Working with Able VFX

Over the last six months I've had the pleasure of working with Able VFX on several of their recent projects. Here are some of the now completed works.

For the LG/Independence Day spot I was tasked with replacing skies from a mid-day shoot in Joshua Tree on a bland, lightly clouded day. The process involved first selecting imagery for or creating myself the new skies appearing in the spot, tracking camera shake, then rotoscoping or keying out the original skies to place in new sunsets. I also graded all of the footage to fit more with the sunset/dusk theme and carried out most of the final compositing. The main sunset was actually partially taken from a photograph I took in Ibiza:

The three spots below were part of a group of seven advertising Bridgestone's new amateur tour ball. I carried out color grading and matching between the different shirts worn by the golfers as well as the golfers' skin tones. Matching became complicated as some of the shirt colors were a light salmon and some skin was much too pale to advertise the golf balls during the summer. Detailed masking was necessary to pull of the correct color, requiring extensive, lengthy and sometimes painfully tedious roto. Other members of the team, particularly Jason Porter, pulled off the beautiful and incredible 3D animation in the spots.

I was tasked with editing three sizzle reels for Able's different areas of expertise. With guidance from Able's director, David Johnson, and using their immense catalog of beautiful imagery, I was able to create three distinct feels for the three categories. They are visible on their website here as well as below:

 

 

Want to Rent my Gear?

I'm making my gear available for rent on the peer-to-peer rental site CameraLends.com. Anyone interested in cheaply renting in the Columbia area is welcome! I currently only have the A7s rentable there, but more will populate the page with time. Check it out:

Tucker's Rental Page

Working on P-Dash's The Format / A Short A7s Review

I recently completed a music video for Bryant Robbins a.k.a. P-Dash. The pre-production for the project began more than a year ago so I'm excited for it to finally be complete. Working with the A7s on The Format really allowed me to learn its limits, its strengths and weaknesses. Before going further, here's the final video:

From the beginning it was clear that there would be a fair amount of vfx and compositing. By the end of the project there were over forty shots that included some kind of effects work. I was excited by the variety of vfx to be present in the video and the chance to hone the skills I had learned while working with Able VFX. The project included background replacement, loads of roto, both manual and with rotobrush, plate cleanup, green screen compositing, motion blur and handheld shake addition, particle simulation, multi-take blending, tracking, the creation of an otherworldly portal, and some time remapping here and there. There's probably some other bits and pieces I've forgotten about but that's the gist. I've never had the chance to do so much in one project so while I knew it would be difficult I was excited to take on the challenge.

This video taught me a lot about the A7s. I shot the whole thing in S-log 2 as I have with other projects. While I loved the dynamic range of the profile and the detail has a really pleasing feel straight out of camera (at the -7 level), I hadn't really gotten a hang of the color yet. It's tough to work with, tough to get each color to find its way out of the grayish green mess that is S-log 2. I worked for a while trying different approaches in resolve. It wasn't until I tried out Filmconvert's A7s profiles that I found what I was looking for. They're really good. It pulls out the colors I don't yet understand how to pull out in Resolve, plus its not a LUT-type-preset so it holds on to the dynamic range of the camera very well. It even has two different profiles for normally exposed S-log 2 and overexposed to account for green/magenta shift. It may be hard to see what I'm writing about, but Filmconvert seemed to get rid of all the small strange polarities of green and magenta all over the image. If you look closely at the simple grade and Filmconvert grade I have provided here, there's some evidence of such, especially in the purple on his shirt, the whites of his eyes, and the edge of his nose. Filmconvert's profiles feel natural and are easy to use. 

I also learned from this project how the APSC crop mode and digital zoom do not offer the same image quality. I had originally just used the Clear Image Zoom function to crop in 1.5x instead of going into the menus and selecting Crop Mode, saving time. I soon realized with this and other projects that the camera really needs to go into crop mode so that it can resample the sensor in a way optimized for the crop. Using Clear Image Zoom in Full Frame mode does nothing more than simply zoom in on the (very sharp) 1080p of that mode. There is no extra detail when zooming in, only when switching to crop mode is that achieved. 

