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‘Nufonia Must Fall’ Plays Live on Stage & Screen with Blackmagic

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Canadian DJ, turntable artist and producer Kid Koala makes appearances around the world with his play, puppet show, concert and film production titled ‘Nufonia Must Fall’, based on his black and white graphic novel of the same name. The performance is directed by K K Barrett. 

A team of puppeteers bring the characters of the show to life inside miniature sets built to recreate each scene from the book. The performance is cinematically lit, filmed and projected – all at once – live on a large screen. Kid Koala, accompanied by Afiara Quartet, performs his original score on piano and turntable. All of these components come together in real time through the work of 12 performers and technicians.

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Orchestrating the storyline through 40 puppets and 20 miniature sets, the live action puppeteering takes place on stage in front of the audience. But because the puppets and sets are so small, limiting the number of direct viewers, the performance is shot, live cut into a film and projected in real time onto a large screen above the stage to accommodate bigger audiences. The story is captured using a multi camera setup of four Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Cameras, and an ATEM Production Studio 4K switches between cameras.

One Take    

When not performing, Kid Koala is Eric San. “When we first began conceptualizing ‘Nufonia Must Fall’, we decided to create a live film that would take place, in one take, in front of an audience using multiple cameras,” Eric said. “After testing a few different cameras, the Pocket Cinema Camera looked like the one for the job.”

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The Pocket Cinema Cameras lent themselves particularly well to both a filmic look and live production. Director of Cinematography AJ Korkidakis said, “We were trying to select equipment that would give us a very cinematic look. A lot of the gear that is made for live video switching or live shooting has more of a documentary feel. The Pocket Cinema Camera video has a nice, shallow depth of field and is reminiscent of 16 millimeter film, really giving us the look that we were going for, without compromising on the production factors.”

The cameras’ size works well for filming so many small scale sets. Because the cameras are light and compact, the production crew can easily mount them on jibs and dollies for quick, dynamic, cinema-style shots such as establishing shots and flyovers, as if a helicopter is flying over the scene.

Grayscale in Colour

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The cameras’ size and ease of use also makes the setup straightforward, reducing the number of people needed to control the cameras and consequently, the number of people on stage, which made the production feasible. “We built the cameras up on rails with focus gears so we can pull focus during the show,” said AJ Korkidakis. “It’s a super flexible camera. On stage, I can operate it by myself, moving it on the dolly and pulling focus and framing, whereas usually you would have several people doing that.”

With an aesthetic based on that of the original graphic novel, which was inspired by Charlie Chaplin films as forebears of the later film noir style, the stage production of ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ needed to evoke a black and white look. To achieve this look without losing the drama that comes with shooting in colour, and rather than shooting in black and white, the sets and puppets are painted in grayscale. The lighting effects, ranging from subtle to dramatic, are coordinated live on the sets. Because they’re scaled down, the crew uses small LED lights that won’t look too bright on stage.

Korkidakis said, “When you’re watching the show, if the camera required a massive amount of light to produce a nice image, it would distract the audience from the main screen. We’re using a Micro Four Thirds lens and shooting at the camera’s highest ISO of 1600, but it responds really well to that.”

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Switched On

When switching between angles and scenes, the ATEM Production Studio 4K is the brains of the operation. The stage crew and puppeteers are often running around on stage, especially when cutting within a scene, back and forth between cameras to get exteriors and close ups, or to create a montage on screen. Eric San noted, “It’s a lot more dynamic than just letting things play out in front of the camera, and it’s all cut live through the ATEM.

Korkidakis also said, “If you were to do this for a film, you would shoot it all and then spend a week editing it together. We do it right on the spot and can do transitional effects like crossfades and hard cuts, depending on what’s funnier or what has more impact for that sequence. Without a switcher like the ATEM, we wouldn’t be able to do this show, especially at the level of detail that we want.”

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The ATEM also means the production can stream the live camera feed to preview monitors stationed underneath the sets, so puppeteers can watch the play of action and prepare for cues without taking their attention too far away from the puppets they’re orchestrating. The crew also experimented with using subtitles for non English speaking audiences in Shanghai, playing them on an overlay through the ATEM, and did the same for their shows in Antofagasta and Santiago in Chile.

After two years on the road visiting countries on just about every continent, including Canada, the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, China and Chile, ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ is continuing its journey around the globe, making stops in additional US cities and Abu Dhabi. www.blackmagicdesign.com