‘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!

Sprayed Designs for Hessian Banners

The Journey live event

We recently had a special little event in my lounge.

We’d been planning for a couple of years to do something that mixed music with video, and late 2015 we finally got proper plans together to do this as a live event. We invited about 40 people over (plus crew) and on 19th March recorded a three and a half hour event featuring stories and songs, together making an autobiographical lounge gig-ish thing. We’re calling it ‘The Journey’.

I’ll write another post about the whole thing once we’ve published a few of the songs for you, but this post is about the decor.

Problem Solving

Every design decision should solve a problem and I had two problems to solve: sound reflections and aesthetics.

As we were recording with speakers in the room we needed to minimise the sound reflecting off floors and walls back into microphones. We fixed the floor issue by putting rugs on the floor and closing the curtains helped a bit, but needed something extra.

sound-barriers

An early idea for sound barriers: rolls of foam stapled to mobile frames

Early on I’d planned to create some freestanding foam sound barriers, but in the end the hassle of making them all and the visual appeal of hessian changed my mind. I know hessian isn’t the softest, most absorbent material, but hopefully it made some difference stretched from floor to ceiling.

Aesthetically speaking, we had a few pictures up on the walls that we didn’t want to draw attention away from what was going on in the room, but taking them down left big blank walls. I’m a fan of well placed space in a scene, but this blankness would have looked odd in that context.

The room is split into three sections by pillars at the walls with beams along the ceiling, so I opted to fill in the outer two-thirds with wall hanging banners, stapled to frames. A simple, interesting but not too obtrusive design seemed appropriate.

The Design

I wanted a pattern with interesting variation that would be easy to apply. Inspired by the angular lines of this wallpaper (much like the Beijing National Stadium) I decided to go for a similar effect. Initially I wanted the lines on all the banners to line up but in the end this was more faff than it was worth.

Kit

20m of high quality hessian cut into eight 2.5m strips
Two rolls of 50mm masking tape
Two 400ml cans of satin wine red spray, to match the curtains
Lengths of lath, screws, tape, drill, saw, mugs of tea…

Method

One of the banners

After spraying up the first few banners I refined my method. I’d start with a few longer bold, angular lines of tape, then fill in with smaller lines, occasionally stopping them when they met the first pieces of tape at various places. I’d then spray the whole thing with heavier spray nearer the top of the banner (holding the can closer and using slightly slower motions), lessening the spray as I went further down the banner.

Then I’d peel off a few of the shorter lines of tape I added last and respray touches near the points they’d crossed over the tape that remained. This created depth as it added shadows around some of the lines, giving a bit of “pop”.

It was surprisingly easy.

The frame for holding the banners

One of the frames. Wasn’t as wobbly as it looks, that’s just funny pano stitching software.

As I needed to dismantle the whole thing after the event I didn’t want to screw the frame into the wall or damage the paintwork, so it took a bit of work making the frames wedge into the gaps well enough to hold themselves in place.

Sprayed hessian banners on the wall

The last job was to simply staple the banners to the frame.

Panorama view of the room during setup

The final look during setup, with the hanging banners lit by some bright diffused lamps

All in all I think the event was a hit. It just goes to show it’s quite easy to make attractive decor for filming at low cost.

You can expect to see videos of the songs and stories being released gradually over the coming months on our YouTube channel. If you’d like to see them as they’re released click here to subscribe to the channel.

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.