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DitoGear™ Spotlight #22

This time we are sharing an outstanding timelapse film about Marocco by Kamil Piechowiak. The production details are neatly described by Martyna Wróblewska, KamKam Visuals Co-Founder. Enjoy!

And what’s your latest project? Share your interesting stories in the next spotlight.

“The Third Eye. A Blinding Moroccan Experience” is a video shot entirely using the timelapse technique, which lays emphasis on the unique energy and vibe of Morocco. The third eye is a gate leading to another space and dimension, where you can see more. Morocco dazzles, awes with its rich history, culture and the variety of landscapes. This video is the record of our unique experience and the incredible joy of creating in this magical, mysterious country.
From the Jemaa el-Fnaa square buzzing with life and mystic mosque towers of Marrakech, to Berber stone villages lost somewhere in high Atlas and moon-like Anti-Atlas sights, along with the Sahara desert and Erg Chigaga dunes – this trip has helped us rediscover a lost, but very vibrant world, which in a sense hasn’t changed for thousands of years.

Natalia Brzakala: Can you tell us about the background of the production, why did you decide to capture Marocco?

Martyna Wróblewska: It all started on a December day in 2013 in London. Back then, we were shooting a video of the Careless Memories photo exhibition opening in one of the local Soho galleries. While there, we met the Moroccan music producer and entrepreneur Abel Damoussi.

Mere two weeks later we were sitting on a plane to Marrakech, where we were supposed to shoot a debut video for the female rapper Zaiio. It was our first, and unfortunately brief, visit to Morocco.

We knew we had to come back for more, and execute our own original project there. An opportunity came in May 2015. One day we booked the tickets. For the next four we assembled the equipment, and the research regarding locations was done already on the plane.

NB: What was the main challenge you had to face during the production?

MW: We were planning to spend a week in Marrakech, and devote the rest of the time to other locations. We were hyped about shooting at the very heart of the city – that is in the never-sleeping Jemaa el-Fnaa square, as well as in the souk – a historical and the biggest bazaar in Morocco. Moreover, another one of our must-haves were the Menara gardens and the majestic Kutubijja mosque.

Before we set off on our trip, we were browsing Vimeo for videos from Marrakech and Morocco. We didn’t want to reproduce stuff, something that’s been already done. To our pleasure, we haven’t found any comprehensive production, even better, none of them was employing the motion control timelapses techniques. We’ve learned soon enough what may be the reason for that.

We weren’t ignorant to the fact, that parading with our equipment – cameras, two-meter slider , DitoGear OmniHead , DJI Ronin stabilizer – in the middle of the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech, may not be the easiest of tasks, to say the least.

In practice, it proved to be impossible without an official permit for video shooting. Suddenly, the entire plan has become questionable. While waiting for official stamps of approval, we’ve climbed to the roof of our hotel – the historic Kssour Agafay (palace) and started filming the ‘red city’ from up high. Just when it seemed that that was about it from Marrakech, we received our permission! We could finally come down to Earth.

You wouldn’t believe how many times we were checked by the police and how tough were negotiations regarding shooting from the roof of one of the restaurants at the Jemaa el-Fnaa square.
As always, we’ve met people, who invited us into their homes with a smile on their face, as well as those, who wanted a million bucks just to film their stall.

NB: What is the reason of presenting Marocco only through timelapse technique?

MW: At first, we intended to shoot a modern documentary, presenting the real life in Morocco. The timelapse shots were supposed to enrich the tale about the country.

After we came back, it appeared we have enough material for two videos. We weren’t too keen on discarding anything, so we’ve decided to make the first film about Marrakech and Morocco solely in the timeleapse technique. The final cut is comprised of 50 timelapses – we now know it was the right thing to do.

The timelapse technique has proved to be perfect to tell a story of a diverse country, where the environment changes drastically every couple of tens of kilometers. Green olive gardens, palms, sand, lakes, barren rock looking like it’s straight off an alien planet, canyons, mountains – extremely scenic sights – simply a filmmaker’s paradise.

Thanks to timelapse, we were able to show processes that go unnoticed for a human eye, the passing time, changing atmospheric conditions.

Besides, timelapse has managed to capture the spirit of this country well, where Arabic culture mixes with the European vibe, creating a unique blend. Just look at the shots of the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech – there aren’t many better ways to capture its crazy vibe – thousands of people, cooking in the open, snake charmers, local performers.

Obviously, timelapse has done well not only in terms of showing the energy of the city that never sleeps, but also the incredible nature and landscapes of Morocco.

The Atlas mountain range stretches to the south-east of Marrakech, hiding Berber villages. Then, we land on Mars – that is in the Anti-Atlas mountains. Going along the state border, we come across an awe-inspiring full Moon in Sahara.

Using the timelapse technique, we’ve packed a 3-hour long film into 5 minutes. And these 5 minutes are enough to scream out loud:
‘I need to go there!’ We’re fans of the technique, that has something hypnotizing to it, something that captures the viewer and elicits emotions. Moreover, the time needed to take a shot properly forces us to remain in a single spot for several hours. This makes shooting timelapses (if everything goes well), remind us of meditation ;)

NB: Can you please describe the most demanding shots from the film?

MW: The most difficult thing about the entire video production was the fact, that before coming to Marrakech, we didn’t have time to test out our new motion control equipment from DitoGear™ (Modulo + OmniHead + Evolution).

Experience weighs a ton when it comes to shooting timelapses.
This is our first video shot entirely in this technique, so we constantly learn new things. One person, who boasts experience and skills is Maciej Tomków – the author of the famous ‘Treasure of Zakynthos’ film. Thus, in order to save some time, Kamil got in touch with Maciej. After obtaining valuable tips on setting up and operating a triple axis motion control system, the time needed for tests has been reduced to a minimum.

We went on to shoot a day-to-night timelapse almost immediately. We wanted to get a panorama of Marrakech – catch the sunset over the roofs, capture lights being turned on and finish with the tower of the Kutubijja mosque with a starlit sky in the background. Sounds neat, right? Well we’ve managed to do it only at the fourth attempt. The first time, it started to rain; the second, some glitches have started to appear; the third time, the camera malfunctioned – Err 40! Eventually, we’ve managed to shoot what we wanted, but we’ll never get the wasted time back.

Some of the other tough shots were the ones taken in the Sahara desert, Erg Chigaga dunes to be exact. It takes an entire day to go from Marrakech to the desert – it’s about 500 kms. We were already very time-limited – we’ve just prolonged our stay in Morocco from two to three weeks. We had a single day to devote to the desert.
We rode camels into the dunes, carrying the equipment, in late afternoon. We’re sure that no one before us has travelled with DitoGear™ this way. At night, the camels are sleeping, though, so Kamil was forced to climb the dunes carrying the equipment weighing about 15 kgs. All this to record dawn over Sahara.

NB: If you could pick some favorite shots – which ones would they be and why?

MW: Every one of us has their favorite shots.
Kamil is most satisfied with the lunar landscape of the Anti-Atlas mountains, involving the incredible color of the sky (4:45).
His second favorite shot are Sun beams piercing clouds (4:12).

My favorite moment is at 0:36, when the music is peaking and we see the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The beginning sets the tone for the rest – I’m very pleased that we’ve managed to shoot this Marrakech hallmark, even more so, because no one before us has shot such a good moving timelapse of this spot. Another one of my favs are the landscapes of the Imlil and Anougal valleys with Berber villages embedded in the hills. This is where we felt like real explorers – we thought life in these areas hasn’t changed for thousands of years. Well, besides the satellite dishes growing out of the stone houses and the Coca-Cola posters adorning the walls.

NB: What film equipment did you use in this project?

MW: Most of the shots have been taken using Canon 5D Mark III camera, the rest is a product of the Canon 7D.
Add on the FS700R camera + Odyssey 7Q and a DJI Ronin – shots from this set will be used in our second doc-style video.

