Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cinegear 2008

This year Cinegear was HOT! Litterally. Record breaking heat. I heard it was 106 in Burbank. Free waters and other beverages were running out as soon as they arrived and the slushie machines couldn't get the slushies to turn to slush.

Aside from the heat, this was a great Cinegear. Personal highlights are:

Sitting on the tram shuttle next to Garret Brown. (personal hero)
Catching a glimpse of a large Sleestack temple on the back lot.
Having dinner with my friends from filmschool days- Koji Kojima (union AC), Eric Petersen (union DP), and Aaron Rattner (producer, thinking about the union.)

As far as highlights from the show goes, here are my top pics (not in any order):

The Redlake “Phantom Killer” high-speed camera.

This camera purports to be a “Phantom Killer”, and with the specs and footage they presented, it should be. 1,000fps @ 2,352x1,728, 16GB onboard memory, onboard battery, 1,000 ASA, Nikon lens mount, and MUCH cheaper than the Phantom. However... They had a couple of cameras on display and I asked if I could see a filming demo. They said “sure!, come back in two hours”. I did. They said their model wasn't ready, it was too hot (in truth, it was). I suggested throwing flower petals, or using myself as a model, but they said to come back tomorrow at 1pm. I did. They said they were not ready, so I called them on it, mentioning that I had just come from a Phantom demo where they filmed and played back footage of a quarter flipping. They said they could, but because they just had prototypes, they didn't want to try in case something went wrong. Well something did go wrong – their marketing. Grrr... What could have been an “A” product, get's an “F” in my book. Well, at least an incomplete...

They did make arrangements for an in-house demo. My best man, good friend, and union DP Eric Petersen will be doing the test drive. Check here for updates:

The ACME Lighting and Grip waterproof (submersible!) Komet LED light.
This one gets the best demo award. A daylight balanced LED light that is completely waterproof. A must-have for ENG or as an under-water lighting effect.

Coolest demo of the show.

The Movie-intercom LightingFX Tools multi-use flicker boxThis is an amazing flickerbox, not only does it flicker, but it can be used to control larger sources (HMIs for lightning), fake fluorescent flicker, and as a remote trigger for off-screen lights to “sense” when a practical light is turned on or off (inline like for a lamp, or visually like blowing out a candle) Rumor has it that Wooden nickel will be renting them. Call Brian and ask.

This clip shows how the flicker box senses voltage from a practical and uses that to control large fixture lighting. Notice the lights in the background turning on and off as the bulb in the foreground is wiggled.

This clip shows how the flicker box can use an optical sensor to trigger larger fixtures. Notice how the light tuns on and off in relation to the flame.

The Bebee Lights 6k HMI x4 remote control condor light.

What's great about this light is that you can just rent the light and crane, you don't need an operator. Each of the four lights are independently controlled with a joystick, and you can aim them with a video camera and see where they are pointing. Very cool for the independent production.

Here is a movie showing how you can “see” where the lights are pointing.

The new Leader Cinezone Waveform/Vectorscope.
This new waveform monitor/vectorscope also shows the image in the false-color Cinezone, very helpful.

Here is a quick clip that shows what the Cinezone monitor looks like.

Rosco's new polarizer window system.

By putting polarizer gels on the windows and a rotating polo on the lens, you can “dial” in the amount of ND on the window from clear to black, and yet the light still comes in and lights thru the window. Imagine going from interior day to interior night with the turn of a wrist. Very cool. Very expensive - $900/roll, but for the right application...

In addition to the list above, the seminars this year were very, very good.

The post production panel with Jeffreey Stansfield, Philip Hodgetts, and Larry Jordan.
This was a great panel discussion, and they went over many things I had been wanting to learn more on, including storage and archiving of digital material.

The waveform/vectorscope seminar put on by Leader Instruments.
As my friend Eric Petersen said: “Finally, a seminar where I actually learned something!” This seminar went over how to properly read a waveform/vectorscope and how to setup up a camera properly.

The Nip/Tuck discussion with Chris Baffa, ASC.
This discussion went beyond the nuts and bolts of the normal cinematography discussion, in to the psychological reasons behind the cinematographic palate, as well as producer/client relations. Very, very useful. The talk went almost an hour over and I didn't even notice.

The lighting workshop with Paul Cameron, ASC.
This discussion was hosted by Paul Cameron at the Mole Studio. Here he showed how to light with an eye for realism and beauty for the HD format. He went into some of his lighting creations and techniques as well as discussing trends in the industry.

Again very, very informative, and it made me a bit sad when it was over and I had to board my plane home. Good job, well done Cinegear 2008.

Here you can see Paul showing two custom Jem Balls, used for "urban" shooting. One is fitted with an industrial high pressure mercury vapor light, the other fitted with a high pressure sodium vapor light.

Here is what it looks like on the monitor.

Here is a setup trying to replicate the look: a 4x with a bedsheet, and 3 layers of various strengths of CTO and CTS in front of a 2k.

Here is a quick clip showing Paul Cameron discussing the sodium and mercury fixtures he had built into Jem Balls:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Nut Tree!

I got to do a spot for a favorite childhood destination: The Nut Tree!

For those who don't know, the Nut Tree is sort of Northern California's Knott's Berry Farm (before Knott's got big and the Nut Tree went away)

The Nut Tree is back and bigger than ever and I had a great time doing a 2-day commercial shoot for them. This was about as great a shoot as one can hope for. Great client, great actors, great crew and a great location. Easy and fun. Most fun for the kids. Imagine spending two days at a theme park, riding rides and eating ice cream...

