Friday, February 25, 2011

We Are Pulling For You, Apple!

Apple is finally giving video people something to get excited about. With Avid and Adobe releasing some great products in the past year, I wondered if we were getting left in the dust.

The new Macbook Pro has some great improvements including a much better battery and a superfast port (12x faster than firewire 800!) called ThunderBolt. You can read about the laptop at BHPhoto. The other news that is out (not officially, mind you) is that a new version of Final Cut Studio will be out in the next couple of months and there are apparently some major improvements/additions. Although there is much speculation right now about what those are, we will wait and see before lending credibility to any of the rumors. Suffice it to say that it should be good--and it better be good if Apple wants to stay competitive in the professional video market. Here's hoping!

No Time For You

Since I began this blog, I have never missed more than one or two days without posting something--until this week. I have gone almost a week and I am sure many people are thinking that I have gone the way of most flash-in-the-pan bloggers. I assure you, I have not.

So, why has it been so long. Partly because I have been so busy that I have not been on the Internet at all, and the times I had a few moments to spare, I did not have access to the Internet. Here is what I have been doing. On Sunday, I was at church all day recording our choir doing one song that will go on a compilation disc to be released next Christmas. On Monday, I recorded the soloist for that song at my studio and then did the mix. That evening, my wife and I went to Greenville, SC for a casting call for our film, The Solomon Bunch. While we had very few show up to audition, we found three really fantastic actors that made it all worthwhile. Tuesday morning I was at a studio in Atlanta producing vocals for the Daybreak Quartet's new album. I rushed from there to south Atlanta for a conference to do a multicamera shoot of one of the speaker's presentations. Late that night I worked on a design for a friend's youth rally. Wednesday I was in the studio all day with the Daybreak Quartet and then mixed a couple of tracks for pianist Greg Howlett at my place in the evening. Thursday morning I got a four am start and traveled to Knoxville, TN where I am now teaching a series of audio/video seminars through Monday. I will have 9 sessions in all--each one being 90-120 minutes. Probably should have had something prepared! While I am here in Knoxville, I am staying in a guest house that is beautiful and has everything--except the Internet. On Monday through Wednesday, I will be doing a recording of the Crown College Choir and then leaving Wednesday afternoon to head to Pennsylvania with the Daybreak Quartet for one of their concerts.

So, if you don't hear from me for a few more days, it is not that I have quit blogging--I am just too busy to take time for you. Might as well just put it bluntly.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Four Principles with Brian Neher

Getting close to having a completed product for painter Brian Neher. His series is entitled, "The Four Principles," and teaches the basics of Drawing, Values, Color and Edges. This will be a great training piece for aspiring painters. I had a go at it (using color crayons) after sitting through his instruction during the taping. I won't publish it here, but my picture did not turn out half bad--infinitely better than what I could have done without using his system. Anyhow, this is the look of the cover designs in a screen grab from the promotional video that is finishing post today. Editor George Ordway is working on the last of the training videos and should be finished this weekend as well. Check out Brian Neher's website for examples of his work.

Super-Speed Phantom Flex Camera

The newest Phantom camera from Vision Research, the Phantom Flex, is even more amazing than the first. This one shoots full 1080p at over 2,500 frames per second. DP Tom Guilmette has a post on his blog of some stuff he shot with it if you want to take a look. Before you get too excited, the original Phantom was renting for over $3,000 per day, so it is not something you will be incorporating into most of your videos. Still, it is good to know it is there when you need it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How Many Takes Is Too Many?

Here is a great article for anyone directing talent on-set. It is very easy to run your actors/spokespeople into the ground through retakes and poor communication if you are not careful. On more than one occasion, I have sat in the editing suite working on a project and have been shocked to realize just how many takes I actually ran on a particular shot. What may have seemed like about fifteen minutes of retakes while on-set was in reality close to forty-five--and I wondered why my talent was getting a little frustrated! It is certainly important that you leave the set with usable material, but you should be competent enough to realize when you have something you can work with. This article from expands on this idea a little and will be helpful to you, I believe.

Free Stock - Father Son Fishing

This is a high value shot with a beautiful dolly push with obvious parallax toward the father teaching his son to fish. Be sure to do some color grading on this as it was shot fairly flat. Hope you enjoy the clip--I am sure you will find a use for this one pretty quickly!

Download now.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CrazyTalk Animator

Last year I purchased a simple facial animation software program called CrazyTalk 6. It sat on the shelf for a long time, but I finally had a job in January that called for it and it worked very well. It was quick and easy as advertised, especially the way it automatically creates mouth movements based on the audio file you import. Although we did have some difficulty getting a thin mouth line that was not aliased, it was certainly well worth the money. Well, Reallusion has stepped up their game even further. CrazyTalk Animator is not only for facial animation, but for creating full-blown environments by simply dragging and dropping elements from anywhere. Any still can be incorporated as an element, and you can also choose from a large number of built-in elements and customizable characters. And speaking of characters, it really is amazing the functionality this program has for doing just about anything with your "actors" in a completely intuitive way. Right now, Digital Juice is selling the entire suite of programs at half off. For only $164.95, you can be creating professional, viewable content today (literally). Check out the overview video and features on the Digital Juice website.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lighting Tip #6 - Matching the Mood

I love all of the websites and articles that promote 3-point lighting and the exact "formula" that you need to light an interview. While that is a good starting point, doing it right is not always that simple.

Just like anything else, rules were made to be broken. If you understand the principle of 3-point lighting, then you can begin modifying your setup to meet your specific needs. Have you noticed the look of interviews on shows like 20/20 or Dateline? Their interviews are often in support of a serious or dramatic topic, and they use the lighting on the interviewee to enhance the mood of the piece. Many times, they will use no fill light at all. This creates a bit of mystery, especially when the key light is on the side of the face away from the camera as you see in my example above. Sports segments leading up to the beginning of a game will take this concept to the max, often using very stark single-point lighting (from directly overhead, for example) to cast distinctive shadows across the face. On the other hand, lighting an interview for the Today show might call for four or five point lighting on the subject. This could include not only a key, fill, rim and additional edge light, but also a broad fill (often bounced off a white card from below the subject) to raise the overall base illumination and eliminate shadows under the chin. In addition to that, you might use several lights on the background in order to create the happier atmosphere you need on a morning show.

You have a lot of choices when lighting a scene, and though we are talking about interviews here, these same principles apply to narrative storytelling--it just becomes a little more complicated when people are moving around. The basic take-away here is to know the story you are shooting and light accordingly. Your story will be enhanced and the look of your overall piece will have a consistent feel to it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Little Things

You might start seeing more of these pop up on my blog. They are from and I think they are hilarious.

This one is particularly meaningful. I have realized that my hatred for details is causing me more and more grief as time goes on. Let me explain what I mean. It is not that I am not a perfectionist--I most certainly am. A client recently told me they did not want their seminar DVD's to be good, they just wanted them quick. Well, I don't know how to do that--and believe me, I would love to learn because I really need to be on to something else rather than spending an extra week perfecting something that doesn't require it. So, it is not that my end product is not good or that I don't care how things turn out. That is not my problem.

My problem is in the details to get there. I am the type that does not have time to read the instructions, so I spend twice as long each time I put a bookshelf together. When it comes to video...
  • I don't have time to import all my assets into one folder, so when a client needs a re-edit six months later I spend hours finding and reconnecting (sometimes even recreating) media. 
  • I did not have time to reorganize my equipment after the last shoot, so on this shoot I am missing something (usually just something small--like a way to power the camera, for example).
  • I did not take the time to white balance every shot, so now I have to do all kinds of funky things to get my colors to look right.
It is really quite easy to make a huge amount of work for yourself through one simple mistake. A videographer I used on a recent shoot selected the wrong setting while capturing in Quicktime. He has been shooting for a long time and knew what he was doing, but just overlooked that one particular setting. When he checked his recordings afterward, they looked great in Quicktime. However, when we tried to transcode them later, we could not get them to play without considerable jerkiness (looked like it was playing at about 3 fps). After several days of three of us trying every possible solution, including all of the major encoders (Squeeze, Compressor, Media Encoder, MPEG Streamclip) and a dozen others, we all came up empty handed. What seemed like it could be fixed simply turned out to be a nightmare.

