Saturday, December 18, 2010

Product Demonstration Shoot for Vindee Industries

I just had the pleasure of working with Daniel Gallagher, of Vindee Industries, to help him demonstrate his new product.  It's pretty cool, but I can't share much about it right now, not until he unveils it for sale.  But if you get the chance, check out Vindee Industries and Rieco Titan, the manufacturer.

I was referred to Vindee through Rieco Titan, who produced the Mighty Lift.  I did a video for the Mighty Life years, and years, and years ago.  This video was shot with a Sony PD-150.

The video for Vindee Industries is a big step forward for me as a filmmaker, and should be completed in late January for the show it will be debuting at.  We shot with the Canon 7D, and primarily stayed on the Canon 28-70 f2.8 L series zoom.  Shot entirely at Rieco Titan Industries, it features two portions, the setup and use of the product, and an on-camera segment featuring the product, and owner Daniel Gallagher talking passionately about his creation.

For more info on anything Rieco Titan is doing, check out
And for specific info on Vindee, and when you can learn more about their product, check out

Sunday, November 28, 2010

HTML5 and Green

A few minor website update announcements.

I have been toying with the idea of changing my website to be entirely run using Vimeo video, instead of the old Quicktime format I was using for all my videos.  I first updated just my reel, which worked nicely, but didn't give me much control on my site.  Since I don't pay for a Vimeo Plus account (at $60/yr), the only way you could view my video's in HD was on Vimeo itself.

I chose Vimeo over YouTube because, well... Vimeo is more highly respectable.  YouTube has this stigma of displaying vloggers who are sharing their unnatural and disturbingly obsessive views on why they think Jacob deserves Bella.  The problem with Vimeo is that it is missing a critical function that YouTube offers... UNLISTED videos.  On Vimeo, the best you can do is password protect.  What I use unlisted videos for is linking my web page to the video, but making sure it'snot searchable outside of my actual webpage.

I decided to go fully HTML5 compatible this weekend, to hopefully ensure that all platforms, and all mobile device users can access my content with no problem, in an easy, low-stress and low-bandwith player.

The VIDEO tag in HTML5 allows your player to natively play whatever embedded video I have linked.  In Chrome this works the best, Opera, Safari and Firefox are also very good at doing this, however Internet Explorer users will have to use my fallback link, which is simply the same video using a Vimeo embed.

You can get Chrome here:
I highly recommend it.

Next order of brief business, my web host Brinkster has just announced that they have gone 100% wind powered.  I'm not sure the effects of this, I've only seen bits and pieces of the Al Gore documentary, but I assume it's good, and if my web host is proud to display the windmill logo, then so am I.  So, there it is, for all who are curious, on my main page.

Thanks for reading and more updates on movies coming soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Canon 7D Tests

Since I became an owner of a Canon 7D, I've been lucky enough to be shooting plenty of projects, but I've had no time to put the camera through some proper tests.  This winter, while I attempt to hibernate away from cold night exteriors, I plan to run the camera through the ringer to find out how to create an image that I really like, and to help others learn how to create their own unique image with this camera.

My first note would have to be, while the tests I plan to perform will attempt to help answer questions such as "how grainy does ISO 3200 really get and what can I do about it?" and "what do those user defined settings really do to my image?" what looks I ultimately come up with are subject to taste.  As a director, as a cinematographer, or as any kind of visual artist, your work is first and foremost subject to what you, the artist, think looks good.  So if you find yourself using some of what I hope to teach with these next few blog entries to create looks that are entirely different from the ones I'll be attempting to create, that's a good thing, because you'll be creating a look that is unique to you, and how you choose to tell stories.

So, that being said, let's get started.

The other night I did three tests.  I admit I was only trying to do one test, but I got a little carried away, and I sort of rushed into three tests.  Call these preemptive, they are not proper tests of the camera, but a good start towards some much better and more comprehensive tests.

TEST #1: How does CSI make a flashlight look so cool?
Don't kill me, but I watch CSI.  Just that original one, I'm not a fan of Miami or NY.  As stupid as it sounds, I really like the cinematography.  As unrealistic as that science lab of theirs is, it sure is fun to look at.  But I've always wondered how they get those really cool looking "lens flare things" every time Grissom shines his flashlight at the camera.

You can pick these up from Target.
  and these
  and so many more, so be creative in your own tests.

This embedded Youtube (play it in HD for best results) video is a test of all the different stockings, screen material and cellophane that I used.  In addition to putting the material in front of the lens like you would a normal filter, the first half of the tests include images where I put cellophane behind the lens as well.  In future tests, I'll be trying different Behind-The-Lens effects and separating them all out.

Now, the one thing that I didn't think about while shooting the tests should be immediately obvious when you view this photo:

No MATTE BOX!  So you'll see in all of the tests one big issue that I ran into is that you can see the threading of the stockings and the screen when I pan the camera, and the different lights in the room (the set) shine at it at different angles.  This is a pretty interesting effect, but not great for a professional-looking feature film or commercial.  In my next test, I'll either find a real Matte Box to use, or rig up something to keep the ambient lights from hitting the lens.

