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DGA's Zipbuds


I’ve been quiet the last few months for very good reason. I’ve been generating the media with which DGA will advertise their new product – Zipbuds. We’ve been keeping this under wraps for a good four months (beginning of July) and in that time we’ve had at least six separate photo shoots and have generated close to 100 (91) finished Photoshopped images to be used in ads for the product and on In addition to the photos, we put a web commercial together; everything from conception to completion was our responsibility. We even built some of our own tools to get the job done.

Who’s We? Scroll to the end of the post for list of people involved in production (Credits).

For starters, if you haven’t read previous posts, my client is no stranger. I’ve worked with DGA for quite some time now. Since completion this past month, I will have done close to ten photo shoots and three web commercials for the company. Also, for those reading who aren’t affiliated with Valhalla, I currently volunteer/mentor students from Mike Skocko’s Mac Lab. This project was utilized as a part of that collaboration and students were involved in all stages of production.

I’m not sure how to cover the amount of information pertaining to these past four months so don’t hesitate to ask questions, there’s just too much for me to remember in one sitting like this, and I’m sure you’ll notice as you continue reading.

So for clarity’s sake, everything that was generated for Zipbuds was completed in mini projects spread out over a few months, not one continual effort. After receiving the initial request from DGA, each project began with tedious pre-production. This was made up of meetings with students for brainstorming, storyboarding, location scouting, and test shoots.


Test shoot with Philip vs pic from day of the shoot

Test shoot with Philip vs picture pic from actual shoot day









Part I: The Photos

Photo shoots with models took between one and two weeks for pre-production, one day for the actual shoot, and another week or two for post-production. Pre-production took quite a bit of effort mainly because each pair of models was only provided to us for one six-hour block on each shoot/mini project, meaning we had to make sure that we could hit five locations in one day without any snags or else we wouldn’t finish all the photos planned. Needless to say, there was no room for do-overs. We had to make sure that the driving distance between each location was manageable and plan beforehand how long we would spend taking pictures at each stop. Don’t forget scheduling for favorable weather, wardrobe changes/choices, and props.

On the technical side of things, the Canon 5D Mark II was used for everything. We shoot RAW but even with the flexibility of the format I wanted the students to get in the habit of leaving as little to chance and to Photoshop as possible. When we scouted we did our best to figure out optimal camera settings for each location Рpicture profile, temperature/white balance, optimal aperture for desired DOF, optimal shutter speed for moving/jogging subjects. We used all natural light and bounces for the shoots utilizing models and four fluorescent studio lights (wish they were daylight) and a white poster board for the product shoots.

Model Shoot 1: Location, Gym

Model Shoot 2: Location, Airport








As far as digital workflows go, I implemented a variation on what I’ve done in the past with students. The basic idea was to first divide and distribute images among all the students and myself (depending on what they could handle/wanted), then color correct and do basic touch-ups in Camera Raw. As each student felt they completed this step, the image was shown to me and other students for comparing to pictures I worked on beforehand and used as references. If the image needed more work, I would discuss what needed to be fixed with the student, if not I send the picture back to them for more complex work inside Photoshop (CS5). Again, the image is shown to me, we go over it together and make changes from there. So to recap:

Camera Raw > Compare > Fix > Photoshop > Compare > Fix

In the beginning, there was a lot of comparing and fixing going on as the students were still getting used to this sort of work. I ended up doing many sit-downs and Skype calls to discuss techniques and tools that should be used and things to take into consideration. Consistency in the colors of skin, wardrobe, the product, and backgrounds from picture to picture can be a problem without constant monitoring especially when work is divided among many. As we strolled along though, I had to do less talking and each student did a pretty amazing job of developing their own custom techniques.


Philip fills in as a model

Shoot 6







Shoot 6






Part II: The Commercial


Click here to watch the video

After the photos, DGA asked for a video. We went through many many versions of the story before settling on what ended up making it to production. One of the main problems we kept running into was simplicity. At first it was the story that wasn’t simple enough, then after we got it to a manageable point it was the storyboard that wasn’t. We had way too many shots and weren’t doing a good job of taking advantage of the power of suggestion.

Storyboard - Note the photorealism...

Finding our actors wasn’t too big of an issue however, we had some problems there too. Eight hours before the original shooting date, our actress emailed saying she had strep throat. That unfortunately set us back another couple weeks. We eventually found a replacement (Dylan Quigg) through Josh, one of our actors.

