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Production Heavy, Just the Way I Like It!

4 07 2012

From our hottest day on Friday. This was the morning though, when it was still reasonably cool.

So, for the last few weeks, I have been super busy with a number of productions, which is always an excellent thing!  With intent not to bore, I’ll give as much run down on the last few projects I’ve been involved in, without comprising any confidential details about the projects or who was involved in each production specifically.

First up, Down Fenix Media, LLC officially wrapped production on a three-video series for a very large client, who will remain unnamed since I haven’t cleared anything with them, this past Sunday.  We had spent the Saturday before filming at the large Farmer’s Market outside of Greensboro, and then spent two additional days shooting various material at the Arboretum near downtown Greensboro, and one day of interiors at our lead actresses’s apartment.  All days went really smoothly, and it’s a good feeling to have everything in the can on this project.  It’s currently being edited by our resident editor extraordinaire Bryan R. “Higgibaby” (not an official nickname, he will likely punch you if you call him this…he punches me often for it) Higgins.  In other DFM, LLC news, look out for our new (and much improved) Web site coming very soon!

Following those two shoot days over the weekend with DFM, I was back in the office at Inmar Monday morning, and busy with an array of exciting projects we have/had going on.  On Tuesday, I traveled with one of our in-house Communications Writers, our Associate Marketing Manager for Digital Promotions and our Assistant Events Planner, who happened to be pulling double duty that day by also serving as an actress, and headed down to Trailblazers Studios in Raleigh.  There, we were shooting a teaser for our Digital Promotions network, but again I will leave very open ended, because I don’t want to leak too much information….just believe me, exciting stuff!  I was really impressed with Trailblazers, a beautiful and very well-built studio – a rarity for this area!  Also, that day, I was wearing a bit of a different hat than I am used to on set – playing a co-producer/technical advisor role for my company.  It was fun coming at a project from that angle, as I find it exhilarating to try out different roles once in awhile, but my technician side got the best of me a few times and I jumped in to Dolly Grip on a few of the moving shots, since I saw the need arose.

Wednesday, I was swamped in pre-production for another series of three videos, but also part of the same Digital Promotions Network campaign.  We shot this series of three videos with the help of a local LLC, and great bunch of guys, at a perfect location for the stories, the Riverpark at Cooleemee Falls in Davie County, on Thursday and Friday.  Thursday and Friday’s shot lists were completely day exteriors, all 95+ degree weather, so it definitely comprised of some HOT shooting conditions, but everything went smoothly and we popped off the final shots right before we had to leave the location at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon.  In addition to serving as a liaison between Inmar and the contracted LLC for the shoot days, I also got the opportunity to gaff on set, and it was nice meeting and working with the crew and cast on both of those days.

Candid Photo from Thursday’s Digital Promotions Shoot.

Following the grueling heat of Friday’s shoot, I began a five day July 4th staycation, which is finally winding down today.  I’m happy to report that my novel is nearing its final few chapters of the first draft, and look out for some new reviews here on the blog in the coming days.  Thanks for reading and please enjoy a few of the quick production stills I popped off on my iPhone during our shoot days on Thursday and Friday!

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Project Log: UNC-Greensboro Text Campaign Shoot #3

5 10 2011

My final project on the “Text” campaign for UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning and my final project during my tenure at UNCG in general has been released.  The idea behind this entry into the campaign was to mimic the trailers of 1950s horror films such as The Blob.  Various ideas were thrown out on how best to go about the project, which was to feature the idea of “Text” (representing text on a page Web sites for educational learning) taking over the country and rearing its ugly face across the nation and beyond.

