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Simulated Night Vision


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#1 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:48 PM

I've got a feature coming up and some script revisions just came my way that now include a couple of sequences that feature the "Night-Vision" mode/look you find on camcorders, handy-cams, etc.

While I'm discussing actually shooting those sequences on a handy-cam of some sort, I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions/tips/horror stories of other devices or techniques to simulate this on another format - we're shooting the feature on a RED if that makes a difference.

I've been doing some reading on image intensifiers and wondering if people have any thoughts on those? I'm also looking into post options, but am skeptical that the effect can be recreated purely in post.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts!
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#2 Jim Keller

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:54 PM

I've never done this, but most consumer cameras' night-vision works by having a near-infrared lamp on the camera, which the red chip is sensitive too. When in "night vision" mode, the camera is actually just taking the red information as grayscale, and adding a gradient map (usually green) to it. Therefore, lighting the scene with a single red source close to the camera, dropping to monotone, and adding a green gradient map in post should give you a very similar effect, but at the higher quality you expect from your Red instead of the poor consumer quality.

At least, in theory...
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#3 Mike Thorn

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 05:03 PM

While I'm discussing actually shooting those sequences on a handy-cam of some sort, I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions/tips/horror stories of other devices or techniques to simulate this on another format - we're shooting the feature on a RED if that makes a difference.

Why not put RED's notorious IR issues to work for you?

Slap a bunch of ND on it, and light with IR LED's. It'll give you about the same look and way, way better quality than a handycam. The components are cheap and anyone with half a year of electrical engineering could build it for you.

Didn't Chromatte have a product like this at one time?
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#4 Tim Carroll

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 05:08 PM

I've got a feature coming up and some script revisions just came my way that now include a couple of sequences that feature the "Night-Vision" mode/look you find on camcorders, handy-cams, etc.

While I'm discussing actually shooting those sequences on a handy-cam of some sort, I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions/tips/horror stories of other devices or techniques to simulate this on another format - we're shooting the feature on a RED if that makes a difference.

I've been doing some reading on image intensifiers and wondering if people have any thoughts on those? I'm also looking into post options, but am skeptical that the effect can be recreated purely in post.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts!


I've heard there is a RED camera that RED set up to shoot InfraRed, you ought to give them a call. It sounds like just the thing for your feature. It is a specific model of the RED ONE, RED has a different nameplate badge on the side of the camera that indicates it's different from the standard model. And it is set up to shoot InfraRed.

Best,
-Tim
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#5 John Sprung

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 05:31 PM

Slap a bunch of ND on it,


Yup, like 3.6 or so -- but be sure to get the old kind not the hot mirror ND. Light it with tungsten or tungsten/halogen, there's plenty of IR to be had from those, or even ordinary light bulbs.

In post, take the red channel only, crank it way up, and put the data in the green channel only.





-- J.S.
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#6 Michael Collier

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 05:41 PM

You could try building an LED IR light near the camera lens to see if you can get the typical 'cat eyes' where the retina reflect the IR and show up as a light dot. That to me would sell night vision mode better than any post effect, but you would have to test it. I think you would have to use IR LEDs just because they won't put out much light that will register on the skin tones, but would be very visible on the retina. Something to try anyway.
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#7 Keith Walters

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 08:21 PM

I've got a feature coming up and some script revisions just came my way that now include a couple of sequences that feature the "Night-Vision" mode/look you find on camcorders, handy-cams, etc.

While I'm discussing actually shooting those sequences on a handy-cam of some sort, I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions/tips/horror stories of other devices or techniques to simulate this on another format - we're shooting the feature on a RED if that makes a difference.

I've been doing some reading on image intensifiers and wondering if people have any thoughts on those? I'm also looking into post options, but am skeptical that the effect can be recreated purely in post.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts!

First of all, I think people have been overstating the IR problem with the RED. It does have an IR filter, which works fine most of the time. The problems arise when it's expected to cope with an abnormally large percentage of IR mixed in with the visible light, which is what happens when you use old-fashioned ND filters. Unless its IR filter is actually removed, it's not going to make a terribly efficient IR camera.

If you want something that looks like the "nightshot plus" effect you get with Sony Handycams you can't really beat using just Sony Handycam with nightshot plus!
You can read a bit about that here if you haven't already done so.

If you get one of the older models that use miniDV or Digital-8 tape, and you transfer the images as a DV-AVI file into a PC using a FireWire connection, you will be amazed at how good the quality can be. People's generally poor impressions of consumer cameras often come from the practice of feeding analog composite video into high-end editing systems. Most of the more recent tape handycams also had a 16x9 widescreen setting so it's pretty compatible with cinematography.

MiniDV/Digital-8 are cut-down versions of the professional DV format, and so they are more like Motion JPEG which means each frame is a like a separate JPEG still. Later cameras using hard disks or memory cards use MPEG compression which is OK for single-generation playback, but not very edit-friendly. (Tape-based consumer HD cameras also use MPEG compression, so they may not scrub up so well either).

One great advantage of using a handycam is that you can experiment with it as much as you like without running up any major costs. Plugging the S-video output into a 42" or so flat-panel TV will give you a pretty good idea of how it will look on a cinema screen.

Regarding the IR "look" there is no substitute for the real thing. In total darkness the irises of people's and animals' eyes open up wide, particularly so with children and people under 25 or so. If you want to create a "walking dead" look, nothing looks much creepier than a teenaged actor under total IR with a blank expression and a bit of dirt wiped on his/her face :D . You simply can't get the same look with Post Production.

In practice shooting on a totally dark set is problematic, so you have to allow a tiny small amount of visible light so people can see what they're doing, but the actors still have to be allowed time for their eyes to get accustomed to the dark, or have them wear blindfolds between takes.

As for IR light sources, ordinary photographic film which has been been over-exposed to black and then processed in the normal way is completely transparent to infrared, just like the test tube of ink shown in the link above. With any luck you might be able to scrounge a couple of rolls of blackened junk stock from a film processing lab and make some IR filters out of it for ordinary halogen studio floodlights.
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Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

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Aerial Filmworks

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Wooden Camera

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