Sweet Shot of the Week #12: “Ablutions”

June 3, 2012
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If I’d had 240 frames per second, I’d be happier…at 120fps, it still looks too normal to my eye. Music credit: “Radian,” From 10000 Hz Legend, by Air Arri ALEXA Camera Settings: 120 fps shutter = 180 degrees ProRes 4:2:2 5600K UniQ Optics 50mm @T=2.8

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Sweet Shot (FAIL) of the Week #11: “Little Doctors”

June 3, 2012
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Another sweet failure. I had an idea for a shot that I thought would look really cool. Extreme closeup of a kid putting a band-aid on a teddy bear, dolly back…the kid is in an ocean of hanging back-lit X-rays. There are just so many things that went wrong with this shot I almost don’t know where to begin…

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Sweet Shot of the Week #10: “Sun Flares”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA dynamic range test with sun flares

I wanted to really test the latitude of the Alexa by shooting directly into the sun. My experience with all kinds of other cameras is that when you shoot into the sun, your sky disappears. Or…all your subjects are in silhouette. When I took the footage into post for grading, the waveform monitors showed me something I’d never seen in the logC signal before…CLIPPING! A very small part of the image clipped – it was the disc of the sun. The LogC footage doesn’t actually look all that different from this final result. I took the highlights up about twenty percent and the shadows down about twenty percent, but the mid-tones stayed where they were and I just added saturation to finish off the grade. Of course when you increase the highlights, the image gets more contrasty and it looks more natural, but you also get more of the image clipping. What I like in these shots is that there’s still a lot of color information right into the...

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Sweet Shot of the Week #9: “Blessing”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA blessing the camera

This is the very first shot I took on my Arri ALEXA. I was in the Arri offices to go and pick up the camera and I wanted to bless the camera. So I recorded this prayer off my iPhone. This prayer has very special significance for me since it speaks of the power of the human spirit to bring new realities into being through the power of creativity. It is also a prayer whose power was a significant factor in bringing me to China. Full text of the prayer is: O God, O Thou Who hast cast Thy splendour over the luminous realities of men, shedding upon them the resplendent lights of knowledge and guidance, and hast chosen them out of all created things for this supernal grace, and hast caused them to encompass all things, to understand their inmost essence, and to disclose their mysteries, bringing them forth out of darkness into the visible world! “He verily showeth His special mercy to whomsoever He will.” O Lord,...

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Sweet Shot of the Week #8: “Different Bokeh”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA different kind of bokeh

This experiment shows a more horizontal blur. This is not the spherical blur of regular lenses, nor is it the horizontal flaring and oval bokeh of anamorphics – it’s an optical trick to get those out-of-focus areas to do something a little different. The first shot just shows the background and foreground going in and out of focus. The second part of the clip shows a comparison between two identical shots, one with horizontal blur and one with spherical blur. This is an “in-camera” effect. DISCLAIMER: Please excuse the small shakes in the camera – I was packing gear around on my own and the tripod was about three sizes too small for the camera.

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Sweet Shot of the Week #7: “Apocalypse”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA short film shot

This is just a quick shot from Varga Changizi’s short film called “Area 6”. This is a Beijing demolition zone. Everything’s been destroyed just enough to prevent squatters from living in the buildings. Great backdrop for a disaster movie. With an overcast day, grey bricks, white walls and so on, the contrast range in the scene is so low that the LogC footage looks like a grey test pattern. There are situations where I now understand it would be better to shoot something like Rec709 with Arri’s Low Contrast Curve applied as a look file, just to get a little more bang for your bytes. Still, after color grading, there aren’t any noticeable banding artifacts, even though the highlights have been boosted 200%, and the blacks have been crushed. The latitude of this scene was about four stops, but it’s been stretched out in the grade to cover 8 or 9. This shot would have been better if we’d waited for it to get a little darker, so that...

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Sweet Shot (FAIL) of the Week #6: “Strutting”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA rolling shutter

Some tests are failures, but you learn something. I went a little slow-motion crazy when I first got the high-speed license on the camera, and I was eager to do some shooting at night, and in the wild. That over-eagerness led to a failure that I’ll know how to avoid in the future. I think everyone knows that the ALEXA’s viewfinder exhibits some stuttering. According to Arri’s FAQ, “Smooth Mode off: A certain amount of stuttering, which can be observed especially during quick pans, is inherent to all low frame rate progressive image displays. The sharpness, contrast and relatively large image size of the EVF-1 make this effect even more apparent. The effect is much less noticeable when panning within the normally accepted maximum panning speeds (which is why some operators prefer to leave Smooth Mode off), and when following an object or person in frame. It may also be helpful to note that the effect will generally be much more apparent in the viewfinder than on separate monitors...

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Sweet Shot of the Week #5: “Gloomy Stairwell”

June 3, 2012
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Arri ALEXA low light test

I had a friend, the young and talented Varga Changizi, operate the camera for me while I took a turn as an actor. Poor casting aside, this shot was, for me, another revelation of the ALEXA’s strength in low-light situations. I actually had to put some black wrap on the exit sign that gives the initial greenish murky glow – it was too bright. I used an LED flashlight to creep up the stairs. After the light goes out, I struck two matches at once. When I saw the footage I was stunned to see that the flare of two matches was enough to illuminate the entire scene. I love the way the match casts flickering shadows on the wall as I come up the stairs. Arri ALEXA Camera Settings: ISO 800 25 fps 180 degree shutter ProRes 4:2:2 3600 degrees Kelvin Lighting Equipment: two matches one feeble exit sign One SmallSun LED flashlight

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Sweet Shot of the Week #4: “Headlights”

May 22, 2012
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Alexa dynamic range test with headlights

Arri Alexa Dynamic Range Test – “Headlights” There’s a bunch of things I love about this shot, things that hightlight the Alexa’s strengths. First, there is no light on the faces of the people walking towards camera except the ambient bounce coming off the buildings behind me. But their faces are relatively clear. Shadow detail, check. When the headlight comes into view, you can clearly see every LED in the Audi fixture. Highlight detail? Check. You can also see every mote of dust swirling through the air. Yes, that’s the stuff we breathe in Beijing. The driver and passenger in the car are illuminated only by whatever light is coming off the dashboard. It almost looks like there’s a couple of MiniFlo’s tucked in there, but there’s not. As the Audi turns, the white paneling on the door shows the clear reflection of the people walking away. Lots of detail in those bright areas. Using the Alexa means exposing scenes in a new way. Things I’m not crazy about:...

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Sweet Shot of the Week #3: “Candles”

May 16, 2012
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Arri Alexa Low Light Test – “Four Candles” Arri ALEXA Camera Settings: ISO 400 25 fps 180 degree shutter ProRes 4:4:4 4600 degrees Kelvin The lighting equipment for this shot consisted of: One match Four candles One SmallSun LED flashlight. The flashlight was, if anything, too bright on the table.

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Sweet Shot of the Week #2: “Vitamin C”

May 16, 2012
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Arri Alexa 120fps Test – “Vitamin C Nuke” The glass beaker is the glass from a French Press coffee maker. It’s sitting on top of an upturned silver salad bowl, just to get lots of light bouncing up from underneath. It took about two hours to get the tablet of vitamin C to land where I wanted in front of the lens. The depth of field in this extreme macro situation is a fraction of a millimeter. There are two panes of smaller glass in the water to make a sort of transparent channel for the tablet – after you know this you can just make out their bottom edges in the picture. I went through a lot of vitamin c before coming up with this method of guiding the falling tablet into the focal plane; the tablets just kept hydroplaning around the bottom of the beaker and nothing was in focus. So the glass sandwich in the water sort of forces the tablet to stay put. This was...

