Production

Kino Flo Practical Bulbs

Kino Flo now has edison-style CFL bulbs for practical fixtures on-set. Just $14 each, and they match your big-boy Kino 3200 and 5600 color temperatures. Nice.

Here’s a really handy app that simplifies production release forms. mRelease is a $2.99 app for the iPhone that includes built-in release templates for crew, appearance and location releases, these can be organized and generated on a project by project basis. When you need to obtain a release, simply snap a picture with the iPhone camera and have them sign with their finger on the screen. Their image and signature are automatically added to the release, and you can email a copy of the release directly from the app. You can read a more detailed writeup on this app at HandHeldHollywood.

Another option for release forms on mobile devices is Easy Release, a $9.99 app that also allows customization of the forms (mRelease does not currently) and additional options. Easy Release offers 13 language options and is also available for Android devices. Finally, there’s another $2.99 iPhone app called Photographer’s Contract Maker that offers some form customization options. So there you have it…one of those apps oughta cover your talent & personnel ass-ets.

prompt-it-camcorderFor starters, let’s be clear…nothing can replace the value a good teleprompter operator and gear can bring to a production set. The ability of a professional to pace the text along with an individuals reading style is not something learned overnight, and when you are making script revisions on the fly a good prompter operator will make your life much easier. Also, there’s a reason professional prompter gear costs thousands…a good kit needs to work with any number of camera or rod systems. Bottom line; when I bid out projects with a lot of on-camera script, I always include a proper teleprompter op and kit in the budget. It’s a lifesaver and pays dividends in time savings.

That being said, there is a place for simple, more DIY prompter solutions. One of which is ProPrompter, an really solid $10 app that runs on the iPad and iPhone, and works beautifully for small jobs. We shot an interview with them at NAB 2010 (second half of the video at around 5:30). They’ve even built in integration that allows you to control the iPad or iPhone from the other i-device, swiping to control speed, and remotely loading scripts. It’s a beautiful thing to have in your toolkit, and it’s saved me in situations where the client was underprepared with their script.

ProPrompter offers a number of kits and brackets for the iPad and iPhone, but they’ve always felt a touch overpriced to me, given that I don’t see ProPrompter as a primary teleprompter solution, only as a backup to get me out of a jam. Now there’s another el-cheapo option for an iPhone running ProPrompter (or any other teleprompter software for that matter). It’s the Prompt-It kit, and it consists of a smartphone holder along with a small wedge of beamsplitter glass and a glare shield. This is a really small kit, intended for webcams and compact camcorders, but at $130 it looks to be a cheap way to get better results from your DIY-tastic prompter solution. I’m thinking about adding one of these to my kit for the next time an executive promises he can memorize his lines and won’t spring for a prompter in the shoot budget. Check it out here.

caspar_cg_logoWe mentioned CasparCG earlier this year, it’s a free broadcast play-out server that offers a mature and stable featureset rivaling commercial packages costing many thousands of dollars. Recently they also posted a short case study on how CasparCG was used to play live World Cup graphics, and they even made those templates freely available for testing on your own CasparCG server. Very cool, and a great way to test out the tech.

As we’re not always very “broadcast focused” here at FreshDV, we wanted to talk with one of the guys behind CasparCG and get a deeper understanding of this free playout solution and what features it offers. So we did a short Q&A with Jonas Hummelstrand, which you can read below.

Q1: What is a broadcast play out server?

There are mainly two types of standard broadcast graphics; the pre-rendered videos and the real-time dynamic graphics. Videos need to support embedded alpha channel and audio, and should be able to be called up and played instantly without pre-loading. You also want to be able to play several videos at the same time (“loop this clip in the background and put the spinning logo on top”) and have them output as one composite, and do transitions between them.

The harder part is the dynamic graphics as in “Fetch the latest stock prices and display them as an animated chart.” Thanks to Moore’s law we no longer need water-cooled SGI workstations to play real-time graphics — a pretty cheap PC can output HD resolutions. The same paradigm shift is now happening on the software side — you no longer need specialist software to create dynamic content!

Q2: CasparCG has been being freely available for some time now…but as I do not work in the live broadcast industry, I have no real perspective on this. What would a typical play out server solution cost?

No broadcast company has a price list, but you can expect to pay between $10,000 and $80,000 for a single HD system with hardware licenses, and then you might just get either video playback or only dynamic graphics without pre-rendered video capabilities.

Q3: What is the key advantage of CasparCG being Flash based? That seems like an odd tech to build on.

CasparCG currently uses Flash as the authoring tool for the real-time graphics, as it’s a proven platform with millions of skilled users that also freely share their knowledge and templates. Instead of staring at a blank document, you can use the wealth of the Internet as a stepping stone to get you started, and if you get stuck there’s always someone to ask.

Since CasparCG is open source, if you want to use something other than Flash for dynamic rendering, say MacOS Quartz, all you need to do is create an interface that delivers the rendered frames into CasparCG for output. One unique benefit of Flash is the ability to create stand-alone graphics machines that don’t require a controller to feed data and commands. One possibility is to create digital signage systems that update the content they are showing from XML feeds from the Internet.

Another cool feature is the power that comes from having logic in the renderer. Normally you have a controller that just tells the renderer what to do next, but with the ability to script the renderer you can create graphics that adapt itself to the other items. Let’s say you have a score board at the bottom of the screen, and you decide to show a name sign. Instead of manually removing the scoreboard before you show the name sign, you can easily create logic that tells the score board to automatically move out of the way or hide as long as the other sign is visible.

Q4: How does CasparCG’s approach compare to other proprietary playout server solutions currently on the market?

We play a large number of video codecs and resolutions to a large number of output video cards. The dynamic graphics is created in an ever-evolving platform where millions of users (rather than 200 clients in graphics departments in TV stations) fuel development and innovation. By using standard components for both software and hardware, we get to ride along the speeding train of development, rather than being left at the mercy of a single vendor’s schedule.

Q5: If CasparCG is so good, then why are you releasing it free and opening up the source? Do you intend to keep developing and bug-squashing on the source?

We are a license-funded broadcaster that developed CasparCG in-house to meet our needs. We broadcast over 70 hours of television per day, and each hour of programming is using CasparCG graphics in everything from the station logos and channel branding to lower-thirds and game show graphics. We will continue to develop the CasparCG system so it fits our productions, but we are excited to see what the community can bring in terms of new features that we haven’t even thought of!

Q6: Is CasparCG a turnkey type install, or will users need to dig into the code to make it work? Are there hardware limitations, or is it fairly hardware agnostic?

All you need to get started in 5 minutes are available on www.casparcg.com. It’s important to me as a designer that installers, templates and examples quickly give you a glimpse of what you can do. You shouldn’t have to read a wiki or (oh, the horror) have to compile something to see the potential of CasparCG! The source code is there if you have the skills to modify CasparCG, but if C++ isn’t your thing you can just use the installers and don’t bother with the low-level stuff.

CasparCG 1.8 requires Windows to play, but you can create content, QuickTime videos and Flash templates on a Mac as well. If you’re on a Mac and want to try the play-out server it runs fine in Bootcamp or in emulation such as Parallel’s Desktop or VMWare Fusion. The developers tell me it wouldn’t be that difficult to port CasparCG Server to OS X if you would want that, but we hope that is something that the community would like to contribute to.

We currently support output to computer monitor (either windowed or fullscreen with OpenGL scaling) and to all the SDI, HD-SDI and HDMI cards from Bluefish Technologies and BlackMagic Design (DeckLink,) starting at $199.

Q7: You state in your FAQ that CasparCG’s capabilities are largely dependent on hardware power. Are there rules of thumb when spec’ing out hardware for a CasparCG system, and do you provide recommendations for users based on a certain framerate or resolution baseline requirement?

We still use machines that we built for the first version of CasparCG back in 2005, and they play and transition between PAL SD videos just fine, so we try to encourage people to try it on older systems! However, our newer systems are all Dell R5400 with 8 processors, 8 GB of RAM and a really fast disk array, coupled with one or several Bluefish Epoch HD cards. The support for the DeckLink cards was just released, so we don’t have any systems like that yet (even though we’re looking forward to test if we can build a stand-alone HD broadcast graphics server in a laptop with their UltraStudio Pro card!)

In summary, the broadcast business is so used to only having expensive and proprietary systems to choose from, that it’s hard to get people to think there are any alternatives to the established players. It’s really a question of just adding 2 and 2 together; you can play fullscreen video and dynamic graphics on any computer nowadays, coupled with really cheap SDI and HDMI output cards. All that is needed is a way of controlling the play out and you’ve got yourself a broadcast graphics solution! CasparCG is that affordable solution.

Thanks to Jonas for making the time for this Q&A. You can learn more about CasparCG at www.casparcg.com

Need to build overheads for an upcoming video or photography shoot? Check out the Lighting Diagram Creator, it’s a drag and drop way to quickly build overheads from a library of lighting sources and modifiers. Free online. It seems to be aimed at photography, but if you get creative it’s pretty good for video and filmmaking use as well. Check it out.

Hand Held Hollywood has a report from NAB on Doddle (iTunes link), a free app for the iPad and iPhone that allows you to quickly and efficiently locate production resources in your current area. It looks like a sweet package, and you certainly can’t complain about the price! They also say there are more features coming, like integrated call sheets and other tools to simplify your job as a producer. Take a look at the video below for all the delicious details.

NAB ’10 – Doddle from Hand Held Hollywood on Vimeo.

Forms for Filmmakers

Need a generic blank Call Sheet? How about a Crew Contact Sheet? Script Supervisor Notes? Storyboard template? You can find a number of these templates and more free of charge over at DependentFilms.net. Fantastic resource for filmmakers!

caspar_cg_logoAfter years of internal development and use since 2006 for national TV broadcast in Sweden, CasparCG has been released open-source. Not only is CasparCG open-source (free as in freedom), it is available at no cost (free as in beer). Here’s a quick look at the features, check out the Caspar website for more info, case studies, and a copy of the software.

CasparCG is a Flash and video play-out server that:
* Is free and open sourced
* Plays multiple Flash SWFs with full dynamic control
* Plays all common SD & HD video codecs with alpha and audio
* SDI & HD-SDI output to both interlaced and progressive + to computer monitor
* Plays uncached videos from disk and transitions between two videos
* Can collect data itself from DB, XML, RSS feeds or external sensors
* Can use the same Flash application in both broadcast and on the web

Cinevate DSLR Package deals for NAB

For NAB, Cinevate has announced a 10% discount on their complete DSLR rig packages. Drop by their booth for info, or check out more details online here.

Redhead windscreens tipped me off to a sweet little DIY lighting option. Eiko is a brand of fluorescent bulbs over at Amazon that offers 5000K (daylight ish) and tungsten balanced versions. These bulbs draw 85w and output nearly 340w of tungsten equivalent light. So you can run more bulbs on a electrical circuit and the lights remain relatively cool. They fit into standard edison fixtures, so you can use these in all sorts of applications, from replacing bulbs in a scene to use existing fixtures for ambient, to building your own DIY lighting kits. Bulbs are under $30 each, and look to be a great option for independent filmmakers. Another option from Eiko is a 42-watt version that outputs around 150-watt equivalent incandescent power, for just $9.

Update: Alert reader Erik also pointed me to some bulbs he’s been using, a 4-pack of Alzo 45-watt 5500k curly tubes for under $40. Alzo has the 85-watt 5500k version in a 4-pack also for $86.

Shane Hurlbut has another great post up at his blog, this one on tweaking the 5D and 7D image profiles for color correction purposes. Check it out.

Over at The C47, Jem Schofield has put together a great video tutorial on how to setup and light a green screen for chromakeying. It’s (thus far) a four-part series, but I personally found Part 3 to be particularly helpful in terms of lighting and exposure tips. I’ve embedded Parts 3 & 4 below, you can watch Part 1 and Part 2 at Jem’s blog.

Jem’s has just posted his test of Canon 5D and 7D greenscreen footage, view here.

Kendal Miller has put together an awesome video over at PVC that step-by-step breaks down the evolution of a complex dolly shot during a film shoot he DP’d. The film was shot on Red and directed by Tim Zwica. In this case-study, Kendal uses overhead diagrams, pre-production materials, behind the scenes footage, stills, and also the actual footage from the Red to show how the crew overcame the challenges of location and the requirements for the scene. Definitely check this one out!

On a related side note, I’ve previously written about some of my experiences from this shoot (I was 1AC) and the challenges we ran into with the Red One camera. Read my Weary AC/On Set With Red rant here.

Ah yes, the lowly video capture capabilities of the iPhone 3GS. Nasty compression, horrid rolling shutter skew, and a form factor that defies smooth camera movement. How would you possibly combat these issues and produce a high-end commercial? The brilliant people at The Mill did one such spot recently, and instead of fighting these challenges, they embraced them. Watch and learn.

Art Adams and Adam Wilt teamed up recently to get the skinny on sync rates and flicker issues when shooting with HMI lighting fixtures. They very thoroughly explain the issues at hand, and offer best practice guidelines for shooting. They also make a good case for dispensing with that old-fashioned shutter degrees nonsense when shooting digital, in favor of fractions of a second. Here’s a snippet:

“An absolute shutter speed states exactly what the exposure time is: 1/48th, 1/60th, etc. A relative shutter speed is usually denoted in degrees, because that’s how film cameras work: at 24fps, a 180-degree shutter results in a 1/48th of a second exposure; but at 23.98p, a 180-degree shutter results in a 1/47.96 exposure, which is NOT an HMI safe speed.”

It’s a fantastic article, check it out.