Tutorials

Ryan Brown has a great blog post that walks you through his DIY RAID enclosure build. For $3288 he built a RAID5 box that delivers over 1100MB/s read and 1800MB/s write performance on his Windows system. Yes, it will work for Mac users as well. Ryan used (16) 1TB drives to build his RAID set, the effective space comes out to just under 14TB.

The price and performance look great. If you’ve got some time and are willing to DIY a little, this type of approach seems like a great solution for post-production. Check it out.

I shot a commercial project last week that we chose to frame and crop to 2.35:1 frame. We landed on this aspect ratio so that we could carefully draw the audience’s attention to specific areas of the frame. The project was shot on the Canon C300, so we simply turned on those crop marks in camera, and framed with that intent. Now that we’re in post, we chose to lay out the footage on a standard 16:9 timeline in Premiere Pro, and are using the Motion effects tab to make minor vertical framing adjustments. It’s a pretty simple workflow, but there was some math involved and I had to google for a tutorial on the crop marks.

Here’s a great tutorial I located on how to lay out a PSD with crop marks, and the appropriate recipe for cropping the output from Premiere Pro. Simple, and it seems to work beautifully. Good luck!

I’m not an audio guy, but oftentimes for quick-n-dirty talking head interviews I have need for an audio boom pole. So I recently purchased a K-Tek KE-79CC Traveler Avalon Series pole. This is a lightweight fishpole with an internal XLR cable that terminates in the base of the pole. I chose this model for affordability (just $225 at Beards & Hats), light weight, and its very short length when collapsed; just 1′ 8″ (it measures 6′ 7″ when fully extended).

So after a couple shoots, I noticed that I couldn’t collapse the pole entirely any more. There was always at least one section that would not fully collapse. You could feel the cable creating resistance inside the pole. So I emailed K-Tek, and they got right back to me with a link to a tutorial video for the fix. It turns out that I’d made the rookie mistake of twisting my pole around several times while extending and collapsing it, and had created a kink in the internal coiled cable. The fix was very simple, and took just a few minutes to rectify.

The XLR connector in the base unscrews from the pole…simply insert a female XLR plug, and unscrew it. Once the base connector is out, gently pull and extend the coiled cable from the bottom of the pole, until you locate your kink. Unkink the cable, and then feed it back into the pole. Now, if you simply screw the connector back in, you’ll be recreating the kinking issue…so you have to first untie the cable at the top of the pole, and then twist it in the same direction you are screwing in the base connector. Basically match each revolution of the base connector with a revolution at the top of the pole, and the cable will retain it’s proper orientation inside the boom pole. You want the cable straight from top to bottom.

If you’ve done this properly, you should now be able to collapse the pole fully. If it’s still not working, try it again, and make sure that you have pulled enough slack cable out at the top of the pole. K-Tek has a video that shows how this works, which I’ve embedded below. You’ll also want to watch this video for a visual example of how to re-tie the slack cable end at the top of the pole.

Side note: to help me avoid this issue in the future, I’ve added some marks on my pole at the top and bottom sections, to remind me to keep them aligned.

Premiere Pro doesn’t currently support CinemaDNG RAW files, but the makers of Ginger HDR have come up with a workaround. It’s not 100% realtime performance (After Effects is particularly laggy), but it IS playback of the native files. Not a bad workaround for those that want to work directly with the native RAW files from the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. Watch below…

Ginger HDR: RAW and CinemaDNG Workflow with Premiere Pro and After Effects from 19lights on Vimeo.

This video shows the workflow for processing RAW and CinemaDNG files in Premiere Pro and After Effects. Premiere Pro doesn’t support most camera RAW formats or CinemaDNG files. Instead, we can use Ginger HDR to do this. You simply create a GNR file (which is a text file that says where the data is), and then load that GNR file directly into Premiere Pro.

Correction: At 3:05 I said “Half Speed” when I meant to say “Half Size”.

Ginger HDR is a $149 cost, and they offer a 30 day trial.

Aspect Ratios and Compositional Theory primer

Here’s a nice blog post on the subject of composition and framing when making images for various aspect ratios. These are pretty simple concepts in theory, but only through much practice will you be able to quickly implement them while shooting.

