Sunday, 18 January 2015

Recreating the Tour de France In Yorkshire

We were invited to pitch ideas for a film which would promote cycling within the Yorkshire Dales National Park ahead of the Tour de France. The purpose being to encourage visitors, especially families, to explore the park and stay a little longer, and therefore not just the cycle racing audience who would be attracted to visit anyway. The film was to be central to the National Park’s new Cycling In The Dales micro-site, and support the UK-wide promotion of cycling in National Parks.

The Pitch

Fridge has filmed cycling since 1998, but a lot of cycling videos are often super cool, and have become highly generic and derivative. We wanted to cleverly interweave geographic features with well know local cultural elements into the visuals that would widen the appeal from just racing enthusiasts, and include recreational cyclists and families.
We proposed to film a bunch of sportif cyclists out on a typical ride along the proposed Tour route, and feature life and activities that are familiar to visitor to the Dales. We were also fortunate to recruit Lizzy Windzer, Team GB Triathlete to participate, along with a young family of cyclists who would provide our final scene and finale.

To be filmed in a cinematic style, our pitch was a compelling one and we were selected after a two tier pitch of more than a half a dozen other companies.

The Concept

We had to work within the highly protected ASO (Tour de France owners) brand guidelines and not infringe their current marketing restrictions. However, securing the talents of ITV Cycling commentator Phil Liggett provided us with a recognisable Tour ‘soundtrack’ and a link between the world of cycle racing and the familiar Yorkshire Dales backdrop and culture, by ‘wrapping them’ in Phil’s phrases which have become familiar to racing fans world-wide.

The Shoot

To maintain continuity of weather, and keep a high value shoot within budget our film had to be shot in one day. The logistics of maintaining a rolling production over 70 miles involved 4 production vehicles, a motorcycle camera crew, an aerial filming crew and 5 racing cyclists. We also had to consider the take-off and landing of the remote aerial filming drone (UAV) and the legalities that it presented.

Photos: Ravage Productions & Paul Harris

Our production crew included our regular cinematographer who has filmed promos for the Daks and Vertu brands, and aerial filming specialists VuAir. We were also keen to involve as many local people as possible, so our cyclists were recruited from cycle clubs in nearby Richmond and Skipton. With a shepherd and his sheepdogs as part of the supporting cast and ‘extras’.

This was filmed on a Red Epic digital cinema camera recording in 5K Ultra HD, and completed with Phil Liggett’s 'commentary', a bespoke music soundtrack and a flock of individually rotoscoped "spectating" sheep on the main climb of the Tour de France race stage, Buttertubs Pass.

Since its launch the result has been viewed online by over 13,500 people from around the world.

Client Comments:

“Fridge Productions came up with a great concept. Using the legendary Phil Liggett to provide a fun commentary, the film shows what a great day’s cycling can be had in our stunning scenery, meeting the locals along the way. The video achieved every objective in the brief.

It has been an excellent experience working with Fridge Productions. The team understood exactly what we wanted to achieve and went to great lengths to deliver a great piece of film.
The result integrated well within the client's newly launched Cycling in the Dales website in the build-up to the Tour's Grand Depart, but with a long-term shelf life that would provide us with a greater ROI than a purely specific video relating to the 2014 Tour.“

David Jinks
Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582

Monday, 18 November 2013

Digital Rostrum – using still images to create a more moving experience

Another part of the ‘finishing’ story is the animation of still images. Termed ‘rostrum’ and regularly undertaken by the industry stalwarts Ken Morse in the UK, and Ken Burns in the US. The two Ken’s would painstakingly film photographs using a moving overhead rostrum motion camera, which would then be transferred into the video edit as moving image. These days this process has a more digital workflow.

As with colour grading, digital rostrum can be straightforward, but also can be cleverly incorporated into the narrative to enhance the ‘emotion’ within a film. The simplest is a pan across an image. However, I thought carefully when looking through Andy Cave’s photographs that Producer and Director Paul Diffley had assembled for his feature length documentary ‘Distilled’.

To add a bit of flair, albeit subtly, a simple dissolve between images became a matched shot. That is, the image was rotated to achieve a dramatic perspective when it is first presented to the viewer. This continues, and matches a portion of the image which follows it. Either matching the horizon of the image, or in the case below, the summit ridge and rock wall.