Back to the technical stuff: 5D Mark II again and ugly yellow fluorescent lights were our main tools. We knew we needed a dolly but didn’t know if it was possible to make one in time. After Philip Behnam and his dad made a few working track-based prototypes, Danny Owens went off and built a huge dolly complete with a platform for both camera and cameraman. Philip and I put a makeshift follow focus together to make focussing while recording less of hassle.

The day of the shoot was stressful to say the least, even after several test shoots and half-rehersals things didn’t feel right for the first three hours. It was easy to lose focus and become overwhelmed with what you thought was going wrong but at a certain point we stopped, reevaluated the situation, and burnt through the shot list with the remaining time.

We may put some behind the scenes footage and images together in the near future if anyone’s interested.

Before and after Color

Post-Production was mainly my responsibility on this project just because we were running out of time to meet the delivery date. Arranging the video went pretty well but when it came to color correction I ended up having to teach myself how to use Apple’s Color (FCP Studio) since FCP’s 3-way color corrector wasn’t cutting it. Color is incredibly powerful, it’s really good at isolating certain tones to edit, for example skin. I wished I’d learned it a long time ago, it’s very very handy. The only downside is that for one minute of graded footage it generated 14 GB of files…

In addition to the portion of the video with actors, I was also responsible for the audio logo at the beginning of the video. This is intended for use with future videos, sort of a recognizable signature for DGA. I scored it in Propellerhead’s Reason 4.0. Brownie points to whoever can find the easter egg in the audio ūüėČ

You can view the video here.



Part III: Aftermath

This section of the post is to keep track of Zipbuds and all the media we generated for DGA, as well as anything that occurs as a direct result of our projects. This will likely be frequently updated.

* Our pictures have already been spotted on Gizmodo, Gadget Review, and Whollysblog.




Besides myself, all of the following contributed to production in some way shape or form:

Students: Philip Behnam, Christopher Canel, Fadi George, Collin May (thanks for the jacket), Evan Rodden, Kyle Wheaton

Alum/Other: Adam Lee, Christian Lim, Mike Skocko, Danny Owens, Harveen Panesar, PJ Panesar

Actors/Models: Josh Marble, Dylan Quigg, Kale Beever-Riordon, Garrett, Jessica, Tenesia, Victoria



Back in March I was hired by China Wokery to take pictures of some dishes for a new website they’re building. Christian Lim, Zack Tatar, and I were the only ones working on the pictures the first time around.

Well, China Wokery came back for seconds this month and this time, I got to work with some fresh faces from Valhalla High School’s Mac LabChristopher Canel, Kyle Wheaton, Fadi George, Philip Behnam, Dean Powell, and then of course Christian and Zack all contributed to this project.

The workflow this time was similar to what we did before with the exception of a few minor changes. I split the work into two steps

– Digital Manipulation (removing dust, crumbs, reflections on the plates, etc)

– Color Work (taking the uncompressed .PSDs into Camera Raw and making all the colors deep and consistent)

Last time, we did the Color Work first: this turned to be an extra hassle because if I didn’t get the color right before I compressed to jpeg and began the Manipulation, then I had to try and fix it in Photoshop without all the RAW data – JPEGs are infinitely less flexible than .CR2’s especially when it comes to color work. So this time I made sure that we did things in reverse – Manipulation THEN Color.

With that in mind things basically went like this: Christian, Dean, and I took the pictures with a Canon 5D Mark II, then Christian divided the pictures between Christopher, Kyle, Fadi, Philip, & Zack for Manipulation. Afterwords Christian checks the work, sends it to me, I double check it then I do all the Color. Since Christian had the experience of our last China Wokery project I let him take the reigns for a lot of the post work and communication between students and that turned out to be a wise decision apparently haha.

Because we had all the extra man-power this time, we finished in less than four days – keep in mind this is on a Mother’s Day weekend.

Great job guys, the client loves the pictures.


Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Just finished another video for DGA, the company that created the Livespeakr. The video features various apps and how they would benefit from being used with the Livespeakr.

You can watch it here.

The white background is just curved poster paper and the lighting is all natural daylight. At first I tried buying some lights and making my own soft boxes out of mailing packages and bed sheets but when I turned the lights on…they didn’t look so good.

Editing was a little painful as in the raw footage the product moves from clip to clip a few millimeters from side to side. To fix this I used still images of the product instead and just used a four point garbage matte to essentially make a mask through which the screen of the iPod would show.

For the first few shots with the hand I used this technique but for the hand itself, I had to open my trial of After Effects CS5 and learn how to use the roto brush to essentially but the hand on its own separate video and composite it later in Final Cut Pro.

