Go-Balloons: video of the 2018 Bristol Balloon Fiesta

The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is arguably one of the best festivals in Bristol. It is one of the biggest gathering of hot air balloons in the world and personally my favourite festival of the year in Bristol (Upfest is a close second).

Bristol Balloons take-off during Saturday Morning’s Mass Ascent

The short sequence of the Balloon Fiesta 2015 that appeared in my previous video Go-Bristol was among the favourites judging by the comments and seeing as 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the festival, I thought it would be a good opportunity to make a short film dedicated the to Balloon festival. Here is the result:

I really hope you like the video! Ever since I moved to Bristol and attended my first ever Balloon Fiesta in 2015, I wanted to do something to showcase this wonderful event. There is something magical about the moment when all those balloons take to the sky all at once. If you like it, spread the world, share it with your friends and let’s see if we can beat the 1M+ views that my first video got last year!

Making-of

Brainstorming

This is an event which is very limited in time. It was fundamentally different than my previous video where I would just go shooting whenever I wanted. This time, I had to be prepared in order to get all the footage I needed in the 4 days of the event. I laid out all my ideas in a spreadsheet to keep things organised, try to balance everything, plan the type of shots, the locations, the schedule, and use it as a reminder during the event.

Once that was done, I realised that getting close-up footage of the balloons, the pilots and the crews would result in a much better story-telling and higher quality video. The problem is: these are restricted areas where the general public is not allowed into. I decided to contact Plaster, the company that handles media management for the event (which did a fantastic job BTW), and they very kindly agreed to grant me accreditation to enter such areas 😀 . I cannot tell you how happy I was when I received their email! This video would not have been the same without them. So to the team at Plaster and the Balloon Fiesta organisers: Thank you SO MUCH!

My official Balloon fiesta accreditation
“Official Media” wrist band: check!

New techniques

Now that the accreditation was sorted, I had to think ahead. What was my creative vision for this video? What would I want to emphasise and what tools to use to get the shots? Contrarily to Go-Bristol, I wanted to mix things up a bit and not have 100% time-lapses. I wanted it to be more diverse, look more cinematic and learn new things in the process. Adding some slow motion shots, rack focusing, some tracking shots, and all kinds of in-camera transitions would help. I am not used to shooting videos, let alone more advanced things like rack focusing so I watched and read countless tutorials and practised ahead of the big day (Thank God for the internet!).

Audio

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the film to look like before starting to shoot a single thing. I then focused on finding a soundtrack for the video. A good soundtrack is essential to any video. I always try to find the main soundtrack first and then edit the video to the music. It is harder to find a soundtrack to match your film once you’ve edited it.

I am not getting paid to make these videos so I always try to find a good royalty-free soundtrack. Lucky for me, the internet is full of talented creators that release incredible work out there for free. I wanted something that complements the video without drawing too much attention. I also wanted a track that slowly builds up to a dramatic slow-paced beat. Brass instruments and violins always work well for drama and I thought it would also work well with balloon shots. I sifted through hundreds of tracks and eventually found the track I wanted.

Planning

With the music sorted, I planned my shots to go with it. It’s usually not a good idea to pair calm footage with the up-tempo part of the soundtrack for instance. I decided to use the quiet intro to give some context of where is event is happening. A sunrise time-lapse of the Ashton Court Mansion, some rack-focus shots of the welcome signs, etc.

After that quiet intro, the pace and drama start to build up. I thought it would be a good time to have shots the crowd coming in to Ashton Court and drop a few hints of balloons, whether they are close-up shots of some detail on a balloon basket or B-rolls with a blurred balloon in the background. By that time, the viewer should have an idea of what this video is about and actually want to see more. That’s when the main beat drops. It’s now time to unleash the main footage and let the rest speak for itself. I don’t know if it worked and you experienced it like that but it was my intention.

With all this, I pretty much had a story board in my head ready to go. But how would I be able to capture those footage I thought of?

There was one more issue: equipment!

Because my camera is more geared towards still photography than videos, it wasn’t the best tool for the job 🙁 . I needed something that could shoot at 120FPS for smooth slow motion shots. Action cameras like Go-Pros can shoot 120 but have crazy fish eye distortion and lack the ability to use long focal length and shallow depth of field. For that, I needed a DSLR-like camera. The problem is, most DSLRs that can shoot 1080p 120FPS are really high end cameras like the Nikon D850 or the Canon 1DX Mk2. These are way out of my budget and renting one for 4 days would cost £400+. Again, I don’t get paid to make these videos so I want to keep the cost as low as I can.

