Pure Garbage: Analyzing a 'Fastmo & Slowmo' Cinematography Technique

The rock band Garbage is out with the first single off their forthcoming album "Strange Little Birds," and while the track is undeniably awesome rock fare, the visual geek in me cannot get past this extremely cool camera effect that invokes "bullet time" from The Matrix. I have a hunch as to how it was done. 

It's refreshing to hear some good alternative rock these days that isn't shoving electronica and synth down our throats. Kudos to Shirley Manson and her crew for going back to the basics. But that's enough about the song itself. This video is pretty cool. Living in the Midwestern United States — a place where we don't have oceans, beaches, mountains, deserts, epic pine forests, glaciers, craters, fjords, castles, or canyons — I'm always having to be as creative as possible with as little as possible. Thus, I appreciate these minimalist, budget-friendly music videos that take place entirely in a stripped-bare, industrial-themed room. There's some basic stage lights, a drumkit, two guitars, and a microphone. Throw in some people singing and you've got a video. In order to promote continued visual interest in the piece (if for some reason you get bored with Manson's pink hair and fishnet stockings) the cinematography team has come up with a really clever filming effect that appears to combine fast motion and slow motion at once.

Aside from the video's use of regular slow motion photography utilizing a high frame rate (which makes guitar strings look incredible), there's this spinning effect where the camera circles around the musicians very quickly, but the musicians are performing at normal speed. The room is sped-up. Even Shirley Manson's hair is flying about at unnaturally fast speeds. But the actual singing, guitar playing, and drumming appears to be in realtime.  Unlike bullet time which was pioneered in the 1997 film, The Matrix, the shot in this video appears to be sequentially shot by a single camera. Bullet time required still cameras to be positioned around the subjects and captured a scene essentially frozen in this video, it appears as though two entirely different speeds are being played back in the same frame.

I think the answer as to how it's done is simple. The musicians in music videos are typically lip syncing to the song being presented in order to match up the video to the audio in post production. In this case, the audio track that is being played on set for the musicians is being played in slow motion and they are asked to perform it back in slow motion. The camera then pans around them at normal speed, capturing a slow motion performance. Once the playback is sped up in editing, now the slow motion is normal. The background which was normal, is now fast, and at about 2:41 in the video, this theory is confirmed by a pull-back shot of the vocalist on a platform while a large camera rig spins around her.

This is one of those "I should have thought of it first" techniques that is so simple but has a simply impressive result. While they used a very large, precision camera rig to make this happen, I imagine you could do a pretty good job with a track system or even just a wearable Steadicam-style rig. If you've seen (or even done) this technique done before, let me know in the comments.

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They show how its done in a video on facebook..
Single camera. Robotic arm. On a platform.

Looks like it's done in real time too, no lip syncing or track manipulation. The arm just moves really fast.

Sean Molin's picture

I'm starting to think they did both techniques. There are a few places where Manson's hair is flying quickly at a place that appears to match the background spin, while her face and arms are at "normal" speed... but in other places, her hair appears to be at the same speed, thus the camera is just spinning fast without any need for slow-motion.

I think it's all done at normal speed. The camera's shooting at 400F/S.

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

Motion control rig of some sort I would assume, and then just matching different layers/ passes.

filmkennedy's picture

I was a gaffer for a music video where we did something similar, but the music was played back faster and they overcranked the camera. So the artist was lip syncing in slow motion.

Id say this was done with the large OrcaVue (http://orcavue.com), combined with (as you said) slow mo camera trickery.

Here's a sample video we did with ours ...(obviously not to the same production values! and ours is the small version - but you get the idea) https://vimeo.com/166199411

Andreas Heide's picture

Oh i hate it, cant see the Video in Germany.

Steve Seeley's picture

We created a series of 360 videos for Travel Alberta that used a similar, but almost opposite effect. Instead of moving slowly and speeding it up, we rotated the camera around the talent as fast as we could get it going and slowed it down in post.


There is a few behind the scenes stuff at http://www.studiodialog.com/travel-alberta-thrill/

Never mind the video, what a belter of a song!

Dan Ostergren's picture

I love that they're going back to their 90's roots, both in their sound and the video style and production.