Recent activity & shop talk.

Archive for January, 2011

Six Months of Insanity

The past six months have been incredibly busy…perhaps more so than ever.  It started with the epic ad campaign for Range Resources in western Pennsylvania.  The production consisted of close to a month of shooting but was broken up into 4-5 consecutive days at a time. I had the pleasure of being one of the DP’s on the shoot, taking on the visuals of barns filled with light breaking through their weathered walls, rolling midwest hay fields, an accomplished artist and his birds, farmers with endless stories in their faces, the sincerity of middle-class America and the best BBQ pulled pork I have ever had (just to name a few).  I reunited with the talented duo Danny Yourd and Steve Hoover of Endeavor Media/Animal out of Pittsburgh, PA.

A Love For Cattle

We shot on RED for testimonials / hero shots and Canon 5D Mark II & 7D for abstract b-roll / candid moments.  I had a chance to see the 5D and 7D go toe to toe with the RED on a scratch system in all it’s digital glory because we were mixing all the footage together in both the 30 second spots and web spots.  The 5D really impressed me with how well it held up in CU shots next to the RED footage. But where they really fell short (especially the 7D) were in wide, high detail shots.  Banding becomes a hideous issue when shooting fine detail and patterns with wider lenses.  Things like water, hay / straw and shingles on a roof start to fall apart with a lens like the Canon 16-35mm.  Not to say that lens isn’t usable (I absolutely love it), but knowing when and where to use it is critical.

Obviously the RED camera offers much greater control over the image both in camera and in post but I can say with full confidence that we wouldn’t have been able to get the amount of dynamic shots that we did in a day without using the Canons and Kessler Cine Slider.  It’s all about knowing the capabilities of your tools and using them for the right job.  That comes with testing and experience.

Currently, the 30 second spots are all over the television in Pittsburgh and quite a few of the web versions can be found at MyRangeResources.com

Director Kevin DeOliveira and I shot some moving pieces for Stark County Children Services involving people with various backgrounds coming up through the foster care system.  This was an extreme run & gun scenario that left us with limited time and resources…but the end result was fantastic.  We shot with both the 5D and 7D.  The videos can be viewed here.

In October of 2009, I started working on a micro-doc with Director Joe Siebert about a couple of cowboys making impressive amateur Western films in Canton during the 1940’s.

Cowboy Len

The Real Bold Badmen finished production earlier in the year and was received admirably not only at the 2010 Akron Film Festival but even more so by cowboy Len Zaleski and his family.  Len, who was battling cancer, attended the screening and received praise from an audience who was moved by his story.  This project was extremely rewarding as a filmmaker and I am blessed to know the Zaleski family and to have known Len himself. Happy trails to you Cowboy Len…until we meet again! (Len Zaleski 1931-2010). Check out The Real Bold Badmen.

Immediately following the 2010 Akron Film Festival, I conducted my first cinematography workshop at the Akron Art Museum.  The core subject material was based off of the role and expectations of a working DP as well as an overview of shooting with DSLR’s.  I was taken back by how many were in attendance!  It was a lot of fun and I hope to do more events like this in the future.  I owe a huge thanks to the patrons who participated and Akron Film for growing and maintaining the local film community.

In between Range Resources shoots, StoneKap did a fantastic VFX piece for The Timken Company.  It was a mixture of real-world environment on white and a virtual pop-up book. Shot on RED and directed by Kevin DeOliveira.
Next on the list, I shot a TV spot for the Saab 9/3, directed by Kevin DeOliveira  and produced by StoneKap Productions.  Shoot days consisted of hanging out of the back of a cargo van with the RED on bungee straps and a studio shoot that felt like sprinting a full marathon.  The end result was well worth it.

I came up with a lighting design that consisted of fluorescent work-light fixtures being arranged in a half sun shape, hanging over the car.  Gaffer, Derek Urey took on the challenge of actually finding a way to hang the fixtures.  His results were remarkably insane looking but executed with great success.  All I have to say is that my old back yard chain-link fence was hanging in the grid of the studio. What made this day so crazy was the fact that the pre-light AND the shoot were in the same day…and yes…we made our day thanks to the incredible crew.  This was another RED/5D shoot and huge part of making our day without sacrificing production quality was using the Kessler Cine Slider with the 5D.  By far, this has been the best small format slider I have ever used.  I’ll post a link to the final product ASAP.

Following the Saab shoot, I headed out to NYC to shoot an Express runway show in Manhattan for good friend and Director Andy Reale.  It was definitely run & gun/docu-style shooting but fun nonetheless. Getting some insight into the fashion industry was a great experience as well.  During the short time I was there, I had the opportunity to grab some interesting textures of the city.  I’ll post photos at a later date.

November was kicked off by a shoot at Akron Children’s Hospital for a great ad agency in Cleveland. Talk about a rewarding couple of days…We were able to get up close and personal with a bunch of great kids at the hospital and capture some beautiful moments.  The crew needed to remain small and move swiftly. Derek Urey and I shot extensively with the Canon 5D and 7D along with the Kessler Cine Slider.  Of course, everything was natural lighting with a raw approach to the visuals.

A few weeks ago, Mike Thorn AC and I found ourselves in frigid conditions under Friday night lights in Coshocton, OH.  We were shooting pick-ups and inserts for a film called Touchback, starring Kurt Douglas and directed by Don Hanfield.  This was my first time using the RED MX-Sensor, which was fantastic.  I couldn’t believe how well it performed for night exteriors, especially compared to the original sensor, which I usually rate around an ASA of 160 or 200.  I was rating the camera at 800 ASA for some of the night exteriors and the image held up pretty well in most cases.  I also had the opportunity to truly fall in love with the Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm.  What a beautiful piece of glass (and brutally heavy for “run & gun” scenarios).  I’ve used the lens before but didn’t have the time with it that I did while shooting Touchback.

Recently, director Drew Russ invited my team and I to tackle his recent music video for As They Sleep in Detroit, MI.  Legit amateur wrestlers + guys getting hit in the head with metal trash cans + guys getting hit with lumber & chairs + over-the-top scary faces + metal = a sick video.  However, unloading a one ton grip & lighting package up six flights of stairs = bad news and sore legs.  Especially after working for over 20 hours straight.  I’m currently prepping to do the color grade.  Stay tuned.

Animal called me back out for a studio shoot in Pittsburgh, PA for four days to do some table top product shots for a local hospital’s “get to know your doctor” web videos.  My time consisted of setting up small dolly shots on the Kessler with infinite configurations of Jenga-style apple box support (apple boxes are a man’s best friend when it comes to sliders).  Actually, I learned a ton on this shoot because I was challenged to make 10 pairs of running shoes, 5 sets of golf clubs, 4 sets of tennis rackets, a water ski vest, endless photos and books, Mickey Mouse paraphernalia and lots of guns all look interesting on a white void cyc.  The lighting design wasn’t super complicated.  I wanted contrast but it couldn’t be too moody because of the nature of the piece.  These items belong to the friendly neighborhood doctors so it needed to be inviting and bright.  Although I was sick on this shoot…I had a blast with Danny on set.  Mickey Mouse ears, pump jumps and shotguns to Tyson’s face…’nuff said.

The year was wrapped up with a few fun projects.  The first being an eye insurance shoot at Classic Worldwide Productions in Cleveland that involved over 40,000 watts of power to shoot some high speed green screen shots on RED and white cyc scenes on 5D and 7D.  Attaining proper exposure was difficult due to the fact that we were shooting at faster frame rates AND losing a little over one whole stop of light because we were using a teleprompter (shooting through reflective glass).  It also takes quite a bit of light to make a white cyc WHITE and not grey.  A couple of 14″ 5K Fresnels did the trick nicely.

