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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

••◊ Using Picture Profiles on the Sony FS-700

I wrote a rather lengthy blog post on the topic of using picture profiles on the Sony FS-700 over on the Video Gear blog.  As an example I did a color matching experiment between the 5D mark II and the FS-700 without using my custom picture profiles for the DSLR.  If you mix the two cameras it might be worth checking out.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

••◊ Cinephilia and Beyond = Free Film School

I've mentioned a tumblr blog called Cinephilia and Beyond before.  This time I wanted to explicitly highlight how valuable this web site has been.  It's a comprehensive study of vast Internet information on the world's greatest directors.  Cinephilia and Beyond is required reading for anyone who calls themselves a "cinephile" or wants to learn how to be a great director.

Some interesting things I've learned:
1.  Eric Stolz was the original "Marty McFly" in Back to the Future.
2.  Hitchcock carefully controlled the height of the camera in his films to make sure the camera felt like an observer.
3.  What happened to David Lynch's infamous "flaming nipple" shot from Blue Velvet?  "Cinephiliacs" know!

...and if you really like the site, please consider donating a few bucks to keep it going. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

••◊ Street Photography from U-31 in North Park

Last night I met my friends Mike and Melissa at U-31, a local bar in the North Park neighborhood.  They were having a premier showing of their time lapse film from Yosemite National Park.  After looking at the bar's web site I knew the place would offer a nice bit of street photography, so I snapped a few pics using a point and shoot.  Hope you find one or two appealing. 

It was a small and extremely loud place, so the night's outing was short.  My voice starts to go after about 10 minutes of trying to yell over the sound system and hard sound reflecting walls.  As with many of these night clubs they're trying to keep it at the right volume level for a mildly to average inebriated person.  "Average" is obviously open to interpretation.  My interpretation is somewhere around when the person drinking starts to offer grand unceasing philosophical advice.


Monday, December 16, 2013

••◊ What size lights do I rent?

I wrote a small article over on the Video Gear blog about how to know what size (i.e. 18k, 1k, 300W...etc) lights to rent to get an intended exposure. Check it out on their blog.

Is it just me, or does everyone need an 18kW HMI PAR?  I think they do!  For just $13k it could be mine, *all mine*!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

••◊ John Cassavetes Interview

I found this Youtube video of an interview with John Cassavetes on the Cinephilia and Beyond blog.  Great stuff.  He was an independent filmmaker before it became cool to call yourself an independent filmmaker.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

••◊ A Few Pictures from Coder God

Here's a few screen grabs from a short I shot last weekend called "Coder God." It should be a fun little film and good festival fodder.  Note that these pictures are not color graded yet, which is both interesting and scary.  When you hand over your photography for someone else to "correct it" there's an awful lot of trust involved.  It seems like Scott should at least have a solid base to work from.


...plus a few more behind the scenes pictures.  The double 1k book light into an 8x8 muslin sheet worked really well to give our actress a nice soft glow.  We also used a prototype of the Strahlen LED light for her hair light.  Fill was provided by a 250W Chinese lantern just over the camera. 

A lot of the gear was provided by Video Gear, so big thanks to them. The Atomos Samurai Blade made all the difference.  This IPS panel on this recorder is now color accurate and you can trust it for exposure.  That made all the difference on this shoot.  Plus with the Prores 4:2:2 codec, the FS-700 really shined.  It's a night and day difference between the in camera AVCHD crap codec and the Samurai.  I just wish we would have had a way to capture the overcranked sequence into the Samurai.  I guess Sony has to sell F5's somehow!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

••◊ A Few BTS Pics from "Coder God"

Here are a few behind the scenes pictures from a short we're filming called "Coder God" by Solar Light Films.  So far the photography is looking reasonably decent, even though the director nixed my originally intended beauty lighting at the last minute.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to fire that up tonight and make the lead actress sparkle.

We're finishing the shoot tonight, so hopefully I'll have a good report this week.

Monday, November 25, 2013

••◊ Cinema Lighting: Wraping Light Around an Actor

The director of a short I'm slated to shoot next week was enamored with the look of the party scene from Meet Joe Black and challenged me to take inspiration from that film to light his cafĂ© scene at night.  The first picture below is a frame grab from YouTube, where the clip can be found.


