It has been a while since I've posted much on Cinematography.com so I am excited to get back into it! I have been keeping a professional blog (or at least trying to) in which I detail technical specs and techniques, but it is always great to get feedback on the forum! I hope no one minds that I steal a bit from the blog...
If anyone knows how to embed a Vimeo video, that would be greatly appreciated :)
Just released this week is a music video for Hooray For Earth's single "True Loves". The video was conceptualized and executed by directors Alex Takacs and Joe Nankin aka Young Replicant. The video is completely narrative, showing the journey of a man traveling his mindscape across all types of geographies. Location and costumes were all epic!
Partly the purpose of this post is to provide some feedback on shooting with the AF100. At the time we shot the video (January '11), the AF100 was relatively new on the market, so we were interested in seeing what it was capable of. We had the choice of going with the 7D (which we were all familiar with), but after some simple tests we figured the AF100 would give us what we needed. Initially we considered the camera because we wanted to shoot 60fps at 1080p. Further down the line we realized the video was going to be a bit more run and gun on location, so having the conveniences of a conventional video camera (like built in ND filters) felt like a safer choice for this project.
For anyone unfamiliar with the AF100, you can spend a good deal of time sifting through Phillip Bloom's <a href="http://philipbloom.net/2010/10/19/af100/">review</a>, which does a pretty good job covering all the bases in good detail. However, I hadn't come across much feedback from narrative or music video DP's, so I forward to seeing more work and hearing more experiences surface in the next few months.
I think the easiest way to describe this camera is it being a hybrid between an HVX and DSLR. The menus and on-board controls on this camera are very similar to that of Panasonic's previous prosumer HD cameras. The scene files are all still there, white balance and gain selectors in the same place, and XLR inputs. Nothing too crazy or groundbreaking in that regard. What's new about this camera is that it offers HD-SDI and HDMI (and the HDMI doesn't deactivate the on-board LCD!). Certain menu options have changed for the better, like the ability to reformat cards in Record Mode (so you don't have to toggle to Playback when you insert a new card). But unlike the HVX or other cameras shooting on hard drive, the AF100 takes quite a bit longer to format than you would expect. I never clocked it, but formatting lasted several minutes.
The on-board monitor is set up slightly different than before. Possibly one of the biggest let downs is the focus check that used to be on the HVX, that little button that gives you a pixel-for-pixel display to make sure things are nice and sharp. The AF100 offers the EVF detail, which makes for a pretty ugly image, and a Focus Assist that can be programmed as one of the user keys (there are 3 user keys on the camera). The latter option is similar to the focus assist on the RED ONE; it goes off contrast and highlights the sharp areas in red over a B&W image. What's unfortunate about using this feature on the fly is that it can't really account for the motion blur of a moving object, so it's basically useless if you have to do any real focus pulling on your own. For this shoot we had a Marshall 7" that primarily served as a director's monitor, but certain shots it was definitely needed to pull focus off of.
I can say one of the best additions to this camera is the option to add frame guides. This video was shot in 2.35:1, so it was easy to add those guidelines via the Display Setup. So many times I've had to scotch tape the 7D off a framing chart, which is never as easy as it sounds...
The image sensor on this camera is 4/3", which I was pretty disappointed about when I first heard about the AF100. This camera is meant to compete with the DSLR's, but I think it also caters a bit to the live shooters and ENG style cameramen that don't have a perversion for shallow depth of field. This smaller chip size gives an even tighter crop factor than the 7D, which offered a little bit of confusion at first on choosing lenses for the camera. AbelCine has a really helpful tool that helps visualize the difference in sensor size <a href="http://www.abelcine.com/fov/">here</a>. So we had to account for crop factor and make we were covered for our wide lenses. We shot Zeiss Superspeeds with a custom PL Mount made to fit Panasonic's AF100 mount. Having the Superspeeds really helped us overcompensate and achieve a film-like DOF. We shot wide open mostly and in certain cases having the extra stop saved us from using too big of a lighting package or shooting later in the day. We shot 200iso and in some cases had to bump up to 400iso which gave us quite a bit more noise than I had hoped for. Unfortunately the AF100 doesn't seem to do too well in low light.
Regarding other aspects of the production, this video is definitely a testament to having a good idea, strong locations, wardrobe, etc. I could just about find any frame and it would look beautiful! The directors also had the whole thing story boarded to a T, and we stayed very close to those original frames. Lately a lot of my work has been on a shorter timeframe, so storyboards usually get left in the dust, so it was refreshing to work on a project that had so much forethought put into the visuals.
All the exteriors were naturally lit, with a flex-fill bounce flown in occasionally. Most of the interiors were based off of natural lighting and haze. Only when the sun went down (the bedroom scene in particular) or when we needed to add in occasional backlight did we bring in units. But we were limited to 2x 4'4bank Kinos and 1 2k tungsten fresnel. Because of the contrasty nature of the video, it took a bit of thinking but we were able to get by ok with only those few units. The haze was crucial to filling in the space and providing illumination in the frame. Otherwise, I believe there's just one shot when the hero cracks the rock and a glow is cast on his face. For this we had a bare bulb plugged into a battery and inverter rig that we simply moved closer to his face to "dim" up when we wanted the glowing effect.
As I think I mentioned earlier, this video was fairly low budget and run-and-gun. We "stole" a lot of our locations, so we tried to keep a low profile at all times. We were able to schlep a doorway dolly down to the beach location (El Matador Beach in Malibu), but for a lot of the small lateral dolly moves, we simply used a skateboard on a long piece of wood. It worked surprisingly well! We also relied a lot on a monopod with a weight attached to the bottom to do some faux steadicam moves, although we did have a lightweight steadicam one of the crew members owned. But the monopod was a quick and easy way to get shots, and we were able to go Low Mode just by holding the camera upside-down ...not the safest thing!
The VFX add an incredible amount of production value to this music video. There was a lot of work done in FumeFX (I think that's what its called) and then a good amount of matte painting and composting to create the surreal landscapes. One of the directors and I spent three days color correcting, which is an extremely rare and luxurious amount of time to color usually. I had just finished reading The Color Correction Handbook, so I had a lot of fun experimenting and incorporating some tricks I had learned. I would highly recommend the book to anyone! The general approach was a low contrast look, keeping a theme of purple in the shadows. We tried to give each look some sort of variety while keeping a consistent overall pallet. I've been coloring my own work for a while, so I've come to grow accustomed and liberal with using "power windows" to give shape to the frame. A lot of the EXT shots, especially the hiking shots, appeared flat without any work. So we did our best to provide a little more contrast in these shots by hiding as many power windows as we could. Overall I'm happy with the coloring and would love to go into more detail if anyone is interested.