Eloquent Graffiti is being shot with a DSLR from Nikon. The D90 has a 720p HD “D-Movie Mode”. While far from perfect, it is one more step toward what i’d consider the ideal camera — lightweight, unassuming, and with the aesthetic characteristics of 35mm. Key issues unique to the D90 are due to its CMOS sensor and a slow read reset (which is how fast the sensor scans the frame top to bottom. This slow read reset causes what is commonly referred to as “skew” or “warble” or sometimes “Jellovision”. It is impossible to miss on panning shots with defined vertical lines from doorways, etc. Generally, there are two ways to minimize this effect.
First is to stay with wide lenses like a 28mm. Occasionally I’ll go to a 50mm but this requires a very steady hand by the operator, or a stabalization device such as a shoulder mount, assuming a handheld shot. The second is to avoid horizontal camera moves with the exception of “anchoring” the pan to an actor crossing through the set. Having a subject in motion but framed in the foreground of a panning shot draws the viewers attention away from the “skew” occuring in the background of the frame.
Dusty Sorg as “Henry” in ELOQUENT GRAFFITI – a film by SABI, shot exclusively on the Nikon D90
The other issue is the potential for overheating. I’ve only experienced this once, but I’m also in the habit of turning off the LCD display when not shooting. When the camera becomes too warm, a 30 second countdown will appear in RED on the LCD and when it hits zero, the LCD is automatically shut off. And because it has to be on for the D-Movie Mode to record, your take ends too. I generally don’t shoot fast enough for this to be a serious issue and turning the LCD off between takes goes a long way toward avoiding it. That being said, I can hear the voice of Kevin K. Shah (Sabi’s co-founder) insisting to always have a back-up. So having a second camera on set will prevent this issue from shutting you down while the camera cools.
And one last issue is that of “line skipping”. To achieve a 1280×720 frame, the camera apparently captures a frame that is 800 pixels tall, but removes every 8 or 9 pixels to retain the correct geometry instead of scaling the image. This keeps actors from looking squashed vertically, but also introduces “stair-stepping” artifacts into the image. Fortunately, an enterprising young man has written a plug-in for Final Cut Pro that separates the frame every 8 or 9 pixels bringing it back to the original 800, fills in the gaps with a blending technique, then scales it back down to 720 pixels tall, retaining the correct image geometry. It sounds dubious but it works very well, and I have toggled back and forth in amazement many times.
The camera’s video mode is called D-Movie Mode and it is essentially an HD recording of the video one monitors on the rear LCD display.
FRAME SIZE: 1280×720 square pixels
FRAMERATE: 24fps (not 23.98, but TRUE 24fps)
CODEC: Motion JPEG
AUDIO: Mono 11khz (usable as reference for sync only)
FILE SIZES: 5 mins = approx 600mb (8gb card will hold about an hour of footage)
MEDIA: Class 6 SDHC Cards
There is a 5 minute limit on recordings. Thankfully a countdown is displayed on the LCD so you can track how much time is left in the take.
John T. Woods as “Will” in ELOQUENT GRAFFITI – a film by SABI
The camera is nearly fully automatic in D-Movie mode. You cannot go in and manually set ISO or shutter speed and the exposure jumps as the frame changes from bright sources to darker ones – and yes, its very noticeable and it looks as bad as it sounds. However, despite the lack of manual control, you can LOCK in the the ISO and shutter by tapping the AE-L button.
The singular issue is that on a bright day or in a bright location, the shutter speed is ramped way up, giving you a sports video or saving private ryan look. So you need to trick the camera into using a slower shutter speed closer to 1/48 by doing the following….
1. Turn the camera ON
2. Rack the f/stop on your manual lens to approximately an f/8 or f/11
3. Point the camera toward a low-light area of the set. If outdoors partially cover the lens with your hand.
4. Press the AE-L button to lock the shutter and ISO.
5. Turn on the LCD (aka LiveView)
6. Rack the f/stop back to wide open (between between f/1.2 and f/2.8)
I do this before every shot and sometimes don’t cut, opting for a series of takes because once you turn off the LCD, you lose the locked exposure. The operator should practice this routine until it becomes second nature, otherwise there will be a delay before each take until they get it set correctly.
Sound – Double system. I use a Zoom H2 for ambient recordings. And a separate kit for dialogue (Sound Devices 702, Sennheiser 416 on a boom). Will often rent wireless packs for the actors when we need to be a little more incognito/guerilla. It is important to provide a sync mark before each take with either a slate or clapping hands, something.
Mary Elise Hayden as “Nicolette” in ELOQUENT GRAFFITI – a film by SABI
PREP FOR POST-PRODUCTION
My goal for post is to get the captured media into a form where the image quality is protected from subsequent renders and the format meets broadcast specifications. This means two things, transcoding to Apple ProRes and retiming the framerate from 24fps to 23.98fps. I have created a droplet in Compressor that does both and will amend to this article shortly. before using the droplet, you must open the AVI files in QuickTime Player and “Save As” to give them the QT wrapper so that Compressor can handle them properly. Not fun, but necessary.
Drop.io -> D90 to PRORES 23.98 Droplet
Syncing Sound – As with any double system shoot, dailies need to be synced in post. There is no timecode here to automate the process so one has to go through, using the slate or an alternate means of a sync mark such as clapping hands. My editor prefers to merge her clips so that the audio is forever tied to the picture. But in this instance, there seems to be an element of “drift” that I have yet to solve other than to pull up the audio where it needs it or to apply a 99.9% speed change.
And that’s all I really have to say about that. I thought I’d spare you the “why” of using this for filmmaking, and just focus on the “how”.
Posted in Eloquent Graffiti