June 2012 Featured Cosplay Photographer of the Month: AcksonL

Cosplay Photographers: This month’s featured photographer isn’t a photographer in the strictest sense, but he isn’t just a videographer either. We debated long and hard as to whether this person could qualify as a Featured Photographer on Cosplay Photographers and after some back and forth with the staff, it was concluded that this person is a crossover artist. We’re sure this will certainly spark some controversy in the community and we have no doubt there will be people that disagree with our selection and justification, but we feel this person has contributed immensely to the cosplay photography scene directly and indirectly. Our decision to qualify this person for Featured Photographer status is mainly due to his use of dSLRs to make his cosplay videos, thus subjecting him to the same principles (f-stops, shutter speed, ISO, and etc.) as well as limitations (focal length, depth-of-field, noise, and etc.) in photography. These same principles do not fully apply had he chosen to use an actual video camera.

Without further ado, we present this month’s Featured Photographer of the Month, Ackson Lee of Ackson Creatives. I’m sure Ackson does not need any introductions as his cosplay videos are seen by legions of fans all over the world. We have been a big fan since the first time we first saw one of his cinematic cosplay videos. We were formally introduced to Ackson by one of our staff members, Vince Milum Jr. (Darkain Multimedia) at Fanime 2010 and we continue to enjoy his videos since!

Thank you for joining us today for our cosplay photography interview. We are truly honored to have you as one of the Featured Cosplay Photographers of the Month.

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Ackson Lee Toronto, Canada http://www.youtube.com/acksonl

Ackson Lee: Thanks guys, it’s an honour to be featured on this website. There are so many talented individuals within the community.

Cosplay Photographers: Ackson, you’re from so far away, all the way from Canada! Are there any good cosplay conventions up there?

Ackson Lee: Yes there are! The large ones are Anime North (20K~ attendees) and Fan Expo (70K~ attendees) which take place in my home town of Toronto. I’m sure there are some large ones in central and west coast Canada but I’ve never really attended those.

Cosplay Photographers: Holy crap, those are like Fanime-sized conventions! We should make you CosplayPhotographers.com’s Foreign Correspondent for Canada and have you do con-coverage for us out there! So how long have you been doing cosplay videography for now?

Ackson Lee: I’ve started shooting in 2009 locally in Canada but eventually made my way into the US in 2010. I guess that’s when the videos started to take off (hit wise). I was quite shocked at my first US convention when I was approached by a few American cosplayers complimenting me on the Youtube videos. I’d love to be Cosplayphotographers.com’s Foreign Correspondent for Canada however my plate is already full. I’m still struggling to keep up with PMs and emails.

Cosplay Photographers: LOL, we figured. You have more fans than China has people. What got you into cosplay video?

Ackson Lee: I use to do same day edit convention hall photos. Shoot em by day and edit by night. When the D-SLR capable cameras like the Canon 5D Mark 2 came out. It got me rethinking about how I could use this technology to my advantage. At that time I was also inspired by a wedding cinematography company called Still motion on Vimeo and watching their creative same day/next day edit wedding videos gave me the inspiration I needed to do the same but at conventions.

Cosplay Photographers: See, that’s why no one can do cosplay videos like you, you were doing SAME DAY edits before people even was getting into video. On top of that, you studied what was effective in telling a story and what better people to learn from that wedding videographers! You also touched on the next question we were going to ask and that was have you ever considered doing cosplay photography? What do you enjoy about doing video versus photography?

Ackson Lee: I do shoot cosplay photos once in a blue moon, usually at smaller events when it’s overkill to haul my Steadicam like a picnics or small conventions. When it comes to photography, I do lack experience in strobing (off camera flash) and wouldn’t mind getting more experienced in balancing the use of multiple remote flashes.

One thing I enjoy about shooting videos over photos is that the interaction required between the person behind the camera and in-front plays a much more significant role. A lot of cosplayers are use to posing for photos where their poses are static. Having individuals trained to provide movement for me in video makes the shots look a lot more dynamic and in a way, brings a character to life.

Cosplay Photographers: Well put! We definitely enjoy the movements and watching the cosplayers “come to life” so to speak in your videos. So part of this interaction with the cosplayer must involve you getting them to sing. How do you find a cosplayer or cosplayers to sing and we’re guessing you’re using the actual soundtrack of the real performer and not the cosplayer? How hard is it sync up the lips to the song?

Ackson Lee: Yes, actual track by the artist is used for the “lip dub”. Generally finding people who can move and lip sing is a very difficult task. It may appear easy to just get someone to memorize the song then pretend to sing it but in reality it is extremely time consuming shooting/editing wise. I usually contact someone that is reliable and that I’ve worked with months prior to the convention to pitch the idea and the song that I’d like used.

