DVC17 - Azure Sunrise - Daniel Bates at DVinfo.net

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Old October 12th, 2009, 01:36 PM   #1
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DVC17 - Azure Sunrise - Daniel Bates

Azure Sunrise was my second narrative video made since leaving school, and my first DV Challenge. It was an interesting process to say the least. Conceptualization took nearly a week; I struggled with storylines until I figured out that I had to work backwards from what I have available (soldiers, weapons, Iraq) instead of forwards from what I would like to have available (a great many other things). I picked the bad-horror genre because it was fairly easy and required comparatively less dramatic acting and plot. (Secret military project + monsters + screaming > plot.)

Conceptualization done, I moved on to preproduction. I carry a little green spiral-bound notebook everywhere I go - it's a soldier thing - and over the course of a few days, half a dozen pages became scene lists, plot summarizations, and terribly drawn miniature storyboards. I eventually refined the latter and made a rough animatic out of it to show my actors. They thought it was cute. (Go figure.) Speaking of actors, I approached several of my coworkers with the concept and characters and successfully cajoled two of them into appearing in my little film. The speaking part was fought over - sort of; neither wanted it, but they wanted to be dragged down a hallway even less, so an arrangement was proposed and agreed to after much deliberation and bribery.

Then, around missions and sleep and a very little bit of schoolwork, I began principal photography. The easy shots went first - the MBITR, the hapless harried perimeter-defense grunt, the Giant Voice exteriors - until one night everything came together and all the main-talent scenes were shot in about four hours. This was a test of everyone's patience; a film director I most certainly am not.

Editing went fairly smoothly. I split the trailer into two parts; the first, from the opening titles to the explosion, was cut in one night, and the rest went together in bits and pieces over the next two. Sound was another of my many Waterloos, but I muddled through Soundbooth and Garage Band (for the piano) and was able to match up some representative sound to at least most of the major actions in the video.

A few notes about the shooting, more or less in order according to the shot - the opening sequence was the result of the only rain I've seen in the last three months. This part of Iraq rarely has any cloudy skies at all, and I was fortunate to be outside one morning just in time to notice a front rolling through. It was quite gone within half an hour, and the likes of it have not been seen (by my eyes) before or since.

The explosion was made in After Effects; indeed, all the effects and grading were done in that program, and I used Dynamic Link to just cut AE comps together in Premiere. Similarly, all sound was processed in Soundbooth and imported as .asnd project files into AE and Premiere. Maybe half of the scenes used dual system audio (Sennheiser G2 and MK66 into Sony PMW-EX1; not the best but it's what I've got); the other half used MKE400s and a good bit of Soundbooth work.

The ditch (previously referred to as hapless-harried-perimeter-defense-grunt) scene was lit with one Litepanels Micro and two Canon 430EX Speedlites, spastically triggered by myself and my key grip. We managed to avoid the worst of the 5D rolling shutter effects by sheer luck.

The weapons scenes were very carefully shot - very carefully indeed; myself and my fellow actors deal with loaded weapons on a daily basis, and in this case familiarity breeds respect. Yes, that M4 had a real round in the magazine; it had to in order for the bolt to not lock back.

The LS of me going out the door was something like the seventh or eighth take of that scene. I chose not to include the take where I trip over a chair in the adjacent room and face-plant into another two chairs and a table. My co-actors were howling with laughter (naturally). One for the blooper reel!

The last shot - my personal favourite - was very simply done; the 5D was on a Gorillapod with a Litepanels Micro in the hotshoe, and I had about ten feet of 550 parachute cord tied to each ankle. Rolling . . . action! and away I went! The knee pads and body armour helped immensely; I didn't feel a thing. We nailed it on the first take but couldn't help doing it three more times just for fun.

I'm not satisfied with the editing; something feels 'off' but I'm not good enough to know what, let alone how to fix it. The directing, shooting, and audio work is definitely not up to par, but I know exactly why (inexperience). Hopefully that will improve with time and more DV Challenges.

Comments! Critiques! Especially critiques - let me have it! I've a thick skin; I can handle it. Tell me what you liked, and please tell me what you didn't like (and why if you're feeling very generous). I need to learn, and for that I need and deeply appreciate your feedback. And now, without very much further ado, may I present: Azure Sunrise, courtesy of the 17th DV Challenge and the Digital Video Information Network.
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Old October 12th, 2009, 02:56 PM   #2
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I'll give thoughts on the trailer tomorrow when it's posted, but can't help myself--must congratulate you on the feedback post of the year! (in my opinion, of course).

Your writing reminds me so much of my son's I can't help but enjoy it; I could see the process in my mind and laughed out loud several times.

