Archive for the ‘HD Video’ Category

Reviewing the 2011 Summer Movie Season

August 1, 2011

The summer of 2011 has provided movie audiences with a full roster of feature film entertainment. We’ve enjoyed no less than 10 big-budget, action-packed films that, collectively, have provided entertainment for virtually all ages. Our previous blog posts about TRON Legacy and Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides have helped bring to light some of the technical considerations of modern filmmaking. But now that the blockbuster season is winding down, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve experienced this summer to see what trends currently dominate the Hollywood production process.

We’ve had the opportunity to experience an array of different filmmaking techniques and movie styles over the past few months. Film, digital, 3D, 2D, IMAX, RealD 3D, Dolby Digital 7.1, live action, animation, super heros, westerns, action and sci-fi all graced our local cineplex screens. For the movie fan, it was a cornucopia of visual and auditory information overload. And for the cinemas, it was a profitable summer of popcorn and Coke sales. But is there anything for us film buffs to learn after laying down our hard-earned cash or running up our credit card balances to see all these films? Well, a few things may surprise you.

IMAX display for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Let’s take a look at the production details of the biggest films this summer. Following is a summary of the camera systems, aquisition formats and presentation configurations of 10 big-budget movies released during May, June and July. If the technical details of film production and presentation are of limited interest to you, we’ll summarize after the list.

Thor
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Photo-Sonics 4ER (high-speed film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Camera systems used: Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Red Digital Cinema Red EPIC (5K digital, for pick-up shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via stereo production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D and IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Kung Fu Panda 2
Camera systems used: 3D Computer animation (via InTru3D)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39: aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D

Super 8
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 16 SR3 (16mm film), Beaulieu 4008 ZM4 (Super 8mm film), Bell & Howell Eyemo (film), Canon 1014XLS (Super 8mm film)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

X-Men: First Class
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D

Green Lantern
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cars 2
Camera systems used: 3D computer animation (2K resolution)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm (1.44:1 aspect ratio)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Silicon Imaging SI-2K (2k digital), Sony CineAlta F35 (1080p digital)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (mostly via stereo production with some post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Camera systems used: Arricam Studio (film), Arricam Lite (film), Arriflex 235 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Captain America: The First Avenger
Camera systems used: Panavision Genesis (1080p digital), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Canon EOS 5D Mark II (1080p digital – used for vehicle POV shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cowboys & Aliens
Camera systems used: Panaflex Millennium (film), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

IMAX Digital press brochure

So, after sifting through all of that technical production and presentation information, what can be concluded? Quite a few things, it turns out.

First, note that every single film listed above was presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (also known as Scope, Anamorphic or Widescreen). Traditionally, there are far more films released in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio than the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is simply because 2.39:1 aspect ratio films generally result in higher production costs because of the production processes required. It’s true that action films or big-budget films are often released in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio but, for fans of widescreen presentation, it’s a welcome situation to see so many directors and cinematographers embrace the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Shooting a scene for Harry Potter using Arri 35mm film cameras on dolly tracks

Secondly, notice how many of the movies utilize traditional 35mm film cameras as their aquisition format. If you remove the two computer animated films from the list, only one of the remaining nine films was shot completely digitally. Every other film was completely or mostly captured using 35mm film systems. In this age of digital filmmaking (heck, digital everything, really), it’s really interesting to see how well 35mm film is represented this summer. I’d venture to guess that this summer represents the highest percentage of film-based movies we’ve had in the past 5 years. The film production vs. digital production situation will be interesting to keep track of in the coming years.

Thirdly, with 3D supposedly being all the rage right now, note how few films were produced the dual camera stereo 3D process…only two. And three of the nine live action films weren’t even offered in a 3D presentation format. Of course, the two parts of the Harry Potter finale were shot at the same time and the filmmakers only found out towards the end of principle photography that Warner Brothers decided to release the final film in 3D. Still, it would appear that Hollywood has perhaps cooled off a bit – at least for the time being – about shooting everything in 3D.

DP Matthew Libatique uses Panavision 35mm film cameras to shoot Cowboys & Aliens

While we still have a few more big-budget films scheduled for late summer, the next big movie season is the holiday season. On tap are several action films, a few animated films, some super hero films and even some remakes and re-releases. We’ll keep track of these releases and provide an update on the production and presentation trends throughout the rest of 2011.

In the mean time, we invite you to leave a comment about what you thought of the summer 2011 movie season. We’d love to hear your thoughts on 2D vs. 3D, Real-D 3D vs. IMAX 3D, 2.39:1 aspect ratio vs. 1.85:1 aspect ratio, film production vs. digital production, film projection vs. digital projection, stereo production 3D vs. post conversion 3D or any other thoughts you have on the current state of movie production and presentation.

We appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.

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The use of web video in an overall marketing plan – a real-world case study

July 20, 2011

Kelly Roell is the co-owner of Nautical Landings, a waterfront vacation condominium destination on the Gulf of Mexico in Dunedin, Florida. Already doing well with promoting her business, Kelly and her partners wanted to find ways to increase the total number of vacation rental bookings year-round. Kelly hired Digital Media Services to produce a promotional video to be used on the Nautical Landings website.

Following is a series of questions I asked Kelly about her various marketing efforts and her decision to add a video to her website. Through her answers, Kelly provides valuable insight about how to approach the idea of web video and how to integrate it into an overall marketing plan. Small business owners and those looking for new marketing avenues will find her responses honest, candid and quite sensible.

Slating the first shot of the day

What type of marketing efforts were you using prior to hiring Digital Media Services to produce a web video?

I advertised Nautical Landings through a variety of outlets including several different vacation rental websites, our own web page, Twitter and Facebook.

Why did you feel that adding web video would help your overall marketing plan?

I couldn’t create the feel of being at Nautical Landings nor capture the beauty of the place with just my still camera. I knew how effective videos were in hotel marketing and how effective commercials and movie trailers were in capturing the essence of the product they were selling. I wanted a video to capture what it felt like to vacation at Nautical Landings in order to set us apart from our competition.

What were you looking for in a video production company?

