Kite Video Making of Notes

I made a quick making-of video for folks who are curious about the post process for the kite video. I have a bad cold - very sorry about the mumbling hoarse voice.

20 Minutes of Kite Flying Time Collapsed: San Diego Study #6

This new video was shot on June 28, 2015 in an area of San Diego County called the Tijuana Slough. It is the most southwestern corner of the continental U.S. where the U.S. meets Baja Mexico. The landmass in the bottom left of the frame is a neighborhood of Tijuana called Playas de Tijuana and just before that area is the international border. The area is historically rich and politically complex. During the 80s and 90s the border exchanges, of Mexican workers, drugs and sewage became central topics in heated local and national debates that continue today. In the national dialog the border is always depicted as a simple binary system but this is not at all the case. The exchange between the environments, the communities and economies has always been nuanced. Any dialog that reduces the relationship to simple “us and them” is suspect.

Is this a metaphor about the complexity of the border? No. I’m just trying to make something I’ve never seen before that says something about the region. I injured my shoulder last summer and couldn’t surf or swim all year so I started flying kites at the beach for fun, that’s the source of the idea. In the previous videos I looked for large scale events but for this one I was curious to see what could emerge from something really simple. We shot at the border because it has predictable wind and the area doesn’t attract crowds, so it’s serendipity that I made a video about hidden complexity in a place with an enormous amount of hidden complexity.

A note on the gray sky, these weather conditions are called June gloom by Californians. Throughout late spring, low altitude stratus clouds are produced over the ocean and brought inland, usually late at night, by prevailing winds. For people from more intense climates, these weather conditions are very mild but for many southern Californians it’s like deep winter and there’s an art to complaining about it. The clouds are a sign that our waters are cool, not warm like much of the east coast. The cool waters make it impossible for hurricanes to reach us and produce an incredibly stable climate, for now.

Tech notes, the video was shot on a BMCC camera in 2.5k RAW with an 80mm full frame lens and cut in After Effects. The kite separations were done with a combination of the Luma Key, key framed masks and the Soft Matte effect to clean up the edges. The most difficult tech problem was finding the right shutter angle to balance strobing and motion blur. For this particular kite speed we found a shutter angle of 72 degrees (1/120) at 24fps worked best. In the near future, you will be able to make a video like this with computer vision. You’ll just tell the computer to separate the red kite while you eat a sandwich. If I were you, I would wait till then to make one cause they take forever my way.

A big thanks to Alex Graham for his time and expertise on the camera. Thank you Danie Darisay, Bear Guerra and Freerk Boedeltje for putting your eyeballs on it.

The San Diego Studies is a series of short videos that manipulate time to reveal otherwise unobservable rhythms and movement in the city. There are no CG elements, these are all real kites that have been separated from their original shots and compiled together.

The rest of the San Diego Studies videos:

To request permission for distribution and licensing contact: (the skateboarding video is owned by Micosoft corp)

If you enjoyed the flocking visual then I recommend you watch Dennis Hlynsky’s work, it’ll blow your mind:

copyright © 2015 Cy Kuckenbaker

Skateboarding Time Collapse with Cory Juneau

I spent the summer working with Vimeo, Microsoft and the talented Cory Juneau to put this new video together; what an amazing opportunity. A very big thanks to Alex Graham, Melissa Cabral, Preston Swirnoff, Dave Gallegos and Danielle Darisay for helping me out! Hope you like it:

Skateboarding Time Collapse: Shot with the Lumia 930 from Microsoft on Vimeo.

Skateboarding Time Collapse shot with the Lumia 930: Behind the Scenes from Microsoft on Vimeo.

