Famous Footwear – “Neighborhood”

Every one in awhile, life throws you a bone.  In this case, Director Loni Peristere of Zoic Studios asked me to shoot 3 commercials with him over a little more than a week in Vancouver.   The bone? (Besides the work!)  One of those 3 – was to be shot at 600 fps – at night – with snow and with motion control!   We all knew that this one had the potential to be very special.  And I think Loni and the team nailed this one!   Here it is:

This was a dream job for me – for several reasons.   For one – it was a beautiful story with a simple but strong emotional thread that we can all relate to easily.  Second, Loni wanted to make this thing sing visually – and he made sure that I had the resources at hand to pull this shoot off.

First we needed 225,000 Watts of light – a MASSIVE amount – to get enough light to shoot at 600 frames per second – with the Phantom Gold HD camera.    I brought one of my favorite people up with me to Canada – Gaffer Mark Lindsay who wielded the light with ease.   Basically we had enough light to cook an egg in under 10 seconds – and a turkey in under an hour.   BUT – believe it or not – all of this light got us a whopping aperture of f 2.0 on the Cooke S4/i primes…   So Yeah…  think about that for a second:  225,000 Watts of light and you get f 2.0…!!!  Even with a 360º shutter (359º to be exact) – at 600 fps SO LITTLE LIGHT is actually making it to the sensor.

This was a huge technical challenge – and one that several people told us: “could not be done” on as large a stage/setting as we were hopping to do – with diffused lights.  Lighting it with enough light is easy – but lighting it well is not with a good quality and shape of light isn’t.

Below is a great video that shows you the behind the scenes shoot – all of the people, the gear, the lights.  A HUGE thanks goes out to Chris Dowsett for shooting this footage – and for putting this edit together for everyone to see!

You’ll see we used the GoPro HD camera (see bottom of that page) and mounted it on the motion control rig to get you a first person perspective – or a first camera perspective if you will.

One other hero on the shoot – was my 1st AC – or focus puller.  Cam Hayduk – with more than 26 years of experience under his belt as a 1st AC, had the impossible challenge of keeping focus with up to a 100mm (see the tight headshot of our actress with hair flowing) WHILE moving on a dolly, as she too was running towards camera.   Did I mention this was done at f 2.0> At one point we had less than an inch of depth of field.   And don’t forget – that a split second of being out of focus at 600 fps- or “buzzing” – last an even greater eternity when played back at 24 fps.  (One quarter second shot at 600fps will last 6.25 SECONDS when played back at 24fps…. that’s a long time for everyone to see you were soft on set… no pressure at all there!)    And not to belabor the point: but the dolly was being pulled/pushed by skilled human beings – not a robot.   Ergo a variance in speed in both the dolly, and the actress was expected – not to mention a ramp up an down.  Each burst lasted 7 seconds max with the RAM aboard the camera at 2048X1080…  Cam was the MVP of this shoot in my book.

The last technical challenge?   When shooting at f 2.0 – how could we get multiple planes of focus at once?  It was impossible.  We discussed tilt-shift lenses – but those would have looked quite odd with snow.  Adding twice the amount of light (cost prohibitive!) would have gotten us all of f 2.8.

Therefore we shot many of the sequences with a motion control rig.  Basically a computerized dolly/jib system – that can repeat each move EXACTLY time and time again.    You’ll notice one shot where the actor puts his foot down from the cab – and the actress is running towards him.   Getting them both in focus at 600 fps wide open would have been impossible.   Here is the magic of Motion Control + a great post house to splice them together seamlessly.

Overall – all 3 shoots were a blast.  But this one is special for me.   Not only did it turn out beautifully – but we had an absolute blast on set – as you can witness by all of the smiles in the behind the scenes video. (And we were shooting NIGHTS!!!  After 3 shoot days during daylight hours.)

Thanks to the entire crew, cast, production, art deparment, PAs and to the incredible people who did the post at Zoic - and to Loni – it was an unforgettable two winter nights in Vancouver – in July!

and if you haven’t seen enough, here’s one more:  a time lapse Chris shot of everything being set up: