes a Broadway musical. Produced by Robert Kennedy, the piece is a nod to Postmodern Jukebox’s tradition of locked-off, one-take videos and moves from static to dynamic in a stylishly playful, choreographed journey.

We reached out to director Roofeh, who is also an editor and co-founder of KRC, to find out more.

How did the project get started?
Their manager reached out to my partners and said that they were floating around the idea of doing a real music video, and they asked us to come up with a concept.

Abe Roofah on set.

What inspired your concept?
The original version of the song inspired the concept for the video. Telling the story of individuals wanting to be more than what they currently are. To do that, I literally wrote the treatment as a four-page script with the multiple characters. I wanted to be able to start the video so it looked and felt just like a regular Postmodern Jukebox video. So the idea of giving it an old-Hollywood look at the start and then revealing that it’s a cocktail party, and you’re now in the world of the servers, gave us a vehicle to tap into the multiple layers that fit PMJ’s classic video style as well as embodying the theme of the song itself.

When you are watching the video it is so seamless… then you realize what exacting choreography was involved! What was the process like?
A huge benefit to working with such a unique group as Postmodern Jukebox is that they have access to some of the most incredibly talented musicians and dancers that they tour with regularly. That meant I had the good fortune to work with dancers who also choreograph their own routines. And since we had a very short window to execute the video within, working with these specific dancers allowed us to achieve a routine in a very efficient way. We did a scout early on of the location, which helped logistically to get a sense of the space and the movement. Then my editor hat came on with identifying potential and natural cut points if needed. The day before the prelight, I had all the principals come in and we walked through the space with my DP — so together we choreographed a routine that worked for them, the space and the camera, so everything would flow smoothly and in sync.

Why the one take? How did you move the camera? Dolly? Human?
I decided to do it in one take for a couple of reasons. With the concept of a dinner party combined with the space we had access to, flying around the space and seeing it all unfold in real-time just made more sense than to stop and start the action. The director/editor devil and angel on my shoulders would also be like “you should bake in some potential cut points, ya know, just in case…” and then after the walk through we just got so excited and were like f-that, we’re going straight through.

We shot on the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro with a PL mount and a Zeiss Uncoated super speed 18mm lens. I wanted a cinematic old-Hollywood look and feel, so we intentionally lit it warm to accentuate all the warm red wood tones throughout the house. I love the look and feel of what the Ursa Mini Pro delivers. The size and weight of the camera was perfect for the Movi as well.

How many times did they shoot it to get it right?
We did a total of 17 takes, 14 of which were full five-minute takes. Since I had two different sets of dancers flipping, I made sure to cut before we got up to them if there was something within the take that I didn’t like. Three times I cut early on. We did a couple of takes, and then we would talk about it and really hone in on what needed to be tweaked, then we did it again and shared playback with everyone which then got everyone super excited. They were able to see exactly what needed to be done, where to go and why. Psychologically, it made everyone feel accountable and really tightened everything up to work as a team to really nail it. It was so exciting as we got closer and closer to the perfect take. And when we did, everyone felt super-accomplished. It was certainly one of the best sets and productions I’ve had.

Walk us through the post process on something like this, which seems to be largely in-camera.
We were actually laughing about it on set. Because once the shoot was over, so was the edit. And as an editor, that was awesome! But overall for post production, yes, everything was done in-camera. I had my VFX guy, James Pina, remove some lighting fixtures that made it into a shot and some gaff tape that was visible. For color grading, I did it myself building a look through Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite within Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

The video has over half a million views — what is the fan or band feedback so far?
Both fan and band feedback has been through the roof. Fans love the new direction the band took their video in, and so many were blown away when the camera moved since they weren’t expecting that. It’s been great to see. The YouTube comments are hilarious, too.

What inspired you to become a director/editor, and what advantage does this dual role bring?
Back in the day, I used make skate videos of myself and my friends. We were sponsored by a couple of companies, and I immediately gravitated toward shooting the videos and editing them from one VCR to another, which sucked. But I learned a lot and continued that onto NLEs. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed being able to see a project through from start to finish. The advantages are that one informs the other. I know exactly what I need in order to make something work because I can start editing in my head from the beginning and while on set.

Being a director/editor, one definitely informs the other throughout the process — from start to finish — and it’s always helpful. It’s like having multiple perspectives. They’re great to have because they may spark a creative idea or way to problem solve or troubleshoot something early on or while you’re in thick of it, which can be very helpful. Sometimes it’s like having an editor on set. For prepro we had a good amount of lead time, which allowed me to really think everything through. But still, like any production, everything came down to the wire because the music wasn’t even close to being done yet. They hadn’t recorded the full track. I got everything piecemeal.

