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Some people Just dont get it .... some do

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 0 comments
Phillip Bloom has once again put up one of his "test footage" pieces, and once again his "tests" are like little works of art. He gets it. He gets why people are so excited by the new cameras. Unlike the the guys who sit in a room with charts and scopes and 57" monitors looking at one pixel at a time, he shoots real footage with his camera. Not only is the footage pretty, it also has meaning and is well thought out. Will his footage look as good as something shot on a camera that cost ten times as much. No but it wont look ten time worse either, and that's the point. In the photo circles there is a constant debate between the pixel peepers and those who shoot.Some times, I think the pixel peepers are just looking for ways to justify to their selves why they spent the money on their gear. Aliasing, chromatic aberrations and artifacting will always take a back seat to stunning images and involving story.

Cheers to Phillip Bloom for getting out of the warm studio and out into the frigid streets of Prauge and testing the way a camera should be tested.

What died in here??

Friday, December 4, 2009 0 comments
This was written as a response to some discussion going on the Ikan blog:

Tape is dead. Film is dead.
He said. "Lets put the This is dead, That is dead to bed."
Technology never dies it just becomes irrelevant, too expensive or unsupported. The horse drawn carriage never died, it became less convenient and reliable than the auto mobile. There was a time period during the transition from where the bodies of cars were built by the same guys that made carriages. Remember Sony's digital 8mm format. It was a temporary transitional tape format that existed just to bridge the gap until Sony could build new factories to produce DV tape mechanisms. The phenomenon of 35mm adapters were a bridge technology. When the HD cameras became affordable for the indie filmmaker they for the first time in video format had technology decent enough for capturing cinema quality images. The drawback was the lens sensor combination. #%mm adpaters were a fix for that problem.... a permanent solution is on its way. Is the new technology a viable alternative yet ... I say so. Having shot with a RedRock for commercials and an indie feature, I can say coming from a video back ground the process was a PITA. A lot of the PITA goes away with a DSLR. Is the final image perfect with a DSLR ... NO …  but neither was the 35mm adapter route. The light loss was a real drag, the back focus was a constant source of hassle. The size of the package was an abomination, it cost a lot more than you would think, and monitoring became an issue.... Was it worth it?? Most of the time yes.  The 35mm adapter route sure made some pretty pictures. The DOF effect was nicein many instances, but shallow DOF somewhere became the end all be all effect somewhere along the way. The softness and grain the ground glass did add some really nice unvideo like characteristics ti the image. But it was still a PITA to shoot with and I think it could really get in the way of the filmmaking process.  Is the digital SLR route easy and fail proof … NO. It IS cheaper, lighter, and faster,  the big thing is: it’s the future.  The versions we see now are the first generation of the technology. The big guys never listened to us when we asked for the technology 5 or 6 years ago, that and the core technologies were not ready. The next few generations will improve in all of the areas that lack.  Funny thing is they will too be obsolete in 5 years.

Understanding is the key

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 0 comments
In a past blog entry I wrote about the difference between an artisan and a craftsman. The majority of that entry was written for an assignment outside of this blog, but the comparisons have stayed in the back of my mind as I evaluate my own work recently, With my work, school and family schedule being fairly tight right now I find I don’t really have the free time for being creative and writing for this blog sometimes is put on hold. Unfortunately when I do have the time I often don’t have the frame of mind for being creative. . This weekend I witnessed how my work is affected by my frame of mind. Due to these time constraints I have shifted my creative energies from shooting and editing to writing and photography. When ever my job situation prevents me from shooting video on a regular basis I turn back to photography, a passion I’ve had since I was a little kid. This is a easier for me because it doesn’t required much more than myself and my camera. I’ve gone through these periods before and usually they are productive in that I usually focus on honing some knowledge or technique. This time I’m really stumped on my creativity. I go back and analyze my photos and wonder what artistic merit do they have if any at all. I wonder of I’m a craftsman or an artist?? More specifically I wonder of I’m a creative photographer or a documentarian.
This week end I had the opportunity to go out and photograph for fun. I took my new Pentax K7 and my three year old daughter to a car show. I’ve had the camera for a month now and in general have been really pleased with it. I no longer feel that the quality of the images I’m taking is limited by the technology as I had been with my old camera. I carried a few different lenses hoping to get to work with them in more depth than I have in a few years, hoping their alternative views would kick start some creative shooting. Things started out well and I got a few shots that look different than the standard family snapshots I’d gotten for thanksgiving a few days before. I find that when I lose the creative eye I revert to shooting to document instead of shooting creatively and I wanted to avoid that mentality on this outing. I tried to shale the cure over thanksgiving and try to with a photographer’s eye and not a snap shooters eye. I had a few successes but I was still not working on the level I wanted to be. I hoped the car show would be a good opportunity to work on this. About four minutes after I started shooting my daughter touched a light on one of the display’s and I was reminded that with her around I could not be a photographer that day, I needed to be a parent . The rest of the day the photos looked technically ok, but they lacked life. I had turned back into a documentary photographer. I took pictures of cars I liked. I took pictures of cars Kate liked. I took pictures of Kate looking at cars. I even took pictures of cars my wife would have liked since she wasn’t there to see them in person. All of the shots were the same, three quarter view of the entire vehicle. I’m ok with them, but I wouldn’t want to put any one through looking at the whole days output. Its ok. Kaye and I had fun on one of our daddy daughter days and she didn’t want to leave three hours later. I have photos of cars that will be of inspiration for the day I get to build one of my own in the garage with Kate and Calvin. The big thing I learned is I know where my weakness lies and I what I need to watch for.

What camera for teaching??

Friday, November 20, 2009 0 comments
First of all remember, no matter how much we try, a school environment and students are not like the REAL world. Once you admit and accept this your life will be better. Plan your equipment and such with this in mind each step of the way.

Students do not work like professionals, because they are STUDENTS.

That being said here is what i recommend.

Any manual camera will suffice. Right now I've been recommending the HMC-150. it has enough quality to let students push to their limits. It is a good price point and uses inexpensive SD cards that any student can obtain. Go tape-less if at all possible. My school and the schools i consult for have eliminated all of the down time associated with the tape based system. I had one semester where on student brought in an old tape and contaminated ever deck in the building before i could stop him. long story but it also ruined several other students final projects. I had policies in place but students don't listen or understand sometimes.

Buy several cameras if at all possible. Students work at a much slower pace than you and I do... and I mean Much Much Much slower. With only one camera there will be bottlenecks in scheduling. More time with the cameras the more students learn. Only getting to touch the camera 4 times for an hour at a time in your college career is useless. I have seen schools where the camera was "too expensive" for the students to carry out into the field so all of their work was done in class in the studio ... no much actually learned there. Multiple cameras also reduces the amount of "group" projects. If a student doesn't HAVE to do projects where they run the camera alone, they will rely one the best students in a group to do their camera work. I have transfer students that have passed production classes at other campuses and colleges and they do very poorly in my class because they don't actually know how to run the camera, they relied on other students to do it for them in group projects and never learned on their own.

Don't hang up on fad of the day/buzz features like 24p or DOF. The students are still learning how to frame, expose direct, light, mic and tell stories. Their projects will not make or break on 24fps or cool DOF.

Think about two levels of cameras. Have super simple cameras for entry level students to learn soft skills like production planning, composition, blocking, directing and editing. I have seen student work grind to a halt because they have trouble with manual audio on story telling exercises. Have one or two better cameras for mastering camera technical skills of exposure, white balance. etc. Don't worry about if an advanced student has to use a simple one every now and then, if they truly know how to run a camera they can make footage from a simple camera look good

Do not forget to budget all of the peripheral items needed for a production. Lights, Mics, sand bags, stands etc. You can buy the best camera but if you don't have ALL of the things to help make a good production their work may suffer.
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Building a Video Production Lab - High School - Part Six

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 0 comments
The computer and editing systems for a video production lab differs from the computers that are appropriate for teaching word processing or working with spead sheets. From experience I would recommend that the computers be split into two types of systems. The bulk of the systems would “regular” video optimized workstations and would include all of the software required to teach the lesson in the class that most students spend most of the time working on. There should be a few systems that have more advanced software and capabilities for few students who want to go farther than the rest of the class or who master the basics quickly. These systems would be “super systems” the instructor system should also be a “super system”. Computer system designed for editing need to bee beefed up compared to regular class room computers. Generally we recommend computers to be built and optimized for video editing. Off the shelf computers frequently have shortcomings than make them less than desirable for this use. If an off the shelf computers is to be used he software companies generally recommend the top end business class workstations for use with their software. It is strongly recommended that any workstation chosen to be configured by someone who has experience in configuring workstations for video production, especially for multi seat class room, where a mistake will be multiplied by the number of machines in the class room. Future upgrades should also be considered with video and multimedia application and technology pushing the limits a system that meets the minimum specification today will probable below specification on the next release of new versions
Working on video files requires more memory and storage than word processing or spreadsheets. A typical video file in web or multimedia resolution may be 50 Megabyte (mb) for a 30 sec file. In full standard definition resolution comparable to what you get on a DVD or VHS tape today a 10 minute file will be around a Gigabyte (Gb), compare that to a work document such a an Excel file that may have only 50 kilobytes (kb). In addition to the increased storage sizes disk throughputs need to be increased. To edit one stream of DV based footage requires a minimum of 8mb/s or eight megabytes per second sustained data transfer rate. Frequently multiple drives are arrayed together to meet storage and transfer rates.
Displays that are adequate for many applications taught in the classroom are not acceptable for use when teaching multimedia applications especially those that are taught at a vocational or career path level. Portions of the adobe creative suite require a minimum screen resolution of 1280x1024. This is the MINIMUM resolution not the recommend resolution. Using a resolution less than this and portions of the program are not displayed on the screen!!! Most video and audio editing application use multiple windows to perform the work in and when running the minimum resolution there is not enough room to actually work with the program and much of you work time is spent resizing the windows to be able to see you work. In adobe premiere to perform a series of simple edits and add transitions you have to use tools in 5 or 6 panels. Using resolutions less than the minimum are more than in a hassle, it can make the applications almost unusable. At the college where I teach the school purchased monitors and projectors that the maximum resolution was less than the minimum resolution that the applications required. There were dialog windows such as the capture window, which is important for a video editing class, that were fixed in size that could not be displayed on the projector or monitors properly because they were too large. In addition to not being able to display properly the dialog boxes could not be closed without resetting the resolution to a higher resolution each and every time the dialog box was used. The classroom should have a projector attached an instructors computer system so they can show work and teach application and techniques. The projector should also meet or exceed the resolution required by the editing software. Additionally standard business class projectors and monitors do not have the fidelity necessary for video applications. The contrast, brightness and color reproduction of a regular display make it difficult to examine, analyze and show proper exposure, color correction and other critical aspects of the video image. Poor displays will often mask technical skills and may reinforce poor work skills. It is recommended the instructor’s projector be of a home theater class projector and the “super systems” have graphics class monitors so students can properly learn to recognize quality imagery.
In the last few years computer based editing system have relied less on specialized video processing cards in the computer and more on the CPU of the computer to process the video stream. This requires a more robust CPU to process the video than what is usually necessary than say that needed for word processing. Microsoft Word requires a 500 MHz processor with 256mb of ram. Adobe premiere requires a 1.5 GHz processor with 1 GB of memory for standard DV work. If you decide to work with high definition HDV footage the requirements more than double to a 3.5 GHz processor and 2 gb of ram. There are cards that will accelerate some of the video work and reduce the amount of time a video file takes to process.
Today’s workplace video production is a collaborative event with several people working on a project or group of projects before it is completed. The ability to network and move the pieces of the project to and from workstations and workgroups is imperative in today’s job market place and students who are comfortable with this workflow will be at advantage. Once again the size of video files requires a more robust system for handling regular 10/100 networks are painfully slow and gigabit ether net is recommended at a minimum. In addition to the more robust network pipeline video edition applications are frequently sensitive to the network security software many schools place on their systems. Video application often write temporary files the system drives and products like “deep freeze” often interfere with these file making the applications unusable. We recommend that a video lab have none for the standard security soft wares commonly installed on classroom computers. The Classroom computers should be on a separate network than the rest of the school system

