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Technique

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How Nick Moran shot an explosive ad with the C500

How Nick Moran shot an explosive ad with the C500

© Cherryduck

February 2013

In an era where production budgets are trimmer than a supermodel’s stomach it is essential for a production company such as Cherryduck Productions to embrace the benefits of using new digital cinema technology. What’s reassuring – and obvious from watching the company’s eye-catching Canon EOS C500-shot advert for Natox – is that the image quality and end results available from the Canon Cinema EOS range are always dazzling, regardless of whether they are shot in 4K or HD. CPN writer Robert Hull spoke to James Vellacott and Joel French from Cherryduck and director Nick Moran to get the full story of an explosive shoot…

The ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ advertisement, made for the anti-ageing botox alternative Natox, is one of the most recent projects for Cherryduck, and its co-founder James Vellacott, but at its core the advert reinforces the principles that have guided the firm from its inception.

© Adam Sorenson/Cherryduck

Director Nick Moran gets to grips with Canon cine cameras old and new during the Natox ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ advert shoot.

“Going back to the creation of the company [in 2006], we built it on the back of new technology. By that I mean the kind of new technology that now allows you to take a Canon EOS 5D [DSLR] and a MacBook Pro [computer] and shoot a feature film,” says Vellacott.

A staff photographer at the British newspaper the Daily Mirror for 15 years, James Vellacott was very wise to the dramatic shifts in the media industry that the internet and social media were forcing: “I started looking at video while working for the Mirror, knowing that newspapers were waning – and they still are. And obviously with 20-plus years of working life ahead of me I decided I had to try and look at other ways of developing a career.”

Ducking and diving

Cherryduck was set up by Vellacott and his wife, Michelle Grant, and has evolved rapidly to now incorporate Cleverducks, an integrated creative agency producing advertising campaign concepts, and Digiducks, which is devoted to producing digital-focused material for clients. It was the company’s development into creating concepts rather than just reacting to client requests that put it in the position to work on the Natox campaign.

The Natox advert’s ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ slogan was one of the concepts suggested to the brand by Cherryduck’s Creative Director, Jez Furlong. The action-heavy clip is just over a minute in duration but crams in plenty of bangs, crashes and flames in its mission to quash the idea that getting older has to be all about mobility scooters, false teeth and shopping trolleys.

© Cherryduck

Please click on the window above to watch the behind-the-scenes of the ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ advert, directed by Nick Moran.

The ad stars Sue Moxley, a TV presenter and beauty expert, who dispatches many of these clichés of old age with cool disdain (and a powerful shotgun) and was directed by Nick Moran. Moran’s reputation stretches back to starring in the film ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ in 1998, but he has also established himself as a director, notably with 2008’s ‘Telstar: The Joe Meek Story’.

Nick Moran explains: “The Cherryduck guys and me got involved. They’d seen ‘Telstar’ and ‘The Kid’ – two of the films that I’ve directed – and they asked me if I’d be interested in shooting a commercial with them. I’d never done one before. They said it would be fun, so I said ‘yes’. They wanted a director who had shot films to work with them, especially as the Natox ad had an action narrative to it.”

Cherryduck has an ‘all-under-one-roof’ approach that means it has its own studios (Tower Bridge Studios), owns its own cameras, and has its own crew and lighting setup. However, if Nick Moran imagined ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ was going to mean a nice, cosy indoor shoot, then he was very much mistaken…

Go wild in the country

Unlike the majority of Cherryduck’s output, which is based around the fashion and beauty industries, and involves a studio shoot, the Natox ad meant a trip to the English county of Bedfordshire for a one-and-half-day shoot in a disused cement works and scrapyard – in the chill of November winter days. As Vellacott recalls: “It was an unusual one for us. This was a bit more gritty!”

Cherryduck has had a long association with using Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II DSLR cameras but by early 2012 it had taken delivery of two EOS C300s and come the November 2012 shoot the firm had also acquired two EOS C500 cameras. Aside from a Phantom camera that was brought in for specialist slow-motion shots, the EOS C500 did the bulk of the work on the Natox ad, with the EOS C300 assigned to do “pick-up shots”.

