Pure Frickin’ Genius–Jon Belew’s Light and Shadows Plugin

 

Lights and Shadows–A Must-have Plugin for FCPX by Jon Belew

Last week I watched Jon Belew demonstrate his new plugin, Lights and Shadows. It was a brilliantly done demonstration. He’s a very good teacher. (He also offers Skype training services incidentally). Anyway, I’ll link his video below because it’s much more informative than my trial attempt here, but when you watch it I think you’ll agree with me that this is one of the best and most useful plugins ever developed for FCPX. I don’t think there’s even one like it for any other NLE.

It gives you the opportunity to add any one of 6 main lights, a whole bunch of atmospheric lights, and, if you download his Cucoloris plugin (which is currently free), you can add in a number of window effects and even bring in your own custom ones. And, of course, there are a number of parameters on each that are controllable, giving you an infinite number of possibilities.

Why would you need this?

Well, as a run and gunner, I do have and use my lighting kit. But too often the circumstances of available location, backgrounds, colors, etc., are far from ideal. So one does the best as one can in the short time allotted.

I just got it today and played around with it for about 20 minutes.

I took a frame from a recent corporate video where I had that awful combination of bad problems. 1) It was night, so no window light. 2) I was forced to use 3 different light sources (my own 2 LED panels, one of my Floros–because I needed some fill–which the controlled ambient light from windows usually takes care of), and 3) I had to use portions of the overhead florescent lighting, 4) The walls were green (corporate colors) , 5) The interviewee was wearing the same green.

Embarrassed as I am to show it, here’s the original shot out of the camera.

You can see I have a key light up and to his right and a kicker/backlight to his left (because there was no room to properly position a backlight).

I added just enough fill and exposed it so that he was separated from the background which was more or less lit by the overheads.

I then graded it with FCPX Color and Color Finale Pro and got this:

Then I used CoreMelts SliceX Vignette Shape Mask, which looks like this in the viewer (after manipulation):

This was the final look:

Not a bad recovery. I must say, the CoreMelt Slice X Vignette mask is the best on the market and the only vignette that gives you various parameter controls so you can shape it any way you want.

So, for my little test, I took off the vignette and played around with Lights and Shadows. If it was for real, I probably would have spent a lot more time on it to get it just right, but I must say, it was a lot of fun seeing what could be done even on a rudimentary basis. With more practice, I should be able to master it.

 

Here’s another before and after:

Here’s Jon’s video.

Do watch it. You’ll be impressed, I’m certain.

Here’s his web site. (the plugins are under the ‘FCPX Effects’ tab):

https://jonbelew.com/

Color Grading Tools for Hogwartians

Color grading is relatively new to me, so I’m not an expert, but so far it has enabled me to not only make shots look better, but has allowed me to dramatically improve the look of interview shots.

Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central originally introduced me to the whole subject when he released Color Finale for FCPX. It’s an invaluable tool and I highly recommend getting it.

FCPX has some powerful grading tools itself in its Color pane. It’s more powerful than many people realise, but I’m not going to attempt a tutorial that others would be much better at.

Instead I want to show you a couple recent examples, starting with a little contest Denver Riddle posted on the FB Color Grading Central page.

I’m also going to tell you about the amazing vignette tool from Slice X and show you how and why I used it in grading a few shots. It is definitely way better than the built-in FCPX tool because you can infinitely manipulate it.

I’ll put the links to all these things at the bottom of the post.

First, here’s what Denver posted and asked people to grade:

boy+meets+girl_1.1.1

And here’s what I did with it:

Boy Meets Girl

Hundreds of people posted their grades in response to Denver’s challenge. Mine seems to be one of the few he commented on directly saying it was a nice color balance. I was kind of chuffed, though he said there was too much separation from subject to background. On that I had to disagree. It is one of the primary things I try to achieve with lighting first, and grading afterwards because it creates more depth and 3 dimensionality. But in fairness, I didn’t spend that much time on it and there were still some things I wanted to do to improve it. He might have had a point. Too much separation? Anyway…

I did this grade using both the FCPX color pane and Color Finale. The FCPX color pane, amongst other things, gives you the ability to isolate shapes which you can then adjust independent of the surroundings. In this case I isolated their faces and graded them separate from the background. Most of the color work on the background was done using Color Finale which allows you to independently control the hue, saturation and brightness of the  main color components (along with many other things).

Finally I used Slice X vignette to direct attention to the subjects.

All of these things are key-framable. Since this is a still shot, key-framing was not necessary of course.

SLICE X Vignette Shape Mask

Here’s a screen grab of Slice X Vignette in use:

Slice X

Unlike most vignette tools, including the one in FCPX, this one is infinitely controllable in terms of shape and axis. Like all the others, you can also control the density, size and softness of the vignette. But this is the only one where you can also shape it and change its axis. Here are the properties that you can vary from within the inspector in addition to the on-screen controls you see above:

Slice X Inspector

Ok, now for real life.

For those of you who read Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, you’ll know I covered the subjects of lighting both generally and specifically in regard to interviews. Lighting is the lifeblood of cinematography and is much more effective in creating that ‘cinematic look’ than shallow depth of field alone.

Here’s an interview shot I did recently as it came out of the camera:

Peter ungraded

It was not without some problems.

While I did manage through lighting to effectively separate him from the background in a white room (turned off all overheads, closed the window blinds, skimmed the back wall with a light to give the impression of of an off-scene window while controlling the spill from hitting the opposite wall as much as I could and gave him facial modelling and a backlight–both of which I had to severely control with black foil to avoid spill). The trouble with white rooms is that light bounces all over the place. So this was pretty good and I could have left it as it was, but there was another problem I hadn’t realised at the time. It was shot with relatively high gain (unnecessarily) and so is a bit grainy. You’ll see what I mean if you click on the picture to see it full-sized.

Here’s what I did with it:

Peter grade

 

Grading was done with FCPX and Color Finale. Then I added the Slice X vignetting tool subtly. I also used Neat Video to de-noise it. The result, I think, is that the shot has more depth and dimension.

And one final sample and a small test:

 

Duchess ungraded

Duchess grade

The first one was out of the camera, the second one graded. But what may be of more interest is the lighting. See that big window in the back? Well, there were three more to the left which effectively lit up the whole room. I closed the heavy curtains on the side windows. Then I placed a softbox in the floor in the background (left) to create a fake light from the (now dark) window being sure to keep it off the walls. Now I was able to light her with a relatively low intensity softlight and have her more dramatically separated from the background. I gave her a backlight and a little frontal fill which also gave her eye lights.

As I told Denver, this is what I try to achieve with almost any shot–separation of subject from background which can be achieved with focus or lighting or both. (In this case lighting was going to carry the job as the focal length was wide and the depth of field too great)

.

I could have done it more telephoto (which can also be more flattering), but chose this because she is a Duchess in a castle and I felt the grandeur of the room was important to include.

Now for the test:

Did you notice the microphone in the shot ?

(I didn’t think so–which is why I left in in there rather than crop the shot)

Because of the depth and because of the directing of attention to her face, what is it that you look at when you  see this shot.? Her face, right?

Our little secret.

 

Links

Color Grading Central Facebook page

Color Grading Central Website  (where you can get Color Finale)

Slice X Vignette Shape Mask

Neat Video De-noiser

Run ‘n Gun Videography eBook

 

 

Confessions of a Run and Gunner

The Ritz

 

Warning: This is an 11 minute video. The  subject is St. James’s Square, London, one of the most historical and prestigious districts of London.  All of the following will be of no value at all if you don’t plan on watching it. This is for those of you who plan to.

This video is not typical of what I do, but I treated it like any other that I do. And all that is covered in the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

It wasn’t typical, because it is long (11 minutes).

In the book I talk about how to do and edit interviews. Up until now, I’d say for an hour of interviews, I cut out on average about 50% or more. That means all of my questions and all of the answers that I know I won’t use. What’s left is what I use to construct the narrative.

In this case, I had just over an hour of interview, and with my questions cut out, over 95% of is was totally usable. That’s never happened before.

This was a case of a very educated, experienced and articulate Brit. There are many like him. I just never got to interview one. And I’ve done over 1000 interviews.

