The ‘Awaken’ trailer will melt your eyes with its beauty

Watch this 4K trailer for Tom Lowe’s Awaken on the largest screen you can:

This is the first time in my life where I’ve started crying from watching a trailer. The trailer itself is a beautiful work.

There are some insane, timelapse shots from the sky — shots that have never been attempted before. According to Engadget, this was done using “gimbal technology that allowed [Lowe] to shoot astrophotography scenes from a moving helicopter.” Incredible.

From the film’s website:

Shot over a 5-year period in more than 30 countries, the film pioneers new time-lapse, time-dilation, underwater, and aerial cinematography techniques to give audiences new eyes with which to see our world. Executive produced by Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio, AWAKEN is a celebration of the spirit of life, an exploration of the Earth, and an ode to the Cosmos.

This looks like a gorgeous exploration of technology and humanity in the vein of Samsara. I can’t wait to see it.

What makes ‘Better Call Saul’ a successful prequel

Travis Lee Ratcliff has a nice video essay exploring what makes a prequel successful. In short: characters and events in the prequel need to have meaning beyond their original context. Many prequels forget this (including Better Call Saul, at times) but I think Saul has really cleared the bar for creating something new and satisfying out of an existing world.

[Thanks to Søren from the Slackfilmcast for bringing this essay to my attention]


Seattle to Las Vegas and Back Again – a GoPro Timelapse Video

In the past few days, I’ve driven the better part of 2500 miles from Seattle to Las Vegas and back again. To capture this trip, I used the timelapse feature on my GoPro Hero 5 Session and created the above video. A few production notes:

  • Overall, I’m impressed with the image quality of the Hero 5 Session here. Where it really shines is how rugged it is. I would not feel comfortable leaving my phone or my DSLR camera baking in the sun for over 10 hours, but the Hero 5 Session (at $300 new) is not only a lower priced investment, it also survives in extreme conditions easily.
  • The Hero 5 Session’s battery life is not great. To record a timelapse this long, I needed to power it using an external power source connected through the USB-C port. This limits where you can easily place the Session, since it always needs to be powered, but ultimately allowed me to film continuously for 12+ hours.
  • Obviously the biggest downside of this timelapse is that I did not have some kind of car mount. Instead, I put it on the car dashboard, which resulted in the camera drifting quite frequently and needing to be repositioned. Still, the Hero 5 Session’s grippy texture helped make the video at least somewhat usable.
  • After experimenting with many different time intervals for the timelapse, I believe 2, 5, or 10 seconds to be the ideal for a trip of this kind. Anything longer is too jerky and doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience. Your mileage may vary.

What if ‘Blade 1’ only had shots of Wesley Snipes?

A crazy person made a new edit of Blade. Dubbed “The Solo Cut,” this is Blade if only shots of Wesley Snipes were used. According to the video’s description, “The shot was also removed if it was only Wesley Snipes but other people were speaking in it.”

Aside from being hilarious, it’s also unexpectedly poignant. Blade is juxtaposed against all these dark, moody backgrounds, just doing his thing by himself. I kind of want to give Wesley Snipes a hug after watching this.

[Thanks to Ben Aston for bringing this to my attention]

The Pipe – a slow-motion video I shot in Hawaii

I’m back from an incredible Hawaiian vacation and ready to roll up my sleeves and get back into the blogging game.

While I was in Hawaii, I purchased a GoPro Hero 5 Session and used it to film many water-related activities. One of those activities was visiting the Banzai Pipeline, or “The Pipe.”

The Banzai Pipeline is one of the most dangerous surfing spots in the world, with an average wave height of 9 feet. When you see and hear those waves crashing onto shore, you truly appreciate the power of nature. It is insanely beautiful and the kind of setting you’d imagine if you dreamt about such things.

I shot a bunch of footage using high-frame rate modes on both my GoPro and my iPhone 7. The above video is the result.

Re-creating a scene from ‘Goodfellas’ with a $2,000 camera 

TheCameraStoreTV is one of my favorite YouTube channels. They offer in-depth reviews of cameras, delivered with an affable tone and an air of fun.

