The look of Blackout
I recently had the pleasure of doing the Online Editing for ‘Blackout’ Channel Four’s feature-length ‘What-If’ drama exploring the effects of a devastating cyber-attack on Britain’s national electricity grid. It’s an amazing combination of three purpose shot stories intertwined with user generated content (UGC) from various YouTube video makers and archive video. It takes place over the course of a week and throughout the filming process the contributors and actors use various cameras which all need to have a very web video type look. Footage from DSLR’s, mobile phones, security cameras, point ‘n’ shoot digital cameras, go-pros and consumer videocameras were used throughout to give it the right look and feel, only the quality has got so good with all of these different cameras that not much of it actually looked like web video, honestly a lot of the footage shot on iPhones looked better then footage from higher end cameras that I work with. So my main task in the Online for this was getting the right look for the programme and a subtle separation of each of the primary story’s cameras.
So first up I did the standard stuff for the Online, removing any blanking throughout and reformatting most of the wrong aspect ratios, but leaving a few just to play into the badly formatted nature of the programme. Next I created multiple mixdowns at varying qualities. I flipped the project to SD and made versions at 20:1, 10:1, DV etc. Once I had all of these compressed files I cut them in on separate layers above the master media in the HD project and applied a timewarp with duplicated fields to each layer to give it a very jerky progressive look. I then rendered all of that over night into DNXHD 185X essentially up converting the footage but doing my best to not actually improve anything.
Next part was to just keep the section of compressed pictures in the same resolution for each time that particular story comes up. So scrolling through the programme I chopped out each section so I was left with a checker boarded sequence with all the pictures for each story on their own layers in their own compression setting.
Next I created a look for each layer using the Sapphire plugin JpegDamage and once I had the setting for each story looking nice and different I applied the effect to all of the remaining shots on each layer.
Finally I wanted to give any additional sections that needed some customisation their own little tweaks. There were quite a few sections with the cameras getting bashed about that I added impact effects to, such as compression suddenly getting really bad over the course of a few frames and pixel damage and dropout when a guy is bashing another guy in the face with his camera in his hand. Also I tweaked the angle of the camera in a few CCTV shots to give the impression that they hadn’t been put up properly. I cropped the sides off a few of the mobile phone shots so they looked like the contributor was filming in portrait mode (my pet peeve). Also any fades to black I wanted to look like there was something wrong with the compression, often you get that look on web videos where black isn’t quite black and as they fade they look like they are trying to hold on to the picture. You can see an example of this in the last two pictures below.
If you want to know more about the process or you don’t quite understand any of the above feel free to hit me up with your questions. Unfortunately I didn’t take any screen grabs of the sequence throughout the process, the deadlines were pretty tight and I was very focused on getting everything done, but I’ll try grabbing more screens while I’m working on future programmes to share with you. Below are a few shots from the finished programme if you want to check them out. If Blackout is still live at this time on 4oD you can view it here