August

August 7

WEDDING VIDEOGRAPHY: IT'S NOT ALL THAT BAD

For the past couple of years, I have been doing some wedding shoots, which is a change from the more dry types of shoots I usually do. But this spring, I decided to seriously go after the high end wedding business. You know, the kinds of weddings where the CEO or a major Fortune 500 corporation is putting on a big shindig for his daughter's wedding and spending 250 grand or so. The kind of client who's already spent a half million on their home theater. The kind of client who hires a full orchestra to come in and provide live music for the occasion. In short, the kind of client that can only hire someone with my qualifications to capture their daughter's special moment.

I've shot a couple of weddings in the last month and, while it is a hectic process, it can go smoothly if you plan your moves carefully and attend rehearsals with pertinent questions for the staff already fleshed out.

Those that know me, know what a fanatic I can be for audio pickup. My wedding DVDs simply sound great. I shoot in glorious high definition--yes the full 1080-line high def--not the halfway 720-line format. And lately, I have been shooting with a theatrical style, using long lenses for interesting crowd shots, and dollied tripods for smooth and steady frames that have a more Hollywood feel to them. Shooting full progressive scan images certainly helps a lot, and with nearly 10 f-stops of latitude, the images look very natural, excepting for the interesting things I have been doing with focal lengths, to see things in a rather different way that's not mundane.

I spend a lot of my spare time watching the videos done by the great wedding videographers. You can learn a lot just by studying other people's work. I learned a few tricks from a Croatian videographer, some of which I'm employing in my current wedding project. This sort of stuff gives the "wow" factor that, when relatives and friends view our DVDs, gets me additional new business.

The idea here is to be the best in the business. In all aspects of the business. That means creativity, having the right equipment and knowing how to manage time and people effectively. It means quality control that's 100% (that's my wife's area of expertise--she forces me to redo a lot of edits where she finds things I left out or didn't cut to her liking.) When you gain that illustrious reputation, the celebrities, sons and daughters of the wealthy movers and shakers of society start calling, and you can command $10,000, $20,000--even $50,000 for a wedding shoot. That's where I reserve the jib cranes and extra staff to make sure that all of our cameras are making exciting footage.

Sure, I still enjoy serving the main segment of clientele, since the big jobs don't come up that often, but I have found ways to make it work economically with less staff and fewer edits.

So far, the wedding business has been fairly enjoyable. I employ a fair amount of redundancy, so that if anything should go wrong, I have at least two other sources of the same information to use in the finished product. This factor alone takes some extra setup time, but eases stress because there is a higher probability of success. And the clients have been fun, appreciative and thoughtful (the wedding we did yesterday was one of the best-organized, where they even had a dedicated table for the vendors (that would be us) instead of making us feel uncomfortable trying to mix in with the guests and grab a bite to eat during the many hours on the event. Some of our clients have even insisted on paying us in full in advance of DVD delivery. That's confirmation that when you treat all your clients consistently, trust is earned.

Sure there are times when conditions can be a little rough, like the 95F August day of a garden wedding, where one sweats to extremes, but there is also the eye candy--colorful, rich tapestries, religious ornaments, unity candles, gold chalices, and, in many cases, the bride herself can be a delightful site to capture for all progeny to enjoy. I often pretend that I am shooting a motion picture and that these are the actors. It's a way to become like a film director and be a cameraman at the same time. And after the ceremonies, during the photo shoot sessions, I often get to do a little directing, as I seek interesting poses and activities for the bride and groom to partake in for an interesting video that their relatives will find entertaining enough to watch again and again.

NEW EDITING WORKSTATION, A REAL POWERHOUSE

Several years have passed since the last workstation build. "Pixel-Monster" is getting a little long in the tooth, being around since 2001. Sure, it's had three CPU upgrades, from that Athlon 1333, to the XP2600+, but today, HD video requires extraordinary power.

For about a month now, I've been researching hardware and have finally decided it's time to start ordering parts and get the build going. A successful workstation starts with a great case. My old servers cases were okay, when the CPU used 14 watts of power and ran at factory speeds. But as we started getting faster, overclockable CPUs and powerful graphics cards, heat buildup became a problem. The solution at the time was faster fans and more of them. There are six fans in each of my two workstations. And it sounds like a jet engine factory in here as a result. I'm frankly quite tired of all the noise. So I'm committed to designing a quiet system. Hence new case designs.

So I've settled on the Silverstone TJ06, an aluminum case with an emphasis on cooling efficiency through compartmentalization of thermal loads. Ever since I worked with the Mac G5, I have always wanted a PC that emulated the thermal design intelligence of Apple's flagship. It seems that case manufacturers catering to overclockers have been thinking along the same lines. Enter the TJ06, with it's brushed aluminum exterior, elegant and expensive-looking, with the same sort of refinement and elegance as the Mac G5. That case is scheduled to arrive here August 8.

Already arrived is one XFX GeForce 8800GTS with 640 megabytes of frame buffer memory. I can hardly wait to do some modeling work in Maya with this card. The other item in the box was a new Seasonic S12-650 power factor-corrected power supply that's over 80% efficient.

Four 500GB SATA hard drives are also on order, but alas, the enterprise-level drives I wanted were suddenly out of stock, so I had to quickly pick another and accidentally ordered EIDE models instead of SATA, so they'll have to go back for exchange.

I've settled on the Intel Core2 Quad Q6600 CPU, which runs at a stock speed of 2.4GHz, but has been reported to overclock to 3.7GHz with basic air cooling, suggesting that it should be really reliable at 3GHz with an advanced cooling system in a wind tunnel, such as the Silverstone TJ06 has.

The system will have 4GB or RAM, but the exact specs are still being figured out.

The motherboard is currently the toughest decision. There are so many boards on the market today, however, I'm leaning toward Asus and the P35 chipset, based on input I've gotten from others. One bothersome thing about these new boards--few of them have a PS/2 mouse port! This would make installing Windows XP rather challenging until I manage to get my Wacom tablet drivers installed. And for those times when I backup using Norton Ghost, my tool of choice for fast recovery of a working system in the event of a catastrophe, a mouse with a DOS driver makes things that much easier. Alternatives for using DOS environment tools and mice are on my to-do list.

Presently, I am using the i-Link convert feature on my Sony HD cameras to downconvert footage as it's being read from the camera, to the standard definition format that the current workstation is happy with. Since not one of the clients to-date has anything more than a standard TV set and a DVD player, I have not had a problem with delivery. And there are distinct advantages to shooting HD and downsampling. Pictures have more detail, the colors hold together better and, of course, the fabulous exposure latitude and progressive, widescreen images from the Sony cameras.

 

 

 

 

August 27

A SLACR THAT'S NOT A SLACKER

In my previous posting, I mentioned that I was starting construction of a new HD NLE (non-linear editor) workstation. The beast has four CPU cores running at 3GHz each, 4GB of PC6400 RAM, a GeForce 8800GTS with 640MB of frame buffer memory and 2 terabytes of disc space, including a RAID array for video storage. I went the extra mile and got an LP 3065 30" wide-gamut LCD display, whose native resolution is 2560x1600. Yes, four megapixels.

Why do I need all that screen real estate, you ask? If you've ever edited video, you know that you can never have too much screen. Video editing in Adobe Premiere and AfterEffects employs a lot of tools and palettes and layers of timelines. Space easily gets cramped. And when I moved to 16:9 widescreen production, I needed 33% more screen width to carry preview and output monitors, and now, with Premiere's new Multi-Camera editing feature, the need for screen area grows again.

I digress. On to the main point now: the new hardware is assembled and most of my core applications are installed and running smoothly. The research on hardware took about a month. In that time I considered both AMD and Intel. Due to the timing of my purchase, the pendulum of performance per dollar was favoring Intel, so I went with the Core2 Quad, a killer CPU that can, in some cases, overclock to 4GHz and beyond. I followed the overclocker's forums and observed which RAM achieved the highest stable speeds. Mushkin PC6400 kept coming up in those discussions. My intent was a stable system at moderate overclock speeds, so premium memory, CPU and graphics card were important to consider.

Now about the CPU, that's where we come to the title of this entry. There are two steppings (revision levels) of this Intel CPU. One is B3 and has a SL9UM product code suffix. The newer stepping is G0 and has a SLACR product. The thermal rating is what's improved in the G0, going from 105W to 95W maximum at rated clock. This translates to less heat, and less energy use. So I held out for the SLACR chip and found a supplier after 3 weeks. And I found it rather amusing that Intel's product codes spell these rather un-flattering words. We PC users were presented a choice between a Slacker and a Slum. :-) But the names belie the performance of the chips. They are currently the fastest of the bunch, on multi-threaded applications.

Currently, I'm running the Adobe Production Premium suite, which is all multiprocessor-driven. It really makes things move. Even editing HD is a breeze, for the most part. And Maya rendering (my 3D program of choice) is breathtakingly-faster than on my old machine. A scene that used to take 18 hours to render, takes 56 seconds with the four CPUs and their advanced instruction set.

I was having some fun in Adobe AfterEffects and created this little video of an aircraft heading for disaster. This is a 1920x1080 Windows Media 9 file, but it's only 5.1MB and the quality is amazing for its size. It took about a minute to render and maybe ten minutes for me to set it up. I shot the model against a green screen to test HDV camera quality for chromakey work. It's quite excellent, as you can see from the finished result. The model was superimposed against a river shoot and CC Particle Systems II was used to generate the smoke trail.

I'm also editing the first wedding to be handled in HD from acquisition up to just short of DVD. With the higher color sampling, the end product, even though not HD DVD, looks better than anything I've produced in DV. And that's no slacker!

 
 

August 30

A LUNAR ILLUSION

In the course of video work, I was returning from a gig at Microsoft Tuesday evening about 9:30PM, when the moon caught my eye. It was full, and looking quite robust. I had 7 minutes of tape left in my camera, so while dropping by a friend's house to pick up my daughter, I set up my tripod and pointed the camera at the moon. I used the zoom capabilities of the Sony HVR-V1U to bring the moon up close, and while I was fiddling with the iris for best exposure, apparently a jet passed in front of the moon. I discovered this hours later, during capture.

In the original HD footage, the windows of the jetliner were faintly visible, glowing orange from cabin lighting. There is also a bird flying across the upper part of the moon in the first second, but the internet clip is too small to show it clearly.

Here it is on Break.com:


Moon Jet-Fly-thru Sony V1U Video - Watch more free videos

 
   
   
   
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