If you ever have an opportunity to make a rap video starring custom puppets, I hope you take that opportunity.
When Can’t Stop Won’t Stop released their LP “Wildebeest” in 2013, I pinged the group about doing a music video for a song on the album. They were 100% interested, and the plan was to film something when I was next in Los Angeles. Over the next two years it felt that my work in L.A. either didn’t line up with times when they were in town or I didn’t have time to tag on an extra project while down in California.
Eventually a window aligned when the group was sort of available at the same time that I was sort of available, but during that week, none of the vocalists would be in the same city – they were scattered all over the USA. My first though: make an animated music video! My second thought: use puppets! The band was down with the idea, so I began putting out feelers for excellent puppeteers.
My brother Morgan helped me find Randall McNair of Widgets, Inc., who is basically a reincarnation of Jim Henson. He and his wife Lucy proved to be amazing people to work with. They brought a lot of creative juice to the mix and were total professionals in every way. They have a fair amount of film experience, as well as tons of live theater experience, and they were patient with the rest of us while we worked through the learning curve of filming puppets in action.
We began filming in Utah, near where Randall and Lucy live (they had just come back from a few weeks working on a show in Alaska). Filming was relatively straightforward once I started figuring out how to film a puppet in action. The train footage was hilarious to film because people kept walking through the aisle, and they had to step over Randy and Lucy, who were laying in the aisle with their arms raised between the seats to operate the puppets. One security guard just casually stepped over them without batting an eyelid. I guess they see far weirder things on those trains.
We filmed the first verse in front of David Eff’s pink truck that sells frozen bananas, and put out a call to fans to invite them to come and dance it up. Here’s a behind-the-scenes video clip of Randy and Lucy in action, obviously rapping along with nearly every word from the song:
My favorite setup was the recording studio (June Audio Recording Studios in Provo, Utah), which was a shot I had previsualized early in the creative process, and was thrilled to see the footage turn out almost exactly as I had originally envisioned. Normally, during the development process things change and evolve, and the process is a journey that leads somewhere I hadn’t initially planned. When this happens, though, and the strong initial vision is brought to fruition without mitigation, it feels great.
The Mercedes SLK 500 was a blast to work with, as well. David Eff found this car and its owner at a local car show a few weeks before production began. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was committing to, but there’s something special about being able to turn to an elderly gentleman and say, “Sir, can we have this puppet drive your car?”
We filmed the green screen footage in a park, using one pink bike that I bought from a thrift store for $5 the morning we filmed it. I wanted to harness the cheesy chroma key composite feel of early-90s Sesame Street, and I feel like it turned out just right.
All in all, this project was a blast to work on. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop have a huge amount of energy; I hope to be able to work with them and the McNairs in the future! Enjoy the video!
“Grief” is a barefoot Waltz (in American style ballroom, also known as Smooth Waltz), performed by the Youth Show Team at Pacific Ballroom Dance in Auburn, Washington. It is part of my not-for-profit Dance Short Films project.
Since around 2006 I had discussed ideas with my wife Jill for a very grounded, expressive barefoot Waltz based on this song, and we had been kicking around ideas for several years without being able to move forward into detailed choreography because something was missing.
During a particularly difficult time in late 2014, several family members and close friends had died within a very short period of time, and life had begun to feel incredibly bleak. When my friend Sam Oliver died unexpectedly over the holidays late in 2014, I came to the point where I just couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t listen to music. The day I learned about his death I went walking through the woods with a heavy heart when I began to discover movements that helped me through the grieving process; the movement became therapy. That night, Jill and I began riffing off of those themes and we developed this piece very quickly, within a few hours of working on it, and began teaching it to our youth team at Pacific Ballroom Dance the next day.
We later learned that many of our dancers had experienced similarly challenging months including death in the family, illness, divorces, and sickness. Our team quickly internalized the movement and also used it as therapy to process the grief. Several of the dancers later told the rest of us that they had specific family members and loved ones in mind while we rehearsed this piece. We have collected the names of those who we grieved for during this period: they are placed near the end of the credits in the short film.