As most A7s users will agree, using the camera takes too many trips to the full menus. In my own experience I delve into the menus most often to change:

1. Viewfinder to monitor and back. The auto switch doesn't switch fast enough and the proximity sensor is too sensitive, so I almost always switch manually. Wish I could assign a custom button to this.

2. Full Frame to APSC mode. Again, many have complained about this. Should be assignable.

3. Record Setting. It's reasonable that this exists in the full menu but when the previously mentioned settings are so far away in the menus it takes time to navigate all the way over to Record Setting to choose a different framerate.

I used the A7s for some green screen shots on this project. I was worried the codec might be too thin for such work, and when I first began compositing the footage there were certainly compression problems, but a simple noise reduction pass from the mediocre proprietary AE NR was enough to smooth things out. I used the noice reduced footage as an alpha matte for the original footage to preserve the original detail and composited from there, no problems. Is it perfect? No, the matte is not very precise. Did it work for the size/budget of the project? Yep.

I'm really happy with the camera's output. You have to expose correctly, but when you do, you get amazing results. And shouldn't getting the perfect exposure be a basic imperative anyway? I do feel like I used to be able to get a fair amount of detail back in the shadows from the T2i after NR. It doesn't seem to work as well here, color information disappears after maybe 30% gray or higher. Expose well, though, and that area of the shadows will get dark and inky while the rest of the image shines.

On Involvement with Scenario Collective

Over the past few months I have become a part of an exciting new artist collective in Columbia, SC. The group began a few years ago as a record label and has since expanded to involve all forms of art. Upon returning to SC, I've been able to work with the group on video, music, and art projects. My main contributions to the collective have been video coverage for live events, displayed below:

Through the collective I have been able to expand my music horizons as well, even playing a song in two shows. I appreciate the opportunities that the collective has been giving me to grow and hope to offer those same experiences to others who wish to involve themselves in the visual arts. With luck we will be able to hold painting and photography workshops for the group and, with time, for the public.

To stay updated about Scenario take a look at the collective's website or its social media:

scenariocollective.com

On Site Inactivity

I haven't updated this site in several months, apologies. I've been in a strange place mentally (and at times physically). From Iceland and Ibiza I went on to mainland Spain to continue traveling, but because of several factors including but not limited to exposure to new and unexpected experiences, a lost friend, and subpar planning, I ended up feeling lost and confused while in the country. At a certain point I lost the will to continue traveling and spent several weeks living in a bamboo grove on the outskirts of a small town near the capital of Aragon. 

This bamboo grove was my home for ~3 weeks on the outskirts of Utebo, a small town near Zaragoza.

This bamboo grove was my home for ~3 weeks on the outskirts of Utebo, a small town near Zaragoza.

I wish I had seen more of the country but I wasn't in the right head space to see it (better to save it for a return trip, hopefully with a partner). In the 1 1/3 months I gave myself to travel there, I only went as far as the kingdom of Aragon. 

This is not to say that during my time there I had no good experiences.  Every person who picked me up (which during my tiny period of travel amounted to 6 rides) were some of the nicest people I've ever been picked up by. On the other hand, i did wait a full 24 hours at one spot to get a ride. Had to go find a place to sleep in the woods and come back in the morning. The Internet would have you think that Spain is tough to travel around by thumb and I can't help but agree with that sentiment. Even so, it's definitely possible and the interactions you can have there are just as rich as any other country. My interactions were made extra special as I had to practice Spanish at the same time as practicing my people skills.

I returned to the US in November, spent a while returning to normal life, and am now working freelance and painting in Columbia, S.C.  as well as becoming involved in an arts collective based here, Scenario Collective:

Scenariocollective.com

My productivity as an artist has remained relatively low during this time. I felt a need to feel comfortable for a time, to stay still. This has really been an excuse for lethargy, and I must break free from it. As this February begins, I task myself with bringing four paintings and two videos to completion by the end of the month. Not a lofty goal for sure, but a reasonable step to returning to productivity.

