Poets of the Fall/Stobe Harju Music Videos
COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Eki Halkka : Poets of the Fall/Stobe Harju Music Videos
Poets of the Fall were introduced to a worldwide audience when their music was included in the hit video game Max Payne 2. Creative COW members may also remember them when the group's first video, “Lift,” was the subject of episode #7 of the Creative COW podcast back in November of 2005. Since then, they have become one of Europe's biggest bands.
Their second album, “Carnival of Rust,” debuted at number one in their native Finland, and remains in the top 40 nearly two years later. Their 58 city tour just ended in Kanpur India, after stops in Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Estonia, and throughout Scandinavia.
Needless to say, creating a video for the title track of such a high-profile, platinum-selling album carried a lot of pressure. It didn't help that the schedule allowed for only a single day of shooting, that the video's design called for over 200 shots -- and that there was no room to compromise on production values.
POETS OF THE FALL: from left, Markus Kaarlonen, Marko Saaresto, Olli Tukiainen
They obviously were able to pull it off: Carnival of Rust was voted best Finnish music video of all time by the viewers of Musiikki-TV, earning more than 7 times more votes than the runner-up.
Having seen the video ourselves, we were struck by its depth and richness. “Film look” is a phrase too easily tossed around, and rightly associated primarily with software gimmicks. But we know that these guys did it the right way. And from a post at CreativeCow. net by Eki Halkka, we know that it originated on HDV.
Along with Eki - who also handled compositing and color grading in the video - we spoke with the video's director, Stobe Harju, to find out how they achieved such a cinematic result, from such a complex visual design, in so little time.
PART 1: PREPARATION
Director Stobe Harju: The name “Carnival of Rust” obviously goes well with an amusement park, but the meaning itself is much deeper. Life is like a huge carnival where we all have fun for some time, and then suddenly it all ends.
I wrote a cool treatment with some basic example images of what I had in mind. There were some similarities in David Lynch movies and the HBO series “Carnivale,” for instance. But the look of the video was very hard to explain in the beginning, so I dug up about 180 reference photos.
When the band bought the idea, we made a storyboard.
DP and Technical Director Eki Halkka: Stobe is originally a graphic artist, and he always gives us very good references to work from. For Carnival of Rust, he made concept art that set the mood for the whole thing. It was a straight forward (though not easy) process to translate that to moving images.
He also always makes very detailed storyboards, which help a lot. But I admit that I tease him about his work going to waste. You know, we could shoot with stick figure storyboards just as well!
Stobe: An amusement park is such a complex environment hat you could add almost anything to it. We added ideas from everybody, including personal objects, like the tarot cards belonging to Marko, the band's lead singer.
So even though I had a clear vision in the beginning, the specifics came from all the people working on the project.
Marko had another idea long before we even started to write anything on paper. He wanted to have a character that would be frightening, but also sympathetic.
I chose a visual quote from the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” the Zoltar, the fortune teller. I also wanted to add something that looked a bit like Marilyn Manson style make-up mixed with old peeling paint.
The black tear at the end explains why the paint on his face is peeling. He's the only character in the video who couldn't move even if he wanted to, and every day, someone whose life he has an effect on dies - a tragic character.
The song is about unpredictable fortunes, and building the details of the production design this way fit the story very well.
Once we had all of the ideas in place, we carefully built them into the storyboard. When we got to the set we knew exactly what we would shoot, in what order, and what we'd do if we fell behind. We didn't shoot any extra shots outside the storyboard.
Eki: Exactly. We didn't shoot in chronological order either, but rather tried to minimize the amount of set-up time between shots. We cut out each shot from the storyboard, and arranged them on a big cardboard sheet based on similarity.
This was our bible, the only way we could do 200 shots in a single day - although in the final edit, there are “only” maybe a hundred or so separate set-ups.
PART 2: THE SHOOT
Eki: We used the Sony HVR-Z1 HDV camera, with a P+S Technik Mini35 adapter and a set of five prime lenses, from wide angle to telephoto.
Stobe: We deliberately overused the short depth of field to create a miniature feel for the amusement park.
Eki: We shot interlaced at 25 fps, with the camera set to as little contrast as possible, and very little sharpening. I would actually have preferred no sharpening, but that doesn't work because the Z1 is already pretty soft.
We didn't use the camera's built in Cineframe mode because we get better quality by deinterlacing in After Effects.
But that's not what provides the film look. Doing film-like stuff with video has a lot of variables, all of which have to be taken into account. The most important variables involve what you put in front of the camera - how the shot is lit, composed and so on.
