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Creative iPhone gadgets

Japanese artist Jitsuro Mase has created an innovative iPhone/iPad gadget that turns the iPhone/iPad into a nifty little handheld 3d cinema.

Dubbed the i3dg, Mase’s device uses mirrors set at 45-degree angles to project mini movies into the space around your iPhone or iPad. You don’t need any special equipment or polarised lenses or anything to view the 3d projections.

The visuals are created in a layout corresponding to the position of the mirrors and Mase has already created dozens of animations that show off the i3dg's capabilities. A series of i3dg films and animations are being shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2011, early next year.

To see clips from some of these animations and find out how the i3dg works, see the video below.




While we’re on the iPhone, here’s another interesting device to maximise its creative potential. The Owle Bubo slots around the iPhone 4 to further enhance the 720p video capturing capabilities of the phone - providing it with a custom 37mm wide-angle lens, a high-quality microphone, and the ability to use any 37mm thread lens.

According to Owle, the Bubo gives the iPhone 4 “better colour saturation, contrast and sharpness, crystal clear sound and hugely reduced hand jitter”. It also makes it possible to use interchangeable 37mm lenses.



The Owle Bubo for iPhone 4 costs £150, or bundled with a Rotolight RL48-A, Rotolight Stand and belt pouch costs £275. For more information, go here

Posted 19 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Pro Tools 9 - the lowdown

Following the launch of Pro Tools 9 earlier this month, Avid held an audio event for press yesterday to run through and demo the newly improved functionality of the industry-standard audio toolkit.

The overwhelming feeling following the event is the latest version is quite a leap forward in providing users with options for using Pro Tools with a much wider assortment of control panels and audio interfaces, or even on the move on a laptop with no hardware at all.

One of the key upgrades as part of Pro Tools 9 is it is now available as a software-only version. This is the first time it’s been available as a standalone piece of software, enabling full access to Pro Tools for audio prepping, mixing and editing on a laptop.

Another significant improvement is Pro Tools 9 now supports a much broader range of control surfaces (through the Avid EUCON open Ethernet protocol), including (naturally) Avid’s newly acquired Euphonix consoles and controllers, which have been rebranded as Avid Artist Series and Pro Series consoles.

Added to this, Pro Tools 9 also supports a much larger range of audio I/O interfaces, as a result of new Core Audio and ASIO driver support.

At yesterday's event, Avid announced it is no longer going to sell a handful of its formerly separately available Pro Tools add-ons, including the popular Music Production Toolkit. These are now bundled in with Pro Tools 9 as part of its expanded features set.

The functionality added to Pro Tools 9 by the addition of these add-ons includes automatic delay compensation, ending the need to manually compensate for latencies from hardware I/Os and plug-in algorithm processing.

Other improvements to Pro Tools includes the ability to do OMF/AAF/MXF file interchanges and MP3 exports, there's also enhanced accuracy when syncing audio to video in post, through a new built-in time code ruler, and an updated 7.1 surround sound paner.

Pro Tools 9 is available as a software-only version at around £500 or packaged with different audio interfaces at increasing price points.

Here’s a collection of music and audio post people giving their first impressions on the upgraded system...


Posted 18 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Super-slo-mo art films

Newcastle’s live action and animation production outfit J6 Films has completed a series of 30 extreme slo-mo films of people laughing for an art project commissioned by BBC Radio 3.

Each of the films is a visual portrait of someone from the North East, with the 30 people filmed ranging in age from 2 to 80 years old. They were shown on a series of flatscreen TVs throughout the concourse area The Sage, Gateshead earlier this month as part of an installation called the Free Thinking Festival.


Image credit: BBC/Dan Prince

The theme of the festival was ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and the films are “a visual metaphor of the pursuit of happiness, contemplated with a magnifying glass,” says film director Chuchie Hill.

“When high speed shooting, at approximately 1000 frames per second, we can capture every little movement of the face muscles and skin not appreciated when normal speed or live,” adds Hill.

The films (four of which are below) were produced by J6’s James Baxter.


Posted 16 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Foundry's all-in-one post tool

The Foundry is extending its sights outside of vfx with the development of STORM, which the company says will grow to be an affordable, all-in-one vfx, editorial and finishing tool.

Best known for Nuke (which was initially developed inhouse at vfx giant Digital Domain) and visual effects plug-ins, The Foundry has developed STORM from the ground up, and has just released a beta version of the software available at www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/storm/try/

STORM has had a fairly low-key release so far, with news of the product slipping out quietly at NAB, but this is largely down to the initial release being a relatively unassuming precursor to what’s likely to follow.

As it currently stands, STORM is simply pitched as a more fully featured replacement to Red’s own free (and perpetually in beta) raw rushes colour corrector RedCine-X. Red’s Ted Schilowitz describes STORM as ”REDCine-X on steroids”.

It currently captures picture, sound and metadata from Red cameras, where it can be reviewed, quality checked, tagged and organised and cinematographic looks tried out via colour correction tools.

However, the £250 software package also crucially bundles in a timeline editor. The editor is relatively feature-light at present, but, says The Foundry’s head of product development Richard Shackleton, “Next year we want to expand it and create a big brother STORM product that’s a full production hub.”
 
The enhanced version (which will be closer to £1,000 than £250) will have a much more advanced timeline editor, be able to do basic vfx as well as the conform and grade.

“It’s not going to be for high-end work,” says  Shackleton, but will do “the bulk of work” that passes through a post production facility. The enhanced version of STORM could be ready for NAB 2011, he adds.

The Foundry is investing heavily in STORM’s development with a team of four dedicated to building up the product’s feature set.

The market for combined editorial, vfx, grading and finishing tools is already quite crowded, with the likes of Avid, Apple and Autodesk already offering similarly broad reaching products, so only time will tell if there’s space for The Foundry’s own addition to the marketplace.

Posted 12 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Avatar Blu-Ray 3d delayed

Back in April, when Avatar first came out on DVD and Blu-Ray, it was released as a 2d-only version and with no extras whatsoever.

Now the iconic film is being reissued as a three-disc Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition, complete with 16-minutes of added scenes and hours of bonus features. Which sounds great. But the catch is, it’s still not going to be in 3d.

The only way to get hold of a 3d copy of Avatar to watch at home is by buying a Panasonic Blu-Ray 3d player or Panasonic 3dTV, as a specially made Blu-Ray 3d disc is bundled in as a freebie. But this version doesn’t of course include the extra 16 minutes that's been added to the new Collector’s Edition release, or any of the bonus features.

According to industry website HollwoodInHiDef.com, Panasonic has bought a one-year exclusive window on the Avatar Blu-ray 3d release and is holding fire on its release until the home 3d market “grows big enough to justify it”.

Quite how long the wait will be is anyone’s guess, but the lack of a Blu-Ray 3d of Avatar on retailers' shelves leading up to Christmas is going to do little to boost the so far very modest sales of Blu-Ray 3d players and/or 3dTVs.

Posted 11 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Do DSLRs live up to the hype?

Producer/director Charles Kelly emailed me recently about how frustrated he was by DSLRs being hyped up to the point where no one has a bad word to say about them. He asked if he could air his views on using the Canon 5D/7D and here's what he has to say. It makes interesting reading.

Kelly works for CSK Integrated Solutions (www.cskis.com), a production company working across all media platforms. A much shorter version of Kelly's opinion is published in the November issue of Televisual (p.21).

"Every time I pick up a magazine someone seems to have 'fallen in love' with a Canon 5 or 7D. The footage can look impressive and the price offers great value, but is true love really blind? How do these cameras actually hold up in a real-world scenario?

We used a 5D Mk2 on a project for a major financial institution, which involved a good mix of interiors and exteriors across multiple locations in the UK and India. Overall, I was impressed, but, strange as this may sound to its army of lovers, it’s certainly not perfect.

It very quickly became apparent that the majority of reviews I’d read in advance had either been penned by those from a photography background or by some over enthusiastic video-bods who’d simply taken a unit for a quick spin round the block. The 5D delivers a filmic look with a shallow depth-of-field – and that’s where most of the reviews end. In reality, the camera slightly frustrates various elements of the production process by having a plethora of operational idiosyncrasies.

I’m sure these issues are not limited to Canon models, so my experience may be of interest to anyone thinking of using one of the DSLR cameras currently on the market. So, what should a DSLR virgin be aware of?

Unless you’re simply capturing a few scenic shots it will probably be best to hire one of the bespoke mounting rigs now available. This will support the camera and allow accessories such as a monitor, matte box and follow-focus to be added with relative ease. 

The sound quality derived from on-board recording is not broadcast standard and works on automatic gain circuitry – fine as a guide or a reference but not suitable for a final programme. An external sound recoding unit is required, preferably along with some method of adding its time-code to one of the audio channels on the Canon to assist the syncing process in post production. 

The twelve minute clip record duration doesn’t sound like a big issue when you’re sitting in the comfort of your production office but you can more or less guarantee the best flurry of action, or the most important sound bite, will begin at exactly eleven minutes fifty five seconds – on a fairly regular basis!

The 5D operates on a rolling-shutter principle and this can cause some strange motion artefacts, so keep a close eye for any such aberrations as you could be able to correct many of these while filming. You also need to take care to ensure any camera pans are fairly slow and smooth; not a big deal, just be aware of it. 

The lightness of a DSLR unit can make it more prone to vibration when used with standard TV grip gear. There are lightweight jibs and arms that will give short, smooth moves so take time to investigate these options. If you’re planning a mix of track, dolly and jib moves on location make sure you’ve got plenty of time to set the whole thing up and rehearse – and have a good supply of sandbags for extra ballast.  

Hand-held work offers up new challenges; the LCD monitor on the rear of the camera is far from ideal – unless you happen to be working down a mine. Add this to the rolling-shutter and the unfamiliar / uncomfortable operating position and you have a recipe that lends itself to (very) short hand-held sequences. 

The video monitoring would make a certain Mr Heath Robinson very proud. As previously mentioned; the LCD screen on the rear of the camera is not particularly useful for daylight operation but there is the option of a viewfinder eye-piece extension – worth buying or checking to ensure it is part of your hire package. But remember, if you connect an external monitor the feed to the camera LCD is disabled

For many set-ups you may want to use two monitors; one fitted to the camera rig for the operator and another screen for the director, producer and clients. The snag is the 5D only has one HDMI output. No worries I hear you cry – use a splitter. The second snag is the camera gets confused when it senses a splitter in the cable chain; it will allow you to view both screens in preview mode but as soon as you hit record you will lose the feed to the second monitor. If you’re thinking about utilising the analogue output, be prepared for some pretty abysmal picture quality. 

In certain monitoring set-ups the 5D also has the annoying habit of changing the aspect ratio; going from a 16/9 in preview (live-view) mode to a 4/3 format in record. Very disconcerting, but this has apparently been fixed on the 7D. 

Financial savings are often cited as a great advantage of going down the DSLR route and you probably will save money on camera hire. However, you’ll need additional lenses, probably a set of four primes plus a zoom or the cheaper / faster option of two quality zooms. You will also require the external sound recording device; obviously, this will all add cost back in to the budget.

For those who have little or no experience of working on film, or high-end HD, you need to be aware that shallow depth-of-field work brings its own fairly literal challenge of maintaining sharp focus. This is much more difficult, and time consuming, than when working with an old trusty DigiBeta and standard zoom lens. It makes a lot of sense to have a focus puller, or decent camera assistant; more money on crew, but well worth it in the long run.

Although not the biggest of issues, you should also be aware the 5D only records at a standard 25fps, with the 7D offering the option of filming at 50fps, which is an improvement but still not ideal. For slightly arty scenes I often like to film just off reality, something like 30fps which isn’t as ponderous and obvious as half speed but does take the edge of straight reality. This isn’t an option with either of these cameras.

Anti-aliasing can also be an issue with some shot content, and the BBC technical department has flagged this up as a concern over the use of this camera for broadcast HD TV projects.

When you move in to post production, ingesting the large media files is slower than some other formats and you need to allow time to import the separate sound files and sync them up to the visuals. 

The Canon’s file format is H246 – great for viewing, but not so great for editing. If using FCP, you will probably want to convert your footage to Pro Res files. In Avid your optimum workflow plan will be dependant on the version of media composer you’re using. 

You also have to consider how you’re delivering the end product. In the corporate world, standard DVD is still very much the norm in meeting, training and boardrooms across the country; you may have hours of lovely HD footage but you could be delivering a standard definition programme.

Whether you create an HD master for subsequent down-conversion, or convert your rushes at the onset of editing, will probably be dictated by a number of issues; the time and money you have available for post production, whether you’re incorporating a large amount of SD material into the programme, the specification of edit suite you’re using and the current and future needs of your client.

But, either way, if not delivering in HD, take some time to investigate the HD to SD conversion process. The different software and hardware options for doing this can deliver quite a variation in end results. Image quality can also vary between Avid and FCP systems as they process and handle the media files in different ways.

Updates and software 'fixes' are available for some of these operational issues but if you’re hiring the camera these aren’t going to be an option you can explore. If you’re planning to be a camera owner you can investigate further but these downloads are invariably supplied by third parties and will invalidate your original warranty. Magic Lantern specialise in this area but their homepage clearly states, “…this Magic Lantern release comes with no warranty for any use; you use it at your own risk.”

There’s no doubt, working with a DSLR requires a bit of thought and preparation; supporters would claim some of the comments above could apply to any film camera. There’s an element of truth in that but I’m highlighting these operational idiosyncrasies because these cameras are invariably being used by people from a video background, some of whom have never even seen a film camera let alone used one. 

Plan ahead, carry out some pre-shoot tests, be aware of the challenges and all should go well. We’ll use the Canon again; for the right project, and in the right circumstances, it’s a very good option. I particularly enjoyed the discipline of using prime lenses, working with shallow depth-of-field and having access to a film-style ISO control. But I can’t help wondering; will the lover’s affections start to wander when a proper broadcast equivalent comes on the market?"

Posted 04 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Spot on visual effects

In the November issue of Televisual, there's a four-page feature showcasing the visual effects on some of the year's best looking spots. We didn't have space to print all the beautiful images we received while doing research for the feature, but they are well worth seeing, so here's an extended gallery of images from the commercials that made the cut.

As well as stills from the finished ads, we've also included a generous selection of 'before' and 'after' shots from key visual effects sequences. For detailed information about how these vfx were achieved – based on interviews with the vfx supervisors on each of the commercials – see a printed copy of the November issue of Televisual.

McDonald's Weather
This Simon Ratigan-directed spot, produced by HLA for Leo Burnett, London, is built around animated weather icons created by MPC. It shows the sun icon rising over the sea, children playing with giant rain icons and lightning icons striking over fields.









 


EA Need for Speed trailer
Framestore directed this full cg trailer film for EA’s Need for Speed game inhouse, with senior technical director David Mellor at the helm. The brief was to ”create a dynamic, cinematic, classic car chase where both sides, cop or racer, could outsmart each other”.





Philips Squeaky Clean
Andy Hargreaves and Mark Pascoe at Rushes are responsible for the cg character design and animation on this Orlando Cubitt-directed Flynn Productions spot for DDB. The commercial, for Philips’ most powerful vacuum cleaner, shows a mouse being sucked up from under the floorboards during a springclean.











Nike Write the Future
The epic Nike Write the Future spot, from W + K Amsterdam and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, relies heavily on The Mill’s vfx work.  The ad required a 23 day shoot, 250 vfx shots, 130 massive crowd shots, five weeks of post, a feature film sized crew, and a team of 50 staff at The Mill working across its London, New York and LA offices.










 


Weetabix Happy Breakfast
Stink’s humourous Weetabix spot for WCRS, directed by Ben Dawkins, centres on three talking household pets lip sync-ed and animated by a team at Glassworks. Lead Flame artist and visual effects supervisor on the spot, Duncan Malcolm, says the vfx house was approached by Dawkins before he’d even won the job, to talk through potential ways to create a naturalistic effect for the talking animals.






 


Trident Burst
Homecorp’s Jon Yeo-directed Trident Chewing Gum commercial for JWT features a spectacular ice meteor shower created by Big Buoy. “The most challenging part was to create a meteor shower that looked beautiful and not threatening” so Big Buoy created concept art based on visual references and art direction from Yeo.





 


Sony Pure Football
This TV commercial for Sony, produced by Academy for Anomaly, was director Jonathan Glazer’s first stereoscopic spot. Soho’s vfx boutique One of Us, led by vfx supervisor Tom Debenham, completed the stereoscopic post and vfx work.




Posted 03 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Live 3d holographic visuals

One of the pioneers of audio visual performances, video artist Stuart Warren-Hill, got in touch with Televisual late last week to let us know about his new project, Holotronica, which, he says, involves using “self-created holographic visual synthesis” to create futuristic looking, attention-grabbing live 3d holographic performances.

"Holotronica is a groundbreaking a/v concept combining analog synthesizers with realtime midi triggered holographic visuals," adds Warren-Hill.

The results of all this are pretty stunning – see below for some examples.

Warren-Hill is no stranger to forward thinking audio visual work, being half of Ninja Tune a/v duo Hexstatic, the act behind the first entirely audio video cdrom album release, Rewind back in 2000.

Holotronica is doing a free live 3d holographic a/v performance on Saturday 13th November at the BFI Southbank, as part of (London-based moving image and digital arts organisation) onedotzero’s ‘adventures in motion festival 2010’.

Judging by this performance at the Kinetica Art Fair earlier this year, the BFI show should be well worth a visit.



Here’s a short clip from another Holotronica track, with Warren-Hill creating a real-time composition, triggered via midi from Ableton live.



And another one...



Finally, this is Warren-Hill performing with a weird musical instrument called the Eigenharp, creating live 3d holographic audio visual material at The Hospital Club around this time last year.



As well as the forthcoming gig, Holotronica is launching a 3d website, which goes live on 8th November at www.holotronica.tv

Posted 02 November 2010 by Jake Bickerton
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