Area Producers Stay on the Edge with Innovative Technology
The big technology story for the production community is high definition video. By Federal Communications Commission regulations, all US television stations have to convert to digital transmission, but this doesn’t mean high definition TV. Many affiliates will choose to pass through the HD network signal, but continue standard definition NTSC broadcasts for local news, syndicated programs, and of course, commercials. This is all perfectly legal but means that it will be a long time before local advertisers will see their creative gems in splendid HD glory. Yet, many area production companies are shooting with HD cameras and edit houses are adding HD post suites. Why?
The answer is threefold. First of all, some HD camcorders can capture images at the film-like rate of 24 frames per second (referred to as 24P) versus video’s 30fps. Although there are standard definition cameras that also offer this option, shooting in HD today adds shelf life to the future of the footage. Secondly, many producers work in other genres than 30-second commercials. These alternatives include broadcast and special venue videos that are adopting HD more quickly that the commercial world as well as directors who want to try their hand at digital independent filmmaking. But the third and most important reason is cost.
Thanks in part to Apple and Panasonic, this is the year for low cost HD post. It is now possible to shoot HD with a Panasonic VariCam, transfer that footage over FireWire into an Apple PowerBook or G5 computer and edit true high definition footage on a personal computer. In fact, Apple offered this new feature as a free upgrade to Final Cut Pro 4 owners, back in April. By the end of the year, Avid Xpress Pro, Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Pro, Pinnacle Liquid and other nonlinear editing software will offer similar capabilities.
There has been a huge explosion of new editing systems installed in the central Florida market, mainly due to the release of inexpensive Apple Final Cut Pro software, along with inexpensive HD hardware from companies like AJA and Pinnacle Systems. Bob Zelin (Rescue 1, Inc.) has built HD editing systems for CDB Productions, Adrenaline Films and Transcontinental Records, with several more companies about to enter the HD arena. Zelin comments, “ The acceptance of the AJA Io box, a $2000 piece of hardware that allows any Mac G5 to create broadcast quality video, has been incorporated by many of my established clients. Almost 100% of my clients have expressed interest in getting involved in this new way of doing post production.”
Tim Bartlett, Adrenaline Film’s general manager, adds, “Adrenaline Films has continued to make significant investments in HD technology. These investments include an HD nonlinear edit system built around Final Cut Pro and the AJA Kona HD card. One of the more diverse investments that we have made is the purchase of an Amphibico Amphibicam underwater housing designed for our Sony HD cameras.”
Emerge Media also brings clients a firm commitment to HD. Ray Combs, one of the partners at Emerge tells me, “Local commercials are not immune to the power of HD. We shot and posted a series of commercials for Orlando Infiniti at Chapman-Leonard Studios using the Panasonic VariCam, as well as a series of HD spots for Mercedes Benz of South Orlando, all of which are airing locally.” HD has been strong in the indie film market, giving a boost to Emerge’s post in HD. Combs elaborated, “In April, Emerge Media performed the high definition edit for the feature film, Redemption, using Pinnacle’s CineWave HD hardware and Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software. Redemption premiered in South Florida at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Selected showings were projected in high definition proving that HD is a viable format for theatrical films.”
The same trend can be found in Tampa. Naked Eye Editorial is expanding into a new location and with this move is adding a second suite based on Final Cut Pro. I asked owner/editor Rick Bennett whether he was simply adding Final Cut Pro or making it an HD suite. Rick told me that, “Yes, it’s the real deal – Final Cut Pro HD software with the Kona 2 card as well as the Panasonic AJ-HD1200A VTR. We’ll start with the basic FCP set-up, then add the VTR by end of year. A very good client of mine just purchased the Panasonic HD camera. I have cut some stuff shot on the Sony HD camera and, for my money, the Panasonic looks just as good, if not better.”
Look is everything, of course, and many producers are now shooting with HD cameras because they offer a film-like look at a far lower cost – even if the end result is, for now, still standard definition. ImageROCKS executive producer Jim DeRusha has shot several spots during recent months with the Sony 24P camera. “What I’ve found is that true tape-to-tape color-correction is necessary to enhance 24P to more of a film look. It’s less expensive than film, so 24P is a great tool if the budget is limited and there is short turnaround.”
The Sony versus Panasonic battles ranges in HD as it has in every other arena the two have challenged each other. Many area shooters have plenty of time with Sony cameras, but the Panasonic VariCam is gaining new converts daily. In fact, I’d guess that Florida probably has more VariCam owners than Sony CineAlta HD camera owners. David Nixon Productions has been using the VariCam for a couple of years. David tells me about some of their experiences with the camera. “We’ve just bought the P+S Technik Pro35 Digital Image Converter. This enables us to utilize 35mm film lenses on our VariCam. The ‘look’ of this system is so much like 35mm film that it’s uncanny. The engineers at P+S Technik figured out that if you increase the target area up to 35mm, you can gain a shallow depth-of-field. So to do that, they have built a mirror system that bounces the image up to 35mm in size and projects it on an actual 35mm ground glass. This system is mated on the front of the VariCam and then you mount a 35mm lens (such as Panavision or Zeiss) to create the classic ‘look’ of 35mm film, where only the subject is in focus and everything else is out of focus. It really works!”
“We’ve just completed two projects with this system. The first was a standard definition project for Disney. They wanted to create the look of a film trailer, so this system was perfect. Not only did it look like we shot on 35mm film, but we were able to create the very dramatic look of a feature with radical focus shifts and very tight depth-of-field focus to keep the background soft. The second was a feature length dramatic film. By shooting on the VariCam with the Pro35 and Panavision lenses, the audience in the theatre will never know the movie wasn’t shot on 35mm film….and it saved the producers thousands of dollars in film and processing costs. This project is being cut on HD right now, and will go to a 35mm print for theatrical release. This will sell the ‘film look’ even more by gaining the texture and grain of the film print.”
o2 Pictures jumped also into the hi-def world with their own purchase of a Panasonic 24p VariCam. The camera was used extensively on a project for Disney Vacation Club that required shooting DVC members in their own homes all over the country. “We’ve been shooting almost non-stop since we bought the camera, and I’m incredibly impressed with the image quality” said director DanO’Loane. Much of the hi-def imagery is currently on display at the new sales center at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. “We created a whole new multi-media experience for the guests and the sales team. So we’ve had a chance to really branch out this year, both with the kind of work we’re being asked to do, and the way we’re doing it. It’s pretty exciting”.
Whether it’s for creative or budgetary reasons, area producers and post houses are poised to be at the forefront of digital film and video technology, bringing cost-effective innovation to their clients. With costs coming down and the economy heating up, the year ahead looks good indeed.
Written by Oliver Peters for Create magazine