© Adam Sorenson/Cherryduck

The crew for the ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’ shoot, including James Vellacott (left) and Nick Moran (third left), review some of the shoot footage.

Successful HD film projects for clients shot with the EOS C300 prompted Cherryduck to investigate the 4K option of the EOS C500 and then to invest in the camera. Vellacott admits: "It’s had a big impact.”

James Vellacott says that among the reasons for choosing the EOS C500 was the digital camera’s 4K Canon RAW output and its ability to also deliver 8.85 Megapixel still images. Vellacott reveals: “The majority of our work is fashion-related work, as was Natox cream. A lot of what we’re finding is that clients are coming back with ‘after-thoughts’ about what they want from a shoot. Recently we’ve had this a lot with catwalk stuff, where we’ve been shooting widescreen catwalks and they’ve wanted us to ‘push in’ on certain items of clothing or embellishments. This is the main reason we bought the [C500] camera, but also to have the stills ability from it.”

In fact, Cherryduck’s Creative Director Jez Furlong is putting together a poster campaign using stills taken on the EOS C500. James Vellacott explains: “Being able to take an 8.85 Megapixel still from it [the footage] is important to us so we can offer clients ‘more bang for their buck’. This cuts costs – it’s an economic way of getting stills from a shoot rather than having a photographer on site who is stopping shooting every few minutes to try and get what he needs. It is a slightly different way of shooting, but it’s economical – there’s such a choice of still images which we can take from the footage.”

EOS is eye candy

With the scrapyard location having a “James Bond feel”, according to Vellacott, and the explosions being handled by a technician who had worked on the movie ‘Black Hawk Down’, it conjures the vision of a very cinematic atmosphere about the Natox shoot. However, when Vellacott is asked to discuss any problem areas during the day and a half’s shooting he’s keen to underline why there weren’t any: “There weren’t any troublesome shots because we didn’t have time for them. Nick Moran kept things moving. We just had to keep shooting.”

Vellacott further scotches the film star vibe by adding: “Budgets for online productions are going up but they’re still tight. This Natox shoot cost around £12,000 to £15,000, and that’s for everything: props, production, post-production.”

© Adam Sorenson/Cherryduck

A Cherryduck Productions’ cameraman shoots a scrap metal sequence with an EOS C500 rig.

Nick Moran explains: “Cherryduck said that while they didn’t have a whole lot of money for the project they thought that we could have some fun with it. We went over the idea a few times and then we went and made it. I’ve never shot on digital before. However, in this particular environment there was a real advantage to using the Canon EOS C500. That advantage lies in being able to do a shoot like this at all, as well as being able to move and shoot quickly. We were in a position where we had to pick up as much footage as quickly as we could.”

The handling aspect of the C500 was key, as James Vellacott explains: “All of our camera operators are totally familiar with the C300. The C300 is a camera which anybody who’s had some training or experience in video work will be able to pick up, handle and understand almost immediately with a 15-minute chat explaining what’s what, which I do when we have new camera operators. The C500 is essentially the same beast with some extra settings for 2K, 4K and higher frame rates. It can be used by one operator and when it’s not out shooting 4K footage for our higher end shoots it can be out doing anything… we do shoots every single day and, of course, it can shoot HD much like a C300.”

Although the range of lenses on offer for the EOS C500 might tempt out the Hollywood big shot in any creative, Vellacott has an interesting take on the lenses that his company continues to use on its online movie projects. “There are some amazing lenses out there, but the lenses we used were all stills lenses. Look, one great cine lens can cost £15,000; well, to me, that buys you 15 good-quality stills lenses. We’ve got two C500s and two C300s and three 5D Mark IIs here that are out working nearly every day… to have all these different lenses and have all of them work on the same bodies is such a huge advantage.”

He adds: “When it comes to tight budgets and real usage I would prefer to have a selection of lenses. I’d rather have a super-wide, a tilt-shift, a 300mm f/2.8, a 28-300mm, a 70-200mm and a 24-105mm. You can swap out all these lenses and they give a different feel and a different effect.”