For audio, absolutely everything is not real. I and¬†Christian Lim from Valhalla High School’s Mac Lab, sorted through Sound Track Pro’s library of royalty free samples for hours and hours, and when we couldn’t find what we wanted there, we either made the noise ourselves (I’ll get into that in a second) or we scoured the internet for more royalty free samples.

I could not for the life of me find the sound of an engine accelerating for a prolonged amount of time, so I made my own sound. I opened up Reason 4.0 and setup a couple of synths, added distortion, steadily increased the pitch bend and presto – you get an engine. That reminds me, I forgot to mention that in the shot where I use this (the racing game), I added some wobble and radial blur in After Effects – that’s why it looks that way.

The project itself is a part of the CSUSM Senior Experience Project, a team of business students was paired with DGA for the purpose of contributing to the company as well as gaining real-world business experience. The team and the company commissioned me to create an “ad” that the students conceived.

Christian Lim, from Valhalla’s Mac Lab, and I have finally finished putting a DVD together for the Hillsdale Middle School Music Dept. I mentioned this project briefly in one or two of my other posts but essentially Danny Owens and Christian filmed the event under my supervision on Sony FX-1’s and then for post, I taught Christian the basics of Final Cut 7 and let him loose on the 2 hours of footage. From there he handed it off to me – I double checked and made small revisions to the cut and brought the video into DVD Studio Pro to build and burn a DVD which will be used to raise money for the department.

This was an excruciatingly slow project mainly because Christian only has so long to work on it while he’s in class, and I’m only present during 7th period 3-4 days out of the week to help him. He did extremely well however especially considering he has no prior experience with the program and that he did 90% of the editing on his own. All I really had to do after teaching him how to use the program was to routinely check up to make sure things were going smoothly.

We ran into quite a few bumps along the way – missing tapes, importing difficulties, missing audio, dark and overexposed footage, and don’t even get me started with DVD Studio Pro (the image above should give you a good idea as to how tangled the web of menus and script can get) but we were adamant on getting this thing done because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to move onto a much larger creative project we have in the works :).

Congrats Christian and Danny, one more project done and I hope the parents who choose to purchase one, enjoy the DVD.

On another note, I finished shooting footage for Digital Group Audio and their product, the Livespeakr, this Sunday as a part of something called the Senior Experience Project held by CSUSM. Long story short, business students from CSUSM are paired with distinguished local companies and work as a part of the company to gain real world experience. One of their last projects together is an ad – this is where I come in.

I’ll elaborate on this more as the project rolls along over this coming week.

I was recently asked to do some pictures of a few menu items for a great restaurant in San Marcos called China Wokery. The images are intended to be used on a new website they’re building.

Christian Lim and Zack Tatar from the Mac Lab at Valhalla stepped up as my students for this project. Both have already had some experience with cameras and Photoshop before but not in this context. The main challenge was being restricted to natural lighting – the client wanted us to shoot near where customers were eating and bringing lights would’ve taken extra space where customers could’ve been sitting; not to mention, a super bright flash every few seconds would’ve been a bit of an unpleasant distraction if you’re trying to enjoy a meal.

We arrived around noon with plenty of sunlight left. After we setup our gear and the first dishes came out of the kitchen I had Christian and Zack monitor what I was doing on my laptop (I used the EOS Utility that comes with the 5D MK II to use my laptop as a live monitor) so they could see exactly what I was doing to every variable on the camera to get the picture to look the way I wanted it to. After a shot or two, we switched positions – Christian took the camera while Zack and I monitored. After a few more pictures Zack took the camera while Christian and I monitored.

There are lots of sauces in asian food, and as you can imagine, they’re very reflective. So to keep any unmanageable highlights out of the image we simply just stood in front of windows to cast shadows on the table. At first we had a hard time deciding on how to point the camera at the food. After some playing around, we found out that tilting the tripod in odd positions is a great way to keep things looking interesting.

Now for the Photoshop side of things. I forgot how great RAW is. It’s so great in fact, that half our job was just playing with RAW info, because there’s just that much data. I split the work in two; Raw Work – which basically amounted to getting color work done consistently between each picture and Photoshop Work – which basically amounted to removing dust, blobs of sauce, crumbs, etc from the images, fine tuning any colors a little more if we didn’t get it 100% correct in RAW, and adding a nice gentle vignette to make the dish jump out at you.

Originally Zack was supposed to do the RAW work and Christian the Photoshopping. Unfortunately Zack’s laptop now rests in peace, so I did the RAW work. Everything worked out fine though, the images are complete. Here are some examples, enjoy:

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

All of my applications have been completed and submitted – around 30 written responses, tens of forms filled out, and two versions of one short film all done. Now the hard part, waiting.