From the picture I knew there was a very large light source at the right of the frame.  You can see it in Clair Forlani's eyes as well as the soft fall off on her skin.  What I couldn't understand was how the light was stretching around her head all the way to her ear.  We tried a simple test using our producer near an 8' section of bleached muslin filled with a 750W Lowell Tota light.  As you can see, it didn't have the anywhere near the same soft fall off characteristics.  In fact, it's somewhat harsh even with a book light and I was only getting an exposure of f/2.0(.8) at the native ISO of the camera I'm going to use.    

So I went on the excellent site cinematography.com and asked for some advice in their lighting forums.  There M. David Mullen, ASC suggested that Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC may have been flashing his films at that time.  Flashing film stock essentially lifts all the levels of the film by exposing the film stock to a flashing light as stock travels through the camera.  I wouldn't have known about flashing film stock, but David mentioned it during one of the ASC breakfast talks earlier in the year.  Furthermore, Guy Holt chimed in that he had worked on that scene in the electrical department and said that the actors were lit with a 12x12 diffusion frame.  Hah ha! 

So that at least gave me a direction to go.  I also learned last week that our lead actress was going to have much, much darker features than northern Brit Clair Forlani.  In fact, our actress is shown in the pictures below. 

The director, actress, and I went into Video Gear in San Diego and performed a lighting test.  The first thing I did was use a double book light with two 1k's at either end.  I found that using the rear book light in a more traditional bounce and the front book light in half bounce, half shoot through gave me much better fall off.  Then I added a simple fold out silver reflector at the near end of the muslin sheet to extend the diffusion and add what I though would be a reasonable emulation of flashing the film.

This wasn't quite enough and the director agreed.  She looked good, but her far ear was still falling off into shadow a little too quickly for the look we were after.  I knew that we had some Chinese lanterns in our production design, so I took advantage of a voice activated light stand (VALS) and hung a 24" China ball with a 250W tungsten bulb approximately over where the camera is going to be.  I knew this wasn't going to create any undesirable shadows.  It also makes sense in the eye reflection since we are going to see lanterns in back of the actress in the production lighting.  Now we had that nice gradual fall off with correct looking shadows.  From the picture just above to the picture just below I would contrast them as drama (above) and romance (below), even though the actress has a less than romantic expression.  Imagination people...we're making a film.  It's all fake!

The picture below is an aerial view of our lighting setup with my director/VALS.  You can see the double book light, silver reflector with lovely blue painter's tape, and the Chinese lantern.  I also added a 150W Fresnel lighting her hair, which I just threw in the mix quickly.  I would want to go a little more subtle and soft during the shoot next weekend.

Wish us luck during the shoot next week.  We also have a computer room scene that tested out lovely.  I used a bit of inspiration from 90's action movies and a bit from Paul Cameron, ASC.

Many thanks to the infinitely helpful M. David Mullen ASC, Guy Holt, and Tim Tyler on cinematography.com. Hopefully I can share this film with you when it's finished.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

••◊ Get Dirty! Race Cyclo-Cross.

Last weekend I borrowed the Sony FS-700 from Video Gear and took it to my club's annual cyclo-cross race at Lake Hodges.  I wanted to do a test of the Sony FS-700 auto-focus feature, so I was using the stock 18-200mm lens and the internal AVCHD codec.  I haven't found a way to use an external recorder while over cranking yet, so if anyone out there knows please contact me.  All the footage was shot at 240fps.

The race had a bit of a somber tone.  My fellow club member, Udo Heinz, was hit and killed by a bus while out on a ride earlier this year.  In memoriam the club decided to name the race "Udo-Cross."  There was a nice memorial service at the mid-point of the day.  One of the posters they used was a picture I shot at the race last year with Udo standing in front of the finish line, smiling, happy, and surrounded by an activity he loved.  I don't want to say "surrounded by what he loved" because I printed his memorial service pictures and it was clear that Udo loved his wife and kids first, even if he did manage to land a racer chick (Macht schnell Antje! Ranchooooooos!)

So here's my small tribute to Udo-Cross.  I hope Udo would have gotten a kick out of the video of the racers.

Yesterday was his memorial ride leaving from Spy+ Optics in Carlsbad.  There had to be at least 200 riders there to honor Udo.  Of course, the first thing that happens with a bunch of racers is that a break forms.  Antje stayed with the lead group.  As we headed up Questhaven road, a dirt road no less, I knew this ride had to be inspired by Udo.  I was on my skinny tire road bike and decided to do it anyway.  The only issue I had was when I had to set my foot down and some mud got stuck in my cleats.  A little water bottle spritz cleared that out.  I have to give a big thank you to Spy+ for stepping up and putting on this fundraiser event and Antje.

