… for Random Weirdness

Tip #461: 3 Tips to Shoot a Conversation in a Car

There’s a direct correlation between believability and dollars and/or time.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. There’s something about the cinematic road scene that is deeply embedded in American film and culture. However, from a DP’s perspective, it can be one of the most difficult and taxing set-ups to tackle.

Green screen. This method involves the least amount of moving (parts, and in general) but the greatest amount of post-production. Leaving the car stationary and setting up a green screen will allow you to control the scene as much as possible. However, it will require some serious editing chops to fill every mirror and window reflection in a believable way that looks natural.

Camera Mount. The car mount method (dash cam, side mount, etc…) would be your best DIY small-production option. It’s also the riskiest in terms of possibly damage to your camera or gear. The small dashboard cam might be the safest shot possible, but it’s also one of the most used. Unless you’re project is embracing a practical DIY approach, it would be worth it to invest time or money into other options.

Tow Car. This is the professional method of choice. The tow car gives you maximum control of your car “set” while in a natural, uncontrolled environment. Tow car production still requires a production team and solid coordination (especially for filming scenes multiple times from multiple angles). But if you can afford a tow car (or makeshift trailer), you’ll get the most authentic cinematic look.


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… for Random Weirdness

Tip #460: 5 Tips to Improve a Boring Documentary

If your doc is boring, look to your story first.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. The primary goal of any good documentary is — first and foremost — to inform. However, to inform an audience well, you have to put something together that has all the elements of compelling entertainment. If you find yourself working on a documentary project that’s starting to get boring, here are some quick tricks to help you get back on track.

Work on Story and Structure. Whether you’re just starting out on your project or are deep in the editing process, you should ask yourself the following: If you were to sit down with a pen and paper, could you write (or sketch) out the entire story and structure of your film? If not, why not?

Animate or Illustrate When Needed. Adding custom illustrations or animations to a documentary project can be very appealing to documentary filmmakers. However, overusing animations or illustrations is something to avoid — and it can become expensive and time-consuming, depending on the number and quality of the illustrations and animations.

Add Movement and Transitions. In addition to animating or illustrating B-roll or specific scenes, other smaller editing tricks can actually be quite helpful for speeding up sequences and making the general tone and style a bit more appealing.

Alternate Means of Exposition. Consider letting the mystery of your story develop in some areas. Sometimes, all you need to make a compelling documentary is a few sentences over a black screen to provide all the exposition you actually need. Other things like lower thirds, narration, or interviews can provide the rest.

Make Those Tough Cuts. Documentaries are notorious for requiring tons and tons of filming and footage. At the end of the day, you’d much rather someone watch your film and say “I wish that was longer” than “I wish that was shorter.”


… for Random Weirdness

Tip #457: Low-Tech Perfomance Boost

Dust is the enemy, keep your gear clean.

Topic $TipTopic

My 2015 MacBook Pro was no longer smoothly handling anything; its performance was a fraction of what it was. It felt hot and the fans were racing.

I investigated and followed all the advice, eventually reinstalling everything and resetting the rest. That seemed to help a bit but it never completely solved the problem.

Then, I had a brainwave! I carefully opened up the back and practically choked on the dust and fluff! A couple of minutes of carefully hoovering [vacuuming] the debris has completely taken care of the problem.


… for Apple Motion

Tip #467: Render Settings Improve CPU Performance

These render options allow us to avoid overloading the CPU.

Render options in the Render menu of the Canvas.

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(This is an excerpt from the Motion Help files.) Choose the render quality and resolution of the canvas display, and enable or disable features that can impact playback performance. When an option is active, a checkmark appears beside the menu item. If a complex project is causing your computer to play at a very low frame rate, you can make changes in this menu to reduce the strain on the processor.

The Render pop-up menu displays the following items:

  • Dynamic: Reduces the quality of the image displayed in the canvas during playback or scrubbing in the Timeline or mini-Timeline, allowing for faster feedback. Also reduces the quality of an image as it is modified in the canvas. When playback or scrubbing is stopped, or the modification is completed in the canvas, the image quality is restored (based on the Quality and Resolution settings for the project).
  • Full: Displays the canvas at full resolution (Shift-Q).
  • Half: Displays the canvas at half resolution.
  • Quarter: Displays the canvas at one-quarter resolution.
  • Draft: Renders objects in the canvas at a lower quality to allow optimal project interactivity. There’s no anti-aliasing.
  • Normal: Renders objects in the canvas at a medium quality. Shapes are anti-aliased, but 3D intersections are not. This is the default setting.
  • Best: Renders objects in the canvas at best quality, which includes higher-quality image resampling, anti-aliased intersections, anti-aliased particle edges, and sharper text.
  • Custom: Allows you to set additional controls to customize rendering quality. Choosing Custom opens the Advanced Quality Options dialog. For more information, see Advanced Quality settings.
  • Lighting: Turns the effect of lights in a project on or off. This setting does not turn off lights in the Layers list (or light scene icons), but it disables light shading effects in the canvas.
  • Shadows: Turns the effect of shadows in a project on or off.
  • Reflections: Turns the effect of reflections in a project on or off.
  • Depth of Field: Turns the effect of depth of field in a project on or off.
  • Motion Blur: Enables/disables the preview of motion blur in the canvas. Disabling motion blur may improve performance.

Note: When creating an effect, title, transition, or generator template for use in Final Cut Pro X, the Motion Blur item in the View pop-up menu controls whether motion blur is turned on when the project is applied in Final Cut Pro.


… for Apple Motion

Tip #466: How to Display a Grid in Motion

The grid is a very useful tool for aligning elements.

The View menu from inside Apple Motion.

