A Guide To Visual Effects

If you want to know anything about how visual effects in film and video are achieved, there’s one word you should keep in mind…layers. All visual effects and optical illusions are constructed on the bases of images layered on top of each other. Before the advent of computers, visual effects were achieved by placing paintings in front of the camera, appearing on top of the action in order to create bigger and more fantasized locations. Another method was to reprint two layers of action into one single image to create an optical illusion.

matte

As technology advanced, filmmakers perfected methods to composite images together to create optical illusions. These advances came with the advent of motion controlled cameras and chroma keying (also known as blue or green screening). The ability to remove a single colour (blue or green) from one image, and replacing the colour with another image.

before-after-green-screen

We’re now in the digital age, we use computers for nearly everything, and so do filmmakers. Computers are now used for compositing images for optical illusion. They’re also used to create computer generated images. The most recent advancement is motion capture technology, giving a performer the ability to give life to a computer generated character. Whatever the method, the images created are always layered and composited from a range of sources to create a visual effect.

Lord Of The Rings Two Towers: the character Gollum who's role is crucial to the journey of Frodo and Sam--Gollum's movements are performed via computer program by actor Andy Serkis.  Photo: New Line Cinema
Lord Of The Rings Two Towers: the character Gollum who’s role is crucial to the journey of Frodo and Sam–Gollum’s movements are performed via computer program by actor Andy Serkis. Photo: New Line Cinema

Are you thinking of creating a visual effect for your film or video and unsure where to start? Then here’s my advice. Start by drawing the shot you’re trying to create. Now break it down into sections, this could include location and background, performers, and anything else that is moving in your shot. Think about what sections of the image you are definitely able to capture in camera on a one to one scale. Now think about the sections of the image that are more of a challenge to capture in camera. Could you use miniatures, puppeteers, animation and/or computer generation? It’s in this section where blue or green screening becomes an effective method of separating your elements and compositing them together into one image.
Things to keep in mind when creating your images are the lines between where one section of your image meets another and the one to one scale elements you can not miniaturize which are light, water and fire.



A Guide To Colour Grading

Before continuing with the subject of this article, I would like to acknowledge that the reason this article has been long over due is to the amount of exciting work that has been happening recently. There will be some case study articles to be released in the days to come and I cannot wait to share the behind the scenes info with you. Now onto the subject of this article, colour grading.

Colour grading is a post-production effects based process for your film or video project. The creative process of your project means having complete control over the look and feel of your images, colour being a part of this process.

Before continuing with this article, let us take a step back to something I mentioned in my previous article on The Guide to DSLR Video…The Picture Style. The picture style is the final outcome of what you are filming, and the information you can work with in your editing suite. In this article I will specifically talk about what you can edit when it comes to the information of light and colour captured in your images. This is why the Neutral Picture Style or the Technicolor Picture Style is a popular use among camera operators, because the style provides a dynamic range of image information to correct and adjust afterwards.

colorgrading

Primary Colour Grading

The first thing you want to make an adjustment to is what’s called the primary adjustments. This is the actual correction part of the process, making sure the light is balanced. In colour grading tools, a histogram should be visible, to aid you in making these adjustments. I always find starting with the dark areas helps. For dark areas you want the bottom peak of the information in the histogram to just touch the baseline. Then with lighter areas, you want the peak of the information in the histogram to just about touch the 100 line. There will always be some overexposed areas with the whites, so it doesn’t have to be exact. Have the video showing to make sure it looks correct. As an extra tip, I find making the image black and white helps as a guild to getting your definitive contrast between light and shadow, and then restore the colour afterwards.

Don’t change colour saturation until you are ready to move onto the secondary colour grade. The last thing you need to do before moving on to this is to correct any colour balance issues. Is there too much of a singular colour in your image, is it too green or blue. Using the three colour wheels in your toolbar, make adjustments to balance the colours in your image.

Secondary Colour Grading

Now that your image has been corrected, it’s on to the secondary adjustments. This is the aesthetic process of your colour grading, the design of how your image is meant to look and feel. Let’s look at your image as a whole, how colourful do you want it to be. Colour grading also has an emotional effect over your audience. Desaturating the colour will give an expression of sadness and gloom, where as high saturation in colour can uplift the mood of your audience.

Now I want you to break down your image into every single colour that is there. Which ones do you want to be more saturated and which ones do you want to be less saturated, or not in there at all. Your colour grading tool can allow you to achieve this. Using a mixture of markers, geography and colour wheels, you can manipulate your image to get a balance of the only colours you want in your image.

