Recently, we were introduced to Digieffects customer, Julian Bleecker; photographer, digital media artist and founder of Hello, Skater Girl. We were so mesmerized by the imagery he created, capturing women skaters competing in the gritty backdrop of skate parks all over the US; we wanted to meet him and learn more about him and how he creates his art.
Digieffects (DE): Can you tell us a little about HelloSkaterGirl, and about yourself?
Julian Bleecker (JB): I moved to Venice Beach California awhile ago and wanted to get to know the history and culture of where I was living. I'm an over-enthusiastic amateur photographer. A camera and a lens provides a decent way for me to ask questions about where I am and who I'm around in an indirect way, which is comfortable for me. I stared shooting in the Venice Beach Skatepark because I knew that place was a dog-eared page of the story that is this beach town — the history of this place passes straight through surf-skate life and culture. It was an amazing visual-anthropology to shoot there and get to know all the wonderful and curious people and their stories about skating and the Westside — Dogtown, Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey. I became a bit obsessed with capturing as many facets of the life as possible. Almost by accident, I found myself traveling to shoot with skaters and at competitions all around the country.
I got to shoot at X-Games 16, which was amazing and daunting to be up close to incredible skaters. Towards the end of a long, hot, sweaty day of shooting and lugging around gear and being humbled by the other professional photographers, I went into the air conditioned Nokia Theater to cool down. The Women's Vert Ramp Competition was on. I hadn't even thought once about shooting any of the women's events. Why not? It's not an excuse, but I can only surmise that the bias of a year of shooting men unconsciously led me to ignore women skaters. Not shooting with women wasn't a choice so much as a result of the familiar systemic issue that skateboarding is for guys.
That day was an eye opener. The women were bringing heat. This was real competition. Plenty of thrills. Lots of air. They were 110% sporty. Competitive while also encouraging and supporting one another.
That event was the start of this project. Through the Hello, Skater Girl project I hoped to distinguish what these sportswomen are doing without fetishizing the fact that they are women in a sportsman's game. Rather that they are women skating like women. I hope that these images in the book show a bit of that and their spirit and personalities.
But, I don't do this full-time, although sometimes it seems so. I'm normally a designer and technology guy. I work in the Advanced Design studio for Nokia here in Los Angeles and I run a design and innovation studio called The Near Future Laboratory where we figure out what could be, even if it's really weird.
DE: What camera equipment and software was used?
JB: I'm a Nikon boy by birth. I have a bunch of bodies from a D3S to an N90S. The lenses run the gamut, but mostly I shoot with the wider ones — 14mm/2.8, 16mm/2.8, 20mm/2.8, 24mm/1.4, but I usually keep my old trusty 85mm/1.8 handy. My go-to lens for the skateboard work has been the 24mm/1.4. I've been trying to perfect shooting it nearly wide open with an nearly black-out neutral density filter to let me keep it open in bright sun. The bokeh you can get with these conditions and a bit of luck makes the photography more portrait-like, which is an aesthetic I've been going for. The hyperfocal on wider lenses or slower lenses makes the images lack depth and look quite flat, in my opinion.
On the software side, I use ImageIngester and Photo Mechanic for the ingestion and pre-processing and then Adobe Lightroom and a big RAID array for cataloging and managing photos. The workflow feels medieval. Someone is really going to put sort this digital asset management thing and make it all work nicely. Right now it's harder than it needs to be. All the VFX work is done in AfterEffects and Final Cut.
DE: How much time is spent in post and VFX?
JB: I tend not to fuss too much with the images, although the spontaneity of the subject and the fact that its not studio photography means that the light isn't always spot-on. You're basically trying to take photos of very excited squirrels running all over the place and so you never really know what the light is going to do to you — clouds move, the sun moves, sometimes you shoot into it, sometimes its oblique to you. So it helps to capture images with lots of latitude for some corrections between very dark darks and very bright brights.
I use Nik Software's tools to help with that sort of thing, especially their Viveza tool. When I find an image I want to use, I tend to spend a bit of time with it. And, if I'm using it for one of still life with motion animations, I'll spend anywhere from an hour to a couple of days working with it. Mechanically the DigiEffects Camera Mapper effect makes it easy to setup the animation. Actually getting an animation and camera move that's satisfying can take as long as you want.
DE: There are some really nice color and VFX treatments to your work. Which Digieffects products do you use and how did they assist the process?
JB: I used Camera Mapper for all the animations. That was the core tool for the animations. The Buena Depth Cue suite is great to work with. Although most of the depth effects I created in camera, things like the Depth tool allowed me to enhance the aesthetic I was looking in a couple of the animations with very few hassles.
DE: What features of the products did you most take advantage of?
JB: Camera Mapper makes it relatively easy to get a great alternative to the tired Ken Burns pan-and-zoom for still images. I mean — I'm trying to use still images in a very time-based media world. It was a challenge to figure out what to do and once I saw that sort of effect in films like The Kid Stays in the Picture and Riding Giants. Camera Mapper and animating camera moves that reveal parallax is a really exciting alternative to 3D that is more authentic to photography in a video format.
DE: Can you talk about any particular challenge or frustration that Digieffects helped with?
JB: It took me several tries to figure out how to make Camera Mapper work. I think I wasn't thinking visually and just following the steps as I understood them in the tutorials. I think I'll do my own tutorial. The moves I'm doing are quite simple visually so I think a tutorial would explain the basic principles simply. Camera Mapper set me up to focus on what and how I wanted to animate stills. After doing it many, many times I can imagine how I could do it without the plug-in — but it greatly simplifies the workflow.
You can see more of Julian’s work on his web site here: http://helloskatergirl.com Or check out his Vimeo page here to see more stunning videos created with Digieffects: http://vimeo.com/helloskatergirl
Julian is also working on a new book; a limited edition collection of photography and the stories behind the Hello, Skatergirl photos. He’s using Kickstarter as a way to get the book into people’s hands. To support this effort, please visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/221647184/hello-skater-girl.