Filmmaker Stefano Pasotti Explains Getting Brilliant In-Camera Effects for 'Ex Nihilo'
“Ex nihilo” is a Latin phrase, meaning “out of nothing,” which is interesting considering that it’s the title of Italian filmmaker and founder of production studio Medhelan Movies, Stefano Pasotti’s spectacular Ex Nihilo: The Girl Who Dresses the Universe – which, if you’ve seen it you’d know, definitely didn’t come from nothing. Pasotti shared with NFS the steps he took to obtain these incredible in-camera effects, including gear, camera settings, and the use of blacklights and special makeup. Continue on to learn exactly how Pasotti and his team pulled it off.
First of all, you just have to take a look at this video. At first, the brilliant lights seems extraterrestrial, until the form of a human face begins to appear — and then V starts crying like an idiot. (I really did.)
Pasotti first got the idea of Ex Nihilo when he was researching the use of blacklights and makeup; the effect reminded him of galaxies and stars. He was intrigued that, though people applied this technique in photography, he couldn’t find anyone who has tried capturing it on video.
I really didn’t know how possible it was to film blacklight makeup, so I decided to give it a shot and purchased a blacklight bulb and makeup. I contacted 2 MUA I already worked with and told them I had this idea of a girl dressed with stars, which was the very first thing that popped to my mind when I was mentally giving motion to those glowing colors.
And, as Pasotti came to find, achieving the effect in-camera was possible, by using a Canon 7D and C500, Zeiss CP.2, a Lensbaby Control Freak and Macro Lens Kit (and blacklights and body paint, of course.)
It was a very, very weak light so I really had to pump the ISO of my 7D, but the clips were perfect straight out of the camera. No need to alter colors or enhance anything, which was shocking for me being a post-production geek. The only issue was the grain, but I solved this problem by renting a C500 for its great low light.
The Canon C500 with its great low light capability to get the most noiseless picture possible, even if all clips were ranged between 2,500 and 3,200 ISO with an aperture of T2.1 for the CP.2 and f2.8 for the Lensbaby. Clips shot in C-log turned out pretty clean and I had to make few de-noise passes to make certain shots really “shine”.
He also used the Control Freak in a creative way. He wanted to slowly reveal the lights and colors to be a human, so using the Control Freak, he was able to isolate areas of the frame, putting them in focus, while blurring and defocusing others to keep what he wanted “hidden.”
First her pure shapeless essence like paint strokes fill the screen, then gathering together they start forming a being of another nature with human
features. So the very beginning shows the creation of the universe in an abstract way, and using a Lensbaby I was able to hide the human features of the model by manipulating the bokeh.
The makeup they used is specially made to glow under a blacklight. The model, Elisa Spinelli, was painted completely black first, and then painted with the blacklight body paint in a process that took about an hour to complete.
If someone looks at this makeup under a non-blacklight source it will look like common makeup, that means the whole application had to be only with blacklight bulbs. After 15 minutes it starts to be very sickening staring at the light the bulb emits. Plus the bulb overheated every 30 minutes, but that was a nice excuse to take a break and enjoy daylight.
Pasotti opted to use a single blacklight bulb on a portable hand lamp, because the portability allowed him to move around, and the single light source gave him great shadows. If you noticed another light in the video, a very bright white light, that would be the flashlight from an iPhone, which Pasotti says was “weak enough to match the overall light intensity in the scene.” He also used a vari-star filter in front of the lens to “get those strikes out of the iPhone flashlight.”
As he touched on earlier, Pasotti did very little in post, in terms of color correction or grading. Using Premiere Pro CS6, he says that all he had to do was slow down some footage and desaturate the colors to resemble “how we see a night sky in pitch black.” There is some CGI in the video — the 3D earth in the final shot, which was created in Maya and rendered with V-Ray, but he says that is the only effect created outside of the camera in post.
And, just as Ex Nihilo is lovely, so too is the lesson its filmmaker learned from the experience:
What I really want so say aloud is that in-camera work still has a lot of potential even with all this powerful technologies that surround us, and I worship technology. This experience taught me that sometimes we have to change our favorite “brush” with another one to really understand it and use it better with its pros, cons and quirkiness. Now I look at post-production in whole different way.
Perhaps that can be a powerful takeaway for filmmakers who watch Pasotti’s film. We spend a lot of time focusing on the gear we have, the gear we don’t have — technical capabilities and inadequacies, but honestly — we’re creatives, and what we do is create. We have had so many tools at our disposal, especially today with our incredible technological advances, but imagine what we’ve done with a bit of graphite, a block of marble, a length of film.
It’s about making do with what you have in order to create something you love. It’s having the power of the cosmos in our hands, but still being able to make something out of nothing.
Thanks to Stefano Pasotti for talking with us about his process.
What do you think of Ex Nihilo? What inventive ways could you use similar techniques, or do you have any that you’d like to share?