Faking HDR Timelapses

I spent a weekend in upstate New York last fall, shooting almost exclusively time lapses.

Upon editing the footage, I found myself struggling with contrast corrections.  Many of the shots had to have shadows brightened, which blew out the sky.  I could have shot HDR, but that opens a whole new realm of workflow problems, not to mention triples my images.

As usual, After Effects provides the solution.

I precomposed the layer, then duplicated the precomp.  Each precomp got its own individual color grading, one focusing on shadows, the other on highlights.  Then, in the main composition, I simply masked out the appropriate places, such as the sky.  The result is a fairly convincing portrayal of HDR in an easy to digest workflow.

While this process isn’t a replacement for true HDR, it is a useful workaround for those times when you can’t handle the image load or the workflow.  It’s fast, easy, and work great.



S*it Bikers Say

A video I shot with Bill Dwyer of atlasrider.com.  Don’t ask me what any of it means, yah tankslappers.

Roman – One Love Baby (Prod. by J Farell)

This is a music video I shot with Samuel Hall for Roman last month.  I’ll be writing up a blog post on it soon, going into some of the technical details of the shoot.  Until then, enjoy.  

Self Portrait with Corpse

I was introduced to horror at an early age.  My mother was a voracious reader, who fancied Stephen King, Peter Straub and Edgar Allen Poe.  I first encountered horror in The Green Ribbon, a story that is more of an urban legend at this point.  Look it up if you don’t know it, it’s well worth a read.  

I remember that was the first story that made me afraid to venture into the woods alone.  Not because I thought the woman with the green ribbon was looking for me, but because I had such a sense of unease just thinking about what that ribbon meant.  It stuck with me.  It haunted me.  

It did exactly what horror should.  

Recently, I discovered Joshua Hoffine, a remarkable talented photographer who makes his art with images of fear.  If you have a phobia, he’s probably shot it.  He opened a new world to me, something between generic model shots and full blown filmmaking.  He creates finely tailored images that convey a mood, a story and a place and he does it so well that it’s chilling.  

I wanted to do something similar.  Self Portrait with Corpse was shot in my downstairs bathroom.  The room was brightened with two small scoop lights, one shooting from high left of the frame and one shooting upwards on the shower door.  The ever – patient Elizabeth played the part of the dead body.  The hammer from Old Apartment makes a reappearance here too.

I processed until I recognized a Chris Nolan influence and called it a day.  I did have to dodge some of the shower door to make the handprints and streaks show up a a little better.  It’s a bit of a cooler image than I usually produce, but that seems to fit the mood.  

It’s safe to say this won’t be my last venture into the world of horror photography.  It’s a world that I find strangely comforting.  

See the larger version at flickr.  

Just remember, there are things lurking in the shadows, they are whispering your name, and it’s not going to be okay.  

Dinner and a Movie #1

Wild Hunt and Pizza
* This is the first of a series of blog postings I’ll be doing.  They are recipes for dinner I make and reactions to movies I watch.  Enjoy and please leave feedback and suggestions! *


For the dough:
1 cup of high gluten flour
1/2 tsp rapid rise yeast
2 tsp sugar
Generous 1/3 cup water, heated to 125 – 135 degrees
Olive Oil
Cornmeal (for kneading)
Canned pizza sauce (or make it using crushed tomatoes, 1 garlic clove, basil, thyme, crushed red pepper and parmesan)
Thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
Mozzarella ball, sliced into thin ovals
Asiago, grated
Baby Arugula
Additional requirements:
Pizza stone or baking sheet (stone is preferable!)
Preheat oven and pizza stone to 425.  Sift 1/2 cup flour, yeast, salt and sugar.  Whisk water and olive oil together and add to flour mixture.  Add remaining flour.
Turn out onto cornmeal covered surface and knead dough until firm.  Roll to a circle or rectangle 8 – 10 inches in diameter.  Bake until light brown (I call it tan), approximately 10 minutes.  Use a clean cloth and press the air out of any large bubbles that form.
Brush with olive oil and top with sauce.  Lay mozzarella ovals, then prosciutto slices.  Top with grated asiago.  Return to oven and bake until cheese melts, approximately 5 minutes.  
Sprinkle arugula on top and serve immediately.  
Wild Hunt:
I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently.  Which isn’t that bizarre, to tell the truth.  I’m very sensitive to loud noises and I live in the city; a place full of screaming football fans and dump trucks.  On some nights, it gets to the point where I can’t UNHEAR the noises, like they’re echoing around in my mind.  These nights I put on a box fan in the background and try to get lost in that white noise.  Most of the time it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  
On bad nights, like the one I had last night, I think about other options.  Buying earplugs or sleeping pills.  Just in case it gets bad again.  But I never will.  Because I’m afraid of escalation.  I’m afraid of that day when one pill won’t be enough to get me to sleep to I take another.  And another.  
I’m not the type of person who’d give into that impulse.  I’m really not.  But when we are put in situations that make us feel trapped, situations that strip away our control, we do things that surprise us.  
That’s what I find so fascinating about this movie.  It’s an honest, brutal, nasty and quirky look at the steamroller effect of escalation.  And it’s terrifying because it happens so slowly that anyone could have stopped it at any time.  But, by the time you realize you could have, it’s already too late.  And there’s nothing left to do but ride it out, and hope that you wake up the next morning.  

