Saying “Thank You” – A Christian Music Video

I’ve recently finished making a Christian music video to a song called “Thank You”. This is different from usual in that the singer would like to stay anonymous and keep the attention on the song itself. She is aware of the feedback it has generated and thrilled it is reaching many people for Jesus.
I and others had to put a lot of planning into making it as it was the first performance music video we’d done and care needed to be taken to ensure we looked after individuals. I first heard the song being played during the Winning Festival in August 2014:

I was struck then by how genuine the song came across, and thought it would be great to turn it into a video as it would communicate to everyone, especially young people.

Many months later Chris (the Jesus Army sound engineer) recorded and mixed the song in the music studio, with the decision to play it on piano rather than guitar:


Hearing the song on piano immediately made me think of the song being sung with a piano on The Deco stage with some spot lights on her. After a bit more thinking I had the image of a projector in the auditorium showing sequences above her head. Before we started filming I worked through any issues with senior Church leaders, safeguarding, and pastoral covering.

There were two videos to make – the video projected over the singer’s head and the final performance video. We shot the first video in an afternoon and had various angles of her writing the song in her book, singing to the camera, and outdoor shots. This was quickly edited and then we were ready to film the performance.

Using VLC Remote Control to playback the track and projector sequence

Using VLC Remote Control to play the track and projector sequence

JC Projector

Filming at The Deco with the laptop playing the music and video, out of sight next to the projector

I had drafted a rough storyboard for the shots at The Deco and had lighting cues ready for Tim to follow behind the lighting desk. As I wanted the video to retain the simple nature of the song I didn’t want to overcomplicate filming with lots of extravagant shots, so I mainly used a tripod and then a couple of slider shots close to the piano. It’s important that the visual direction is in keeping with the song and its message. We filmed the song around 20 times covering many different angles – something I’m used to when I make videos for my video production company – Upbeat Image.

I used a Sony A7s camera to film it (thanks Viv) with 21mm and 50mm lenses. With a 2.35:1 aspect ratio you must have a wide field of view to get everything in. Recording profile: 25fps 50mbs S-log2.

When it came to editing there were three ways to do it:

  1. Go through all the footage and mark the best bits, then cut the best bits together
  2. Have all 20 recordings displayed in the timeline
  3. Go through the footage cut by cut and choose each one that fits

I used the last method and that seemed to work well, though the second method would have saved time as the audio would have been synced first.

Editing in Adobe Premiere - a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look of it.

Editing in Adobe Premiere – a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look

Once I had completed the first edit and colour grade I sent it to a few friends to see what they thought and invited feedback:

The feedback was helpful to see what didn’t quite flow and what needed changing. There were four or five sections that needed more work – it’s a mission being told your work isn’t quite right but it makes for a much better piece in the end. I’d recently gone to an event called Film Northants and met a guy called Denis (yep that’s spelt correctly) and his suggestion was to completely change the colour grading.

Denis's colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Denis’ colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Once I’d made the changes I then showed it at a video training day I was running and opened it up for more feedback. It was the second time we were together and another great day.

The real reason for the video and audio training days - pizza!

The real reason for the video and audio training days – pizza!

Once all the comments were in, changes made, and the video was approved by the song author I posted it online and the feedback has been very positive. One comment which really stood out has to be:

“In my faithlessness, that’s the most moved by a Christian song I’ve been in a long time.”

May it reach many more people like that who need Jesus.

Video production by Upbeat Image. Audio engineering by Chris Hunt at Pigsty Studios. Lighting by Tim Gregory.

The RAW 2012 Youth Event – Behind the Scenes

RaW 2012 – Rise

RAW (Real and Wild) is a UK Christian youth event coordinated by the Jesus Fellowship Church. It is a Christian event for anyone aged 15 – 35 with a focus on the gospel of Christ. There are practical opportunities to live out a radical New Testament lifestyle in the communities of the host city.

