Building a visual world

Article by cinematographer and visual artist Sean Webley 

When I first spoke to Gabriela and she showed me some of the things the team had prepared for Two Mobility Futures 0∞ , I got really excited. It’s not often that I see a project that is truly novel in every regard. I knew that almost every single aspect of the project would have to be developed and figured out from the ground up and I was really looking forward to doing that.

The installation itself consists of nine screens, a model at the center, and a light sculpture suspended above the model. Every element interacts with the other elements and there is a regard taken for the spacial relationships of the items themselves.

There were four essential elements to the shooting and capturing the project that all needed a different approach: 

1. The model

We knew that we wanted to shoot the model elements first as it would serve as the connective tissue between all the other stories as well as provide some of the rear projected images in some of the other parts of the project.

As I approached this visually, I knew that the images had to have a lot of scale and we needed really feel like we were inside of the model. The model was quite small and it became a goal of making even the smallest screws and car parts that were on the model feel as if they were buildings or enormous structures.

I quickly arrived at the idea to use a macro probe lens to achieve the effect of scale. The probe lens was able to really get close to the model and move between elements and even through them at times.

One of the more difficult technical challenges of filming the model was in the lighting and creation of the correct atmosphere. I needed to recreate the lighting conditions of an entire city at a small scale. So I studied how different weather conditions effect lighting and came to a few different setups that achieved the desired result.

2. The windows

For the story of the characters in the windows, the challenge was both in creating enough detail to convey the actions in silhouette, but also the technical challenge of maneuvering the moving elements. The set was built so that many of the backgrounds and elements were on tracks and could move. But for larger movements it wasn’t possible to move the entire set so we had to actually move the camera very deliberately on a dolly in a way that it felt like the camera remained stationary and that the set was moving. It was a bit of a camera trick but I think was effective in the end result. 

3. The lovers

The lovers is the most conventionally shot part of the project but it is still quite novel in many ways. Because each frame was only one of nine screens, we had to look at the relationships between frames and what was going on overall. For example, a message is sent from one side of the space to the other and we needed that to all line up correctly both in physical space but also in timing. I constructed frames that rhymed across the space to make visual connections wherever possible. We kept the actions contained to these frames and I think it helps create a sense a balance across all of the screens for this section. 

4. The conveyor belt

The conveyor belt element was challenging in that there was a high degree of continuity between the screens as specific items travel across the space at specific speeds. When we shot, we only had enough frame size to film one screen at a time on a relativley small portion of a conveyor belt. So each portion had to be planned out and ordered for the continuity to work across all of the screens. While the camera and lighting remained locked for the most part, the compositional considerations were very important on this piece as it is aesthetically driven in certain ways. 

Shot on: Arri Alexa Cinema Cameras in ARIRAW.  Sony A Series. Lomo Sphericals Lenses, Zeiss Distagon.

Director: Gabriela Bila Advincula 

DOP: Sean Webley

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