This is only the most recent example. I could cite many more. My point is that we need to pay attention to the small things before they become big things. There is a balance here, by the way. I have another friend who does work for me that takes it to the other extreme. He would plan for three days to shoot an interview if I would let him. I usually have to tell him, "good enough," so we can actually get some work done. So there are two sides to the coin, I guess. Whichever side you are on, try to "move a little more to the center" (I never thought I would catch myself saying that).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lighting Tip #5 - Separation

One reason for taking time to light each scene properly is that you need the subject to stand out from the background. Getting good separation keeps your shots from looking flat and uninteresting, and makes sure your subject is not lost.

There are several ways to get separation. First is by using rim lighting, also known as backlighting or edge lighting. This creates a glow around the edge of the subject and causes him or her to stand out. The image shown here is from the Lowel website. For a demonstration of where to place backlights, visit the site. Another way to get separation is to make sure the background is not too bright. Using "egg crates" on your softboxes or barn doors on your open-faced lights, you can keep the light from spilling onto the background. A few highlights on key background elements helps bring the background to life, but too much light is a distraction from your subject in the foreground. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. A darker subject may require a lighter background. (Note: The "Chiaroscuro" principle is a good one to know. It says that the brightness of the background should be in direct opposition to the brightness of the subject. For example, if the key light is on the left side of a person's face, the background would be darker on that side and move to lighter on the side where the fill light is placed.)

The most obvious way to create separation is to actually leave a little space between the subject and the backdrop. Instead of shooting someone on a couch against a wall, try seating them in the center of the room. While this does not necessarily create separation by itself, expecially if you are using a longer lens, it does allow the background to go out of focus with very little effort. A sharp subject stands out very well against an out-of-focus background.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free Stock - Sailboats

Two sailboats slowly leave Charleston harbor. This is a free stock footage clip that can be used royalty-free in any production. It is a long enough clip that it could be sped up a little for effect. To see the resolution of the clip, click on the image and to download, click the link below. Please continue to pass the word along about this blog!

Download now.

Lighting for Portraits

On this blog right now, I am in the middle of a series of posts on lighting. Last night I just happened upon this video from photographer Jay P. Morgan. In it, he goes through the different types of lighting setups for shooting portraits. You will not hear this same terminology much in video production, but the principles are sound and will give you a better understanding of how your placement of the key light affects the feel of the shot. Make sure you watch the video all the way to the end--you will be glad you did.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lighting Tip #4 - Knowledge is King

Having the best, most complete light kit in the world gets you nothing in this game. It is all about knowing how to control and shape the light, no matter what tools you have to work with. A good DP will get a better look with a couple of $10 utility lights, white foamcore and black foil than an amateur will with $50,000 worth of lights. Sure, it does make life easier when you have everything you need and the exact light you want for every job, but knowledge is the thing that you really need in every situation. In the interview shot shown above, I came to the shoot thinking I was only capturing a short stage performance. I had no light kit, and only a few sheets of diffusion in the truck. So when they mentioned interviews, I quickly went searching. Before long, I had found a lamp with a soft white shade (similar to the one seen in the shot), a coat rack, and a clip-on work light.

I positioned the subject in the room where she was sitting under (and slightly in front of) an overhead can light that provided a little rim light on the top of her head. The lamp with the white "softbox" (lampshade) went behind her left shoulder in order to even out the can light and to add a touch more backlight. It also served to provide fill light on the left side of her face. Finally, the clip light went atop the coat rack in front of and slightly to the right of her. A sheet or two of diffusion smoothed the look of the light wonderfully. The wall of the room, with it's paint-spatter look, worked great as a background, and we found a 25-watt bulb to replace the 40-watt bulbs in the lamp seen onscreen. With no professional lighting, we got a very nice look that the clients raved about once they saw it (though I am sure they were quite nervous about it up to that point, what with the coat-rack and all). Note that the overlay graphic, not the lighting, is creating the white hot spots you see in the right corners.

Television Promo - Truth For Today

Here is a promo just created today. It is for the Truth For Today program which airs on the NRB Network. The last five seconds are left black for the network to add their own graphics and voice-over. The shots are primarily stock footage, and the first audio cut is stock I purchased recently from Footage Firm. I am working on a :15 promo that needs to be completed by tomorrow also.