A video posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on
This piece is based around the fundamental idea of Waltz: rise and fall. Waltz is a dance (and musical style) based around a systematic 3-count pattern that rises and falls with every measure of music. Often, there is an additional level of rise and fall in the dynamics and phrasing, which is expressed over longer stretches of music. This rise and fall is generally expressed through foot rise, the bending and straightening of knees, body rise (elongating the torso from the center), and through arm and head contractions. Additionally, rise and fall is often seen through lateral expansion and contraction to coincide with the movement in the music.
With “Grief” I wanted to take rise and fall and expand it beyond the normal realms of ballroom dance: I wanted dancers on the floor and high in the air, making the dynamics far greater. (One day I plan to work with dancers on wires and bring waltz into the air as well, but one step at a time!) The piece itself follows a certain type of rise and fall: the dancers begin on the ground, contracting and expanding, and gradually arrive on their feet. Towards the middle of the piece of music, three dancers are lifted high above the heads of the group, after which they all return to their feet. The piece ends with all dancers again on the ground.
All of this was strongly informed by the dynamics and flow of the piece of music, “Earth” by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, from the beautiful soundtrack of “Gladiator” (2000).
The symbolism we hoped to evoke has to do with the challenges of life itself: we start low, crawling on the ground, yearning and reaching to develop and overcome our limitations. We grieve and mourn with others. Sometimes our pain is too great to bear, but our loved ones around us stand with us and comfort us. We find breakthroughs that help us reach high, but in the end we all return to the earth. We hope that audiences can see that narrative arc within this piece.
Staging for Screen
When we performed this piece in a theatrical setting, I designed the lighting cues to enhance the story that this is an entire life cycle of a group of people, complete with highs and lows. I did this through emulating the light that happens throughout the course of a day. All of the lighting cues, which normally have cross-fades between 3-5 seconds in an average piece, were set to durations between 20 and 40 seconds so the lighting transitions throughout the piece would be mostly imperceptible.
The intro choreography on the floor was danced almost as silhouettes in blue-tinted near-darkness. The solo couple stands and some amber front lights shown on them, mimicking the golden light of dawn. Gradually, the stage lights arise until they reach a peak at the lifts just after the middle. After that, the lights slowly faded through orange to a deep red, symbolic of sunset and the end of life, and the lights faded to black as the final lift ended and Logan cried over Kaylah’s fallen body.
As much as I wanted to do the exact same thing with the film version, we didn’t have the time or resources needed to bring it to fruition. Any limitation can become an opportunity for creative inspiration, however, so Jill and I scouted locations and racked our brains for the perfect setting and style to tell this story on film. Though exceedingly difficult to get permission, I somehow got access to the raw side of the river below Snoqualmie Falls, thanks to Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater. We only had a few hours with everyone available, and no money for a crew, so we all volunteered our time and resources to make this happen.
Most of us woke up around 4am that morning to prepare and travel to Preston, Washington, near Snoqualmie pass, 22 miles East of Seattle along I-90. We filmed the intro footage on the rocks in the river around 8:30 in the morning, after hiking through the woods for a bit over a mile, carrying costumes, food, water and camera equipment. A large number of curious onlookers watched on from the Salish Lodge on the opposite side of the river as we filmed throughout the morning. The very first scene filmed was the very ending of the piece, because the light on top of that high rock was perfect in that moment.
Those rocks that the dancers begin the piece on were slippery and difficult to access. We taped up each dancer’s feet with athletic tape (I bought all of the athletic tape at Rite-Aid – all of it) to help protect them, and they found ways to protect their pants and skirts while jumping over logs and climbing over rocks, jumping over stretches of water to get into position. I literally stood in the river to get the camera angle I wanted. Jill stayed close to them and relayed any direction I had (through a series of relayed shouts), since the sound of the falls is so overwhelmingly loud. We hid a loud music player behind them on the rocks and former team member Teneal Thomas operated an iPad to start and stop the music playback as we filmed.
