Technique, not technology limits control over HD capture

Last week in Part 1, CTO of Band Pro Film & Digital Michael Bravin shared his insight on efforts to make electronic production tools more comfortable to those who approach HD production from a film background. He also discussed the use of prime lenses specifically designed for electronic cameras versus using film lenses on HD cameras by way of lens adapters.

In Part 2, Bravin looks at HD versus film production workflows, misunderstandings about electronic cinematography, where 5.1 surround sound stands and the prospects for 3-D HD production.

HD Technology Update: Could you compare the typical film production workflow to that of shooting with electronic cameras?

Michael Bravin: The workflow people are used to shooting 35mm film, telecining dailies and then making deliverables for their offline and online editing, which is kind of automatic.

How you do that with electronic capture depends on how knowledgeable you are. It can be automatic; it’s not a difficult process. But it’s something that people aren’t necessarily that familiar with.

It requires a different path, but I would say overall, if you shoot with an electronic system side-by-side with a film system and you know what you are doing with both systems — you know how both systems work and what the upside and downside of both are — there’s an opportunity to save money because you eliminate the cost of the film stock and the processing for the film.

HD Technology Update: Has the ability to see instantly what’s being captured with an electronic system impacted the workflow, the dynamics and opportunity for cost savings?

Michael Bravin: I think it has. We call it WYSIWIG — what you see is what you get. The WYSIWIG nature of electronic capture gives the opportunity to work more quickly because you can see what you have and then break set and move to another location and not have to worry that you didn’t get what you needed and are going to have to go back and reshoot.

That’s the potential that’s available.

A lot of people who shoot electronically don’t want to have to shoot with a finished look. The trend right now is to shoot with a logarithmic curve or expanded dynamic range in the camera that doesn’t necessarily look like the finished product. It’s going to be flatter and less saturated and then taken into post where the manipulation of the images is done.

It’s not the workflow I recommend to people because I think you have to take advantage of what the technology can do, but I understand why people want to do that. And with the new F23, we have a choice of doing either workflow. So that way, the people who want to do uncorrected in the field workflow can do that, and the people who want to do a fine-tuned workflow in the field can do that. That’s where the potential savings is. If you know how to make the camera look the way you want it to look in preproduction and you go out and shoot to those looks, then you can pretty much guarantee that when you get into post, you are only going to need to do some trimming and fine-tuning instead of completely creating the look of the image in post production.

It really is a philosophical difference. There are people who shoot with a flat logarithmic curve who are efficient and understand what they are shooting in the field or use a lookup table on the monitor to see what it will look like in post. There is a group of those people who can save money and work quickly. But again, the more education and experience and knowledge people have, the more opportunity there is to take advantage of what the technology can save you in terms of time and money. The less educated and less aware people are, it could end up costing more.

HD Technology Update: What are the biggest misunderstandings you encounter in people coming from a film background to electronic cinematography? Also, what are they for those who are just going straight into HD production with no film connection?

Michael Bravin: The biggest misunderstanding is that you cannot get certain looks that you want shooting with an electronic camera, whether it’s depth of field, skin tone, color imagery, dynamic range, shadow detail. Most of that is technique, and the biggest misunderstanding is that the equipment is somehow going to limit you.

There are some limitations to shooting with electronic equipment. There are some limitations to shooting with film equipment. The limitations with the film equipment people have learned and understood and embraced and worked with. Some of the limitations with electronic equipment people initially didn’t understand how to work with.

The best example I can think of is you can’t get a shallow depth of field look with an HD camera and the conventional wisdom is the imager is smaller, therefore your depth of field is going to be deeper and you can’t get the look you want.

Well, we have fast, high-speed lenses that work at a 1.9 or 1.6 today and you can get an equivalent depth of field that you get with an average film shot. You still have more range in depth of field shooting with film, but the practical usable, everyday depth of field that DPs use is, for the most part, available with electronic cameras.

Once people learn how these systems work, then they start to make adjustments by using a longer lens and moving the camera back, changing the plane of focus or using techniques to get around the fact that you do have a smaller imager and it does create a deeper depth of field. If you need to get a certain look, then you need to make adjustments with the equipment to get the look that you want. I think the biggest misunderstandings are that the camera won’t allow you to do certain things. That’s really more a technique issue, not a limitation of the equipment.

HD Technology Update: What are you finding in terms of the prevalence of 5.1 surround acquisition?

Michael Bravin: It’s a skill set that’s available. I think you see it in the electronic capture world, but it’s much more prevalent in live sports. The potential is there to capture 5.1 live in the field while you are shooting. There are people who know how to do that; there’s equipment available. It’s not common, because it’s not a common skill set, and the other thing from my experience looking at the people who have captured 5.1 is that it depends on the material you are capturing.

I’ve seen some weird sensibilities about capturing 5.1. I’ve heard and seen stuff that doesn’t even look natural. It’s got lots of audio information and material, but it’s not natural. So I think just like any other electronic capture system, starting with audio and moving to video — and now with sophisticated video and sophisticated audio — there is a curve where early adopters get involved because they think this is really cool and there are some really cheesy things done, and then people learn technique and get more educated, have a better skill set and you end up with stuff that dramatically improves the viewing experience.

Most of the stuff that I’ve heard that sounds really good was done in post — so far.

HD Technology Update: What are your thoughts about HD 3-D productions? Will there be a bigger future for it than the release of a movie or a special pay-per-view event shown in a theater or other large public venue?

Michael Bravin: I think it’s not in its infancy. I think it is in its teen years. I think the distinction is that there are some very sophisticated, relatively simple tools to use for doing 3-D capture.

I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for people to learn certain things, like camera placement and camera movement, when to zoom, framing. I’ve been involved peripherally with the people at Pace, because they are friends of mine and clients of ours. I’ve been involved with several of their 3-D productions and it’s interesting over even a six-month period of time to see the improvement in technique, the camera operators, the TDs and an understanding of how to do this stuff live.

The capture everything and fix it all in post group has gotten more sophisticated. When U2 3-D comes out for commercial release, you’ll see state-of-the-art in creating a whole new paradigm for production. They created a new way to do superimposition or dissolves that’s not jarring, because when you do a dissolve in 3-D, it can be very jarring if you have different planes of focus. They figured out a way around this. These are techniques that are used in post.

I think initially what we’ll see is going to be the whiz-bang, isn’t this amazing. I don’t mean things shooting out from the screen into the audience; I mean like the Hanna Montana concert that was shot in 3-D and they made it into a huge commercial success. People are buying tickets for the movie that’s coming out in February. Already it’s sold out because it is only playing for a week, so they are creating an event around it.

I think we’ll see a wave of the specialty events. “Avatar” is being shot in 3-D by James Cameron, and when that movie comes out, that’s a 3-D capture, live-action; then you have movies like “Beowulf,” which are 3-D but are created for the most part in a computer.

My personal feeling is that there will be a big influx in the number of projects that are shot in 3-D. Most of them are going to be crappy, but some of them will be works of genius and it is going to move the artform of 3-D along, and then there will be certain things that are appropriate for 3-D and certain things that aren’t.

I think live sports are the biggest near-future 3-D production that’s going to happen. I’m a big basketball fan and I saw the NBA All-Star Game and one of the NBA final games in 3-D, and it makes the experience so much more enjoyable because it’s so much more immersive.

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