Category Archives: How-to

“Classic” by Pacific Ballroom Dance

As part of the not-for-profit Dance Short Films project, I recently spent two hours with the Youth Premier team at Pacific Ballroom Dance and we filmed one of their formation routines that was originally set for stage. These kids are a blast to work with, as are their talented directors, John & Lara Graham (also choreographers of this piece).

Stylistically, I originally wanted to shoot and present the whole thing in one take, so we filmed it four times as one-take clips. They were fun to watch, and really showed off the excellence and consistency of the dancers, but I also felt that the energy level was higher when I cut between locations, and that it felt like a more presentable product with a few cuts in the middle. You can watch one of the single-take versions here:

Anyone who is familiar with my dance work will notice that this was filmed in a very different style, compared to the more story-based films I generally direct. With this piece, I wanted to highlight the formations, rather than close-ups of individual dancers. It was a stylistic choice, partially to respond to a current trend of showing a lot of close-ups of dancers but not showing the movement of the whole body. When 16 dancers are involved, the group formation movements are also as important as the movement of any individual dancer, and the formations become a dancing body in and of itself. I didn’t want to hide the movement of the body of dancers as a collective whole, so I felt that a simple, more pure presentation of the art of formation dance was the direction I wanted to take for this piece.

This was shot in raw (CinemaDNG) on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which was mounted on a DJI Ronin-M 3-axis brushless gimbal stabilizer. I monitored the picture using a SmallHD SDI AC-7 display, and we played music back using a DJTech 50 portable PA speaker that I’ve been using for music videos for the last few years.

I processed the color in DaVinci Resolve 12 and edited in Adobe Premiere. I chose not to use any digital stabilization of the picture, just because I liked the relatively raw feel of the long continuous takes.

“NPR” by Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – Puppet Rap!

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.

Shooting the “NPR” video today and tomorrow with the homie @garrettgibbons – Is my nose really that green tho?! A photo posted by CANT STOP WONT STOP (@cswsmusic) on



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?”

Never fear! Our puppet rap video has a Benz and gold chains. A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on

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!

NPR music video

“Grief” – A Dance Short Film

“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.


Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. ― Vicki Harrison

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.

First day of new waltz choreography. These kids are like, “Is this supposed to be ballroom dance?”

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.

  A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on

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.  

Filming dance with @pacificballroom youth at Snoqualmie Falls yesterday. A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on

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.


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.

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.

Enjoy the film!
Grief waltz dance short film

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
CodecResolutionBrightnessRecord Duration
ProRes HQ1080p065 minutes
ProRes HQ1080p10055 minutes
ProRes HQ2160p067 minutes
ProRes HQ2160p10059 minutes
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.
 CodecResolutionFile size (GB/min)Data rate (mbits/sec)Minutes on 480 GB
1ProRes Proxy1080p0.2738.601778
2ProRes Proxy2160p1.03148.63466
3ProRes LT1080p0.5984.11813
4ProRes LT2160p2.31331.39208
5ProRes 4221080p0.83120.22578
6ProRes 4222160p3.31474.85145
7ProRes 422 HQ1080p1.25178.29384
8ProRes 422 HQ2160p4.95709.1197

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!

Garrett Gibbons Demo Reel 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my demo reel. Maybe I was just waiting for the right musical inspiration? This one is long – just over four minutes – but I also made a 90-second sizzle reel for those with less interest or shorter attention spans. Thanks for watching! It’s been an amazing last few years.

Here’s the full-length version, set to “On Saturnalia Eve” by RA Scion (feat. Blake Lewis):

Also, the 90-second version, set to “Woodwalker” by RA Scion (feat. Mark Shirtz):

You don’t know what the word “Storyboard” means, do you?

You just said “storyboard” to refer to something that isn’t a storyboard. I’m not sure if you said that because you heard someone else say it incorrectly at some point, but let’s clear the confusion up right away. I’m telling you because I care about you, and I want to save you future embarrassment.

Storyboards are a series of pictures used to pre-visualize a story. They’re commonly used in Hollywood movies, but also are used heavily in advertising, interactive media, and video games. They help by providing a common visual understanding between the director, director of photography, visual effect supervisor, producer and other key creative figures in a production.

Here is a storyboarded sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man:

Here’s what some Dreamworks storyboard artists look like when posing for a photo at work: (usually they look much more tired, and are drawing on lightboards, drafting tables, or something similar.

If you want to learn more about the visual art of storyboarding, you can read one of a large number of excellent books on the topic.

So just now, when you used “storyboard” incorrectly, here are some things that you may have meant:
  • brainstorm
  • script
  • mind map
  • treatment
  • notes
The fact that it has to do with a story does not make it a storyboard! Storyboards have pictures. They take time. They’re often drawn by professionals. They are used for specific purposes.
Would you use the word Gaffer to refer to the person who refills your water while you’re eating at a restaurant? No, because that wouldn’t make any sense. It also doesn’t make any sense when you call your written notes a storyboard.

How to film and edit dance

How to film and edit dance to convey spatial continuity

Why do dance-centric films and television vary so widely in their ability to engage viewers? What principles can we follow to better convey the energy, beauty and athleticism of live dance, even though audiences will view the film in conditions that are highly detached from the live experience?

This topic merits a long book, rather than a blog post, and I’m purposefully ignoring many aspects of dance on screen, including the arts of choreographing for the screen, creating or choosing a set that works well for filming dance, staging dancers within that set, costuming dance for film, and varying techniques of lighting dance for film. For today, my emphasis will stay on two aspects: the camera and editing.

I will add to this post over time, so if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.

Filming Dance

1. Lens Choice

I have read a lot of discussion in the academic community about the supposed difficulty of translating a three-dimensional art form (dance) into a two-dimensional space (the screen). While those challenges would in theory apply to any performance art displayed on the screen, I suspect that this discussion stems from a generally-perceived flattening of 3D space and loss of location reckoning when audiences see dance on screen.

“Matched” (presented by The LXD, directed by Charles Oliver, DP Alice Brooks), was originally filmed and presented in 3D. Is its impact lessened in 2D?

Continue reading »

Theoretics – “Lights On” (Official Music Video)

The latest from Theoretics: “Lights On”!

This is Casey Sjogren‘s music video debut as a director, though he’s been making quality content for a few years now. He directed, edited and co-produced this video. Domenic Barbero was our DP and RED Epic camera operator for the indoor footage. I co-produced with Casey, was I the gaffer for the indoor footage, and was the 2nd unit DP for the car footage (both Mark rapping in the car as well as the drivelapse footage of the city at night), which we shot on a 5D mark iii.

This track comes from their second release, “Plenty of Anything,” the same EP that gave us “Go.” Theoretics is a blast to work with, and I hope to continue collaborating with them in years to come.

Continue reading »

Commercial Time-Lapse Photography in Gibraltar

During November and December of 2012, I had the pleasure to film several weeks of construction time-lapse in Gibraltar for SoEnergy International (formerly Energy International). The time-lapse footage was included in the following piece, produced by Roar Media in Miami, FL.

Here’s a version with an added voiceover and project overview:

When a casual viewer sees something like this, they may assume that there was a large crew involved with the production, and that they were able to operate in sterile, controlled environments. In reality, the story behind the time-lapse is far more interesting.
Continue reading »

Garrett Gibbons – Director, Editor, Photographer – Demo Reel 2013

I’ve updated my demo reel! It has a bunch of projects I’ve done since my last reel (plus a few old clips that never made it into any previous reel). Enjoy it and let me know what you think!