Thursday, April 12, 2012

How we made Agent Orange

Jef-Aram Van Gorp and I joined forces as the Belgian Boomsticks and we produced our first YouTube short. In this post I explain the how we made it all happen.

The Idea

Jef-Aram and I are fans of shorts like the ones made by Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch. They are low budget, have decent enough effects and have often great stories. 
Since making shorts is fun we decided to give it a go ourselves. Guns and action are always well received with the YouTube public but we wanted an original angle on this so Jef-Aram came up with the idea of using bananas as guns just like kids usually do. To extend this a bit we added the double barrel leek to the arsenal.

With the general theme being fruit and vegetables, sugar and salt was quickly added as the so called drugs as these are bad when eating them in big quantities.

We consider this a hobby project so we had only limited amount of time and resources to complete this next to our full time jobs.

Equipment on set

We both have some filming equipment so we threw everything together for this shoot.

  • Panasonic HVX 200
  • Nikon D7000
  • Canon 600D/T3i
  • GoPro Hero2
  • Rode VideoMic Pro
  • Rode NTG2
  • Rode NTA2 (studio Mic for additional sounds)
and also some tripods and the Edelkrone Pocket Rig (Link to Edelkrone Pocket Rig review).

The HVX 200 is an older camera so it was the limiting factor resolution wise. 720P is more than enough for YouTube so we decided to stick to that. 
The biggest problem when shooting with different camera's is color balance. Every camera has it own characteristics so we had to solve this one in post production. We did make the mistake to shoot a bit overexposed. The H264 codec in the DSLR's is a lossy 8bit format and does limit the things you can do when color channels get clipped to their maximum value.

We left out any footage from the GoPro camera. Although we had some cool shots, the angle was so wide that even the shadow of the camera man filming with one of the other camera's was in view. Since we don't have a clip on LCD screen for the GoPro it was hard to estimate what we were shooting exactly. Something we need to prepare better next time around.

A screenshot from the GoPro. Although it looks cool it is useless because the shadow of the camera is visible in the lower left corner.

The microphones did give a good results. These are condenser microphones with a cardioid pattern which helps just getting the voice of the actor and not so much the environment. Luckily for us there was not too much wind that morning. It was -15 degrees Celsius though which made it hard to manipulate the small knobs on the cameras without our fingers freezing off.

Music and Sound FX

All music is royalty free. We bought these some time ago at a big discount. This is a good way to get cheap music which does not infringe on the youtube copyright rules.
The sound FX were free samples on the net. These were also royalty free. When you grab files from the web, make sure to check their license before using them.

Post Production

Post production consisted of cleaning up bits and pieces we didn't want to have in view after all, adding muzzle flashes, some smoke, a bullet hole in my head, a bit of blood and the orange disks which we use for the glasses of Agent Orange. The effects are quite rough but they'll do the trick when everything is moving fast.

Using compositing to clean up the plates is really powerful and it is not too hard to do. When something is just visible for a couple of frames it easy enough to copy the background from a couple of frames before. If the camera is handheld it is a bit trickier but nothing a tracker cannot solve.

The banana in the lower left corner came a bit too early into view when Agent Orange points it to my head.  It was easily repaired by taking a part of the wall two frames earlier.

The Muzzle flashes and dust clouds come from the Action Essentials 2 pack from Video Copilot. The pack is not to expensive but I am sure you can find free muzzle flashes on the web. Check if they got an alpha channel as it makes compositing them over your footage much easier. If they are against a black background it is easy enough to pull your own matte.

The blood spatter is just a paint splatter image we pulled from the web. We created a matte, gave it the right color and made it blurry. Since it sticks to the lens, there is no need to track it in.

Frame without the blood spatter.

Frame with the blood spatter and the hole in my head.

The more tricky effects are the ones you need to track over more than 10 frames. Both the oranges and the bullet hole in my head do move around. We started with a full 3D track but everything moves so much that it would become a nightmare to clean up the jumpy tracking points to get a solid track.
So we switched to the classic four point track instead. We let the computer do the track but every so often the computer got totally lost and you have to correct it manually. The perspective change was done by hand as it was just quicker to do this for a couple of frames then for the computer to try and figure it out.

Oranges fixed with gaffer tape to the glasses. Didn't look very cool so we had to replace them in post.

Oranges replaced by a clean image.

What's next?

Jef-Aram and I are already working on the second short. Make sure to stay tuned. You can do this by following us on twitter or by subscribing to our YouTube channel.

Belgian Boomsticks YouTube Channel
Jef-Aram's Blog

Frederic's Twitter Page
Jef-Aram's Twitter Page

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