Topic $TipTopic

Hidden in Motion is the ability to display a grid in the Viewer, which greatly simplifies aligning elements.

To reveal it, choose Grid from the View menu in the top right corner of the Canvas (Viewer).

EXTRA CREDIT

To adjust grid spacing and color, go to Preferences > Canvas.


… for Apple Motion

Tip #465: What is a Rig?

Rigs simplify controlling effects in Motion.

A new Rig added to a Motion project.

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Rigs are used to pass controls for Motion template effects from Motion to Final Cut Pro X. But they are also useful in Motion, itself, to simplify the control set of a complex project. Instead of making changes by manipulating individual parameters in various Inspectors, you can modify the Motion project using just a few widgets in a single rig.

NOTE: A “widget” is a single control contained in a rig.

A rig is especially helpful when you need to share a complex project with multiple users or when the project is designed to be updated each time it’s used. For example, you can create a basic project for an animated lower-third title that incorporates two text objects and a background replicator.

Each time the project is used, the size and position of the lower third (a replicator in this example) must change to match the length of the text, and the color must cycle through your project’s color scheme. By adding a rig to the project, you can create a small set of controls that modify only the parameters such changes require.

EXTRA CREDIT

To learn how to build a rig in Motion, open the Help files and search for “Build a Simple Rig?”


… for Visual Effects

Tip #469: What is a Bump Map?

Bump maps provide texture to objects based on grayscale textures.

(From L to R) Bump-mapped image, source image, gray-scale texture.

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Typically, bump maps are used to apply texture to a smooth object.

Bump maps are 8-bit grayscale images. This means that they only have 256 values between black and white. These gray-scale values are used to tell the effects software how to texture an object.

In this screen shot, a texture (right) is applied to a smooth image (center) using a bump map effect to give the final image (left) texture.

In this example, to create the source texture for a bump map, a high-amount of visual noise was applied to a mid-tone gray background using Photoshop.

Bump maps are highly useful in creating texture, but they don’t change the actual shape of an image. This means that if you are creating cast shadows, the shadow will mirror the source object, not the bump-mapped finished effect.


… for Visual Effects

Tip #468: How to Add Lens Flares

Lens flares add life to a scene.

(Background image courtesy: Editstock.com. Lens flare courtesy: Rampant Design Tools.)

Topic $TipTopic

Lens flares occur when the sun, or a light, gets too close to the same level as a lens. In production, we try to avoid them because they can be unnecessarily distracting; and impossible to control. But, adding them later in post, where we can control them, adds life to an otherwise bland scene. The good news is that lens flares are easy to add, regardless of what editing software you are using.

There are two ways to create lens flares: using the computer, or shooting actual light with a camera. My preference is flares shot with a camera look more complex and believable.

Companies like Rampant Design Tools specialize in creating flares, fires and other visual effects in the camera. To add a flare:

  • Put the playhead in the background image.
  • Import and place the flare video on a layer above the background.
  • Select the flare clip and change the Blend mode to Screen.

That’s it. Use standard effects controls to rotate and position the effect to your liking. The screen shot illustrates a before-and-after example of a lens flare.


… for Visual Effects

Tip #459: Improve Your Visuals with Pre-Viz

The more you think about your shots before you start production, the better your production will be.

Original concept art for “2001: A Space Odyssey;” courtesy of Dr. Robert McCall.

Topic $TipTopic

This article first appeared in RocketStock.com. This is an excerpt.

Pre-visualization is critical for any visual project. The script is your foundation, while the art for pre-production is the frame that rests upon that foundation. Previsualization, or Previs, is a process of visualizing the scenes of a film before production even begins.

Concept art enables the producer and director to think about the look of a scene, as well as use it early in pre-production as an asset for the pitch, which is the process of selling your idea to a production company.

Concept art is the overall look and feel. Storyboards provide a shot-by-shot breakdown. The great thing about storyboards is that you don’t have to be a master artist to create them. In fact, all you really need is enough visual information that makes sense to you as a director. There is a great interview from AFI with Steven Spielberg where he talks about the importance of storyboarding. He also discusses how he begins the process by using stick figures and cues and then gives this rough draft to his sketch artist, George Jensen, who fleshes out the final storyboards.

When developing concept art and storyboards, you aren’t just developing them for the director and production crew. You’re also developing them for the VFX team that will work to make things happen in post. In order to make sure you film everything correctly during production, sometimes you have to take those concepts or storyboards and run tests to see if it will all work.

The article in RocketStock is filled with examples and film excerpts. It is worth reading.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #458: Video Compression Settings for YouTube

Compensate during compression for social media recompressing your files by adjusting bit rates.

Social media compression defaults in Apple Compressor.

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YouTube, and other social media services, always recompress your data. This is necessary to support all the different playback devices, software and codecs in the real world.

If you send YouTube a perfectly compressed file, it will still recompress it – because it has to convert it to all these different codecs. In doing so, because there is not enough data, it will damage the quality of your audio. To prevent this, we need to create a “mezzanine,” or middle, compression file so that when YouTube recompresses the file it has some bits it can throw away. H.264 is an excellent choice for this intermedia codec, provided you use a high-bit rate. Higher bit rates won’t hurt, they’ll just create larger files which will take longer to transfer.

NOTE: Both Apple Compressor and Adobe Media Encoder have default compression settings for social media. In most cases, their defaults should be fine.

Here are the settings:

Compressed Frame Size Bit Rate
720p At least 10,000 kbps / 10 mbps
1080p At least 15,000 kbps / 15 mbps
4K At least 20,000 kbps / 20 mbps

NOTE: These settings work for all frame rates up to 60 fps.

EXTRA CREDIT

Tip #455 explains audio compression settings for YouTube