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Sunday, January 25, 2015

••◊ Zoom H6 Audio Recorder Tutorial

Dominique and I made a tutorial video for the Zoom H6 audio recorder at Video Gear yesterday.  Hope someone out there in the inter-web finds this useful.

Monday, January 19, 2015

••◊ Bernardo Peak

I was beat up from a bicycle crash on Saturday, so I decided to take it easy and just do a hike on Sunday.  For years I've been meaning to walk up the Mount Bernardo trail, but I've put it off in favor of going for a bike ride or whatever other weekend activity.  That little trail walk ended up being a 7-8 mile walk up a reasonably steep and treacherously rocky trail.  My neighbor joined me for the little adventure.  No now my shoulder is beat up from an nasty encounter with a chain link fence and my hips are sore from climbing the peak yesterday.  There's no winning...

Looking at home from the top of the trail.

Looking east toward the expanse of Escondido.

The south view looks like something our of a Hobbit film.

The north view is less exciting, but in the middle of the photo you can see the boat launch where my cycling club puts on it's annual cyclo-cross race.  I know, "yawn...".

I have a few projects in the works, but no real progress to talk about at the moment.  I might have to learn all about club and DJ lighting in the near future.  I'll also be getting familiar with the new Sony FS-7 camera.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

••◊ Aerial Views from a Pacific Northwest Winter

This year's Christmas visit was filled with disappointment.  I spent the last three days in bed, sick after a visitor thought it was appropriate to show up to my mom's house with the walking plague.  I hate it when people think *their germs* are clean.  I gave an Amazon Kindle Paper White to my aunt, much to her elation, only to find out that the Wi-Fi was broken on delivery.  On top of that I was supposed to take pictures for my mom's yoga studio, but as the opportunistic morning arrived a large storm rolled in with ominously dark clouds.  That pretty much killed ambient window light.  Lacking artificial studio lights we were sunk even at ISO 1600.  So this year was pretty much a buzz kill.

I also intended to see some great Oscar contenders during the holiday, but I only got as far as seeing Gravity (=awesome!), which was streaming on Alaska Airlines.  I did suffer through a lot of duds including: The Lego movie (really?), Kumare (feel asleep), Dr. Who (classic Brit camp), World War Z (limited selection on Netflix streaming).  I re-lived Wayne's World (party time...excellent!).  Need for Speed wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but mostly because of the car racing.  At least I didn't take the poison pill option (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) on Netflix.  You *know who you are* who added that to the queue!

So the best I have to harvest from this year's trip is a few pictures I took during my travel home.  The picture below is of the port of Tacoma, just south of the SeaTac airport.

Here's a picture of the cascade range with a fresh blanket of snow.

The two pictures below are of Mount St. Helens in southern Washington State.  You can see the top has been blown off.  There's also snow being dusted off the ridge line by strong winds.  The second picture below was taken a few days before during my arrival flight.  I like the swirling cloudscape surrounding the mountain.

Mount St. Helens is one of many volcanic mountains in the Cascade Range.  The other nearby notable volcanos are Mt. Rainier to the north and Mt. Hood to the south.  However Mount St. Helens is most notoriously known for an eruption in 1980 that killed 50 people and reduced the peak by nearly 1000 ft after being triggered by an earthquake.  In the picture below you can clearly see the horseshoe crater to the right side of the peak.  I only have vague memories of Mount St. Helens.  I remember that my grandpa kept a plastic transparent film canister with ash from the eruption for some odd reason.  I also remember seeing piles of ash along I-5 during long drives from Seattle to Portland.  Back in 2000 I did a bike ride up to the crater called Tour de Blast, which was anti-climatic because fog was covering the crater at the observation deck. 

The final picture is what I believe is Mount Hood in Northern Oregon State.  It seems to be missing snow so far this year.

As I settle back in at home (and return the broken Kindle) I'm hoping to take on more projects that build my level of craft this year.  My New Year's resolution starts in two days - and no, it doesn't involve the level of fortitude necessary to sit through Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

••◊ Triggering record on an Atomos Ninja using HDMI timecode

Dom and I recorded a short tutorial for Video Gear last weekend.  This was a tutorial I wish I would have had before the last music video shoot I DP'd.  Hope this helps someone else...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

••◊ Evolution of Craft

I saw this video pop up today with a number of contemporary cinematographers.  Given that it's award season in Hollywood I expect to see more of these potential Oscar nominee videos come online.  One important point I take from the video is that it's no longer about bazillion-"k" video resolution nor having the latest stabilizer.  It's about craft - which for a cinematographer involves knowing where the camera should be and how to light the film for the story.  Both Shane Hurlbut and Vincent Laforet made similar points recently.  Shane talked about it in his Illumination Experience seminar and Vincent recently wrote a long blog post about it.

