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Sound Advice Tour Recap

The Sound Advice Tour ended its tour in Boston MA and I was lucky enough to go and check it out. Being an audio guy I was really curious how he was going to explain and teach us things about audio for video. In the class there were way more video people than audio people, with all different levels of experience. He first started by showing us clips of different movies he has done and showed us how much the audio impacts the movie as a whole and the slightest sound can change the whole setting. I was really impressed with how much work is really done for a feature length film and by the end you can end up with over hundreds of tracks for foley, music and sound effects. Once we got more into the lecture he talked about how to record foley and what types of microphones to use in certain situations. For example if you are using a Sennheiser MKH 8060 out in the field to record your audio and you need to do ADR in the studio then you should use the exact same microphone in the studio so it has the same characteristics. He showed us a cool technique that when using an omni-directional microphone with a group of people walking and talking in circles around the microphone it creates a cool effect to where it seems like there are way more people in the setting than there actually is. This really blew my mind away, “DOPE”. We did talk a lot about equalization and cleaning up your audio in post. Cleaning up your audio really makes the voice stand out and removing unwanted noise in the background can really make a difference. The thing I was most excited about was learning how to get rid of that unwanted noise that comes from having a microphone on a boom pole. I always kind of knew how to get rid of it but the way he showed us really blew my mind and really helped me out for my future projects. If you don’t have the software called RX4 by iZotope and you are doing audio for videos then I highly recommend you get this. This software’s algorithm is highly advanced and can do just about anything from de-noising, to a simple EQ clean up and even de-reverbing! “WHAT?!?!” Yeah this software can really do it all and will make your films stand out from the rest of them. I went home and bought it that same day because I was so amazed by it. We also learned the three aspects of music that can really help your film because you do not want some horror type music in an epic fight scene it just doesn’t make sense. First you have your rhythm, your fight or flight. Second is melody, the thematic recall. Third you have the harmony, the emotional core of music. Most of the time there are two of these happening at a given time. Another good tip for everyone out there bad foley is better than no foley even if it is recorded on your iPhone still use it, it will help you out in the end. But remember mix it low and give it some EQ because those couple of steps are better heard low than not being there at all. After the whole class I learned a lot and recommend anyone check out Mark Edward Lewis’s class if you get a chance he really explains everything in depth and he really engages the audience. -Scott Pierce, Quality Control Technician, pierce@rule.com

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Production LEDs in a New Light with Zylight’s F8

UPDATE ON 5/12/14:  Since my original post below, I’ve learned that the F8’s bellows are actually made from silicone which should last significantly longer than rubber and that a redesigned yoke was already shown at NAB.  Zylight’s on the ball! We’ve all heard about the merits of LED lighting (low power draw, low heat, no bulb changing, etc.), but for the reality of production work, there were always major trade-offs. The throw of an LED light was useless unless you were right up on the talent, their color rendition was poor and their tell-tale multi-shadows were garbage.  LEDs were rightly relegated to being just an easy fill option or kick light.  Even their flicker free qualities were limited by their low output which is not what you need for high frame rate shooting.  Despite a larger power draw and the heat, you were always better off using tungsten or HMI. Zylight’s F8, though, finally spoils us. This is a focusable fresnel LED fixture (70° flood and 16° spot) that is lightweight, can be powered for over an hour with a standard camera battery, and has the equivalent throw of a traditional 650w tungsten head. I had to break out a light meter to see the proof in lux for myself.  Not to be overlooked is the distinct, single shadow you get from this instrument. You can order the F8 as 5600K or 3200K.

Admittedly, the F8 is a little pricey at $2,400.00 but remember that tungsten replacement bulbs aren’t cheap and neither is your electric bill if you have a studio.  The fact that you can just slap a dionic on the back and you’re good to go anywhere is amazing.  Save yourself from that heavy sack pack of stingers and dimmers.  I appreciate the retracting bellows design that squeezes this unit down to just a few inches thick.  The bellows are rubber, though, so there is the concern of hardening and cracks over time.  The yoke definitely needs a redesign.  Rosettes are for tripods and handles, not lights.  Having two separate rosette mounts to deal with every time you need to make adjustments is annoying.  Flicker free dimming from 0-100% from a small knob in the back or through DMX is a nice feature.  Zylight is very proud of their “Zylink” wireless control control capability but in practice, I could take or leave that feature.  I noticed a USB 3.0 port behind the fresnel lens so who knows what else is to come through firmware.  All things considered, the F8 is already a staple in our lighting inventory here at Rule and once you try it, you’ll be asking for it again and again.

– Jason Potz, Engineering, j.potz@rule.com

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Canon Cinema with SNL’s Alex Buono

Those who braved the spontaneous monsoon and made their way to the Yawkey Theater at WGBH in Boston on Wednesday, August 1st, were treated to an inspiring, funny and informative discussion with Alex Buono, the Director of Photography for Saturday Night Live’s Film Unit. The event was sponsored by FRONTLINE, Rule Boston Camera and Canon, and guests were wined and dined and encouraged to see, touch and shoot with the new C300 camera, which has been unbelievably popular since its release earlier this year. Buono uses the C300 in addition to several other Canon cameras for his work, including the 5D Mark II, 7D and the XF305. He shared some of his experiences on set and delved into how and why Canon’s cameras allow him to accomplish things he never could before in less time than ever, plus dropped tips and tricks throughout his presentation for people looking to get into DSLR or cine-style shooting. Naturally, I can’t cover everything here, but I’ll highlight some of the most interesting tidbits.

Buono started shooting for the SNL Film Unit back in 1999, when they were still shooting on film. That was a challenge, he said, because their typical shooting schedule goes like this: the writers deliver the script on Wednesday, they prep on Thursday, shoot on Friday and edit and air the final product on Saturday. Those turnaround times were brutal with film, but with new tapeless workflows, especially with the MXF MPEG-2 format the C300 shoots, they don’t have to bog themselves down with film processing or telecine, or even the painful rendering times that other video workflows might require. Canon’s cameras made it onto Saturday Night Live’s broadcasts in 2009, when Buono used the then-new 5D Mark II to shoot the opening sequence for the show. It was a bold step and a big undertaking, but he was impressed by the unprecedented light sensitivity, the ability to shoot in tiny spaces with a much smaller crew, and of course, the picture quality and shallow depth of field that he had struggled to achieve since leaving his film cameras on the shelf years before. After the success of that shoot, they adopted DSLRs into their workflow and have now added the C300 to their arsenal, which is Buono’s favorite tool yet. I was excited to see how Buono uses these cameras in his work every week and some of the additional equipment he has been particularly fond of. He spoke highly of a number of third-party accessories, including the “Target Shooter” and “The Event,” which are two different shoulder rigs from Zacuto and Red Rock Micro, respectively. He also never leaves home without his Zacuto Z-Finder Pro. Buono also showed off some seriously useful smartphone apps he relies on for location shooting, like Sunseeker and Helios for tracking movement of the sun. Most impressively, he showed us how to do “virtual location scouting” with Google Earth. Using their 3D building models and the time of day feature, he could track the movement of the sun throughout the day, plan out all of his framing, plus get contact information for buildings he wanted access to—all within the Google Earth application. Buono spent a good portion of his presentation talking about the technical specifications of the C300, but emphasized an important point (and my favorite tip from the evening): filmmaking is not a science project. In an industry where it’s easy to get caught up in numbers, feature lists and marketing jargon, it’s important to remember that these cameras are filmmaking tools that help us achieve our visions as storytellers. And the introduction of more affordable equipment and the resulting leveling of the playing field has allowed people to focus less on how much money and effort it takes to get a good picture and more on the things that really matter—good writing and good performances. That being said, he went into a detailed discussion about how the C300 captures and records color information, how capturing two green channels on the sensor dramatically improves low-light capability and how the form factor has significantly improved their flexibility while shooting, both with shoulder/handheld setups and in Steadicam applications. He also emphasized how great it is to be able to shoot a scene with Andy Samberg in the middle of Times Square without swarms of tourists taking any notice at all. Shooting incognito is a luxury few crews with SNL’s level of exposure enjoy. I was also pleased to hear him talk about the importance of color grading with tools like Apple Color, Final Cut Pro, Tiffen DFX or Magic Bullet. He also emphasized how critical good sound is, and recommended that everybody use a decent microphone (like the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro) and record to something other than a DSLR—be it in-camera on the C300 or with external recorder (like the Zoom H4N). Shooting at 24 frames per second instead of 30 or 60 and using a 180-degree shutter (1/50th of a second on a DSLR) was also his recommendation as the single most important (and probably easiest) step for achieving a cinematic look with your video. There was plenty more that Alex Buono had to say about his experiences shooting commercial parodies, skits and other videos for SNL, as well as his impressions of the new Canon C300, but there was simply too much great information to cover here. He’s been traveling all around the country giving these kinds of presentations, so if you’re lucky, he may be making his way to a city near you and you can hear more about what he has to say. You can also follow him on Twitter at @alexbuono or go to alexbuonoreel.com to see more of his work. Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician, brunet@rule.com