The first idea was to shoot on the RED One and filmize the footage with grain, color correction and motion blur to help sell a 1950s film look.  Being the DP, I highly recommended that we don’t go that route.  The problem that arises, no matter how well done the digital manipulation is, is that it isn’t film.  There is no way to make the response of added grain natural or the motion blur properly controlled.  The second idea to implement this project was to take public domain footage from various B movies from the Prelinger Archives and other sources and cut the trailer in this manner.  After hours of looking through various footage on Prelinger and other online archives, we found that most of the footage was terribly compressed and, even though there was a plethora of B movie material available, little had the exact moments we were hoping to capture.  At this point, I recommended we just shoot on 16mm film with an older camera and older lens.  This way, there is no lifting in post; the film, mixed in with the older camera movement and 40 year old lens technology, would sell itself.  Patrick, our Multimedia Lead, brought this idea up to the Marketing Director at the Office of Online Learning, Jaap-Jan van Duin, and he gave us the greenlight as long as we could keep the budget under $1,000.  We enthusiastically agreed to keeping in budget and were excited to shoot a project for the division on 16mm film; something very few companies or organizations are doing in this day and age at all.

The first order of business was where to find a camera.  I contacted a few people I knew who owned various film cameras, but most were either hesitant to let it go for little or no pay, or had not run film through it in so long that they couldn’t assure functionality.  Having matriculated though the UNCG Media Studies program years ago, I knew they had a few Bolex H-16s in tote, so I called the Operations Manager, Ken Terres, and asked if we could borrow one for the shoot.  He was very kind and let us have one of the H-16s with an Angenieux 12-120mm lenses for the week.  Over the course of the week, we shot 600 ft. of film (Kodak Vision 3 500T and Vision 3 250D) for our little trailer in about 4-5 different locations.  Throughout filming, I tried to light in a manner reminiscent of 1950s B movies, so many of scenes are lit with hard light and very little diffusion.  Furthermore, there are a decent amount of shots that went handheld to give the extra horror “cheese” factor.  The film was subsequently sent off to Cinelab in Massachusetts, who unbeknownst to us at the time was in the process of a move.  Because of the move, it took longer than usual to get the film back, but we were very happy with their price and job on the processing and HD transfer.

Patrick Griffin and Bryan R. Higgins, by this point the only two members on the Multimedia Team at the Office of Online Learning due to state layoffs, did the edit and VFX work on the piece.  With great pride I give you the final product of our efforts:

WHEN TEXT ATTACKS!  (and you can see the Behind the Scenes here).  I love feedback, comments, criticism and questions, so let me know what you think!

 

 

 





The Fenix is Rising!!!

3 10 2011

No, I didn’t misspell the title, it stands for the new production company I am affiliated with that is starting active promotion today, Down Fenix Media.  The principals of Down Fenix Media, outside of myself, are Patrick T. Griffin, Bryan R. Higgins and Jon Fredette.

We were the backbone of the UNC-Greensboro Office of Online Learning Multimedia Team from July,2010, when Patrick came on board, until July,2011, when Jon and I left.  Finding a great deal of satisfaction in working together, as well as realizing the product potential, we decided to work on several projects outside the confines of UNC-Greensboro.  Following an award-winning short film entitled “Eat Me!”, which I have provided a link to on a previous post here on the blog, and several projects we collaborated on for various clients, we came up with the idea of starting our own company.  Talks began early in 2011 and the ball/idea has continuously been rolling, but it is just today that with great pride I announce the official beginnings of Down Fenix Media.  Our business cards are in tote, our Web site is live and our readiness to produce amazing content for a diverse client base is insatiable.

So, without further ado, I give you Down Fenix Media:

WWW.DOWNFENIXMEDIA.COM

 

 

 

 





Gear Review: Panasonic AG-AF100

18 08 2011

Panasonic AF-100 stock photo

Make: Panasonic

Model: AG-AF100

My use: We ordered one of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  Before I left, we used it to film several marketing campaigns.  In addition, I have also had the opportunity to shoot one short film on this model camera.