One Hour of San Diego Surfing Time Collapsed: San Diego Study #4

“The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” Joseph Conrad

One Hour of San Diego Surfing Time Collapsed: San Diego Study #4 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

When I was 17 I got lost on Mount Moffett on the island of Adak in the Aleutian chain. Adak is where I went to high school and my friends and I had great adventures snowboarding there at a time when the sport was brand new. No one knew how anything worked, we were just figuring it out from pictures we saw in magazines. When I was 17 I got lost alone late in the day during a white out. I slipped off a ridge and during the slide dropped my board, which I never saw again. A half hour later, lost and blind in the storm, I had became a committed, practicing, believing animist as I begged the clouds and the mountain to let me out before the sun went down - and they did. The only time in my life since when I’ve felt similar and even greater fear of the environment is while surfing. Cold mountains can be incredibly frightening but big surf is, for me, even heavier: cold mountains that move.

I shot this swell twice. First on a holiday and again on a weekday and the level of surfing was much higher on the weekday presumably because the regulars were in the water. To them - hats off. There are a lot of good surfers on this break and I was especially impressed by the stand up paddle board riders. If you look closely you’ll see the same rider two or three different waves owning this spot. Here he is right behind himself:

There are no CG elements in the video. It’s all documentary footage arranged and collapsed together with After Effects. Compositing water is difficult. The basic strategy I worked out is to have the clips roll behind one another with the leading edge of the hind wave fitted frame by frame to the contour of the wave in front of it. The compositing was done using masks in After effects, which are key frame animated. Here’s a peak at the process:

Making Of: Surf Time Collapse AE Edit from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

And a sample of the raw footage:

Raw Footage San Diego Study #4 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

I call this idea of removing the time between events without altering the speed of the subject(s) a Time Collapse video. Many people were calling the earlier videos in the series time lapse, which is similar but not totally accurate. Hopefully time collapse will make sense to others.

Making these videos has given me a hint at what animators do and the extraordinary discipline it takes. During the process of assembling this one a new thought began to occur to me about perception and how quickly it breaks down. I got some great insights from a fellow video artist/filmmaker working in Berlin named Gabriel Shalom (@gabrielshalom) that got me thinking about contemporary art’s connections to cubism and the deconstruction of imagery but the place my mind really went to was Dali and surrealism. This was a surprise to me because I was never very attracted to that movement. Somehow I associated it with psychedelia and Dali’s anteater walking made me tick him off the list of possible role models. Now older and wiser, I spent some time reading about the movement and looking more seriously at what Dali and his contemporaries did and found it deeply resonant. The piece that really blew me away is Dali’s Crusifixtion (Corpus Hypercubus)

With it he transforms a motif that’s been repeated endlessly by pressing a new dimension into the composition and the result is an incredible combination of old nd new. By this time in his life he’d become interested in math and science and I feel like he would be fascinated by the code art that’s emergent now. More personally, I feel like I’ve begun to understand what the surrealists were aiming at for the first time, which is the fragility of human perception and the proximity of dreams and…not-dreams.

This project is supported by MOPA San Diego and The San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship Program. If you don’t know MOPA be sure to check them out on Facebook + Twitter and more importantly stop by the space in Balboa Park. Something I didn’t know until I started my residence with MOPA is that they have an incredible library of photo related books and journals that you can easily access by appointment, here’s the link.

Big thanks for the valuable feedback from Danie Darisay, Bear Guerra, Pablo West and Freerk Boedeltje.

Shot on a Canon C100 + Atomos Ninja in CLog, with a Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5 L lens at 24p. The post work was done in After Effects. I don’t usually hype gear since that conversation is so dominant already but I have to say the C100+Ninja is remarkable.

Update Sat May 24th:

The Youtube version is up:

The rest of the series:

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

Departures from San Diego Int Airport Dec 27, 2012 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

Shout Out to New Media Rights

It's been a very exciting couple of days. It's rewarding to have my work noticed and shared on all these great sites, by commenters and by facebook friends new and old.

While the traffic is still high I'd like to make a shout out on behalf of a friend. Without a small non-profit called New Media Rights that's based here in San Diego there's no way I'd be able to complete my projects. NMR has become a really critical player in our online ecosystem by ensuring that small players like myself have access to legal advice and support that is otherwise out of reach.

Please check their website out. Follow them on twitter or facebook. They do great Youtube legal guides so you can follow them there as well. If you've got a little more, make a tax deductible holiday donation. It took me five minutes to give a couple hundred dollars to NMR earlier this month. I gave because they've helped me tremendously but also because I think they're doing very important work for all of us.