Cosplay Photographer: One thing we’ve learned, the easier you make something look, the more pro you truly are, and you my friend, are a top-notch pro at this! It’s amazing how people don’t realize how much preparation you must do prior to actually filming. So how do you choose the song for each of your cosplay video? Does the cosplayer you select get any input in the song?

Ackson Lee: Sometimes, I’ll ask if the cosplayer can sing a specific song I want used. Other times I want the cosplayer to be apart of the decision making process so I’ll let them choose a song. Ultimately it needs to be music that we both don’t mind looping over and over again. Since editing requires me to listen to the track hundreds of times and for the cosplayer, memorizing by heart. It must be something we both don’t mind listening to repeatedly. To add to the difficulty I’ll request if they can dance as well. The challenging parts are group synchronized dances. For example, the Katsucon 2012 fanvideo required about 30 dance takes (3 hours of dancing + costume change) before we were confident we had enough footage.

Cosplay Photographers: Holy crap! That’s pretty crazy! You should do some behind-the-scene videos of your editing, like a time-lapse or something. How much preparation goes in before filming actually starts? Do you know the cosplayers you want to shoot, wait until you’re at the con to select, or a combination of both?

Ackson Lee: Because of the distance between people, the only prep is only via Facebook/online where I lay out my expectations time commitment wise and scheduling. For larger cons I don’t prep as much since there will be an abundant amount of costumes to shoot. However for medium/small conventions I need to do a lot of preparation to make sure I have enough content for a video. That usually involves asking people I know going to the convention what costumes they are bringing. As you may have noticed, I give priority to well built elaborate costume such as big puffy dresses, wings and robots. I also scout for rare costumes that my viewers may not see at their local conventions. So I guess it is safe to state that I do combine both techniques to choose costumes to feature in the Fanvideos.
I do get an ample amount of shoot request where individuals PM me to shoot their work at a specific convention. However due to a limited budget and time restraints I have at conventions. Its very difficult for me to entertain every request.

Cosplay Photographers: Well, the level of dedication certainly shows through your amazing cosplay videos. So it sounds like it takes quite a bit of footage to have enough to craft together the 5-10-minute videos. On average, at a mega-con like Fanime or Katsucon, how many hours of raw footage do you need to produce one to three cosplay videos?

Ackson Lee: I dont track how many hours of footage I shoot, I end up seeing the GBs. When I first started shooting conventions I would shoot about 30-50GBs per day. Since, I’m a lot more selective with who I shoot with and the way I shoot currently, I do about 15-25GBs per convention day. So working out the math backwards @ 4GB =10 minutes of footage, about 38 to 63 minutes daily. As for the number of videos, that all depends on the number and quality of costumes at the cons as well as the environment/shooting conditions I’m presented with at the convention. Usually more GBs worth of raw footage means more videos, so for 4-day conventions the likelihood of 3+ fanvideos is high.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, you must have hard drives like crazy! So the day-of edits are crazy good. How long does it take you to do a day-of edit? What challenges do those usually present?

Ackson Lee: Same day edits are challenging to do. So every evening during the con, when its too dark to shoot. I’m sifting/sorting and cutting footage. I need to render footage nightly so by the last day of the convention, I have everything I need to put the video together. For cons like Otakon/Katsucon where I’m on a bus for 12-13 hours. It gives me ample of time to put it together. Editing times vary per video, ranging from 7 to 10 hours if there is singing and dancing.

Cosplay Photographers: So walk us through a brief preview of the crazy world of crafting these videos, from how long it takes from start to finish? Do you craft a video all in one day or multiple days? Do you ever get halfway done, decide you don’t like it, and start all over?

Ackson Lee: The process really depends on the # of fanvideos I’m working on. When I work on the first video, I tend to be generous on the duration of the clips. Last thing I want to do is burn through all the usable footage I have and leave myself with nothing to show in the next view videos. A personal goal is to crank out 1 video per day after the convention until I run out of usable footage but other priorities get in the way of me doing so like work/family etc. I know the viewers are very eager to see themselves/their friends in the fanvideos right after the convention so I try to push out the videos as fast as possible. The clips that unfortunately don’t make the final cut goes into cross convention compilation videos either in July or December. As far as deciding on how these videos get crafted. It generally starts off with the soundtrack. Prior to the convention, I loop the song choices continuously for a couple of weeks so I can get a feel for the song. Once at the con I try to shoot to the rhythm of the song whenever its possible. When it comes time to cut and edit the footage, I select the clips that I believe best matches that part of the song and then add my transitions accordingly.

