Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Dead Eyes

When I made my Final Year Project film (Malice) in 2012, I made a lot of mistakes. Despite being at University for three years, most of the stuff that I was taught had been forgotten. I didn't really pay attention to stuff like lighting in Malice especially in subtle things like the eyes. Take this screenshot from the movie as an example.

Look at the eyes. There's no life in them. They look dead. Granted, this could be interpreted as "losing his soul when he was sent to prison" but that wasn't my intention. Now, look at this screenshot.

Look at his eyes. Those white dots from the light are reflected in his eyes and he looks more alive. This guy was the antagonist though so it would have made more sense for him to have the "dead eyes" instead. 

I had an LED panel on the camera for the second shot, the intention was purely for illuminating his face. It just so happened that the light also put those white dots in his pupils. Watch any movie and I guarantee that you'll see white dots in the characters' eyes. This is carefully thought about because it gives the characters life. Remember that old saying "the eyes are the windows to the soul". It should be your obligation as a film maker/director of photography to consider this.

The angle of your lighting set-up might not always allow you to get this result. Ideally, you should have a specific light whose sole purpose is to give your character the white dots in their eyes. This could be a studio light with a diffuse filter on it or a simple torch taped to your tripod. Your audience will notice this and your shots will look more professional and beautiful.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

How to make video look like film

If you want to get the perfect film look, shoot your movie on film. Unfortunately, this isn't always an option for the budget filmmaker so the next best thing is making your video look like film. This is the method I normally use when I attempt a film look. Some might disagree with it but really it's all about what works best for you.

Start by watching a movie and analysing it. It's always useful to take screenshots so you can compare it against your footage as you're grading it. I'm going to show you how to create a 16mm look because I've always loved the way 16mm footage looks. Here's a screenshot of the raw footage.
This is from my 2012 university movie "Malice". I shot this on a Canon DSLR with a 50mm lens during daylight. Picture profile was set to CineStyle so we have a flat sort of look which gives us more room for manipulation in the software. The footage is not very sharp. I can't remember if I properly focused during filming but this is okay because 16mm footage often has a soft look. Aperture was quite narrow (because of the daylight) so there's a greater depth of field. A more shallow depth of field would look more cinematic and help sell the effect better though. I also filmed at 25 frames per second and shutter was set to 1/50. 

I'm using Premiere Pro because there's an interesting effect that I discovered years ago which if useful for creating a film look. In the Utility folder under Video Effects you'll find an effect called "Cineon Converter".
Straight away you can see that this has increased contrast and the shot now looks less flat. Go to "Window>Reference Monitor" and compare the YC waveform before and after.
See the difference? The waveform monitor is a very useful tool so make sure you check it on a regular basis while grading your footage. You can also check RGB values which is useful for correcting wrong white balance (if you ever find yourself in that situation). 

Using the values within the Cineon Converter effect, I increased the contrast until I got this. Notice "Conversion" is set to "Log to Linear", the default setting. 
The blacks in the footage are crushed and overall contrast has been increased. Most film look attempts I see have really high contrast with crushed blacks and blown highlights. This doesn't really make video look like film. From what I can see, film usually has a low contrast look so blacks aren't actually black but a sort of grey instead. Don't worry, we're going to sort this out in the next few steps. You might have to tweak the Gamma and Highlight Rolloff values later to get the desired look since your footage might look different to mine. Try adjusting the other values as well and experiment until you get what you want. Remember, film has more dynamic range than video so you won't be able to get exactly the same contrast in the detail.

Add a channel>invert effect and select "Green". We're going to add an invert effect for each colour channel (Red, green and blue). Set the "Blend with original" to 85% but try playing around with the values to get what you want.

We now have this low contrast shot but it's a bit dark so add a "Brightness>Contrast" effect. Very subtle difference. I set Brightness to 10 and contrast to 25. Furthermore, you might want to apply the "Color Balance HLS" effect and desaturate the colour a little bit. I also adjusted the hue to -0.5 to push the skin tones to red more.
I then added film grain which I got for free off GorillaGrainI just put it on a video layer above my footage and set the blend mode to overlay. Use a Brightness>Contrast filter to make the grain more or less intense. 
I posted a breakdown on YouTube.


So, there we have it. Film has a very unique sort of motion to it though and I have yet to find a way to replicate that. There are hundreds of film look tutorials out there and I really think it's up to the individual to develop their own style. I just keep tweaking settings until I get the look I want and it's not always as simple as copying and pasting the effects to all clips on your timeline. Feel free to comment with feedback or any suggestions/ideas you might have. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Is that a DSLR? You must be taking photos then??

Typical scenario. I have my Canon 600 DSLR setup on a tripod and I'm filming an event. I always get some "expert" coming up to me to say something like "taking photos are you?" or "are you a photographer?" and I always end up explaining (in the nicest way possible) that I'm shooting video. Yes, I know DSLRs were designed primarily for the taking of still images but I just find it so annoying when people can't get their head round their use for video. I do have a dedicated video camera (Panasonic 151) but for certain situations I prefer to use my DSLR to get that particular look.  

I'm in the process of turning my DSLR into a movie camera. I'm doing this for two reasons. Number one, to add a greater level of control so the DSLR becomes a better video camera and Number two, so people know I'm shooting video! They see the DSLR body by itself with a little prime lens and they assume you're a photographer. But, if they see a shoulder rig, big lens, matte box, follow focus, viewfinder, HDMI monitor and a microphone then they'll be more inclined to think you're shooting video. I recently purchased a shoulder rig kit for my DSLR and it came with a follow focus and matte box. The matte box is kind of cheap but it really transforms the look of your DSLR. Once my DSLR movie rig is complete, I'll post some photos to this blog. Ironically, I'll have to take them photos with my phone...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

DSLR movie making tips

More and more people are now using DSLR cameras to shoot their movies on. However, for the serious filmmaker you need to know how to get the best quality footage off your DSLR. That means ignoring automatic mode and getting used to all the manual controls for aperture, ISO etc. Most of the tips in this article are common knowledge but hopefully it'll be useful for some people. 

Start by setting your DSLR (A Canon 600d in my case) to automatic mode. Simply press the menu button while in movie mode and it's the first option "Movie exposure". Set this to Manual and you're done. At the bottom of this menu, there's something called "Highlight tone priority". Disable this then go to the next page in the menu. Set the Movie rec. size to 1920x1080 and if you're camera is set to PAL you can choose to shoot in either 24fps or 25fps. Personally, I shoot all my footage at 25 frames per second.

Next up is exposure. You can check for correct exposure by hitting the Av +/- button and a meter will pop up. Press the * button and a little tab will appear on the meter and you need to get this tab in the middle between the 1s for correct exposure. You can adjust exposure through the ISO, aperture and shutter controls. The dial on the top of the camera controls the shutter. Ideally, you should leave this set to 50 but in certain situations you might want a fast shutter so you can capture fast motion with more detail. Slow shutter = more motion blur. Fast shutter = less motion blur. 

Holding down the Av +/- button while moving the dial will adjust the aperture. A wide aperture (such as 1.8) will give you very shallow depth of field which will make it harder to focus but you get a very cinematic blurred background so your subject stands out more. A tighter aperture will provide a greater depth of field meaning more of the scene will be in focus. A tight aperture will make it easier to focus but it will require more light in the scene. You need to decide what's important for a particular shot(depth of field, motion blur etc) so plan beforehand.

The last setting which controls exposure is ISO. Press the ISO button and make sure it's not set to AUTO. The ISO on a DSLR is similar to the gain on a video camera. With a high ISO you get more exposure but it also introduces more visual noise on your footage. You shouldn't rely on high ISOs as an alternative to lighting your scene properly. On the preview LCD screen, your footage might look okay but when you play it back at full resolution on your PC, you'll see a lot of noise and this doesn't look very professional. It's generally recommended to set the ISO to a multiple of 160. On the Canon 600 however the ISO options are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400. Personally, I wouldn't go higher than 400 and 800 would be my absolute maximum. However, for outdoor night shots you might have to bump the ISO up to 1600 and beyond. If you're shooting indoors, always light your scene properly.

Focus is something that you have to get used to when using a DSLR. On most DSLRs, autofocus is useless on video mode during recording. Set your lens to MF for manual focus. You can then twist the lens and focus on certain parts of the scene. There's also a focus check button on the back of the camera represented by a magnifying glass and + icon. You press this once to expand the frame by x5 and then again for x10. Pressing it for a third time will take you back to normal view. This is very useful as you can "zoom" in to part of the scene and get a nice sharp focus. 

Last of all, you may want to invest in some accessories to make your DSLR more practical for video work. Get a decent tripod with a quick release plate so you can quickly go from static to handheld. The Konig Kn-tripod is a decent affordable tripod which I recommend. For handheld camera work, look into buying a shoulder rig so you can get steady shots. Finally, the standard kit lens isn't that good so buy some prime lenses. The Canon 1.8 50mm lens is a good quality and affordable prime lens. Most beginners buy this lens before investing in more expensive lenses. If you're serious about film making, be prepared to spend hundreds of pounds (or dollars) on lenses.     




       

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Video shoot for Vodafone awards

On Thursday I got a call asking me if I could film an event on Friday. This was perfect timing because I had everything I needed whereas 1 month ago I would have had to borrow a camera. So Friday came and I packed up my camera and tripod then drove to the hotel where the event was held. The journey took me through the Peak District and the scenery was amazing. My sat nav got me there no problem and my contact there then briefed me about what they wanted. The event started at 7:00PM I got a lot of footage of guests arriving and mingling. They then entered the hall and sat down at their tables so I filmed a lot of this as well. The theme was Mardi Gras complete with Samba Girls and a band. My goal was to get a lot of footage and I filled up half of a 32 gig card (About 100 minutes).

I was using my recently purchased Panasonic HMC-151 video camera. I was a bit apprehensive about the quality of footage because cameras in this price range struggle with low light. You can't really judge how much visual noise there is in footage on the small LCD screen. I was filming at maximum quality (1080/50i) with 1/50 shutter speed and I decided to leave the Iris and Focus on auto. I didn't dare use gain because this would have introduced visual noise for certain. I just hit record and hoped for the best. They only wanted visuals so I didn't have to worry about sound at all. I kept bringing up the waveform monitor to check exposure and inevitably parts of the image were underexposed but most of the light was being directed to the stage which was the priority anyway. I had zebra stripes activated as well so I could check for overexposure. Certain parts were overexposed (such as light sources and white shirts) but overall I maintained correct exposure.

I got home at about 1:30 in the morning and connected the camera up to my plasma TV to check through the footage. It was a lot better than I expected and I breathed a sigh of relief. Couldn't see any visual noise but this TV does have pretty good noise reduction. I then transferred the footage to my laptop and played it back on there. The footage still looked great and there was visual noise but only in dark underexposed areas. Overall, I was content with what I had shot and packed everything up so I could finally get some much needed sleep. I'm so glad I bought this camera now and that night was the first time I used it properly. It definitely passed the test and I'm sure I'll still be using it in a few years time.     




Saturday, 20 April 2013

Panasonic AG-HMC151

Well I finally did it and got a proper video camera. The Panasonic AG-HMC151 is a full HD solid state video camera and I chose this one because I've used it throughout my time at university. The HMC151 is a few years old but the build quality and the image quality is great. The camera has three CCD sensors instead of a CMOS chip which is what my DSLR uses. The DSLR has a few problems that are not present in video cameras like this one. I realised that I needed a proper video camera to do certain projects. For a start, the weight and size of the video camera means it's easy to keep steady handheld. Handheld DSLR footage is atrocious sometimes and this problem forced me to use a tripod when making films. Also, the shallow depth of field capability found in the DSLR is good for cinematic shots but keeping a moving subject in focus is hard work.

The HMC151 pretty much stays in focus all of the time because of the greater depth of field and auto focus feature. Yeah, the Canon 600d does have auto focus but it's useless for video. I still love my Canon 600d to pieces though and I'll continue to use it for making films because the image quality is fantastic. Thing is, the Canon DSLR's data rate is 42mbps but this Panasonic camera is only 24mbps. This is almost half but it doesn't bother me because the pros outweigh the cons in my opinion. With the Panasonic 151 you get 13x optical zoom, dual XLR input for audio, manual control (no navigating through menus), HDMI output, half a dozen HD formats, zebra pattern and waveform monitor (for checking exposure). I have the zebra pattern feature in my little Panasonic video camera and it's a feature that I found very useful. Unfortunately, my DSLR doesn't have this feature and I struggled for awhile with exposure. 

I've done a few tests with the camera already and overall the footage is good. Getting this camera once again reminded me of the importance of having well lit scenes and subjects. With dull afternoon light coming through a curtain, my footage looked flat and average but when I attached my LED light, the camera was able to capture a lot more detail. I'm definitely going to have to invest in some proper lights for future projects. University has taught me a lot but the most important lesson learnt is about lighting. A lot of amateur productions overlook this and suffer in quality as a result. Anyway I'm digressing now so back to the camera.

I've tried mixing footage from this camera with footage from my DSLR (which is currently having a new LCD screen fitted). As I suspected, it's very hard to make a seamless transition between each shot because to the trained eye the differences are blatant. Footage from my DSLR is softer with certain parts of the shot out of focus (shallow depth of field etc) but footage from the Panasonic is sharp and not just the subject but the whole scene including the background. This is the most obvious difference but the colours and contrast (which can be adjusted in software anyway) are also different. Data rate (as previously mentioned) is also different with the Panasonic having half as many megabytes per second than the DSLR. 

Despite these differences, I'm confident that I can use footage from both in the same projects. I'm tempted to label the Panasonic my A camera and the Canon DSLR my B camera but for different reasons those labels should be swapped. I would definitely favour the Pansonic for moving shots where there's a lot going on and I need the greater depth of field. Conversely, the Canon DSLR would be better for close ups where the shallow depth of field is needed to blur the background for cinematic effect. Chances are, I will end up doing whole projects with just the Panasonic in the same way that I have done whole projects with just the DSLR.           

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Film shoot with Canon EOS-1D C camera

Today I helped out on a film which was shot on Canon's top of the line DSLR, the EOS-1D C. This is a serious camera and they were using thousands of pounds worth of equipment. The hire package featured several different prime lenses including 100mm, 50mm and 35mm. There was also a matte box, follow focus, shoulder rig, external monitor and viewfinder. It also came with 128gb compact flash cards and I've just googled them and they cost something ridiculous like £500+ each. 

The hire package cost was about £700 for the week, quite a lot of money. And here's me using a £400 consumer DSLR with £80 lens. This doesn't bother me however because I stand by what I always say. You can still create a brilliant movie with inexpensive equipment. All you need is a great idea and determination.