Monthly Archives: October 2007

Consistency Is The Key to Better Productions

The amount of time spent on pre-production setup is directly related to the quality of images sent to Master Control or put to tape during a production. The following are some tips on pre-production workflow to make for a smooth day in the field.

No Tolerance For Error

Variance in color consistency between cameras and monitors is something to be avoided at all costs. Some issues must be addressed long before shoot day and others can be addressed in the field. 

Paint Cameras

 Have all cameras benched, calibrated and aligned so they all make the same picture, especially if they are stored outdoors and travel in a support truck. Ideally and in very critical network broadcast production this is done before every job. In smaller production units it may be more practical that this be done once a month and at the very least, once a quarter. 

Adjust Monitors

 Have all monitors used in the Quality Control Rack for critical color work benched, calibrated and aligned so they all match SMPTE standards for color consistency. This should follow the same schedule as mentioned above for cameras. For more information about adjusting monitors check out Ten Easy Steps To Color Display Setup elsewhere in Televising The Revolution. 

Let There Be Light

For night productions outside or inside venues where artificial lighting is being used have the house lighting powered-up and burning without interruption for at least 30 minutes prior to white balancing. As the lamps in these luminaries come up to operating temperature the color temperature shifts. Waiting 30-minutes allows everything to stabilize (including electronic imaging circuits), giving a more consistent output and a better white balance.

 Some clients/venues will shutdown the lighting for dramatic effect just before the opening of the event. Try to discourage such practice with the event managers. HID, HMI, Mercury Vapor, Sodium Vapor and other types of lamps will shift in color temperature and intensity if powered-off then back on again. Some venues have the ability to shutter the lamps to kill the light output. This is acceptable. Powering them off and back on again is not. If this cannot be avoided, expect a color shift for about 10 minutes until the luminaries re-stabilize. The Video Shader should be able to ride the levels if needed to keep lighting consistently within camera temperature parameters. When at outside fields on cloudy days, use the stadium lighting along with natural ambient light. It will add punch to your images and help even-out the overall color balance. 

 What Color Is White?

 When performing white balance, all cameras should ALWAYS use the SAME white target and it should be kept free of soil and scuff marks. It should also be consistent in color across its entire surface.  A white target can be any matte surface like a large white sheet or even better, a large white tarp, which is much easier to keep clean. You could also use a very large white reflector. What ever you use should be kept specifically for white balancing and used consistently from show to show to help achieve a signature look for your productions. The white target you use should be placed in an area where the majority of production lighting will fall upon its surface. It also should be large enough to cover at least 40% of the frame. Before attempting any camera painting or white balancing operations assure that:

  1. Cameras are ALL on the SAME filter setting
  2. Cameras are ALL on the SAME gain setting
  3. Cameras ALL have shutters turned OFF

Avoid the temptation to white balance on articles of clothing. This will give remarkable inconsistencies in your white. If this must be done on the fly, the Video Shader should “paint” the white instead of auto balancing and have a good eye for color to match with the rest of the cameras.  

Shutter The Shutter

 Use the Shutter function judiciously when shooting. Avoid Gaining-Up as much as possible. 

Perform A Balancing Act

Balance indoor lighting against outside natural light with CTO and CTB filters on either the windows or the lighting setup to achieve a better front to back balance. 

Stan’s The Man

 Stanley McCandless was a Yale Professor and a legendary lighting designer who taught the use of a warm/cool lighting system to bring out the best in lighting quality. Use three-point lighting in a “warm/cool array”  

  • 45 Front Left with Light Amber gel
  • 45 Front Right with Light Blue gel
  • 180 back and 45 up hair light with no gel 
  • (Note: a fourth light could also be used here for a background light when a background is present. It could be in several locations from on the floor to a high slash angle. Use colored gels creatively on this light).  

This is a much-preferred method of lighting instead of flat, single source lighting for remote and setup interviews.  

Adding Interest With Lighting

 Ratio your multi-point lighting setups for a more dramatic look with either dimmers or Neutral Density gels. Neutral Density gels are preferred because dimmed incandescence lights can actually shift the color temperature. If you have the space you could also move the lighting closer to or further from your subject. 

Contrast is your friend. A high contrast subject to background ratio will always give better “perceived” sharpness than a low contrast subject to background ratio. 

Consistency and a signature “Look” will distinguish your production in a sea of mundane television. It is not difficult to achieve. All it takes is a bit of attention to the details and care in setting up. -33-

The File Frenzy

A READER ASKS

I create television graphics for broadcast. I typically save my files for use in the JPEG format (.JPG). My question is how stable are digital formats like .JPG. Can we ever expect obsolescence of these seemingly ubiquitous files?

It is always suggested that one maintain a cautious posture when it comes to formats. There are really no guarantees. You can print a photograph from a negative that is over 100 years old but some computer files created a few short years ago cannot be processed on today’s computer systems.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST

Consider what happened to the Sony BetaMax® video format. The general thought was that there would always be a machine on which to playback the tapes produced in this format. How many home movies were made by early video users only to have them sit on a shelf with nothing available to play them? Conversions are possible but the companies that do them are few and far between and the cost is high. VHS® could be destined for the same end now that DVDs are all the rage. There is a possibility that DVDs will be replaced in the next 10 years. HD DVD® and Blu-Ray® are already beginning to edge them out.

Considering software applications: If you had Native files created in an early version of a illustration application that let’s say ran on DOS or the Windows® 3.1 operating system, the Native files from that version may not open in today’s operating systems. Some early JPEG files might be incompatible too.

