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November 21st, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Pitchfork’s Interactive Mini-Site for the 2014 Basilica Soundscape Festival

Basilica Soundscape

Pitchfork, the influential music website that has grown to include a quarterly print magazine and three art and music festivals, has launched a new mini-site to showcase videos made during September’s Basilica Soundscape Festival. The custom site, which lives at basilica.pitchfork.com, features videos of 12 artists performing at the third iteration of the annual festival, held on September 12 & 13, 2014, in Hudson, NY. Each video is a performance from the festival interspersed with meditative footage shot in the idyllic town and countryside surrounding the festival venue.

The Basilica mini-site was designed and developed by William Colby, who co-directed the videos with Jim Larson. Both are part of the in-house video team at Pitchfork.

Pitchfork has been at the vanguard of creating innovative displays of photos and videos on the Internet, as we highlighted in our feature (subscription required) on the site’s “cover stories” in late 2013.

On the Basilica site, it’s possible to watch every video without a single click, thanks to the site’s minimal design: There’s a small navigation menu at the top right of the page, but visitors can scroll down through each auto-playing video. The performances run the gamut from modern metal like White Lung and Deafheaven, to a string quartet led by the Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and a deliciously funny reading of an essay on the gender politics of authenticity by Meredith Graves, of the hardcore band Perfect Pussy.

The mini-site is visually compelling, and is yet another example of Pitchfork’s commitment to experiment with new ways to deliver images to its readers.

 

 

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

September 3rd, 2014

Photojournalists Launch “Selfie Against the Death Penalty” Campaign

Documentary photographer Marc Asnin and VII Association, a non-profit organization founded by VII Photo Agency, have launched a social media campaign that advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.

The “Photographers Selfie Against the Death Penalty” campaign is part of a collaboration between Asnin’s Neverland Publications and VII Association on Final Words, a book and traveling exhibition that presents the final statements of 515 inmates executed in Texas since 1982. The aim of the project is to focus on “the humanity at the center of the death penalty in America,” the organizers said in a statement.

To participate, photographers are being asked to upload an image to the Final Words site, and to finish the statement “I stand against the death penalty because….” Among the photographers who have participated so far are Larry Fink, Rudy Archuleta, Anthony Barboza, Sim Chi Yin, and several members of the VII Photo Agency.

For full instructions for how to participate in the campaign, visit the Final Words site here.

June 6th, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Making Beautiful, Dramatic Video Portraits

At several Washington, DC schools, kids are interacting with infants as part of an innovative anti-bullying program, and Washington Post multimedia producer Brad Horn recently visited Maury Elementary school to shoot a story about it. Instead of approaching it as “a standard news story” with bright TV lighting and talking head administrators, Horn combined intimate interviews of kids talking about their own experiences with bullying and rich, out-of-the-ordinary video portraits.

Horn, whose work and advice we featured in our article “Create Smooth Video Tracking Shots on the Fly (And On a Budget),” talked to PDN about some of the lighting and tracking techniques he used to create the Maury School video.

PDN: How did you do the tracking shots?
BH: I used a [Kessler] Pocket Jib.

PDN: Did you operate it yourself?
BH: As a one-man band, I did. But they’re big and heavy. You have to be really strong and kind of crazy to do this by yourself. It took all my strength to move the jib around the school once I got it set up.  I had to carry everything up three flights of stairs. Then there was set-up time, and I had no idea how to use it. I was having to watch YouTube videos right there in the classroom to figure it out.

PDN: You’d never used a jib? Why did you suddenly decide to use it for this job?
BH: I like to spice things up. I love portraiture. if I want to marry portraiture and video portraiture–video portraits can be kind of static. After a while, you want to try something new. A lot of people use sliders, but they’re getting to be cliche–maybe not cliche, but they’re so common. I wanted to try something a little different, something cutting edge, and get people to notice.

PDN: What tips do you have for making good video portraits?
BH: You want to get far away with a long lens, to shorten depth of field and blow out the background. Also, pull the subject away from the background. Lighting is key, though. A lot of people are trained to do TV-style lighting: three lights, with even light across the face. It makes people too brightly lit, and it’s not cinematic, so I like to do Rembrandt-style lighting.

One of Brad Horn's video portrait set-ups at Maury Elementary school.

