Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer roadtrip video

If you live in Colorado, summer has been over for about 13 months now. However, if you're an international rock star, the party never stops, and the season is endless.

You can guess which category Natalie and I are in.

We had an awesome summer this year. Early in the season, we collected a lot of creekboating footage around Colorado for Natalie's 2012 Grand Prix application. It was good that we did that early, because the Colorado season never really happened this year. That didn't matter to us, though, because we were off to Idaho for the North Fork Championships and playboating on the Salmon, then onward to the Colombia Gorge, Skookumchuck, British Colombia, and finally our home away from home, the Slave River in the Northwest Territories.

We playboated, creekboated, and just had a great time traveling around. For the majority of the trip, we were joined by Markus and Maria from Germany, who are on a year-long sabbatical, traveling, kayaking, and raising money for their charity: It's a cool idea: you donate your time. Advertisers pay for ad space on a newsletter, and you can sign up for this newsletter. The ad money that is generated from your clicks and views and such goes to charity. So you donate to charity without spending any of your own money. Check out their site for more info, or to sign up.

Anyway, despite their incredibly slow van, the Germans joined us for about a month of really awesome paddling on the Slave. The water was high this year, but eventually dropped, so they got to see the full range of features that the Slave has to offer. I had to come home early for the Gore race (well, that and you know, school), but Natalie and the Germans stayed up there for another few weeks and got to surf Rockem Sockem, which is a low water feature that I have never gotten to experience. I was very jealous, but I consoled myself by putting together this video of our summer.

Summer Roadtrip Video from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

It's really just a quick taste of all our adventures. Each little scene in this video could have been a whole movie of its own. If I didn't have this stupid Ph.D. taking up all my time, I would have put together at least 5 short films. Too bad for you, I guess.

Enjoy the summer video, and get ready for winter!

Natalie's Grand Prix audition video

For more than a year now, we have been scheming and plotting, hoping to get Natalie invited to the 2012 Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile. We were about 6 months ahead of schedule making an application video (which you can see here). We had it finished before they even announced the location and format of the 2012 Grand Prix. Of course, as we know now, the 2012 event is going to be exclusively creek races, no freestyle events, so our original video, which was designed to show how well rounded of a paddler she was, no longer actually addressed the event. So we gathered more footage around Colorado, British Colombia, and basically wherever we could find water, and we put together this video:

Natalie Anderson Grand Prix entry video from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

We barely got it done before the deadline, which was funny since in a way we had been working on it for over a year. I was pretty proud of my fancy editing work. Not so much the editing itself (although I am proud of that), but more the fact that I managed to produce a 2:43 video from a song that was originally 3:37 long, without cheesy fadeouts or anything. I'm proud of the fact that if I hadn't mentioned it just now, most people wouldn't know.

Speaking of proud, it was awesome to sit back and watch the finished video and think to myself: hey, that's my wife right there. She rocks. We're both pretty excited. We might have a shot of actually getting invited to this thing. However, the field is pretty stacked. Check out some of the other application videos:

Katrina Van Wijk

Nouria Newman

Louise Jull

The invitees will be announced in just a few weeks here. Wish us luck! And if she gets invited, wish us money!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

GoPro Philosophy (and another stern mount)

I wrote a blog post a while back about some of the mounts and accessories that I had built for my GoPro, along with a video that got surprisingly popular (the article can be found right here). I've been thinking about it, and I decided to expand a little bit, and talk more directly about my philosophy of filming with the GoPro.

Also, I built another stern mount, which I'll describe first. If you want to skip straight to the philosophy, click here.

The new stern mount is a little lower profile. The Narwhal mount from last time provides a better view of the surroundings, but it's not right for every situation. It sticks up really high, so flipping over is not advised, and swimming is very bad. Also, if you do flip over, or brush the mount against a rock wall or something, it tends to get loose and start wobbling a lot. To fix all these issues in one fell swoop, I designed the new stern mount. It's a little specific to my boat (Fluid Bazooka) but the basic idea will work anywhere. I got a piece of plastic with a flat top, then figured out a way to connect it to the grabloop. POW.
Fully assembled and mounted. Always have a safety tether. Even if your mount is secure, the clip on the GoPro can still break. GoPro equipment
Disassembled. I usually connect the U-bar thingies to the side of the mount for transport. GoPro equipment
Another view. GoPro equipment
A closeup of the grabloop attachment point. GoPro equipment
The particular piece of plastic that I found was a cut off section of the center part of the seat of the old 2009 style Fluid outfitting. I used a bolt or two to attach it to a flat piece of plastic that had a slot cut in it that closely matched the grabloop. The fluid grabloops stand up a little bit, so that they're easier to clip to, and because of that they stick into the slot and make the mount really stable, but I think the idea can work for most boats.

The idea here was that most of the time, just a couple inches of extra height up off the stern would keep the camera up out of the water during boofs. Also, this would be a much more secure mount for large waterfalls.

Here are a couple frame captures to give an idea of how it works:
The waterfall in the Black canyon. GoPro equipment
Mamquam from the lip. GoPro equipment
Mamquam halfway down. GoPro equipment
It works pretty well for waterfalls, when the boat is tipping forward enough that some of the surroundings are visible. For small to medium rapids, the low mount is terrible.
Low mount on "Ballcrusher" in the Black Canyon. Terrible. GoPro equipment
Here's the high mount on a very similarly sized rapid. Much better. GoPro equipment
Low mount on "Honey Badger". If there is stuff to see, it looks fine. GoPro equipment
So, this makes for a great transition. Why do some of those shots look good, and others look terrible? This is where the philosophy of GoPro filming comes in.

