Jeff Lieberman created Slow Dance.
It is a wooden frame that makes whatever you put in it look like it’s moving in slow motion:
Over the last year or so, I’ve seen my friend and studio-mate Jeff Lieberman work on Slow Dance, and then it came time to share it with the world and that video was born. You can see the entire campaign on Kickstarter, and there’s a link if you want to get one.
This article is a behind-the-scenes look at how we managed to communicate a hard to believe product to people who are not able to see it in person.
Here’s the tricky part. The slow motion effect that happens is a real life optical illusion. It’s hard to believe when you are looking at it with your eyes. So how do you make a video of such a thing. Video is by nature a medium where we’re used to seeing unreal things.
Background & How Does it Work
Jeff started doing slow motion photography at MIT and invented some crazy things like floating light bulbs. He hosted a TV show called Time Warp on Discovery Channel, and has been making consciousness-bending art the whole time. You can see his body of work here.
Slow Dance works by rapidly shaking whatever you put in the clips at 80Hz (feathers and flowers work best), and the LEDs inside the frame strobe at slight varying offsets (76–84Hz).
Imagine someone jumping rope inside a night club with a strobe light. If the strobes hit at the same exact point every time, the person would appear to be frozen in mid air. Now vary the offset a little and they’re moving in slow motion.
The challenge of this video was twofold: communicate the dreamy experience of seeing it in person and make sure it didn’t look fake (i.e. slow motion / CGI / etc).
Over some deliberations we settled on priming the viewer with text. We started with “No computer graphics were used in this video” as a general container, but it felt too vague (i.e. does that exclude slow motion?). We settled on “Everything you see here is in real time.” Then we were concerned that not everyone may know the definition of real time. So we prefaced it with “A frame that makes things move in slow motion” (rather than “a frame that slows down time” which arouses curiosity, but is maybe unbelievable).
The intended effect is “hey this frame makes things move in slow motion… for real.”
Jeff invited Hannah Cox to be in the video, and she plays the Rhodes piano and sings beautifully (Instagram here). So we borrowed a Rhodes from a friend, and set it up in our studio along with a plant and table lamp to suggest an airy living room. Since there is often a good amount of dead time for actors on a video shoot, I decided to run the Rhodes through an amplifier so she could play it between takes. And hey, while we’re at it, why not record the room, maybe something beautiful will happen. And it did. The music in the video is an edit of two layers of her playing, with shimmery sounds placed to accentuate some key emotional moments (like the plant with water drops).
Since the sound is a recording of the room, rather than direct, there are also touches of chairs creaking, an occasional breath, and is really quite magical. It’s the sound of the actual space of the video.
If you’re interested specifically in the effects gear used for recording the Rhodes, there’s an entry about the Strymon BigSky on my blog.
Since we were dealing with a fairly low light situation, and had created a dim moody scene, we started to hit the limits of what the camera could capture. So some post processing was in order! I bumped the overall saturation a hair and raised the exposure on the highs, which got the image a little closer. I then lightly applied a look up table that references Fuji Superia 200 film, and this combination is what gives the image that gentle wash of atmosphere.
This is one of my favorite touches in the video — we knew we’d need a master shot with the frame in the middle of the shot (this is a product video after all). And as you can see below it needed a something to accentuate the object. Lighting the piece from the front didn’t do it, it just emphasized the frame, not the interior. So we put a spot light on the wall behind, slightly above the keyboard, which created a beautiful layer of light that appeared to be inside the frame.
Practicing Restraint — Don’t Lose The Magic
It’s almost expected that a Kickstarter video has a bit of speaking from the creator of the project (“Hi I’m so and so, and I need your help” etc), and we quickly decided that it would pull the viewer out of the experience.
We shot a separate interview-style video of Jeff surrounded by plants and equipment and put that elsewhere on the Kickstarter page. Along the same lines, we also left any sort of technical explanations of the strobing, or the panel controls/modes, out of the main video. The primary goal was to convey the experience.
We had held a preview event and captured video of people seeing it for the first time, which was full of wondrous faces, but it would distract from the simple intimate narrative of the video. Whatever didn’t serve the magic had to go.
More Kickstarter Advice
If you’ve read this far, you might be interested in an article I’m writing (with Jeff’s permission of course) about the anatomy of this Kickstarter from a funding perspective, traffic sources, marketing outreach, and other useful information.