Macworld Masterclass: Make a film with an iPod

Writing and directing duo The Theory explain how they made an award-winning short film, using an iPod touch and a micro projector

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  • Speed of Light NEW Intro
  • Step 1 Step 1: Initial Testing
  • Step 2 Step 2: Text storyboarding
  • Step 3 option 1 Step 3: Greenscreen treadmill
  • Step 4 option 1 Step 4: Greenscreen chopper
  • Step 5 Step 5: Create a sequence of shots
  • Step 6 Step 6: Remove the green
  • Step 7 Step 7: Rotor blades
  • Step 8 Step 8: Missile trail
  • Step 9 Step 9: Refining and editing
  • Step 10 option 2 Step 10: Wheeled rigs
  • Step 11 Step 11: Setting up the camera
  • Step 15 Step 12: Finishing up
  • More stories
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Intro

Film-making techniques are moving forwards all the time, most obviously in the costly 3D and digital special effects used by high-budget blockbusters. But at the other end of the scale, portable devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch are giving independent directors new ways to work.

Over the following pages, writer/director team Tom Jenkins and Simon Sharp (thetheory.co.uk) reveal how they created their award-winning short film Speed of Light (vimeo.com/43239312), using an iPod touch and a mini projector accessory. The film was a personal project; many of the techniques involved would be too risky for commercial work. Speed of Light was created after the duo had the idea of a developing a ‘projection mapping’ concept on a micro scale, using pico projectors that could be moved around easily.

The team came up with the concept of a classic car chase. They filmed against greenscreen backgrounds, then enhanced the footage in Adobe After Effects, before projecting the isolated images and filming the results.

Vital Info

Device: iPod touch
Difficulty: Professional
Time required: 9 months (working between jobs)

TOOLS USED: 

Canon EOS 5D Mk II digital camera 
iPod touch
Microvision pico projector
Avid Media Composer 5
After Effects 5.5
Red Giant Trapcode
Particular

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Next Prev Speed of Light NEW

Film-making techniques are moving forwards all the time, most obviously in the costly 3D and digital special effects used by high-budget blockbusters. But at the other end of the scale, portable devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch are giving independent directors new ways to work.

Over the following pages, writer/director team Tom Jenkins and Simon Sharp (thetheory.co.uk) reveal how they created their award-winning short film Speed of Light (vimeo.com/43239312), using an iPod touch and a mini projector accessory. The film was a personal project; many of the techniques involved would be too risky for commercial work. Speed of Light was created after the duo had the idea of a developing a ‘projection mapping’ concept on a micro scale, using pico projectors that could be moved around easily.

The team came up with the concept of a classic car chase. They filmed against greenscreen backgrounds, then enhanced the footage in Adobe After Effects, before projecting the isolated images and filming the results.

Vital Info

Device: iPod touch
Difficulty: Professional
Time required: 9 months (working between jobs)

TOOLS USED: 

Canon EOS 5D Mk II digital camera 
iPod touch
Microvision pico projector
Avid Media Composer 5
After Effects 5.5
Red Giant Trapcode
Particular

 

Step 2 of 13: Step 1: Initial Testing

Testing is always the first part of our process, and often the most important. For Speed of Light, we tested to see whether the concept of projecting small isolated images (with a pure black background) on to various surfaces actually worked and looked good. Luckily, we found it did.

 

Step 3 of 13: Step 2: Text storyboarding

For quick initial planning, we create a storyboard with text instead of visuals. In Avid Media Composer, we edited text descriptions of shots to the music, to get a feel of the sequence without having to spend time storyboarding. It’s a really quick way to play around with ideas.

 

Step 4 of 13: Step 3: Greenscreen treadmill

Next, we needed to film the raw elements that would be projected. We filmed everything against a greenscreen, so we could key out the backgrounds later. We hired a greenscreen treadmill for all the running shots, and drove the model cars on it as well to give it a realistic feel.

 

Step 5 of 13: Step 4: Greenscreen chopper

We filmed a small model helicopter against a greenscreen, too. We wanted realistic spinning rotor blades, and the easiest way to do these is to create them as simple VFX in After Effects. We added four pins as very rough visual markers of where the blades would be.

 

Step 6 of 13: Step 5: Create a sequence of shots

Once we had the greenscreen rushes, we imported them into Avid, replacing the ‘scriptmatic’ descriptions – the text substitutes for a storyboard – with the actual shots. This gave us a rough sequence of the best raw shots, which we individually exported to After Effects.

 

Step 7 of 13: Step 6: Remove the green

We used the Keylight keyer in After Effects to remove the greenscreen backgrounds. Rough garbage mattes were used on some shots where the greenscreen wasn’t lit perfectly, or where the edge of it could be seen. We added some extra skidding moves to the cars where needed.

 

Step 8 of 13: Step 7: Rotor blades

For the rotor blades, we created a simple square composition, with a white bar shape rotating quickly. We then turned on motion blur. Then After Effect’s built-in Tracker was used to track each of the four points as the helicopter, and Perspective Corner Pinning to track the four marker points.

 

Step 9 of 13: Step 8: Missile trail

For the trail on the heat-seeking missile, we used Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular plug?in. We took one of the presets and tweaked it until it looked right, then we added an image of a missile to the front of the trail and comped it together with the helicopter footage. It’s our favourite shot.

 

Step 10 of 13: Step 9: Refining and editing

After importing the shots back into Avid, we recut the sequence using the comped shots to see how it looked. We refined the edits and reshot a few bits. Then we were ready to put all the shots on an iPod touch, plug in the MicroVision pico projector and start capturing the actual film.

 

Step 11 of 13: Step 10: Wheeled rigs

Although it appears that the camera and projector are handheld, we built wheeled rigs to hold them in alignment. We had to distort the projected images, so when they were filmed at a certain angle, the distortion would be cancelled out – like the adverts painted on football pitches.

 

Step 12 of 13: Step 11: Setting up the camera

Now it was time to film everything. On our little wheeled rigs, we clamped a tiny full HD camera with a massive wide-angle lens to give us a very large depth of field. This had the effect of making everything feel huge, and made any camera movement look much more dramatic.

 

Step 13 of 13: Step 12: Finishing up

With filming complete, we went back to Avid to recut the sequence again, this time adding the final rushes. Then we took everything back into After Effects for polishing, and added subtle camera shake. Finally, we worked on the sound design in Media Composer and added a credit sequence.

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