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OK Go: This Too Shall Pass

CreativeCOW presents OK Go: This Too Shall Pass -- Live & Stage Events Feature


OK Go - This Too Shall Pass - Rube Goldberg Machine version


The true beauty of Steadicam is its unique ability to allow the camera to become the "eyes of the audience," transforming onlookers into characters that connect and experience an environment firsthand. This kind of engagement can help good stories become great.

As a camera operator, I've always been intrigued by that. I've done jib and dolly work, but the way that I got almost total control was the Steadicam. I no longer thought in terms of not being able to do things. So after 15 years experience in the film and video world, I decided it was time to challenge myself with something more specialized. The Glidecam was the first camera stabilizing system I flew, and I bought it on the spot.


Photos by Edwin Roses
Photos by Edwin Roses


I've always viewed operating the system as part dance and part camerawork. It's a blend of anticipating where my feet need to be in relation to my hips and the position of the camera. Maintaining balance while moving through an environment and keeping a level horizon is difficult, and using peripheral vision to identify objects such as curbs, light stands and challenges that could potentially ruin the shot is a skill that develops over time.

The combination of tracking, maintaining balance and navigating obstacles make referencing the system's on-board monitor difficult during scenes with lots of movement.


Above, Mic with a crew member in the background. During the shoot, there were quite a few crew members in motion, as well as the band as they moved from station to station.
Above, Mic with a crew member in the background. During the shoot, there were quite a few crew members in motion, as well as the band as they moved from station to station. Photo by Sara Samko-Ross


To strike a balance between safety and framing, a term I call "lens awareness" becomes critical: the ability to know what you're shooting by looking forward, following the camera lens, as opposed to down at the monitor.

Mastering this skill has been instrumental in nearly every shoot I've worked on, especially when working on OK Go's video "This Too Shall Pass."



Two page spread from Creative COW Magazine - the OK Go: This too shall pass article


"THIS ONE'S ALL YOU, MAN"

I first received a call from Los Angeles-Based Director of Photography Yon Thomas, an extremely talented professional and friend, with an interesting proposition. Calls from Yon always lead to incredible adventures. In 2009, we traveled to Italy, along with Producer Mike Norman to shoot the behind-the-scenes footage of Sting's winter album, "If on a Winter's Night" where I walked backwards through the snow for nearly a mile, nonstop, tracking Sting for a music video.

"Would you feel comfortable wearing your gear and having someone lower you about 20 feet, from one building floor to another, while shooting?"


Damian, in white jumpsuit (top right), talking Mic and the team through the next move. Note from the cleanliness of Damian's suit that this is early in the day. Both shooting days began early afternoon and ran well after 2 AM. Photos by Edwin Roses.
Damian, in white jumpsuit (top right), talking Mic and the team through the next move. Note from the cleanliness of Damian's suit that this is early in the day. Both shooting days began early afternoon and ran well after 2 AM. Photos by Edwin Roses.


I said yes, but it was not until I arrived on set three weeks later that I truly understood the complexity of the project or the significance of my role in it. Dermott Downs, director of photography, and Producer Shirley Moyer both welcomed me to the shoot by saying, "This one's all you, man."

OK Go singer Damian Kulash served as creative director for the shoot, as he does for all of the band's innovative videos. This would be, by far, the band's most elaborate undertaking to date: a two-story Rube Goldberg machine propelled by a single toy car hitting a line of dominoes, triggering an over-the-top chain of events with the band in motion, spread across both floors of a 10,000 square foot warehouse.


Panorama by Pehr Hovey. Click on image for larger view
Panorama by Pehr Hovey. Click on image above for larger view


Oh, and it's captured by a single shot. No pressure, right?

Damian was the ultimate tour guide as we made our way through set for the first time. The warehouse was alive with frantic energy as people worked furiously to finish the massive machine. Walls were decorated with blueprints, diagrams and whiteboards filled with complex mathematical equations calculating velocity and trajectory for dozens of different items. Every corner of the place was full of contraptions, screws, repurposed toys and "fun junk."