I thought for a long time in that bamboo grove. I read, drew, wrote. I decided there that I did not want to teach English in a foreign country as I had previously planned.  I realized the importance of friends there (as well as during my Traverse in Iceland where I would dream about hanging out with friends at home and wake up laughing to a cold, windy, bleak reality). I wrote a long list of plans, both creative and self-improvement, to put in action once I returned home. I'm still working on the list, still trying to find my direction in a very "The Graduate" kind if sense. 

Here's to a good 2016. 

An Icelandic Traverse: Lighthouse to Lighthouse

Hraunhafnartangi to Dyrhólaey

Hraunhafnartangi to Dyrhólaey

The whole thing started three years ago. Alex Page and I were making travel plans for the next summer. After multiple travel ideas, Alex found a wealth of information on past cross-country traverses of Iceland. He proposed loosely following in the footsteps of Jonathan Ley, an adventurer who detailed his experience on his page phlumf.com. I had long been interested in Iceland, and when Alex brought up the walk across Iceland from the Northernmost point to the Southernmost point, I was game. We spent the next year planning, getting ready to make the trip in the summer of 2014.

In March, Alex dropped out for personal reasons. By then I had a strong desire to attempt the trip, so in May 2014 I flew alone to Iceland to try. I wound up being unsuccessful, unprepared with insufficient food, navigation tools, or understanding of the territory. Upon returning from the trip, I began making plans to try again. At this point, I began defining the traverse as a walk from lighthouse to lighthouse, the northernmost lighthouse being Hraunhafnartangi, the southernmost Dyrhólaey. While these two points are not the absolute northernmost and southernmost points in Iceland, they are each within 1km from the extremes and made for more exciting start/end points.

Mountains in the Fjallabak Nature reserve viewed from the southern edge of the highlands.

Mountains in the Fjallabak Nature reserve viewed from the southern edge of the highlands.

Fast forward to summer 2015. I graduated college, worked at Philmont in June and July, came home for 6 days to visit family and friends, then shipped myself back to Iceland to reattempt the traverse. This time I had more food, better navigation, and more time. I let ICESAR know where I would be and came later in the summer for lighter snow conditions.

It was a success!

I don't want to provide and in-depth trip report detailing day-to-day experiences for this post, so I'm going to talk more in general about the walk. Here's a route map with some trip info.

Blue dots are camping spots, some are labelled with notable locations. 

Blue dots are camping spots, some are labelled with notable locations. 

In 2014, I came upon the northernmost lighthouse at 2:30am when the sun was just beginning to rise behind it, an incredibly beautiful experience. This time, it was midday and quite foggy. I couldn't see it clearly until I was a few hundred feet away.

In 2014, I came upon the northernmost lighthouse at 2:30am when the sun was just beginning to rise behind it, an incredibly beautiful experience. This time, it was midday and quite foggy. I couldn't see it clearly until I was a few hundred feet away.

The northern sections of trail reminded me of my time in Iceland the year before. I had visited this area, seen the roads before. This time, the birds were gone, night came and went, and I was filled with excitement for the unknown ahead of me.

The cliffs of Asbrygi from the southern rim.

The cliffs of Asbrygi from the southern rim.

I had previously visited Asbyrgi and Dettifoss but had never seen the area between them. the trail along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river passes by some of the most incredible lava/basalt formations on the island, It was a treat to see so much incredible geology stuffed into one day.

Midges around Mývatn are no joke.

Midges around Mývatn are no joke.

About 30 km before Mývatn, I somehow rolled my ankle. I walked for another five days on the ankle, but (what a surprise) it didn't improve. I put the trek on hold just above the highlands and laid down for a week to let the ankle heal. I was worried I wouldn't be able to continue the trip, worried if I left the trail I wouldn't come back. These fears were eased when, after a week, the ankle pain and inflammation improved significantly and I was able to press on.

