Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Digital Cinema Projection - DCP and the shit it entails...

Last week was a real 'back to skool' week for me. I had an appointment early last week to test our feature on the cinema screen where we had booked to show it on the 25th Nov. I rocked up with my Firewire800 drive, same as i did for the test screening in Soho back in the summer.

Turns out, proper cinemas can't use a hard drive with a Pro Res on it. They can't even 'see' mac formatted drives. They need a Linux or NTFS drive with a DCP on it.

A DCP (Digital Cinema Package) is folder with two MXF for the picture and one for the audio 2 XML files... telling the projection system where and what the MXF files are and 2 text files. To make this DCP file is mentally hard work.

First of all you have to export your movie as a 16Bit TIFF sequence. Not a .MOV in TIFF format, but millions of individual TIFFS, one for each frame of your movie. To export an 8minute test section took my Quad-Core i7 Mac over 3 hours.

Next, you have to use OpenDCP ( to convert these TIFFS to JPEG2000 files. This took another 3 hours.

Now you need to export all your audio as mono 48kHz, 24Bit files and they have to be EXACTLY the same length as the video file to the frame or it won't work. So if it's stereo, you need 2 mono files, and if it's 5.1, you need 6 mono files.

Now you use OpenDCP to convert the audio files to an MXF file.

Finally, you use OpenDCP to create the DCP file from the 2 MXF files.

The whole process took 7 hours plus.... Oh and you can't test the resulting file in realtime.. nope... you just have to hope it's ok.

We're still not done.... you can't put this on a drive that easily. You need to download an app called Paragon ( or something similar to allow you to format a drive in NTFS format on your mac. You can then copy the DCP folder onto the root.... do not put it inside another folder and do not put anything else on the drive.

The first time i tried this, i got the conversion all wrong and had to start again...after 3 attempts i decided to try a smaller section of footage...only 2mins instead to cut down on the conversion time. Eventually, it worked!

We tested it on a massive screen in a 450 seat cinema... and it looked great. The picture was very sharp and it was very smooth.

But.... the picture was lighter overall... something not right with the gamma space....and the audio was quiet..

I worked out that even on my pretty powerful mac, it would take 48hours to create the DCP for the full 90min feature. A) I haven't got 48hours spare... and B)If it doesn't work, there's nothing i can do about it.

So... i handed the project over to Soho Digital Cinema in London who did a professional job and turned it around in less than a day. It's not cheap, but it's not worth risking fucking this up... 450 people is a lot of people to disappoint if it fails at the premiere.

My advice? If you're screening a short film, 10mins or less... and you need a DCP, then why not give the DIY route a go, but if you need a feature encoding, don't even think about it. You don't want months of editing and colour grading ruined at the final stage... get a professional on the case.

Contact Soho Digital Cinema here:

I must also mention 'The Carousel' who also do DCP creation... based in Lancaster Gate, London, they were pretty amazingly helpful and we really appreciated it.

Check them out here:

The Premiere of 'The Addicted' went fantastically.... but not without drama... full blog on it soon.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

GoPro Hero3 with the Atomos Ninja2

I've been trying to find out if the HDMI output on the Hero3 was able to live-feed to a Ninja or something similar for capture as a ProRes HQ file instead of the mp4 that the GoPro captures internally...

Well, today i tried it... briefly. Just a little test to see if it worked...and... it does!

There are some caveats though:

  • It doesn't work in ProTune mode as the HDMI out is disabled.
  • It's still limited by being 8bit and having the tiny sensor.
  • You can't have the GoPro in it's waterproof housing as the HDMI cable needs to be in.

Other than that, it works a treat. I need to do some more detailed testing and analysis of the footage.. it marginally looks better than the same shot using the ProTune option on the GoPro.

Both were captured at 1920x1080 running in 25p mode....medium lens width. I had a quick play with both the files in FCPX and obviously, the ProRes file was ready to rock immediately and seemed to respond well to colour grading... the ProTune mp4 from the GoPro itself need some time to transcode to ProRes, but once it was done, the footage was also quite plyable in post...  If i had to choose, i'd say the file from the Ninja was slightly cleaner with less noise.