I needed someone willing to work with the vision I had in mind. I already knew what I wanted to do with the video because I’d scoured between 75 and 100 videos on every subject – from weddings, movie trailers and commercials to vacation real estate – to get a feel for how it could be done.

Shooting the introduction to the video

Why did you select Digital Media Services to produce your video?

I looked at Digital Media Services’ body of work and compared it to others. I had upwards of 30 videographers I was selecting from. I chose Digital Media Services because of their previous work, their professionalism, their willingness to work with my vision and their proposed cost. It couldn’t be beat.

What was the process like for having a production company shoot and edit your video?

Simple and painless! The Digital Media Services crew was courteous and willing to shoot and re-shoot for the perfect shot. They were flexible, making changes on the fly, and had an ease about them that made us all comfortable. They helped us get the best possible shots in the time allotted and worked the entire day to get our video right.

Shooting on the dock, being careful not to step back!

What involvement did you have in the production and post-production processes?

Digital Media Services said that they’d put something together for me with the music I’d selected based on the vision that I had. They nailed it! We literally only changed one or two things after they’d spliced the video together because they had listened attentively to what I wanted. 

What was the strategy behind launching your new web video?

I Tweeted about the new video to come for about three weeks prior to the launch. I posted updates on Facebook indicating the video was coming and I sent an email to all of our past guests informing them to be on the lookout for the video. When Digital Media Services posted the video on our YouTube channel, I Tweeted it, posted it on Facebook, updated all of our vacation websites with it and sent out emails.

What expectations did you have in adding video to your website?

I expected more traffic, for sure, and I got it. Not only did I get more traffic, I closed sales more often than I used to. As soon as I showed people the video, it sold them on our property because they could then visualize themselves staying at our place. The business was doing well already but we had a large percentage of traffic that wasn’t turning into rentals. Once people rented with us, they ALWAYS were happy and many came back, but I wanted to shrink the number of guests who were choosing other vacation destinations besides ours.

What specific results were obtained by adding video to your website?

I haven’t done a detailed analysis of the data but I DO know that 9 times out of 10 if someone is on the fence about renting and they see the video, it makes their decision for them – they stay with us. Our rentals were up by 40% compared to the previous year. This year, even with the addition of another condo into Nautical Landings, we have been booked 100% since December 19, 2010.

Sometimes you have to get on the ground to get the best shot...

Are you happy with your decision to add web video to your marketing efforts?

Extremely. It was a smart move on our part!

How does using web video compare with your other marketing efforts?

I feel that video is always more effective than words, even with the best writers on the team, especially when you’re trying to convey a feeling. Our video showed our guests what our pictures couldn’t – the wind blowing the palm leaves in the breeze and friends gathered, chatting during a sunset. You can describe those things and take pictures of those things but a video (done properly!) can create a feeling than other media cannot.

To what type of businesses would you recommend adding web video to their marketing efforts?

What type of business wouldn’t benefit from a video? Any business selling a product or service whether it’s food, massages, bicycles or vacation condos would benefit from a web video.

Why is it important to hire the right production company to produce your web video?

You need a team that is timely, professional and, more than anything, understands your vision. No one understands your product like you do and a production company can help you showcase it, but they have to be willing to listen to your needs.

Using the old technology (printed shot list) as well as the new (iPhone & Kodak Zi8)

What are you final thoughts on your decision to add web video to your marketing?

It’s the best marketing decision we’ve made thus far.

What are your final thoughts on choosing Digital Media Services to produce your web video?

We obviously were thrilled with Digital Media Services – we chose them to do another video for us again when we purchased an additional condo. We’d hire them again in an instant.

Keeping the lens clean

Kelly’s small business doesn’t have an unlimited marketing budget. In fact, they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford a high-quality video production. But by listening to what Kelly wanted and what she felt would help her sell her property better, we were able to come up with a proposal that showcased the enjoyment Nautical Landings offered without breaking the bank.

Web video doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective – it just has to be done right. It’s all about presenting a visual message that communicates to the viewer at a level proportionate to the value of the product or service you’re selling. However, it’s vitally important to make a distinction between home movies, amateur video and professional production. Home videos and even low-budget or do-it-yourself videos are fine for communicating with family and friends or even presenting short, casual information about your business.

But when it comes to producing a video that will serve as a primary focus in presenting your company to your clients and potential clients, you’re likely to do more harm than good by not working with a professional.

Of course, if you’ve set aside a considerate amount of marketing dollars to focus on video, the possibilities are almost limitless! We’ve produced video content for some of the biggest names in their respective industries with incredible results. Adding production value in terms of camera movement, cinematic lighting, unique locations, talent, makeup, wardrobe, etc. can really produce some fantastic results.

Feel free to contact Digital Media Services or post comments here about your experiences with web video or if you have questions regarding how video might help you grow your business or communicate your message. Wether you’re announcing a new product, introducing your staff, providing education information, delivering commentary or simply looking for new ways to grow your business, web video can often be the best method to accomplish your goals. And we’ve not even touched on the increased traffic generation, better web search response and other SEO benefits web video can bring!

The finished Nautical Landings promo video…

TRON Legacy Update

April 24, 2011

TRON LEGACY UPDATE:

I’ve received several messages since posting TRON Legacy…from IMAX Digital 3D to Blu-ray: is there even a difference? requesting more information about the varying aspect ratio of the TRON Legacy IMAX theatrical presentation and the home video Blu-ray presentation. This update should provide some enlightenment…

Virtually every scene in TRON Legacy was shot with the Sony F35 CineAlta digital cinema camera. This camera has a native 1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio and captures footage in the 1080p high-definition video format (1920×1080 pixels). The 2.39:1 aspect ratio of the TRON Legacy theatrical presentation (2.35:1 on the Blu-ray) was accomplished by matting out the top and bottom portions of the recorded image with black bars to create a letterboxed projection. Unlike The Dark Knight, which also had a changing aspect ratio because of the different camera systems used, no IMAX film cameras were used to shoot TRON Legacy.

