Kaishakunin Compositing the Opening Shot

If a feature length film is like a novel, then a short film is like a poem.  Just as each word in a poem is deliberate and carries meaning, each shot in a short film counts. The opening shot sets mood and direction establishing the mise-en-scène, which is just a fancy way of saying the visual theme.  

The feature image of this blog post is a still image from a potential opening shot of Kaishakunin. As a director of photography, I need to take the story boards from the director and make capture those sequences while filming, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have input.  We haven’t started shooting yet and I had an idea I wanted to communicate. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is surely worth more.

The film starts with a traveling samurai seeking shelter from an approaching storm in a lonely house on the edge of a forest.  While we don’t have that exact location available we do have fragments from various sources that can be composited to make it happen and here is a sample.  Picture a robed figure walking in from the left side of the frame toward the house and you have a fully assembled clip.


The following sources were pulled together to make it happen:

  • Time lapse of storm clouds from Mitch Martinez. He’s a cinematographer and has generously made various royalty-free stock footage available for download.
  • House image licensed from Adobe Stock. It may be replaced with a photo from  Gessha, our primary location, in the final edit.
  • Forest image licensed from Shutter Stock.

I have a confession.  This isn’t the original sample video.  In the first sample opening, I used copyrighted image from Flickr. The photographer put it only with all rights reserved. While tempting, I couldn’t use it in the film or this blog post, but I did use it to privately communicate what I had in mind for the opening image.

Of course, I could’t use the blue sky in the original forest image. Not only was it far too cheery, it was  a photo and we need swirling storm clouds. A helpful tutorial on lynda.com led me through a relatively pain-free process.

The background erase tool in Photoshop CC is a time saver and worked around the pesky areas in the leaves at the top of the tree line and the small openings between the branches.  In the prior edit, I had digital artifacts that didn’t look right with the video layer of the stormy sky. This one is much cleaner.

From there, it was a simple matter to save the Photoshop image as PSD file and bring it into Premiere Pro and put it together with a clip of the stormy sky.

Sharing the opening shot with our poster artists communicated the look and feel of the film better than any of my written attempts could. They brought the same sense of a looming threat into the design.

Our director, Jerry Janda, liked the concept and it made it into the storyboard.

Now, don’t judge the artwork too harshly.  It doesn’t have to be fine art. It does need to communicate how to shoot each take and it fulfills that need. There are plenty of different schools of thought about this and that’s a topic for another post.

Leave a Comment