The Habsburgs were an English dynasty that had collected over a hundred pieces of art in its multi-century existence. This broadcast TV spot was produced for the arrival of the Habsburg Splendor exhibit to the High Museum in Atlanta and provided a rare glimpse to an internationally coveted art collection.
The museum opened its doors to us for a single day of shooting on the exhibit floor. During the scout, the museum conservationist informed us that no incandescent lamp brighter than the stock museum ceiling spot lights were allowed. This could pose a considerable challenge to shooting in a massive space reading below f/1.8 at 800 ISO. To get an exposure and add any amount of drama to the flat museum lighting would require additional lamps.
So I went back to clarify. Apparently paintings are sensitive to UV radiation, which ages the paint. HMI bulbs with their high UV output were out of the question. Incandescent lamps put out less UV, but enough to heat up the painting and the space itself and upset the conservationist. So our only choices were fluorescent lamps such as KinoFlos and LEDs which have no UV output or heat radiation. Our workhorses proved to be a set of LEDGO 1x1 bi-color LED panels and a pair of LED fresnels. The equipment limitation actually encouraged us to embrace the setting, keeping the ambience low, while simply highlighting the art pieces with spotted shafts of light.
Currently my favorite– the highly affordable & bright LEDGO 3-light kit for a little over $1K
Shooting in low light and the need to perform many moving shots quickly across a large space lead us to use the RED Dragon camera mounted on a Movi with CP2 Super Speed primes. To my disappointment, the RED did not hold up well in the shadows and the shots required quite a bit of noise reduction in post. We also had a little trouble with the Movi rig which shook and groaned under the weight of the RED, monitor, follow focus, and Teradek. The problem turned out to be the tension settings in the Movi app-- lowering those solved the shaking problem. But the rig was still pretty darn heavy and I could only hold it for a minute at a time. Something to work on.
The brief called for a dramatic spot that would convey the splendor and majesty of the centuries-old dynasty's art. The key idea was to animate the classic paintings in a "The Kid Stays in the Picture" parallax style, giving them perspective and dimension. The process, completed by Mad Hat Creative, is pretty straight-forward technically, but requires quite a bit of time and attention to detail. The basic idea is to separate foreground elements from their background, place them in a 3D space and move the virtual camera to add the illusion of dimension.
We took high-res scans of the paintings, masked out several layers of foreground, mid, and background in Photoshop. Then we used the heal/clone tool to fill in the background areas that were masked out. The layers were dropped into After Effects, where the Multiplane plugin dispersed the layers out in 3D space, maintaining the layers' apparent scale. Finally, we animated a virtual camera to add the parallax effect.
Another more convincing yet technically challenging technique is to use 3D mapping to achieve a dimensional effect. This shot of the duchess was prepped in Photoshop as the others, but then brought into Cinema4D where the layers of her face were "projected" on a rough 3D model of her.
Along with the paintings, the exhibit included sculptural works that needed to be featured in the spot as well. We knew that the 3D paintings would hold their own, but how to make rest of the exhibit pieces stand out alongside the CGI shots?
The solution was improvised during the scout when director Jonathan Hayes and I were were working out the horse carriage shot composition. We were trying to figure out how to make it stand out against a busy wall of paintings behind it. So we tried turning off all the house lights and fly in an LED fresnel to spot it. And as the gaffer walked out from behind the carriage, hand-holding a battery-powered LED light, we suddenly saw the carriage come to life. Long shadows crawled and stretched along its contours, first unidentifiable, then revealing the carriage in all its gold and velvet splendor. The moving light informed the technique and tone of the entire piece— great artwork emerging from the veil of darkness. On shoot day, we would do just that— frame up a piece of art and walk one or two LED lights around it.