Telescope Filmmakers speak at NAB 2014

We've been lucky enough to do some really exciting High Dynamic Range (also known EDR - Extended Dynamic Range) testing with Telescope at Dolby Labs over the past 6 months.  Dolby has been developing a new display technology that is exceptionally brighter than what we see today.  As a result, images have more contrast, color, and an overall realistic quality to them.  Telescope, having been captured in the highest quality format available at the time, was a perfect candidate to test Dolby's new technology.  For a bit more about what Dolby is up to check out this and this

We were all excited to have the opportunity to share the results this past weekend at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas.  Collin, Matt, and Travis were invited to sit on a panel with Dolby Senior Colorist Rick Taylor as part of the Technology Summit on Cinema.  The panel was moderated by Curtis Clark (ASC Technology Committee Chairman).

 Matt introducing Telescope - moving right Curtis Clark, Collin Davis, Travis LaBella, and Rick Taylor

Matt introducing Telescope - moving right Curtis Clark, Collin Davis, Travis LaBella, and Rick Taylor

The panel was focused on what EDR meant to us as filmmakers and what we would do different given the chance to work with the technology again.  For a good breakdown of the panel, check out this Hollywood Reporter Article that went up earlier this week.  

Overall it was a fantastic experience.  We even got to meet Chivo...


After the panel we had a chance to walk the enormous floor and check out the latest and greatest in digital cinema including Arri's new Amira camera, Blackmagic's Ursa camera, Canon's 4K monitor, and more.  Here's a few more pictures from our visit.

Sound Design - Andrew Walker

When Matt and Collin first approached me about doing sound for Telescope, I immediately said yes.  There is no genre sound designers like better than Sci-Fi, which is essentially a giant playground of lasers and spaceships.  Space flicks have produced some of the best sound design of the past 50 years (see Star Wars and Wall-E for two great, Ben Burtt-filled examples), and unlike a period piece, there is always the chance that you can invent the next trademark sound by recording your dog food.  However, thanks to the great history of the space genre, original sound design is no small challenge.

The first hurdle was was confronting the Sound Designer's Space Conundrum- that, actually, there is no sound in space.  While shooting Matt and Collin an email explaining that I was finished before I even started would have been nice, soundless space has also been done before.  And the vocabulary of sound in movies has already set a precedent for sound that audiences identify with, so I chose to continue the cinematic illusion and open up my toolbox. 

Throughout the production and post-production process, we were constantly refining how the spaceship flight and telescope mechanisms would sound. I was thrown a new challenge, however, when we got the soundtrack music back.  Holy cow, the music!  Zach and Doug really outdid themselves- the music is gorgeous and lush, setting the perfect tone for this film. My main concern became how to get out of the way of this wonderful music.  The synthesizers in the soundtrack demanded a greater portion of the frequency spectrum than even an orchestra would need. So while in the early drafts of the sound design the cockpit was a steady whir of buzzes, hums, and other analog sounds, we later chose to let the music fill that ambient space and instead focus on immediate elements.  

One such effect occurs very early in the film, an ambiguous sound emanating from the husk of the destroyed earth.  We arrived at that sound after discussing the method of "time travel" depicted in the film.  This is a very different type of time travel than we're used to seeing in movies, this idea of traveling faster than the speed of light in order to see images centuries old. I wanted to play with this idea of time.


One of the coolest time-shift tools I used is called "Paulstretch."  This software is best known for making Justin Bieber sound awesome, but in this case, it helped me create some really interesting sound effects for Telescope.   I stretched the recording of a blazing inferno to 50 times its length to create the sound effect you hear during the destroyed earth title sequence.  Incredibly, the fire kept some of its inherent "fieriness" in spite of being so stretched out, inspiring the feeling of destruction "echoing back" through time.  Further playing on the idea of reverberating sound through time, I used Paulstretch again during the lightspeed scenes. I used an alarm clock stretched to 30x or 40x its length as part of the high pitched tone of flying through the black hole.  Paulstretch has a funny way of playing with a sound's harmonics, an effect I used to create this high end sound that is much more smeary and wonderful than your average analog alarm clock.  

Ultimately, the sound of Telescope is, indebted to the sound design vocabulary that emerged from movies like Star Wars, but I think it has also created its own niche within the increasingly crowded sci-fi genre.  The time-shift effects played with in the design, and the referential nature of the music contributes to the film's meditation on nostalgia as a human condition.

