Under the Bonnet: Building(s) for the Future

Every so often I plan to deconstruct a recent project as a way of sharing things we learnt, tip and tricks, and the general thought process involved. It’s also a useful exercise for me to review, analyse and progress. The technique covered below includes:

Masking & Grading
Archive footage
Drone Footage
Gear Hire, Stabilisation & Depth of Field
Miking up

Purpose and Occasion

Building(s) for the Future is our Gift Day video at Kings for our Seaford venue, which is becoming its own church in September of this year. The video focuses on an opportunity to purchase the Cross Way Centre in Seaford which, after six years of hiring venues, will hopefully become the first permanent home of Kings Church Seaford.

Here’s the video:


Return on Investment

One of the questions you have to ask on every project is ‘why?’ shortly followed by ‘is it worth it?’. Creating videos is time-consuming. Buying a church building is exciting in itself. In essence, you could just have a single picture of the building with the caption ‘we want to buy it’. Job done. Do we need a six minute video? But maybe there’s more of a story to tell, and maybe video can help you see so much more.

The video isn’t really about a building. It’s about telling a story of our past, present and future. It’s about casting vision and answering the big ‘why’ — why do we even exist as a church?

The format of video allows us to share a carefully crafted message over several weeks, at each of our four meetings, post online and include in our podcasts. It also creates a sort of landmark in the history of our church: it emphasises a point in time ‘when we this this’. On another level, video creates a way of friends-of-friends looking in online and getting a glimpse of what we are about. But in terms of a direct return, if the video inspires and envisions our church to buy-in, get involved and raise the level of giving, it’s more than worth it.

Thought process & technique

The immediate question we wanted to answer in the video is why even buy a building? Why not just rent? What does owning a building enable us to do? This forms the opening scene of the video with single word answers to this question. It’s also intended as an attention grabbing mechanism. The words don’t make any sense until they’re followed by the question. It’s designed to draw you in by creating a puzzle.

If you look at the audience retention graph on Facebook, almost all your video stats look like this:

Audience retention graph

A steep curve down. In reality this is just people scrolling past your post on their timeline. They’re not clicking off your video, they simply never decided to watch it. But it is auto-playing in their feed and they get some sort of impression. If you can do something in the first 10 seconds to grab attention, it can help retain a few more views. Who knows, this could be a persons first and only connection with church.

Masking & Grading

A few people have asked how I got the words to disappear behind the trees. The answer: with a quick and simple(ish) mask.

Title masking

In Adobe Premiere you duplicate the video footage onto a second layer, convert it to black and white and then create a high contrast version of the video. You can only do this with certain types of images but, because there’s already good contrast between the blue of the sky and the green of the fields, it’s suited to this kind of use. This forms your mask, and I created this one (below) quite quickly with the black and white filter and adjusting the levels for contrast.

In a mask, everything white is fully transparent and every thing black is opaque. Anything in-between has a degree of transparency depending on its shade.

black and white mask

After creating this I put the titles under the mask, and on each title applied the ‘Track Matte Key’ effect with ‘Matte Luma’ option selected, targeting the mask video above. The advantage of this approach is that you get intricacy of detail in the leaves masking out the words. It would be incredibly difficult to get that kind of detail using any other approach. This produced the following result, which was almost there:


The only thing I didn’t like was the transparency the mask created in the text, and I wanted it to be a bit more solid and punch out. So I took the layers into AfterEffects. You can do this by selecting the clips you want to take into AE, right-click and select ‘Replace with AfterEffects Composition’.

AE comp

I then created numerous white shapes which I animated over the top of the mask to effectively fill in the background.

AE timeline
Above: White shapes are animated over the top of the mask to fill in the background. Gaussian blur is applied to hide the hard edges of the white shapes.

The final result (after a bit of grading) is below. Still not perfect — if you freeze the video like this you can still see some of the gaussian blur applied to the white shape layers, which still annoys me a bit. But it’s not a Hollywood production. Played at full speed the effect is barely noticeable and more than good enough for a church video. Spending a lot more time on refining the mask won’t add much value. You’re just fulfilling your own personal desire as a geek to get it perfect; wasting time in the process. Death to self, death to GEEK!!

Final masking

Incidentally, when it comes to grading, Film Wash by Curious Turtle is pretty awesome. There’s lots of different presets which you can apply to adjustment layers in AfterEffects. They’re fully editable, you can mix them together, adjust, fade them up or down in the mix and create some very effective results in a short space of time. It’s also quite educational, as you can see how each look is created with the use of curves and a few other effects.

