My preferred approach to shooting is to be heavily involved in every stage of the job, from sketching ideas to doing all the compositing and retouching. I do all my own post production, below is a case study of how I planned, shot and pieced together an image for the Sky show Spy.
For this image I wanted to create a really exciting Mission: Impossible, James Bond feel, completely over the top and with a string vein of humour running through it. What better than Tim and Caitlin dangling perilously from a helicopter, piloted by their insane boss?
Initial ‘back of an envelope’ sketch worked up into a visual.
We didn’t have the time to take the actors to an airfield to shoot with a real helicopter, and in any case it wouldn’t be possible to hang them from the underneath of it! So i planned the shot in three parts, the helicopter itself, Robert Lindsay sitting in the helicopter, and Darren Boyd and Rebekah Station dangling below. In order to shoot Darren and Rebekah I worked out the relative heights of camera, helicopter skid and the two hanging people and designed a scaffolding tower from which i could shoot.
Planning and commissioning tower to shoot the hanging characters
I then traveled, with an assistant, to an airfield south Of London to shoot the helicopter, taking care to record every possible distance and measurement, from the camera to the helicopter, and also all the dimensions of the helicopter itself, particularly the cockpit.
Shooting the helicopter, including reference for poses and cockpit layout
and recording all dimensions of the helicopter, and camera’s relationship to it.
On the day of shooting the actors I was therefore able to perfectly replicate the positioning of the camera, and the actors, to match the plate shots of the helicopter. A simple plywood seat was built which perfectly matched all the measurements and angles of the pilots seat of the helicopter, which meant that Robert would slot nicely into the cockpit for the final composite.
Shooting Robert Lindsay. A seat was built to match the one in the cockpit of the helicopter and all angles were replicated from the helicopter plate shot.
I then climbed the tall and gently swaying scaff tower to shoot Darren (holding onto the pole representing the helicopter skid and standing on a small platform halfway down the tower) and Rebekah (holding onto his leg and standing on the floor), including extra foot positions so that it would look like both feet were hanging in the air.
Shooting Rebekah Staton and Darren Boyd from the tower
With all the prep work it was then a simple matter to composite all the elements together, grade the image, and produce the final result.
Bringing all the elements together, including the all important colour grade