Eclipse | Behind the scenes and sky replacement tutorial

Mark Lediard is a Director, Editor, and VFX Artist who works all over the UK and occasionally abroad creating video and film content of every type. He’s directed commercial for a plethora of notable entities, created short films out of nothing but a green screen and a couple of actors, directed comedy skits for BBC online, shot pop videos for Geordie girl bands and edited movie trailers for Eddie Izzard.

His latest short film, Eclipse, won Best Cinematography in the 2015 My Rode Reel short film competition. We caught up with Mark to get the inside scoop on Eclipse and the VFX work that went into creating it.

Tell us a bit about your new short film, Eclipse. How did you come up with the story?

Eclipse was something that had been in my head for a long time in one form or another but never managed to make it any further. I recently moved back to the small town where I grew up to raise a family, so there’s definitely part of the story thats about accepting that life goes in cycles and coming to terms with that. Then when the My Rode Reel competition was announced this year, around the same time there was a Solar Eclipse visible from the UK and the conjunction of the two things kicked me into finally writing this thing down and making it. I work full time making commercials and editing for other people so it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to make something for yourself. The My Rode Reel contest was a perfect opportunity to do this as it has the two things I need to get things done, a time limit and a deadline.

“That’s a big part of working with digital images these days, finding ways to make them look more organic, more natural.”

Tell us a bit about the VFX techniques that you used throughout the film.

All the Solar Eclipses are obviously added in post although some are in part from plates I shot during the March 2015 event. I also looked closely at the lens flare elements created during an eclipse, you get these beautiful crescent shapes, and I extracted some of these from the plates and used them to create my own custom lens flare elements in Optical Flares from Video Copilot.

The big close ups of the Eclipse itself were completely created in After Effects. As you can see in the following BTS video, it’s basically a combination of lots of elements designed to reduce the cleanness that a purely CG creation can have. So lots of grain, Lens Distortions (shown around 7-minute mark), flares, etc… anything that helps it look like it might actually have been shot. That’s a big part of working with digital images these days, finding ways to make them look more organic, more natural.

I do a lot of sky replacement in my film work and it’s a technique that is really useful to know. As you can see below, this process can completely transform a scene. I’ve made an in depth BTS sky replacement video to show my process.

For the traveling sequence, I used lots of shots from my own archive of places I’ve visited around the world, sometimes with work and sometimes on holiday. Everywhere I go I try and shoot something, you just never know when a shot can be useful or an inspiration and it’s a great way to add production value to a short by including an establishing or incidental shot of somewhere that your budget would never allow. As a director it’s the best piece of advice I have – always be looking for a shot.

What camera(s) did you shoot with? What programs made up your post-production workflow?

Eclipse was shot principally on an Arri Amira with Arri Ultra-prime lenses (still using Arri cameras after all these years) lent to us for the day very kindly by our local hire company, Picture Canning North. We also shot some additional shots on a GH4 mounted on a DJI Ronin and on an Octocopter from local aerial company HorizonAP. The travelling sequence archive shots were shot on my own Blackmagic Pocket Camera and a Canon 5Dmkii.

Post was Adobe Premiere and After Effects which work so well together – just the fact that I can copy and paste a shot from one into the other saves so much time on a quick turnaround job. The final grade was done in DaVinci Resolve Lite. Everything was cut, comped and colored on my 2-year-old iMac using an HP27x as a grading monitor.

What’s next for you? Any other fun projects in the works?

More of the same I hope. My day job of commercial work keeps me busy but I’d like to keep the momentum going off the back of Eclipse and try and put together another short this year. I’m always interested in hearing from writers who have a good idea. Beyond that the idea of doing a feature film used to scare me, I have a notoriously short attention span, but as I get older it’s something I would consider more. The problem these days isn’t so much in making a film, though, it’s making something that an audience wants to watch.

 

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As Filmmakers, we’re always for sources of inspiration. Any sources you care to share?

I find the internet inspiring, by that I mean the depth of available knowledge that’s out there now. When I think back to how I started, there were no online tutorials, Andrew Kramer was probably just starting school, there weren’t even any books. The only place to learn was from the manual! The rest I had to figure out for myself. These days if I need an inspirational kick it’s as easy as loading up Vimeo and being amazed by the breadth of talent, skill and love that people have for making films. I’m always inspired when I see people with a DIY attitude just getting out there and doing it.

Mark currently uses our Legacy Collection for After Effects. To see more of his work, be sure to check out marklediard.com.

Legacy

Stunning textures, light leaks, and flares. Made from shards of glass and crystal, Legacy is packed with curated clips for your next music video, commercial, or narrative.

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