I spend a night in this trailer, just off the side of the F26 in the middle of the desert.

I spend a night in this trailer, just off the side of the F26 in the middle of the desert.

It is a strange feeling to be alone in the middle of a desert. The landscape of the highlands is barren, black, and windy. As most who visit this area experience, there are often storms that include a full menu of discomfort: very strong headwinds, stinging sideways rain, dust and dirt picked up by the wind delivered directly into my eyes, and a deep, constant cold. 

Icelandic history tells of outlaws and loners who took up residence in the highlands. If they survived, they often carried a legendary status, and I can see why. Staying in that region alone for weeks, months, years would make one more than a little crazy. The constant wind gets into your head, rattles your brains a bit. It steals things too (eg. my ground cloth). 

DSC05666v01small.jpg

I was forced to have layover days twice on the trip simply because the weather was so bad. Thankfully, there are emergency shelters out in the middle of nowhere. I don't think my tent would have survived some of the storms I was able to wait out in the safety of a hut.

Deep in the middle of nowhere, my map called this set of tire tracks a "road."

Deep in the middle of nowhere, my map called this set of tire tracks a "road."

This solo walk was without a doubt the toughest challenge of my life. I wasn't completely sure I would make it through until I actually finished. Very often I would have problems with my own morale. I would sit down, put my back against the wind, and consider whether the walk was really worth it. I would feel like hitching away, wishing never to walk the route again. I'm happy I was able to see the journey through, I know if I didn't I would have found myself back on the route for another attempt in a few years.

One of the most famous views on the Laugavegur trail.

One of the most famous views on the Laugavegur trail.

The south-central region, home to the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Laugavegur trail, and pass to Skogar, contains some of the most beautiful scenery in the entirety of Iceland (and some of the least predictable weather). 

Nearing Thorsmork.

Nearing Thorsmork.

The Lauguavegur is often found on international trail top-ten lists, and I can certainly see why. Every second of this trail is filled with amazing views. The environments found in this 55km section of the hike were incredibly varied. I feel like I had the entire trek's scenery compressed into two days with tons more piled on top. There was a little taste of the highland's black desert, even some new friends!

Sunset in Thorsmork's valley basin.

Sunset in Thorsmork's valley basin.

Upon reaching Thosmork, I felt the trip coming to a close. I was a day away from the coast and at the end of the climactic Laugavegur trail. I felt sad to have such an incredible experience come to a close but excited for the next adventure.

2km from Skogafoss, almost to the coast.

2km from Skogafoss, almost to the coast.

When I reached the top of the pass to Skogar, I could see the ocean 13km away in the distance, the sun's reflection shining on its surface. It was an emotional moment to know that the end was in sight. Well, almost the end. The lighthouse was still about 30km from Skogar.

Made it!

Made it!

Reaching the final goal of the trek was an odd experience, not as cathartic as I expected it to be. Other tourists were parked at the lighthouse, enjoying the view with their loved ones, strolling leisurely along the cliff side. Without someone else there at the finish line with me, it almost didn't seem real. I wanted to share the what I was feeling with someone, but no one was there to feel it. I reached the lighthouse, touched it, walked around it for a bit, took a few photos, then left, hitched back to Reykjavik for my plane the next day.

From Iceland I flew to Ibiza, Spain to meet up with some good friends on vacation. It was a completely different environment, strange to be warm, relaxed, and surrounded by friends so quickly, but wonderful all the same.

The traverse was an experience I will never forget. I look forward to doing more long-distance walks in the future and recommend an Icelandic traverse to anyone experienced enough to do so. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who helped me during the trip, those who picked me up while hitching to and from the trail, those who asked if I was ok if they saw me during the walk. I am especially thankful for my friend Finna Sigurðardóttir who was absolutely incredible in assisting me whenever I needed her help. I could not have done it without her.

I am traveling in Spain until November. I will keep moving, keep learning, keep making. May that taste for adventure never run dry.

