Archive for the ‘Filmmaking’ Category (feed)

RE: The Politics of Star Trek

Lawyer Timothy Sandefur wrote an editorial for the “Claremont Review of Books”. In it, he’s saying that Picard’s non-interference politics were a step backwards from Kirk’s constant seek of justice, and that in the movie “Insurrection”, the race of Ba’ku were backwards people, shunning technology and exploration.

Personally, I find his positions immature. His positions are opinions that I would have agreed to 10 years ago. Back then, I’d fight for justice, and I’d interfere too. And I felt that technology and science were everything! But now, at age 42, I see the world differently.

In my opinion, it’s a mistake to interfere in another species’ actions — sometimes even when asked to, unless your own species (or alliances) get in danger because of these actions. It’s part of the evolution of every individual and species and their society to have wars, or even massacres. There is no society that can grow if everything is all rosy, or are held by the hand. The ugly things must happen for the good things to arise and become part of their nature. So who are we to get in the middle of an alien civil conflict “so we save them”? If you don’t let them duke it out, you don’t save them, you just postpone it. On a case by case basis, interference might be justified if the species tries to eradicate itself via nuclear weapons. Second chances can be given, but if they insist in extinction, then this is their right. Stop trying to “save” them. Your human morals don’t apply to all species. Let the universe play itself out.

As for the Ba’ku being backwards people, the author doesn’t get their philosophy at all. The writers of the movie left clues about their abilities: they were able to manipulate space and time via the mind (remember the bits about “the eternal moment” where time was stopping). They needed no spaceships to “explore”. Their minds were constantly as if in deep meditation. With that ability, they could visit not only other planets in their galaxy, not only the rest of the universe, but also other universes! Something that the Federation’s technology couldn’t do!

So, no, the Ba’ku weren’t backward people. They were miles ahead of the other humanoids on Star Trek.

They say that there are 5 “soul ages”: infant, baby, young, mature, old. People who re-incarnate on Earth can be any of these 5. Most of them are in young/mature categories in the Western world (with the Tea Party/religious fanatics belonging in the “baby” category). The way the author sees the world puts him right between “young” and “mature”. Similar ideas as those expressed on Reddit by moralist atheists.

Problem for them is, there’s a 5th stage, the “old soul”. And the old soul sees things differently, and I do too.

So, in the example the author gives, about the looming Klingon civil war, the various soul ages would react as such:

Infant: “Bwahahaha, nuke yourselves already! One less competition/enemy!” (Ferengi/Klingons)

Baby: “I’ll let you fight it out, and then conquer you while weakened.” (Romulans/Cardashians)

Young: “If I help you, you should help me too in what I need!” (Andorians)

Mature: “No, stop what you’re doing! You’re killing yourselves!” (Kirk / Early Federation)

Old: “You’re free to do what you want to do.” (Picard / Late Federation / Most Vulcans)

Cinema FV-5 for Android

My mini review of the Cinema FV-5 Android application, tested on the OnePlus One phone. The app is able to do all the basic things needed to get a good quality, flat result out of your phone’s camera. It supports: exposure set & lock, WB set & lock, manual focus and lock, low contrast/saturation/sharpness (“flat” colors), 24p support among other frame rates, and up to 40 mbps bitrate. On my phone, it supports up to DCI 4k resolution (the free version of Cinema FV-5 does all the above too, but it goes only up to 720p — which can be enough for most cases). In some phones (particularly if they have Lollipop), the app also supports manual shutter speed and ISO settings. If you couple your phone with a variable ND filter for phones (to control the camera better outdoors, where they tend to overexpose), and a small steadicam, you could have a winner.

It worked fine on my OnePlus One, but on the 1st Gen Moto G with Android 4.4.4 it had problems: no focus, no recording (it only recorded once, and then it refused to do so again). It’s very possible that these problems will go away with a Lollipop upgrade, because Lollipop has a much better camera API.

The eXperiment

Horror-action short movie, that I shot using a small Canon S110.