Cosplay Photographers: Is there a general story you’re trying to tell when you craft a video or is more synced to the rhythm and feel of the chosen soundtrack?

Ackson Lee: I guess it depends more on the soundtrack. You obviously want to mix up the types of tracks used. sometimes its a fun poppy song, other times its more indie. So when are you going to ask me the million dollar question… How does Ackson choose who gets to be into the videos?

Cosplay Photographers: LOL! That was actually our next question. So Ackson, how do you choose who gets to be in the videos?

Ackson Lee: I’ll usually scour my Facebook account or hop on Cosplay.com to look for costumes/progress pictures. Also having a positive rapport with cosplayers that I’ve worked with makes it alot easier for me as I know what to expect on that weekend and prioritize shoots accordinly. With all the pre-planning I do, most of the footage shot at a convention is still spontaneous and through scouting during the con.

Cosplay Photographers: Maybe one day we’ll get into your video; maybe after we finish up our pedo-bear photographer cosplay. So we have to ask, what are your thoughts or feelings of all these “Ackson-clones”? It seems like every con we’re going to is another person with a stedicam vest trying to do something like you. There’s no differentiation or attempt to do something different. We can’t even think of anyone else who is trying to do something different, except we do like FastMatt’s Cosplay Featurette he recently did. Your thoughts?

Ackson Lee: I’m glad that there are others who are inspired by the convention fanvideos. I did see Matt’s featurette of Kara aka Electric Lady and was impressed with all the scenery he picked. A+ for Matt for scouting out location. Though I believe Seattle is his hometown so for sure he knows where all the sweet spots are. I highly encourage others to find ways of showing off costumes in their own way. As for the convention videographers, once they get bored of shooting convention hall costumes, they’ll venture in experimenting with other elements. As for me, I’m still working on refining my lip sync/dancings videos and adding new elements and increasing the level of difficulty. I have some new projects coming out soon so hopefully people will enjoy it.

Cosplay Photographers: Nice. We can’t wait to see what you have in store! So what do you normally use to capture all the video?

Ackson Lee: I own 2 Canon DSLRs: a 7D and a 5DM2 with a bunch of L series lenses. For the occasional shots I’ll have my Go Pro Hero HD.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you find you use one camera more than the other? Any particular reason? Do you think you can do the same videos using a traditional video camera?

Ackson Lee: It really depends on the situation. the mark2 is better for low light performance compared to the 7D so depending on the timing of day, I will swap cameras. I mainly use the 7D for the slowmotion. As for the comparison between a DSLR and traditional video camera, you can do the same thing with the right accessories on a traditional video camera. Overall a traditional video camera will have many additional options which a DSLR video camera will lack.

DSLR videos weren’t built/meant to be dedicated video units but rather a bonus on top of its photographic features.

Cosplay Photographers: What is your favorite lens to use and why?

Ackson Lee: I am definitely a huge fan of the Canon L series prime lenses. Yes they do break the bank but the quality, durability and performance is phenomenal. My favorite lens is the 35L. I also used the 135L and I love how sharp and light weight it is. However I don’t own the 135L. The 2.8 zooms are good as well.

Cosplay Photographers: You’re never without your Steadi-Cam vest when filming at conventions. Can you educate us on the primary function of the Steadi-Cam vest, why, and when did you start using it?

Ackson Lee: The Steadicam vest like any other device is a tool I use to achieve the desired shot. Some may feel the absolute need to own a steadicam to make videos. However that’s not true. There are many awesome convention videos that don’t utilize steadicams or a form of camera stabilization but yet are able to create really entertaining videos. For example one team is beatdownboogie:

Steadicams or better known as camera stabilizers operate on a counter balance system so that way the camera is smooth flowing. I started back in late 2008 with a Steadicam Merlin, which was the entry level Steadicam. I didn’t get it balanced until about half a year later though, I played with the Merlin for a short time before I outgrew it and then moved on to a full body camera harness in 2010. Since then, the full body steadicam harness has provided me with enough features to aid in any creative project.

Cosplay Photographers: Very informative, thank you. Is the Steadi-Cam rig pretty comfortable or are you pretty sore after using it all day?

Ackson Lee: Yes, I usually have it on early in the morning until sunset. Of course i do take quick breaks in-between shoots. After 3-4 days of shooting at the con I sometimes get a bit of backpain. I’m getting old. LOL I need to take it easy for now on. A lot of times people will see me lying on the floor in the middle of a convention to rest my back.

