Archive for September, 2009

Bigger and better

I just heard Madonna’s new single, “Revolver“. It’s a good song, but it’s not as smart as it could have been. Upon listening to it, I immediately imagined it with a cleaner electronic sound, reduced auto-tune, with traditional Chinese singing/sound at places, and even with some hard guitars at some other spots. In other words, I needed a “bigger” tune that the one released, one that’s more complex musically (one that had many genres combined). Same thing as I like TV shows and films to be like.

And this made me think. What’s with me and “bigger”, “grander”, “more”?

Really, this is a problem. Why the hell I can’t be happy with whatever is being made available to me? Why am I after “more”? Is it because most of the available products/art are indeed “cheap/easy” and mediocre? Or is it because I am thinking too much about the whole thing and don’t let life just flow?

Maybe the answer is in both. Truth is, I am difficult to please. And I just can’t change that. I don’t think I will be finding nirvana any time soon.

Fast & Furious grading

I watched the “Fast & Furious” movie tonight, and it was beautifully graded for the most part (its grading was similar to Transformers 2 with saturated red/yellows and teal everything else). However, there was one scene I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t really gave it much thought while watching it, but when I watched the gag reel and they had the same scene, ungraded, then it really popped up in my mind how much natural and nice the ungraded shot was compared to the final one. What do you think?

And this is how I would grade it:

Update: Interesting. The colorist of this movie is the one who did Terminator Salvation among others.

Regarding Caster Semenya

I would like to see Semenya to  continue living as a woman and be the gender she prefers to be. But if she went through puberty with a full force of man’s testosterone, then she should not be competing against women.

The elusive “film look”

Many users buy an HD 24p camera these days trying to reproduce the “film look” (aka the “movie look”). They think that if they shoot some random stuff in 24p, and do some color grading, and maybe add a bit of grain, their video will look like a movie.

Fat chance. Wake up and smell the coffee.

There are a number of factors that make a video look like a movie. In my experience and personal opinion, here they are, in order:

1. Framing

If your shots are just some random shots of random stuff, you will never achieve the film look. You need to think hard as to how to frame your subject, what’s in its background, what’s in the surroundings, the rule of thirds. Also you need to expose properly, use the right shutter or aperture values for each scene etc. If you dissect video to its primordial state, it’s just a number of pictures in succession. Therefore, you must operate like a photographer would.

2. Audio

IF your video has speech, then you must capture it right. Capture little ambient noise, clear voices, and use a good music score to complement the rest of the scenes. If your video does not feature people talking, then the music used must fit each scene. You might even have to sync each scene with the track’s beats.

3. Cutting

Do quick cuts when you edit your movie. Don’t waste your time in shots that are useless and don’t progress the story. For example, just an hour ago I watched an HV20 short film where the editor spent 20 whole seconds showing the actor getting out of a car (different shots with the actor moving one hand, then one foot, opening the door, getting one foot out etc). Get to the point, don’t elaborate on useless shots. If you don’t have enough shots to make a meaningful short film then it’s your fault for not storyboarding before you shoot.

4. Lighting

Without good lighting, you are screwed. Audio and lighting are so underrated among videographers. Your light composition must be part of the emotions you want to convey to your viewers. It’s an extra character. Invest in two 500 Watt lights ($100), and a reflector ($100). And if you shoot outdoors, make sure you have the sun on your back! The best times to shoot outdoors and use the available light is either in sunrise or before sundown (“golden light”).

5. Camera Motion

Modern movies have constant movement in most of their scenes. Either with a dolly or a steadycam. Few shots are completely stationary shot from a tripod (usually TV series do that rather than Hollywood movies). The cheapest solutions here are a Glidetrack, or other cheap steadycam solutions. Overall, consider that you will have to pay at least $300 for them. For longer dolly shots, consider this DIY dolly tutorial.

6. 24p

It helps shooting in that frame rate, but in my opinion you can get away with 30p too if you must. As long as you shoot in a 1/60th shutter speed, your motion can get pretty close to movies’ 1/48th. And even if it might not look exactly right, the rest of the video’s quality or story can make up for the lack of real 24p. Basically, what I am saying here is not that 24p is not important, but that it is just 6th in my list. Not 1st.

7. Grading

Colors set the mood of the movie, so grading is important. Just don’t overdo it with contrast and saturation. Film is traditionally low saturation and low contrast, so lay off the god damn saturation/contrast controls! So, modify your camera’s settings to shoot as “flat” an image as possible, so you can easily color grade it in post. I have set all my cameras’ color controls in the lower values possible (contrast/saturation/sharpness/skin_tone), and that goes for my still cameras too.

8. Shallow DoF

Most people think that if they get an adapter/camera with shallow DoF, they would achieve the film look easily. WRONG. It helps, but shallow DoF is not really a necessity. There are many classic films that had deep focus, like “Citizen Cane” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, and most recently, “Crank 2: High Voltage”. The quality of your photography, and the immersion of the viewer to your film are more important than blurry backgrounds. 35mm adapters are overrated, and most of such videos I have watched were over-the-top blurry. Besides, if shooting outdoors, you can always get a bit of blur by backing out and zooming in with your camcorder towards your subject, at around 75% of its log zooming scale. You will get just enough background blur to give the illusion to the viewer that this was not shot on video, and at the same time you direct the viewer’s attention to the actual subject. In other words, you don’t always need shallow DoF, and when you really do, you can get just enough of it with a consumer HD camcorder too if you know how to shoot & frame properly. Most of my HV20 videos have enough background blur for example, more than I would care for. Heck, I achieved as much shallow DoF as I needed even with my point and shoot HD digicam.