One of Brad Horn’s video portrait set-ups at Maury Elementary school. Photo by Carolyne Albert-Garvey

 

PDN: How do you achieve that?
BH: I use a Lowel Rifa-Lite eX88, which is pretty big. It’s a softbox. Then I have an egg crate that goes over [the] top of it [to control light spill]. I just use one light, and light subjects from the side, so there’s a  dramatic fall-off of light across the subject’s face. One side is noticeably darker.

PDN: The light and color have a rich, dark quality throughout the video in general. How did you get that?
BH: Mostly with the softbox. What took me probably too long to realize was not to mix daylight and tungsten. The tungsten lights are very warm. The trick is to use daylight-balanced bulbs. Then I mess around a lot with saturation: desaturating the dark colors, and saturating the light colors. I also increase the contrast. I’ll mess around with color balance as well. A lot of people tend to warm things up, but sometimes I make things cooler. So [the look] is the interplay of a lot of things.

PDN: Were there any other challenges to making this video that aren’t obvious from watching it?
BH: There was a whole sausage factory aspect to it. Bringing the Pocket Jib into the classroom, bringing a boy into a bathroom to film him. I had to explain a lot–that boy was bullied in the bathroom. The setting was important– but they’re still like, “You’re a grown man, bringing a kid into a bathroom.” When you have a strong vision, you’re going to get raised eyebrows. You just have to fight through it, and get to the heart of the story–in this case, the pain of being a kid.

Related article:
Frames Per Second: Create Smooth Video and Tracking Shots on the Fly (and On a Budget)

March 24th, 2014

World Press Photo Multimedia 2014 Honors New York Times, National Film Board of Canada, Marco Casino

HighriseThe National Film Board of Canada and The New York Times share first prize for Interactive Documentary in the World Press Photo 2014 Multimedia contest for their collaborative multimedia piece, “A Short History of the Highrise.” The World Press Multimedia awards, now in their fourth year, honor documentary work in three categories: interactive documentaries, short and long features. The winners were announced this morning in Amsterdam.

“A Short History of the Highrise” tells the story of vertical living and the construction of skyscrapers through four short films, photos, text and microgames.

First prize for best short feature was awarded to “Staff Rider,” a video about kids in South Africa who “surf” atop trains. Photographer Marco Casino recorded photos, video and sound for the story. First prize for long feature went to “Witnessing Gezi,” directed by photojournalist Emin Ozmen and Baris Koca, who documented the protests against the development of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park and civil resistance in Turkey.

The first place winner in each category will be awarded a cash award of 1,500 euros.

The full list of winners, and credits for editing, sound design and more, can be found at www.worldpressphoto.org/2014-multimedia-contest/winners-list.

The winners were selected from 373 entrants. The chair of the jury, Jassim Ahmad, global head of multimedia innovation at Reuters, said in a statement, “Interactive teams are employing a variety of visual tools and techniques. We looked for examples that are designed for the medium to explain more and bring you closer.” He also noted, “We agreed innovation could not be at the expense of clarity. Communication is the essence of journalism.”

Other jury members were Gabriel Dance, interactive editor, Guardian US; Liza Faktor, co-founder of Screen; photographer Ed Kashi of the VII Photo Agency; Marianne Lévy-Leblond, head of web productions and transmedia projects at Arte France; Grant Scott, senior lecturer on photography at the University of Gloucestershire and founder and editor Unitednationsofphotography.com; and photographer Luis Weinstein. Alan Stoga, president of Zemi Communications, was the jury secretary.

Related articles
Sinclair, Dimmock Win World Press Multimedia Contest

Jurying the World Press Photo Multimedia Contest (for PDN Subscribers)

The Next Generation of Online Storytelling: Bear 71 (by National Film Board of Canada)

March 6th, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Making an Award-Winning Story of One Woman’s Resilience

Sensei from ora on Vimeo.

Ora DeKornfeld, a communications major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, won first prize for her video “Sensei” in the Multimedia Feature category of the 2014 Pictures of the Year International competition. Brilliantly shot and edited, DeKornfeld’s video tells the powerful story of a rape victim’s survival, resilience and determination. DeKornfeld explains how she won her subject’s trust, found a way to portray events in the past through evocative imagery, and produced a tight, dramatic narrative.

