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Spotlight #5
Balance of Life by Jony Karlsson

In DitoGear™ Spotlight #5 we are sharing interesting work of Jony Karlsson, a time-lapse film called “Balance of Life”. The project includes some infrared timelapses which are definitely worth seeing!


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

“Balance of Life” is a film about life’s and human kinds’ fight to find the balance between our own evolving life style and the nature of the planet we inhabit. The human race is drifting further and further away from its real roots and from what being a human is really about. The speed of development has increased to a state where humans have a hard time keeping up. We find ourselves in a situation where both our own and the planets’ wellbeing is severely threatened. As a last resort human is relying on faith to find the balance. Is faith the last defense of man or is this world guided by forces greater than us? Is this force God, evolution or just the mere sum of coincidences that formed the universe, the natural order and laws of physics?’


Balance of Life is a dissection of the world we live in, where man has arrived to a point where finding balance is almost too late. It is a story about humanity and what being human is about. Will the balance be found from constant progress, the Bible or from directing our attention to where we came from, nature?


Balance of Life is a story of the earth we all share. It is a one mans’ and his cameras’ journey in a world filled with complete opposites, balance, imbalance and people travelling the right and wrong paths. Who at the end choses the right path? If there is any invisible force that guides us which path is the right one?

Patryk Kizny: Jony, could you tell us a little bit about the background of the production and what made it particularly interesting for you?


Jony Karlsson: This project started actually almost 3 years ago. I was starting to think about subjects for my thesis. I was studying cinematography at Tampere University of Applied Sciences at that time. I had just ‘found’ time-lapse photography and was really interested about it, I decided to do my thesis using this technique. It was obvious that my film had to include timelapses. I started to read and practice everything I could about time-lapse photography. At first the idea was to do only a time-lapse movie around the world. I wanted to create a film showing some really beautiful places I visited during my trips. I knew that I would had many trips in the nearest future so I decided to dedicate part of those trips to my project and carry my gear with me everywhere I traveled.


I was gathering the material a whole year while visiting many beautiful places around the world. In 2010 I graduated with a demo version of the movie. While watching the material together with the editor we found out that there were some themes that repeated over and over again. At that time we realized the film we were working on wasn’t only a mixture of timelapses – the story started to take its shape. That was the reason I started to focus my filming around the same themes that we had discovered already repeating in the existing footage. I wanted to film more and concentrating around these themes. Everywhere I traveled I had my camera and the tripod with me. I was gathering even more footage about this one more year, while my editor tried to make some sense about the huge amount of footage we already had collected. Work progressed very slowly what was caused by zero budget. No one received any salary for this project so we were forced to proceed only when we had time between paid jobs.


I finally decided that I had to stop filming more and more footage. That was hard for me because I felt that every time I went to a new trip I would have filmed better and better footage. We had to say enough and decided to make a movie with the material we already had. I need to admit, I had never really gave up filming and I was still filming timelapses and other footage everywhere I went, but the material was not intended for that film.


PK: Why must you tell This story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?


JK: This story was actually born during the trips I made around Asia. I visited many really poor areas and what I discovered was that in those places people were much happier and enjoyed life totally in a different way than for example people in big cities.
I was also amazed at the way these people lived in harmony with the nature surrounding. They really respected the nature and animals. It felt they really knew something about the way of being humans unlike the most of us. It was something we have been alienated from. In many places I felt the time had stopped. No one had to rush anywhere.


Of course I also saw the other side of the story as well. I witnessed all bad things that poverty can cause. And that actually is one of the carrying themes of the film. I mean about the different paths that humans take. I also took religion or more specific faith as one of the themes in the movie. I ran into many different religions and ways to practice it. I’m not a religious person but I had an interest to find out how these different forms of the same thing can affect people around the world. But the main theme for me is to provoke people to think about how humans have taken the wrong path at some points. We have alienated ourselves from what we really are and where we came from. All of us are animals and our home is nature.


PK: How is this film different from other films of similar kind?


JK: Popularity of the time-lapse photography has exploded during past couple of years and the internet is full on different kinds of time-lapse films. There is one common thing that is similar in almost all that kinds of films. They are mainly a compositions of beautiful landscape or cityscape images and their only purpose is to demonstrate the time-lapse technique itself, not to tell any kind of story. In this film I wanted to combine the technique and storytelling.


PK: What were main technical challenges during the production?


JK: The most technical challenge were the logistics ones. I mean about the problem with carrying the filming gear everywhere I went and the limited time I could have spent on filming, especially when I was on holidays with my girlfriend or friends. Because of the limited budget we were able to use mainly the public transport or the local taxis. That affected the limited amount of the gear I could use in many situations.


My normal setup was 2 DSLR cameras and some lightweight tripod. I often delegated some of the carrying jobs to my girlfriend Mia or to my other holiday companions. At this point I had to thank them, especially my girlfriend Mia, for all the patience they had during those two years when they travelled with me, carrying the gear and waiting for my timelapses to end. It was sometimes also very challenging for them.


Another technical challenge was filming flowers. I quickly realized that it was easier said than done. Filming flowers can be very tricky. It’s a very slow process for flowers to grow and open, especially when you are affected by the forces of nature like wind or variable lighting. The result was often really bad, I discovered that I had to do it in a studio where everything should be under control. I built a small studio in my mother’s basement and took the flower scenes there. Of course it meant a lot of practice to made it right there as well. I had to find the right lighting conditions for the flowers to grow and open, but at the end I’m quite happy with the end result.


PK: What were main artistic challenges during the production?


JK: In artistic perspective I have a feeling that the most challenging thing was the editing. We had this huge pile of material, we knew what we wanted to do with it, but we had no idea how to make it. I had a vision in my head right from the beginning, but after we had collected all the materials I was confused how to use it and tell the story just the way I wanted to. We changed the approach many times, until we finally found the right path to follow and after that it was quite easy.


