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.
WOW, this is incredible. thanks for sending it along.
I love looking at the photos and hearing my friends stories, but this is something I will probably never do!
I’m with you. I have a feeling Scott will go one year very soon, but I’m not entirely sure I could actually ever hack it (though this video makes me want to!).
WOW, what an amazing video! The time-lapse of the stars moving across the sky is just breathtaking!
I’ve got a girlfriend at Burning Man right now. I’m sending this link to her. She will love it!
I used to think of it as solely a bunch of naked hippies (and there are plenty of those, too) partying in a desert commune—until I had enough friends like Roy go to convince me otherwise. =)
Wow. These photos and videos are stunning. I would love to go to Burning Man. ingers crossed for next year!
You can go for the both of us, because I’m not sure I’ll ever have the guts to do it!
Wow, you just added to my knowledge bank today, Kristin. Sigh, video’s like that make me wish I were more arty.
Note from my ‘wallflower’ self to you: You should totally go for this and let us in on the experience “C&C” style. 🙂
The square, never-broke-a-law-(unless-speeding-counts)in-her-life style? Ha. That would probably be a bit boring 😉
This is definitely not my thing, but I love readings stories and seeing pics from the event every year. These pics are amaaaaazing!!!!
I was going to say, “yes, you and I prefer our dresses to birthday suits”—and then I remembered the post from your honeymoon…. 😉
great series of shots, never been but looks extremely fun!
AWESOME!! Gorgeous all around… I always wanted to go to Burning Man. My good friend is there now. I can’t wait to hear her stories!
I can so see you in a fur bikini and tall, tall boots!
Burning Man is soooo not my scene, but I can still appreciate these images. Gorgeous!
Ditto, sista. I think I’m going to have to get Scott to go check it out for the both of us! It is totally him—me, not so much.
Up until a few months ago, I never had a desire to attend Burning Man. But, after talking with Erica from Over Yonderlust and looking at all of this eye candy, it makes it hard to pass. Although, I am pretty sure the heat and crowds would do a number on me. Gorgeous shots!
I can totally see you, Erica, Steph and Abby having your own camp!
I would really love to go to this one day. Love the attitudes. Love the beautiful setting.
You and Erica (Over Yonderlust) can go together! I bet she’d be a fun Burning Man companion to have!
The pictures are great, but its like burning man is not for the faint hearted
Definitely not! Which is why I might not do so well there 😉
I have always wanted to go to Burning Man but every year I forget about tickets, next year will be my year!
Do it early! Erica said below that 150,000 people applied for 50,000 tickets this year. Eek!
Even early didn’t help this year. They did a lottery. Not sure what they are doing this year but I hope luck is on your side!
Fantastic video, and I love the insider tips about Burning Man!
Wow. Such an amazing video. One day I hope I am fortunate enough to experience this.
Maybe our group should have an IRL meet-up there next year? 😉
This looks right up my alley. I can’t believe I haven’t been there yet either…
Beautiful video! I especially love the night time lapses where you can see the stars. So amazing.
I know, right? One day, I aspire to do a timelapse, but methinks I need to learn something about videography first!
Attending Burning Man has been on my life list for years now! Someday, I will make it! Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos and letting more people know about this incredible event.
You’re braver than I am! The thought still terrifies me, despite all the “dangerous” countries I’ve visited and crazy things I’ve done. (I know, I know!)
This makes me so incredibly sad. Like, a sadness that has such a depth I cannot even begin to describe it. We went in 2010 and it was such a life changing moment. I had been waiting for 10 years to finally be able to afford to attend and it was everything I wanted it to be. This year is my 30th of life and I wanted to celebrate it with my “family”. Due to new documentaries (that are amazing) and pics that have come out, they received 150,000 requests for 50,000 tickets and we never got the chance. My dream was crushed. Seeing all the live feeds today makes me ache.
Aw man–I didn’t mean to make you sad =( I have a feeling you will make it back there soon—maybe to celebrate 31??
It has been a really long time since I have loved a video as much as this one. Normally I become bored before they over but this one transfixed me from start to finish. Those Stars crossing the sky as the earth turned and the moving moons……WOW. What a phenomenal video! Thank you for sharing such beautiful work!
I know, right? Roy is so freakin’ talented, from the composition to the music he created just for the purpose of this video.
Such a beautiful video! This is something I would love to do one day, and it’s great to learn about someone else’s experience.
omg i thought you went for a second and died. my immediate reaction was what was KL’s experience w the heavy drug scene? i scanned through your replies above- not necessary my scene either but would love to go at least once to experience it. i think you should definitely go with SVV when he does… thanks for sharing such an amazing post! great interview questions too (sometimes i forget youre a journalist and not just a world traveler lol!). stunning video
The film is not only an example of great timelapse cinematography skills, but also a refined in every detail post-production and tasty music choice.