PDN: What was this project was for? How did it get started?
Ora DeKornfeld: That project was made as a final documentary piece for a journalism class. The assignment was to make a vérité documentary. It was a challenge for us to [record] something actually happening, instead of fully relying on B-roll over interview audio. My professor [Chad Stevens] assigned the project knowing that was unrealistic, so this project deviated greatly from that initial assignment, but that’s how it started.

PDN: How did you find this subject, and how get her to open up?
OD: I went to this neighborhood in Durham (North Carolina)–a pretty dynamic low-income neighborhood, and I saw a flyer for self-defense classes and that’s something I have always been personally interested in, and I wanted to do a piece that touched on women’s issues. So I called the number and ended up talking to Brenda, the subject, and she was immediately open. She told me that the reason she got into martial arts was because she was a victim of a violent crime. I didn’t push that at the time, but it was an immediate indicator that she had a real deep experience that motivated her. So I said, would it be OK if I made a documentary about you? She was really open to it.
I went to her karate class on Tuesday and Saturday for two weeks, then I asked if I could come to her house, meet her family and start hanging out with her there. And I kind of just stayed until she said, “OK, Ora, you need to get out of my house.” But through that experience we bonded. (more…)

February 26th, 2014

Cinetics Intros Axis360 Motorized Camera Slider and Quickly Hits Kickstarter Goal

Axis360-1Cinetics is a company we’ve been following since its deceptively simple CineSkates camera dolly system caused a splash back in 2011. That product, which was introduced on Kickstarter and quickly made its funding goal, was followed by CineMoco, a more sophisticated motorized camera dolly that also easily hit its Kickstarter pledge mark.

So what does Cinetics do for another encore? It introduces the Axis360, a compact, motorized tripod head and slider system which — you guessed it — made its Kickstarter goal of $75,000 yesterday, less than 24 hours after it was launched.

The Axis360 slider, which is designed to help photographers and cinematographers create dynamic panning, tilting and sliding video along with timelapse photography, has collected nearly $110,000 in pledges from 150 backers at the time of this writing.

Here’s how Cinetics describes its new motorized slider in a press release about the product:

“Axis360 is an automated motion control system that rotates and slides a camera. Designed specifically for small production crews and extreme portability, the system is compact and lightweight, sets up quickly and easily, and is extremely versatile. Compatible with most DSLR, mirrorless, and cinema cameras weighing less than 11 pounds, Axis360 can move at a wide range of speeds, fluidly or incrementally, and the number of system combinations to suit specific shooting needs is virtually endless. Axis360 is controlled by the CineMoco motor controller, which is compatible with most video cameras and can synch moves and timelapse photos on most Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras with cables included with the system. Many other cameras support timelapse photography with built-in timers (intervalometers) and do not require a camera cable.”

Axis360-with-Rail-Low-Res-2

The Axis360 will sell in three kit configurations: Basic, Plus and Pro. The Basic Kit ($450) including the CineMoco controller, tripod, and ballhead. Tripods with ¼”-20 or 3/8”-16 attachments can also be used.

The Axis360 Plus ($550) includes the components of the Basic Kit plus a Tilt Kit for balanced, motorized tilting moves. The Axis360 Pro ($900) adds a slider rail for automated horizontal and vertical camera moves.

You can get more information about the Axis360 at its Kickstarter page. Also, check out the demo video below.

February 26th, 2014

Brent McDonald Named 2014 POYi Multimedia Photographer of the Year

Video journalist Brent McDonald of The New York Times has won 2014 Multimedia Photographer of the Year at the Pictures of the Year International competition, organizers have announced. He won for a portfolio that included a video called “A Deadly Dance” about a surge of heroin use in Portland, Maine; and a story about Christine Quinn’s campaign for mayor of New York.

A Deadly Dance from The New York Times – Video on Vimeo.

Documentary Project of the Year honors went to NPR’s Planet Money team for a project called “Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.” The project also won first prize for Documentary Journalism (multimedia).

National Geographic won Best eBook (app) honors for “The Photography Issue, October 2013.”  The Best Website award went to Narratively.

Adam Panczuk won the Best Photography Book award for “Karczeby,” about the people of a region of east Poland with a strong cultural attachment to the land.

Contest organizers also announced on Monday that The New York Times won Best Newspaper honors, while National Geographic won for Best Magazine.

Judging for the competition, which began February 5, ended today. Various teams of jurors judged entries in five separate divisions: News, Sports, Reportage, Editing, and Multimedia. (Click links to see our stories on category winners in each division.)

