2016! What a strange year! While the world continues to undergo what I hope is just multi-generational growing pains, I had somewhat of a positive year. From my continued work at Apple’s ad agency, a great new relationship, a new car, ongoing personal projects, wild rock shows, mini travel adventures, and playing hockey again, this year has been an important turning point for me.
Seeing as how 2016 was my first full year as a 30-something, it’s no surprise that many of the cool happenings can be attributed to the age-old reflex “oh shit! I better do some of the shit I’ve been meaning to do while I’m still young!”. So that being said, 2016 was a year of reflection, personal change, rekindling of old skills, forging new ones, and keeping steady the ship.
After 3 years of solo freelancing from my office in Little Tokyo DTLA, I finally landed at TBWA\Media Arts Lab in late August 2015. Fast-forward 16 months and the job that started out as a motion design gig has become the day-job that I didn’t know I needed. Not only do I continue to learn a lot, but working on Apple has helped reintroduce a little more balance into my life. The hours can sometimes contradict that last statement, but overall that remains the case. It’s a fun place to work. Not only that but the people I work with are super talented and extremely cool. Our department is really tight, which makes late nights a lot easier. On the job, I continue to sharpen my After Effects, Cinema 4D, and Adobe CC skills while learning more and more about the inner-workings of a large advertising agency. Plus, every morning we are spoiled with a free breakfast and get the option of lunch at our sister agency Chiat/Day next door. We also get to watch badass bands perform on our back patio every once in a while (Sunflower Bean, The Lemon Twigs, etc). MAL (as we call it) has been good to me so far. I get to grow in areas I wish to grow in and I’m able to keep dreaming. Pretty rad. In the future I think I will look back very fondly at my time spent there.
2016 was also the year I met Sam. I don’t think I’ve ever been around someone who’s so easy to be around. She’s amazing and continues to inspire me. She pushes me towards my directing goals and I push her towards her novel writing goals. We also have a lot of fun. It’s really a terrific setup. You’d think we met online or something 😉 This past year we ate lots of incredible food, went on many adventures across the southwest, saw lots of sweaty rock shows, watched/played lots of hockey, and even got into Star Trek: The Next Generation! We just spent a marvelous (and not terribly cold!) week back in Minnesota with my family. I can’t wait for all the adventures to come!
This year marked another first for me. I finally got a big boy car! Though I was sad to see my ’98 Honda Civic go, it had to go. It really had to go. It had long since become both an eyesore and a health hazard. That car had been flooded in a rainstorm in Minnesota, had driven across the USofA, and was the victim of a grand theft auto. So in late February, I welcomed into my car port a black 4-door 2014 VW GTI Driver’s Edition. I named her “Doris” after my late Grandma Snyder. And woo-wee is Doris fun to drive. Last August I took her all the way up the PCH (highway 1) to SF and back to see Radiohead at Outside Lands. She’s been across the Golden Gate Bridge, to the base of Sandstone Peak north of Malibu, and across the desert to Phoenix. I hope to get many more years out of this car. My commute to work is only about 8 miles, I live in Southern California, and I treat Doris like the member of the family that she is. So that just might happen.
