Thursday, September 02, 2010

DSLR and the revolution part 1

Nance and I have watched with interest the development of the inclusion of HD video into the realm of the DSLR world.  Nance has been wanting a full-frame DSLR ever since she saw the Kodak one around 2004.  Then we saw "The Last Three Minutes" shot by Shane Hurlbut and his crew, using a Canon 5D Mark II.  Then we saw the last episode of House, which was also shot with the 5D.

Since we loved the results of those two "films", we knew we just had to have that camera!  Almost all of the lenses that Nance uses are manual Nikkors.  In conducting our research, it was clear to us that the Canon was really leading the pack here in terms of value.  We also determined that we could use the Nikon glass with the help of a simple adapter.  Actually, she got 10 of a different brand on ebay for about $12.50 each.  They work great!  She almost forgot the Canon back caps.

The first day with the camera, Nance was messing around with it after shooting a bunch of still tests and decided to check out the video.  She shot a 10 second clip in natural light and loaded the clip up into FCP after using the EOS capture utility.

She was very excited.  She had me look at the footage and I was just blown away by it.  It was truly stunning.  Clear and vibrant.  Just beautiful.  At that point I suggested we do some side-by-side testing against the EX3.  We have been VERY happy with the EX3 and were anxious to see what the difference was.  There was a big difference.  And while the EX3 produces stunning results, there was just something very different about the 5D's imagery.

It was very cinematic - Film like.  24p or 30 - It still had this certain quality about it.  We were both very surprised by this.  Now, we understand the issues with this camera.  Specifically:
  • Fast camera movement distorts the image (rolling shutter "jello" cam)
  • Moire issues
  • 12 minute recording time
  • Rolling shutter artifacts (especially with flash)
I tested the moire issue by shooting the roof of a house across the street from us and indeed it was terrible.  However, lens selection can be used to minimize this effect.  Moreover, I tested the same focal length on the EX3 and got similar results.

For moire effects, if you properly plan your shots with this issue in mind, you can eliminate or at least, minimize this effect.  From what we can see, the main drawback for us with this camera is the 12 minute clip length.  We do some event shoots and they can involve the camera running for more than an hour at a time.  So, for that, we will tend to favor the EX3.

For film narrative, 12 minutes is not a real issue since most shots are a few minutes tops.

Oh - yeah, and this thing takes WONDERFUL stills.

Nance has since purchased a few accessories for the camera and has started testing a workflow that uses Premiere CS5 instead of FCP as Premiere is much more adept at consuming this highly compressed format natively.  This past weekend, Nance attended Shane Hurlbut's HDSLR Bootcamp and learned a great deal.  I will detail some of the things she learned over the weekend in the next installment of this as well as post up some images from our tests with the camera.  Here is a link to Shane's blog about the weekend.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Visual Storytelling

Once in a while you run across something that just speaks to you.  Something that transcends culture and language.  Sometimes it's a film.  Momentos is just such a film.  Shot on the 7D, this 6 minute short embodies the concept of visual storytelling.  No dialog.  Just an emotional story that will touch you.

You can see it HERE.

BTS can be seen HERE.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Zacuto DSLR Shootout part 3 is up

This is a great series that compares a sampling of the current crop of HDSLR cameras to film.  Part 3 is up that covers keying, simulated raw and frame blowup as well as a couple of shorts shot on HDSLR.

If you are at all interested in the future, these are a must see.  Highly respected industry professionals share their insights with the results as well.  These videos can be a bit talky at the beginning but if you let them queue up a bit you can skip that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our lives in the cloud

We have all heard the flap over Facebook's sharing of private user data with advertisers.  And recently about Google collecting data on users.  Google.  You know, the "Don't be evil" guys.  Well, Facebook is a primary resource for lawyers to research their opposition, potential jurors, plaintiffs and defendants...

Recently, in a custody case, a father was testifying to obtain custody of his child and asserted that he had reformed and had not had a drink in over a year.  The lawyer for the wife presented a picture of him from his facebook page that showed him drinking a few months prior to the trial...

Many of us maintain email accounts on Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail among others.  All web based services that maintain all of our data on their servers.  Additionally, services such as Google Apps or even the more recent Adobe online screenplay authoring tools and Photoshop online products place our information, preferences, location and proprietary works onto the servers of companies with whom most people just tend to place blind trust into.

The public posture of these companies regarding user privacy tends to be one that sounds like they are acting in good conscience.  But we as consumers of these services need to be diligent in our use of said services and to assume that these companies will not act appropriately with our privacy.

This is not to say that these service providers will act maliciously against us.  However, the assumption that their agenda is aligned with that of their consumers is naive at best and dangerous at worst.  It is incumbent upon the consumers of these services to protect ourselves.  The assumption that the service providers will do that for us is, again, naive.

So what do WE as consumers need to do?  It's very simple.  Two things:

  1. Place ONLY information into our online activities that does not compromise our personal privacy.  We must ALWAYS assume that there is no privacy on the internet.  Not in emai, not in online applications, social websites - NOTHING.
  2. When we see that privacy is being compromised by any service provider we MUST speak out about this.  However, our tone must be one that gives the benefit of the doubt to the service provider.  This method of raising concern is more likely to be taken seriously than a "Sky is falling, everyone is spying on me" approach.
That's it.  Simple.  Do not depend on any service provider to maintain your privacy.  They may have a policy that protects the user but there are always individuals at any of these companies that can compromise our privacy without the knowledge of that company.

What does this have to do with filmmaking?  Nothing, specifically, however I know that a lot of my readers are active on forums, run their own blogs, use cloud based applications and it is important for all of us to act responsibly in the information age.

Be careful out there.

UPDATE: I should also point out that deleting your content from an online service provider only ensures that it is out of the public eye.  Service providers do backups and maintain historical records that are obtainable via court order.  And, then there is always THIS.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Story boarding and inspirations

After many, many iterations, I finalized the script for Thicker Than Blood recently and those that have read it have urged me to get this made.  And so it begins...

I began story boarding it about a week ago and I have the first scene completed (about 2 minutes and 40 seconds total).  It takes me a while to do this as I do not do it in the traditional fashion.  I do it with a 3D application called Lightwave 3D.  Basically it's a competitor to Maya or 3DS Max.  In this process, I have to build all of the sets and props, set the scene and animate all of it.  I create a VO of the dialog in the film and bring the final animations into FCP and edit it all together, adding the VO and sound effects.

This allows me to create every setup that will be in the film, to pre-visualize all of it and basically create the entire film on the computer.  This is really a wonderful way to do this since I get to see everything before I ever roll the camera.  I know what each setup will be.  I know how long each shot will be.  I can experiment with multiple camera angles on a scene to see which of these best serves the story.

Then, once we are on set, we have already shot the film in the storyboard.  We have every aspect of it planned out to the most minute detail.  This makes for a fast paced shoot and minimizes wasted time on the set.  It does not, however, preclude changing it at the last minute.  If some improvement presents itself on the day of the shoot, it will be explored.  But, when all else fails, we have the plan to fall back on.  To quote the old addage: Plan the shoot and shoot the plan.

One thing that Nancy excels at is over-preparation.  Invariably when we do a gig, we are prepared for every contingency.  But this makes for a very organized and fast shoot.  When noon hits and people are getting hungry, we are ready for it and we are on schedule.  Hitchcock always story-boarded every shot in his films.  When he got on the set, the film was already shot.  He just had the mechanics of putting it on film to deal with...

OK, enough rambling about story-boards.  Now for the inspiration...

I have not really spoken about the new DSLRs that are being used for video.  However, that does not mean that I have been stuck in a dark room with my head in the sand.  Nancy and I have been tracking these developments with great interest.  We watched the season closer of House M.D. last night that was shot on the Canon 5D MkII and it was very impressive.  These cameras are amazing.  And SO small that you can really get them into a very tight situation with ease.  I love that idea.

With all of that being said, and with no further ado, I offer to you a short film shot on the 5D MKII by Shane Hurlbut ASC.  It's called The last 3 Minutes and it is just stunning.  This, my friends, is truly inspiring work:

The Last 3 Minutes

Making of part 1

Making of part 2

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Maltese Falcon

Nancy and I attended a screening last night at the AMPAS HQ's Samuel Goldwyn theater last night as part of the AMPAS's Film Noir series.  Last night they presented The Maltese Falcon.  The show was preceded by a series of cartoons and trailers.  The idea being that they wanted to emulate the theater going experience as it was in the 40s.  The screening was introduced by Lawrence Kasdan who offered a number of insights into the film

The Good

The print was very very clean.  The SG theater in the AMPAS HQ is clean as a whistle.  None of the normal theater issues were present.  No one talked during the film.  No cell phone went off.  My feet did not stick to the floor.  The sound was excellent.  Mr. Kasdan offered some nice insights into the film and it was very clear that he is a HUGE fan of this film (as am I) admitting to having seen it more than 20 times.  The daughter and granddaughters of Dashiell Hammett were in attendance and informed the MC and Mr. Kasdan that his name is pronounced DASH - EELE.  Not DASH-ALL as most folks would have assumed and have probably heard Hollywood say countless times in the past.

The Bad

Well, not too much bad here.  Nance had not seen the film in many years and was displeased that Mr. Kasdan pointed out a large number of the humorous gags in the film.  She likened it to a trailer that has all of the good jokes in it.  Other than that it was a packed house.  We got there around 6:45 and it took the ushers quite some time to find 2 seats together for Nance and I.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of these I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The NAB Wrap up

Well, the show is over and the number of changes that we are seeing is occurring at an astonishing rate.  I think we are not that far from the point where digital imagery can supplant film in terms of look, latitude, and dynamic range, not to mention resolution.  Mark my words, there will come a day when content producers will wonder why people were obsessed with the "film look" back in the dawn of the digital image revolution.

The first time I looked at making a film was around 1988.  It was a simple short that had both interiors and exteriors and was about 15 minutes in length.  After doing my research, I determined that my cost to do this was going to be around $33,000.  An amount that far exceeded my fiduciary wherewithal at the time.

A mere ten years later, the landscape had changed so significantly as to reduce this cost by half.  And in another 10 years the cost had come down so low and the quality had gone up so much as to rival the same trends that we have seen in the computer world.

So, with all of that perspective in mind, let's look at what some of the more significant announcements were at NAB that I did not cover in the previous blog post.

DaVinci Resolve

Blackmagic Design's announcement of the pricing of DaVinci Resolve truly exemplifies the type of lower cost / higher quality that I spoke of above.  DaVinci color correction has been the bar to which all others have aspired in this arena.  In the past, this color correction system has been used by all of the big Hollywood studios and the big post houses.  After all, they were the only ones that could afford such a high end tool (some configurations topping $1M in cost).

And now, Black Magic Design is offering DaVinci Resolve in a software only configuration for the Mac for $995.  That's just insane...  Now you won't be doing 2K footage on this platform but you can do HD footage all day long.  Just as a caveat, it does require a control surface.  Also, performance can be increased by the addition of GPU based video cards and Resolve will leverage the additional processing power of the GPUs.

There was a ton of very cool stuff at NAB this year.  I think that this one tops the list.

Arri Alexa

Clearly targeted at the RED ONE, the new Arri digital camera looks to be a real game changer.  Coming in at around $65K with accessories, it is competitive in price to the RED ONE, similarly equipped.  The Alexa is a 2K camera rated at ISO 800.  Admittedly, at these prices, most of the users are renting, but it's still significant in terms of reduced costs.  AWN's blog covered a side by side test of the new RED Mysterium X equipped camera and the Alexa HERE. One of the clear advantages that Arri has here is their infrastructure for professional cameras and their experience in the pro world.  But, at the end of the day, it's the image that matters.  And people are stunned by what they have seen.

I think we can all thank RED for precipitating developments like this.  Competition is good.

LITEPANELS Sola series

LitePanels introduced a set of Fresnel LED lights that look to be pretty incredible.  For me, the Sola 12 is of particular interest.  This is a 2K Fresnel that draws 250 watts of power.  It's also dim-able with no impact on color temp.  That's huge.  You can have 4 of these running off of household current.  This is really nice when you are on a practical set and have no generator.  Most of your typical household circuits are rated at about 2K watts or so.  This is very slick.  Speaking of LitePanels, we have one of their smaller on-cam lights that we use to do things like stuffing a light into a cramped space (We used it recently on a shoot to light the interior of a refrigerator).  The name used for these is Grenade - Because of the similarity of the array of LEDs to an old style "Pineapple" Grenade.  So make sure you don't drop it :)

OK, I am going to stop bending your ear here.  If you want more highlights from the show, be sure and check out FreshDV's coverage of the show.  It's second to none.  But, I will leave you with this lame joke:

Q: How many grips does it take to screw in a light bulb? 
A: Two.  One to hold it and one to hammer it in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NAB 2010

Wow.  The stuff showing up at NAB this year is just stunning...  I'll do some brief coverage of some of the elements that are essential to what we do here at B-Scene.

Adobe CS5

One of the big items to get announced is Adobe's CS5 suite.  Before I get into AE, I want to point out a technology in Photoshop that looks just amazing.  It's called Content Aware.  Check out this preview from Adobe Labs:

Some folks are saying that GIMP has had this ability for a while now.  I tried GIMP a long time ago and found that I preferred the UI in Photoshop.  Now I have to go back and have another look at GIMP and see how it compares to the new Photoshop...

After Effects new big feature is Roto Brush.  If you have ever done rotoscoping, you know the challenges that this can represent and the tedium associated with it.  If you look at the first shot in our Post Production reel (HERE) you can see where we had to roto out a tripod leg from the bottom of the shot.  This kind of thing is particularly challenging when the element to be removed starts out of frame.  It will be interesting to see how well RotoBrush can deal with this kind of situation.  You can see some of Mark Christiansen's tutorial on RotoBrush HERE.

Premiere Pro's updates are pretty big as well.  The addition of the new Mercury rendering engine is pretty huge.  The offloading of image rendering to the GPU is a major paradigm shift for an NLE like this.  The addition of Script-to-Screen is also interesting.  Not sure how useful this will be but we will have to give it a try.  You can see a discussion of that HERE as well.  The integration with Adobe Story is an interesting direction.  Adobe Story is a cloud based app for screenwriting that is clearly aimed at products like Final Draft.

Oh - And ALL of the CS5 apps are now 64 bit.  ONLY.  That's right, if you are still running a 32 bit OS, you will NOT be able to run CS5 until you upgrade.  So, what does 64 bit buy you?  It's huge, I tell you, HUGE!

64 bits means faster.  And, at the end of the day, faster is what it's all about.  I have always said that the fastest computer in the world is too slow.  And I meant it.  With 64 bit applications, the application can move elements around in memory twice as fast as 32 bit.  Oh, and it means the apps will be able to use more memory.  With 32 bits, the upper limit of physical memory was 4GB.  With 64 bits it is (in theory), 16.3 billion gigabytes, 16.3 million terabytes, or 16 exabytes  of RAM.  I say in theory because some CPU manufacturers limit this...

Not that anyone is going to max that out anytime soon (famous last words, I know...).

Redrock Micro Remote

As owner/operators of a Steadicam rig, the new Redrock Micro Remote is HUGE.  The integration of an iPod Touch or iPhone to the remote to run Redrock's focus application is just genius.  This is a real game changer for folks like us.  Rather than blather on endlessly about this device, I'll let FreshDV's NAB video coverage do the talking for us:


That's all for now, I will post some comments on the AMAZING new cameras that were released so far at NAB.  Some of which answer the question that my friends and I have been asking for two years: Why can't they take the big imagers from the still cameras and make a pro HD or 2K camera at low cost?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Mantra of the Five

Many times, we get footage for post that exhibits a clear disregard for the 5 steps that should be used for any given setup in a narrative context.  This always creates more work for us and a greater cost to the client.  The client does themselves a disservice by not taking the time to do each setup on the set with the 5 steps.

