Ruslan Pelykh was born in a small Ukrainian town into a family of photographers. Throughout his childhood he was passionate about art and spent his days creating surrealist drawings. While receiving a technical education, he freelanced as an artist and sold popcorn in a cinema, so that he could watch movies for free. After graduation, he started his professional career by designing graphics and taking photos for a local magazine. Even though he had no specialized education in cinematography, in 2011 Ruslan moved to Moscow to try his hand as a film director and, believe it or not, he achieved remarkable success. Now based in New York, Ruslan has established himself as a go-to for innovative fashion and music videos, which have been recognized at film festivals and fashion weeks around the world. What sets Ruslan apart from his sea of peers, is his independent style of shooting. With nothing more than the Leica V-Lux and his two hands, he pushes the boundaries of what is possible with this compact, yet incredibly powerful creative tool.
You grew up in a small town in Ukraine, moved to Moscow and now live and work in New York. How did this journey come about and how did it tie in with your development as a video artist?
I started from photography. My father is a photographer and all his life he has studied the technical aspects of photography, such as lighting and lenses. From my childhood on, I was surrounded by books and photo magazines. It was the time of the Soviet Union, so it was really hard to find this kind of literature. All this had a great effect on my perception. I also drew and even worked as an illustrator during my early years and it still helps me with my work and creative process today.
Moscow is the biggest city in Eastern Europe with the highest concentration of business, fashion and money and I understood that it’s a very good place for me to develop my career. So I moved and started out as a photographer for magazines. During this period (2009-2010) there was a boom in digital cameras. Different brands start making cameras with good quality video functions. It provided an opportunity for everyone to start shoot videos without expensive professional equipment and it completely captured me!
I spent my days and nights learning about video editing and all aspects of postproduction, I was so excited and inspired. I realized that all this knowledge was accessible to anyone and it provided infinite possibilities for video. I improvised with editing a lot and always tried to add something interesting, even to simple videos.
I shot music videos for my friends, then real clients asked me to shoot music videos and commercials and it became my full-time job. I realized that Moscow had its limits and if I wanted to grow professionally I would have to move to a different city. One of my videos I shot in Moscow was selected for a fashion film festival in the US. I was invited to take part and I was really inspired by the people I met. When I saw NYC for the first time I was very impressed by the colors and atmosphere of the city.
Luckily for me, my videos were shown at festivals and fashion weeks, so I had a portfolio, which helped me to get a working visa in the US. I left everything behind and moved with only with my computer and a very limited amount of money to start from scratch. However, permission to work means nothing on its own and doesn’t provide you with anything. It was really hard because I had to forget everything I had done and work even harder. NY is the center of the world for this sort of thing, with the highest competition and no one waits for you here.
You work a lot with fashion brands, creating videos for them. How did you get into this particular field of work?
I started by shootings models. I created ideas, found contacts for designers, stylists, people, who would be interested in creating something very beautiful. I tried to show all my skills and aesthetic style in each work. These videos helped me to gain attention from clients within the fashion industry.
How has the business changed over the last few years, since the advent of social media marketing?
Everything was much harder before social media came along because big corporations, advertising agencies and video production houses controlled everything. Every photographer or videographer wanted to be signed because all the clients only went through the agencies. Now artists and clients have a chance to connect with each other, show their work and people from different industries can collaborate and find exactly what they need. So many young brands need content and are really interested in adopting a creative visual approach. Some of the big brands have also started moving in this direction too.
How much creative freedom do you have when coming up with the concepts for your videos?
It depends on the clients. Some clients ask me to create whatever I want and don’t control me at all, while some try to bring their own vision. I understand people wanting to be part of the workflow but, of course, the final video looks better when you have more freedom.
The two videos we have featured here display a similar mood. How would you describe the idea behind the Alexander Crawford video and the Fever47 video?
The Alexander Crawford video was shot for the designer. His style is very minimal with beautiful lines. It’s futuristic and dark, so I wanted to create this feeling in the video and mix big bright spaces with dark details shot of the clothes. For Fever47 I had the idea to create a dark atmosphere within the city and mix this with the mood of the model. I was inspired by the replicants from the 1982 “Blade Runner” movie. It wasn’t a visual inspiration and I didn’t try to reproduce the aesthetic of the movie. It was just a feeling of despair that the replicants had. When you know your hours are numbered.
