Posts Tagged ‘Wordsource Productions’

One can most often get footage on most any subject from stock footage sites. I dare anyone, however, to get footage of the origins of the Marathon – the 42km originally run by a Greek messenger from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC.

You see the problem?    Phidippides

Legend has it that the messenger, Pheidippides, ran the 25 miles on which the modern marathon is based to bring news of the Greek victory over the Persian army. He ran himself to death, apparently collapsing after delivering the good news, and dying.

I was tasked with producing a launch video for the new, revamped Cape Town Marathon, and the client wanted me to include a bit of the ancient history. But how to illustrate this? Many paintings exist of this event, but none were suitable for use in the video. Nor could I use something for which I had no rights.

My only option was to recreate part of this run. And the star attraction, it quickly dawned on me, was going to be me.


Me striking a Greek hero pose in Saldanha.
Picture: Gavin Hurling

First, I had to find a costume that vaguely resembled that of a Greek soldier. Which is not quite historically correct – Pheidippides was a runner, not a soldier. But creative licence ruled, and besides, instant association with Greek and military was required more than historic accuracy. So sue me.

I managed to find a rental costume, and with assistant Gavin Hurling in tow, we set off to Saldanha harbour. As you’ll see in the video below, the area looks remarkably Greek-ish. I should know, having never been there. But I’ve seen pictures. The boats in the background look like ancient sail boats, and being sufficiently far away, it was not going to be an issue. We found a pathway on a hill overlooking the harbour, and set up the camera at a height that blocked out a tell-tale modern shed on the opposite shore. Then I donned my uniform, and started running. Barefoot. In February. I have new respect for the ancient runners, who, incidentally, were used instead of horses because horses didn’t know when to stop, and ran themselves to death. Come to think of it, our own hero wasn’t much different …

After finishing a couple of runs on the mountain path, we went down to the beach and set up a Gopro Hero Black Edition low level between two rocks, and set it to shoot at an overcranked 100 frames per second to get nice, smooth slow motion. It also showed in quite clear detail my modern underwear as I ran past. But it was fun anyway, and it cooled down my by now quite raw feet.mararun2

With this portion of the production done, we now cut to the modern part of the marathon. The client requested we get real runners running the new course in such a way that it would highlight the beauty of the Mother City. I scouted the course by car, picked my locations and angles, and with the help of Olympic medallist Elana Meyer, who along with Francois Pienaar, were the brand ambassadors and driving forces behind the event. Francois now runs Advent Sports and Events Marketing from the Waterfront, of which Elana is a shareholder.


Shooting off the scooter near the Castle

We sourced five runners, and with star video editor Ruan Neethling driving our “steadybike”, a Vuka scooter with me sitting backwards and filming with the Sony EX1, we spent a hot Sunday morning filming the run. All the athletes were bundled into my truck, deposited at the various pre-selected locations, and on my cue would run the section between bouts of traffic. The light was beautiful, a perfect day, which meant that everyone and his dog was out on the streets enjoying a perfect Cape Town day. This seriously impeded our shooting – we had to keep it safe, and with more and more vehicles on the road, parking at each location became increasingly difficult, and running safely got dicey.

But we got it all in the can. I then shot a real marathon for some covering footage of runners looking tired, being supported and cheered on, and with a few days left before launch in March, all I had to get was a shot with Elana and Francois running together. Trouble was, Francois was almost always away, abroad, or in Johannesburg, attending to business. I had to dig up a couple of “body doubles” for the two of them, local runners from the Edgemead club, to do silhouette shots of the two famous sportspeople, and leave the shot of the two of them on camera until the last possible moment.


Francois Pienaar acting like he’s tired.

This moment came early one Monday morning. I had arranged to meet with the two at 8 am at Signal Hill, as I wanted to use the long winding road from Lion’s Head as backdrop of the two running. All fine, except that the wind was blasting up the slope at 80km/h and clouds were billowing over Table Mountain, going from fully lit sunshine to murky overcast in a matter of seconds. I knew this would be hell to shoot, but that was the only chance I had. I arrived early, and while waiting, shot time lapses of the clouds to help the continuity of the shots that were to follow.

The two arrived right on time, I quickly explained what I wanted, and like the two professionals they were, the shots were done in 10 minutes flat. I could hardly believe my luck. The two are still top fit, in excellent shape and super good in front of the camera. After the running shots, I needed to record a quick interview with the two of them at Francois’ office. I had all the other interviews in the bag already – an earlier one with Elana and with the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille.

