Movie Review: Buried

I had never heard of the movie until I saw it in Redbox. To be honest, I didn’t even read the caption for it. I just saw the reviews on the front cover saying things like “Mesmerizing” and “Brilliant” so I bucked conventional wisdom and completely judged this movie by it’s cover. Let’s just say I’m glad I did…

*Spoiler Alert – The rest of this review will completely ruin the movie for you, so enter at your own risk. Continue reading

Perspective on VW’s Darth Vader Commercial

By now you’ve probably all seen the fantastic commercial by Volkwagen featuring the pint sized Darth Vader struggling to use The Force as he roams around the house. But what you probably never paid attention to were the camera angles they used:

Now, the thing I want to point out is how intentional they were in choosing the perspective for each shot. It starts with a very low vertical panning shot. This immediately distinguishes him as a prominent, powerful individual regardless of the fact that he’s probably 4 years old and 3 feet tall. That said, the right camera angle can in fact make you look younger, thinner, more powerful, and all that. The trick is to learn how to communicate that from the right perspective. (Hint: photographers would do well to study cinematography.)

Also, notice the camera height on the majority of the shots. Almost all of them were shot at the kid’s eye level, and that was by no means an accident. This helps bring the audience into his world and see things as he does. The number one mistake I see in photographs of children is that the photographer was too lazy to kneel down and see eye-to-eye with them. Do yourself (and your subject) a favor and put yourself in their shoes. Your images will be much better for it. (Hint: This also applies when shooting animals.)

There are two shots taken from a higher perspective, and there is very good reason for those as well. Around the 8 second mark he is wielding his powers against an object much bigger than him. By shooting from high above and looking down they exaggerate the proportions and communicate that this little kid isn’t one to back down from a challenge. He’s shooting for the moon. Then halfway through the commercial they include a shot looking down on him in the kitchen almost as if to remind us that his mom is just humoring him. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that these two scenes appear when they do. There’s a timing and sequence to it all.

Even the shot of him running past his dad is still on his level. Heck, his dad’s head is cut out of the frame because it’s not important. The story is all about the boy; there is enough context to communicate that the man is his father, but everything beyond that is unnecessary. Find your story or subject and then keep the audience’s attention focused on that.

Theater Review: King Arthur

Most of my reviews found here are about books and movies, but occasionally I run across something else that compels me to tell others about it and share whatever insight I may have.  I’m talking about Synetic Theater‘s current show King Arthur.

Simply put, it’s one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen. …and it taught me a lot about filmmaking (more about that below).

For starters, Synetic is a “physical theater,” and while I don’t know exactly what that means it’s quite clear that this is not theater as you typically know it. In the case of King Arthur, there is not a single word spoken in the entire show. It’s a dramatic visual experience unlike anything I’ve seen before. … Come to think of it, most of the mind-blowing performances I’ve seen never say a word –anybody seen Cirque du Soleil or Stomp?

Since there are no words, they have to rely on strong visuals and creative storytelling to get the message across. They definitely employed some tricks that are amazingly simple, yet unfamiliar to most theater goers.

The actors themselves probably have substantially different resumes than your average Broadway star. A pretty face and a great accent aren’t good enough here. These people have to be in mad physical shape! I asked a couple of them after the show if they had dance backgrounds or what, and one of the co-stars simply said, “football.” It’s a physically demanding show and they make it look easy.

Oh! and did I mention that the whole show is performed on a water stage?! As if lights, sound, choreographed dancing and fighting weren’t enough, they do it all ankle deep water. It’s a remarkably unique experience, and it marks the first time that a show has engaged my sense of touch. For those like Lacey and I who sat in the splash zone, you’ll want to bring a poncho. …for realz.

Lastly, I found myself wishing I knew more about King Arthur legends.  I feel like I would have appreciated the show more and would have likely noticed more subtleties in the plot.

Anyway, enough talking; check out the trailer and then do yourself a favor and go see one of the last four shows before it’s too late.