The first shot (and most challenging) we did was to mount a camera on the roller coaster. For this shot I used an Aiptek HD video camera. Key Grip Justin Coupe helped me mafer clamp the camera to the stem of a bogen tripod which was ratchet-strapped down in the front care and pointing back.

The AHD is a consumer camera and has no Iris control, it is a fixed iris at f3.5 and uses shutter speed to control the light levels. I had to tape on 2 37mm ND9 Filters in order to knock the shutter down to something that would intercut with our main camera.

Here is the final spot:

Here is a beta run on the coaster to make sure everything is secure (notice the monkeys in the front):

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NorCal PET/CT commercial

This latest shoot was for the Northern California PET/CT Center, a non-profit high end medical imaging facility. This is a great facility that saves many lives every day through highly accurate imaging. I wanted to give the spot a very hightech glossy look, but also to keep a warm approachable feel to it. We shot it in 720p with the HVX200. I originally wanted to go for a glossy, colorful, C.S.I. Miami look with shallow focus and blurred foreground images. I wanted to use a 35mm lens adapter, but that was unavailable at the time, so a lot of the look had to be done in post.

You can see a copy of it online here:

Here are some before and after shots from the location scout and final screen grabs:
This is the doctor's office. We used the Century .6 wide angle lens adapter and a dolly in. For lighting, we turned off the overhead fluo, and dimmed down the overhead tungsten can lights. We also filled up the light panel with x-rays, strategically placing light and dark sheets to control the light. We also bounced into the upper corner just out of frame on camera left, a 500watt fresnell spot in with half CTO, to help provide a little bit of color contrast against the bluish xray prints. You can see it wrapping around the "doctor " above. Also notice the heavy prismatic bluring off on the sides, meant to emulate a defocused lens. There is also an ND grad placed sideways to darken the wall to the right. In the closeup shot on the spot we used a piece of beveled-edge glass (I picked up from a stained glass shop) to make some nice in front of the lens optical effects.

This next scene is from the waiting area. I wanted it to have a very cold, uncertain feel. We used the exesting overhead Fluo, but draped a duva teaser on the end to keep spill off the wall, in order to make a nice soft overhead source shining down. We also used a 2' 4-bank kino with CTB to light from down the hall. There is also a de-focused region and a dark vignette applied in post.

This is the main scanner room. For this shot we turned off all the lights except for the overhead fluorescents which have a nice "looking at sky and trees" fake stained glass image over them. We used the same 500w fresnell in the same config as in the doctor's office, you can see the golden light coming in from the left. We also place a 2' kino with full CTO on the floor behind the scanner to light up the cabinets behind. Finally we added a 200w fresnel with red gel shooting into the scanner tube from behind and below, to add a little high tech feel.

The last shot was a medium shot of the talent. For this one we used an ND grad at the 8-o'clock position to darken the white picket fence in the foreground, as well as a linear polo to darken the sky. We also used a shiny board for fill to help combat the harsh noon sun and overhead branches.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008



We had opportunity to demo Sony’s new HD camcorder, the HDCAM EX. We had a commercial shoot scheduled that day, so we took that camera out instead of the HVX. Here are my first impressions, starting with the good:

It has a better viewfinder than the HVX, and a better zoom preset. Unlike the HVX, you can preset the zoom speed in increments from 1-100. We made extensive use of this, you can actually tell the difference between a zoom out at “6” versus a “7”. It also has a cool “flip” built in lens cap.

It records on Express SxS cards which are much, much cheaper than P2 cards.

Battery life was great. We shot all day with one battery.

Now the bad:

First of all, it looks like a Proboscis Monkey. Ugly. Why does Sony load on all that equipment to the mic mount? Weird.

There is a feature that sounded good, it’s kind of a feathering that can be applied to the zoom or focus, instead of a hard stop. That’s cool, but the interface was typical Sony: buried in sub menus. We spend 15 minutes messing around with it on set and it never worked like we hoped. From the website, it sounded like it was a feather that you turn on to the zoom. In reality, you have to preset the zoom (or focus) in and out and the amount of feather, you then hit a button and the camera performs the pre-recorded maneuver. It never really worked right for us.

The camera records at 720 and 1080p. It also records at variable speed from 1-30fps and 60fps. It’s important to note that you cannot overcrank in 1080p, just 720p. This may be a bit of a disappointment if you are expecting to shoot in 1080p.

The last important note is that it does not have a standard A/V output jack, it’s some weird proprietary connector. NG.

One concern I had was the recording format. Sony chose to go with a long GOP 4:2:0 format. I only shot with this camera, so I can’t report how the image held up in post, although I heard it pulled a key pretty well. It was a bit of a pain to upload the images to FCP, Sony or Apple needs to do a bit more there. I did check out the images and they looked great. Still images are stunning. Motion images have a bit of a stutter. Sort of like the way the old XL1 rendered motion in “movie mode”

Still all things being equal, I’d pick up this camera over the HVX.

Panny: it’s your move.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Got to see a screening of Cloverfield last night, thanks to a pass from this guy. It was fun. Good movie. Not a pivotal film, but worth the money. Go see it on the big screen. Ironically enough, even though it was shot handheld on an HVX (genesis for effects shots), it plays well on the big screen. I imagine viewing it on a smaller screen would accentuate the smaller recording format.