I already knew I was going to produce multiple properties from his interview, but when it came to the first one–an overview of the St. James’s Conservation Trust, when I got it reduced down to about 11 minutes, I felt I couldn’t cut it down any more without losing.

Sure, he didn’t say it all in the order your hear it, but in crafting an overview and knowing that it’s first showing would be to a prestigious event in St. James Park attended by a lot of very important people, I felt I just had to work with that 11 minutes and make it as visually interesting as possible.

That was what was different about it.

As to the rest, it was all hand-held, except for the interview of course.

Why is that worth bringing up?

Well try going around St. James Square and in the vicinity of a working palace and other important clubs and high-end shops in the heart of historic London with a big camera and a tripod and see how far you get.  The client was even concerned that I get all the right ‘permissions’. I told him, “don’t worry about it”.

All that B roll was shot with my teeny weenie Sony HXR NX30 hand-held.

The interview was shot with my Sony PXW X70. And guess what? I somehow screwed that up, inadvertently shooting with high gain.

Though we were in the offices of the Ritz Hotel, we weren’t able to get a suite in the Hotel for the shoot. I was your typical white room. So to get that interview look I had to 1) apply Neat Video de-noiser to it, 2) use Color Finale to get the best separation from subject to background (after doing my best with foil to keep spill lights off the back wall) and , 3) Used the vignette tool from Digital Rebellion (it’s awesome–much better than the FCPX tool, because you can manipulate it on all axises, control its shape, ctc.)

TIP: When using Neat video, get your look, then disable it. It’s very processor intensive and whenever you change an edit it will want to re-render again. So get your look, disable it, and when you’re all done, re-enable it and let it render everything one time.

The other regular practices were shooting tons of B roll and how I found a stock music piece that worked (two in this case) and made them seem like they were written for the video. Seriously, if you manage to watch it once through, try again and just listen to how the music plays to and enhances the narrative. It was pretty magical–considering it’s stock.

B roll:  As much as I preach about shooting TONS of B roll to cover your edits, even I, in this case, did not shoot enough. In fact I made 3 trips to London in all. And still didn’t shoot enough. There was just SO MUCH covered in more than an hour of interview, I was lucky to scrape by in order to produce this one (and the next one I’m working on now). More properties will probably develop from this, and when that happens I’ll edit the narrative first and then get back on a train to London with a list…

Shooting handheld:  Shooting hand-held is one thing. You should also know that for almost all of these hand-held shots I applied 50% slow mo. And in most cases ALSO added stabilisation. Some from FCPX and some using CoreMelt’s ‘Lock and Load”.  Also (did you know?) that once you apply any kind of speed change in FCPX, you can then select a video standard of either ‘frame blending’ or ‘optical flow’. I used optical flow which smooths it out just a little bit more. Also, in some case (shooting those wall plaques), I shot them both as stills (on the NX30) and as slow zooms. In the edit I wound up animating the stills rather than using the zooms. And finally, (as dictated by the edit and conformity with surrounding shots, i.e. continuity), I also often applied manual key-framed zooms to my shots.

Marketing yourself: Also covered in the book. Relevant here is this: Sometimes you do something for cheap with malice aforethought. I had done another video for an organisation that had often asked but never hired me. Finally I did a birthday video for the daughter’s 18th. That was so well received I was asked to do one for the organisation–for cheap. I did it because I knew their upscale clientele would see it and it would likely get me more business. It got me two commissions worth £6000, including this one.

Now you know all my secrets.

Ok, so this is run’n gun. As covered in the book, it ain’t perfect. It won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the various film geeks out there. But it does the job and the stuff that the geeks will gleefully point out won’t be the things that the intended audience will ever see or concern themselves with.

The test is, does it get the message across with clarity and impact.

 

Free Book Offer: Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Run 'n Gun Videography

I’ve decided to enrol in KDP Select which gives me some promotional options including making the book available for FREE for 5 days.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m doing it for two reasons.

  1. I’m locked into KDP select for 90 days during which period the book can only be available on Kindle. So that gives me a sort of deadline for making the book available in soft cover and putting it on other platforms. I can’t promise it, but it’s a good target for me because I’m going to be pretty busy before then anyway. Plan is to update it and make it available in hardcover next fall.
  2. Though the book has sold a few hundreds copies, it’s only gotten about a little over 30 reviews between the UK and US markets. They’re all good reviews, but I’d like to see a lot more reviews.