Francois Pienaar TV interview

Perfectionist at work. Our ’95 rugby captain is a professional through and through, and re-recorded his interview until HE was happy.

Francois Pienaar, Patricia de Lille, Elana Meyer

Francois Pienaar, Patricia de Lille, Elana Meyer

All that remained was to knock the program into shape in the edit suite, which we did in two days, diving into my stock footage of the Cape Minstrels and some extra Cape Town footage shot on the Nikon D4. Some minor change requests from the client, and we were ready to roll. The new marathon, scheduled for September, was launched to the media this week.

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions.





On paper it sounded straightforward. Photograph the various fruits that you taste in the three Quay 5 wines made by Distell. Shoot the fruits on a series of water splashes to make them look fresh, glistening and delicious. Job accepted.

But then reality struck. Some of these fruits were not available, out of season in the Cape Town winter. No amount of digging, hunting down of importers or experimenting with frozen foods helped. I was going to have to make a plan.

But first, I thought, let’s do the easy stuff. Like the splashes. I sourced a fish tank to catch the spills. One Nikon Speedlight for high speed sync behind a white translucent sheet, tons of plastic sheeting on the studio floor. Then enlist the help of my wife Nicky to throw the water at a piece of glass suspended by clamp to help create multiple droplets. That should do it. But just in case, let me add some red food colouring to the water, make the splashes more visible.

Big mistake.


First, the splashes looked like blood. Or like a crime scene after a particularly nasty axe murder. Secondly, my wife  got exceptionally grumpy. The red stuff was all over her clothes. And the studio floor, the innocently-bystanding softboxes and other studio equipment. But hell, I was committed, so I pushed on. Cleaning up was a problem for much later.

Two hours of splashing later, we had sufficient shots to build the background. Two hours after that, the studio was more or less back to normal. Less like a horror movie scene.

And then the hunt began for the fruits.  I spoke to importers, I sorted through fresh fruit vendors’ bins, I selected perfect “hero” fruits, bought several “stunt doubles” to be sacrificed under the knife, and got to work.

Again, not as easy as it looked. A simple softbox three quarter back of the subject did the trick in most cases, with white card filling in some of the shadow in front but leaving just enough to allow some gradation back to front on the items. The items were placed on white plastic. But that lowered the contrast and caused the items to generally look flat. So to make the fruit really pop, I needed to boost the colour. A simple trick is to surround fruit with matt black fabric, allowing just enough white visible for deep etching.

Once the in-season fruits had been shot, I searched far and wide for the summer berries, and even shot some frozen ones, but this was a disaster. I finally conceded defeat and bought some cherry and berry images from a Russian iStockphoto colleague of mine, Anna Kucherova. Then the editing begun.

In Photoshop, I first put down the splashes, and built up a rough “5” on which to overlay the fruit. Then, one by one, I inserted the items, scaling each to be in proportion to the whole. Each item had to be either deep-etched or masked off and the background painted out. This literally took weeks. But I had to be sure every detail was perfect, as the images were intended for point-of-sale displays at huge size. Any error would be glaring.

The result was exceptionally pleasing. The colours seem to go together well, the composition works and most of all, it looked fresh, as per the client brief. This image depicts the red wine flavours, and below are the entire range.

splash_berry_fruitsFBWM Q5FruitySplashCompFBWM

To show the various layers in Photoshop, I put this little video together:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.

Find images such as these on

Photography, videography, time lapse by Jaco Wolmarans

Scouting for locations
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans

One of the absolute best things about being a freelancer is being able to decide on what constitutes work. Trips to Pella in the Northern Cape, in most people’s books, would not qualify. But I had a plan: time lapse shooting. Of course it warranted (note, not justified) the purchase of a Timelapse SA  motion-controlled dolly. Justified is a bit of a stretch, and my wife saw right through all my arguments.

In the end, I think she relented and just let me get on with buying it. And the extra length of track. And the special charger. And long life battery. Then the bag I had made to fit it all into. Ah well, …

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

My brother Wollie and his trusty Pajero, helping me scout new locations.

But back to time lapse shooting. I have spent more money on kit than time analyzing why I am so fascinated by it. I suspect it has something to do with controlling time, fast-forward through time. In much the same way as we are fascinated by macro shots of objects. It’s just a new way of looking at something familiar. And it’s just way cool.

In my case, the official version was that I was shooting time lapses to sell as stock. Or to build up a bank of footage to be used in possible productions later on. I had to admit though, one year later, that the sales have been minimal. The subject has a niche appeal. To me, though, that was not the main reason. And I think my wife spotted this – and allowed me to justify away.

