Aero Director/ VFX artist Sam O’Hare has finished a short film, The Sandpit, that we’re very excited to be able to share with you. This short is inspired by films like Koyaanisqatsi (really, that’s not in spell check??), and time-lapse tilt shift photography. Click to see The Sandpit. (For best viewing, check HD and watch in full screen mode.)
The Sandpit is a day in the life of New York City, as seen in miniature:
After watching it, there are 2 immediate questions, “HOW did he do that?!?!” and “WHAT is that music track?!” Well, the 2nd question I can answer on my own, the former, I’ll have Sam explain…. The original music is by Human, co-written by Rosi Golan and Alex Wong. The piece was created for and inspired by the film. The production team at Human were absolutely amazing and incredibly helpful. Immense thanks to Marc Altschuler, Lauren Bleiweiss, Frank Reagan, and Mike Jurasits, as well as the incredibly talented Rosi Golan and Alex Wong.
Ok… now to the “how.” For this, Sam O’Hare joins me!
ME: Hi Sam!
SAM: Hi Sara.
ME: I feel like Stephen Colbert. This is exciting. My first interview in the blog-osphere!
SAM: Should I be frightened?
ME: (thinks) Maybe. Anywho… How did you shoot The Sandpit?
SAM: It is shot on a Nikon D3 (and one shot on a D80), as a series of stills. I used my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 lenses for all of these shots. Most were shot at 4fps in DX crop mode, which is the fastest the D3 could continuously write out to the memory card. The boats had slower frame rates, and the night shots used exposures up to two seconds each. The camera actually has an automatic cut off after 130 shots, so for longer shots I counted each click and quickly released and re-pressed the shutter release after 130 to keep shooting.
ME: That has to be a lot of stills!
SAM: I shot over 35,000.
ME: Holy shit.
SAM: No kidding.
ME: How did you capture the mini look?
SAM: I did some initial tests a while back using a rented 24mm tilt-shift lens, which is the standard way to do this. However, after my tests, I found it made much more sense to do this effect in post, rather than in camera. Shooting tilt-shift requires a tripod, as it is very hard to stabilise afterwards, and gives less flexibility in the final look. I opted to shoot it on normal lenses, which allowed me options in the depth of field and shot movement in post. I used a tripod for the night shots, and my Gorillapod (which is much more portable) where possible, but many locations—like hanging over the edge of a roof or through a gap in fencing on a bridge-- had to be shot hand held, and the inevitable wobble removed afterwards.
ME: That sounds kinda badass.
SAM: Um, sure?
ME: How long did the shoot take?
SAM: The entire shoot was completed in 5 days and two evenings, during the hottest week of August 2009. Many thanks go to all the people who gave me access to rooftops, penthouses and balconies to shoot from.
ME: So, you’re sitting with 35,000 stills. I’d probably have a Virgo-clutter overload and need a beer… But what did you do?
SAM: At first, I had a beer.
ME: Good man.
SAM: The footage was shot as raw NEFs, which I organised and colour graded in Adobe Lightroom. I always shoot raw, as it gives you so much more latitude when grading. These were then output as 720p jpg sequences and quickly stabilised to do the initial edit. Once the edit was mostly locked, all the final footage was re-output at full 2800px resolution, tracked, stabilised and the DOF effect and movement added in Eyeon Fusion, using Frischluft Lenscare. I output the final shots at 1080p. Although most shots stay with the basic tilt-shift effect, some have focus pulls, or more complex depth mattes were built up along with some paint work to allow buildings to drop out of focus next to the in-focus ground. This would not have been possible if I had shot using tilt shift lenses on the camera, which works best with relatively flat landscapes. New York City is anything but flat!
ME: And you did this all yourself?
SAM: The post? Yeah. It’s good fun. I had help from my friends Mary Joy Lu and Alex Catchpoole at Tanq finding all the locations, and you helped with that, too… And you also kept on me to finish this as soon as possible.
ME: I am delightfully bossy.
SAM: Something like that.
ME: The music track is amazing… How did that come about? Chicken before the egg?
SAM: Towards the end of the process I approached Human to provide music for the piece, and they very generously donated their time to produce a beautiful sound track for the film. It captures the feel of the film beautifully. I wanted the track to speak to what it is like to experience the many rhythms, pulses and moods of the city and the composition, especially the peak, does this beautifully. The vocals add narrative and pacing to the piece, and really help draw you through it.
ME: Without getting too artsy-fartsy, what inspired you to make this film?
SAM: I have always loved time-lapse footage, and films like Koyaanisqatsi especially, which allow you to look at human spaces in different ways, and draw comparisons between patterns at differing scales. I also really liked the tilt-shift look of making large scenes feel small, and wanted to make a film using this technique with New York as its subject.
ME: Thanks so much, Sam. The Sandpit is truly beautiful, and we’re so happy to have you as a part of the Aero Film family.
SAM: I'm happy to be here! I'm really glad you like the film, I had a lot of fun making it.
Check out The Sandpit HERE and then click on “like”! Please forward/tweet to friends, family, pets, etc.
More of Sam’s work can be found at the Aero Film website as well as his own personal photography blog and his Twitter page.
Special thanks for locations to:
Alex Catchpool, Mary Joy Lu at Tanq
Grace Kelly at Nice Shoes
Zach Hinden & Even Levy
Susanne Kelly and Chinagraph
Ray Foote & Ann Zagaroli at Big Foote Music
Diane Patrone, Chris Zander & Sean Mihlo at The Family NYC
Ken Duffy at Tams Witmark Music Library
Christopher Marich at The Standard Hotel
Ken Gelman and Dan Real @ One Brooklyn