P.S. I’ve included my observations about the show below. I would recommend that you go see it before reading any further. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you. Continue reading

My Take on an Old DVD Cover

I used to create custom DVD covers for all of my wedding clients. This gave me the chance to take the work I was doing and push it closer to the art of filmmaking.

Recently I designed one for Ellen and Brendon’s wedding.  They got married on a snowy day in December (DC’s biggest snowfall in years! …until Snowmageddon in February, that is).  Unlike any other DVD cover I had done thus far, they specifically requested that the design resemble the cover of Field of Dreams.  Before I saw it, I thought, “This will be a piece of cake.  The hardest part of a design is figuring out how to arrange everything, and in this case I’m just mimicking another layout…”  Then I Googled “Field of Dreams dvd cover” and became less than excited.

Field Of Dreams | DVD Covers

For starters, it’s one of the tackiest movie designs I’ve seen in a while.  To complicate things there are three variations of it.  Basically, I had to take the essence of this and force it into my style.  To make things even more difficult, I failed to do my research beforehand so I had no pictures of either the bride or groom posing like Kevin Costner here.

In the end, the three variations actually helped.  Finding the consistencies between them allowed me to boil the design down to the most basic elements: person in the middle, text overhead, big circle, and implied triangle.  Here’s what I came up with. What’s the verdict? Does it look Field of Dreams-ish?  (Note, back cover was an open design.)

Ellen & Brendon (front cover Ellen & Brendon (back cover)

P.S. I’d be happy to talk in detail about the ins and outs of making a DVD cover. Pipe up in the comments if you want to see more detailed posts like that ’round here.

Avatar [film review]

I saw Avatar on opening night. The fact that I managed to avoid all reviews and opinions about the film before seeing it made me simultaneously glad and depressed.  Glad, because I don’t like to poison the well before seeing a film, and depressed because it reminded me that I don’t actually have a pulse on the film (and special fx) industry any more…

Nevertheless, I walked out of the theater and couldn’t seem to stop making notes about it (which have now been polished into the blog post that follows).

SPOILER ALERT! Enter at your own risk… Continue reading

Bullet Time: Behind The Scenes

For months I’ve had this dream of making a visual effects shot like the Bullet Time sequences from The Matrix.  Wire rigs, fake bullets, green screen, computer animation, slow motion… the works!  Recently the stars aligned and I was able to pull it off with a team of 11 visual effects artists.

Actually, that’s a lie.  None of that happened.  The real story goes like this…

I had some leftover rental gear, and I was determined to put it to use.  I had no idea what I would shoot, but I had a location in mind and I knew I wanted an emphasis on creative lighting.  My friend Brandt Siegel saved the day by  joining me at the last minute.  We got together and made the most of it with no particular goal in mind; we just got off our butts and started taking pictures.  Here is what we came away with at the end of the day.

Around 2:00 AM that night I was transferring the photos to my computer when I came across our Matrix reenactment photo and thought, “Oh man! Wouldn’t it be cool to Photoshop some bullet ripples in there?” and then I thought, “Heck, I could animate it into a visual effects shot.”

So that’s what I did.

Bullet Time

It’s been so long since I’ve done anything creative with animation or visual effects, and I’ve really been wanting to push myself lately.  Needless to say, I made it a priority this time and now I have something to show for it.

I kinda doubt that any of my readers really care to hear the detailed explanation of how I made this, so unless a few of you pipe up I’ll skip that part and move on to my closing thoughts.

I’m most proud of:

  • The color correction
  • The sound sync
  • The look of the bullet trails
  • The cut-out of me (particularly my hair and out-of-focus gun and hand)
  • The fact that it’s done even though it never had to be

On the other hand, if I had more time I would change:

  • The lifespan of the bullet trails.  They are too short for my taste.
  • The Depth of Field and Motion Blur of the bullets.  They are too sharp since I did not render with either DoF or MB.
  • The dynamic interaction with the background.  I tried to hide this by overlapping the bullet trails or making them disappear behind me, but it simply wasn’t worth the effort to make realistic bullet holes for this impromptu personal project.

