How we made Amy Dallen fly as Super Beatrice for The Doubleclicks

The Doubleclicks have a new album called The Book Was Better. They’re great, and their music is both good and important. They hired me to film and edit music videos for Panic and Super Beatrice, and I was excited to learn that Super Beatrice was going to fly. I have wanted to film someone flying for as long as I have wanted the power of flight. The trouble is that we didn’t have any cables, harnesses, industrial fans, or whatever else filmmakers use when pretending a person can fly.

What we did have was access to the YouTube Space in LA, with a big enough green screen (pre-lit, thank goodness), a green sheet that Laser ironed most of, a couple of stools, clothespins, and Amy Dallen in a bad-ass superhero costume.

Amy is punching the air. Photo credit:  Rick Budd .

Amy is punching the air. Photo credit: Rick Budd.

Here’s an example frame in its original format. Off screen to the right is a fan blowing her hair, and off screen to the left is Rick Budd waving her cape. When you compare this image to the iPhone photo above, you can see I messed up her skin tone. I was mixing lights that had different color temperatures. You’re not supposed to do that.

Original image of Super Beatrice in the classic Superman flying pose with one fist extended, from the Canon 5D Mark IV that we borrowed from the YouTube Space LA.

Original image of Super Beatrice in the classic Superman flying pose with one fist extended, from the Canon 5D Mark IV that we borrowed from the YouTube Space LA.

Fortunately, Super Beatrice’s power armor includes a white belt, so I sampled that to fix the white balance.

L after white balance.jpg

She looks less like one of the Simpsons now, but a little pale, so I added a little red and took out a little blue.

Hooray, she looks like Amy again.

Hooray, she looks like Amy again.

Good for me. I can fix my mistakes. The next step (I should point out, by the way, that my process didn’t necessarily follow this order; I fiddled back and forth quite a lot), was to remove all the non-Amy bits with a Keyer. I used both the Hawaiki Keyer plugin and the default Final Cut Keyer tool for different shots in the video. Sometimes one works better than the other. I have no idea why, probably math co-processors or gamma or something. This was the best I could manage at keeping Amy whole and removing her surroundings using the keying tool:

The green background is all gone, but the shape of the stool is still visible.

The green background is all gone, but the shape of the stool is still visible.

I decided to postpone fixing the sheet-covered stool and pick a background instead. Hey, look, there’s that harbor from the PS4 Spider-Man game.

I have web-slung every one of those buildings.

I have web-slung every one of those buildings.

I didn’t want it to look like every Superman-style movie ever, so I thought instead of showing a classic skyline, let’s show just enough so that it’s obviously a big city.

P after BG chosen after repositioned before blur.jpg

And then blur the background so we stay focused on our hero.

Q after BG chosen before flipping.jpg

There was one problem with using this video clip as a background, which was that the camera is tracking to the left, and if I flipped the background to fix that, the cars would be moving backwards. So I flipped Super Beatrice instead, which had the bonus of giving a logical reason for light on her face: the sunset.

Super Beatrice is staring at the sun, but being superhuman means you don’t need eye protection. Oh, except Cyclops. But that’s more like people protection  from  his eyes.

Super Beatrice is staring at the sun, but being superhuman means you don’t need eye protection. Oh, except Cyclops. But that’s more like people protection from his eyes.

Then I stood up, and stretched, and sat back down to draw dozens of little dots around the spooky black mass that was supporting Amy, and make the computer pretend it wasn’t there.

S after stool mask before handheld and animation.jpg

This looked pretty cool, but still fairly fake, because Super Beatrice was keeping pace with the camera, and I realized that flying wouldn’t really be smooth. She needed more wind resistance and/or turbulence, so I added the Handheld effect to both her and the background, and I slowly animated her out of frame as the clip progressed.

That eyebrow lift is so good.

That eyebrow lift is so good.

I think that this looks pretty bad-ass. But I wanted to make it a little more romantic, what with that sunset off screen and all, so I warmed up the skin tones again.

U after Match Color before clouds.jpg

I didn’t know what else I could do to sell the illusion of flight, given our constraints, but then I remembered that clouds are often a thing you see in the sky, and since I had isolated Amy, I could add clouds both in front of and behind her. I used a nice clip of some smoke, twice.

V after added clouds.jpg

Then I added a LUT over the entire video to make it a bit more cinematic. I used one called Space Generation that’s in the Blockbuster pack from motionvfx.