Damian explained that the band had been working on the machine for the past three months, together with creative engineers from Syynn Labs, and friends, family and even fans, volunteered their time to create the machine. They had put in 14-hour days and worked in shifts to get it built and functioning. It was up to me to make sure I was able to capture their work, and translate that beauty and science to the screen.

Our tour began outside the warehouse, where the first few sequences would take place, and then zigzagged through both levels inside. Our group included the DP Dermott Down, the director James Frost, and department heads from grip and electric. We were all utterly speechless as Damian walked us through the machine. At the end, he said, "Questions?" We looked at each other and thought, "Is he for real? There's no way this is going to work."

The rig Mic Waugh used for "This Too Shall Pass" included (generally, from left to right): the wireless Cinetape system to continuously measure the distance between the focal plane and objects in front of the lens; iris and focus monitors for the Preston F1+Z lens control system; Sony EX-3 HD video camera; the IDX WEVI Cam~Wave HD link used to transmit uncompressed over wireless to the video assist and playback, as well as to the monitors where the Director watched for editorial composition and the First AC pulled focus; and the Preston F1+Z receiver used to power the motors.
The rig Mic Waugh used for "This Too Shall Pass" included (generally, from left to right): the wireless Cinetape system to continuously measure the distance between the focal plane and objects in front of the lens; iris and focus monitors for the Preston F1+Z lens control system; Sony EX-3 HD video camera; the IDX WEVI Cam~Wave HD link used to transmit uncompressed over wireless to the video assist and playback, as well as to the monitors where the Director watched for editorial composition and the First AC pulled focus; and the Preston F1+Z receiver used to power the motors.


IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?

While the machine was going through the final round of testing and refinement, it was time to make sure we could shoot it. After all, the designs were built to follow the rules of physics, not production.

Obstacles included 45 to 60 degree ramps, support beams for the warehouse and a makeshift elevator comprised of a pulley system and a harness to lower me down from one floor to another. This is because a Steadicam or Glidecam system is designed to use the operator's body weight to maintain a center of gravity for the rig, camera, system and operator. An elevator pulley system was built to support the weight of rig plus me, approximately 210 pounds in all.

One of the most difficult components for me was going to be getting my body in the correct position when moving from one shot to the next. Positioning the camera is rarely a challenge, but when it's attached to a 175 pound man wearing a padded vest, spring loaded metal arm and a safety harness (used for the descent from the second floor), it can quickly become impossible. "Forget about framing, composition and safety," I thought to myself. "Physically, I don't know if I'll be able to shoot this thing."

I constructed a wood replica to match the height and width of my rig to help the design team modify the ramps and pathways around the machine. I told them, "If you can fit through an area while holding the replica, I'll make it work."

We had two days to rehearse -- one day with the camera department and one day with the band. I used Damian's point and shoot camera to film the rehearsals so we could find out how the band members could scurry around the warehouse floor to get from station to station without being seen. And I started working on my "dance moves."



Above, visit OKGo.net for an interactive map of the shoot, as well as behind-the-scene videos of its creation.
Above, visit OKGo.net for an interactive map of the shoot, as well as behind-the-scene videos of its creation.


CHOREOGRAPHY

As Damian, DP Dermott Downs, and I walked through the opening sequence, it was determined that that this would be our best (and only) chance to control the machine, our talent and, of course, framing.

It starts with a balanced frame of Tim on the steps outside the warehouse as he puts on eye protection. Tim places a toy truck on a ledge, pushes it to knock over a series of dominoes, and setting the machine into motion.


Frames from "This Too Shall Pass" courtesy of: OK Go, Paracadute, and State Farm Insurance.
Frames from "This Too Shall Pass" courtesy of: OK Go, Paracadute, and State Farm Insurance.


We learned quickly that, to keep focus as closely as we wanted to on the toy truck, while remaining stationary and still panning smoothly to follow Tim's action, I needed to get the lens within about 12 inches. But of course, I also needed to pan the camera, and gently push it away from me to make my next moves, while still keeping close focus on the car.

