What follows is my second official short movie presented by Gorilla Film Studios, entitled The Red Stone. It is the first film produced since the official proclamation of the Dogma 16 manifesto, and is thus referred to as No. 1. It was directed, filmed, edited, mixed, colour corrected and graded by yours truly. Music by György Ligeti (1923-2006), Lux Aeterna, based on an old Roman Catholic prayer: Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tui in aeternum quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis (“Let perpetual light shine upon them, O Lord, with your saints for ever, for you are merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them”). It is a piece for 16 solo voices performed by Chor des Norddeutschen Rundfunks Hamburg, recorded in 1968 and conducted by Helmut Franz. The film is 7:58 minutes long (the entire lenght of the audio recording) and was published for the first time on YouTube on 8 May 2017. The Red Stone may best be described as a experimental short, with religious and alchemical undertones, drawing upon Christian, Pagan and Hermetic symbolism, overlaid on a maritime setting and coastal landscape. It was shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and captured on CinemaDNG RAW, using the Zenit Meteor 5-1 f/1.9 17-69mm lens with the RafCamera M42x1 to MFT adapter and follow focus gear. It was fully rigged with the POOLiCAGE, SmallRig top handle, POOLi™ S-BASE-2 Ø 15 x 60 mm rods system with attached 30 cm rods, SmallRig lens support, Petroff follow focus, and Fancier FC-270A Tripod and FC-02H Fluid Head. It was filmed in its entire on location in Klippan and Röda Sten, Göteborg, Sweden, on April 22, 2017. Copyright © 2017 Gorilla Film Studios.
The entire movie was shot using the Fancier FC-270A Tripod and FC-02H Fluid Head, supporting the full and newly aquired BMPCC rig. Although I initially tried to use the Petroff MatteBox it became impossible to use it, because of the strong winds bording on a mild tempest that was captured by the matte box and its flaps; I resorted to using the standard Zenit Meteor 5-1 lens hood instead. The zoom control of the LOMO Meteor 5-1 lens was also used on several occations throughout the shoot, only to be captured on the final product in the last scene. The film was entirely shot without a script but I knew that I wanted to capture three main subjects, the small stone church upon a hill overlooking the harbour, the small harbour with vintage ships, and the Red Stone and its surroundings. Beyond that, everything was filmed spontaneously in a run-and-gun fashion carrying the rig attached on the tripod while walking between shots. I used my car as a base and drove between a total of three locations, within an area of approximately one kilometre in diameter, disassembling the rig from the tripod and reassembling it again each time. I shot the movie only by myself, being a one-man crew. That’s how I prefer to do it. It took me approximately four hours to fill one and a half of 64 gigabyte SDXC cards. I chose to shot on that day because of the beautiful weather and the perfect mildly clouded sky, one of few days this year with relatively clear skies. However, I didn’t expect it to be so windy, a mild stormy weather, which on one hand posed me some troubles in stabilising the tripod rig, on the other hand provided me with some highly dynamic footage.
The title grew naturally out from the main subject, the red stone (called “Röda Sten” in Swedish) and its vicinity. The stone itself is a local legend with a seemingly bloody history, which may date all the way back to the pagan and pre-Christian Viking age, possibly involving clashes between Swedes and Danes. On the surface, it is simply a movie that tries to capture the beaturiful millieu and atmosphere of Klippan (“The Rock”) and Röda Sten (“The Red Stone”), situated at the very entrence of the Port of Gothenburg and the mouth of Göta Kanal. But because of my background in dabbling with the Hermetic and Occult Arts, I also wanted to attach the physical and profane artefact to the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life granting immortality, which is said to be red in colour, sometimes being referred to as the Red Stone. I also wanted to correspond the Philosopher’s Stone to the immortal Christ, as this merger was a common practice during the Middle Ages by Hermetic tradition and Christian Alchemists in Europe. The Christ was referred to as a Stone already in the Bible, which the initial quote taken from 1 Peter is referring to. As for the deeper symbolism, there is an conscious ambition to blend Christian and Hermetic themes. The anchor obviously is corresponding to the Theological Virtue “Hope”, so that’s what is being referred to with the boats. Hope is also corresponding to one of the three Alchemical Principles (Sulphur, Mercury and Salt). The movie also addresses an interrelation between Paganism and Christianity, moving from the latter to the former, as well as the journey or transition through a gate between worlds or states of consciousness. Some of these concepts became the germ and inspiration to make the movie, while others developed naturally out from the postproduction phase of the project.
