48 Nikons + 4 Dancers = Ryan Enn Hughes’ 360 Degrees of Fun

48 Nikons + 4 Dancers = Ryan Enn Hughes’ 360 Degrees of Fun

I grew up with a lot of dancer friends, and I personally love photographing them. Might have been the Lois Greenfield workshop I took. But when I shoot dance, I use one camera. I’m simple like that.

But I also like The Matrix. And hip hop. And color. So why the heck didn’t I think of this???

Because I’m just not that creative. Fortunately, Ryan Enn Hughes is.

I actually came across this video last week, and thought, “That is really cool,” and then a few days later, out of the blue, Ryan emailed me. It must be that psychic Eddie Adams Workshop bond. So I asked him a few questions about how it all came together.

I remember seeing a bunch of Nikons set up in a circle at the Eddie Adams Workshop a few years ago…was that the genesis of this work?

I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2008. I don’t think the cameras were set up when I attended – I would have definitely have remembered that! The Eddie Adams Workshop was a huge moment for me though. Being in that environment was pretty phenomenal – literally being surrounded by the best working photographers and editors as they lectured on their craft was a seminal moment for me for sure. The genesis for the project was definitely Michel Gondry’s music video for “Like a Rolling Stone“. Before I was obsessed with photography, I was obsessed with music videos. I was really interested in the technical process that created the ‘frozen moments’ that seemed to be ‘moving in three-dimensions’. Figuring out how this effect was achieved was the beginning of “The 360 Project”.

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Photo by Melissa Tait

What was the intent of the piece? Was it purely self-promotional, or was it commissioned?

“The 360 Project” was the major endeavor of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, which I received in 2010, to ‘explore the structural elements of the moving image’. The Ontario Arts Council awarded the fellowship. My proposal was to research the crossroads of the still and motion image. “The 360 Project” was also supported by Canada’s National Ballet School. I do view the project as a promotional piece for sure, but at its heart it’s an art project.

Can you talk about how you think it fits in with your marketing? Can you disclose what you spent to produce the piece? Do you think about ROI (return on investment) when you’re throwing together promotional pieces?

This was a unique case – this project was a part of a fellowship I received that funded creative research and development over 6 months. It was a really liberating period – I wasn’t thinking about ROI, the whole point of the fellowship was to create an environment that would let creativity wander. In terms of marketing – I’m interesting in exploring the nexus between the still image and moving image. I feel fortunate to be creating at a time when these two media are cross-pollinating more than ever.

This was a tremendously complex project that involved renting a studio, hiring assistants, grips, etc. Then you had postproduction of the images, editing of the sequences and finally the sound engineering. How on earth did you conceive of this, and how were you sure it was going to work out in the end?  Did you storyboard the project? Did you do some low-fi tests?

This was by far the biggest and most involved project I’ve done to date. The original concept was to create a 360-degree photograph in black space. There were no storyboards for this project, as I knew I wanted to shoot full-length figures in a consistent style. From a production organization stand point, I’ve produced a lot of my other motion creatives, so it wasn’t new for me to organize on this scale – but it was quite a bit of work producing the project. On the actual shoot day I had an amazing 1st Assistant Director that ran the set, and let me focus on the creative aspects. This was essential to making the project a success for sure.

The technical end was a lot of research. I ended up approaching The Big Freeze, a company that specializes in multi-camera set ups and the ‘time slice’ effect. I partnered with them on this project, and was very glad to have them aboard – a great group to work with – that managed the camera set up and digital ingest. The postproduction was a long phase. I had completed other projects before using all still photographs (RGB MOVE http://vimeo.com/10643259), so the concept wasn’t new to me.

A lot of the headache causing workflow challenges that had been difficult to work through in the past had been learnt from. Painting out all the cameras in every selected 48-frame rotation was time consuming, but allowed for maximum creative control in the final image. I worked with another Photographer – a real Photoshop Wiz, to ‘matte’ all the frames. The editing and soundscape design was a really exciting phase. I collaborated closely with my editor and sound designer – we worked back and forth, experimenting with sound textures, editing variations and effects – it was neat to see the concept evolve through this stage. While I had a solid direction in mind, I was open to new developments along the way. Heading into the project I wasn’t exactly sure how it would turn out. I’m real happy with the result – which ultimately was a big team effort.

