How do you make a stir fry in 5 seconds?

Send Noods

Hopefully by now you’ve seen our new collaboration film; ‘Send Noods’, also known as ‘The Five Second Stir Fry’. If not, go and watch it now, then come back to read how we made it.

Where did it all begin?

At the start of 2019, Coolbox were invited to an open day at The Sharp Project in Manchester. At the time, Sharp’s newest tenant was an exciting company called G6Moco, who specialise in motion control and visual engineering. The owners Marco and Rammy were showcasing their flagship high speed robotic arm ‘Raptor’; the first of its kind in the north of England.

Impressed with the possibilities, we reached out to G6 with the idea of collaborating on a *little spec piece. 

*it did not turn out to be little.

Phantom VEO4K slow motion cinema camera

Once G6 were on board, we asked our mutual pals at Pro Motion Hire (also a tenant at Sharp Project) if they’d be interested in getting involved. Alain and Jess at PMH were delighted to help out, and generously offered to supply kit for the shoot, including their brand new high speed monster; the Phantom VEO4K; capable of capturing a 4K image at 1000 frames per second (that’s 40 times slower than real life to you and me). 

How did the idea come about?

As Coolbox is positioned to produce social and online video content for the food and drink sector, we knew we wanted the video to be centred around food. We toyed with a few ideas until finally settling on a stir fry. It was perfect! The oil pour, the veggies chopping, the burst of flames, the intense colours. Over the following fortnight, we let our imaginations run wild, considering the different elements and possibilities. 

Rammy and Marco’s only caveat was ‘you need to challenge us’. It wasn’t just about selecting the right food/dish; it was about creating a video that no one had seen before, and that would push G6’s robot to its limit. 

After much consideration, we settled on the idea of capturing the whole process of making a stir fry in a single, unbroken shot. By making full use of the robot’s 4 meters per second speed we would be capturing 4-5 different stages of the stir fry recipe, as well as the final hero shot. No problem, huh?

How did we prepare for the shoot?

Food styling noodles at Food Sorcery

With the date circled in our calendars, we couldn’t wait to start shooting. We began gathering props and ingredients, travelling to various chinese supermarkets across the city to bulk buy bok choi and see what last minute inspirations we’d find in their labyrinth of delights. 

With a trolley full of every type of noodle imagninable, we still needed to finalise the dish for the hero shot of the piece. We contacted our friends at Food Sourcery kitchen in Didsbury, who were kind enough to offer us space in their development kitchen to fine tune our recipe ahead of filming. 

How did we shoot it?

Our concept was unique, and something that (as far as we know) had never attempted before, it was a learning experience for the whole crew. Over the following three days the set slowly started to take shape. Each ‘station’ (i.e. oil pour, chopping veg, noodles in pan, etc) was prepared individually, as the team set the key frames on the robot to follow the movement. A huge amount of time was spent setting, testing, resetting and retesting the movements over and over, until each stage was absolutely perfect. 

One thing to always think about when shooting at such high specialist frame rates is making sure your lighting is flicker free. Luckily we had a pals at Pro Motion Hire next door to help. We opted for Arri M-series HMIs with 1000Hz flicker free ballasts, for real punch and coverage. And picked off highlights using the incredible 10000 lumen Stella pro lights (Stella Pro 10000c LED heads). And finally some fill provided by the Litepanel Gemini 2×1 LED panels.

Quiet on set. Filming at The Sharp Project studios

We also added an extra challenge for ourselves by using G6’s second moco arm to hold and pour the sesame oil into the pan for the intro sequence. But with the two robots, the Phantom camera, pneumatics, a ton of lighting and a lot of patience. We were ready to start shooting.

You may be surprised to learn, we only shot the sequence 4 times. All takes were good but ultimately we chose the one where the veggies and the fire looked best. When shooting super slow motion human error is always the biggest issue, that’s why we replace people dropping or launching with perfectly timed pistons synchronised with the robots. 

Everything you see on screen occurred in less than 5 seconds (4.9 seconds to be exact).

Then we all went home for a well-earned sleep. 

What was the Post-Production Process?

First port of call was to rotoscope out all of the light stands and equipment that may have crept into shot. Andy from TenseFX worked long days on this project to make sure it looked absolutely top notch.

Next step was the speed ramping. As this was a single take we used the speed keyframes in Adobe Premiere Pro to pinpoint exactly where we wanted the sequence ramp up or down; making sure to slow right down during the particularly impressive parts (oil pour, veggie drop, fire).

Now, our colourist friend (and underwater camera operator) David Diley did a smashing job at making those colours pop, and helped bring the whole film to life. Our inspiration came from the M&S adverts (you know the ones); black background and luxurious, deeply saturated colours that make your mouth water. 

Hero shot for our Send Noods film

With picture-locked and colour complete, there was just one thing missing. Sound Designer Danny Jones worked his magic to give the video a whole new dimension; creating unique sound effects from foley recordings and his personal sound archives. Our aim was for the sound effects to complement the footage and to not be too distracting, lying subtling under the asian-inspired trip hop music score. 

Finally, motion designer James Armstrong created the ace little title sting for the intro; based on a glowing neon sign you’d find down a dark alley in chinatown. He also added the subtle steam asset to the hero shot at the end of the video.

And voilà, our noods were ready to be spread all over the net.

Social Media Engagement

Coolbox, G6 and Pro Motion all posted the video on our respective social accounts, and in a short period it was picked up by countless filmmaking and video production accounts and pages, and reposted to their thousands of followers.

The reach and engagement the video received was beyond anything we could have imagined or hoped for. We’d estimate it’d been viewed approximately 350,000 times over the launch weekend alone.

Here’s a short behind-the-scenes video (filmed by Cal Hallows and Paul Chambers), showing how we made ‘the five second stir fry’.