Simple rotate and dissolve using matched frames
Paul had stated that he was looking for a bolder statement for ‘Distilled’ so I looked at adding moving elements to otherwise static photographs. Thus bringing them to life, so that the whole documentary became a moving image, rather than video interspersed with still images. This method was used in the following sequence, where the lens glare from the sun at high altitude is animated and continues into the next image as they rotate and dissolve into each other. Once again with a matched summit ‘horizon’ for added effect. This required the second image to be extended so that the summit line had enough ‘head room’ and could be superimposed over the first image (the sky in the second frame was very slender in the original Andy Cave photograph compared to the second frame in the image below).
Rotate, animated lens flare across the dissolve with matched frames
Once Paul and his co-editor finished the edit, I finally had my first sight of the visuals, as up until then the audio that had been my only reference at that point, it became clear to me that Andy Cave’s story needed a sequence which illustrated his Himalayan expedition to Changabang in 1997, which is the main focus of the latter half of the documentary. Since no moving image was available I suggested to Paul that a montage of this climb be created to allow the audience a breathing point from the moving image. I set about deconstructing a photograph from a high altitude camp with the intention of revealing the objective of the expedition team as it would be seen on the first morning after their arrival at the camp. Something I myself had experienced on my own trips to places that had been years in their planning. Paul had the composer re-time the music to match the cut points within the final montage for added effect.

Deconstructed photograph, animated to create perspective, and an introduction to the next 'chapter'
As work on the documentary progressed I mentioned to Paul that we hadn’t used a really good image of one of the members of that expedition and that we really could do with using it since the latter half of the story mentions him specifically. Paul suggested that we should use it in the opening montage, as if the climber was looking out of the tent at Changabang and its fateful summit. Brilliant! In true film-making style this image would form an ‘echo’ to where the narrative was leading.

Typical two-shot, subject and their point of view
Another poignant use of digital rostrum was in the culmination of Andy Cave’s expedition, where one of the team members is fatally avalanched. I felt that this required careful, but specific attention to heighten the drama and illustrate the voice-over of Andy describing this tragic event, and its immediate aftermath. I felt the original images were not orientated to reflect the desperation of their situation, so I mirrored them (see first two photographs below and compare them to their original orientation). Combined with animated snow to simulate a more creative dissolve to white effect in between jump cuts, beginning with the unfortunate Brendan Murphy looking right. The end of the upwards pan then matches the eye line of an image selected to illustrate the dejected feeling of the remaining team members. This also was reversed with them slumped looking into the left of frame to maintain this eye line and create a more negative orientation than the original. Watch George Stevens' ‘Shane'’ for an example of this simply use of film psychology.

Animated images, orientated to convey the emotion described by the voice-over (frames 1 & 2)
Towards the end of my work on ‘Distilled’ Paul presented a late addition into the edit following our discussion about a too great a jump from this low point in the film’s narrative to the final ‘act’ and closure. He had decided to insert a beautiful timelapse sequence shot by Matt Pycroft which was shot one winter evening of Ben Nevis from Anonach Mor. This served as a transition to the last part of the film. I suggested that the epitaph to Brendan in the previous scene should do more than dissolve and Paul and I agreed that this must be very subtle, given it's purpose. Dan Jones created a simple, but effective animated text whereby the text become part of the stars as they track across the night sky in the timelapse, leaving one behind before the rest of the letter fragments fade out. Title designer Dave Halstead responded quickly to provide the original font in the title style. It was a nice team effort that perhaps mirrors in a very small way that exhibited on the fateful retreat down the mountain with Brendan.

Animated text overlays two dissolving images, whilst animating the fade to combine with the second image
Distilled’ will now be doing the rounds of film festival having won the People’s Choice category against stiff competition at Kendal Mountain Festival on 17th November 2013.

Meanwhile you can buy a download of the film for Christmas direct from Hot Aches for a discounted price of £9.99 using the special code 'Fridge' BUY HERE
RRP £14.99 (Offer ends 20/12/13)

All source images are copyright Hot Aches Productions and photographs copyright Andy Cave © 2013

More information about Hot Aches Productions films can be found on their website

Kendal Mountain Festival

Andy Cave

David Jinks
Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Colour Grading – A distillation of ideas, themes and emotion

If one word was to describe the outcome of the art and science of colour grading if would be ‘emotion’. Primarily this stage, of ‘finishing’ as it is often termed, is used to match shots taken with multiple cameras, of quite often different makes, models and settings. Standardising them so that different or incorrect exposures and white balance are corrected, and often ‘legalising’ the output within acceptable broadcast parameters.