Related:

Who’s Winning at POYi? PDN Links to First Place Entries in Editing and Multimedia Categories
Daniel Berehulak Named 2014 POYi Freelance Photographer of the Year
Barabara Davidson Named 2014 POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year
Patrick Smith Named 2014 POYi Sports Photographer of the Year

February 24th, 2014

Who’s Winning at POYi? PDN Links to First Place Entries in Editing and Multimedia Categories

©The Denver Post/Craig F. Walker. From "Cecil & Carl," first place winner of POYi's Newspaper Feature Story Editing category.

©The Denver Post/Craig F. Walker. From “Cecil & Carl,” first place winner of POYi’s Newspaper Feature Story Editing category.

After naming Newspaper and Freelance Photographers of the Year and winners of various other categories during the past three weeks, the Pictures of the Year International competition continues to release results in other categories.

Jurors have weighed entries for the Editing and Multimedia Division categories this past week. Here’s a round-up of winners in those categories so far, with links to online versions of the stories and videos:

Editing Division:
News & Issue Story Editing (newspaper): The Washington Post, “Never the Same: Refuge Stories from the Syrian Exodus.” The entry features photography by Linda Davidson.

Feature Story Editing (newspaper): The Denver Post, “Cecil & Carl,” featuring photography by Craig F. Walker.

News & Issue Story Editing (magazine): National Geographic, “The New Oil Landscape,” featuring photography by Eugene Richards.

Feature Story Editing (magazine): TIME magazine, “A Portrait of Domestic Violence,” featuring photography by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz.

Series or Special Section: The New York Times, “The Lady Jaguars–Year 2,” featuring photography by Ruth Fremson.

Editing Portfolio (newspaper): Becky Hanger and Jeffrey Furticella, The New York Times.

Editing Portfolio (magazine): Kira Pollack, Time Magazine.

McDougall Overall in Excellence in Editing Award: The New York Times.

Best Newspaper and Best Magazine winners have yet to be named.

Multimedia Division:

Feature: “Sensei” by freelancer Ora DeKornfeld.

Sports Feature: “The Lights Go Out: the final season of Hollywood Park” by a team from the Los Angeles Times, including videographers Spencer Bakalar and Bethany Mollenkof.

News: “Spanish Bank Scandal Wipes Out Savings,” by freelancers Almudena Toral, Suzanne Daley and Rachel Chaundler.

Issue Reporting: “The Last Clinic,” by Maisie Crow (See Maisie Crow’s web site for the trailer and photographs).

Jurors will select winners of the Documentary Journalism category today. Tomorrow, jurors will select Documentary Project of the Year, Best eBook, Best Website and Multimedia Photographer of the Year.

Related:

Daniel Berehulak Named 2014 POYI Freelance Photographer of the Year

Barbara Davidson Named 2014 POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year

Patrick Smith Named POYi’s 2014 Sports Photographer of the Year

February 10th, 2014

Freelancer Astrid Riecken Wins “Eyes of History” Photographer of the Year Honors

Astrid Riecken has won Photographer of the Year honors at the 2014 Eyes of History competition, the White House News Photographers Association announced yesterday. The Washington, DC-based freelancer also won first-place prizes in the Feature and Portfolio categories.

Win McNamee of Getty Images won Political Photo of the Year for an image of President Barack Obama speaking at a White House briefing room about the Trayvon Martin case. McNamee also won first place in the Presidential category.

In other still photo categories, Melina Mara won first place prizes for both Picture Story Politics and Political Portfolio. Bonnie Jo Mount won first place for Picture Story Feature. Mara and Mount are both Washington Post staff photographers.

Jabin Botsford of Western Kentucky University won Student Photographer of the Year honors.

Best of Show for multimedia entries went to Ken Geiger of National Geographic for the iPad version of his story called The Last Chase, about Tim Samaras, a well-known storm chaser who was killed during a tornado in May 2013. Geiger also swept first, second, and third prizes in the Non-Linear Storytelling category.

In the Linear Storytelling category, Jim Lo Scalzo won first place for a multimedia story about Iowa’s county fairs that he produced for European Press Photo Agency.

A complete list of categories and winners is available at the White House News Photographers Association web site.

Winners of the competition in all categories will be honored at the WHNPA’s annual black tie gala, scheduled for May 10, 2014, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington.