There’s always been an arms race of sorts, between startups, surrounding their 404 pages. Often times sites do something unusual on this (hopefully) seldom viewed page. When we first started working on Nosh, we had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas for our 404 page. We wanted it to be crazy and I think it ended up being just that.
Above you will find the video that became our 404 page. It’s loud, crazy and weird. Definitely the most fun I’ve had on a Sunday in a long time. I’ve written up some production notes here — if I miss anything feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer. Follow me on Twitter here.
I really liked the idea of using video since I hadn’t seen much of that out there on 404 pages. In my mind, the ONLY place this video could take place was the Salt Flats in Utah. I had no idea what the video would consist of, but I knew I wanted to do it in the Salt Flats. While brainstorming what craziness we could film out there, I started watching a lot of freddiw videos and got really into the idea of doing some kind of action sequence.
I realized it was slightly impractical to fly to Utah for the sole purpose of filming an action sequence for a 404 page (especially when we A) had no idea what it would entail and B) didn’t know if we were even going to use it). So my friend Mike and I drove around one weekend looking for places that might be able to replace the Salt Flats. We found this awesome empty valley in Marin that had a perpetual spooky fog draped over it. We were a little worried because it was really close to a road and we didn’t want to scare off the locals with our heavy weaponry. (Funnily enough, we had to delay filming periodically because of the occasional jogger, who were all oddly unfazed by the five armed men running around and yelling like banshees.)
We’d found a place to shoot, but at this point we still didn’t know what specifically we were going to film. The script was basically this: cool place, action and stuff, guns, cool sounds. Generally that’s about all I have to go off anyway for my videos, so I figured we were ready to rock and roll.
ConceptThe idea behind our 404 page is that the page you are looking for is lost. This is what a 404 means (page not found). For our 404 messaging, we take this concept literally and pretend the page is a physical being, wandering around out there in the wilderness, that needs to be found. The idea is that each individual missing page has a different disposition; some are violent, some are lazy (maybe it got lost at a bar?), and maybe some are just confused and need to be loved. For this first video, the idea is that this specific lost page has essentially run away from home (or escaped) and does not want to be found.
Making this first video into an action sequence required that the lost page be aggressive and uncooperative. My favorite line in Inception was when Fischer’s subconscious is described as being “militarized”. I thought how cool! This inspired me to imagine the lost 404 pages as becoming militarized as well, and in this first video, having it square off against the Nosh special forces. Clearly the most effective way to find a rogue page would be to hire special forces agents, so that’s what I imagined Nosh would do.
The original script actually involved a few more sequences (one of which is previewed in the BTS) but for the sake of virality, these were cut. I wanted to keep the whole thing under 1:30 ideally and I wanted the action to begin as quickly as possible. For this to happen, I had to cut a few scenes that would have explained this whole situation a little more robustly. I had faith in the people of the internet to “get” the joke and thankfully they did.
Supplies and Gear
The usual suspects were present on this shoot: everything was shot with my 5DMKII and the 24-105mm lens, audio recorded with the Rode shotgun, and we had Mr. Michael Chang on hand to shoot the behind-the-scenes video (top of this post) with a 7D with 50mm lens. Cameras crushed it on this shoot, couldn’t have been happier.
The audio recording didn’t go so well because it was so unbelievably windy. The mic has a windscreen on it but it was no match for the blustery SF winds. For the next shoot I plan to invest in something from Rycote. I pretty much need to rethink my field audio recording setup completely. It’s just too windy out here to be winging it with one hot-shoe mounted mic sans-wind protection.
The weapons were all airsoft electrics, so no actual guns were fired at any point. So far my favorite brand is Double Eagle because, in addition to looking exactly right, they’re relatively heavy and make it a lot easier for the actors to fake shooting motions and gun handling. One thing to note: if you are filming with these kinds of guns, make sure everyone in the immediate vicinity is aware that you are filming a movie and not handling real guns. They look real, don’t be stupid.
The costumes were an amalgamation of things we found at a local surplus store and my paintball gear. We didn’t want the spec-ops guys to look like legit military — rather we wanted them to look more like ex-miltary, hired mercenaries running a site-finding business out of their garage essentially. It was hilarious to read some of the comments on Gizmodo and elsewhere debating the realism of their garb. There was a long argument over Phil’s keffiah, which we found funny since we were adamant about including it and spent a LONG time trying to find one in the city.
