Introduction to Title Sequences

At the start of the year I had some time to research and work on some titles, something that I hadn’t done much of in the past. I often just used Final Cut to add some text and maybe some Photoshop backgrounds or similar. This is a trait I often see in video production – very basic title sequences. These are solid and work, but spending a bit of time on learning and producing something original and more dynamic is a great way to add value and interest to a project.

There are many tutorials for different styles and software but here is a link to a really great lecture by Kyle Cooper, a critically acclaimed title designer. It covers a lot of major contemporary films and the theory behind the titles and is really invaluable.

Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series: Kyle Cooper

(I would embed, but it seems to be disabled now).

Flip Camera Footage to Final Cut Workflow

We got a handful of Flip Cameras to give to people during a live, improvised event, to see if we could get some interesting b-roll. We were primarily shooting with a JVC GY-HM700, which we have on loan until our own equipment arrives. Additionally, we were shooting some miniDV on a Sony handycam (and might be sourcing some mobile phone footage from the public..).

So I wanted to start cutting a rough edit and ran into a problem right away, with the format of the Flip Cam video files. They are MP4 format, which will need rendered and then can be inconsistent after exporting.

The usual recommendation – and one that works well when only using footage from a Flip – is to use Mpeg Streamclip (free software I mentioned before) to batch-convert your footage to a ProRes format, which Final Cut works well with.

But since we shooting on the HM700, our workflow is XDCAM EX format (1080i50). So with Mpeg Streamclip, all we do is change the settings to convert the Flip’s MP4 files to XDCAM EX 1080i50 (or you change it to the format you are working in – right-click on the footage and select item properties to find this info, if you don’t know). The conversion takes a bit of time – and longer than a ProRes conversion, but it is worth it so you don’t have to render as you go.

A good video explaining how to use Mpeg Streamclip for Flip to ProRes is here, but you can adapt the info to suit your workflow: Converting FLIP video camera footage for use in Final Cut Pro

Sony PMW-EX3 or Panasonic AG-AF101?

The EX3 vs. AF101 (that’s the UK name for the AF100) debate was been raging on for years. Or since last year. The latter part.

The reason that these two cameras get pitted against each other so often is that they are both good and are in the right sort of price range for entry-level video production. I know this because I couldn’t make up my mind which one to select for a new video production role.

If I knew nothing about these cameras and someone was to briefly explain the idea behind each and its defining features, then I would opt for the AF101. I have been using a 5DMkii for video work and the successor to DSLR is very tempting. But that’s not the whole story and a little more depth is needed to make a proper decision, especially when you are faced with people with budgets, acquisition paperwork and – worst of all – some knowledge in the area. Each camera definitely has its place and ideally I would have one (or three) of each.

Let’s take a look at them individually, but without going into much technical detail. And by saying that, I mean that I’m not going to go into codecs or performance in low-light situations etc. as the scope on these doesn’t affect me too much – but if variations in these will affect you, you might want to take a closer look. Continue reading

Free Software for Video Production People using Macs (Part 1)


A good workman doesn’t blame his tools. Maybe so, but some nice apps on your mac can make life a lot easier. The first four here are all free and some are open-source so there is no reason not to!

Mpeg Streamclip
http://www.squared5.com/

This is really popular amongst video people, it is very simple but very powerful. In essence, a video converter – it is useful for changing 5DMkii format (H.264) to a codec you could edit with more easily. This isn’t all though, it is compatible with many video types and I have used it on various projects. Definitely something to keep up your sleeve.

Dropbox
http://www.dropbox.com/

If you find yourself using more than one computer (or a mac plus iPhone), then sharing files is easy with this free software. I have my account set up on my main editing mac, my MacBookPro and my work mac – as well as on my iPhone. Generally I keep some basic Photoshop actions, colours, etc. and photos for projects, documents for projects etc.

At 2gb for a free account, it’s not really big enough for video footage but you can at least push it to 4gb through referrals or pay for some extra space if you want to.

Komodo Edit
http://www.activestate.com/komodo-edit

If you are working on contemporary video contracts, often a knowledge and the application of some web coding is necessary. This free, open-source coding notepad is my weapon of choice, it just does everything I need it to (and much more).

DiskInventoryX
http://www.derlien.com/

If you are anything like me, you aren’t the best at keeping your source files and output files and random files in order and your massive external hard drive is full and you don’t know why. Probably because there is a lossless few minutes of video hiding away somewhere. This free app provides a visual and interactive representation of the files that are found on any drive and allows you to target them and re-arrange and tidy-up as you please. Essential.

The Special Effects of ‘The Black Swan’

To complete my trifecta of The Black Swan posts (see: Cinematography and Sound Design), I bring you a demo of the SFX used in The Black Swan. These small but significant effects on a film with rich realism have more of an effect on me than all the explosions and CGI trickery of a glossy Hollywood film.

I have also been working with After Effects recently, mainly for titles, which is not an area I am skilled in. The possibilities are remarkable and, through my research, I have decided that I want to try editing a project using Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. I have the production suite, so why not try it out? The things that I have been hearing about it are enough to let me leave my Final Cut Pro safety net for a spell. I’ll cover this in the future.

Going Handheld with the Panasonic AG-AF101 (AG-AF100)

Panasonic AG-AF101 body image.

Having been delayed in being able to order my camera kit, my mind was wandering to other cameras. Especially the current internet sweetheart with all the buzz surrounding it: the Panasonic AG-Af101. This was actually my initial list-topper and has never left my mind, but there are a couple of drawbacks. One of these is the ability to go handheld, which is a must for a portion of my work.

The box shape of the AF101 is not very ergonomic and its petite size, whilst being very convenient in some (small area) situations, can hinder things that are not tripod shooting or shooting from the hip. One way to circumvent this problem is to invest in a shoulder-mounting system. There are many options out there and the ones listed below are merely to show the range and differences available.

The Premium Option

Handheld kit from Abelcine.com

Panasonic AG-AF100 (AF101) Handheld Kit from Abelcine

If your source for handheld mounts is limited to video production shops, whether online or physical real-life, you are likely to encounter only the premium kind. These are usually built very precisely, counter-balanced appropriately and more-or-less ideal for the camera and job at hand.

That’s all fine if you can afford to pay 150-200% of what you already spent on the camera. Wait, what? I have always been confused by the extraordinary high prices of items like this (although the fact that many people do buy them does suggest that people who can afford more expensive cameras are using the same models that we do because the quality is that good – and big money isn’t required for amazing visual results now).

However, there is a lot to this kit, many individual parts from different manufacturers to make one all-powerful handheld kit. I have no doubt in my mind that if you can afford it, there is no better kit available (generally speaking – specific projects may need different requirements). Additionally you can add to it for different projects, or remove parts when unnecessary.

I am aware that the process involved in making these isn’t easy, they use strong, lightweight and not cheap metals and work hard to create amazing products – but, you know, I could buy a few second hand cars for that price and they all have combustion engines. The bottom line is: this kind of system is not appropriate for a £10,000 camera kit budget, which is where I stand (and I’m not alone). But if anyone wants to buy me one, I’d be delighted.

The Amateur Professional Option

Amateur Panasonic Shoulder Mount from West Side AV

Panasonic AF100 (AF101) Shoulder Brace and Battery Support from West Side AV

So if you’re anything like me, or Olof here, you will have stared at the first rig option for a while, stared at the price, back to the rig, back to the price.. Eventually you would have decided that you could make something along those lines for about 1/500th of the price and some advice from the biggest DIY person you know.

People with a passion for video and some know-how are more and more often coming up with solutions to problems that arise in the expensive world of video. With the cost of cameras and media coming down, the need for cheaper everything else is rising.

This mounting option was made by a video guy, for video guys and is pretty basic but maybe that is all that some users will require. It has a nice NanoFlash bracket and a padded shoulder area to get you up on your feet.

Personally, I don’t want to be holding the lens the whole time, scared I would knock a setting or something. Also, I am not initially going to be mounting an external battery or using an external recorder and, although this product is about 1/35th of the price of the above one, I’m not sure I could justify paying for what is essentially a shoulder pad and base-plate – on the setup I’d be using.

The Cheapskate Option

Image of Spiderbrace

Spiderbrace from spiderbrace.com

So what if you wanted to pay, say, £50?

The Spiderbrace from (funnily enough) www.spiderbrace.com is $69.95 and looks – well – sort of like a good example of what I would make for myself. It might be cheap metal, it might not be counterbalanced correctly and it might look a little weak in the shoulder support area but it’s cheap.

If you are only using handheld minimally and for nothing of great importance – maybe you’d just like to get a few cutaways where you are moving around or for some personal/family stuff – you could do at lot worse. This system will make handheld easier with a camera like the AF101 and take some of the pressure off holding it awkwardly (or having to carry around a tripod).

You might not look like the coolest guy at your son’s football game though.

The Homemade Option

If this is all still too expensive or you fancy some weekend DIY, then why not take a look at YouTube. Videos like the one below are plentiful and there are lots of different options. You should probably be aware that you’re never going to get the same results as you would a professional system, but each to their own.