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Music Video Case Study: Skull Diver

November 19, 2017

Portland, Oregon is known for it's beer, coffee and other Hipster-fueled eccentricities; but it's also brimming with extremely talented musicians and good bands.  I've been shooting a lot of Portland musicians with Banana Stand Media performing live music for nearly six years now, including a new video series I've been producing called Unpeeled.  So, when Skull Diver, a garage-rock trio led by sisters Mandy and Ally, approached me about doing a tripped out music video for a song off their new album I was stoked.  


Their concept called for a blue and pink lighting scheme, which turned out to be much more simple to accomplish than what I was originally thinking.  I wanted a really deep blue and vibrant pink without having to sacrifice light output by using heavy CTB or blue party gels when we wouldn't have the budget for large units.  That's when a very simple solution hit me, I already have 'blue' lights with the daylight balanced LED units I own.  Simply setting the camera's white balance to 2500k with daylight sources provided a beautiful, cool blue that I wanted for my key light.  I headed over to Gearhead Grip and they were nice to let me bring my camera over and test a variety of pink gels on tungsten units.  I landed on doubled-up Rosco 34 - Flesh Pink which gave me a rich, over-saturated pink.  


After that, I ordered some 250w and 500w Eiko daylight Photoflood bulbs (you have to use them sparingly as they last about an average of six hours) to use in practical lamps and a few sheets of the Rosco 34 gels. I recreated a lighting set-up in my home office so that I could really hone in the exact tones I wanted to achieve on-set.  I took that footage into Resolve and did some adjustments and exported it as a .cube LUT.  One of my favorite features of the new 4.0 firmware for the Ursa Mini is the ability to import LUTs and monitor them both on the on-camera LCD and send it through the SDI out to your external monitors.  This way I was able to make sure I was getting the right amount of blue and pink in the skin tones on-set that I was going for.  Below you can see stills from my test footage ranging from the RAW image to about what I was thinking as far as the final look for the video.  I used the daylight 18" Flolight for the key, a 250w fresnel with the Rosco 34 for the back light and a 250w photoflood to fill in the background.


Satisfied with those results and having a game plan in place, I felt extremely confident in what I was going to be doing on-set.  In the video we also used a lot of different party string lights, lazer LED lights, strobes and a haze machine for added set dressing and atmosphere.  Below you can see a RAW still frame from one of our set-ups and a graded version I did in Resolve.  I shot the entire video RAW 4:1, exposed at a T/4, 400 ISO (lit for a 5.6).  I mostly used Rokinon 16mm and 24mm lenses framed for 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as well as using the DJI Ronin for a few of the wide set-ups for a more ethereal feel to the camera movement.  



In the RAW still it didn't look as much of a 'low-light' scene as what I eventually got in the color grade.  'Low-light' scene doesn't always mean use little-to-no light, you still need the information in the sensor!  It's very important with the Ursa Mini 4K sensor (and digital sensors in general) that you don't get too close to losing shadow detail or you'll get some unwanted Fixed Pattern Noise.  FPN is mostly removable with Noise Reduction or other crafty methods, but you'll always achieve a much cleaner image when you are pulling down the image instead of trying to push your shadow details. 


Using false colors I first made sure my skin tones were exposed where I wanted them and then adjusted where the false color was telling me I was about to lose shadow detail.  I used a 4' daylight Flotube through a 1/4 silk to get some more exposure in the inside walls of the doorway that I was shooting through, but also got a really consistent blue that matched the interior of the main room.  I also wasn't getting as much as I wanted from the pink coming from the left so I walked it in some more.  I also shot a stop overexposed so that I could pull down the exposure back down in the RAW settings in Resolve, which not only helps with reducing noise in the image, but also the extra information allowed me to get my contrast and lift exactly where I wanted it.  When this sensor is exposed properly, you don't really have to do much to get it where you want.  


Our lead talent at the vanity mirror is one of the main set-ups in the video and what I was trying to replicate in my test footage.  Again there is a RAW still followed by a graded version as well as a lighting diagram of what I used to light the scene.  





The next still was one of my more favourite set-ups, and definitely one of the most simple.  My gaffer and I created a cross using two 4' Flotubes using a c-stand and maffer clamps.  With the haze in the air it created a milky backlight, but we also had a strobe light was going off that acted as an intermittent key light.  You can see another shot with it creating more of a silhouette in the gallery below.



I have another music video coming up as well more potential projects in the works that I hope to do similar case studies on in the near future.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me.  Below is a few more stills from the video, and hopefully the full video will be finished and uploaded in the near future to share, because the the song is really killer! [UPDATE: The full video is now viewable here on Youtube.]




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