Stirring & Stylish: Distinctively Dark Imagery

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Color timing 5D Mark II footage – Part 2

In Equipment and Technique on June 22, 2011 at 4:37 am

Last week I began a discussion about colour timing footage shot on the 5D Mark II for the feature film ‘The House’.  Refer to Part 1 for initial details.  Enjoy!

4) Skin Tones – Flat lighting slightly over exposed = bad!  One of the problems with the camera is the way it reproduces skin tones.  They can look pastel or cartoon-like.  Flat lighting exacerbates the problem by creating a consistent wash of light across the actor’s face.  It may be a function of the compression that this particular colour tone looks so flat and textureless, or that the camera simply cannot handle the block of colour.  In either case, adding directional light is generally a good idea, and more attractive regardless of the camera you’re using.  Learn to use your light meter.  Test what sort of contrast you like on-screen, and what the corresponding readings are you can reproduce them from shot to shot or scene to scene.  Over exposure is a big problem for texture in skin tones, and using a light meter can help avoid this problem because judging exposure by the histogram or false colour alone can lead to a wide range of skin tone exposures due to the other tones in the frame.  For example, a low-key shot (where most of the tones are below 50% brightness) you may look at the histogram and say, “Oh, that scene looks underexposed,” and adjust your exposure to compensate.  This will result in opening up the shadows, but also increasing the exposure on the skin tones.  The opposite is true for a high key scene, which could result in an underexposed skin tone.  If you use your meter you would be able to peg your exposure on the skin tones and adjust your other lighting to work with that exposure.

Sometimes having an HD monitor on set and being able to look at the actual image the camera sees makes one lazy.  Shoot the camera like it’s a film camera.  Do the hard work to massage all you can out of it, and you will reap the benefits.

5) Picture Settings – Turn down the digital sharpening, and the contrast.  The sharpening can give the images an odd halo and harshness that looks odd, and very digital.  The contrast can make the dynamic range even smaller, and the lighting more difficult.  By turning down the contrast you may enhance the flattened skin tone problem somewhat, but the alternative is worse.

6) White Balance – If you can have this discussion with the colourist before you shoot, do it.  Every director has an idea of how their film should look.  This can include colour tone, contrast, tonality, etc.  It’s the DoP’s job to get that look on-screen.  The colour settings you use on set while shooting, especially with a camera that has a heavily compressed image, makes a great impact on what you can do in post.  Generally, it is a good idea to use a neutral colour balance if possible, and if you don’t know what the image will look like after colour timing.  If you’ve had the chance to meet with the colourist, and do some testing, you may want to force the white balance (white balance through a coloured gel or filter), or use a filter on the lens.  This way you’re getting closer to the look you’re going for while you’re shooting, which makes the colour timing a more efficient process and gives you the best results.  If you decide to use a forced white balance or filter make sure the director understands that once you shoot the image you’ll have difficulty, if not impossibility, in achieving a neutral colour balance should he/she want to in the future.  A director who is unsure of the look he/she is going for will have a look of fear in his/her eyes, but a director who is certain of the look will proceed.  It is important to know the difference, and respond accordingly.

Also, I noticed that with the cameras we were using that the neutral white balance wasn’t actually neutral.  When we put scopes on the image it was actually quite warm (yellow/red).  So, be careful simply trusting your camera’s presets or auto white balance.  Test it to make sure you’re accurate.

7) Pro Res – There is a new version of FCP coming out, and it may be able to edit the footage from the 5D natively, but for our purposes all of the camera original footage had to be converted to Pro Res for editing.  These Pro Res files are then taken into the colour correction suite.  There are several flavours of Pro Res.  Essentially, the better the Pro Res file, the more you can do in colour correction.  The trade off with having the more robust Pro Res files is that it can cause the computer to freeze up during playback and it takes more storage space to store all of those files, may of which won’t be used.  So, one approach that works well is to create a lower quality Pro Res file for the offline editing process, and then once the picture is locked, create another series of Pro Res 4444 files for the online colour correction.  Talk to the editor about this process, and make sure they know you want Pro Res 4444 for the colour correction.

Final Thoughts:  Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images the camera creates, and how well they held up to the colour timing process.  Though a camera that shoots a more robust format, and is designed for film production would be my preferred choice, it is tough to argue with the quality to cost ratio of the camera.  Testing and using a meter are key to getting consistent quality images that will look good on the big screen.

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Color timing 5D Mark II footage – Part 1

In Equipment and Technique on June 9, 2011 at 7:19 pm

We’re finished off with colour timing ‘The House’, and the results are in.  We shot on the 5D Mark II, and timed on the Da Vinci Resolve system.  We test screened at the Pacific Cinemateque.

This entry is presented in two parts, so check back next week to get the second half of the results.

So, how did it go?  How did the footage hold up on the big screen?  All in all I’d say it held up pretty well.  The typical problems with this camera were certainly in evidence, but because of some good planning in pre-production we were able to avoid these problems in large part.  These problems, and their solutions are:

1) Aliasing – You may have seen magenta and cyan bands running through certain parts of the frame.  Aliasing occurs when a particular texture in front of the camera lines up with the pixel pattern on the camera’s chip to create a visual anomaly.  Often, aliasing occurs along straight lines, which can appear jagged.  If you have several sets of parallel lines, as can occur in floor tiles, fabrics, roofing, etc. the problem is enhanced to create a magenta/cyan moire-like pattern.  The best way to avoid the problem:  Don’t shoot anything that can cause the problem.  On ‘The House’ we tested every piece of wardrobe to make sure it didn’t cause a problem on camera (we tested it at several distances away from the camera as the size of the pattern can affect the aliasing problem), and avoided shooting problematic patterns.

It may not always be possible to avoid shooting a problematic pattern.  What to do then?  The best thing to do it check your monitors carefully.  The LCD on the back of the camera is too small.  You’ll need a larger screen, preferably a production monitor, to view and check for any aliasing.  If possible, throw the pattern out of focus to eliminate the sharp line pattern, or use a diffusion filter to soften the sharp edges of the pattern (make sure to test these diffusion filters in pre-production so you’re not on set guessing whether the filter will be too strong or not).

If you do end up with an aliasing problem in your footage hope and pray that you’re colourist can bail you out.  We had two instances where the aliasing problem showed up in the fabric on a couch and on the floor of a tiled pond.  Luckily, we were able to reduce the colour banding by creating masks and balancing out the colours, but this was a time-consuming and difficult process, and not a route I would recommend.  Attempt to eliminate this problem while you’re shooting and you’ll end up with better results.

2) Rolling Shutter – If you’ve used this camera then you’ve seen the jello-like quality that the image can have when the camera or subject moves quickly.  This effect is especially pronounced when the camera is hand-held.  There isn’t really too much you can do here, except for trying to keep the camera steady.  Also, if you have access to them it would be useful to put an image stabilizing lens on the camera, especially if you’re on a longer lens.

3) Dynamic Range – The 5D has a fairly small dynamic range – the range from shadow to highlight that the camera can reproduce – which makes shooting under high contrast conditions difficult.  Protect those highlights, use the built-in histogram to make sure you’re not losing info at either end of the spectrum, consult the false colour function of your onboard monitor, and get and use a light meter.  I’ve found that shooting a DSLR is more like shooting reversal film than negative film.  They are contrasty, and if you make an exposure mistake you have little recourse to make corrections later.  Use that meter!  Test before you shoot!

I look forward to sharing the second half of the results next week.