News for February 2008

Apical Imaging’s Real-time Colour Corrector…

As much as I don’t like push-button colour-correction boxes as a rule, I’ve also seen enough live television to understand the need for them. Live broadcasts tend to have little (if any) thought to colour given to them beyond the parameters the camera operator set when she first switched the camera on. The problem with real-time colour-correctors is that they tend to correct the overall brightness and contrast of an image, without any consideration for the dynamic range. The result of this is that scenes with strong backlighting can look dark, or that highlights and shadows can look muddy.

Apical’s box, the D-Rex LCP-100, is different in this regard. Developed in conjunction with Fuji TV and Storenet, the unit uses their Iridix image processor to separate a live HDSDI stream into shadows, highlights and midtones, and correct them independently, with some noise reduction thrown in for good measure. I had the opportunity to see a demo of the box in action, and the results were very promising, even with a minimal amount of user configuration.

It doesn’t appear to be on sale yet, but the technology has been available on a number of devices for a while, from Sony’s Alpha series SLRs to The Foundry’s Furnace plugins.

Posted: February 29th, 2008
Categories: Tools
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The Red Experience, Part 1: The Shoot…

Well, the red camera shoot, “Padded Cell” (Entitled Productions, Dir. Andrew Martin, DOP Simon Dennis), is in the can– it was a very interesting experience.

There were a few oddities about the camera itself- there is no back focus plane indicator anywhere on the camera body, so our focus puller had to manually measure where it was and mark it with a piece of tape. The record and power buttons are also very easy to press accidentally when setting up.

The camera internally numbers the clips by reel number and take. The take number is incremented every time you press record, and the reel number is incremented every time you change the flash card. However, there are a couple of things with this method that make it unreliable: first of all, the reel numbering is not consistent; there were several occasions where the number either didn’t change automatically, and even when set manually it seemed to just use whichever number it liked. The other thing is that starting and stopping the camera doesn’t necessarily imply a complete take; for instance on a few occasions we recorded a slate just before a set up, so you really need to go through and properly log everything afterwards. What all of this means is that you can potentially end up with two or more clips that have the same name (I’m looking at a few like that right now), and changing the name just in finder or windows explorer feels like a very bad idea, not least of all because the metadata is also written into the RedCode file itself, and it doesn’t appear that you can change that at all. So what I did straight away was just ignore the reel and clip numbers from the camera and number them sequentially myself. It’s also another reason why it’s critical to slate footage in some way whenever possible, or at the very least, try to log shot material soon after the shoot while it’s still fresh in your mind. We slated some of the shots in the traditional way, but I also kept a log of everything as I went along, including the reel number I’d assigned and the corresponding RedCode filename.

The only serious problem we had with the camera was right towards the end of the shoot, when we were getting errors whenever the record button was pressed, at which point it would instantly stop recording. Initially we suspected it was to do with the flash card we were using, but it turned out the camera was just overheating- 5 minutes later it was up and running again. The flash cards themselves worked well, they’re very robust as you’d suspect- all the precautions that other people have mentioned, like anti-static bags and so on, seemed completely unnecessary; in fact we didn’t lose a single bit of data from the flash cards the whole shoot.

What we did as far as saving the data was basically having a laptop with a USB flash card reader (again, contrary to what other people were saying, any old reader works fine), I would create a folder per reel (the “right” reel number as opposed to the one that the red camera said it was, and move the contents of the flash card to the folder. I moved it rather than copying it, because that way I could guarantee everything had gone across. The way Macs move files is to copy first and delete anyway, so in the event of a transfer error (there was one during the whole shoot, due to someone accidentally cutting off the power to the disk drive we were saving to…) nothing was actually lost and we could pick up where left off.

Finally each of these folders was converted to a DMG mac disk image file for various reasons, the nice thing about doing that was that you end up with a very portable read-only file per reel, which checks itself whenever you open it– and these become the original camera reels. Then it’s a matter of backing them up to tape and copying them to whoever needs them (the other nice thing abour Red is that it’s all very compact, we had just over 250GB of data for the whole shoot).

I’ve created an Automator workflow that does all of the transfer side of things automatically, but only works on Mac OS 10.5, and requires quite a powerful machine.  Grab it here… and submit feedback here…


The next part will look at preparing the rushes for the edit.

Posted: February 26th, 2008
Categories: Articles
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Red Eye for the Simple Guy…

Next week will be my first experience of working with a Red camera- you know, the one everyone keeps talking about? There seem to be a lot of people evangelising workflows and so on, but very few people actually using any (or at least, these are the people keeping quiet about it). Part of this is no doubt due to the lack of availability of the cameras to use.

But even so, today I was reading through a forum thread that provides a workflow for transferring footage in no less than 15 steps… 

9. RED cine automatically does check sum (or perhaps faster or better data check) and automatically gives a simple answer that data is copied correctly and checked and then and only then gives the option to reformat the card or disk mag.

10. RED cine reformats the disk with the same project settings. and automatically, writes event into log file, and unmounts media from computer. (or the Dit can do each of these tasks manually if RED does not support this.)

11. Assistant places the blank formatted media into some repeated storage bag or box and or perhaps keeps it in their right
pocket until it is reloaded into the camera (see above)

I completely understand the thinking for this- they have correctly judged the need to assume that data is fragile, and hundreds of pitfalls lie in wait between the camera and the archive medium (aside from some minor incorrect technical assumptions). But seriously, requiring a 15-step process doesn’t make the workflow robust, if anything it makes it more prone to human error.

Wouldn’t it be better if it worked like this:

  1. Take disk out of camera
  2. Plug into laptop
  3. Push button
  4. Plug back into camera

Judging by the forum posts, this is neither possible, nor desirable (at least not for free).

But it is.

(Watch this space…)

Posted: February 14th, 2008
Categories: Opinion
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Post-production tips & techniques book…

I’m starting work on another book (to be published by Focal Press), this time on using digital post-production to solve problems that arise during a production.

If you have a tip or technique for an area of post-production, whether it’s a great way to recover over-exposed shots, or fixing digital drop-out, and you would like to be included, let me know in the comments, or drop me a line…

If I use your tip in the finished book, I’ll of course credit you for it and send you a free copy.

Also if you have any images or footage from a production you’ve been involved with that you would like showcased in the book, drop me a line (if you don’t own the rights to the image in question, please clear it with the owner first).

Posted: February 7th, 2008
Categories: News
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File List for Mac…

Peter Maurer’s File List… makes renaming large numbers of files (like, oh, DPX sequences for instance) a snap.

File List

Drag in some files or folders into the main window and set the type of operation to perform. There are a lot of presets available, like renaming extensions, renumbering, or doing search-and-replace type stuff. Those of you who are so inclined can use scripting to do more advanced stuff…

I’ve been just using OSX’s Automator for this type of thing until now, but this is much faster and more intuitive.

It’s free to use, and donate if you like it.

Posted: February 7th, 2008
Categories: Tools
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