So there we were, our RAV4 packed to the hilt with kit, headed off to Pella one chilly July. My brother is a manager on a grape farm on the banks of the Orange River, in what must be one of the most incredible bits of scenery I have ever visited. On par with the Richtersveld, I’d say. And that’s not only me saying so. Nicholas Cage (who happens to share a birth date in 1964 with me) also thought so. That’s why they shot parts of Lords of War right here. Cage stayed on the farm itself. The farm is dotted with the most spectacular rock formations, gnarled tree shapes and to top it all, a proper quiver tree forest. Like thousands of trees in a clump. It’s eerie and totally engrossing to the landscape photographer.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

All set to go as the first rays of sun light up the peaks and quiver tree.











The real addiction, I realised, was being up before dawn, the dolly creeping up or across, camera filming one frame every second, me with a flask of coffee behind, watching another spectacular natural scene materialise out of darkness.

There is something completely engrossing about this process – trying to pre-empt where the first rays of sun would come through, judging which objects it would light up first, what exposure to set to capture that magic golden light at the right moment, not blowing out highlights by setting too wide an aperture. It teaches patience – once you’ve made your calculations, set up and started rolling, you have to see it through.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

Working in Africa is hard. Real hard.

You’ll know whether your calculations were right the minute the sun peeks out behind the hills, and starts to colour your world. Sometimes you get it spot on, other times you misjudge it horribly, and have to abort halfway through, the morning wasted.

Did I say wasted? Not quite. I always remind myself that I could have been in rush hour morning traffic, driving to an office. Being out here is reward in itself. Whether the shot pans out or not. There is just something about the crispness of pre-dawn air. The quiet, the shapes unfolding in front of you as the light crawls over the horizon and giving shape to rock and tree. Being out there is pure privilege.

Time lapse planning process

Setting up a time lapse sequence is 80 percent visualisation, 20 percent maths. Which is a good thing, as I’m not so good at numbers. It also requires a lot of scouting, camera in hand, trying to visualise where the light would be by sunrise or sunset. Then looking through the viewfinder, framing the shot, and noting the field of view, the elevation, the zoom position on my camera. On the Sony PMW-EX1 video camera, the onscreen text makes it easier – the zoom width is indicated with a Z-value, and exposure too, so I would go to a potential scene, frame my final shot, note the exposure for a fully-lit shot, the zoom position, and memorise those.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa

A typical end position for a shot – background revealed, pleasing light around the trunk of the tree, and enough sky detail thanks to good end shot exposure calculation.
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans.

Next, I would move the camera along an imaginary track, trying to emulate the camera movement on the dolly once set up. This helps me determine at what angle to place the dolly, what the start position should be, as you always want to move from a nicely-framed start through some “dead” middle ground on to a nicely-framed final final shot.

Moving the camera through my emulation stage also helps me decide whether to let the track run up, sideways or down. Setting it up to move upwards helps reveal middle ground, keeps the viewer enticed. I would start with the middle or background blocked by some rock or bush in the foreground. As the camera lifts, it starts revealing that background. Similarly, moving sideways past a tree trunk, a rock or bush reveals background on a horizontal plane.

Once I’ve worked out where I want the shot to start and end, I have to calculate the start time. Knowing when the sun comes up or sets is crucial. That basically determines the end of the shot, as well as the final position of the camera. So you work backwards, and calculate how far the camera needs to travel over the track, and at what speed. With the Timelapse SA dolly, you can vary the speed to make the camera arrive at the fully-revealed, fully-lit position at exactly the right moment. Well, almost exactly, with my number skills.


Using a tree in the foreground to increase the sense of three-dimensionality as the shadows lengthen on the hill in the background.

Finally, I choose an exposure, and here, you have to choose the end exposure that will be required. Which means you have to be on location at more or less that time of day to check what the exposure will be for when you do the shot. Some shooters use an auto exposure system, which means the camera tries to expose for the amount of light available each time it takes an image. But what’s the point? Surely you want to show progressing from dark to light, or light to dark?

Slow down and use the best light

I mentioned patience above. This is where yours will get tested. Because you basically do only two lapses in a day if you want to utilise the best light at dawn and dusk.

Shoots like these always entail scouting for a whole day, then finding two locations – one for that evening, and one for the next morning. I would run my sunset lapse, finish off and move the rig to where my morning lapse will be filmed, set it up in the almost darkness, and leave the rig (except the camera, of course) out in the veld. This helps you fumble less in the pitch dark pre-dawn sessions, when you’re half asleep still, and not thinking straight. It also helps if you don’t have to handle Manfrotto tripods and aluminium tracks in the chill of the morning. Metal tends to get painfully stuck on flesh.

