‘The Journey’ – A Live Music and Stories Event

The Vision

I was tasked to help bring to life a vision that a few guys had for a music event which brings out our churches history with songs, and stories why those songs came to be.
At first I was a little reticent as I didn’t want it just to be a nostalgic throwback, but Rob, Chris, and Aidan assured me it would reflect how God uses everyday people to shape his church. And they were right as the time together was deep and inspiring. It’s well worth a watch.

Choosing Kit

These days you can get a good looking image for comparatively little money, and I’d had plenty of experience with using Sony’s A7 series mirrorless kit whilst working for Upbeat Image. These full frame cameras give you a lovely shallow depth of field and hold up well in low light – two essentials for recording the event. I was able to borrow a couple of these cameras (thanks Viv) and only had to hire a small amount. All the kit I used was able to record at 50 frames per second in full HD, as YouTube now supports that feature and makes for smoother playback compared to 25fps.

Kit List

  • 2x A7S – one on a moving gimbal, one on a tripod
  • 1x A7R – handheld with inbuilt image stabilisation
  • 1x GH3 – wide angle view
  • 2x GoPro – drums
  • 1x JVC camcorder – for a live feed to Chris in the engineers recording lounge

Working out how to set up the Came-TV mini2 gimbal with a little help from YouTube

Filming

During the event the audio recording was being handled by Chris, who was monitoring it in a separate lounge adjacent to the main room. Viv was roaming about on a tablet doing monitor mixes for the musicians.

I was aiming for an intimate feel with the filming, so it’s like you’re there among the people. The gimbal was important to achieve this so I could take the viewer around the room in a smooth way. When it came to the event it was hard not to get into the music and just concentrate on filming. Songs like A New Revolution especially!

The Cameras

Simon’s interview. My wife Anna was on the main camera for interviews and singers. This was an A7S with 70-200mm f2.8 lens which is brilliant for head shots

Anna had an external monitor with focus zoom so she could tell what was in focus, as it’s hard recording in HD to get such a shallow depth of field right

David was on the A7R with a 50mm f0.95 lens, perfect for getting artistic shots

David also captured the testimonies from a different angle

I was using the gimbal with an A7S and a wide angle 21mm f2 lens. Try using one for 3 hours!

The Panasonic GH3 was at the back getting a wide angle shot of the whole room

1st GoPro stuck on the side of the floor tom

2nd GoPro overhead

One of my favourite songs from the event:

Editing

There was a lot to work through – over 350GB of data! The files from the cameras were sorted into folders named after who operated the camera, and then backed up twice.
Due to David and myself moving about it was hard to edit keeping us both out of shot. But I just about managed it, though there are plenty of times you see one of us!
The pace of the edit depended on the tempo of the song, so slow songs had shots which lingered on the singers more, and fast songs had quicker cuts. Once I had done an initial edit of a track I sent it to our sound engineer Chris so that he could mix with video, and bring out certain instruments when they appeared on screen if need be. Once he had mixed the music he sent me a high quality file which I then aligned to the right place in the timeline.

The hardest part was the difficulty I had trying to colour grade the five different types of cameras so they matched! I got there in the end but still a lot to learn with this skill.

To add the finishing touches Aidan came up with some superb graphics to introduce each song and testimony. They were created in Cinema 4D and exported as a PNG sequence with alpha channel so I could just put over the top of the footage in the edit.

The best thing was that the event itself carried depth and meaning. Hearing the stories of why each song came to be, and then singing it give it significance and meaning. The worship songs near the end really lifted off as people were fully relaxed and able to blank out the cameras and mics.

Improvements

I’d make some changes to improve the filming. For starters I’d have only one moving camera with the rest on tripods or monopods to minimise crew in shot. I’d plan the event in more detail to work out who is singing beforehand and make sure one camera is on them the whole time. It would be better with a larger room so we can film looking past people onto the musicians, and have the foreground and background interest. Here’s to next time!

‘I Believe’ – A Christian Collaboration Video

This video is the culmination of a vision I’ve had for a long time to bring together a group of Christian film-makers and make an inspirational piece about who God is.

It began last year in a video training session for some of the youth in my church and I showed them the excellent YHWH produced by Dan Stevers. I’ve long admired the work of Dan and recently he’s been collaborating with other artists to make videos that are very creative. This gave me an idea to do the same with our team.

The Poem

Around a year ago I heard a poem that really got my imagination going. It was based on something that was written in German by Lothar Zenetti, then translated and added to by a friend called Fred. This is the poem.

I believe in God, and I believe
That He is an artist, an inventor
His boundless ideas show Him to be original forever
Wonderful, varied and worthy of admiration.
The endless universe, the order of the stars
Are all inside his plan. He thinks up clouds
And the blushing of the dawn
He calls mountains into being
And will you look at this tree: every twig, every leaf
Is His invention and in the same way He forms
Lizards, warthogs and butterflies.
He is not made in the image in my head
Does not correspond to my concepts and definitions
The person I picture would never have made such a world full of wonders
Nor even more than a single type of person
Off the conveyor belt they would all march with a standard size head
And the same type of nose.
There would be no riotous hotchpotch of porters and poets, waiters and beauty queens,
Of estate agents, street musicians,
Of grandmas and rock fans and lollipop ladies.
There must be something of all that in Him.
I believe He is a shepherd, a lover, a Father and Mother
And He is a game of hopscotch too.
He is enchanter and beguiler, a massive Cheshire cat smiler
The big mystery is His name and He is entirely other
High above all that is and right at the outset
He is the breath and the beginning of everything
And His pulse is felt in all that is.
He creates our longing’s conclusion
He appears in the storm and the thunder
He lives in the cloud, in the word and the silence.
He scatters His hope among the stricken
In the hearts of lovers He is right there in the middle of the world
And glory be to His wonderful name.