RAW always presents a challenge to our technical teams. There are often wranglings over what the aims of the event are; should it be simple, who is it actually for etc. We also use RAW as an opportunity to push out and try new things, as the punters are more forgiving than the average punters we work with. Occasionally these new things work, although rarely on first time of asking. We are all quite accustomed to the sinking feeling as the lights fade, or unintentionally come on full in the middle of the preach, or an item falls flat on its face. It’s an excellent way to learn some humility I can assure you!

Design

The design for this event went through three incarnations; the first never made it to paper as the venue for RAW was changed, so the whole specification changed. The second design was the rig that got away (see image below) – a monster of truss and beam-work lights. Normally at larger venues we are able to hang trusses from the ceiling of the venue, but here this wasn’t allowed, hence the big floor-standing structure. It’s fair to say I was quite nervous about it as it was one of the larger designs (and certainly the heaviest design) that I had created.

Second concept – the rig that never was

However this rig, like most of our rigs, was to rely heavily on the use of theatrical haze to emphasise the light’s beams. Having designed this, we were informed by the venue that they would not permit the use of smoke, thus rendering the design fairly useless… so it was back to the literal drawing board.

Often the concepts for these events begin with a sketch, normally on the back of a script or an old piece of paper. It’s said that most of us can’t think without a pen and paper, and this event was no different.

Sketch concept

The inspiration for the centrepiece actually came from Coventry’s cathedral next door, with its Norman arch and narrow windows. This concept was then created in various bits of 3D-modelling software, first in Trimble Sketchup to get the basic layout & then on into Capture Polar, which allowed us to pre-program many of the effects and looks.

Third and final concept in Trimble Sketchup.

Rig

The rig began on the Wednesday morning before RAW began. The first lorry was offloaded around 8am & by tea-break at 10am all three lorries and two vans had been emptied and the work began.

Vehicles offloaded & ready to rig.

To create the 8 upright legs on the backdrop we used H40 Prolyte Truss and wrapped them in a thin, white material. This would give the video guys a surface to project on to. Within the legs we had an LED par at the top & an old-school Par64 with a Morpheus ColourFader scroller at the bottom. This allowed us to create some lovely two-tone colours inside the legs when the other guys weren’t projecting on to it.

About 6pm on Wednesday.

Lights Used

* CYC 4-lites & Par64s for house lighting & stage wash
* 4no. Studio Duo StudioLED 600
* 6no. Morpheus Colour Faders
* 6no. Chauvet LED Par64 3W
* 6no. Showtec ArcBar3
* 9no. Showtec Pixel Track Pro
* 9no. Thomas Molefay 2-lite

The show was run on an Avolites Pearl Expert running Titan, with Avo T4 dimming. A notable figure on this show was that due to each Pixel Track requiring 160 channels, we actually filled all 4 universes of DMX on the Expert.

Thankfully we had some of the grey-gen (older guys) to help us with the scary bits.

The picture above shows Dave, one of our “non-youth” technicians lending his expertise. Here he is re-wiring the 125A 3ph socket that ran from the huge generator we had hired to provide power for the event (apparently joining lots of 13A sockets together wouldn’t do). This was hired from Impact Production Services along with some of the lighting and staging.

Not everyone appreciated the dubstep remix of “A Song of Worship”

Generally, despite the lack of theatrical haze, we found that the rig really worked for us and helped to provide an atmosphere within which people were able to lose some of their inhibitions and meet with God.

Music

I don’t have much to do with the music, so this is an understated nod to the many hours of preparation that I know the noise boys will have put into creating some of the Ableton soundscapes for the event. From the vocals of several talented singers, AutoTune, the brains of Jonny “Single-Handed” & Nayf™, there were some very listenable tracks created. I’ve included what was for me one of the stand-out tracks from the show:

Projection

We projected on to the set using two Christie LX605 projectors, and media playback and masking using Resolume Arena 4 software. The masking of every surface was slightly complex as the screen shot of Resolume shows:

A screenshot from the settings in Resolume showing each surface with a specific area mapped on to it

A snapshot of the loop of the sun coming up past the RISE logo

Some more photos from the event:

Lighting at RaW12

Lighting at RaW2012

Lighting at RaW2012

Lighting at RaW2012

Writing this I’m reminded again of the days and weeks of preparation that goes into an event like this. Guys and girls, mostly voluntarily, working for our church to produce and manage events to a finished level that is respected in the professional AV world. Theirs are jobs that are only really noticed when something goes wrong & I think that’s probably the way it should be. After all, the show’s not actually about us.