Like right here:

Quote:
The speaking part was fought over - sort of; neither wanted it, but they wanted to be dragged down a hallway even less, so an arrangement was proposed and agreed to after much deliberation and bribery.
Thanks...you made my day. :)
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Old October 13th, 2009, 11:51 AM   #3
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Daniel,

First, thank you for serving. I have 20 years active duty, retired in '78, and I still feel a strong bond of kinship with those of you who wear the uniform.

That you found time to do a challenge in Balad, is to me quite amazing, but even more amazing is the "production quality" you achieved. None of the things you mention as possibly not feeling right come across that way. The image quality of the 5D MkII really comes across here, the ditch scene to me is well lit being very crisp. One of the things you might consider when depicting troops in "combat" is making the camera position frontal light a lot weaker and bring in some accent from the left side (in your ditch scene). This is merely a suggestion and NOT a criticism.

Probably comes from the way our defensive positions were setup at the 6924th Scty Sq at DaNang in 1970. The flood lights lit up the sandbag revetments and spotlighted us for the enemy (I was Air Force), and marine friend of mine pointed this out and I got labelled as a troublemaker in the unit for bringing it up to the senior NCO's over me (the air force was still the "country club" of the DOD in those days.

So while I use strong lighting in that kind of situation, I bring it in from such an angle it mainly "rimlights" faces and forms. I do understand this would be difficult to do and might not look good enough due to the night vision stuff you guys wear now.

What you did is excellent in my opinion. I would have enjoyed working with you on it!

YES on weapon safety. I noticed all fingers off trigger and could see weapon discipline at work. I have an M4 and love shooting it, mine is the A2 model and not accesorized.
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Old October 13th, 2009, 12:00 PM   #4
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Daniel:

One of the things people will tell you is look around you and use your local resources to make your films. Well, yours is a great example. Very interesting trailer with a lot of intriguing shots.

My son in law just returned from Afganistahn and from his videos, I recongize the nice plyboard wall treatments.

And thank you for your service !
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Old October 13th, 2009, 01:05 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Foreman View Post
One of the things you might consider when depicting troops in "combat" is making the camera position frontal light a lot weaker and bring in some accent from the left side (in your ditch scene). ... So while I use strong lighting in that kind of situation, I bring it in from such an angle it mainly "rimlights" faces and forms. I do understand this would be difficult to do and might not look good enough due to the night vision stuff you guys wear now.

I initially wanted to rimlight the talent, but my lights weren't strong enough to really show the person's form. If you look very closely you might see a rimlight effect on the weapon; we had a LED headlamp hidden behind it for that purpose. I tried switching the key and rim lights (to have the LED light as key and the LP-Micro as a kicker) but it didn't look right on the monitor. Perhaps it would have worked if I had spent enough time on the setup; instead, I went for the quick-and-easy solution and just blasted him from the front. Oh well; there's always next time, right?

Thank you both for the compliments - now, what do you really think? :)

PS: My fellow actors and crew thank you both for your well wishes, and Bruce, thank you for serving before us.
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Old October 13th, 2009, 02:53 PM   #6
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Wow, amazing what you could do in such conditions! And the quality is great too - amazing camera!
That said I didn't really get, what it all was about, until I read your description.

Yes, there was written that "a sleeping death was awoken", but I didn't see anything to suggest that and, what's most important, didn't get the feeling that something like that had happened - the man could have been dragged away by anything. Maybe a few comm shoutouts about some monster arisen or a few urgent loudspeaker announcements, or cries for help from other soldiers and weird looking shadows would have enhanced the experience.


p.s. I've grown up with the military and am serving my own country in another service, so my compliments and well wishes to you - be well, be safe.
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Old October 13th, 2009, 02:56 PM   #7
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The opening shot was stunning. I also really liked the countdown sequence. The computer screens looks awesome. I can never get a get a good shot of a computer screens no matter what I try.

Overall, I think this was awesome video, especially given all the other things you have to deal with over there.

I think the shot with the bullets flying by was great but I agree with Bruce that the lighting could have been a little softer maybe. Also maybe putting a little bit of shakiness in the footage may help make it look less like a setup shot. Those aren't critiques really because it is impossible to know what works better until you try it, but that could help maybe.

Great Job!!
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Old October 13th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #8
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Nice footage

So how do you get a computer to edit this good 5dMII of footage in Iraq and have After Effects to edit. GGGEEE.. That's more impressive then the video, which looks nice...

Now for the Video.. to me it seemed like after the opening everything went real fast... So fast I had to watch it 4 times to understand the titles and get what was happening...

Again nice job and Thanks for your work... Blessing to ya all...
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Old October 13th, 2009, 06:35 PM   #9
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It's sure too bad you didn't have time to film those aliens and helicopters... ;)

While it is true that your written explanation is necessary to understand the threat, etc., it is also true that the images you gave us are compelling and incredibly professional-looking. The shot of the rifles being pulled from the wall was pure Hollywood.

