When I can manage it, I like to exist in the space that I’ve lit in order to really get a sense of whether or not it’s going to play. I’ve found that, especially nowadays, cinematographers (and directors as well) are too willing to sit in tents looking at monitors of a set that’s a hundred feet away. I think it’s important to exist in the same space that an actor or performer will, in addition to looking closely at the image either through the lens or via a monitor.
Naomi Kyle is one of the people I photograph on a regular basis as part of the media machine that is IGN production. Earlier this afternoon I realized that some of the photos I’ve taken of her do not appear in Google image searches and so in an effort to address that issue and simultaneously show off my work, I’ve decided to include a shot or two as part of my portrait series.
This first one I snapped in March of 2012, three months into my career at IGN. Naomi and I were in the studio shooting photos for the thumbnail art for an episode of Cheap Cool Crazy, and I happened to notice that the light worked particularly well when she leaned over and took on that “thinker” pose while I was kneeling on the ground in front of her. The result is this image, which I still consider to be one of my first good photos. Prior to this shot I think my photography was trying to hard. It had ambition to be good, but it always fell a bit short of what I was envisioning when I pulled the shutter. This was the first shot where the result exceeded what I had in my mind’s eye. Though I’ve come a long way in terms of my creativity and technique when it comes to photography, this shot will always be special even if it doesn’t stand the test of time.
This second one I snapped during prep for a shoot for the new Daily Fix banner, which actually never went live. It was one of the first shoots where I was using a flash to light instead of continuous lighting, something that I’ve never been comfortable with coming from a cinematography world. I also didn’t have a way of moving the flash off camera, something I still haven’t addressed in my photography. I like the photo because I damn near nailed the exposure on the flash with a guess and because it fired pretty much in the dark (aside from that nice warm tungsten hair light on Naomi) her pupils are big and really draw you into the green of her eyes. It’s also just…very highly detailed.
So those are a couple of my favorite shots I’ve taken of Naomi Kyle from IGN. Hopefully Google sees this post and indexes it so that the photos show up in their image searches. More portrait series posts coming soon.
I wanted to share this video that I made for IGN for a couple reasons. First off, the thumbnail art is incredible, isn’t it? You have our amazing editorial designer, Eric Sapp, to thank for that. Secondly, I got to spend a beautiful afternoon out doors shooting sequences on a boat while sailing around the bay on an 80 foot schooner. That doesn’t happen
every day ever, so I had to write a little about what it was like.
Contrary to what you may think by looking at it, I spent a good amount of time deciding how to shoot the opening sequence. I had an elaborate (read: elaborate for someone who knows nothing about fight choreography) fight sequence, a dramatic build up in which Naomi convinces Alexis to lower her guard after being ambushed, and a brutal but awesome execution. At one point there was even talk of a second ship, CGI’s into the background by one of our incredible visual effects artists. But it didn’t really come together the way I thought it would but a slew of different reasons that none of you really care about, so I went with what you’re seeing here.
Shooting on a boat proved challenging. Years of operating have made my arms and hands steady, but no human is steady enough to get smooth shots (handheld, mind you) while cruising around in circles on a Zodiac speed boat. That’s how the low budget people like me roll: bumpy handheld shots from a rocket powered dingy rather than silky smooth helicopter mounted gyro stabilized gimbal shots. I spent the last half an hour of the trip shooting from the Zodiac, so when we got to the dock my arms were tired. Truthfully, while none of those wide shots of the ship are going to make it into my reel (or be something that I show to people outside of the show itself) they’re not bad, all things considered. If I had the time to send a handful of those shots through warp stabilizer in Premiere then they’d have been fine. But…imagine if the weather had been less than ideal.
Speaking of the weather, it was a gorgeous day. I purposely picked the 3-6pm time slot for our little cruise because I wanted to be heading back in to the marina as the sun in the process of setting over the horizon, a time period of the day that filmmakers know as “magic hour” . The idea was to essentially pad the segment with a bunch of beautiful B-roll shots. Actually, that’s my default plan for Cheap Cool Crazy but it rarely ever works out that way. In this case, I didn’t end up generating all that many shots because the sun set over the Marin headlands as we were on our way back into the marina and I wasn’t quite getting that direct sunlight I was hoping for. Furthermore, I had to shoot Brian C. Weed’s ”video” profile which doesn’t utilize the full dynamic range of the C300 since it’s meant for delivery. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great profile — but with daylight exteriors and direct sunlight you certainly see the benefits of shooting C-Log in the final image. Unfortunately for me, with IGN projects I rarely have the time to send the project through a color grade before it gets published. So…profiles designed for delivery is what I have to use most of the time.