Performing the 5 steps takes longer than just jumping in and shooting.  But this will pay off in spades in terms of both the look and the performance of the talent.  The mantra of the five is:

  1. Block
  2. Light
  3. Rehearse
  4. Tweak
  5. Shoot
Let's take each one in turn...


The director blocks the action with the actors.  During this time, the lighting crew can also be doing rough setup for the lighting phase as long as it does not interfere with the director.  Typically, the AD will be putting tape marks down on the floor for the talent to use to repeat the action for the scene.  Sometimes the marks are numbered so that the director can tell the talent to start a take at a given point in the scene (Everybody back to 2, etc. called by the AD)

As the blocking is taking place, the DP is watching how the talent is placed in the scene and formulates a plan for lighting the shot that meets the needs of the particular scene.  The DP may also, at this point, rehearse any camera moves that need to take place.


Once the blocking is complete, the talent typically gets made up and is off the set.  The DP can now direct the gaffer to set the lights.  In this process, it is generally a good idea to have stand-ins doing the action for the DP while the lighting is taking place so that the DP can see how the light is going to fall onto the talent.


At this point, the lighting should be correct or at least very close.  The talent returns to the set and the AD calls "Rehearsal is up".  The director then goes through the scene with the talent as many times as the director deems necessary.  Any camera moves associated with the scene are also rehearsed here.


Once the rehearsal is complete, the DP can make final fine tuning adjustments to the lighting.  Once the DP is satisfied that the scene is lit correctly, they let the AD know that they are ready.


That's it.  You shoot the scene.  When you are ready for the next setup, you repeat the mantra of the 5 before you put ANYTHING down on tape or film or digital media...

In other news...  I put a short post showreel up on the website.  You can see it HERE

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lots of projects and a new web site

In general...

So far, 2010, has been insanely busy.  We have been busy with 2 jobs.  Both shooting and posting a romantic comedy indie film and a local talk show.  Our business has always been through word of mouth.  We never need to advertise as we always seem to have plenty of work in the pipeline.  We are just about done with these two projects.  I had to roto a number of shots to remove things like an errant china ball and someone's face in the shot that should not have been there...

Nance has picture lock on the romantic comedy and I will finalize the sound for it tonight so that it can get into the mail tomorrow for a festival deadline.  Once these are done, we are meeting with some clients to discuss the possible production of a dramatic web series.  Considering the economy, it's surprising how busy we are...

New web site!

As I mentioned above, we don't advertise.  For a LONG time our web site has just had a static graphic logo on it and some contact info.  Nance has long wanted a nice update to the site so I took a weekend and re-did the site.  I used an old design that I had had up on the site long ago that I liked.  The problem with the old layout was that it was done all in tables and was a nightmare to update.

So, for the new version, I decided to do two major changes:

A pure CSS implementation.
An ASP.NET database driven site with content manager.

So, what does all that geek speak mean?  Well, it means that making changes to the site is MUCH easier as a result of using CSS to control the position and appearance of all of the elements on the pages.  And, should I decide to change a specific repeating element, it only has to change in one place and the ability to make precision changes to the pages is much simpler.

Another goal that I had was to make the site DB driven so that we do not have to change the web site to update it but rather use a web interface that lets us update the content in the database and then have the site gather it's content for display from there.

As of now, the web site is fully DB driven.  I am currently waiting for a free time window to finish the content manager pages so that Nance and I can make fast, error free updates to the site.  You can check it out at:

In other news...

We recently augmented our venerable Sony Z1 camera with a new Sony EX3.  The Z1 has served us very well over the years but recently it started to introduce a digital glitch into some of the footage.  The issue is intermittent and we have no real way of predicting when it will occur.  We noticed the issue just prior to  taking on a gig and decided the time was right for an upgrade.

