Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Costumes I like

There are things I like about The Expanse. Many of those things are set design. The chairs on spaceships. Spacesuits which are wetsuits and drysuits.
But then there's this costume.

Normally you'd think this kind of thick collar would not be flattering. But good grief it works.

She gets to wear a new costume in every scene.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Time Code and You

Let's face reality: in indy feature films there's practically no reason to use timecode. There just isn't. You can't really sync any sub-$100,000 camera with timecode on set, and so you can't really use it in post.
But because I was a sound mixer in a previous life, I have a fancy-pants timecode slate made by Ambient. Thing is, I've never fed it timecode. Originally I had one of those Fostex PD-2 DAT machines. That was a clunky thing. Expensive. Fiddly. But it could read and write timecode in whatever format you wanted, do pull-up and pull-down and whatever nonsense people used to do when shooting at 24fps, blah-blah-blah.
Then I went to a computer system. Metacorder. Way over-priced but fairly workable. That system would actually jam timecode too. Uh. Just on the output? I think maybe it just output timecode which the slate could sync to. I think. Wow. It's been a number of years...
But then we worked with non-timecode Sound Devices recorders for the last many years. And we use the slate because it comes down and makes a "whack" sound which is easy to sync up on the timeline (actually, I like the Ambient slate because there are these lights which come on when the slate actually hits and that makes finding the visual mark where the whack happens really simple.)
The slate here is twice as expensive as the 8-channel recorder. What you see here is the transmitter to the slate, a battery (top) and the Zoom F-8 (in stop so it's not transmitting TC), and an Ambient slate.
I found that as a production sound guy, producers loved the numbers going around and around on the timecode slate. They never used that timecode and pretty much nobody on set knows what they're going to do with anything you deliver anyway, but that's just how it is.
The timecode menu on the Zoom. Note that you can set the "user bits" to be almost anything you like. Here I'm experimenting with having it display the number code for a movie called "1601". The "auto mute" means that it only puts out timecode when the recorder is running, so the slate will only display moving timecode when you're in record.
So now that I have timecode available again, even though we'll never use it, I'm still going to make sure the slate receives it. Why? Who knows? It's completely irrational of me. But we can do it, so we're going to.
It's ten minutes of 8pm. You can see the record light is on and the Zoom is recording, therefore it is outputting timecode. When the slate is clapped, the user-bits will show up for a second or two but that is just about impossible to photograph with a still camera.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


So a thing which concerns me is that I think in the future we're going to start seeing demands for ATSC A/85 loudness standards in deliverables.
But we do care. We care so much.

Now for them of us in the indy world, there's frequently some allowances for certain standards which exist in the big network TV world which we get to slide by. But I don't think the international loudness standards are going to be one of those things.
So I want to be ahead of the... 8-ball? Curve? Whatever it is one needs to be ahead of to make sure we're delivering masters which are compliant to CALM act and that sort of thing.
The high-end version of the audio mixing/editing software I use (Samplitude) is called Sequoia. It is comically expensive (almost $3000). But it has built-in tools for decent loudness metering.
There are cheaper LUFS meters, but not necessarily what one is looking for in the way of broadcast audio.
In any case, measuring A/85 or any of the other loudness standards is... weird. You're measuring an average of an average of a level but only within a certain frequency range and only when the signal is above a certain level. Right? Because loudness is a subjective thing and making a meter to measure it is a pain in the tuchus.
Dig this (from the above TC Electronics link):
Target levels are specified in various broadcast standards, but only vary slightly. For instance, the ATSC A/85 standard recommends a target of -24 and uses the LKFS term, whereas the EBU R128 standard sets the target level at -23 and uses the LUFS term. One of the reasons for this difference is that the R128 standard employs the above-mentioned gate, which in effect makes most measurements equivalent to -24 LKFS/LUFS without the gate - yet more useful for aligning loudness across genres.
Yup. The broadcast standards are sort of difficult to get one's head around. But it's doable. And if we can guarantee the deliverables (which I imagine might be important for VOD) it will help.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thinking while Rotoscoping