The shore of the river had very few places where one person could stand comfortably, let alone for 20 dancers to move freely, so we only filmed one other section near the river (which begins around the 1:40 mark). The rest was filmed in a clearing in the woods above the river. By the time they had changed back into hiking clothes, hauled everything back up the trail, set up again, had some food, and gotten back into costume (while I set up the camera and crane), the dancers were running out of steam. Their attention was fading and their feet were throbbing, and many had time crunches that were making them nervous. There were some jokes from the dancers about how the only way I was able to get them in character was to make them physically suffer for the day. We filmed several takes back to back and the kids were really struggling with heat and fatigue so we only got a few more good takes before we decide to call it a wrap.
A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on
I recorded some audio at the river while were down there – I recorded at a few places, ranging from little bubbling side areas to the roaring falls themselves. The ambient sound at the beginning of the film is a multitrack audio composition made of keyframing volume and audio properties to make it sound more like the rise and fall of ocean waves, and still on tempo with the music.
Audio composition to make natural river sounds sound like a Waltz rise and fall pattern.
A few shots needed invisible visual effects done: I removed the Salish lodge from the top of the hill just to the left of the waterfall, and I moved once dancer’s eyes to the side for a few seconds when he looked right into the camera during the middle of a take. Otherwise, the film is very much just a 23.976 timeline of 4K UHD footage. The compression of YouTube destroys the natural detail significantly, but it still is better to watch at 4K on YouTube than it is to watch at 720p or 1080p, so if you have the opportunity to watch on a high-resolution monitor, please do set the playback resolution to 2160p!
That’s all I can think of to say about this piece for now. It’s been a journey, and I’m grateful for my wife for being there with me through this process, as well as our dancers and their parents for putting up with me as I woke them up before dawn, dragged them through the woods with heavy equipment, and made them dance barefoot outside until their feet were bleeding.
This isn’t the most solid film I’ve made in terms of film technique and artistry. It doesn’t feature the most skilled or accomplished dancers. It is definitely one of the most personal to me, however, and I’m a little hesitant to share it with the world because of the vulnerability Jill and I exposed through this creative process. I hope that it touches someone, somewhere, at some point in time.
“Run Away” is a short film based around the dance known as Rumba, performed in the International Latin Ballroom style. It is part of my not-for-profit Dance Short Films project.
The creation of this short film began when I heard “Don’t,” a beautiful and haunting piece of music by Camila Recchio. I immediately asked her for permission to use it for a dance piece, then began talking to dancers. Natalya and Umario ended up finding inspiration in the song, and after I gave them a few general story beats and concepts and images that I wanted to include, they choreographed the movement and developed the story between the characters.
“Run Away” has many themes, which may mean different things to different people at different times. To me right now, it’s about the death of a relationship. It shows the tragedy of a once-thriving friendship that is now dead at the core. In many ways, this short film deals with similar themes and visual motifs as my short film “Time Withers” (2011) (choreographed by Elisha Thompson), but while that film ends on a hopeful and inspiring note, this one is deeply tragic.
Directed, Filmed & Edited by Garrett Wesley Gibbons
Performance & Choreography by Natalya Zrazhevskaya & Umario Diallo
A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on
I filmed this entirely in 4K on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K (some shots in ProRes 422 and others in CinemaDNG raw for a little more dynamic range), using an assortment of Canon EF L-series lenses. The camera was often mounted on either a Kessler Crane KC-8 or a JAG35 shoulder rig. The SmallHD AC-7 SDI monitor was invaluable on this shoot, since its color rendition and brightness outdoors is far superior to the built-in display of the Blackmagic Production Camera.
The editing workflow involved first using Resolve to create 1080p proxy files (with a basic Rec 709 lut applied), which I used for editing. Once the edit was locked I exported a shot list that was used to conform the edit to the source media in Resolve, where I finished the coloring process and exported in 4K. The fade-in effects and a few final visual effects were then added in After Effects (the transitions were created using the Video Copilot plugin called Twitch), including a bit of extra sepia processing on the “happy past” clips (because I wasn’t entirely happy with the look I created for it in Resolve). The closing titles were also created in After Effects.
by Garrett | Comments Off on TV ads for Liberty Coin & Currency
Here are two TV spots I filmed and edited, working under the direction of Mike Johnston at Bigger Picture in Seattle. The is Liberty Coin & Currency, based in Portland, Oregon. The campaign is based around pairs of people who are fundamentally opposed in some way or another, who agree that Liberty Coin & Currency is the place for coins and gold.
