I shot the music video, “Ocean Picture,” for the band Big Noble. This duo is the experimental side project of Interpol guitarist, Daniel Kessler, and sound designer, Joseph Fraioli. The track, “Ocean Picture”, is a dreamy soundscape absent of vocals. Like all the tracks on their album, the song sets out to create a mood and atmosphere rather than the conventional chorus. Here is a look behind the scenes on how we made “Ocean Picture.”
Before the plot of the music video was decided upon, we knew we wanted to “capture” the music video with the new LYTRO ILLUM. For those of you not familiar with the LYTRO ILLUM, it is a light field camera, and it allows you to change your point of focus AFTER you take the photo…crazy, right? The ILLUM takes pictures, not video, and when it takes a picture, it also captures information about how light enters the lens. It uses this information to reconstitute the image’s focal plane. The technique is called “ray tracing,” and to my best knowledge, its a similar technology used to create realistic light environments for 3D computer graphics.
The ILLUM has a 40MP sensor with an array of micro-lenses laid on top of it – imagine something like the eye of a fly. It is by way of these lenses that the camera is able to record the direction of the light. It then uses this information to perform the ray tracing needed for refocusing. An interesting artifact of this micro-lens array is that it allows the camera to capture a stereo image. So, any photo that you take with the Lytro can be turned into a 3D image, or if you are viewing the photo in 2D, you are able to shift the parallax. It is the ability to change the parallax of the image that really sells the look of slow motion video.
Our camera settings were 320 ISO and 1/50th shutter. Anything over 320 ISO seemed to have considerably more noise, especially in the shadows. Since our actors held still for the whole shoot, we could get a way with a slow shutter speed.
In order to manipulate the focus and parallax of the image, you must use their propriety Lytro Desktop App which is free to download from their website. Once the image is imported, changing the focus is as simple as clicking on the area of interest, and the software morphs where you clicked into focus. Changing the parallax is achieved by clicking, holding, and dragging on top of the image; it gives the sensation of being able to slightly peer around the objects, like you’re moving your head side to side or up and down.
Now the reason we thought that the Lytro would be a viable camera to use for a video application is because you can animate the focus change and parallax shift and then export the animation as a video or image sequence…booyah! It is important to note that although the Lytro has a 40MP sensor, the final resolution of the image is just over 2K resolution (2022 x 1404px). For our purpose of using the images for video, this was perfect. All we needed to do was crop it to 16:9.
Now there are some limitations with animating in the Desktop app. The most glaring limitation for us is that you are unable to precisely animate parallax. Let me explain. In general, animating in the Desktop app is similar to any conventional key framing approach: you set focus point A, set a key frame, move the playhead forward in time, set focus point B, and set your second key frame. The speed of the focus change depends on how far the keyframes are from one another. Unfortunately, the parallax cannot be key framed in this manner. In order to affect the parallax, you have to use one of their built in effects. The one we used (for nearly every shot) was called Wave. Wave adds a very slight parallax shift – specifically, the parallax changes in a circular fashion. It would have been nice to have been able to change the direction and nature of the parallax shift just as we were able to do with focus. If you don’t shift the parallax, the animation looks extremely flat, and it looks like something you could have achieved in After Effects.
When you go to export the animations you are given the choice of H.264 (in a couple different quality variants) or a PNG sequence. We chose PNG since it is a lossless compression. In a perfect world, we were hoping to export the animation at the full picture resolution 2022 x 1404px and then during the edit, resize and reposition the image. This would have given us some added flexibility. However, the Desktop app makes you resize the image at the time of export to either 1080p or 720p. So, before we animated every image, we first had to find the 16:9 framing that we were happy with…then we animated and then exported.
Capturing the Best Focus
There is some focusing you have to do with the ILLUM to ensure you capture the sharpest focus range. Let me note that there is a button on the camera that you can push to enter an “infinity focus” mode, however I always found the images to be slightly soft in focus. I don’t have the camera in front of me anymore, but I do believe that this infinity focus would only work when the lens was set to its widest (or wider) focal length(s). The ILLUM comes with a lens that is fused to the camera and cannot be detached. The focal length range is 9.5 – 77.8mm, but with a 3.19 crop factor the effective focal range is 30 – 250mm. As with any other lens, the depth of field range compresses when you increase the focal length. Oh, and have I mentioned that the camera shoots everything at an f/2.0?
So, how do you ensure that you capture an image that you will be able to refocus as desired in post? Well, the Lytro has an ingenious focus assist system. With a two color overlay, the Lytro shows you both the close and far extremes to where you will be able to “re-focus” to. Anything outlined in blue rests in front of the optical focus plane and anything outlined in red, rests behind the optical focus plane. Adjusting the focus ring, will shift your optical focus and thus your “re-focusable” range. Obviously, the wider the lenses the deeper the area you have to refocus. As long as the items you are interested in are highlighted, you should be able to focus to that item in post. The brighter the color overlay is on an object, the better chance you have to cleanly refocus to it in post. The farther the object falls from the optical focus, the darker the object will be highlighted in either blue or orange. Overall, we didn’t experience any problem. The system works accurately, which is detrimental to successful use of the camera because sometimes when you take the picture, the live view image displayed on the LCD is completely out of focus!
When it came to capturing the images for the shoot, the framing dictated everything. First, we found the frame that we wanted, and then, using the focus assist system, we would confirm that all our points of interest would be “re-focusable.” If we found that the current framing could not offer the refocus range that we needed (for example if the focal length was too long and compressed) then we would work backwards and make readjustments until we were able to harness the proper focus data.
One aspect that surprised me was the camera’s ability to focus directly on the front element of the lens. You can put your finger on the lens of the camera and focus to it! We wanted to take advantage of this feature, so for one of the shots, I had our actress June, place the tip of the knife directly on the lens (don’t worry we had a UV filter for protection). I thought that because we were focused so close to the front element of the lens that the image would be limited in its ability to refocus. Was I wrong! We were able to focus through nearly the whole image!
Post Workflow Aimed Towards the Edit
Our director, Daniel Ryan, and editor, Laurence Bird, had the daunting task of reviewing the hundreds of photos we took (436 to be exact) in order to hand select the pictures for the cut. After the first round of photos were selected, Daniel and Laurence exported these photos as flat images and assembled them in the timeline to music. This was a rough cut used to gauge the order, pacing, and length of each picture as it would appear on the screen. This skeleton edit gave Daniel and Laurence a framework that would then help dictate the speed and length of each clips’ animation. The export process was time intensive since we were exporting the animations as PNG sequences. Depending on the clip length, the export could take a handful of minutes at a time. The skeleton edit helped to expedite the post process considerably.
It should also be noted that in order to create a slow, rolling change in the parallax, the clip animation itself had to be much longer than the intended length of the clip in the edit. This was a work-around to the fact that the Lytro Desktop app does not give you that ability to keyframe the parallax. In order to animate the parallax, you have to use the Wave “transition.” To be exact, Lytro has some other “transitions” you could use, but those transitions also come baked in with other effects like zooming or rack focusing in a predetermined manner. By using Wave you could still set our desired focus key frames, and then Wave would manipulate the parallax. With that said, if the animation was too short, the parallax shift would be too drastic. Daniel would then pluck the specific section that he wanted from this long animation.
Lytro Raw Files
The ILLUM gives you two file types to choose from: Raw and XRaw. Lytro’s support page says the following about the difference,
“Lytro XRAW is identical to RAW, except your camera’s specific pairing & calibration data is added… If you want to provide someone else with a raw image that they can view in Lytro Desktop, you’ll want to give them an XRAW file, otherwise they will not be able to view your image in the highest image quality possible.”
Another important difference is that the XRaw file is a staggering 100Mb per photo, which is double the RAW size which is still a hefty 50MB. Since XRaw is twice the size, the camera has to buffer / post process the information after you take the image. For the shots we were trying to capture, this wasn’t a big deal, but it could pose an issue if you were trying to take multiple photos in immediate secession. We shot XRaw, and overall we didn’t experience any time consuming set backs regarding the file size both on set and in post.
Raw File Workflow
We found that it is best to download the clips manually via your computer’s Finder window, just as you would for say a 5D or a jump drive. This way you can back up the photo files independently. If you import the photos via the Desktop app, the Desktop app creates a library that houses the photos. I wasn’t able to find a way to open this library through the computer’s Finder in order to access the individual photos. If you imported via the Desktop app and you need to share one specific photo, you would have to use the Desktop app to export that single photo in its Raw format…a little annoying. Additionally, what scares me about the library is if it goes corrupt, you essentially lock yourself out of all your photos.
I am always skeptical of new software / applications that maintain libraries / databases. Although, I am happy to say that the Desktop app experienced no problems – it was reliable.
