Editor’s Note: The music video for “Summoner” by Snakes of Russia was recognized as “Music Video of the Year” by the UK’s Pro Moviemaker magazine (see the July/August 2023 issue). We recently sat down with Kays Al-Atrakchi, Director, and Curtis Davis, Director of Cinematography, to talk about this project, which was captured on the SIGMA fp camera.
SIGMA: First of all, congratulations on the award from Pro Moviemaker magazine. There is something about the visual narrative and the mix of through-the-camera footage, the persistent CGI jellyfish, and the driving beat of the music that draws the viewer in.
KAYS: Thank you. It was our intent from the very beginning to create a very surreal experience. Snakes Of Russia’s music is extremely atmospheric and evocative and, as a director, I wanted to try and capture their unique sound with visuals. I grew up on MTV and the types of music videos that tell a simple but compelling story. My goal for the “Summoner” video was to take the viewer on a strange dream-like journey that our main character, who is played by actor Daniel Nelson, experiences.
Can you tell us a little about the creative process behind this video and how you came to choose the fp camera to capture the footage, which ranges from blazing sun, to dim interiors? What filetype and grading did you employ? What other gear was used for capture and post?
CURTIS: In terms of its form factor, the SIGMA fp was critical in our ability to be able to capture all of the downtown Los Angeles shots. We wanted a different kind of LA look, as well as a sense of complete emptiness. In order to accomplish this, we needed overcast skies and no people or cars on the streets or sidewalks. This meant scouting every location beforehand and getting up early to be downtown by 5AM on a Sunday, to take advantage of the empty streets and the overcast sky provided by the marine layer, which typically tends to dissipate by 9AM. As the morning progresses, the city begins to wake up and becomes more active so we needed to move very quickly.
This was where the SIGMA fp really became pivotal. Its small size allowed me to operate the camera with incredible precision and speed, while still maintaining the superior UHD Cinema DNG RAW image quality we needed for post. The light weight was another consideration. Even with a small monitor attached to the camera, I could literally hold it in the palm of my hand. I could use my arms to instantly adjust the frame and my core to stabilize the shot. For most of the shots, we didn’t need to spend time setting up a tripod. The speed at which the fp allowed me to work was impressive. We would not have been able to capture everything we wanted to within our limited production schedule without it.
KAYS: We did a lot of tests on a number of cameras before Curtis and I agreed that the SIGMA fp was the best choice for our needs. Dynamic range is a huge consideration when shooting in locations with limited ability to control the lighting as we were. From the bright desert outdoors to the dark subway tunnels, we needed a camera where we could push the ISO and push the image in post without running into noise issues or clipping the highlights, especially since we knew the video would have to be mastered in black-and-white. When we got to post, I was immensely relieved to see that all the footage was clean and the dynamic ranges perfectly preserved. It was so clean, in fact, that we ended up adding some film grain in Resolve to dirty things up a bit.
How and when was the jellyfish motion incorporated into the visual story? In other words, which came first — the jellyfish or the live footage?
KAYS: I knew from the beginning that our main character would be seeing some type of large creatures floating around him, I just didn’t know exactly what those creatures would look like while we were shooting. I’ve always liked jellyfish, they are fascinating creatures that even the scientists who study them don’t quite fully understand yet. When I saw that digital artist Albin Merle had created a procedural, node-based way of generating CG jellyfish, I immediately contacted him and asked if we could incorporate his digital jellyfish into the video.
In addition to the award from Pro Moviemaker, what other feedback have you gotten for this video so far?
KAYS: The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I think a lot of that has to do with how well the video and the music track work together. I think the main credit for that has to go to Snakes of Russia who creates such innovative and inspiring music. Without their music I would have never come up with such a crazy concept.
Have you used the SIGMA fp and/or SIGMA lenses on any other recent projects? What is up next for both of you?
KAYS: Absolutely. I keep my SIGMA fp and SIGMA 28-70mm zoom lens handy at all times. I was recently directing a horror film in Atlanta and I used my SIGMA rig extensively for all of the 2nd unit and pickups. At one point we were shooting in water in less than ideal conditions and the DP was really nervous about carrying our larger camera with him, so I handed him my SIGMA fp and told him to shoot the entire sequence with it. We got amazing footage from it that would have been very difficult to achieve with any other camera.
As far as what’s next, I’m in development for a sci/fi feature film and we’re planning on going into production with later this year. I will be looking at the SIGMA fp and the SIGMA Cine Primes for our primary camera rig. I really love the cinematic quality that I get from the SIGMA fp sensor, it’s unlike anything else out there.
CURTIS: I’m literally wrapping up the final color grade on a feature film as we speak. It’s a thriller called The Box directed by Emanuele Pica which will be coming out in the fall. Beyond that, I’m keeping busy on a number of upcoming shoots, and look forward to working with Kays again soon.
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