Changing Planet

Watch a Filmmaker’s Painted Portrayal of Istanbul: Filmmaker Q&A with Justin Heaney

Digital content creator Justin Heaney applies a popular filter over his short film to create a Prisma-inspired animation. This short highlights the colors and shapes of Istanbul, Turkey—with a touch of modernity. I spoke with Justin about what went into creating this unique look.

What inspired your trip to Istanbul?

I was inspired by the history of that region and its very unique location, straddling both Europe and Asia. And coming from New Zealand, a vastly different atmosphere in comparison, I found Turkey in general to be a wonderful part of the world to visit. I had also been intrigued by the glimpses I had seen of Istanbul through cinema over the years, films such as From Russia With Love and Midnight Express. Those films portrayed enticing and exotic street scenes brimming with life, charm, and character. I attempted to capture the same feeling in this short travelogue, which I produced last year.

Can you talk about how you created this piece?

After selecting the various scenes, I used the phone apps Artisto and Instagram to dial in the main visual style. I had been traveling through Myanmar a few weeks prior and was processing my street photography there using the Prisma app. I loved the results and was inspired by that experience for this project.

I ended up cross-processing a range of image styles with pleasing results. The overall work flow was fairly painstaking, though, and involved slicing and cropping the footage into many smaller video frames. I eventually stitched these frames back together to achieve the end result, using the iMovie phone app to both trim and render the final file. The sound design was then created to bring some immediacy to the piece.

Why did you choose this specific style?

I chose this style in an attempt to present a fresh new perspective on this ancient capital. I wanted the treatment to have a lively almost painterly quality, reminiscent of an illustrated storybook. Many people have photographed Istanbul over the years, making it a challenging location to present in a unique way, so to combine traditional filmmaking techniques with this emerging smartphone technology seemed like an interesting choice.

Do you have plans for a series?

Yes, this style lends itself nicely to the contrasting landscapes and architecture of Southeast Asia. I am currently working on a similar piece from footage filmed inside Vietnam and Cambodia. These are both such amazing countries to travel through.

Where would you love to travel next?

There are so many [places]. In the immediate future, though, I would love to explore Southeast Asia further. South America, North Africa, and the former Soviet Union are also up there on my list.


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Rachel Link curates content for National Geographic's Short Film Showcase. Each week she features films from talented creators that span a range of topics. She hopes that this work will inspire viewers to explore the world around them and encourages filmmakers to keep pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.

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