In summary you can make the colour in your film or video look the way you want by:

  • Balancing the light and shadow in your image.
  • Correcting the reds, greens and blues in your image.
  • Making changes to the saturation in your image.
  • Break down your image into objects and their colours, which ones should change and be enhanced.


A Guide To Recording Sound For Video

This is where a lot of filmmakers fall short. It’s imperative that your video has good sound. Video and sound are as important as each other. If your visuals aren’t looking great, make sure your sound mix is perfect, and your audience will forgive you. If your visuals are much better than your sound mix, it will get ripped to shreds. A lot of this boils down to a great sound design in post-production, and in the film & video industry, more money is put into creating a top notch master sound mix. First you need good sound recordings to use for your master sound mix.

Listen To My Voice
All sound mixes in video productions are completely artificial. There are two things you want when recording sound during production. The first is good quality voice recording. All other sounds have the ability to be re-recorded and manipulated after production. The second is ambience. Because the sound gets mixed in post-production, the only thing the sound designer wants from the production recordings is crisp clear dialogue. The ambient sound is mixed under this.

microphoneH4n_screen_meterDirectional Microphones & Metering
There are different types of microphones used for a specific purpose. I use a directional microphone capturing 90° of the sound from where I point it, thus getting the specific sound I intend to capture. On my sound capturing device is a sound meter in decibels from -48 going up to 0. It’s best to avoid recording anything over -6bd as your sound will be distorted when played back. I recommend capturing sound between -24db and -6db.

Setting Up Your Sound Recording Device
Like a camera, you can set how many frames per second of sound you want to capture. I recommend keeping it as the same frame rate on your video. The last setting you can change is the frequency. Simply put this is the information of your captured sound. Most sound frequencies in the final video is outputted at 48000 kilobytes of information per second. I record 92000kps so I have as much dynamic range to manipulate in post-production, and then export at 48000kps.

boomopAs Far In As You Can
In video production you want to get the microphone as close as you can to the subject without the camera seeing it. You simply have to communicate with the camera operator to mark this position, and then camera can roll. A good tip I picked up from sound recordist Eduardo João Gama is to point the microphone at the person’s chest to get good quality voice recordings. (Don’t know why, possibly something to do with acoustics, all I know is it works.) I have a 3 metre boom pole, which is great for getting the microphone into medium sized shots. However, in a single take you might want to film a close-up of someone talking and zoom out to a wide shot. This is where a radio lavalier microphone comes in handy. Connecting a receiver to your sound recording device, and a transmitter with an attached microphone hidden under the shirt of the person you are filming, you will be able to hear everything they’re saying without getting a boom pole in the frame.

@EduardoJoaoGama

Recording Sound Effects
With recording sound effects and other sounds that is not dialogue on screen, the process is the same as when you record dialogue on set. Make sure that the sound is recorded clearly for the sound editor and mixer. Using a playback monitor to show the video you want to overlay with sound can help you judge the length, volume and intensity of the noise you are producing for your sound effect.

Know Your Sound Recording Device’s Limitations
With limitations to the amount of time sound devices can record, they’re pretty good. I use a Zoom H4N and the most amount of time I left it recording was three hours to record a stage show. However it was pretty hot when I picked it up. The next time I recorded for that amount of time, it packed in, so know the limits of your sound recording device. For recording a whole day of sound I recommend using a 16GB SDHC memory card with your sound recording device. Now you know how to capture good sound. Later I will be covering how to clean, manipulate and mix sound in post-production.

So when recording dialogue and sounds, remember:

  • The voice is key. Everything else can be rerecorded after.
  • Use a directional microphone.
  • Pay attention to your sound meter whilst listening.
  • Use the appropriate settings on your sound recording device.
  • Get the microphone as close you can without it being seen, using a boom pole or radio
    microphone.
  • Sound effects are recorded during post-production.
  • Know the limitations of your sound recording device.


A Guide To DLSR Video

Introducing The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
DSLR cameras are a great tool for capturing high quality video with cinematic capabilities. This is because the sensor inside the camera captures full 1080i HD video, and the choice of lens can give a cinematic look. There are limitations and it’s best to know what your camera can and cannot achieve before using it for a project. Especially if that project is set to a strict schedule with no extra time.

