A Little Edinburgh Film: Blog Post

Updated: Nov 30, 2018


In the lead-up to opening a new Children’s hospital in Edinburgh (which has sadly been beset by multiple delays), a programme called “Art and Therapeutic Design” was created, with the help of the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity.

The aim of the programme was to enhance the patient experience of visiting and staying in hospital. As part of this vision, an art and design consultancy (Ginkgo Projects) commissioned four videos, one of which was the sketched out, early concept of A Little Edinburgh.

The videos will be added to a growing library of visual content for the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. This will allow clinicians to show content to children during clinical procedures, providing distraction from any pain or anxiety by encouraging them to relax, focus or engage.


A couple of years ago I made ‘A Little Bristol Film’ using the tilt-shift or ‘toy-town’ technique and thought it would be perfect to use in creating a film of Edinburgh. I figured the slightly surreal look (which views a town or city from above and gives it a ‘toy-town’ or miniature look) would help to engage children during clinical procedures. I shot the Bristol film in the summer, whereas this shoot would be in November, meaning the look and feel of the film would be completely different. However, I used a highly technical method of research—*cough*, Google images—to learn more about the city and I felt the character and architecture would work beautifully with a more autumnal/wintery look.

After doing more in-depth research, including visiting, collecting valuable local knowledge, as well as learning about Edinburgh from my Scottish pals Ailsa and Claudia, I began contacting various locations that would provide vantage points—a factor that would be crucial in order to achieve this ‘toy-town’ look. Edinburgh is such a multi-layered city and found myself walking along roads and realising it was in fact above another road, giving me the perfect ad-hoc opportunities to line-up shots from above.

The hills are another striking and beautiful facet of Edinburgh, with vantage points that worked perfectly in my favour too. Kitted out head-to-toe in Mountain Warehouse, I trudged up Arthur’s Seat with my tripod, breathing in the cold air, my phone’s battery too cold to turn on. It was an exhilarating feeling, and I felt like I’d finally become the explorer I’d always dreamed about becoming . . . until being swiftly overtaken by someone over twice my age going for their morning run.

I planned to create the film over 10 days, which crept down to 7 due to bad weather, but there was an element of needing to keep my fingers crossed, as 10 days of rain would have been a real problem! Thankfully that wasn’t the case and the sun shone on many days. The edit which I’ll explain a bit about below took around 2 weeks to do.


Raw Footage

Footage with tilt-shift effect

The name tilt-shift, which characterises this look, is due to the type of lens (tilt-shift lens) The reason this can create a toy-town, or miniature look, is more of an optical illusion.

A quick way to explain why this works is by closing one eye, and holding one finger from each hand up close to your open eye, but at a different distance apart. Focus on the finger that is further away. By doing so you should notice that your finger is in focus, whilst the closer finger and the background are blurry.

In the natural world our brains only ever experience this when something is close to your face, and so by creating this depth of field in a scene, however wide a landscape it is, our brains assume it must be very small, which is how I was able to create this miniature look, essentially by using a cool optical illusion.

However, in order to have the most flexibility with the narrow plain of focus I decided to not use an actual tilt-shift lens. Instead I used a number of techniques to achieve this look. First, to enhance the effect, I filmed from a vantage point overlooking the subject or scene, and I played with the contrast and saturation to add an even more unnatural look. I also adjusted the speed and frame-rate of the footage so it was more inline with stop motion animation. Finally, once I’d laid down the sound effects, I used editing software (After Effects) to create a blur map to a gradient, which I was then able to place exactly as needed.

It took a bit of technical know-how to create my film but if you want to try this technique out on a smaller scale, the iPhone actually has a tilt shift filter for photos. This is a super quick and easy way to get the miniature look, but be sure to experiment, find a good vantage point, and have the sun behind you to get the best results. I’m sure there must be some good tilt-shift video apps too; if not, I should make one pronto. :P

Unedited raw footage from Calton Hill

Calton Hill with tilt shift effect


The music for this piece was created by Bristol based musicians, and good friends of ours, Jilk. They had an ability to find the right tone and charm that instantly lifted the film despite me sending a really rough edit for them to work with. Their music as well as their live performances are a thing of beauty.

When I initially visited the current 'Sick Kids' Hospital, seeing so many young people there was tough - but what did I expect, right, it’s a children’s hospital - but to actually see these children, and to learn how many of them spend a huge part of their life in these buildings wasn’t something I had realised or could have emotionally prepared for. However the overwhelming warmth and positivity from everyone at the hospital, from the clinicians, to the nurses and the children themselves was absolutely my greatest takeaway from the day.

For me the best things about making this film were having the opportunity to get incredible views of a beautiful city and meeting so many genuinely friendly people, many of whom were strangers that were just interested in what I was doing. I was so grateful at how willing to help and hospitable everyone I contacted was. I also loved being able to create something that will hopefully be part of a library of videos that will help young people and clinicians at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

I really want to thank a lot of people for their help in making this film possible. The list below is not exhaustive (mainly because I’m sure I’ve forgotten some people), but I’ll update this as they come back to me.


The National Museum of Scotland

City of Edinburgh Council

Historic Environment Scotland

Apex Grassmarket Hotel

Lindsay Stewart @ Harvey Nicholls

St. Giles Cathedral

Caledonian Heritable

John Lewis