De-rig timelapse (recorded on a GoPro HD Hero 2)

Rise You Downtrodden – a mix of DSLR film, 3D animation, video projection, and a powerful life story

This project was a first attempt at a few things – a story of someone’s troubled life, using a DSLR camera to film, projection mapping onto a wall, and making a Christian music video. And somehow it all came together like this:

The video below is Chris talking about his life – some of the horrific things he went through, and how Jesus rescued him. It also includes behind the scenes shots from when we were filming.

The Life Story
Chris went through (and put himself through) hell for many years. I’m not going to try to explain it – the video does that.

Untamed indeed. He’s rubbish at boxing though.

What I will say is that he was brave for revisiting some scenes when we were filming that would have been very tough to deal with, and it shows how much Jesus has done in him. His story of freedom from addiction because of Jesus is by far the most important aspect of this video.

The Music
Technically it is important to get the music right – if you have a good backing track then it enables the video to have considerably more impact. The brief for Jonny was to do a remix in Ableton of an old song, “Rise You Downtrodden”, in a modern dubstep style (think Skrillex or Nero) and good old autotune. And he nailed it, producing a track that was musical but also hard hitting, and had a build up and drop that I could align the story with.

The 3D Animation
To be able to project video on a wall and get a 3D effect with depth, light, and shadow we had to create the building as a 3D model. This was so we could accurately position windows, doors, and pipes and do something clever with them for the final scene.

Aidan creating the 3D model of the Northampton Jesus Centre wall in SketchUp

So Aidan got the CAD plans of the Northampton Jesus Centre (where we were going to project on to the wall), worked on them in SketchUp till we had an accurate 3D model, and then imported that into Cinema 4D.
The interesting problem was trying to get the pipes, doors, and windows in the right position so that we wouldn’t project brickwork onto doors, or pipes onto windows. The picture below shows we weren’t far off.

Projecting text onto the wall (with windows, doors, and pipework roughly in the right position)

If you look at the image you can see we’re projecting pipes onto pipes, bricks onto brickwork, and doors onto doors. This gave us the ability to put shadow on them (by not projecting anything). Then when the text appeared and the light moved you would get shadow moving from left to right and look pretty impressive (in our thoroughly humble opinion).
The camera in the Cinema 4D software was placed exactly where the camera was to be placed in real life (the joy of working with accurate CAD plans) – the benefit being the text would appear 3D from the right angle of view when filmed.

The final wall projection scene with the bricks, pipework, and windows being knocked down

The Video Projection and Wall Mapping
The rig was fairly simple, but in practice there was a fair bit of tweaking to get it just right. We did an initial test which proved the projectors were bright enough (not surprising as they were 6,000 lumens Christie LX605 projectors). We then did another test to check the positioning of the 3D model structure so we could make some final adjustments. Then we were set for the filming.

The rig – Windows 7 PC (3x DVI outputs), 2x Christie LX605 projectors 2 metres apart.

We used Resolume Arena 4 software to control the video output to the projectors. This gave us the ability to use two projectors and soft-edge them so it would appear like one single video (rather than two separate ones with a nasty joining line).

Using Resolume Arena software to position the videos accurately on the wall

Tim (our projection mapping guru) was by now an expert in soft edging, and hacking Resolume to get the result he wanted, having had plenty of experience with Jesus Army events. The only difficulty with making this video was in order to project onto an outdoor wall it had to be done in the dark. And in the middle of the summer that meant we started all our test and filming sessions at 11pm. Sleep is overrated anyway.

