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Old May 13th, 2008, 09:33 AM   #1
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"Building" a focus puller

Could anyone shed some light on what kind of tools a focus puller is using, and where to get it?

My current thought is to get some kind of wireless remote sollution, where the puller gets a small monitor and a focus controller to do the job.
The system should be all wireless if possible (and not TO expensive)
I recently saw redrock having something like a focus remote system, but seems they dont make them anymore. Also, what visual refference does the puller need.? I dont see the arri FF remote having any monitor, so what is the focus puller looking at?

The person whos gonna do the job, does not do focus pulling for a living, hes simply a regular camera opperator, that id like to have along for the shootings, so that I dont have to fiddle with focusing myself (especially when on the steadicam).

So I am thinking he needs to see what I see through the viewfinder right?Would a cheap wireless video transmitter be good enough to feed the monitor to pull a reliable focus?
And not to forget, who makes focus remotes, in the ballpark of 1500$ or bellow? I've googled the entire net, only to find homemade, or way to expensive sollutions... Something like the redrock system would be what Im looking for (I think).

We are using a XL2 and soon with some kind of 35mm adaptor. Hense the need for focus pulling sollution.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 09:57 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nik Skjoth View Post
I dont see the arri FF remote having any monitor, so what is the focus puller looking at?
On a fixed rig the AC is usually looking at the talent and (often) markings that have been laid down. The set is measured for focus points in advance. Markings on the FF are used to reference the measured points. Also (very good) AC's can eyeball pulling focus. An 'old school' AC almost never uses a 'confidence' monitor.

Wireless sounds great, but there must be a good reason why you want to remove the AC from his 'feel' with the camera. Also not being close to the lens or off axis, means it will be harder to judge distances.

George/
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Old May 13th, 2008, 01:10 PM   #3
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Thanks George.

I realize the traditional way of the AC opperator was due to the fact, that film cameras in the old days had no video output, and therefore the method you discribed was put to use...

Nowadays I don't see it being very handy. It might still be the preffered way to make movies, where you know whats going on, and reherse the movements. But what do you do on live shows or events?

In either case Im not keen on the laying out markings approach. It simply dosent seem accessible for what we do.

Occasionally we do make scripted and prepared shootings, but most of the time it's coverage of unforseen events.

And to cover all of the situations we find ourselves in, we need a somewhat different approach. Furthermore, with todays technology, I cant see why the AC cannot sit comfortably in the edit room, while only the cameraman is on the set.
This may sound somewhat controversial for some of you old school vets, but hey, look around.. it seems that 2008 is the year where things get shaken around big time already.

It may even proove to be a better way to do it. I don't know how many years it takes to become a reliable AC, using current technique. I can however emagine how relativelly simple it would be to sit down with your monitor infront of you, and just pull the focus intuitively, (isent that what a Jib crane operator is doing)? and he dosent even have to run around next to the camera at the same time, which could take his concentration away.
At the moment what we do is having a wired monitor feed to the assistant photographer whos job is to eyeball if the framing is good, and that kind of things. And for a long time I have been dreaming about just being able to hand him the focus knob, while hes sitting there, so that I can concentrate on following the action. The workflow would be much faster, and we wouldent have to throw so much footage away, everytime I miss the focus.
With our future 35mm adaptor upgrade, pulling my own focus, while handling the camera would be my certain death.
Especially on steadicam it's quite impossible to do any focusing already, and I wound't want a guy running around right next to me. How distracting is that?

So again the question stands... Where can you buy a remote wireless focusing system for a price below 1500$

Last edited by Nik Skjoth; May 13th, 2008 at 01:48 PM.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 02:15 PM   #4
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Ok, I won't go into the "focus is more then keeping talent looking sharp" thing.

Something like the Foveas Remote Follow Focus then?

Do let us know how you get on!

George/
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Old May 13th, 2008, 03:41 PM   #5
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I have tested the Foveas system and did not find it functional (please do not ask me to elaborate on this). There are however several companies working on low cost solutions (here's one.

Nik, this is indeed 2008 and certain things are being shaken around. However, affordable technology does not mean that the laws of physics change, as much as the indie crowd wishes otherwise. Pulling focus will always be a skill that takes time to learn, just like operating a Steadicam. Yes, with the advent of HD, it is easier to see critical focus than on a conventional video tap from a film camera, however there are certain things that a focus puller looks for with his own eyes when he is at the camera that allows him to maintain focus simultaneously with the action as opposed to reacting to it. For instance, take a person standing 10 feet away on a 150mm. A focus puller who is in the same room can watch the person's body language and see if they lean forward, and instaneously track them so that the shot never goes out of focus. An AC watching from a monitor will only know that this is happening when the shot goes soft, and will hopefully be able to know which direction to turn the knob (it may not be immediately obvious if they are leaning forward or back; normally the size of the person will grow or reduce but with a long lens like this it might be hard to judge). The result is a hunting effect where the image goes in and out of focus, sometimes multiple times. This effect is already starting to show up in many indie projects and will continue as the fudge factor of 35mm adaptors gives way to the utterly unrelenting resolution of RED and similar cameras.

It may be a tough pill for the indie world to swallow but there is a reason for why we do things a certain way in the "legitimate" industry, and even the "old school vets" have incorporated the new options--I work with several long-time AC's who now have an outboard HD monitor to use as a reference, even as they still use marks, measurements, their eyeballs and Pana/Cinetape readouts as well.

As far as Steadicam goes, a cheap transmitter will only help the focus puller so much with an HD camera. I have done some concert shoots where the AC sits at a monitor at the side of the stage and does the best he can, but then again most of the type of shots I do in this situation are wider lens where focus is not so critical. It's entirely possible for the AC to feel the image is sharp when it turns out later, not so much. As far as having an AC next to you being distracting; having done it that way for over 20 years, the answer is no, it shouldn't be if he's doing it right. Having the guy try to lean over and watch my monitor to pull focus from would be bad; having him have his face buried in a portable monitor with sunshade and not watch where he is going would also be bad.

But the bottom line is: if one expects one's work to be displayed in a large format (i.e. projected as opposed to largely web or home viewing), focus is nothing to take lightly. For the kind of work you are describing, you should be able to train someone over time to get good at pulling on the fly, especially in live event situations where momentary buzzes are acceptable.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 04:35 PM   #6
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Thank you Charles. That was quite enlightning. I never though about the leaning of the talent would be the issue (amonts others apparently), since when I operate the camera only relly on whats on the viewfinder, figured that if I can manage pull a focus all by myself (well I can sometimes), a guy looking at a bigger monitor with that as his only job, undoubtly should be able to do it even better.
But then again, you said it.. In those situations we dont use long lenses or DOF adapters, so I stand correct.

Thanks for the link btw... I think you nailed it.

Here were my thought why I beleave this system would be a perfect sollution over having a "mobile" puller next to the camera.
We often work in tight spots or crowded rooms, where two guys would be to much a hassle.
I opperate the camera either on the steadiecam, a monopod way above my head or handheld in untraditional angles with poor access to the lens knobs. I almost never do shoulder mounted shots as the camera is build for. To cut it short.. The camera gets moved around a lot, and I don't have the time or any free hands to worry about focusing. An AC couldn't possibly be able to follow my pace, or even have access to the cameras FF knob with all the movement. So right now Im forced to stop shooting, change the possition of the camera so that I can access the focus knob, track my target, zoom in then pull the focus then zoom out before I continue the next series of crazy manoevours.
Instead it would make sence to have a guy take care of that quickly with a remote without me having to spend 10 seconds to set the focus.
To put things in perspective what we often do, is cover DJ's and stage performers at clubs, and occasionally make music videos. Focus might not be a absolute critical thing here in all the chaos, but it has to be adjusted from time to time none the less, when I decide to move further away or go in closer.

As for Georges comment, please endulge me. Im not kidding when I say that I had no idea there would be more to focus pulling than keeping it sharp. If you mean shifting focus between talents for effect, or something similar then I know what you mean, but if its not about that, Im blank. And im probably not the only one.

I know some of you guys really know what you are talking about, sometimes up to the point that I feel embarrased to ask questions, that might make you say... DUH. Read some books noob! On the other hand, replying is voluntary, and if I can pick up some golden advice on this brilliant forum, I take my chanses. And ill take real life experience over a book any day, especially when I can establish a two way communication with the "mentor".

Last edited by Nik Skjoth; May 13th, 2008 at 05:32 PM.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 04:56 PM   #7
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I'll let George answer for himself but that's how I assumed he meant it--the creative side of pulling focus is a whole other ball of wax. Most of this is oriented to the narrative side of things, but there are continually choices to be made when two characters occupy different planes of focus--do you leave it on one character, do you work a split (understanding the hyperfocal and where to place focus so that it holds both), if you rack, how often, at what point and with what speed? It goes way beyond the technical and into the storytelling and emotion of the scene.

Here's another example; say you are tracking something through the frame and once it exits, you are left with a background element. At what point do you throw the focus deep? After the foreground element leaves the shot? Just before? If done right, the focus pull becomes invisible. Even really experienced AC's will tend to make the pull late.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 05:10 PM   #8
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This was discussed on another thread recently, maybe on another forum, but I read a reply that was really compelling, and it went along the lines of this.

Focus pulling is about ANTICIPATING change, not reacting to it.

If you are just watching a monitor, you can't really react to the entire environment around you, you can't necessarily notice the actor beginning to shift weight to move because maybe they're in a closeup and if you are only looking at the monitor you can't see their feet or stance. Also, you have no 3D depth of field in a monitor like you do looking at the subject with your own two eyes, so it's much hard to tell how far or fast someone is moving.

If you are having to wait until the picture starts to get a little bit blurry to notice the change, your human reaction times will always be behind the curve. If you are seasoned, experienced, and can 'feel' the move as it's happening you can get that alchemical event where the change of focus is either dead on or even slightly pre-empting the movement. From a dramatic point of view, whether focus shifts just before or just after the move actually has a big impact on our subconscious I think, and really makes a difference.

