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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.

Building a Video Production Lab - High School - Part Three

Ok so you've read the last two entries and answered the questions found I posed in those entries. Guess what! More Questions. In the final set of questions we figure out what kind of production scenarios you will use to teach with. I have worked with instructors who teach all the style i have listed here in Texas. The scenarios they teach in have a lot to do with what their back ground is or requirements from the adminiistration. I break it down into three common workflows: Multi camera sudio, EFP and ENG. They represent the three modes of production we see in the real world.
Different production scenarios in teaching television production require different groupings of equipment. Basic operation and skills in operation of the equipment cross over between the disciplines but the workflow and the skills they teach will vary.
Multi Camera Studio. The multi camera studio is the predominate scenario in the education environment. Multi camera studios work well for schools but replicate an environment that is rare in today’s workforce. A studio keeps all of the students, equipment and learning activities in a central location that is easier to manage and supervise. A live or live to tape news cast is a group leaning activity where all students can work on the same project simultaneously. Positions or tasks can be share or rotated through giving all the students equal opportunity to learn skills. News cast are repetitive allowing students to practice skills over and over until proficient. News casts allow students to learn group working skills. The work group skill leaned in a studio environment can be just as intense and deep as group sports since a news cast is a very intricate and timed sequence of event s and require team work of a demanding level to do.
ENG / Electronic news gathering closely associated with the multicamera studio. Doing a news cast requires stories other wise it is a grouping of shots of people reading from pieces of paper. This is neither challenging nor entertaining. ENG is the recording of news stories assembling them and editing them so they are formatted to fit with in the news cast. The news story work flow also closely matches that of documentary filmmaking. Documentaries use the same production techniques but are much longer in length, deeper in depth, and are generally less neutral than news. This lesson plan is a challenge to the instructor since it usually means the student and equipment must leave the confines of the class room or studio to “gather the news”. After the news is gathered it is brought back to class room and is edited to be included into the news cast. This type of learning experience is more individualistic with students working in groups of two or three. One student will act as a reporter another student operating camera and maybe a student working audio. Students learn planning and individual work skills. Additionally the students will practice higher order thinking skills when analyzing a story or events as they report them. Some schools use the guise of reporting a story to teach other lessons. Requiring a student to do a story on civil rights will require them to lean about civil rights in order for the to put a story together, or a report on new school rules may lead them to learn more about political and governing processes.
EFP / Electronic field production, EFP cover pretty much any other work flow not covered in the studio. TV commercials, Movies, Training Videos, music videos etc that are not shot with multiple cameras in a studio all fall into this category. While studios work well for managing students, less and less of the professionals who work video and film industry actually work in a studio. Studios are expensive to set up and operate. Very few corporations or production companies own a studio. In most cities the only full time studios are owned by the broadcast television stations and there are usually only three or four. The rest of the production occurs on location. A training video for a pipeline company will be taped on location where the pipeline is. A TV commercial will be shot at the stores location. A movie may shoot on dozens of locations. The camera crew will usually travel to shoot the message where the CEO is rather than have the CEO travel to a studio. A draw back to EFP is that most of the work occurs out of confines and safety of the studio. Additionally the crews are smaller and more time is required to create a finished product. A thirty minute news cast requires thirty minutes to tape whereas as a thirty second commercial may take a day of taping and a day of editing. An EFP lesson plan will require much more independent work of students utilizing greater planning skills and teach higher order thinking skills of a much higher level.

NOTE: Many technical skills leaned in all three cross over. All three types of production utilize similar technical skills that will cross over from discipline to discipline. i. e. A properly adjusted camera and exposed image is crucial in all three. Workflow skills will vary greatly among the three

Building a Video Production Lab - High School - Part Two

How you answered question two will set your course in setting up a Video production lab for a school. Different teaching goals in teaching television production require different levels of equipment. And properly matching the two can increase the success of the program. I have broken down the types of programs that most school implement into three tpes: Elective,Technical Applications, and vocational.
Elective or Club program. A program in which the goal is to provide enrichment to a student has a lower requirement than many other educational goals. students form a Elective program are not intended to obtain jobs where video production is a main component. for this type of program simple consumer cameras and off the shelf computer systems will suffice since the proper operation and mastery of equipment is not the goal. Interaction between students and other goals are the focus of such programs. Complicated equipment that is difficult to master could hinder the learning experience what ever it may be.
Technical Applications, A program aimed at teaching proficiency in technical applications such as Photoshop, web authoring and multimedia production. This type of program is geared to teach students to cope and deal with the new world of high tech skills that the market place requires but does not focus on video production exclusively. The skills they learn are meant to be broader in scope. A student who learns to use technology properly will probably be able apply those skills to other areas of technology later in life. The equipment for this program should require more effort to learn how to use and require thought and reasoning in its use but the quality does not need to professional quality nor replicate real world technology in great detail.
Career Path / Vocational, A program whose desired goal is to prepare a student for a career in television, video or film production and implies the student can walk out of the class room and in to an entry level position with no additional training. The equipment chosen for this program must approximate the equipment and workflows they will see in the work place. A program for teaching students to work in the hospitality industry would not use cake mixes and easy bake ovens and expect students to claim to have even the rudimentary understanding of the tools and workflow required in the industry. Conversely a drivers Ed student does not need to learn to drive in a Ferrari. A balance must be achieved between the proper tools and affordable tools. The driving decision process for selecting equipment for this learning objective is to replicate workflows and operation that would be common in the workplace and balance cost and quality in face of the limited resources available to the school.

Below is a comparative chart of camera cost per camera for the different levels of education:
Camera Choices Studio camera Field Camera
Vocational 10,000 – 20,000 7,500 – 12,000
Tech Apps 2,500 - 10,000 2,500 – 7,500
Elective 500 – 1,500 300 – 750

Building a video production Lab - High School - Part one

Building a video production learning lab - Part one - Good Answers start with Good Questions.

This is the first part on building a video production learning Lab for high schools and colleges.
Often I get asked questions regarding building on how,what, how much, etc. I usually respond with not with answers but instead start asking questions. Here are some of the questions you should have answered, before you start.
Selecting the equipment to go in a studio is a challenge especially for high schools with limited resources and limited funding windows. Choices made today have long reaching impact on a program. A camera can cost any where between five hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Which one does the school need? Does the school need one or six cameras? How many and what type of microphones? Lights? Intercom? etc Asking a few simple questions will help narrow down the choices
1) What level of learning and what goals are there for the program. The equipment requirements are less stringent for a elective or club type program than for a vocational program.
2) What type of production scenarios are you going to be teaching? Multi camera news productions require different groups of equipment than teaching narrative film style productions. Teaching a class for students going in corporate environments requires different equipment then those expected to work in a television station. Studio cameras are optimized for the studio should stay in the studio and not used in the field and visa versa. Is the teaching going to be all studio or all field or a mix?
3) What is you budget? Really this question should be asked first since the choices are so vast a simple set up for a elementary announcement class can cost under one thousand dollars while a working professional studio can cost millions. Determining a budget up front allows every one involved to know where the limits are and where choices can be made
Once you answer these questions you can start to limit your search for equipment and other resources. In my next article I discuss the possible answers to question two an how that will affect you decisions.

