A few months ago, when the initial panic of the pandemic was dissipating and people were starting to meet outside, keeping their distance, I met with a couple friends at a park. We talked about what we had been doing during quarantine and I mentioned the stuff I was working on for the channel and all the connections I was making.
Both of these friends work in post-production, one has a solid knowledge of cameras and tech, the other one understands composition and framing, but not so much of camera specs. I’ve known these guys since before I started the channel and they both showed up in videos before. I’m talking about some groundbreaking piece of gear when one my friends asks what’s the big deal with anamorphics. Why do people go crazy about them, and why do I have a whole channel about it?
That lead to me explaining how anamorphics saved Hollywood, a bunch of history and subconscious effects that anamorphic lenses create on audiences, even when they’re not aware of what anamorphic is. “Oh, this has such a cinematic vibe to it”. You’ve heard or said it before, I’m sure.
After my spontaneous presentation he asked me why I didn’t make videos for a broader audience. Not switching the subject, still talking about anamorphic, but not so narrow as to talk about a single piece of gear. What I had just explained at the park was much more interesting and enriching than a lens review.
Later that day I started drafting this first Module for the Cookbook, before I even knew it was gonna be a course. I realized a lot of time I jump to the conclusion that everyone knows what anamorphics mean and what they do for your images. That’s a mistake I’m aiming to correct with this video, the first actual class in the Cookbook!
It begins! A new stage in the channel, a new project and a lot higher production value! The Cookbook is a year-long project of content covering pretty much everything that is connected to anamorphic shooting. It takes you from the history of these amazing lenses, to how they work, what you need to build your own setup and we wrap at editing your CinemaScope footage.
It feels weird to wake up, make breakfast, wish Ari a good day at work and then sit down to create YouTube content, plan videos and open emails from lens makers. My brain refuses to accept it as “work”, although it checks all the boxes (it’s endless, stressful, and generates income). I tend to laugh when someone calls me an “influencer”. I only jokingly refer to myself as an influencer, although I guess I am one.
When I started my channel, I didn’t want it to be my main source of income. I started because I needed to share information on anamorphic lenses. It was definitely a hobby. It consumed my time and money, but I enjoyed working on it. After a couple years I started to feel entitled to some compensation. I’d resent my audience for they’d pour money on lenses but give me nothing in exchange for all the information I provided. I thought “if I do this well enough, someone will come by and pay me for it”. The whole “American Dream” thing, free market and all. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work that way.
For several years I felt important, but not relevant. I felt I was popular among the folks without resources, but that people in the actual film industry, lens makers, and all sorts of technicians would laugh at how the videos looked and the information contained in them. I felt I was fighting the system. “Use a $300 lens instead of a $30k! You’ve been deceived!”. Very radical, or so I felt. But being popular with the people without money also means that no one is willing to pay.
Twice I burned out and almost quit. The second of those times I really thought I was done. On my “farewell party”, I ran into some people I thought were much cooler and relevant than I was (Corridor Digital), yet they recognized me in a crowd and had lots of praise for the content in my channel. That shuffled the idea I had about my audience and reach of the content. If these guys were watching enough to recognize me, who else was out there?
I got a little bolder (at least in my own standards). I hired an editor so I wouldn’t be constantly swamped, I still had lots of other work (YouTube was far from a good source of income), and I started to reach out to smaller brands for collaboration. Everything went pretty well, although I always had the feeling they were helping me out, and not the other way around. I still felt irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Then 2020 came around and everything was incredibly chaotic. I had lots of time, absolutely no outside work, and running very close to burnout again. I wanted all my content to be *perfect*. Full control, best performance, excellent visuals, unquestionable logic. I was failing, and this is where Blake comes in. I invited him to help me figure out livestreaming and from there we started creating more and more ideas together. Blake has a very different perspective on things being *perfect*. Perfection is to accept the flaws – or at least some of them – and doing so makes the videos better.
