T.Stops Blog


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:

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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…..


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


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….



Making a Commerical: Pimping Rides and Forcing Perspective!

Welcome back, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from blogging over the summer. This usually happens due to schedule.  This time around I wanted to take a look at a project I did quite a while back. It totally slipped my mind, but when I saw it randomly on Youtube, I thought to myself, “Hey I shot that!”  It was a very fun little commercial for Speed Network who syndicated the “Pimp My Ride” show.   For those of you who have never seen the show it’s essentially, a make over show for cars where they take an old junker and give it a ridiculous, wild and wacky facelift. I had the pleasure of working with Peter Gagnon, Director.

This shoot was special to me because I had to do an old school practical special effects technique.  Forced perspective.   This was fun because I had to learn how to do this from scratch.   Plundering the internet, back issues of American Cinematographer and the ASC manual turned up a little basic theory but very little practical information.   The name of the game was testing.  The basic idea is that you take a small model, and carefully place it in the scene in the foreground so it lines up with the background and sells the illusion the model is full sized and in the actual environment.  At our first production meeting I got Peter’s treatment, and it involved a person distressed about their crappy car on an ordinary street, when suddenly the host Xzibit’s hand drops into frame like a giant and picks up the crappy car, and drops in the new pimped out whip.  This means a couple things that brought up a few technical challenges.  First;  Forced perspective is usually used with relatively large models because  A: its easier to put detail in to it.  And B: The model is often something stationary like a cityscape, bridge or even a highly detailed matte painting.  They need to be secured down, as even the slightest movement can break the effect.  Also, the large VFX model set pieces serve the purpose of enabling them to be further from the lens, and closer to the subject to allow for a proper line up of the elements.  Our project involved a gigantic hand picking up a car that was not much bigger than the hand itself.  This means a tiny model car.  Which also means it has to be very close to the camera to appear large enough to be real.   Initially we planned on shooting on an F3, but once I saw the size of the car, I knew how close the car had to be ot the lens.   No  tstop no matter how small would cover a DOF range that wide.   It was time to call in an old friend.   The HPX170, a work horse camera from the blossoming digital days, 3CCD, 1/3″ sensor, with gloriously infinite depth of field….  Normally you want the two set pieces as close together as possible.

However, if the elements do move, its important the moving elements don’t overlap too much as it can break the illusion as well.  Unless that is you are Peter Jackson…  Look to the forced perspective used in the Lord Of The Rings to make the hobbits appear small. The built motion controlled sets of different sizes that move in conjunction with the camera to keep the edges of the two sets lined up.


Here are a few quick snaps I stumbled upon from the shoot on my old phone.   You can see how close the car had to be to the camera to sell the effect it was a real car.   If it werent for the optical characteristics of the 1/3″ CCD video camera we may not have been able to pull of this shot.



It had been quite a while since i’d used a standard video camera, and its image quality shortcomings were apparent immediately.  Narrow dynamic range, low resolution and antiquated recording formats.  That said, the low resolution actually helped us.  It helped seem the edges of the miniatures set together with the background.   As far as  poor dynamic range, the patron saint of cinematographers was smiling on me that day and we got an overcast day, that made shooting very simple.  A little fill on the talent, and we were golden.

Something very important is that the lighting falling on the background match exactly the angle and direction of the light falling on the model.   Out doors this is easy.  Just let the sun do its thing, but under controlled circumstances, be aware of the shadow angles.  Often you need a lot of distance between the miniature and the unit to ensure the light rays are falling parallel, and matching the background (or foreground depending on the effect you are trying to sell).

Hoped you enjoyed reading this.  It is always nice to be able to use creativity  and some old tried and true technique in accomplishing a shot.

The New Theatre, the $15.00 Ticket and 4K.

We millennial filmmakers in general buzz with excitement at the mere utterance of any new form of technology.  It could be 3D, 4K, RAW or simple high quality inexpensive cameras.  We should, it’s an exciting time.   Everything is at our fingertips for the most part.    I want to single out 4k in particular.  Its a topic of much debate, some feel its the future, some feel its an unnecessary gimmick, some a potential lifesaver in the edit, and others a major costly hassle.  The truth is in working with 4K for 5 years now, its all of the above.

I just went to watch Gravity tonight at the AMC theatre on 84th street in New York.  The ticket price is now $15.00 for general admission.  It used to be $12.50 about 2 months ago.  Thats a substantial price increase.  If you take a family of 4 out, you are spending nearly $60.00 before popcorn and soda. This theatre had been under renovation and I was awestruck by the new theatre.  Plush leather motorized reclining seats, better concession stand options, and a clean new interior design.   Immediately before the feature started, a big “Presented in Digital Sony 4K” appeared on the screen.  I thought… OOO! This is gonna be awesome!  Finally! After all these years, I get to watch something in 4K in a comfy seat, with popcorn that actually tastes good.  I got what i wished for, a better movie theatre experience.   Like the old adage “Be careful what you wish for”, I think it applies here for a few reasons.

First, the price.  I dont mind paying an extra $2.50 per ticket for the better experience.  However, lets look for a moment at the state of the common moviegoer.  Its no secret that our economy is not what it used to be.  The upper west side of manhattan is in no way a microcosm of the rest of the nation,  its an upper middle class gentrified neighborhood.   That said, it only has 2 movie theatres, the 84th Street AMC  Quad theatre and the 67th Street AMC IMAX megaplex.   The IMAX tickets run 18-25$ a piece depending on if the showing is in 3D, and the standard ticket price at the Lowes is $14.50.   I applaud the theatres for upgrading to all Digital 4K projections, IMAX 3D, and a vast number of other technical improvements.   But one thing i noticed sitting watching Gravity, was that it was practically empty.  With a smattering of well dressed “upper” end clientele.  Is the price of the technology reflected in the ticket, driving away customers?  It seemed to be just movie geeks and the well off spending the $15.00 to see a film.  This can be bad.  The Cinema is about seeing a film with your community and sharing the experience.  I don’t mind the sounds of chewing and crinkling popcorn bags because the sound of the whole crowd gasping during a terrifying or emotional moment feeds my own experience of feeling the emotions the filmmaker intends.  The crowd enhances the feeling of the film, its “gravity” if you will.  This was somewhat lost in this screening.  I felt like I was watching the film at home.

The second issue, “Gravity”, an extremely effects heavy movie was shot and posted in 2K.  So in essence, the shiny new 4K projector was either uprezing or stretching the picture out, and it showed. It seemed soft. While this didn’t detract from the wonderful story,  this brings me back to 4K.  There is no doubt that it is the future.  Yet, like I mentioned before, its a blessing and a curse rolled into one.  The public is actually excited about it.   Many people I know outside the industry have asked me about 4K and what it means. (i’m their video “help line”, btw) Once I explain it, the general feeling is: “Oh Awesome, how much better will it look on my TV” and the truth is this; “On your TV, you won’t be able to tell the difference unless you sit close.   The movie theatre however…. thats gonna blow your mind…..”  The theatres are ready for it, the public is ready for it, but it just seems that the industry is not.  I have not yet in 5 years of shooting 4K R1, R1MX, RED Epic, Scarlet, F55, F65 or even 4K DSLR timelapses, been asked to post something in 4K.  Not once. Its expensive, VERY expensive.   Four times as many pixels means four times as many hours rendering and storing the material.  Perhaps one day soon.

So for now the beautiful 4K projector, Leather seat, gourmet popcorn, and $15.00 ticket will have to be a teaser of days to come.  The industry is just not ready today.


Thanks for reading and please lets discuss this in the comments. I’d like to know how people feel about the wild west of the theatre experience right now.   Are the higher ticket prices worth the boost in technology?





Follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog: @TimurCivan