Lighting Tip #3 - Less Is More

When you think about the vast array of lights and lighting tools that are used on a film set, it seems ridiculous to be talking about simplicity, but it really is the key to great images. 90% of those lighting instruments sit idly by during any given scene, with just a few actually in use. Amateur videographers often approach a scene asking, "is there anywhere that needs more light?" Experienced DP's realize that shadow areas are just as critical to the image as lit areas. By using fewer lights, and flagging those off properly, you can create an artistic and more dramatic look to your scene. It is the difference between the wash-lighting look of a sitcom, and the sculptured look of a big-budget motion picture.

Another important reason to simplify is that you eliminate multiple shadows. Nothing is more unnatural than shadows being cast in three different directions by a single object. Using bounce techniques instead of additional lights is a good way to minimize this problem. And finally, using less light allows the camera iris to be opened wider for a shallower depth of field. While it is possible to stop down using neutral density filters, the less glass you have to put in front of the lens, the better.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lighting Tip #2 - Motivation

In situations where there are practicals (light sources visible on-set) involved, such as a window or lamp, it is best to use that source as a "motivation." This means that you will light your scene to appear that the visible light source is supplying most of the light for the scene. For example, if you have a window on one side of the subject, you would avoid putting a key light on the opposite side of them. If the window does not provide enough light, or is uneven, then you would add a little more light from the same side as the window. On the opposite side of the subject, you would use only fill lighting, which could include bounce cards or very soft sources. Either way, in the end you want the shot to look as if the window is providing the primary light for the scene. In this way, the viewer gets a more believable image because the lighting fits naturally with its surroundings. Use common sense, of course. A dim lamp that is only used as a background element probably will not be the primary source in the scene. However, it might be good if your backlight hit your subject from the same direction as the lamp.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

RED Ships the Epic

RED has finally shipped a new camera! Never thought it would actually happen--still no Scarlet, by the way. This is the Epic (#0008) being assembled with its accessories, including the new RED mattebox. This is obviously a fantastic camera that will see plenty of use in the motion picture industry.

Lighting Tip #1 - Shotgunning

Have you ever been frustrated when lighting multiple subjects to find that the ones closest to the light are noticeably brighter than the ones further away? Is there a solution?

The intensity of a light source, even with a softbox, begins to fall off at a certain point on the edges. Another way of saying this is that the center of the light will have a hotter output than the edges. A technique that is used by professional DP's is called "shotgunning" and is quite simple. Place the key light off to one side of the subjects and then adjust it so that it is actually pointing in front of them more than right at them. If you can find the spot where the falloff is hitting the closest subject with the same intensity that the center of the light is hitting the furthest subject, you will have nice even lighting. Pretty simple, but it can make a huge difference in the look of your shots.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Solomon Bunch Legal Stuff

Had lunch today with Joe Hardy of Hardy Law (an entertainment attorney) to discuss all of the legal bases we need to cover for our film. Joe was extremely helpful and I feel confident that we are headed in the right direction. It is amazing how many aspects of filmmaking require legal consideration. There are issues involving insurance, financing, intellectual property, incorporation and labor laws. There are also agreements with each person or organization involved in the production--each with its own special set of considerations. He recommended, based on our budget, that we find whatever forms are available online and then simply have them reviewed rather than starting from scratch on everything. Sounds good to me. Anything to save money gets my vote.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Great Turnout for Casting

Our open casting call yesterday for The Solomon Bunch was a huge success. We auditioned over ninety actors and actresses in a five hour period and had some really talented people stop in. I would guess that at least half of our final cast will come from those who walked in. In the next few weeks we will be doing callbacks as well as approaching some actors that we would like to see in specific roles. I am very excited about the cast that is coming together for this film.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Free Stock - Atlanta Street

This is a street in midtown Atlanta. Works well as a "hustle and bustle" shot or as anything representing drivers, the city, pollution, working, commuting, transportation, etc. It could be sped up for a short timelapse-type shot.

Download now.

Director's Training Course

Per Holmes is one of the greats when it comes to instruction in directing films. His Master Course in High-End Blocking is an amazing resource that every director must watch--and most of the top Hollywood guys have. I learned so much from that course, it was literally dizzying. His instruction is so well laid out and explained that you can't help but "get it." He has just announced a series of three-day training seminars in key cities around the world. Because they are hands-on, only 25 or so are able to register for each. They are selling out as fast as they are announced.