However, that is just the beginning of the ‘finishing’ story.

Basic colour grading 

Once the colour grader has done with the vector scopes that allow them to bring each shot into the desired tolerance the art of colour grading can begin. With Hot Aches Productions latest feature documentary ‘Distilled’, this begun with a conversation with the Producer and Director, Paul Diffley.

We have graded two of Hot Aches previous award-winning films; The Long Hope and The Wide Boyz, with some minor colour correction on The Pinnacle and Paul has been a regular and successful film-maker at the Kendal Mountain Festival since about 2002 when we were having our own adventure documentary films screened. So it is fair to say that Paul and I have known each other for most of his film-making career, and this project was to build on that partnership.

Paul and his team had shot ‘Distilled’ in some of the gnarliest Scottish winter mountaineering conditions in which you could possibly hold a camera, and wanted a desaturated look for the resultant film. Paul also wanted to make a bolder statement than merely the odd ‘vinaigrette’ as we tended to call the stylised darkening around the edges (vignette). I set about by choosing one of the most impressive, keynote shots of the film to create a number of test grades which were forwarded to Paul for his preference.

From primary colour grading to applying a subtle mask

Alongside these preliminary tests we also discussed the narrative of the documentary, having been sent an audio recording of the interview with the subject of the film, Alpinist climber Andy Cave. After two versions and a couple of hours of phone conversations Paul assembled what was to become the audio-locked version of the film. By the time we had decided on an overall look and approach to the colour grading and visual effects that were to be applied, the climbing sequences had been assembled by Paul’s co-editor. The film was finally taking shape.

Original video to final look

My suggestion was to enhance the desaturated look of the film with subtle asymmetric vignettes, which in some shots also included a use of blur applied to the foreground. This not only created a more filmic look to the scene, but also served to create further depth in the image and focus the eye on the main action within the shot.

Applying a vignette and foreground image blur

This was particularly important in some of the more snowbound scenes in the film, where blizzards virtually obscured the shot, and added to the drama. Perfectly illustrating the environment of Scottish winter climbing. This was done by selecting a portion of the scene to be of particular interest and darkening the surrounding frame. In the case below, two climbers ascending a snow gully in almost whiteout conditions.

Asymmetric trapezoid mask to highlight portion of the image frame

Of course, as in most films, the ending is by convention generally uplifting. And as the second act of ‘Distilled’ reflects on the avalanche of a fellow mountaineering partner of Andy Cave the finale had to have a more upbeat look. This was achieved partly by Paul and his production team filming Andy climbing in sunnier conditions on Aonach Mor, overlooking Ben Nevis, which had been the focus of most of the earlier part of the film. Together with an even more subtle grade than previously applied.

Toning down the desaturation for the final 'act'

So, the outcome of this colour grading process was a result of long discussions about the narrative curve, content and turning points of the film, as much as stylistic choices of how the film was to look. The process not only standardised the shots recorded over 10 days in a variety of conditions, it also complimented the tone and enhanced the emotive quality of the film.

Paul Diffley has hopefully now began a successful run of accolades for his documentary ‘Distilled’ which won the People’s Choice category against stiff competition at Kendal Mountain Festival on 17th November 2013.

Meanwhile you can buy a download of the film for Christmas direct from Hot Aches for a discounted price of £9.99 using the special code 'Fridge' BUY HERE
RRP £14.99 (Offer ends 20/12/13)

All source images are copyright Hot Aches Productions © 2013

More information about Hot Aches Productions films can be found on their website

Kendal Mountain Festival

Andy Cave

David Jinks
Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582

Monday, 11 February 2013

Time in Motion

The ability to capture sport in a way that either conveys what an athlete experiences, or shows their specific movements or actions has been a goal of film-makers since the ability to record a moving image began. From the early experiments of Muybridge, to the ultra-slow motion shot of the Olympic velodrome starting pistol that was repeatedly shown in the BBC’s London 2012 montage.

Muybridge study and Olympic starting pistol in slow motion

The now ubiquitous miniCAMs such as the GoPro and Drift are brilliant in that they allow us to witness the perspective of a skier tearing down a mountain, or a surfer traversing a tube. However, they are not the only way to capture the drama of action sports. When I saw a "knife’s eye view" of a TV chef preparing vegetables no doubt shot on a GoPro I knew that I had witnessed their saturation point. These otherwise excellent devices, when used to excess, without clever placement or any other stimuli become one dimensional and repetitious.

