We recently completed a web commercial for our friends at Parkland Fuel Corporation. It is always a treat working with the wonderful people at Parkland. This commercial is intended to introduce their newly launched online customer account access site, where customers can manage their accounts online, whenever or wherever they choose. This project is entirely comprised of motion graphics, and stock footage from our friends over at Dissolve.
Looking into a camera naturally is a difficult thing to do. Looking into a lens and articulating a message and maintaining the eye line with the viewer on the other end of the communication is virtually impossible for most people. I came across a product some time ago after watching the PBS Documentary Series, ‘America in Primetime‘. To say I was enthralled with the aesthetic and impact of the series would be an understatement. Not only was I a fan of the background used and the lighting, I was also taken with how well the interviewees made eye contact with me, the viewer; and did what Steve McWilliams calls, punctuating with the eyes, where the subject returns eye contact at key moments of delivering their message, something people do in everyday life when having conversations with each other and aren’t generally aware of.
So what does this preamble mean? Well, I found out how that production was able to get the interviewees to looking directly through the lens and into the eyes of the viewer and it’s deceptively simple. We recently used a device called the Eyedirect, invented, made and sold by Steve McWilliams down in Texas. This thing is basically a teleprompter that puts the interviewer’s face in front of the lens, similar to how a teleprompter works, all live, in real time so your subject has someone to look at; just like having a real face to face conversation. And let me tell you after using it with dozens subjects, people whose primary job function is not being in front of a camera, the results are amazing.
It is a very natural and instinctive way to conduct interviews and get an emotional or personal connection across to the viewer. For communications such as investor relations, health and safety or any number of other uses where the executive is seeking to make a connection with the viewer in the process of articulating the message, my opinion is that this tool is invaluable when considering the result. We have done dozens of shoots now and all subjects were able to sit down and immediately make eye contact and maintain it!
Recently we used it on the Western Hockey League :: Raise Your Play project.
We also used it on: Influencer | Ivey Alumni Leadership Award
We originally brought this device into our studio’s kit bag in 2013, after more than two years of use for video productions in Calgary, Edmonton and elsewhere in Alberta; I can say without hesitation this is one of the best decisions regarding kit that I have ever made. For business and corporate communications in our home market of Calgary, this device has been helping executives deliver important video messages to business audiences for more than two years now with excellent results.
We were approached by our friends at the Western Hockey League to produce a new recruitment video for the league. The WHL is one of the premiere providers of NHL talent in the world and showcases some of the best junior hockey anywhere. This project took almost 18 months to complete, spanning approximately a season and a half. Logistically it was difficult to get access to WHL Alumni who are now playing in the NHL as well as the current roster of players in the Western Hockey League. Everyone involved has incredibly busy schedules so we had to move rapidly once we had confirmation of a player being in Calgary and that they were available to shoot an interview.
I’ll post some more about this project soon, the workflow and final product on this is closely related to my previous post about what is good enough. When you might only have five minutes with an interview subject there isn’t time to adjust lighting, tweak the background or make lots of changes to camera settings. When hard time constraints are placed on the interview shoot there simply isn’t time for anything other than getting the shot. But I believe we came up with some innovative ways to raise the production value given those challenges…. Stay tuned.
Good Enough… isn’t necessarily a cop out… everyone does ‘good enough’ whether to meet deadlines or to meet budgetary limitations. That doesn’t mean that something was sacrificed, it simply means that we reach an acceptable level of quality for ourselves and for the project. Whether we admit it or not, when we work on something creative we reach a point where we are satisfied, and that is good enough. If we were more perfectionist, or anal or whatever the noun or adjective may be, we’d continue tweaking and toiling away forever, which for paid work is never possible. Good enough is entirely subjective but it is always there regardless.
So when it comes to new technology and new camera’s and new codecs and all that noise, there will always be those who will argue for a camera or standard that is of higher quality but really if we are all realistic about it, there most certainly is a good enough for everything. Today we are in a place where a sub-thousand dollar camera can produce not only good enough results for a lot of corporate and commercial work but it honestly exceeds good enough, often by a broad margin.
There is nothing wrong with good enough when it comes to creative work. For a person starting out and learning, there will certainly be a lot of good enough moments and later, with the benefit of hindsight there may be some consternation about whether the good enough at that time was indeed… good enough. I once asked a very successful and extremely well respected businessman how he ever became comfortable with making a decision, especially when those decisions tended to have jobs or the welfare of others on the line. His response was, to paraphrase “do the best you can with the information available in the time you have” that notion applies to so many things we do in life and in business. Does it mean that we fail over and over again and fail to deliver value? Not in my opinion.
The reality is that good enough, means doing everything you can in the time available. With the budget available and the equipment you have and the application of the knowledge you have at the time and, there will be a good enough. Your perception of how good it was later is entirely subjective, and our own assessment of our work tends to be negatively biased anyhow.
I think that if you learn from every project that was completed where good enough was applied. Then it’s more than good enough, it was a learning opportunity, and you moved on to be better on the next project. If we don’t learn from our experiences, then perhaps indeed good enough, is not good enough.
It drives me nuts to read some of the self aggrandized drivel, so laced with envy and hate on most industry news sites, blogs, and on the comments section of videos posted by people in our connected world that it engenders equal amounts of anger and sadness in me because it stifles creativity and ambition. Once we become comfortable with the discomfort of ‘good enough’ and keep learning, growing and becoming better. None of that noise matters, we can focus on reaching the goals we have for ourselves.
I’ll provide some examples of what I consider to be good enough in a future post to provide some context for my perspective.
So I tracked down the download that Mr. Bloom was again so kind to share, especially considering it stars some of his family members. I very much appreciate when others have access to new cameras and are not only willing but able to share some of the material they shoot.
This is almost more of a denoising test than a color grade test, as many noted previously the clip that Philip shared was shot in somewhat low light due to a combination of the camera’s available ISO and the practical lighting in the scene resulting in it being a little noisy; but I actually found there to be quite a lot of latitude in the source files.
Half way through I show a before and after denoise frame for each of the RGB channels.
That being said, I tried to keep this somewhat simple as if I were working on client work and didn’t have a lot of time or budget to really get the grade right. I did feel however that there was a lot of saturation in the source, I think with the various LUT’s I used for looks the colors come through but I really desaturated the source Cinema DNG settings and further desaturated underneath the look LUT(s). I pulled back the highlights as well where I felt they were blooming too much and surprisingly there was a lot of information in there so I didn’t really feel like the highlights were getting muddy.
Of course all of this is subjective and it all depends on what the mood one is going for is, as well as what the piece calls for. This is simply a test to see who well under-exposed footage from the Digital Bolex stands up and what some pretty quick denoising can do to rein it in a little. Given more time, direction and focus I’m sure much better results can be had than what I did in this little example.
While certainly not a definitive test, I was pleased that the esteemed Philip Bloom was kind enough to allow us denizens of the internet to download some camera original media from the Digital Bolex to play with.
I decided to keep my testing somewhat simple and only make adjustments to the Cinema DNG through the raw settings in After Effects and apply a color LUT which are created and distributed by my friends at LookLabs. I used three different SpeedLooks to see how the cinema DNG would respond. I sought to do something similar to what we might do for corporate or commercial client work, where we aren’t going to do something super stylized and simply get the images looking nice and consistent.
The first three looks are also followed by the same shot but denoised quickly with Dark Energy Anti-Matter which is why I applied the grade in After Effects on the Cinema DNG shot to begin with so I could also denoise the shot to judge the results. I basically used the default settings within Anti-Matter after analyzing the shot and the denoise result did lose some sharpness and perceived resolution. I do believe that the material can be denoised better with more time spent to find the right settings based on the sensor profile of the camera but for this quick test I went with the default to see what I could get without much effort.
With the ProRes material I selected some of the shots and then did the grade in SpeedGrade, again using LookLabs SpeedLooks. I made minor adjustments to some shots in the overall luminescence levels of the highlights and midtones, nothing spectacular. And on some shots I adjusted the temperature of the shot to warm it up a little.
Basically it’s all subjective and I went with both look and process that isn’t too strong and something that looked nice to my eye at the time. I found that the material seemed to have quite a lot of dynamic range to work with and even the ProRes 422 material stood up to standard grading like we might do for a large component of our client work.
I evaluated all of the material, C-DNG and ProRes via SDI output to our Panasonic Plasma reference monitor and I have to say that the Digital Bolex material looks wonderful. There is an organic, softer kind of feel to it that is unique, like Philip, many others and myself have said for a long time… the right tool for the job and while I haven’t used a Digital Bolex yet so operationally I can’t comment on the workflow or whether it’s difficult to use in various shooting scenarios but the images are quite nice and I’d certainly look at the camera as a possible compliment to our shooting options.
Looks used on the Cinema DNG were:
SpeedLooks 3500 Clean F
SpeedLooks 3510 Universal
SpeedLooks 3528 GOLD Tobacco
On the ProRes I used:
SpeedLooks 3500 Clean B
**one thing to note is that I didn’t have really nice image of a face to evaluate the response of skin tones really well**