Of course, using the Ninja takes away a lot of the portability and attractiveness of the GoPro, but in some instances, it's a really nice option to have.

I would have posted the footage, but by the time it's been through Vimeo or YouTube compression there's no discernable difference.

As you can see, the mp4 is 35mbps and the ProRes HQ is 172mbps, but both are HD 1-1-1 (REC709)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Go Pro Hero3

For the last week or so i've been testing the new Go Pro Hero3. I got the Silver Edition, which is the model in the middle of the range between the the Black and White Editions. I really didn't need the 4k at 15fps or the WiFi Remote, so decided to test the Silver Edition.

Right off the bat i can tell you that the usual Go Pro build quality is still there.... it's solid and very nicely put together. The actual camera is tiny...about the size of a matchbox. Only the waterproof housing makes it a bit bigger.

I could go into the menus and workings of it.... but it'm sure there's plenty of that on the net. What i will say is that this camera is very easy to use and the footage is excellent. The new Protune option gives you 45Mbps plus...

Another interesting addition is a micro HDMI output. This means i can maybe hook the Go Pro up to my Atomos Ninja and capture Pro Res HQ H.264 compression...just footage straight off the sensor. I can't wait to try this very soon. And because the Ninja is also pretty small and light, it will still be possible to get this little rig into some very small spaces. (I've no idea if this is possible yet... it might be a 480p output or something like the old crippled Canon HDMI outputs... fingers crossed it's full 1080p)

Here's what you need to know:

ProTune is still H.264 8bit, but also 24p and 25p at 45+Mbps!!

  • ProTune is also a log file... so grading Go Pro footage is suddenly do-able.
  • There's no crushing of the blacks anymore, no highlight roll-off and the noise reduction is reduced meaning that although the raw picture may look a bit scary, you can do your own grading and noise reduction with much more professional tools.
  • There's auto and also manual white balance. Again, much more use in post.

I did some test shots both during the day and also at night...both mounted on a moving car. The daylight shots look incredible straight off the card... the night shots not so much. I was quite disappointed with the night footage at first. It was noisy beyond belief. But... i dropped it into FCPX and had a play with it. First i dropped the exposure level of the blacks...a lot. And then i pulled the mids down a bit too... suddenly it looked a lot, lot better. Then i added some noise reduction using the NEAT video plug in. It was like night and day (pardon the pun). 

The footage now looked fantastic and completely usable. I'd still be wary of shooting without any light, but it's real contender if you need some night driving shots and you don't want to risk your main camera on car mount.

I've got the Go Pro App on both my Google Nexus 7 and iPad...and i'll be testing them soon to see how the WiFi control and monitoring works. Tomorrow i'm testing the Go Pro 3 on a Radio Controlled Helicopter again... i'll let you know how it looks and possibly post some footage.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Action Cams

Two days ago i got the new Contour Roam2 to test. It's a great form factor and performs ok in broad daylight, but it was severely let down but the low light performance and also some nasty rolling shutter jelly-ness. I liked the included mounts, and the rotating lens and laser guide are great ideas.

But, if a camera that is advertised as being water proof down to 1m (for canoe, wake boarding and wet motorbike rides etc) leaks on the first use...i'm not getting one. We tested it in a pool and although the footage was great, the camera started leaking...little bubbles gave it away. Because the battery is not removable, i just had to watch as it freaked out and died.

No more Roam2....

I'm now testing the Go Pro Hero3.... results to follow in a few days.

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Sonys..RED price drop... GoPro Hero3...

It's been another interesting week for the film making community with Sony announcing 2 new cameras, the F5 and the F55. Both of these cameras are serious film making tools and both of them are aimed squarely at existing markets...  namely the F5 is going to compete with the Canon C300 and the F55 is going up against Arri's Alexa, the RED Epic and Canon's C500.

