Introducing the OB1 jib

I've been filming for the last year and a half with the fantastic, affordable LiteProGear Feather Crane Plus. This wee jib is amazing in that it packs down to about 70cm long but allows you to get 7 feet out from the pivot using a gimbal. 

The Feather Crane Plus with Gremsy H16 gimbal, Alexa Mini and Panavision Primo70 lens on Tin Star's final scene on location in the Canadian Rockies, December 2016

The Feather Crane Plus with Gremsy H16 gimbal, Alexa Mini and Panavision Primo70 lens on Tin Star's final scene on location in the Canadian Rockies, December 2016

As I shoot mostly drama and like a solid crane move, I was finding the Feather Crane a little whippy. I thought about designing extra out-riggers for it, but then once I started thinking about it I felt that I could design my own jib, more specifically for my needs.

With the Movi Pro on the end of a jib, it's actually not necessary to have a parallelogram to keep the camera stage level. It's ideal, but no longer neccesary as the gimbal doesn't mind if it's not level. I also find that I have great pan & tilt heads on set that frankly are more heavy-duty than the cameras we use these days, so why design a complicated pivot when an Oconnor 5275 Head is always at hand. 

So here's a render or 3 of the OB1 jib, this mark 1 version goes straight on to the Oconnor dovetail. Mark 2 will have a pivot mechaninsm with brakes, friction and the parallelogram. 

Carbon sections are sleeved in a keyed alloy part that locks into place with the central mounting point, camera stage and weight stage using steel aircraft pins. It doesn't matter which length of carbon goes where so I can make it short, long, with a short backswing or long one. I think I'll use this with a 2m reach most of the time but think with the tension of the outriggers it'll make 5m easily. 

The Quintolator lives!

DOP Ed Moore sent me this video he grabbed on a Go Pro while using the very first Quintolator out in the wild on location in Scotland filming the TV series Shetland. Ed has been shooting nearly all the show with the Movi Pro as his A camera rig, and using my Isolators. Although it's not the final 'through camera' footage it can give you an idea of how effective the Isolator can be in dealing with unwated bumps and wiggles. 

The FlyliNe V2 Cable Cam and Movi Pro on location

I got to blast the Alexa Mini up and down the rope in Boulogne Sur Mer, France recently for The Tunnel. The Movi Pro and Alpha Handwheels worked a treat. 

Soon I will have the Flyline available with the Moco Module allowing continuous automatic travel between programmable end stops. You can also manually run with auto braking so that you can more confidently run your line without worrying about hitting the ends. 

Here's the Movi Pro with Movi Controller and 1aTools Alpha Handwheels being used on a GF8 crane. 

An update to where I've been lately

I haven't posted on this blog for a wee while as it's been a busy time. I spent most of 2016 working in Canada on the TV series Tin Star. It'll be coming out later this year. Currently I'm winding up shooting the first three episodes of The Tunnel season 3. This has been a terrific shoot with a great team. 

The last two big jobs have allowed me to refine my equipment considerably to the point that I switched from a Gremsy H16 gimbal (a terrific gimbal) to the Freefly Movi Pro system. I've nothing against the Gremsy and it worked so well in Canada, but the Movi Pro is a stronger eco-system of batteries, handwheels and other controls. There are a few things that it can't do as well as the Gremsy but I feel it's a better system moving forward for my kit personally and to hire. 

Here's a flowchart I created to establish what pieces I need to make it all work. This is already a little outdated...

I've added a few things now. The Movi Controller currently has the handwheels and 702B monitor but I've maintained my Bolt 300 and 2 x sidekick kit for now. The Readyrig is being replaced with the Steadimate system for lifting the rig from below and the Easyrig parts for the puppeteer are permanently attached to the T Bar handles and also to the Movi Ring so I can switch between them. There are two mounts, a vibration Isolator (my Star model) and a Klassen hard mount.

I also have the cable cam nicely setup with the Movi Pro. I've switched out the radio control as it was buggy to a new DX6 with the new MoCo module added to the Flyline V2 for automatic end stops. This should be a real help. Lastly on the T Bars or Ring I've added the 503 Ultrabrite SmallHD monitor for daylight operating. Wow what a difference that makes. 