Now, I have been on sets with remote focus pulling because the rig was on a steadicam - and the Focus Puller watched the talent and followed the move - there wasn't a monitor for the Focus Puller, and a monitor really wouldn't have been helpful.

In multicam sports - critical focus is less of an issue, because your are usually working with deeper depths of field, but if you are working in 35mm or equivalent HD sensors, then that shallow depth of field really requires the extra eyes and hands to be on, or as close to the camera and talent, as possible.
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Old May 13th, 2008, 05:46 PM   #9
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Again thanks guys.. That makes a lot of sence.

So I ditch the monitor, and just go with the remote focus? I guess the AC dosent really have to touch the camera in order to do what you just explained? and it gives him the rubberband effect of freedom to move more naturally in his own pace, or is there something magical and symbiotical about having him "hardwired" to the FF directly on the lens?
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Old May 13th, 2008, 08:03 PM   #10
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Nothing magical about touching the lens. Remote focus is pretty easy for most AC's to adjust to from a mechanical standpoint, and being able to step away from the camera as needed can be a great help.

However, this is assuming a well-performing remote focus system. Having owned three older systems before buying a Preston 12 years ago, I know all too well what the results are when the motors don't turn fast enough or hit the marks repeatably. A good system will mimic hardwired performance. As the new, indie/prosumer priced versions hit the market in the next year or so, it will remain to be seen whether they will deliver as well. A green AC coupled with a half-assed remote will mean a lot of soft material.

Good info there Craig (entirely possible that was something I wrote in the first place, it sounds familiar!). I would add a caveat into your statement about multicam sports, as those can sometimes involve tremendously long focal lengths and thus focus does become quite a bit more critical. It's a different ball of wax than narrative, to be sure.
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Old June 13th, 2008, 05:20 PM   #11
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A bout your not wanting the Focus Puller to be next to you

When I started working in TV many of my assignments were to carry the transmitter for a hand-held sideline camera man. That was because the first one I work with was so happy that I pulled him out the way as both team's lines and the linebackers were about to trample him as the play was crossing the sideline: he had a shot of an injured player with a large ice pack on his knee and the camera was between him and the oncoming stampede. I was tapping him on the shoulder to let him know the we needed to “Get out of Dodge” but he didn’t know what I wanted. So when he didn’t acknowledge my tapping, I grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled out the way.

After the play was over he told me “I was wondering what you were beating on the shoulder about thanks. All the other assistants he had had would just drop the transmitter and run away.

You might also like to know that the “A Camera” operator on “24” always has a Dolly Grip with him when he goes hand held: the grip keeps him from tripping over things and cues to make his moves when he get to involved with the shot. Having someone to “Watch Your Back” can be a good thing!

Grayson
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Old June 13th, 2008, 05:52 PM   #12
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It is somewhat amusing to those not used to working with people to do such things for you but not only do we generally have our dolly grips spotting as when we shoot handheld us as Grayson indicated, they will also place the camera on our shoulder just before we roll and take it off just after. This may seem a bit precious but it actually makes more sense than not as a fully-loaded 35mm package can run well over 40lbs and there's no reason to have to hold it any longer than necessary as you want to save your energy for the take. Along these lines, I will sometimes have the grip carry my Steadicam back to the dock right after a take (if it is a bit of a haul) to save my strength. Working the kind of hours we do one has to pace oneself.
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Old July 5th, 2008, 09:47 PM   #13
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I appreciate all your comments, but none of those apply to our work enviroment. We are not in the feature film ballpark. Our work is more ENG orientated, but we would like to have an additional guy to take care of the focus, without him being in the way. So it's kinda like event videography taken to the extremes.

Take an example of those who do weddings. (we don't do that but..) In that situation a part of the cameramans job is to be as invisible as possible. So emagine a whole team running around next to him all the time, would be very inapropriate..

We often do live feeds on stage to bigscreens. Again you don't want to many people running around on the stage with the cameraman. The croud who attend want to see the performer IRL not being surrounded by a TV crew right?

So then you might ask, why have a focus puller in those situations at all. Because we beleave it can increase the quality and creativity in the way we do event coverage. Not many people think about DOF when shooting Events.. We do.

So the buttom line is, we want as much control as possible to get the best pictures, and still be as stealthy as possible.

Again the question is. How does a Jib/crane opperator control the focus? I think that would be the technology we are looking for. Since it would require some kind of remote control.
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Old July 6th, 2008, 03:45 AM   #14
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If you don't want the assistant up with the camera, use a broadcast transmitter and have him sit at a monitor pulling focus remotely, as you said. Or if the camera is hardwired, same thing. Since you are now talking about a long-range transmitter/receiver, your $1500 budget for remote focus will be that much harder to match--there simply aren't any units that sell for that new that are reliable and up to the task at present. Maybe within 6 months, maybe a year, but right now not so much. The closest thing will be a used Bartech and an old Heden motor.
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