So I’m playing ice hockey again. What? Out of all the crazy surprises in 2016, me getting back into hockey and DIGGING IT might be right up there. For those who didn’t know me growing up, I’m from the frozen tundra of Minnesota. Hockey in MN is like skateboarding in California, football in Texas or bagels in NYC. Pretty much everyone has a go. It’s the state sport. MN is the “state of hockey” after all. We’re kind of like Canada without universal healthcare and weird accents. Just kidding, Minnesotans have weird accents. I played hockey from Kindergarten all the way through Senior year, including 3 years of varsity, summer leagues, camps, tryouts, clinics, scouting events. I liked it and was pretty good at it. But it was intense. And not always fun. So by the time my final season ended at Aldrich Arena of Maplewood in 2004, I was pretty beat. Then my decision to pursue a creative career didn’t exactly line up with being a hockey player. Until 2016 that is. All credit goes to my supervisor at work for rekindling this dormant ember. He’d been playing on a men’s league team here in LA for a couple years now after taking about 10 years off himself. He bugged me for months to check them out. I finally did. Then after they lost a couple guys following their winter 2015/2016 season, I suited up for the first time in 12 years. I never thought I’d be playing hockey again. But boy am I glad I am. Not only does it feel good to be playing again and keeping in “hockey shape” (which is no easy thing), it feels even better to have a non-work related hobby for the first time as a professional. Especially as a creative professional, which can be fairly high on the stress and anxiety meter. The dudes are chill and the games are pretty competitive. We play at the Kings practice facility (Toyota Sports Center) in El Segundo. They keep score and play music between whistles. We have 2 refs (although sometimes we wish we’d have none). They even have a great sports bar in the arena where we celebrate or commiserate after every game. Last season we had the second-best record and made it to the championship game! But… we lost. (shrugs) All-in-all, I did pretty well my first season back. I was the leading scorer on the team, led our division in points, got a hat trick, had a tying goal/game winning shootout 2-goal game, and even got into a teeny tiny fight (gloves-on helmet-on). All-in-all it’s just for fun and maybe that’s why I’m so into it. It feels very full-circle for me. Like finishing unfinished business. Also it’s not the intense game I know from growing up. It’s hockey LA-style. Oh and our team name is the Drunken Highlanders.
My music video Paper Heart lived on in 2016. The digital wheatpaste poster creation was a part of the wonderful Hollyshorts Film Festival at the Chinese Theatre in August. It was my 3rd appearance there, and as both times previous, I had a truly great time. They really do it right. Great programming, excellent facilities, super nice people. I met some amazing filmmakers, reunited spontaneously with old collaborators, and forged some great new memories. Until next time Hollyshorts!
Living in LA continues to surprise me, toughen me up, and inspire me in its own way. 2016 marked the first time I’ve been able to live alone. I have a great 2-bedroom apartment near Culver City and love it. Culver is a terrific place to live. The downtown area can’t be beat for easy access, great food, and an Arclight movie theatre. I lucked out with a very quiet street that has plenty of parking, a corner store I can skateboard to, and an excellent neighborhood for jogging. There’s a nice 3-mile loop that I can take at any hour of the day safely (Well except for Halloween night when I got shot at with a paintball gun… but that could happen in any big city with stupid teenagers). There’s lots of good food too. Mexican and Asian food still take the cake here in LA, but my neighborhood also has a killer Cuban restaurant, some great Jewish delis, and plenty of food trucks. The beach is only about 15 minutes by car and I was able to visit that big wet thing more times in 2016 than in any other year since moving here in 2009. I saw a butt-load of live music in 2016 too. The crown jewel being my first ever Radiohead show at Outside Lands in SF. But there were so many others. It’s so easy here. One of the greatest cities on the planet for live music. And not expensive! Here are some of the highlights: M83, King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard (2 nights in a row), Thee Oh Sees (twice!), Ty Segall, Fuzz, Moderat, Yeasayer, Twin Peaks, Beach House (Outside Lands), Grimes (Outside Lands), LCD Soundsystem (Outside Lands). We’ve got a lot more to look forward to in 2017 as well, including Sigur Ros with the LA Phil at Walt Disney concert hall! The only downside to LA is the congestion. But honestly it’s not that bad if you navigate it right and know when to do certain things. So my LA journey marches on. Very grateful to be able to live here, work on cool stuff, have great friends, and have it feel like home.
2016 was a strange year for many. And one that none of us will forget. So many negatives. A year dominated by an oozing, festering media-choked election, mounting international conflicts, humanitarian crises, a major refugee crisis, more and more targeted hacks, drone strikes, terrorist attacks, Brexit, Trump, racism, xenophobia, police brutality, Russia on the rise, FBI vs Apple, and the loss of so many influential people (Seriously WTF). It was a downer year for a lot of us. But not everything was negative. There were some great films this year. Though probably not on too many best of lists, my favorite was the beautifully weird film Swiss Army Man. And some terrific music. Radiohead’s new album was my #1, but Frank Ocean and Bon Iver were not far behind. It was really a great year for hip-hop and female vocalists. Technology continues to improve and access to healthy food continues to increase around the country. It’s still the golden age of television and media has never been cheaper. Comedy is experiencing a little golden age as well. Podcasting too. The economy is doing much better. Travel is cheaper and safer than ever. People are starting to put down their phones more (or at least talking about it!). And Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize. A perfectly positive WTF moment to sum up this WTF year and conclude my little blog post.