Cosplay Photographers: How often are you asked by cosplayers to be in one of your videos and what are you looking for when selecting a subject for one of your videos?

Ackson Lee: I do get asked quite often either over Youtube, Facebook or in person. However I can’t cater to every single request. On occasion I have done quick shots of cosplayers asking. The general criticism I get is that quite too often I use my friends in videos or people I know. Even with people I’ve worked with in the past. I still request a costume list from them and pick which ones I want to feature. So in a way they still go through a similar selection process like everyone else. I do like to feature costumes that are very well made, armour, wings and rare elaborate costumes.

Cosplay Photographers: What are some of the biggest limitations of using a dSLR for video?

Ackson Lee: The biggest drawback with DSLR shooting is the fact that the focal points don’t move when I’m in motion so there is a high chance of the cosplayer being our of focus. To combat this I shoot usually at higher apertures and I’m heavily dependent on natural light. In summer conventions there is also an issue with the DSLRs overheating due to extended use.

Cosplay Photographers: Ah yes, overheating sounds real bad. Have you ever considered switching to an actual video camera?

Ackson Lee: I don’t think I would move to actual video cameras, since I don’t have any professional training I would not know how to optimize the use of the features on one. I’m quite comfortable with the controls, knowledge and handling on a dSLR.

Cosplay Photographers: Makes sense, use what you know. Any other cosplay (or non-cosplay) videographers out there that inspire you?

Ackson Lee: I like to watch as many costume related videos as I can for inspiration. Sometimes watching movies or Youtube videos gives me new ideas for shots. It also gives me the motivation to step things up.

Cosplay Photographers: So what do you think of all the latest cosplay videographers joining the scene? What would be the top three advice you would give to them?

Ackson Lee: I’m really grateful there are others out there doing what I do for fun. They all do great work and everyone of them adds a different element to the videos.

One word of advice is not to rush the process like I do. I would love to spend more time editing the footage to achieve better cuts and synchronization to the song but I am always on tight schedule.

Second. Picking location is very important. Not having con attendees in the background makes the video footage alot better. (unless your going for the convention look)

Third. If they don’t already. Thank the cosplayer for their time and contribution.

Cosplay Photographers: Awesome advice! Through all the time you’ve done cosplay videography, has there been any invaluable lessons you have learned now that you wish you knew sooner?

Ackson Lee: Yes, definitely. When I first started video production as a hobby. I went out and bought a ton of camera/video gear. I dont use 90% of it anymore and just stick with the stabilizer. My advise is to leave everything else at home and stick to what gives you the highest production value with the least amount of work. I use to carry everything around and would be burnt out after the first day of shooting. So unless you have an assistant to carry the extra gear, pack light and bring lots of water.

Cosplay Photographers: So you just unveiled this new concept of at-con video called AR MMD. Can you explain more about that, like what’s involved in shooting at AR MMD video?

Ackson Lee: Yes, the MMD video is shot with a webcam that’s also hooked up to my computer labtop the 3D figure is then generated on the live video feed in real time. It’s a 2 man operation so it does require alot of time and patience from the other individual. To my knowledge this technology is very limiting at this point. With the sync dancing, its hard for the cosplayer to dance in sync to something they cant really see so there needs to be a lot of takes and tweaking during the shoot to ensure the captured footage is good.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s very interesting. Where are you planning to take this AR MMD thing?

Ackson Lee: Due to the low video quality in the production process, I may just do a few more. I was really fun and I learned something new.

Cosplay Photographers: Where do you see cosplay videography going?

Ackson Lee: I honestly don’t know. I do think that with the increased amount of individuals bringing video recording devices, chance are…. a very creative individual will come long and take it to the next level.

Cosplay Photographers: Thank you again Ackson for taking the time to be interviewed by us today! We certainly enjoyed all the insight you given us and we look forward to all the future projects and successes. If you guys aren’t already following Ackson on his YouTube channel and Facebook page, now is the time! Anything else you want to add Ackson?

Ackson Lee: I just want to thank all the watchers and fans out there!

If you found this article interesting, be sure to join our Facebook group, Cosplay Photography Discussion Group. It is a place for cosplay photographers of all levels to learn from each other. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook as well!

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At Cosplay Photographers, we believe that cosplay is an art form to be celebrated. We believe that epic cosplays are about bringing your favorite fantasy characters to life and, through the latest mediums like digital photography and videography, sharing that with the world. We seek to foster a community of talented individuals who wish to promote the art of cosplay and photography.


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