Personalising a Canon PowerShot

I’ve been after a Canon S110 or S120 as a backup camera for a while now. I have seen them used by various web video filmmakers and on things like MTV’s Catfish. I finally ordered one and thought I’d share Casey Neistat’s part review, part gripe, part customisation video of his favourite camera series.

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How to Choose Custom Aspect Ratios from your Footage

In this post I will explain how you can use After Effects and/or Final Cut to create different aspect ratios from your footage (which can be any size, within reason).

There are different reasons for changing the aspect ratio of your production:

  • You might need to make a 4:3 into a widescreen production
  • You might want to chop off the top and bottom for some reason
  • You might want to make your film look more cinematic

These are just a few, but the middle reason applied to me this week, as I shot a production where I had to use the whole width of the frame, but the top and bottom had extraneous detail.

Now these aren’t the professional solutions for cinema and top-end video production, but they work well for DVD and web – and that’s all I’m concerned about for the time being. If anyone has their own workflow, tips – or even information about professional methods, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

For DVD Output (Final Cut Only method)

Now my project is destined for DVD production and I did intitially try the After Effects/For Web route, but found that the workflow and processing time were convoluted and ridiculous*.

Final Cut has a built-in letterboxing effect that creates an aspect ratio for you, with the use of black bars. This means that the aspect ratio of the frame is technically still the same 16:9, but, for the viewer, will appear much wider. This is basically the same as drawing black bars onto your tv – but for outputs like DVD, where the screen size is generally standardised, it’s quite an appropriate technique.

So I had two different angles of the same footage and I synced them up in a new sequence. Then I applied the Video Filter > Matte > Widescreen filter to both pieces of footage. There are multiple widescreen ‘types’ to choose from here, I chose 3.00 : 1, not quite the biggest but much wider than the average video.

The next thing to do is Offset. This basically means shifting the footage up or down so that the most appropriate areas is visible between the bars. I had one camera locked off, so this offsetting could be done for the whole clip quite quickly and easily. The second clip was panning and tilting and zooming as it was b-roll. So what I did there was to not adjust the offset setting until after the edit, so I could keyframe the offset setting, allowing me to choose what looked best for each couple of seconds I used.

Widescreen Options in Final Cut Pro

I left border and colour switched to 0 and off respectively.

At this point I could colour-correct and output to DVD as normal, with a nice widescreen video properly prepared for burning to disc.

* However, I do plan on using the method below, using the edited footage, to create a web version – if and when needed.

For Web (After Effects/Final Cut Method) and Media Players

Now this technique is ideal for creating those videos in Vimeo that are super-widescreen (see this example for an extreme instance), without any letterboxing and can look really smart in a browser. You also often see videos of this nature on things like HD downlaods from Apple Trailers.

The great thing about this method is that it’s a preset that will take any footage you throw at it and put it into the aspect you choose. It also allows you to make up your own aspect ratio that fits your project perfectly.

The problem with this method is you either need to keyframe a lot, so that every shot is offset like you want or pre-edit the footage with the above Final Cut technique and then do it – that is, unless you taped-off your monitor when you were shooting, like the professionals do..

Basically go to this page on Video Copilot and download the preset. There is also a great video guide, so I won’t repeat that here. If you follow the instructions to crop your composition, you can then render out some letterbox-free footage to your custom size.

Editing Project Folder Organisation

Throughout college and uni, I would organise my editing folder, if you could call it ‘organising’, by putting every file related to the project in one behemoth folder.

Actually, that’s not true: I’d often have random music files for the project in the folder they originated (so when opening a project after some time, these would naturally be a mysterious offline file).

Now this isn’t a very sophisticated editing tip, nor is it the way to do things – but it works for me – and if anyone else has there own structure system, or any tips, I’d be glad to hear it.

I have a 2TB Western Digital external hard drive that is dedicated to video project edits and another drive, exactly the same, that I use Carbon Copy Cloner (Mac, Free) to back-up the former.

Within the drive, I have Video Projects, Stock Video and Stock Audio – “Stock”, in this case, meaning anything that isn’t project-specific and I might use again, such as an audio clip, a logo I often use, my collection of transitions, After Effects templates and so on.

Now, within Video Projects, I have four categories of films that I make, but this is based on my own output, which is sometimes quite varied. I could have left out this sub-stage, I just wanted another level of organisation.

Within the Project Sections, we finally come to the folders for each individual project, as seen above. Inside I have my core folders: MEDIA, Project Files, AE Renders, FCP to AE and Output. Sometimes I have more, depending on the logistics of the project edit, but I very rarely have less. Here’s what they do:-

MEDIA – This is where I put the raw footage (sometimes the converted footage if it’s initially not in an edit-ready format), the audio, music, and any other media files that are appropriate (images, logos, transitions etc.). I split this into project-appropriate folders. This is the only folder I CAPITALISE – but I don’t know why I do it, it just seems right.

Project Files – This is where I keep the Final Cut Pro project file(s), the After Effects project file(s) and anything else appropriate – i.e. word documents on some text-based projects, or Soundtrack Pro files. I often consider making blank project files in these folders, so that when I start a new project with a duplicate of these folders they are already there, but I see issues with this in the future..

FCP to AE – It depends how you work, but I often send things from my edit to After Effects and I need to distinguish where things come from and where they are going. This means that this folder contain Uncompressed Quicktime exports from Final Cut, which I am going to do something with in After Effects.

AE Renders – Basically the opposite of the above, this folder is renders that have been completed in After Effects that are to go back into my Final Cut project. I didn’t want to name it AE to FCP, although this might have been more satisfying, because the names would be too close together and I forsee a time when I confuse the two and have an argument with my Mac.

Output – The stuff that generally comes out of Final Cut, via Compressor, ready for web, DVD and all the weird specific file types, sizes and codecs that people often request.

So that’s pretty much how I do it. If anyone has any questions or comments, please share – but what I’d really like to hear is how you organise your projects, or if you have different workflows etc.

Increasing Dynamic Range on 5DMKii / 7D

Depending on the project, I still like to bring out my 5DMKii once in a while, especially if there is little use for dialogue. I’ve come to modifying the look and colour of projects in After Effects and relevant plug-ins and have learned that, to get the most from the camera, you need to shoot ‘flat’.

The camera is designed to shoot nice footage out of the box, as opposed to the grey flatness required, and, as such, loses picture detail due to its smaller dynamic range. Luckily, some nice people have already made picture profiles that you can download and Luka has created a video going through the relatively simple procedure, step-by-step:

Visit the video’s page for associated download links.

I’m not too sure about some of his colour grading choices (although I do like one against a leafy wall), but that’s down to you in post.

Also, you will see a Marvels Cine picture style if you download the picture styles pack. A new version has recently been released and will be the one I am working with next. Click for information and download of Marvel Cine Picture Style 3.X.

Matte Paintings as a Solution to 5D MKii (and other DSLR) Moire Issues

This isn’t going to work on every occasion and will require more time and precision during the shoot and in post, but it is really quite impressive and opens up further possibilities with shooting on DSLRs.

In this video, Robino Films use still images to create matte paintings and effectively relight parts of the scene as they see fit. At the end there are further examples where elements are changed to their needs and there is no reason why this technique cannot be used to combat moire issues on things that new moire filters and plug-ins are not good for, like brick walls and roofs (as long as subjects don’t cross the area in question).

And a couple of free anti-moire filters for Final Cut Pro:

DSLR anti-moire filter for FCP

Moire filter plug-in

I’ve downloaded these but have not had a chance to use them (fortunately I’ve not encountered moire issues very much, although I have been shooting on other cameras recently).

Safe Editing Practices

One major trap of video production happens near the end. After all the planning of a project, shooting it superbly, capturing perfect audio and editing it into something special, it is all too easy to forget about some of the little things – which seem inconsequential, but can devalue a project. They are the things that other people might notice right away or maybe just you notice and once you do, it’s all that you can see.

A few of the important considerations are covered in this very helpful and clear guide: How to keep your job as an editor by Jon Chappell. He covers broadcast-safe images with luma levels, broadcast-safe audio with peaks marking and field dominance with field shifting. I, for one, have encountered all of the issues/mistakes covered in this guide.

I’m currently looking at making a quick guide to create mobile phone-style video, to be composited into a video for a “contemporary” effect. I am facing the challenge of devising different and new styles for many of the videos I make, which suits me as it keeps me on my toes and allows me to learn and use different techniques in post. Hopefully the guide will be available within the next week.

Free DSLR and Adobe CS eBook

Having shot a few productions on loaned equipment, I am excitedly awaiting the delivery of our own kit today. Deadlines and another short shoot this afternoon prevent me spending too long pretending it’s Christmas morning.

In the meantime, Richard Harrington has written afree eBook, which is available from a link on his blog. It covers some of the tools you can use in the Adobe Suite, which I am using more and more of – and considering trying out Premiere Pro to edit an upcoming production, when I have time to sink my teeth in to it.