The Free Download Offer is NOW LIVE on Amazon and runs through Sunday.

I hope that most of my subscribers here who don’t have it yet will take the opportunity to download it.

In exchange I have a humble request: Please review it on the Amazon page once you’ve read it.

US Amazon Link

UK Amazon Link

Available world wide.

Using Photographs in Video

(From the Run and Gun Videography blog, for those of you who don’t follow that one). Thought I’d repost it here as I haven’t posted anything in a while (super busy!)

Belvoir Castle's Capability Brown Landscape thumbnail

Nothing revolutionary here, but I haven’t posted in a long while.

This could be titled ‘Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’.

It’s Spring here in England, but with cold weather lingering, Spring has been struggling to arrive.

The gardens at Belvoir Castle are open now and the Duchess of Rutland wanted to promote them in a timely fashion–that is, promote them to potential visitors.  There’s another good reason to promote these particular gardens. This is the 300th anniversary of the birth of England’s most famous landscape architect–Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed the landscapes of over 170 of England’s mosts famous estates) and Belvoir Castle was his last project. It was never realised while he was alive and never completed.

A few years ago his plans were found in the Castle archives and the Duchess of Rutland set out to complete them. It was the subject of a 3 hour television show here in England last Autumn, and now that it’s Spring and the gardens are open, it’s the perfect time to promote them as such.

But Spring has been stubborn in it’s arrival, so there would be no live footage of the beautiful gardens and landscape.

What to do?

I suggested to the Duchess that we use the photographs from her book on this very subject and update the video later with live footage that I can take over the next few months.

Now that it’s done I don’t think I’m going to do it, because I like this video the way it is. So I’ll probably just do another video using some of this interview material and other bits I didn’t use.

Very often I make a video that exceeds my own expectations, given the production circumstances. This was one of them.

There’s not really much to say about how to use photographs in a video. Many go for the ‘Ken Burns’ effect. I just manually animated them very simply. The real trick is choosing the right photo that helps forward the narrative.

There are two other things that make it a good video in my opinion. All these techniques and approaches are covered in detail in the Run ‘n Gun Videography E Book (centering around message, of course), but in this case–since it was really only an interview and still photos, the strengths were lighting to make her look good in an appropriate environment (her home at Belvior Castle) and music.

The lighting is what it is. 3 lights used judiciously in a large space. But in this case it was the music that really did it’s job. In the book I covered the subject of using ‘stock music’. The trick is to make it appear to have been specifically scored for this specific video. Music has the role of forwarding the messages as much as any other technical subject does. Too many people just tack on music for no reason and to no advantage. I won’t go over my procedure in detail here (that’s covered in detail in the book), but I would like you to note how the subtle shifts of music sync up to the narrative and pictures being shown. That’s the real magic as far as I’m concerned. Because that composer had no idea that his music would be used for this video. Yet I think anyone would be hard pressed to think that it was not. How this is done, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read the book.

Sorry for the shameless promotion, but this blog is meant to be a supplement to the book anyway.

For anyone interested in the Capability Brown story, several months ago I did another video. This time it featured your truly, the Video Whisperer.

It’s a fund-raising video and I really thought it should be done by an English person–but that got too complicated, so in my brash American approach to getting things done, I said, “well fine, I’ll do it myself”…

By the way, the sculptor Laury Dizengremel, is my wife. The statue has, since this video, has been cast in bronze on our dime. So if you’d like to contribute ANY amount–whether you’re an Engishman or just a follower of the Video Whisperer, any donations will be appreciated. Just go to to the link at the end of the video to donate a tuppence or two.

Pure Frickin’ Brilliant–Flexlite, the Flexible LED Panel for Filmmakers

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I like stuff that’s simple, smart and compact.

Being a great fan of LED lighting for the home, I felt it was time to check up on the advances of LED technology for the film industry.