In conclusion, I had a good year despite the collectively bummer year that we all shared. I look forward to 2017 with hope and determination. Let us not blame others for what we see is wrong with our world. Let’s attempt to change our world by starting with ourselves. Get healthy and stay healthy. Eat right, drink less, be with friends more. Work hard and keep your head down. Let’s look inwards and make ourselves great. Our country will follow. And remember that there is never an end point aside from the ultimate end point. We must always be working towards growth.
Peace to you all. Happy Holidays and may each and every one of you have a fantastic New Year!
Hey! I recently had the great pleasure of writing an article for the website postPerspective about my most recent music video paper heart. Though the article in its entirety can be read below, the original article can be found here.
VFX bring wheatpaste poster to life in ‘Paper Heart’ music video
Each January, The Silver Sound Showdown music video festival and battle of the bands takes place at Brooklyn Bowl. It pairs the winning director and winning band together to make a music video with Silver Sound Studios in New York City. It was here that Paper Heart, the music video directed by Nick Snyder, produced by Silver Sound and featuring the band Blood and Glass, was born.
“Paper Heart, is one of the most ambitious Showdown collaborations to date,” according to festival director and producer Cory Choy, features Blood and Glass lead singer Lisa Moore as a wheatpaste poster on walls across Brooklyn. It was shot on a Red Scarlet camera and features effects created in Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop. It was edited on Adobe Premiere Pro.
Why the wheatpaste poster look? LA-based Snyder (@nickwsnyder) works in the arts district of downtown, where he sees inspiration in everything. He also liked the idea that the nature and lifespan of the wheatpaste poster seemed to play nicely into the “themes of isolation and fragility found in the song.”
Snyder’s Showdown-winning video Lost Boy Found also combined the techniques of live performance, compositing and animation — silhouettes of actors were composited into a fantasy shadow puppet world — so this was a realm he was comfortable in.
After several months of prep, Snyder and the band made their way to New York City for the two-day shoot. The first day was dedicated to shooting plates. Locations around Brooklyn had been scouted by Silver Sound, Google street-viewed by Snyder prior to arrival and then scouted in person. So by the time production began, specific moments had been planned to take place in a handful of selected locations. The remaining moments were narrowed down to areas where the filmmakers anticipated chance discoveries. Snyder, DP J. Andrés Cardona and a skeleton crew set out onto the streets of New York to shoot with their Red Scarlet.
The second day was shot at Parlay Studios in Jersey City and dedicated exclusively to greenscreen shots. During a brief break in between days, Snyder analyzed the plates. While he shot listed and storyboarded, he also left room for improvisation and collaboration.
To aid lead singer Lisa Moore in her characterization, extra attention was given to wardrobe, makeup and props. “For example, it was decided beforehand that her prop cane would become a matchstick and that after using it, the matchstick would shrivel and blacken,” explains Snyder. “The art director constructed a practical burnt matchstick prop, but rather than swapping it out during Lisa’s performance, the prop was shot suspended in front of the greenscreen. Then, using an LED light on Lisa’s un-burnt cane, I tracked the movement of the matchstick in After Effects. I then replaced it with the burnt matchstick seen at the end of the video.”
The same technique was used for the origami birds that interact with Moore throughout the video. Practical birds were made, shot against the greenscreen and keyed out in post. The intention was that they could be keyframed in After Effects, but their natural movement would allow for a slightly more organic feel. It was a good time saver. “Green apple boxes, chroma key gloves and even crew members wrapped in green blankets were used to achieve the effect of tactile contact within the video,” explains Snyder. “The performance moments were shot from start to finish in various sizes, and shooting in 4K allowed for any Lisa/plate size relationship miscalculations,” explains Snyder.