General camera settings: ISO 800, Shutter Angle 172.8º, 24 fps, and White Balance 4800K. (I forgot to adjust the Colour Temperature to the outdoors conditions suited for the shoot, i.e. 6000K, but as I always shoot in RAW, White Balance setting, as well as ISO, is moot as it only constitutes metadata which easily can be adjusted in post.) General lens settings: F=17 to 69, NDx4, and f/ stopped down to approximately 18-22. General audio settings: All sound were recorded on the inboard stereo microphone of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with microphone and channel (line) levels set to 100% (although non of the sound was usable because of the distortion created by the high winds, deleted in post). The RAW footage was edited, speed ramped, mixed with Ligeti’s music, colour corrected, graded, stabilised, and rendered on Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5.5. Colour correction was made manually with no LUTs (with a few exceptions), using a basic colour correction in Resolve’s Camera RAW feature, raising Saturation 100% and Color Boost 30%. The following grading raised saturation to 70 and generally kept the Hue at level 50 (with some few exceptions), with a final adjustment done with the aid of colour wheels while checking the scopes to create a more balanced RGB profile in the highlights, midtones and shadows. Extensive image stabilisation of the footage was performed on most shots, because of the high winds grabbing and shaking the camera and making it generally ankward to concentrate, adjusted additionally with a 8% maximum Zooming to crop out any vignetting at the lower focal lengths. The final result was rendered using the DNxHR 444 (12-bit 4:4:4) video compression codec and two cannel PCM audio codec wrapped in QuickTime and Ultra HD 4K 3840 × 2160 resolution. Exported thus, it was finally uploaded to YouTube, enhancing the image with a Saturation of +1 with no additional image manipulation to retain the flavour of the original footage.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: My previous sentiments and impressions of this little beast of a cinema camera not only remain and but have been further cemented. There’s a reason for it being referred to as the “Baby Alexa”. The dynamic range is just amazing and colour information or resolution unbelievable; there is lots of information to extract from the Log profile. The image is pleasently soft and sharp at the same time (although some of the softness may be attributable to the Meteor 5-1 lens). Yes, you may call it filmic, if you like. I certainly do. Looking at the RAW images through the DaVinci Resolve 12.5 timeline, there is noticible noise in the shadows, even at ISO 800, especially when raising saturation like crazy (which I did with this movie). However, this noise is randomized and resembles film grain to a certain extent. There wasn’t any particular fixed pattern noise in the shadows, perhaps only subtly in one clip (of the Valkyria). In particular the reds noise up the shadows, and when saturated may start to look somewhat videotesque. However, that is easily remedied with some colour correction, without the need for using noise reduction plug-ins like Neat Video. I didn’t feel the need to do any noise reduction, also as I am well aware that DNxHR compression in the rendition to QuickTime files will smoothen up the picture and act as noise reduction by itself. Simply stated, the image looks organic, also with the grainy noise. There was some moire and aliasing visible in two instances, in the former case in the grill of a fan, and in the latter case in a sign made up of small red light bulbs, however that was reduced to almost non in the later compression. The strong sunlight washed out the image of the LCD screen completely; sometimes I couldn’t see anything at all. Focus peaking was a pain to spot. On this shoot I learned the hard way to always format the SDXC cards before going out to shoot, preferable the day before (while charging the batteries); I forgot to format the second flash card before starting to shoot with it; luckily enough there was still some 10 minutes of space left for RAW recording, but there was some scenes that I wasn’t able to record because of this. Also, after formatting, I will write basic metadata to the card before shooting, as this information will be copied into each clip; on this shoot I forgot about it and had to manually press in metadata on the same evening after the shoot, which took all of the evening. During this shoot, I almost used up two fully charged EN-EL20 batteries, taking care to turn the camera off between takes.