About a week and half out I had just the piano, then a couple days later I had half the vocals. I think it was just before my flight that I got the full track with all the vocals and the instruments. We did a walk through with principals, then a prelight the day before, which allowed me to adjust to the final track. Then, the day of, I see this lovely violinist walking around, and I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t recall ever hearing a violin anywhere.” Then Scott (Bradlee, PMJ’s composer) comes to me and is like, “Oh yeah I’m gonna drop in a little violin.” It just had me laughing. Scott’s a true artist. He just hears the music and is tweaking up to the last second. Luckily, I have a super laid-back demeanor and I’m able to make it all work.

Is there a downside to doing both?
The downside is if you’re doing one but not doing the other. The goal for me is to just be directing all the time, and when that day comes, awesome. But I think there will always be some projects that I’d just be itching to cut because I do find editing to be fun and rewarding.

It seems like your company works in a lot of areas. How do you describe what you do in a way that sets you apart?
What makes KRC unique is that not only can we ideate and execute on creative to provide a client with great content, but collectively we can also provide the ability to amplify the content. That is done through our relationships with all major broadcasters, influencers, streaming and social platforms, as well as the deep-seeded data to support it. Through our extensive music contacts, KRC provides an agency-style approach by also offering custom-tailored music strategies to match clients with the perfect artist for a brand campaign.

Smile wins Grand Prize for best music video at Showdown 8

By Randi Altman

Silver Sound’s Showdown 8 Music Video Festival took place this week at the Brooklyn Bowl, highlighting bands, showcasing music videos and naming the winner of their Best Music Video contest.

I’m proud to say that this was my fourth year as a judge of the contest and happy to report that my number one pick took home the top prize. Joe Staehly’s Smile, for artist Jay Pray, features an older woman revisiting places from her past, bringing with her a film projector that plays images of herself and friends — including one special boy — when they were young. Finally, in present day, she visits an older man in a medical facility. He clearly doesn’t recognize her and is visibly uncomfortable. The woman then turns off the lights and turns on projectors that fill the room with images of their past.

For this effort, Staehly took home the Grand Prize for the video he shot on Red Epic Dragon and Super 8 film. Smile brought the audience, and this judge, to tears. That’s right, a music video did that.

Twenty-three-year-old Staehly is a Philadelphia-based cinematographer and director at Set in Motion. Staehly, who also edited the piece, is the youngest grand prize winner in Showdown history.

Each year 21 music videos and four bands compete for the Grand Prize — Silver Sound will produce a music video with them — worth over $10,000. Staehly will be collaborating on this music video with artist Gabrielle Sterbenz.

Created eight years ago by the talents behind NYC audio post house Silver Sound, Showdown shows no sign of slowing down. “Music videos are an oft-overlooked medium that I personally find very exciting,” reports Silver Sound partner/festival director Cory Choy. “Music video directors take risks, both narratively and technically, that other filmmakers, who have to worry about dialogue, aren’t willing to take. It’s a challenge, but it’s also incredibly freeing and exciting to experience two stories simultaneously — the story that the music is telling, and the story that the movie is telling. The way these stories interact and resonate with each other… that’s what music videos are about.”

Trippy Empire of the Sun music video mixes live-action and animation

NYC’s Roof Studio recently partnered with Australian music duo Empire of the Sun on their music video High and Low, a surreal visual journey into a psychedelic trip, which captures the song’s celebration of the innocence and boldness of youth. The lead single from the band’s upcoming Two Vines LP, “High and Low” follows a small group of people as they are guided by a Shaman into the forest to indulge in the experience of mind-changing substances. Using a mix of live-action and animation, the video shows the group’s trip experience — the Empire of the Sun members serve as “emperors.”

Roof and Empire of the Sun previously worked together on the Honda Civic The Dreamer spot via ad agency RPA, which combined Roof’s visual language and direction with the band’s “Walking on a Dream” track.

“We recognized that there was something special in our initial partnership,” says Vinicius Costa, Roof Studio co-founder/director. “[The band] wanted a psychedelic film with a strong connection to nature to visually, yet indirectly, represent the mind-bending journey. However, they were open to our ideas on execution.”

The only constraints Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore had were not to take a too-literal approach to the visualization of the lyrics. In contrast to the duo’s previous album’s desert landscape art direction, this time around they wanted to explore a tropical environment. Initially, Roof sought to create the entire film in CG, however, due to the limited timeframe of three weeks, they felt it was best to combine live-action with animation in order to focus on providing more than 40 realistic CG shots. This shift in direction spurred the studio to develop the natural and psychedelic narratives that tie together.

“The band came to us with a clear point of view, even referencing aspects of some of our previous work,” says Guto Terni, Roof Studio co-founder/director. “From there, we created a loose narrative based on the right balance of live-action and post production visuals. As directors, we engage in every step of the process, from concept to storyboarding and pre-visualization to shooting, and finally, post production and finishing. This project really showcased our full range of capabilities.”

