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How To Shoot A Baby

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ShootBaby

Vivienne Hartman made her Channel 101 debut in Freako Asylum.

I'm keeping this in the visual FX topic, because the nature of the shot. Not to mention when shooting a baby there are all kind of visual FX going on, except they are behind the camera.

The shot originally intended to be my character (Ernesto) talking to Dr. Julius about how it is time to go to war and that we must gear up. Ernesto turns and picks up my baby daughter wearing a monkey outfit and says "Oh sweet, sweet monkey. The war has begun." For some reason I thought this was the funniest shit ever. A deranged asylum caretaker with a voice box talking to a baby in a monkey outfit, that’s funny. But when I told this to people I usually got a "What the hell is wrong with you?" look. At the last minute I came up with the giant "Twisted Machine of Science".

Ok, with all that useless back-story here is a brief synopsis of the shoot.

I new I wanted to have the baby surrounded by weird machinery. Somehow connected to motorcycle engines, pile drivers and monitors but I had people over at the house and we needed to shoot quick. It was nighttime and babies sort of get this weird, loopy "I got to burn off steam" phase right before their bedtime. They scream loud one minute and are laughing and flailing the next. Completely bi-polar. This was exactly what we needed.

I put the baby in her high chair and set her up in the middle of the house. We turned off all the lights and put some black fabric around the chair while dressing up the baby in all white. Once I hit her with a spot light ( I really didn't HIT her, I just shined light on her) I was able to set the exposure and close up the iris a little so to turn the background completely black. Now it looked like we had the baby just kind of sitting there in the dark with some wooden arm rests from the high chair.

Again, luckily the baby was going through her "Am I happy, am I sad, WHY AM I STRAPPED IN THIS CHAIR! LET ME OUT DAMMIT!" stage. I basically set up the camera and then my wife, Michael Smith, Mike Baker and myself got behind the camera and made cutesy faces. I wish we filmed that, it could have made a surreal dream sequence in the movie. We shot about 15 minutes of the baby. We got her laughing. We got her screaming. We got her trying to take her socks off (a shot I was hoping to use in episode 2).

"That baby is ridiculously cute, to the point of being unsettling. It looks ....smug. That baby has a look on its face like it knows what it's doing."

Yea, she is a cute one, pretty blessed to get her. (I'm talking like an adult and shit, now that is unsettling.)

To get the final shot was kind of an odd moment. All of us behind the camera started to make music. My wife was singing these little cutesy rhymes and I was slapping my legs like I belonged in STOMP and Mike Baker was making some weird kazoo like noise through his nose. We were like some inbred hillbilly folk group. All the while Michael Smith was standing away from the camera trying not to laugh and ruin the audio of the shot, as if we could really use this audio for something.

Once the baby heard this fantastic music playing she started to dance in her seat. Rocking back and forth and laughing. As the fantastic music continued she started to have this tight lipped smile and held her head up into that "smug" position, as though we were some deformed, midget jesters performing for the princess on her throne of darkness in the family room.

That basically sums it up. This was a lot of writing for just saying we acted stupid and the baby smiled.

For the effect itself, I mainly just used PhotoShop and Final Cut Pro 3. I exported a frame of the baby in the chair and worked on top of that in PhotoShop. It is made of different photos of machinery I took, found in free stock photo libraries on the net or just simply made in PhotoShop. The machinery is nothing more than a matte painting that I overlayed on top of the baby footage. The cool thing about using "PhotoShop" with "final cut pro" is that when you import a PhotoShop file with many layers those same layers are automatically created into video layers in Final Cut. Pretty handy.

I was able to take the layers I made for the animating pipes and just simply key frame them back and forth so they looked like pile drivers. The shot right after the baby, where the two scientists are talking, the pipes in the foreground are the same ones just blown out of focus.

Well, that pretty much covers it. Not much of a tutorial, more like a long rambling. This really wasn't a difficult scene. If you want to know about how we shot or did FX on any of the other scenes feel free to ask.

By David Hartman.

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