By Nina J P Evans

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adventures in Tilt-Shift

I have recently been inspired by a film technique called tilt-shift that originates from the world of photography. Using selective focus to simulate a very narrow depth of field. This photographic technique has inspired the digital industries and is now being used and manipulated in digital technologies such as print and film. It first come into fruition due to an award winning music video: Thom Yorke’s Harrowdown Hill—directed by Chel White with Bent image Lab, that used a previously developed experimental filming technique that was aptly named: Smallgantics wiki states, “The technique takes footage of large objects (rivers, factories, city skylines) and makes them appear as though they are actually miniatures.”

The miniaturized world is richly saturated in colour intensity; apparently this is necessary to enhance the effect of the film. I think it adds to it. The colours are visually deeper and more appealing everything looks shiny and new. With the addition of film editing scenes can be merged with unfiltered scene footage or alternatively sped up or even played backwards or frozen. Applying digital effects like tilt-shift  changes our perceptions. The real world appears to us in a toy like fashion with a twist—the toys are us.

When viewing this stuff you have to hold on the fact that it is still real. This is still us as humans not play things, but presented as looking similar to Playmobil® and Lego® figures our world simulating an expansive model train layout. It’s interesting seeing things from this perspective, things don’t look so bad! In fact, they look too good to be true, although the tilt-shift novelty value wears off pretty fast.

Toys: Playmobil, Model Train layout, Lego.
Harrowdown Hill is filmed from a bird’s eye view seen literally through an animation of a bird in flight. The video touches on some of the biggest challenges facing our society. The animation bird flies over the tilt-shift miniaturized landscape. The bird being, animated switches perspectives as it flies towards the camera in silhouette. When the bird interacts with a gang of kids, the camera is very tight and close up and the bird becomes kite like, a toy that is played with by us. The indirectness of the filming encapsulates the bird’s plight. We are made to feel more detached and involved simultaneously. The blurring of the animated images adds a sense of movement and simulates a change in focus within each transitional scene. The riot scene become less like a digital effect and more like a digital montage of cut ups. The footage without the tilt-shift effect seems now somehow to be more poignant and haunting when used in conjunction with it.

The Uniglo website is best viewed with the sound off as unfortunately this soundtrack doesn’t compare to Thom York’s. It makes the tilt-shift even crazier, which is kind of ironic. There is no storyboard narrative with any consistency unlike Harrowdown Hill. It’s a little unsettling and disconcerting in the way that you are questing the lack of visually coherent themes. Although parts of the tilt-shift filming are amusing. In every scene there are people and it’s quite fascinating watching people from a miniaturized perspective: walking, queuing and moving about continuously. I also like the cars and trains and the speed of the moon’s elevation in the night sky. Interesting how the viewing experience detaches you from reality.

Out of the two examples, I much prefer the music video to the online shop. Harrowdown Hill uses the latest tilt-shift technology without over doing it by merging it with other animation techniques and live film. Rather than the Uniglo with the tilt-shift filter in its entirety seems a bit too detached and less charming, there are no subtleties or contrasts. That aside though tilt-shift imagery evokes a wonderful sense of nostalgia… it’s nice seeing our world looking surprisingly colourful miniaturized.

And if you have an iphone you could try this: TiltShift Generator
Thom Yorke’s Harrowdown Hill - directed by Chel White (video)
Uniglo titlt-shift (videos)

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