Before working on Director Nick Cavalier’s feature documentary “Forced Perspective,” we hadn’t heard of Derek Hess. We were sorely missing out. A Cleveland-based artist first made popular by his 1990’s music posters, Hess creates fine art full of irony and spiritual references. Using ink and acrylic, his art is loose and free and captures attention with its mixed use of sacred and profane images. From angels to playboy models, his work spans the gamut of the human experience.
We were stoked when Cavalier reached out to us in early 2014 to help with the film. We were tasked with color-correcting the entire film, performing some visual effects work, as well as creating the introductory title sequence.
Color Grading the Film
For color style, Cavalier wanted a low contrast, slightly desaturated look to keep the film feeling real and voyeuristic but not too stylized. We explore our color techniques in several other blog posts, including for videos about Mini Cooper, a documentary called “In The High Country,” a music video for Chae Hawk and the live performance video for Paramore’s “Last Hope.” The technique we used to color Forced Perspective is nicely demonstrated in this very short video tutorial by well-known colorist Patrick Inhofer.
Coat of Arms’ Jonathan Lacocque worked with Cavalier to come up with several looks using Speedgrade. Once a look was selected, Lacocque created a .look file out of Speedgrade and used it in the lumetri filter within the film’s Adobe Premiere project file. Any adjustments (and there were many) could then be applied from within Premiere using Magic Bullet Colorista & Looks – programs Cavalier also had at his disposal. This made passing files back and forth easy.
We did run into one issue when sharing our files. While rendering we got the following error message:
Ultimately, we fixed this by using Digital Rebellion’s Pro Maintenance Tools to clear preferences and workspaces, media cache, metadata cache, plugin cache and style cache as well as checking permissions. Additionally, we had to toggle the OpenGL setting for Cavalier’s system to run the file smoothly.
Designing the Film’s Titles
Creating Forced Perspective’s titles gave us a unique opportunity to engage audiences, flex creative, and enhance the film’s overall tone and even production value. Viewers have come to expect intro and outro film titles over the years; and titles afford filmmakers the opportunity to instill story elements in one to two minutes, while also prepping audiences for the style and tone of their film.
We’ve had the opportunity to do several title sequences this year, including the 2014 Midwest Independent Film Festival titles , and director Joel Wolpert’s teaser and his feature film “In the High Country” titles.
For Forced Perspective, Cavalier wrote a treatment to help with the creative direction of the film’s titles: “I want to embrace Derek’s drawing style, the looseness and commitment to the line he puts down…the expressive marks and the gestural quality. I want to contrast bigger concepts and themes within the footage.” He included three film title sequences as reference: Se7en, Sherlock Holmes, and True Detective.
To begin work on the title design, lead motion designer Ryan Butterworth created some boards:
Cavalier liked the initial direction but wanted us to refine the art and the typography so that it was “less busy.” He wanted the frames to feel simple and referred us back to True Detective and Se7en for inspiration. With some further adjustments, our second round of designs looked like this:
After reviewing all the boards carefully, Cavalier chose to combine elements from each round. He selected the first boards for their overall art and design but chose the more simplistic typography from the second boards. He asked us to include a little more negative space in our designs to make the text more legible. He also asked that we avoid mirroring or inverting effects, which felt too similar to the True Detective reference. With this direction, we began creating rough animatics and animation. Early on, we experimented with floating elements within Hess’ environment. The idea was to add layers of artwork within a scene that we would push through as the camera dollies forward. We ultimately scaled back on this concept – but you can see Prologue’s Walking Dead titles, which we referenced for this technique in creative discussions:
Before we started motion design and animation, Cavalier asked Hess to handwrite all the credits for the title sequence. Here’s the sheet we received and used within the title sequence:
Lacocque edited and colored the title sequence so that Butterworth could begin placement of the artwork and motion design. Our first rough has some crude compositing, but it gives you a good idea of where we were headed. Watching this up against the final clearly demonstrates the progress we made over the course of a week of refinements and adjustments.
Creating the film titles for “Forced Perspective” was a creatively rewarding project. It allowed us to experiment without veering too far from the documentary’s overall cinematic tone. We especially enjoyed trying to find a way to respect Hess’ artwork by including it in the design and animation of the titles.
The Forced Perspective title sequence has been selected as a finalist for SXSW’s 2015 Excellence in Title Design Competition. If you will be in Austin this March for the Festival, send us a message. We’d love to meet up for a coffee or a brew. Enjoy a preview of the final titles here:
If you dig the titles, you’ll definitely enjoy the film! The world premiere is at the 39th Cleveland International Film Festival on Friday, March 27 at 8:30PM or Saturday, March 28 at 6:30PM!
Find out more from the Forced Perspective blog, and be sure you check out the website for Forced Perspective, which features additional content about the film and Hess.