Saturday Afternoon Crowd at the Farmer’s Market in Lake Merritt.
I’ve been looking forward to un-boxing a the new Nikon D7000 ever since it was announced. This weekend I finally got the opportunity, and wanted to share a brief look at the newest model in the Nikon DSLR line.
The D7000 was initially positioned as an upgrade to the D90, which it unquestionably is. However, in terms of features and functionality it is a lot closer to the D300. The new model is aimed at the prosumer shooter, and is taking up a new position in the Nikon line between the two.
The first the you notice in picking up the camera is that, while it is very similar in feel to the D90, it has a much more substantial feel than its older sibling. This owing in large part to the new magnesium alloy body and rubber grips. The form factor is a little small and takes some getting used to, but the optional MB-D11 multi-power battery pack seems like a good option for increasing the overall size and handling stability.
The ergonomics of the camera have been improved tremendously … Not that the D90 is bad from an ergo perpective, but Nikon has made some small tweaks that have gone a long way.
For starters, the placement of a second dial below the exposure control for changing servo modes is pretty handy. They’ve removed the programmed mode settings for beginners from the exposure dial, and made selection a function of the sub-control wheels, and added an AF mode selector button to the AF control switch.
Small changes, like I said, but a help.
Rather that go into all the technical features, here’s a link to the Nikon D7000 site, and there will be a summary of key features at the end of this post.
The new 39-point autofocus system is a thing of beauty, with a big, bright, viewfinder display that gives you feedback on what the AF system is doing. Reading the manual, there is some nifty tech here for doing auto follow-focus using the multi-directional controller. It looks like it would take a fair bit of learning/coordination to work it and the shutter release at the same time. We’ll see.
This weekend was a train wreck weather-wise, so I didn’t have an opportunity to get out and do a lot of shooting, but I managed to get a few shots in. The camera delivers a 5K image in raw mode (12mb/each with lossless compression), and the images are stunning.
This camera is already proving to be quite popular, and has been in short supply since it was released in the U.S. Both B&H and Adorama have been back-ordered on the body (although some kits have been available), and the secondary market has been taking advantage of this by raising prices for the body by as much as $400 over list.
Nikon has reportedly taken a big step forward with video on the D7000, with an improved live view mode, H.264 recording at 1920×1080, a jack for an external microphone. You can shoot either NTSC or PAL, and there are a number of key features for reducing image flicker. At least that’s what they tell me … Testing the video capabilities of the D7000 is yet to come.
D7000 Key Features
Even while the human impact of the devastating Earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan last week is still being fully assessed, the tragedy is already having an immediate effect on business and industry, with feared shortages driving up prices of everything from car parts to hybrid automobiles.
Nikon, whose main assembly plant for their high-end cameras, such as the Nikon D700, is in hard-hit Sendai, was forced to shut down all of it’s operations in Japan, as was Canon.
While Canon seems to have suffered the least damage, the main impact being a temporary suspension in operations of the plant that manufactures their lenses, closure of Nikon’s Sendai plant has already sent prices on their high end models skyrocketing, with some dealers raising the price of the D700 as much as $300 in the past week.
Is such an increase warranted, and what does it mean for photographer?
Well, the answers are probably no, and not much.
Nikon has already announced that they will be moving their Sendai operations to their factory in Malaysia with in a month. Nikon has already got substantial operations in Malaysia as well as China. While the supply chain will be limited for a brief period, the likely impact is that this temporary shutdown will delay shipping of the D800 until some time in the May-June timeframe.
Canon has also stated that they will re-shuffle manufacturing operations to other facilities World-wide if they are forced to suspend operations for more than a month.
For photographers looking to purchase, the best advice is not to make an impulse buy for fear that cameras might not be available later on during the year … In fact, now isn’t the time to plunk down the coin for a new Nikon D700, since the model is a few years old, and the D800 promises to be a substantial upgrade, and the same could be said for the Canon 5D
For shooters who have been thinking about picking up the new Nikon DX model, the D7000, it’s also a good time for wait for a bit. The camera has been back-ordered at most of the big dealers for some time, with gray and secondary market vendors selling the D7000 at a premium, which will likely increase in the short term. The D7000s are being manufactured in Thailand, and supply should not be affected by the crisis in Japan. It is just a matter of creating enough inventory to satisfy demand.
If you do need a D7000, and can’t wait, Adorama has a few factory refurbished models for about $100 off list. Not a bad price on a camera that is probably better than “new”. The D7000 is the model to buy right now if you’re in the market for a DX sensor camera.
The best advice right now is to save your money, and send some of it over to Japan to help in the disaster recovery effort, where it will do some real good.
Spring has officially sprung, and if you’re wondering why everything on your Sunday morning TV slate seems to be running off-schedule, it’s because you forgot that Daylight Savings Time starts today. 🙂
One favorite thing to do on a nice Saturday is to head on over to the The Old Place Seafood Teahouse, over on Grand, for a dim sum breakfast, before taking a walk over to the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market in Splash Pad Park near Lake Merritt.
The Grand Lake Farmer’s Market is an institution in the Adam’s Point/Cleveland Heights section of Oakland. Every Saturday the place is crammed with everyone from Farmers to folks hawking trinkets and jewelry, to various ethnic food vendors. There’s usually some kind of musical entertainment, and on a good day you’ll find hordes of people spilling in from the adjacent Grand Lake shopping district, just to get something to eat and chill out for a while.
This Saturday we had a day of tee-shirt weather and lots of sun, so the crowd was pretty large, with people camping out on the grassy knoll to listen to this week’s musical guests, the Sadza Marimba Band from Santa Cruz.
The Market itself has is an okay place to buy stuff, but it’s the people there that are always the main attraction. Oakland is a pretty diverse neighborhood, and that diversity represents itself well here, often providing some pretty interesting contrasts in the social fabric making up the crowd.
I grabbed the D90 before heading out, throwing on a 50mm/f1.8 prime that I was going to try and make my main lens for the day, with a 24-120mm/f 3.5-5.6D Nikkor as a backup.
Well that was the plan.
As usual in fast-shooting outdoor situations, I wound up shooting about a half-dozen shots with the 50 before pulling out the 24-120mm. I call this lens my “street sweeper’, and it’s my go-to lens for photojournalism-type situations. It’s slow, has more than a little bit of barrel distortion depending, on the focal length that you’re at, but provides a lot of flexibility for nailing just about anything you need to shoot on the fly.
It’s no secret that, for months now, our friends over at Knights of Good Productions, creators of The Guild, have been working on a super-secret web series project. They’ve done a very good job of keeping the project shrouded in mystery, with Felicia Day throwing out little morsels every so often about her #mysteryproject on Twitter.
It’s also no mystery that Felicia and Kim Evey have been wanting to do more web series, and grow Knights of Good into a larger studio so it was only a matter of time, but they did a pretty good job keeping this one under wraps. Well, mostly…
Little tidbits about renting a warehouse for the shoot, hiring a stunt team, shooting second unit, and such, have been leaking out; things that suggested that this was not going to be your Father’s (well, your Older Brother’s?) web series. Something big was coming, and it was promising to be a mind-blower.
That something took a big step towards living up to that promise with this week’s announcement of Dragon Age: Redemption, a swords-and-sorcery adventure set in the world of the Dragon Age games from EA/BioWare.
Felicia talks about the show, and the opportunity to work on a co-venture with EA/BioWare on her blog. There is also a ton of media coverage out there, including this profile of Felicia on USA Today’s Game Hunters blog, and an interview with Jimmy Fallon.
There are a few published photos of Felicia in her elf-assassin drag…Looking totally badass, with daggers and leather and stuff.
I’m predicting a rise in reported elf-fetish-cosplay sightings as a result of this show.
The teaser trailer looks equally badass, and there have been some behind-the-scenes photos in some of the press coverage that look like they really put everything into creating an immersive fantasy world.
So, yeah, mind blown, but not surprised.
Felicia and Kim have done an incredible job of creating the amazing out of nothing but an idea, and the ability to get folks to share their enthusiasm about the vision, and join in for the journey; enlisting Industry pros at every turn, each bringing an ever-expanding and diverse range of talent into the mix.
It kind of reminds me of the old fable about The Rock Soup.
A guy comes into a town with nothing but a rock on a string and sets out to make a soup with it in the town square…Little by little all the townspeople come out to see what he is doing, and get swept up in the idea of making this great soup. So much so that they wind up throwing in their own ingredients until there is this fantastic feast for everyone to share. That seems to be the Knights of Good’s secret to success.
Anyway…The show is supposed to hit the Interwebz this summer. In the meantime Season 4 of The Guild is going up on YouTube, and the DVD will be hitting retail stores some time this month.
In the meantime I gotta’ go find out if eHarmony has a program for hooking up nerds with elves …
Avid’s newest release of Media Composer has a number of features that shows Avid has been listening to their customers, and making a commitment to bring their now-venerable suite of non-linear editing systems to the next level.
There are a lot of very nice features in MC5 including AMA (Avid Media Access), which allows instant, native, editing of virtually any type of media, including RED R3D files, without transcoding. Okay, there are a few catches, including the need for the editor to manage the files on disk, as they are not cataloged and ingested into the Avid mxf media folder, and for that, and performance reasons, you’ll probably want to transcode the material at some point … But there’s no need to wait for lengthy transcodes anymore when you need to look at, and cut together, a bunch of different media types quickly.
Avid’s been putting out a number of new features videos on YouTube, and they’re pretty good. The attached clip talks about the new “Smart Tool” feature, which allows you to selectively enable/disable Avid’s notorious (if you’re a Final Cut Pro Editor) modes, and select/cut/trim your media seamlessly. Frankly, it’s a lot like using FCP’s timeline, and a major enhancement to the Media Composer user experience.
“My name is Mark, and I’m a sadist.”
Compulsions is probably the most well-known show in this series on web shows to date. The show, along with its creator, Bernie Su, have received quite a bit of press as well as Streamy Award recognition. But as long as we’re talking about web shows from the last year to watch, you have to include Compulsions because it’s one of the most original, not to mention controversial and just plain interesting shows out there. It pulls you in with the first shot, and keeps you on the hook through every episode that follows.
I mean, how many shows out there feature a protagonist who is an office schlub by day and torturer by night?
Check it out but, be advised, it’s pretty edgy stuff, and, unlike The United States of America, the characters in Compulsions do torture people.
“Mordy Koots does not fear war. War fears Mordy Koots.” – Mordy Koots
There were a number of really good shows submitted in the Best VFX category for 2010 Streamy Awards consideration, representing everything from practical FX shot work to totally immersive environments. Mordy Koots, an Australian entry, was my favorite among the more immersive types.
The creators of “Koots” bill the show as a “MOGIE”, short for Movie Over Game Integrated Environment. That is, a show which uses video game environments for virtual sets and environments with live action composited over it. In Koots kase, I mean case, the mogie is a WWII-era sitcom, using game elements licensed from the “Heroes over Europe” and “Blazing Angels”.
The green-screen work is pretty good, and the overall look and feel of the show nothing short of stunning … Oh, yeah, and it’s funny, well written, and well acted too, so … hey, bonus. (Only kidding friends … I’m not that much of an FX-first geek … Not really.)
Check out the trailer in the viewer, than go over and hit the Mordy Koots web site for more info and episodes. The show’s creators are really taking the show to the streets (er, Intertubes?) with their efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking vehicles, as well as offering an iPhone app for viewing episodes.
One of the cool things about voting on this year’s Streamy Awards, was getting to screen many, many, web shows that I would have otherwise never been exposed to. Naturally the best of the best filtered up to the top of the awards process, and came to the attention of new viewers, but there were many more shows, also excellent, that are equally deserving of viewership. So, now that the 2010 Streamy’s are over, I thought I’d share some of the shows I enjoyed the most this year.
First up, a little Canadian sitcom called, “My Pal Satan“, about the mis-adventures of 20-something Donna (Rachel Wilson), and her less than perfect roommate, Satan (Jefferson Brown.) Need I say more? Like this show needs any more of a hook?
This is a great example of the kind of web show, comedy or otherwise, that I really like … Cleverly done, with good production values, and all on a minimal budget.
The teaser for episode one of the series in linked in the viewer above. You can view full episodes of the series at the “My Pal Satan” website.
Tonight was the annual San Francisco FCPUG SuperMeet at the Mission Bay Conference Center. Amidst the usual assortments of technical demos, vendor presentations and creator show ‘n tells, Canon made some new announcements of both hardware and software.
First up was a demo of a soon-to-be-released Final Cut Pro Plugin for managing DSLR footage shot with the EOS 5D Mk II or 7D (presumably with the 1D Mark IV as well) that was pretty damn spiffy.
The plugin opens up a log and transfer window that allows capture off of SD media via a card reader, directly into Final Cut Pro. The kicker here is that it preserves all of the camera metadata, including lens info, and backs up the original media to a disk image (.dmg) file on your PC. This adds a lot of flexibility to the 5D/7D workflow and creates an option for doing an offline review of your materials and a selects-only ingest.
The FCP plugin will be available for download from the Canon site, soon.
Canon also introduced a new codec earlier in the week. It’s a 50mb MPEG2 codec that uses 4:2:2 color sampling and long-GOP (15 frame) compression. Aside from wondering if, in these days of H.264 and emerging standards for AVC-Intra, there is really a future for MPEG2, it was kind of disappointing to hear that this new codec is only going to be available for their new video camera model, and is not planned as a part of their DSLR strategy. Canon also showed clips of product managers from all of the top non-linear editing companies indicating their plans to support the new codec.
An unlabeled, non-functional, prototype of the new camera was on display in the vendor area, and the Canon rep had no ETA on when the camera would be ready or what features it may have. This was reinforced by an almost Apple-like disclaimer about not making any statements with regard to future product offerings.
Hey, guys? Could you vague that up a little? That was the biggest non-announcement I’ve ever heard. “We have a great new codec with no name that will be implemented on a new, also unnamed, camera, for which we do not have a feature list, specs, or a release date … Oh, and even if we did we wouldn’t tell you anyway.”
It was just a bit absurd, but I’ll take the FCP plugin. It should be worth it’s weight in drive-space-saving gold.
Congrats to event Producers Michael Horton, Daniel Berubi, and company for another great event … I’m already looking forward to the NAB Supermeet in April.
One of the great things about being relatively new to the San Francisco Bay Area (3 years, 3 months, and counting …) is that I can be a tourist in my home area and venture out on any number of photo adventures all within a 2-hour drive from my apartment.
I’ve been wanting to visit Alcatraz since I first moved up here … It is part of my work landscape every day, and seemed like the perfect subject for a photographer obsessed with architectural details and crumbling ruins … but I just never got around to doing it for no good reason other than just not heading over there. So this winter break I booked a passage on an Alcatraz Cruises boat for the day after Christmas, and was on my way …
It was a gray, cold, morning with a promise of rain in forecast, as we took off for Alcatraz Island, and those seemed like outstanding conditions to shoot such an ominous subject. As luck would have it, the sun came out for just a bit, and I was able to get some stunning color shots. The entire island is a symphony of color and texture, and I would easily go back there on another day just to shoot the exteriors in bright sunlight.
I’ll save all the official history stuff for your Googling pleasure, but there are a lot of stories on this island, spanning from the creation of Fort Alcatraz as part of the San Francisco Bay fortifications during the Civil War, through the island’s years as the most infamous jail in the Federal Prison System, to the occupation by Native Americans in the 1960’s.
Walking around the island, you can tell where the Civil War structures end and the modern construction begins. The older construction being of the same type of brick-and-mortar construction you’ll see over at Fort Point by the Bridge and other local structures from that era.
I could spend days shooting the details of the broken brick and moss-covered hallways, but found myself wishing for an opportunity to shoot the space without other tourists, or the modern signage and barriers that bring the ancient buildings into the modern day. Since that wasn’t to be, I settled on the idea of incorporating the human element into the photographs to give scale and context to the physical structures.
One of the highlights of the island is an audio guided tour of the Cellhouse that is provided free-of-charge to visitors. It includes audio commentaries from former employees, prisoners, and children of prison employees who grew up on the island. Apparently Alcatraz was a great place to grow up … As long as you weren’t doing it “on the inside.”
A special part of the facility is known as “D Block”. If Alcatraz was a prison built to house the worst of the worst, D Block was where they sent the prisoners who couldn’t live peaceably within the general population. Felons like Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Al Capone all did time on D Block.
This part of the facility faces San Francisco, and it is said that prisoners could here the sounds of laughter and music coming from the yacht club across the bay … So close to all the freedoms they had lost, this reminder must have been no small source of anguish for those interred here.
There are a number of preservation and restoration efforts underway on the island … about half of which is not open to the public at the present time (which, quite naturally are parts of the island I’d most life to photograph. 🙂 ) This is a very unique place with a long, and at times very dark, but uniquely American, history.
These are just a few of the shots from this trip, if you’d like to see more, check out the Alcatraz set on my Flickr page, as more will be added to the collection over time.
All of these photos were shot with a Nikon D90 using 28mm AF-S, 50mm f1.8 AF-D, or 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 AF-D Nikon Lenses. Most exteriors were shot at ISO 200-500, while some of the interiors were shot between 1600-3200 ISO. The photos were shot in camera raw and processed using Adobe Lightroom 2.
With the addition of my almost-beloved Nikon D90 (okay, it’s not perfect, but … damn!), it’s time to part with my never-really-loved-it-too-much-until-camera-raw-became-friendly Nikon D70. It’s a wonderful camera. Look at some of the recent photos I’ve taken with it and you can see it does a great job, at 2005 megapixel rates (okay, cameras, like motorcycles, have become a metaphor for penis size for some [not me of course, but some people ]… I never thought I’d get caught up in megapixel envy until I saw some results from the D700. 2k good, 5k better.) It’s a great camera, but for someone else with a bit less than professional quality expectations for their work.
So what to do?
Well, eBay, of course!
Here’s a tip, for those of you who want to stay on the cutting-edge of imaging and video technology … Sell your stuff every 2 years. You’ll still have to pony-up some funds to stay on top of the game, but by not waiting for the bottom to drop out of the value on your current/old stuff, you can get peak trade-in value. Using eBay, that can take quite a bite out of upgrade costs. I find this particularly true of computer hardware … I sell my MacBooks about every two years, and upgrade. Not only do I get great return on the old model, but I can usually put those funds towards current models without a lot of additional out-of-pocket. I’m never totally state-of-the-art, but I’m close enough to stay competitive, which is what the game is all about.
There, that’s my secret. Everyone who reads this and cashes in on my my knowledge please send me five bucks. At the rate people read this blog, I will have at least $100 bucks within a year. 🙂
So … Anyway … One of the key things I’ve found out over the years about selling on eBay is that photos matter. Big time. Your photos look like crap, and, while your stuff might sell, you won’t get top dollar.
Right now I’m on the trading-up stage of building my equipment catalog … I don’t have much in the way of lighting equipment, but there’s still a lot I can do to make my eBay product look good.
I went to Home Depot a while back and purchased a bunch of clamp lights and shop lights, along with a bunch of daylight-balanced compact florescent bulbs. For my el-cheapo product setup, I threw these on a couple of Manfrotto stands that I had sitting around (you can’t have enough of these around the house, they come in handy for everything from photo lighting setups to impromptu coat racks, and only cost about $25 bucks a piece.) A quick trip over to the photo supply store, and I had a roll of seamless backdrop paper. At about $35, this was the most expensive part of this setup, but I’ll get a lot of use out of the roll.
Plug it all together with a $9.99 tray table from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and you’ve got something that looks like this:
Oh, I probably forgot to mention the $5.00 Grey card that I bought … Even if your camera, like my D90, has great auto white-balance, buy one and use it. Your stuffs will be muchly more betterer (thank you, Ansel Adams … while I know you’re rolling in your grave after that statement, digital cameras have turned your lifetime of work in developing the zone system into a bullet point. Sorry, dude.)
The two, 100w, compact florescents do a decent job of providing some, more-or-less, flat side lighting. Throw in the built-in speedlight on the camera, and you’ve got about all that you will need (although I did have to shoot at an ISO of about 500 to work with decent shutter speeds.) Here’s the result:
The results aren’t bad … Not as flat as I’d like, and I should have straightened my backdrop a bit, but it will get the job done on eBay. And by that, I mean my ad will probably get more attention from someone looking for used equipment than one from somebody who put a poorly-lit, existing light, shot in his ad. Of course, I’ll ad close-ups of the camera and a bunch of alternate angles as well … This also helps you sell your product.
Total cost for for this? Probably about $75 bucks, but considering it’s all stuff that I’ll be reusing, and will probably result in uping my sale price for the equipment, I’d still say it meets my criteria for doing this on the cheap.
BTW, all this stuff will be on eBay tomorrow, and I’ll post the URL to the auctions. This D70 is in cherry shape, and I think I’ve only used it on about 10 occasions. Drop me an e if you’re interested.
P.S.: We’ll re-visit this topic, and may others, when I can get my order in for some Alien Bees studio lighting. And that, will be awesome!
The DVD of Season 2 of “The Guild” was released this week exclusively on Amazon.com. Amazon is also offering the Season 1 DVD as well. As a bonus, when you buy either of “The Guild” DVDs, you get digital copies in both standard and Hi-Def in your Amazon Video-on-Demand Library, so you can watch them from your Roku box, or Computer. It’s a great deal. Mean while, I thought I’d use the occasion to update this blog entry from last February, which talks about the creation of the final sequence in episode 12, “Fight”.
Right now is an exciting time to be involved with web video. The new media space is changing on an almost daily basis providing creators with new, and higher quality, venues for telling their stories. Producers are stepping up with increased production values and more polished offerings … It’s a great time for innovative story telling, and one of those innovative stories being told right now is Felicia Day‘s hit webisodic comedy, “The Guild”.
I’ve been a fan of “The Guild”, since Season 1. So much so that when I heard Felicia was working on Season 2, and looking for folks to help in various ways, I fired off an email to her and raised my hand. That started a dialog ultimately resulting in the final sequence of the Season 2 finale of “The Guild”.
It was a tremendous experience to be a part of the show, and I thought I’d write a bit about the process we went through, and some of the things we did along the way. Not so much for VFX/techie types, but for folks out there who may be thinking about incorporating VFX into their own web content, or are just generally interested in how a VFX artist will take an idea and work with a director to incorporate it into a finished effects sequence.
Some time before Thanksgiving, Felicia emailed to say she’d written an effects sequence into the final episode of season 2, and was wondering if I was still interested in helping out.
Hell yeah, I was!
Naturally, like any web producer on a budget, Felicia was concerned about being able to achieve her vision for the episode while staying within a very tight budget. In the end, I think we managed to realize both goals due in large part to having a great crew with a really clear, consistent, idea of the kind of effect we were going for.
Felicia described the scene: “Basically I am standing and looking at something traumatic and then, akin to WOW, my “ghost” leaves my body and starts running away. Ending shot is close on my “ghost face” running.”
Shortest VFX concept development discussion ever!
I think just about everyone on “The Guild” crew is into WoW on some level … Some of us on a deep, ongoing, and quite possibly pathological, level. Whatever the association, or level of obsession with the game, when Felicia threw down with that concept everybody knew exactly what she was talking about and what we were trying to achieve. This is a big break, as these kinds of conversations can sometimes take weeks, or even months on larger productions, and involve extensive, and costly, pre-visualization work. We were already way ahead of ourselves.
The discussion went on to things about just how far into the WoW paradigm we wanted to take this. I went into WoW, got my main killed, and spent some time breaking down all of the elements in terms of look (Having spent more hours with a dead character in Warcraft than I’d probably own up to, the bulk of my research was already done … Who said playing WoW was unproductive? At this point I think it might even qualify as a tax deduction.)
There is a lot going on when a character dies in World of Warcraft. The world goes monochrome, the character is lit independently of the scene with a kind of Bela Lugosi vampire light from below. They become semi-transparent. There is smoke emanating from the character’s “ghost”, and, if you’re outside, there is this huge glowing vortex overhead that creates membranes that flow over the sky down to the horizons. Lighting sources are kind of blown out, and everything is a bit grainy.
I shared my notes with the rest of the production team, and that generated enough feedback to really give me a clear idea of the scope of the effort and the look we were going for, as well as a basic approach to how the sequence should be shot. We were going to go for kind of a hybrid-look, and not looking to match the Warcraft paradigm in every detail. Codex wasn’t really dead (which would make a potential Season 3 difficult, though not impossible), but having an out-of-body experience, so the idea was we would put her “ghost” in the Warcraft look, but keep the world around her looking normal.
Okay, so we had a concept, so how do we do that, get what we’re looking for, and not spend a whole lotta’ money to do it?
In order to keep costs down, and keep the scope of the VFX work manageable, I suggested we go with an almost all 2D approach using an available green screen stage to shoot Felicia/Codex. To save time, and eliminate the need to do a lot of tracking/matchoving, we’d work with a locked-off camera, shooting the background plates first, and then use a real-time software chroma keyer on set so that director Sean Becker could line up shots/camera angles on the green screen stage to match the backgrounds.
As far as the green screen shoot itself, the show was lucky enough to have a very experienced Director of Photography, John Schmidt, and Gaffer, Jared Hoy, with professional experience in doing green screen shots (Both of these dudes do lighting for Network TV and other shows and really know their stuff.) They knew exactly what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do when lighting a green screen shoot (Some DPs tend to over light the green/blue screen, producing a lot of color spill wrapping around the actor’s face which is a big time-waster to deal with. Not the case here.)
Just as an aside, one of the things that added so much to this effort, and to the production of “The Guild” in general, is that Felicia Day has managed to pull together an extremely talented crew of working industry professionals, most of whom, like myself, started out as fans of the show. I believe that combination of professional expertise, plus personal involvement/vested interest in the show, plays a large role in what has made “The Guild” so successful.
So while Sean, John and Jared went off to do some tests (and finish shooting the rest of the season), I started playing around with some images trying to come up with a look for the sequence.
The key things to creating a Warcraft-like ghost look would be desaturating the green screen images of Codex, rendering her monochrome, and making her somewhat translucent, layering that image with a wave of smoke that would emanate from her body. I used Apple’s Shake for 98% of the compositing, painting, and rotoscoping work, while relying on Apple’s Motion for the smoke particle simulations.
The look was coming along, but I didn’t feel that the ghost was really standing out against a colored background image, so I decided to diverge from the WoW look a bit, and created a simple halo, or aura, around codex. This was done by using the matte of Codex’s image coming out of the green screen extraction to mask a simple white color card. I scaled that up a bit larger than Codex, creating a white outline around her, and then keyframe animated the brightness value of the aura to make it “breath”. The result was a pulsating white halo that helped pull separate Codex from the background and add to the supernatural look.
Next smoke was composited behind, and in front of, Codex. The result created somewhat of a volumetric lighting look that, while relatively easy to achieve, really carried a clear impression of the game look that we were shooting for.
The weekend before Christmas, Director/Editor Sean Becker sent me a hard drive with all of the background and green screen shots, as well as a Final Cut Pro project with his mock-ups (temp comps) of the shots in a cut sequence to serve as my visual and timing reference.
Sean and I would be getting together for lunch the following Monday to discuss the sequence and hammer-out any remaining details before I got to work on things. Getting the footage ahead of this gave me a chance to put additional questions together and analyze the footage for any potential issues (of which there were none.) In preparation for this, I took the first shot of the Codex ghost emerging from her body and put together a temp comp using the look that I’d been developing. This would give Sean and I a chance to see just how close, or not, we were to having the look nailed down. As it turned out, we were pretty close. Sean loved the look.
While all of the review work and discussion done over the following few weeks took place in emails and on the phone, I can’t stress how important this meeting was in terms of setting the overall working relationship for the project. While we all tend to live by emails, tweets, and other forms of electronic communication these days, nothing can take the place on one-on-one time when establishing a creative partnership, and you really get a much better idea of how someone communicates.
The business part of the discussion was actually quite brief. Sean liked the look, and wanted to move forward with it. I had all the info and materials that were needed at that point, so it was time to get to work for real.
I can’t say that the work itself was either complex or difficult … It wasn’t. Although the finished sequence contained a little bit of every kind of 2D magic … Roto and paint work, wire/rig removal, green screen extraction and compositing, it was all pretty easy stuff as compositing projects go … A big part of that owing to good pre-production planning. But to clarify, when I say easy I mean that while it was quite time-intensive, probably over a hundred hours or so, the fact that the plates and gs materials were shot so well made it that much easier to put the elements together. Also the Director/Editor provided me with such great reference materials and access when there were questions, and that made the whole process come off without any major glitches.
Along the way, a couple of “what if”/experimental shots resulted in a “Hey, would you mind rendering me a final of that, I think I can use it …” from Sean Becker, so what started out as a 5-6 shot sequence wound up being more like a 10-shot sequence, which is pretty much par for the course.
I wound up delivering the final shots, on schedule, just as Sean was cutting the episode together.
It was a great experience, and even better yet, an opportunity to work with an up-and-coming crew on a show that folks are going to be talking about for years to come.
So if you’re producing a show for the web, or some other low-budget venue, and you’d like to add some vfx into your story, don’t be afraid to try. Find an artist who understands both your strengths and limitations, and can work with you to get your vision on the screen. Don’t be afraid to solicit some help from someone who works in the field, even if it’s a low/no pay gig. Odds are, if they have the time, and are into what you’re trying to do, they’ll probably help you out. Feature film VFX today tends to be done in large scale environments where each artist plays a small, highly-compartmentalized, role in the overall project. The opportunity to take on a small project and handle all aspects of the effects work, in a way that it becomes personal, is something a lot of folks will jump at.
Felicia Day, Kim Evey, and all the folks at “The Guild” keep pushing the limits of web video and changing the game with each season of the show. It will be very interesting to see where the show goes next in Season 3. In the meantime, I’m very happy that I was able to add a little bit of VFX icing to their Season 2 cake.
All images Copyright © 2009 RobotKittenGigglebus Productions, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
One of the side effects of working on my CS4 skills is delving into Lightroom 2. From getting a grip on Photoshop CS4, I started getting into Lightroom, which lead to picking up a scanner to work on my old negs and slides, which lead to a complete renewal of my interest into still photography, and the digital darkroom. Kind of strange for an Editor/VFX guy to admit, but my interests in still work waned years ago, after my initial 20-years or so of photography had lead to other avenues of interest … film, theater and video, directing, designing, editing, compositing, and all that jazz. But no longer.
I’ve been out shooting with my D70, and just ordered a Nikon D90 body to quell my raging megapixel envy (although I liked it when you could own a camera for 25 years, like my old Nikon FM, and still keep taking kick-ass photos without a biennial upgrade for new tech), and am going to start doing more work on a regular, if not daily, basis.
My results so far have been posted to flicker, and can be seen in the viewer below. I’ll keep adding to the collection.
I’ve had a funny relationship with photoshop over the last 10 years, or so. I’ve never really used it for photography. It’s mainly been a tool for creating graphics, and elements for motion composites or editing projects. Most of the work I’ve “Photoshopped” (I hate using Photoshop as a verb, no matter what Adobe says) has been done with Apple Shake. Yeah, it’s kind of overkill for compositing still images, like the one of ICM’s George Ruiz (see below) that I did for his Twitter avatar last Christmas. It’s just that I’ve been really comfortable with the tools Shake has to offer, especially the color correction set, which is the most important part of doing any convincing composite. This has been standing in the way of my broader artistic education and, more importantly, a deeper understanding of what Photoshop can do for me.
Well, that’s changing, as I upgrade my toolset … I’m working with Nuke more on the compositing side, as well as After Effects for Webisode-type work. Getting out there with my camera and using Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom to “develop” the work, will keep my skills growing in that area as well. I’m looking forward to also sharing a lot of work that I’ve done over the years that have been in my treasure boxes waiting to be seen.
I’m really intrigued by HDR (High Dynamic Range) images … Taking a bracketed set of exposures, each capturing the correct exposure for a part of the image, and then combining them together into one photograph with the entire dynamic range of the scene correctly captured. What took Ansel Adams a lifetime of work to figure out in traditional photography, is becoming fairly easy in the digital darkroom. The above photo is a WIP that I’m working on with “Poor Man’s HDR”, a technique where you put different exposures of an image into Photoshop as layers (Lightroom does that automagically) and then use layer masks and paint techniques to develop the composite image. The results can be quite stunning. In this case, I’m using 3 different exposures for the foreground, the interior of the palace, and the sky and trees in the background. A bit more paint work and this will be done. The use of paint tools and brushes brings something painterly to photography that I rather enjoy.
I’ve played around a bit with Photoshop’s HDR assemble tool, which will put the exposures together for you … I’ve read some criticisms of the HDR tool, but I’m also not totally clear on how best to use it, so the layered technique is providing better results for me right now.
In the final shot I wound up dumping the paint work for a more procedural technique using Photoshop Layer blending options. The paint work was taking forever, and not looking as uniform, or real, as I’ve hoped. There’s still some subtle paint work in blending the foreground and background architecture, but this worked out to be easier and better looking.
Time to start coming up with a new web show, tentative title: “I don’t suck at Photoshop nearly as much as I used to.” :p
Here’s some total Comp/Imaging/VFX geek humor that I think are really funny … Well, probably because it touches upon areas of geekery near and dear to my own black hear. I can’t take credit for these … They’re a series of Tweets from Director/VFX guy Stu Maschwitz, author of “The DV Rebel’s Guide”, the prolost.com website and one of the founders/CTO of The Orphanage. He started rattling these off and they were all just too true, too funny, or, in the case of #11, too personally painful.
In any case I thought I’d pass ’em along …
If you don’t get any of these, don’t feel bad. This is an especially niche type of geek humor that mostly makes sense to nerds who spend their days locked up in offices with the windows darkened, trying to find the perfect pixel, or combination thereof.