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Sweet Shot of the Week #1: “Ignition”

May 14, 2012
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Alexa slow motion match strike

Arri Alexa 120fps Test – “Ignition” Camera Settings 120 fps ProRes 4:2:2 Red ProPrime T=1.9 (fake macro setting) 3200K The above test was recorded at 120fps, ProRes 4:2:2, with an Arri Alexa and a 50mm ProPrime. I have a cool trick how to make a regular lens behave like a macro, without using diopters. Hint: you need a clamp-on mattebox on a set of rails. In this case, my MMB-1 on the 15mm lightweight rails.

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Alexei’s Dream Camera

May 5, 2012
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the Arri Alexa seen beside the JVC falcon for comparative size.

I’m totally beyond excited – I’m the proud new owner of an Arri Alexa! I look forward to offering this excellent tool to my clients. This all started back in 2006 when I was on retainer with JVC as a “consultant.” I was an owner/operator of the then-exciting GY-HD101, the new generation of HDV cameras. Did a lot of shooting with that camera, a lot of which I’m quite proud of. At the time, Panavision and Sony had just come out with the Genesis (i.e. F35), Arri had the D20, Phantom had one high-speed camera, Dalsa was still making noise, and the RED 1 was still vaporware. It seemed obvious that Digital Cinema was around the corner. I gave a presentation to the head of sales China and the head engineer of JVC camera global, in which I proposed that JVC jump into the fray. I went ahead and designed a camera. Of course, not being an engineer, I couldn’t say exactly how the electronics would function, but I had some...

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Inseparable, starring Kevin Spacey

May 5, 2012
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Inseparable, starring Kevin Spacey

I just watched the preview of a friend’s film (Inseparable, with Kevin Spacey, written and directed by Dayyan Eng) for which I did a day of 2nd unit shooting. By turns hilarious and foreboding, alternately cheeky and crushingly serious, a mash of genres that only Dayyan could pull off. The story always manages to go just where you think it won’t. If you’re tired of the same-old-same-old, it’s a must-see when it comes to a theater near you. Great performances from Kevin Spacey, Daniel Wu and Gong BeiBi. From a directing standpoint, some fantastic visual ideas and visual puns throughout. Congratulations, Dayyan! The movie was DI’d in 2k (scanned from 3-perf S35) and it looked fantastic projected on the big screen. There are a few Red-MX shots in there but they honestly looked different. I don’t think most audience members would see it, but they did have that video feeling to them compared to the stuff shot on Super 35. And gotta love those Cooke lenses, man.

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Alexa Announces 2k Pro-Res

May 5, 2012
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Alexa Announces 2k Pro-Res

Joy! If you want to shoot spherical 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 this is just what the doctor ordered. Having shot widescreen fairly extensively on the Red-MX, I can say that 2k ProRes in this format is PLENTY in terms of resolution, and I’m glad that Arri has finally made the ProRes recording match the resolution of the ArriRAW options. In Q3 (soon): ProRes 2K provides a high quality 2048 x 1152 ProRes file that is ideal for feature film productions; it will initially only be available for Regular Speed (0.75 to 60 fps). In Q4: (late this year) For those who own a High Speed license, ProRes 2K recording will be possible from 60 to 120 fps. I couldn’t be happier. Full details are of course on Arri’s website.

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Canon’s Planned Takeover of Cinema, Part II

April 16, 2012
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graph comparing resolution, fidelity and cost of digital cinema cameras

Prerequisite Reading: Canon announces EOS-1D C 4K DSLR with 8-bit 4:2:2 1080p HDMI output over at DP Review, CANON ANNOUNCES DEVELOPMENT OF 4K DIGITAL CINEMA CAMERAS over at Canon Rumors, and straight from the horse’s mouth, Canon developing digital cinema camera for 4K video capture over at Canon Global press release. And, if you haven’t already read it, I hope you’ll take a look at my previous post, Canon — Too Big For it’s Britches? in which I speculate that Canon is getting ready to take on the PL mount and all other digital cinema camera manufacturers. Sometimes it hurts to be right Canon’s latest press release re: the C500 prototype seems to prove out my prediction about Canon’s corporate strategy. Canon will position itself as the new Sony; lots of camera choices, lots of proprietary accessories, a self-styled Player in Digital Cinema. Unfortunately, unlike Sony, Canon doesn’t yet have the industry experience in offering end-to-end image capture, image editing, image grading, and image delivery. Sony, at least, never introduces a camera without having...