One series they’ve been doing is “Wooden Niccolls” in which their main host, Chris Niccolls, tries to re-create famous scenes from movies, but using the consumer-grade cameras that they have access to. For their latest entry, they tried re-making a scene from Goodfellas using the upcoming Panasonic GH5:

These videos are very amusing, and the final results are impressive. It seems like it truly is possible to get pretty close to the look of a scene from a classic film, so long as you have the right lighting setup. However, this is also true of a lot of other high-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras these days. I would’ve appreciated a closer look at exactly how much you can push GH5 footage in post, or what flexibility you have with GH5 footage in non-studio conditions. That being said, the ungraded GH5 log footage they show in the video looks fantastic.

I used to own a Panasonic GH4 and while I enjoyed shooting with it, I eventually sold it because I just didn’t find the Micro 4/3rds format (and the Panasonic lenses I used with it) delivered on the sharpness, bokeh, and separation that I was looking for in my images and videos. Moreover, the low-light performance was just not comparable to competitors. I’ve recently fallen in love with the Fuji X-T2, which is a camera I take with me almost everywhere.

That being said, the GH5 looks really formidable in its video specs, and since Canon doesn’t seem to really care about the mirrorless/DSLR video revolution, I might check it out just to see what’s possible.

A ‘Rogue One’ visual effects breakdown

Industrial Light and Magic has released this spectacular visual effects breakdown of the climactic space battle sequence in Rogue One.

The most impressive part to me is that massive lighting array they show, which I assume they use to shoot actors in X-Wings interacting with the space battle. A similar, much more elaborate rig, was used for Gravity. It’s cool to know that even for shots where you maybe see these pilots for maybe a few seconds each, they still put so much care into getting the look just right.


‘4.1 Miles’ is an incredible short film about the Syrian refugee crisis

I recently had a chance to watch this year’s Oscar-nominated short documentaries. While my favorite film was The White Helmets (currently streaming on Netflix), I also found 4.1 Miles to be very powerful. It tells the story of a Greek coast guard captain whose job has unexpectedly become saving refugees on a regular basis.

In addition to telling the story from an unexpected perspective, there are some stunning cinematography decisions here that make it a gripping short film. I hope 4.1 Miles affects you as much as it did me.

How to shoot in a hall of mirrors

[This post contains some very minor plot info from John Wick 2]

Last fall Spike Jonze released a new ad for KENZO fragrance with actress Margaret Qualley:

One of the most spectacular sequences in this ad takes place around 1:50 in, when Margaret dances in front of a hall of mirrors. As the camera does precise, gorgeous movements around her, you never once glimpse a reflection of the rig that the filmmakers are using.

Ian Failes at Inverse has a great explanation of how this was achieved. According to VFX supervisor Janelle Croshaw:

Doron Kipper and Jesse James Chisolm (from Digital Domain) spent hours surveying the mirrored staircase. They used tiny pieces of tape on the mirrors to capture the points needed. Lots and lots of panoramas and high dynamic range images (HDRIs) were taken. During the shoot a clean plate was captured with the Technocrane without Margaret and then the Technocrane was cleared out and a clean plate was captured with a handheld cam. Spike and team were super cooperative in clearing the frame for as long as we needed which was very cool considering those mirrors pretty much reflected two whole floors of the Dorothy Chandler theater.

All of the data collected enabled us to build an environment in compositing software Nuke and also achieve a camera track usable for projections (where the live action footage is ‘projected’ onto a CG version of the environment to enable camera movement). The tracking geometry was mirrored to represent the reflections in the mirror and that mirrored geometry was used to muscle through the matchmove. It wasn’t easy and Jim Moorhead, our matchmove artist, put so much care in to this shot. In the end there was a lot of hand painted clean-up and the shot was split amongst two companies and multiple artists. Artist Rob Fitzsimmons became the keeper of the shot, managing the paint patches and ensuring the quality level was kept to the highest standards. His perfectionism and strong eye made the shot as seamless as it is.

This video came to mind for me recently because I just saw John Wick 2, which has an even more impressive sequence that takes place in a room full of mirrors. I’m not sure whether similar techniques were used, but director Chad Stahelski does describe his process briefly in an interview with Movieweb.