The Presidents spot was a lot of fun. Besides two great actors and some fun period costumes, the hair and makeup was amazing. These two men completely transformed for this part.
The Twins spot is based around a classic rivalry between two colleges: the Oregon State University Beavers and the University of Oregon Ducks. The twins were each played by the same actor, and this was a challenging spot to nail down timing on because of the banter involved.
by Garrett | Comments Off on Republic Services Roosevelt: Generating Power from Refuse
I have recently spent some time with Bullseye Creative, an ad agency in Seattle, working to produce some internal and promotional media for a few facilities run by Republic Services, a national waste-management company. This facility in Roosevelt, WA is fascinating: while essentially a landfill, they capture the methane gas produced by the waste and produce over 20 MW of energy, which powers most of the region and has an excess that is sent to California.
The facility is beautiful and looks fairly pristine, and is as clean and green as waste management comes. My favorite aspect: rather than use poison or guns to control their seagull population, they have an on-site falconer. More to come as additional pieces are finished!
by Garrett | Comments Off on Blackmagic 4K tests: battery life, data and record time
Updated July 20, 2014 to reflect the addition of more ProRes codecs in firmware update 1.8.2
I wanted to share my recent little study with other 4K Blackmagic Production Camera users (and potential Blackmagic users), so that we can better understand the battery drain of this camera. Here are some of the questions I have asked:
How long will the Blackmagic 4K camera record on the internal battery?
How big of an impact does screen brightness have on battery life?
Does 4K resolution drain the Blackmagic camera’s battery more quickly than 1080p resolution?
I performed a series of tests where I charged the camera to 100% battery, unplugged it, hit record, and let the camera record until the battery died. I then removed the SSD and mounted it on my computer to see the clip’s duration and file size. Here are the results:
Blackmagic 4K Production Camera Battery life
All tests at 400 ASA, 180 degree shutter angle, 23.976 fps
It’s fascinating to me to see the following:
4K resolution drains the battery more slowly than 1080p resolution
100% screen brightness only drains the battery 12-15% more quickly than 0% screen brightness
My guess is that the sensor is natively 4K, so the in-camera processor needs to work less than when scaling/debayering the image down to 1080p, therefore drawing less from the battery due to the decreased processor activity.
Also, here are the stats that my tests demonstrated regarding how large a 4K or 1080p clip can be expected to be, as well as how much time I can expect to fit on a 480 GB SSD drive:
Blackmagic 4K Production Camera file sizes and data rates
Note: All codecs with variable bit rate (VBR) will yield slightly different results depending on picture content and how it is compressed. Footage with more detail or movement will take up slightly more disk space.
File size (GB/min)
Data rate (mbits/sec)
Minutes on 480 GB
ProRes 422 HQ
ProRes 422 HQ
I hope this is helpful to someone out there! Please leave a comment if you have any questions or anything to add to the discussion!
by Garrett | Comments Off on “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” – The RA Scion redux
Last Fall, Seattle Hip-hop artist RA Scion worked with a Brooklyn-based producer named Rodney Hazard and gave us all an album that defied expectations and elevated Hip-hop music. “The Sickle and The Sword” generated a ton of well-deserved buzz, but was quickly cut off due to some legal confusion and drama on behalf of the producer. The producer demanded that the album not be sold or distributed, and the album was cut off short.
Not so easily defeated, RA Scion and his team began searching for a new producer to bring to life the vocal tracks that had been abandoned by Hazard’s beats. Vox Mod‘s work caught RA’s attention, and “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” was born.
I’ve spent the last week listening to the new album. The old version was one of my favorite albums to come out of Seattle, and I’ve been apprehensive about what the new sound and the new take on this beloved material might be. Not knowing what to expect, I abandoned expectations and dove in.