A film-maker, either as a director or as a screenwriter will try to convey an emotion by manipulating or representing their cast to evoke an emotion in their audience. Using a rhythm of highs and lows, and introducing spectacle to put their audience ‘in the moment’. Sometimes this spectacle is transient or slight and often goes unseen in the normal timeframe. It’s the beating of the hummingbird’s wings. The bullet the moment it exits the smoking muzzle. Or the droplet as it hits the surface of water. This perception of the elongation of time was the subject of this recent article.

Research has found that by fixing the mind on the present moment our perception is that time slows down. My aim was to show a selection of sports in a different way. Using slow motion to add drama to an action. To create spectacle and to put the audience ‘in the moment’. Allowing them time to think. Drink in the experience. Rather than using miniCAMs as a gimmick, my intention was to use them as a tool to augment and complete the narrative. To capture the unseen. The intricate motion of a gear change. The concentration or elation on an athlete’s face. The result is Animus.

David Jinks
Producer & Director

Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mountain Excitement

After the heavens had closed, the sun began to shine.

Just two days after Northern England had been awash with flood water, we found ourselves in the almost spring-like English Lake District filming a mountain bike sequence. Once again in ultra-slow motion. 

I'd scheduled a shoot with a posse of mountain bikers mustered and led by Andy Smith of Cactus Creative in nearby Kendal. Andy's a keen outdoor enthusiast and he had lined us up with a spot-on location via his Lakes Locations agency. Unfortunately, this was a trek over hill and vale, and too far for the small mountain of filming equipment we had in tow. However, Andy had also arranged what looked like the kind of vehicle Batman would have if his cave was situated near Kendal.
Andy had sent me a photo of it whilst we were shooting the kayaking sequence the day before, and on my phone it resembled a sort of DIY Tumbler. In camo-green. That is if it had been constructed from the left-over parts bin at Go-Karts-R-Us and gene-spliced with a Fly-mo.

On the route out I was convinced Andy was going to press a button (there weren't many of them to be fair) and the whole thing would convert into a two-wheeled off-road dragster bike. Andy would have been happy, but the rest of the crew would have been walking.

The location was perfect. Offering us lots of potential for the selection of shots we wanted to slot in between the kayaking sequences. Loads of drop-offs, loose gravel and tree runs. Not forgetting a stunning Lakeland backdrop.

After DOP Steve Nelson and his assistant Dan had the descent shots in the can it was over to Joe 90, so-called as he's usually spotted biking off 90 degree vertical cliffs on his downhill machine.
These shots would be inter-cut into the final film and juxtaposed with Steve Edmondson’s kayak plummeting into the River Swale. Joe Lethbridge made light work of the jumps we had at hand and before long we were on the home stretch. Just in time for the December 'magic hour'. As the sun glinted through the trees and photographer Henry Iddon was able to capture the moment perfectly.

On reaching the 'Tumbler' I decided that our final shot of the day should be of the biking posse cycling through a perfectly still puddle framed by the whole of the Kentmere cirque in the evening sunlight. We fired-up the 'Tumbler' with Steve Nelson perched in the back for an impromptu tracking shot. A reluctant driver, but with new found off-road skills, I had Producer's perogative to play with the toys. So I put pedal to the metal as the cyclists got within a nose of the back of the vehicle which provided our final shot. 

As the London-bound camera crew hit the M6, Henry and I joined the Team Cactus posse at Wilf's Cafe in Staveley Yard for a sandwich and a well-earned brew. Concluding a hectic, but brilliant two days of filming.

The final film will be released shortly. In the meantime you can check out the behind the scenes video of our shoot...

David Jinks
Producer & Director

Fridge Productions Limited

Tel: 0845 604 3582

Monday, 21 January 2013

Water Logged

Shooting kayaking in one of the UK’s worst periods of flooding was always going to be a challenge. Especially using a camera last used in Turkey on the dry and dusty set of Skyfall.

I had been considering shooting a number of action sports in a truly cinematic style for some time. Desensitised to the ubiquitous GoPro miniCAM videos, endless tracking shots and the like, I’d been thinking of other ways of showing sports and perhaps capturing something that isn’t often seen: true, ultra-slow motion.

