Moment Invitational | How This Was Shot | JR Alli

Watch how this special effects mastermind cranks out one of the most visually juicy Invitational pieces we've ever had.

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We launched a film festival dedicated to the mobile creative, “The Moment Invitational”. 11 filmmakers made heartfelt, visually juicy short films with their phones. They each proved you can create incredible work with the devices we use everyday. We got to sit down with each filmmaker to learn just how they did it.

JR is a storytelling genius; his bright-eyed visuals are so dazzling and mesmerizing, you can’t help but feel a beating in your chest. ‘Disconnected’ is a film that that takes place 100 years in the future to follows the story of Lishen, his struggles with understanding the world around him, and his pursuit to cling onto the last remnants of human nature. The Moment team was honored to learn more about how he shot this incredible mastery, as well as some tips + tricks behind the motion graphics involved.


JR Alli with his film "Disconnected" for the Moment Invitational

1. How did you get the shot of Lishen falling?

I knew I could use visual effects to manipulate the scene of Lishen falling, the hard part was finding a green screen. I don't have access to a study so we taped a small green screen to the wall and struggled to have him fit in it while flailing his body around mimicking a fall. I then composited him into a photo I snapped on my iPhone of the Toronto Skyline. I knew visually what I wanted the shot to look like and then I got into a flow when it came to editing. The key was making sure the movement of his falling matched the digital zoom of the scene. Then it was a matter of adding different effects, blurs and camera shakes to the static scene to help sell the effect.

2. What drew you to the futuristic approach in your film?

I get a ton of inspiration from Science Fiction and I've always been fascinated with questioning what the world may look like in the far future.. years after I'm gone. I started watching really old Japanese animated movies that depict this bright futuristic world that also can be dangerous with the innovation of technology. I love how how characters interacted within this environment. I love how no matter how different the future looked in these Animated Movies the way we interacted as humans and our struggles stayed the same. I wanted to implement that thinking into my own films.

3. How did you achieve a stunning sci-fi look?

Because we shot on Iphone, dynamic range and low light was my two main concerns. The shooting time and locations played the largest rolls in creating a film look. I know Toronto like the back of my hand so I knew exactly what spots matched a futuristic world. I then shot the entire film with a super cold white balance to help replicate as much of the teal, purple sci fi look that is so common in films. Little things like an anamorphic flare or hologram projection helped sell the environment. One of the most important steps was the Sound Design. Building a sci-fi world has a lot to do with the way it sounds. Alarms, glitches, accelerations, all these sound effects helped create the world I wanted to make.

4. Favorite Movie?

I don't watch a ton of movies but I'm a huge sucker for animated movies. My favorite is "Spirited Away" by Studio Ghibli and follows a little girl who stumbles upon a town made for resting spirits and her adventure in trying to save her parents and get back to the other side of the river. I'm intrigued at how much time and effort goes into each visual frame for movies like this and how beautiful the end results are. It's timeless in a sense and I take the same care and effort in my videos. I try to make every single frame and second count, because I know if I put the time and effort in, someone’s bound to feel the impact of that. I admire people who are not afraid to take crazy ideas and worlds they create in their head and try and make it tangible for the whole world to see.

JR Alli with his film "Disconnected" for the Moment Invitational
JR Alli with his film "Disconnected" for the Moment Invitational

5. What influenced this particular editing style?

I see transitions as eye candy. In a world where filmmakers don't want you to notice a cut in a scene, I see editing as an art form and a way for me to challenge the viewer. I love being able to make people notice when things are changing and appreciate the intricacy of change. It's a way to keep the viewer attentive throughout. I couple that with seamless transitions to create a fluid wave throughout my film. I want people to notice the little things and also appreciate the flow all at the same time.

6. What tips do you have for aspiring VFX filmmakers?

Start learning After Effects or any other VFX software as soon as you can. I use to dream of creating worlds and after editing in After Effects for over 7 years now, I can finally create them. This took a ton of time and a ton of failure. I am 100 percent self taught. I would just go on YouTube and try a new effect every few days, pick up on new editing techniques, get comfortable with the shortcuts and software. Remember that there's no right way to edit, only results. Who cares if it takes you 7 hours  or 7 minutes to achieve an effect, all that matters is that you got to an end result you are proud of. It will take a ton of time and practice but as a filmmaker being able to take a vision in your mind and make it come to life through editing is one of the most satisfying things ever I think.

7. What non-film medium most influences your work and why?

The music industry, more specifically the Hip Hop industry. When I first started making films I gravitated towards artist from Toronto who "made it" out the city. Who stuck to their passions and made a living doing what they loved. Drake is a prime example. His songs spoke to me as I chased my passion because I could relate to everything he rapped about. Toronto is important to me, more specifically every single kid who is in a basement, studio or tiny apartment in a neighborhood that no ones ever heard of making music, painting, dancing, creating visuals and grinding through the late nights to hopefully have their voice/passion heard one day. I was one of those kids. I want to continue to be a voice for my city, no matter how far I go.

8. How has filming on your smartphone impacted your work? 

Although editing is a huge part of my work, the Festival made it impossible to hide behind smoke and mirrors. It made me think about things that matter the most like Storytelling. I'm trying to become a better storyteller everyday but this Festival definitely pushed me to try and be more critical of myself and my work. It made me question things that i usually don't like progression, plots and climaxes. But you also cannot deny the fact that using a phone to create a film is not a gimmick anymore. Phones have become just that good and I truly think that it will be a viable medium in the Industry.

9. As complex as your film was, what went wrong on the shoot?

We forgot to take into account just how exhausting it would be to get to every location and get the shots we wanted. We ended up shooting till almost 1AM every night and after awhile it can take a toll on you. But I trusted the process and Lishen was a great sport. He ended up doing a jump off a cinder block on the first day and hurt his toe pretty bad, but he pushed on and we got the film done. I couldn't be prouder.

10. What did you learn during the shoot?

I would have assembled a bigger team to help delegate and plan things. When you're so engulfed in the video and filming, you sometimes lose track of time and it can end badly if you aren't precise. Decisiveness is important but also having a bigger crew to help with the small things would have done wonders.

JR Alli and his film "Disconnected" for the annual Moment Invitational.
JR Alli and his film "Disconnected" for the annual Moment Invitational.
JR Alli and his film "Disconnected" for the annual Moment Invitational.

Director’s Notes:

HUGE thank you to Lishen (the main talent!), as the entirety of the film could not be possible without him.

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