5 steps to color perfect c100 footage using LUTs

Why is the C100mkii a ridiculously awesome camera? It’s not the fluid ergonomics, the built-in ND filters, or the camera’s snappy autofocus. Your audience can’t see how you got the footage; they just see that you did get the footage. And the footage is what’s epic. Canon’s color science is why we pay the medium bucks for the EOS Cinema series cameras. But to get the most from your footage requires a little work. By following these steps, you’ll get 12 beautiful stops of highlight-holding dynamic range, every time you press record. Here’s how.

Before shooting:

1. Set minimum ISO to 850. Unlike with a traditional DSLR, choosing a lower ISO will NOT result in a better image on this camera. Instead, it will rob you of dynamic range. So always always always set a minimum ISO of 850. In low light you can go higher – much higher, in fact, and get great results. But never go lower.

2. Shoot Canon Log (CP Cinema Locked). This is the only way to get the full 12 stops of dynamic range out of your camera. The footage will initially appear flat when you view it. But you have plenty of quick options for giving it snap, crackle and pop by applying LUTs. More about that momentarily.

3. Enable View Assist. The image on your LCD will appear flat, and to fix that and give you an approximation of the final image while shooting, you’ll need to turn on the view assist. It’s located in the LCD menu. TIP: I add this and several other settings to the custom menu, which makes finding them much quicker than hunting through the menus.

After shooting:

4. Use a LUT. A LUT (Look Up Table) is an automatic color correction designed specifically for your camera, which is applied to your footage in post. Which LUT to use? I recommend these free EOS Cinema LUTs from Able Cine. To apply them to your footage, you’ll need an inexpensive plugin like the $29 LUT Utility. These will work as a plugin to the NLE of your choice (i.e., Premiere, FCPX, etc).

5. Adjust LUT intensity to get desired look. Using LUT Utility, you can adjust the effect from zero to 100 percent. I often find that dialing in 60-80 percent of the effect is just about right.

Here’s an example, an interview shot in front of a window. The challenge is we’d like to make her skin look awesome, while at the same time retaining as much highlight information as possible in the background. So we shoot in CP Locked, and…

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Above: CP Locked footage looks flat prior to grading.

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LUT applied (no other color correction). As you can see above, this instantly does wonders for our footage. But it still needs a little work.

Getting the most from LUTS

To get the most dynamic range (that is, visible detail in your image from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights) choose the CxxxLog10toWideDR_Full option (the one applied above).

To get punchier results, and more life in the skin tones, try one of the other two (the ones beginning with ABNorm- and JR45-), continuing to choose the -WideDR_Full option for each.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.23.27 PM

 

ABNorm_CxxxLog10toWideDR_Full appliedAdding this LUT makes our image appear too crushed, in my opinion, and slightly over-saturated. There are two ways to correct that while retaining the punchier color of the effect. You can lighten the image (in this case, by pushing up the midtones) or you can reduce the LUT intensity.

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Mid-tone brightness increased to compensate, above.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.33.28 PMFinally, reducing the intensity of the ABNorm- or JR45- LUTs, which tend to overly saturate and crush the image, allow you to dial in just the right amount of correction.

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The final results. Notice how lifelike the skin tones are, and how the important detail in the background is preserved. Besides applying the LUT, the only color correction I’ve applied to this frame is a slight boost in the midtones.

Conclusion: Using a LUT, we can very quickly get everything out of our c100 footage that the camera is capable of giving us. Vibrant skin tones, crisp blacks, and 12 stops of dynamic range that allows us to hold detail in brightly lit areas of our frame, such as the background used in this example.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my time thinking about the content of my films than how to color grade them. Using a C100 and a LUT, you can have both.

The Mystery of the Flint River

“I hate editing. But I’m good at it.”

That’s what I said to director Michael Hanson when he asked me if I would cut a film from a short trip that he took down the Flint River with his camera and microphone for American Rivers. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through their advocacy efforts. And, Michael is an extraordinary talented photographer who shoots for, among others, National Geographic. So I said yes.

With some consulting help from Mark Bashore, and of course, lots of input from Michael, here is the result.

