Description image

RED EPIC Footage Dubbed to VHS and Back? Hip Hop Music Video Blends Old with New

11.17.12 @ 4:27PM Tags : , , , ,

I may be alone in this, but I often wonder about pretty wild and crazy sorts of technical things (many times involving VHS tape — don’t ask :). For instance, I’d be curious to see how RED holds up transferred to that good old home video workhorse format, or maybe how VHS-shot footage looks blown up to HD or even 4K (I may or may not be joking about that). I simply have a fascination with this type of thing, and as such, I was very excited about this find! Director David M. Helman has overseen the creation of a Joey Bada$$ (with Chuck Strangers) music video which blends RED footage that was dubbed to VHS, recaptured, stretched, then composited back over the original shots — creating a time-bending nostalgic-but-new feel. Read on to watch the video, and see what this stuff looks like!

Before you watch, be aware that this is NSFW language in this video — furthermore, if you’re not a fan of hip-hop, chances are, you won’t dig the song at all, either — but even if you may find some things about the musical content a little offensive, I think the piece itself can be separately appreciated for its aesthetic:

Helman discussed the motivation for this process in an interview with Video Static:

Joey is clearly influenced by the ’90s boom bap style, so when I was digging around for ideas, I started looking at old Wu-Tang and Gang Starr videos on YoutTube. I was inspired by the nostalgia I felt when watching these VHS recorded videos that somebody uploaded to the internet… But I really didn’t want this to just be a novelty / nostalgia piece… That’s where I chose to keep it widescreen and how we ultimately came up with rotoscoping Joey & Chuck. I knew I didn’t want to use an After Effects plugin, or create the analog aesthetic in post, because it just looks terrible.

Helman then enlisted the help of friend and VFX artist Andrew Finch. Upon picking his brain, a workflow was devised to accomplish the footage’s trip to and from the analog world. HD versions of the footage were transferred through a capture card, itself outputting right into a VCR (or “VHS player” to some of the younger generation), then those tapes were recaptured back into the digital domain. The method of upconversion of the recaptured footage isn’t clear, but it may simply have been scaled in After Effects — which the team also used to stretch the 4:3 frame back to 16:9 to match the source footage. The vital rotoscoping steps were then completed in After Effects as well, masking out all but the desired part of the frame (usually, a single moving subject), plus feathering for seamless integration, to reveal the VHS layer beneath.

A reddit thread on the subject revealed that this process made the production’s lifespan take about 3 months of work. Some of the commenters there don’t seem to appreciate the execution of an undoubtedly interesting idea, but I disagree — I think the results are totally fascinating, and represent a creative convergence of the aesthetic which lo-fi dinosaur formats create with the hyper-present clarity and quality of modern acquisition systems. All of which sounds like tech-talk, but I think this a great example of the marriage that tech and art can have with each other. The tools are subservient to the tale and its mood or style — but can reinforce or even create the style with the right choice (and perhaps a bit of elbow-grease in post)!

Did you guys find this to be as interesting — not to mention just-plain-cool — as I did? What sort of potential do you think this type of thinking has for inventing new ways to texturize the frame, or embody a mood via aesthetic? What other examples can you think of for choices like this, and do you feel that this case was more justified than some of those?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 55 COMMENTS

  • I love this, almost as much as the chase and status video:

    Not as technically clever, but great attention to vintage detail. this may be lost on folks outside Europe.

  • That was cool. I don’t like the music or that style of rap to the camera music video but the effect is amazing.
    Really innovative and clever. Only wish I had thought of it first!

  • That whole reddit thing shows how a lot people don’t care about concepts and ideas anymore, but rather “why did you use a $40,000 camera that I don’t have, only ruin the footage because I could make better use of it” type thing.

    • yeah. this kind of humans should be tied to a chair and then watch derek jarman movies for 24h! :D starting with Blue and ending with Caravaggio! :D

  • Amazing track, never heard of him before, thanks.

