For one shot in our recent student accommodation promo video, we recreated a technique used in the iconic cult film ‘Fight Club’ directed by David Fincher. It shows the construction of a room over time, adding all the elements into the scene one by one using complex motion control rigs to direct the camera.
We decided on a more subtle use of this technique to help represent a student moving into her room and making it more homely. However despite the slower speed and smaller scale, it still required a lot of planning.
At its basic level, a shot like this is made up of multiple takes of the same scene, using the exact same camera movement each time with the addition of one element per shot. The camera sits on a motion control rig which can replicate camera moves precisely multiple times. The first shot is the most important; it is called a ‘Plate’ and is the background on the final video which everything else will be overlaid onto. After this, an element such as a lamp is added to the scene, and the shot is filmed a second time in the exact same way. You then cut out and overlay the lamp onto the Plate. This way the lamp can be faded in through the camera move. Simply repeat this process to build up the shot. If this sounds confusing, do not worry, you can watch a short video below which will show this process much more clearly.
Pulling it off Convincingly
In our example, the ‘Plate’ was shot with our actress, Jordyn in an empty room and then each repeat shot had an added element such as a lamp, pilllow, book etc to fill up the room. Because the Plate had been filmed with Jordyn in it, she wasn’t needed in the repeat shot, we just had to ensure that no added elements overlapped where she had been sitting.
The key to success here is to always have post production in mind when shooting. Firstly, lighting was kept as constant as possible to ensure shadows stayed consistent. One issue was the window in shot; the sun was moving in and out of cloud cover so some shots were darker than others even though we lit the scene carefully. We took note of this to make sure it was corrected in the edit. Next, the elements to be added were carefully mapped out in the room to ensure they could be isolated and ‘cut out’ easily in the final shot.
None of them could overlap where Jordyn had been because she was moving in the Plate shot. If they did overlap, very time consuming rotoscoping would be needed to correct it. Lastly, we began shooting and had to be very careful that we did not move any elements once they were placed in shot, otherwise we might have had to start the entire process again.
Once we got the footage into After Effects we cut out each element using masks, and added them in sequence over the top of the Plate shot. A good tip for this is to feather the edges of the masks to help them blend into the Plate, especially when a shadow is cast. The issue with lighting was corrected by adding colour and exposure correction to certain elements to help them match the Plate. Overall the shot worked but hopefully you can see how much it relied on careful planning. With some careful forethought you can easily pull of the same type of shot too.