Tron Legacy scene with 1.78:1 (16x9) "full-height" aspect ratio

The 1.78:1 (full height) aspect ratio  of some of the scenes in the TRON Legacy IMAX presentation was created by simply not including any mattes on the top and bottom of the recorded image and allowing the full native 1:78:1 recorded image to be projected. The non-IMAX digital projections and the 35mm film projections of TRON Legacy all had a fixed 2.39:1 aspect ratio throughout the entire film.

DCP-compliant digital theater projectors including ones manufactured by IMAX, Christie and Sony have a native aspect ratio of 1.9:1, which is slightly wider than the 1080p format, so a slight conversion or matte of the recorded 1080p image needs to take place.

The IMAX presentation of TRON Legacy was used as the master for the production of the Blu-ray so we see the changing aspect ratio when viewing at home, just as we did in the IMAX showings. During most of the movie, we’re presented with a letterboxed 2.35:1 image with the special “IMAX” scenes in full 1.78:1 (16×9) framing, filling our TV screens with picture image.

Tron Legacy scene with a 2.35:1 (scope) "matted" aspect ratio

The sequences from TRON Legacy presented in a 1.78:1 “full-screen” format are as follows:

“The Grid”

From the moment Sam first sees the first Recognizer upon entering the digital world of The Grid until he is going down the elevator lift on his way to the Sirens to be outfitted for the games.

“Games”

From the moment Sam enters the arena for the disc games until he is retained by Clu’s sentries and brought to Clu’s transport.

“Lightcycle Battle”

From the moment Clu’s transport leaves for the lightcycle grid until Sam and Quorra are on the elevator lift entering Flynn’s dwelling.

“Freight Train”

From the moment Sam, Flynn and Quorra leave the elevator platform to board the freight transport after escaping Castor’s (Zuse’s) club until the three of them exit the transport after it docks at Clu’s flagship. Note that the scenes of Clu and his team inside Castor’s club cut within the freight train sequence are in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

“Clu’s Toast”

From the moment Clu rises to the podium inside his flagship to address the army of programs he’s assembled until he has completed his speech to them about entering the real world. Note that the scenes of Clu’s flagship disembarking for the portal cut within the toast sequence are in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

“Air Battle”

From the moment Clu’s team leaps from the flagship to chase after Sam, Flynn and Quorra in their stolen fighter through Flynn’s sacrifice until end of the scenes inside the computer on the grid.

“End Titles”

The end credits sequence of the film is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

Again, note that these special vertically-extended scenes, produced exclusively for viewers of the IMAX presentation (and now the Blu-ray), were simply created by removing the mattes at the top and bottom of the screen that are in place throughout most of the film to reveal the remainder of the full, native 1.78:1 recorded image.

The manner of creating a 2.39:1 aspect ratio film, sometimes referred to as scope or anamorphic, by matting a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio recording brings up some interesting discussion points. Traditionally, a wide aspect ratio film is created because a director or cinematographer wants to create an image larger in scope than what the traditional 35mm film width can provide. This wider scope can be created by using multiple cameras and projectors like the now-obsolete Cinerama system, by using a wider gauge film such as 55mm or 65mm formats or by using an anamorphic camera lens system that squeezes a wider image onto standard 35mm film by means of lens distortion. An anamorphic image on standard 35mm film is un-stretched by using a corresponding anamorphic projection lens that widens the image back out to its natural look. All of these methods provide a director with a means to create a wider image than what standard 35mm film can provide.

However, in the case of TRON Legacy and other films shot with a digital acquisition system that uses a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the only practical way to create a wider aspect ratio is to letterbox or matte the top and bottom of the recorded image to create a seemingly wider projected image. This matting creates a loss of image resolution as fewer vertical pixels are used for picture information. This is not an ideal situation and one that needs to be addressed for future digital cinema production.

The use of anamorphic lenses may be one solution. Using anamorphic lenses to squeeze a wider image onto a native 1.78:1 capture area will result in a wider aspect ratio without the need to waste pixels on black matte bars. Future camera systems that utilize wider aspect ratio image sensors is probably a better way to go. To gain the full benefit of a wider sensor, digital projection systems will need to be developed that can project a wider presentation than the standard 1.9:1.

Below are two images which will help illustrate the differences between various film aspect ratios:

Ratios from the standard 35mm full frame (1.33:1) to Scope (2.39:1) and beyond

Three common film aspect ratios compared

The digital cinema world is in its infancy. Digital acquisition and projection offers many advantages over traditional film systems. However, we still have a way to go before we can fully replace the tried-and-true picture quality and aesthetic of 35mm film. Figuring out how to record, edit and project a motion picture digitally was the hard part. Now we move on to the refinement. Good things are yet to come.

I hope readers will leave comments, share thoughts and ask questions. I’m glad to share the feedback from the curious, the critical and the creators.

(Screen captures courtesy of www.blu-ray.com.)

End of line.

Top 5 Tips For Producing Your First Web Video

April 20, 2011

I started producing web videos back in the early days of streaming media before we had YouTube, Vimeo or Hulu and when a 300 kbps video stream was considered high bandwidth. Today, streaming video services are accountable for almost 40% of all Internet traffic and broadband connectivity has allowed video producers to offer high definition, cinematic-quality productions.

Video is everywhere. It can be a valuable tool for communicating or entertaining and is continually becoming easier to produce and access. If you work in a marketing-related job, are a small business owner or otherwise have a need to communicate to an online audience, you may be considering increasing your online video offerings or perhaps testing out video for the first time.

With so much online video available today, how do you create something that will stand out or at least be effective in sharing your message to your targeted client group? Well, gone are the days when simply having video on your website was unique. You need to be a little more savvy than that.

In our nearly 15 years of traveling the world producing video for online viewing, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t and have learned valuable lessons and gained specific insight into how to produce the most effective style of video for a given industry or audience. To that end, we present our Top 5 Tips for Producing Your First Online Marketing Video:

1. No one cares about what you think…they want to know that you care about what they think. Yes, I know that’s a bit harsh and was admittedly partially written to serve as an attention grabber. But the point is this: you need to present your message with your audience in mind, not your own corporate fiscal objectives. Time is valuable to most people. They don’t have even a few minutes to waste watching a hard sales pitch, a series of commercials or something that’s not what it was advertised to be. Unless you offer something so unique that it sells itself, you need to present something of value to your audience in your online videos. This doesn’t mean you can’t use video as a sales tool. It is, in fact, a great sales tool. It works like this…if you consistently present something of value as it relates to your business, organization or area of expertise, you can begin to become a trusted resource for a particular topic. If you own a shoe repair business, for instance, consider creating a video about what types of shoe polishes you’ve found will help shoes last longer. Are you a financial planner? Perhaps a video that introduces the basics of various types of investment products would be useful to potential clients just getting started in investing. An experienced video production company can help you develop an effective script or outline. Over time, you become the person that comes to mind when a conversation about shoe repair or investing arises.

Way back in late 2000 we were asked to produce a promotional film about the brand new Raymond James Stadium. The film was to be distributed to 65,000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as a give-away to those attending an NFL game at the new stadium. Obviously we knew we had a target audience of Bucs fans, football fans and Tampa Bay-area residents. Working directly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers marketing staff, we made sure to include script and visual elements that would be of specific interest to our audience…

2. Be short and to the point. We’ve already mentioned that people value their time. This is especially true of web surfers. The internet is a source for quick answers, instant gratification and almost unlimited options for finding what you need. Your videos should follow suit. Remember, your information is probably not 100% unique. You’re likely not the first and you probably won’t be the last to present video about your topic. So, make sure that your video is the most effective one by providing information quickly in an easy-to-follow manner. Your video – especially if it’s your first video – should provide the intended information within the first 30 seconds or so. Supportive or explanatory information can follow. Most video viewers have an attention span for a maximum of 2-3 minutes. If your video is boring or doesn’t quickly provide the information the user is expecting, you’ll be lucky if someone watches longer than 15-20 seconds. One of the first tasks we often tackle when producing a video for a client is to edit their script. An outside point of view by someone who’s created lots of online videos can often be the tweak you need to help your video go from good to great. So don’t be afraid to let your script be massaged a little. You can always direct viewers to more in-depth videos, brochures, web pages, etc. if you feel you have more information to share.

Tony Michaelides is a record-promoter-turned-publicity-coach who was in need of a short video to help launch his new business venture, an organization that assists rock bands, artists and corporate executives in building their brand. Being a former band publicist, Tony loves to talk. Getting Tony to think in 1-minute sound bytes was quite a challenge but necessary if we were to create an effective introduction to his services. We wrote, produced and edited the following video for Tony’s EPK website..

3. Remember to accurately represent your brand. Your online video is just a single component of your overall brand; it should work in coordination with the rest of your brand elements to put forth what you hope positively and accurately represents what your company, group or idea is all about. There are some facets of your brand identity that are simply out of your control. You don’t have much of a say over what a journalist writes about you, what someone in the grocery store line overhears about you or what feedback someone writes about you on a website. This makes it all the more important to use the elements of your brand within your control to present a clear, strong message. If your company brochure, yellow pages ad and website all talk about how your company stays on top of the latest trends and utilizes the latest technology in your product and service offerings, you certainly don’t want your online videos to look like they were produced with equipment found at a garage sale. I’m not saying that an effective web video has to be expensive; I’m just saying that your videos are a visual representation of your brand – make sure what viewers see is in alliance with what you say your brand is. If you want your brand to be fun, exciting and energetic, then guess what – a bland, boring video doesn’t support your stated brand. Likewise, if you want to promote a brand that can be described as serious and strictly professional, then create a video that showcases those ideals. A simple but effective exercise we often ask our clients to complete is to write down the 4 or 5 core elements of their brand and then compare that list with their video script or outline. Does one support the other? If not, some reworking may need to be done. Seeing visual evidence in the form of an online video that you are who you say you are can go a long way to developing a strong brand identity and can build trust between you and your audience.

The S.S. American Victory is a World War II-era merchant marine ship that is now serving as an historical tourist attraction, educational facility and event location. The non-profit organization asked us to produce a promotional film that would give website visitors a taste of what they would discover upon a visit to the ship, which is docked in the Port of Tampa. Our goal was not to provide a complete overview of the ship but to entice viewers of the video to want to come see the ship in person. According to the organization’s staff, board members and retired military volunteers, we hit the brand essence nail right on the head…

4. Be visually, topically or personally interesting. You’re not going to develop a reputation as a master of online video by creating mundane talking head videos about topics few care to hear about. You need to be able to capture a viewer’s interest. If you have an outgoing, likable personality and enjoy speaking in front of an audience, use that charisma to its full potential. Be known as the geeky guy, the crazy girl, the wordsmith, the funny man or the southern belle. Having a “hook” will get people to watch; providing them valuable content will get them to watch again. If strong presentation skills aren’t what make you who you are, then be interesting by using your writing skills, your superior subject knowledge, your vast experience or your ability to provide statistics. Find a way to stand out using your strengths. Everybody’s good at something; find a way to incorporate what you’re good at into your videos. And if you’re afraid your weaknesses will be difficult to disguise on camera, then work on becoming better at what’s holding you back. We provide many of our clients with presentation skills training which help them become better video makers. The goal is not necessarily to become a master orator but to simply to become more comfortable presenting. Watching yourself on camera and getting constructive feedback will go a long way to becoming a better video maker.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is an annual free jazz concert weekend held every October at Coachman Park in Clearwater, Florida. The event has been going on for over 30 years and we were asked to create a promotional piece for the 2010 event. Not being able to use actual recordings of the performances, we had to come up with an interesting way to present the essence of the event using picture and sound. We decided that a tilt-shift time-lapse technique would provide interesting visuals while showing viewers what the concert was all about…

5. Create opportunity for follow up. Advertising professionals always encourage their clients to include a call to action in traditional advertisements like television commercials and billboards. Ads can tell viewers to stop by a store, call a phone number or visit a website. With online video, we have so many more options for follow up. We can tell viewers to subscribe to a newsletter, to become a Fan on Facebook, to follow us on Twitter, to read our blog, to send us an email, to tune in to more videos…the list goes on and on. Always encourage your viewers to follow up with you in some way. And make it easy for them to do so. Make sure links to your contact information and all of your social media sites are on the same page as your video. Have a way for viewers to sign up for an email newsletter. At a minimum, take a moment in your video to tell the viewer to check back next month for a new video or a follow-up news article.

I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by online video pitches over the past several months. Well, it’s for good reason. Video can be a powerful tool in communicating to your online audience. Just this week I received a call from a client for whom we produced a promotional video showcasing her vacation rental condominiums. She’s had such an increase in business – in no small part because of the video – that she’s now able to purchase an additional property! She’s asked us to now go back and update the video to include the new location. Online video works!

But just having any old video on your site likely won’t bring you riches. It needs to be an effective video. Consider these 5 tips and partner with a video production company that has the experience, skill and knowledge to produce something that will bring results.

Thanks for reading. We welcome all comments and questions. And good luck with you online video efforts!

TRON Legacy…from IMAX Digital 3D to Blu-ray: is there even a difference?

April 13, 2011

One of the hottest Blu-rays around right now is Disney’s TRON Legacy. And for good reason…this 1080p, 7.1-channel version of the film offers viewers mind-blowing animated visuals and a soundtrack capable of rattling windows. For fans of the genre, the continuation of a story involving the virtual reality of living programs inside a computer network along with the ability to revisit The Grid almost 30 years after Disney’s first TRON story hit theaters adds to the excitement. I admit I’m a fan. I still own the Special Edition Laserdisc Box Set of the original TRON movie and I purchased the 4-disc 3D Blu-ray edition of TRON Legacy the morning of its release. Being produced three decades apart, there are naturally some differences in the technology used in creating 1982’s TRON and 2010’s TRON Legacy; however, in some ways, we’ve not come as far as you might imagine.

TRON Laserdisc Box Set

The original TRON was shot primarily using Super Panavision 65mm film cameras. In fact, at least one of the cameras used in the filming of TRON was previously used to film Lawrence of Arabia in the early 1960s. Most film-based movie cameras shoot on 35mm film. Because 65mm film offers over two and a half times as much picture area as 35mm film, the format can provide significantly higher resolution and picture detail over the more traditional format. Of course, it’s not just the size of the film and the type of cameras used on a production that determine the overall look of a movie. The lighting design, shooting conditions, technical and creative capabilities of the crew, post-production process, etc. all play a role in how a film looks. And the amount of processing and optical compositing a film goes through during editing plays a role in how clean the final version of the release print looks. TRON went through a heavy post-production process with lots of optical compositing and colorization of film frame blow-ups.

An amusing report by Walter Cronkite about the making of TRON provides some detail:

Because of the unique hand-animated processes and early computer graphic imagery used on TRON, it’s a wonder it ever looked as good as it did. The new Blu-ray release of TRON – which was released the same day as TRON Legacy – looks amazing considering its age and production style.

Blu-ray screenshot from TRON (1982)

Today, most films are shot digitally. But some directors still prefer to shoot on 35mm film and occasionally, as with a few scenes in the recent film Inception, 65mm film cameras are brought out of the storage closets to shoot special effects scenes. 35mm film has been the quality standard since the late 1800s. It’s a very high quality format. Even though digital cameras offer several advantages over film cameras, they’re still in their infancy when compared to the 35mm film format. It’s somewhat difficult to compare the quality of film camera images to digital camera images. Film systems use an optical process that captures pictures by exposing light to a fine silver grain embedded in a chemical emulsion. Digital systems use an electronic process that records pictures by exposing light to a sensor of a fixed resolution which saves images as pixels. In attempting to equate film grain to pixels, most cinematographers would agree that 65mm film has a minimum resolution of 8,000 vertical lines of pixels, commonly referred to as 8K. 35mm film has a minimum resolution of 4K. Most digital projectors in modern theaters, including the IMAX 3D projectors, utilize 2K projectors to present movies.

Dual 2K IMAX Digital projectors

So, if the original TRON was shot on 65mm film cameras which can provide a minimum 8K resolution, how does that compare with the latest digital cameras used to shoot TRON Legacy almost 30 years later? Well, the latest TRON film was shot using Sony F35 digital cinema cameras. These cameras are very good. They represent the latest mainstream technology for filming movies digitally. Their resolution? Less than 2K. Yes, the Sony F35, and several other competing systems, captures images using a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution imager; that’s the same number of pixels on the 1080p HDTV in your living room. Not that resolution alone, by any means, determines the quality of a digital video camera but I have a $2,000 professional Panasonic camera that shoots at the same resolution as the $200,000 Sony F35! When it comes to movie-making and the transition from film to digital, does it seem like we’re stepping backwards rather than forwards?

Sony F35 CineAlta cinema camera

Wait, there’s one more point…most of the scenes in TRON Legacy were composed and projected in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Sony F35 cameras shoot in a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio and digital projectors display a native 1.9:1 aspect ratio. So, to present a 2.35:1 film digitally, black matte bars have to be added to the film to create the wider aspect ratio, just like when a letterboxed movie is presented on your TV using black bars on the top and bottom. This means that some of the pixels of the digital camera and the digital projection are being wasted on black bars rather than picture information. To be fair, when the original TRON was released in theaters on 35mm film, a bit of the top and bottom of the 65mm picture image had to be cropped off to fit on the anamorphic 35mm film print. But there were no black bars wasting a portion of the film frame; the entire 35mm film area was used.

Matted 2.35:1 TRON Legacy frame in a 1.78:1 (16x9) HDTV format

So, it sounds like shooting on 65mm film is way better than shooting on modern digital 1080p cameras. Well, there’s more to the story. In a film-only workflow, special effects have to be composited together. A cinematographer might shoot a background scene on one reel of film and then shoot the actors in front of a blue screen on another reel of film. The special effects department might create explosions, animations or other effects as separate elements each on their own reels of film. To create the final scene, all of these separate film elements have to be optically combined by layering them on top of one another and taking a composite photograph on yet another reel of film. Once a master edit of the completed film is ready, an additional set of film reels is produced from the master for distribution to theaters. All of this compositing and creating of new film reels over and over leads to a build-up of film grain and a loss of clarity. This is why special effects-heavy film producers often use 65mm or VistaVision film cameras for shooting their special effects scenes even when the final release prints will be down-sized to 35mm or even digital formats; it gives them more initial resolution to work with knowing that they’ll lose some of that during the post production process.