The next step was assembly. This involved mapping Moore to the building surface plates. Premiere Pro was used to assemble performance shots in raw R3D and narrow down her best takes. For performance takes, a six-panel export was made to quickly compare her gestures from the narrowed down shots. From there, a preliminary pass was made on pairing Moore with the plates by adding the chroma key effect in Premiere. “This simplified version of After Effects Keylight allowed us to see what was working without having to check all the shots in the much more sluggish After Effects video playback,” says Snyder. “Additionally, once the assembled shots were ready for AE, the greenscreen clips with this chroma key effect would stay in the metadata of the shot.” Another time saver, he says, was that once the Moore/plate relationships were locked and a cut was close to locked, the compositing could begin.
To save space and make for faster save times, Snyder chose to create separate After Effects files for each shot. The first step was to finalize the look for “Wheatpaste Lisa.” After some trial and error, a look was established and a master file was created that could be imported into each After Effects file, but the process for creating the look wasn’t as easy as copying and pasting a LUT. In some cases, upwards of 20 pre-comps were used.
According to Snyder, the basic process went like this. “The greenscreen shot was keyed out using Keylight, adjusting for spill and greenscreen inconsistencies. Luckily, the DP did an excellent job at lighting Lisa, so this was a breeze. If there was an issue, a simple matte choker was used. Then, this was precomped and a minimal texture was brought in to dirty it up a bit. The overlay blending mode was often used as well as an image mask. It was precomped again; an off-white stroke was added using a layer style stroke. This effect was used to create the white-edge poster look. The stroke size and precomp level varied from shot to shot, depending on the size of shot Lisa was in and also the texture of the plate onto which she was to be composited. At this point the look started to emerge a bit, but a few steps remained in order to completely bring Wheatpaste Lisa to life.”
For Paper Heart, a combination of Adobe CC’s Glass and Texturize were used to give Moore a convincing paper texture as well as authentic surface imperfections, explains Snyder. Most often, two bump maps were used — one for generic surface texture and lighting and a second to pick up the surface of the wall behind her. For the second, a high contrast grayscale image was created in Photoshop to bring out the important parts. Using Dynamic Link, Snyder was able to paint over parts of the bump map that were less important, save and view the results in After Effects.
Lastly, two layers needed to be created to mimic ink on paper and human error. This would also come into play later in the video as the iterations of Wheatpaste Lisa start to erode away. “For this effect, the comp had to be duplicated. Unfortunately, After Effects comp duplication only duplicates the top comp,” explains Snyder. “So in order to duplicate all of the nested comps, a purchased script called True Comp Duplicator had to be used. The newly duplicated comp was then brought into the original comp and placed below. Using the Fill effect, this comp was colored off-white. Then, to add the finishing touches, some final grungifying had to be done to the top layer. Using Photoshop, 5K resolution brush strokes and alpha channel grunge effects were created on multiple layers. Once imported into AE, these could be used in the top Lisa comp. Using the Silhouette Alpha blending mode, the grungy paintbrush strokes subtracted bits of Wheatpaste Lisa, creating imperfections and rough edges that exposed the off-white layer beneath it.
“Finally, back in the master comp with the two Lisa layers, those were precomped once more. At this point, the look was more or less complete,” he continues. “But from shot to shot, additional work was sometimes required to successfully composite Lisa onto the plates.” Some additional tools used were Roughen Edges, another Matte Choker and occasionally another round of Silhouette Alpha grungy paintbrush strokes.
For lighting, Snyder used either the 4-Color Gradient or Gradient Ramp on an Adjustment Layer or on a Solid set to the Hard Light Blending Mode. Opacity was usually in the 10-20 percent range.
During the process, Snyder and Silver Sound discovered that Wheatpaste Lisa’s movement looked best at 12fps. “We wanted to underscore the fact that Wheatpaste Lisa was an actual wheatpaste entity existing in her own little universe, not just a video projection,” explains Silver Sound’s Choy. “So the choppier feel of 12fps was used to make Lisa’s motions a little less fluid, a little more animation-y and other worldly feeling.” For this effect, the Posterize Time effect was used.
