For Halloween, we launched our first ever TV show/theme song/90’s revival parody with the Vidyard Family version of the Addams Family. Holiday videos are kind of a tradition at Vidyard, but this video outperformed any of our previous videos by leaps and bounds.
If you weren’t lucky enough to see it when it was first released, here it is again.
As a marketer who loves to utilize video – I thought I’d sit down with our video team after the shoot to find out just how they accomplished some of the cooler aspects of this video. Here’s what I learned about video production, and some insider tricks you might find interesting, too!
Video Production: Creating Illusions on Film
#1 The Full- Body Drag
A lot of thought went into this shot. Mat King, Video Production Manager at Vidyard, explained that it was important in this scene to make it look like Lurch was actually dragging Wednesday and Pugsley and not just walking along with them. Mat was initially planning to have Wednesday and Pugsley crouch down and walk slowly with long steps beside Lurch, but after a few minutes of planning this out on set with Blake, our Creative Director, and Mat thought of another, resourceful idea.
“I just looked over at our skateboard wall and was like, oh hey – we’ve got longboards right here. Why don’t we just use these?” said Blake Smith, Creative Director at Vidyard.
So Blake got in there right away and used skateboards to help. Blake pulled and Tyler pushed the two on skateboards with his forearms. Mat coached our staff on how to crouch down and slump their shoulders in order to create the appearance of their body weight being lifted from the back of their neck. As Mat says, giving proper direction is absolutely critical to the success of live-action videos:
“The ability to give direction is really important. You’re the one with the vision in mind. It’s really important that you communicate your vision well so you don’t have people just acting out their own interpretation of your vision.” Mat says that if you give people sequential instructions, they can figure it out. From his experience, “if you just give your actors one action to do, they’ll do it and then look at the camera, which pretty much always renders that shot useless, unless you’re making really tight cuts. If you give them multiple steps and let them know how to finish at the end, you’ll be golden.”
#2 Making Electrocution Look Real
Watch this shot closely. What is it that makes it look realistic? It’s not actually the “lightning bolt” effect, but the lights strobing in the background. But of course, in his usual style, Mat did take a few shots without the strobing lights just in case the effect didn’t work out well once they got down to editing. He’s always making sure there are options to play with! The electrical currents are definitely necessary here, though. That was an effect in After Effects called “electricity”. All you have to do is show where you want to the current to start and end and it essentially does the rest for you!
The other thing that makes this scene is the props. Mat and Blake recreated their own electric chair with a mic stand, a metal salad bowl, and some extra wire taped on to the bowl. As Mat puts it, “it worked out really well that the props could look homemade just due to the quirky nature of the Addams family”. While homemade props are a lot easier to work with, Blake and Mat still spent a fair amount of time sourcing the right props at Value Village. For example, this bowl had to be big enough to fit Garth’s head without being too large. It also needed to be deep enough to get a good portion of his head inside the bowl. There was a lot to think about!
#3 Turning ‘on’ the Bulb in Uncle Fester’s Mouth
This one is relatively simple, but it’s still something I had questions about. I mean, obviously they didn’t plug the light bulb in, so I assumed that Blake and Mat added this in post-production. Turns out there are such things as prop light bulbs! Garth (acting as Uncle Fester) took one for the team here and wrapped some tinfoil on the end of his tongue. Whenever the cue came to light up the bulb, he would just touch his tongue to the end of the bulb, complete the circuit, and voila! He did say that there were a couple times he got a pretty good tingle. So be careful of this one if you’re planning any ‘light bulb lights up in mouth’ scenes.
#4 Building Real Life Moving Photos
To get this shot, Mat and Blake filmed 4 different segments: one of Lurch dusting the wall and one of each of the people in the portraits. In post-production, Blake adjusted the lighting on each so they were all comparable, then masked out the centre of the frame so that it became transparent, moved the videos in behind the frame and moved them around until the subjects were in the right spot. They found the frames online after searching for “Victorian, Gothic Frames” (or something like that!), but one thing they made sure to do was to create a backup shot with actual frames that were on the wall. Why? Because if they couldn’t find the frames they wanted online, they would have had to recreate the entire scene, just when they thought they were done filming!
“Usually you don’t use the back-up, but especially when you’re getting into more technical things, this can really save you.”, Mat explained.