We are VERY happy with this camera.  About 11 stops of latitude as opposed to the Z1's 8 or so.  Big difference with the 1/2 chips.  Getting good focus can be a real challenge.  The other issue is that with a new camera, you need new accessories...

We still need to upgrade the Redrock M2 adapter for the EX3 as the newer M2E version is better suited to the camera.  The Redrock Follow focus works fine with the EX3 but I had to buy a D size gear ring to fit the larger lens.  I also had to remove the zoom ring stud on the EX3 since it would interfere with the FF unit.  Other than that, works fine.

And, since we still wanted to use the old tripod and head for the Z1, we had to buy a new tripod and fluid head for the EX3.  And, the EX3 does not support LANC so you have to get a zoom / record controler specific for the EX3 - Another $200...

Now, all of that being said I will say that we are VERY pleased with the EX3.  I think it will serve our needs for a long time to come.  The ability for the camera to output 4:2:2 HD from the HD-SDI connector provides a nice path to a better output medium as well.

So, other than that, we are bored :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For all you editors out there

Friend of mine sent me this audio clip. It's a rip on the "Real Men of Genius" Bud commercial series - This is focused on rough cuts.


Real Marketing Genius

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rear projection

Last night, Nance and I were watching a bit of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief and we got into a discussion of rear projection.  For those that are not familiar, this was a technique that was used before blue (and subsequently green) screen chroma keying techniques for replacing elements in a shot or providing backgrounds.  Basically, a large translucent screen was placed behind the talent and a projector whose shutter was synchronized to the camera projected footage onto the screen.  This was used a great deal for car interior shots where everything was shot on a soundstage, the car set was mounted on springs, and grips would rock the car to simulate the car driving down the road.

Nance pointed out how obvious this technique was in the films.  We made a game out of guessing what scenes were using this technique and to be fair, there were some scenes where it was pulled off very well.  Others, not so much.  Today, audiences are MUCH more sophisticated and demand a much higher quality of compositing in films.  To give you an idea of just how much this technique is employed in popular content, check out the demo reel for Stargate Studios here:

Also note that not ALL of this is green screen. There is also a lot of matte shot replacement techniques in use here as well.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Le Cliche

For Christmas this year, Nance got me two books about movie cliche's.  Both edited by Roger Ebert.  They are:

Ebert's Little Movie Glossary: A Compendium of Movie Cliches


Ebert's "Bigger" Little Movie Glossary

These are great resources for writers that want to avoid the old worn out stereotypes and cliches that populate most of today's filmed entertainment.  I HIGHLY recommend these for non-writers and writers alike.  Both of these books make great bathroom reading as you can read a few of the entries at a crack :)

To get a taste of what this is, you can check out this list of 100 movie cliche's that just wont die HERE.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Nuit Blanche

I don't usually post indie short films on here but I ran across this recently and just had to share.

This is a combination of live action, 3D animation with Maya and 3DS max, compositing still plates and greenscreen.

Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Just a quick note - Ran across this great search site called Jinni.  If you are looking for a fast search engine that lets you put in plot keywords or sub-genre keywords and find matching films, this site is well worth a book mark.

Check it out HERE.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The 3rd and the 7th

I am a huge fan of 3D computer art.  Especially photo-realistic.  Photo-realistic is particularly demanding work.  In something like Avatar, since it is representing a world that is unknown to the audience, the artists can take liberties that ease the burden of creating a world.  However, photo-realistic art requires that the artist create a world that IS known to the audience and as such they must maintain a significantly higher level of detail.  As such, this represents the most exacting form of 3D computer art.

I recently came across what has to be the most stunning example of this that I have ever seen.  And, while there is little to no story here, I think that it truly stands on it's own in terms of pure imagery.

So, as you watch this, remember that this is all computer rendered and created by the CG artist Alex Roman.  Make sure to enable HD and watch this full screen.