Return to Assateague

The sand stretches out in front of me.  The waves roll their monotonous song against the shore.  Elizabeth is walking along the wet sand, watching for shells and rocks and little crabs.  Occasionally she pockets something extra – special, an adopted souvenir that will live out its days as potpourri on our bathroom sink.  
Mom turns to look at me.  We’re seated higher, on the dry sand above the tide line.  There are still some people around; tourists catching a few last waves before darkness falls.  
“I’ve been looking for this place,” she says.  
“What, Assateague?” I ask.  
“No,” she replies and I understand her meaning immediately.  
There’s nothing like an east coast beach.  Hot sun, hot sand, cold water.  Boardwalks that span miles, hundreds of shops with identical merchandise, menus of crabs and clams and shrimp.  
I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, young enough to believe my life jacket gave me magical power.  It’s not home.  It’s a sanctuary, a place where I can reorganize the jumble of thoughts in my mind.  
I’ve needed this too.

Due to the recent backlash against FCP, I cut this entire video on Premiere.  We’re still not best friends, Premiere and I, but we are slowly gaining each other’s trust.  I’m curious to see what CS5.5 brings into the mix, and if there are substantial speed increases.

My biggest complaint about Premiere is that it’s just a little too slow.  Final Cut and I move (to use a cliche) “at the speed of my thoughts”.  Premiere and I move “at the speed of my thoughts, plus one second of processing time”.  It gets irritating.  

Color grading and funness was added in After Effects.  This was my first time working with audio in AE that actually needed to be synced perfectly.  As a result, syncing became the most time – consuming part of the whole process.  Let me tell you why.
I had tons of syncing issues.  Literally days of syncing issues.  Normally, I resync my masters in FCP, then export a reference movie to compressor to create the online.  However, I wanted to use an entirely Adobe workflow, so that cut out the “resync in FCP” step.  Instead, I was resyncing in AE, using the TIFF master and the AIFF master (exported from Premiere).
Here’s the issue, the one it took me days to resolve.  Crack open a new Premiere project.  Set it to be the 1080p or 720p DLSR preset.  What’s the bitrate of your audio?  
Great.  Now open up Quicktime and import an .mp3 you like.  Maybe a track from my buddy J Farell.  Good choice.  
Export that mp3 as an AIFF.  What’s your default bitrate for export?
44.1kHz?  Son of a…
Simple, elementary bitrate matching step that I should have caught.  But I didn’t.  And it took forever to figure out what the hell I was doing wrong.  I present it here in the hope that I’ll spare you from the same headache.  
There’s a ton of media associated with this trip.  Check it out on it’s respective sites:

And, as always, feel free to ask any questions that you like.  

This Is Not About Final Cut Pro X

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and write a blog post about FCPX.  
I’m not going to do it.
I’m not.
Crap, I am, aren’t I?
Fine.  You win.

You win this round.  But the war still rages!
I first sat down with Final Cut Pro in 2001.  I was in my school’s visual broadcasting program at the time, and they upgraded their tape – to – tape editing suite to a Quicksilver Power Mac G4 and FCP 2.5.  
I hated it.  Coming from an iMovie background, Final Cut was hard to use and incomprehensible.  I followed some of the included tutorials, but they were way out of my league.  For most of the year, I ignored it.  
Next year, in a new program with a new teacher, I dove headfirst into the program.  I learned straight from the manual this time, teaching myself page by page.  By the end of the year, I had purchased a copy for myself.  I loved it.  For the past ten years, Final Cut has been my reason to own a Mac.
There’s been a huge backlash to Final Cut X.  I’m not going to get into the specifics here, because it’s been so well outlined in other posts.  I mean, just reading the comments in the App Store is…well, an adventure.  
Ron Dawson has a very interesting post on the new program.  You should really read it (because it’s well thought out and executed) but in a nutshell, he believes that Apple is targeting photographers with FCPX.  Since all these new fangled DSLR’s do a pretty good job at video, they’re assuming that photogs will be eager to try their hand at some non – linear editing of their own.  
And I think he’s right.  Spot on.  
But his post got me thinking about DSLR’s in general.  I’d like to draw some comparisons if I may, and you can tag along if you want.  
Let’s say FCPX is like my Canon 7D.  For a photographer, it’s a great option.  For a filmmaker, it’s sorely lacking some critical features, like stabilization, follow focus, a viewfinder, XLR inputs etc.  Luckily, other companies make solutions for these products.  In some cases, they do a better job than Canon themselves would.  
Take Zacuto.  Want a viewfinder adapter?  You’re almost certainly going to buy a Z – Finder.  Could Canon or Nikon make a similar product?  Sure.  Would it be as good?  Probably not, because they’re a camera company, not a camera accessories company.  
I think the same holds true with FCPX.  We’re doing it already.  Want powerful color correcting software?  You’re probably using Colorista.  Think of the filmmakers you know who denoise with Neat Video or Magic Bullet DeNoiser or sync tracks with PluralEyes.  We buy add ons to make the software do what we want, the way we want.  
That’s the way I see the new Final Cut.  It’s like the body of a camera.  You can build on it, customize it, and make it your personal editing machine.  Granted, this won’t happen until the developers can get their hands dirty in it, but when they can, we’ll be seeing an impressive editing platform that is designed to edit just like you.  

Pictured: Final Cut Pro X
The reality of the lower price point of FCPX is this: it’s cheaper because it has less features.  And you’ll need to spend more to add on those features.  So now it’s up to you: Do you buy an editing suite that has all the features you use and more that you don’t right out of the box (I’m looking at you Premiere)?  Or do you buy a bare bones – customizable suite and add only what you need and use?  
Decisions, decisions…