I was never happy with the bulk, fragility and horsepower-lack of my flouro softbox lamps, so I went to the Broadcast Video Expo in London earlier this year to see what the LED crowd was up to. They were up to a whole lot of things it turns out.

But of the vast array of impressive LED lights, one particularly caught my attention–the Flexlite, manufactured in Korea by Neonix Co., Ltd.  I spoke with the London distributor Prolight Direct Ltd.

Flexlite

 

 

It’s designers didn’t follow the traditional path of encasing it in an aluminium housing. Rather it is on a flexible backing.

It has a clever, compact mounting bracket that slips into elastic bands on it’s backside. Or, using its velcro tabs, can be mounted just about anywhere.

You can curl it up into a cylinder, bind it with rubber bands and drop it into a Chinese lantern for 360˚ illumination.

You can stick it on the end of a monopod or selfie stick and, with a battery, use it as handy fill for vox pop interviews.

And, of course you can stick it in a softbox.

Is it durable?

I asked this of the distributor at the Broadcast Video Expo. To answer that, he took the lit panel and threw it down on the floor. “I’ve been doing this all day”, he added.

It’s currently available in 5600K adn 3000K versions only. Bi-color versions may come in the future.

Cost is £413 available at Prolight Direct Ltd.

Full technical specs and related accessories, including battery and cable can be found here.

U.S. Distributor (Wescott) here.

The battery offered by Prolight Direct is a single unit with built in charger, but any Vlock battery will attach to their belt-clip V lock battery holder. If you already have V lock batteries, all you need is the adapter cable provided by Prolight Direct or any future distributor.

It comes with a power adapter and dimmer, adjustable from 10-100% maintaining a constant color temperature throughout the range. It also comes with a compact support frame, adjustable light stand mounting hardware, and an extension cord for the dimming unit that can be employed as the case demands.

Flex lite kit

 

Following a video review I did  demonstrating the light, showing samples of its use and demonstrating its brightness and constant color temperature at different brightness settings using its dimmer.

Note: I’ve uploaded over 180 videos to YouTube with no trouble and for unexplained reasons, this one was a nightmare. 3 aborted uploads. Finally made it as a 720p upload, but the color was quite red. Thought it was a fluke, but uploaded again with same results. Finally in desperation I altered the red in the edit by several points and did several test uploads until I got what you’re about to see. It’s still not as nice as the original edit which had absolutely no color correction, but I was getting fed up. Anyone else have trouble recently with Youtube uploads being altered in color by YouTube? 

Flexlite–New Review Coming Soon

Flexlite–The Flexible, Dimmable, Versatile LED Light Panel

Just one more thing to get out of the way over the weekend and I’ll start putting together a review of the Flexlite LED panel.

Flexlite

Flexlite–the flexible LED panel

 

Like everything I review, I own it. And I only review it if I really like it. And I only buy it if I really like it anyway.

LED lighting is coming of age in the film and video industry. There are a LOT of good LED lights out there. This one was the only one of it’s type–the rest mainly being encased in aluminium housings of one sort or another.

But for sheer functionality without the weight and bulk, this may be the perfect solution for the run and gunner.

IMG_9649

Innovative holder for use on light stands or even ‘selfie sticks/monopods’ for hand holding

 

You can snap in its holder for regular light stand mounting or even put it at the end of a selfie stick or monopod for hand-holding (say for fluid man-on-the-street interviews).

Or, using the velcro already sewn into its corners, you can velcro it to a surface or even to the inside of one of your existing soft-boxes (which I did). It’s brighter than the brightest spiral flouro lamp.

Dimmed to its lowest setting

Dimmed to it’s lowest setting

 

IMG_9647

Full brightness

 

What I intend to do is some testing to quantify its brightness and colour temperature.

I’ll also show it in use during an actual corporate shoot (nice to be able to sit in the chair with the viewfinder flipped so I can see it and simply dial in the correct exposure).

It’s also apparently quite durable. The fellow at the BVE show in London earlier this year threw it down on the ground while it was lit to answer that question when I asked it–and said he had been doing that all day long.

You can curl them up into a cylinder, wrap with rubber bands and drop into Chinese lanterns for 360˚ illumination.

Pretty clever.

Anyway, hope to get the review up within the week.

 

 

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