Average Price: $4,795 (body only)

My thoughts: Having owned an HVX-200 since 2006, the menu system and generalized area of where various buttons are on the AF-100 are familiar.  They are not exact replicas, but if  you know one, it won’t take long to learn your way around the other.  The AF-100 shoots onto SDHC cards in the AVCHD format at up to 1920×1080 resolution and contains a micro 4/3 CMOS sensor.  In relation to size, the micro 4/3 sensor is very similar to the size of a 35mm motion picture film frame.  Because of this, the depth of field is quite comparable.  However, in relation to lenses, the AF-100 is more like a 16mm camera.  A 50mm relative 35mm full frame lens will crop to the approximate equivalence of a 100mm lens field of view on this camera.  The ACVHD compression is definitely more compressed than the DVCPRO HD format of the HVX, so this is one point of contention considering how much newer the release is from its predecessor.  Another thing I was not happy about is that the max Mbs onto your SDHC card is 24Mbs, which is a fairly low bit-rate considering the 5d and 7d will capture footage at around 35Mbs.  However, I have to admit, that the image itself is quite appealing.  There are several HDR modes, but at a normal setting, you do have to watch your highlights very closely.  I personally own a Lumix GH2 (which is a DSLR), also micro 4/3,  and was surprised that the sensor on it holds highlights better than the much more expensive AF-100!  The AF-100, in turn, though has the functions of a camcorder that are sorely missed on DSLRs, such as: multiple XLR mic inputs, multiple IN/OUTs, built-in ND filters and a more ergonomic and friendly design.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Image Device 4/3-type MOS Fixed Pickup
Picture Elements Approx. 12.4MP (Effective) (16:9)
Video Recording System NTSC/PAL
4:2:0 Color Space
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Horizontal Resolution 800 TV Lines
Built-in Filters Neutral Density 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 or OFF (rotary switch)
Gain Selection VIDEO CAM mode: −6dB to 18dB (3dB step)
FILM CAM mode: ISO200 to ISO3200
Color Temperature Control ATW, ATW LOCK, preset 3200K, preset 5600K, preset VAR, Ach, Bch
Sensitivity F8.0 normal (2000lx, 3200K, 89.9% reflex, 1080 59.94i)
Recording Format AVCHD Compliant (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) @21Mbps (max)
Recording Modes PH:
1920 x 1080 / 1280 x 720
21Mbps (average), 24Mbps (max)
LPCM/2ch or Dolby Digital/2chHA:
1920 x 1080
17Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

HE:
1440 x 1080
6Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

Audio Sampling 48kHz (16-bit Encoding)
Maximum Recording Time Using Two 64GB SDXC Cards
PH Mode: approx. 720 mins
HA Mode: approx. 960 mins
HE Mode: approx. 2880 mins
Video Formats 1080:
1080/60i, 1080/50i
Only in PH mode: 1080/30p (over 60i), 1080/25p (over 50i), 1080/24p (native)720 (only in PH mode):
720/60p, 720/50p, 720/24p (native), 720/25p (over 50i), 720/30p (over 60i)
Frame Rates 12p, 15p, 18p, 20p, 21p, 22p, 24p,
25p, 26p, 27p, 28p, 30p, 32p, 34p,
36p, 40p, 44p, 48p, 54p, 60p
Inputs/Outputs HD-SDI: BNC (x1 Output)
HDMI: HDMI Type A (x1 Output)
Composite: RCA (x1 Output)
Line/Mic: XLR +48V (x2 Input)
Audio L/R: RCAx2 (x1 Output)
Headphone: 3.5mm Mini Jack (x1 Output)
USB: Type B Mini v2.0 (x1)
Remote: Super Mini Jack (x1 Input)
Memory Card Slot (2) SD/SDHC/SDXC Slots
LCD Monitor 3.45″ Wide LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Viewfinder Wide 0.45″ LCD (approx. 1,226,000 dots equivalent)
Power Requirements 7.2VDC
Power Consumption 12.4W
Dimensions (WxHxD) 6.4 x 7.7 x 11.4″ (16.3 x 19.5 x 29 cm)
Weight 2.9 lbs (1.3kg)


Bottom Line
: There are some wonderful things about this camera and it can produce a very admirable image, especially for the price range.  However, it is not a DSLR killer and there are definitely attributes that Panasonic could improve on to make this an even better model in years to come.  Also, don’t be too fooled by the price!  To take full advantage of this camera, you definitely need a good lens set and that makes this camera much more expensive package-wise than it originally appears.