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To IR or not to IR?

April 11, 2012
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To IR or not to IR?

To IR or not to IR? The Arri ALEXA’s low-pass filter pack includes UV and IR-cutoff filters. According to Arri’s promo literature, you don’t need additional filters: The IR and UV cut-off filters let only those light frequencies reach the sensor which can be converted into a meaningful image. As with the D-21, the IR filter is specifically designed for the spectral response of the camera’s sensor, so no additional IR filter in front of the lens is required.(emphasis added) According to Arri’s FAQ (under “Exposure Questions / Can I use traditional ND filters with ALEXA?”), the story is a little different: While the close match between ALEXA’s custom designed IR filter and the sensor’s spectral response makes this issue less critical in contrast to some other digital camera’s, it is in general a good idea to only use traditional film ND filters up to an ND 0.9. So according to the promo materials Alexa doesn’t need IR-Cut ND filters. According to the FAQ however, you need ND/IR-Cut at...

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Canon – Too Big For It’s Britches?

April 11, 2012
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A Review* of Canon’s new C300 *Disclaimer: After testing the C300 in a few days’ time, some of the content of this article may change. Canon’s new motto is “Leave no Story Untold.” It gives the indie filmmaker in me goosebumps. But they should change that motto to: “leave no dreamer’s pocketbook unexploited.” Yes, get ready Canon DSLR shooters! Canon is about to reward us all for embracing the incredibly awkward and user-unfriendly 5D-MkII, for making it an icon of low-budget (and even high-budget) film production, spawning a new wave of indie filmmaking, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Canon XL-1 gave us progressive scan. The reward: Three years later, we now have a worthy successor. 1080p slow-motion, uncompressed video out for external recorders, global shutter, better pixel sub-sampling, higher bitrates and better compression internally, on-screen audio level monitoring with on-the-fly level adjustment, and… Oh wait. Wait a minute…you mean the Mark III doesn’t do any of those things? Nope, but the C300 does some of...

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Has Nikon Glass Become Irrelevant?

April 3, 2012
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Has Nikon Glass Become Irrelevant?

Dear RED: Where’s your Nikon F-mount for the Epic? Don’t you know when we were using the 5D-MkII because our clients demanded low-cost “cine-like” footage, we reached for our EOS-to-F-mount adapters so we could use the sharper, smoother, higher-contrast glass of the Nikon zooms? Don’t you know that the Red One wen’t out with Nikon glass to capture some great images? Dear Arri; Rumor has it that you’ve planned a Nikon mount for the Alexa. We’d be so happy if you did… Dear Nikon; Make us some PL mount glass, already!

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4k vs. 2k vs. HD (part 3 of 3)

April 3, 2012
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2K-vs-HD-vs-Super35-sm

More Art than Science There is more to watching a movie than being presented with a clear picture of fully-lit objects and people in perfect focus. The audience’s involvement in the story has to be more important than any of these technical considerations. I think there’s an audience psychology to consider. The film plays, and the story lives in the audience’s consciousness, sub-conscious and imagination. The audience participates in the film when they are left guessing. The audience is doing the “mental math” to connect the pieces together. For example: We see a shot of a man at his desk. We hear a noise of a glass breaking. The man looks up. Next shot: a closeup of a woman at the door, horrified. She looks down at something on the ground. Next shot:  the man gets up from his desk and approaches the camera. Next shot: a wider shot of the woman and someone walks into frame…but it is not the man we have seen at the desk, it...

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