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NAB2015: Preview

Last year’s NAB was a major launch pad for new cameras from unexpected places.

This year promises a return to normality, with Canon expected to be leading the charge by shaking up its range, lining up a replacement for the C300 with a possible 4K upgrade.

Shooting Partners head of facilities Shaun Wilton, for one, has a clear priority at NAB.

“Day 1, 30 seconds after doors open I will be heading for the Canon stand. I think it’ll be a huge show for Canon, as IBC was for Sony with the FS7. ”

“Everyone is anticipating a new C300,” says Wilton who confesses: “I have a lot of respect for Canon which has not released a new camera every NAB, rendering what went before obsolete.

”Hopefully one trend we will see will be a move away from big manufacturers launching completely new cameras every year.

“It’s the sort of thing that drives everybody mad,” says Wilton. “You get used to a camera and build up accessories. And then guess what? There’s a new one. It’s something that has happened a lot in the past.”

Trend for updates

Another trend hire companies and owners will like is the move towards manufacturers launching significant upgrades to existing products though firmware updates.

Cameras from manufacturers such as Arri, Red and Blackmagic are built around flexible architectures that allow for upgrades that can add significant functionality through software updates.

Likewise we will see more cameras offering ProRes and DNxHD recording in-camera and a wider range of codecs.

For manufacturers caught up in the 4K hype it’s worth remembering that for many, less is more.

Says Wilton: “What impressed me about a visit to Arri was we were able to talk to them about introducing a 50Mb/s data rate.

"Our clients are saying we want to shoot on the Amira but the CFast cards are all ProRes, 100Mb/s codec with twice the amount of data we want and twice the storage cost in post.

"The fact that Arri has added a 50Mb/s ProRes setting for the Amira is a smart move – it doesn’t always have to be about a new camera, rather an update where you can offer Ultra HD as a chargeable upgrade.”

Arri’s decision to embrace the world of UHD with the launch of a new Alexa SXT (Super Xtended Technology) camera will be exciting a lot of interest.

In the spirit of the new world of upgradability, existing Alexa XT, XT Plus and XT Studio cameras will be able to upgrade to 4K with an SXR (Super Xtended Recording) update.

Mini cams

The recently-launched Alexa Mini will be on show too, pushing the Alexa range into new areas where cameras such as GoPro have cornered the market.

Recent launches from Codex (Action Cam) underline that the mini cam market, once seen as a specialist area, is now being seen as a significant opportunity for a much wider range of companies.

Aframe ceo David Peto says: “Arri’s new Alexa Mini shows a trend from the professional manufacturers to try to see off the likes of GoPro - just like they responded to the threat of the DSLRS a few years ago.”

At Red Jarred Land has been teasing the market pre-NAB with social media about a new camera body upgrade in the shape of the Weapon camera – a paid upgrade to be announced at the market aimed at Dragon owners, plus there could be more on a new, improved Red sensor.

4K and IP

Aframe ceo David Peto expects 4K to continue as a dominant theme.

“4K codecs such as Sony’s XAVC and the brilliant FS7 camera will hopefully see 4K going mainstream,” he says.

4K will obviously be a core subject at this year’s NAB, confirms Petter Ole Jakobsen, chief technology officer, Vizrt.

“Together with the more general discussion on the change towards a more flexible IP-based infrastructure, there’ll be talk about the possibilities of new ways of designing a 4K workflow.

"What does 4K mean for the way we work going forward? How does it affect how we define a studio?

"4K has thrown up a lot of questions in recent times but we – as an industry – are now closer to the point where we can begin to answer them.”

Jon Folland at media logistics company Nativ adds: “I’ll be taking a close look at 4K and MPEG-DASH adaptive streaming technology implementations.

"And I’ll be seeing if broadcasters are ready to exploit these new UHD standards and whether the very crowded streaming format ecosystem shows any signs of consolidating.”

Not if, but when

Sony will be focusing on IP based technology year, a subject we will be hearing a lot about, confirms Vizrt CTO Petter Ole Jakobsen.

“It’s no longer a case of if we switch to IP-based infrastructures, it’s when. It will also lead to more experiments in 4K productions led by IP.”

For EVS svp marketing Nicolas Bourdon the future is about adding value to content. “This ties in with the broadcasters’ ability to enrich programs with relevant information such as graphics, stats, audio and VR.

"These visual enrichments offer more compelling stories for viewers. You can take the EVS FanZone as an example.

"The solutions we have here are no longer just theoretical ideas or flights of fancy. They’re real world applications which enable consumers to watch live sports and entertainment in new ways.”

Future of editing Avid has been tweaking its focus in recent months, turning its attention to a new ‘untapped’ independent creative user and developing more subscription-based and free versions of its software to appeal to them.

Ceo Louis Hernandez Jr said in a recent conference call to analysts that the company had traditionally focused on “top tier” clients (broadcasters and post houses) but has indentified a new and largely untapped market of independent professionals and enthusiasts.

“We will be launching a series of new products, including subscription and cloud offerings. This is a new area of focus that has already brought us thousands of new customers and opens the door to an almost $2 billion market not previously targeted,” he said.

In terms of its more traditional customer base, Avid is launching a new asset management product, but it’ll be one of many, with CAT DV promising a $1m MAM which costs nothing like $1m.

Malcolm Cowan, head of technology at Timeline Television on playout and post

At NAB we’ll be looking at play out and scheduling systems as well as the latest developments in UHD technologies.

Despite the lack of clear standards for UHD there is an increasing appetite from some of our clients to look at how it may be deployed.

We will also be looking at MAM and how we can get the best solutions by combining approaches from different vendors to meet demand.

The options around tiered storage and use of the cloud make this a very interesting sector at the moment.

We have a reputation in innovative post and fast turnaround sports worklows and will be delving into the world of post again, exploring new options with companies such as EVS, Avid and Adobe.

We are also very keen to explore the latest developments with IP technology. Undoubtedly the future will be IP based and will be key to some of our client’s future expectations and needs.

Currently a hybrid of IP and 3G SDI is an interesting approach, which we are looking to deploy in our expanding OB fleet.

As an upload parter to Aframe, we are also very interested to see their new edit solution they are planning to unveil.

Duncan Payne, sales manager at WTS

4K for live production is going to be a key focus for WTS this NAB. The camera technology has been around for a little while with Grass Valley already showing a 4K 2/3 inch camera channel and Sony presumably poised to do likewise.

The transition from quad HD over copper to a fibre infrastructure is certainly a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

IP-wrapped SDI – compressed or uncompressed – offers many benefits, or will do once the technology has caught up with the dream. One issue is that there is not one flavour of fibre protocol.

Interoperability (the ability to use different manufacturers’ kit along the chain) is key in any workflow, and there is currently no standard, which will make any production manager nervous.

Red’s broadcast module is also high on our list and I’m sure there will be developments there; an HD camera channel that can also do 4K and record 6K on-board is directly relevant to our market.

I predict lens technology will be exciting with more advances from the main players.

The Canon 50-1000mm PL mount lens is a beast, and a life-saver for a cameraman wanting tight shots of polar bears (as long as there is light, a really steady tripod… and a co-operative bear!

Laurent Fanichet, product marketing manager, scaleout storage EMEA at Quantum on n the cloud, 4K and storage

At NAB this year we’re going to be hearing a lot about the use of the cloud as an integral part of the workflow as it begins to be used for functions beyond archiving – delivery in particular.

This year we’re going to see more concrete workflow solutions for content producers and broadcasters to begin not only moving storage to the cloud but innovating new ways of using it across the entire production process.

It’s been a similar story with 4K. While everyone has spent the last few shows talking about how much they enjoy seeing it, the practicalities haven’t really been addressed.

This year we’ll see more people planning the reality of 4K. We are seeing more media owners come to us to discuss storage solutions that will let them work with 4K content efficiently and without interruption.

We’re also expecting to see more demand around storage for the small to medium sized content producers.

As more and more production facilities are becoming active, there is space for the smaller operations to thrive. This will create more and more requests for a scalable storage solution that allows businesses to pay as they grow.

Posted 11 April 2015 by David Wood

Brace yourself for this graphic video graded by Finish

Finish’s latest work is a graphically violent cartoon and live action collaboration by Colonel Blimp director David Wilson and renowned animator Christy Karacas.

Out of the Black, a half graphically animated, half-live action ‘psychodelic’ promo for multi-Brit Award nominees Royal Blood, is definitely not for the faint hearted.

It centres upon a fantastical world of graphic cartoon violence, as a service-station heist takes a bizarre turn.

An Easter bunny disguised alien leads a posse of holiday costumed creatures consisting of a snowman, a pumpkin, an ice cream cone and a walking heart into a blood-pumping, body slamming, head exploding showdown with the cops.

Royal Blood - Out of The Black 🍦⛄️🐰❤️🎃 from David Wilson on Vimeo.

Finish Flame Artists Judy Roberts and Andy Copping with colourist Julien Biard helped integrate the animated scenes with the live-action in what proved to be a highly complex post job which made heavy use of remote grading workflows.

Biard comments: “David is based in LA and he couldn’t be in the grading suite with me so we used a remote grading system, where I’m grading in London and David is at another facility in LA.”

“It’s great because both suites are linked up by an almost instantaneous feed so he could see every adjustment of the grade in real time, despite the 5,000 miles separating us!”

David Wilson added: “Finish worked tirelessly to elevate the piece. Like with the majority of post production this is done in ways that are often very difficult to spot, but that’s only because they did an incredible job.”

Roberts comments: “A smashed up helicopter, cars and a dead body, were all added to the clean plate using hand textured CGI renders, and various supplied photographic elements.

“The lighting proved to be the most challenging to achieve as the sources of light are coming from very particular angles here.

“So when painting the light had to be perfectly in place to look realistic, which is something that wasn’t easy to get from the stills.

“Another key job for us was to engineer movement in the car crash at the beginning.

“On the shoot the actor was running and jumping onto a stationary car for evident safety reasons.

Our job was to build the car crash out of various plates to make it seem like the car was moving at speed.”

And of course as if it was not gory enough already there were also a few shots, which needed extra blood passes, composited by Andy Copping in Flame.

Says Copping: ‘The big one was of the rabbit slumped at the petrol pump. We enhanced all of the blood around him to match it up with the brilliant last bit of animation.”

“The film is incredibly unique in its style and it’s been a real labour of love for the Director David. It’s really personal to him, as he animates himself.”


Agency Colonel Blimp
Director David Wilson & Christy Karacas
Production CompanyColonel Blimp
 Corin Taylor
Post Producer
 Cheryl Payne
Colour Grading 
Julien Biard
Lead Flame
 Judy Roberts
 Steve Murgatroyd
, Andy Copping
Kayley Fernandes
Michael Berlucchi
 Max @Stitch

Posted 17 February 2015 by David Wood

First impressions of the Panasonic's Varicam 35

Now that Panasonic has announced its new 4K camera the Varicam 35, we decided to take a closer look at the camera and asked wildlife filmmaker John Aitchison for his views.

The first thing that you notice about the Varicam is its modular design.

Tthe separate 4K camera module docks with the recording unit which is interchangeable with the new 2/3 inch camera module Varicam HS – Panasonic’s new high speed camera head allowing frame rates up to 240fps).

The 4K version incorporates a newly-developed super 35mm MOS sensor for 4096 x 2160 capture and uses the AVC-Ultra video codec for fast data compression at 240Mb/s.

The PL mount Varicam 35 will handle multiple formats including 4K, UHD, 2K and HD and variable frame rates up to 120fps and is aimed at high-end filmmaking.

Operators can switch between super 35 and 2/3 inch heads to suit the needs of the shoot.

The super 35 sensor promises 14 stops of latitude, wide dynamic range and much enhanced colour management with a new Log mode and extended colour gamut supporting ACES workflows.

The Varicam 35 will use the new expressP2 card for high frame rate and 4K recording, with four card slots, two for expressP2 cards for up to 130 minutes of 4K/24p content, and two for microP2 cards for HD.

John Aitchison
Wildlife filmmaker

Panasonic have produced a recorder with alternative front modules, one of which is 4k with a large sensor while the other uses a 2/3" three-chip prism for recording 1080 but with a greater range of frame rates than the 4k version.  

So far I have been disappointed that all the manufacturers seem to assume we all want to film with a shallow depth of field, hence the large sensors.  For long-lens filming of animals I need all the depth of field I can get and all the magnification in a reasonably sized and portable package too.

So it's the new 2/3" Varicam module I am interested in.  Being able to use B4 mounted lenses directly without needing a light-hungry adapter (to cover a large sensor) is a great advantage when the light is low or when I'm filming at the higher frame rates.  

The camera's main drawback is that many productions are keen to shoot in 4k.  I would  also be interested to see how bright the OLED viewfinder is - I have recently found others too dark, making a black and white CRT more appealing.

Maybe one day someone will come out with a 4k camera with a good range of frame rates, 2/3" sensors and a B4 mount.

That might be the day I finally decide it's worth owning a camera again.


Posted 06 February 2015 by David Wood

Can you build your own DIY shoulder rig?

So It's January and your broke because you've spent all your hard earned cash over Christmas and New Year.

Or perhaps you are feeling thrifty and fed up of lining the pockets of kit manufacturers?

Well here's a idea for saving a few quid on peripherals if you're not too busy and fancy a bit of DIY.

Your very own home built shoulder rig for a DSLR camera, which our friends at NoFilmSchool brought to our attention.

Take a look at Dan Chung explaining how you can make your own for under £50.

Posted 23 January 2015 by David Wood

CES highlight: DJI's 4K drone

One of the more eye catching highlights of CES this year was the launch of a 4K drone by chinese manufacturer DJI, best known for the Phantom quadcopter.

The Inspire 1 drone is designed specifically for filmmakers and at around £2,000 isn’t the cheapest drone on the market, but it does boast some eyecatching features and is clear capable of producing some amazing images.

DGI claims the Inspire 1 is the world’s most advanced drone and will re-define aerial filming, and it has hired the services of filmmaker Philip Bloom to explain why.

As Philip points out it has a unique carbon fibre architecture which can be moved out of the way to give an unobstructed 360 degree view.

It’s camera shoots 4K video at 24, 25 and 30fps and HD at 24, 25, 30 50 and 60fps.

The camera can be upgraded and is supported by three axis gimbal technology.

DJI says the drone can fly indoor, can hover with good stability and  is easy to control. It also can display HD footage at a range of 1km so that you can view rushes as you shoot them.

DJI’s Michael Perry commented at CES: "The Inspire 1 has a 4K camera on board for really high-resolution images.”

“It has a retractable leg design so that while it's in the air, the camera can rotate 360 degrees, allowing you to have a lot more control of the image while you're in flight.”

“You also have a two operator set up. One person operates the platform. Another person can operate the gimbal. You can also operate everything by a single operator but sometimes you want a little more control over the image while it's flying." 

The Inspire 1 has a maximum flight time of around 18 minutes and can reach an altitude of up to 4,500 metres.

DJI has also released a video of its latest product releases at CES.


Posted 09 January 2015 by David Wood

Union VFX's latest work on The Theory of Everything

Union VFX completed 160 shots on James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which opened in cinemas at the beginning of January.

Union, which carried out all vfx work on the film, completed the shots from design and pre-visualization to final execution.

The shots included an end titles sequence where a two minute journey through space was created flying past several nebulae, into a black hole and then through the nervous system of the body.

The sequence was created in Houdini.

The monitor which Hawking uses to communicate with in the film was also re-designed by Union in post and the timings of the text were adjusted for dramatic effect to make it clearer for the viewer. 

Some crowd replication and car green screen work was also carried out.

Union VFX lead visual effects supervisor and co-founder Adam Gascoyne, says : ‘This is our first project with James Marsh and we worked very closely with him to develop a visual interpretation of Hawking’s theories.

"We tried to come up with a look and feel for the period and wanted the visions to be very subtle in keeping with the context of the film.
"Simple things like reversing the motion of cream being added to coffee using Houdini fluid simulations, the animation of embers flying out of the fire and the explosion of the pupil representing Hawking’s heat radiation theory have had considerable visual impact on an already compelling story.

“It’s creatively much more exciting and gives significantly more bang for your buck to factor in the vfx development process rather than try and fix it in post,” added Gascoyne.
Union VFX is currently working with Working Title Films on Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic, based on the book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by Irish sports journalist David Walsh.

Other projects include Sarah Gavron's Film4 backed movie Suffragette.

Posted 07 January 2015 by David Wood

Remote editing takes off

2015 trends: One area of production technology which has exploded in 2014 and is set to make further inroads next year is the growing trend towards remote workflows, in all areas of production from television to film and commercials. 

Post companies are certainly reporting an increase in demand for greater flexibility from clients who want to be able to review rushes and be kept abreast of progress on edits wherever they are. Underpinning this development is the availability of more widely available, faster and more reliable connectivity. Plus there are many more systems to choose from, ranging from platforms from major manufacturers such as Avid (Interplay and Interplay Sphere, rebranded as Media Composer Cloud earlier this year) to the availability of specialist web-based logging and previewing systems such as Forscene, used on shows such as Sky’s Got to Dance and Discovery’s Gold Rush. 

Post houses report that producers can really see the benefits of online approvals, online viewing of rushes and reviewing of edits and work in progress. It’s a bit of a no brainer because it’s cheaper, faster and more convenient than sending out bikes with the latest version for review. People can click on a link when they are ready and heads of production like the tracking capabilities which some remote systems offer which tell them who has seen what.

The other big benefit to the producer is that rushes can be logged and rough cuts assembled without setting foot in an expensive edit suite.

The only limitation to the growth of remote workflow technology seems to be where key creative decision making requires a more intimate face-to-face relationship between editor and director. Or where bandwidth limitations make the sending of high resolution files in real time unfeasible.

Another issue is that if high-end displays are needed to review work, then the right kit must be installed at both ends of the link, which needs investment. Because of the requirements for high-end monitoring, you might think that grading and vfx would be one of the last places for remote workflows to take a hold. But you’d be wrong.

The growing international profile of large post and vfx businesses has seen remote workflows beginning to take a hold in grading and vfx. In fact, remote grading workflows are really changing the way in which some of the UK’s best know vfx companies are working.

Many of the UK’s leading post houses now have editing and grading resources spread throughout the world and have invested to make remote grading and vfx workflows a reality.

This means that colourists and vfx designers can collaborate on projects despite being in different countries.

More and more post companies are fitting out rooms in their facilities with the same calibrated high-end displays as are available in their grading suites so that clients can book sessions with colourists anywhere in the world and work with them as though they were in the same room. The benefit for agencies, directors and DPs is that they can handpick the best talent worldwide for the job at hand.

Posted 23 December 2014 by David Wood

When cameras go wrong

Many column inches have been expended on the subject of high tech news rooms which these days feature expensive remote robotic camera systems that do smooth pre-programmed camera moves.

When things run smoothly in the newsroom then nobody wonders if it might be best to return to the good old days when cameras were actually operated by camera operators.

But judging by recent events in the BBC's £1bn Broadcasting House refurb, where the BBC's high tech newsroom is located, things don't always run smoothly.

The internet is being populated with a growing number of clips which you might expect to see on You've Been Framed rather than the newsroom of a public service broadcaster.

But the BBC isn't the only newsroom which has experienced problems with robotic cameras as this clip shows. 

Apparently the BBC's newsroom problems are all down to the occasional hiccups which occur when the BBC's ENPS news management system attempts to communicate with Mosart, the computer programme that controls the cameras.

Potentially the situation could get worse when the BBC introduces its new replacement for ENPS, with two news management systems running side by side for a time before ENPS is retired.

Here the slightly opaque BBC response to what is happening. “The BBC is undertaking a procurement for a Newsroom Computer System under the Public Contracts Regulations (2006), having advertised in the Official Journal of the EU, reference 2013/S 174-300782.

“The BBC is not able to comment further on this procurement until the completion of that process. This is because the BBC must not do anything that might adversely affect that ongoing process, and due to commercial confidentiality.”

Basically “can't tell you... its a secret”.

In the interim we should just reflect that technology might make things cheaper, but it doesn't always make things better.

Posted 12 December 2014 by David Wood
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