Videodrome (1983) Review

9 08 2011

Copyright 1983 CFDC

★ ★ ★ ★

In looking over Netflix’s streaming selection, Maddie and I rather haphazardly happened upon this film.  The synopsis looked very intriguing and, knowing it was a David Cronenberg film, I had an idea as to the tone and mood the film would have.

A young James Woods plays a sleazy television programmer named Max Renn.  His television station, Channel 83, televises mod content, softcore pornography and the likes over the cable airwaves.  With the enlistment of “satellite pirate” Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), Renn scours the airwaves for edgy content to show on his station.  One day, Harlan shows him a fuzzy broadcast he receives that takes place in a small room and includes very realistic sadomasochism and even murder.  Intrigued, Renn wants to find out more and see about broadcasting this risky program entitled “Videodrome.”  Around this time, during an interview on a talk show, he strikes up a relationship with a fellow interviewee, radio personality Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry).  Being a sadomasochist herself, Nicki is excited about the idea of “Videodrome” airing on Channel 83.  However, Renn has problems locating the source content makers and is warned by his agent to not look any further into the matter.  With curiosity growing, Renn continues to search for the makers of “Videodrome” and winds up having some bizarre encounters with an odd personality known as Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley).  From this point on, the film becomes a very psychological and bizarre look at the strange effects that the “Videodrome” signal has upon an individual.

Woods does a great job in this role, and I was pleasantly surprised by Harry whom I had never seen act before.  For those of you who don’t know, her real claim to fame is as the lead singer of Blondie, who had hits with “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass,” among others during the punk/new wave revolution of the late 1970s.  Cronenberg’s shot selections were very inspired and dreamlike, which worked perfectly for the subject matter.  The contrasts between gritty, natural lighting and highly stylized mood lighting throughout by cinematographer Mark Irwin also fit the story very well.  Most impressively, however, were the incredible make-up effects by makeup effects designer Rick Baker.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, these amazingly well done makeup effects would probably have gone to a CGI department.

I will admit that I haven’t seen a large amount of Cronenberg’s work; however, this film has been the most bizarre entry of his repertoire that I have yet seen.  Maddie was at first interested, but then totally put off by the path the film took midway through.  I, on the other hand, was happily amused throughout.  So, in short, this film is not for everyone.  It is weird, hallucinatory and bizarre, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you will not be disappointed.





Music on Film Series Reviews: The Kids are Alright

3 08 2011

Copyright 1978 The Who Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Who’s Next consistently ranks as one of my favorite albums of all-time.  Because of this, it was only natural for me to be drawn towards what live Who footage there was out there.  For many years, my uncle or one of my brothers had bestowed a Best Buy gift card to me for Christmas; being a digital nut, it was always a safe bet.  One year, when I was about 16 or 17-years-old, one of those gift cards was cashed in for this two-part DVD.

The footage itself is not so much self-contained as it is an amalgam of footage over the career of The Who.  Footage quality varies widely from early black-and-white to slick live color 16mm footage from the late 1970s.  Intermixed with the live footage are interviews with the members of the band: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.  The film encompasses the band’s life from 1964-1978 and includes some of drummer Keith Moon’s final performances.  He would die of accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 32 in September, 1978.

The raw energy of a band like The Who is hard to capture in concert footage, but I feel this film gives a valiant effort.  Especially worth noting are the later performances of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Who Are You” and “Baba O’Rilly” in 1978.  Iconic footage from these performances have made been integrated into many other media avenues since release including the 2001 Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky.

If you are a fan of The Who, then I highly recommend this film.  Not only does it capture the band’s life from early success until Moon’s final, tragic days, it also takes a look in a very unobtrusive way into their lives recording together and interacting on promotional tours, etc.  It definitely is a gem of compiled footage from a band that will go into the annals of music history as trendsetters and masters of raw emotion, both live and on the album.

Here’s one of my favorite tracks from the film:





Recent Shoot Log: UNC-Greensboro “Viral” #2 – Textris

16 07 2011

Our second entry into the UNC-Greensboro “Viral” campaign was released yesterday.  To recap on the campaign ideas itself: in a world where text-on-a-page Web sites, documents, etc. are taking over our lives in this digital age, we were commissioned to design a marketing campaign promoting our multimedia-infused alternative.  The end result are a series of videos that will show text literally bombarding everyday life.

In this installment, a young woman is playing the iconic puzzle game “Tetris” on her computer in a public park.  After some intense play, she unlocks a secret level called “Textris”.  In this bonus level, the blocks form the word “TEXT”, but more interesting than that, they literally have invaded the young woman’s real life space.  These giant blocks of “TEXT” are not only coming down on the screen, but piling up in the park in front of her.

We had a bit more planning time for this one than usual and our Multimedia Lead, Patrick Griffin, was able to fully shot list and plan out all the shots he wanted.  It turns out that this was a lucky thing, because on the day we ended up shooting it was miserably hot at nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Knowing that mid-afternoon would only see the heat get worse, we planned to meet at the office to load gear at 6 a.m., so that we could be at our location (Center City Park in downtown Greensboro) by 7 a.m.

Upon arrival, our small four man crew, which in addition to Patrick and myself included our Editor Bryan Higgins and Audio Specialist Jon Fredette, began unloading gear from the two vehicles we brought.  We found a park table that suited our needs with a proper background and foreground, and started setting up the equipment we needed, primarily a 12×12 overhead silk and a 16 ft. Snapcrane with MC-100 remote head.

The sun was beating down hard that day, so the 12×12 silk was up to help diffuse the harshness of the sunlight.  However, I did want her to have a bit of a controlled backlight, so we set up a 1.2k ARRI HMI off our actress, Lilly Nelson’s, back left corner.  That one setup was all that we used for the entirety of the shoot with several adjustments throughout the day on the overhead and HMI.

Our first shots were a series of crane shots that then moved into a series of shots on a tripod, mainly for inserts.  Though it was a hot, difficult day in the morning, by about 11 a.m., the heat was bordering on unbearable.  We were all going through entire bottles of water in minutes and energy levels were falling fast from the heat.  This strain was especially compounded by the fact that we only had four people doing double duty on a multitude of set positions.

We finally wrapped in the early afternoon and were packed up and back at the office by 3 p.m.  I think we all left early that day to get some much needed rest and re-hydration.  Though we were originally going to shoot the piece on the RED One Digital Cinema camera, we opted for the smaller, more durable Panasonic AF-100 with Nikon Primes.  With the heat and small crew, we knew we needed something more mobile than the bulky RED package.

This was our first time using the AF-100 on a shoot.  I think it came out with a good image, though in retrospect, there are a few things I would have done a bit differently.  Primarily, I would never use the SnapCrane again with a camera that uses interchangeable lenses without some kind of remote focus unit.  The Depth of Field was constantly an issue and we had no way to control focus on that crane without a remote unit.  Because of this, several of the crane shots were scrapped because of an ever so slight soft focus issue.  I did my best to remedy the situation with wide lenses, high f-stops and DoF calculations via the pCam Digital, but the calculations were hard to get precisely accurate because of the crane’s vertical fluctuations.  Secondly, some of the crane shots blew the highlights on the camera a bit.  I will admit, I like to push digital cameras because I like an image that has some bright highs and low blacks, but on several of the crane shots, I pushed it a bit much and got some blooming.

But, you live and you learn.  Also, to be completely honest, I think by noon when it was 100 degrees and humidity was at like 77%, we just wanted to wrap out for fear of getting sick from the immense heat.  Following the shoot, Bryan Higgins, our editor and vfx supervisor took the piece, cut it, and then started layering in the elements from After Effects and Cinema 4D.  Jon Fredette, our Audio Specialist, took the project from there and did an awesome rendition of the classic Tetris theme using both an 8 bit and metal mix on the iconic Russian folk song.

Our third entry into the series, which was shot on a Bolex H16, is currently awaiting processing and HD transfer at CineLab in Massachusetts.  Look out for it next month, but for now, here’s our “Textris” entry:

 








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