A great example of the work they're doing took place earlier this year when Lionsgate took Johnathan Mcintosh's ( remix video down without warning or regard for Johnathan's careful adherence to Fair Use. NMR got involved and Johnathan's amazing work is back up where it should be. We have to have players like NMR in the system to keep this thing healthy, to let creators create and keep the internet open.


Youtube Version Up + Gatorade Bottle Found

Youtube version is up:

AND engineering student Steven Buccini ‏(@StevenBuccini) from Cal Berkeley found the Gatorade bottle in the video. Nicely done Steven! Steven's prize is 25,000 chest bumping pixels that will bring Oski the bear out of hibernation.

Give a hoot.

VICE/Intel Creators Project Vid and a Vimeo Staff Pick

I've been watching the Creators Project videos for years now and I find them very inspirational so I'm at a loss of words to really express how happy I am to have my project featured in one.

And a vimeo staff pick to boot!

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

A quick shout out to the filmmaker at Vice that directed the piece Jordan Kinley. He's got some really innovative projects but you've got to see his series Stand Your Ground, it'll make your palms sweat in the best way.

San Diego Study #3: San Diego Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Car Color

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

Finally! It's done. In this new video I took a four minute shot of state highway 163, which is San Diego's first freeway then removed the time between cars passing and reorganized them according to color. I was curious to see what the city's car color palette looked like when broken down. We are a car culture after all. I was surprised that the vast majority of cars are colorless: white, gray and black. The bigger surprise though was just how many cars passed in four minutes of what looked like light traffic: 462 cars. I invite my fellow arm chair anthropologist to parse out what those car colors say about us. Do twitter if you can. I think what it says about Caltrans is pretty clear. I had never really considered how many cars the freeways have to support but if you do some conservative math - at the rate captured in the raw video (below) you'll hit 125,000 cars in 18 hours. If I had a nickle...that's how much I'd need to fix the road. A quick note on the colors. They're ordered by prevalence or popularity within the sample: white, silver/gray, black, blue, red/orange/yellow, green. The group that is actually the largest is silver/gray but I put that group second to white because the silver/gray group is really a set of tones and colors that we don't have language to easily parse but are visually obvious. In other words, it's the biggest group linguistically but it's not one discreet color. There are no CG elements in the video and none of the cars have been moved from their original lanes or had their speeds altered. The gaps in traffic are due to the different volumes in the lanes. For the tech curious the way I did this is conceptually simple but labor intensive. With After Effects I cut out each car frame by frame and saved it as it's own new video. Then I grabbed a still shot of each lane when it was empty, laid those over the source video, which produces an empty freeway and then put all the cars back in on top of that. Each car took an average of fifteen minutes to cut out and save x 492 cars, which is around 120 hours. I'm not entirely sure how long it took to put it all back together. Here's the entire raw shot I sourced, which was taken from the Washington St. Bridge in the Hillcrest area of San Diego looking north.

Raw Footage San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

I’ve started to call this idea of removing the time between events without altering the speed of the subject(s) a Time Collapse video. Many people were calling the earlier videos in the series time lapse, which is similar but not totally accurate. Hopefully time collapse will make sense to others.

There is a discrepancy between the time collapse and the source footage. For technical reasons some car shapes and movements were unworkable and those cars were dropped. I only counted this once but here's the breakdown:

Lane 1 (far left): 111 cars passed 107 appear Lane 2: 82 cars passed 71 appear Lane 3: 143 cars passed 137 appear Lane 4 (far right): 134 cars passed 127 appear Overpass: 22 cars passed 22 cars appear Total cars lost: 28

That means that the real traffic in that four minutes is actually about six percent heavier than the time collapse depicts.

Dupont does a Global Car Color Survey every year that correlates to my results in the video except for one difference. In Dupont's 2012 North American survey red is more popular than blue nationally but in my sample blue is more popular than red in San Diego. If my video is accurate, that would make sense to me. Red is thought of as an aggressive color and blue is considered a calm color. If you know San Diego, you know this is a (notoriously) laid back town. So I think if the video reveals anything really novel about San Diego's preferences, that may be it. We're way more blue than red...bro.