In the indy world, anything which even remotely seems like it might be inexpensive has to be quashed right away. Shooting in HD is now the cheap thing to do so 4K is the new hotness.
Personally I'm not into the look of the giant-sensor cameras. That super-shallow dof reads "Oh, someone's got a Canon" to me.
 My buddy Chance Shirley thinks that the frame size of Super 16mm is about the sweet spot between narrow depth of field and not having an image so shallow it's simply impossible to focus. I have to agree with him there.
 So I like the micro 4/3ds format. It's, you know, about the right size for a sensor. The trick is finding a camera (which has to be 4K) plus a global shutter.
Global shutter. Dang nab it. We solved every problem -- we got big sensors which solved the un-film-like deep focus that those tiny 1/3" sensors had, but doing so we introduced a new and really annoying problem -- rolling shutter.
 The irony is that film, yes film, has an inherent rolling shutter. It's just a lot shorter than what these new big-sensor DSLR's have. And honestly you can shoot a lot of movie without seeing any artifacts. And also, the new cameras are getting their artifacts down to motion-picture "wet film" levels. But still, I'd like it to be gone.
 Filmmaking is a learning experience. One thing I learned is to NOT rely on rotoscoping out an entire scene with multiple characters from a background that does not match what you want.
Oy freakin' vey that's a lot of work.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


I've been told to never again put anything involving budgets on any blog post again. I listen. And obey.
Our budgets keep going up though. And we're getting better at certain things.
Virginia Logan modified these flight suits and Brian Schiavo built the masks (not seen) that the androids wear. It's actually quite a goodly bit of costume design. Ian Hubert is building background and yes, that's his robotic drone in the foreground (middleground I suppose).
Ian is also responsible for how smooth this composite is. I don't know what wizardry he does but oof. It's nice.

What else hath been dictated from on high? 4k. We're shooting in 4k from here on out. We might not even be delivering in 4K for a while but for the time being we need to finish in 4k because VOD channels on the interwebs are going to start demanding it.

We shot our last movie (not the above one) in 4K. So we'll be shooting 4K from here on out.
My fantasy is to get one of those Black Magic cameras, mount it so it feels like an Aaton, and get a 4K recorder for it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Post Stuff

Kate Britton with androids in background. Also a post-apocalyptic refinery.
 Ian Hubert has been fixing my lousy camera work. And boy. Has he fixed it.
The Philadelphia Desert is a harsh environment. Luckily these androids (I believe this is Kathleen Fletcher) have facemasks made by Brian Schiavo.

This is dangerous because it encourages us to think we can just do any nonsense at all when shooting because the plates will be cleaned up and background elements will be added so beautifully.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Things on my Desk Today

Weller's post on distribution is excellent. I disagree with his look at LGBT and African-American films though: at this point those two genres are played out. They still exist but the audiences have gotten more discerning because the markets have tended to saturate so they aren't as open to indy filmmakers as they once were.
I would binge-watch all of The Expanse except that only episodes 1-4 are up. Here's an article on the development of the series.
The top and bottom 10 sci-fi and fantasy movies this year. I'm not sure I agree with every choice...
This spoiler-filled review of Star Wars 7 is pretty smart.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Expanse

The aesthetic design of this TV show is... expensive looking. It's also quite sophisticated and beautiful. There are a LOT of different worlds they have to differentiate between, each with their own class systems and such. The story is totally solid with a good mystery to it. Acting and dialog are all top-shelf. I'm pretty happy with binge watching it. Especially whilst rendering.
  • The opening scene has the best 0-G I've ever seen in a TV show. Honestly it's really hard to pull off. Chance and I think her hair was CG, which makes the most sense. The rest of the zero - G stuff doesn't look nearly as nice but that opening... oof.
  • I'm envious of the armor the Mars navy wears. The shoulders are particularly nice.
  • I'm envious of all the chairs in all the cockpits. They're super nice. We have to get our chairs to look that nice.
I'm not a fan of glass cockpits but I do like that hanging Spock viewer thing the character 2nd from the left is looking through.
  • The costume design is overall very nice. Nice spacesuits. Are they refitted drysuits? I don't know.
  • They have nice Pip Boys on their wrists.

Ceilings and actual multi-levels on sets. I presume almost all the lighting is on-set. There's a couple beams from above but other than that the actors are kinda getting slapped with practicals.

  • Another thing which is nice is the wrist lights on spacesuits. Those are also nice.
  • The helmets are very good. You have to have a lot of faceplate so the audience can see who they're looking at. They do that very well as well as make them look fairly robust.
  • The chairs. I love all those dang chairs. Even the slightly dumb jump-seats. 
This is a good view of what the Pip Boys are like. I so want a Pip Boy. For me.
  • The CG ships are really quite nice on the whole. Even in multi-hundreds of million-dollar theatrical releases there are some effects which are just... missed. But they hold their own in this series. And it's not like they can reuse a lot of those effects either.
  • The way the miniguns come out of the hulls of spaceships is a very nice touch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The Blender Foundation seems to have done a good job making their Cycles renderer work really well with GPU on an Nvidia card. It doesn't work so great on AMD cards (which sort of eliminates Apple machines from the running). But objects set up with Cycles materials can party with fairly fast renders (on Nvidia cards).

Weirdly, Adobe seems to also favor Nvidia over AMD graphics. In my experience this means their Mercury playback engine works better on Nvidia which again means that Premiere and After Effects work better on PC's than on Macs.

Some ridiculous human (me) is having some old Blender models (which do look beautiful) fly by in a couple scenes and man, they take longer to render than I expect them to.

The thing I do desire with all my heart is that there be an easy way to render out a ground plane that is invisible but otherwise accepts shadows in Cycles. There is a kludgey way to do it by rendering out a separate ground plane which is mostly alpha channel with a shadow on it but it involves setting up multiple outputs and you have to composite them back together again in After Effects. And although that's not a nightmare because at least you get to fiddle with the amount of shadow, it's well... it's a kludge.

"Kludge" is a word according to my browser's dictionary apparently.

Huh. It never occurred to me that Ripley has a watch in Alien. She has one in Aliens. But the one in Alien was not that big a deal. Somebody sells the one from the videogame Alien Isolation. But in the original Alien it was apparently a couple Casio F100's put together on the same band.
So much rendering to do. 0 to 536, and then 936 to 1361.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Composites and Rotoscopes

I'm the one responsible for most of the rotoscoping.
My first complaint is working in 4K. It's like just as we get computers fast enough to do fancy stuff in HD we have to quadruple the processing needs. Sheesh.
For some reason I decided to do this one shot as a 950-frame shot.
After Effects does some fairly decent auto-rotoscoping these days. But sometimes it does something weird like when it took away Kate's face. 

Kate with automatically removed face.
But doing a tiny bit of manual roto to get things back to normal is worth the effort.
Kate with manually replaced face.
I'm adding a lot of dust to shots. The dust is impossible to see in stills.
Kate among the dead and the quick.

Monday, November 30, 2015


I've been killing a lot of androids lately. I know that's going to come back to me.

Yes, Mother, you can export ProRes out of AfterEffects in Windows. It requires this free plugin from the company DuBon. And you can only export files, not compositions, so you have to pre-render first. But it can be done. It can. Be done. H/T Ian Hubert.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Last Additional Photography Day

Just as we're being summarily dismissed from our office at 356 Broadway by our insane landlords, we're in post-production on a couple pictures, one of which requires some additional photography. The images from the additional photography look great, but we have to shoot exteriors and this time of year there's only like 9 hours of daylight altogether at this latitude. For exposure purposes there's even less because once the sun goes below a mountain or a tree line you've only got the skylight left. You're basically in civil twilight even without being in, you know, actual civil twilight.

I'm thinking that publishing images of sunrise/sunset charts is about the most boring thing I could blog with. And for that I am somewhat moderately sorry. But I need to keep the image somewhere.
On Sunday at 4:30pm the gaffer shuts off the lights.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What's for me

Of things that do not exist yet, the Blackmagic Micro Cinema camera is the thing that speaks most to me.

First of all, it's going to be cheap. Like a thousand dollars cheap.
Secondly, Chance Shirley has convinced me that 16mm is a better sized format for shooting because it's somewhat easier to focus than 35mm. Indeed, 35mm is a pain in the tuchus to focus.
Thirdwise, it's micro-four-thirds. I have a micro four thirds lens that's pretty fast. I'm totally down with that.
Quadranaically, there's HDMI video out. Oh man, the SDI on other Blackmagic cameras irked me. HDMI is so much easier.
On the Five Spot, it records to SD cards, not to weird stuff.
Sixly, it's got a global shutter and rolling shutter irritates me half to death.

The problems with it? Well for one it doesn't exist yet. Also, it's not 4K. Blackmagic is indeed coming out with a 4K Micro but it has no onboard recording. So as long as buyers don't care about "Ultra HD" we're good. The problem with 4K is that nobody can actually see it unless they sit with their face right up in the screen just like their moms told them not to do.

I feel like just as we got computers to get decent at rendering high-def and now we have to do 4K. Sigh. I feel HD really is the top resolution. Nobody really sees anything higher. I mean the boys down at THX say that film prints have an effective resolution of about 700 lines. So why all this resolution stuff? Ugh. Now I am complaining.

I think the Micro Cinema camera seems cool.

A Conversational Place - Full Film

Did I blog about this yet? I should have. I probably did. I'll do it again.

Groove to the beautiful and brilliant Catie Riggs.