If you’re using a Phantom CineFlash with a PC, life is easy. If you’re on a Mac, it’s a bit more difficult to access the footage. Here’s how to fix that, free.

The following article on the basics of how to begin color grading 12-bit RAW Blackmagic Cinema Camera footage with DaVinci Resolve, is a guest post contributed by Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central

Introduction

We are living in extraordinary times! First came the surprise announcement in 2010 that DaVinci Resolve, a color grading system (once costing as much as my house) would be ported to the Mac operating system and reduced to a revolutionary sub $1K price point!

If that wasn’t enough, then came the shocking news at this year’s NAB that Blackmagic Design had entered the digital acquisition market, and would be producing the Blackmagic Digital Cinema Camera capable of capturing RAW 12-bit images with 13 stops of latitude!

With a camera capable of capturing RAW cinemaDNG files and a color grading system capable of processing and editing RAW cinemaDNG files, Blackmagic Design has created the ultimate pairing! This is also compounded by the fact that when you purchase the camera you get the full license of DaVinci Resolve and Ultrascope ALL under a $3,000 pricepoint!!! Revolutionary? Indeed!

Grading RAW cinemaDNG files

So let’s take a closer look at color grading RAW images from this camera with DaVinci Resolve. On Blackmagic’s new forum you can go and download five RAW cinemaDNG files from John Brawley’s latest project “Afterglow” with the BMC.

Once downloaded:

  1. Launch DaVinci Resolve
  2. In the Media page locate and import the cinemaDNG files into the Media Pool
  3. Then go to the Color Page

That’s it! We’re ready to begin grading RAW.

The beauty of RAW is the fact that we can access the native uncorrected data coming off the sensor. To access these RAW settings we’ll click the Camera RAW Editor button (looks like a camera) and from here we have a variety of options on how the data is decoded.

We can decode using the CinemaDNG Default, the Camera Metadata (how it looked when it was shot), by Project (global setting set in project settings) or by Clip.

When selecting “Clip” we can make changes (options greyed out it other modes) and interpret the RAW data in a variety of different ways. So let’s do that!

We can specify the White Balance using a variety of presets from daylight to tungsten or set it manually on custom.

We can specify the Color Space to work in and/or deliver to. If the project will be delivered to HD broadcast or web then we’ll pick Rec.709. If the project will be screened (projected) then we’ll choose P3 for the Digital Cinema Initiative.

And under Gamma we can pick the appropriate gamma curve, Rec709 for HD delivery, 2.6 for digital cinema projection, etc.

Over on the right we have the Clip Decoder Settings where we can make adjustments in Clip mode.

If custom has been selected under white balance we can precisely dial in the Color Temp in Kelvins.

For convenience and as a reference we can readily see the Project, Camera and Default settings in the columns on the right.

The Tint control allows us to fine tune the color temperature by giving us a green and magenta adjustment. Moving it to the left adjusts the color temperature towards green and moving it the right adjusts it towards magenta.

The Exposure control is the genesis to achieving 13 stops of latitude with this camera. Pulling down on the exposure can bring back detail that appears to be blown out or clipped in the highlights. Vice versa if we have an underexposed image we can rescue details in the shadows by pulling up on the exposure.

Once RAW editing is complete now it’s time to let imagination and creativity run wild now that we have film like image to work from.

In this example I’ve added contrast and a subtle a bleach bypass look. I’ve also used Power Windows to add focus to the face and eyes.

Wrap-up

If you’d like to learn more about DaVinci and the Blackmagic Camera you can view my tutorials on my DaVinci Resolve tutorials page. Here is also a demo of the new DaVinci Resolve:

Happy RAW grading,
Denver Riddle
Color Grading Central

Director Jesse Rosten has launched a series of tutorials he’s calling Tiny Tüts. The first one is a simple and effective tutorial on extending a white seamless paper backdrop in After Effects, to make it look like the footage was shot on a huge white cyc set.

In this 10-minute tutorial, Jesse walks you through the quick & dirty set extension possible if the background has been lit evenly, and also how to deal with the issue of unevenly lit white backgrounds. His trick to deal with the latter situation looks incredibly helpful. Watch below…

The following guest post by Director Stew Redwine includes excerpts from The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli.

