InFusion: Process and Perfection
Posted Dec 6, 2010

“Style is embedded in process.”

I can’t claim these exact words, which are a quote from an interview with contemporary artist Chuck Close. It’s easy to recognize that all artists, not just videographers, filmmakers, and photographers, live by the meaning of this quote. Anyone who says that great video is all about equipment has only part of the equation right. Ignore the hype, but believe the mantra of knowing your gear inside and out.

Fusion is not the exclusive province of video. Would you be shocked to find out we weren’t first on the fusion scene? Close (born in 1940) is a painter, photographer, and printmaker who, according to the Close website developed by Blaffer Gallery and University of Houston College of Education, “has complete respect for, and trust in, the technical processes.” Close’s work lays bare his process of overlapping dots of color that occupy an undisguised grid. It’s a digital appearance that is meticulously done by hand. Process harnessed in the service of style.

Chuck Close portrait of Lucas Samaras
Process detail revealed in Closes famous portrait of fellow artist Lucas Samaras

Following this line of thought, fusion = process + perfection. Process is the equipment and technical use of your artistic medium. Perfection is all about you: your personal method and dedication to your vision. High-tech collaborating with a high touch. This is a valid business strategy in any creative marketplace, but how will we mold our businesses to take advantage of fusion and preserve a personal vision within the limits of low budgets and overburdened postproduction time?

I often ask Steve and Laura Moses of Vantage Point Productions what they think of new trends or techniques. Ever practical, Steve jumped in immediately to address videographers’ fear of fusion cameras as a business threat. “As you know, fusion was a catchphrase a year and a half ago; it has since faded from the lexicon quite a bit. When these DSLRs first appeared, filmmakers were concerned that photographers would start offering video coverage. As time passed, the exact opposite has happened: More videographers have started offering photography than the other way around. The workflow in photography is much easier than it is in videography. The economic situation has made videographers gravitate toward an easier extension of their business as an income source. Most of the photographers are just grappling to hang on to their realm and their customers, and offering video is the last thing on their minds. I know many event filmmakers who have started offering photography, and I don’t know one photographer offering video.”

As of this writing in October, the RED Epic has been much in the news, and it may well shift serious fusion advantage to video. The gigantic chip size and ease of still frame capture with one-button facility can’t help but promote crossmedia capabilities.

On the other side of “the pond,” Niels Puttemans and Sylvia Broeckx of Ever After Videos in Sheffield, U.K., declare that “photos and video are a completely different mindset, and one product should not influence the other.” Sylvia is adamant that “Pick-up camera operators are not appropriate. That’s when you relinquish control.” She will not do it! Niels elaborates, “To do fusion right means a third or probably fourth person on a team. Hiring is expensive, quality generally goes down, and the vision is never the same as your own. Not to mention other problems of personality, attire, relationship to the client, etc.” By working alongside and cooperating with a photographer, rather than competing, they find they get more lucrative referral business. Niels reports that quite a few studios in the U.K. are offering both photo and video services, but rarely fusion, which, he reiterates, “requires that each medium influence the other.”

Even though they don’t do fusion, Broeckx and Puttemans use fusion gear for much of their work. They love the Panasonic Lumix GH1, particularly for its articulated screen, and are eager to acquire a Panasonic AF100, the first camcorder less than $5,000 to feature a 4/3" lens and to offer (reportedly) the image quality of a DSLR in a camcorder body. “Typically, we will shoot the bride’s prep with a GH1, as well as the reception, evening stuff and reaction shots during the speeches. We still use traditional Sony Z1 cameras during the ceremony (mainly because of church restrictions when we can’t move once a ceremony starts, so we need a one-lens-does-it-all-from-far-away solution, and need to circumvent the audio limitations of these cams). During the speeches we use one traditional camera because of the audio monitoring. My music background stops me from any solution where I can’t monitor my audio continuously if it’s a must-have.” The only instance in which they use the still capacity of the GH1 in their work is for time lapse.