Here's some trivia - can you find the empty Gatorade bottle in the video? I didn't notice it for weeks but it's featured prominently in every frame of the video. Tweet me if you find it and I'll ask Gatorade to send you a case of coolant.

A few making-of notes: While I cut this I got hooked on audio books. During the edit I listened to Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen, How Music Works by David Byrne, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Super Sad True Love Story by (hero) Gary Shteyngart, 1493 by Charles Mann, 1491 by Charles Mann, With the Old Breed by E. Sledge, The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera all of which reminded me, happily, that I'm doing something preposterous with my life. I liked all of these book but 1493 reorganized my understanding of the world. It is remarkable.

This project is supported by MOPA San Diego and The San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship Program. If you don't know MOPA be sure to check them out on Facebook + Twitter and more importantly stop by the space in Balboa Park. Something I didn't know until I started my residence with MOPA is that they have an incredible library of photo related books and journals that you can easily access by appointment, here's the link.

Big thanks for the valuable feedback from Bear Guerra and Freerk Boedeltje who looked at early versions and thanks to Luis Guerra for his deft audio touch.

The video was shot on a Canon C100 in CLog with a canon EFS 17-55 f/2.8 lens at 24p

I drive a green car known as The Pickle. That's true.

aPhotoEditor Blog Mention

I'm honored to be mentioned along side some incredible photographers in a post on the aPhotoEditor blog. Take a look. They ran a couple pictures from a new series I'm working on called So Your Friends Will Really Know It’s You. That's the prompt facebook gives you to upload a photo when you create your account. Again, credit goes to the Medium Festival of Photography for bringing all these great photographers, editors and curators into town.

Title: Kristina and 32 others like this.

Room #4 Baghdad Photo Series Published In Fraction Magazine

I'm honored to present selections from my photo series Room #4 Iraq in the Dec 2013 edition of Fraction Magazine.

Fraction Magazine features the best of contemporary photography, bringing together diverse bodies of work by established and emerging artists from around the globe. Each monthly on-line issue focuses on a central theme, creating an implicit dialogue between differing photographic perspectives.

I met Fraction's editor David Bram during the Medium Festival of Photography portfolio reviews here in San Diego last month - an event I would strongly recommend to other photographers.

San Diego Studies: Final Shoot At Green Elementary School

Many thanks to Craig Wilsie and the after-school-care team at Green Elementary School for working with us on this. We lucked out and got just the right weather to eliminate the shadow issues we had on the test shoot. A sincere thanks to Alex Graham and Oscar Velasquez who helped me grip this thing. The video below shows the set-up.

This project is being supported by the San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund and MOPA San Diego.

When the series is complete I want it to work like a mural. This piece will show the number of kindergarteners who ride the swings in a day. Broadly speaking, I'm interested in creating images of this city in our time. I can only imagine what this will look like to these kids once they're grown up.

San Diego Studies: Test Shoot At Green Elementary School

There's a saying in film to never make anything with kids or animals but I disagree. I had a blast yesterday with a few kindergarteners who showed us how it's done on a swing set. We were at Green Elementary School in Del Cerro (a San Diego neighborhood) to run through the set up for a new San Diego Studies video. The idea is to show the number of kids that use the swings over a period of days in a few seconds. I've started calling this idea/effect a Time Collapse Video. The picture above is a frame grab from a hasty post prod run to look at the various challenges. The shadows are really stretched out this time of year - that's the dark blob you see on the right side of the frame. I have to solve that still.

I had no idea kindergarteners could get swings going so well. A big thanks to Mr. Wilsie for having us out to the school.

A quick look at the set up:

This project is being supported by the San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund and MOPA San Diego.

Midnight Oil

AMSTERDAM-1 Working late putting a photo portfolio together for the Medium Fest of Photography, which is fast approaching. It's a nice break from all After Effects work for the vid series.