So what determines a good lapse? Some of the most spectacular, I found, always included a strong sense of three-dimensionality. Foreground moving relative to background, clouds moving relative to shifting foreground. Static is fine for a cloudscape, yes, but a scene really pops if there is some extra movement in the shot – a tree moving across the view, a rock disappearing from view in the foreground, the camera moving past a dead branch. Dead is better. You you don’t want foliage moving in the foreground. Or anywhere in the shot, if you can avoid it. I found it is distracting to the viewer.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa

Using foreground objects to aid three-dimensionality during the timelapse.
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans. All rights reserved.

In the end, a lot of it is trial and error. And more error. But sometimes you get it just right, getting a lapse with a sense of epic scale, showing off nature fast-forward mode that somehow, strangely, makes it feel like time is standing still. I know, it sounds contradictory, but there it is – a privileged glimpse into space and time, two or three hours condensed into seconds of pure wonder.

A short video from my last Pella trip.

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions.

In March this year we started work on shooting a corporate for Reutech Mining, a Stellenbosch-based international firm supplying some of the world’s most sophisticated movement detection radar systems for open pit mines across the globe. We had to imitate the use of these machines in mines, but since access to actual mines was extremely difficult and fraught with all kinds of safety issues, we opted for shooting in a deserted quarry outside Cape Town.

This moon landscape was perfect, except for one thing – the timing for getting the right light effect was critical. Too early and the sun was too low and contrasty, too late and the same happened. Because of the monotone nature of the quarry rock, the Reutech units had to stand out from the background properly. This separation was only possible with an ND2 filter coupled with timing of day – shooting backlit towards the shaded parts of the quarry. This meant the script had to be exactly and precisely planned for the right time of day for particular shots.

Now put into this mix a few unexpected rainy days, fog in the morning, problems with unlicensed vehicles not permitted to leave the factory to come to the location, and the remoteness of the area, and you have a recipe for some stress.

We approached the project by doing several site visits to check on the average lighting situation, shadows and direction of light before committing to shoot days. This meant earmarking particular shots for a particular part of the day at a particular part of the quarry, and then shooting reverse and additional shots of the same scene out of sequence on a different part of the day to make sure the lighting and backlighting feel remained consistent. It called for very careful scripting and strict adherence to our time limits.

We shot on a Sony EX1 at mostly f2.8 or as wide open as the situation allowed to get the separation from our backgrounds. Being at the beginning of spring, the light was really nice and soft and in our favour, with the result that we got most of the shots in the bag as planned.

But that was not the only part of the story. For the intro to the movie, we had to create a rockfall. And show a crack appearing to indicate the start of a slope failure. This meant scouting the area’s very unfriendly slopes for a perfect location – one that would allow continuity of lighting through a series of shots, all shot in different places, but made to look as if they were all in the same location. We found the perfect spot, and set to it with spades and pick-axe to first dig a camera platform into the slope for the close-ups, shot at the top of the hill in the image right. Once we had a platform dug into the clay, I could set up the tripod while we started excavating into the same hill to create a weak spot, crack and eventually a small rockfall.

This was a bit dicey, as the rockfall would start uphill of the camera position. But there was nothing else we could do – we had to chance it. The digging and filming ensued and pretty soon the wall of earth caved in and collapsed, fortunately rolling harmlessly past the camera position, and we had our crack and crumble shot.

The rest of the landslide sequence was shot at an adjacent active quarry, courtesy of Lafarge, who kindly tipped a crapload of rocks over an edge for me to film! This we shot on overcranked 720p at 60fps for beautifully clean slow motion. Thanks to the amazing editing skills of Ruan Neethling, the sequence cut beautifully, aided by no less than 26 layers of sound effects to enhance the danger mood!

Michal Wozniak (left) and I jibbing the jib.

Rusty metal in foreground makes for great shots!

The jib got a lot of use, and really helped give a smooth and professional feel to the production. While on set, it however keeled over and crashed onto the head, fortunately without the camera on board, but stripping out the main tripod connector bolt. I needed to rebuild the head completely, and it was a good thing I did, as the J-Jib version 3.3 is now sturdier than ever.

Making dust to indicate weather resistance. Sadly we got very little dust but a shredded tyre on the MTX bike.

Thanks to Michal Wozniak and Johan Winterbach for invaluable support during the shoot days. Here’s the final product:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.