From our own experience, Niels’ take on hiring extra personnel rings very true. Most of our wedding work requires two photographers, two or three videographers, and a grip assistant. Yes, we hire people we know and respect, but there are still problems you wouldn’t expect. At one recent event, in spite of explicit instructions to get table and couples’ candids at a reception, my second photographer took only dance pictures, and even those were multiples of just a few people. To be fair, the reception was deadly dull, with nothing fun, and no great action. But an experienced photographer must know how to approach guests and initiate opportunities for pleasant casual portraits. I trusted, and I was wrong; our visions and, more importantly, our dedication to customer service just didn’t coincide. Clients expect content, no matter the circumstances.

Another time, one video team member showed up to a formal wedding in a ratty checked shirt and dirty running shoes, probably not even good enough for an ultra-casual Gen Y event. In our region, we find that dress can be a widely varying and sensitive matter. For a tented wedding in Aspen, Colo., the party consultant told us the client would contract with a firm only if the videographers wore suits. The suits cost about half the fee the client was willing to pay for the whole job, and those same suits and the matching hard shoes made it impossible to work quickly, quietly, and seamlessly with big equipment in tight quarters, uneven ground, and outside in winter snow conditions. What were they thinking? More to the point, why did we agree to this?

Sam and Bethany Vargas at Vargas Visual Media in Jacksonville, Fla., have a distinctively different take on fusion. Sam and Bethany may be a bit younger in the imaging game for events, but Sam worked with mixed media for commercials and training videos for a long time. Fusion, in the new sense of the word, has made perfect sense to them, because they’ve always been working this way. Sam is particularly enthusiastic about the popularity of their fusion highlight reels. These are done in a music-video approach with only a few sound bites. Stills are cleverly inserted and animated in the patented Ken Burns style. Viewer attention holds on an iconic still, and then almost like magic, the glance of an eye or a subtle movement starts the live action flowing again. The effect has a visual rhythm of classical music and dance; the impact is striking.

Animoto
The ever-popular Animoto utility is a great way to create a certain type of fusion. I always use the classic style. Here's a before-and-after example of taking a still, manipulating it for painterly style, and superimposing a sponsor's logo for video display at a children's charity benefit. Animoto will do the rest and make you look great.

Bethany reminds us all that video still suffers a certain stigma of years past. “Right now, sales is hard for everyone. When you mention videography, clients think of their parents’ boring 2-hour video of people they don’t know. They love the products we show them, and the concept, but they only budgeted for photography. As with most weddings, they are already over budget, which means the videography gets a low priority. Most clients that book come to us already knowing they want video of their special day, which with us, turns into fusion!”

Answering my question about where fusion is going, they say, “We feel that fusion is opening up a lot of possibilities for everyone in the industry, photographers and videographers alike. The variety that is available allows professionals to more fully realize their vision, and create a unique product in their market. Standing out from the crowd is vital, and [f]usion allows us to be different, to set our work apart from the rest, to give our clients something special.”

Needless to say, the Vargas’ vision is near and dear to our hearts, because Karl and I have followed a similar path and inspiration over the years. Coming full circle to Chuck Close’s comment that style flows out of process, what that actually means to us, and evidently to everyone we’ve talked to, is that the process remains job number one. Both photo and video capture must be the very best you can achieve. Balance is everything. You’ve got to “own” your techniques and how your equipment operates if you’re going to make fusion work. There is no quality compromise possible; a casual effort is rarely the answer in this dangerous game of mixing media. You must establish your process before you can even think about style and story. If you can’t carry your vision through both mediums perfectly from start to finish, it’s best not to do fusion at all.

Sara Frances (studio@photomirage.com) and husband/partner Karl Arndt collaborate in their own unique brand of fusion as “Foto-Griots” whose work has evolved past photojournalism into what they call “Storytelling from the Heart.”