The 163 Freeway: San Diego Study #3

163ScreenGrab I've been working for three weeks now editing a new piece for the San Diego Studies. I'm reorganizing traffic on the 163 freeway by car color. I had no idea how many people drive grey/silver cars and how few drive cars with color. The vast majority are either grey, silver, black or white. It surprised me. It's a challenging piece to put together because of the numbers of cars but it's coming along. It's funny that it only took around three hours to shoot and will take a few hundred hours to edit.

I've found a companion while editing that I have never had before. Since these films have no dialog I can listen to audio books while I work. During this edit I've listened to Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen, How Music Works by David Byrne, 1493 by Charles Mann and Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. I've found that the better the book is the longer and faster I work. It's a massive improvement over Pandora or my iTunes collection, which I erased recently...on purpose.

Two Years Before the Mast has been of special interest to me since this work I'm doing is about San Diego and much of the book's account of a sailing expedition in the 1830's takes place in San Diego when it was just a bay and a Spanish precidio. I'm amazed by his accounts of Sandwich Islanders, Russians, Italians, Native Americans, Spaniards and Mexicans all interacting in a distant wilderness called California. If they could have only known what the real estate values would be...

Below is a sample of what the final video will look something like. 163 was the city's first freeway.


12 Years Ago Today

I was in the Peace Corps when it happened. I lived on the fifth floor of a block house in rural Lithuania and I didn't have a television. We were seven hours ahead of New York/EST. I finished teaching for the day. Walked home, washed the day off and played guitar for a while. I walked across the square to the grocey store. Tomas was one of my best students. I think I was looking at cornflakes. He said in Lithaunian, "Cy, the towers in New York are on fire." I had no idea what he meant because the word tower doesn't translate to Towers. He kept going on and on, I thought he was joking. He was always joking. Then something about the Pentagon. None of it made sense. "Come to my house."

I rode in the back seat of his father's car. He and Tomas were silent in the front seats. What's the joke I wondered. Tomas was always joking. When we pulled into the driveway I started to think something was really up. The joke would have happened by now?

The living room was dark. Tom's mother and little sister sat silently looking at a small television screen. The screen was indiscernible. After a few moments I realized we were watching dust clear. The second tower had just fallen.

Test Shots at Silver Strand State Beach

photo.silverstrandsept9_2013 I did some more test shots at Silver Strand State Beach today. This is the Bus Stop piece. I had more trouble operating my umbrella than I did the camera.

The story I want to tell with this one is about the numbers of people who use the bus and the number of times/day the bus comes by. The challenges are many. That chain link fence between the camera and the bus stop is just one of many complications. All the detailed geometry created by the wire means the background and foreground shots have to overlap perfectly. That's hard because the foreground will be shot with a video camera on one day and the background will be shot with a still camera on another but the lenses have to sit in the exact same spot at the same focal length. Both shots will take a full day with zero movement. It's a zen challenge.


Bus Stop Study in Coronado, California

photo (1) The longer I do this stuff the more concretely I believe art lies dead center between politics, religion, science and cuckoo. I spent two days this week taking measurements of and staking out a bus stop in Coronado for a composite video I want to attempt.

The bus stop light is eight feet overhead. The bench is 5'11" wide and 1.5' high. Between the hours of 2pm and 4pm today no one got on or got off the bus. That presents a problem for me. If no one comes and goes then what's in the vid? I'll figure it out. In the mean time take a look at the sunset from my first trip down there.

photo (2)

Green Screen Fabrication

I've been working with Mike at Taylor Design & Build for a few weeks to design and fabricate a 40' green screen to shoot The San Diego Studies. One more round of tweaks and I think we'll have it. Looks simple but it has to be big, mobile, stable on sand slopes and safe. The designs steps were: SketchUp 3d drawings - PVC mock up - 1/4 scale steel mock up with a test shoot - full scale set up with test shoot. I think it's amazing how consistent the design process is. No matter how much you try to dial it on paper you still have to go through at least four rounds of prototyping and edits to get to good.

Mike is a wood worker and also the drummer in one of San Diego's best bands The Paragraphs. Check them out.