We were shooting on a staircase with a nonremovable railing, so there was no room for me to physically move. As soon as the director gave Tim his action to trigger the dominoes with the truck, Dermott remotely zoomed out with the lens. At the same time, I needed to "throw" the camera into position, run backwards up the ramp, and counter my movement up the ramp with a pan right/tilt down to hold the dominoes. This opening scene was the first of three ramps throughout the shot. As we worked into the night, dew settled on the outside ramp, making it slippery. To help solve this challenge, I mapped out my foot placement, and the engineers nailed down thin strips of wood to serve as footholds.

After leaving a kabuki screen tunnel, I needed to get to the next rigger, a globe as it traveled along on some rails. I needed to be in position and have enough momentum to once again run backwards up a ramp, and once again counter my movement, this time with a tilt up then down, and track with the ball. This would swing to reveal Damian and Tim, moments before Damian is yanked away by a zip line. (Trying not to cut off their heads…headroom, headroom, headroom!)

The man responsible for pulling the trigger to send Damian flying couldn't see the shot, so in order to prevent any accidental premature zip line action, I waited until I had my framing, and then yelled "Hey!" to cue the zip line. Why the word, "Hey?" Because by this point, I was usually already out of breath, and it's about all I could muster up with any sort of volume to be heard over the playback of the song.


The zip line begins to pull Damian. Less than a second later, he crashes through a wall of boxes. Photo by Edwin Roses.
The zip line begins to pull Damian. Less than a second later, he crashes through a wall of boxes. Photo by Edwin Roses.


Less than two seconds after that, Mic Waugh runs down a ramp and is turned to face the basketball net (left, lower). Photo by Edwin Roses.
Less than two seconds after that, Mic Waugh runs down a ramp and is turned to face the basketball net (left, lower). Photo by Edwin Roses.


In fact, there were a couple of times when they would mute the playback so I could pay closer attention to what I was doing, and call out more specific commands or hear somebody who needed to talk to me.

As I rehearsed the shot the first few times, I realized the next ramp (coming down from the zip line gag) would either kill me, or the shot. In rehearsal, we found that the ramp needed to be altered, widened, and angled away and steeper.

As I rotated the camera and my hips to line up the next shot and the descent off the ramp, the camera could make it down but I could not. I needed to get down and off the ramp quickly. This would allow me to cover the action, and to avoid being hit or caught up in the rope attached to the paint can that swings down triggering the next action.

The paint can always caught some piece of me, or the rig. As long as it didn't hit the camera itself or get caught on me, I would be fine -- but you can see in the final video that the shot is affected when a paint can swings back on camera right and hits me.


Photo by Edwin Roses
Photos by Edwin Roses


GAMBLING

When I arrived on set to shoot, the pressure I felt to help bring this project to life was intense. Before we began, I learned about betting pool. For a dollar, engineers and crew members could pick a "take" number -- how many times it would take before the machine worked all the way through. As I geared up to shoot, I am pretty sure I overheard whispers that the highest pick was in the mid 40s and the collection was well over $100. I thought, "Forty takes? I hope it never comes to that."

And so we began. And as afternoon gave way to evening, the numbers on the slate began to climb. Take after take, the machine was in constant need of adaptation and refinement and, with each adjustment, I needed to adjust my dance.


Photo by Edwin Roses
Photo by Edwin Roses


Photo by Edwin Roses
Photo by Edwin Roses


Photo by Edwin Roses
Photo by Edwin Roses


Photo by Sara Samko-Ross
Photo by Sara Samko-Ross


Amazingly enough, even the temperature and humidity played a part. The machine was alive and, depending on whether we were shooting at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. the machine behaved differently. It was raining outside this drafty warehouse, and as wood swelled and balls rolled faster, there had to be changes to compensate.

The video was originally budgeted for two days of shooting. However, after two back-to-back 16 hour days, the machine had yet to work all the way through. And so, the time had come for a make or break decision. Scrap the original idea of a single shot, or sign on for another day and see it through to the end. As a whole, the entire team elected for option two and, thankfully the video's sponsor, State Farm Insurance, agreed. I am grateful they did.


