play with his stock.) And you understand the technology. (Or at least
you figure it can’t possibly be that much different from what you
already know.) And maybe the doors are already opening for you to take
charge on an exciting HD project. (Or maybe you’ve already finished one
that didn’t quite turn out the way you had hoped.)
always more to be learned. Just because you’re an ace HDCAM operator
doesn’t mean you’ll instinctively be able to coax gorgeous images out
of the inexpensive, option-rich handhelds that have exploded onto the
market. And no matter how much experience you have in the realm of
high-end post-production, tricky new formats like HDV have thrown a
monkey wrench in the works. That’s why we’ve asked production and
post-production pros with real-world hands-on experience shooting and
finishing HD formats, to share some of their hard-earned advice on
dealing with HD footage and equipment.
3. Frustrated by overscan in your viewfinder? Read page 9. Trying to
figure out ways to strike that expensive RAID array from your HD
post-production budget? Page 14. Getting good skin tone in post? Page
15. It’s practical advice that you can put to use next time you step
into an HD production. If you learn by doing, the advice gathered here
will help you do it right.
Los Angeles, CA
Recent HD Projects: Caravan of Dreams (documentary)
it is to HD, at least with the cameras that are currently available.
The 1/3-inch chip is the crux of the situation. Therefore,
take the same care and precautions you would with any three-chip
- Watch for extreme contrast ratios. In general, softer, evenlight will yield the most pleasing results.
- Avoid over-exposure at all costs. You can bring the level up in post more easily than you can fix blown-out areas (you can’t).
- Try to shoot close to wide open to minimize depth of field. Use ND filters in the camera and/or in front of the lens.
- Try to shoot at longer focal lengths when possible to minimize depth of field.
- Turn down the detail (sharpness) on the camera. You might want to crank it up a touch for wide establishing shots and down for more intimate scenes. You can also explore diffusion in front of the lens.
- Try to have the subject’s face brighter than the background to draw the viewer’s attention to it.
- Keep the front element of your lens spotless. With the wide lenses necessitated by the tiny (1/3-inch) imaging device, you’ll see the dirt or smudge when wide and backlit or with large light areas in the frame.
- Shoot tests before you begin your project. I set a look for each project, generally with a lower-gamma look for day exteriors (that I will abandon when needed, such as during magic hour) and a "normal" look for interiors. The lower-gamma look has the advantage of requiring nearly a stop more light, (thereby allowing you to open up the iris, i.e., less depth of field) which can only help in exteriors.
the increased width, shakiness is more apparent, especially notable in
roll around the axis (think of a boat rolling side to side in the
ocean.) And watch your horizon. You also don’t want to make any fast
moves for two very different reasons. First, with the increased
resolution of HD, it’s best to keep pans and tilts slow, so the viewer
can take in the extra detail. You want to avoid information overload.
Second, because HDV is a highly compressed format (MPEG-2), there are
motion artifacts with fast moves. I’m always surprised at how much you
can get away with- but don’t push it.
HD monitor. And here I’m going to insist on a CRT monitor, big and
expensive as they are. (I’ve yet to see an LCD or plasma that comes
close in resolution or contrast.) You need to know what the camera is
doing. Chances are you won’t have an HD monitor with you (otherwise,
you’d be shooting on a Sony CineAlta, Thomson Viper or Panasonic
Varicam, wouldn’t you?), so you need to know what the viewfinder and
LCD screen are really telling you.
your rushes. Take the time to be sure when you’re shooting. Re-shoots
are at worst impossible, and at best expensive and demoralizing.
invisibility of the camera. I’ve already shot in eight countries with
my Sony HVR-Z1U in the six months since I’ve had it and I
love breezing through customs and the way it’s less
intimidating to subjects.
Senior Engineer, One Union Recording Studios
San Francisco, CA
Recent HD Projects: Dave Matthews concept spot "Blurry"
technical aspects up front before production. If clients start
discussing surround, then we talk about all the possibilities. For
example, if they’re getting custom music, we ask for the stems of the
musical instrumentation so we can have a lot of fun with the mix.
the amount of control and flexibility that you have in surround. If we
take the ambience, for example, we can really add some cool perspective
change, throwing a sound effect over here or over there.
challenging to people. There’s not just one flavor of HD. There are not
only different resolutions, but seven or eight sync rates- 60i, 59.94,
30, 30p, 29.97, 29.97p, 24, 23.97. When you’re on location and shooting
film and you’ve decided to edit HD, you need to be specific about what
theatrical release. The networks have different technical operations
specifications (TOSs), often 30 to 40 pages long, and if you want to
know how they want their 5.1, you’ve got to read that. PBS is different
from Discovery, which is different from Fox.
from 24p to 29.97 and back to 24p again because your audio will be out
of sync. If you do a Dolby E mix, you need to know that the encoder,
which turns your 5.1 mix into digital information, delays by one frame
and then the decoder, which turns it into an AES stream, delays it
another frame. So when you go through encode/decode, you’ve delayed two
frames. What you need to do is offset your mix two frames.
advocated- it’s okay to open the lines of communication before
production starts. Just give someone like me a call and we can discuss
technical things to think about while you’re going through the process.
Role Model Productions
Recent HD Projects: Mission Impossible III (HD
camera operator/engineer); Closing Escrow (camera
operator/HD engineer); Once Upon a Time in Mexico
(HD camera operator/HD engineer)
The Footage Bank (an all-HD stock footage company)
Los Angeles, CA
Recent HD Projects: Stock footage
as you turn the camera on, you immediately see what the shot is. I use
the Sony HDVFC30W from Band Pro [in Burbank]. One of the things that
slows down an HD production is the setting up of a monitor in a black
room where you calibrate it. With a good color viewfinder, I turn on my
camera and I see it.
Recent HD Projects: Segments for WCVB’s long-running news magazine, Chronicle
critical decisions for the big screen on a tiny 3.5-inch LCD. You can’t
see the actual frame edges on the consumer Sony HDR-FX1 LCD, but the
pro Sony HVR-Z1U has an underscan switch: Allscan Mode. You need to
know exactly where the edge of the frame lies, because a downconverted
letterbox SD frame will have zero top and bottom crop. I’ve had to crop
shots in post because a stray shotgun or light stand tip made it into
the final image, but not the viewfinder.
(iris, gain, shutter speed and white balance) for manual operation.
Leaving gain and shutter speed in auto will counteract your manual iris
control. And don’t put Color Bars or HyperGain on an assignable button-
you could bump it shooting handheld.
lock down the camera and use a slow shutter speed. If nothing moves, it
looks great. If you have to make moves, shoot with a high-megapixel
still camera and pan and zoom the stills in post. In Avid Pan and Zoom,
render the moves with B-Spline Catmull.
Recent HD Projects: Broadcast documentaries, custom media for special venues, including multiscreen HD movies
your show. Yes HDV is sexy, but do you need the extra resolution and
additional complications in post? If you are shooting SD, then there
are many great DV cameras that will do the job. However, if you need to
intercut smaller handheld shots into your final HD program, then HDV is
a great alternative to the larger HD systems. Every broadcast station
has its own demands, so during pre-production make sure that you talk
with the engineering staff that will play your final show. Also, while
you can capture some impressive images, the current HDV cameras are not
flexible enough to be your only production camera. Larger HD cameras,
such as Panasonic’s VariCam and Sony’s HDCAM, have better lenses and
larger CCDs. Consequently, you’ll get better results using the big HD
cameras for high-contrast vistas and effect shots. If you are going to
shoot in HDV, here’s something to keep in mind: don’t confuse the MPEG.
HDV can capture more detail than SD cameras, but some creative camera
work can also add unwanted artifacts and glitches to your footage.
Avoid fast pans and Dutch angles- all irritants with most HDV formats.
Slow and steady is still the best way to go when shooting HDV. And
don’t forget that tripod!
DP, Loosely Translated Productions
New York, NY
Recent HD Projects: Temps, a pilot shot with the JVC GY-HD100U
Anything that was film-like I wanted to see. But it took a lot of the
reds out of the colors and made it a lot colder than I wanted. I ended
up turning it off and going back to the standard setting on the camera.
I’m also an editor, and I want to get the image as strong as I can in
the camera knowing that, in the end, I can do whatever I want in post.