In the meantime, quite a bit has happened since my last post.

1. Sweethearts Promo

So Danny from the mac lab was asked by ASB at Valhalla to create a promotional video advertising the upcoming Sweethearts Dance. I was able to assist with some critical on-set decisions as well as monitor Danny with his project (including cutting and sound editing) and I have to say, for his own real first video, not bad at all. It can be found here…it’s kind of like Degrassi now that I think about it haha. His next ASB promo is a dodgeball video set to shoot on Saturday; all should be go much more smoothly on set than the first shoot – I’m expecting some action scenes too :).

2. Video Project

I’m running a bit behind on another video project that was originally intended for Danny. As he got busy, Christian stepped up to the plate to learn Final Cut from me and put this DVD together, and I’m sure he won’t hesitate to tell you how much of a headache it is to sync footage up without the proper tools. Saturday, along with helping on Danny’s shoot, we will hopefully get the bulk of the cutting done.

3. 5D Mark II Firmware Update

FINALLY! THANK YOU CANON! 24p on a full frame camera, along with manual audio control, AND a live histogram. Ah Christmas all over again. I put together a short testing 24p. I will post it as soon as it’s done. Time to start showing these students what video is SUPPOSED to look like. Just in time for Danny’s Dodgeball video too, fantastic.

4. Future Project

Light painting seems to be the new fad in the mac lab, all the cool kids are doing it. I’ve been looking at different mediums for a blowout project on a Solitude scale for the end of the year and this may finally be a viable avenue for it. Thanks to a clever idea Christian had, we might be able to pull off some pretty nifty stuff. I won’t ruin the surprise though, we’ll just have to see what happens because nothing is set in stone. So Danny, Zack, Christian, and the rest of you light painters and mab labbers (I don’t know what else to call you haha sorry) write down ANY ideas you have. The more we have to choose from the better.

Stills Versus Storyboard

This weekend marks the completion of my applications to both UCLA’s and USC’s film programs. The reason I’m posting is because for USC, a visual sample was required and I chose the video option. After spending a few weeks tampering with unsuccessful ideas, I finally just stuck with the most applicable one and went through with it.

The story is short and sweet, but this project, although visually simple, gave me the opportunity to hone in on my other production skills.

For this project I again worked with the 5D Mk II, and as most most who have used it know, the mic is garbage. It’s essentially the equivalent of a built-in laptop microphone in terms of usability. What I wrote for my project involved dialogue, so that was a bit of an intimidating thought.

Thankfully I’ve had some experience with mics, and currently I happened to have Blue’s Snowball available to me (the world’s first professional usb mic). I’ve recorded some acoustic guitar tracks with it (which I actually used to put some tutorials together for students on how to use Garageband as a tool and not a toy), but I’ve never done vocals.

To run a test I first had to become a little bit more familiar with Final Cut Studio’s audio-specific program — Soundtrack Pro. It took a little getting used to, but after about twenty minutes it became apparent that it was just a hybrid between Final Cut and Garageband/Logic. I did a quick dub of my own voice to video, using the very easy and practical Multitake Recording feature and was surprised to see and hear what came out of my speakers. I was impressed by the both the quality and the ease of dubbing my voice over in STP — it literally took minutes.

I finished storyboarding and location scouting a couple weeks ago and soon after I began to shoot.

First Obstacle: Weather

There was a tornado warning in my area on day one of shooting. I have never heard of such blasphemy in San Diego. Moving from point A to point B without getting anything wet became some sort of twisted strategy game.

Second Obstacle: Time

I had a couple hours to shoot my dialogue scenes because I was actually using my local library’s study room…which I had only visited the night before…for fifteen minutes; it was being use for a meeting for most of the day. Naturally, I was minimally prepared.

Third Obstacle: Lack of Equipment

I really really wish I had some sort of cheap camera dolly. A couple friends on set (thanks Harveen and Eric) helped roll a table that had wheels as smoothly as possible for a couple of the shots. Needless to say, a table is not a dolly. Even after twenty tries or so (we tried different weight distributions, different ways of rolling it, sitting on the table with the camera, etc) the footage was still very very shaky. Final Cut’s Smooth Cam Filter was able to salvage the footage.

Fourth Obstacle: Sound

Even though learning to dub was overwhelmingly simple, the sound design for everything else took a while to get right. Fortunately, STP has a huge royalty free library of sounds that I could sift through for whatever I needed — the trick however was using the right keyword in the library search bar…they should really consider implementing some Google software into their search engine or something because apparently phone and telephone are not the same thing. Anyways, absolutely none of the final sound mix came from the camera. Everything you hear, besides the environmental and ambient sounds (which came from STP), were recorded with the Blue Snowball and edited in after the video was taken, including squeaking chairs, hands touching the desk, glasses, etc.