THE LAST DANCE

I worked without a spotter. It was me versus the machine. A dance partner whose construction and integrity consisted of materials ranging from paper clips, ball bearings and flags to pianos, oil drums and sledge hammers. All of which were meticulously placed, fashioned and organized with incredible attention paid to detail and the laws of physics. Bump the table -- fail! Kick a trigger -- fail! Stumble on a ramp -- fail! Get caught up in a swinging tea pot hung by fishing line -- fail!

There were an endless number of random variations to account for. I mentioned some of the ones related to temperature and humidity, but they could be totally random. A ping-pong ball bounces too far. A mousetrap snaps unexpectedly. In one case, a cardboard box bounced farther than usual, and triggered an oil drum rolling down a ramp too early.


Frames from "This Too Shall Pass" courtesy of: OK Go, Paracadute, and State Farm Insurance.
Frames from "This Too Shall Pass" courtesy of: OK Go, Paracadute, and State Farm Insurance.


In the finished video, you can see the barrel roll at me just under camera. What you don't see is that it took out my legs. We almost lost the entire take, but I was able to reconfigure, and I sat on the barrel as it rolled down two or three feet, and push off to my next shot.


Photo by Edwin Roses
Photo by Edwin Roses


As take 85 flashed up on the slate covering band member Tim Nordwind's paint splattered face, I had my doubts. But thanks to the incredible attitudes of the band members and all involved, I never lost faith. I couldn't bear the thought of all this creativity, positive energy and incredible teamwork not coming to life. I couldn't imagine that this imaginative, ingenuous rollercoaster-of-a-ride, wouldn't be shared and, instead, would die in an old, leaky LA warehouse. It sure as hell wasn't gonna be because of me.


The beginning of Take 85. Photo by Edwin Roses.
The beginning of Take 85. Photo by Edwin Roses.


Finally, a deep breath, an always encouraging smile from Tim and, the strength to utter the words, "camera speeds and is…set." Take 85. We had our video…

…or at least one complete run. This first successful take was one where I didn't get hit, I didn't get injured, and everything was perfect -- but the band looked exhausted, like they were getting root canals. It was two in the morning after a long day, and looked like it. There was no way we could use that take. It was just too depressing to look at. We used the second of the three successful takes we got instead.

When you watch the video, you'll see a cut (mostly) hidden by a curtain as I'm being lowered from one floor to the other. I was being lowered by hand, and it took me nearly a half-second at the bottom to call out that I'd landed, get unsnapped from the harness and get moving again, all while the machine kept rolling.

That cut was only to compensate for that halfsecond delay. It was most definitely not to "create the illusion" of a single, unbroken take that we failed to pull off. No, we got all the way through it -- three times.

By the end, we knew that it had been a lot of work, but I don't think any of us really appreciated just how hard it was at the time. We were just exhausted. It took me weeks to stop dreaming about it.



Behind The Scenes with OK Go - This Too Shall Pass - RGM




Also Steadicam by Mic Waugh: OK Go, Back from Katmandu.



 


 

Mic Waugh, Creative COW Magazine

Mic Waugh
Phoenix, Arizona USA


Mic Waugh is the owner of Level Image, and divides his time between LA, Phoenix, and wherever the job takes him. He won the Guild of Television Cameramen Award of Excellence for his work on "This Too Shall Pass," which also won the UK Music Awards Video of the Year Award. He also shot OK Go's "GPS Parade (Back From Kathmandu)" video on an 8.5 mile walk through LA, and Sting's "If On A Winter's Night," where he walked over a mile in the snow, backwards. Frames from "This Too Shall Pass" courtesy of: OK Go, Paracadute, and State Farm Insurance.







Comments

Re: OK Go: This Too Shall Pass
by changiz hossiny
thank you
your site is very usefull fo me
-1
Re: OK Go: This Too Shall Pass
by Nathan Walters
I love this song and OK GO. Thanks for the article!
Re: OK Go: This Too Shall Pass
by rubesh kumar
really veryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy nice
Re: OK Go: This Too Shall Pass
by James Hornsby
Absolutely awesome work. Well done!

Taking one day and seeing the good that can come from it, and the good I can take from it.


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