The reason for Cherryduck’s attitude isn’t only driven by finance; it also comes from knowing what gives online movies the impact they need to stand out from the crowd. James Vellacott explains: “When you are shooting a film that is going to be one to three minutes long it is nice to mix the visuals a bit – just to keep it interesting. With internet films, it’s all about keeping the viewers’ eyes engaged. It’s eye candy, so you want to mix it up. EF lenses are the right thing for us, and that’s where we are going to stay.”

Workflow and post-production

The Natox ad was filmed in 4K with the EOS C500 but Cherryduck took the decision to compress this to HD for the finished product. The reason, says Vellacott – who was both DoP and second assistant director on the shoot – was that: “if you compress the 4K down to HD it’s just so much more beautiful than standard HD footage.” However, Natox is considering using the ad in cinemas, which gives Cherryduck the option of using the higher-resolution version of the advert.

The ability to record 4K and HD footage simultaneously with the EOS C500 impressed James Vellacott: “One thing about this camera is it produces a fantastic HD version simultaneously on a CF card. This is a delight because we can use any card reader; feed it to any desktop or server and we’ve immediately got an HD version that we can scroll through and start the edit with. To have certain points in that edit where 4K is wanted they [editors] can just go back to the 4K clips which have been transcoded to Pro Res in 4K and insert them into the timeline to do what they want with them or take the stills from them.”

© Geoff Farmer/Cherryduck

Cherryduck’s Head of Post Production, Joel French, works on the edit of the Natox ad in an edit suite.

Joel French, Cherryduck’s Head of Post Production, reveals: “The experience we’ve had with the C500 so far is using the Codex Onboard S recorder, which will record in a RAW media format into RMF and you get a file for every frame taken from the video. So, for example, you end up with 25 different files per second, depending on the format you’re shooting in, and whilst that is particularly useful, because that’s the highest quality image that you can get, we can use those stills for delivering to our clients who quite often ask for stills to be taken out of the video.”

French adds: “It’s not the easiest footage to work with in terms of taking it back into post so we have to transcode it to something else. So, what we did was transcode it to ProRes 4:4:4, still 4K but this made it a very malleable piece of footage to colour correct in post. We also took a ProRes 4:2:2 HD version from that 4K which is such a high quality image when you take the HD straight from the 4K. Obviously you can record in HD on the camera, but if you take an HD transcode from the 4K it just looks absolutely incredible; it’s just a perfect quality piece of video.”

The footage was converted for Cherryduck by the company Codex Digital and Joel French explains: “I believe they have several different capture devices and a recording unit that you take the SSDs from the SSD recorder and you can do a conversion to ProRes, DMX or whatever you want to afterwards. Moving forward we are quite interested in the Aja Ki Pro Quad [solid state recorder] because it records directly into ProRes itself, which for us tends to make the most amount of sense. It still supports 10-bit 4:4:4 but will allow us to be able to pull out ProRes files onto the removable media, which is superb for us.”

As for the colour grading French reveals: “At the moment we are grading mainly in Final Cut Pro and Apple Color but we are wanting to move more into DaVInci Resolve in the coming months, particularly now we have the C500. That’s something we are looking to put into our workflow. Obviously you can pull off de-Bayered images from the [Aja] Ki Pro Quad or the Codex [Onboard S] that we can bring into colour correct afterwards which is, again, perfect for us.”

© Adam Sorenson/Cherryduck

Director Nick Moran (left) shoots footage of a moving wheel using a vintage Canon 8mm cine camera.

Cherryduck shoots all of its footage using Canon Log – a feature originally developed as an 8-bit gamma setting for the EOS C300 to retain the maximum amount of information; making it ideal for colour correction in post-production. Further refinement has enabled a 10-bit gamma setting for the EOS C500 and C500 PL cameras. Canon Log Gamma delivers neutral image quality with a wide dynamic range (800%) for maximum freedom in post-production, providing up to 12 stops of latitude. For the C500 Canon Log can be applied to all options in 4K and 2K (8-bit, 10-bit or 12-bit footage).

Joel French explains: “We shoot everything in Canon Log; we remove all colour profiles. We’re shooting the flattest that we can, so obviously we’ve got the most amount of dynamic range to play with in post as well. We have played around with the colour profile settings on the C500 and the C300 as well, so we tend to shoot everything completely in RAW these days.”

