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Look! It's America's funniest Home Video's.
See, in one sentence you can immediatly tell what you want to avoid. Home movies are, in general, easily recognisable from two clear marks: Bad image quality and bad sound. And in case you are making a movie, there is also acting to consider.
Blaming the equipment is of course the easy way out, but in part it holds true. The amount of work you have to put in a default consumer camera to make nice, consistent images (with a correct white balance, please) is a guarantee for boring your actors to sleep during the setup phase. This is Not A Good Thing. Spending time setting up your set and equipment is something which pays off tenfold in postproduction (oh, do we know) but it would be nice if your continuity manager doesn't have to intervene because your actors have grown a beard between two shots. As far as sound goes, camera microphones suck for all sound arriving from more than 2 metres distance or in all outdoors situations.
So, here it comes, Eelco's quick guide to decent film making and it's relations to our equipment.
Your actors are all in their place, ready to give the performance of their life. It is just a shame that half of them won't be visible (while the window in the background is a prominent feature) and the other actors have skin tones varying from fluorescent red to martian green (despite playing a human). Enter lights.
Your lights are there to make sure everything you want visible is properly lighted. Especially with video
cameras which don't take to kindly to low light situations. Enter several lights; we now have slightly over
1300 Watts in total in the form of cheap work lights. This is also enough to drown out other light sources to
avoid light sources with different colour temperatures.
Of course, the main amount of light is coming from the direction of the camera (unless you want all your people to be half people, half shadow). To avoid huge shadows and to allow the actors to actually look in the general diretion of the lights, we use diffusers. Basically cardboard with wrinkled aluminium foil on it. This is a low cost solution which gives very satisfying results.
Everything you want to be able to see is lighted correctly. Now it just needs to be captured on tape. Rule
one: Different light has different colour temperatures, and a camera really has no idea what colour "white" is
unless you tell it too. Litterally by putting a sheet of white material in front of it and telling it:
"This is white". It is nice to have a camera with a button to tell it that, instead of having to dig
ten levels deep in some menu. Second, your camera has no idea where the main action takes place, and it would
be nice if that area would be in focus, instead of the tree in te background. Enter manual focus, or at least
focus lock. Since you are making a movie, things move. Automatic exposure is very nice, but when someone in a
white shirt moves through your image, the camera starts messing with it. Not nice to look at and a nightmare
for editing. Therefore: exposure lock.
These are the things you can do by hand. Other things like image quality are simply a function of the camera. 3CCD cameras have better colour reproduction than single CCD's. Wide screen (true widescreen, most cameras just throw image content away) might by some be seen as a gimick, but it increases your options for the image composition without having to take all that unused floor and ceiling in account.
Tadaah: The Panasonic NV GS400. It basically does everything I said is necessary. In the same picture is its mate: the tripod. A fairly simple Manfrotto tripod with a fluid-bearing head.
Microphones on camera's suck...rocks...through a straw. Period. Already used in TOTP (but only in part of the movie, you know which bits by just listening) is the Sennheiser MKE300. A simple shotgun (directional) microphone. New is the adition of a minidisc recorder and a seperate microphone amplifier.
At a certain point you find the limitations of simple editing software, so we have switched to Pinnacle Liquid Edition. To improve editing comfort an MCS3 has been acquired which gives jog/shuttle controll and in general in a professional way of handling an editing suite like Liquid.
And then, last but not least: Special effects software. Fxhome has two programs, one for digital compositing and one for adding special effects (from light saber to fire ball and much more), at a professional level. Any amateur movie maker really owes it to him/herself to check them out.
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This page was last modified on May 31st 2005