The second project involved Joe, Beau, Derek and I traveling to snowy Syracuse, NY to shoot a marketing piece for ICM Controls in their state-of-the-art, energy efficient facility.  I actually shot with the HPX170 for the first time in a LONG time and to be quite honest…it’s still one of my favorite cameras to operate with.  It’s not always feasible or in the budget to have an AC on every shoot which made this camera along with the HVX200 the right tools for the job.  We shot this “dirty jobs” style, hosted by talent and the company’s president, which keeps what could be a very mundane marketing video…interesting.  Note:  I’m very jealous of their conference room.

Last but not least for the year…the StoneKap 2010 Holiday E-Card.  We had a blast making this one.   http://www.stonekap.net/stonekap/ecard2010/

A lot more to come.  Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 2) – Zeiss CP.2 Compact Prime bliss

The highlight of the event was experiencing the image quality and mechanics of the Zeiss CP.2 Compact Primes.  Scott had a 50mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 5D and a 85mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 7D.  The 5D was feeding to a Panasonic BT-LH1710P production monitor so I was able to accurately evaluate the image.

For starters, I absolutely loved the fact that the mounts are interchangeable on the lens itself.

Zeiss CP.2 50mm T2.1

Permanently modifying my 5D is not an option because I use it for stills as well.  But if you wanted to throw the CP’s on the RED or any other camera with a PL mount, you simply swap out the EF mount for a PL mount on the lens, which is a killer and versatile feature!

The image quality of the CP’s is incredible.  Their color and contrast resolve beautifully, have very low distortion, show minimal breathing from what I could see (if any) and are color matched across the set.   The CP.2’s gave me that warm fuzzy feeling when looking at the monitor.  Sometimes you can’t explain the exact details of why a lens feels good…you just have to go with it.  Lenses can be a matter of preference and the Zeiss’ definitely have a cinematic personality of their own.

Anyone who has shot with HDSLR’s knows the challenges of using still photo lenses on their cameras.  Aperture rings that inhibit the full range of an F stop, wonky follow focus rings that get in the way, making an AC’s life a living hell with the touchy and inaccurate short focus distance…etc.  Although the Zeiss ZF 35mm still lenses are some of my favorite pieces of glass to use with HDSLR’s, they were made to be exactly what they are…still photography lenses.

Another fantastic feature is that the Zeiss CP.2 primes finally bring professional cinema lens mechanics to the HDSLR world without permanently modifying your camera.  They have silky smooth aperture rings for accurate T stop increments, calibrated focus marks and a calibrated focus barrel that has a nice long focus throw which gives your AC a fighting chance at pulling focus (especially shooting wide open on the 5D).  What a refreshing feeling to actually have this option on the Canons.

We did some comparison tests with a few lenses on hand just to see the difference between lenses we use on a regular basis and the compact prime.  The glass under study was a Contax Zeiss F1.4 50mm and a Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L Series zoom. Shot with the 5D, the settings on both the camera and the lenses are as follows:  F2.8, 1/50th shutter, ISO 640, balanced to 5500K and lighting consisted of Lite Panel 1×1 LED’s slightly mixed with natural mid afternoon daylight coming in through some windows.  Interestingly, both the Contax Zeiss and compact primes weren’t that different in their optical performance.  They both actually retained more contrast and detail in the shadows as you can see from the stills.  The color temperature is off a bit which is due to the temperature of the Lite Panels but I didn’t want to custom white balance for each lens because lenses usually vary in their warmth or coolness. I expected the 24-70mm to fall short of both lenses due to the obvious fact that it’s a zoom as opposed to a prime and I’ve never really gotten the sharpest images from it.  There’s also a considerable difference in contrast with the 24-70. Not good. Stills are ungraded.