The surprising news to me is that the essence of the first album has generally been transferred to the new album. Despite the fact that Vox Mod apparently hasn’t heard the old album at all (or at least he hadn’t when The Stranger interviewed him), the album achieves a similar vibe that is conscious, mystic, intelligent, uplifting, challenging, and incredibly clever.
Here’s a track listing that compares the new track titles to the old:
The Sickle and The Sword
Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon
Ex Oriente Lux
Passage to Transience
Constant (feat. Daniel Blue)
Fixed (feat. Daniel Blue)
Plush Portal Stylings
The Prospector's Appraisal
On Saturnalia Eve (feat. Blake Lewis)
Venus in Transit (feat. Blake Lewis)
Laurel & Wine
Hoof x Horn
Holly & Oak (Again & Again)
Woodwalker (feat. Mark Shirtz)
Finding Forbearance (feat. Mark Shirtz)
Hungry Like (feat. Rodney Hazard)
Patina Green (feat. GMK and Royce the Choice)
Run One Through
OurSpace (feat. Romaro Franceswa)
Interstellar Parish (feat. Romaro Franceswa)
Seven Gen. (feat. Greg Cypher)
Res Publica (feat. Greg Cypher)
I’m blown away at the contribution that Vox Mod gave to this project. Songs that didn’t quite land with me before, like “Hoof x Horn,” have evolved into some of my favorite tracks. “Holly & Oak (Again & Again)” replaces “Hoof x Horn” and brings far more to the table than the first version was able to bring. Vox Mod’s irresistible beat on that track turn head-nodders into dancers. The track flows and soars and drives through you, building and teasing and rewarding the listener.
Other songs feel so different from the original that I had to go back and listen to the Rodney Hazard versions just to make sure that I was remembering it right. Hazard’s “Seven Gen.” was a positive song but it never really resonated with me. At the Fall 2013 album release party, I was blown away at the energy of the live version and wondered why the recorded version was such a different experience. Its replacement, “Res Publica,” takes the song from a solid song to a classic. As it comes across in its place as the final track on the album, it feels like RA Scion has taken a trip to the future, through deep space, and is now coming back to Seattle with the same pragmatic intelligence that made Common Market so popular. One of my favorite tracks out of all of his work, “Res Publica” feels like coming home to the 21st-century answer to “Tobacco Road.”
In some cases, I miss beloved tracks from the first album – “Woodwalker” and “On Saturnalia Eve” were two of my favorites. The tracks that replaced them, though they have identical vocal tracks by RA and Blake Lewis (Mark Shirtz recorded new lyrics), have very different feels. They are solid songs, they’re enjoyable to listen to, but I miss my old favorites. It’s bound to happen, and I’m just grateful that I was able to get a download of “The Sickle and The Sword” when I still could.
In the vast majority of instances, however, I can’t think of anything other than what I’m listening to. The album has a maturity, cohesiveness and sense of purpose that the old one never was quite able to achieve. “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” is a start-to-finish journey that rewards listeners who like to sit down and soak in an entire album, start to finish.
“The Sickle and The Sword” was an ode to the harvest, reaping beats from the earth. It carried the mystery and melancholy of Fall, and was released near the Autumnal Equinox. Now we have “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon,” released almost exactly on the Vernal Equinox, which somehow takes the same vocal tracks and infuses them with new life. The album has grown, the Spring is here, and we’re all hoping that this new duo will last a long, long time.
by Garrett | Comments Off on Three web Spots for Familyshare.com
I was asked to make three very different web spots for Familyshare.com, all during the period of about one month. The budgets were decent but the turnaround time was extremely fast, so it was an interesting challenge to get all of these out the door within such a short timeframe.
The first spot is essentially a short film, meant to be a non-cliche, unconventional Christmas message that could be shared during the holidays. It was only six days from pitching the treatment to finalizing the edit. During that time I found the location, auditioned and hired actors, hired a wood carver to make some custom pieces for the story, rented the other props, and began pre-producing a second web spot for Familyshare.com.
Based on “The Street” by Allan Seager (published in Vanity Fair in 1934), but often misattributed to Harry Buschman and others, here is “The Window”: