I’ve just had Selina’s answers back for this interview and feel sick. Some numbers - 80 hours shooting, 7000+ stills, 40+ hours of rendering, sleeping in shifts to meet deadlines. I thought my current project was tough - compared to her's, I feel like I'm sat on a beach drinking a piña colada. Her video “Limitless” has had 6+ million views in 2 weeks, so all her hard work paid off. Read on to find out how she put this beautiful video together.I’ve always had a love for street art and graffiti. I’ve never been good at it, but I still remember messing around with spray paint in the garage of our house, trying to get my bubble letters perfected when I was a kid, wondering how some talented people were able to take a can of paint and create beautiful, complex pieces of artwork.
Now that “street art” is a ubiquitous phrase and a house hold name thanks in no small part to contemporary street artists like “Banksy”, the process of putting up amazing pieces like these here is appreciated by a far wider audience than back in the 80s when most still saw it as simple vandalism. There's never been a better time to be able to truly appreciate graffiti and street artists.
Selina's new film is fantastic, see for yourself:
It got me thinking. What separates a good project from a great one? How do you innovate something when both the creative content you feature and the technique to capture that content has already been done? These were the questions I was asking myself as I watched Limitless.
Selina is a videographer based out of Brisbane, Australia, and has had an amazing response to Limitless since it went live a few weeks ago. You can immediately tell from the video just how much work and effort had gone into the piece, and I wondered whether that had had something to do with the success of it. Aside from looking beautiful and featuring great visual content in the form of the artists creating amazing pieces of graffiti art, do we appreciate something more when we can feel the blood, sweat and tears an artist has put into their work? How can we communicate that same feeling out through our own work?
Selina graciously have up some time while in Miami shooting for Art Basel to answer a few questions.
Fstoppers: Please tell us a little about yourself and what you shoot.
I'm a videographer, I work mostly as an editor and shoot a lot of run and gun, single camera stuff. Sometimes I direct or produce music video and commercials. I have been working in film for 6 years, after falling into it by accident. Everything I learn comes from the internet. I'm interested in exploring space, time and light, and employing techniques that allow us to see things different from the everyday.
Fstoppers: Can you please provide some background to the shoot - what was the aim of it and why did you decide on stop motion/hyperlapse over standard video?
"Limitless" is a 5 minute film documenting the process of 4 artists as they take over a huge abandoned warehouse space.
This film is a sequel to another video entitled "Infinite" that I shot earlier this year.
"Infinite" had some success; it was really well received within the graffiti community but didn't go much further. Sofles and I wanted to make another video, with bigger and better artwork and higher production value.
We brought some more artists on board, Fintan Magee who is making quite a name for himself both as a gallery artist and a street artist, and Treas and Quench from a more traditional graffiti background.
Our aim was simply to showcase the artists' work. I have been documenting graffiti for several years now and when we discovered the hyper lapse technique it really clicked with the content, we found it communicated the magic of graffiti so much more effectively than traditional video. I think it's one thing to watch paint being applied to a surface, but this allowed us to show people the complex process of layering that goes into the work.
I was very surprised to see some people baffled as to how I achieved the smooth camera motion, there's so many amazing hyperlapse videos around and we weren't the first to use this technique. It's incredibly simple technically, and is more of a physical challenge of endurance than anything.
Fstoppers: What gear did you use?
The hyperlapse and live action portions of the video were shot on a Canon 6D with a 24-70mm L 2.8. I used a cheap tripod and a 3-wheel dolly for camera support.
The intro was shot of a Sony FS700. My post workflow is Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects.
Fstoppers: How long did it take to shoot and what was the post processing like?
We estimate the shooting was around ten 8-hour days. I shot around 7,500 photographs. The post processing was ridiculous, I stopped counting after about 40 hours of rendering. The video was shot using 20 megapixel RAW photographs, which I graded in Lightroom. I then rendered each frame to a JPEG and imported into After Effects for stabilization. I then rendered the result as another JPEG sequence, re-imported the result and keyed the scale, position and rotation to produce the final product. I'm sure there's a more efficient workflow, but this worked for me. I couldn't actually play back the video until it was rendered, so every edit took 6 hours. I learnt to be very thorough with my drafts. We had organized a video premiere and exhibition for a certain date, and I very nearly didn't finish the video in time. I slept in shifts to make sure I was ready to edit when a render would finish.
Fstoppers: How much planning did you do with the various artists ahead of the shoot? Did you take a very planned approach or keep it more organic?
It was very organic, having the amazing location, a whole month for production and a paint sponsor gave us plenty of creative freedom. Everyone involved had so many ideas, we had to cut so many great suggestions. We started with a vague path for the camera and the artists worked around that.
The only constraint that I have experienced using hyperlapse for shooting artwork is that I constantly seem to be rushing the artists, there's definitely a minimum distance you can move for each frame, and there were points where I was shooting frames too quickly and they struggled to keep up.
As far as doing the math on your frequency of shots and moving distances, no matter how much you plan, things always change once you get going. You do need to learn to flow from the artists, at some points I was taking a shot every 5 seconds, and moving 1 - 2 meters at a time, and other times I was shooting every 30 seconds and moving 2 - 3 cm.
Fstoppers: What were some problems and challenges you came up against during the day and how did you overcome these?
The biggest challenge was light. It was the middle of tropical storm season in Brisbane and at points I would be stopping up or down 3 or 4 stops for one photo and back up again.
There were points where I poorly estimated how long the artist would take and either ended up being left behind or moving too quickly and having to adjust. Every battery change always caused a bump in the video, as I'd have to take my camera off the tripod and replace it, and it would never perfectly re-align. One of the artists fell through a roof at one point, fortunately he wasn't badly hurt.
The throw-up wall (Fstoppers note: 'throw up' is the name of a piece that is 'thrown up' or applied to a wall pretty quickly) halfway through the video was a huge challenge; we massively underestimated how long it would take, Sofles was running in and out of frame, one shot for fill and one shot for outline, which took 5 hours. It was so dark by the time we finished that I was struggling to see my reference point in Live View. We figured out he ran 8km / 5miles back and forth that day. Needless to say he was pretty tired that evening!
Fstoppers: If someone else wants to reproduce a similar long duration hyper/walk/motion lapse project, do you have any advice?
I would say that however difficult you think it will be, and however long you estimate it will take, triple it. Choose a central reference point in your frame and use Live View, zoom in 10x and keep that specific brick / smudge / feature in your landscape in the exact same point of your frame always. If you're panning / tilting, go twice as slowly as you feel you need to. Be prepared to reach a point where you convince yourself it's moronic to keep going and push through! It's a game of mental and physical endurance but the results are well worth it.
Fstoppers: As someone who didn’t have a formal education in film/photography, what do you think of the resources available to us all today?
I think it's really exciting to be working on a completely leveled playing field, where gear is dirt cheap and knowledge is practically free online. There are so many amazing resources and communities online which will teach you everything you need to know. The creative cow forums, aetuts, vimeo video school are all great places to start.
Whether you adore or despise street and graffiti art, Selina’s vision, drive, love, self motivation and passion for what she does comes out in her work. When most of us would probably buckle under the pressure from the sort of shoot and post work she put herself through, she gritted her teeth and hunkered down to get things done in time to meet her deadlines.
These are invaluable lessons to be taken away, and inspiration from her perspiration is ripe for the picking. To me, it seems that above all, applying your own twist on something, using the right technique (in this case hyperlapse and stopmotion) and creative process to fit the story you want to tell, and working hard to achieve your vision are more important than trying to come up with something completely new.
Let me know what you think, both of Limitless and of her approach to the project in the comments below, I’d be fascinated to see what you think.
Image Credits/Thanks [Selina Miles]