On, December 27th, John Byron Hanby, IV founder of Fractal Visuals turned 21 years old, but it also marks an even more significant milestone for his career. Fractal Visuals also released an unofficial music video for Silversun Pickups song “Ragamuffin”. While it is not an “official video” for the song Hanby said, “I am hoping this video will showcase the talents of our amazing cast & crew and I am truly honored that Silversun Pickups chose to share the music video with their fans through social media.” Hanby also hopes to produce music videos for bands like MUSE, U2, Radiohead, Phantogram, MUTEMATH and others in the future.
Hanby has always been a huge fan of Silversun Pickups. On the song “Ragamuffin” from their new album “Better Nature,” John explained, “I instantly knew I had to produce a video for the song even if it was unofficial. Music videos have always been my passion and this song spoke to me in a huge way! So, we set out on a tremendous journey that eventually resulted in the creation of an unbelievable, epic, and emotionally moving music video, that I hope will resonate with other fans of the band, and the band itself. In my mind the song paints a beautiful picture of vastness and a constant intensity that could only be represented in one place, the desert.”
“My concept for the music video was the three kinds of love that we will all experience in some form throughout our lives; self-actualization and the pursuit of passion, romantic love, and family love. Each of these has their inherent struggles, but as part of human nature we still seek it out regardless of the challenges and hardships we may face. Naturally, running through the desert being chased by the physical embodiment of individual pain and suffering [the black smoke] toward an insurmountable mountain seemed like a great physical representation of that internal struggle we face.”
Fractal Visuals assembled a crew and set out on a four-day shoot in Terlingua, Texas just an hour north of the Texas – Mexico border.
“My vision revolved around using a drone to capture the vastness of the landscape and create incredibly dynamic shots that put our human size into perspective when surrounded by nature. We filmed everything using the RED Epic Dragon and wanted to capture the aerial footage with the same camera.” Hanby adds, “There was also an added level of difficulty for this project because I wanted to act in it as well. Balancing acting and directing can be incredibly hard when you are 500 feet away from your crew on the top of a mountain and trying to give direction, but it all worked out okay. One of the most annoying things was being covered in fake blood and getting so many walkie talkies, pens and everything I touched covered in the stuff because I am so hands on. We had an incredible group of actors for this project. One of the actors, Ali Brown, started as my Tukong Moosul martial arts instructor when I was 4 years old and years later, has become one the friends I value most. It was truly great to be able to work with him on this project. Brent Reed is one of the most talented and passionate people I know and I cannot wait to see where his talent takes him in acting. And of course Jessie Hendrickson, I knew she was the perfect woman for this project within seconds of meeting her. Her incredible passion, dedication and can do attitude made the crazy things I asked her to do (like go climb up on top of that super dangerous tall mountain) that much less stressful. She will always be an amazing part of our filmmaking family.”
To accomplish the epic shots seen in the music video, the Fractal Visuals team utilized the Freefly Alta 6, a high-performance cinema drone capable of carrying the payload of the camera. They stabilized the camera with Freefly’s Movi M10.
Hanby explained “I’ve been using gimbals for many years, since initial release, but this was the first project that we had been able to use the Movi M10 for, and it blows every other gimbal system out of the water. The main benefit beyond the incredibly smooth stabilization is the weight, coming in at only 5 lbs.” The team spent two days filming all of the aerial shots surrounding the mountain. “We always like pushing boundaries…” Hanby exclaimed, and this shoot was no exception. “I wanted to create a feeling of connection with the Chasers because their pursuit is something we all face.” To do this Hanby directed his team to follow the Chasers closely for many of the shots. “Being in the desert, using a traditional chase vehicle would not be possible as the dust being kicked up by driving 15 – 20 mph while chasing the actors as they sprint would contaminate the shot in a way that we didn’t want,” Andrew Fellers, Director of Aerial Logistics, explained. “Instead we opted for the use of a drone to chase the actors. Using the drone came with its own set of challenges, mainly keeping up with the speed of the runners, while also maintaining a height that would keep them properly framed through the direction of the shot.”
Fellers ended up flying the drone around 3 feet above the ground for distances that stretched a good 300 – 500 feet. “These shots were incredibly challenging and intense because the terrain was somewhat uneven and one mistake would have resulted in the gimbal being caught by the ground, and crashing a $58,000 camera rig,” Fellers added. In the end, the flights were successful and the resulting footage is stunning.
