Group Portraits and all that Schtick

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

So yesterday I photographed the 600+ people who work for Disney Animation Studios in Burbank. As some of you know, I was one of the main outside photographers doing business with The Walt Disney Company for close to 20 years. I sort of walked away from it in 2006 for a lot of reasons, my dad’s death, 9/11, my son, teaching and the list goes on. So I get a call the other day from a colleague who was actually  booked for the shoot but became unavailable when the client changed the date.  So he gave me a call. I was delighted and flattered to say the least. This type of photography is an art form for me, one I cultivate actively so it was tremendously gratifying when the client wrote me earlier today saying how much she loved the sample I sent over. The sample is the image posted for this entry.

I was helped by Peter Duffy, a colleague and former student, someone whom I look forward to helping when I can. Actually we have helped each other on a number of shoots. As a team we work very efficiently, professionally and have a lot of fun making photographs. He showed up with his 5D Mark II so I could take that baby out for a test spin. What a nice camera! I was stationed in a scissor-lift about fifteen feet up, shooting with a 24mm tilt-shift lens poked through a ring flash. I had to shoot at high noon due to the limited availability of the big three who run the division. My choice of course was to shoot early in the morning. We’re talking about artists here though, people who usually don’t like mornings, so probably only half would have showed. Late afternoon and they all would have been squinting, so noon it was. About thirty minutes prior to their arrival, the 600 or so made their way to the front of the building. Peter helped wrangle them into the three groupings I had designated. Using a bull horn it was a bit like wrangling cats. But he worked the crowd quite well. Give a bull dog a bull horn and that’s what you’d expect. Thanks Peter. The three executives came out and we were on!

I pumped 4000 watt seconds of power through the flash tube and it threw light all the way to the doors under the word “ANIMATION”. I shot at 1/100 @ f/13 @ 200 ISO and pulled f/7.1 as my fill. Impressive light and in my opinion (and experience with other group shots), a very efficient way to light a scene like this. As a variation I had them put on sunglasses and look slightly up at the sun. I had them wave and make funny faces. I had them tilt their chins up and then down. Incredibly almost all of the people participated. I was very pleased. I even did a little schtick (which I always prepare) to put them at ease and to break their thoughts as to what another group portrait in the sun was going to be like. I live for this type of opportunity.

I say it that way because the main thing bugging the client about their last photographer was that he did not direct them during the actual time he was making the exposures. A critical time to ignore your subjects, don’t you think? She related how they thought he was futzing with the camera while they waited for him to begin. Then he says he’s all through, thank you very much. I saw the photo, it left a lot to be desired. Like as many people as possible looking at the camera. Like as many people as possible smiling or at least paying attention to the photographer. At finally there was no attempt whatsoever to try and make the building come alive. It is a stand out facility, a piece of art. Why not treat it as such? After all magic is produced there.  My clients honor me when they commission my talents. I want to return the favor by honoring their work too. Pretty simple equation but  a lot of professional artists either don’t think like this or just plain forget.

After the shot was over I waited 20 minutes (in the scissor-lift bucket, in the sun) for people to clear out, I shot a bracket of three additional exposures, normal, +1 and -1 for the HDR portion of this project. I generated my HDR background plate and after a few duplicate layers here and there, a few blend modes here and there, a little burning and dodging, I was ready to drop in the shot of the people. Add a stock cloud image and there you have it, a nice portrait of nice people. Oy! such fun!

Here is the original shot. It took a bit of time to achieve the final result but my client is very happy indeed.

The camera original

The camera original

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6 Comments

  1. Meri August 3, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    Nice job Honey.

  2. Olivia Shea September 14, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    I’m a huge fan of this Walt Disney Animation Studios. And I would love to make lots of new animated movies with my family.

  3. Michael Stern September 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Olivia,

    Thank you for making the time to comment. My photography relationship with the Disney company dates back to 1982 and since that time I’ve produced thousands of photographs for them.

  4. Olivia Shea September 22, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I’ve always been interested in Walt Disney Animation Studios too.

  5. Olivia Shea November 20, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Do they let people in the Walt Disney Animation Studios or not? I’m just curious.

  6. Michael Stern November 20, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Hello Olivia,

    To answer your question…they do but you have to either know someone or have a stated reason for getting access…

    Michael

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