Roof’s directors, Costa, Terni and Sam Mason, were on set for both live-action shoots, including the band shoot in a Los Angeles studio, and the actors and extras shoot in Costa Rica, which provided the tropical aesthetics. Roof had one week to plan and facilitate both shoots and then two weeks to execute the ambitious CG animation.

Roof used a 3D scan of Steele and Littlemore through a technique called photogrammetry in order to create the telescope shot featured in the video. This process created multiple images of the band in which the studio was able to generate a 3D version of its members. From there, Roof added cloth simulation in CG to mimic wind blowing their clothes for more believability. The result is a fantastic shot in which only the band members’ faces are real and the remaining is CG.

Roof used a mix of technology, including Nuke, After Effects, Maya, Modo, 3D Max and Corona to blend of live-action and animation.

VFX bring wheatpaste poster to life in ‘Paper Heart’ music video

Each January, The Silver Sound Showdown music video festival and battle of the bands takes place at Brooklyn Bowl. It pairs the winning director and winning band together to make a music video with Silver Sound Studios in New York City. It was here that Paper Heart, the music video directed by Nick Snyder, produced by Silver Sound and featuring the band Blood and Glass, was born.

Paper Heart, is one of the most ambitious Showdown collaborations to date,” according to festival director and producer Cory Choy, features Blood and Glass lead singer Lisa Moore as a wheatpaste poster on walls across Brooklyn. It was shot on a Red Scarlet camera and features effects created in Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop. It was edited on Adobe Premiere Pro.

Why the wheatpaste poster look? LA-based Snyder (@nickwsnyder) works in the arts district of downtown, where he sees inspiration in everything. He also liked the idea that the nature and lifespan of the wheatpaste poster seemed to play nicely into the “themes of isolation and fragility found in the song.”

Director Nick Snyder, right.

Director Nick Snyder, right, in front of monitor.

Snyder’s Showdown-winning video Lost Boy Found also combined the techniques of live performance, compositing and animation — silhouettes of actors were composited into a fantasy shadow puppet world — so this was a realm he was comfortable in.

The Production
After several months of prep, Snyder and the band made their way to New York City for the two-day shoot. The first day was dedicated to shooting plates. Locations around Brooklyn had been scouted by Silver Sound, Google street-viewed by Snyder prior to arrival and then scouted in person. So by the time production began, specific moments had been planned to take place in a handful of selected locations. The remaining moments were narrowed down to areas where the filmmakers anticipated chance discoveries. Snyder, DP J. Andrés Cardona and a skeleton crew set out onto the streets of New York to shoot with their Red Scarlet.

Going Green
The second day was shot at Parlay Studios in Jersey City and dedicated exclusively to greenscreen shots. During a brief break in between days, Snyder analyzed the plates. While he shot listed and storyboarded, he also left room for improvisation and collaboration.

greenscreen RED Scarlet

To aid lead singer Lisa Moore in her characterization, extra attention was given to wardrobe, makeup and props. “For example, it was decided beforehand that her prop cane would become a matchstick and that after using it, the matchstick would shrivel and blacken,” explains Snyder. “The art director constructed a practical burnt matchstick prop, but rather than swapping it out during Lisa’s performance, the prop was shot suspended in front of the greenscreen. Then, using an LED light on Lisa’s un-burnt cane, I tracked the movement of the matchstick in After Effects. I then replaced it with the burnt matchstick seen at the end of the video.”

The same technique was used for the origami birds that interact with Moore throughout the video. Practical birds were made, shot against the greenscreen and keyed out in post. The intention was that they could be keyframed in After Effects, but their natural movement would allow for a slightly more organic feel. It was a good time saver. “Green apple boxes, chroma key gloves and even crew members wrapped in green blankets were used to achieve the effect of tactile contact within the video,” explains Snyder. “The performance moments were shot from start to finish in various sizes, and shooting in 4K allowed for any Lisa/plate size relationship miscalculations,” explains Snyder.

The Post
The next step was assembly. This involved mapping Moore to the building surface plates. Premiere Pro was used to assemble performance shots in raw R3D and narrow down her best takes. For performance takes, a six-panel export was made to quickly compare her gestures from the narrowed down shots. From there, a preliminary pass was made on pairing Moore with the plates by adding the chroma key effect in Premiere. “This simplified version of After Effects Keylight allowed us to see what was working without having to check all the shots in the much more sluggish After Effects video playback,” says Snyder. “Additionally, once the assembled shots were ready for AE, the greenscreen clips with this chroma key effect would stay in the metadata of the shot.” Another time saver, he says, was that once the Moore/plate relationships were locked and a cut was close to locked, the compositing could begin.

bird person birds

To save space and make for faster save times, Snyder chose to create separate After Effects files for each shot. The first step was to finalize the look for “Wheatpaste Lisa.” After some trial and error, a look was established and a master file was created that could be imported into each After Effects file, but the process for creating the look wasn’t as easy as copying and pasting a LUT. In some cases, upwards of 20 pre-comps were used.