The Canon 5D (Mark II) DSLR
If ever there was a game changer then this is it.

It transpired that the Canon 5D had automatic loony detection built in

After using a Sony Z5 HDV camera the past couple of years I thought it was time to try out a DSLR to record with, just slightly behind the 8,654,349 other film makers on Vimeo that were proudly showing off their high contrast, colourised masterpieces. So I hired one and as soon as it arrived I sped off to Birmingham to film Chris and tried to work out how to use it (not whilst driving I hasten to add).
Having had very little experience with DSLR cameras it seems 45 minutes was enough to understand the basics.

Ahhh that’s how you switch the darn thing on…

The quality of the recording was a stand out feature – rich, deep colours and very little noise. The lens also had a huge part to play – I opted for the Canon EF 50mm F/1.2L USM and the depth of field and amount of light it could take in was astonishing. I kept it on a 1.2 focal length for most of the filming, though had wide shots in 4/f-stop so it wasn’t claustrophobic and gave the video room to breathe.

An example of the depth of field you get with the 1.2 lens

There were two problems I came up against. The first was that any movement with the camera resulted in noticeable shaking on the recording, simply solved by being careful. Secondly having a 1.2 focal length meant I often wasn’t focusing on the right area. This improved over time as I got used to it, and the 5D has a useful feature where you press the zoom button and it magnifies the picture on the LCD up to two times, making it able to spot if you’re correctly focused.
The best compliment I can give is that the 5D and 1.2 lens made video making a delightful hobby again, from the chore it can sometimes be. This does reflect on the final result. The portability of the device meant you could easily transport it into any scene to film. Sadly I had to return the 5D and lens.

The Lighting
Bit of a blag this one (if everything else wasn’t already). I just plonked an ARRILITE 800 at head height about 10 metres from Chris and the bench, directly to one side. This lit up his face on one side and made for atmospheric shots. We did have problems with a bright street light casting a yellow flood across the wall we were projecting onto, but when it came to filming that light had broken (the one time it was beneficial having a slow response from the Council). Oh and we had nothing to do with it breaking!

Chris once again perfecting the glum look

The Editing Process
Being a music video it was important to keep it fast paced, and one way to do that is to have lots of cuts which means recording lots of material. I was aware of this to start with so I meticulously planned everything that needed filming. The great thing about daydreaming frequently is that you can create the perfect video in your head, and then try and work out how to make it.

Another area which I was experimenting with was colouring the look to achieve a different feel. Using Magic Bullet Looks in Premiere Pro CS5 I opted for making his past memories colder, and adding light streaks (inspired by the Bourne trilogy tetralogy flashbacks). Then when the change came and he knelt down beside his bed I changed the tone to being warm.

The image below is with the colouring done, which makes a big difference as you can see.

When I had thought I had finished someone said in passing that it had a lot of fade to blacks in it. After pondering it for a while I came to the conclusion that fading to black indicates the end of a scene or the end of the video. So I went back to editing it and took out most of the fades so it really was one fast moving video.

The team:
Jonny – music track production
Nayf – music track vocals
Tim – video projection set up
Aidan – 3D work for projection
James – director, camera work, and editor
Gideon – key grip and extra
MC – grip
Chris – actor (as himself)
James – extra (Chris’ brother)
Roy – extra

If I add up the hours each person spent on the project and total them it comes to roughly 185 hours. Not bad for a 2 minute and 52 second video!
As it goes for most guys their involvement is a hobby, and an enjoyable one at that.

I’m glad that in our church we have some incredibly skilled guys who are willing to go the extra mile and invest their time in a project in which its ultimate aim is to inspire people that Jesus really does make a worthwhile difference.
It feels like we are just getting started in producing some ground-breaking work, as each person’s expertise is stretched beyond what they thought was possible.

P.S. Big thanks to everyone that opened up their house for us to film in, and to Lickey Church for kindly allowing us to use their church. Couldn’t have done it without you generously handing us the keys! (We didn’t break anything – honest).