  • That is just bad ass. Nothing else to say about it.

  • I like real vhs and film defects.

    fake digital film/video effects & plugins = lame and cheesy.

    but then again, most people can’t tell the difference.

  • Thanks for sharing this Dave.

  • this is great. I wonder how I could transfer some footage to some old hi8 tapes and then back again! oh the possibilities :-D ha ha alluding to your future of dslr article earlier it would be funny if we all started going back to 4:3 SD video aesthetic lol!

  • Similar techniques are quite common in music productions where they often play lines from digital synths or similar through speakers or amplifiers, and record that signal again to add some mojo to it.

  • Jeff Akwante on 11.17.12 @ 6:36PM

    This guy has no respect for women or country.

  • Amazing throwback to some real old school hiphop. I love it.

  • I really like the concept and the video. It would be great to explore this concept further.

  • What is it these days that everybody buys hugely expensive, high specced cameras capable of incredible clarity, dynamic range etc then post processes the footage to make it look like footage shot and delivered on low spec technology of yesteryear – all in the name of the “retro” look? It’s a bit like applying heaps of make-up to get the “natural” look.
    Just like in the fashion industry I suppose this fad will pass and hopefully people will focus more on exploring the true capabilities of video and what makes video unique instead of trying to make it look the same as old film – if you want it to look like film, use film.

    • “If you want it to look like film, use film.”
      Alternatively, if you want it to have an interesting and unique look, do something like this and ignore haters.

    • “if you want it to look like film, use film.”

      in painting you have realism, hype-realism, surrealism, expressionism, impressionism, fauveism, cubism, minimalism, baroque, , abstract, etc, etc, etc and etc… different kinds of rendering for different views and feelings… i think vids like this are a proof that today cinematography has virtually all the freedom a painter has. But I may be wrong. :)

      also the rotoscopy idea to blend high-res with low-res in the artist image is clever and visually it is a (harmonic) punch in the eyes!

      • @ guto novo – you make some good points there, perhaps this was not the best example to choose as it does indeed take one small step sideways in technique (combining hi and lo res footage) and as far as painters go, well they most assuredly don’t have the amount of freedoms that digital artists have, being somewhat limited by their materials (paint and whatever it’s used on). My point still remains: for the last few years many or most digital cinema makers (of all levels of expertise) have been trying to emulate film rather than explore that which makes digital video unique – I’m not saying I have the answer, far from it. As an old fart I suppose I have seen the “retro” years in their original form and know that most back then yearned for what we have now – clean, clear images – thus my comment on the use of filters, techniques to make contemporary video look old.

        • Dave Kendricken on 11.18.12 @ 1:09AM

          Thanks for the thoughts John. I agree, in that nothing can ever truly, 100% accurately emulate any other format, and I think that’s why each one is unique. I do think, though, that mixing and matching (even at some pains to the artist) allows for new avenues of creativity. Never will RED footage, even that dubbed to VHS tape, look like original VHS-shot footage, but I see this disparity as a beauty unto itself. “RED-to-VHS” can now be considered its own format! Sub-formats could even be created depending on what capture card / VCR you use, though of course this going pretty far, and that may be it’s own story. I do truly understand what you mean though, that no format can ever outright replace another.

        • ” well they most assuredly don’t have the amount of freedoms that digital artists have, being somewhat limited by their materials (paint and whatever it’s used on).”

          here i have to disagree with you. if you can think you can put in a paper. The possibilities to a pencil and a blank paper are endless. Think Escher for example. That is full freedom in visual art. I studied painting since i was a kid, so by experience, all i can think or conceptualize i can put in a paper too, from forms to suggestion of motion. That´s total freedom for me too. :)

          ” most digital cinema makers (of all levels of expertise) have been trying to emulate film rather than explore that which makes digital video unique – I’m not saying I have the answer, far from it. ”

          you are right in your perspective about the subject. We take film as the golden rule, as a reference, since audiovisual storytelling has in cinema its higher form. And maybe it´s wrong, as you said, better to use film if you want a film look, sure.

          now, in the case of this particular video, it´s a clever use of old technology with a new one, don´t you think?