Great editing, too; I loved the cuts and angles used in the beginning with the countdown. Not sure what didn't feel right to you; my guess is you'd have rather had time for more footage to include after the title.

Tell your actors they all did a great job--especially the one who was coerced into a speaking role. :)

Give you more time to develop a film, Daniel, and you will be quite the "force to be reckoned with." We'll be here for "more DV Challenges" --glad to see that you will be, too.
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Old October 14th, 2009, 09:12 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Craig Bellaire View Post
So how do you get a computer to edit this good 5dMII of footage in Iraq and have After Effects to edit. GGGEEE.. That's more impressive then the video, which looks nice...
It's all Army equipment. My battalion commander agreed that it was time to update the XL-1s, Betacams, and Avid systems and asked me what I wanted to take downrange. It's nice having a major command's budget to work with... :)

The screens weren't anything special; H.264-encoded MOVs played fullscreen on the same MacBook Pros that I edit on. The security camera footage was originally meant to be played on a wall-mounted TV, but that didn't work out the way I wanted it to, so I just dropped the footage into my timeline instead.

Was my edit too fast-paced? I tried to base it on other monster/horror trailers (especially Cloverfield's teaser and theatrical trailer), but there has to be a balance between velocity and comprehension and I'm not sure that I achieved that.

My heavy background in stills helps me compose angles, but my nonexistent background in storytelling hinders my attempts to edit those angles into a coherent story - hence why I aspire to be a DOP, not a director. Unfortunately I have to be a one-man production company sometimes.
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Old October 14th, 2009, 10:37 AM   #11
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Amazing production values across the board cinematography, SFX, sound, editing, it was top notch. The "velocity" of the story was indeed very fast, and now that I've watched it so many times I'm not sure how much I've gathered on repeat viewings and how much was clear that first time.

I think maybe one very distinct image/scene that explains the situation (monster) better would be helpful. The text drives the idea of a monster but could also be read as metaphorical, and most of the shots are somewhat ambiguous (we don't see what is shooting at the soldier, we don't see what they're going into). Perhaps some more sound design of someone screaming over a walkie "What is it!?" or hearing some fantastic monster sound will make that idea more clear. Even the Cloverfield trailer while being very mysterious and ambiguous was clearly about a giant monster in the city. I think your pacing is good but it just needed a bit more information to make sure there was no confusion.

Of course that is all just being nit-picky with details, it was fantastic.
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Old October 14th, 2009, 10:55 AM   #12
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Hey Daniel,

Just read about your 3-hour wait to watch Andris' trailer. I wondered how you were going to pull off watching all these when my son, just a few miles from you, has told me not to send anything that couldn't be emailed. Three hours is brutal!

Tomorrow I'm going to post a 7mb file of my trailer; if any of the rest of you guys reading this have time to include a small file either in your feedback thread or emailed to me for inclusion on the main thread that would be great.
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Old October 14th, 2009, 01:41 PM   #13
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Great looking trailer!

Like everyone else I am amazed that you pulled this off while on duty in Iraq! Kudos

Looked awesome! Flowed well. Actually was too short in my opinion, I wanted a few more shots to really sell me on the idea.

Effects were top notch! Great production value with all the guns at your disposal! Smart film making!

The only thing I didn't buy was the girl talking. Acting was fine. However, it felt like some old general or maybe some "bitchy military scientist would be the one giving orders on such a big experiment? Not a young girl? It sort of took me away from believing what I was seeing.

Everything else was top notch! Your definitely the front runner!

And like everyone else I thank you and all your crew for fighting for our freedom!

Good luck my friend,
Jesse
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Old October 14th, 2009, 10:46 PM   #14
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Let me start with what many have already said. Thank you for serving.

I enjoyed this very much. The production quality was high and I like seeing what the DSLR's can do for video. Maybe it's just me, but during the ditch scene I noticed a bit of the rolling shutter. I think it was the first time that it actually stood out to me. I think because of the subject matter.

I think someone else already mentioned it, but one thing I would have liked is a little more jitter in the camera movement during the ditch scene as well. I think it would have added a little more emergency to the to the scene.

Same could be said as the bomb detonates. I liked the effect, but it didn't affect any of the foreground or background. Just adding a little shake to the whole scene in AE would have helped.

Overall, one of my favorites. Nice work. I loved, LOVED, the guns getting pulled of the rack.
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Old October 15th, 2009, 01:23 AM   #15
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Hey Daniel!

Our very own DVC veteran Robert Martens figured out a way for you to have all the trailers at once with one 61MB download. We know that will still take a long time but will it work?

Go here for details from him.
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