That was a trip. Accepting imperfection made the videos better. A lot better, actually. So I started accepting imperfections in my communications and reached out to people I considered HUGE and was blown away when they replied. This happened so many times I realized I was holding myself back on taking this step forward. I was stuck on the loop of “I’m better than this, yet no one wants to help me”. One of the toughest lessons was to accept I can be paid to do something I believe in. When I say it like this, it’s pretty obvious, but not six months ago, I’d feel I was compromising my ethics if I accepted money for something I was willing to do for free.
All of this has reached a point where I’m turning down outside work and taking the days at my own pace. I tackle lots of emails, edit some videos, do a little animation here and there, read a lot, research, pet my cat and play videogames. And I’m finding time to be there when people close to me need support. That never happened before. To help with all these changes, I’ve had weekly therapy sessions since 2015 and I’m taking anti-depressants for a month and a half now.
It’s okay to slow down, it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to accept help. Hopefully this can influence someone to avoid burnout and find a healthier way to pursue their dreams.
This post was inspired by something João Gabriel Rodrigues wrote a couple weeks back. Jota said he’s competitive to the point that he can’t have fun. If he’s set to do something, that something has to be the absolute best, otherwise, what’s the point? As I read his post I realized I have a lot of that too. And some more.
If you ask me what I’ve been up to, the answer is gonna be quite different than if you ask me how I’m doing.
Here’s what I’ve been up to: I turned 30 last year. I got somewhat of a steady job for the first time ever and switched from working on set to working in post. I thought I was done talking about anamorphics and it turned out I wasn’t. Last fall I taught a class for an entire semester in the college I graduated from.
I traveled through Europe and met a bunch of people I only knew from the internet. I (self) published two e-books after two years of drafts. I’ve been involved in all sorts of projects I never expected. Yesterday I wrapped shooting my first feature film as director of photography and next week I start teaching classes at Langara college. Today I’m posting a video and livestreaming about a camera I had before it was announced. The first big payoff of five years working on the YouTube channel.
If that’s all you know from me – because it’s the information I volunteer -, then it really sounds like I’m living the dream.
Here’s how I’m doing: since I rushed back from Brazil to Vancouver before the border closures in March, I’ve been afraid. I’ve been feeling weak, scared, and insecure. I’ve been sleeping four to five hours a night, and I hardly feel hungry. I’m also randomly sad and there are days I hate feeling like this.
I’m used to dealing with impostor syndrome for a single aspect of life at a time. Dealing with it on multiple fronts all at once was a new experience. The latest rush of accomplishments – feature film, secret new camera, teaching -, plus not faltering with the channel and pushing for some more still-secret projects got me reeling.
Right now I feel like playing video games for a week straight and not stepping out of the house. As much as I want it, I know that’s not what I’ll do. There are classes to be taught and videos to be made.
Feeling weaker now was different from previous times. On the feature I had a team I could be honest with and say “today I’m feeling like garbage and I need some extra help”, so they stepped up giving me time to recover. On the channel I’m not on my own anymore, Blake and Lila help me on different fronts and they help a lot. For teaching, Sara has always been an inspiration and endless source of support. Last, for absolutely everything I do, I got Ari. Ariana is a major source of inspiration and motivation. She pushes me forward and always helps me when things get out of hand. I’m super grateful for having these people around me.
I guess the idea is there’s always some sort of balance. While things are great, others are not so good. I take them as I go and I’m still learning to take breaks.
You want to achieve the anamorphic look, or make your footage more “cinematic”, but you’re not ready or you don’t have enough time to figure out anamorphic adapters. You also don’t have enough money for cine anamorphics (who has it?). Lucky for you, I spent the last three years breaking down what makes the anamorphic look into components that can be created separately without any anamorphic glass. That’s my Anamorfake It Until You Make It! guide. More about it later! In this post we’re creating the anamorphic look with the Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine Lens!
This 35mm is a very versatile lens. It has great minimum focus and features a fast aperture which boosts bokeh for the smart shooter. 35mm is a mandatory focal length in any set, acting as a normal lens on S35 cameras and a mild wide-angle on full frame. The one I’m using is in EF mount as it’s the most versatile budget mount on the market. In the following steps we’ll open up the lens, take out some elements and add an oval insert to the aperture mechanism.