I wonder if Udo knew that all those relationships he was forming while he was alive would allow him to take care of Antje and his kids, even if he physically couldn't?

...back to cyclo-cross.  Seeing races like this makes me miss the days of riding in the dirt.  Udo, you may have inspired my next bike purchase.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

••◊ Report from All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival


My documentary film, Stronger + One Last Rep played yesterday at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival in North Hollywood.  David Patterson (pictured above) was the subject of the film, so he flew in Thursday night from Seattle.  We had a night dinner at Ortega's in Hillcrest, which earned my seal of approval, and prepared for the long drive to Los Angeles the next day. 

Before we headed to the classic El Portal Theater in North Hollywood we made a quick stop at the top of Deronda Street in Hollywood to take the first picture you see at the start of this blog entry.  Even though Dave was a bit hesitant about this trip at first, his eyes lit up when he saw us driving up Beachwood Street toward the symbol of Hollywood.  I, of course, got a bit lost due to questionably marked streets and lack of natural direction in the tall trees and multi-million dollar homes of the Hollywood hills.  On our second attempt we actually made it to the top, but were thwarted by a garbage collection truck on the way back down.

After that, we made a familiar stop at Hollywood and Highland so Dave could get his full tourist on.  He was having fun walking up and down the block taking pictures of the stars along the Hollywood walk of fame, like a kid discovering something really cool.  The Jimmy Kimmel show was doing some type of interview on the other side of the street.  When we were leaving Dave pointed out the three "Spiderman-s" who were taking a break at the corner.  One of them he nicknamed "skinny Spiderman", another "fat Spiderman", and the final one I don't remember.  Let's just say that their physiques didn't quite match the costumes.  Lunch was at my favorite lunch place in L.A. - Local.

The All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival was small by comparison of other film festivals I've been to.  At least half the audience was typically the filmmakers and their actors and we were screening in a small theater company space.  When they started having technical difficulties with the video randomly cutting to black, it was somewhat disconcerting.  After all, Dave had flown down just to see this film and my camera op/actor friend David Truax had driven up to see the film as well.

We survived the first round of student films, but my first thought was..."is my film really in this category?"  As the films got better and better through the second and third screening groups I started to feel a bit better, however technical glitches were still causing delays and random video cut out.

During our screening group Dave got up and said he had to visit the bathroom.  I told him, "our film is next!"  His reply was "No.  I checked and we have another one to go before yours."  Well, as you can probably guess, the "illuma.blogspot.com" logo came up just as soon as the theater door closed behind Dave.  So there I was thinking, "Dave is missing one...two...three minutes of the film."  I'm sure he felt a little embarrassed walking back in those few minutes later."  Note to Dave - Do as you mother always taught you and go to the bathroom before you have to be anywhere important!  At least the video didn't crap out or have to be restarted like a lot of the other films.

Today is a recovery day.  Tomorrow I'm off to shoot slow-mo video of bicycle racing in the dirt.

11-14 UPDATE:  I received news this morning that Stronger + One Last Rep won best documentary short and took the audience choice award.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

••◊ Flowers from San Diego's Fall-Spring

While others are featuring images of graphic horror for Halloween, I thought I would juxtapose that with the beauty of San Diego's fall-spring.  You see, San Diego has two spring seasons: spring and fall-spring.  During fall-spring the flowers come out to bloom once again before the high desert air freezes them.  Unlike a lot of the other parts of the country that are slowly settling into sweater weather, it was a mild and humid 80F here today.

As I was coming home last week I noticed the local flowers in bloom, so my neighbor and I headed out on a field trip to take a few pictures today.  It was also a chance to use my new Zeiss macro lenses: 100mm, 50mm, and 21mm (non-macro).  I just love what those lenses can produce and I'm even learning to love wide angles again thanks to the awesome 21mm.  Now if only the wind cooperated a little more.  Every time I would get focus the wind would blow the flower out of focus.  As you can see, the depth of field was quite shallow.  So pictures were hit and miss, but that's OK.  No pressure on this assignment.  Also, I had to be quick on the draw with the bees in the picture.  They quickly became known as "you little bastards" since they would often move on to the next flower before I could get focus and press the shutter button (me: fist pumping and swearing at them as they happily buzzed elsewhere), however I managed to capture a few at work.  Please enjoy the pictures below.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

••◊ Problems with Premier Pro scopes

I recently had to master a few DVDs and Blu-ray disks for a film festival and, of course, I wanted to make sure that the final masters were done correctly.  The bottom line is that the scopes in Adobe Premier Pro don't work correctly. 