As is becoming the norm, everything was shot an edited in one day. I’m not sure why I do this. With this one, there was no timeline or anything like that — I guess I am just so desperate for a finished product that I can’t stand to have to wait more than one day. In the end, the videos are really short so production time doesn’t really need to be that long. We shot for about 1.5 hours and I edited for about 8.
There were five of us on hand to shoot: myself directing, Michael Chang on the 7D BTS, Phil Mills and Dan Clegg as the spec-ops guys, and our beloved intern Josh Vekhter as the rogue site destined for destruction. You may recognize everyone from previous videos (Phil, Josh and Michael were all in our Nosh Promo). It’s amazing to have such talented friends to help out with these videos, I don’t know what I’d do without them.
Josh had a great idea which I think we will implement for subsequent videos: since we’re using the same people to act in all of these, we will pretend they are the same person for every video, despite apparently changing jobs. Kind of like the way the Marvel universe works where all the different characters can coexist at the same time (Iron Man chilling with Captain America etc). So in future videos, we may reference that Phil is not only a special forces agent, but also a experienced diner etc. That kind of thing. Will be a fun way to tie all of the Nosh promos together. By the way, are you using Nosh yet? Do me a solid and get in there!
This video was going to sink or swim on the special effects. If it didn’t feel real (or at least close) it wasn’t going to work. The “joke” I guess is the ridiculous homemade version of the site running around in what appears to be a legit war movie. For this to work, I needed to get the effects done right. I watched a LOT of tutorials during the weeks leading up to this day. Phil and I spent a couple late nights goofing around with the replica guns and making videos like this as practice. The collateral damage of all this was I learned After Effects essentially by accident (which is how I was able to make the Nosh promo).
All of the gun effects were done using assets from Video Copilot action essentials pack. They’ve created keyed out footage of smoke and all that good stuff which makes doing the gun effects a lot easier than shooting it yourself. The tricky part is masking (which you can see in the screenshot, the yellow lines) but since gun flashes only occur over one frame, it’s actually not that hard once you get the hang of it.
Each time a gun is fired, there are basically six effects that need to occur: muzzle flash, smoke, gunshot sound, shell casing, distant dirt hit, and ambient lighting. So for a video that has something like 20 gunshots in it, this is a LOT of effects work and timing. I decreased the amount of work I had to do by duplicating a lot of the composites and just altering the scale and rotation so it wouldn’t look doubled over. Still, could have made it a lot easier by having everyone fire single shots :)
It’s all about the sound. It’s crazy to see the original video without any sound or effects — you may not notice how much of a difference it makes when you see the finished product, but I think the sound is the #1 most important thing for making everything feel real, or at least that much more intense.
For this video, I primarily used Final Cut and After Effects to work with sound. I used FC for the more atmospheric sounds, which includes the flyovers, distant gun shots, air raid sirens and various war sounds. After Effects was used for anything to do with the weapons (gun shots, dirt hits, bullet whizzing). Logic was used a little bit, but only to process some of the sounds that I thought were lacking in intensity. The MP5 sound for example, in the video is really BIG and heavy sounding, way more so than a real MP5. I found a sound of an MP5 online (which is pretty poppy and high freq to start) and just blew up the bass EQ until it sounded like a massive gun. Of course this decreases the “realism” but it increases the coolness factor. Bassy guns are cooler than trebly guns.
I was most proud of the three gun shots at the end when Phil takes down the site. Originally these were sourced from an FX pack, but they sounded like they were shot indoors and it just didn’t feel right. I spent a lot of time working in a valley echo (from a Youtube video of a gun being shot) behind the existing gun shot to get it to sound like it was reverberating off of the valley in the scene.
The radio voice is…me! Thought about having a sexy female voice (a la Command and Conquer, anyone?), but the time crunch necessitated me to quickly record my own voice and alter with ample distortion and pitch correction for effect. It’s layered with three other types of static to approximate that cool walkie-talkie sound.
ConclusionSo that was that. We are very happy with our 404 page and were really excited to see that people have been enjoying it. It was great to see an idea that was conceived so long ago (before we really even had a product) come to fruition in such a unexpected way. I still really want to get out to the Salt Flats and shoot SOMETHING…just don’t know what yet. As I mentioned, feel free to ask any questions about this production (gear, technique or otherwise) and I’ll answer in the comments.