#5 Turning V-bots Claw into the Real ‘Thing’
This representation of ‘Thing’ from the real Addams Family is the craziest, most complicated, and definitely most awesome effect of all of the effects in this video. Mat and Blake spent a lot of time brainstorming how they could add Thing into the video in an authentic way – i.e. it actually just being a floating hand, of sorts. (Of course, we adapted the bodiless hand to be a claw for a little Vidyard brand infusion.) Mat and Blake determined that having the claw jump in and land on a chair was a great way to showcase this effect, so they created a scene to make this work using Morticia, who was a stoic figure, sitting formally in an armchair.
In order to have the claw look realistic and not just be dragged in awkwardly by some fishing line and flip-flopping about, Blake used a two-layer process. The first layer was shot as you see it, but with Blake wearing the claw and a blue sweater. The blue was used as an alternative to the typical “green screen” approach because we couldn’t use green due to the similarity in color to V-bot’s claw. But blue is another color that can be easily removed from shots.
The second layer called a backplate image was a still shot of the scene. If there was no secondary image then when Blake removed his own arm (yep – I just typed that) in After Effects during post-production there would just be a black hole where his arm was previously. A critical tip is doing this with the shadow as well! Leaving the full shadow in would include Blake’s arm, so that portion had to be removed. Mat described this to me saying “you couldn’t rely on the blue in this scenario to pull out the arm shadow, but you have a little more leeway with shadows because they have a softer focus and therefore a less-defined edge. If you don’t pull it perfectly, it’s unlikely anyone will notice.” And yes, you do need the shadow. Even though people might not be able to pinpoint what’s off without a shadow, they’ll know something is!
In order for Blake to remove his arm from the shot, he had to track the jump of the claw so he could remove the arm throughout the whole motion. Blake and Mat did all of this in After Effects although Mat explained that it could also be done in Premier – it would just be a little more time-consuming!
Take a peek into the real editing process here as Blake explains the process to our design team!
Killin’ It in Black and White
“Shooting in black and white comes down to adding the appropriate level of contrast and planning ahead of time”, says Mat. “It’s not enough to film in color, desaturate your footage, and move on with it.”
Mat explains that producing a black and white video involves tweaking your black tones, mid, and highlights. “If you’re going for a retro look (like we were), you up the highlights so the skin is bright. You really do need these three layers of shading to sell the contours of people in your video.”
In every single shot, Mat took a photo on his DSLR camera on the monochromatic setting to get a feel for the black and white appearance of the regular scene. This helped him to determine if there was too much black, too much highlighting, or not enough contrast. For example, in the scene with Pugsley chained to the wall with the apple on his head for Wednesday’s shooting practice, Mat and Blake initially set up the shot with a red apple on Ji’s head. When he looked at the monochromatic shot, though, Mat realized there wasn’t enough contrast and switched that Red Delicious for a Golden one!
Taking monochromatic photographs throughout also helped him to adjust the exposure for each scene which made color balancing easier later on. As Mat explains, “there’s only so much adjustment you can do later on. If each scene is drastically different in grey-levels and contrasts it’ll stand out in the final product.”.
Mat taught me that if you’re using the second videographer to edit footage in post-production, to make sure they do so in full color and send you the source files in full color. You’ll want the switch to black and white to be done by one person since there is actually quite a large spectrum of “black and white” and one person’s conversion may look different than another’s.
The most important tip Mat had for those looking to create a video in black and white is to “re-approach” – or in layman’s terms, walk away from your video editing and coming back later. Your eyes adjust after looking at something for long enough so they may trick you into thinking your black and white video looks well-balanced when it’s really not. Walking away and allowing your eyes to reset will help you optimize your blacks, mid-tones, and highlights.
Final Thoughts on Video Production
When asked if there was anything else he wanted our readers to know about this shoot, Mat said “it seems like this video was really simple, but it was so important that we planned this out. Without the pre-planning, storyboarding, scripting, and prop planning, it just wouldn’t have turned out like this. Oh and also, if you haven’t done anything like this before, practice. Do tests to see if your scenes are going to work, if you have your lighting on point, etc. Practicing can make a world of difference when you do it before everyone’s on set and you only have 10 minutes to complete a scene.”