You may want to get your name on the list to reserve a spot for ones that are upcoming. Go to the registration site for more details. There are a lot of seminar opportunities that are "take it or leave it" type things. This is not! This is a "do whatever you have to do to get there" opportunity.

Here are the things he will cover as they do actual setups and shooting of scenes:
  • How to quickly block any scene from scratch with only a script and a location.
  • Become crystal clear on how to attack any scene, so you can do it well under pressure.
  • How to convert your intuitive shot ideas into a rock-solid blocking plan.
  • How to quickly adapt your blocking to a new location or actors' input.
  • How to get better coverage using half the camera setups you're used to.
  • How to block fast so you can spend more time with the actors.
  • How to eliminate continuity problems.
  • How to shoot for total editing freedom, so better emotional timing can be created in editing.
  • Anchor a TON of Hollywood Camera Work technique, such as Compression Of Space, Open vs. Closed Framing, Keyframe-Based / Parallel Blocking, Managing The Line, Hand-Offs, Parallax / Back Parallax, Lead-Ins and Extensions and much more.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Solomon Bunch Film in Pre-Production

Had some signs made up for getting people to our casting call this Saturday for The Solomon Bunch. These are the industry-standard for directions to a movie set. They are done this way so that they can be posted with the arrow pointing either left, right or up for straight ahead.

Printing out a bunch of scripts and sides as well as a couple of hundred casting forms. Not sure exactly how many will show up, but judging by the number of people that have downloaded the sides, it should be a lot of people.

One other thing I did today was to start working on some preliminary scene breakdowns to see how we might be able to get the thing done on the limited budget and schedule we will have to work with. I see a couple of ways we could save money by having a second unit grab some less critical shots--especially some stuff that all happens on a stage (school talent show). I figure once we have it lit properly, most of the crew can go on to the next location while the stage performances are being picked up by a second camera. That would save us at least a half day that could be put to good use. We will have to see what our DP has to say about doing it that way.

If you are interested in auditioning for The Solomon Bunch, by the way, visit the official site for instructions.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sony PMW-F3 Camera

Sony has several new videos up on its VideON channel that were shot with the yet-to-be-released F3 Camcorder. This is said to be a machine designed to rival the RED (despite not having 4k resolution), and I would say the images look comparable. Very smooth, yet crisp, look and able to accept PL Mount lenses made specifically for shooting films. This is certainly in the running for the format we will shoot "The Solomon Bunch" on this summer. We will be keeping an eye on its capabilities as it gets into the hands of more users this month, but I am very hopeful based on what I have seen so far and based on the comments by those who have shot with it.

Update 2/4/11: Just went to a special presentation by SONY about this camera and it is awesome. The options that allow it to record S-Log, their answer to RAW images, and output via Dual-Link SDI, are only available through a paid upgrade, but the quality and features are still very impressive in the base model. It comes with a PL-Mount adapter which means it is ready to accept cinema prime lenses with no modifications. A great choice for filmmakers.

Client Reviews via Roku

Here's an idea for those of you who work with the same clients on a consistent basis--or even those working a one-time job that will entail multiple client reviews of the production as it progresses.

Why not send them a Roku box so they can view your "proofs" on their HDTV? Viewing online is okay, but does not give them the full experience they are used to getting when they watch on a large television with a good sound system. How would it work? Before sending them the Roku, simply create a channel that points to your Vimeo account. When they plug it in at home, they will be able to select your channel and play the video(s) you have uploaded for them--in high definition. At around $100, the Roku is cheap enough that you could have several in "circulation" among your clients, or you could just give it to them as a gift to keep. They will be able to access Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and a ton of other stuff that will make it a useful gift and a reminder that somewhere out there is a video producer they once hired to do a production.

Soon the Vimeo channel should be available on the Wii (Wii2 will be in HD) and on the new Internet-equipped HDTV's and BluRay players, so the fact of the matter is you may not need to buy a Roku at all--but you get the idea. Until the day we have a cheap and easy solution for doing client reviews in HD and in real-time, this option is a good one to consider.