Many applications and operating systems have become obsolete over the years. Unless you have the original software, opening files created in these obsolete packages today might be a challenge or even impossible. How about 8” and 5” floppy discs? If you have files on those formats you are out of luck also. Time marches on, formats and applications change.

ANTICIPATE

 The best rule of thumb to follow is to watch the formats, anticipate obsolescence and do conversions as required to keep your files up to date. Do not fall victim to changes. To ignore this simple fact one puts their files at risk. -33-

10 Tips For Using Wireless Microphones

Wireless microphone systems seem to be everywhere today. The spectrum is getting crowded and with the application of digital television and a plethora of other wireless gizmos frequency availability is at a premium. Knowing how to set up and use these systems is important to getting the best performance and to stay within regulations.

  1. Always use fresh batteries. Make sure batteries are installed properly matching the positive – negative prongs. Improper installation could result in shorting out the electronics, fire or in some cases the battery could explode. Make sure battery terminals are touching the battery tightly and that the battery is tightly secured in the battery holder to avoid power drop and shortage. When using more than one battery in a pack replace all batteries at the same time. Never use a fresh battery with a used battery. Avoid using rechargeable batteries unless the manufacturer designs them for use with the units.
  2. Place your receivers properly. For best reception keep receiver in a high, open area and within line-of-site of the transmitter if possible. Avoid areas with liquids, cables lines, steel or metal structure, neon lights, satellite receivers, scanners, other audio lines and cell phones that might interfere with your reception. 
  3. Optimize reception. To avoid drop out, expand the antennas as wide and far as they go. Stay within your transceiver’s recommended reception range whenever possible. Although a range test is a good suggestion before use, be aware that the system response changes with the environment and as areas fill with people and objects.
  4. Don’t pop your P’s. To avoid outside noise and vocals pops use a windscreen. For best results, a windscreen is always recommended for a headset microphone
  5. Place microphones properly. For best vocal response, keep the talent’s mouth 4-6 inches away from handheld microphone Headset microphones should be placed directly in front on the mouth within 1-3 inches. A lavaliere microphone should be placed at heart level or at 10-12 inches down from the chin. Suggest that talent wear clothing that dampens noise such as cotton and wool, avoiding noisy material such as leather, metals, satin, silk and polyester blends. 
  6. Handling the microphones. Avoid dropping the microphone, touching the microphone with wet hands, or blowing into the microphone to see if it is on. Place the microphone on your talent to avoid sweat clogging the element. When wearing a lavaliere microphone avoid contact with the chest to cut down on unwanted sounds.
  7. Don’t bang heads. Make sure your transmitter and receiver are using matching frequencies. Be aware that others may be working with wireless in proximity to yours, which may cause frequency disturbance and drop out. To solve this problem utilize a frequency agile system or a wired microphone If you don’t have a back up and others are using the same frequency in the area, keep the transmitter close to your receiver to limit problems and shut off the transmitter when not in use. 
  8. Avoid the sonic boom. When using wireless, as with any other audio products, make sure the unit is turned off and volume is down before inserting wires. Make sure volume is turned down before speaking or playing through the unit. 
  9. Hold the howl. Avoid subjecting the microphone to feedback by walking in front of speakers, placing the microphone on the floor or near power supplies or amps while the microphone is on. 
  10. Adjustments. Squelch adjustment can be used to help boost reception and frequency response.

-33-

Calibrating New Televisions

A Reader Asks:

Do I need my new flat panel television calibrated in my home? I’m told this is something that should be done with new sets, but I have to tell you so far the picture seems pretty good.  In your opinion is this something that should be done with these new sets…?

Excellent question! If you feel a calibration is right for you. That is exactly what you should have done. As for my opinion: If you are satisfied and happy with the image and sonic performance of your new TV I wouldn’t change it.

The “need” sometime comes from some retailers who not only want to sell service contracts and expensive, high tech cabling that has the same performance as good quality, standard cabling costing much less, they also want you to consider having them come out and set up your new purchase in your home to “customize it for your personal viewing and listening space.” There is usually a fee attached to this service call.

SELLING ON THE NEW CAR SMELL

This “gotta have it” sales pitch is much the same when buying a new car as it is when buying a top of the line “Uber-Television.” Most vehicles today offer a nice “standard” package with many creature comforts. The dealer makes some profit on the cars but the aftermarket “dealer installed” items like undercoating and rust proofing are their big money makers.

The car leaves the factory with a warranty. In 5-, 10-, or 15-years when you trade your care in for a new car, aftermarket rust proofing won’t make any difference in value and you likely would have gotten the same performance if you did not choose the dealer installed option. Did you need it? Probably not but the dealer made you think you did and made a hansom profit to boot.

From the tens of thousands of LCD, DLP, CRT and Plasma televisions seen in professional dealings with clients, it has been observed that a consumer level set comes out of the box ready to roll.

RESET THE DEFAULTS

There is one recommendation that I do like to offer–Go into your setups and change from the brightest most vivid setting to another setup that pleases you. Do not change anything else but that setting and live with the set for about a week or two before you decide you need to change it back or have it calibrated. TVs leave the factory defaulted to pumped color and contrast because the factory wants it to look its best if it should be put in the bright lights of a store showroom display. Another reason for moving the set from the brightest setting is it will prolong the life of the unit’s internal lamp.  

WHEN IS A FULL CALIBRATION REASONABLE?

The only calibrations that I normally recommend are in critical production applications where a wall of television monitors in a television control room need to be critically color matched. Other areas are in hospitals and operating rooms, photographic applications and graphics workstations where critical technical color observation is required for a medical/surgical diagnosis, printing application or digital photographic processing. Corporate displays usually need critical color matching too. Corporations are very fussy about proper reproduction of their corporate identity, including color. -33-