Below are some videos BTS of the Movi Pro in action on The Tunnel 3.

NAB 2015 is the year that focus got interesting

NAB 2015 offered up it's usual host of new products and once again is the technical pivot that the film industry tips on.  New cameras, new sensors, new resolutions, new ways of moving the camera. 

Last year was the first year that focus pulling started to get the injection of modern technology that has hit every other area as Moore's Law, cheaper manufacturing and a bigger market impact the tools we are able to use. 

Andra previewed a device to allow you to follow an actor by attaching a sensor to then and letting it just follow the sensor around. It was a little bulky as the camera needed a larger sensor box and also some extra spacial devices needed to be placed around to create the "zone" to be focused within.

This year Andra returned with a more compact system, the demo above in particular shows how they're able to have one small sensor on the actor and just one other sensor on the camera. Suddenly that pensive handheld walking shot that allows the actor to just stumble around in narrow focus is a trivial thing to achieve, and 1st ACs can sweat a whole lot less. The following video is from Newshooter.com and explains the Andra system well.

Along with Andra, Redrock Micro suddenly previewed a device at NAB2015 that shows enormous promise. It's Halo LIDAR based system is far cheaper than the Andra system, and possibly better able to integrate into an existing manual focus system providing first information to allow better focus pulling, and then full-auto focus tracking. Below is the No Film School video demo of the system from NAB.

I can see a time when these tools are integrated seamlessly into an on-set workflow in normal drama production, in particular the Halo system. It won't replace a good 1st AC, but it will mean we can continue to push the painterly qualities of shallow depth of field and dynamic movement, but get the focus first take when doing it. On shots that are less random, the normal manual focus pulling will still be great, but the 1st AC will also have the peace of mind that they can see when they've hit the mark and the actor is within the DOF. Less sleepless nights maybe?

Another area that I'm personally interested in is setting up a system such as Halo or Andra for a single operator pedestal style studio situation, much like the soap opera operating that I started my career in. I used to pull focus off the peaking on the monitor and some zoomed in eye marks. You can get very good at hitting 3 or 4 marks you've set by having your fingers just so, but even better would be the Halo system. Select the actor you want to be sharp on and let the system follow them while you concentrate on the operating. As Studio shoots also move up the sensor range into 35mm+ sized sensors, eye sharps just won't cut it anymore, and shooting at a T stop of 5.6 to enable focus just makes the images look boring. Imagine a studio shoot where the cameras can be at T2 and still get lovely sharp focus. Imagine the drop in the lighting budget when you can light a studio with a 2000ASA camera running the lens at T2!

Also imagine a classic long lens walk and talk shot in a crowded street. Pop the Andra sensor on the actors and just let them walk toward the lens. No guessing and perhaps you get that take and move on far more quickly than before. 

The investment in these devices will reap big benefits in time saved while also allowing more interesting shots to be created. I think it's a good thing to see innovation in this area at last. The only thing I want to know is how noisy the LIDAR device on the matte box is and how much will it cost.

FlyLine Ultra Cable Cam on Atlantis Season 2

A cut of some Flyline cable cam shots in context from Season 2 of Atlantis. The Flyline cable cam trolley from PhotoshipOne is remote operated and gyro stabilised. Running on a single nylon rope it's very quick to set up and operate with many types of gimbal. This video includes the early Gremsy H10 gimbal attached to the trolley. The camera is a Canon 5DmkIII shooting Magic Lantern Raw with a Zeiss ZF2 35mm Cinemod prime from Duclos Lenses. I've since run this setup with Red Dragon cameras but for Atlantis I was looking at an easy way to introduce the show to the cable cam and the 5D was my own. It cuts in very well with the 35mm of the rest of the show.

technology, opinion

Why is VR important to Entertainment?

There's a lot of press this year surrounding Virtual Reality and after many years of promise, the VR future seems to be approaching with HTC, Oculus and Sony all set to release headsets.