The Camera Rig and Tripod: I used my entire aluminum alloy camera rig on this shoot for the first time. It consists of the POOLiCAGE half-cage for the BMPCC, the SmallRig 1638 Top Handle with Cold Shoe Base attached to the half-cage, POOLi™ S-BASE-2 baseplate adapted for the Ø 15 x 60 mm rods system, with attached 30 cm rods, SmallRig Lens Support with Ø 15 x 60 mm rod clamp, Petroff FF-01R Reversible Snap-On Mini Follow Focus, and the Petroff P44-01 MatteBox and P44-07 MatteBox Support Adapter with Ø 15 x 60 mm rod clamp. Holding this entire rig in the top handle, you can feel the heaviness; the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera dissapears behind all of this metal, as well as its lightweigh small form factor. It was mounted with a quick-release plate to the Fancier FC-02H Fluid Head, resting upon the FC-270A Tripod. I mounted everything, both the baseplate and the quick-release plate, as far from the centre as possible to shift the balance so that the lens support approximated the balance point over the FC-02H (see final note in this link); this made it possible to use the counterweight of the fluid head. I immediately encountered problems with the matte box, as the heavy winds took hold of it and made the flags flapping back and forth, regardless of how hard I tried to fasten the knobs; they are not tempest proof (which matte box is?). Of course, I could had removed the flags, but I doubt that this would had made such a huge difference as the large rectagular matte box was prone to catch the wind. I had to remove the entire matte box and support adapter from the rails, put it back to the bag, and mount my standard Meteor 5-1 conical lens hood; it did the job allright, although the wind sometimes grabbed it as well, resulting in shaky footage. One entire and complex pan and tilt shot was ruined because of the winds. My lesson from all of this is that matte boxes, and in particular their flags, are properly made for indoors shooting, although removing the flaps from the matte box would make it usable in normal outside wind and weather situations.
Another problem I often encountered was that it was somewhat ankward to adjust the large Meteor 5-1 lens to the rig, using the lens support, to prevent wiggling of the lens while pulling focus with the follow focus. I had to raise the lens support to the highest topmost position, and raise the rod clamps of the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 until the large and heavy zoom lens was stabilised. In doing that, I had to realign the entire half-cage and lens to the centre line of the rig, centering it inside the matte box (when using it) and aligning it to the follow focus gear. However, I noticed that the entire camera moved around its 1/4″-20 screw threads, inside the half-cage, as I used the top handle to relign the camera. This blots a weekness in the POOLiCAGE, which I have tried to remedy based upon this experience, with seemingly good results. But beyond these minor nuisances, the rig did do a good enough job and helped me alot to get my shots. Although I didn’t do any advanced follow focus pulling exercises on this shoot, the Petroff follow focus helped me tremedously and made focus pulling a lot easier, preventing any judder to the image, at least after I had secured the lens well enough to the rig. Although the depth of field was very long, caused by the need to step down the iris, throughout the shoot, there are two scenes where a focus pull is noticeable, at 2:00 and 5:08, which feel smooth with no apparent shakiness (well… there is a very slight movement just at the end of the focus pull at 2:05). The top handle also came handy on several occations, when carrying the rig and when adjusting the alignment along the centre line of the Ø 15 x 60 mm rods system. The camera feels less vunerable now as well, being well protected by the half-cage and all of the attached acessories. However, I encountered some difficulties in making smooth pans during this shoot, necessitating stabilisation in post. But I think that the blame should be put on the operator (me), not the FC-02H, as I was quite distracted by the heavy winds. The only pan I’m fully satisfied with, that I have left untouched, is the long pan accross the bridge Älvsborgsbron (3:38). I cannot fully explain why, as I was standing exposed to the wind. But, I cannot remember the wind bothering me then. However, this was the only time that I had extended the legs of the tripod all the way, giving me a more comfortable position; on all of the other shots I only extended the first part of the tripod legs, which made me bend my body somwhat. Something to consider in the future.
