London’s Hangman Studios Makes the Grade in Music and Beyond

James Tonkin, filmmaker and director of Hangman Studios, has never been afraid to go out on a limb.

Over the last 10 years he has built up his Shepherd’s Bush-based studio operation into a pioneering centre of production and post production making music videos, commercials and films for clients including Robbie Williams, Björk, The Libertines, T-Mobile and Smart Cars.

Tonkin’s guiding principle when he set up the studio back in 2001 was to embrace the cutting edge of innovation – particularly where that proved cost effective. With backing from artist management company IE Music, the outfit behind Robbie Williams, he was given free reign.

“When most people were setting up with Avid, I was going in the other direction with Final Cut Pro Studio and Apple hardware. With Final Cut going from strength to strength it has obviously paid off – particularly considering the cost cutting in video production over the last couple of years.”

Recently he has added Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 8 grading to his post production line up of two Final Cut Pro Studio online suites and a 5.1 audio suite. “I decided it had to be Resolve because colour correction is at the heart of my post production passion. I spend a lot of time making the grade perfect and need a cost-effective system which allows me to do just that,” he explains.

“Recently I did a 25 minute grade for AC/DC and I was in and out in less than an hour. While some grading tools need time for rendering, Resolve’s real-time grading is one of its most attractive features.”

Another area where Tonkin has demonstrated enthusiasm for new technology is in the studio’s experimentation with the latest camera formats.

He was quick to adopt DSLR cameras, used last year on a multicamera video shoot for British band Archive, but now Tonkin admits the days of DSLR could be numbered with the emergence of the Sony NEX-FS100. “I loved DSLR because the look was so different from a standard 2/3 inch chip camera, but the FS100 has killed its appeal with its 35mm sensor.”

Tonkin used a pre-production version of the FS100 on music video Vertigo earlier this year and admits his head has been turned. So much so that he is planning to use the FS100, in combination with two other Sony large format sensor cameras the PMW-F3 and SRW-9000PL on an upcoming live music video to be shot this summer.

For Tonkin, the FS100 was a must because it produces a cinematic look equivalent to DSLR but with the added usability of a Sony camcorder, including longer record times, absence of aliasing, ergonomic design and easily accessible and familiar control buttons.

“Of all the new 35mm sensor cameras, the FS100 is the one I got really excited about because it’s much more modular in its design,” explains Tonkin. “But best of all, the FS100 has the ergonomics of a small camera which I really like. It means I can stick it in a rucksack with a few other bits of kit and I’m in business.”

Den Lennie from works regularly with Tonkin on music projects as DPand was heavily involved with the design of the Sony NEX FS100.

Lennie Comments “The FS100 offers an extremely cost effective way to achieve 35mm production value. It’s modularity allowed us to work quickly without compromise. We were amazed during the Vertigo promo at just how responsive it was in low light and also how clean the images are at 25mb/s.

If you need to up the bit rate and record uncompressed for a project then the PMW-F3 gives you that option with dual link HDSDI and all the high end connectivity that you will ever need.

The exciting news for promo shooters is that you have the choice of cameras based on specific project budget but without compromising the post workflow or the image quality and resolution. Simply put we now have incredible power at our fingertips and we can create more for less. “

Shooting with the FS100 in AVCHD and F3 in XDCAM EX, Tonkin plans to achieve the look of a high-end music production with the use of just 12 camera operators and a total of 15 cameras, when the output of on-stage minicams was included. The footage is to be datawrangled on location onto RAID storage before being shipped back to Hangman Studios for a two week turnaround with post on Final Cut Pro Studio and grade on Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve.

Competitive pricing is another big plus point of the Resolve grading systems, he adds. “The fact that Blackmagic Design has brought Resolve down to a really interesting price point – particularly considering its real time capability – is making it a great success.”

But Tonkin’s reserves his highest praise for Resolve’s tracker feature. “It’s phenomenal. I’d say it’s worth buying it on its own just for that. I do lots of work where I selectively grade just a face or in one area of the screen. Resolve’s tracker it will track the face as it moves in the frame in real-time.”