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Poets of the Fall/Stobe Harju Music Videos

COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Eki Halkka : Poets of the Fall/Stobe Harju Music Videos
From The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Poets of the Fall - Carnival of Rust



Eki HalkkaEki Halkka
Helsinki, Finland

©2008 Eki Halkka, Stobe Harju and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
A platinum-selling band's new video: 200 shots in 18 hours. Are you kidding? DP / technical director Eki Halkka says, ''It was pretty insane.'' Read why...



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
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.

Music Video 1

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.

Music Video 2

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.

Music Video 3

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.

Music Video 4

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.

Music Video 5

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.

Music Video 6

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.

Music Video 7

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.

Green Screen


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:

• “Real” pan/tilt: Shot from a tripod, with an on-location camera move. The CGI backdrop is tracked in 2D to match the live camera.

• “Real” track: Shot from a dolly, and tracked in 3D. The camera is animated in 3D software, matching the original camera move.

In both of these cases, tracking markers on the green screen are quite useful. But sometimes, actually more often than one would think, the trackers can't resolve the shot and it has to be match moved by hand.

• “Fake” pan/tilt: Shot with a locked-off tripod. The foreground and background are moved in 2D, locked together to make the illusion of a camera move.

• “Fake” track, in 2D: Shot with a locked off tripod. The foreground and background are moved and/or scaled in 2D, with slightly different speeds. This technique was first used in cartoons I think. It creates an impression of motion parallax and looks like a camera track move. It works best on closeups.

• “Fake” track, in 2½D: All the elements (including 3D) are done with a fixed camera and brought to AE as 3D layers. They are moved and scaled so that they line up correctly, and the camera move is done with AE's camera. (I mention AE, but this can be done in any compositing application.)

Even though all elements are just 2D cutouts, pretty convincing camera moves can be done this way. One just has to be quite conservative with the camera -- the illusion is broken easily.

• “Fake” track, in 3D: The footage is keyed, and mapped to a single polygon in a 3D application. Think of it as a moving paper doll. The camera can be moved quite freely, and the footage can cast shadows and show in reflections etc.

This works very well, as long as camera doesn't move to an angle which shows that the footage is actually flat.


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.

Fire Magic


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 Eki Halkka and Stobe Harju
Helsinki, Finland

Eki Halkka and Stobe Harju also worked together on videos for Poets of the Fall's “Lift” and “Locking up the Sun,” among many others.

Helsinki Finland-based director Stobe Harju has many great music videos to his credit, including “Lift” and “Carnival of Rust” for Poets of the Fall, as well as another of our favorites, “The Islander” by Nightwish - which features one of our friends, Troy Donockley, on uillean (Irish) pipes.

Stobe Harju
Stobe Harju




The Work of Stobe Harju, Eki Halkka, and the Music of Poets of the Fall
Poets of the Fall Continued...


Creative COW Magazine's Music Video issue featured a look at the making of Poets of the Fall's "Carnival of Rust," one of the most imaginative music videos we have seen. Created in Helsinki, Finland by director Stobe Harju and director of photography Eki Halkka, you can read about the making of "Carnival of Rust" in our free Music Video issue, and here in this magazine extras page you will find links to the videos, interview podcasts, more on the band, their music, as well as the music videos of Stobe and Eki.

Thank you for your interest in the music video production work of Stobe Harju and Eki Halkka, and the music of Poets of the Fall, as featured in the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Creative COW Magazine. On this page, we have linked you to several resources and destinations for more on both Poets of the Fall, as well as Stobe Harju, the director of many of their music videos.

The following video for Poets of the Fall's "Carnival of Rust" was directed by Stobe Harju and was featured in Creative COW Magazine's Jan/Feb '08 issue discussing much of what went into its design and construction...



Another of the great videos Stobe directed for Poets of the Fall, was the following video created for "Lift," from the band's 2005 album, "Signs of Life."


THE MAKING OF "LIFT" PODCAST
In 2005, CreativeCOW.net featured the making of the "Lift" video in the Creative COW Podcast. To listen to the episode's interview with director of photography, Eki Halkka, you can click here to listen to our interview with Eki.

You can also check out Eki's own band at http://myspace.com/sydankohtaus


More of the work of Stobe Harju...

Stobe Harju also directed this great music video for the band Nightwish, a huge band in much of the world.


While this following Nightwish video was not directed by Stobe Harju, we have included it here for those who would like to see more by Nightwish...





Find more great Creative COW Magazine articles by signing up for the complimentary Creative COW Magazine.


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