Star "Power"

Music videos have long been a favourite playground for directors, editors, colourists and other artists seeking to spread their creative wings. The form provides an opportunity to experiment with visual and narrative styles not possible in commercials, television or feature films. A recent case in point is Power, a new music video from Kanye West and director Marco Brambilla. Featuring amazing visual effects work and colour grading via Baselight from New York's Nice Shoes, the video recently debuted in the U.S. after an episode of the television series Jersey Shore.

To say that Power differs from the average hip hop video is a gross understatement. In fact, West insists it's not a video at all, preferring to call it a "painting." Inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling, the piece presents a neoclassical tableau with West surrounded phalanxes of ornate columns and women with wings and flowing robes. There are no cuts, rather the camera executes a continuous pullback from a close up of West into a panorama.

Visual Effects work was completed at Nice Shoes' facility in Manhattan under the supervision of creative director Aron Baxter and included several weeks of compositing to assemble the intricate composition. Although, Brambilla had designed the general contours of the tableau, he wanted to maintain the flexibility to play with the visuals during post production. He and the visual effects team at Nice Shoes went through numerous iterations adding and subtracting different foreground characters, props and backgrounds.

"The sky went through many changes," recalls Baxter. "Then one afternoon, I was on the roof with the director and the perfect clouds were going past in the New York sky. So, we grabbed a camera, shot the clouds, and then brought them in and integrated them."

Colour grading was postponed until after the composition was nearly finalized. In a reversal of standard practice, the dozens of effects elements were composited from flat passes. "Normally, we would colour the green screen elements before they were composited, but we were under a time constraint and wanted to give the director and the visual effects artists maximum time and flexibility to do their work," explains Nice Shoes colourist Ron Sudul.

The challenge to this approach was that, in order to give the composition a balanced look, Sudul needed to apply individualized colour treatments to each composited element within the frame. He accomplished this by employing mattes supplied by the visual effects team. "If I wanted to correct a woman in the foreground, I called the visual effects department and asked for a matte and I'd have it within minutes," he says. "I could then work on just her."

"Baselight made that process easy because it accepts matte channels," Sudul adds. "We had something like 20 layers to isolate. It was the most technically demanding work I've ever done. Getting 20 layers to match is pretty cool... and that's what Baselight allowed us to do."

In the past, projects were forced to comply with certain strictly defined post production workflows. Today, thanks to highly flexible systems like Baselight, workflows can be adjusted, virtually on the fly, to conform to the creative, technical and scheduling demands of the individual project.

"Baselight gives us total freedom," Sudul says. "We don't have to worry about running out of layers, you don't have to keep something in your back pocket in case of last minute requests. It gives us total control."

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Related links

Nice Shoes


Artist Kanye West
Title Power
Production Company Stink
Director Marco Brambilla
Producer Jonathan Lia
Post|VFX Nice Shoes
Creative Director Aron Baxter
Color Grading Ron Sudul

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