Tucker

At Philmont

I've been working at Philmont for around twenty days so far this summer and have been enjoying every minute of it. I've had the opportunity to paint, train, take out a crew, and make new friends.

Ranger Trainer Tori Mack gets her boots wet while crossing a stream.

Ranger Trainer Tori Mack gets her boots wet while crossing a stream.

This year I was selected to be a Rayado ranger, an exciting experience.  I've been training for the past 10 days and will leave tomorrow to lead a 21 day trek with partner ranger. 

Rayado rangers gather around a campfire during Rayado training.

Rayado rangers gather around a campfire during Rayado training.

This is one of the most rewarding experiences to be had in the Ranger department, and I am looking forward to every minute of it. My partner and I have bonded well, our trip has been planned, and we are ready to get on the trail. Even as I write, Rayado participants are arriving to begin their adventure, and boy, do we have something great planned for them.

The Rayado TC stops to enjoy the view at Window Rock.

The Rayado TC stops to enjoy the view at Window Rock.

Thesis Review

           When I first started “Protecting the Crossing,” I laid a ground base layer of paint over the entire canvas as a starting point for the tone and color, like almost every other painting in the show. This ground layer was a fantastic example of why I love the mark-making of painting so much. The paint was laid on with a thick two-inch brush in wide strokes. These strokes, reacting to each and every stroke before the next, create a shifting, murmuring sea in which I easily lose myself. I react quite strongly to this feeling, yet I hide it under coat after coat of representational figure. I felt a need to preserve this feeling but did not yet pursue a method of doing so.

           A week before the gallery opening,  I sat on a couch with Emily Olyarchuck, a fellow honors student, writing out a press release for the show. She asked me for a quote to place in the press release, so we talked for a while on the meaning of the show, the intentions of the show. In my own words, the paintings “tip-toe” around contemporary ideas, never really moving into a space with which I felt satisfied. Based off of my own perceptions and comments made by others, my inability to move the paintings forward, to shift and push and pull until they feel finished, is the worst quality about them. I don’t press hard enough into the ideas I want to convey, I let a painting sit then find it too difficult to reinvigorate. I tip-toe on the paintings, I treat imperfection with too much care. There needs to be a selective abandon that I haven’t yet cornered. 

           This timidity has been a running theme in my work for years. This sort of care can be a good thing when used the right circumstances, but timidity is not my intention with these paintings. There’s a Masters student here whose work I really respect, for his color and form partially, but primarily for his mark. He preserves all of the energy put into the piece with the way he uses mark. I don’t necessarily paint in this way, but I’d really like to, as that sort of energy preservation is something I’ve always respected about digital concept artwork. To treat the paint in a way that refuses to hide the artist’s hand, to flaunt it, to say “This is why painting is important. This is why one can find a human connection in the work. Because human hands made it, from the raw material, selectively placing mark after mark based on conscious and subconscious decisions. You can see it there, look, this is what people can do.” Concealment of this beautiful fact is counterproductive. 

           For my thesis defense, I met with David Voros and Ed Munn Sanchez in the studio to reflect on the past semester’s work. Both were positive about the work, but also presented me with difficult questions about the work, some of which I had thought of but not fully answered for myself, some of which I hadn’t thought about at all. I struggled to respond, I didn’t really know what to say. I feel like my work has never been challenged in that way before, so I really appreciate that exhausting experience. Such discussion helps one identify one’s work, further understand it, improve confidence in the work. Even so, I feel I still don’t have good answers for David’s and Ed’s questions. Perhaps with a few more hard talks things will be figured out.

