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TV pilot in Vancouver


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:22 PM

I'm back in Vancouver this week to start work on a pilot, it all came together pretty quickly... I have 9 days of prep and maybe 11 or 12 days of shooting after that, so will be done by the end of February. It's a one-hour drama for Lifetime Channel.

We have to shoot digitally of course. After shooting so many seasons of "Tara" on the Genesis, plus "The Good Wife"pilot, and last year shooting on the M-X Red One for the pilot of "Chicago Code" (premieres early February), I'm looking at getting the Alexa for this pilot, though I loved the M-X Red One. But it will be nice to get to know another digital camera just so I can speak with some personal knowledge about the differences.
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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 02:00 PM

I hope you see the sun once or twice out there David. :)

R,
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 03:41 PM

Yesterday I went over the Clairmont Camera and had a quick intro to the Alexa. The menu system is very easy to use, not that I have to deal with that. I like that I can dial in any color temperature that I want, just like the Red One, though in this case it is baked into the original recording -- I don't personally have a problem with that, it's one less variable to go wrong for dailies. I also like that it has a monitor out and a record out, all of which can have different gamma settings compared to what gets recorded internally to SxS cards. So I can record Log-C in-camera, but send a Rec.709 corrected signal to the onboard monitors, and send a Log signal to the DIT monitor and add a gamma correction there (when using the Cinetal monitor) or just send a simple Rec.709 signal instead to that monitor (like when I'm on a camera car and don't want to mount the 24" Cinetal monitors to it.)

I plan on shooting a DSC chart today in Log-C and taking the shot over to Technicolor to build a LUT for it that I can apply to both the set monitor and to dailies. I could just use the basic Rec.709 LUT that the camera can generate, but I feel it's a bit agressive, I think digital cameras look more film-ish when they are "loggish" in the highlights but "rec.709-ish" in the shadows. In other words, I tend to think of film as being low-contrast in the highlights and higher-contrast in the shadows, but digital is usually the opposite. So if Log-C is like PanaLog and white is 70 IRE and black is almost 10 IRE, whereas Rec.709 is more like 100 IRE for white and 0 IRE for black... I'd probably create a LUT where black was more like 3 IRE and white was closer to 85 IRE or so.

Clairmont tells me of shows where they use something like 10 or 15 LUT's for the show, micromanaging the contrast on almost every scene, but that seems a bit anal-retentive to me... I don't believe in spending time on the set doing post color-correction work, I like to keep things simple.
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#4 John Sprung

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 04:01 PM

Tell us what you think of the dynamic range once you get a chance to test it. I've seen it hold interior and exterior in the same shot, looking out an open door into bright sunlight. Oh, yeah.... That's right, what Richard said.... ;-)






-- J.S.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 01:53 AM

I went over to Clairmont Cameras today and shot a quick test, a shot of a DSC Labs 11-step chart and a face (the attractive receptionist at Clairmont), both in Log-C and in Rec.709. The idea was to take the footage over the Technicolor Vancouver and create a basic Rec.709 LUT that I could apply to the Cinetal monitor on set and to dailies. But I also shot a version with the camera's internal Rec.709 conversion just as a basis of comparison to what I was going to create. I did something similar when I shot the pilot for "The Good Wife" here in Vancouver on the Genesis camera.

While we were shooting, Chris, the tech at Clairmont helping me, grabbed some frames on the Cinetal monitor while I was rolling, a nice tool (I hear the beta firmware upgrade will allow the camera itself to do frame grabs).

Here is a Log-C frame:
Posted Image

Here is an in-camera Rec.709 version:
Posted Image

I reduced both frames by 50% and compressed as JPEG's them for the web, so don't analyze them too seriously... And as for lighting, I just had two 2K Zip lights, one for key and one for fill, pretty crude.

We shot the footage in Apple ProRes 4444, which is what the studio post people asked me to do. 800 ASA / 3200K.

I ended up creating three LUT's from the one test, using my DSC chart but then checking how it looked on the shot of the face. At Technicolor, we found ARRI's Rec.709 in-camera conversion to be a bit yellow and saturated, so our version for Rec.709 display is a bit more neutral. I also made a slightly more contrasty LUT for scenes shot in smoke or really flat weather, and a third LUT just for a few flashback scenes that is slightly desaturated.

What was interesting to me during the shooting of the test was how Log-C looked on a waveform. I'm used to PanaLog, which is a fairly mild Log emulation, where white on an 11-step chart is 70 IRE and black is between 5 to 10 IRE. But Log-C from the Alexa was a lot flatter, I mean, white only hit 60 IRE and black was almost lifted to 20 IRE. I thought maybe the waveform was miscalibrated but it turns out that because of the extended dynamic range of Alexa, it can hold a lot more steps over the white patch on the DSC Labs chart, and more steps of shadow detail as well, hence why the 11-steps of the chart occupied just the center band of the waveform. It's pretty amazing in terms of dynamic range.

The image is also very clean at 800 ASA, and not much noisier at 1600 ASA.

Apple ProRed 4444 is something like 360 Mb/sec, not far below HDCAM-SR's 440 Mb/sec. It looked pretty good in the HD bay at Technicolor. General opinion seems to be that it is close to HDCAM-SR quality, more or less, though the color info and sharpness seems a bit more compressed if you look really hard or are trying to grab a subtle color for a key during color-correction.

It's a bit weird to be shooting in a high-end HD format that you can just play directly on your laptop right off of the SxS cards (well, it played on Chris' new 17" MacBook Pro; my 6-year-old Mac laptop would probably just choke on it...) I was even able to put my Apple ProRes tests on my personal flash memory stick because it only took up about 3G, and took that over to Technicolor for downloading into their system. How times are changing...
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#6 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 05:15 PM

Yesterday I went over the Clairmont Camera and had a quick intro to the Alexa. The menu system is very easy to use, not that I have to deal with that. I like that I can dial in any color temperature that I want, just like the Red One, though in this case it is baked into the original recording -- I don't personally have a problem with that, it's one less variable to go wrong for dailies. I also like that it has a monitor out and a record out, all of which can have different gamma settings compared to what gets recorded internally to SxS cards. So I can record Log-C in-camera, but send a Rec.709 corrected signal to the onboard monitors, and send a Log signal to the DIT monitor and add a gamma correction there (when using the Cinetal monitor) or just send a simple Rec.709 signal instead to that monitor (like when I'm on a camera car and don't want to mount the 24" Cinetal monitors to it.)



So I take it you're not recording to ARRIRAW?
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 07:30 PM

So I take it you're not recording to ARRIRAW?


No reason to for a TV show. Besides, it's not available yet except in beta on some cameras.
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#8 Travis Cline

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 11:02 PM

If you don't mind David, would you explain how you created your second LUT for your overcast and smokey look? Did you do it with the shot of the Clairmont girl or through IRE numbers only? Also, thank you for sharing info about the Alexa, I keep having projects start with it and then we end up shooting 35mm for one reason or another, so I have not gotten to use it yet.

Travis
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 12:49 AM

If you don't mind David, would you explain how you created your second LUT for your overcast and smokey look? Did you do it with the shot of the Clairmont girl or through IRE numbers only? Also, thank you for sharing info about the Alexa, I keep having projects start with it and then we end up shooting 35mm for one reason or another, so I have not gotten to use it yet.

Travis


You're lucky if you keep ending up shooting on 35mm film!

I created the first "normal" LUT by looking at the chart then checking it on the girl's face and comparing it to ARRI's own Rec.709 version (which seemed a bit yellow and the blacks were slightly being crushed, and it was a bit oversaturated). Then I created the second LUT just by adding a bit more contrast and saturation to the girl's face (for scenes with smoke, etc.) and then checking that against the chart -- and everything was checked against the waveform.

I did a lot of A & B switching every time I made an adjustment.
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#10 Travis Cline

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 10:52 PM

I know, it's weird, but no complaints from me. Thanks for the explanation.


Travis
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 04:10 PM

Well, three days done so far... I have to say that I've been really impressed with the Alexa, mainly because it's so simple to use and it has worked flawlessly. Shooting at 800 ASA has been great, and the night work at 1600 ASA looks great, the dynamic range is amazing, totally film-like whether it is actually a stop short of that or not. Post seems to have no problems processing the Apple ProRes 4444 footage for dailies and there is no difference between how the footage looks on the set and how the dailies come out once I apply the same LUT to both, ignoring the monitor differences. Shooting on SxS cards keeps the camera light and less cluttered, we go into Steadicam and handheld mode pretty quickly, etc.

It's a very well thought-out camera.

Not sure I'd be happy going back to 1080P for feature work again, but for TV work, this is probably the best 1080P camera out there both for the look of the image and for the efficiency of shooting. And women look good on it, which is important. It doesn't have that crispy, edgy look of the F35/Genesis. Now maybe some would say that that means it's softer, but I feel that it means that they got the balance of the OLPF and the sensor right because moire has not been much of an issue on set with wardrobe and furniture so far. I also have to say that I was pretty happy last year when shooting on the M-X Red One for "Chicago Code", and for a 1080P finish, I think both cameras deliver similar results, though perhaps the Alexa seems to reproduce colors a bit more naturally in tungsten-balance and I don't get the exaggerated green spike from Kinos as I do with the Red One... but I'm splitting hairs here, both cameras create a good 1080P image (and only one can get above 2K of course). And part of that color issue is really just monitoring on set with a live debayered signal, obviously the Red One footage is better-looking once it goes through the proper transcoding step in post. But the Alexa "feels" a bit quicker to set-up and use on the set and so far, 1080P monitoring is great, and I haven't stumbled into any bugs. Now of course one reason is that it isn't the Swiss Army knife that a Red One is, so there are fewer things to go wrong, so we'll see what happens once more features are enabled. Playback would be nice, for example.

I like the CC Magenta / Green shift that one can input next to the ASA rating.

Right now I'd have to say that I'd pick an Alexa for TV work and an M-X Red One for feature work, so it would be nice for ARRI to start working on that 4K Alexa... because resolution seems to be the main limiting factor if one doesn't want to be stuck with a 2K/1080P image. I know that practically, most feature work is still in that range, but more and more studios are mastering and archiving in 4K and eventually it's going to be the cinema standard for origination.
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#12 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 07:42 AM

David, will you be shooting anywhere near the Granville St. bridge? That's a nice looking location! Actually, that bridge was the very first thing that I photographed after I arrived in Vancouver. It was bathed in beautiful late afternoon light and I had a 75-300mm zoom with Canon AE1 mounted to a tripod, aimed at the bridge. A young woman came up and asked to look through my camera's viewfinder and I said "Yea." Canadian women rock!

Edited by Patrick Cooper, 19 September 2011 - 07:46 AM.

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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 09:06 PM

That shoot was back in February... no, we didn't shoot on the bridge itself, just Granville Blvd. for some night car interior work... but one night back at the hotel, I ran into a director I know who was doing an episode of "The Killing" there and he had just shot at night on Granville Bridge.
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#14 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 02:20 PM

So glad Canada generously lets US DOPs come and work in Canada so easily.

Too bad the US government does not have the courtesy to reciprocate. :(

R,
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#15 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 07:03 PM

So glad Canada generously lets US DOPs come and work in Canada so easily.

Too bad the US government does not have the courtesy to reciprocate. :(

R,


So you're saying if a Canadian pilot were to shoot in the US using US crew and facilities the US govt wouldn't allow them to hire a Canadian DoP? If so that's pretty messed up.
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#16 Richard Boddington

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 09:22 AM

So you're saying if a Canadian pilot were to shoot in the US using US crew and facilities the US govt wouldn't allow them to hire a Canadian DoP? If so that's pretty messed up.


Yep, a Canadian "anything" in film will not get a work permit to work in the USA. The policy is simply, "we have plenty of people in the USA that can do that work, hire one of them."

Especially now with high unemployment in the USA and US film unions that have a perception that productions are "running away" to Canada.

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#17 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 12:02 PM

Try being from the country that civilised half the planet.

Thus half the planet has heredity visa rights here.

Garrrr.

P
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#18 Richard Boddington

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 07:30 PM

Try being from the country that civilised half the planet.

Thus half the planet has heredity visa rights here.

Garrrr.

P


Yes, it is kind of funny Phil how India is now colonizing the UK. :D

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