Lighting for “Ocean Picture”
The last frame of our video is an homage to Felix Vallotton’s wood carving, “L’assassinat.” Since we were trying to recreate this ending frame, I first looked at the wood carving itself for motivated light sources.
There were two motivated sources that I could see by viewing the original wood cut: the lamp on the table and the open door. We didn’t have time to build a set, but luckily the location we found gave us the layout to achieve both of these sources.
Here is a breakdown of the lights used to achieve our master frame:
Z1200S – Key
The F&V Z1200S was mounted on a 12’ menace arm and set to all tungsten LEDs. The fixture was modified with 215 gel diffusion, and a skirt made of black wrap supressed spill off of the back wall. A wired dimmer was plugged into the unit and run down the menace arm to allow for easy adjustments to brightness.
The Z1200S is a 1200 LED bi-color LED panel with a CRI 95. It has a slim profile, it is light weight, and it is completely self contained (no ballast). These attributes make it a perfect fixture for mounting it on a boom in low clearance locations. Since we were shooting inside, we had the light plugged into wall power, however the light also comes with a built-in v-mount battery if running power is not an option…its an extremely portable light. The purpose of this light was to create a nice pool of light around the bed. This helped define the talent from the background, creating a soft edge-light and hair-light.
The Z1200S was the most important light source for this master shot…in essence it served as the key light since it offered the most defining elements for contrast/depth in the master.
1K Baby Mole-Richardson – Door
A 1K Baby was placed inside the closet set to full flood. It was gelled with full CTO to give it a little bit of color. We taped a piece of duveytene to the back of closet door to suppress spill. If we had not put duvey on the back of the door, light would have bounced off the white door and overexposed the white trim around the door jam…basically, it would have killed the illusion of a hall light. Barndoors were used also to reduce the amount of light hitting the trim. It was crucial to make sure it didn’t look like we pocketed a light 2-feet inside the closet.
750W Source Four – Window
The Source Four was positioned out of frame, camera left, and its barndoors were used so that only the window was illuminated. The beauty of this ellipsoidal light is that you can precisely cut its beam. The ability to cut the light to the shape of the window gave a convincing effect of light coming through the window (we shot during the day and blacked out the windows). Since the drapes were opaque, and a tan color, aiming the Source Four at the drape also created a very soft, warm bounce. This gave a subtle contour to her right arm.
Originally we planned to have this window glowing with an orange light, as if a streetlight from outside. The effect was nice, however in the color session we decided to neutralized the orange glow. The Source Four was gelled with Rosco Medium Straw (double gelled) and we had an inline dimmer set to about 40% which also warmed up the light’s color temperature.
Z1200S – Fill
We had another F&V Z1200S that we bounced off the ceiling set to full Tungsten. This gave us the necessary front fill needed. Often when shooting a light into the ceiling, you need to play around with where exactly you aim it in order to dial in the right amount of fill. Also, changing where it hits the ceiling changes the direction of the fill which can have flattering or unflattering consequences. So you always have to tinker.
Additionally, we used this ceiling fill to catch a nice reflection in the wood chair in front of the bed. Since the chair and bed were similar in color we used this reflection to create separation between the two pieces. I would have liked to bring the chair out a little more, but with the small space we were shooting in, it was not possible to get a light into proper positioning to do so.
Z400S – Fill
We had one more LED panel used to create some more subtle fill, the Z400S Bi-color . The Z400S was set to full tungsten and bounced off the ceiling as well.
Z180S – Bed
We used a Z180S Bi-Color to illuminate the actresses face. Since we was facing away and looking down from the overhead light we needed to get some light on her face. The bounce coming off the window was nice, but we needed more output. So, we mounted the Z180S onto the bed frame with an F&V Stainless Steel Articulating Arm and a Junior Clamp. The arm allowed us to position the light exactly where we wanted it. In the end, the Z180S strikes her face and hair, giving some nice contour to her head.
Since the Z180S was to mimic the orange light coming through the window, we had the Z180S set to Tungsten and the light was also double gelled with Rosco Medium Straw.
Z180S – Floor
We used another Z180S on a shorty stand just out of frame camera right. This light was set to full Tungsten and it was bounced off the wall. Bouncing it off the wall gave just a slight illumination to that bottom right of the frame. The dark wood bed frame fell too far into blacks without it. Also, there is something said about bouncing a light versus shining the light directly on a subject. By bouncing you get a general lift in overall the brightness. While if you aim the light, the effect can seem “sourcy,” meaning it looks like you are shining a light on it.