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Sunday, January 31, 2010

••◊ A lesson in color balance

The lesson learned here is clearly for me. When I shot a documentary last September I was new to the 5Dm2 and didn't pay attention to color balancing (i.e. white balancing) the picture until I got into post production. The obvious result was that skin tones were all over the place when going through color correction. My main subject was a very dark skinned individual and his skin color went from red and saturated-looking to dull and green looking within a couple shots. This, while he was crouching in approximately the same place with the same lighting; the difference being the response of the auto white balance, given the scene. OK, fine. I has pre-planned to fix this during color correction in order to shoot fast. An example of the color shift is below...

After futzing with the color for much too long I decided that once again my dumb decision, "we'll fix it in post," wasn't the right solution. So...how? I had previously bought a Gretag Macbeth (now x-rite) white balance card for video work, but I was hesitant to take it on the plane to Seattle because it could get folded, bent, torn...etc. It's an expensive little piece of cardboard. That was a stupid apprehension.

Below are three versions of the same photo of the white balance card against an oak table. The first photo was taken with auto white balance. The second photo used daylight white balance (because it was about 1pm when I took the photo). The third photo used the custom white balance feature of the 5Dm2. The custom feature requires that you have either a white balance card or an 18% gray balance card (normally used for exposure metering). You then take a picture of the card near your photo subject and choose the photo as your white balance reference in a menu.

We aren't going for color authenticity here. That's different. We're really going for consistent color from shot to shot. Color correction then allows you to shift the color in post however you like without having to custom tune each individual shot. Something I should have thought about.

Below is a crop of the white part of the white balance card in each of the three above photos. Which is colorimetrically correct? Judging by my eye sight, the auto white balance looks closest to the oak given the light coming in from the windows at the moment. Which would I rather use and color correct later? ...The custom white balance of course. Lesson over and learned.

So what are other options? You could use a color temperature meter like the Sekonic C-500, but that costs $1k. DP's use these devices in professional film making for speed or where you're actually shooting on film. Cool device. Wish I had an excuse to buy it. The ghetto-fabulous option is to just use a white piece of paper...however, white paper typically isn't really white. It has it's own reflectance characteristics that can cause white balance to shift from shot to shot if the lighting changes (i.e. shooting over a period of hours with ambient). What you really want is a white balancing target with a broad smooth response across the visible spectrum. The paper option works well enough in some cases, not in all.

Friday, January 15, 2010

••◊ DVD jackets on the cheap

Continuing on with the DVD theme...I thought I was going to have to send a copy of a film out to a film festival this week. As it turns out they now accept submissions via online video uploads further eroding the need for little silver disks. As many filmmakers will point out, burning a DVD for a film festival is a roll of the dice. A lot of the time home consumer DVD players won't recognize the disks, which is a huge weak link in the chain when you consider how much time, money, and effort it took to get to that point. I'm getting a little off track here, so back to the point.

Since I thought I was going to have to create a DVD I went about it in the most practical (i.e. frugal) way possible. A while back I found some DVD jackets in a give away pile of junk...treasure! I knew I would make use of them some day. This week they became "my precious." Jacket=$0.

The next step was obviously creating a jacket insert for the title. No problem here either. I had some HP Everyday Photo Paper laying around left over from a previous project. It's the el-cheapo of the photo paper world and about $0.10/sheet at retail. I took a measurement and found that the art needed to be 272x184 mm. No problem, that fits on one sheet of 8.5x11 inch paper with borderless printing. Create the artwork in Photo shop and viola - DVD jacket artwork. The only trick I found is that consumer printers don't hold dimensioning well. I had to trim a few millimeters off each end of the jacket art because the printer was printing about 1% larger than intended. So lesson learned, leave room in the artwork for trimming; sort of like picture safe and title safe zones in video. Jacket art = $0

Then it was on to the DVD itself. I used a printable DVD-R disk and my HP C5280 printer to print straight onto the disk. The printer comes with a little tray that feeds into the print mech as well as the software to do the print job. Stack of DVD disks = $20...but I can use them for other stuff anyway.

Isn't the democratization of technology grand?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

••◊ DVD menus in Photoshop...Say Waaaa?

Being an online video fan, yesterday was the first day that I had to create a DVD using Adobe Encore DVD creation software. A couple online tutorials and I was almost there. The menu user interface in Encore isn't exactly what I would call user friendly. Frankly it's still a mystery.

However what I found through an Adobe sponsored tutorial is that the DVD menus can be created in Photoshop. What? Photoshop, you say? Yes, Photoshop. It's fairly counter intuitive to me as well, but I found it actually easier to use Photoshop than Encore for setting up the menus (unless you want to use one of their pre-configured templates - but who does that besides people making birthday party videos?).

Let's start with the simplest part; the background. The background is just layers that make up the background image. Nothing special. The picture below shows just the background image layers; consisting of a the bodybuilder and some slanted text overlaid on the back of the bodybuilder. Nothing complicated about that, right?

We all know that DVD menus have buttons that you navigate, so the question is how do you create a button in Photoshop. This wasn't totally obvious to me at first, but the image in the online tutorial and playing with menu templates in Encore gave me a couple clues. What you need to do is create a layer group in Photoshop. You do that by clicking on the folder icon (fifth from the left) at the bottom of the layers tab in the lower right. Here's the special sauce. When you name the layer group, prefix the name with "(+) " as shown in the picture. For instance, I created two groups called "(+) PLAY" and "(+) About" (don't ask me why I all-capitalized one and not the other). The prefix tells Encore that you intend this group to be a button. You can include an image or text on the button. In the picture below I expanded the PLAY button, which consists of two text layers. The first is the "START FILM" text and the second is the right pointing chevrons.

Now, some keen eyed folks might be wondering why the "start_arrow" layer has a "(=1) " prefix. That's because this layer is shown when the user navigates to this selection on the DVD player. In Encore the chevron layer will normally be hidden. The exact same configuration is used for the "(+) About" group with a two text layers consisting of "THE STORY" and another hidden chevron.

Once all this is setup, save the file as a normal Photoshop ".PSD" file. You're done in Photoshop unless you want to change the menus. Now open Encore and import the photoshop .psd file as a menu. Right click in the project tab and choose "Import As -> Menu..." This tells Encore to treat the Photoshop file as a menu and all the layer prefixes will work properly to create navigation buttons. See image below. Now, for doing the remaining options in Encore; the Adobe TV tutorials should get you where you need to go.

Just...please...no more lame-o corporate templates.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

••◊ Help Portraits Video...

Last night my fellow filmmaker friend, Greg Lefevre, sent me a link to a video he produced showing the San Diego Help Portraits session I participated in. YouTube video is below. Enjoy.

Friday, January 1, 2010

••◊ Stronger Documentary Film

First off - Happy New Year.

I just finished editing a documentary about a bodybuilder that I followed for two days last September. There were a lot of lessons learned while producing this film, which will lead to many blog posts over the coming weeks. For now, I'll just post the link and set the film free unto the world. Click on the picture to be taken to the film on exposureroom.com.

For bonus points you can play a game of "Spot-My-Tripod."