French adds: “In terms of colour manipulation in post it’s a superb format to be able to shoot in. It gives us such a huge amount of dynamic range to be able to colour correct with afterwards and we wouldn’t shoot in any other way with the C500. You can create nice in-camera looks with the colour profiles but we prefer to do all of that in post. Even just creating a ‘quick look’ in post you can achieve some real effects by shooting in the Canon Log mode.”

Nothing else like it

The relatively tight budget and shooting schedule for the Natox ad may be the reality of such projects for Cherryduck but Vellacott is certain that the use of the EOS C500 and EOS C300 do not represent compromises in quality or ambition. And from the success of their work on ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’, and other projects, it becomes clear how much the cameras are valued. Not least when it comes to the division of manpower on a Cherryduck shoot.

As with many filmmakers and producers James Vellacott admires other cameras but, for his company, the emphasis remains on products that require a single operator and that can be sent out to do general day-to-day work. “As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing else like the EOS C500 out there. I can send out one of our junior operators to shoot HD with it, or 4K, and they can work it on their own. It is a very easy camera to use, with the XLR inputs you can also do the sound, which is very important, obviously, because the budgets we work to often don’t run to the use of a sound man.”

Looking to the future, James Vellacott knows that Cherryduck’s focus remains locked on the web and social networking sites. Though he is also keenly aware that online viewers are just as discerning as TV and cinema audiences. “These days, with more and more countries getting higher bandwidths, they can now play higher-quality films. So it’s important to have the best-quality cameras.”

However, like all creative types, Vellacott confesses that Cherryduck may feel it has a film project lurking around somewhere and, as he knows all too well, the EOS C500 has a lot to offer and explore in that area as well. Nick Moran notes: “The post-production results are good with cameras like the C500 because you can play with and stretch the footage, and it stands up to the demands of editing. If the project was right I’d have absolutely no problem using the C500 again.”

Summing up the shoot, Nick Moran laughs: “My favourite shot was the massive fireball explosion at the end. I don’t think anyone was expecting it, or for it to work. But that’s me. That’s what I brought to the table. I did tell everyone that the fire would be 60 feet high, but they all went: ‘Yeah, right’. I told them what they were going to get but they still didn’t believe me… until they saw it.”

© Cherryduck

Please click on the window above to watch the explosive Natox advert ‘Say Up Yours to Old Age’, shot by Nick Moran and Cherryduck Productions on the EOS C500.

Nick Moran & Cherryduck’s Natox shoot equipment

Cameras:
EOS C500, plus Codex Onboard S recorder
EOS C300
2x EOS 5D Mark II
2x GoPro silver, plus iPad for control
Phantom HD Slow Motion Camera

Lenses:
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM + 1.4x teleconverter
Zeiss EF50mm f/1.4

Accessories:
Vocas handheld rig with follow focus
Libec track and dolly system
Libec tripods
Arri daylight 1.2 and 2.5k HMI lights
Lastolite silver/white full-length reflector
Magliner film trolley
2x Manfrotto double wind-up stands
2x Calumet C stands
Grip equipment - super clamps, arms, knuckles
Fog machine
DCODE clapperboard
Final Cut Pro 7 on Apple Mac Pro and SPACE video server

Biographie: Nick Moran

Nick Moran

Actor, writer and director, Nick Moran has appeared in 60 films and TV shows, including ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry’, ‘Midsomer Murders’, and ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. He wrote the film ‘The Baby Juice Express’ and wrote and directed the movie ‘Telstar: The Joe Meek Story’, which was nominated for a British Independent Film Award.



Biographie: James Vellacott

James Vellacott

James Vellacott worked as a staff photographer and videographer for the Daily Mirror newspaper in the UK for 15 years before co-founding Cherryduck Productions. Cherryduck now includes the Cleverducks and Digiducks agencies and also owns and runs Tower Bridge Studios, offering 7,500 square feet of studio space in central London. Cleverducks’ regular clients include Next, Debenhams, Miss Selfridge, New Look, Louis Vuitton and The Body Shop.



Vitrine

Nick Moran (left) and James Vellacott set up a low-level EOS C500 dolly shot of Sue Moxley for the Natox advert.