SVV served in the U.S. Navy from 1996 to 2000, three years of which he spent on an air base in Sicily. (Rough life, huh?) It was there that he met Roy, who would become one of his closest confidantes over the coming years; the two worked in the same shop of around a dozen aviation electronics technicians and bonded over a mutual love for music and art. And now Roy is sharing his top tips for surviving Burning Man.
RoyTwoThousand—as he is known on the music circuit—returned to his native Bay Area, as did SVV, and while I didn’t get the chance to spend as much time with him as I would have liked, he and his lovely partner Crystal kindly DJ’d our Muir Beach wedding in 2010.
What’s even more inspiring is how Roy was able to leave his camera on the Playa, sometimes shooting for hours without being disturbed, and he often returned to find offerings left around his tripod. In the same spirit, he has gifted footage to two other documentaries on Burning Man currently in production. It really is a community in the true sense of the word—how great would it be if the rest of the world operated on such principles?
In honor of Burning Man starting today, I asked them to share their award-winning video as well as answer some questions I had about the whole process.
How did you first find Burning Man?
I first attended in 2009 even though the Burning Man seed was planted in the 90’s. After going to raves in high school, spending time in Ibiza and being connected with the Burning Man music community in San Francisco, I knew I’d like it. It was just a matter of being able to take the time off, being in the country and having the money to go. I was never in a rush to get there and felt like waiting till the time was right.
Once I got there, I realized that I shouldn’t have waited so long. I thought I knew what it would be like, and while it was to a degree, it was way cooler than I could have possibly imagined. Just like anything in life you can’t experience a place through pictures and videos. You have to be there to feel the energy. I underestimated the scale and scope of the artwork and all of the time and energy invested in creating the city. And when I saw this first hand, I felt like I was missing out on watching a young culture grow up and evolve … like missing a child’s first steps.
The community, the art, the music, the uniqueness of the environment and the excuse to experience a landscape I would never otherwise be in has pulled me back every year until this year. Crystal has never been, but we hope to get her there next year, in 2013.
What tips would you give someone like me who is perhaps scared or intimidated to attend their first Burning Man?
The best way to handle a virgin experience is to talk to veterans who have learned to do The Burn in a balanced way. You don’t need a card-carrying Burner to induct you into these sacred rituals—though it helps—and experience and support are just a message board away. The sense of community is very strong. By asking for advice and expressing intention, it lets the community know that you’re probably not a frat boy looking to party (and if you are, then being intimidated by the experience is probably not on your mind).
There are a lot of different kind of camps and if you aren’t already going with a group of veterans, there are camps that you can join that will help you with preparation and provide support once you are on the Playa. A good camp is going to have a solid shade structure and a good kitchen set up with water and food provisions. However, most of these camps do have regular planning meetings and require everyone lend a helping hand. So if you want to just chill out and observe the first time around, just pay attention to the survival guide (see the Burning Man website and sign up for the newsletter) and plan on bringing a good shade structure that can also block the blowing dust.
The environment can be harsh but preparation and awareness of your environment is all you need. It’s all about packing right. Preparing for extreme cold and extreme heat with the proper layers: A lot of people go naked all day and wear furry coverings and layered costumes at night. Make sure you have goggles and a breathable scarf to protect your face from dust.
Bringing the right food is how we survive any trip. Our Playa food box has: mint, rose and licorice tea; coconut water, raw coconut and coconut butter; fresh fruit that can handle the journey including a big bag of avocados. Rice with raisons, cinnamon, coconut and cardamom and ghee is a staple dish along with kitchari (lentils and rice cooked with turmeric, cumin and other spices). Olive oil and ghee (clarified butter) are key: Staying lubricated internally to offset the dryness externally. I also lather my upper body, neck and face with coconut oil every day on the Playa. Sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and fresh fennel also travel well and are great for helping your body stay cool.
Your critically-acclaimed film, The Fertile Desert, shot during Burning Man recently was selected for the Nevada City Film Festival. What do you think about when creating such a piece that helps your work stand out in the crowded convolution of the Internet?
We’re really about producing work that shows life is beautiful and there is a lot of beauty to capture at Burning Man. Choosing the quiet moments as well as showing people play was a key factor in the direction we wanted to take. The Otic Oasis was the focus of the film because the intention of the art installation was to embrace the calm of the Playa. The music was ambient and spacious to reflect the feeling of being there. By pointing the lens at the spiritual aspect of the experience, at the ways we explore consciousness, the natural beauty, and the personal connections; we felt like we were being true to what Burning Man means for so many people and why it is called “Home.”
I also didn’t have an agenda or a specific story in mind when I went. I stayed in the flow and came across some magical opportunities, which is a huge part of being there as well. Creativity comes naturally in an environment like that and the key is letting what’s happening happen.
On the technical side, the HDR timelapse sequences in combination with the film shot at 60 frames per second (slowed down) allowed for the sense of depth and awareness that comes with being there. Your senses are heightened by the environment and the energy of the gathering. The compression and expansion of time mirrored what it is like to be in that experience.
You specialize in timelapse sequences. How long does it typically take you to put together such a piece? What is the succession of steps involved?
The basic edit of the video was done in a few months. But since I composed the soundtrack as well, the process was longer than just the film. By composing the music with the film, I was able to really build a reflection of the experience and amplify the tone of the piece. In fact, the music was a tone poem of sorts, telling my story of Burning Man. I would take an edit of the film and build the music around it and then take the music edit and adjust the film to the music. I went through several cycles of this before I had to cut myself off and just say what’s done is done. If I didn’t do that, I would get exhausted by a project.
An individual timelapse sequence can take days to a few weeks to depending on how much time I have and how much time the sequences spans. Beyond the initial two to 12 hours of photography itself, I spend a few hours importing and organizing the image files. And then the compositing and sequencing begins. Compositing the three exposures together for HDR is the most time consuming part of the process. I do all my compositing manually so I have control over how the exposures blend together. Sunsets and sunrises take more time than sequences without light change. A sequence with light change takes anywhere from five to twelve hours. A sequence without light change will take about two to five hours. I generally put several timelapse sequences in a vignette and blend them with video. Color-matching the video and timelapses takes an additional hour or two or three in post production time.
Timelapse has become an increasingly popular form of creative expression with the accessibility of digital photography equipment to your average consumer. What advice would you give an amateur who wanted to get into it from a hobby standpoint?
Don’t be afraid to spend the time learning the hard way rather than using a filter or a plug in. There is a lot of fun equipment to try out and a lot of photographers particularly like the shots with movement. But if the shot is good, it should intoxicate you without any special tricks. There are also a lot of great lenses and filters and fun toys. But in our experience, it’s worth spending money going somewhere epic to film over using the super expensive lens at home. That being said, there are a lot of possibilities to have fun in post and be really creative. HDR is just the beginning.