Andrew Walker is a sound designer and musician living in New York City. 


Score - Zach Robinson and Doug Kaplan

Music was a huge part of this project.  That being the case, we thought we would toss Doug and Zach, our composers, some clean and honest questions about their process, their inspirations and all other goodness.  Like the score, they hit some serious zones.  See our next post for the FULL SOUNDTRACK.  Enjoy! 


How do you two know each other? How did you start working together? How do your styles compare/contrast and how does that influence your collaborations?

D: I met Zach online before he started school at NU in 2012. I saw a post he made about starting a math rock band in a Northwestern Facebook forum and friended him on the spot. We messaged and stuff, but didn't meet up the first few weeks of school. Later that Fall at a Co-Op party, a kid told me that I looked a lot like Jonah Hill. The lil' rascal was Newman - one of Z Rob's buddies visiting from LA. He introduced me to Zach and then it was instant bud zones 4 lyfe. I had recently started jamming with some buddies and we invited Zach to join our "band". We started playing as The Earth is a Man and had a lot of fun with our friends. 

I think that our styles have a lot of overlap. Zach effortlessly churns epic melodies, whereas I tend to make more atmospheric music. We have a lot of fun working together!

Z: What Doug said.


What do you guys do every day?

D: I'm doing different stuff every day. I work at a record label helping out with distribution, publicity, and general office/warehouse management. I also run another record label with my roommate/bandmate Max called Hausu Mountain. We've been getting ourselves REAL busy with that and have several releases on the docket. 

Z: I work for a film composer full time. We just finished up “Frozen” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” Pretty different from the “Telescope” music!  You can also check out my personal work here.


How did Telescope come about for you?

D: Matt, Collin, and Tish [that's Matt's alter ego] are some of my best buds. I lived with Matt for all 4 years of school and have seen his belly A LOT. They approached me about doing the music for Telescope and I was stoked. I told them that we had to get Zach involved, and the Telescope peeps were mega down - and so was Zach. Dat's how it happened!

Z: I’ll never forget when Doug approached me about Telescope, mostly because he was wearing a zebra unitard. He told me that Matt and Collin were making a short film and were looking for some retro-ness in their soundtrack. I have a musical project called D/A/D which is heavily inspired by the sounds of the 1980s so the pairing seemed natural. After getting off the phone with Matt and Collin, I knew this project was special and couldn’t friggin’ wait to get started on it.


How do you approach the creative process? What was your angle for Telescope? What were you trying to say with the sound?

D: I like to approach things from an improvisatory angle in the studio. 

Z: I work best with visuals and “Telescope” was pretty ripe with amazing and inspirational images to say the least. To sum it up in one sentence, our goal for the soundtrack was to create an emotional score with romantic melodies texturalized by ambient drones, experimental forms, and unfamiliar film score-like sounds, all while harping on the aesthetics of our retro fore fathers (takes a breath)!


Which artists do you draw upon for inspiration? Were there any others for Telescope, specifically?

D: Brian Eno, The Residents, Neu!, La Monte Young, Jerry Garcia, Robert Fripp, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Trey - I could do this forever!

For Telescope, we were trying to channel 70s Kosmische music, 80s new age, and canonical scifi/horror soundtrack synth zones. I found a playlist called *telescope* in ITunes and this is what I put in it : Klaus Schulze, Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Oneohtrix Point Never, Michael Stearns, John Serrie, John Carpenter, Popol Vuh, Golbin, and Vangelis.

Z: I worship Vangelis and Michael Stearns and I was so stoked to be able to pay homage to those homies. Also was listening to a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre during the writing process, and Wendy Carlos too. Retro-futurist art always inspires me with this stuff as well.


Were there any challenges that came with doing the score? 

D: I had to ship my Moog Voyager to and from LA. That was kind of a nightmare, but I pack a pretty mean box, so everything was A-OK. Also Tish wouldn't rub my back.

Z: The distance was probably the biggest challenge. Doug is in Chicago and I’m in LA along with the rest of the Telescope crew.


How did you achieve the instrumentation/voicing? 

D: We just follow our hearts to get to the tone zone. I wish I could answer this better, but there isn't any sort of method. Zach and I are pretty into synths so we know how to get the sounds we like. 

