Evaluating Ever Decreasing Circles

Stills from Ever Decreasing Circles

With Ever Decreasing Circles, I wanted to create a film that touches on the theme of “man’s impact on the environment” through distorted, abstract imagery that represents the constant change of our surroundings.

By contrasting three rural and three urban landscapes, I have tried to highlight both their differences and their similarities. Although each location is distinct from one another, the use of the concentric circle motif reinforces the idea that they are all from the same world. This is subtly emphasised by the rotation of the frame, which occurs over the course of the film, referencing the turning of the Earth on its axis. The way the circles interlock is also reminiscent of the human eye; it’s as if the audience is journeying through our perception of the world around us. Each landscape remains in the frame from its introduction through to the end of the film, highlighting that they can all happily co-exist.

Each environment is linked in a way that I feel has created a natural, gradual progression from rural to urban. The camera eases backwards as we are guided, at first, through peaceful, natural scenery, before it is disturbed halfway through by the cars and the hustle and bustle of the city, which infiltrates the third scene, the moorland, and then dominates the rest of the film, the engine noises increasing in intensity as the film ends with a barren landscape underneath a dual carriageway. At first, I had the camera zooming into the circles, but I feel it works much better with it zooming out because the audience does not know what to expect when each new location engulfs the frame. While I intended each location to be disparate from one another, there are elements that link them together, so that they all have at least one counterpart. The lush forest is mirrored by the cold roundabout; the rippling sea by the still pond; the picture perfect moorland bridge by the deafening motorway. The title is a reference to a common English idiom, which alludes to the idea of going round and round in circles, but never getting anywhere. As well as literally describing the premise of the film, I like the idea that it links in with the constant presence of nature throughout each scenario.

I didn’t just want to do what had been done before. I was keen to avoid simplistic imagery, obvious landmarks and to give a fresh perspective on some familiar, archetypal landscapes. I also wanted to further my knowledge of 360 degree cinema, as I had experimented with it during a couple of video rigs workshops at uni, and I felt I could do something really visually striking with the format.

Each 360 degree shot was taken using a 4K JVC camera and a conical mirror lens attachment, on loan from ICCI at uni. Due to the camera having a faulty battery, setting it up required an additional 12v battery to power it, which made it harder to easily reposition the camera. To make matters worse, adjusting the focus usually requires a computer monitor, powered by the external battery I was already using, so I had to approximate the focus settings each time, with varying results. The camera recorded the four corners of the image onto separate SD cards, which I then had to composite in After Effects to create the “donuts” I used in the finished film.

The fisheye effect inherent with un-stretched 360 degree footage allows the audience to see each landscape in a new light. Making the everyday and mundane look surreal and bold, it compresses an entire landscape into one spherical image, giving a sense, especially in the landscapes where a lot of sky is visible, that an entire world has been represented in one frame.

I would not say that one particular piece of work has inspired mine, but like a lot of my work, it has been informed subconsciously by the media I consume. Quite a few people have noted a similarity between the fisheyed distortion and Google Maps’ Street View. Very recently, Google has introduced a new tool that allows you to create your own Street View panorama; this is something I may use to present this work as a 360 piece. The effect of taking the finished film, rather than the individual layers, and unstretching it into a panorama could produce some very unusual results. Another influence was the website for the 2010 James Bond game Blood Stone, which, as it’s background, features a continuous zoom through different gaps and tears in the image, beginning with a gunshot hole, which open up to reveal another layer of the sequence.

I also explored François Vogel’s Slippery Grounds film, which features distorted imagery and the subtler concept that time has been the cause. The way Vogel combines a range of different techniques with a saturated colour palette gives the film a very otherworldly atmosphere.

The film’s diegetic soundscape was all recorded with the camera as I shot each scene. I edited the audio so that as the viewer enters each setting, the sounds from them fade in and increase in volume. Like the visuals, the sounds from each scene remain throughout the film, but get muffled by the traffic during the latter half. The bird sounds though are particularly prominent towards the end; this was a deliberate decision in order to echo the film’s opening, to suggest that what was present in the natural environment remains in the urban one.

For the music, I chose the song Signal the Captain by American electronic musician Of Porcelain. I really like the way the track builds over the course of the film, just as the circles do, starting with the basic piano and then introducing synthetic elements, yet remaining very simple.

Overall, I am very happy with the finished film, especially considering the short turnaround of roughly 3 weeks. It is quite different from the work I have done in the past, being more deliberately paced and observational.

I think the film is visually very distinctive; the contrast between the rural and urban scenes is clear. The colours in the beach scene in particular are very rich and vibrant, and I am pleased I have been able to elevate what could have been very dull, washed out images, by filming at specific times of day to get the best possible results. It would have been preferable, however, to have filmed another shot of the forest earlier in the day, to get a clearer spread of light through the trees. Although the urban shots are more muted, I like how the crispness of the final shot suggests there is still natural life within those environments.

Due to the way I set up the zoom out effect, it was down to chance as to what would be in the frame at any given moment; I particularly like the way the cars on the roundabout are revealed at the same moment the single car drives through the moorland, acting as a transitionary moment in the film, the bridge between the rural and urban locales. However, there are a few moments that are unfortunately skipped over or hard to discern, including a great moment where the sea water splashes against the rocks in the beach shot.

The imagery I have used here was originally designed to feature in a panoramic experience, combining live action landscapes with animated wildlife. I hope to eventually get around to reworking the footage so that it can be presented on this site as a 360 degree panorama.

Watch the film on it’s portfolio page.

Pendulum rig

A couple of months ago, I worked on this simple camera rig at uni.

It’s two pieces of wood bolted together so that the longer one can swing at 360 degree rotations. On the end is a hole for a GoPro HERO3+ to be attached. By combining three of the mounts that come with the cameras, we were able to adjust the camera angle any way we wanted, giving us left, right, forward and backward movements.

Here’s the footage I shot with it around Plymouth:

It’s not come out perfectly. There’s no full rotations, a lot of motion blur (even with the camera set to 120fps!), and the interior scene at the end was a stairwell, but the rig wasn’t sticking out far enough to get it in shot!

Still, I really like the different perspectives you can get with the rig and I’ll use it again one day. The distortion of the everyday is something I continued in my latest film, Ever Decreasing Circles, which I’m going to post on here in the next few hours!