The Zenit Meteor 5-1 zoom lens: On this shoot I made use of the RafCamera Follow Focus Gear For Meteor 5-1 1.9/17-69mm zoom lens (80-93.6-20mm) for the first time, together with my newly aquired Petroff follow focus. Both worked seamlessly together. The only issue I had with the RafCamera follow focus gear was the ankwardness of mounting the lens cap; the follow focus gear makes the front opening of the foward lens barrel narrower, which provides more friction and resistance, but it is possible to screw almost the entire cap all the way in, if you use enough force. But it took me several tries to make the 77mm male thread to find the entrence of the female thread when mounting it in the field. I also tried to make several zoom shots using the attached lever, but with no success, as the zooms were too jerky. I ended up only using the zooming in the final shot, masking the ugly zoom pulling with an added overcranking in post. That said, I didn’t find any focusing issues while pulling my zoom, as it seemed to hold consistant focus throughout the entire focus range; it seems that the Meteor 5-1 is parfocal, at least good enough for my needs. I didn’t capture that much flare in the lens, as the sun was high up in the heavens. I did encounter some softness to the edges of strong reflections, i.e. blooming, but this has a pleasent look, adding to the vintage feeling. A major flaw with the lens, though, that I encountered for the first time in this obvious way, is visible chromatic abberation at the edges, in particular with blue colours. Although it adds some character to the lens, it is an unwanted character. Also, the focus ring is quite heavy to pull. This might be due to old grease, or it may also be due to the ring constituting the entire front element barrell, creating inertia and resistance. When pulling focus, a noticable breathing (resembling a short zooming) is exhibited as well. That being said, I still enjoy the look of this lens much. I do like its softness, its low contrast and rich and warm take on the colours, which adds to the vintage filmic look of the movie. On the other hand, it can exhibit some very good sharpness as well (as seen in the background of 8:00), at least above f/11. It is a heavy lens, though, in particular for such a small camera using the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, which is notorious for its wiggling fit. But the added lens support, holding up the barrell, makes it bearable.
Workstation and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5.5: My current workstation is based on the ASUS X99-A motherboard and GeForce GTX 1060 GPU (using the latest version of the driver), as well as the Intel Core i7 CPU hardware and Windows 10 (in its latest version). On this project I have been using the latest version of DaVinci Resolve 12.5 as well, i.e. 12.5.5.026. The new DaVinci Resolve 14 had been launced in time for my prostproduction phase of work, however, as Resolve 14 currently is in its beta phase I chose not to use it as to prevent the destruction of the entire project with buggy software. Overall, Resolve 12.5.5. seems to be somewhat more buggy compared to 12.5.4; it chrashed on me twice when opening the project, and it seems to lag more, in particular when using optical flow in retime slowmotion work, so I stayed away from it. My editing was undramatic as I didn’t try out any new features, with one important exception; the use of freeze frame. As the opening sequence, featuring the church pan and tilt shot, had very little margin at the beginning, I wanted it to start with a freeze frame upon the fade-in dissolve. I belive I found out myself how to do it by playing around with the Retime Controls feature; its pretty straightforward. Just put the playhead where you want the freeze to begin, choose Freeze Frame instead of Change Speed, which creates a freeze frame, and adjust the lenght of the freeze with the mouse of the Retime Control area on the clip. Other than that, I did a simple and traditional editing with the selected clips that I found usable, trimming and cutting progressively during consecutive days until I was satisfied. The output blanking (cropping) was set to 2.40:1 aspect ratio. To mask the bad zooming in the end sequence (which I had to use because of the emotional effect), I did a speed ramping gradually lowering the speed down to approximately 50%, using Retime Curves after right clicking on the clip, as I did previously with Mirrors, and enabling Retime Speed. However, I didn’t use the Optical Flow option in the Inspector, as that was lagging to much. Also, in this case I wanted to create that juddery look when zooming in, out of aestetical reasons, which made me to choose Frame Blend instead. Thankfully, Frame Blend doesn’t take up to much processing power. When it comes to the mixing of sound, Ligeti’s music score was left untouched. I did try to use parts of the sound picked up from the boats moving and water splashing, but as the wind blew directly into the mics I could only extract a few seconds here and a few seconds there; trying to seam together a coherent atmospheric sound was a pain, and I soon got tired of the repetitious nature of it, so I deleted everything in the end.