All things considered, I’m very pleased.  My only goal was to make something creative, and this is far above my expectations for a last-minute photo shoot.  Huge thanks to Brandt for going along with me on this random adventure!

Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

Two of my friends, who actually met in my living room, got married on August 9th and I was the lucky photographer. It was an outdoor wedding, and the bride was very photogenic so I was thrilled to shoot this one.

Laura and Micheal back

It started off as a gorgeous day with white puffy clouds, and it stayed that way all day until about 45 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to begin. Dark clouds rolled in and it began to pour right at 6:00 o’clock.

Fortunately it passed over in about 15 minutes and we were able to hold the ceremony outdoors. In fact, the rain and the cloud cover were the perfect ingredients to make the pictures lush and colorful. For me, it was a blessing in disguise.

I couldn’t be more impressed with Michael and Laura’s attitude. They took everything in stride and they seemed thrilled just to know they would be married when all was said and done.

Big thanks to my lovely assistant Amanda for getting some excellent shots!  I really wish I could claim her photos as my own.  =)

See all the photos here on Pictage.

Photos at 60 frames per second

Recently I’ve been working with one of my neighbors on a presentation that she will deliver in November. She has been asked to speak at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School during one of their global Leadership Development conferences. Part of her presentation will include a 60 Minutes style interview with her asking questions to a Capitol Hill staffer.

Anyway, last night we filmed the interview, and I figured I’d share a bit of it here…


It’s been a while since I’ve done much video stuff, so I was happy to be behind a video camera again. I guess I had forgotten how much more gear-intensive videography is than photography. Not only is the equipment itself bigger, but there is the entire audio component that you don’t even have to think about with photography.

We didn’t want the interview to feel too formal, so we opted to film it at a friend’s apartment. By the time I set up the camera and the two light stands it started to get a little crowded, but we still worked it out.

Here’s a better look at my setup:
By the way, the above setup was re-positioned slightly for this photo.

As you can see I used a Canon XL2 as the main camera on a Bogen tripod with a video head. I also had a smaller one-chip camera that I used to film the interviewer, but it’s not visible in this shot. The lights are the Lowel OmniLight Kit. The light on the left was my back/rim light and the upper-right my key light. I used two microphones just to make sure I was getting some clean audio –one wireless lapel mic, plugged into the camera; and a second lapel mic plugged directly into a MiniDisc Recorder. There’s some noise on the wireless mic –I attribute that to my minimal experience with wireless– but I got a nice recording on the MiniDisc, so I’m happy.

Finally, here’s a freeze-frame from the footage:

Setup and tear-down took longer than the interview itself, but that’s just part of the job sometimes. It felt good to be behind the video camera again, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. There is still some editing to do, but it’s been enjoyable so far so I’ve got no reason to complain =)

Sparks Fly

Here’s the finished product from Missy and Jon’s wedding in Ohio! Clicking on the image below will take you to view my personal favorites. Below that is the Day In Pictures photo montage.


You can view all the photos and order prints from Pictage now!

Special thanks to Amanda for helping me capture this lovely wedding! =)

Alstom | People Quest

In February I shot a week-long conference.  Monday through Thursday I was shooting photos, and then Friday I had to deliver 130 prints and the photos (edited) on CD.  It was a great experience and I really built some rapport with the people over the week.

Not only did I get to know the attendees, but I also got to know the videographer who was covering the event along-side me.  At some point I had mentioned that I do motion graphics, so, long story short he asked me to make an upbeat intro for him.

I always enjoy working on something new and different, and this was no exception.  My After Effects skills are a little rusty.  Then again, I don’t pump out nearly as much AE content as some people.  =)  Nevertheless, it was a fun change of pace.