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The making of Acid Rain

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At BIAFF 2015 John Roberts won 4-Stars and the Best Music Video Award with Acid Rain

Still from 'Acid Rain'.

Pollution, street gangs, shotgun-wielding farmers, Police surveillance, news anchors, giant eyeballs, CGI and a demented jester. All in a day’s work when shooting a music promo!

The Story

I enjoyed bossing people about so much whilst making Carnival Of Thieves’ first music promo – Song For Someone – that I wanted to follow up with something a little more challenging. The first promo was well received and this resulted in a flurry of offers from fans of the band, willing to do anything just to be involved. The band decided on the song Acid Rain, because it possessed a harder, darker feel about a serious subject – avaricious man destroying the planet.

I spent about 3 or 4 weeks developing a storyline (more on this later) and eventually settled on a similar structure to the first promo, using specially recorded live footage of the band interspersed with indoor and outdoor location footage. A suitable venue was chosen for the band’s performance and as is often the case with music promos, the pre-recorded song was played through a PA system and the band mimed to it. This allowed the band members to concentrate on their artistic performance, not their musical one!

There were nine performances of the song, each involving a different camera setup. Two Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 cameras with various lenses were used, as well as a small GoPro taped or inserted where the GH3’s wouldn’t fit! The first three performances were tripod mounted ‘safety shots’ from stage front, left and right, with both GH3’s covering different angles simultaneously. The remainder of the performances involved a hand held GH3 concentrating on each individual member in turn, with the other tripod mounted GH3 covering a different member on stage. I ended up with a usable mixture of around 20 different camera angles of the song’s entire performance.

Still from 'Acid Rain'.
Still from 'Acid Rain'.
Still from 'Acid Rain'.


The next stage was to concentrate on the outdoor location footage. I knew from the rough storyboard what locations were required and I spent a few valuable evenings searching Google Maps, which enabled me to visit many of the locations using the Street View tool and assess each one’s suitability without even leaving the house!

Behind the  scenes on 'Acid Rain'.Once I had compiled a list of possible locations I drove to each in turn and, camera in hand, wandered around until I found the best framing for the scenes I had in mind. I was followed and observed for some considerable time by a Police patrol car, after several truck drivers reported back to their employers that someone was taking photographs of industrial premises! However, knowing I was within my rights, and wearing my IAC membership card on my gilet, I was thankfully neither questioned nor detained!

The day of actual filming arrived and I set off with one of the willing volunteers to film the drama scenes of the promo. His enthusiasm showed no bounds and he did everything exactly as directed, such as walk more than a mile to and fro along a busy country road, traipse through several wheat fields (despite irate farmers combining in adjacent fields) and he didn’t even flinch when I asked if he wouldn’t mind walking up and down one of the roughest looking urban slum streets I have ever seen, complete with its own street gang who promptly vanished when I somewhat warily set up my camera! Believe me, we were both glad to get out of there and vowed never to return.

The Kit and Green Screen

The GH3 performed excellently outside, which is to be expected from a DSLM*. The bright sky sometimes caused a few contrast issues but various Cokin ‘P’ Series Graduated and ND filters were used to reduce the contrast and control the exposure when required. Some shots required the use of a telephoto lens, and attaching my Olympus 70-300 ED zoom lens to the GH3 gave me an equivalent focal length of up to 600mm. Thank goodness the camera was tripod mounted!

Behind the scenes on 'Acid Rain'.Behind the scenes on 'Acid Rain'.Once all the outdoor location work was finished, a venue was booked for the final session of green screen work. The venue also supplied a suitably grotty sofa for us to use and the green screen was set up behind it. Aside from the sofa, the entire room that appears in the final edit was computer generated, with the room’s window and the TV screens chromakeyed to show live footage of moving traffic and a montage of TV programs.

I had an idea to use a news anchor to mime the opening lyrics of the song, and utilised the services of another willing volunteer to play the part in front of the green screen, after which a CGI news studio and appropriate text was added. I ended up recording the ‘coming up next’ audio announcement of the TV news programme myself, and tried to style and process it to sound similar to the audio of the other public domain TV clips shown on the screens.

The Eye

The biggest technical challenge was the dramatic opening shot of the lead character’s eye. I resorted to seating him with his head resting against a wall because any slight movement would’ve caused problems - using the GH3’s ‘crop mode’ with the big Olympus lens, gave me an optical equivalent of a 1440mm telephoto lens and a depth of field of about 1mm! I could either focus on his eyelashes or his iris, but not both! I filmed his eye flitting about several times at different focal lengths, then added a zoom out in post. It was incredible to see just his iris filling the entire frame! 

Behind the  scenes on 'Acid Rain'.Reviewing the clips in post revealed a problem however – my reflection was plainly visible in his pupils! The solution was to blend small black dots over the pupils to cover the reflections, the dot size and position adjusted for each individual frame. I then overlaid the TV screen montage footage on top of the blackened pupils, flipping the footage horizontally so that it appeared as a reversed reflection, and used a ‘Spherize’ plug-in to bulge the TVs to match the curve of the eye and pupil. The size of the reflected TV clip was also adjusted to fit, and the position plotted frame by frame using a light reflected in the pupil as a guide. As a final touch I added different degrees of horizontal and vertical Gaussian Blur to the TV clips, so that they blurred by the same amount and in the same direction as the character’s eyes when they moved. This took five days!

Compared to ‘perfecting’ the eye shots, the remainder of the video edit was fairly straightforward. I decided to produce the finished promo in 2.40:1 ratio to give it a more cinematic look, and spent some time grading the location footage to add to the effect. All the band performances were already in sync, so it was simply a case of selecting the best or most appropriate clip and cutting quickly to match the fast pace of the song - some clips are only 5 or 6 frames in length, but that’s perfectly acceptable in this case. Suitable sound effects were added and a final sequence was created of a dull grey scene with the end credits sliding down in the rain. In total, the video took 275 hours to produce…

What's It All About?

Still from 'Acid Rain'.But what about the storyline? It has caused some confusion but it’s really quite straightforward. Imagine the promo with the band footage removed and all that remains is a short film – a character bombarded by TV channels of endless consumerism, poverty and pollution, who decides to leave it all behind him. He walks away from the filthy, decaying urban slums with no trace of a tree or even a flower, past the once proud but now derelict heritage, away from the smoking chimneys of industry and out into the countryside – the landscape flourishing as he turns his back on what man has done to it. Finally, he escapes into the luscious colourful countryside, but the ending has a simple twist – a reminder that there is no escape.

Above all, Acid Rain is a music promo – the music itself is the centrepiece. You don’t have to understand the storyline, but simply enjoy the video as a whole.

Acid Rain was awarded 4-stars at BIAFF 2015 but was forwarded on to the final round judges who decided the quality of the video was high enough for it to be awarded a special Music Video Award.

- John Roberts

* DSLM stands for Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, while DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, which does have a mirror in it.

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Page updated on 25 April 2015
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