In December I assembled a crew to film a couple of outdoor sports which would look good in slo-mo. One of them being white water kayaking.
I first considered using slow-motion whilst developing some ideas for the Kendal Mountain Festival in the Autumn of 2011. Inspired by the Film Four idents I suggested we shoot a number of sports to open the individual special evenings in the festival programme. This didn’t happen, but my idea lingered.

12 months later I mentioned these ideas to my regular DOP Steve Nelson. We discussed possibilities and we made some investigations into the Phantom Flex and more manageable Phantom Miro ultra-high speed video cameras. However, apart from some specific plus points of using the higher speed Phantom we decided that 300fps (frames per second) would be enough to capture slow motion sufficiently for our purpose. We settled on using the Red Epic camera, shooting log, and equipped with some nice lenses to conduct some tests. After all, a moving kayak isn’t a bullet, even if it has been launched down the River Swale in full flood.

What I needed now was bad weather and a river in full flood.
What my crew needed was dry weather and a nearby pub.
A compromise was required, as well a man with a kayak.

Fortunately Andy Smith at Cactus Creative introduced me to Steve Edmondson. He had what looked like a kayak shaped satsuma , and a thorough knowledge of white water, and more importantly the skills to navigate it. We discussed the project and he suggested options. Producers like options.

The time I don’t spend flying a spreadsheet and juggling budgets, I spend switching between weather forecast websites.  Fortunately I could see a storm was brewing. Returning from my recce with Steve late on the evening of Saturday 2nd December, the first spots of rain began to fall.  It would continue into Monday.

With the rain still falling, I was on the mobile directing a Nissan Navarra on the M1 out of London with a camera crew and equipment whilst in a meeting with an illustrator about another commission. I then received a telephone call from my cousin who lives 4 miles away from our chosen shoot location. She was speaking from the side of the road in Swaledale having driven her BMW 5 Series through a flood and was now waiting for an AA man with engine draining capabilities. I still had to collect a hard disk drive to copy all of the lovely 5K HD video and get myself into the now rain sodden Dales. With the rain bouncing off the windows of the office Teesside and the rest of the NE was beginning to resemble opening scenes of The Day After Tomorrow. Things weren’t looking good.

Fortunately, my crew had decided to drive up the M6 and approach the Upper Swale from Kirkby Stephen having shot up there many times before and were familiar with the high moor roads.
Although the closest to the shoot location all main approaches from Teesside were now under water. Fortunately I was able to pick my way through County Durham and up in the Dales from Barnard Castle. My Camera Assistant stuck  in Newcastle-upon-Tyne wasn’t so lucky.

At 11:00PM we were all drinking Black Sheep whilst dusting off the Red Epic video camera on the kitchen table after its return from shooting behind the scenes on the set of Skyfall.
Before bed, as if by magic, the rain stopped. Just as the weather forecast the previous Thursday had suggested. Our weather window was just about to open.
My location recce with Steve Edmondson the previous weekend paid off, as we were able to quickly set-up for our first shots as planned. We had selected a two-stage waterfall to maximise our shooting opportunity. We knew that the water level would steadily drop throughout the day and that we had to move quickly and systematically before the falls became unnavigable for Steve.
We began shooting some wide shots from a high vantage point to enable us to gauge movement and speed. It also enabled us to shoot some establishing shots, general views and long shots. Before long we were amongst the action, with Steve Nelson perched above a raging torrent of peaty water capturing Steve Edmondson in his inflatable LiquidLogic satsuma plummeting down into the foaming mass of water. Photographer Henry Iddon was also on hand to capture that equally important action in freeze frame. My job was to keep the shoot moving. Nelson and his assistant Dan having been briefed earlier about the imagery I wanted just needed to keep shooting. Between pulling the kayak out of the river and hauling it up out of the steep ravine ready for the next take I was able to film the action on our in house HD cameras. As well as managing the backward facing GoPro Hero2 camera I’d mounted on the front deck of the kayak.

After more than half a dozen attempts and a quick review on the monitor I called it a wrap and Team Fridge retired to the Farmers Arms in Muker for a well-earned round of Black Sheep, toasted sandwiches and chips.

Back at the cottage we transcoded the Red Code into a more manageable video format on Steve Nelson’s mobile studio and reviewed the days footage on the monitor. An evening meal in the CB Inn in Arkengarthdale was next on the cards in reparation for our shoot the following day over near Staveley. This time mountain biking.

David Jinks
Producer & Director
Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582