LORDS OF A GHOST TOWN: RUSSELL HOUGHTEN TURNS L.A. INTO A CAR FREE SKATE PARK

We’re no New York, but Angelenos have their fair share of claustrophobia in this wide spread city, despite the expansive sprawl. Never is that feeling more real than when you are bumper to bumper (and already running late in my typical scenario) with no end in sight to the jam that is now the bane of your existence. Enter Russell Houghten’s “Urban Isolation”, his award winning skate video that has captured our city in a way that it is rarely seen.

Houghten created the film for a contest with a morning commute serving up inspiration. Masking cars going 80 miles per hour as skateboarders cruise the 110 and 5, you  get no sense from the peaceful setting of all the risk involved in making something so mesmerizing. We had a chat with the creative mind behind it all with the hopes of finding out how to turn our 25 minutes of NPR into something so inspiring.

LA CANVAS: Give us a little background on how you got into shooting skate videos.

RUSSELL HOUGHTEN: I started skateboarding when I was in 6th grade, and was obsessed. My friends and I would borrow our parent’s cameras and make short little videos of each other skating. I had a bad ankle injury when I was fourteen and couldn’t skate for over a year. During that time I began filming all of my friends because I still wanted to be involved and hang out with everyone. After that I ecame really passionate about film making, and it stuck. It’s led to traveling the world filming with my close friends making skate films and working on various commercial projects.

LAC: What was your inspiration for “Urban Isolation”?

RH: It was pretty simple. I love ghost towns and abandoned cities, but you never see them on a large scale.  Skateboarders are also hassled in large cities, and it would be a lot of skaters’ dream to have an entire city to themselves.

LAC: If possible to describe in layman’s terms, how did you create the video?

RH: An easy way to describe the process for removing the cars is layering offset frames and cutting out the cars in each frame. The empty areas of the road eventually fill in the gaps. You then have to cut out the skater frame by frame to place over the empty scenes. All of this compositing was done in Adobe After Effects.The filming and editing process took about a month, I spent about two weeks shooting and another two weeks editing. Finding the locations to shoot was often the hardest part.

LAC: Favorite shot?

RH: The first scene where you see a skateboarder appear. My friend Tom Karangelov pushes down an off ramp over the 110 freeway in Downtown Los Angeles. I wish I had more time to shoot more shots like that

LAC: Most dangerous moment of the process?

RH: Probably my friend Jordan Taylor skating a bank on the side of the 5 freeway. We went at 5:30 AM in anticipation of an empty freeway. When we arrived there were still a lot of cars and it was pretty scary. We generally played everything pretty safe though, finding a spot to safely skate that had a freeway or busy road in the background, where the cars could be removed to achieve the effect.

LAC: What’s next for you?

RH: I’m currently working on a lot of different projects, some with skating and some outside of that. I am heading video production for New Balance and Volcom’s skate programs, and working on larger projects for both of them. I am also working on a bunch of commercial and aerial cinema projects when I have the time.