A look at the Canon S110

I was close on getting a Panasonic LX100 for its 4k video, but then I found a deal at Amazon for the Canon S110, for just $180 (1/5th of the LX100’s price). The S110 doesn’t have 4k or full manual control, but it does have the bare minimum to be able to shoot nice videos: exposure compensation & lock, manual focus, flat colors, an ND filter, and 1080/24p at a good bitrate. If you half-press the shutter button, it also gives you the shutter speed, so you might be able to lock the exposure at a shutter speed close to 1/48th, to achieve an even more filmic look. The camera has a larger sensor and faster lens than most P&S cameras, so for the price, it was a steal. I haven’t shot anything interesting with it yet, but so far, I like what I’m seeing.

Panasonic LX100: Best P&S Ever Made

I’ve been a vocal supporter of Canon in the past, both for their dSLRs and their P&S cameras, but rest assured, these days are over. Canon is left behind in dSLRs when it comes to video, while they consciously removed existing video features from their new P&S (exposure lock and custom colors are now omitted from most new P&S), making them utterly useless. I sincerely can not recommend any new cheap Canon P&S anymore for video, while their 3 year old models performed better in terms of feature-set.

Sony has made some evolutionary steps in the right direction, but it’s Panasonic who has come to its own with their 4/3s cameras (particularly the GH4), and their P&S line. Their latest offering, of their popular LX line, is the LX100, arguably the best P&S ever. It comes with a large 4/3s sensor, a very fast f1.7 lens (with a 43mm thread to add filters!), 24p/30p/60p frame rate, 100 mbps bitrate at 4k resolution (!), full manual control, and some color control too.

Basically, it makes it the perfect video camera for indie filmmakers who don’t want to bother with lenses (e.g. if they shoot guerrilla-style all over the place), while retaining the large sensors found in dSLR-type cameras. The 4k quality you’re going to get for $900 is unparalleled too.

Now, if you don’t want to bother with 4k editing (which can be slow), then the tiny Canon EOS-M mirrorless camera is still the best bet (coming with all the video features one would expect from a Canon dSLR). It’s now selling for about $230 on eBay, as new, which makes it very cheap for what is capable of. You’d still need to buy 2-3 lenses for it though. Overall, with a wide prime, and a cheap zoom you’re probably be paying about $500. Which is still cheaper than the LX100’s $900. But you don’t get 4k or the ease of mind of using a P&S.

Personally, for the type of videos I shoot (art-type stuff), these are my best options right now.

Shoot a professional-looking movie for $1500

I’ve written 1-2 such articles in the past, keeping the cost below $500. But this article actually aims to acquire professional-looking results, and so you’d need about $1500+tax for that. Which is still dirt-cheap if you think about it. You will also need a minimum of two people as crew, to help you with the shoot (in addition to the actors). One will have to take care of the audio part, and the other one the lighting, clapper, and decor, while you’re shooting and directing.


Camera + lens: Canon EOS M + 22mm kit lens: $325
Best video camera for the money. It outperforms others in the sub-$500 range in bitrate, fps choice, color control, audio controls etc. And it comes with a really good lens! You will have to shoot with a “flat” color profile to get the best out of the camera (install the Technicolor CineStyle), and you will need to disable continuous autofocus in the settings.

Additional lens: 18-55mm STM kit lens, $130
If you’re going to have a second lens, this one is also very good and versatile for the price! These two lenses made for the EOS M are both very good.

0.6 ND filter: 43mm Tiffen: $15
0.4 ND filter: 52mm Tiffen: $10
ND filter for the two lenses when shooting under bright sun. Lets you open up the aperture more!

43mm lens hood for 22mm lens: $9
52mm lens hood for zoom lens: $8
Avoid sun flares for the two lenses.

Lens cleaning kit: $10
Trust me, you don’t want dust on your footage!

