ALEXA shoots award-winning music videos

With dozens of commercials and just as many music videos to his credit, cinematographer Nicolas Loir recently received two awards at the 2013 Camerimage festival in Poland, recognizing his visuals in two very different music videos: one directed by Cyrille de Vignemont for the British artist Ghostpoet, and the other by the duo Fleur & Manu for the French musician Gesaffelstein. Both productions were captured with ALEXA.

COLD WIN music video

The music video for Ghostpoet's track COLD WIN is cinematographer Nicolas Loir's tenth collaboration with director Cyrille de Vignemont. Loir chose to work with ALEXA in order to capture extreme highlights and deep shadows in a pleasing and natural way, and received a Camerimage award for his efforts.

"COLD WIN is my tenth film with Cyrille de Vignemont," explains Loir, referring to the Ghostpoet promo that won him Best Cinematography in a Music Video at Camerimage. "Cyrille is also a photographer, so his work draws heavily on a pictorial universe influenced by light -- by its effects and its abstraction. Together, we tried to give each of the three settings of the COLD WIN video an identity of very strong, simple light." These three settings are a nocturnal car interior (in which the artist is singing the vocals), an apartment lit up by car headlights, and a tracking shot along a road in a sun-drenched landscape.


"The first element we shot was the day road exterior," says Loir. "We went to Iceland to find a setting that would evoke the great outdoors, and especially to capture the unique light there. The filming device was very simple; we strapped the ALEXA to the passenger seat and shot straight out through the windshield. The advantage of shooting in Iceland during the summer is that the sun is very low for a long time, so you can capture a very pure image with a wide dynamic image. For this, the ALEXA is really the camera that allows the greatest latitude and retains plenty of detail in the lightest parts of the sky during the color grading, even when recording ProRes."

Back in Paris, the team set to work on the other two elements. "The first session in Iceland really inspired us and allowed Cyrille to develop a visual strategy for the car and the apartment," notes Loir. "Our equipment in the apartment was very minimalist: a Kino Flo to ensure a level of night atmosphere and real car headlights mounted on a dolly. The texture and the anomalies created by real headlights are very difficult to imitate with regular cinema lights; it is with this kind of detail and material that Cyrille loves to work."

ALEXA is really the camera that allows the greatest latitude and retains plenty of detail in the lightest parts of the sky.

For the night car interiors, lip-syncing was done from unusual angles that reduced visibility of the artist. "Ghostpoet fully trusted Cyrille on how to film this lip-sync and the result is much more mysterious," says Loir. "For shots showing the outside of the car the light came from a Bag-o-Light suspended above, to get pure reflections. Then there was a lot of work by the postproduction house One More to add the floating droplets of water that come alive in all these shots."


Macro lenses were used to film very close views of the water droplets. "Cyrille loves macros and often uses them in his work as a photographer," says Loir. "Using a set of Arri Macros and developing a hydrophobic treatment on paper, we managed to achieve a lot of effects on set, including all the shots where the drops roll on paper to form the hobo signs."

The promo for PURSUIT, with French DJ and composer Gesaffelstein, won Loir the Best Music Video prize at Camerimage. "Fleur & Manu are a pair of directors who often work with the symbolic and the esoteric," explains Loir. "What is interesting about the PURSUIT music video is that everyone can have their own interpretation of the images and the film. Some will see a vision of power and downfall, others a bleak portrait of life."

PURSUIT music video

The video for French techno music artist Gesaffelstein's track PURSUIT was directed by Fleur & Manu and captured with ALEXA by cinematographer Nicolas Loir, whose visuals were recognized with the Best Music Video prize at Camerimage 2013.

At the center of the narrative is a hypnotic backwards tracking movement that reveals scenery, people and objects. "The idea behind this movement was to create anticipation about what is off-screen and about to enter the frame," explains Loir. "It's a kind of allegory of the future and of life, where you never know what will happen next. Like most music videos, we worked with a fairly small budget, so there was no Technocrane or other sophisticated equipment; everything was done with a simple dolly. I must mention the enormous effort by Mathematic Studios and Machine Molle, who took care of the stabilization, compositing, and the large task of deleting the dolly track."


One of the most impressive shots is a long backwards tracking movement that starts on a nude model against a white background and passes through the interior of a car before revealing a gigantic hall containing a suspended fighter jet. Loir notes, "For this shot we installed 90 meters of track in the Halle Freyssinet railway building in Paris. We did a first pass with the girl in front of a white background, going right down to the end of the building. Then we did a pass with the car against a greenscreen and linked them together in post, erasing all the track and adding the entirely CG airplane."

The video's cinematography has a cold, clinical feel, characterized by hard contrast and definition. "We chose to combine a very limited color palette with an extremely sharp image, emphasizing the dark world of Gessafelstein's techno music," says Loir. "I equipped the ALEXA with a 25 mm Master Prime stopped to T4.5, so that the focus tracking on all these movements wouldn't be a nightmare for my assistants. The Master Prime's sharpness is even stronger at this aperture! In postproduction, with my colorist Muriel Archambaud, we added some edge on the ProRes images to complete the effect."

An 18th century castle interior set marks the beginning of the music video, contrasting the industrial modernity of the rest. Loir notes, "This sequence was filmed at Fontainebleau castle, where it was difficult to install any equipment at all. The backwards movement was achieved directly on the floor with a dolly and a stabilized head, and the sensitivity of the ALEXA allowed us to shoot with the available light, only placing a hidden LED in the actor's glove for an effect. Similarly, the shot that closes the video is lit purely by the service lights of the Halle Freyssinet. Shooting with a camera capable of going far in low light has become very important to me, even if it is sometimes difficult for the focus!"

Loir concludes, "I am very honored to have received these two distinctions in quick succession at Camerimage, the international festival dedicated to cinematography. I'm also thrilled that in January the ASC teamed up with Camerimage to hold a screening of the winning films in Los Angeles."