I got Fred to email it to me, and then when I was thinking of what to base the Christian collaboration video on this came to mind, so I found the email and set to work.

The Audio

Recording William

Recording William reading the poem

The backing music and voice-over was vital to the video, as this was what the team would be working from. I enlisted the help of William, who has an incredible voice that I could listen to all day, and then found a suitable backing track on MusicBed to license.

Chris bringing the voiceover and soundtrack together

Chris bringing the voiceover and soundtrack together

Choosing Sections

I put the poem in a Google Doc and then split it into 10 sections, asking everyone to own one of the sections. Once people had decided I chopped up the audio into these 10 sections and sent them their specific track. They would each work on their own section and only be aware of the whole piece when it would be shown at one of our national Church meetings.

Bringing The Poem To Life

There weren’t any rules on what to film or create, just a few technical constraints to make sure things like frames per second and pixel sizes matched up.

Josh filming in the middle of a field at night-time

Josh filming in the middle of a field at night-time

Aidan using Cinema4D for the conveyor belt section

Aidan using Cinema4D for the conveyor belt section

John capturing some stunning scenes in Malaysia

John capturing some stunning scenes in Malaysia

David getting to grips with Maya animation software

David getting to grips with Maya animation software

Esme bringing to life her hand drawn characters

Esme working on her hand drawn characters

James (that's me) filming a family scene as dusk approaches

James (that’s me) filming a family scene as dusk approaches

Different Styles

Once everyone had sent me their sections it was noticeable how different they all were and how much hard work had gone into them with a mix of styles and ways to capture images. There was footage from DSLR cameras, camcorders, GoPros, computer generated graphics and hand drawn illustrations.

Esme put a lot of work into creating each character

Esme put a lot of work into creating each character

Filming William for the intro and end sequences using a digital camera

Filming William for the intro and end sequences using a digital camera

Editing and Sound Design

With having lots of different styles and content I put a lot of effort into making sure they all blended well together. It would have been easy to do a fade to black between every section but I wanted there to be continuity across the whole video, so there was various adjustments to the colouring, adding motion blur, wipes, and zooms between clips.

As much time went into the sound design as into the edit – especially with the animation scenes as the sound really brings it to life. And for the ending I did a late night timelapse of the stars on a very cold night, so I could overlay the video title in the edit.

A late night timelapse of the stars to end the video

The stars with a plane passing overhead

Conclusion

Introducing the Christian collaboration video team - Aidan, David, Esme, Charis, Naomi, John, George, Sam, Josh

Introducing the crew – Aidan, David, Esme, Charis, Naomi, John, George, Sam, Josh

This project has been a real success – it’s helped young people express their passion for God, and working in a team is always enjoyable. It feels like we’re on a journey together to explore creativity and our own interpretations of who God is and what He means to us.

Here’s to the next one.

Noon the wiser: using church stage design to reinforce a message

Ponds Forge

A colourful Church stage design at Ponds Forge in the centre of Sheffield.

Once a year in the Jesus Army we dedicate time in one of our national events to honour and remember martyrs throughout the years. This year we recognised the persecution many are facing in Syria and Iraq with the rise of ISIS.

A symbol on the side of a house in Iraq.

The Nasrani symbol sprayed on the side of a Christian’s house in Iraq.

The persecution of Christians in the middle east has often been in the news. The Arabic name “Nasrani,” one who believes in Jesus of Nazareth, has been used as a derogatory name for Christians. Islamic State jihadists had spray painted homes in towns populated for generations by Christians using the Arabic letter ن, which sounds like “noon,” and is the first letter of the word “Nasrani” in Arabic.

We wanted to feature this in the event and bring the stage design right into the congregation to include them in what was going on. So we designed the Church stage design concept to reveal the symbol beneath their feet in a way they weren’t expecting. The element of surprise was important as we didn’t want to give away that the walkway used in various items was part of something much bigger.

Set design by Josh

Josh designed the stage and lighting to incorporate the symbol. We used CAD to work out the positioning of symbol and the best place for the camera to go where the Noon could be seen clearly. He also included screens on the left and right for IMAG, and a large central screen for video content.

We constructed the path using blue carpet with thick UV gaffa tape put down to mark the perimeter. To any onlooker this would seem like a standard aisle edging.

Carpet all set

A side shot showing the specific carpet sections and the staging structure.

“The Journey” was the theme for the evening meeting where a story was told of Abraham’s journey of faith. We drew parallels from this story with our own path of faith throughout the years. The road played a big part in this storytelling with dramas and dancers making good use of the space, and taking the focus off the stage and into the congregation.

Narrated by Georgia as she walked along the path, with interactions along the way

Georgia narrating as she walks along the path, describing Abraham’s journey with interactions along the way.

Dance item

A dance item making use of the top of the Noon symbol on stage.

Creation ending

During the stars part of the story – Georgia is narrating on the right and lights and video projection add to the atmosphere.

Towards the end of the evening we came to the main Martyrs item where we brought everything together and revealed the symbol. We had positioned a camera right above the auditorium which could see the Noon symbol, and there was an audible gasp from the congregation when they saw what the road around them really was.

The Noon symbol in the stage design.

The lights were lowered, the UV came on, and as James described the atrocities in Syria and Iraq and what the Noon symbol meant the camera changed to this defining shot.

Martyrs item

James introducing the martyrs item, followed by a minutes silence to remember those who gave their lives

We managed to achieve what we set out to do and bring the stage design into the congregation with the element of surprise when the symbol was revealed. This had the effect of bringing the martyrs closer to people, as the symbol was all around them. The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and for many it was a time of reflection and gratitude.

Check out the full event on the Jesus Army Livestream page.