Lastly, I have to take a minute to point out that the amazing costumes were all Alexis Cozombolidis. Alexis is IGN’s production coordinator, but she is utilized far beyond that because of her professional background: acting and fashion design. It’s the latter that I found particularly helpful for this episode, which involved putting together the pirate costumes, choosing accessories and integrating weapons. Picking these things out and describing what you want to a costume designer is so difficult, and I found that out first hand at the costume shop. Luckily Alexis was there she basically did everything, and I’d just offer my opinion and feedback to her as we pieced together the costumes. Anyway, go follow Alexis on Twitter because she’s amazing. And when you do, make sure you tell her that she should have been Pirate Alexis for Halloween. Because…well just look at this photo.
One other thing: do me a favor and share this episode with your friends and family. Who knows, they might like pirates. And/or Naomi and Alexis. Well, obviously Naomi and Alexis.
Shooting handheld on a boat really pushed me, from a technical standpoint. Check on Tuesday for a blog post about the video whose production took me out on the high seas. And follow @IMFinnegan and @igndotcom for more behind the scenes photos of my work, as well as the all the other happenings at IGN Entertainment. I’m making a conscious effort to take more behind the scenes photos of the work I do, especially because in the next couple months it’s going to get very exciting, and not just at IGN…
If you follow me on Twitter or keep up with my work or read my blog, you’ll know that much of my summer was spent traveling far and wide for IGN. Some of it was business as usual, but there was also a super secret project the likes of which I could not speak freely about. Well, until now. I’m proud to present the first episode in a mini-documentary series about the making of one of 2013′s most anticipated video game titles, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. And I’m relieved that I can finally talk about it.
Let’s start with the details. I worked closely with senior producer Caleb Lawson, former executive editor Rich George, editor Pat Coughlin, and motion graphics producer Matt Gravish on the series. The production took place in Montreal and Singapore. I shot it on the C300 with L-series zooms. The game releases at the end of October.
I like making projects like these. Telling the story of a massive creative endeavor taken on by a group of passionate video game developers is a departure from the approach and design of the regular content that I produce daily at IGN. It’s far more personal. As a filmmaker, I love to hear creative people talk about their work because everyone’s process is so different. And indeed, developing a film (the only creative process I’m familiar with at all) is very different than developing a video game, but since they’re both visual mediums I can understand on some level the implementation of the design, and how all of the elements within that design are interrelated. Things like that are interesting to me, and I think that they’re also interesting to our audience because it’s not normally something that we see in this medium.
In film, behind the scenes featurettes and gag reels are a mainstay, but in video games you rarely see anything other than the finished product unless you work in the video game industry. I still haven’t quite worked out why that is, since it seems to me like gamers worldwide are interested in learning more about what goes into making video games. Perhaps it’s something specific to Ubisoft or the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but my instinct tells me that’s not the case.
Either way, this type of content is something that I only see becoming more relevant as the video game industry grows. Gaming is very young in comparison with the other arts, yet it’s come so far in such a short amount of time both artistically and technologically. And that doesn’t even account for the audience, which has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. You can thank the iPhone for that. Now everyone’s a gamer, and gaming is part of the mainstream. And to think that when I was growing up, playing video games made you a nerd, and being a nerd wasn’t cool. Nowadays you’re not cool if you aren’t a nerd. Weird to think about.
I want to help bring this type of project into the fold at IGN, and in the games industry in general. For that to happen, people (like yourself) need to express an interest by watching it when it becomes available. So, do me a favor and check out the episode. If you like it, share it with your friends. It means the world to me, and maybe if enough people like and share it, it’ll enable us to make more of them.
After I gradated college I moved to LA and freelanced as a cameraman for two years before I got a job at Maker Studios and started my career in internet video. Those days seem like forever ago, and in internet time they might as well have been another era entirely. The year? 2009. That’s right…Dave after the Dentist was the big YouTube video back then.
While unpredictable, the freelance world was fun and challenging. Sometimes I’d find myself on bigger shoots like the one depicted in the photo, a music video called “Full of Regret” for the rock band Danko Jones starring Elijah Wood and Selma Blair, with a cameo from Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead. Other times, I’d be out of work for weeks, wondering when and where the next job would come from.
I miss the creative chaos that is working on set. Because you’re always up against the clock, as a cinematographer there’s not much time to tweak and experiment with lighting to perfection. I’ve found you kind of have to make an assessment and trust that your sensibility for what is going to look nice aesthetically or support the story visually is right and then just execute and not look back. In a way it’s cathartic because you learn to let go, which in my experience is the best way for artists to improve.