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How to Film Slow Motion Ink Clouds in Water

Yesterday we teamed up with director Mai Yongxi again, this time to play with some water and ink as we helped promote the Breaking Arts Festival here in Guangzhou.

The concept for this project was a little bit outside-the-box, but those tend to be the most fun to work on. I enjoy a good challenge and some problem-solving. This film consisted of 3 dancers, each representing a different character: a Buddhist monk, a Chinese Kung-fu master, and a ghost.

The idea was to portray a movement through time and medium, and for the change in the appearance of each character to emphasize this movement. Of course, the fact that they are dancing is also emphasizing movement.

The final cut of the promo is black and white, with the only colored elements being the transcendent blue ink that moves in and out of the scenes.

The entire project was shot at a high frame rate for slow motion. We encountered a pretty bad flickering problem on some of our playback, especially when we got up to 200fps and higher. After about an hour of troubleshooting, we finally realized the power in the building wasn't stable. Welcome to shooting in China.

For the shots that needed to be super-fast we pulled the plugs on the big lights and re-exposed our Red Epic for smaller, battery-powered LED lights. Not my personal go-to, but thank God for today's camera sensor technology that can handle high frame rates in relatively low light.

filming ink drops at high speed (in a bathroom)

Just a few years ago if we wanted to get this shot at 200fps on film, we would be talking multiple 10,000+ watt lights and no way of seeing any sort of flicker until it was too late!

Because each take required dumping out the water in the tank and re-filling it, we decided it would be the least messy if we just set up in the bathroom.

We set our water tank (a glass flower vase) on a table and blew out the background with a back-lit white diffusor. Our art director used an eye dropper to let the ink fall into the water.

After a few takes we decided to turn the camera on its side at a 90 degree angle, so that in playback the ink dropped into the frame horizontally, right-to-left.

The end result can be seen from 0:09 - 0:13 in the full promo video. We shot the dancing scenes on a green screen stage that same afternoon:

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