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Work Log: Speed – My favorite setup for Run N Gun.

Sometimes the dreaded words on a phone call from a producer are “Run n Gun”.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with the style, but it usually means your job as DP becomes making order from chaos.  It can be documentary, event coverage, or produced commercial “spontaneity”.   The last thing you need is your equipment getting in the way.  The K.I.S.S. principal comes into play, Keep It Simple Stupid.  I have been over the years building up a perfect speed setup for my needs.   It can be expanded to pretty much any camera in the medium to small size.   Epic, Scarlet, C300, BlackMagic or F3/5, but i usually use the Epic and here is why.

You need to address three simple factors.   Light control, Mobility and flexibility in imaging/delivery.   Meaning, each component of the trifecta must encompass a broad range of uses.

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Speed is a by product of light weight and small size.  90% of the time im using my RED epic with an Atomos Samurai Blade, with some light Canon zooms and a good quality tripod.  I use a Cartoni Focus HD head, with Carbon Fiber Induro legs.   Being able to move fast usually means no time for matte boxes or standard filters, so I go with variable ND from LightCraft. These are high quality variable ND with minimal green cast.   I really like these filters, as most daylight situations require a rather wide range of ND.  They provide 2-8stops of ND, and come in the two sizes most useful for Canon zooms,  77mm and 82mm.  This helps me significantly, I believe in holding one Fstop and ISO throughout a production to keep the feel of the image the same.   I can dial in the exposure in wild environments to precisely what i need, without touching the rest of the camera settings.

IMAG0491My Light Craft Variable ND in Action with a Black Magic Pocket Camera setup.  Director Randy Scott Slavin taking a look at a frame.

The epic gives me the flexibility of framerates, small size, and while i’m recording to Prores for a quick delivery, the RAW is still there for high framerate shots, and double backup on the footage.  I have 2x 230wHr Global Media Pro batteries and 2x 96wHr GMP batteries.  The 230’s are more than enough to power the RED and Atomos Recorder for 4 hours alone.  Between the four batteries, im getting almost 10-11 hours of constant runtime.  So in essence I carry,  4 batteries, 4 lenses: Tokina 11-16, Canon 16-35 L, Canon 24-105 IS L and canon 70-200 IS L.  They all fit neatly in a Tenba Roadie Backpack including the camera. (the Roadie is the most durable soft bag i’ve ever had, seriously its awesome).    I am covered from 11-200mm, not counting the additional push of dropping to 3K on the epic to extend the 200mm even further to approximately the FOV of a 280mm.  This is the essence of Run n’ Gun.   Be ready for anything.  That said, I am becoming a fan of the Black Magic Pocket Camera with the Metabones Speed booster.   Its really quite good for small shoots.  When using the Metabones Adapter, nearly S35 FOV, a 1/2 stop Light bonus, 13 stops dynamic range, and extraordinarily lightweight, almost to a fault. (You can see the setup I used for a corporate video above.)

The tripod is very important.   The reason I went with the Induro CF series is that not only are they strong, light and good quality, but they are NOT expensive. Especially considering the materials used.   From a business standpoint, building a lightweight setup is a black hole of cash flow.   It means repurchasing a lot of stuff in a smaller package.  A good used Cartoni head in decent shape is only about $250, and the Induro legs about $469.  Consider its competition: The miller CF legs, are over $1000 for something similar ( though understandably has more features).  Even the Manfrotto 504HD package, is about $717 from a very popular online retailer.   The name of the game is getting something reliable that will get the job done, and keeping costs down.  For me thats the Induro/Cartoni combo.  All the weight savings and fluid head performance at half the price.  It won’t go as tall as the Millers, but for 99% of my shooting its tall enough.  My studio tripod is an O’connor Fluid head with Ronford Baker two stage medium duty legs and spreader.  It weighs about 45lbs by itself with no camera.  Not practical for running around, nor was it cheap, so a lighter configuration means getting most of the performance of the heavy duty stuff, while keeping the business account intact.

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As you can see, a studio setup is not ideal for mobility.

There is no right or wrong.   I’m sure there are some folks who think I’m crazy shooting a run n’ gun with this configuration, but I find it rides the line between quality and speed perfectly for my work.  Hey, if I need to go faster, there is always the Black Magic Pocket Camera.

Thank you for reading,

until next time!

-T

Follow me on Twitter @TimurCivan for the latest!

 Up next…. A review of the RED Dragon.  ( as soon as it gets shipped back to me from RED) This one i’m excited about!

 

 

 

Cinematography as Art and the Complexity of Less

Welcome back to Tstops!

As many of you may or may not know, I used to be a fine artist.  A sculptor to be exact.  Before I started in the field of the moving image, I made sculptures and drawings, then sold them in galleries.   I was in love with making the work.  Every material I came across, man made or natural was a language in form, shape, color, composition and space.  This all started pretty early, around age 13, I picked up a pen, and just started creating images.  I always saw pictures, I think visually, almost to a fault.  If I can’t see something, I will imagine it until it makes sense to me.   This has always been the case, in elementary school, getting failing grades in math, only to receive perfect scores in geometry sections.  I can see the geometry, and its components and mechanisms make sense to me as clear as day.  I couldn’t understand why other students had trouble in geometry, while they excelled at arithmetic.   I had to adapt, I imagined the numbers in my head as shapes and units, and did my division and multiplication there.  What I didn’t realise, is that I had been conditioning my self, since early childhood to see things in a different way.   I thought I was odd, my teachers felt I had trouble focusing or that I was day dreaming.  No.  I was converting the world to pictures so I could understand it in terms that made sense to me.  My history classes were detailed movies in my head, with the actions and dialogue playing out in realtime.   My science classes (which I loved and excelled at) consisted of visualising cells, organ functions, chemistry reacting and physics playing out in my head space.   I had been secretly training to be an artist, cinematographer my whole life without knowing it.   Looking at the world differently, and seeing not what is there, but what could be there.  What’s funny is, while I was picturing these things, I automatically made them as beautiful as I could.  This just happened by default.

This in essence is what cinematography is.  You read a script and make an image come to life.  However, unlike a director, who makes the action happen, the DP gets the fun job of creating the feeling and mood around the actions.  This is a very intangible and difficult terrain to negotiate.  This is the return of the concept of “what could be there”.   There is no right or wrong way of achieving an image, but art is all about intention and invention.  When I attended NYU, for Studio Art ( I did not go to film school), the one thing that was drilled into us was that everything matters.  Every color, every line, every shape and every brush stroke. (Big thank you to my teacher Jesse Bransford! for kicking my butt about this)  The reason being, you know, as the creator, that the tiny imperfection is meaningless to the core idea of the piece.  In a weird way, after staring at a canvas or sculpture long enough you actually become blind to those things.  Your eyes adjust and write off the tiny imperfections.  The viewer will not.  With contemporary art, every square millimeter counts.   This is how I try my hardest to approach cinematography.   With the unforgiving eye of a viewer.   This makes the job a lot harder.  You have to balance speed, coverage, and quality against your own standards.  I feel this is the only path to take.  “Measure twice, cut once” as my father used to say.  This forces you to make decisions.   Decisions are important.   Decision, on set, is another word for some kind of limitation.   Limits are where great art is created.  It breeds creativity and wit.   I wondered, why some super famous directors work seemed to suffer over the years.  Their first 10 films being amazing, with their last 5 being mediocre.   I think the problem is that having the great success and the budgets and resources that go along with it, they no longer have any limits as compared to their beginnings.  They can create exactly what they (think they) want; even force it to happen digitally with VFX.  This lack of pause, and re-examination of the scene is detrimental.   This applies to any art.  More often than not, cutting the complex shot short, leads to a more elegant solution.  This forces you to examine what’s really happening with the story.  Think about it.  If you told a story to a friend, and described everything in detail, the story would come across as flat or unfunny.   Its the WAY you tell the story, the parts you leave out, the parts you embellish, that add the humor and engaging qualities.   Its the decisions you make on the fly and the punchlines you build that get the point across in an entertaining way.

This is why I like limits when making decisions.  I was never a fan of the post heavy cinematography that has fallen into vogue as of late.  Not because there is anything wrong with post color, stabilization, or reframing, but because it removes the human element from the story.   Its like going back half way through a joke and retelling a part because you didn’t tell it right the first time.  Subconsciously it comes across as forced.  Shooting for the look you want means crafting an image from scratch and trusting in your images.  Take a moment, get the joke right and don’t be afraid to be funny the first time!

In cinema, telling a story with a camera is a balancing act of beauty, utility and thrift.   The beauty is obvious.  Utility means actually getting functioning parts to tell the story… but then there is “thrift”.  This is the part that comes from you.  How do you accomplish a shot? How can you maximise what’s happening on the precious real estate of the screen to give the audience the maximum amount of information without being obvious.  Cinema is not a stage play.  You have the luxury of guiding the audiences focus to elements that have the most impact.  Yet, as an artist, you can also create elements that emphasize what the scene is about.  The amazing Roger Deakins is the master of this. This one scene from No Country for Old Men, in my opinion the finest cinematography of the last decade, illustrates the balance between, setting mood, creating elements and creating metaphor.  Please watch this clip.

What deakins did here is the script calls for the antagonist, Anton Chigur, to be hiding in the hotel room.  However when he enters, like a ghost the room is empty.  Chigur WAS in the room…  after all, they both stare at the empty deadbolt slot in the door, and they both saw each others reflections…   How did deakins create the feeling that Chigur is like a ghost, without being obvious.  His elegant solution is that when the door finally opens, Tommy Lee Jones’ character casts two distinct shadows on the wall.  There ARE two men in the room… its just that one of them is a shadow.  This kind of layered meaning, is what I mean by thrift.  There is so much information conveyed by this sequence of shots, thats not only gorgeous, but cuts like butter and without dialogue, but still tells the story.  That is the mark of an artist.

Less is more. This is specifically what I mean by intention, limits, and decision making.  The scene could have gone many different ways…  There could have been shots showing Chigur, actually hiding in a different room searching for the drug money and escaping with Tommy lee Jones’ character in the background.  That would have served the story as well… But it would have been obvious, and reduced the mystery of who Chigur is.   The decision to light and shoot the scene in this way is pure genius.  It develops character and moves the story along without the need to be cluttered or complex.  I cannot think of how it could have been done better.

In conclusion, I strive to make the shot speak as much as the actors.  Its not easy, but the artist in me won’t let it be any other way.

Thank you for reading.

-Timur

Follow me on Twitter: @timurcivan

 

 

 

 

Work Log: When Commercials get longer than :30….

Last year I teamed up with Chapter Media and Director Corydon Wagner to shoot a piece for Emblem Health, a health insurance company.  This was unlike most actual on air commercials as it tailored to a specific audience, mainly hospital administrators and care providers.   This means it was really more of an industrial or Corporate video, but specifically with the quality of a commercial.   How do you make 5 minutes look that good? Lots of work, a ton of planning and using the deep well of knowledge AKA the bag of tricks. This was a fun shoot because we shot so many different styles in one piece, slick clean commercial aesthetic, dramatic narrative style, and even a bit if clinical gritty hospital drama look.

Here is a bit of BTS from the 3 day shoot, with the final piece below that.

And the Final piece:

This felt way more like a short film than a commercial or industrial.   We had to work in a narrative manner to make sure we kept up the quality and speed.  Normally on a :30 second spot, you have 2 days to make every moment perfect, for only a few seconds of final material.   In this case we have to maintain perfection or as close to it as possible for the duration of the whole 5 minute video.

 

We shot on RED epic with Cooke Minis4 lenses, and I had a 5 ton G/E package.  Biggest light was a 6K HMI Par, but we didn’t pull that out. ( that said i was happy it was on standby, cause if we needed it, it would have been a life saver)

Here is a brief breakdown of some of my favorite scenes and the lighting:

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This long dolly shot was initially supposed to play out as a 1 take wonder, starting in the wide and having the nurse wipe the frame and move into the two shot closeup.   My Key Grip Tank Rivara had me on a Matthews Dolley in free wheel mode, simply because the move was so long, and curved eventually.  The floors of the hospital are so smooth, that track was for the most part unnecessary.    In the final edit it was cut up for the sake of time, but it was a luxury to be able to go 360 on a wheeled dolley with no bumps.

The light setup was a follows:

photo (6)

I had an overhead rig built with two kinos pointing straight down, both bagged in silk together to diffuse the light even further.  This acted as the main “light” in the room. Mimicing the natural feel of a hospital room, while controlling the color and feel.  Initially the client wanted the room to feel greenish and authentic as seen in the BTS video, but this decision was changed later on.  Luckily the greenish tint in the RAW footage, was just metadata, and was easily removed in Resolve.  The First subject, the Man, seated on the bed, was mostly lit by the top light, with an eye light special, just for him hung over the door of the entrance to the room.  The “wife” was lit by the top light as well, but as she was behind it, I added a slight frame left key, to help bring up her eyes and act as a beauty fill.

 

The Next Setup, My favorite, was the breakfast scene:

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This is pretty straight forward but utilized some of my favorite tools, the 4K HMI and Muslin 6X6 Rags.

I had a single wide beam 4K blasting in through the window, providing a near silhouette of the subject, however I took 2 6×6 muslin rags and had them arranged in  a V,  just outside the frame to catch the harsh light and provide a soft ambient fill.    The setup was simple, and with some simple camera movement, and a couple lens changes, we got a great look.

Here is the Diagram:

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I hope you enjoyed this.

Till next time…..

-Timur

Follow me on Twitter for updates on Cinematography and great gear: @timurcivan

An Examination of: The RED DRAGON – Initial impressions

I don’t think there is a product out there in the digital cinema world that is quite as controversial as the Dragon sensor upgrade from RED.  In this brief review i’m going to go over the actual experience I had using the new sensor.  I do own an epic, no im not paid by RED.  Lets make that clear.  I will be doing a proper full test soon of the Dragon, but for now I want to talk about how it is to actually use.

 

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I DPed a music video, on Dave Kruta’s anamorphic lomos, with the  Diamond Bros dragon upgraded Epic-M.  Truth is, the camera is actually pretty impressive.  The funny thing is, when I first fired up the camera, I noted: it looks great, nice dynamic range, at ISO 2000 the recommended native ISO, it was performing very well. Beautiful highlight rendition, crisp and clean blacks, tons of tonality.   But it didn’t make me say, “OH MY GOD!!!!!”  The day progressed nicely, and for an insert shot I had my Epic M- MX on stand by with a EF mount and a macro lens for the extreme close up work.  Thats when i realised the difference.   I thought my MX was broken….  It just looked …. old.  Its a funny thing with technology, you don’t notice an improvement  as being that huge until you take a step backwards in generation.  I love the current MX, but I just met its successful, smarter, hotter, younger sister.  The difference was significant and purely in image.   The image QUALITY is there….  The creaminess of the Alexa with the grainlessness of the Sony F series.  The color rendition has improved significantly, but the current dragon is still running RedColor3.  I wont make a judgment till its on RC4.   Even Tom Wong IATSE 600 DIT, the pickiest of the pickiest perfection obsessed image technicians you will ever run into on set said (and i quote) “It looks pretty good man…”.  (Thats a Rave review  from him by the way.)  The biggest improvements are in the lower mid tones, and the highlights.   The muddiness is gone.   You can shoot dark and still get rich subtle color on skin tones.  This has to do with the biggest spec upgrades in my opinion, the true 16bit files and new far more efficient REDCODE compression.   If RED should get accolades for anything on this update its the new compression. You just don’t see artifacts.  Compression wise 12:1 looks like 5:1,  and 17:1 looks like 10:1 .  Not that you should shoot that way, but it means that the lower compression schemes, like 3:1, 4:1 and 5:1 will behave like uncompressed.   Thats a good thing.

I had no way of measuring on set its actual dynamic range, but it is quite impressive, and like an F65, you can’t see all of it at once, even in RedLogFilm. There is just so much in the file.  This is a huge positive, because not only did its dynamic range kick the hell out of the MX, but it did it at ISO250.  The former “no no” of MX land is now a full and complete working stop.   It still has 13+ stops dynamic range at this “low” ISO.  On the MX, shooting at ISO 250 ment almost no highlight retention, something like 9 stops range below mid grey, and 3 above. On Dragon, it just looks great. You have to work hard to clip this chip.     This means working with bigger lights, with less ND is possible.   Folks forget that “film look” is mostly big lighting units.   Its hard to use big lights on a MX because it needs to sit at ISO 800 to have an even split on the dynamic range, this means lots of ND, which leads to all kinds of color shifts, IR contamination and things like that. IR cut filters make the image green, and muck up the balance.   Much better to shoot with a natively lower ISO.  This is the case with the F65/55 as well. Its spotless at ISO 2000,  but it looks awesome when dropped down low.   Really the only camera I can compare the dragon to is the F65.  The Alexa is in the ball park, but the resolution is a factor here too.   This is what gives it it’s absolutely spotless feel.   The down sampling cleans up the grain.   This is the same with the F65, its an “8K” chip that records 4K.   The Dragon should be used as a 6K capture, 4K delivery camera.   Should you choose to down sample to 1080, be prepared for a completely spotless image up to about ISO2000.  @ISO 250, its spotlessness is only comparable to the Sony F3 at -6dB.  Yea… that clean; if you don’t know what that looks like, if the subject isn’t moving it mind as well be a still image.

 

Over all, initial impression is that its stunning. But that “Oh My God!!” factor creeps up on you, it isn’t immediately noticeable until you start realising that you are not using any net to cut highlights, or don’t need to add fill to see in the shadows…  it just looks beautiful.

 

Thats it for now, i will do a thorough write up when the music video is out, with workflow, lighting and a more detailed experience with the camera.

 

Thanks for Reading.

Follow me on Twitter for all the latest updates to my blog: @timurcivan

 

 

Work Log: Genesis and the Artist: Paint, Water, 3D, HFR and Slomotion

Welcome,

In this installment of Tstops I’m going to discuss a very special project I worked on this past year.  It has finally started its festival circuit and a BTS trailer has been released.  The project: Genesis, Directed by my good friend Noah Shulman, features a very special concept by the artist and collaborator Ion Popian.  Technically speaking “Genesis” is the first 3D HFR short film in existence. I am proud to be a part of it.

Essentially Ion, an architect and artist, turned his cameras lens on the organic forms of ink and water capturing beautiful stills.  Noah, approached Ion, and together they conceptualized a phenomenal idea, shooting the organic forms in 3D.  Not just any 3D, but high frame rate 3D (HFR).  Not just any HFR 3D, but slomotion HFR 3D…..  Its complicated but the results are simply stunning.

 

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Noah approached me about this project last February, and I immediately signed on.   The chance to shoot a 3D short, in HFR no less has been incredibly fascinating to me.  To help get this project off the ground Noah reached out to 3D producer Dimitris Athos, a veteran digital 3D producer who knows the whos who in the 3D world.   The 3D world is a bit different than the standard film industry as its a blossoming technology, and the trade secrets are a plenty.  To get a project like this off the ground, you need to “Know a guy….”  if you catch my drift.  Dimitris is our guy!

In order to physically shoot 3D you need many things. The first and foremost, more important than the cameras, lenses, and 3D rig is a knowledgeable stereographer.   Dimitri using his magic, secured the amazing Alonso Homs, Stereographer of the 3D hit “The Great Gatsby” by Baz Luhrmann.   This is a guy that knows what hes doing.

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Here is the BTS trailer, I will get into the nitty gritty after.

 

 

We shot this project on two RED Epic cameras.  The RED camera is the preferred camera for most 3D projects because of its size and quality, though it is possible to shoot on any camera with shutter sync, critical for matching the shutter timing.  We were shooting on a 60FPS timebase, meaning the playback is intended for 60P projection.   We shot the majority of the project at 4K @ 120 FPS so we would get a 50% speed reduction.   This also allows for a standard 30P 2D version to be easily made for non 3D projections.

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One of the RED Epics was mine, but the other was donated to us by the ever awesome Diamond Bros.   The Ultra Prime lenses and Quasar 3D rig was from Abel Cine Tech.  They gave us a deep discount to support the project, we thank them profusely for supporting independent cinema.

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The many challenges of 3D are specifically camera related, sync, roll, and convergence and interocular.  They must all be matched and perfectly meshed together to sell the effect.  Alonso did an amazing job and kept us moving along.  Without him, we would have gotten nowhere.  Its amazing how difficult it is to just set up one single shot, never mind the filtration,  wireless matched follow focuses, zoom settings, aperture, etc… a tiny miscalculation means disaster in post.   Alonso used Red Cine X and another custom 3D program to check the footage.   This is critical to ensure the 3D effect is working properly and there are no sync issues.

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The lighting and setup was rather simple.  I wanted to create an ethereal ambient light in the tank, and let the ink do the heavy lifting.   Truly, what Ion did with regards to color combination and special ink additives really gave me something beautiful to shoot.

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We used a special set of perfectly matched Arri Ultra prime lenses.   Lens matching is critically important because any small imperfection between lenses means more time and work in post to re-align the image, and color.   Post work in 3D is essentially double the price in all respects. you are dealing with twice the footage, storage, and rendering times.  You really want to get it right the first time.   We made sure we did as much on set as perfect as possible. Considering the small crew, our set up time was longer than average, but I can see with a proper camera team, the pace of working will be similar to a standard production.

 

This was a major learning experience, and gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation for the complexities of a 3D film.   It is a major endeavour.  So I give a big thanks to Noah, Dimitris and Alonso for giving me the opportunity to learn about this amazing technology!

 

Thank you for reading, please follow me on twitter for more from this blog! @timurcivan

Coming up: The Small HD DP7 PRO SX Oled Monitor, a truthful image in your hand, or on your camera….