But why should you care? How does VR have the potential to disrupt entertainment? 

Full immersion is very compelling. I had a demo recently of the Oculus Rift headset with a graphic level that was rudimentary at best. I stepped back onto a platform that appeared to rise up the side of a building. I was then asked to jump off. It was very difficult. It didn't take high quality graphics to convince my brain I was there, just the synchronising of my own movement and 3d imagery. 

As a way of showing how entertainment might change, watch the video below released by Epic Games for their new Unreal 4 Engine. All the environment was generated in real time. That's 100 square miles. It's beautiful and as you watch it imagine being able to explore, fly over the hills and forests, dive into the lake, climb the mountain in VR. 

Then it's a very short step to imagining a version of How to Train Your Dragon, where you are another character in the film, following the lead characters around, perhaps helping the plot along, or just stealing a dragon to go for a joyride. 

Laguna, California's  Next VR has patented technology systems for providing stitched multi-camera arrays for live events such as sport or concerts. 

Imagine being able to purchase a front row ticket to your favourite band every time. Imagine sitting at home and even if you're not so tall, always being able to see from the best vantage point. Wearing your VR headset with surround sound you're transported to the excitement of a live show, perhaps paying a premium to view live or perhaps having revisited your favourite show for another look. Next time you go to the gig you might decide to watch from the balcony instead, or change position for each song. You can look around, turn to watch the people behind you (possibly annoyed at the lumpen camera rig blocking their view) and scan the surroundings as you choose. Fancy a beer? Take your headset off and go to your fridge. You won't even have to wait to be served.

There's no real replacement of course for actually being there physically, but most of the the time people don't get the chance. I'd also love to go back and re-experience some of the gigs I have been to physically. 

Also imagine this as a vehicle for interactive politics. There's a speech on in the centre of town. There's no capacity for the politician to talk to more than 200 people in the venue but their speech will affect many voters. Everyone that wants to could be there watching through VR. The potential for engagement is enormous. How about watching the election debates live and from in the room next to the mediator. Really being able to see the candidates up close. 

Maybe entertainment is only the beginning...


technology, reviews

The Lumu Lightmeter

The Lumu is an attachment for an iOS device, designed to replace the hardware light meters DPs have come to know and trust. 

In this age of digital film making, I'd found that I use my meter less and less. Mainly to set up lighting, matching between lamps, setting contrast etc. But I no longer use it to expose the "film". Most digital cameras these days have ample scopes and meters that help you expose and it's really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation.

So why have that light meter on your belt at all? I hadn't been pulling it out some days and on some jobs it stayed firmly in the assistants on-set box gathering dust.

The Lumu light meter throws the hardware (mostly) away. It's a small sensor ball attachment for the headphone socket on your iPhone or iPod Touch. It comes with a nifty lanyard also, so I can wear it under my jumper, totally forgotten till I need to pull it out and use it. Unclick it from the lanyard, pop it in the phone and fire up the app. 

Lumu has 3 different apps for use. There's Lumu Video, most useful for DPs and people shooting motion, Lumu Photo for stills, and Lumu Pinhole.

Using Lumu Video is very easy. It autorotates like most apps on an iPhone so that you can use the phone with the meter sensor on top just like a Sekonic or Spectra and has very large graphic displays of all the functions you'd need. To me it's like the version of the digitally screened Sekonic that should have been. Why purchase a bulky meter to house electronics that the phone in your pocket has already, with far more power.

I was initially cautious about this device, and bought it slightly out of curiosity. But when I got it I compared it to my other meters and could calibrate it precisely to match them. I also realised that unlike most meters that have scales biased towards either cine or still shooting, you can set the lowest or highest range of the meter wherever you want it. No problems measuring subtle shadows or the sunny Sun!

One of the areas that I'm less sure about it the lack of a physical button to hold down when you're running your meter across a light source. I sometimes hold the button down with one hand, shading the ball to get contrast readings while a gaffer adjusts a lamp. Although you can hold down the Measure button, it's on the front face so is less comfortable to do. 

I think if it would be possible to assign the volume buttons as Measure buttons, the Lumu would be near perfect. I've emailed them to see if they can add this feature.

Obviously it's no spot meter, so for the time being my Sekonic Dual meter will still be in that on-set box. But maybe I'll have my lovely old dedicated Sekonic Spot meter there instead. Except that I sat on it once shooting Merlin, because the shot had to be from a really low angle and it was on my belt.

I have a tendency when I'm on set to nervously juggle my light meters, thinking of lighting plans while the meter flips into my hand. There's something very satisfying about that, but I'm not sure I'd be so keen to flip my expensive iPhone into the air.

That said, some habits are best broken by the new technology that comes along. I use my iPhone now as a viewfinder and also now as my main light meter. It's always with me so why not? It also seems to work much better and is far cheaper than the hardware versions of old. Watch out Sekonic and Spectra. One of you should buy Lumu. Just in case.

Coelux Artificial skylight

The new Coelux artificial skylight is very exciting for me.For a long time I've observed the quality of natural light and tried to mimic it in cinema use. Products being developed like this in the consumer realm show what can be done with modern material design, and especially nano scale particles. Designed by a physicist, this skylight projects sunlight and the scattered softer daylight into the spaces it's installed into. Lovely. 

gear in action

Puppeteer added to The Gear!

I'm very happy to have added the Flowcine Puppeteer to my gear list. 

I feel that the Puppeteer is the missing piece of the gimbal puzzle when you want to operate smooth shots and be able to carry heavier cameras like Red Epics and such. 

The Puppeteer sits on the gimbal cross bar and allows an Easy Rig string connection to slide freely. It still takes the weight but now you can tilt smoothly in an arc. When you walk or run the gimbal is no longer affected by the movement of the Easy Rig string. 

The Puppeteer also is connected straight to the top bar, removing the top handle. This mean that you can lift the camera much higher, enabling eyeline shots difficult to achieve before.

My Flowcine Puppeteer is designed primarily for Movi and Gremsy rigs. DJI Ronin's mount to the top handle with a different tool interface. Please get in touch if you would like to use it with the Ronin, I can source the extra parts very quickly.

Also coming soon: The Serene extended arm. Allowing even more comfortable operation and an extended boom range

Check out details for hire of the Puppeteer here and don't hesitate to get in touch about it.

shows

BVE London 2015 & Alexa Mini Launch

After the great fun that is the BSC Expo in January I got to follow up with the more broadcast focused and frankly much larger BVE Expo. All sorts of gear and suppliers of services are showing lights, cameras, drones, lenses, EVFs, toys, switches, knobs and widgets. 

First and foremost the show this year was a chance to get up and close to the latest announcement from Arri in the new, lightweight Alexa Mini. 

Looking like a cross between a RAIDed hard drive,  a formula one canopy and a toaster. The brilliant Alexa Mini

This camera was rumoured to be coming and my personal opinion is that they really needed to respond to the market with it's release. More and more people were shooting with Red Epic, Scarlet and Red Dragon cameras along with other brands that offered quality images in a small package. This is entirely been driven by the gimbal and copter market.

Arri in their turn have released what I believe will be a terrific camera. Small, light and very boxy, they've left out many things that are in the full size Alexa (strength, accessory power output, displays) and in turn emphasised the areas where this camera will shine such as building in the focus motor controller internally and adding wireless control.

The camera is like a bread bin but that means it's nicely sealed up and clean.  

Offering the same image quality as it's bigger siblings using the same Alev Sensor and offering frame rates up to 200FPS the Alexa Mini is made to integrate into any existing Alexa shoot. Same dynamic range, same look, same Arri resolution.

Chatting with the product managers I was able to find out a little more about the camera.

It will have audio, but only stereo audio for use as a guide track through the 4 pin Lemo port on the front of the body.

Power output is unregulated and passing through whatever comes off the attached battery. It can come out an 8 pin Lemo socket or through the GPIO socket.

The Mini supports the LDS (Lens Data System) and has a motor controller built in allowing up to 3 motors to be daisy chained from the camera's active PL mount using the C-Force motor system developed by Arri and C-Motion. Normal Arri focus motors will not work with this. Arri will bring out their own motor along with the camera's release.

There is no port for using a cinetape but I get the feeling the GPIO port will be a a very configurable system and many extra parts and adaptors will be made for this to allow other devices to be added to the camera.

 

Mounting to the camera is fairly simple. Ari have designed the camera around the sensor block in titanium. So the camera electronics essentially hang off the back as the lens hangs off the front. It's symmetrical top to bottom so to mount accessories there are fixing points above and below the film plane. These are not standard camera style fixing points so adaptor plates and cages can be fixed here to then surround the camera. I asked them if there were plans to add mounting points to the back of the camera or a battery plate and they said that due to this design, and the effort to keep it simple they would add this, but felt that for the most part as the camera sides are essentially flat, 3M dual lock velcro would be perfect for customising battery plates. I have to agree. Why over build the camera when most people can tweak it to their needs so easily.

The CVP stand in the centre of the expo had many cameras facing into large ice sculptures of cameras. A nice touch that allowed people to play with each camera and compare their contrast and sharpness easily. On a couple of the cameras was the brand new Zacuto Gratical HD electronic viewfinder. I've been curious about this as this is one area that even the best cameras fail at. No electronic viewfinder so far offers a sharp, smooth image to allow handled operation and exposure control as good as an optical finder. I've found this particularly hard switching from 35mm cameras to digital cameras and have more recently been operating on the shoulder using my Small HD DP7 monitor. This looks good but has the problems of daylight view ability and my failing eyesight meaning I need glasses to focus so close to my head. A good EVF would solve this and allow me to use the diopter in the EVF to focus on the image and it would be shielded from the sun. 

The Zacuto Gratical HD promised sharpness and great dynamic range. I was very ready to be unimpressed as so many EVFs such as the Red OLED Bomb and the standard Arri Alexa finder are quite poor in their sharpness and contrast. 

The Gratical HD turned out to be VERY sharp. Quite brilliant in fact. A nice large image with plenty of room for tools around it. Amazing smooth contrast and no banding and if anything it's too bright and needed turning down. HDMI and SDI input and pass through mean it'll work with any camera and I think this may be it's great feature. You own one viewfinder, take it with you, get to know it, calibrate it to your liking and then on every camera you operate you know what you are seeing is accurate. 


tests

Testing 35mm against Red Dragon and 5Dk3 RAW

A comparative test of various lenses and cameras for Atlantis Season 2 in 2014 at Take2 Film in London. 
Sitting in is Actress Katherine Beresford. 2nd AC was Alex Parish.

Our main format to shoot was 35mm film but it's interesting to compare the other formats. I knew the Alexa well so didn't need to test it but I wanted to look at how the smaller cameras would hold up and so tested my 5Dmk3 in Magic Lantern raw mode and also I was able to get the Red Dragon in also.

This isn't a precise test of latitude or fidelity, but a real world test of matching cameras to each other. The 35mm Kodak Vision3 200T film was shot on an Arri ST camera, processed and then scanned on a spirit before being imported into the Baselight system at Prime Focus in Soho, London. There Kevin Horsewood and I looked at getting a standard grade on the film. The Red R3Ds and CinemaDNG files from the 5Dmk3 were loaded straight into the Baselight and debayered from raw files as we graded. The .R3Ds were 6K and debayered using RedLogFilm.

Lenses used were Cooke S4s and Cooke S4minis on the PL mount cameras. 
Canon 40mm Pancake and Lomography/Zenit Petzval 85mm lenses were EF mounted lenses for use on the 5D.
Due to the differing sensor sizes the lenses weren't perfect matches in field of view.

Filters tested were Schneider Classic Softs, Tiffen Black Diffusion FX, SoftFX and Black ProMists. 
In testing the filters I was looking at skin detail, halo (candle glow) and filter patterning showing up in the bokeh.

Music used without permission is by Nils Frahm from his excellent "Spaces" album.