Van William: Revolution
Linda Romanello
November 30, 2017

Van William: Revolution

Songwriter, performer and former Port O’Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski is stepping out on his own with a new project. Under the name Van William, his first solo project —  The Revolution  — is set for release next month on Fantasy Records. The debut video for the four-song EP’s title track, “Revolution” features esteemed Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.

“‘Revolution’ started as a song about the anxieties of being in a relationship, where both people want to fix its broken parts, but disagree on the means,” says William.

The video for it, directed by Grant James, is passionate and touching. “It’s an emotional performance delivered by Van, as well as Klara and Johanna Söderberg (First Aid Kit) within the confines of a black void,” says James. “The focus was to compose moving portraits of the artists that express the meaning behind the lyrics of the song as they go through an emotional journey individually and together. The result delivers a variety of raw and striking imagery that balances the fine line between high fashion cinematography and keeping our subjects grounded in their own natural aesthetic and realism.” 

To create the look and mood, James worked closely with DP Vance Burberry, who relied on an Ursa Mini Pro digital film camera and Video Assist 4K monitor/recorder for the shoot. Burberry, who has shot music videos for Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Santana, Coldplay and more, also used DaVinci Resolve Studio and the DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel for color grading.

“We went with a black and white look to help emphasize the photography and story as much as possible,” explains Burberry. “We wanted the look to evolve as the story progressed, so it was essential to have strong photographic images to work with, which is why I chose the Ursa Mini Pro. The camera’s 15 stops of dynamic range really shine in grayscale, and you need that wide gamma of dynamic range when you are into deep shadows and blacks through to over-exposed edges, which roll off very film-like with the Ursa Mini Pro.”

Burberry also noted that the Ursa Mini Pro’s tactile controls helped him change settings and check looks without missing a beat. “We jumped around from 23.98fps to 60fps, and having that high frame rate button right on the outside of the camera was super handy,” he explains. “I also looked at RAW and LOG a lot, using grayscale and false color to check exposure. I assigned RAW to function one (F1) and false color to function two (F2), and could easily switch between the looks with the press of a button. I love that the function buttons are customizable.”

“I used the Ursa Mini 4.6K on several occasions, but this was my first experience with the Ursa Mini Pro, and the design and control upgrades are fantastic,” says James. “I enjoy the filmic nature of all Blackmagic Design’s cameras and how simplified the workflow crossover is from production to post. Since we shot the video in high-contrast black & white, the camera allowed us to get those rich blacks while maintaining plenty of detail within the camera’s dynamic range to control our final product.” 

In post, Burberry used DaVinci Resolve Studio and the DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel to enhance the theme. “The video starts out with a clean look, and as the story is told, the artists’ hair gets messier and they’re screaming and crying. By the end, they look terrible in a very beautiful way,” he says. “I started off less contrasty and open in the midtones, and as the song intensified, I decreased the midtone detail just to soften everything up. I then increased contrast and darkened up the midtone details, as well as pushed the highlights hard. Increased midtone detail also brought out the texture of the skin thanks to the detail captured with the Ursa Mini Pro.

“We really pushed the image, but it still stayed beautiful and clean, and DaVinci Resolve Studio’s exceptional tracker came in handy. It’s easy to move, change size, softness and curve; its power is incredible,” Burberry says. “On top of that, the DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel made it so easy to add nodes, save and recall stills, move back and forth in frames, build Power Windows and more.” 

James, who also edited the video on Adobe Premiere, wanted to maintain a smooth edit that allowed the emotion naturally build throughout the song. “I didn’t want to over cut unless there was a dramatic moment happening within the performance itself,” he says. “The song has a lot of rhythm, so it was tricky to slow down and let the performance drive the edit, but I feel that I struck a nice balance.

Ben Montez was the VFX/online editor on the project. “Grant had the idea to intercut the straight ‘black void’ performances with shots inside of a vintage television set,” he says. “Since Grant cut in Premiere, we decided to stay in the Adobe family for VFX and work with After Effects. Before we even addressed the TV set, Grant and I established the vintage look by modifying the performance footage; I used overlays of grain while decreasing the sharpness of the footage to date it back a few decades, then added some animated displacement maps to create the distorted warp effects that appear later in the video.”

Montez says he then pre-composed each shot before turning to the TV itself. “The first shot in the video was the most difficult, since it’s a dolly-in on an angled television set with a rounded, bulging screen. However, After Effects’ 3D Tracker did wonders to track the movement, which I applied to a mask that I had manually created with the pen tool. Since Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini Pro shoots really clean Ultra HD, I was able to blow up the footage a fair amount in order to create that mask with precision. From there, it was as simple as plugging in our pre-composed shots, shifting the angle to match the TVs and applying a bulge to the middle of the shots.”