Lens comparisons

You might ask why would you want the compact primes when you can just use Zeiss ZF’s, Canon L glass or any other higher grade 35mm still lens and achieve nice results?  Well, if you shoot professionally, you’ll know and appreciate cine lens contrast and resolution, no breathing, smooth and accurate focus pulls, durable and smooth mechanics and being color matched across the set.  Why is color matching important?  So you don’t end up with a total mess during the grading phase in post.  Lenses tend to have tints due to their coatings and sometimes it is very subtle.  However, if you have a bunch of mismatched glass…like different focal lengths from various manufacturers or product lines, chances are that you’ll run into some potential pitfalls in post with tints in the highlights, mids and / or the shadows.  Unless you’re making an artistic choice to mix lenses, I highly recommend sticking with a matched set.

Another notable aspect is that they are much quicker to work with than still lenses.  For starters, primes aren’t necessarily conducive to hectic, run & gun jobs where time is always against you.  Start throwing lens gears onto the rig and messing with lens mounts (if using anything but Canon L glass)…you start eating up precious time in the camera department.  Being a professional doesn’t just consist of pretty pictures.  You have a job to do, limited time to get the shot off and the less you have to mess with or modify…the better for everyone on the set.

Bottom line:  The Zeiss CP.2 primes are love at first sight.  A solid set of these things would run you around $20K…but that’s cheap for cine lenses.  Better yet, help out the guys in town and rent them from Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video.  You won’t be disappointed.


Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 1)

A couple of colleagues and I made a trip down to Columbus last week to check out a gear workshop hosted by Scott Handel from Ohio HD Video and his crew at The Backlot to witness a launch event for the Panasonic AF-100.

There were two set ups with the AF-100.  One of them was mounted on a MYT Works slider,

Panasonic AF-100

which in itself was fairly smooth in operation as well as having some flexible configurations.  The second set up was a hand-held ready Zacuto rig. First thing I noticed was the size of the body.  It’s similar to the HVX200 and if you were ever used to shooting with a lens adapter set up, the body loaded with a matte box, lens and FF is much smaller than what it would be using a Redrock M2 or Letus set up (thank God those days are over). The flip-out LCD is of significant improvement over the HPX & HVX screens, offering more resolution, which really helps with focus.  It’s loaded with a diverse array of built-in exposure tools unlike most cameras at its price point or any of the HDSLR’s for that matter. HD-SDI out is another welcomed staple due to the fact that I can’t stand the HDMI output on the Canons because of their frequent buggy connections.  I appreciated all the little things like working with assignable ISO’s, variable color temperature control and of course…familiar Panasonic form factor from the old days.

We decided to shoot our own “on the fly” tests while we were there.  My immediate disappointment was born from seeing

how poorly it handles gradations in skin tones…especially in darker zones like III, IV and V.  The mids to low mids look like plastic IMO.  Of course, the signal is heavily compressed and it’s using a 4:2:0 color space. The tests we performed were at ISO 200, F2.8-4 split at a 172-degree shutter angle. Also, after pulling in the clips into FCP and viewing the raw footage…I was disheartened to see Panasonic’s familiar noisy, creepy crawly blacks…even at ISO 200.  Seriously Panasonic…you need to address this.  I know that the 5D and 7D’s ultra clean sensors have spoiled me but there’s no excuse for such a noisy image.  It was a problem with the HVX200, HPX170 and now, the AF-100.

At the end of the day, I feel that Panasonic missed their opportunity to reclaim their crown with the indie film market. Yes, it’s capable of great imagery and I’d be happy to use it for the right job.  But coming from one of many who have adopted the Canon 5D and 7D, I will continue to favor them for the time being.  Although the HDSLR’s have their downfalls, they fit and go places that most camera’s do not, the offer flexibility and control of exposure in ultra low-light situations better than any video camera I have used and the sensor size / depth of field of the 5D is unique from EVERY video camera on the market today.

A fair evaluation would come from using the AF-100 for a couple of jobs to really give it a chance from start to finish.

Check back on Monday (01/17/11) for thoughts on the Zeiss CP.2 compact primes.  (The Backlot AF-100 Launch Event – Part 2).