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Sean Kennedy's A Thousand Words garners him 2nd place in iStockPhoto's FutureNow iStockVideo contest

Effects artist uses Adobe Production Suite to create his winning entry By John Virata

Sean Kennedy's A Thousand Words was good enough to garner him second place and a brand new Sony PD 170 video camera and Kata video camera case at iStockPhoto's first iStockVideo filmmaking contest. Kennedy, a Los Angeles visual effects artist and budding filmmaker, heard about the contest at a Motion Graphics Los Angeles meeting and immediately went to work. His video A Thousand Words, details in part what a  future digital camera might look like. Here he discusses how he created his winning entry.

Visual effects artist Sean Kennedy took second place in iStockPhoto's iStockVideo contest.
DMN: A Thousand Words, how did you come up with the concept of future picture taking?
Sean Kennedy: I got it just from thinking about the theme of the contest. The theme was "Future Now", and it was being held by a stock photo website, so I began thinking about how future technology might affect photography. Once I came up with the futuristic camera idea, I started thinking about ways to incorporate the photos we had to use for the contest. Some of the pictures of people were not ordinary pictures, or what you would normally find in someones collection of family pictures. One was of an overweight woman dressed very nicely, posing in a natural setting. Another was of an angry kid really close to the camera. Looking at these pictures and realizes how odd they would be in someones collection, it dawned on me that someone, somewhere cares for every single person in those pictures, no matter how strange. That's what led me to the idea of pictures being worth more than money. Those pictures are someone's very dear memories. When your world is falling apart around you, that's all that matters.

DMN: What software did you use to create the future camera?
SK: I used Adobe After Effects 7 Professional, which is what I use for all my compositing when I have a choice. The camera effect was created with a few animated masks that were tracked to the actress' hand. I applied some fractal noise to it, then some glow, a lens flare, and a couple other small things. It was actually really easy.

DMN: What was the inspiration for it?
SK: Digital cameras have changed so much about how we take pictures. I have both a digital one and a 35mm SLR one, and for some reason I only feel artistic with the SLR. I tried to think of what could change about digital ones that might make me feel "artistic", and I thought it would be great to see the picture you're about to take very large in front of you, very epic. Of course, it would have to be a virtual frame, because digital cameras themselves keep getting smaller, and I wanted this one to be the smallest yet. If you actually look at the frame the camera creates, you'll see absolutely no features other than a red button to take the actual picture. There's no exposure adjustments, shutter speed - nothing a real working camera would need for photographers to actual use it. But the illusion worked great.


DMN: How did you create the aircraft that flew overhead?
SK: Those were created in 3ds max. They are actually missiles, but once the sound was added, I thought they looked more like planes myself, as well. It actually doesn't matter what they are - it's very clear that they are instruments of war, and they give the girl a reason to be fleeing her hometown. I spent more time than necessary on the missiles, modelling them after some real ones I found online and texturing them with a lot of detail in Photoshop. Once they were in the scene, lit, and motion blurred, they just became black smears, and all my work detailing them disappeared.

To view A Thousand Words, click here

DMN: What kind of hardware and software did you use to capture the footage?
SK: I just used a standard FireWire connection and Adobe Premiere Pro 2. I have a dual processor Boxx system with 4GB of RAM. I use the entire Adobe Production Studio. Moving between Premiere for editing and After Effects for onlining and effects work is absolutely seamless and easy.

DMN: How long did it take to finish the editing?
SK: It took me two nights. I work during the day as a visual effects artist, so I only had time to work on it in the evenings. I was worried about the 3 minute run time from the start, though. So much so that for three weeks before the actual shoot day, I took my best friend out to the location and made him stand in for the actress. I tested camera angles, then would come home and edit the footage that night to be sure I could fit in the whole story in three minutes. We did this three Sundays in a row, so by the time I shot it with my real actress, Katherine Leigey, it was the fourth time I was making it. Katherine is an amazing actress, and came up with tons of new stuff on the shooting day. So my first night of editing was easy, just getting all the takes I liked and putting them together.

The second night was the difficult night - trying to trim enough so that it didn't exceed three minutes. This was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, and I had to cut a couple little things I thought were essential, but which turned out not to be at all. The final edit is literally one video frame (1/30th of a second) under 3 minutes. I did all color correction and film look settings in After Effects using the techniques described in Stu Maschwitz's amazing book, the DV Rebel's Guide. Using the onlining pipeline he outlines, I would feel perfectly comfortable outputting my little DV movie onto 35mm film. He really explains how to get the absolute most out of your footage, and how to not lose any data as the footage moves through editing, color correction, effects, and finishing. It also comes with an absolutely amazing script that allows you to visually compare as many shots as you want from your edit, and color match them in real time! This was just unbelievable to use, and I'll never make another movie without it again.

DMN: How did you hear about the Future Now iStockVideo contest?
SK: At a Motion Graphics Los Angeles meeting a couple months before the contest began. They were really excited about being able to announce it so early, and encouraged everyone there to do their best work and enter.

DMN: Approximately how many days did it take to shoot your video and where did the shooting take place?
SK: It took about an hour and a half on a Sunday morning. We shot in a nearby state park here in Los Angeles, and had to hike back on a trail for about a mile to get to the ruins I wanted to use. We actually took mountain bikes to cut down on the travelling time. We went early because I was hoping it would stay a little bit overcast. The overcast look really lent itself well to the post-apocalyptic future feel, and also allowed me to cheat which direction we were shooting, since there would be no harsh shadows. But, unfortunately, the sun kept coming out, so if you watch the movie again, you'll notice it starts overcast, gets very bright in the middle, then becomes overcast again. I tried to make the best of it.

DMN: Did you have more than one ending to your entry?
SK: No, the ending was always what it is. The beginning changed a couple times, though. At first I wanted her to accidentally stumble across the ruins while taking pictures of something in nature. When me and my friend went up the first time, though, I realized there was nothing really there to be taking pictures of. So I had the idea of putting in a couple of CG crows perched on some of the ruins, and as she takes pictures of them, realizes what they're standing on. But then after the editing of that first test day, I learned she just needed to get to the point and walk right into it.

DMN: What do you plan to do with your prizes?
SK: I have so many ideas I can't wait to get started on! Being a visual effects artist, my movies will always have some sort of fantastical element to them, maybe as small as a digital camera or as large as an army of monsters. And seeing how well this project turned out, I really want to explore getting as much emotion into a movie as I can. I'm currently working on two scripts. Eventually I'll pick one of them and shoot it, and hopefully the short will be good enough to get accepted at some film festivals. I also will be releasing a 12 minute suspense movie that I shot last year called Justice.
You can always keep up with what I'm doing at my website, www.mackdadd.com

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:istockvideo contest, filmmaking, visual effects, DV, digital video editing, NLE, Katherine Leigey

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