The motion controlled timelapses were made with DitoGear equipment: (DitoGear™ Modulo 1.8 m (3x60cm), DitoGear™ OmniHead supported by DitoGear™ Wedge, the power supply was provided by two batteries – DitoGear™ PowerBrick 15Ah and DitoGear™ PowerPack 7Ah . The nerve center of the entire system was DitoGear™ Evolution allowing for programming the camera movements on 3 axes. The whole thing was controlled from a tablet using the Evolution app – plenty of settings and options made available via nice and clear interface.

It appeared that with DitoGear™ Evolution, even the fanciest and seemingly impossible shoots become a reality.

Interested in 3-axis Motion Control Kit?

Check DitoGear™ Evolution Motion Control Kits

NB: Could you tell us a little bit about the post-production?

MW: This stage was definitely less demanding than taking shots.
The distance we’ve covered with equipment on our backs has been still felt after we’ve returned to Poland. The entire post-production process is very long – first, we edit RAW files, then retouch, stabilize shots, edit some more, and end up grading. The moment we see the first couple of seconds of a video comprised of hundreds of shots, we know and feel one thing – it was worth it! The time spent in front of a computer – the long hours you’re not even able to add up, no longer matter. What’s important are timelapses and the final cut.

Post-production would’ve surely been longer and more difficult if it wasn’t for planning and taking it into consideration while shooting. Each sequence used in the film has been utilized in at least 85% of its length, and more importantly, without any speed ups of the video. Such approach and planning minimize the percentage of the unused footage. This way we save both, the time spent at a particular location and the camera’s shutter.

NB: What are your impressions after finishing the project?

We’re very pleased about what we’ve managed to achieve, considering the fact it was our first experience involving the Evolution system and the OmniHead head. We were keen on conveying the energy of Morocco, including the cosmopolitan, tourist-packed Marrakech and the raw, magical landscapes in the inner country.
At the same time, we wanted to create a film, that would express our emotions. This is a subjective record of experiences from a country, where Arabic culture blends in with the European vibe, which results in something totally unique.

NB: Is there anything you would do differently today?

We’d surely devote more time to prepare for shooting the video.
I mean, assembling the proper gear and testing it. We wanted to have more than two cameras, however, in the rush, we haven’t managed to arrange much. When one for the ‘reflexes’ failed, we were devastated. There are like two equipment rentals in Marrakech, and the price is 100 €/24h. It’s more reasonable to buy your own camera than pay for a week-long rental.

When executing our next project, we’ll be checking weather and moon phases in more detail. The thing we regret the most is that we haven’t managed to shoot the Milky Way throughout the entire trip, this would definitely make our video richer. Marrakech has proved to be a city with a considerable light pollution, making the number of visible stars extremely limited even for cameras. We needed sky with a proper brightness scale, which was out of our reach in the Atlas mountains. There was no way to go there after dusk. The Sahara desert, on the other hand, has met us with a full Moon. This, unfortunately, was the only time we could go there. As a result, the sight of the Milky Way has eluded us again. Despite this, we reckon that even without these shots, the video conveys what we intended it to. We’ll catch the Milky Way one day anyway.

NB: Are there any new projects on the horizon?

MW: We’re planning on finishing the second documentary-style video on Morocco. We have plenty of quality material. Kamil was running around with Ronin all over the Jemaa el-Fnaa square and the narrow souk streets, which was a pretty extreme experience and resulted in nice shots. We can’t wait to edit this out.

We’re currently working on postproduction of a TV series and a documentary about Arkady Fiedler’s journey through Africa driving Fiat 126p – The Polish Tiny – ‘Po Drodze Afryka’.

There are also timelapses and videos from our Caribbean trip in the pipeline.

Moreover, we’re taking care of the current ad and corporate KamKam Visuals productions.

NB: Martyna, Thank you very much for your time. I hope the film will hit 100K views really soon. Good luck with the upcoming projects!

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