In the technological Xanadu we storytellers know as the present day it is easy for outsiders, and some insiders, to forget the person telling the story and somehow think that the camera being used impacts the quality of the story being told. I can’t tell you how many times someone has watched something I’ve shot or directed, and really only had one pressing question at the end. Did they want to know who shot it? No. Did they want to know more about the creative inspiration and vision of the piece? No.

They wanted to know what camera we used.

If you think what camera you shoot on is the answer to great storytelling, then I challenge you with this… Go make a big pile of money doing whatever you want; like a brilliant new app or an alternative energy source. Once you have the cash, you can buy the very best camera. Then you’ll be able to tell the best story, right?

Wrong.

Cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Since we can all agree this is the case, there is really only one thing you need to tell great stories… YOU. However, none of us are born knowing anything about the tools of the trade. In an effort to improve the one tool all storytellers have in common, their mind, a must-have addition to their library is Joseph V. Mascelli’s The Five C’s of Cinematography. I picked this book up a few years ago, and I have learned more from it than any other resource on the subject. I’ve been to courses, classes, looked to chat rooms online, and experimented by trial and error; but none of those things have come close to the pure undistilled story driven explanation of cinematography found in Mascelli’s classic book. In his own words from the introduction:

“On many occasions during the years devoted to preparation and writing of this book, I have felt that defining, explaining, clarifying and graphically illustrating motion picture filming techniques in an easy-to-understand way – is impossible – but not quite. Most professionals instinctively know the right way to film the subject – but seem unable to explain just how they do it.”

Almost 50 years after the publishing of these words, I want to reassure Joseph V. Mascelli that he succeeded in explaining cinematography in an easy-to-understand way. He did this by explaining everything about cinematography in five categories that have one common thread; cinematography functions at its peak performance when it serves the story.

So what are the Five C’s? They are Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, and Composition. I want to share with you some of my favorite quotes from each one of the Five C’s. Consider this article the CliffsNotes version of the book; and, just like your English teacher, I strongly encourage you to read The Five C’s of Cinematography in it’s entirety in addition to this summary.

1. Camera Angles
“Camera placement is determined by narrative significance.”This is very important. Why are you looking at what you are looking at? Is it because it looks good, or because we need to see it to move the story along? It should always be to move the story along and never solely because it looks good.

2. Continuity
“Good continuity encourages the viewer to become absorbed in the story-telling, without bothersome distractions. The prime purpose of a motion picture, whether theatrical fiction feature or documentary fact film, is to capture and hold audience attention – from opening shot to final fade-out.” This entire chapter breaks down the nuts and bolts of photographing action in such a way that it makes sense on screen. I haven’t come across a better explanation of “the line” (action axis/maintaining dynamic and static screen direction) in any other book.

3. Cutting
“Always move players into and out of close-ups to allow cutting on action.” Cut on the action. This simple axiom of editing works every time. “It is possible to cut away to anything happening anywhere at any time.” Remember this. You are in the driver’s seat. You are the one putting one shot after the other. What do you want the specific series of sights and sounds you’re placing in order to mean? “Each shot should make a point. All scenes should be linked together so that their combined effect, rather than their individual contents, produces the desired audience reactions.”

4. Close-Ups
Close-ups should be made to count. The stronger the motive for using a close-up, the more the close-up can help make the story-telling truly effective! The consistent emphasis throughout the five sections of the book is this; every shot must serve the story.

5. Composition
“Good composition is arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified harmonious whole.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when you are telling stories for an audience you are not the beholder, they are. The most important set of eyes belong to the audience. Make sure you are making images that look good to your audience, and above all else, serve the story.

6. The Sixth C
In closing, there is a sixth C of Cinematography I would like to mention: Compliment. When you are in the process of shooting or have just finished watching a story you think looked great, make sure you tell the person or group of people who created it. After all, none of us are telling stories just for ourselves. As you continue to strive to be the best you can be take the time to compliment others on their own successes along the way.

Oscar Wilde said it best, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success”. The sixth C of Cinematography may just be the most important. Make sure you compliment others whenever you can. After all, we’re all creating for others, and we want to know if we succeeded in communicating our story.

Stew Redwine is a Los Angeles-based Director and FreshDV contributor. All quotations from The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli – 1965 – Silman James Press

I don’t shoot that often with a teleprompter. Occasionally my corporate clients will request a prompter for a talking head shoot. But more often than not, clients won’t realize that they actually do need a prompter, and they won’t budget for a proper rig and operator. There’s a tendency for untrained talent to assume that they can rattle off a script from memory…and then freeze once it’s time to actually shoot their segment. Which of course means that I end up with content that will need more editing to be useful, making everyone’s jobs harder.

For those reasons, I invested in an el-cheapo iPad teleprompter kit a while ago. I have used it a few times on client shoots when I knew it would help, and I’ve rented to a few friends for their own shoots. If you already own an iPad, one of these kits is a pretty painless purchase. For the one-man-band shooter, an iPad prompter makes a lot of sense. The $10 ProPrompter app on iOS devices is a dream to use, simple and allows you to control the iPad app from an iPhone over bluetooth. The prompter model I got is sold by LCD4Video, it’s a really lightweight, and does the trick even though it is quite cheaply-built kit. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for…and at $325, you shouldn’t expect much. The reflective glass is big enough for DSLRs and your average still lens, as well as small HD camcorders like the EX3. The iPad holder mount is solid enough, and I don’t mind the frame that holds the glass. And the lens hood works just fine. But the baseplate is an absolute abomination. I’d like 10-minutes in a locked room with the dimwit who designed this sorry excuse for a baseplate. Here’s what it looks like.

See what I mean? As you can see, the baseplate is cut from some kind of thick plastic material. I’m ok with plastic, but the real issue is that it offers almost zero adjustability with it’s stupid plastic shim system. To make matters worse, it uses weak little screws to tie your camera into the baseplate, shims, and to your tripod. It’s a really odd design, completely divorced from any kind of shooting reality. For instance, how would I rig this for handheld use? What if I want to do a simple walk and talk down a hallway? There is no way I trust the wimpy screws to hold my camera safely on the baseplate. Heck, I’m afraid to even tilt the tripod too much, for fear the screws will slip from the weight of the camera. So what generally ends up happening, is that if I need to get a shot with the prompter, I now have to strip my camera down to it’s barest configuration so that I can mount it gingerly onto the prompter baseplate. Highly annoying, and a waste of time.

So after putting up with this frustration for a while, I decided to mod the kit for a 15mm rod mount. Digging around in my gear bags, I found a spare 15mm riser that originally mounted to a Letus baseplate in the Talon Universal Kit. This riser is adjustable in height, with maybe an inch or so of adjustment. It also has a 90-degree flat plate with two screw taps in it that I could run through the plastic baseplate. I like the height-adjustability of this mount, but you could use pretty much any 15mm connector that you had access to. Like these Cinevate Universal Rails Blocks, for instance. Here’s what my mod looks like from the side, attached to a baseplate and rods.

I relocated the rear set of vertical spacers up front, countersinking the screws bolt holes. Then I whacked the back half of the baseplate off with a hacksaw, and attached my riser mount with longer versions of the 10-24 bolts. The end result is rigid enough, will nicely hold the weight of an iPad and the reflective glass, and slips right onto standard 15mm rods. It also still fits in the prompter’s case. Here’s a few more pictures.

I’d like to stress that these little iPad prompters should not be considered a replacement for what a professional teleprompter operator can bring to your production. When you have a dialogue-heavy shoot, a good operator can make all the difference. I look at these cheap iPad setups as a budget stop-gap solution, for when your client stubbornly ignores your advice to budget for a prompter, and then you find out on-set that nobody memorized their lines. It happens often, and sometimes having one of these little guys in the gear bag can save your shoot day. Happy shooting!

There’s a beautiful and informative series of videos over at Oscars.org that address the subject of writing for the screen.

It’s a compendium of short interviews with working screenwriters on the following topics; The misconceptions of being a screenwriter, Screenwriters on writer’s block, Identifying excellence in screenwriting, Screenwriters on finding an original voice, Highlights and challenges of being a screenwriter, and Advice from screenwriters.

And if you’re just getting started and looking for an introduction into screenwriting, the Academy has a teacher guide on the topic that will serve as a nice short intro to the art and process. Happy writing!

Here’s a great tutorial video with Andy Shipsides of Abel Cine, and Jem Schofield of The C47. Last year, when the Sekonic 308DC Light Meter was released, they got together to show how to use this inexpensive little meter to simplify working with a video camera. In the following video, they thoroughly explain how to calibrate the meter to the native light sensitivity of the AF100, using the camera’s waveform (this will work with any camera, really). Once you have calibrated the meter to the camera, you can use the meter to rough-in your scene lighting ratios and placement quickly and efficiently, without looking at your camera monitor. It’s a great tutorial video, watch below.

Sekonic’s 308DC Light Meter with AF100 from AbelCine on Vimeo.

Recently Jem Schofield, from theC47.com, came by to check out the Panasonic AF100 and show us the new Sekonic 308DC light meter. This little light meter has several modes including one that makes it work perfectly with the AF100. In this mode the ISO, frame rate and shutter value can be set for matching to the camera. Previously, these features were only available in more expensive meters. Watch the video above to learn more about the meter and see how we used it to light a scene.

The Frugal Filmmaker has posted a fantastic instructional video on how to build your own crane for lightweight cameras. This is an upgrade from his previous design, and this one can carry the weight of a DSLR camera. There’s a remote tilt control for the head, and overall it’s a pretty slick do-it-yourself project for the filmmaker with lots of time and no budget. Watch below…

When RED announced the Scarlet and Epic systems, they popularized the term Digital Stills and Motion Camera, or DSMC. With the Epic camera, they’ve got a compact system that is capable of shooting both high-resolution cinema and stills in a single package. And while I don’t see stills cameras going away in my lifetime, there are a lot of situations where a dual-purpose camera system is desirable. So for anyone shooting stills and motion, here’s a quick reference sheet that you can use to determine the maximum printable size you can get from your RED images.

Using Gyros to Stabilize the Shot

The first time I used a Ken Labs gyro stabilizer was for a promotional project for an airshow historical stunt team. They needed some air to air footage of a rare Grumman F4F Wildcat, and the camera plane they wanted to use was an equally classic North American T6 trainer. To get the footage I needed of the in-air stunts, I would have to open up the rear-seat canopy of the T6. That was the first time I ever put on a parachute…and I found the 2-minute “pull this, then this” chute operating lesson less than soothing.

Going into this shoot, I was very concerned about vibration and camera shake in the cockpit of the T6. The camera was CCD, so I wasn’t worried about CMOS skew or jello. I could have mounted to the airframe in some way, but that would have transferred vibration directly to the camera body. So I knew that with the space limitations of the rear seat, I had to shoot it handheld. I’d use my body as a buffer between the airframe vibration and the camera, and the built-in lens image stabilization would help as well. I was particularly worried about being wind-buffeted in the open cockpit, and also concerned about the pitch and yaw of the camera plane throwing my shots off. So for those concerns, I rented a gyro. With a KS-6 gyro mounted on the bottom of my camcorder, I found that it soaked up most of the big bumps and vibrations, and helped me keep my framing when the camera plane banked sharply and made sudden moves. I got the footage we needed and, most importantly, I didn’t have to use that parachute.

Gyros work very well for car-mount and offroad applications, still allowing you to move the camera creatively, but limiting most of the big bumps. They’re great for shooting handheld from a boat, even at speed in choppy water. I’ve nearly pulled the trigger a couple times on used Ken Labs gyros on eBay, but haven’t yet found a used one at the price I want…and I don’t shoot with them that often. For occasional use, it’s probably best to ship them in from a good rental house, or rent directly from Kenyon Labs.

It looks like another possible option if you’re on a tight budget is DIY…via BorrowLenses latest Cool Stuff post, here’s a Do It Yourself gyroscopic stabilizer project. It appears to be modeled after the Ken Labs configuration. Looks a little flimsy, and I’m thinking it would work mainly for small cameras. Like most things in life, you probably get what you pay for. But it looks like a fun weekend project for sure.

One quick side-note…the DIY creator shows DSLR before and after footage where he made no attempt to stabilize the camera naturally. This isn’t a great example, and I personally don’t think that’s where a gyro shines. It’s not a Steadicam replacement, and it’s not magic (though you can use them on a Steadicam, and they seem like magic). You still need to shoot properly, utilizing appropriate support or rigs to move and stabilize the camera. Do everything you can to make the shot perfect, THEN lean on a gyro to take off the rough edges of a shot. A gyro can’t be your only stabilization solution, but as part of the total package it can be a big help.