Z: Early on in the process, Doug and I divvied up the different sounds we were going to develop. Doug excels in creating drones, ambiance, and just insane sounds so he focused a lot on that. I did a lot of exploring into more cinematic synth-material: analog string pads, choir textures, bell patches, etc.

What was your best memory of the process?

D: Writing and recording parts of the score at Collin's apartment. We were sitting there with Matt, Collin and Bodge and they were giving us guidance the whole time. We had a lot of fun!

Zach's step-dad walked in on me scoring music in Zach's bedroom with my headphones on and really startled me! I think I startled him too because he wasn't expecting a bearded goblin in his son's room. That was pretty funny...

Z: Setting up our workstations in Collin’s apartment and just hammering out the score while Collin, Matt, and Eric edited. It was such a cool way to write, being in the same room as the other dudes and feeding off their ideas and energy. It was actually the most productive I’ve ever been when writing a score. Good vibes, good friends, good pizza.


What gear did you use?


D: I used a Moog Voyager and a Critter & Guitarri Pocket Piano GL for synths. I'm a pedal junky and couldn't even tell you all of the stuff that I used for all of the cues. I definitely used my Electro Harmonix Mini Q-Tron (Envelope Filter), Small Stone (Phaser), and Small Clone (chorus), MoogerFooger Ring Modulator, Boss DD-3, and a looper. Zach and I both use Logic as our primary DAW and assembled everything in there.

Z: Tons of sounds came from Doug’s Moog Voyager, including the lead synth in “The Archaeologist” which is my personal favorite. Other synths include Roland JX3P, Korg Poly-800, and Korg Lambda. Also a ton of soft synths, FM8, Arturia’s Jupiter-8V emulator, and even Logic’s ES2.


Can you talk us through the workflow?

Z: A lot of our material came through improvisation, which is not normally how I work but after Telescope I really would like to do more of it. Doug would create a lot of the textural foundations, pads that I could then create melodies or chord patterns over. There were plenty of times where we had to play music editors too. We worked with about four significantly different cuts of the film which sometimes affected the music so much we would have to backtrack and re-write certain parts entirely.


Was it hard to work in different cities?

D: Not one bit. We had already done a score where we passed stuff back and forth through the internet all the time - and that was when we were living near each other. It's always early working with Zach. 

Z: Not too bad when you use the net. The hardest stuff was when I needed to rerecord or fix audio from a synth that Doug had in Chicago.


Do you want to do more film/sound etc.?

D: Sound - yes. Film - only if I get to work with my buds. I never want to work on a film set again...

Z: Forever and always. Can’t wait to work with Dougie Doug again soon!


What's your favorite cue?

D: The Revelation. I think that it's probably the best example of how the two of us overlap. Zach made some wondrous things happen on the synth and I did a bunch of fuckery with choral samples. Fun times! 

Z: “Revelation” for sure. It’s the kind of piece I’ve always wanted to make and I couldn’t be happier with it’s place in the film.


What's your favorite song or whatever?

D: Phish

Z: Whatever.


What tone did you read from the visuals of Telescope?

D: Deep zones


Favorite sci-fi movie?

D: That's tough -- horror and sci-fi are my favorite genres and there's a lot of ambiguity between the two. If a zombie outbreak is caused by scientific research, is it a sci-fi or does the presence of the zombie make it horror only? You see the conundrum -- I'll try to keep away from supernatural driven things for this little list! Some of my favorites are The Thing, Altered States, 2001, The Fly, Tron, Blade Runner, Escape from New York, Fantastic Planet, Speed Racer, Repo Man, La Jetée, Predator, Children of Men, and STAR WARS YO! 

Z: If I honestly had to pick one, JUST ONE, it would be Blade Runner.

Blade Runner.jpg

What's next?

D: I'm working on putting out about 15 releases on my label in the next year. One of the projects we're working on is D/A/D - The Construct (this guy named Zach Robinson). I'm also working on new material for The Big Ship and Good Willsmith. We're going on a little tour in a few weeks to Akron, Ohio to play with some buds. Hopefully lots of fun and some good chillin'. I've also been working on setting up a small experimental music festival in January.

Z: “Telescope” feature.  Imagine this stuff with orchestra.