Consider digital filmmaking, on the other hand. A background scene is shot on a digital camera and is loaded into the computer as an identical, pixel-for-pixel copy with no loss of resolution or clarity. The blue and green screen elements are treated the same way. Then all of the special effects, animations, color corrections and compositing are performed digitally using the computer. This means that there is no film grain build-up, no loss of picture quality or, in the case of elements that are created inside the computer and never shot by a camera, no video noise or other anomalies to deal with. So, while shooting TRON digitally doesn’t offer viewers the resolution of 65mm film, the filmmakers have eliminated many of the problems that the traditional film post production process presents and can actually create a cleaner, higher-quality picture for special effects films. Compared to a straight 65mm film negative that doesn’t undergo compositing and other post production special effects processes, as in Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music or even Baraka, the 1080p resolution still has a way to go.

Blu-ray screenshot from The Sound of Music

But we’re making progress. Red Digital Cinema Camera Company manufactures the Red One professional filmmaking camera that shoots at 4K with a Scarlet model in the works that shoots at 5K. And just this week, Sony announced a new F65 CineAlta camera said to mimic the look of 65mm film using an 8K sensor that shoots at resolutions of 4K and above. We already have 4K digital cinema projectors that bring out the detail of 35mm film; now those 4K projectors can be used to their full advantage by digital filmmakers as well.

So, back to the TRON Legacy Blu-ray. It’s getting 4.5/5 and 5/5 reviews for both picture and sound quality on just about every Blu-ray site that has reviewed it. Heck, even the sound engineers at Skywalker Sound, who managed the sound editing and mixing for the film, are stating that TRON Legacy is their new reference film for movie sound quality. Is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Why, yes it is! I saw TRON Legacy in a theater with one of the new IMAX Digital 3D projection systems installed and was blown away by both the picture and sound. (Being a fan of the original film and the sci-fi/action genre in general, I enjoyed the story, as well.) The colors, contrast, clarity and realism of the visuals was more than impressive. And the soundtrack, including all of the original sound design and the Daft Punk original score, was lifelike and room-shaking. Does this experience translate to the home theater Blu-ray version? Well, that depends on the quality of your home system, of course. I have a 65″ 3D HDTV calibrated to SMPTE standards and a THX-certified home theater sound system at my disposal so I can generally enjoy the most the Blu-ray format has to offer. I can honestly say that, after 3 complete viewings over the past couple of weeks, I’m still mesmerized by the TRON Legacy Blu-ray. It’s that good.

TRON Legacy Blu-ray set

The movie-making process has changed quite a bit in the past 10 years with the advent of digital cameras, computer animation and editing and 4K 3D digital projection. Home theater technology has also come a long way from the 640 x 480 resolution of the laserdisc and 3-channel Dolby Stereo. And it will all continue to advance at a rapid pace. Televisions with 2K and eventually 4K resolutions will become a reality and 8K and even 16K cameras will be developed. And there will likely always be those who prefer to shoot on film, which is the original high definition format.

While there may not be much of a technical difference between the IMAX Digital 3D version of TRON Legacy and its Blu-ray counterpart, seeing TRON and other films in a modern theater with digital projection and a high-end sound system can be an exhilarating experience. And the ability to closely reproduce that experience with a dedicated home theater allows film fans to enjoy those experiences for years to come. The TRON Legacy Blu-ray allows you to push your home theater system to its limits; I say you owe it to yourself to own TRON Legacy on Blu-ray, even if it’s just to show off your system to your neighbors!

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The real story on the effective use of web video (by those who’ve done it for almost 15 years)

March 29, 2011

I’ve been reading more and more lately from companies trying to sell you on the benefits of adding video to your website. Some of what I’ve read is great advice but much of it is simply a means to get friendly with your company checking account. It’s quite true that adding video to your website can be beneficial. When incorporated properly, online video can bring SEO benefits and can allow you to better connect with your website audience. As we all know, some messages are better-communicated using picture and sound than using text alone.

The first online video I produced (back in 1997) was for the bank and trust division of a regional financial firm who needed an effective yet inexpensive means to communicate to their nation-wide staff of sales professionals information about new SEC and banking regulations and the company’s new product offerings that addressed these regulations. The production was a simple studio shoot of the division president addressing the camera but was much more personable than an email or memo and allowed the viewers to see and interact with one of their company’s top executives in a manner most of them previously had never been able to. Seeing one of their company leaders enthusiastically discussing the new products and offering ideas on what type of clients the products might be suitable for brought the communication from what would normally have been a bunch of text on a page to a well-received message that more efficiently educated the sales staff and gave the company an advantage over competitors who would be printing and mailing out a bunch of brochures and white papers. The simple video presentation was so effective that it immediately became the norm for the company’s internal sales presentations and quickly expanded to all divisions of the company and eventually to client communications.

Whether you own a law firm, a manufacturing plant or a lawnmower repair shop, there’s definitely a place for video on your website. We all have customers that we need to speak to and video can be a powerful influencer. But making the decision to hire someone to produce a video for your company website shouldn’t be the end of the story. As with buying a car, a steak dinner or legal services, there’s an abundance of choices, prices and quality levels among video production companies. And don’t forget about experience and training. Who’s going to be able to provide you with a more effective web video production – someone who dabbles in video as a hobby or someone with an extensive background in producing video content for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns?

Producing a client testimonial web video

Sure, cost is always an issue. But I’d bet that most business owners would agree that spending $500 on a product that brings you no return of any kind is not as fiscally responsible as spending $2,000 on a product that positions you an a leader in your industry and prompts viewers to get in touch with you. Choosing a professional services provider on cost alone is almost never the best way to go. The other extreme is valid, too. There are plenty of companies out there who will gladly take your hard-earned money in exchange for a template-driven, cookie-cutter video that’s barely customized to you, your business or your needs. Finding the right balance of cost, quality, knowledge and experience is the key.

And keep this in mind – a poorly-conceived or badly-produced video may actually do more harm than good. Imagine coming across a website for what seems to be an interesting new household product then watching their promotional video that uses dim lighting, is poorly-edited, has continuity problems and is way too long. There’s a good chance that you’d be left with a negative impression of that product. No video at all may have been a better option for the product manufacturer!

To help our readers get started on embarking on an effective web video marketing plan, we present some of the most common uses of online video. What follows is certainly not an all-inclusive list of what types of video can be used on the web – the possibilities are almost endless – but a brief overview of some of what we’ve seen to be the most effective uses of video for the companies for which we’ve created content. It’s been our experience that every web video production should be a unique entity; what works for one company may not work for another.

Scene from an introductory web video

Introductory video. For companies with modest marketing budgets or who are just beginning to add multimedia to their website, an introductory video may be the best starting point. An introductory video typically provides a “first contact” between a business owner and his or her potential customers. It may consist of a welcome message, a special offer or an overview of the website. Its effectiveness comes from the simple fact that a website visitor can gain valuable insight into the individuals who own or operate a business by seeing them on camera. Their personality, appearance, level of professionalism and enthusiasm (or lack of)  are all on display. By providing a simple video introduction to your and your company, you immediately position yourself one step ahead of your competition because a potential client feels that they know who they’re dealing with.

Company overview video. For a step beyond the introductory video, many businesses choose to produce a company overview video. With this type of video, a viewer can gain more insight into the company officers or employees, the range of products and services the company offers and what makes the company unique. A company overview video can be a valuable tool in encouraging potential customers to pick up the phone or send an email message. This is especially important for businesses who offer common products and services. If a potential client is shopping for a roofing company, for example, and they come across a website that features a professionally-produced video about who owns the business, what kind of training and experience they require of their roofers and how they give back to their community, that potential client is certainly going to be more likely to want to be associated with that roofing company.

Product & services video. Some companies prefer to use online video to showcase their products and services. If your product selection, manufacturing process, company facilities or range of services speaks for itself, then a product & services video may be the way to go. Think of it this way – if your business is based on what you sell and not who sells it, why not show the world just how great your product is? This is especially important if what you sell is so unique that text and pictures alone don’t adequately describe it. I once stumbled across a website that was selling a special plumbing tool that helped remove stuck shower valves (I was in the midst of a DIY home repair). I read the product descriptions and even studied the photos on the site. But it wasn’t until I came across a YouTube video showing the product in use that I fully understood how it worked! And by that time, it was too late; I had already purchased a competing, less effective product at my local Home Depot.

Scene from a client testimonial web video

Client testimonial video. Alternatively, many of you are in the people business. It’s your company management, your salespeople, your product specialists, your customer service representatives and your employees that set you apart from your competitors. Why not let your clients tell the world why they choose to do business with you? I recently completed a web video for a small but very successful life insurance provider. When I was initially contacted by the client, I immediately began trying to think of ways to create a compelling video about a group of life insurance salespeople. But shortly after I began speaking with the client in detail, I realized that this company was special. They were so specialized in what they did and managed their clients needs with such expertise that I concluded that there was virtually no one else like them. And in speaking with a few of their clients (who happened to be high-net-worth, notable individuals), it became apparent that no better script could be written than what was to be shared by these clients. Satisfied clients are always one of the best sales tools a company can have.

Educational video. A company might choose to produce some sort of educational video in order to present themselves as experts in a particular field. I have a legal firm client who specializes in defending victims of DUI car crashes. This law firm knows DUI law and related legal material so thoroughly and has such in-depth trial experience that they rarely lose a case. In fact, they’re considered such experts that they assist Florida judges in drafting interpretive briefings for DUI law cases. Part of their online marketing efforts include short videos designed to assist other DUI attorneys understand how to best prosecute drunk drivers. And you know what this does? It positions this client of mine as a statewide expert in DUI law and, in turn, helps create considerable business for their DUI Training Seminar classes. Pretty effective use of online video in my opinion.

Final screen from a traditional TV commercial

TV commercial. While creating a 30-second or 60-second TV commercial to post on your website may be one of the first ideas that comes to mind, it’s sometimes one of the ideas we recommend the least. The reasoning is simple – unless you’re willing to invest the time, effort and financial resources necessary to create a really strong spot, a TV commercial simply may not the best platform to present your message to an Internet audience. Why? Well, for several reasons. First, an internet audience is not the same as a television audience. Visitors to your website are likely actively seeking information; they’re not being forced to sit through your message while waiting for a different program to resume. Presenting your message in the traditional TV spot format might miss the mark in speaking to your audience. Secondly, your message is not being sandwiched between competing messages on either side. Therefore, there’s no need to be bound by creating a message in which the main goal is to be different than what was presented a few seconds earlier. Finally, why limit yourself to the format of a commercial? Being confined by a strict 30 second or 60 second time slot or spending time presenting phone numbers and other contact info with tag lines at the end serves no purpose. You’re better off creating a message directed specifically to those who have chosen to visit your site. All that being said, there’s nothing wrong with presenting a series of TV commercials on your site. I’d just recommend it be a supplement to your other messaging as opposed to your main online video efforts.

As previously mentioned, there are almost unlimited possibilities for making effective use of web video. I’ve worked on web videos for football stadiums, for retired maritime battle ships, for high-end home builders and for luxury cruise liners. The key is in creating something that visually communicates your message to your target audience in a manner that compels your viewers to want to learn more. Video can present your product, people or values in a manner no other medium can. Web video doesn’t have to cost a lot to be effective but has the potential to serve as the core component of an entire branding campaign.

Scene from a web video for Carnival Cruise Lines

In seeking out a production company to help you with your web video efforts, we suggest you find someone who first takes the time to understand your business and your goals for utilizing web video and who communicates with you in a clear, professional manner. If they can follow that up with evidence of their skill, experience and knowledge in producing quality, effective video communications, you may have a winner. Finally, if they can present you with a variety of customized products that satisfy your budgetary needs, they’re likely a good choice.