GoPro Philosophy

The first thing here is an idea that was described really well by Freddie Wong somewhere on his youtube channel (can't find the particular video I'm looking for. It was somewhere on his "behind the scenes" channel). To paraphrase, if you want to make better films, watch other films and try to learn from them. There is something to be learned from every video, especially the ones that suck. When you watch a video, monitor your reactions, and try to figure out what's causing them. Are you enjoying the video? Is it boring or confusing? Do you actually feel the suspense they are trying to build? Whether the answer is yes or no doesn't really matter. What matters is why it's working or not working. Pay attention to the things that work well or poorly, and use or avoid those strategies in your videos.

And don't get too set in your ways. If you find any rules of thumb for making good videos, continually test the rules to see if they could be refined. Watch a video and see if you like it, then check your rules of thumb to see if they matched reality. Don't watch a video and see if it matches the rules, then use that to decide if you liked it or not.

After watching several GoPro-based videos critically, I started to formulate my personal unified theory of GoPro cinematography. The short version of it is this: use the gopro to film something. More precisely, what I mean is that you should have a subject that you are getting footage of as you use the GoPro.

If you were filming with a normal video camera, you probably wouldn't have very much footage of empty rapids, or many shots with just the bow of someone's boat sticking in from the side. Just because the GoPro is small enough to wear on your head doesn't mean that you should suddenly throw that experience out the window. Many of the GoPro videos that are boring are boring because the subject they are filming is an empty rapid out in front of the paddler. As always, there are exceptions. If the rapid is intense enough, it can be interesting to watch the bow of someone's boat while they run it. And sometimes the subject that you are capturing will be the unique view that a paddler sees, like the view from the top of a tall waterfall, or what it looks like down inside some narrow gorge. Also, I'm not trying to say that there is no use for head-mounted footage of reasonable rapids. If you were filming with a normal camera, you would hopefully include a couple establishing shots of empty rapids, or of the surroundings. Variety is good. This means that a couple headcam shots mixed into a normal video can really spice it up, even if you're not running 100 foot waterfalls. But you should usually avoid entirely headcam or entirely bank shots.

One of my favorite ways to use headcam footage is to follow someone through a rapid really closely, or to wear the GoPro backwards and have someone follow me. Then, you have that immersive view, where your viewer sort of feels like they could be running the rapid, but it's still interesting to watch, because you're filming the other paddler. You have a subject out there in the rapid. That tends to give the rapid a lot more scale, gives you a better sense of speed, and just generally gives your audience something to watch. The one tip here is that for your footage to turn out, you usually have to be much too close for comfort, because of the wide angle lens. I usually try to be constantly bumping into the subject's boat. It should go without saying that this is a great recipe for physical comedy and broken friendships.
Empty rapid. This footage has its place, but is it actually exciting to look at? GoPro equipment
WHAM! Action! We may look far apart, but I could have accidentally smacked Conor with my paddle right here. GoPro equipment

Now, of course, you see why bow mount and stern mount footage is interesting. The subject is you. You can mount a really close-in bowcam to try to capture your facial expressions as you boof the shit out of a 30 footer, or you can do an over-the-shoulder stern mount to see the tuck on that 80 footer. It's not just what you see in your boat, it's footage of you seeing what you see from your boat. This gives scale and impact to the rapids. However, it can be taken too far. I once wore a helmet camera on a little arm that was pointed back at my face, for a tourism Canada shoot up on the Slave river. The footage was nauseating, and even had it not been, it was too much of me. The face-only shot isolated my facial expressions too much; there was no context. It made for a great one-second clip mixed in with other shots, but more than a quick impression would have been too much. (Here's the video. It also made me look really silly.) Similarly, but to a less extreme degree, if you mount a stern or bow camera too low, you won't see anything but the paddler. You can do that intentionally, planning to cut it in with other shots, but think about that ahead of time.

Part of planning your GoPro shots, and thinking ahead of time about what they will look like, is experience. Go out to the garage, build yourself a little bow mount, and go try it out. A lot of the shots that I used as examples in this article were taken during a pair of trips down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Black Canyon is a really fun run, but it's not really all that intense. A lot of the reason that I was filming those runs was to practice filming, and get used to the new stern mount. I watched all the footage from the first trip, and thought about what looked good and what didn't, and even tried to imagine, if I were to make a short video of the adventure, what shots were missing. In that case, I noticed that after the grueling portage I sort of forgot about the cameras, so I had no footage of the second half of the trip.

It'll also help frame your shots if you have the lcd bacpack for your GoPro, and sometimes the stern mount is hard to reach, which makes the wireless remote very handy. Check out the GoPro store to upgrade. While you're there, check out the video on the GoPro homepage. Almost every shot, in whichever sport it is, is a shot of a person doing that sport. Cliff jumping? Nobody wants to see a big featureless wall of water coming toward the lens. They want to see hot chicks freefalling at the same time as you. Surfing? Base jumping? Same story: hot chicks. It's very rarely just a floating POV cam. They almost always have a subject that they are filming. The one exception I can think of is a helicopter shot near the beginning, where the shot has no traces of the helicopter, it's just a floating shot that slows down radically when we see a breaking wave. Even then, we're looking at the breaking wave. That's our subject.

So that's my GoPro philosophy. Film something with your GoPro. I think it's pretty simple, and hopefully I was able to explain it relatively clearly. If you have any refinements or counterexamples, please let me know, since I'm also trying to continually improve my own filmmaking. And if you haven't read the old post or seen the old video, check them out.

Original blog post: Cool things to do with your GoPro

Original video:

Fun things to do with your GoPro from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.