The music for this piece is so important. It sets the mysterious mood. I discovered it on The Music Bed, two tracks by Steven Gutheinz, “The Sun” and “A Message.”

I had to learn Premiere Pro to cut this film.  I found the experience tolerable and the tool adequate. I’m glad I cut this in Premiere, actually, because it gave me a whole new appreciation for Final Cut Pro X, which remains my NLE of choice. It’s not that Premiere sucks, it’s just that FCPX is so fluid, so quiet, so undemanding. FCPX flows like a river, and Premiere is like driving from Fremont to West Seattle at 4:30pm on a Friday. But in the end, it takes you there.  Just like that river.

 

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Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence looks for help to tackle the toughest AI challenges

My latest commercial piece is a recruiting video designed to attract talent to the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which has it’s offices tucked along the north shore of Lake Union here in Seattle.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the best gaffer in Seattle, Jeremy Mackie, on this project. But I got more than just his top-notch lighting skills. After many years lighting films like Eden and Fat Kid Rules the World, Jeremy is looking to step behind the camera and work as a DP. I was thrilled to give him the opportunity on this project, and I think the results speak for themselves. Having a DP who knows lighting inside out, backwards and forwards the way Jeremy does is just epic.

Rounding out the crew on this one were Mike Astle, grip; Justin Dolkiewicz-Kotsenas, AC, and Nickolas Abercrombie, sound. I did the drone work myself with a Phantom 3.

Ryan Schwalm was my camera assistant/grip on the pickup shots.

A couple things worth mentioning technically: As you can see in the photos above, we used a Dana Dolly for most of the b-roll. It really brought some life the office scenes, which would have otherwise been pretty static. I had the dolly mounted on low-boy combo stands with rollers, which made it quick and easy for Jeremy to pick up the b-roll we needed while the rest of the crew was packing up at the end of the day.

And take a look at that hand-made LED light, hey? It’s a real piece of work, something Jeremy cobbled together from parts supplied by Lite Gear. It was a great fill source: portable and color-temperature controllable with very high CRI. I want to make one!

Finally, we used a pair of powerful HMI lights on this shoot, an M18 and 800-watt Joker, to bring up the interview subjects to match the window light in the background. But in one case, this approach backfired. When the CEO saw the rough cut, the CEO felt he was squinting too much as a result of all that light. So we had to reshoot him, using mostly natural window light with a single Kino Tegra for fill. It’s great to play with the big guns, but keeping it simple is sometimes best when it comes to working with non actors.

5 reasons to crash your Phantom 2 immediately

I DP’d a short promo film for the 60 Second Film Festival recently, which involved quite a few drone shots. After nailing them all with my Phantom 2, I made a stupid mistake: I relaxed. With my eyes off the drone for a moment,  a huge douglas fir reached out and swallowed it. You gotta keep your eyes on those trees! A professional tree climber retrieved it a day later, but it’s gimbal was damaged. When I considered the cost of repairing it, vs. purchasing a new Phantom 3, I made the decision to upgrade.

After less than a week with my Phantom 3, (which I purchased from the fine pros at The Copter Shop in Woodinville) I can assure you that crashing  my Phantom 2 was the best thing that could have happened to my aerial cinematography. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1. The DJI Pilot app is ridiculously awesome. My head is still spinning with the mad power it puts at your fingertips: a map that shows you where the drone is and how it’s pointed, an HD monitor that gives you a beautiful real-time camera view, ability to override automatic exposures or temporarily lock them during a shot, ability to switch between stills and video, and so much more. With a finger swipe, you can hide the overlays and just see the gorgeous Lightbridge video stream. Going from Phantom 2 to this isn’t just an incremental upgrade – it’s an altogether different way of flying.

2. Full manual exposure controls. On the fly, using the Pilot app, you can assert full manual control over exposure. So, if you want to do a slow tilt up over dark green water to reveal a sun-drenched horizon, now you can do that without blowing out the horizon as it comes up. Try that on your GoPro!

3. Integrated 4k camera. The built-in camera is much easier to use than GoPro Hero. For starters, you don’t have to go through the tedious step of replacing camera batteries – ever – because the camera is powered directly from the flight battery. Next, replacing the microSD card doesn’t require doing surgery on the camera with tools – just insert it directly into the side of the craft. Also, the lens has threaded filters, which is going to make it super easy to mount ND filters as soon as they are on the market (the fine folks at Snake River Prototyping assure me they are hard at work on making compatible filters even as we speak).  Also, the camera doesn’t have that silly fisheye problem that all GoPros suffer from. Sold!

4. Lightbridge. You get crystal clear HD video transmission in real time, and it allows you to fly far, far away. Like a mile or more, and still see clearly. For me, this makes full FPV flying a real option for the first time. The video transmits through semi-permeable objects like trees, no problem, while my Phantom 2 would go to static the moment I went behind a tree.


5. Instant fine-tuning of stick sensitivity.
When you’re doing aerial cinematography, you want very sluggish sticks at the beginning of the stick, but you want them to respond normally at the far end of the stick. That gives you a fighting chance when doing complicated moves like circling an object, or for a parallax shot. Or just for doing a slow, feathered start or stop to a move. On my Phantom 2, I tired all kinds of advanced calibration, and ultimately junked all of them because I couldn’t get it right. Part of the problem was that you had to connect to your computer to apply a calibration, then disconnect, test, and try again.

exponentialWith the Phantom 3, you get the ability to set the response curve of the sticks (see graphic at right) without connecting to a computer. All the configuration options are a few swipes away in the DJI Pilot app.

After just one evening of test flying and stick calibrating, I was able to pull off a very difficult circling-while-climbing shot that I never would have attempted on my Phantom 2. And it feels like just the beginning of what’s possible with this craft.

A life-and-death decision

A Life and Death Decision

My most recent project, for UW Medicine, explains palliative care through the eyes of Mark and Alice Beaty, who faced a life-and-death decision when their son Adam was in a terrible accident.

Working on this video, I was reminded why story is king. Palliative care is a pretty dry topic to talk about, but listening to Mark and Alice tell their story is arresting. And by breaking up their story into several parts, we were able to get the client’s required background into the piece (who their largest donors are, etc.) without it becoming overwhelmingly boring.

This piece was shot over three and a half days of interviews, with b-roll comprised of stock footage, family photos and drone footage shot with my Phantom 2.

If there’s one thing I learned on this project, it’s that  a 2-person crew just doesn’t cut it for projects of this kind. My assistant Ryan Schwalm and I were physically overextended by having to push a huge cart of equipment around to the many locations. And a two-camera shoot really needs an operator for each camera – it’s not possible for me as director to do a great job interviewing AND maintaining focus.

I just finished another shoot for a different client in which I had a 5-person crew, including myself (gaffer/dp, grip, camera assistant, and sound recordist). That was a revelation to me: everything ran smooth, nobody was stressed out, the client was thrilled, and I actually enjoyed myself. Wow.

I will be planning for more crew on just about everything I do from here on out.

Canon C100 mkii configuration guide

configguidec100mkiiThe C100 mkii is an amazing documentary camera. It’s capable of 12 stops of dynamic range and it gives you everything you need (ND filters, EVF, phantom power, etc.) without additional rigging. But to get the most cinematic performance out of it,  it’s important to set it up correctly, and remap one of the buttons. Here’s how I configure my camera before a big shoot.

First of all, do an auto black balance. Canon recommends you do this every time you change the ISO. It’s especially important to do this if you’ll be shooting with high ISOs. From Camera Setup menu, select ABB. Make sure a lens cap is on. Press OK to perform the balance.

1. Reassign One-Shot Autofocus to button #7. Button 15, the default, is in a very awkward location if you plan to use autofocus regularly, like I do.

afdefault

This is an awkward button location for routine focus grabbing. So we’ll remap it.

 

button7

Button 7 is a great choice for one-shot autofocus, especially if you’re used to working with DSLR autofocus, which places it in the same spot as the autofocus button on pro Canon DSLRs

To remap the button, select Other Functions > Assignable Buttons. Then choose button 7.

assign7

Button 7 is set to Magnify by default.

 

assignbutton

Press the joystick and scroll to select One-Shot AF

 

cine-locked2. Set to record Canon Log. Under the Camera menu, select CP Cinema Locked and set On. This enables Canon Log, which gives you a flat file that grades beautifully in post. Using this setting preserves all the options that are available to you in post. Using this setting in combination with a  C100 lookup tables supplied from Able Cine is a speedy way to get amazing looking footage.

viewassist3. Enable View Assist. Under OLED/VF Setup menu, select View Assist and set to On. This makes what you see on screen look more like what the contrast and exposure settings will look like after the image is graded. If you don’t enable this, the image on screen will look very flat, making it difficult to judge exposure by eye.

4. ISO [850]. To get the maximum dynamic range out of this camera, set the ISO at 850. If you set a lower ISO, you will be losing information in the highlights.

5. Peripheral illumination Correction. Under Camera Setup, set Peripheral Illumination Correction to On (if available for your lens). This will automatically fix vignetting and barrel distortion issues on supported Canon lenses. It works like magic!

perifph

6. Select AVCHD 24mbps. Under Other Functions menu, select Movie Format and choose AVCHD. Then, under AVCHD menu, select Bit Rate 24 Mbps LPCM (LPCM allows you to record uncompressed audio – the best quality). AVCHD is slightly better than MP4 in terms of quality.

With these settings, you can rest assured that your footage will live up to the amazing potential that this camera is capable of. Have a great shoot!

The real end of film is here. It’s called the Ursa Mini

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Ursa Mini

Arri_Alexa_camera

Arri Alexa

For very a long time (like, since 2010), Arri has been the only digital camera on the market (sorry, Red) that has truly rivaled film. With it’s implementation of digital sensor, which includes a neat  trick with how it reads data off the sensor twice, it managed to deliver the roughly 14 stops of dynamic range that film is capable of. As a result, it’s become the go-to camera of big-budget filmmakers. The only problem, for the rest of us, at least: an Arri Alexa costs about $75,000. Not to mention, it was too big and cumbersome for most documentary productions.

But if the news from NAB can be believed, 2015 is the year where everything changes. When Canon announced the C300 mkii would ship with 15 stops of dynamic range, it marked the first time when, for about $16,000, you could own a digital camera that has MORE dynamic range than film. And a couple days later, Black Magic blows the roof off with their Ursa Mini announcement. For $7,000, you can now get a fully kitted out, ergonomically correct camera that shoots 15 stops of dynamic range. It weighs 5 pounds.

This is the real end of film.

 

4 essential plugins for improving GoPro drone footage

I just finished filming an epic drone sequence on Seattle’s waterfront, in which I filmed a mammoth barge headed out to sea. Unfortunately I can’t share the footage, which my client is keeping under wraps for the moment. But I can share with you the 4 plugins that I’ve found indispensable for cleaning up and presenting drone footage shot with my GoPro Hero 4 and Phantom 2.

Digital-Anarchy-Flicker-Free-1.0.1-FULL-Precracked1. Flicker Free.

Cleans up the nasty interference pattern caused by quadcopter props when sun is a factor.

Any time you’re shooting into the sun, or when the sun is angled overhead in front of the camera, you can see this issue. It looks like a bad TV channel from the 60s: rapidly scanning lines caused by the shadow of the props on the lens. For the longest time I thought there was no way to fix this. One day I was using Flicker Free to clean up a time-lapse, and though: hey, why wouldn’t this work for aerial footage? I tried it, and it worked like magic. I generally get best results with the “remove horizontal bands 2″ setting, but if that doesn’t work for you, try the other settings as well until you find one that does.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.10.31 PM2. Lock and Load X.

Stabilizes and reduces rolling shutter. Works especially well to make parallax shots looks smooth and intentional. Something about how this plugin works just smooths out overcorrections in steering. It works far, far better for this than the built-in plugin in Final Cut Pro X or Adobe’s Warp stabilizer. This is another one of those magical pieces of software that I apply to ALL of my drone footage, whether it needs it or not. It always makes it better. Try it yourself – they offer a fully functional 30-day trial.

682482033. FilmConverPro with GoPro camera pack.

There are two presets for use with ProTune footage (which I use on my GoPro) that instantly make your footage look great. To get the most of this, you have to configure your GoPro Hero 4 the right way BEFORE you shoot. Here’s the settings I use:

  • Pro Tune
  • Flat
  • Max ISO: 400
  • Sharpening: low

I also find that the smoothest, most cinematic drone footage often results from shooting at 48fps in 2.7K (conformed to 24p in post). That way, in addition to the option for slow things down, if you ultimately export out to 1920×1080, you have a lot of extra frame that plugins such as Lock and Load and Fisheye Fixer can work with without losing any resolution. You can also crop in closer to your subject without losing resolution – which allows you to shoot a little loose – a little farther away from your subject. Improves the odds that you’ll get your drone back safely!

crumplepop_fisheye_gopro_douglas_044. Fisheye Fixer.

Straightens the horizon curvature that is always present with GoPro footage.
The curved horizon thing may look great for in-your-face sports action, but for the typical drone shot, it’s bullshit. Get rid of it!

Fisheye Fixer gives you fine grained control over how much curvature to remove, so you can dial in the perfectly flat horizon that we like so much.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.05.46 PMBonus tip: Use an ND filter in front of your GoPro. This is like putting a pair of sunglasses on your lens, and reduces the amount of light coming in so that the shutter speed can come down to something more cinematic. This allows movement to blur and look natural. It also goes a long way to reducing jello shutter that is exacerbated by high shutter speeds.

I recommend using the Snake River Prototyping BlurFlix Air ND 4 (good for both cloudy days and sun). It’s currently the best on the market for drone use because of it’s light weight, which allows them to be used without upsetting your delicate gimbal.

For if you’ll be shooting in bright sunlight all the time, I’d recommend their ND 8 filter.

Happy drone shooting!

Genaray GESPLR SpectroLED SP-LR review

lightwithtripodbagAs a documentary cinematographer, I’m a big fan of available light. However, it’s rarely perfect. A little fill on the shadow side of a window, for example, can create magic out of a monster. So wouldn’t it be nice if there was a light small enough to take with you anywhere, that you could just snap your fingers when you needed it?  Or like, wave a magic wand?

When first I saw the IceLight from Wescott, I felt it wasn’t quite right for a couple of reasons. One, it wasn’t powerful enough. Two, it felt overpriced to me. So I waited. Given the rapid pace of LED development, I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d see an exciting development. In fact, I’ve been Googling for it. When a recent search for “IceLight alternative” uncovered something called the Genaray GESPLR SpectroLED SP-LR, I was interested. When I saw it contained both tungsten and daylight balanced lights, I was impressed. When I saw it was listed at $250 (half the price of an IceLight), I was sold.

caseThe light arrived a couple of weeks ago, and the first thing that caught my eye was the case. It’s one of those padded, semi-hard things, solidly built, something I will actually use. The size of the light is nice and compact, at just under 22″ long. The active strip of light it produces is 14″ long. It tucks easily into my Porta-Brace tripod bag (with the tripod in it, too), which will allow me to carry it easily on the road.

tubehandleThis light is impeccably professional looking. The black, all-metal handle includes buttons that electronically switch between tungsten and daylight, and dim the unit from 100 percent to 10 percent.

The mode button switches between tungsten on one side of the light, and daylight balanced LEDs on the other.

The dimmer works well, and produces no audible buzzing or sound of any kind (yay). Also, the light is flicker free at all settings.

The light is advertised to last for 2.5 hours at full blast. I found that not quite true. After running for 1.5 hours, I measured a small dip in brightness. After 2.5 hours, the light was still running strong, but had further dimmed, losing perhaps 1/-8 to 1/4 of it’s original brightness. At 2:40 it was down to 1/2 original power, before dying completely at 2:46. So it dies with a whimper.

This is a drag. I’d far prefer a light that dies with a bang, so that I could count on it being consistently bright whenever it’s on. Still, the fact that you can get in excess of 3/4 of it’s power after 2.5 hours isn’t too shabby for such a compact light. It’s just one more thing to keep track of during a shoot. For those reason, I’d recommend powering it via the AC adapter for longer interviews, or if you’re doing multiple interviews, for the later ones.

The battery is built in, so it’s not possible to pop in a spare when it runs out. An AC adapter is included, however, so you can run it all day off the cord, which also charges the battery.

anglebracket

The light features a 1/4″ 20 female mount point in the handle. The included mounting spud has 1/4″ 20 screw on one end, and 3/8″ on the other. This makes it easy to attach to various mounting hardware such as tilt brackets that allow you to fly the light over camera for use as fill, for example.

c-standadapterTo hang it off the arm of a c-stand, you’ll want one of these little guys (photo at right), a Manfroto 5/8″ to 1/4″ 20 rapid adapter. The light itself is so light (just 2 pounds) that it’s actually possible to hang it off a regular light stand, using a Photoflex heavy-duty grip swivel with a stand extension.  In that scenario, you’ll need to counterweight the bag. However, using a c-stand (below) you can fly it anywhere without counterweight. Which  makes fast and easy to reposition the light between setups.

fillcouch

One gripe I have about the design is that, as shipped, it could use more diffusion. But it’s easy to add. Wrapping it with Lee 1/2 white diffusion softens it beautifully and completely eliminates the dreaded LED multiple shadow effect. The penalty for this is a full stop of light loss. However, given how bright it is,  this could be been seen as a positive, since the light doesn’t dim below 10 percent. If you just need the extra stop of light, it’s there.

Brightness

For such a compact light, it packs a big punch. (However, it loses some of that to color correction, as we’ll discover in a moment.) How bright? Here’s a real world example. After color correction gels were applied, I was able to set f/2.8 at 6′ with ISO 800 at a 48/sec shutter (24p). When dimmed fully, I read f/1.0 and a half. The tungsten side is about a third of a stop brighter due to needing less color correction.

Versatility

You can place the Genaray just about anywhere. With gaffer tape, you can affix it inside a car, for example, to get relatively soft illumination where you want it while hiding it from the camera.

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Before

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After

The light has a rather nice, softly directional falloff, like a Kino-flo tube (more on that in a moment). I found it easy to feather the light by twisting it, and cutting it further is possible by applying black wrap.

This is the light of a million uses. Here’s a few that I’ve tried.

backlight

On swivel grip

Back light: Because it weighs just a couple of pounds, you can put it on a light stand with a swivel grip and stand extension, and boom it. I have a 7-lb Steadybag that is heavy enough to counterweight the light in this scenario (photo at right).

Fill light: Again, it’s so easy to fly this light directly over your lens with a light stand, where you can use it as a subtle, relatively soft fill.

Kicker: Simply screw it on top of the 1/4 20 thread of any light stand, and you’ve got a vertical strip of kicker light, that can chisel out some definition in an otherwise flat interview.

Traveling shots: Screw it onto the end of a Mogopod and you’ve got yourself a light boomed for traveling shots. It’s not as bright or as soft as the BBS Lighting Flyer, but then, that kit will set you back $3,499.

boomtravel

Quick and dirty traveling light boomed with Mogopod

Bonus: Skype light. Just stand the light vertically on the counter behind your laptop to illuminate your Skype conversations:

wandskype

Illuminating your next Skype conversation is as simple as placing the Genaray upright on your desk.

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Before light (lit only with window light)

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After, with Genaray used as strong fill light

Bonus: Camping flashlight. This light works great to light up a campground picnic table!

So without doubt, this is a very flexible light. Great. But how does the light look?

Color accuracy

The Genaray is advertised at 3200K and 5600K. Previous inexpensive LEDs that I’ve reviewed have been all over the place with this. So, what can you expect out of a $250 LED these days?

5600kdefaultOn the right is what the vectorscope shows me at 5600K (a perfect balance would place a tight dot in the middle of the scope). So it’s immediately clear that we’ve got WAY too much red. We can correct this by adding a little CTB and a lot of plus green.  We’ll find out just how much in a moment. But first, let’s see how the 3200K side of the light stacks up.

3200kdefault

The 3200K LEDs, shown at right, are much closer to proper color balance. However, there is still a noticeable magenta shift. For a photo light, I want to see that dot in the bullseye. So we’ll need to add some plus green to get dial it in.

NOTE: I used an 18 percent Kodak gray card to do this test, and Magic Lantern’s Vectorscope on my 5dmkiii.

halfgreenblueOK, let’s tackle fixing the 5600K side first. After much testing, here’s what I came up with:

+ 1/2 green
+ 1/4 blue

Now we’re erring slightly on the yellow/green side, but just barely. And that’s the side I prefer to err on, because skin tones always look better a little yellow than any other color. I tried adding 1/8 blue, but that put us too far over toward blue/cyan. So this is about as close as we’re going to get this light, given that filters come only in 1/8th increments. Also note that this reduces the  output of the light by a full stop in 5600k mode.

plusquartergreen3200Fixing the 3200K was easier:

+ 1/4 green

I think it’s a shame these lights don’t match the color temperature they are advertised. But not as much a shame as paying $500 for the IceLight2! The price of inexpensive LEDs, at present, seems to be color temperature accuracy. But as you’ve seen, it’s possible to dial them in with a little work.

The CRI is 85 on these lights, which means colors won’t be as faithfully reproduced as with higher CRI sources. But in my experience, 85 is plenty high enough for general documentary use. My guess is that these lights are probably all different. So you will likely have to do your own testing to correct your copy of the light.

Light quality

OK, now that we’ve corrected our color balance, let’s take a look at the light qualitatively. That is, how does it look on a human face?

The closest thing I can compare this light with is a Kino tube. Only, minus all the crap you have to pack around to get the Kino fired up. It produces the same signature shadow as a Kino tube – soft on one axis and sharp on the other. So it’s an interesting mix of hard and soft light.

If you hold the light horizontally above your subject’s forehead, it casts a sharp shadow under their nose – but spreads soft light across their face from left to right.

horizontal

Genaray held horizontally

Flip the light vertical to the subject, and you get soft shadows under the nose and chin, with rapid falloff of light on either side of the face (you also get nasty vertical glare on glasses, which is why they aren’t in the shot below).

vertical

General held vertically

Used as a backlight, above and behind the subject, it spreads the light across head AND shoulders. I prefer this look to a point source.

usedbacklight

Generay LED used as backlight

So to sum it all up: Despite being pretty far off the mark in terms of advertised color temperature, this light can be balanced with a little effort. And it’s effort that will pay off. For the price, you get a lot of light in a tiny package that can be put to work on just about any documentary shoot. Especially for travel, where space and weight are always a consideration, this light is a road warrior’s weapon.

Sound Advice Tour gives filmmakers opportunity to upgrade their audio chops

Werner Herzog was excited. He’d just learned that he was a finalist for a National Science Foundation grant to make a film about Antarctica. But then came the bad news: the other finalist was James Cameron. It costs about $10,000 a day to put a person in Antarctica, so the NSF had a question for the filmmakers: What is the minimum number of crew you need to make the film? Cameron replied that 35 should do it. Herzog pounced. “I need two people,” he said, “and one of them is me.”

Guess who got the gig?

alg-herzog-jpgIn addition to directing Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog assigned himself the job of sound recordist. The film went on to become his first to be nominated for an Oscar.  And it’s no surprise that Herzog, who relishes the “making” part of making movies, chose to wield a microphone instead of a camera. Because sound is the most important part of filmmaking.

Seattle filmmakers will get an opportunity to learn why that is true on May 27, when the Sound Advice Tour rolls into town hosted by legendary Hollywood sound designer Frank Serafine. Designed for filmmakers, editors, and aspiring sound engineers, this all-day workshop will cover techniques and tools to expand your skills and give you a solid foundation in the effective use of audio in all of your projects.

One of Hollywood’s top sound designers, Frank Serafine is an academy award winning sound designer who has created sounds for television shows, video games and major motion pictures, including, Poltergeist and The Hunt for Red October, which earned its sound editing team an Oscar.

IMG_0528_1I had an opportunity to interview Serafine by email recently to learn more about film sound and what filmmakers can expect from the one-day workshop.

Q: The workshop materials state that sound is 70 percent of a movie. How such a big number?

FS: This is something that major directors have been quoted saying, not only me as a supervising sound editor / sound designer. I understand the full importance, drama, atmosphere and psychological impact sound has, even over picture.

Sound is our most prominent sense and it’s omnipresent. We can only see 180 degrees in front of us, but we can hear 360 around. So, it’s really, really important to the success of any film.  Things that can save our life are embedded into our DNA through our hearing sense. For example, if we hear a tiger roar, which we’ve been trained to know a tiger roar. It’s a scary thing, but deep down if you hear that sound in the wild you know danger is lurking. Even if you can’t see it, you know something is wrong. In film sound we trick the listening audience senses into believing in the same way. With the latest sound technology coming into play nowadays we’re really able to trick the senses.  3D surround sound are becoming so sophisticated due to advanced scientific research in reflection and convolution studies, computers can now analyze and visualize the physics of what sound actually does and how the human brain perceives and reacts to it.

IMG_0491 (1)Q: If there is just one thing that a person can do to improve their film audio, what is it?

I would say production audio may be one of the most important parts of learning how to get the best possible sound on the set and in the field. Using a variety of different technologies that are available to us through our new MZed sponsors, Sony, Roland and Rode. Were using the latest location sound field recorders, microphones, boom poles, wireless transmitter/receiver systems, cameras and accessories that help us initially capture the best possible location production sound. The critical thing about good quality production sound is that it carries all the way through the film and an extremely important thing to making your film the best you can from the very beginning. It’s better not to be forced to: “Fix it in Post.”

Q: Why are you taking time out from your busy schedule to share what you know about sound design?

I’ve been an educator throughout my entire career. During the time I worked on the early Star Trek and Tron films and Hunt for Red October,  I was also busy  teaching at the UCLA Extension. I was also hired to write the curriculum, mentored over 1500 students, redesign and run the sound department at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood.  I always enjoyed passing on what I’ve learned from my great mentors, which I think is an important thing to do, otherwise who-else is going it pass on? I really did learn from all the best through out my career, and I’m excited to share all of that with my MZed attendees in 33 cities, throughout the US and Canada this spring.

I also really like Jeff Medford, and what he is doing with MZed. They have been doing advanced film educational tours around the world for a very long time now.  This is their first film sound tour.  With my Sound Advice Tour, not only are we educational, but highly entertaining. I’m using equipment that has never been seen or heard before, and I’ve been training and learning a lot of new things about this gear. I feel like educating people is just another part of my job. It’s what I love to do and something I’ll do the rest of my career, which will be until the last day I’m alive.

Here’s an outline of what will be covered at the workshop:

9:00 AM Introduction 

  • Audio Psychology
  • History of Audio & Film
  • Audio Terms & Lingo

9:30 AM Sound Recording

  • Equipment Introduction

9:45 AM Types of Recording

  • Field, Production, Foley & ADR

10:30 AM Microphone Technology, Options, Placement, Techniques, Types

11:00 AM Recording Challenges 

  • Sealthing, Noise, Ambient, Cloth movement

1:00 PM   Sound Editing

  • Tuning the room, Acoustic Engineering, Setup
  • Dialogue Editing

1:45 PM   Sound Effects

  • Live recording demonstration: Foley, Background, & Hard Effects
  • Sound libraries

2:30 PM  Sound Mixing

3:30 PM  Dealing with Unwanted Sounds

5:00 PM  Sound Design

6:00 PM  Soundtrack

6:30 PM  Sound Inspiration

7:30 PM Wrap-up

Even if you’re primarily a camera person, this will be a killer opportunity to learn the importance of sound and how to solve the problems you’ll encounter in production.

Learn more about the Sound Advice tour and sign up for the $299 workshop.