Monthly Archives: October 2010

Kanye West’s Runaway

Like him or not, nobody can deny that Kanye West is one of the most influential personalities of modern pop culture. Well once again, Kanye has taken the music industry by surprise by releasing a 34-minute movie (because let’s face it, calling it a music video would be an insult) featuring some of his songs from his upcoming album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Kanye West directed Runaway by himself (most probably with the help of some experienced director by his side), and he just proved that he has a lot of potential as a director and visionary for sure. I will not praise his acting talent though, because the 4-5 lines he says at some point feel staged a mile away and they are all but natural. Except that, there are a couple of scenes that feel cheaper than the rest, for example the opening car sequence, with the good old gradient sky. But once you’re past that and you’re able to forgive Kanye for his first-timer mistakes, the rest of the movie is pretty much amazing.

It is really an artsy trip with some powerful, in-your-face messages. The one that struck me the most was clearly the diner table with all black people being served by white waiters. It may seem racist to some but I think Kanye is just trying to show how it would have been if the roles in history had been the opposite, and just how stupid this whole black and white separation is.

The cinematography is fairly good, but it is the art direction that really shines in this video. The sets, the costumes, the accessories… everything feels like it was thoroughly thought through, and the final render is very eye-appealing.

I think Kanye was on a mission to make music-video history (or simply, history) with Runaway, and he of course will. Is it technically perfect ? No. Is it visually perfect ? Close-to, but there have been better videos in the music industry in that category. Is it the biggest project ever attempted in the music video business ? That it is for sure, and this is where Kanye will make his mark. The messages he delivers and the originality of this piece make it something you just can’t ignore.

But most of all, I think this music video is a milestone for the hip-hop industry. Hip-hop artists these days are labeled as crooks and gangsters with macho attitudes, and in all honesty it is true for 90% of the genre. Even if I’m a big fan of it, I have to admit that hip-hop is probably the most unartistic form of music ever created, but people like Kanye (and a bunch of others) are changing this, and for that, Bravo Mr. West.


Muse achieves visual perfection

I am literally just coming back from the Muse concert in Quebec City, and I think I’ll need some powerful mechanics tools to raise my jaw back into normal position. Seriously, this was an incredible show, especially scenic-wise. Aside that the 3 band members are very talented musicians and even better performers, the stage was something that nobody who’s ever attended a Muse show will ever forget. 3 immense LED columns serve has pedestals for each of the band’s member, and each of these columns project very clean and beautifully defined motion graphics.

One of the highlights of the concert was definitely the insane amount of lasers shooting out from everywhere. Green beams were all around the place, creating some abstract shapes in the crowd. It was incredible. Thank you Muse.

Here’s something to give you the urge to buy tickets to see this band live.

Intro: Uprising

New Born

The Bokeh Experiment

In the past few years, I’ve embarked on a quest to obtain shallow depth of field in my video projects. For me, shallow depth of field was synonym to quality, an unobtainable style in the years I was shooting with a good old Panasonic DVX100a. In 2008, while studying in Montreal and working with my friend Charles-Etienne Pascal, I realized I wasn’t the only one involved in this journey. CE decided to manually create shallow depth of field in our short film “Face à Face“, rotoscoping each and every frame of the 10-minute long movie, to recreate the effect of out-of-focus backgrounds, something that could not be achieved with the Sony HVR-V1U we were using for the film. The result was still amazing indeed (check out the making-of), but it lacked something, and I couldn’t figure out what back then.

In the first year I started to work with Nova Film, the company acquired a Letus35 Extreme adapter, which allowed us to attach Canon FD lenses to our HVX-200. I almost orgasmed when I first saw the 1080p image with super shallow depth of field. The quest seemed achieved for me, finally. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. While now being able to produce the images I envisioned for close to 3 years, I had no knowledge whatsoever of lenses and aperture, which is key when your thing is shallow depth of field.

The next year, the first Canon 5D MKII videos started emerging, and boy did I get served with depth of field. Every single shot in every video was a close-up of something with almost everything out of focus. While watching those videos, it finally struck me. The sharp circles created by out-of-focus lights, the ocean of dots created by leaves, the massive reflections on chrome and metal… Every material and texture had its own unique kind of blur. Later on, Phil Têtu, a fellow worker at Nova Film who has more knowledge about lenses than an encyclopedia, pronounced the word that finally gave a name to the endless blurry-background descriptions I was using: Bokeh. The answer to all my questions.

Bokeh became almost an obsession for me in the last months. Now that I have a fair knowledge of lenses, and that I’ve tested quite a few, I’m always looking for the best out-of-focus background to put my subject in front of, the best texture that will render the most amazing circles, hexagons or octagons behind my subject.

Three weeks ago, I acquired an old Zeiss 50mm 1.7, from the man himself, Phil Têtu, and I decided to go out and take a few shots to see what this new baby could do. I came back with many disappointing shots, a few good pictures, and one that amazed me, this one.

I was really struck by this picture. To be honest, I almost didn’t look through the lens while taking this picture, so that’s why it surprised me. And of course, the blur, the circles, the light and the rainbow flare were the first things that caught my attention, not the few little flower tips that were in focus. And it inspired me to do some more. I then realized something: why do I need a subject when all I’m looking for is that perfect abstract shape that an out of focus background gives me ? Why can’t the background become the foreground ? And that is exactly the new challenge I’ve embarked on today and for the coming weeks, and maybe months.

For now, this will be simply called The Bokeh Experiment, because, let’s face it, that is what it is. It’s probably been done before, and frankly, I don’t care. In the end, I’d like to come up with a series with a more original name of 10 to 15 pictures composed of nothing (or close to) but out-of-focus rendered shapes. I will start out with my personal lenses, and maybe rent/borrow some to achieve results that my personal gear can’t produce. If you have any suggestions of lens I should try out, please, PLEASE post them in the comments below. For the first time since I made my last ski-movie, I’m looking forward to the first snow, because sunlight reflecting on snow crystals is one of the most simple yet amazing things that light can create.

So here it is, the first picture of the set. I don’t know yet if it will make the final cut, but I feel like it’s a good start.