Today we are with English director Tom Wakeling, who shared his new amazing and fascinating work with us. An impressive short film called Pattern.
Tom is based in London, he started out as an Industrial Designer, and he is now a filmmaker, he mostly works in commercials that are colorful and playful… the polar opposite of his new short film Pattern.
Hey Tom! We are excited to share your great work with the community! So, what is “Pattern” and how was your idea born?
Hi FW! Thanks for sharing the work, I’ve been a long-time fan.
What is Pattern… to be honest I’ve been asking myself that question for years and I still don’t quite know!
I wanted to make a film that was a representation of my experiences of getting lost in repetitive thought and how destructive that can be. Way back I had been experimenting with these strange light effects and somewhere along the way, I figured that the stacking nature of the effects was an interesting analogue of the things I was feeling. You see, each beam in the light effect is an echo of the first, it’s duplicated and stacked back in time – creating a literal wave of repetition.
So thematically it all dovetailed together quite neatly… but I didn’t want to make a film that was super explicit or heavy-handed with the messaging – that stuff makes me sleepy. The themes are present but we kept it all quite open – we were guided by what just felt right. We focused on the wonder of the lights, their beguiling nature, and ultimately its overwhelming effect. I think by doing that we’ve made a film that can be ‘enjoyed’ in multiple ways… it’s up to the viewer to get whatever they want out of it…
Now the big question: was CGI used to achieve these stunning lighting effects?
Nah no CGI, it’s an optical effect that I’ve been developing for years. The light source is a custom-made device designed and made by my genius friend Devraj Joshi (https://mynameis.dev/). It’s a simple perspex tube wrapped in diffusion, inside is an aluminum box section covered with LED lights and it’s powered by a small lithium-ion battery with a dimmer. The design is fairly simple but it actually took us a long time to work out how to get a source that was diffuse and powerful in a small body. It was super important to be able not to see the LEDs themselves, have enough power to light the huge spaces, and not totally overexpose our film.
For the filming, the tubes were hand puppeteered using various different custom rigs depending on the shot. Luke (the 1st AD) and I were the puppeteers, the choreography had been pretty extensively rehearsed before the shoot.
A lot of the pull of the film is the spectacle of the effect – the lights look so ‘un-cgi’ and their behavior is so ‘animal-like’ that it almost makes you think that this thing is real and alive… or at least you question what the hell this thing is!
Either way, it’s a bit of a magic trick, people are totally drawn in… if only to see how it’s made… that’s when we wrap them in the light, turn up the music and spin their brains with the ending!
Nick Morris was the director of photography. How was it to work with him? How did you plan this project from scratch? What were the main challenges you had to tackle? And how did you choose the equipment and the lights to shoot these scenes?
Nick’s amazing, he is obviously incredible at making beautiful images but it’s his ability to understand the film’s intention and make the right actionable choices that really sets him apart. From lens choices to the film’s format, he always pushed the project to be the best possible version of itself.
It was Nick’s idea to shoot the film on 16mm… which is obviously the trendy DoP move… but it actually had a strong purpose, the 16mm bedded in the effect even more, it made the technique look and feel even more real.
Though shooting on 16mm was a challenge for me, obviously it ate a lot of the budget, but it’s also a completely alien way of working that I was frankly a bit intimidated by. I had been brought up on mini DV and 5Ds, so I just shoot and shoot and shoot. With film, unless you’re Scrooge McDuck, you have to be more disciplined, and you have to rehearse… early on we even shot full video boards of the film just to be sure of what we needed.
In terms of other equipment… erm… we only had three lenses 6mm, 14mm, and a 40mm (we couldn’t afford the insurance to cover more!) and a couple of white Panavision t-shirts as makeshift bounces (forgot the poly!)… there was no other lighting apart from the tubes.
Where was this film shot? And how long did it take to shoot Pattern? What difficulties did you encounter during production?
We shot it over a weekend, one night on the Jurassic Coast in the south of England and one full day in my living room in London which we converted into a blackout studio with the help of black bin bags taped to the windows.
In terms of difficulties…well, I can’t really recommend shooting at night on a beach next to a crumbling cliff face and an unpredictable tide… safe to say we lost a few key shots which made the edit particularly difficult. Also, I’d say driving the kit van back to London after the night shoot through narrow Dorset roads was also a non-highlight. Also also, the black goo was the worst. It was made of black treacle, it went everywhere and never came off… I mean I could go on forever… but it’s a boring list of woe.
The last scene is very impressive, how was it shot? How was the mask created?
So the ‘face’ is also real and captured in camera. Months before the shoot we did a 3D scan of Josh’s face (our lead), which I then tweaked in Blender and got 3D printed by the lovely people at Champion 3D (https://champion3d.com/). On the shoot day, we covered the print in black treacle and suspended it from a wire… We were trying to infer that in the end, all that was left of him was the ‘black tar’ facsimile.
There’s a constant feeling of restlessness throughout the film. How important was the score to you in the editing phase? Did the composer Evan Gildersleeve create the score after the edit or the other way around?
It’s always incredible to me how much music and sound can bring a film together. Not only does it fill in the cracks of the film, it totally takes the lead in guiding the audience through the piece.
We took a different approach with the score than usual. We started working on it when I was about 80% done with the edit. Evan first sent over small fragments of sound and music, I then played with these pieces in the edit and feedback on sounds that the film was vibing with. After a fair bit of back and forth, we had achieved a fantastic soundscape which, once I got the edit locked, helped inform Evan’s score.
Evan poured his heart into the music, so it’s so wonderful to see people really connecting with it. Of the whole project, sound is the thing that I’m the most proud of.
Tell us about your future projects.
There are other shorts in the pipeline, many with a more narrative bent… but what I’d love to do in the meantime would be a spiritual sequel to Pattern… in a more commercial setting… specifically I’d love to see the lights ripple over a car’s bodywork!
We’ve also recently worked out a way of adding camera motion to the effect – previously it only worked with a locked-off camera. I love the idea of the camera moving along with the flying lights – I’d think it’ll look incredible!
Credits of Pattern
Director – Tom Wakeling [https://www.tomwakeling.co.uk/]
Assistant Director – Luke Wilkinson
Director of Photography – Nick Morris [http://www.nickmorrisdop.com/]
1st Assistant Camera – Phil Heron
Camera Trainee – Daniel Llobera
Runner – Philip Thomas
Art Director – Devraj Joshi [https://mynameis.dev/]
Music – Evan Gildersleeve [https://evangildersleeve.com/]
Sound Design + Mix – Jack Hallett (Factory Studios) [https://factory.uk.com/people/jack-hallett/]
Audio Producer – Ethan Day (Factory Studios)
Colourist – Jason Wallis (ETC) [https://electrictheatre.tv/showreels/colour/jason-wallis/]
Colour Producer – Oscar Wendt (ETC)
Scan Operator – Dan Redrup (Digital Orchard) [https://digitalorchardgroup.com/]
Panavision, Digital Orchard, 3D Champions, Factory Studios, ETC, Sorcha Bacon, Esteban Frost, Joan Solsona, Eimear Fitzsimons
Seamstress: Margherita Plate
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