No.         Filter Describe                                                             ISO                         CamSet

1          Cellophane behind lens                                     500                  UD1
1a        Cellophane behind lens                                     500                  Standard

2          Cellophane behind – cellophane front                500                  UD1

3          Cellophane behind – screen in front                   500                  UD1
                        2 takes, 2nd take is panning around
4          Cellophane behind – stocking 1                         500                  UD1

5          Cellophane behind – stocking 2                         500                  UD1

6          Cellophane behind – stocking 3                         1250                UD1

I decided to drop the ISO to 320 because removing
the rear cellophane increased the total light

7          Cellophane front                                               500                  UD1

8          Screen in front                                                  320                  UD1

9          Stocking 1 front                                                320                  UD1

10        Stocking 2 front                                                500                  UD1

11        Stocking 3 front                                                320                  UD1

TEST #2: You don't need lights, I heard the 7D is great in low light
You heard right.  And wrong.  Yes, you don't need lights to shoot your movie on the 7D, but the resulting image will have to be shot at an extremely high ISO.  The higher the ISO, the more digital noise and grain you introduce into the image.  Through several color correction methods that I'll cover in a future blog entry dedicated to ISO's you can all but remove that from your image at the expense of your shadow region.  Below is a video where I tested the ISO from 100 to 640.

A future test of a similar nature will feature meter readings of the different areas and a more precise way of telling what is happening to each area of the image.

ISO                              Shutter
100                              1/30
125                              1/30
160                              1/40
200                              1/50
250                              1/60
320                              1/80
400                              1/100
500                              1/125
640                              1/160

TEST #3: Picture styles
So there's this picture style software  ------------>

Yep, that's it.  It's awful, it's... for many reasons it's pretty awful to use.

But it does allow you to create custom picture styles and save them to the three User Defined Settings in your camera.

This is useful because, as an editor and colorist, the more information you have to work with in the image, the more range and options you have to work with when editing.

In the video below, I began by performing a very simple test.  I ignored the Canon Picture Style software (for now, but I'll delve into it later), and just adjusted the settings in the camera itself.

User-Defined Setups
                                    Standard     UD1       UD2       UD3
Sharpness          3          3         0         7
Contast            0         -4        -4        -4
Saturation         0         -1        -2        -1
Tone               0          0         0         0

So that's about it for this blog entry.  I'm really trying to more diligently blog, and these camera tests are a good way to go about doing that.  So keep an eye out for more blogs in the (hopefully) near future.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Spec Commercial - "Made In America"

So yesterday I got to shoot a pretty cool spec commercial for my friend Luiz Magana.  He wanted to do something for New Balance shoes, so he got a local break dancer together with three foot work dancers and found a gritty urban landscape in which to shoot them.  The parking lot owner was very nice and let us shoot free of charge at the end of his parking lot, as long as we were gone by the time the Bears game traffic started to roll in.

We had scheduled to shoot yesterday, but the forecast called for thundershowers all day.  We decided since it's Chicago and the weather is unpredictable, to put everyone on hold and call them in later rather than never.  Luiz really wanted a sunny look, so we waited not only for the rain to stop, but the clouds to clear.  We wanted to start at 9:00am, but by 10:00 it looked like we weren't going to get to shoot at all.  Fortunatley we got a clandestine weather moment, and the clouds cleared and the rain stopped.

We shot with the Canon 7D, three L series zoom lenses covering a range of 17mm to 200mm, and we used a 24" slider plate from indiSYSTEM.  The slider plate was a cheap model, but it worked great to get a little bit of movement in shots with a foreground.  See picture below:
With the Canon 7D we shot a series of shots for each performer, but this one shot in particular was impressive because he did a full flip at 60fps while we captured the train passing by overhead.

We were working with limited light equipment, a flex fill was all we had, but the bright sunny day and the color levels we carefully set the camera to gave us enough latitude to modify the images in post and still get a nice looking product shot.

The idea is to add motion graphics in After Effects to all of the shots that look like this one below:
The wall behind the performer will feature simple 2D animation of sketches drawn on the wall.  We are also looking into erasing the linoleum mat he is performing on, but that seems like it will be far more complex of an effect.

For now the commercial is just being edited, but I'll keep updated on it's progress as it comes along.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Website launch

Hello all! This is my first blog post to correspond with the sort of unofficial launch of my new updated website. The purpose of this blog is to allow me to easily post photos from sets, new clips and footage, and organize it by date. It'll also allow me to write blogs on all things filmmaking, or film related, that interest me. There might be movie reviews, there might be new techniques I am trying, or just general anecdotes or stories from sets.

I'll try to keep this updated as often as I can, but like everyone, I can't promise I won't be too busy, or too tired, after a long day to log on a type up several paragraphs. I appreciate your support of my work, and my blog.

Brian Levin