Fact: Fighting is not cool. Fact: Stage fighting is very, very cool.
Recently I’ve had this recurring thought. A nagging idea about filming epic fight scenes that do all the things I want them to do in the movies. I used to choreograph fights for a touring theatre company in my distant past. Now I’m taking those skills and the pool of talented performers I know to make fight scenes like this one.
It all started with a promo video for Off The Ground’s – Musketeers. With no preparation I joined a rehearsal and watched a set of fights choreographed for stage before capturing the footage in the video below.
I’d recently bought a DJI phantom and the stabilized Gopro footage it provides proved way better than I could have hoped. After a little thought and some more equipment I’m now using a new rig (see below) light enough to get right into the action so after rounding up a couple of actor friends we set about choreographing the fight and camera at the same time.
Check out the equipment used to film this video
I knew I wanted everything to work as one shot so each hit must be positioned in terms of the camera and each move planned out. In reality, stage combat is much closer to dance than it is to fighting.
‘Fight Club #1’ is the result of about 3 hours of preparation, rehearsal and filming. The plan is to get together regularly, produce these mini scenes and with your feedback, improve and expand the project
You may remember the Musketeers stage combat trailer from my last post. That was a video completed in one editing session to try to get it selling tickets as quickly as possible so I thought “how could I improve this with a painstakingly long and tedious process that will shut me away from the outside world for nearly a week?”
The answer? Lightsabers.
It turns out that adding a bit of Jedi flair to your videos is pretty labour intensive work, requiring you to individually animate every frame of your light sabers. It takes forever.
I won’t go into too much detail here. If you want to have a go yourself I’ve added some useful links to the bottom of this post.
The effect is achieved using Adobe After Effects. Each saber is created by animating a mask across a coloured solid. Once all of the movement is complete, clashes and sound effects are added.
If you want to try your own, take a look at these tutorials and post your work in the comments section.
If you’ve seen ‘Kingsman, The Secret Service’ you’ll know just how incredible those Matthew Vaughn fight scenes are. If you haven’t I recommend you stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now.
Done? Fantastic wasn’t it. After watching THAT scene (which I won’t spoil for any of you who didn’t see it) I desperately wanted to make my own. Fortunately Off The Ground Theatre were just gearing up for their summer tour of The Musketeers and had a whole set of elaborate sword and fist fights ready to go. The first show was in 2 days so the challenge was on. How good a fight trailer can I produce in 24 hours?
After watching the fights in rehearsal we worked the camera into the action rather than direct each shot separately. The result is as close as I could get to what I wanted with the 30 or 40 minutes of filming time available. Check out the results below and if you can’t wait to get to the best bits. The scrapping starts at 0:35s.
So how this was put together?..
Producing the Musketeers film ala Vaughn presented several challenges to overcome, not least of which was the total lack of preparation and planning. I knew they were rehearsing and I knew I was going to film something. I had no idea what to expect.
Well that’s not entirely true. I used to choreograph fights for the company myself and have been on twelve of their summer tours as an actor and producer before I was a photographer. Once I’d been shown the amazing fights they had prepared for the stage I could see the style I wanted straight away. The fights are fast and technical with details that shouldn’t be missed so I had to get in there and be part of the action. I didn’t want to make a typical film fight where every hit is a cut and you never see a landed blow. These fights flow and move and are a real spectacle on stage. I wanted to try to capture as much of that feeling as I could.
I shot everything using a Hero4 at 1080p, 120fps. Filming at such a high frame rate allows me to slow down the action to 20% speed and still have it look totally smooth at a nice cinematic 24fps. The ability to speed up and slow the footage is needed to keep the action exciting when shooting the fight in single takes. This was achieved in Premiere Pro then coloured using Adobe Speedgrade.
To smooth out the action the camera is mounted to a DJI Phantom 2 carrying a Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal. The gimbal keeps the Gopro smooth and level giving it that film glide cam look whilst the Phantom drone provides the power, and transmits a live feed to an external monitor so I can see what I’m filming. There is a smooth pan in there that was shot from the drone in flight too.
Some acrobatics were required and I didn’t escape without a good sword thwack to one hand (It was my fault for forgetting the moves) but I’m pleased with the results. Not bad for a days work.