Earlier this year, a few friends and I got put together an entry for the March on Film competition. Here's the finished result:

While a man complains about the dullness of Dublin, the background Waitress meets up with some strange folk in the alley way.

This is one of those competitions where they announce a few elements that you have to include in the finished piece. Mostly to prevent you dusting off a pre-made project I suspect, but it also gives you an opportunity to be creative.

One of the elements for this competition was a candle, and it was written into a scene with the gangster in an alleyway.

I got it into my head quite early on that the character in the alleyway was odd, in a Lethal Weapon kind of way. Being last minute, I had to rush into town and start picking up the props. In a pound shop, I found a really nice fake candle, made from wax with a mechanical flickering flame.

The candle is lost now unfortunately, but it was very much like this

Then an idea struck me. What if this guy was so crazy, so nuts in fact, that he would place a fake candle on the table, and rest his hand over it. Freaking out, as if it were real. Well I had to give it a try. I also got a few real candles, just in case.

The shoot was about a week later

The close up of the gangster's face was going to be last, because it was such a strain on the actor (in fact the very generous Owen Barton did star jumps for 10 minutes to work up to it). Time was growing short as it always does. We only had time to grab a single take of the fake candle.

In the edit, I realised we had a problem

The candle didn't look fake enough, but it clearly wasn't real either. The intensity of the performance just made things even more confusing. The only conclusion you could draw was that the film makers had been careless, and used a very obvious fake candle in place of a real one.

A candle that looks too fake to be real, but not fake enough to work as a gag

The only choice was to forget about the fake candle idea, and make the one in the shot as real as possible. The first step was to find some usable footage of a candle flame:

Candle flame footage against a green screen background? You got it.

Thankfully the shot was locked off so there was no camera movement. It wasn't too hard to composite in the real candle flame.

The original shotTheres a static image masking the underlying artificial flame, and the new flame on top

The next big problem was the hand. It crossed over the flame when grasping the candle. There was nothing to cut away to in its place, and close up was too intense to stay on.

There was no easy way around it, the flame would have to be masked out frame by frame. After a few false starts, I found the Roto Brush in After Effects. It took a while to go through each frame, but it produced something usable.

Some frames work great first time..But others require a lot of manual tweaking..

The composite was rendered out and used in place of the original clip, and no one was any the wiser.

Looking back on it now, it actually worked out quite well. We would never have been able to get that shot with a real candle, and I would never have planned to do anything this complicated on such a simple short film. Half the fun of these projects is thinking your way out of all the holes you dig yourself into.