I know.  It's fast approaching mid-February and I've not made a blog post for nearly two months now.   Ironically, I haven't had the time, even though most of my colleagues in the industry imagine that I spend all day listening to my camera click at varying intervals and spend said time sleeping, reading, watching films or generally just being lazy.   In my busiest January on record since I started Chadchud back in 2010, I've been somewhat absorbed and preoccupied with looking after 12 shoots and around 28 cameras.  Anyway - here's one of those weeks...

Planes, Aeroplanes, Airplanes - those big metal flying things  - how long does it take to paint? 7 days as it happens.  Now normally, I'd break in to the details of exactly what it was I was filming but I've actually just realised I had no idea of what type of plane it was - I'm sure somebody out there will easily fill me in on the details but it's something I never thought of asking.   Nevermind - I was there to shoot - all I needed to know what was happening next.

The Equipment

After various calls and meetings, it was finally decided that it was best to cover this seven day operation with seven cameras - four rigged permanently up in the ceiling and three to use on ground level on various bits of motion control kit.   The cameras up in the ceiling were powered by mains to last the duration of the week and I used standard Canon batteries for the floor shots.

The cameras of choice were: 2x Canon 6D, 3x Canon 7D and 2x Canon 5D Mark III.   I used a variety of lenses for the ground shots and the ceiling cams had the following lenses: 2 x Canon 17mm tilt shift, Canon 16-35mm and a Canon 24mm prime.

The Preparation

Having shot a few planes before, one thing I was certainly prepared for was the dust.  The process of doing a re-spray means that certain parts of the plane are stripped using traditional paint stripper and the others have to be ground off as they're composite parts.   Sanding off huge areas of plane creates a sand-storm like scene and although the extractors in the hangar do an amazing job with their huge filters, anything and everything will eventually accumulate a layer of dust.

After this, you can expect a nice layer of paint followed by a very hard to remove layer of lacquer - you'll see in the video the sections during the painting as there's a fine, floating mist in the air. 

To combat this, all of the cameras had a clear filter screwed onto the lens apart from the 17mm tilt shift lenses because of their domed-front.  I also took along plenty of heavy duty bin bags, tape and lens cleaner.

Today's Office

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on

The Rigging

To rig the long-term (ish) cameras in the ceiling, we climbed aboard the cherry picker and using a combination of L-Brackets, 3-axis heads, ratchet straps and 400m of mains cable, we put a camera to cover each position as requested by the client.  I kept the two 17mm tilt shift cameras as far away and as high as possible to reduce lens destruction and placed a wide at the front and one at the back to cover the tail painting. 

Once I'd set up each shot, I taped the lens up (to stop paint etc) then placed a big bin liner over each camera and taped it up.  Once they were installed it wasn't possible to get access to them again until the job had finished so cleaning wouldn't be possible. 

I'd been given a few hours to install the cameras as one plane had recently left and the one I was shooting would be coming in the next morning.  The only 'pressure' I had on me to rig was the guy operating the cherry picker had been at work since 7am and it was now 4pm and I could sense he was itching to get home.  I, on the other hand, having worked in tv for a number of years, have no actual concept of the 'shift pattern' any more and as expected, you stay until the job is done!

The shoot

For a shoot spanning seven days, you need to extend your time per shot, as in you need to capture shots over a few hours.  This does vary however dependant upon what is happening and without witnessing this exact plane being painted previously, things do change.    The ground cameras I had set up were set to shoot 300 frames over 2-3 hours.  Some shots were longer - sanding off the paint on the engines seemed to be a straight-forward process but after two hours of shooting, they were only half way through so I left it running.  I'd been armed with a rough schedule but it was essential to keep an eye on progress in case anything ran late or changed. 

The only other issue I was worried about was the scaffolding surrounding the plane which gives the guys access to paint it.  It's all attached together in segments and considering there's a few tonnes of it, the majority of it isn't solid when people are walking around it and it moves and sways - perfectly safe for human action but a timelapsers nightmare.   The best solution I could use other than a stabilised head was to use a wide 12mm or 14mm lens and grip the cameras to the scaffolding .  The wide lenses are a bit more forgiving when it comes to slight movements!

My mate's back in the hangar to keep me company whilst shooting.

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on


If you've read my other posts you'll have come to the conclusion that I love my job or that I'm slightly insane.  Either way, it's not all plain sailing and there are times, rare as they are, that I get a bit bored.  Hardly surprising really as I was literally watching paint dry.  The main distraction for me on this shoot was a robin.  Normally external dwellers, this guy had apparently been making his way into the hangar in search of food from the workers for a couple of years.

Tame, but with a sense of precaution, he'd happily pose for me and allow me to hold my iPhone about a couple of inches away to get a close up.   Several instagram posts later, people thought I was starting to lose it but in reality, the dullness of a near-empty hotel for 7 nights coupled with watching paint dry, this robin kept a smile on my face with each appearance!

The Edit

For the majority of my shoots, I'll throw in the rendering of clips into the costings so the production company will receive not only the original raw files + jpegs, but also an uncompressed video file for each clip they can use straight away in the edit. 

This has saved a lot of phonecalls back and forth in my experience, as even though they're using top-notch editing suites and facilities, there's still an amazing amount of editors out there who aren't sure of the workflow for creating a timelapse as it's still relatively new in the digital world.

The downside to this is when the edit is a matter of urgency.  In this case, as soon as the plane leaves the hangar it's in the public domain and Easyjet wanted a video to release alongside the announcement rather than afterwards.   As soon as the plane was pushed out, I spotted a couple of spotters a few hundred metres away with their long lenses - no doubt their pictures were uploaded before any of ours were!

So to deal with the urgency, I sat down for a couple of hours each night to render out the shots into video clips from each day's shoot.  This meant I was waking up at 6am every morning and getting to bed around 1 or 2am - not ideal but a great reason for afternoon naps when available! 

The worst was to come though after the end of the shoot.  Once I'd grabbed the final exterior shot of the plane, the timer had started.  At 2pm, I de-rigged the cameras in the ceiling.  At 4pm, I drove back to London - a 2.5hr drive which took me 4hrs due to the usual traffic / RTA's and idiotic drivers.  Arriving home, I then copied the 16,000 images from the ceiling cams to my computer then spent the next 10hrs deflickering, exporting from lightroom and compiling the clips.  I then backed it all up and then copied it to a drive to be collected at 10am.   That's basically a 29hr shift but luckily I had nothing planned that day so managed to catch up on some ZZZZ's. 

The result

So after the drive was collected with the rushes on (quite literally rushes), it was thrown into the edit and pretty much uploaded within a few hours and here's the result - eight days of work, not a lot of sleep, dodgy hotel food, seven cameras, 49,000 pictures, a friendly robin, a few licks of paint and surprisingly, clean lenses!

Where next?