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ACing for digital shoots- advice


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#1 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 18 July 2008 - 05:32 PM

Hey there,

Firstly, my intention here is to NOT start a debate about film vs. digital- I think there are enough of those threads in the main forum! I'm just looking for some advice about ACing for digital cameras.

I'm starting out as an AC and have done some 35mm, 16mm, and some minor digital stuff. Most of the advice I've been given and books I have read pertain specifically to working with film. Even Doug Hart's awesome book only sort of mentions video (and don't get him started on taps!) but doesn't really talk about ACing for video cameras.

I know alot of the techniques translate over to the digital world, and the ultimate goal of the AC remains the same: build, maintain, protect the camera and accessories, and pull focus.

But what about all that paperwork? Camera reports and film inventory are pretty film-centric. How do you label 'camera rolls' in a tapeless environment? Also, how important is measuring focus is you have an HD monitor to look at?

Could some of the ACs who work often in digital share their experiences and techniques?

Cheers!
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#2 David Regan

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Posted 18 July 2008 - 07:39 PM

I don't have a huge amount of experience as an AC for digital, but with regards to your question on labeling 'rolls' in a tapeless environment, I would still say that organization is still critical and can be maintained.

Considering cameras like the RED or P2 cameras that generate files for each clip recorded, I have always tried to maintain very careful organization of the clips on different backup hard drives. Everyone will have their own methods, I typically create folders for each day of shooting, and within them place folders of my 'reels' sequentially from Day 1 of shooting. With P2 cards this comes down to being Card1 Card2 etc...whereas with the RED the camera has its own organization system to name files for you. O

Whatever the case I would caution against just dumping drives/cards on a computer and leaving it be for an editor to handle, I've seen media erased and copied over because people got files mixed up and thought they had copied things they hadn't.

Personally data stored on hard drives terrifies me, so I like to see master/raw footage backed up on 2 or 3 drives before I erase anything.
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#3 Michael Collier

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Posted 18 July 2008 - 09:28 PM

I just got done working on a red project, and though I was in the G&E dept. I did take time to observe the ACs work flow. From what I can tell, the job was no different than AC for film.

Instead of loading mags and threading film, the AC would either attach the HDD or the CF according to the DPs request, they would format the drive and set the roll number on the camera. (on the red you can set a roll number and camera letter, so the file name and metadata reflects the roll/cam for editors ease)

Then once either a drive was full, or they decided to download the footage to a laptop for backups, they would change the roll number.

As far as focus, the AC still took measurements and marks, though probably not as many as if it were a film pull. The DP on this show was fond of keeping the appeture around a 2.8, so he didn't have a whole lot of wiggle room. Most times he measured set t-marks and pulled from those like normal.

In certain situations he would pull from the monitor, but with director, producer, scripty and everyone esle staring at the monitor, it looked like that was the less preferable option. Also I think, as a good first AC should, he wanted to be close to the operator during takes, especially during handheld shots so he could take the cam between takes. During steadycam shots obviously the monitor is now SD after a downconvert, and after the wireless link, it would be impossible to pull from.

As far as the onboard monitor pulls, It seemed as though the AC was pulling by marks and glancing at the OB occasionally to check. To my eyes that monitor was too small to judge soft focus, so you'd have to be way off to notice on the monitor.
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#4 Michael Belanger

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Posted 18 July 2008 - 09:40 PM

I can give you my take on file/asset management. I was a media manager on one of the early features shot with the HVX-200 and P2 cards (unforunately never release). I was also a consultant on "Sex and Breakfast" which also shot on the 200.

I number each blank card heading to the camera crew sequentially with the date of shoot and an incrementing serial number. If we shot today, the cards would be numbered:

20080718-01
20080718-02
20080718-03
etc.

The cards arrive at the camera in their cases with this number on camera tape on the outside of the box. The box also has a letter (A,B,C, etc) that matches the permanent letter on the card itself. The card is shot and returned to media management.

I download the complete data from each card into a pre-created folder. The folder names match the card numbers above. Once the data is downloaded I lock the folder and change it's labeling color to red so I know that data is not to be touched.

I do this on 2 separate external drives. The first one is the "negative" drive and the second is "negative backup". The term "negative" simply indicates that this is the raw MXF data from the camera. These two copies can be run simultaneously by the way. Drag the contents of the card into the first drives folder, then do it again to the second drive and it will download to both at once with only a 20% time overhead on P2 cards.

After that I import the footage into FCP, storing the resulting Quicktime files on a third drive, the "workprint."

Once I've confirmed that the file sizes of data on both negative drives match and do a quick check of the footage in FCP, I erase the contents from the P2 card, remove the old label from the card box, write a new label with the next sequential number from my log sheet, note the download, etc and then send the card back to the camera crew.

At the end of each day of shooting the two negative drives as split up and go to separte locations. Typically I would leave one on-set in the media management office with the workprint drive and the second would come home with me.

This is a fairly methodical and detail oriented procedure for me so I like to be off-set and away from distractions as I do it. On the feature I was lucky enough to be at a single location the entire time with a private area for media managment.

The script supervisor would note my card numbers as the reel numbers by the way. I believe they were on the camera slate as well so it all works out perfectly. Just treat each new card heading back to the camera like a completely new entity even though physically it's being re-used.

I'm now shooting with an EX1 and the proceedure is pretty much the same.
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#5 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 18 July 2008 - 10:41 PM

Thanks for the advice so far. What about camera reports? Are they considered necessary for digital shoots? If so, are there any good forms out there?
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#6 Scott Dolan

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 05:34 AM

Also, how important is measuring focus is you have an HD monitor to look at?



A good AC will always work from marks and measuring where possible. And with the new HD systems and higher-res monitors it is also very fast to use the VF and onboard for eye focus, in conjunction with marks.
Although sometimes pulling from the monitor is the safest option (in extreme long lens or shallow DOF situations). But it's wise not to develop bad habits. Try to always be conscious of your DOF and where you are shifting it when you pull focus.

Thanks for the advice so far. What about camera reports? Are they considered necessary for digital shoots? If so, are there any good forms out there?



I find the old film sheets are still fine for the Digiworld. Instead of the film counter you write the end TC of the take etc. Just adapt all boxes to suit whatever format you are shooting.
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