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:

freshdv_nab10_REDROCKMICRO_FOCUS REMOTE

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...

Block

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.

Light

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.

Rehearse

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.

Tweak

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.

Shoot

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