And of course, there’s the story itself, which is the most important element in a short movie. The reason I didn’t include it in the list above though is because not all videographers shoot short movies. Some just shoot abstract art, or nature and travel pieces, so it’s not always a part of the film *look* quest.

Finally, here are some nice tutorials about some of the points above.

Hey, videographer! Yes, I’m talking to you!

I checked out the state of Creative Commons videos on Vimeo today. Apparently, 25 out of the 36 “most liked” videos tagged with “Creative Commons”, are mine. If you do a search for the words instead of using the tagging system, 14 out of the 60 “most liked” are mine too (and this method doesn’t always yield *videos* licensed under CC).

And this is pathetic. There are so many other greater videos on Vimeo. It might satisfy my vanity, but it’s ultimately a testament to a sad state of affairs in the world.

What I gather from the situation is that not a lot of videographers license their videos under a free license. And many of these “vimeo people”, are yourselves, readers of this blog. Hence the intimidating title of this blog post.

So I ask you: why don’t you license your videos under a free license? As long as you don’t shoot commercial projects, or recognizable people (who haven’t signed an image release contract), why not specifically license your videos under a Creative Commons license? What keeps you from spending 2 more minutes to divulge the license in your video’s credits or description on its Youtube/Vimeo page? You see, if you don’t specifically license your work, it automatically falls under the “all rights reserved” law. Nobody will be able to reuse your video under these conditions. It’s locked.

Is this what you really want? To no one be able to re-use your work for remixing, or as stock footage? If yes, why? Why not share with the world? Why not make the life of others easier (including commercial entities if you choose to)? Is your video such a major masterpiece that you feel that you could financially benefit from it in the future? Honestly, the truth is that for 99% of you (and me), I doubt it.

Your artwork and your name can only live on if others re-use your art and give you credit for it. Not if you leave your videos rotten in a Vimeo or Youtube URL that no one is visiting anymore after a few years. Think wide-angle here.

Besides, Creative Commons is the only way to win the RIAA/MPAA war. It’s the Gandhi approach: if you don’t buy their stuff and use freely available art instead, RIAA/MPAA will eventually cease to exist. There is no way to win that war with the current copyright laws (that no one in DC seems eager to change), or knee-jerk reactions like with the Pirate Bay crap. The only way to win the war is for the consumer to choose a different provider. But for the consumer to do that, YOU must help. YOU must create ENOUGH ART licensed under a FREE license to TURN the boat around.

You see, even the independent scene is not enough to turn the boat around. Back in 1939, the previous RIAA-alike organization died because of the indies taking over their market when the royalty prices went up. Twenty years later that new organization, previously “indie”, had become the new tyrants of the market. History repeats itself, so it’s not *just* indie stuff we need to endorse this time, but art licensed in such a way that prevents the next RIAA or the next MPAA from getting reborn with another name. And Creative Commons is perfect for that. It’s even better than Public Domain in some cases, because PD works are not legal in some countries. CC licenses have been “ported” to many countries’ legal systems instead.

Please view the excellent presentation here to help you understand more about how this works. I have also written an article here that explains what CC means for videographers.

Think about the whole thing tonight, before you go to bed. Think about where you are situated in the world, and what you give back to it in the intellectual level (rather than just your cold hard cash via taxes).

Sausalito’s Waters

A few quick shots from Sausalito’s coast, overlooking San Fransisco. We stopped there after visiting Muir Woods this morning. Too bad SF was completely under the fog during shooting. It’s the second time that I go to Sausalito trying to get that shot with SF only partially in the quick-moving fog, but it has proven to be elusive so far.

The timelapses were all shot with the Canon SX200 IS digicam in video mode. Tilt-shift effect added in post. HD version, and download of the video here.

In the Color of the Sun

At last, a new video! I have missed the whole experience from start to finish. I shot the following within 20 minutes today. I shot it in 30p and then slowed it down 25%, and exported at 24p. HD version, and download of the video here.

I love how the shooting turned out, and how easily Canon SX200 IS’ footage can be color graded. It’s the most amazing sub-$500 HD digicam in the market right now. I even wrote a review for it, read it if you are interested in a P&S camera with usable footage.

I love the shot at 1:15. I was just shooting that flower, and that girl just walked into the frame out of nowhere, dancing! It’s one of the best shots I have ever shot — even if it was captured by accident. 😉

A Thousand Words

Andreas pointed on Twitter to this beautiful film on Vimeo, a film that some claimed it was shot with an HV20, others with an XH-A1. I emailed its director, and he confirmed that he shot this with a Canon HV20, and a Cinevate Brevis35 adapter. This is the most “liked” HV20/30/40 video on Vimeo ever, ahead even from “White Red Panic“! Enjoy!

Would an One-Way Ticket to Mars be Acceptable?

NYTimes posted an article about Mars being the next frontier and that it might require astronauts to never come back, in order to cut down costs. At first glance this sounds inhuman, but the reality is, sacrifices must be made for the human race to survive. I am personally not against such a solution if it is to accelerate our space program and bring humans closer to space colonization. To me (and Mr Spock), the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I would personally be a volunteer in such a scenario, if I had the knowledge and fitness required.

The 7D situation

A great comment on the HV20’s Canon 7D forum thread, by Fleshoff:

“Kind of funny reading the other forums…
– The RED fanboys are trying to justify the mythical Scarlet
– 5D owners are throwing a hissy fit on their lack of 24p
– GH1 owners are suffering from buyer’s remorse,
and I think the HV owners are counting how much cash they have.”

BTW, some directly-out-of-the-camera clips from the 7D, here. The camera is already out of stock in the… pre-order page of Amazon.