According to Snyder, the basic process went like this. “The greenscreen shot was keyed out using Keylight, adjusting for spill and greenscreen inconsistencies. Luckily, the DP did an excellent job at lighting Lisa, so this was a breeze. If there was an issue, a simple matte choker was used. Then, this was precomped and a minimal texture was brought in to dirty it up a bit. The overlay blending mode was often used as well as an image mask. It was precomped again; an off-white stroke was added using a layer style stroke. This effect was used to create the white-edge poster look. The stroke size and precomp level varied from shot to shot, depending on the size of shot Lisa was in and also the texture of the plate onto which she was to be composited. At this point the look started to emerge a bit, but a few steps remained in order to completely bring Wheatpaste Lisa to life.”

For Paper Heart, a combination of Adobe CC’s Glass and Texturize were used to give Moore a convincing paper texture as well as authentic surface imperfections, explains Snyder. Most often, two bump maps were used — one for generic surface texture and lighting and a second to pick up the surface of the wall behind her. For the second, a high contrast grayscale image was created in Photoshop to bring out the important parts. Using Dynamic Link, Snyder was able to paint over parts of the bump map that were less important, save and view the results in After Effects.

one two

Lastly, two layers needed to be created to mimic ink on paper and human error. This would also come into play later in the video as the iterations of Wheatpaste Lisa start to erode away. “For this effect, the comp had to be duplicated. Unfortunately, After Effects comp duplication only duplicates the top comp,” explains Snyder. “So in order to duplicate all of the nested comps, a purchased script called True Comp Duplicator had to be used. The newly duplicated comp was then brought into the original comp and placed below. Using the Fill effect, this comp was colored off-white. Then, to add the finishing touches, some final grungifying had to be done to the top layer. Using Photoshop, 5K resolution brush strokes and alpha channel grunge effects were created on multiple layers. Once imported into AE, these could be used in the top Lisa comp. Using the Silhouette Alpha blending mode, the grungy paintbrush strokes subtracted bits of Wheatpaste Lisa, creating imperfections and rough edges that exposed the off-white layer beneath it.

“Finally, back in the master comp with the two Lisa layers, those were precomped once more. At this point, the look was more or less complete,” he continues. “But from shot to shot, additional work was sometimes required to successfully composite Lisa onto the plates.” Some additional tools used were Roughen Edges, another Matte Choker and occasionally another round of Silhouette Alpha grungy paintbrush strokes.

For lighting, Snyder used either the 4-Color Gradient or Gradient Ramp on an Adjustment Layer or on a Solid set to the Hard Light Blending Mode. Opacity was usually in the 10-20 percent range.

umbrella 5 flame

During the process, Snyder and Silver Sound discovered that Wheatpaste Lisa’s movement looked best at 12fps. “We wanted to underscore the fact that Wheatpaste Lisa was an actual wheatpaste entity existing in her own little universe, not just a video projection,” explains Silver Sound’s Choy. “So the choppier feel of 12fps was used to make Lisa’s motions a little less fluid, a little more animation-y and other worldly feeling.” For this effect, the Posterize Time effect was used.

Throughout the compositing process, Snyder created H.264 proxy files from the transcoded R3D footage. This was especially helpful with the origami birds. To save space, the birds were rendered out on their own at a much smaller file size and then re-imported.

The Death of Wheatpaste Lisa
Finally, Wheatpaste Lisa had to die. To achieve the effect of wheatpaste poster weathering, both layers of Wheatpaste Lisa had to erode. “Back inside the top layer — the double layer Lisa comp — individual brush strokes and grunge effects were animated with Silhouette Alpha as their blending mode,” describes Snyder. “Once the weathering looked satisfactory, these animated layers were copied, pasted into the bottom layer Lisa comp and adjusted in movement and timing. This allowed for the top layer to erode just before the bottom layer, pushing the compositing one step closer toward realism. Occasionally, one final matte choker and/or an animated mask was used on the final precomp to eliminate any stray particles or to insure that she dissolved away completely.

The crew

The crew.

Once complete, the shots were rendered at 4K ProRes 4444. The final shots were delivered to Silver Sound colorist Vlad Kucherov with Moore separated from the building surface plates. Using DaVinci Resolve, Kucherov worked with Snyder to achieve a satisfactory look that worked well for the video concept while also helping sell the compositing realism. Having the layers separated gave Silver Sound more control during this process by being able to adjust the levels independently. The goal was to find a look that played to the feel of the song, but also gave the video a confident personalized look of its own.

“In the end, Paper Heart is the result of careful planning, post experimentation, lots of hair pulling and creating a concept that exists within a strict set of limitations,” concludes Snyder.