Michael Castoro, the Director of Photography, explained “From a cinematographic aspect, I wanted to make something beautiful that would suck you in and not let go until the end faded to black.” Hanby followed up by saying “Because of the dynamic motion of the shots, I felt it was important to give the audience as much perspective in relation to the surrounding landscape as possible. We focused on wider shots, with the closest ever being a medium shot and that was only when climbing the mountain.”
“We love lens flares, and for this video, they added a mystical dimension that was great, but the downside is sometimes they can ruin the exposure of the image. With the RED, this was not a concern because of the incredibly high dynamic range and detail preservation even when going into the brightest flares, which in our case was filming directly into the sun at sunrise. Also, because of the high speeds of the drone and a desire for maximum flexibility in post, we filmed everything at 100fps. No other camera can do that and deliver such a high-resolution image.”
After finishing filming in the desert, the Fractal Visuals team headed back to their headquarters in Austin, Texas, and began an intense set of visual effects creation for the video. Hanby described one of the coolest VFX shots: “There were a few epic shots that just weren’t possible on location due to safety issues of being that high up in the air. The main shot I wanted to create was the epic jump similar to the one in Frank Miller’s 300 directed by Zack Snyder.”
The team built a 16-foot tall wall and filmed the actors jumping a seemingly unreachable height to grab onto a tiny ledge. Hanby glowed while saying “It’s crazy to think that one 2 second shot would take an entire shoot day, and a week of prep time, but the results are totally worth it.”
The next challenge the team faced was the smoke. “One of the key story points of the film was the smoke chasing the actors representing the pain and suffering that always drags us down. I would have loved to create it practically, but the smoke machines would have needed to be huge and returning the desert running area back to normal after every take, removing tire tracks from the smoke truck, etc. would have extended our shoot time incredibly. Instead, I opted to use fluid simulations in Maya. I had never worked with fluid before so I enlisted the help of Ben Bays, instructor at the University of Texas at Austin and VFX professional.”
Bays helped Fractal Visuals by setting up an Amazon cloud server render farm, which rendered the ultra high-resolution 6k smoke. “In total, we spent about two weeks making the smoke look the way we wanted, and the final render took around three days for the server farm to render. To put it in perspective, it would’ve taken a new iMac a good 45 days of nonstop rendering to accomplish the same thing, which is ridiculous,” Hanby exclaimed.
After the smoke was done the team began working on final compositing, a task that took another two weeks to finish. The team used Adobe’s creative suite for all compositing and editing. “The dynamic link feature in Adobe’s product suite is incredible when working with RED’s R3D files, and has allowed a seamless workflow between After Effects and Premiere Pro. “We were able to make edits in software and have them appear in the other instantly, and with such a high level of special effects on this project, the time savings of not having to go back and forth between programs and exports saved us weeks in post.”
For coloring the project, Fractal Visuals used Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. The sophisticated selection of colors and recoloring of terrain elements made the color for this music video a difficult task. Hanby added “I am a huge fan of Resolve and have been using it for years. The amount of flexibility it offers and the simplicity of the interface enabled even these extremely difficult color grades to go off without a hitch, which is great. I had a very specific grade in mind for this project with the hyper orange sands of the desert and cold blue sky being utilized to deliver an increased level of separation between the two planes of existence between the Chasers and those on top of the mountain.”
After 6 months of incredibly intensive work, Fractal Visuals was so happy to be able to release this video to the public and hopes to share their creative vision for the song with the world. This production would not be made possible without the talent of our wonderful cast and crew, and the constant support of friends and family. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without these incredible people,” Hanby concludes.
Hanby graduated top of Radio Television Film Department on May 19, 2017 from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S., in just 3 years. Hanby added, “Fractal Visuals has grown so fast over the course of the last year that I have no idea where I will be 5 years from now, but I can guarantee I’ll still be pursuing my passion of creating inspirational, emotionally moving, and captivating content for bands and businesses around the world. And there may be one or two feature films in there as well…”
Enjoy the video! (You can also see it on Youtube here https://youtu.be/73yylx3ES_U)