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Canon C300 Pub Night With Larry Thorpe

I would like to thank all of those who joined us for Canon’s C300 event last night.  It was very well attended with a record 150 guests at our popular Pub Night series.  It was great to see a crowd of seasoned professionals eager to learn about the exciting new cinema camera offered by Canon.  As always, the night began with an excellent selection of  pizza and beer, but the floor was quickly handed over to Canon’s Larry Thorpe, an industry veteran who is one of the masterminds behind the development of the C300.  He was, by far, the best candidate to give the presentation.  He led the audience through many exciting specifications on the camera including its new Super 35mm sensor designed from the ground up with its native 850 iso sensitivity.  For a great list of specs on the camera you can visit Canon’s EOS web page.  Larry also showed various Canon-funded projects that were commissioned to highlight the range and resolution of the new camera.  The projects clearly show that the C300 promises to be a very important cinematic tool for filmmakers. We had four C300s on display (two with EF mounts and two with PL mounts) with one set-up to record Larry’s presentation.  Afterward, all hands were on the demo C300 models which were configured in various handheld and studio setups.  It was a great opportunity for everyone to push buttons, prod accessories, focus lenses and ask questions. Although the cameras will be returning to Canon, we expect to have another unit in-house soon for those of you who may have missed the event. We are actively working with Canon to finalize a dealership agreement for the C300 which would place us in a newly-formed Canon group titled “Professional Production System Dealers”. The group was formed not only to support the C300 but also to reinforce Canon’s commitment to produce future cinema cameras and lenses.  I am very excited about our developing relationship with Canon and all that it promises to bring to our clients.  I will, of course, keep you posted. We should have pricing and delivery info by January 17th.  If you are thinking about purchasing a C300 please consider talking to us first.  We are here to support you. Brian Malcolm, General Manager, malcolm@rule.com

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Anticipating another big year at NAB 2011

It is always nice to have an annual event that allows manufacturers to step up and focus their energy on bringing new and innovative products to light.  It is also great that so many of us – the users and evangelists of these products – get to participate in this process.  NAB is an opportunity for all of us to offer opinions and insights relative to our own spheres of expertise and influence.  I have seen over the years that we do impact in a positive way how this collective system adapts and changes. The devastation in Japan has such sad human consequences that I hope that we don’t get too selfish and just talk about how hard tape is to get or how to capitalize on “market fluctuations”. At the same time I must be on the lookout for ways to overcome the impending media drought which we have not yet seen truly strike us. I am enthused about new releases from Adobe and Avid and I expect Apple rumors and facts to preoccupy much of our time. Storage continues to be an important part of what we do and I hope to meet up with many innovators that have figured out how to make the digital asset laundrymat a cool place to hang out. It is becoming more important for all of us to not put off safekeeping of our growing file-based camera originals along with all of the iterations for the edit process and for delivery.  I sometimes feel like Chicken Little warning of impending doom if you don’t invest in smart and safe storage.  If we undervalue how to access and restore valuable content along with intelligent searching and tagging we will someday learn the hard way that the current way was often too risky and shortsighted. I would like to say that I am interested in seeing the latest in 3D (including recent announcements by GoPro 3D and Cineform) but I can’t say that I will be preoccupied with it. Not all production markets are demanding 3D and I think New England has been hesitant to jump in – although we at Rule are well prepared to assist and deliver 3D solutions for anyone interested! As always, much of NAB is meeting with people and I hope to meet many new faces along with good friends that reemerge year after year. By the way, here’s a hint – Be on the lookout for some exciting new announcements from Rule that may take some by surprise! Hope to see you on the show floor! Tom Talbot

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Sony PMW-F3: Back to Back Events

Yesterday, we here at Rule Boston Camera were graced with the presence of Sony’s new Super35-style HD camera, the PMW-F3. We hosted our own event about the camera as part of our weekly Learning Lab Series, and then the New England chapter of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) held their own meeting about the camera and its technology here in the evening. Sony was kind enough to bring a prototype of the F3 as well as an SXRD 4K projector to show off their new tech. Each event had its own personal flair, but both offered interesting insights into Sony’s new large-sensor offering. I recommend reading Mike Sutton’s blog post for a more complete and more technical feature description, but I’ll highlight some of the important parts that were featured during Wednesday’s presentations. The morning Learning Lab event was led by Sony’s Peter Crithary, who took us through the functions of the camera and showed us some truly breathtaking short-form pieces shot by people at USC and Stargate Films. Right off the bat, I have to say the footage looks beautiful. Even with 35Mbit/sec XDCAM EX internal recording, the images hold up well to color grading and compositing. When the camera is attached to an external recording device, though, like an AJA KiPro, Convergent Design’s NanoFlash, or Sony’s own HDCAM SR deck, the imager on this thing really shines. No noise, great depth of field, impressive dynamic range—it has it all. Don’t forget that your lenses can make all the difference in the world! And with the appropriate adaptors, the F3 can use a variety of prime or zoom lenses that are large enough to cover the super35 imager. Peter’s presentation gave us a ton of information on what the camera can do and how it can be applied to the typical, or sometimes not-so-typical, workflow. Not only does it make pretty pictures, it also gives you functionality to boot. For the absolute highest-possible recording quality, he recommended recording to the internal SxS slots for an off-line version, while simultaneously taking advantage of the 4:4:4 Dual-Link SDI output (with a firmware upgrade, available soon) to an HDCAM SR deck for your on-line edit. Both versions will be in perfect sync and the workflow is totally seamless. You can also take advantage of the additional SD/HD switchable SDI port to run an on-set monitor for your client without the need for headache-inducing distribution amplifiers. You can even apply the Look Up Table (LUT) settings you plan to use in post-production color grading in the camera itself, allowing the DP and the client to see it in its (almost) final form—without affecting your 4:4:4 master. Amazing! This is far more than many people will actually take advantage of, but the scalability here is definitely notable. He also highlighted features like 3D Link, where you can connect two F3’s and with one cable, can control both simultaneously for perfectly-synced 3D shooting.  Check out Peter’s Learning Lab session in its entirety on vimeo:  http://vimeo.com/channels/rulelearninglabseries. While Peter’s presentation was a little more practical, aimed at the average user, Hugo Gaggioni took the reigns at the evening’s SMPTE event and spoke more on the technology behind the F3. He took us all the way back to the 70’s and 80’s when CCD imagers were first developed and discussed the transition to new CMOS technologies up to and including future 4K sensors along with the new Super35mm chip in the F3 itself. While not necessarily for the layman, his presentation was packed with fascinating information on how we got to be where we are now—and how the new chips coming out of Sony’s new manufacturing plant are changing the way we shoot HD, 3D and 4K. The people in attendance even got a sneak peek at some of the new technology Sony will be unveiling this year—very exciting stuff! The Sony F3 often seems to come up in conversations about the Panasonic AF100 and Canon’s line of DSLR’s. While the size of the sensor on each of these suggests they are all in the same class, this is hardly the case. Each one is designed to fit a certain set of needs and a certain budget. The F3 is in a slightly different price range than the offerings from Canon and Panasonic, but again, the functionality and feature set far outstrip its competition. On the flip side, however, at $16,000 list price, it is much cheaper than both the Red One and Arri Alexa, another set of cameras the F3 is bound to be compared to. What you must do is really evaluate the needs of your shoot and decide which of these cameras best suits your demands and budget. We were assured that the camera is on schedule to ship in February. We’re all excited about what this camera can do, and I hope you are, too! Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician

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Rule Tech Expo is just around the corner

I am really looking forward to next week’s Rule Tech Expo.  To see a formal description go to http://www.rule.com/TechExpo For those of you that are not aware, Rule is hosting its first annual mini tradeshow along with several 1 hour presentations in our Learning Lab. Our entire office will be filled with several dozen “booths” featuring many of the manufacturers that we work with every day.  You will be able to see their latest offerings and ask lots of questions.  Additionally Rule’s sales and rental teams will be out in force with equipment set up for you to poke and prod as well. Many of the items that you may be interested in purchasing will be in stock for purchase at the show – just visit our Showroom or Production Outfitters areas during your visit if you are interested in carrying home a goody or two. This year presentations in the Learning Lab will include: Panasonic’s Michael Bergeron will be in to show and talk about their upcoming 3D camera along with professional 3d monitoring, switching and more! AJA and Gary Adcock will be in to discuss how the Kona3 can work in 3D and show some examples of 3D with Cineform. Cinematographer Brian Heller and and our own Tim Coughlan will be showing off our BRAND NEW Phantom HD Gold high speed camera. If you are worried that you didn’t RSVP in time, there is still time and we are happy to have you! We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday June 22nd from 5:00pm to 9:00pm at our facility in Brighton or on Thursday June 24th from 10:00am to 3:00pm in Manchester, NH. Tom Talbot Director of Technology