The best ads of Super Bowl LI

I found most of last night’s Super Bowl ads to be pretty uninspired. Unlike years past, there were very few moments that will be cultural flashpoints, discussed heavily for the weeks to come.

That said, 84 Lumber, a Pennsylvania building supply company, made what I consider to be the best Super Bowl ad this year — a short film that told the story of a mother trying to immigrate into the U.S. from Mexico. There are a couple of quasi-controversies that sprung up as a result of the ad:

  • They only showed part of the ad because it was deemed too controversial to depict an imagined version of Trump’s border wall (read more).
  • Some viewers were angry because they thought the ad was advocating for illegal immigration (read more).

One overall theme that was obvious: corporate America is rebelling against the government’s position on isolationism and nativism in a big way. They are betting that Trump’s attitude is not only wrong, it’s also unprofitable. We’ll see soon if they’re right.

There were many more examples of this. The Anheuser-Bush ad really got to me, as an immigrant (even though its story is completely fabricated):

And this ad by Coca-Cola is actually from 2016, but took on special resonance last evening:

What were your favorite ads of the night?

The absurdity of voice acting gigs

This short film by Tim Mason is absolutely uproarious. It captures so many of the absurd aspects of voice acting gigs: the mind-numbing repetition, the dubious acting direction, the bored but patient sound guy, the willingness of the voice actor to press on no matter what.

Also, love the juxtaposition between what’s unfolding in the booth and the nonsense outside of it. This incongruity often exists in real life too, albeit not in as extreme a fashion.

What it feels like to not love ‘La La Land’

In this week’s SNL, Aziz Ansari stars in a sketch that captures what it feels like to not adore a film that everyone else is on board with. It can be a lonely, lonely place.

(Bonus points for capturing a lot of the best complaints against La La Land and the somewhat unconvincing rebuttals to them, not to mention the weird tension between people who La La Land lovers and Moonlight lovers)

The return of John McTiernan

John McTiernan, the director of Die Hard, has just directed his first video in more than a decade: an ad for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

Over at Vulture, Drew Taylor has the incredible story of what McTiernan has been up to:

McTiernan’s inauspicious reemergence leads to a couple of bigger questions: Where, exactly, has he been? And what makes this ad so special?

To answer the first question, you have to go back to 2006, when Anthony Pellicano, a private eye with ties to some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, was arraigned on federal wiretapping charges. It was the conclusion of both a three-year investigation and Pellicano’s 30-day stint in prison for illegally keeping explosives in his West Hollywood office. The resulting trial would eventually embroil some of Hollywood’s biggest executives (Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey) and shiniest stars (Tom Cruise and Chris Rock). At the time, Vanity Fair described the scandal as Hollywood’s Watergate.

But only one member of the Hollywood elite would actually get sent to prison for to his relationship with the notoriously scuzzy Pellicano: John McTiernan.

Like Taylor, I’m rooting for a McTiernan comeback.

The Vine archive

Sarah Perez writing for TechCrunch:

Twitter just can’t seem to let go of Vine. The company announced last fall it would close the video-sharing community site and its accompanying mobile applications, which it then did just days ago. But it also has taken several steps to ensure that the content created in Vine would not be lost, by offering tools to export videos, both online and in its app. Today, in another move to preserve Vine content, Twitter has launched an online archive of Vine videos — basically a static website containing all the posts made from 2013 through 2016.

The archive is live now and I dig the clean organization. Vine was an incredible place for light, fun, memorable creativity — often by people of color. I was really sad to hear the service would be shutting down, but glad to hear it’ll be preserved in some form.

Also, below is my favorite Vine of all time. Check it out and read the oral history of it.


An audience in 1977 reacts to the climax of ‘Star Wars’

YouTube user Homer Thompson has taken a tape recording that YouTube user William Forsche made while watching Star Wars in the theater in 1977 and synced it up with the on-screen action they were observing.

The result is…not too different than what you’d hear from modern day audiences. But there is something pure about it — these people are likely seeing this story for the very first time.