Two UV filters, at 43mm and 52mm for the two lenses: $10 both
This is mostly about protection of the front glass rather than anything else. Modern cameras don’t really need cutting down UV.

Class-10 SDHC cards: 32GB, 5 of them: $100
Always backup after finishing shooting to a laptop & external drive (double backup).

Batteries: Opteka LP-E12 2000mAh: 7 of them, $100
You only have 30-40 minutes of video recording on these batteries, so you’ll need quite a few.


Fluid-head tripod: $45
The tripod head must be fluid for video panning.

Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Support Rig: $80
For run & gun or action sequences.

Revo Stabilizer: $140
If you must follow the subject down the alley or through a house, that’s the accessory you need.


Audiotechnica Mono Microphone: $55
This is a good mic for the money. You convert to stereo in post-processing (Sony Vegas can do this). If you want an even better mic, you can go for this Senal one, for $99. Finally, have extra batteries for your mics.

Wind muff (aka “dead cat”): $29
For the times that there’s a lot of wind while shooting.

Boom pole: $49
Must-have accessory if you’re serious about audio. Forget mounting the microphone on the camera and be done with it. It will never sound right that way. You need a “booman” to hold the pole close to the actors.

Headphones: $30
For monitoring while shooting. If you’re recording audio via the camera, you’re wearing the headphones. If you’re recording via an external recorder, the booman is to wear the headphones.

3.5mm extension cable: $9
This one is good for 25ft (7.6 meters). Please note that if the cable touches itself while tangled, or other electrical cables, you might get audio noise.

Audio monitoring splitter: $26
So you can monitor via headphones while recording (since the camera has only one jack).

Microphone Attenuation Cable: $35
To cut off noise that is usual on non-phantomed 3.5mm mics, especially when using such long extension cables.


Lights: $134
Lights and audio are more important than how good your camera is. They literally “make” your movie. There are various tutorials online on lighting. If you have the extra money, prefer this model instead, which has a third, “fill” light. If you need more, or less light than these light bulbs provide in a shooting situation, you can purchase and use different watt bulbs.

Reflector: $17
To stop shiny, unprofessional-looking faces. Get your actors to do their own make-up btw. Ask them to bring their own clothes, but you will need to instruct them as to what kind of clothes, and what color.

Reflector Holder Arm: $32

Reflector stand: $21

Spring Clamps: $8
So you can clamp the lights/reflector in more places for more interesting lighting looks.

Light meter: $50
It helps you figure out how to be consistent between shots regarding lighting, especially outdoors where the light varies with time.


Clapper Board: $5
Important, especially if you’re recording audio externally and need to sync audio in post-processing.

Gaffer tape: $13
Even NASA uses tape, it’s one of these things you should always have around. Also useful to place it on the ground, so actors know where to stand while shooting.

Food for cast & crew: $50
A lot of people would be willing to come and help your movie for free, but they get grumpy and they lose interest easily if they’re not fed. This is a known fact among filmmakers: always feed your cast & crew.


Canon EOS lens adapter: $100, or from Fotodiox for $60 (some claim that it doesn’t support IS).
This allows you to mount the rest of the Canon lenses (and with an additional adapter, Nikon-mount lenses), should you already have such lenses lying around.

Macro: Raynox DCR-250: $70
It lets you shoot macro on the cheap, should you need such shots for your movie.

External Recording: Tascam: $100
This is only useful if you have a dedicated audio guy, rather than just a booman. If you record via the camera, you, the shooter+director, will do the audio monitoring. But if you buy this, you will need the guy who holds the boom pole+mic to actually control the audio recording too, and he needs to have a good clue of what he’s doing. Otherwise, skip this, it will be a hindrance rather than a feature. Audio, just as lighting, is not easy to master.

Lavalier mic: $20
It’s tricky to use one of these between two or more actors, but some shots might require it. Don’t use more than one of these mics though, or you’d get into audio-mixer hell.

Sandbags: $24
So the light stands don’t trip over so easily.