Picking up the habit from my previous project, I did a basic colour correction in the Cinema RAW tab, setting Color Temp to 6000K, Saturation to +100% and Color Boost to +30%, to get a somewhat exaggerated colour palette to work with, as well as doing a basic adjustment of Gain and Gamma, streching out the RAW Log profile. Moving over to the colour wheels, I raised Saturation even further, up to 70 on the Color Wheel tab, as I wanted a oversaturated look for the film. I was also inspired by the filmic look associated with the 1960’s and 70’s saturated Technicolor look. Following the realease on YouTube, I have received some initial critique for my oversaturation of the colours. I’m aware that I might have overdone it, but I’m quite new to this and have a steep learning curve ahead of me. But I wanted to experiment with a saturated look for this particular movie, not a naturalistic look, because of the alchemical theme which is all about colour. It’s also a reaction against the majority of BMPCC footage being to desaturated in my opinion, almost Log-like in nature. However, this oversaturation revealed a green tint to the entire image (which is probalby due to the classic Blackmagic Design colour science, which has a more green base compared to the URSA colour science which is more based on magenta). But this green tint was easily countered using Offset during grading, moving the pointer towards the upper-right and violet portion of the colour wheel. This created a somewhat more natural and balanced look, drawing towards the blues. Unfortunately, this also resulted in bluish shadows which I haven’t been able to remove entirely, only mitigate somewhat. Also, the noise is much more visible, especially the red grain, almost resembling the static of old cathode ray tubes in its pure RAW form. But I find both the bluish shades and the red static somewhat aestetic. Following the basic Offset correction and grading towards a violet hue, I tweeked everyting using the Lift (shadows), Gamma (midtones) and Gain (highlights) colour wheels. I lowered the midtones by one stop, retaining the individual positions of red, green and blue. I raised the highlights and lowered the shadows to their furthest extensions without clipping, and making a basic leveling and balancing of the reds, greens and blues. In a few instances I had to clip portions of the highlights, such as strong reflections coming from metal or water surfaces. Also, as film being projected at the movies often has less contrast compared to digital film, it explains why I didn’t choose to lower the shadows even further, which would have clipped the blacks, as I always bring the shadows down to their lowermost point without clipping any information. Also, the particular lens I used, the Zenit Meteor 5-1, has a low contrast vintage look to it; I wanted to give the movie a vintage look.
At the very beginning and end of the movie, I turned the image to monochrome (lovering the Saturation to 0) and used the Invert Color 1D Output LUT. In certain cases I cut up the shot in a proper sizes on the timeline to be able to invert the colours using that same LUT appearing in the middle of a scene. In one case I also changed the Hue of the inverted colours, setting it to 66, using that same cutting techique, with the effect of creating a blood red colour in the water to enhance the symbolism. The only other image effect manipulation that I did in the Color page of DaVinci Resolve 12.5 was zooming and stabilisation, using the Tracking Window in the latter case. I stabilised almost every shot, with the exception of six (out of 31). Generally, I checked the Pan, Tilt, Zoom and Rotate boxes before starting the tracking; in a few instances I left out Zoom and Rotate, and in one all but Pan. Like before, I began with setting Strong to 90 and Smooth to 10. In a few cases, I set the Strong lower, as low as 60 or 70, to prevent any induced and unnatural shakiness. Only in one case was the resulting image left with a “rubbery” or “wavy” characteristic, necessitating a lower setting of Strong, but Smooth setting was only raised to 30 in certain instances (and always together with a Strong of 70). As a general rule, I checked the Zoom box in the lower right-hand corner of the Tracker, for auto cropping of the image to prevent a moving window, and it worked each time. I felt that the Tracker and Stabilization feature worked better overall, although it did lag in one case. I manually used Sizing and the Zoom feature to crop the image when the lens was vignetting, when set to a low focal range, as much as 8% but generally at 6%. During the end credits, I imported an image taken from an old alchemical manuscript, placed it over a text clip, panned the image to the right side and colour matched the background. In the transition between the fade-out of the red stone (inverted) and the image of the old ms, I imported another alchemical symbol (of the Philosopher’s Stone), using the compositing feature of the Inspector and cross dissolve. The page of the brand logos at the end I reused from my previous project Mirrors and added some more, zooming them inside the Transform menue of the Inspector, to the correct size, and orienting them according to the Anchor Point x and y axis. In all cases, I used the Darken Composit feature with good results. As always, I found grading to be a very creative art, almost as sculpturing or chiseling out the RAW footage into a final shape according to my liking. I am quite pleased with the result, the work that I am probably most proud of to date.