Throughout the compositing process, Snyder created H.264 proxy files from the transcoded R3D footage. This was especially helpful with the origami birds. To save space, the birds were rendered out on their own at a much smaller file size and then re-imported.
The Death of Wheatpaste Lisa
Finally, Wheatpaste Lisa had to die. To achieve the effect of wheatpaste poster weathering, both layers of Wheatpaste Lisa had to erode. “Back inside the top layer — the double layer Lisa comp — individual brush strokes and grunge effects were animated with Silhouette Alpha as their blending mode,” describes Snyder. “Once the weathering looked satisfactory, these animated layers were copied, pasted into the bottom layer Lisa comp and adjusted in movement and timing. This allowed for the top layer to erode just before the bottom layer, pushing the compositing one step closer toward realism. Occasionally, one final matte choker and/or an animated mask was used on the final precomp to eliminate any stray particles or to insure that she dissolved away completely.
Once complete, the shots were rendered at 4K ProRes 4444. The final shots were delivered to Silver Sound colorist Vlad Kucherov with Moore separated from the building surface plates. Using DaVinci Resolve, Kucherov worked with Snyder to achieve a satisfactory look that worked well for the video concept while also helping sell the compositing realism. Having the layers separated gave Silver Sound more control during this process by being able to adjust the levels independently. The goal was to find a look that played to the feel of the song, but also gave the video a confident personalized look of its own.
“In the end, Paper Heart is the result of careful planning, post experimentation, lots of hair pulling and creating a concept that exists within a strict set of limitations,” concludes Snyder.
At the Silver Sound Showdown in Brooklyn, there are 2 grand prize winners – a director and a band. As mentioned in previous posts, I won for my hybrid animated music video Lost Boy Found (2013). Out of that I got the chance to direct a music video with the production company that puts on the festival – Silver Sound. Yet what’s unique to this festival is not just the chance to shoot a video in NYC, but the creative relationships it forms. And in my case, lasting ones. I am very honored to not just have gotten the chance to direct Blood and Glass, but can now call them my friends.
Blood and Glass is an adrenaline shot of ethereal melancholy euphoria. Hailing from French Canada’s Montreal, they are fronted by the eccentric and charming Lisa Moore who has been described by journalists as the missing link between Grimes and Tom Waits. Together with her husband Morgan, they take you aboard their merry-go-ground of sonic bliss through glow-in-the-dark forests and psych wards. Their songs are at once catchy and moody, flowing gracefully from one to the next and filling the album in such a way that demands to be listened to in full. Lisa’s voice goes from a soothing whisper to an edgy shout. And with the cinematic bravado of their live performances, they provide a comprehensive artistic experience few bands can pull off. Blood and Glass fucking rule.
So when they asked me to do their debut album art, I couldn’t possibly say no. Here is my original artwork for their LP, CD, and digital album “Museum with No Walls”:
sample from digital booklet
My first directing gig in NYC. Here are some stills from the paper heart music video shoot!
my role – director, motion designer, editor
band – Blood and Glass
producers – Cory Choy, Reed Adler
production company – Silver Sound
photos – Colleen Pesci
location – Parlay Studios
I won grand prize at the 2014 Silver Sound Showdown in Brooklyn and got to direct a music video with the winning band (Blood and Glass) in NYC. We shot 1 day around Brooklyn and another in Jersey City. Such a great crew and an inspiring experience. The video is currently in post-production due to significant after effects magic. I can’t wait to share it with you all!
my role – director, camera, editor, colorist
band – George Dornbach & Maddie Thies
I directed this video for my cousin’s band Northern Pinnacle while visiting Seoul for work in January 2014. Despite the freezing cold, it was a labor of love and a lot of fun. Plus, shooting a video like this can be one of the most comprehensive ways to experience a new city. Seoul was incredible and I’m so glad I was able to make this for George and Maddie.
First official music video for their song “Distant Night”. It was filmed on location in Seoul, South Korea while they both lived there.
After living 6 miles from each other for half their lives, it took 6000+ miles for Maddie Thies and George Dornbach to meet. Music soon followed. And then a music video.
client: Bahamar | 3 spots