Rails + follow-focus: $265 + $200
You don’t really need these, but hey. Let’s indulge!

Sony Vegas Pro 12

Sony’s Vegas Pro 12 was released a few weeks ago, and in my opinion, this is the most substantial update the application has seen between major releases in the last few years.

I’ve been using the application for a few weeks now, and aside from a few bumps that I expect to be ironed out in free updates, it delivered the goods as expected.

Here is a sum of the new features:
– The explorer view now supports back and froward and smart tags. Very handy for those who like to be tidy.
– Now you can change the properties of multiple files at once! That’s one of the things that was very painful for me back when I used to use Cineform AVIs, and Vegas used to get wrong their field order.
– Smart proxies. If you don’t own a fast CPU or an OpenCL graphics card, you can still edit fast using proxies. Vegas can automatically create them, you edit with them, and then it exports using the original, high quality version.
– Layer Dimensionality is a new plugin, similar to Photoshop’s Layer styles.
– There’s an A-B roll style editing now for those who need more precision over their frames, overlaps etc.
– New shortcuts to trim the beginning or the end of a clip in a single stroke (before, you had to press “S”, and then manually delete the event).
– A new plugin for color matching two different events/shots.
– LAB Adjust and L*a*b* Color Space Histogram, which works in conjunction to the Color matching plugin.
– Most of the audio plugins have now being ported to 64bit.
– You can send/receive project files from Avid, FCP7/X, DaVinci, Premiere and After Effects CS6. I tried this with Premiere, it worked wonderfully for simple projects.
– You can change the shape of a mask.

These are pretty much some of the features I always wanted from Vegas Pro, and there are here now. This is the most powerful release to date. The only three features missing for me are: a color plugin like the freeware (but buggy) AAV ColorLab, the ability to “re-light” a scene, and automatic tracking. Hopefully in Vegas Pro 13!

Finally, in addition to Vegas Pro 12, Sony release a package called “Visual Effects Suite 2”, which includes the very capable HitFilm 2.

Canon: a piece of shit company

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years now, you KNOW how I had been a Canon fan girl for their consumer digicams in terms of video. Their previous digicam non-DSLR cameras were steadily getting better and better video controls, and that was something to cheer for. They were outperforming all other manufacturers by getting the *basics* of video right: exposure compensation, exposure lock, custom low colors, good frame rates at good bitrates, and some models even had manual focus and focus lock.

I was even, unfairly, called biased by certain people, for pushing these Canon digicams. But I’m not biased about hardware, I’m a hard realist. There were definite, true, and important reasons why I’d suggest Canon in the past (if your goal was artistic videography).

Well, the newer Canon cameras, starting last year, weaned off such abilities! FEATURES WERE REMOVED one by one, model by model. We are now at the point where the expensive, high end P&S digicam S110 does not even have exposure compensation/lock. This is obviously done so their more expensive dSLRs sell better, and their camcorder department doesn’t die. It’s an ARTIFICIAL way of keeping business afloat. That’s not what the market wants, it’s what Canon wants. Consider that the video section on the S110 manual WAS REMOVED too. Yup, removed. Where there used to be a whole chapter on video usage in the manual (in EVERY ONE of their P&S models), now there’s *none*.

For all that is worth, I can not suggest Canon to anyone anymore, when it comes to video mode in P&S digicams. What makes it even worse is that the other digicam manufacturers haven’t step up to the challenge to take over what Canon left behind. Most of the cameras from the other manufacturers also miss exposure compensation & lock, or they use fucked up frame rates. When it comes to semi-serious videography with these pocket cameras, they ALL SUCK, even if that was NOT the case 2 years ago!

I mean, they got to the point where they offered 1080/24p and 720/30p at good bitrates last year. What they should have done this year is to keep the old features and push their frame rates to 1080/30p/25p/24p and 720/50p/60p (just like in their dSLR range). I’m not asking for other crazy features here, neither I’m asking for full manual control. But when they go out on purpose and they remove the most basic of controls, exposure compensation and exposure lock, something that has been there since early 2000s, there’s something sinister at work there.