          If the idea was to have a full VHS look, to shoot with a vhs camera would be the no brain decision… but the idea of mixing low-res with high-res is genius stuff as i see from my reality tunnel! :) Since I´m working into a narrative film I´ll shoot neext yr. I can see me using the same concept for the dream sequences in the story! I´m in love with this vid! :D

  • Thanks for posting this – I definitely like!

  • That was a trip! Man, sent me back to childhood. Now I know what to do if I want that good ‘ole-timey’ feel.

  • Great look. I’m all for messing around like this, sounds like a heck of a lot of work though.

  • I like , good stuff , thanks for post!!!!!!!!

  • not a fan of the video, but I highly respect the work, technical and creative, that went into this. i *only* wish the director did a little more with it; maybe an underlying narrative, or a trip through memory lane…to me it felt like a 10-second idea stretched out over 4 minutes.

    i can’t wait to see who uses this technique next and see what they accomplish with it!

  • Nice effect, yo

  • I love it, it really matches the track perfectly, which feels 20 years but at the same time, modern. It looks great, the rotoscoping is seamless. What’s also good is that the effect’s actually almost subtle, because it’s real (compared to slapping filters on footage which is so easy to overdo). Really really cool!

  • This is a great video. I met someone who shot Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers and they did the same except with Flip video cameras. Its a great effect that I would love to do one day.

  • shaun wilson on 11.18.12 @ 8:26AM

    Really like the concept, nice roto job too.

  • Go Brooklyn, go Brooklyn!

  • Dennis Simons on 11.18.12 @ 2:48PM

    I think it looks amazing. In some shots though the difference is so obvious that it looks recorded in front of a green screen.

  • Absolutely loved it.

  • Holy crap this is done so well. I can see exactly how they were influenced by the old 90′s style and masking the high res footage of the person rhyming, layered on top of the VHS footage was a bit of genius. I miss hip hop like this, which doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Kahl i agree, good video , good concept, wish i would have thought of it first

      As far as all of the hate comments about the process dubbing to VHS with a high end camera/technology hey “IT IS WHAT IT IS” , at the end of the day, they have people talking and brought attention not only to themselves but also a nicely done video that will be talked about for awhile

      Good stuff Dave, thanks for sharing , This should be on VH1 in the morning for the visual effect alone

    • “I miss hip hop like this…”
      Totally agree!

  • To me this resembles the process of focussing the eye by re-lighting in a grade – or in fact using shallow depth of field to focus the eye. That’s why it’s inventive and smart and simply down-converting the whole video to VHS is not.

    Earlier today I read a comment where someone referred to parallel editing as a ‘mashup’ :-) I suspect a lot of people use ‘old school’ in the same way, without realising it means something specific.

    If you like this, Showbiz & AG recently put a new album out – including a free album before the album:

  • Same technique, better use

  • I love the concept, and the integration of VHS. However, Lars von Trier did that years ago with film-to-tape-to-film for Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark.

  • Pete Harper on 11.25.12 @ 4:49AM

    Interesting idea but didn’t work for me – at best it looked like some dodgy greenscreening, at worst it had the same distracting effect as overly shallow DoP for me.

  • meh

  • I think it’s a cool way to blend two technologies. I didn’t watch all of it, to be truthful, but I thought the bit of it I did see was visually interesting. Save for that annoying trope of internet music videos where the director needs to feel he or she is directing a movie. God I hate that.

  • Trygve Trangmyr on 03.3.14 @ 5:27PM

    Check out this norwegian music video with aliens and toads! Really nice nostalgic VHS-look. Recommended for every VHS-entusiast!