PK: Did you invent or apply any special shooting / production techniques to make the piece more interesting?


JK: During this production I had an opportunity to test my friends Infrared modified Canon 450D DSLR cam. I fell in love with IR images right away. First I had to read all I could about digital IR photography because it was totally new thing for me. There is actually really little information about it on the net. I also had tried to find some IR time lapses, but actually found none decent ones. Just couple of very short test shots. At that moment I decided that I had to include some of IR timelapse in my film. It actually became one of my best episodes from the film, perhaps the most favorite one.


At the beginning we had a big problem. I couldn’t find intervalometer in the market for Canon 450D. The issue was with small mini plug jack connector for the shutter release cable, so we were forced to built our own one. We did it with help of my programmer friend who coded an Arduino circuit board to work as an intervalometer and glued it into a plastic lunch box. Well, luckily later some third party companies started to provide decent intervalometers with mini plug jack as well so we didn’t had to use that lunch box anymore.


IR timelapse is quite challenging form of TL photography. You can do it only on clear skies with sunshine and your filming objects are very limited. It also includes some different steps than normal TL photography. The post-production can also be very tricky, but once you master all the needed steps and tricks it can give you some really cool and visually totally different pictures.


PK: Did you invent or apply any special post-production techniques?


JK: I think our post-production was quite normal in term of editing. Like I told earlier, post-production took really long time because we had to earn money on the side and we could mostly concentrate on this film when we had spare time during paid jobs.
The different technique we had to use during post-production was the processing of those IR timelapses. It took quite much time to learn all the tricks how to process to gain the unique look they have.


PK: What role played the DitoGear equipment in your production?


JK: DitoGear launched their first slider in late 2010 and at that time we were actually filming the last shoots of the movie. As soon as I heard about the slider I contacted Patryk and ordered one.
I think I received the first production unit of DitoGear Slider ever sold. DitoGear also kindly gave me a small discount on the product because I was very short on money at that time, all my little savings were spent on travelling to the places needed for the film material. When I received the slider I had to continue filming to get more material with the slider. I was so in love with it, cause from that moment I could do the motion control timelapse, which I had been dreaming about since the day I started shooting timelapses. Unfortunately we hadn’t much more time and we had to start editing the existing material so finally we were unable to take as many shots as I wanted.


PK: Can you share your experience using DitoGear equipment for this kind of work?


JK: I don’t want this to sound too much as a promotional speech, but I really love DitoGear products. The products are really well built and perform just as promised they would. I actually sold my first DitoGear Drivecam slider and bought a new OmniSlider Servo. I would like to use the OmniHead and the Modulo units on my next productions so we will buy them as soon as possible. They really give us totally new ways to carry out with the artistic visions.


PK: So the production’s over. A great moment, but in fact, that’s just a checkpoint halfway to the finish. What expectations and plans do you have regarding the next steps and making the film reaching wider audiences?


JK: At the moment I’m just negotiating with local Finnish TV-channel about their interest on airing the film. I’ve also sent it to a couple of film festivals around the world. We’ll know the results soon.


I actually don’t have any expectations about the acceptance of the movie. Of course the wider audience it gets, the better. And if people like it, it’s even better. If this movie inspire to think about the own way of life and the direction of chosen path, then I succeeded. Of course I don’t mind if it gets good reception widely and that way might help me to get maybe some funding for my next projects.


PK: From the perspective – are there any things that you would do better/differently today?


JK: There are so many things I would like to do in a different way today. The story would be about the same but the way of coordinating the production as well as aiming the target clearly enough would have needed more focusing. But anyhow, I’m very happy with this one as well. I hope that in the future I will have more possibilities to do other projects with a real filming crew. That would give me the chance to use some more equipment than just a small tripod and a camera. Thinking backwards – I couldn’t do this better with the resources we had.


PK: What we truly love about heroes is not that they never fail, but how they rise after a failure. What was the biggest failure during the production and what lessons you can share with us?


JK: Well, I can’t point any one big failure during this production. There were many small failures during this journey. I can for example mention about a few mechanical failures when I almost destroyed 3 cameras during my trips.


The first camera was affected by the humidity, when I took it from an air conditioned room to the tropical climate. Luckily after letting it dry, it began to work again.


Second one had a malfunction of the shutter and it was stuck to its up position while I was filming the sun. That caused a sensor damage because the lens worked as magnification lens and it actually burned the sensor. Luckily they found out the problem occurred due to the shutter failure and it was repaired under warranty.


Third camera was destroyed when I was filming a sunset at the beach in Indonesia. The noise made by the camera shutter was so interesting for the cat, which knocked down my tripod with the camera. The equipment fell on the stone from the beach. I was lucky again, I had a good insurance and was able to get a new camera. In this kind of production you need to anticipate some situations. Anything can happen so in order to avoid some problems, you need to be prepared for it. Always keep your back up equipment in hand and get good insurances for yourself and the equipment.


PK: What is the next big thing for you?


JK: I have a dream to make a movie about Finnish Lapland. A Baraka-like visual journey through its nature and culture. We have an incredible nature here in Finland. Wild life together with four totally different seasons, for example the polar nights during the winter, when the sun never rises. Also, the amazing northern lights, a midnight sun in the summer, and of course the Sami culture. It is a dream I would like to capture through the camera’s lens someday.


Right now I’m planning to do a short film, shot almost entirely with IR-camera. It will be a kind of apocalyptic story. It also needs some funding but we will manage it.


PK: Jony, thank you very much for sharing the production details with us. It was a pleasure to spotlight the first DitoGear customer.
I wish you good luck with your future projects!


Follow Jony and the film:


Balance of Life on Vimeo

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