What have Sony got right? Well, with the experience they got with the F3 and FS100/700 they know what we don't want... we don't want crap viewfinders, odd ergonomics and not-quite-there codecs and bit rates. The new F5 and F55 are physically perfect for shooting with... shoulder mounted, but modular and small. You can build the camera YOU need for YOUR shoot. They've looked at the Alexa and realised that it's main drawback is it's physical size... camera ops need a good strong back to lug the Alexa around...but the F5/55 are nice and small. Also, the 4k sensor... both cameras can capture RAW 4k using the optional AXS-R5 external recorder.

I think we're going to see a lot of indie productions shot on the F5...i know i want one. The F55 is perfect for TV drama, bigger budget indie films and anything where you'd usually only have to decide between a RED and an Alexa. I think the biggest loser in this fight at the moment is Canon. The 'C' range looks over-priced, under-specced and not built well enough in comparison.

But, hey, let's remember here, it's all about what you shoot. People are going to make stunning cinema on Canon 'C' cameras...and hopefully, the new Sonys will be used extensively in the same market and the end viewer won't have a clue what cameras productions were shot on. It really doesn't matter.

How does this affect me as a film maker? Well, i love my FS100...i'm very happy with the images i get from it. The Atomos Ninja makes the FS100 a serious system for indie films. I'd like to move up to the FS700...but right now, i'm not sure that's necessary. I don't want to pepper my next feature with slow-mo as everyone's at it at the moment. The other issue is price of ownership. The FS100 and FS700...and the C100 for that matter are cheap enough that ownership makes sense. Hire charges for these cameras get too high too quick when you can buy them and recoup your outlay with just a couple of projects.  The F5 and C300 are in the next league where ownership is more of a risk... it really could be cheaper to hire them in for a feature shoot. The F55 is definitely not one to own privately unless you're seriously well off.... and even then, it might not be the best plan when a better camera is sure to arrive in the next couple of years.


Half price RED anyone?

Clearly influenced by the Sony 'F-Bomb'.... RED have dropped their prices massively...  interesting.

    • 5K EPIC-X Brain                                  $19,000
    • 5K EPIC-X Monochrome Brain              $20,000
    • 5K EPIC-M Brain                                 $24,000
    • 5K/4K Scarlet Brain                               $7,950

This all makes for a very exciting time for indie film making. We can buy new, off the shelf cameras that are easily good enough to make cinema features... and every month that passes by we have the opportunity to buy almost new second hand cameras as the rental houses move up to newer models.... there really is no excuse to not shoot on something that gives you a very professional image.

Sony PMW-F5:

  • 60 fps out of the box (XAVC HD).
  • 120 fps with a planned upgrade (XAVC 2K/HD). Unique to this process, there is no line skipping or sensor windowing. So there’s no crop factor, no loss in angle of view.
  • 120 fps 2K RAW, with the optional AXS-R5 outboard recorder and a planned upgrade, achieves high frame rates while retaining exceptional, 16-bit image quality. This not only exceeds 12-bit RAW with 16 times as many Red, Green and Blue gradations. By design, it exceeds the capabilities of human vision!

Sony PMW-F55:

  • 60 fps out of the box (XAVC HD at launch; XAVC 4K, QFHD and 2K with a planned upgrade)
  • 180 fps with a planned upgrade (XAVC 2K/HD). Unique to this process, there is no line skipping or sensor windowing. So there’s no crop factor, no loss in angle of view.
  • 240 fps 2K RAW, with the optional AXS-R5 outboard recorder and a planned upgrade, achieves the highest frame rates most productions will need, while retaining exceptional, 16-bit image quality. This not only exceeds 12-bit RAW with 16 times as many Red, Green and Blue gradations. By design, it exceeds the capabilities of human vision!

Finally, there's the amazing new GoPro Hero3. The 'Black Edition' is a truly stunning camera for all those situations where a highly mobile and tiny camera is needed. At just $400, it's a camera you really can justify having in your kit.

At the moment i'm working on the final audio mix for 'The Addicted' (my latest feature) and that should be coming out early next year. Around the same time as 'The Addicted' is released, we're planning on shooting our next feature.... it's a really exciting project and not a subject matter usually covered in indie film... we're working on it at the moment and we'll release details near the end of the year.