Art vs Craft

This is the start of a topic I will cover more in later articles on the concept of art and craft in our industry. I recently had to write a bit on art vs craft for a assignment and will post it here. think of this as sort of a definition in my own words on the subject.
Artist or admirers of art frequently hold art work to be of a higher standard of creation than craft. To most people, art and craft are two sides of a coin that cannot be separated and are frequently used in the same breath. .Art and craft are a common pair in the world, and can be applied to disciplines such as music, art, cooking or even gardening. Any activity where a person creates something can have components of art and craft. Even though art and craft are both part of the process of creating, only by only by examining the two side by side can we see craft and art are not two sides of the same coin but instead the same coin made by two people.
A craftsman is one who creates with skill and knowledge. When working with wood most any one can cut a board into a multitude of pieces and then join them together with glue, nails or rope. When looking at the joints created between the pieces of wood, a craftsman would likely have tight joins that had no gaps between the pieces. It takes knowledge of the tools and their use, the materials, and the process to accomplish this task. The craftsman will have spent time learning how to use the tools and hours practicing how to get the most out of them. Additionally his knowledge of materials will go far beyond that of the common man. Staying with the wood worker as an example he will be able to tell you the hardness of a wood, how it will take a cut or even predict its behavior when stained or painted. A craftsman is expected to show a high level of technical perfection. A high level of craft is easily seen and can be appreciated by anyone who views it.
Artists, especially in today’s art world, are not expected necessarily to show a level of technical perfection. Their knowledge of their tools and materials can be held to a lesser standard and be superseded by the impact or message their work imparts. Art often requires interpretation to be understood. Additionally, it is frequently said that art requires an emotional response to deserve the term art. Instead of knowledge as in craft, art is based in interpretation and personal understanding. Unlike craft the fruits of art are not always easily seen, or can be interpreted differently by each viewer.
Art and Craft come from the same source, the call to create. Artist frequently cite a pressing feeling or urge to create their works of art. Art for them is a release or a way of dealing the world around them or communicating ideas. For an artist the act of creating is fulfilled in the created result and the message it communicates. The Craftsman too may feel compelled, but it is perfection that is what fills their need. Their relief is found in the journey and the process of the creation and the satisfaction of their work and skills. Even though both have different goals when creating they are both creating and working actively their end product.
Craft and art sometimes combine to create a greater whole. In some cases art is dependent upon craft to succeed. The sculptor Michelangelo created very iconic pieces of art. His work is renowned for its technical perfection and the beauty of the subjects portrayed. He was able to create flawless surfaces using primitive tools by today’s standards. A craftsman who spends a lot of time with stone and with the proper training can achieve the same technical perfection. The figures portrayed in marble appear to have skin is so smooth you expect them to feel real if you dared to reach out to touch them. This level of stone craftsmanship can also be found in the marble floors of a church of the same time period. Their perfection and expense were planned to awe the visitors but have little emotional impact other than that. If the floor was rough and uneven the illusion of the church being grand would have been lost. In Michelangelo case, had his sculptures a rough or haphazard surface it too would spoil the illusion he was trying to achieve, that of a living person. If one looks closer at the figures lifelike appearance it becomes evident the figures are not exact representations of humans but are instead stylized creations. Each sculpture is finely tuned in proportion and pose to affect the viewer and appeal to their sense of beauty. To achieve this, an artistic interpretation is required. He had to filter the beauty of the human form and pick and choose only those elements to include in his work that would evoke a deep and involuntary response. This is the work of an artist and is distinctly different from craftsmanship in that it is something that cannot easily be taught and is frequently not perfected by simple practice. His art is the sum of two parts; his craft and his artisan sensibility, both working together to create a greater whole. The question to be asked is; without the craftsmanship would the artistry of his work hold the same impact? , Without craft his work would not seem as lifelike and the overall impact of his art would be diminished. As for the floor of the church is there any doubt they are beautiful, but do they hold an emotional impact other than their perfection and opulence. In their case their beauty is devoid of art and stand solely on the merit of craftsmanship. Art and craft are complimentary and when paired with great skill the combination will be greater than the sum of its parts.
Art and craft are both components in creating and both have their place in the world. For every discipline of creating there will be craftsmen who push the limits of the materials, tools and knowledge to their limits. There will also be artist will strive for deeper meaning and grater connection with their creations. Both will through the act of creating bring value to the world, creating coins for everyone else. Each coin will be a sum of its creator and their experiences the difference will be the purpose of the coin and why it was created.