Building a Video Production Lab - High School - Part Five

An alternative way of production takes place outside of the studio and it equipment requirements are different. EFP and ENG are the mobile cousins of the studio and the equipment for these work flows are much lighter in nature and quantity. I fell most student getting a job will work with these work flows over the more costly studio scenarios. The draw back it is harder to work with large groups of student and also monitor the equipment for security and proper use.
ENG / Electronic news gathering ENG equipment requirements are fairly light to match the quick movement necessary to shoot news. The set up is basically a camera that can be used on the shoulder or tripod, microphones for capturing sound. Minimal lighting and lighting controls are used, frequently only one or two lights are used simply to ensure the there is enough light for the camera to image the scene. All gear is battery powered, extremely portable with controls easy to get to and adjust while shooting or following a story on the fly. Often an external field mixer and microphone set up is used for capturing sound. Microphones are frequently limited to shotgun and hand held types
EFP / Electronic field production, EFP equipment is less concerned with portability and focuses on flexibility and quality. EFP kits often feature more extensive lighting kits for more varied and controlled lighting. More monitoring equipment for checking signal quality is used. Wider selection of microphones are used, lavalieres and wireless setups are used more often to hide the fact microphones are used. EFP shoots frequently follow a pattern of set up a shot, shoot then reset cameras, lights and talent for a different shot repeating as many time as necessary to obtain all the shots needed for the production. The shooting pace is much slower than that of ENG and the quality of lighting is much of a concern. Lighting for effect, mood or directing the viewer’s attention often trump simply lighting so the camera can capture a quality image. This lighting work flow requires a wider variety of lighting instruments. Off camera monitors are used so the director and others can watch the action, set up the shots and check quality. Dollies and jibs often are used instead of simple tripods to support camera and offer better positioning and more movement, which over all enhances the look and feel of the production.

Building a Video Production Lab - High School - Part Four

In this section we review the equipment requirements of a Studio type lab common in many schools. This is the tpye of set up you would commonly use to do a school news cast that resembles the ones seen on TV at six and ten o'clock on your local channels.
Multi Camera Studio. Multi camera studios are the most expensive to set up and maintain in terms of the equipment. A multi camera studio centers around the camera systems and these camera systems determine what equipment support them. A multi camera studio of starts with two or more cameras. Three is usually the minimum that most schools start with though in most working news studio four or more cameras are used. The outputs of each of the cameras are routed to a switcher different cameras are selected to view as the production requires. The output of that switcher is them routed to a device to record the production to be show to the audience at a later time. Recording for later play back is called live to tape, or sending the program directly to the audience who views the production live as it is happening is called live to air. Like the cameras, microphones are routed to a mixer and mixed with the video for recording or air. If during the production any content or imagery is going to be shown that is not being captured on the cameras, playback devices are required and some productions may require several. A news cast may require a playback device for playing the opening credit sequence and a device for playing back pre-recorded news story packages and another for commercials. Additional play back devices may be necessary for graphics and music. Professional environments usually separate all three since portions being shown may change from news cast to news cast or even with in the news cast as time allotments change for each section. Lighting for a muti-camera is more intensive since the set must appear lit from any of the different camera angles. Additionally the lighting is mounted hanging from the ceiling as opposed to mounting on stands to permit the cameras to move freely about the studio during productions. Moving cameras and lights on stands do not mix well and lead to tripping or falling over stands or knocking stands and lights over. Since a multi camera live production requires communication among all of the crew, intercom systems are necessary so the crew can communicate and take direction with out speaking out loud which may interfere with a the audio from the talent. Also the director and operation staff is located in a separate room from the main studio floor to keep their working conversation from interfering with the on air talent. Each of the cameras and playback devices must be routed to a monitor so their framing, movement and content can be monitored before they are routed to air or to the recording. Specialty shots such as weather chroma key shots require equipment to composite the weather person and their maps.
And additional requirement of a multi camera studio is when switching between the three cameras. Each camera must match exposure, contrast, hue exactly otherwise the switch will look amateurish and unprofessional. Cameras designed for live camera switching consist of a camera head that captures the image and a separate controller unit to control the settings of the camera. The controllers called CCUs or camera control units are located in the control room where a operator will adjust the cameras to match. Asking a camera operator to adjust their camera in the middle of a shoot is too much to ask if they are also having to perform duties for framing, movement and focus. Usually a more technically advanced "engineer" is the one who "shades" the cameras with the CCUs. Only certain cameras are designed to be used with CCUs. These camera systems are generally more expensive than regular camcorders. These cameras are designed for studio use and are more suited to this environment. Adapting regular cameras for studio use lead to many compromises and often produce a less than professional result and can be less reliable in operation since they are being used in ways they were never designed for.
In future installments we will discuss roll the room plays in creating a studio and some tips on creating a useful and efficient studio space.