Fifth Obstacle: Color

Final Cut’s 3-way color corrector is only so flexible. I tried sending my project file to Apple’s Color, but Color is a bit overkill for the purposes of this project. The interface although straightforward is still tough for me to get the hang of. I ended up using Photoshop oddly enough, yes PS CS4 handles video. It was much easier to get what I wanted with a combination of Curves, Hues & Saturations, and Contrast layers but that maybe because that’s what I’m familiar with. I did however encounter a little extra noise upon export from Photoshop — unfortunate but not mind-shateringly terrible.


To sum it up, everything turned out ok but the highlight of this video is truly the audio. Every click of Mr. Hughes glasses, every sound his hand makes on the desk, along with both characters’ lines were recorded with a $100 mic in my bedroom. I think that’s pretty cool to say the least.

Just in case you missed the link at the top, the finished video can be found here. I wish the sound was as nice on Vimeo as it is on my computer but regardless, I think you’ll get the idea.


Mr. Hughes and the Hughes family

Derek Farrington

Harveen Panesar

Adam Lee

& the Mac Lab

Last friday my cousin, Malik Zavaro, called to tell me he was looking for an editor. He had received the final copy of a music video he’d just shot on the RED One but wasn’t happy with the color grading. Malik knew of a colorist who could make the changes he was looking for but he worked with Final Cut Studio – the original cut was in AVID. Malik was scheduled for an interview on a big network in the middle east (MBC if I remember correctly) in a few days and his video obviously needed to be ready before then.

I offered to try and recut the footage from scratch using an .mov export of the original cut as a reference. At around 8:00 p.m., about 5 minutes after he called me, I showed up at Malik’s house; he gave me the external 1 TB hard drive with all the RAW RED footage on it and I told him no promises because I’ve never worked with RED, but I’ll try. About 15 hours later I had a freshly cut FCP project ready to go.

Long story short, I had to play the reference .mov for a couple seconds, sift through the 100 or so raw takes for the correct original clip, scrub through the clip to find the correct 2 seconds of footage, drag that 2 seconds into the sequence, then do it all over again for every little cut. Sometimes it would take almost half an hour to find the correct clip so you can imagine how fun this was haha.

I’m surprised at how well my 17” macbook pro held up against 4k RAW footage (albeit I was editing the smaller proxy quicktimes). There was a little lag in playback, which is certainly frustrating when you’re trying to sync vocals up properly but that was because the external HD was connected through usb. I have no doubt that if I could have used firewire 800 or have had the footage on my local HD, there would have been almost no lag at all. Another surprise was that I figured out how to edit the footage in less than 30 min, the workflow was pleasantly straightforward (for me anyways).

So unfortunately it hasn’t been uploaded in HD yet but here’s the final product, enjoy.

Also, much thanks to Adam Lee for helping me figure out a solution to the problems that came up while editing.

Here I will be documenting my media/art related work including video commissions, photo commissions, etc. as well as the remaining six months I have to pass on the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired to the students in Mike Skocko’s [pronounced Skoch-Ko] Mac Lab at Valhalla High School.

What’s Happening Now:

  1. Applying to film schools (USC, UCLA, Chapman, LMU).
  2. Putting a DVD together of a local middle school band performance for parents (will be teaching high school students Final Cut for this project).
  3. Planning a special effects project (deciding between camera mapping, rotoscoping, etc) for high school students Рshould be fun.

What’s Just Happened:

  1. A music video I did with Adam Lee won its second award this past December after being accepted into its third festival.
  2. December 17th marked the completion of my first project with the high school students. I was commissioned by¬†DGA to take photos of their product the¬†Livespeakr (yes that’s spelled correctly). With DGA’s approval I took the job opportunity to give Skocko’s students a taste of the professional photo world. It took six students in all – four for taking pictures, and two for photoshopping them. Being there to teach every each step of the process was a bit hectic because it was finals week but regardless the company was thrilled with the results which, I should add, will be used to advertise their product on amazon. Here are some samples A, B, C, D.

High School Students From Mac Lab + 1 College Student = Professional Media Team

I have a little history with the guys at DGA. This past summer I did some product photos with a friend that ended up on their new package design for the Livespeakr (which has been submitted to this competition) and soon after I did a web commercial for them (which is now featured on their homepage for the Livespeakr as well as on Amazon).

I think this makes for a lengthy first post.

I will write more as it all unfolds.