This year was about taking more risks as a DP.  I've decided that next year it will be more about craft.  The tools I have available are good enough.  I need to do a better job at storytelling.  This involves lighting, camera positioning, and camera movement - all to the end of supporting the story.  If people notice my cinematography then it's a failure.  They should be sucked into the story.

Until then, enjoy this video from The Hollywood Reporter.

Friday, November 28, 2014

••◊ Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (Finally)

Earlier this year I went to an ASC talk with Dan Mindel, who shot both of JJ's Star Trek films. He mentioned that they wanted to go back to the real feeling of Star Wars, with real sets and a production design that wasn't superficially CG. That's the same way George described his original vision of the first trilogy (ep4-6) back in the day.
I have to say that so far the teaser trailer has me excited to revisit this story line. Star Wars is not a whiny drama (i.e. ep1-3), it's an adventure. Thank you Dan and JJ. May the force be with you in bringing this story back to life.  NOW...get psyched - the teaser has been unleashed!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

••◊ Pictures From "You're Everything" Music Video

Last Friday I was the director of photography for Jorandy's "You're Everything" music video.  The thing that had me the most nervous was the weather.  San Diego weather is normally quite tame and sunny, but it had been cloudy and rainy all week prior to the shoot.  The video is split into two parts; one where Jorandy writes the song to his dream girl, and the other where he goes on a group date with her.  It was sort of Elton John's "I'm still standing" music video combined Richard Marx' "Don't Mean Nothing" meets West Side Story.

Since the day started out at Jorandy's house re-arranging furniture and setting up lights we could start with a light workload (no pun intended).  We rented a couple Hive plasma lights from Video Gear to match the outdoor lights.  I put the PAR outside on the patio and diffused it with bleached muslin.  The flood lamp was placed in front of the organ and bounced off a circular fold out reflector for fill.

As you can see in the photos below, the second part of the day worked out OK...just in time.  It was hit and miss right up until when we started to record.  We recorded the main part of the video in the food court area of Belmont Park and I used two shiny board to reflect light as a hair light on the girls and as a main light on the boys.  I had Ultrabounce, silk, reflectors, and whatever else we could use as a backup.  The director didn't give me a clear shot list, so I had to come a bit over prepared. 

If I would have had more budget I would have wanted a couple 18k HMI's and the 12x12 silk, but we didn't the crew of budget for it.  In fact, my budget had been cut to 40% of the original budget earlier on Monday, and we had to argue for that amount. 

My excellent AC for the day, Peter, really saved me a lot of work and worry on this shoot.  We were using the new DJI Ronin stabilizer for most of the park shots so we could keep the camera moving.  He had previous experience setting it up, so I left that to him while I concentrated on the shots.  The problem with the Ronin is that it destroys your shoulders after an hour or two.  Other people have told me that the MoVI is lighter, but I'm not sure it really matters.  The previous day I was at Shane Hurlbut's seminar and his comments about using the MoVI mainly centered on how they took the weight off their operator's shoulders.  By 6pm my shoulders were completely fried and Peter took over the final shot. 

What I can say about the Ronin is that it's very easy to operate and much easier to setup than a Steadicam.  The main problem I had is that even at the faster self-operator panning speed it still wasn't quite fast enough.  That's just a firmware issue, so it will probably get fixed in the future.

The director really, really wanted a shot of Jorandy riding the roller coaster with Channing.  So I set him up to do it.  After all, I didn't want to be responsible for dropping his camera!  I had rented a 15mm Zeiss (=awesome) prime as our roller coaster lens because I knew that would be better for vibration and allow the director to sit in the seats directly in front of Jorandy and Channing.  The first time he was so excited that he accidentally hit the stop button as the roller coaster was just starting.  The second time the SD card door flipped up on the C100 camera during the first part of the ride and the camera stopped recording.  Everyone was dizzy about then, so we only got a few seconds of usable footage and no one was willing to go for a third try.

The director wanted some footage in the bumper car ride, however the park folks told us at the last minute that we couldn't take the camera on the ride.  All I could do is grab some lame footage from the side lines.  Then we turned on the black lights and filmed the group dancing the bumper car area.  Even at f/2.8 and ISO 3200 the camera was challenged to get exposure.  I had to push the footage about a stop in post to get it as bright as you see below.

The evening ended with a sweet note on the carousel.  I had to ride it standing up and facing backwards while holding the Ronin for a couple minutes.  Ouch.  My shoulders were killing me at this point and all I could think is "make this thing stop!"  Final shot - suck it up princess.

This was my first music video and I have to say that these shoots have their own style.  Narrative is one thing, documentary is another, and music videos are their own beast.  Looking back on it now I could see definite areas for improvement in organization and some thing I would have done completely differently with a more robust budget.  However, that's true of just about any project.