            What I struggled with the most, besides not working enough on the paintings, was the need to put a meaning behind the work. David and Ed asked me, “why should [the viewer] care? Why does this matter?” I felt, and have always felt, like I needed some explanation more grand than I could easily procure. That’s the theme part in the thesis title. I love mark, I think it’s beautiful, but I have this notion that it needs to be paired with some sort of other, more important thing. Yes, the big paintings are supposed to have meaning. For the most part, I think they do. But that doesn’t necessarily make them any more interesting than the small studies. I remember conversations with a Dutch painter while studying in Italy, David would know his name. The painter’s work consisted entirely of copies of stock photography-type pictures in acrylic. Upon first glance, his work seemed rather boring to me. Then he talked about his work. He spoke on and on of the beauty of the image as an illusion. He used the simplicity of the paintings to focus on the magic of paint’s ability to form reality within the viewer’s mind, the fact that without people to look at a painting, paintings remain pigment suspended in medium, useless. 

            I respect this painter’s discussion of his work primarily because he is confident in his reasons behind the work and because the reasons are so simple. One finds it easy to get caught up in such work when the artist is excited and clear about his intentions. I feel like I have not yet found that clarity and confidence as an artist, a problem needs discussion such as this in order to work through. That confidence, like much of life, is a barrier that when broken makes one’s life easier and more successful. If I intend to progress further as an artist, finding my voice in describing my work will be incredibly important.

           As I work through these paintings, these sorts of ideas develop, and slight changes in my work appear. The change is slow. My work has not broken all the original rules I originally, informally, established, but it has changed some. My last large figure has more visible mark involved. Not much more visible, but certainly a little bit. I want to move that way, I want to show that energy.

           Whatever sort of energy I put into the paintings, I have still not reached a point where I feel I’ve “pushed” the paintings enough, worked them to where they are solid, finished pieces. This was a problem discussed multiple times when I talked at the defense as well as with other artists from whom I requested critique. I need to work more freely, I need to spend more time on each painting, I need to not get stuck in one place with the paintings. There just needs to be more on the canvas, more completion, more finishing. I am excited about the amount of art I’ve been able to produce this semester, but I know that it all needs more work.

           Here’s my take on the paintings as a whole, my vote of confidence towards what I’m making. Above all, no matter what the theme, I am attempting to show the beauty of  human-produced markmaking. Whether subtle or loud and energetic, the beauty of that sub-image level of painting gives it authenticity, gives it importance. When I look into that random, abstract sea of paint, I am aware of a world that is motivated by both conscious and subconscious ambitions.  I am aware of the symbiosis between what we deliberately choose to do and what is decided for us by our instinct, education, and endless absorption of human experience. There is a push and pull between the marks I specifically choose to make, with deliberate angles, lengths, widths, pressures, energies, and those marks that are made with less deliberate thinking, marks I entrust to my hand, my subconscious, and the energy flowing between them. Just as that Dutch painter found magic in the change from seed grease and dirt into images, I find magic in that conscious and subconscious synthesis. Whatever medium or content I’m working in, that idea holds true.

           This project was not simply the production of paintings. My naïve excitement believed that renting a real galley space in the Vista and populating it with finished paintings wouldn’t be a problem. As it turns out, a solo show is a lot of work. Not only is the painting extensive, the business side of a show is an entire event-planning endeavor. I looked for advice from Emily and got some help from my mother a few days before the show to complete many of the tasks necessary to make ready, but I still had a large quantity of work to complete simply to make sure the gallery was ready to exhibit. Framing paintings, getting food, spreading the word, contacting newspapers and local media networks to put out information, maintaining an online presence to keep people interested, making business cards, consulting others on how to act within the gallery setting as an artist, getting a videographer, getting a photographer, hanging the pieces, and many more little housekeeping things that made the process more extensive than expected. This part of the thesis was just as much of a learning experience as the painting aspect, maybe even more so. I am not used to event planning but need to become more comfortable in that environment if I want to continue as an artist. It was incredibly exciting to see those around me offer help, to be able to interact with the community as a content producer. This project certainly improved my feeling of community involvement, especially with the Columbia art scene.

           I created a set of paintings to show in a gallery for a week, paintings that built on a theme, portrayed my own joy in painting. The success of those paintings is more or less debatable, but what I learned from the experience is huge. That’s the point of a thesis, right?