Archive footage

The video moves on then links in to the story of how 170 adults bought the Kings Centre 20 years ago. It uses some archive footage from 1997. Archive footage is always cool, and another reason to shoot (and keep) your videos. Some of your footage will be like a fine wine: the older it gets, the more awesome it becomes. It allows you to go back in time and see the past. The footage you’re shooting now could be used in 30, 60 or 100 years time to envision the church. Make sure you back them up.

Kings Church Eastbourne archive footage

One of the reasons I’m keen on shooting 4K now is that it’ll provide great archive material in the future. It’s so detailed it’s amazing. To me it’s how video is meant to look.

Drone footage

This was the first time we ever used drone footage, which provides a whole new perspective. It fits the project really well, as it’s all about the big vision for Eastbourne and Seaford. One of the things I love about photography and film is that it helps you see the world differently. Drone footage does exactly this — it provides a perspective you never normally see. And although you may be used to seeing it on TV, there’s something special about seeing your own church and town captured in this way.

All the footage was shot by Ron, a retired wedding videographer in our church who has his own 4K Phantom Drone. This actually opened my eyes to how valuable those in retirement can be. The’ve got something the rest of use don’t always have: the time to get involved.

Kings Church Eastbourne drone footage


Gear Hire, Stabilisation & Depth of Field.

There were two pieces of gear that we hired out that were key on this project. We wanted to capture the inside of the building with nice, fluid movement. Initially we looked for a jib to get some nice motion shots, but couldn’t find one to rent. Instead we hired out the Comodo Orbit from hireacamera.com and went for a different approach. This actually worked out much better as it gave us the freedom to walk with the camera handheld and get fluid shots. It meant we could do the full tour round the building in one shot. We combined this with a Samyang 14mm T3.1 wide angle lens, also from hireacamera.com, and used it at around f10 throughout.

Comodo Orbit

Shooting at f10 provides a very wide depth-of-field, meaning that pretty much everything is in focus. Also, the wider your lens, the more your depth-of-field is naturally increased. This approach was perfect for us as we wanted to capture all the detail of the building, enabling our church to really see it. A wide DOF also means you don’t have to worry about focus. As you can see from the image, it requires two hands, and there’s no way to rack focus anyway.

A wide-angle lens is also preferable when shooting handheld as it minimises the effect of camera-shake. The more telephoto you go, the harder it is to stabilise as all your little movements and judders are magnified.

The Orbit worked really well on my Sony A7sII, which has in-built stabilisation. The church tour from 03:17 to 04:30 in the video didn’t have any stabilisation applied in post-production; it’s simply how it came off the camera. As you can see, it’s pretty effective. No nasty jitters or vibrations. It’s also pretty quick to set up and, because you’re using two hands, you don’t get the same arm fatigue you get when using a glidecam. Not as smooth, as a glidecam, but very easy to set up and use, and great for general purpose, walking around stuff.

A note on depth of field: When you first get a DSLR it’s tempting to shoot everything with a really shallow DOF. It naturally creates an artistic look, helps isolate your subject, and distinguishes it from your more ‘everyday’ footage shot on camcorders or smartphones. But after a while you realise it’s a bit like garlic. You like it, but you don’t want your whole meal to taste of it. And with videography, you don’t need every shot to have that super-shallow DOF. You just need it on the right ones. Other shots actually require more detail, and a shallow DOF can throw half the image out of focus, and not in a good way. On most shots it’s about getting the right balance between isolating your subject and including enough detail from the scene. The best cinematography always has these in perfect balance.

Miking up

You might notice that the quality of the vocals varies between the different shots. That’s because we used three different setups for the different scenarios:

  1. The voice-over at the beginning was recorded with a Rode VideoMic Pro, a broadcast quality condenser mic. This is easy as we’re just sat in my office.
  2. We usually shoot piece-to-cameras with lavalier mic’s plugged directly into either my camera or our Tascam DR-100MKII (like at 01:30 with Jez sat in the pub). This is a simple option as you don’t need a sound guy with a boom. Just a mic with a 5m cable. These sound good, but not quite as full bodied as the VideoMic Pro.
  3. For the free-flowing walking shots we used a Rode SmartLav Mic which records directly onto my iPhone. The audio quality is compromised a bit here as it’s just not as good as either of the options above. But it does mean your presenter is free to roam. But buying something like the Zoom H1 recorder would be perfect. You would get the same quality as the lavalier mic’s plugged into the Tascam, with the portability of the small recorder that can fit in the presenters back pocket. Only downside is that you can’t monitor the audio as you record. So a bit of a gamble.

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