W final widescreen image after applying mLUT space generation.jpg

Then Laser said (I’m paraphrasing), “how do you feel about making it look like a TV show from the 1980s?” I felt like it was worth trying, so I converted the timeline to good ol’ NTSC 4:3.

X after switch to 4 by 3 she needs to be repositioned.jpg

Oops. Super Beatrice got cut in half. Who am I, Doug Henning? I’m sure not. Let’s reposition our hero so we can resume the illusion that her whole body is flying.

Doug Henning was a thing in the 1980s, see.

Doug Henning was a thing in the 1980s, see.

I asked Laser, “Do you want it to look like the viewer is watching it live in the 1980s, or like it was recorded and played back on a VHS,” and they chose “live,” so I added some fake interlacing / scan lines but kept it light on the glitches / vertical roll / what-have-you.

Z final image.jpg

Of course, if you really want to sell the magic of flight, you need to see the superhero’s whole body, plus her boots are too cool:

Super Beatrice in space GIF.gif

Enjoy the video below:

Assembling Favorite takes to edit the music video “Panic” by The Doubleclicks

The Doubleclicks asked me to film and edit a music video for Panic, from their album The Book Was Better. The plan was simple: lip sync on a white stage, but with various images projected on top of Laser, the singer.

We projected tense images such as this messed up test pattern onto Laser.

We projected tense images such as this messed up test pattern onto Laser.

We filmed several takes with two angles, and I put all of them into a Multicam clip, with a third “angle” for the album version of the song. Was it the most elegant idea? I dunno, I haven’t done this before. (That’s not true; I made music videos in high school, before video was digital. In fact, we were using cassettes instead of CDs to sing along to. The lip synching wasn’t very good because the boombox’s batteries would slowly die.)

The Multicam Angle Viewer in Final Cut Pro X shows two cameras recording Laser singing along seven times. I was worried that the audio from Camera B was too low to sync with the song, but it worked the first time.

Then I watched all the takes of Laser’s great face and marked my favorite performance bits. But what I couldn’t tell by looking at this collection of green ranges was whether the whole song was covered.

Filmstrip view (which I almost never use) shows the in and out points that I marked as Favorites.

Also, if I were to dump all of my Favorites into a timeline at this point, it would be like listening to a song while intoxicated on the wrong amount of marijuana. You’d miss half a verse, and it would seem like it takes half an hour just for one song, and you’d wonder if you’d just said something embarrassing. Listen, I’m not good at THC.

I wanted to get all of my Favorites into the timeline, but in order of the song lyrics, so that I wouldn’t have to rearrange things back and forth. I decided to assign numbers to each line to make them unique. So I put the lyrics into my favorite text editor (Textmate), which shows me line numbers. Now that I think of it, pasting into a spreadsheet would’ve been just as easy. Go figure.

So, for every Favorite that included "the bandwidth is throttled," which is the first line of the song, I renamed the Favorite "01", and "I hate this dumb couch" Favorites were named "13", etc.

Panic song lyrics, lines 1 through 12, AKA a verse and a chorus

Panic song lyrics, lines 1 through 12, AKA a verse and a chorus

As is common with songs, some of the lines happened more than once. I got lucky here, because the video that Laser made for the projector on their face didn’t repeat any images, so instead of trying to memorize the nuances in the performance of three instances of “I’ve got nothing to fight with,” instance #2 appeared on my numbered lyric sheet as ”(hexagons) I've got nothing to fight with” and instance #3 appeared as “(fjord) i've got nothing to fight with”. I don’t know if the image in question is literally a fjord, but it’s more fjord than hexagon.

Compared to typical editing, this system seems backwards. Normally, I’d describe content with Keywords and then identify Favorites, but I’m glad I did it this way, because, for example, sometimes the lip synching was off (sorry for putting you on blast, Laser!*), or Camera B wasn’t focused, and since I didn’t mark those as Favorites, I never had to bother with them again.

I renamed the Favorites with their corresponding lyric numbers.

Then it was just selecting one lyric-number after another and Appending them to the timeline (I think there’s probably a way to get them to sort themselves numerically, but as I was trying to think of how, I felt like it would take the same amount of time to do it the dumb way), narrowing down the Favorites where duplicates existed, filling in any gaps, and tweaking a frame here and a frame there so that they actually appeared to be singing the song.

*Get it? Laser blast? Anyway, enjoy the video here:

This is a song about panic attacks. You're gonna be ok, but you don't need to be ok right now. Music video by the Doubleclicks, performing Panic from the new album The Book was Better, out May 10, 2019!