Changing The Battery And Lenses
Have more than one battery. Currently my DSLR battery will last half a day with the camera kept switched on. With lenses, a basic kit zoom lens size of 18-55mm is good for when shooting fast, giving you the ability to shoot from wide angle to close up in a second. But it will not look cinematic, for this you need a prime lens size. In my kit I have a 11mm for wide shots, a 28mm for medium sized shots and a 50mm for close ups. These lenses have a very low f.stop of 1.4. (An f.stop is the size of the aperture.) This means it has the ability to shoot shallow depths of field, thus giving a cinematic look. Never ever touch the sensor inside the camera or the inside of a lens.

The Ideal DSLR Camera Settings For Video
You want to have as much control over what you film and it’s dynamic range. For this that means changing some of the camera’s settings. Automatic focus is a nightmare, change this to manual. When shooting with automatic focus the camera is in charge and guesses the focal point of your shot. It’s always wrong so best you stay in charge of the focus. Mounting a follow focus on the side of your camera helps very well with focusing your subject. You can use it to adjust focus more easily, and also mark multiple subjects at different lengths so you can pull focus between them perfectly. For great tips on getting the best settings out of your DSLR, follow Philip Bloom.

philipbloom.net

Balancing The White
A setting to be wary of when roaming locations is the White Balance. Depending on your location and it’s main light source, the colour temperature will be different in the white areas of your image. Be sure to set the correct white balance setting with your main light source. For example if I’m shooting outside in the Sun, I will set my white balance setting to Sunlight. And when I go inside and I’m filming under florescent lighting, I will set my white balance setting to florescent light. There are presets for white balancing, but the most effective way is to balance it manually. This is done by presenting and photographing a piece of white A4 paper, and telling the camera this information is white. Simply refer to the DSLR’s instruction manual to manually set the white balance.

whitebalancepresets

The Picture Style
With the Picture Style setting on your camera, you are choosing for definite how the image will look. For example you can capture images with a standard picture style, and convert it to a monochrome (black & white) picture style afterwards. But if you capture images in monochrome, you cannot simply convert it back to colour with the flick of a switch. You want to have as much control over your captured image, so for this I strongly recommend using the Neutral picture style when recording video.

In every picture style there are 4 settings you can adjust, sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone. In the Neutral picture profile, sharpness will be set to zero, you should not change this. You should change the contrast to -4, otherwise the blacks in the image will look crushed. Last thing is to bring the saturation down to -2. The colour is very rich and reducing this will give you more dynamic range when your project enters colour grading in post-production. The colour tone will be set to zero, this is good and shouldn’t be changed. Another great free to use tool that I mentioned in a previous article is the Cine-Style colour profile. This gives you even more definition in the darker areas.

Frames Per Second
You also have the option to select how many frames per second your video records, which is 24 and 25. 24 frames per second gives you film style motion, and 25 frames per second gives you television style motion. It’s up to you which one best fits your project. Some DSLR cameras have the ability to shoot higher rates of frames per second, which is great for shooting a slow motion effect. However it’s best to choose the final output after post-production as either 24fps or 25fps.

Capturing The Speed Of Light
When using your DSLR fresh from the box, another automatic setting that needs to be changed to manual is the exposure. For the same reason as focusing, it’s best to stay in charge of your exposure. The camera will choose your exposure for the purpose of showing all detail in the frame. But maybe you want the picture to be underexposed or overexposed.

When changing this setting three other settings become available to change, the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO. Photography 101, changing the shutter speed effects the amount of light going into the camera and the clarity of movement. Changing the aperture effects the amount of light going into the camera and the size of the focal depth. Changing the ISO effects the sensitivity of light without comprising shutter speed and aperture, just remember that the higher the ISO the grainier the image will become. Here’s a graphic to help explain.

capturechart

Rigging Your DSLR Camera
Now that the camera is set, it needs to be rigged. There are a number of specially manufactured DSLR rigs providing stabilisation and fluid movement, thus making your video look clean and professional. A tripod with fluid head gives that all important stabilisation and steady panning to a fixed shot. If you want to move the camera but keep it stable, a shoulder rig is what you need. However if you want the camera to follow a moving subject smoothly, the shoulder rig won’t help you. Try it, a hundred to one you will notice the frame moving up and down when you move with a subject during the shot. For this you need a steady-rig. It uses a weight to counterbalance the camera on top of a handle, so no matter where the handle moves, the camera stays steady.

Storage Space
One of the limitations with DSLR video is you can only record bursts of up to 12 minutes long. If you plan to shoot one continuous shot uncut over this amount of time, video from a DSLR is not for you. Depending how much video you want to capture to one card without changing it, I recommend at least having three of the 32GB SDHC cards, class 6 to 10. With this card I can record continuously for half a day before I run out of space. In 10 seconds I can change to another card for the next half of the day, with a backup just in case.

rode-videomic-directional-on-camera-condenser-shotgun-microphone-1The Microphone
In a previous article I mentioned how unhelpful an inbuilt DLSR microphone is. This microphone is programmed to capture every single piece of sound in it’s 360° radius, and cannot be changed. Not helpful if you want to pin point a specific sound among other sounds. If you’re not recording sound externally and want good sound from your DSLR video, I recommend fixing a Rode DSLR microphone to your camera.

 

DIY_photography_hacks_camera_tips_rain_DCM131.shoot_gearcraft.step4_rgbWeather Proofing
Always be prepared. If you must film in the rain, weather protect your camera. There’s plenty of weather proofing products for DSLR cameras.

 

 

 

So remember, when using your DSLR to capture video make sure you:

  • Have enough battery.
  • Choose the appropriate lenses.
  • Use the appropriate DSLR camera settings for videography.
  • White balance for different lighting changes.
  • Use the appropriate picture style.
  • Choose how many frames per second you capture.
  • Make sure you are capturing the speed of the light appropriately.
  • Your camera is rigged appropriately.
  • You have enough digital storage space.
  • Never use the DSLR’s in-built microphone.
  • Weather proof your DSLR camera.


What Video Producers Want From Clients – 2 Bee Videos

In last weeks article I outlined what a producer needs for a video’s content strategy. This article outlines every need a video producer wants from their client for the entire video production. I have an objective with a series of goals. The objective is to create your video, and these are my goals.

The Initial First Meeting
It’s important for me to know you ‘the client’ inside out. Their brand, their ethos and their style. Their video has to reflect this. In most cases the client may have in mind something they want to produce, but it’s best to take things back to why I’m talking to you in the first place “What do you want your video to achieve? (And don’t say “make my website look good”)”. This would involve looking at what you’ve already achieved, how you work and the style of your work. This gives me a direction for your video and to be in keeping with you and your brand’s personality. It’s important to establish any deadlines. I recommend that the initial first meeting take place two weeks before the time the video definitely needs to be ready.

The Script
This is the subject I talked about last week. Once I know the ins and outs of the client, I start writing the script for their video. Every video follows a structure, and you always find similarities with a structured video production. This is where content strategy comes into the equation. To read my last article about content strategy, please click here.

Filming Itinerary
Some clients may have a certain event that needs to be captured on film. In this case, planning is everything. What? Where? & When? What is happening that needs to be captured on camera? Where is it happening? At what time is it happening? A detailed itinerary of the day’s events helps to carefully and meticulously plan the production around the event.

In the case of producing original content for camera. Filming dates can be arranged anytime between the client and the video producer. This being based on the content written for the video by the producer.

Who?
In videos involving people on or talking to camera, confidence goes a long way. Planning what will happen on the day of filming with the people in front of camera is the first step in helping them relax, it can be quite daunting for some individuals. There are some more techniques on helping people relax in front of camera on the day of filming. It’s important that I personally plan everything with the person that is going to be in front of camera.

Location, Location, Location
It might be that a filming location may not be suitable for the video production. This maybe because of aesthetic decisions, or the location may not be suitable for cast and crew because of health and safety or logistical reasons. Location recce and inspections are important, nothing can be left to chance.

Guatemala-sink-holeThe Subject
In the same way I would personally plan filming with a person whom will be in front of camera, I will be doing the same with filming around an object or physical product. I would liaise with the owner of that object to make sure everything goes to plan and make sure the owner is comfortable.

Graphic Materials
As part of my objective to make sure the client’s video contains content reflecting them, any branding, logos and other visual material representing the client helps the video. There is a quality threshold, and this is discussed in the initial meeting.

Formatting For The Platform
Knowing where your video is going to be hosted helps formatting the video correctly. The video has to retain high definition quality and the digital file be small enough it can be uploaded to your chosen platform speedily. Be that YouTube, Vimeo or your main website. With my services you can choose how you would like your video delivered. Be that a hard digital copy delivered physically, or digital transfer using Google services sharing via email link for a limited time only.

If you need a video and like what you’ve read, then contact me Benjamin Harding. Via email at ben@2bee.co.uk, or by phone on 07833 456766.