Indie Tips for 4K With Little or No Budget
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Al Caudullo : Indie Tips for 4K With Little or No Budget
The challenge for young filmmakers is always the same. Create dazzling, spectacular, compelling content with little to no budget. It was hard enough with HD; then 3D jumped out at us, and now we face a 4K reality. The eternal conundrum just grows bigger in size.
People like to tell me that I think outside the box. I tell those guys that that's wrong, because I simply refuse to believe that there is a box. I believe I proven my point over the last seven years creating 3-D content. With my distributor, Torsten Hoffmann of 3-D Content Hub, I created my own niche market. I did it by not listening to what everyone else told me that I couldn't do. I just went out and did it -- I pulled together money from wherever I could and created the best content that I could. They weren't blockbusters -- they never even played in a theater -- but my 3D projects have been licensed in over 20 territories around the world, and viewed by millions of people.
When 4K came on the scene, I jumped in with both feet. I had moderate success with my first three productions, then something came along that changed the game: Panasonic released the DMC - GH4. This amazing little camera not only recorded 4K, but recorded it so well that in test after test, I found beating cameras that cost much more.
With that, I decided to really put the new Panasonic to the ultimate test myself.
ANGKOR, CAMBODIA:WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The World Heritage Site of Angkor, Cambodia, features some of the most magnificent temples on the planet. The challenge at hand was to reveal the full extent of how big the Ancient Megacity of Angkor really was. Recently, archaeologist Damien Evans used a new type of laser radar called LiDAR. This amazing technology has now become portable enough to be attached to a helicopter in pier under the surface of the dense foliage of the jungle.
Al Caudullo, left; middle, Dr. Damian Evans, Chief Archaeologist from the University of Sydney; and right, wife and co-producer, Sompao "Bee" Caudullo
At its full glory, Angkor was home to over one million inhabitants and spanned a larger area than Los Angeles. Comparatively, London at that same time was home to 50,000 people. Truly, Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the world.
For many, capturing this would be a daunting task. After all, the BBC, the History Channel and National Geographic have done recent stories on this fantastic site in HD -- not to mention a Hollywood Blockbuster based on a hugely popular two-gun toting female video game character. I would be comparing my footage to some of the best in the world. What would set it apart?
At its full glory, Angkor was home to over one million inhabitants and spanned a larger area than Los Angeles.
So when Torsten Hoffmann approached me about coproducing a one-hour documentary, I thought, what better subject matter than this to run our Panasonic GH4 through the gauntlet.
The budget we agreed upon was an amount that anyone in Hollywood would fall apart in laughter and tears if you told him this is what they had to work with. To me, it was sauce for the goose!
But to meet the challenge, I needed more than just a camera. There were lenses to be chosen, plus an array of accessories.
I chose the Panasonic Lumix lenses, fantastic quality for great value. The 7-12mm was amazing for revealing the scope of the temple structures. My mainstay was the standard 12-35mm with a Tiffen adjustable ND filter. Throw in a 100-300mm for long shots or to compress distance when needed, and my lens kit was complete.
The Angkor site houses over 100 temples, so the kit needed to be lightweight and easy to carry. I chose a Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a Manfrotto 561BHDV head, because of the light weight.
The Angkor site houses over 100 temples
One of the most important elements to create professional grade content was the addition of my Edelkrone Slider Plus Pro. This amazing tool fits easily into a backpack and quickly attaches to your tripod to give you a fantastic slider shots.
Two other key pieces of equipment for my Edelkrone FocusOne focus puller and the PocketRods to attach them. Finally, the Edelkrone PocketShot for those places where a tripod won't work or wasn't allowed.
Al needed aerials to really be able to show the scope of this awe-inspiring location.
Knowing that I needed aerials to really be able to show the scope of this awe-inspiring location, I booked a tourist helicopter. But with all that vibration how could I get good quality? The answer came in the form of an electronic gimbal. I opted for a fantastic value from China, the CAME-TV 7500 gimbal, which came preassembled and fully loaded with the necessary software and settings for almost out-of-the-box-use. Not to mention, it was a third of the cost of others I had considered.
LiDAR, the laser rader used to plot out the vast size of the megacity, has now become portable enough to be attached to a helicopter in pier under the surface of the dense foliage of the jungle.
3D PRINTING TO THE RESCUE
There was one more piece to this puzzle. I needed accessories that would allow me to transfer the camera from one platform to another -- for instance, moving from a Manfrotto tripod head to a smaller Giotto MH-1000 head for certain shots, or moving to the EdelKrone PocketShot or PocketRods. The CAME-7500 gimbal was also in need of a quick release, as well. I needed a universal quick-release platform.
The solution presented itself as a tool that many think is just for toys and doo-dads: 3D printing.
Using my 3D printer, I had already designed, printed and sold the SuperHero 3D system for GoPro Hero cameras. So back I went to my favorite design tool: Tinkercad, a free 3D print designer that works from your browser.
Scouring Thingaverse, a website where designers can share 3D print designs, I found the items that I needed. In some cases, I had to modify them to do what I wanted. Once done, I printed my designs and had quick release mounts, plates and even custom focus rings, zoom rings and lens cap clips.
I even started working on a 3D printed cage for the GH4, but ran out of time before I could complete it.
I had everything that I needed. Now to head out to the location!
By the way, I did not have one failure or breakage of any 3D printed part. Time to take another look at how you view 3D printing.
FEELING THE HEAT
The only thing that matches the extreme beauty of Angkor is the extreme heat. Even having lived in Bangkok for 12 years, the heat at Angkor was unrelenting.
The only thing that matches the extreme beauty of Angkor is the extreme heat.
Our grip, Siem Sokha, was unfazed by the heat and carted the equipment throughout the 8 day shoot with ease, but our fixer and guide Nuon Chansurak had to make sure my wife and co-producer, Sompao "Bee" Caudullo, and I stayed hydrated. I think we could've created our own recycling plant with the number of plastic bottles of water that we went through.
The CAME 7500 gimbal was put to test several times and was key to some very important shots. The helicopter shots in particular benefited from the smooth accurate handling.
Our boat shots were smooth as glass as were our walking shots thru the small waterside village. The carbon fiber made the weight of the unit optimal, along with the addition of the 3D printed quick release mount which weighed in at a mere 15 grams.
The joystick was responsive and gave us shots that would not have been possible otherwise.
I really can't say enough about our EdelKrone Slider Pro. It added so much to our shots and was so amazingly easy to use. Push ins, pull outs, dolly left and right. We were able to get 2.3 feet of slide distance with the simplicity of being tripod mounted.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
By the end of every day our multiple Panasonic XDXC-I 64 gig, class 10 cards were full and ready to be downloaded as soon as we returned to our hotel.
Downloading in the field can be an unsettling and nerve-racking process. Just the thought of files been corrupted during downloaded can start waves of panic over the most stalwart producer. For these reasons I chose Red Giant Shooter Suite and BulletProof. The newest version has proven its reliability with me. I loaded up my Toshiba Qosmio i7 laptop with the full suite of BulletProof, Denoiser II, Frames, Instant 4K, LUT Buddy and Plural Eyes. But honestly BulletProof was the only thing that I found myself using on the road.
The "Import" process is smooth and easy. First, create a catalog. From there, you decide where you want the files to reside. Finally, you tell it where you want a backup copy made. In my case, a separate data drive in the laptop was home for the originals. An additional USB external drive was the home for the backup. Once you decide on these locations you click "Start Import" and go relax, BulletProof does the rest.
While it's not perfect yet, this is the best media management program I have seen on the market. It performs a checksum on each file to make sure that it is exactly copied and then exactly backed up with no errors. There can be no worse a fate then to lose an irreplaceable shot. By the time I finished showering, the downloads were complete.
As you might already know, for 3D I am a strict Grass Valley Edius user. Unfortunately for 4K, Edius does not yet have GPU support. That fact, plus the very tight integration with After Effects, prompted me to revisit Premiere Pro CC. I am very impressed with the new features and workflow.
The biggest plus for my own workflow is the way that BulletProof integrates so well. In the final stage of BulletProof, all the metadata information that you register for each clip is embedded in the XMP data, specifically designed for use in Premiere Pro CC.
This is a fantastic help during the edit process. My system is to label with specific information in groups. For instance, "D1_AW_Temple-01" would represent, Day One, Angkor Wat, temple shots, the numbers would then go sequentially.
In general, we would visit several different places in one day. Eight days of shooting yielded about 1TB of footage. Much less than other 4K cameras, but still a tremendous number of clips.
Red Giant's other products also integrates very well in Premiere Pro. Colorista II primary and secondary color controls are a fantastic plus. Matching that up with the new masks and built in tracking enable me to stay in Premiere to do things that I used to externally. When I have to go to After Effects, the new enhanced workflow with Premiere Pro makes life as an editor much easier and almost stress-free. Being able to go back and make changes with the same clip is an absolute joy.
The new transitions with Boris Continuum Complete 9 are also great. Fast Film Dissolve and Lens Flare Dissolve and two new transitions that I find essential for this project. I have been using BCC's 3D Extruded Text for titles, and the Optical Flow filter does a fantastic job for slowing down or speeding up shots without losing the crispness of the 4K footage.
PANASONIC GH4: A GAMECHANGER
The Angkor project has been a unique challenge. Wildly varying locations, extreme temperatures, constraints of working in a foreign environment, all of these factors and more. The edit is where you make it or break it. Finding the story within the story in a documentary is a tremendous challenge to the independent filmmaker. All of my tools, both production and post production, are vital to making a visually compelling story that people want to watch.
Al uses all of his tools, both production and post production, and have found them to be vital to making a visually compelling story.
The edit is still in progress, but the initial trailer has already generated great interest at the upcoming MIPCOM at Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France. The feedback matches what you have been hearing about the Panasonic GH4 -- rave reviews all around. The inevitable conclusion is that this camera is a game changer for the indie market.