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Old April 5th, 2004, 05:23 PM   #1
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Ruminations on increasing production values on a budget.

Like a lot of people here, I'm a DV'er who doesn't make a living from what they do, they just enjoy doing it. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't love to make films and documentaries and be paid, but for now I undertake small personal projects and offer my services for free to people who need help with their projects.

We all know this biz costs a shitload of money and ever since I did a shoot with Joe Lloyd recently (From around DVInfo as well) and saw his Glidecam I've been thinking of what can be done to improve production values for us lowbudget shooters. It seems that a small/moderate investment in a well selected set of gear could do wonders for the final piece you produce.

I was wondering what you guys have done to improve your production values in leaps and bounds with purchase/construction of an item or two of specialised gear? What gave you most bang for the buck? I'm not talking about $30k steadycams either ;)

I have a homemade trackriding dolly that I made for my LadyX episode which was excellent and worked very well. It costs me about US$100 which was a good investment for the return I thought. If I was doing some pro work I'd hire a real rig, or build a better one with collapsable tracks, and one that could curve.

Stabilisation seems to be an important one. Being able to add fluid moving shots to your scenes is great. Of course there's the whole range of options here from basic hand helds to full rigs. It seems to me that the best step is to at least get something (duh!) - like a Glidecam 2000/4000 that would at least give you a huge jump for relatively small cost. Is the jump to something like a V8 worth the extra cost?

Then of course there are jibarms/cranes and I'm sure one could be built/bought for a modest sum.

Well just wanted to throw it out as I'm sure a lot of you have thought about this, or done it yourself.

Aaron
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Old April 5th, 2004, 06:35 PM   #2
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CGI software and skills has been the ticket in my case.

dvGarage sells a tool called 3DToolkit (which is an old, but well supported version of Electric Image Universe) for around $100. This is the same software and version used to create the "Queen's ship" shots in Star Wars TPM.

Another inexpensive option is Corel's Bryce5, which sells for $80 these days, but it doesn't come with the boatload of training materials that come with 3dToolkit.

Now, it does take a bit of time and practice to get the hang of these tools, but even that can be fun.

Depending on how "into it" you get, this single investment of very little money (and a bucket load of time) allow your productions and DVD's to stand out from just about ANY "traditional" videography studio that simply has all top-of-the-line camera and editing gear. It also opens up the possibilities of you're client's imagination (which can be great for expanding the scope of the project).

The way I see it, spend a few hundred dollars on a crane and/or stabilization system and you can show your client how they can have smooth moving camera shots in their video. Spend $100 on a good CGI tool, and put some time into learning it, and you can show them that you can deliver just about anything they can imagine. Plus, billable hours with a crane are onsite per your client's schedule. Billable hours working CGI can be at home after the kids have gone to sleep. :-)

Just as you describe, I only do video "work" on the side right now, but every single time I go into a bidding process and show my demo which includes CGI titles, backgrounds, animations and compositing, they aren't just impressed ... they're usually floored and the contract ultimately comes my way.
Better still, the clients (and their customers) have been extremely happy with their finished productions and some have begun to come back for followup work.

This is not the best likely solution for everyone, but if it's something you've considered, been intersted in, or even just happen to be curious about, $100 is a very tiny investment (no more than a couple video games ;) ) that could easily pay for iteself 10 fold in a single job.

Have fun.
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Old April 5th, 2004, 09:27 PM   #3
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Nick, I should of mentioned but glad you picked up on it, that I'm curious about everything in the cycle, software included.

Graphics is not my strong point, so it's always been a little daunting but I know that good graphics does wonders for any project. They don't have to be overly flashy like you get with some of the Macromedia Flash sites around either.


I will definately check out dvGarage.

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Old April 7th, 2004, 02:54 AM   #4
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I haven't invested much in other equipment yet, but the best
investment thus far have been a large battery and switching
to Vegas as an NLE.

I can definitely see where dollie, steadicam and lighting gear
would be crucial as well. Especially the steadicam <g>
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Old April 7th, 2004, 07:46 AM   #5
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Nick, is your demo available for web viewing? I'd be very interested in a sample of the kind of enhancements you're getting from the software you describe.

