28 August 2012

Discs, media and encoding

Recently I've seen more folk try burning AVCHD discs as they've started using high definition camcorders and have balked at the cost of Blu-ray burners and blank BD-R discs. Unfortunately there's a bit of confusion about what an AVCHD disc is, which is not surprising since it is a strange hybrid of things, and (for most of us) arrived quite unexpectedly.

The key to it all is understanding the difference between what is disc media, and what is encoding ("encoding" is often informally referred to as the format of the disc).

26 August 2012

New film: Burpee Mile

Recently I helped edit a film for a friend. Caroline Birkinshaw, a personal trainer from Leeds, decided to do the Burpee Mile, a full mile of one of the most gruelling exercises ever imagined. Dave Hackney was on hand to shoot the event, getting some great shots of the hard work and the struggle Carrie went through to complete her task. After a bit of a delay Dave and I sat down to review the footage and I put together an edit.

Going through the raw clips I could see there was plenty of great material to use, and seeing them chronologically there was a plot arc of sorts emerging. Caroline begins alone on the running track but is soon joined by her parents, more family and friends and by the end she had a small crowd cheering her on, jumping burpees alongside and celebrating when she made it over the one-mile mark. This slow build up of momentum was a key feature I wanted to preserve in the edited film. The latter shots of Caroline feeling the strain contributed to the film reaching the peak of tension before the relief at her achievement.

Originally it was discussed this film would be set to rousing music, but when I saw those raw clips I was certain that a documentary style would suit it better, lending more gravitas to Caroline's achievement. A little comedic relief is provided by interviews with Caroline's dad and some spectators who were impressed by her determination.

25 August 2012

Fun with a variable ND filter

A little while ago I set out to do a bit of casual filming using my stabilised 18-55mm lens. I wanted to shoot wide open for narrow depth-of-field so I screwed on a ND8 filter (which blocks 8 stops of light), but at the maximum aperture of f/3.5 the picture was underexposed. The weather was a little overcast but mostly bright. So I swapped the lens for my 50mm f/1.8 and the picture was exposed enough, but I was shooting hand-held so the unstabilised 50mm wouldn't do.

Back on the computer, I ordered a variable ND filter. Comprising two polarisers that darken considerably when their orientations are crossed (see video at the bottom), these filters are great when you want fine control over exposure in bright environments. As soon as it arrived I tried some experiments in my back yard.

Shot at f/3.5 with variable ND filter
f/3.5 with variable ND filter

Shot at f/18 without ND filter
f/18 without filter

These two stills are grabs from video clips I shot with 1/50th shutter. In the first picture I set the aperture first, at the maximum of f/3.5, and then adjusted the filter so that the highlights were just below clipping. In the second picture the filter was removed, and then I adjusted the aperture to retain the highlights, which turned out to be at f/18. Quite a difference, which is demonstrated in the noticeably narrower depth-of-field in the first picture.

One other noticable difference is the colour tone. With the filter, the picture looks cooler with a blue tint, and possibly desaturated. I have found with cheap ND filters that the optical quality is not perfect and colour shifts can occur, usually pushing towards blue. The effect varies with the severity of the light loss, and the quality of materials used -- one time I tried a plastic filter and the effect was something akin to picture taken with a Lomo/Diana toy camera, or something tweaked with Instagram. In the case of this variable ND filter, the colour shift is not so bad that it can't be corrected during editing.

A short video to demonstrate:

20 August 2012

After Effects CS3 performance comparison

A while back I had an After Effects project with 640 layers of footage. I've had to learn patience with my ancient Power Mac which struggles to render anything in real time, even simple comps, but I shouldn't have been surprised to find that 640 layers took about 40 seconds per frame. The entire 90-second animation took 23 hours.

25 June 2012

Rapid film making

I've made an entry for a video competition run by Viking office supplies:

It was shot in about 30 minutes in our tiny office at the end of the day. Luckily my boss Gareth was willing to act in front of the camera, or it would have been just me!

Setting up the camera and leaving it to record takes a bit of practice, as can be seen in a few wonky shots. We didn't have time to re-shoot anything so a bit of clever editing hid the problems to some extent.

Jumping into a project and shooting it quick is incredibly liberating. Knowing that the project doesn't have to be your best work frees you to try things with little expectation. It's been the first time in a few months that I've just gone out and shot something; it was very satisfying and good skills practice. A while back I read a blog post explaining there's no speed limit to learning things, and it certainly applies here.

03 June 2012

Time-lapse: what is it?

When we think of a time-lapse clip, we think of seeing action at high speed. Plants growing, clouds passing overhead, buildings being constructed, vegetables rotting. What we are seeing is a disparity of time; the rate of playback of the action is different to the rate it was shot. Action that really takes hours or days or months is being seen in a few seconds or minutes, and it can be captivating in a way unlike live action footage.

18 May 2012

New film: Vintage Kino promo

For the past six weeks I've been working with organisers of the Kinofilm Festival based in Manchester. The festival has been in existence for many years but has recently been subject to a rejuvenation, with regular showings of local and international short films, feature films, and 16mm curiosities from the archives. (For news on upcoming events, see the Kinofilm page on Facebook).

This promotional film is for the Vintage Kino events where a programme of shorts are projected from the original 16mm celluloid. The films vary from documentaries such as We Are The Lambeth Boys, to public information films on the dangers of drug abuse, to short cartoons and comedies. Each event aims to focus on a particular year and includes Pathe news reels that summarise the year's events.

It is the first film I have produced under my new brand, aenimated films. It serves a basic function of giving my films a shared identity, and a website that collects all my various scattered media across the web into one place. It was chiefly motivated by working on the Vintage Kino promo, which may be seen by people interested in my other short films.

Post processing

All the shots in the film were heavily colour-corrected in After Effects, usually with Curves effects. The captured projections usually needed to be squared up and brightened; some needed work to remove a colour cast. The outdoor shots on Oldham Street had some 're-lighting' effects to draw attention to the murals and signage.

Camera settings

The film was shot using a Canon 600D (T3i). The material in the Three Minute Theatre we mostly shot using a 50mm f/1.8 lens (the brightest I have) and some were with a 10-24mm f/3.5. ISO was set to 800 except for the occasional shot where it needed to be pushed to 1600, along with 1/30th shutter. Interview sound was recorded separately using a Zoom H4n with a Rode VideoMic plugged into the mini-jack.

17 May 2012

After Effects CS3 crashing on save

I recently found a bargain-priced copy of Adobe After Effects CS3 on eBay. It's the full professional version for my Mac so I didn't foresee any problems. I'd been using it for a few weeks before I ran into what seemed like a terminal issue...

26 April 2012

BIAFF 2012

I'm pleased to report my two entries to the British International Amateur Film Festival (BIAFF) this year, Brew-hoo and The Wheels, were both awarded three stars! My short comedy Brew-hoo was screened on the Saturday.

27 February 2012

New film: Lock Gates

This short video depicting the hand-construction of a pair of canal lock gates is a natty combination of time-lapse sequences and live action clips. I helped shoot the time-lapse for my work during the three week process, and went back to the workshop to shoot some extra live action video, up close to the materials and the craftsmen who work them.

20 February 2012

A fix for Final Cut Studio crashes

One of the Macs in our office has just been updated to Snow Leopard (yeah, we're a bit behind the rest of the world) and we found that Motion 4 and Compressor 3.5, the versions in Final Cut Studio 2, were crashing. Compressor would hang or crash if you tried to change the output location from the default 'Source', and Motion was particularly frustrating because you couldn't even save a project, or export from an unsaved project, without it crashing and losing all your work.

After a bit of searching I eventually found a fix. It was tricky to find because it's not an issue specific to Motion or Compressor, but across all of Apple's Pro applications after Mac OS has been updated to 10.6 Snow Leopard. The fix is here:

It requires a bit of typing in Terminal which can be a bit scary due to using the superuser commands. Copy and paste the lines in the instructions if you're not a confident typist!

17 February 2012

New film: Timelapse 2011

A compilation of all the little time-lapse clips I made last year.

10 January 2012

Retrieving pictures from multiple folders

That there is 214 folders. You, Canon 350D sir, are an arse.

If you take a lot of photos (say, a couple of thousand while time-lapse shooting) one of those chief face-palm moments is when you pop the memory card into your computer, and find the camera has sorted your tidy sequence of photos into lots of folders. Hundreds of folders. Going back and forth copying a folder of images at a time is not my idea of being productive. Lucky, then, there's a standard application in Mac OS X that can do this for you.

Image Capture (found in the Applications folder, naturally) can be used to copy content from a memory card or a camera. It doesn't browse the folder structure like the Finder, instead it lists all the media files together (photos, video etc.), allowing you to select the batch you want and instruct it to copy to a destination of your choosing. No back-and-forthing required.

(Incidentally, iPhoto also does this in a roundabout way, but I find iPhoto to be a bit slow when loading up my entire photo library, which it insists on doing upon launching, whereas Image Capture is a relatively lightweight app and just gets on with it.)

Simply open Image Capture, tell it to Download Some, switch to list view, and tell it where to copy your images by way of the Download Folder setting. Voila, all your images in one folder by way of a few mouse clicks rather than millions and gabillions.