So, what to do? Get a dSLR or micro-thirds camera that happens to have the whole nine yards when it comes to video. Or if you prefer a camcorder, get the ones that cost over $1000 that also come with the whole nine yards. Since you can’t go for a good-enough $200 P&S digicam for video, shell the cash and get something appropriate for over $1000. At least you won’t be ripped off by buying a P&S digicam for $500 and not even get the video features that were present in a $100 Canon digicam just 2 years ago! So my suggestion is, either go all in, or try to find older models, second hand.

I personally still use my older, SX230, which is the BEST small camera for live shows, amazing mic quality on loud shows, and it still has all the other needed video features too. But it’s not the best in terms of other things (e.g. it has a slow lens). The S100 from last year is also good video feature-wise (if you ignore its hardware faults), the last of its range to support all the basic video stuff that are needed to make a video look professional, and not like a piece of shit cellphone video.

And let’s not forget that Canon only announced the full HDMI-out for the 5D MkIII recently after a third party firmware group said that they hacked in that feature. So basically, someone has to squeeze Canon’s balls before they actually offer what their hardware CAN do, but they refuse to put the software behind it to support it. Even if HDMI support might have engineering costs, this is not a case of “software costs” to the video features mentioned above, because the software for the specific features WAS ALREADY THERE. Instead, they’ve been CONSCIOUSLY removing them PROGRESSIVELY. As in, a strategy.

So, fuck you Canon, you are corporate shills and you suck donkey balls.

Update: The S110 manual I had access at the time of the writing did not mention video, but the updated manuals did, and they do mention exposure compensation and locking for the S110. The issues do remain for most of their newest P&S models though.

Tears of Steel

Blender is an open source 3D package, very powerful for its price (free). The Blender Project premiered recently their 4th “open” movie (free source footage, project files etc), titled “Tears of Steel”. The Blender community has been very positive about it after seeing Blender’s abilities on a real movie, rather than in pure animation. The shot tracking is very good (an Achilles’ heel previously for Blender), but I personally did not like the quality of the VFX or the animation (let alone the acting/script/direction, but these are beside the point here).

The CGI still looks like VFX animation and not realistic. It looks fake. Camera tracking is good, modelling seems ok, but lighting and animation aren’t. There are no shadows to talk about, everything it’s too HDR-ish. If that’s what Blender can do in 2012, then color me unimpressed. That’s no Hollywood-worthy CGI. And let’s not forget that this movie was produced by the Blender guys themselves, with hand-picked Blender artists.

Unfortunately, that quality is not even good enough for TV anymore. Sure, there have been worse VFX on TV than what Blender can do, for example the re-imagined version of “V”, but thing is, there have been better ones too. Back in 2010, Stargate:Universe had some amazing VFX in some episodes, more realistic than anything I’ve seen on TV, before or after. An even more important point for TV is the time it takes to do things with the app (since their deadlines are extremely strict). Blender is not that easy to use, Maya can do better in almost half the time.

That doesn’t mean that Blender is useless. It’s not. You can’t beat its price and features in the advertising sector (which doesn’t require extreme realism, it mostly needs some animation tricks), schools (for obvious reasons), or as a hobbyist artist. Blender can also prove to be a life-saver for indie filmmakers who primarily have the time to deal with Blender (rather than the money to buy other packages). So it’s got its uses in the world.

It’s just that I don’t see it being able to compete for Hollywood movies and serious TV shows. It kind of echoes The Gimp, actually. Good-enough to doodle around, good-enough to do something worthwhile if you have the extra time, but if you’re really serious, you better get Photoshop.

John Maus – “Lost”

Unofficial music video for John Maus’ track “Lost” from his album “A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material”.

Original video footage by Rowan Lee Hartsuiker. Footage is used with permission, and was re-cut to the beat of “Lost”. Rowan shot this on a Canon HV30.