Stobe: The impression we created for the finished video was the scale of an actual amusement park, of course – huge -- but the studio was quite small: 27 x 40 feet (12 x 8 meters) or something like that. We had a green screen on 3 sides, and a movable set that we could turn into any direction we wanted.
We then placed the elements we shot into a software 3D environment and animated the camera tracks.
Eki: We just built that one set-up, with a programmable desk to control lighting. We had maybe half a dozen floods coming from the left wall, giving a rather soft warm key light to the whole setup. There was a row of rim lights with blue gel around the stage.
The bulk of the lighting work for each shot was just balancing those three light groups. We just moved the actors and the props so that they looked good on the setup we already had. It was much faster this way.
We had a really small technical crew, basically just Teemu Konttinen on the lights and me on camera. Of course there were a lot of others making sure we had something to shoot, but as far as camera crew goes, that was it.
We didn't have tracks, just a studio tripod with wheels. The floor was covered with uneven concrete and dirt which were part of the set, so we had some sheets of plywood for an even surface to do camera moves on.
There were no markings, but we practiced each camera move pretty carefully. There's no way to get a truly steady, repeatable move without a motion control rig, so we didn't worry about that too much.
If it looked good, it was good.
Stobe: When doing a very technical production it's most important to come up with simple ideas for how to do the most complicated things.
There was one shot that was part of a scene with a roller coaster. I briefed Eki and the guys on how it should look, with the most complex explanation I could ever come up with.
It was so complicated that I asked how was it going to be done. Eki just nodded and told me that was the least of our worries.
Eki: Well, imagine the girl sitting on a chair, with a gas mask and a giant lollipop. There's two or three colored lights blinking around her. That's it.
Stobe: Just two flashing lights pointing towards a barstool, the actress sitting on it waving back and forth. I sat with my face pressed against the monitor, trying to look like I was paying attention rather than laughing as hard as I could!
Eki: It looked pretty ridiculous, and still the shot ended up being one of my personal favorites in the video.
PART 3: THE TRUTH ABOUT FAKE CAMERA MOVES
Stobe: It all boils down to efficiency. We usually chose the simplest way to get the shot we needed. A lot of times this meant shooting with a fixed camera, and doing the camera move in post production.
Eki: We build camera moves in post in a few different ways. The choice between these is made on a shot by shot basis, based on the storyboard, using the simplest possible technique to give us the image we need.
Varying the technique also helps keeping up the illusion of “real.” There may be shots that aren't 100% correct, but if the type of the error varies from shot to shot, it's harder to pin down exactly what the error is.
Here are the main techniques we used:
I prefer using these fake techniques. Shooting and comping locked setups is fast, and one has a lot of freedom in post.
It's enough to have just a few “real” dolly moves in the video, to give the audience the feeling that the camera is really moving around the set. Once this is established, one can cheat a lot.
PART 4: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Stobe: Much of our shooting was to create a green screen plate of each character for us to work with in post.
Eki: All keying was done in After Effects, mostly using Keylight. Our backdrop was far from perfect, so it was a challenge. In many shots, I rendered separate keys for hair, flames, floor, etc. These were combined using masks. The compositions ended up being rather heavy - often a single, one-second long shot took over an hour to render.
We usually left the foreground footage more or less as it was, and corrected the CGI elements to match that as closely as possible, using color curves, hue/saturation and the other basic tools. We also matched the amount of noise/grain.
The composited images were color timed for look in Sony Vegas. We mainly used primary and secondary color correction, curves, levels and saturation adjustments.
Before mastering, we made one more slight adjustment to the final render in our Avid system. Working this way helps glue the elements together, by affecting the shot footage and CGI elements equally.
PART 5: THE HARDEST PART IS KNOWING WHEN TO STOP
Eki: The journey from Stobe's storyboards to the final video is an iterative process. We do what we think matches the vision as well as we can interpret it, and Stobe gives suggestions for corrections to those. We bounce ideas back and forth until we either run out of time, or are happy with the result.
Mostly, we run out of time. I don't think I've ever done a shot I didn't feel I could improve if I had more time.
Apart from the sheer logistics, deciding what's “good enough” is the major challenge.
We knew right from the start that we couldn't be nitpicking too much on the set or in post. The only way to finish on time was to do the minimum amount of work needed to make a shot believable, and then move on.
I talked earlier about doing things the easiest possible way - I meant that only technically. Coming up with the easiest way to get the needed visuals is actually the hard part, and it's work that should be done well before getting into the studio.
Spending plenty of time planning is all about spending money only on things that show on the screen.
Okay, there's an exception: the catering has to be good or I won't work!
Eki Halkka and Stobe Harju
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