After doing some research I found that Blu-ray disks also have to be authored with levels between 16-235.  Why...after all this time and digital interfaces?  Beats me.  Computer screens are the same LCD panels as home TVs and yet we still have to deal with black at 7.5 IRE and white at 100 IRE.  Why not the same 0 IRE (=digital 0) and 109 IRE (=digital 255) that we play over the Internet all the time?

Another issue is that I used the "Dip to Black" transition in quite a few places in my film and didn't realize that this transition gets applied *after* all effects on the clip.  So even if you correct the levels to 16-235 using the "Levels" effect in a new master sequence, the "Dip to Black" transition brings the video levels down to the undesirable absolute black 0 IRE.  To work around this I rendered out the entire film to Quicktime uncompressed 10-bit YUV, then re-imported the uncompressed video and applied the "Level" effect to set the levels between the desired 16-235.

OK, so the levels should -in theory- be set correctly.  That should be easy to verify, right?  Maybe not.  Let's start with a simplified example of a black and white patch.  As anyone familiar with video engineering knows the levels should be at 0 IRE and 109 IRE for absolute black and absolute white respectively.  If you open the second picture you'll see that the luma waveforms show 0 IRE (correct) and 100 IRE (not correct), yet their y-axis goes up to 120 IRE!  Keep in mind that I'm using an "ancient" CS5 version of Premier Pro.  Maybe Adobe has fixed this by now(?)


Now let's apply a "Levels" effect to the both the black and white patch.  This will convert the black patch from 0 to 16 (7.5 IRE) and should in theory change the white patch from 255 to 235 (100 IRE).  The black patch looks almost correct by coming up just shy of the 7.5 IRE dotted line.  The white patch goes down to about 92 IRE...fail!

I don't know what to say here.  It seems like such a simple thing to make scopes work correctly.  Heck, I could write this code!  ...and don't get me started on their vectorscope that doesn't work properly for HD video.

This is something to watch out for when mastering any video for broadcast or silver disk distribution.  You just need to be aware that the Premier Pro scopes don't work properly.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

••◊ Random Photos from the Annnual Washington Ironman Trip

It was time once again for my annual Ironman bodybuilding show trip.  When I heard this show was going to be held in a church I thought to myself, "flesh peddling in a church?...I'm in!"

Lately the motivation/commitment to really go out and find those photos that make an impact as been sorely missing and it's a rough road trying to turn that around.  As I exited the airport terminal to arrival pickup to fresh northwest air the ground was still wet from a light sprinkle, or what Southern Californians would refer to as a "rain event."  Even though there was probably more available photographically all I could find were a couple reflections of flags.  Photographic reflections have been an area of focus the last few weeks because I found that I often miss opportunities for photos involving reflections in favor of more conventional direct photography.  Just a note for self improvement.

My aunt and I went to see "Prisoners" at the Majestic Bay theater in the Ballard community of Seattle.  It's interesting to note that this theater is the oldest continually operating movie theater in the country - see the placard below.  They also have an "usher pig."  The pigs were part of a larger community art project across Seattle.  I'm pretty sure I put a photo up on my blog last year showing the pig at Pike's Place Market.  It's good to know that the pigs didn't end up in the slaughter house.

Below are some of the random pictures from the bodybuilding show.  I was exiled far, far in the back of the venue this time so there wasn't really time, nor locality to the stage to take show photographs.  I kind of got what I got and that was it.  The blue console below was my eagle eye view for the entire day.  We had to communicate over walkie-talkies to coordinate activities because almost everyone else in the crew was backstage!  It was just Jack, their house audio engineer, and I back at the board.

After the mid-day break we came back to Jack playing "symphonic metal" over the PA.  I told him, "I knew it!  You guys play death metal while the staff is out, don't you?"


The two pictures below are from the north terminal train inside SeaTac airport.  I knew that the movement would produce some interesting streaking results and perspective distortion.  I just couldn't decide which picture orientation I found more interesting, so I posted both.  Identifying perspective and leading lines is something I'm always trying to get better at, so I recognize it when I can.  My next self induced challenge will probably involve triangles in compositions.

This week back has been incredibly busy.  Thursday I went to a talk at the ASC Clubhouse with John Toll.  His most recently released work was Ironman 3,but I still prefer "A River Runs Through It" for the compositional beauty.  Off to more challenges of this week...