Then I found out that the Sony A7III was able to shoot 120FPS (I know it’s a mirrorless camera and not a DSLR but you get my point). It has tons of features for videographers (focus peaking, IBIS, 4K, S-log profile, fast auto focus, etc) and it really is a great camera. It ticked all the boxes. All I needed now was to find somewhere to rent it from at an affordable price. I found a lovely and helpful bloke in Wales who was renting his own A7III body with a 28-70mm lens and extra batteries. Perfect! Gear sorted!

Shooting those balloons

You can prepare all you want but there are things you will never be able to control. The weather at this year’s Balloon Fiesta did not really play in our favour. Out of the 7 scheduled mass ascents, only a single one took place. The high winds of the first two days and the rain of the last one didn’t make it possible to safely fly the balloons. Bummer! But pilots were determined to put on a good show so they tethered in the arena so visitors would have something nice to see. Saturday morning’s mass ascent was INCREDIBLE! The sun was shining, the conditions were perfect so the balloons took to the sky and flew over the Clifton Suspension Bridge and towards the city. It was glorious, which is why most of the shots you see are from that day.

As for the night glows – which are my favourites – they were very nice as always. Thursday’s night glow went perfectly and Saturday’s Night glow had a twist. Because of high winds and rain (again…), it wasn’t possible to inflate the envelopes safely. So instead of just scrapping the show entirely, the pilots braved the elements and decided to go ahead and do a basket glow, which is the same as a traditional night glow but without the balloons. It is not as spectacular as a traditional night glow but it was different and I liked it! So props the pilots and organisers for doing that!

Thursday’s Night Glow

In the end I really liked shooting this video. The staff and pilots at the event were really nice to me, I met loads of new people, and visitors were very kind. It’s amazing what an accreditation can do! Suddenly, people see you as a genuine photographer who is officially part of the event and not some creepy guy taking videos of random strangers. It had a much bigger impact than I anticipated. People I shot were more relaxed than I am used to. It’s probably because this is a relaxed and family-friendly event but I’m sure the accreditation had something to do with it too.

Editing

I’m not going to describe my editing process in details but let’s just say that it took me around 3 months to edit everything in my free time. As always I started with editing the RAW time-lapses first with LRTimelapse and Adobe Ligthroom and rendered JPEG sequences. Everything else was done in DaVinci Resolve 15. Culling, editing, colour-grading, 3D rendering of the opening animation, sound effects, soundtrack editing and rendering. It was harder than my previous video because I had footage coming from 3 different cameras with very different characteristics that I needed to edit to make them blend and match each other in a visually coherent manner. I also shot at night which is very different in term of settings and post-processing. I’m obviously not a professional editor but I think I managed to pull it off so that everything seems pleasing and consistent.

As I said earlier, I only had 4 days to get the shots. That’s it! In these situation, it’s always better to shot more than you need so that you only include the best shots in the final video and you have more freedom in terms of editing. Needless to say that I took that a bit too seriously and got a little bit trigger happy. A lot of footage didn’t make the cut (I could probably do another video with what I’ve got). Just to give you some statistics, all the source footage ended up taking 369GB on my hard drive for a final 2min40 (and 589MB) video.

Acknowledgement

Several people helped me make this video come true so I would like to personally thanks them here.

First of all, the whole team behind the Balloon Fiesta. You don’t see them often but they do an amazing job behind the scene. The festival wouldn’t exist without their incredibly hard work before, during and after the event. They were super nice to me and I would not have been able to make this short film as good without them.

I also would like to thanks the person who I rented the Sony A7III from for being a top guy who made my life so much easier. Go check out his work at @loriwaitephoto on Instagram.

Lastly, a big thanks to the balloon crew members for allowing me to shoot among them, all the anonymous creators on the internet for releasing free content on the public domain for other creators to use, and the people who attended the festival for being in such a good mood (I think that shows in the film).

So Happy belated 40-years anniversary to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and see you in 6 months for the next one!!! 😀

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