Doing it in camera: experimental and bold

For many people there is a magic in doing visuals in camera, we explore two such approaches, macro photography and cloud tank photography to find out, ‘Is doing effects in camera still a valid way to be creative and bold’?

French Macro Beauty

“We are a French atelier who creates immersive macro worlds of hypnotic abstract imagery based on a variety of physical phenomena and chemical reactions,” explains the duo behind the new NANO workshop studio.


NANO is a new creative collaboration in Paris, the brainchild of two French artists, Roman Hill and Paul Mignot. NANO offers incredible macro photography in a landscape of stunning and highly vivid palettes.

NANO creates immersive macro worlds of abstract imagery based on a variety of physical phenomena and chemical reactions. “In this uncharted universe of textures, movement and colors, we redefine scale and transform small inert elements into evolving universes, morphing and reinventing beauty,” they explain.

All the footage available has been created entirely in camera, without any use of visual effects or computer generated imagery (CGI). The footage is shot using macro photography techniques on a Red Dragon camera. The team have a DaVinci Resolve grading station but the footage is not highly graded and not composited or heavily modified. Most of the colours come from the various techniques and dyes they use. There are some instances where Hill decided to inverse the image completely, as the negative space was more interesting to him, but the secret, if there is one simple secret for this style of work, is “advanced experimentation”. The team have recently acquired a powerful microscope and they plan to move beyond macro photography to complex micro photography “allowing us go into this world even more, Roman has made some tests already, but it is just the very beginning of that research”.

Roman Hill is the original explorer of this macro chemical universe. Paul Mignot is an award winning film director who became impressed by the incredible imagery Hill was offering for various TVC projects. “Roman is a wizard,” he jokes. “In the macro world you can give the impression of an entire mountain exploding” explains Hill “or an entire galaxy is exploding.”

“As possibilities are infinite, we continuously research, develop and experiment with new effects in our state-of-the-art atelier, driven by the excitement of discovery and the desire to create outstanding quality footage,” they comment.

The team do extensive research into minerals and natural phenomena such as how fluids mix “and how chemicals react and the fluids mix and then there is all the technology around the camera technology” explains Hill.

Paul Mignot suggested they form NANO and take Hill’s work to another level, while also offering it commercially. Mignot’s affinity for eye-catching visuals has been manifest in his advertising work, in a number of high-end campaigns he directed for Audi, Jeep and Lexus, amongst others, as well as beauty and fashion films.



One interesting technical aspect of the work is the focus plane. There is no postproduction defocus work: Hill applies tiny tilts to gently create the illusion of a shallow or wide open depth of field. In macro photography work, the slightest tilt will place the imagery in or out of focus. “It is especially difficult for the rainbow work, where you are working with the reflection of the light, and you can’t be completely perpendicular to your subject, you have to be a little offset, and it can be a real problem,” explains Hill. “Normally the surface is very thin and so you have to play with that and raise a little and find the balance”

The shallow depth of field can be seen below is a piece called Melting Sands (which are not actual sands, which would be far too coarse). It is actually glitter or car paint type flecks in various fluids and pigments. “I called it that as you have this impression of something moving almost under water – there is this translucent layer and then you have the particles,” says Hill.


The company has just started offering the footage for use, though Mignot has already been using the material in his award winning TVCs for some time. “Most of my commercials use this material,” he says. “That is how the company started I was like ‘Roman how did you do this ? I would need 20 people to do this on my shoot!'”. Today other directors are free to buy and use the amazing footage and information is available on their web site.


Cloud tanks

Thomas Vanz has just made a short film called Novae using a cloud tank. While the footage is heavily layered in After Effects, all the stars and the supernova were shot “more or less six months end to end” in a fish tank, explained Vanz.

For the photography, Vanz used his own Canon 7D and a borrowed 5D Mark III from a friend. “We try to shoot in RAW that gives a large range of framerate (24 to 50 fps for certain shots), but mainly 24.976 fps,” he said.
What is even more remarkable is that the actual tank was only 70x50x30cm. “That’s why I got into pain with the depth of field sometimes – because it was such a small setup,” Vance related.

Vanz did not use special filtered water. He just “used as many inks blended as possible in clear water in order to have all the ‘animations'” he needed to get the zero gravity effects shot from below, just as pioneers did in the field of visual effects decades ago.

While unrelated to the company NANO, Vanz is also French and based in Paris. “Over the past five years, I spent time improving my style working in freelance for brands such as Bethesda or Ubisoft, or even the French cinema school La Fémis,” he explains. “I always have been interested into astrophysics, especially into the beauty of the laws that rules the cosmos.”


“I started shooting at my home, with a quick DIY setup. While it was useful for making still images, with an amazing amount of details, it could not really animated in the way I wanted,” he explains. He then chose to try shooting in an aquarium filled with water, “as the empty space, and by using inks the same way than the different gas do in a supernova, I was able to catch a 3D explosion, full of colors that was the raw material I  used to compose every shots of the movie.”

Unlike NANO, Vanz uses more of an ‘elements’ approach. He extensive composites layers to achieve the illusion of deep space, combining passes and layering up the images with detailed After Effects work, as can be seen below in this ‘making of’ video.


Vanz shot for 2 months, trying different angles with various inks to obtain interesting results. “Avoiding CGI is important for me because we see far too much in the blockbusters,” he adds. “I think this is a better way to represent the nature, using natural events instead of digital algorithms of particle simulations.”

2 thoughts on “Doing it in camera: experimental and bold”

  1. Amazing work, all of these really look stunning. Apart from an interest in how the images are made, however, this boasting about doing the work in camera leaves me a bit cold. The artificial focus on ‘authenticity’ just leaves a bad taste in my mouth – everything is digital, everything is CGI. Claiming that the work is somehow more real because there was limited grading (and putting to one side the negative/reversed stuff) ignores the colour science in the sensors, the camera software, monitors – the lighting choices, the point of view etc. I know that this is done for marketing reasons but there is no intrinsic truth in image creation beyond what the artist puts in. The camera can, and usually does, lie. I’m probably just shouting into the wind but I’d prefer to enjoy these images for what they are. And then satisfy my curiosity about how they were made. I feel that claims of ‘based on a true story’ are more dishonest in their stance than just letting things stand on their own merits. But I do realise that we are apes who resonate with things we feel are more ‘real’.

    1. I am not sure if you are against cgi or for it, but, they are just tools needed to present an imaginary world to the viewers, most of the time impossible worlds presented in an artistic point of view. People complain these days about to much cg and so on without realizing that creating these artificial worlds what do not exist in real life or characters who can not exist in real life, but still look plausible and with a plausible physics, is not a one button push. Is it just not possible to create some of these imaginary worlds without the help of 3D and thousands of hours of people’s work. A painting is not and should not be a photography, is an artistic impression, and same way is with the state of vfx in the movies. Of course if they are “invisible” vfx then no one will ever complain.

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