Cinematography - Travis LaBella

It all started when I was in Guyana. I had just wrapped up a reality show in South America when I heard via email that Matt, Collin, and Eric were moving forward with “Telescope.” I was familiar with the script, and after hearing their ideas and ambitions for the project, I knew it was something I had to be a part of.  In fact, I was first asked to shoot the project years before in film school at Northwestern University, when it was going to be produced for a class project. I think we’re all glad that it wasn’t made then, because this time around we had much more production resources and experience behind us.


The pre-production process started Spring of 2012 and was very thorough. There were a lot of late nights shot-listing the film and being economical about every decision we made, as we had all of 2 full shooting days to shoot the movie. We assembled an incredibly capable crew that was part of the conversation very early on, with Production Designer Molly Burgess heading up the ship construction, and Gaffer Jonathan Mahoney heading up the lighting team.  From the beginning, Matt and Collin had a clear vision for the interior look of the spaceship – they wanted the lighting to feel practical, and although we were going to build a lighting grid above the set, the goal was to make the light look as naturalistic as possible. A big part of that look came from the set design, as we only utilized functional set pieces that had unique lighting features and buttons. We built the lighting around these set pieces, accenting then with ellipsoidals from above, and overall keeping the light levels pretty low to maintain the glow of the set pieces. The Sony F65 proved to be an ideal camera for many reasons, but a big part of it was its low light capability and native 800 ASA.  As for glass, we used almost exclusively zoom lenses, partially because a bunch of the shots involved zooms, but also for efficiency and speed on set. Our go-to lens was the Fujinon 18-80 Alura Zoom, and we were often around a T2.8 inside the ship.


One of the most challenging yet rewarding decisions we made was to practically project everything you see outside the bubble of the ship on set, through a massive 16’ x 9’ rear projection screen. We knew we’d already have a ton of VFX shots to tackle in post, such as the horizontal green screen monitor in front of our main character, so the practical rear projection saved us a ton of time on the back end, but also added a visual element that I don’t think we would have been able to achieve otherwise. For the wildly vibrant shots of our character going through the extreme ‘light speed’ sequences, we ended up shining the projector light right onto our main character (sans projection screen) through an array of flags and nets, which ended up giving us the best look versus simulating those colors through traditional lighting methods. We also ended up using this projector screen for the some of the green screen work, where we needed to simulate different nebulas and other space elements in the bubble’s reflection, as well as the character.

Wes Ball, who was our lead VFX artist for all the ship exteriors, also headed up designing the ‘warp speed’ and other looks you see in the rear projection.  We further integrated these looks into the set and story by having them change throughout the shot. For instance, when Bello zooms in the telescope, we tilt up mid-shot and see the rear projection video change accordingly.


Another element of the set that ended up being an integral part of the look of the ship was the LED ring around the ship’s bubble. Our big reveal of the front interior of the ship was the dolly in from behind our character, and I was looking for some kind of practical lighting element to bring focus to the window that our character had to space. I decided on a daylight-balanced LED ring, and as a bonus, it had a wireless remote so we could easily control it right next to the monitor on set. At some point in the pre-production process, the LED ring also became part of the ship’s functionality, as it turns on and off when the main character is “recording” through the telescope.

The spaceship set becomes a very dynamic environment throughout the short, and we needed to build out the overhead lighting to match the rest of the ship going through ‘light speed,’ as well as simulating the power going out completely, so we kept all the lights on dimmers to be controllable as possible. We were shooting 4K RAW on the F65, but I balanced the camera on-set to 4300K, to be somewhere in the middle of all the daylight, tungsten, and mixed sources we had throughout the ship. A variety of Kino Flo “Bar fly” lights and Chimera soft boxes rounded out the rest of the ellipsoidal lighting in the ship.


We ended up wrapping our spaceship set and striking it by Sunday evening of the shooting weekend, in a huge part thanks to Producer Kris Eber and the Soapbox Films team, who set us up for success. We shot additional footage of certain elements the following weekend, such as the slow motion elements of the watch and our lead character, which were shot around 1,000 frames per second on the Phantom Flex camera.  Other plates and exterior pickups were shot on the RED Epic, so in the end, the film is a fusion of many different camera formats, but Al Arnold at Fotokem was instrumental in bringing it all together in DI. This project was truly a team effort, from everything from the set build to the extensive VFX work, and I think we’re all happy with the final result.