Late last year, I experimented with the idea of using stills (photographs) only to tell a story. The idea isn’t new but still I wanted to play around with the concept of time, movement and boil down the essence of what is required for sequential filming! So on a journey to Beijing with good friends, who kindly agreed to being filmed, I set about playing around with my 5D3. Apart from feeling like I was the ultimate tourist, taking 1000’s of shots, I think onlookers thought I was crazy as my shutter clicked away non stop on seemingly useless scenarios!
Many years ago, I shot a TVC for Mayne Health (director was Jamie Doolan) using nothing but stills. Back then, it was all 35mm roll film. I spent quite a bit of time practising timing, shooting sequences and then “telecining them to video” using a Vistavision gate! The process was quite laborious with a lab technician having to piece together hundreds of rolls of 24/36 exposure stills film into one big roll of film! Overall, the process was very effective. We used two cameras side by side – One was set to shoot very high shutter speeds, something that was not possible using 35mm motion picture film. The second camera was set to shoot very slow shutter speeds so that we could capture (simultaneously) motion blur and mix this with the crisp action!
Later I went on to shoot a music video for a Sydney based band called “Wicked Beats Sound System” using a similar technique. It employed several film based stills cameras again, shooting both blur and sharp at the same time but by then I had perfected a much simpler way of shooting. That clip ended up winning a national gold award for cinematography in the music video category. Its kind of like “Stop Motion” photography in that a shot is taken only when something has changed in front of the lens, otherwise only one shot is needed. Seems bleeding obvious in principle, however when you apply this to realtime activities, you do have to think fast. Its a very different way of shooting.
Time lapse is I guess another extension of the same theme. A series of images to compress time and reveal motion that would otherwise go unnoticed. With the advent of digital, time lapse images are everywhere and almost passé! I’ve shot lots of time lapse sequences because it often becomes useful for jobs that I’m pitching on, or actively filming, and I love the process! In Singapore one year, while working on some very post heavy work for HP, I spent a month, shooting every morning and afternoon, time lapses from my hotel room. It was a way to pass the time and do something creative. Singapore was expanding rapidly, concentrating on infrastructure building and I was fascinated by the movement of cranes, people and the general business of this growing city! Quite often on reviewing the footage, I would excitedly discover something I didn’t notice in real life, such as ships moving or other extremely slow moving objects. Finding a story line for this video was initially quite hard. However I soon realised there was a strong visual metaphor happening with the images. In what looked like a single day, we see Singapore “awakening” into the new age as it is literally being built in front of us! The connected image sequences tell a story of rapid growth, energy and dynamism that a film shot in realtime could not hope to achieve. With no real intention to make anything more then a special interest video, I have since had hundreds of requests for footage and usage rights from that video. Everything from Airlines seeking inflight footage to stock footage libraries wanting clips. On my vimeo channel its had 14,000+ views so I think the technique does have interest.
Having had plenty of opportunities to shoot time lapses everywhere I’ve been, I consolidated many of these otherwise useless bits of video into another “special interest” video. Art or just fun on my part, “The world in motion” provided a way for me to show some of these clips in a fun way. Since this video however, I have shot many other sequences in South Africa, Malaysia, China, Australia, Vietnam and even in Singapore, so at some point I might look at updating this video.
“A trip to Beijing” was yet another iteration in the technique of telling stories using only sequenced still images. This time, I wanted to use just one camera and concentrate on the lifestyle of traveling, covering enough of the experience visually and simplifying everything into just the bare minimum. It’s an experiment in “temporal motion”, which relies heavily on the idea that our brains can predict motion as well as extrapolate what happens between frames. Its effective only because I think our brains can store, briefly, what we see. This is known as persistence of vision and it’s a kind of “lag effect” in our vision system. So long as a frame is visible long enough (and this factor I think various in all of us), the persistence of vision will capture the frame in our brains, to enable a comparison with the next frame that follows. If they have a logical progression, our brains create links built from what we already understand to be true of the world around us (perceptual/cognitive skills), making sense of both frames and building missing information that should have/could have been captured if we had used a higher frame rate in the first place. So how many frames do you need to make a sequence? A single frame will tell a story! Just ask any photographer. However to reveal new information between frames you need at least two frames. That’s why even two similar pictures hanging side by side can tell a story with a revelation/twist/surprise etc. My experiment was to try and boil down the photography to a minimum, while still capturing the essence of the action in front of the lens, creating a strong style. I believe it forces the brain to “think” as the images pass by. Not the forward cognition kind that we do by carefully analysing (concept formation, pattern recognition, language, attention, perception, action, problem solving, critical thinking) but the more cerebral kind that relies on feelings, abstract thinking, intuition, emotions and other creative thought process. The story telling comes from both places. The factual content is represented in each frame and the creative elements come from what lies between the frames. The right combination creates an immersive experience that is rich in texture, movement, revelation and story telling.
In my video, music helps to drive the images along, just like a music video, however it serves to trigger what looks and feels like memories. Instead of shooting long exposure images (blur sequences) I chose to post process the images in After Effects using a my own scripts to generate film style effects etc. The images are quite F**ked up with jitter, blur, frame skipping, colour bleeding etc to create a contrasting effect to the pristine high speed shutter images of the action! In editing, I found myself cutting very quickly between scenes to drive interest and create a sense of forward motion. The story is documentary and not one I had any control over. It was a real holiday and I went along for the ride so I made no real attempt to control the direction of the story. However, I think it captures the energy and general excitement of discovery by the participants in an effective way. If you have any ideas and thoughts please go to my vimeo channel and comment there. I look forward to reading them