Modifying a lens can feel like a daunting experience if you have never done it before. I still get shivers every time I’m opening a new lens. The secret to staying cool and safe is to take notes and film/photograph the process, paying close attention to what piece goes where, as well as its orientation. The mod we’re attempting today is a simple one.
In this video you can see me doing it all in just over ten minutes. I usually don’t share these in writing anymore, but I teamed up with Cinema5D to provide you with an illustrated guide here so you can do the process on your own pace!
For this mod we’re gonna need the lens (obviously), a lens wrench (not mandatory), scissors, a phillips screwdriver (#000), marking tape, a permanent black marker, and oval inserts you can get from me on eBay.
Before I even touch the lens I paint the oval insert black. The ovals come in thin transparent acrylic. Use the permanent marker for that. Paint both sides of the disc and do two coats. Set it aside.
Now get the lens and notice how the locking pin on the mount aligns with the line for the aperture mark. That is important for reassembling the lens later. Get the screwdriver and remove the three screws that hold the mount in place, putting them on a safe place.
Then take out the lens mount and set it aside too.
This gives us great access to the rear group of the lens. Time to check where the aperture line is again. Using it as a reference, cut a small triangle of marking tape and place it on the rear group, aligned with the aperture line.
You’ll notice two little grooves on the housing around the glass. You can use the lens wrench here to loosen the initial tension. If you don’t feel like getting a lens wrench just for this one mod, get a firm grip around the rear group (rubber gloves help) hands and twist it out. There’s a lot of turns on this one.
This gives you access to the aperture mechanism. You can open and close it, see how it works up close. You’ll also see that there’s not a lot of room in there for our oval insert. We’re going to have to attach it to the rear group itself.
Use the triangle mark to align the oval insert. Considering its narrowest diameter, the oval must be perpendicular to the triangle. This ensures that when you screw it back into the lens, the oval will be in the proper orientation – I learned this the hard way. The cheap option to stick the disc in place is using little loops of tape. The fancy way of doing it is using double-sided tape. Make sure you stick the tape to the metal housing around the element, not to the glass itself!
All that is left to do is screw this little guy back in place and reinstall the mount. Be prepared, though: there is a good chance that the oval will not be perfectly aligned. Here’s trick I learned after doing a dozen of these mods and adjusting the ovals to perfection: reinstall the lens mount using only one screw.
Make sure the notch in the mount is aligned with the aperture line as we observed early on, and install the screw closest to that point.
Then mount the lens on your camera and check how the ovals are looking. For me, they were a bit off to the left. To fix that I need to reopen the lens, get to the oval again, and twist it a little bit in the opposite direction.
This is the only challenging part of this mod. Sometimes it takes me up to three tries until I get it perfect. Take your time, think it through and make the adjustments.
Once you are happy with alignment, install the rest of the screws, locking the mount in its original position!
This concludes the modding process for the Rokinon 35mm. Go out and shoot some good-looking oval bokeh! Notice that the aperture mechanism still works perfectly, allowing you to stop down the lens. The downside of doing so is that the oval shape will start to get cut off until it disappears completely. After installing one of these mods, I also throw a variable ND on the lens and use that to control exposure, instead of the aperture ring.
In terms of crafting the anamorphic look, this mod won’t make your lens squeeze the footage or produce streak flares. This is the cleanest style of modification. The Anamorfake It! guide includes several other aspects of creating the anamorphic look such as distortion, lens flares, detailed instructions for modifying over fifteen lenses, how to make your own mods plus video tutorials and a ton of resource material that you can use in your projects. This is all without actually changing the way you shoot – if you ever used adapters, you know they require a lot of compromises. To inspire you a little more, use the code C5D at checkout for a 10% discount!
I made an Aspect Ratio Calculator as part of the release for the revised and updated Anamorphic on a Budget guide. This tool helps you figuring out timeline resolution and optimal scale settings. By following the numbers you can maximize footage use towards delivery size!
All the fields have handy tooltips, so if you have questions just hover over the titles.