You shot these videos with the Leica V-Lux, known for its compact size, large sensor and super fast zoom lens. How does the camera suit your particular process?
I moved to New York without a camera because I had always rented before. That’s when I bought a Leica D-Lux 6 because it was the cheapest and smallest Leica camera but with unique functions and colors. I started to shoot all my art videos on this camera and continued to use it for commercial work too.
I lost my Leica D-Lux 6 and I had a choice: to buy the same camera or a V-Lux. I decided to try the V-Lux and right from the very first test shoot it felt like I had worked with this camera all my life. The camera controls work perfectly for me. It’s very easy to use, you can shoot from any possible angle and the stabilization is really good, so you can use it for moving shots, while the autofocus is very fast too. What I really like is that you can shoot macro, even for video. It’s a very helpful function, when you shoot jewelry for example.
The moving camera is a feature of almost all your videos, yet you don’t use a steadicam or anything but your Leica V-Lux and your hands. How would you describe the feeling of shooting in this way? And how does it influence your creativity?
I never use a steadicam because I like to shoot fast and simple, and I need to feel the camera in my hands. A steadicam or any other additional equipment distracts me and takes up time, which I would rather spend on the creative process or on coffee. The more you depend on equipment, the less creativity goes into your work.
Do you use the LCD monitor of the V-Lux to compose your shots, while shooting?
Sure, it’s a very helpful feature of this camera and I really like the rotation. I often shoot products (clothes, shoes) and I need close up shots and unusual angles. For example, it’s almost impossible to compose a good macro shot from below without a rotated LCD monitor.
How did you go about creating the cloud animation?
Some time before making the cloud animation I experimented on a few videos using this technique. Usually for shootings like this you need additional equipment and lots of cameras. This is a very old method but it was perfected by the Wachowskis. For “The Matrix” they used this method of using many cameras for a 360 effect. I wanted to experiment with this and get a good result using only one camera. In my previous videos all floating objects were real. I shot them separately and then added the objects into the video in post-production. Then I came up with the idea to add some elements, which were impossible to shoot on camera. I asked an SGI specialist to make a cloud model and then I added it to the video after I had shot everything else I needed.
The 3D objects in the Alexander Crawford video have also been seamlessly added in post-production. Can you give us an insight into how you go about editing your videos?
The idea with the 3D object came to me after shooting, during the post-production process. When I was shooting I wanted to capture unusual movements by the model. I improvised with different angles and asked the model to improvise with his poses. The way he moved inspired me to add a 3D model and create the feeling that he was manipulating an object. It was a real challenge to come up with a texture and shape, which matched perfectly with the locations.
I spend all my time editing. I even do boring stuff like video retouching or color correction. Many people contact me and ask how to make the effects from my videos, or retouch skin, set the colors, what programs I use. It’s really hard to explain in text how to edit videos because it depends on the video, style and material I have. Nevertheless, I’m planning to make tutorials answering the most commonly asked questions. I hope to make them soon!
Both videos also make use of glitch and blurring effects. How much are you aware of the post-process, while shooting? Do you already have a clear story in mind, including all potential effects, before shooting the material itself?
While shooting I have a general idea of how the video should look and what kind of effects I want to use. But during post-production I often change my mind. Reject some ideas and add new ones, or simply experiment until I like the result.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I want to concentrate on my art projects and video installations, to find a new way to tell the story and set the mood visually. All this takes a lot of time and thought. That’s the reason why you can see so many different short videos on my Vimeo account. I’m working on a few experimental projects right now and making a short film. I don’t want to shoot it in the typical way, it’s weirder and more visual but also different from what I have made before.
What advice would you offer to anyone looking to get into shooting video commercially?
Try to work on your skills and always search for information in Internet. It’s very important to be constantly improving the quality of your work. Everything is available online so you don’t need to spend your time and money on schools.