Rivers of Light: Creating A Video to Bring Light in Darkness

A couple of years ago, Walt Disney World announced the concept of a new nighttime spectacle at Animal Kingdom, and the impact that show has had on me over the past few years is quite fascinating.  I had the privilege to attend the opening performance of “Rivers of Light” alongside the show’s production manager, who happens to be a very dear friend, which only added to the emotional experience.  It was especially unique for me, as I closely followed the show’s development from original concept through production.  Seeing it come to life after its months of story revisions and technological obstacles was nothing short of magical.  There is something about the premise of the show that resonates deep within me, and the transcendence I experienced during this show’s own journey heavily impacted Claymaker’s journey.

Light In The Midst Of Darkness

The natural world’s raw spirit and energy taking form in streams of brilliant luminance, dancing fountains, bioluminescence and fire is really a beautiful thought.  Within the darkness that seems to permeate much of our world at present, seeing a depiction of the inherent, natural “light” that exists in all living things is a welcomed escape.  It’s a very esoteric concept, I know, but it is of great value to me as I continue focusing on making a positive difference through my work.  There is goodness, or light, within all of us, and it is my wish to capture and display it whenever it shimmers.  It’s not that the I believe animals and forests will magically bring us world peace or will restore a fallen human world.  But, this visual metaphor’s suggestion that pure light exists within all of us and that beautiful harmony can emerge from unison is a powerful consideration in the dark and divisive world to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Feelings create actions and actions create a difference.

— Clay Greenhaw, CEO

Creating An Inspired Video Masterpiece

The concept of this show and its underlying message actually inspired a piece I did during my final season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  One of our 2016 pre-season games was a special presentation of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and as such, a nationally televised game means everything has to be brilliant.  Typically for national broadcasts, we favor showcasing the city and community alongside the team, so that was an immediate consideration.  I saw this as an opportunity to apply the same ethos of “Rivers of Light” to a piece of my own, and also an opportunity to borrow visual cues from the show’s concept artwork.  
In short, the piece is a visual showcase of the St. Johns River, which runs through downtown Jacksonville.  Along our aerial pathway to EverBank Field, we see the river come to life with video projections on water screens, dancing fountains, and of course, trails upon trails of light.  Different for a football hype piece, but spot-on for fan entertainment – if I do say so myself.  
(Taken from Bengals @ Jaguars, 8/28/16; Cinematography by Everett Sullivan and Bryan Thomas; Aerial Cinematography by Tanner Deprin)

Video Production Techniques and Gear

To create the piece, we employed a DJI Inspire 1 drone fitted with a Zenmuse X5R camera and a 45 mm lens to capture nighttime aerials of the city and the river.  For the water screens, we created our own stock library of “mist footage” by heavily backlighting various aerosol sprays against a black background.  We tracked the screen elements into the practical footage, and using additive transfer modes and displacement maps, we composited green screen footage of our football players within.  After throwing in some stock footage of fountains and splashes, tracking in some custom particle systems, scoring it with a triumphant soundtrack, and synchronizing it with a touch of pyrotechnics, we had an homage to the show that changed my world.
While the video may not have communicated the same explicit message, I believe the same emotions I experienced from “Rivers of Light’ resonated throughout it.  After a very emotional 2016 summer, I felt this burden to create a piece for my city that evoked unadulterated joy in spectacular brilliance.  Again, with that piece and with every piece, we at Claymaker want our audiences to feel the same emotions that inspire our creations.