I haven’t used the "skin detail" function- I tried using it, and I
didn’t notice a difference. I did try taking the gain and popping it on
the reds- I loved that when I was shooting on the streets. I shot
footage of a woman who was wearing a red scarf, and it really popped
when I brought the gain up almost as high as it could go. I played it
back on a Sony 50-inch HDTV, and it was really sharp. But otherwise,
shooting at standard 24p, I haven’t moved the gain or anything.
Senior Director, Shadowbox Pictures
Recent HD Projects: Prince Tennis Racket spot
much data as possible with the richest blacks and the most dynamic
range in your whites. Don’t try to engineer these jobs yourself. There
was some confusion early on when we had ACs that had training either on
the F900 or the VariCam and they’d serve as DIT, but they didn’t have
the engineering background to handle the Sony HDC-F950 (which records
4:4:4). The downside? There aren’t very many trained professional DITs.
Los Angeles, CA
Recent HD Projects: The Loop pilot, "Highway 1," an experimental piece for Sony and NHK
him. But don’t let them control the image in any way that might
compromise your aesthetic needs. Tell the story just as you would if
you were using film.
Active Cultures Productions/
Recent HD Projects: Stock footage for
your SD creations and upconvert it, output it and watch it on an HDTV.
You’ll see for yourself things you do that may not translate well to
the new format. You’ll also see that, in most respects, what’s worked
for you in the past is exactly what you’ll need going forward into HD.
Also, make sure to learn and master the camera before you shoot. HD
cameras have tons of functions and settings, and all are key.
raise the quality and attention to detail in the rest of your
production as well. Plan out your shots as though you are shooting
film. Camera motion has a dramatically different effect. Generally
speaking, people are watching HD on large screens compared to their SD
sets- so any camera motion is amplified. Something that looked cool on
that SD shoot may cause nausea in HD. Also, don’t shoot 24p just to say
you did. Just as bad camera motion gets amplified, bad choice of frame
rate can be a problem. If you are shooting sports or high-motion
subjects, and you aren’t ever going back to film, 60i is the ticket.
lighting in SD. This demands more flexible lighting solutions. LED
lights are a good choice. Be careful not to blow out your whites; HD
video is much more susceptible to this than film.
New York, NY
Recent HD Projects: Spots for Amex, IBM and Kodak
end product will be viewed and get the technical deliverable specs from
that venue. Once you have these in hand, be sure and share that
information with your entire team.
but within them there are important tidbits of information crucial to
the success of your HD spot. Getting this information upfront will
ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them and when the time
comes for delivery, your spot will meet the specifications required and
be seen in the manner in which you intended.
possibility of your spot not being aired at all. Or, if you’ve provided
an SD version of the same spot the broadcaster could try to make an
inferior upres to HD with little regard for the image cropping or
quality. Crucial compositional elements could be cropped out when
turning the 4:3 SD into a 16:9 HD. Or worse yet, your spot could be
stretched to fit. Not only will your talent appear short and fat, but
think about what it might also do to your client’s brand logo.
New York, NY
Recent HD Projects: Patch (a short film)
you don’t need to add the same amount of contrast to HD because you’re
dealing with so much more picture. So I tend to back off, which is what
I did in Patch [a short film], where a lot of the shots were
winter with white everywhere. If I’d corrected it in SD I would have
blown it out and crushed it a little more, but in high definition, I’d
recommend not to do that or you’ll loose too much detail. That’s the
point of HD, to show that detail off. I don’t want to suggest that you
should shoot it flat, but if you get all that detail in there, then
you’ll get a great looking picture out.
footage inside of Final Cut Pro HD, you should convert your HDV footage
to a standard video format, such as DVCPRO HD, HDCAM or an uncompressed
720p format. In Final Cut, just use the Media Manager to collect,
convert and resave to your new format.
you can use Miranda’s HD-Bridge DEC converter to take a native HDV
stream and convert it in real-time to an uncompressed 1080i or 720p
stream for immediate broadcast or to master to a specific HD VTR.
Visual Effects Artist
New York, NY
Recent HD Projects: Patch
blues and greens. Your tracking will be a whole lot more accurate, too;
you can be much more precise because the resolution is so high.
issues come up, especially if you didn’t know that before you started
shooting. If our clients didn’t realize that the actual framing was
going to be different for HD, we’ll have to pan and scan and change
things left or right to compensate. If they want to have everything
16:9, their HD and NTSC master is going to come off that, which
requires that you either letterbox or chop the edges off to get a full
frame 4:3. In an ideal world, if everything was shot correctly and
protected for a certain standard, it would be easy to get all your
standards out. Producers just have to figure out what format they’re
going to finish in before they start shooting.
everything off of camera originals and go into a telecine room and do a
tape-to-tape color correction, which is a pretty easy process.
A/V Support (Offline and Online Editing), New Wave
Recent HD Projects: Behind-the-scenes and special features in HD for
Stealth, Doom and
Brokeback Mountain DVDs
some work with D-5. A lot of the problems we encounter have to do with
going from offline to online. Most people end up taking their stuff
shot in HDV or HDCAM to 60i, which is standard def, for their offline
edit. Then they want to take it up to a true HD for the online. You’ve
got to go through an Avid Nitris or Symphony edit bay to get out 24p
material. A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re coming from 60
to 24, and you’re slowing down your footage, you’re not going to be
able to strictly online it. You’ll need to make eye-match cuts as well.
And effects that looked decent at 60i suddenly have to be recreated in
the online bay. Sometimes it’s more efficient to take that standard-def
footage and cut it in 24 frames, even though it’s not a 24p project.
Even though you might get jittery picture during the offline, you’ve
got to realize that that jittery picture is not going to translate in
because they didn’t even have true DV code; they take more of a
field-based, instead of frame-based approach. The new Canon XL H1,
though, features genlock and you can do time-code sync, so you’re
getting true time code. I saw some tests of it the other day and was
really impressed. It’s a really nice camera. The new Panasonic
AG-HVX200, which is a DVCPRO HD camera, gives you genlock as well.
El Segundo, CA
Recent HD Projects: Santa vs The Snowman (IMAX 3D),
Barnyard (in development), Beyond the
whether you’re starting with HDV or working with HDCAM content. I’ve
been beta-testing some of the newer versions of CineForm with Adobe
Premiere 2.0 and Sony Vegas, and it’s saved me so much time to be able
to take any HD format, whether it’s 720p HDV from the JVC camera or
1080p from an HDCAM, into this beautiful 8- or 10-bit 4:2:2 format that
a person can handle in real time and cut on regular SATA drives. You
don’t have to buy an expensive RAID array to be able to handle the
Nitris with a $25,000 RAID array that gets filled up too fast with all
those uncompressed files. On the Mac side, I know some folks are even
using the DVCPRO HD codec as an offline, because of the manageable file
size. I’ve just found that when I use CineForm’s Prospect 2K codec in
Premiere and in Vegas, my work holds up much better in color
correction. I was just at a camera test in Burbank with the Canon XL H1
and the new Wafian HR-1 direct-to-disc capture system that takes the
SDI right out of the camera into the computer with the CineForm codec.
VFX guru Scott Billups said that by using the codec he got better keys
out of the Canon than he gets out of an HDCAM. We’re considering doing
something similar on a $5 million picture we’re doing soon- shooting in
HDCAM but bypassing the whole HDCAM format by taking the SDI direct out
and cutting in real time in Premiere and never having to worry about
huge RAID arrays. We’ll continue to do camera tests, but everything
about HD material using the CineForm codec and workflow seems to be
indistinguishable from uncompressed HD. And the best part is that this
codec is within reach of everyone, regardless of your budget.
President, Alpha Dogs, Burbank, CA
Recent HD Projects: Alvin and the Chipmunks feature;
Grad Nite feature; Commanche
Warriors one-hour documentary for The History Channel;
The Deal (direct-to-video); "Cigar at the Beach";
three episodes of American Chopper
Symphony Nitris at NAB last year. You couldn’t capture via FireWire on
the Nitris, so you had to capture the output of the deck. But there’s
no control, so you’d have to eyeball it. Now, the Symphony Nitris gives
us total conform. To assemble HDV files, we capture the HDV footage
into the Avid Xpress Pro via FireWire and transcode to uncompressed HD
resolution and carry the files into the Symphony Nitris. By doing so,
we get away from the lossy HDV codec as soon as possible and go
straight to uncompressed HD. This workflow allows us to accurately and
quickly match time code. For those who are shooting HDV right now, it
simplifies the whole process- and saves money because it saves us time.
When someone brings out a professional HDV deck, it won’t matter
anymore. But until then, this is the way to go.
Santa Monica, CA
Recent HD Projects: Stephanie Daley, Underworld: Evolution
of grass on a football field, but not so great when you can make out
every pore on a swimsuit model’s face. There’s no such thing as perfect
skin, but low-res video obscures that fact. HD is not so forgiving.
There are several ways to tackle this challenge in post. Softening the
image can make the skin look better, but the rest of the image often
worked very well for reducing unwelcome detail in skin. I begin by
keying the skin tones and isolating them using a layer, or channel, of
color correction. If the layer mistakenly includes similar colors that
aren’t skin, I mask them out with a Power Window. Using my chroma key
of the skin tones, I cut a matte shape and send it to the Defocus board
of the 2K Plus. While Defocus is often used to soften entire images, in
this case I use it just on the matte shape to feather its edges so that
it blends better with the underlying image. Once I am satisfied with my
matte shape, I use the 2K Plus color-correction tools to reduce the
contrast of the skin tones. This minimizes a lot of blemishes without
affecting the sharpness or quality of the rest of the image. With the
2K Plus Power Grade feature, I’ve been able to set up a process so that
I can implement this technique with the press of a button. It isn’t
completely automated because skin tone and quality varies from person
to person, so I have to adjust the chroma key and vary the amount of
contrast reduction as needed. If the skin is seriously flawed, I might
also apply a touch of softening with Defocus. In most cases, though,
the contrast reduction is enough to effectively improve the skin’s
tones when the high level of detail in HD video proves to be too much
of a good thing.
Director of Visual Effects
New York, NY
Recent HD Projects: Campaigns for LG Electronics and M&Ms,
Superbowl XXXVIII (for which he received an Emmy nomination), show open
for Will & Grace
been dealing with the larger images and with the lack of a standard for
frame size, frame rate and aspect ratio. To begin with, NTSC is a 720 x
486 square. 1080/24p HD is a 1920 x 1080 rectangle. On average, one
frame of 24p HD is six times larger than NTSC, both in screen and file
size. This means that a five-layer HD comp is the equivalent of a
30-layer NTSC comp!:30 of NTSC is roughly 1 GB. It’s not uncommon to
generate 30 minutes of media for a:30 spot. That translates into 30 GB
for NTSC, or 500 GB for HD! If you aren’t careful, significantly longer
renders can kill your deadlines.
pre-renders that get loaded back into your comp or project . These
intermediate steps take up a tremendous amount of space and will have
to be archived or re-rendered. Most compositing packages have spme type
of disk cache that gives you thew benefits of pre-rendering without
having your project or comp dependent on this material.
settings for animation and layout of your comp, and
use full resolution for keying, masking and color correcting. With so
much detail, you do not want to sacrifice or miss anything by doing
your keying at half-res. The old tricks of hiding things in shadow, or
"using a soft-edge matte," do not work as easily as they used to.
allows for more than a dozen different flavors of digital television,
only some of which are in HD. You must ask your client what resolution,
frame rate and tape media they need to deliver on. You will most likely
be asked to deliver a "1080/24p" master. 1080/24p is short for 1920 x
1080 at z24 or 23.976 progressive frames per second. Be sure you ask
which frame rate, since you can be bitten by a loss of audio sync over
time. 1080/24p is the highest resolution you can work with, and is
often described as "multi-mastering," since you can make any other
flavor of television from a 1080/24p master.
show or spot will be shown to the majority of Americans who do not have
HD at home. Your work will have to be downconverted from HD to NTSC.
HD, with its 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, is a rectangle, and NTSC is
a square. You have two choices: A) You can downconvert your HD with a
letterbox to preserve the widescreen aspect ratio of the HD original,
or B) You can cut off the left and right sides of the frame, resulting
in a 4:3 square. Either choice has consequences. Letterboxing makes all
of your titles smaller, and this can create problems with legal supers
that have to be a specific size. If the frame was not composed with the
"center square" in mind, cropping the left and right sides can cause
the loss of important picture information. Whichever way you go, you
should discuss the implications with your client.
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