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PRACTICAL makes films and videos that are the culmination of cameras, research, travel, sketchbooks, sleep, screen time, and running wild. Based out of Traverse City and Grand Rapids Michigan, we love sharing our work and process with those around the world.

Armor Express, Michael Schuyler Reenactment

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written by Jake Burgess  -  Project Release  -  May 25, 2017

 
 

Now that we’re reaching the warm days of May and my fingers have officially thawed, it’s easy to cheerfully look back on our frigid December night shoot.

As a long time editor at Practical, I’ve seen more than my fair share of Armor Express footage. Every frame creates a new level of respect and appreciation for what they do, and sheds light on those who selflessly put themselves in harm's way to serve and protect. After seeing so much of that through a screen, it’s a truly humbling experience to meet the individuals in question. People like Michael Schuyler, who survived multiple shots. That was the story the Practical team got to tell.

 
 

This was a unique shoot. We were pressed for time (the least unique thing about any shoot), pressed for warmth, and were drowning in snowfall. After wrapping the RED Epic and a brand new lens in a state of the art protective housing (featured below), we decided to get our coverage through a series of one takes. This meant filming the entirety of the event in every take. This was chaotic, but efficient.

To answer your question, yes. That is a plastic bag.

Now onto the part I’m supposed to talk about - editing. As I mentioned before, our coverage consisted of a series of long shots covering the entire action. As an editor, this was a unique experience for me and presented its own set of challenges. Namely, inconsistent snow fall throughout. Some shots looked like they were taken straight from a snow globe, others looked like an icy tundra. We also had a series of shots containing crew members, who we had tucked away firing off camera flashes to get interactive complex lighting to justify the muzzle flares. Rather than lose very compelling shots for the sake of ease, in the middle of post production I decided to fix it all in post.

This is where things got tricky, and this is where things get sort of technical. We shot nearly everything handheld, which meant lots of motion tracking. We had police lights flashing, which meant emulating complex lighting. The crew member (hereafter referred to as The Flasher) was interacting with multiple planes - the ground and the background behind him, which meant multiplanar compositing. Our actors were moving around in the foreground, passing between the camera and The Flasher, which calls for lots of rotoscoping. And possibly the toughest part, there was heavy snowfall throughout. This throws off the motion tracking software, it also means the snow has to be composited back in over any CG elements. Simply put, it was hard, and I like to complain.

In closing, this was all an incredible experience. Every challenge made me adapt and learn something new, and the final product is something I’m truly proud of. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?