David Hurdon
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Old April 7th, 2004, 10:27 AM   #6
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We have a realatively cheap doorway dolly (which also has track wheels, so I can rent regular dolly track when needed) and a Trovato Tote jib. Lots of my shooting is in offices or other rooms which have smooth floors, so it's fairly easy to do dolly shots instead of zooms and cuts. By mounting the camera on the jib and the jib on the dolly, you can walk along with the camera as the dolly operator pushes or pulls the dolly, and the result is much like a Steadicam movement. Booming up and down can also enhance a shot along with the dolly move, when needed. I think these types of things make our stuff a lot more theatrical than most corporate type vignettes you see.

Also, we rent HMI lighting when needed. Rather than all the action happening in rooms with closed blinds, we like to see out the windows, which gives nice depth to the shots. You can do that a lot faster and easier with HMIs versus gelling the windows. Also, I've found that the camera I use with the settings I crank in (DSR500WSL/1) looks very nice when shooting under daylight filtration with HMIs. I can't do this all the time because of costs, but if you have the budget, getting the right lighting to make the shot the best you can will go a long way toward enhancing your production values. Obviously, the way you use the lights is even more important. Flat lighting screams cheap video.

And, I like to shoot in 16:9 whenever possible, which allows for more interesting compostion.
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Old April 7th, 2004, 02:07 PM   #7
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I don't have a full demo online, but this example shows some of the simple stuff that can be done:

NBBF DVD Demo - QuickTime (9Meg)

The background loop animation, "Computer-Guy" animation and "visual guides" were all CGI done in Bryce. These are just some basic things that were done in Bryce. The client loved it and it was the success with these that prompted me to get the 3dToolkit which is quite a bit more powerful and video friendly than Bryce. (Bryce doesn't render interlaced, where 3dToolkit does, and Bryce also lacks good title tools.)

I only just started working with the 3dTK in the last two months, and all that "work" has been in spare time after the kids are in bed. I think I'm about two months from having a better demo ready to go featuring camera matched CGI and more complex animations and particle effects.

Have fun.
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Old April 7th, 2004, 02:38 PM   #8
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Thanks Nick. That's cool. I'm curious now and off to take a closer look at the 3DToolkit.

David Hurdon
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Old April 8th, 2004, 05:23 AM   #9
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Hi Nick. I tried to take a look at your demo but all I got was the audio and a message saying that I do not have the required compressor installed. Sadly, that was all the info I got - no clue as to where I might get this elusive compressor! Tried loading it into Vegas - audio only. Same with WMP. Thought you might like to know in case you're sending this link to prospective customers! I'm sure the problem is at my end, but I doubt I'm the only one out there with the same problem!

Anyway, to contribute specifically to this thread:

1. Cool3D Production Studio : http://www.ulead.com/cool3d/runme.htm
Really easy 3d titling and a surprising load more for $129 (Cool3D 3.5, a slightly lesser specced version, is $50). Used sparingly it gives some great results. Also allows you to import 3ds files and use them as Cool3D objects. I put together a nice little 5 second composition of an all-chrome 747 flying past the beautiful Chrysler Building and 'through the camera'. Took about ten minutes. Pointless, but nice to look at.

2. I made use of a two legged tripod (in other words one leg had snapped off) as a kind of steadycam. Now this is REALLY basic but it works to a degree. With the camera mounted on the tripod head, the remaining two legs under each arm and the tripod centre piece resting on the belly, the weight of the camera forces the legs up into the armpits and gives some balance. It works best on walking shots as jerky walking motions don't seem to travel out to the camera. Coupled with the cam's remote it can be useful. As I said, it's completely basic and you can only really use it for ten or fifteen minutes at a time before your back begins to give in. Also, it's unlikely you would want to be seen with it in public.

3. Some large pieces of hardboard painted green. Lit well, it's a functional chromakeying background for a couple of quid.

4. A large skateboard. Nice low level tracking shots. Cost? No idea; I stole it from my son who got it for Christmas. An old office swivel chair serves a similar purpose for slightly higher level shots. In both cases, the floor surface determines the quality of the shot.

5. Action Man. I've just earned 2000 doing three one minute internal corporate 'message' videos for a friend/client. In the absence of suitable performers we did the whole thing using Action Man, Ken and Barbie and a whole load of miniature props. I'm a voice-over by trade and so I did all the voices. Faces were animated (very simply) by layering my mouth over Action Man's in Vegas and by adjusting eyes and eyebrows etc in Photoshop. Lotsa fun.

Hope the above shows you how much of a cheapskate I am.

Ian . . .
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Old April 8th, 2004, 06:13 AM   #10
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For the record, Ian, I had to let Quick Time download a component to view the video but it did so in a flash (cable modem) and immediately played both video and audio thereafter. I have version 6.4 of the player, which might explain what mine did and yours didn't do.

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Old April 8th, 2004, 06:15 AM   #11
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Interesting. I have just checked and I'm using v6.3. When I get a chance I'll update and see if that resolves the problem. Thanks David.
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Old April 8th, 2004, 09:29 AM   #12
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Hmmm . . and curiouser . . .

Just updated to QT 6.5. Still no joy. I had hoped QT would lead me through the process of downloading the right codec but it didn't. Checked the file format of Nicks file, downloaded the appropriate (I think) codec directly and installed it. Still no success.
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Old April 8th, 2004, 10:30 AM   #13
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Sorry about the trouble with the clip. Thanks for reporting it, though.
The clip uses the VP3 codec which you can download (free) directly from www.vp3.com

QuickTime is supposed to do this automatically for you, but it may get "stuck" once it's had an unsuccessful pass at it.
This codec is free with no adware or spyware and usually loads automatically, but I've heard of a few others running into issues as well.

Let me know how it goes after you put VP3 on your system.
I should probably encode a Windows Media 9 version anyway and get it up there for more compatability.

Cool3D Production Studio is well know for ease of use and a very short learning curve, so if you're not very "graphical" it's a good place to start. It does have long rendering times, limited lighting and limited animation features though.

The greenscreen can also be a great idea, but like CGI, it takes a good bit of learning and practice to get it really look good. Most initial attempts of throwing up a green background followed by an chroma composite with an NLE typically result in very disappointing results. Proper background color selection, construction & lighting, camera setup, foreground lighting & wardrobe, DV compression, and post processing tools all play a vital roll in producing a clean finished shot.

For this same DVD project, we did one scene using a greenscreen. I built a 8'x8' screen for the shoot with four ferring strips, some rightangle brackets and stapled on about $1.50 in bright green, plastic table cloth from a party supply store. The whole assembly cost about $10.
Here's the screen....
....and here's the finished video (MOV 3Meg).

Have fun.
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Old April 9th, 2004, 06:47 AM   #14
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Hey Nick, no worries. I had already downloaded vp3 from a different site but with no success. I just downloaded it from the site you linked to and after installing it it worked OK. Once. I watched the whole segment through fine (very nice, btw) but on the second pass I tried to resize the window and it killed it dead. The only way of viewing it again was to close QT down and start again. Just thought you should know! I don't know the first thing about the vp3 codec but initial impressions are that it is on the flaky side!

On your other comments: I agree, Cool3D is not without it's shortcomings - and I would certainly not call it a true 3d studio - but for getting impressive animated titles together quickly I think it's got to be the first tool beginners should look at.

I was impressed with your greenscreen build, by the way. I used a large piece of thin hardboard so I can create a cyc or have it flat. I used a plastic sheet once (it was a liner for a pond) but I had problems with reflections. I think of all the things you mentioned, good lighting and distance from the screen (5' or 6')are the most important for getting a clean key.

Cheers . . . Ian . . .
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Old April 9th, 2004, 08:36 AM   #15
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Thanks again for the feedback Ian.

Yeah, the VP3 codec is free and I think it makes for a smaller file with better quality than the basic Sorenson QT codec, but, now that WMP9 can be played on the Mac or PC, I'll likely migrate over to Media9 files.

Have fun.
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