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Had you worked with these retouchers and sound engineers before?

I had worked with the retoucher before – he’s a good friend actually. For this project we had a meeting to discuss our options, and ultimately decide to paint out the cameras frame by frame in Photoshop. The advantage of this I think will be apparent down the road, as the project is mastered in 4K resolution. The sound designer – Zelig Sound, approached me after they viewed a few of my projects in 2009. We had chatted online, but never worked together before this project. I was really attracted to their sound – it was very fresh, and sounded very complex. I learned a lot from them creatively, and as a result am thinking a lot more about sound design in pre-production now.

A lot of your still work seems to have a desaturated look, whereas your motion stuff is hypersaturated and filled with, well, a lot of motion. Is the juxtaposition on purpose?

I’ve never thought about that before, interesting you bring it up…that might give me a complex (jk).

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Many photographers have been getting into video lately with mixed results. Your stuff has a very contemporary and commercial appeal to it. Can you talk about the evolution of your experience with motion/video? When did you start incorporating other experts to help with the overall production?

My education is in Film Studies, so that’s what I matured around. To be frank, I was always a little standoff-ish with group work while in school, which is why I drifted to photography in my later school years, but I’ve always understood the importance of a good supporting crew for film projects. When I was making video art in high school it was really a solo creation – I was using a borrowed Hi-8 camcorder, and edited video on some strange box with a mouse wheel that plugged into a TV (this was pre-computer editing). At the beginning of University I was doing the same thing, but with 16mm film, and a slicing table where we’d physically cut the film together – it was pretty amazing to get this experience, just as digital production was phasing it out.

By mid-University the focus was group work and narrative filmmaking. My major was Cinematography, and that’s the role I regularly took on in student crewed productions. Out of school I focused primarily of Photography for a few years, but drifted back to Film Production. I wanted to create short motion pictures that felt more like photography than film. The crews I started with were very small. I really like working with a contained, talented, multitasking crew – so that’s what I did. Naturally overtime, professional relationships developed, and I ended up with a regular go-to team list.

The area that I think pulls it all together is understanding digital file management. All these motion picture projects I’m shooting, I personally handle all the files from set shooting to posting online. The ability to shoot 4K files and edit them in your home office is a pretty new development, but something I’ve been doing for several years.

Given that you have some roots in documentary photography, what kind of advice would you give to the staff photographer who just lost his/her job and is wondering what to do next?

Wow…that’s a question. If it was a photographer that was the sole breadwinner for a family, I might suggest a field of Photography that isn’t shrinking, like opening a boutique/stylized wedding photography company in a well research market, with the idea of eventually offering videos as a complimentary service. If it was a younger or less attached photographer, I might suggest roughing it out financially, really evaluating what is important to you, and then going after exactly that like there’s no tomorrow – be in financial, creative, or other reward.

Y’all Canadians do pretty stellar work: Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Pamela Anderson, and you. What sort of work are you hoping this project will bring, and how are you going to top this???

Haha, yes, America’s little brother does alright… I’m really getting obsessed with music videos again, music in general really. I plan to move into music video directing, and would love to work in the USA doing this. More than ever, I want to contribute to that field – done well, music videos are just such a beautiful genre of motion pictures. I’m also very interested in creative commercial work – some of the best motion pictures I’ve seen in the last view years have been advertisements that play with some visual element (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOnif6BC0kc). I do also love shooting straight portraiture. I’ve been shooting a bunch of work for The New York Times in the Toronto/Canada area, which is always really enjoyable. I’ve got a few ideas I’d like to explore that revolve around ‘moving portraits’. In terms of topping “The 360 Project” – that’s always the goal when you start up a new endeavor – to top the last one, and I definitely have several ideas I’m exploring and developing. It’ll be cool to see where it’s all at a year from now.

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