So, if you haven’t already done so, take the plunge and add some video to your website. Start small if you like and build from there. Or, if you’re ready to make a dramatic change in your marketing efforts, a powerful series of video messages may be the way to go. In either case, a well-designed web video campaign has almost no downside, unless your goal is status quo.

Contact Digital Media Services for more information on producing effective web video. We’d be glad to answer any questions you may have about incorporating web video as part of your marketing efforts.

Lessons from the Landfill

February 9, 2011

One of the benefits of working in the video and photo industry that we appreciate most is the wealth of information to which we’re exposed during our productions. Even a trip to the landfill can be a source of revelation. Did you know that the Caterpillar graders, bulldozers and compactors that distribute the garbage truck deliveries atop a landfill include in-cab GPS devices that assist the operator in letting him or her know within inches how evenly distributed their layers of refuge are? As was explained to us by the plant operator, one of the landfill staff’s priorities is to make the most efficient use of the limited acreage they manage by ensuring that as much waste as possible is compacted within a given area.

Caterpillar Bulldozer working at a landfill

Lance Robson and I spent a full day at the North Central Landfill in Polk County, Florida shooting high definition video interviews and b-roll footage of the Caterpillar machinery in use at the facility. The footage is being assembled by Brush Art Corporation in Downes, Kansas to create a promotional short for CAT. While a day at the dump may not sound like something to look forward to, I must say that we were impressed with the level of sophistication involved with running a modern landfill and appreciative of the well-designed, purpose-built machinery offered by Caterpillar.

So, to all you budding photographers, videographers and journalists, don’t take for granted the knowledge that can be obtained on the job and don’t be afraid to get your feet dirty. We here at Digital Media Services are grateful for the wealth of information we’ve obtained while working on a projects…even at the landfill.

For a sampling of what we discovered about Caterpillar and the operation of a modern landfill, take a look at a rough cut of the video by clicking the link below…

Caterpillar Landfill Equipment Promo

NFL in HD – It’s all good! Or is it?

September 21, 2010

NFL football in HD. Like most young-to-middle-aged American males, I love NFL football. And it has to be in HD. On a big screen. With big sound. But not all HD NFL is created equal. Most of you are aware of the two high definition television broadcast formats – 720p and 1080i. Read more about the differences between the two formats in the Digital Media Services January 2009 Newsletter. ESPN and Fox broadcast in 720p. NBC, CBS and NFL Network broadcast in 1080i. Is one format better than the other for football? You bet your jockstrap one is, and it’s the 720p format! I’ll tell you why.

The 720p format delivers viewers sixty 1280 x 720 progressive video frames per second. The 1080i format delivers viewers 1920 x 1080 interlaced video frames 30 times per second. While a 1280 x 720 image has less resolution than a 1920 x 1080 image frame, the other two broadcast format factors – scanning method and frame rate – give 720p an advantage when it comes to sports. The progressive scanning method handles fast motion imagery much better as the images doesn’t suffer from artifacts that appear as jittery motion, jagged lines or blurry edges as interlaced scanning formats do. Also, most of us have 720p or 1080p televisions so the progressive broadcast doesn’t have to be de-interlaced to show on our screens as 1080i broadcasts do; the de-interlacing can create a loss of detail, among other problems. The faster frame rate (60 fps vs. 30 fps) allows fast moving objects or scenes of a fast moving camera following the action appear clearer on our screens and deliver smoother, less stuttery motion. The faster frame rate also allows the digital encoders compressing the broadcast into an MPEG-2 video stream better manage the motion because there are less changes from frame-to-frame. What these technical details really mean is that the 720p format provides for a more efficient use of the limited bandwidth available to each broadcast network and therefore provides a better picture when it comes to sports.

NFL HDTV Formats

But forget all the technical mumbo-jumbo for a moment; perform a test yourself. This Sunday, watch a 720p broadcast on Fox and compare it to a 1080i broadcast on CBS. If you can’t catch the games on Sunday afternoon, NBC (1080i) has Sunday night games, ESPN (720p) has Monday night games and NFL Network (1080i) has Thursday night games. What I think you’ll find is that the 1080i broadcasts are not quite as clear as the 720p broadcasts and you’ll see much more artifacting such as macro-blocking and picture breakup – especially during scenes with fast motion or fast-moving full-screen graphics – with the 1080i broadcasts. These artifacts appear as small, square-shaped distortions of the picture image, almost like a pixelized digital photo. Additional factors playing a role in the quality of an image include whether or not your cable or satellite provider re-compresses the incoming broadcast signal and how well your HDTV’s internal de-interlacer performs. I subscribe to Verizon FiOS, a fiber optic data delivery system, which does not re-compress any of their incoming broadcast signals, so I’m seeing exactly what the networks are sending out. Dish Network, DirecTV and Comcast, among others, re-compress at least some of their transmissions.

Knowing full well the strengths and weaknesses of the two different broadcast formats, you’d think the networks would adapt their style of production to deliver the best picture quality. But I see no evidence of that. NBC continues to use full-screen, fast-moving transition graphics that create macroblocking every time they’re displayed. And the 1080i networks’ use of fast camera moves during close-up shots can create really poor-looking visuals. The 720p broadcasts from ESPN, ABC and Fox don’t have near the quality issues the 1080i broadcasters experience.

I’m interested in hearing feedback from readers about experiences with 720p vs. 1080i NFL broadcasts as well as what the various cable and satellite providers are sending out.

Good-looking Aliens

September 14, 2010

Remember when James Cameron was simply considered a great filmmaker as opposed to a caricature of Hollywood who also uses the film industry to promote his agendas? I ask you to recall films like The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Abyss and one of my personal favorites, Aliens. Via these films, Cameron demonstrated his prowess at maximizing small budgets, advancing digital visual effects (with the support of ILM), telling compelling stories and engaging a movie-going audience. He also helped refine the validity of the Director’s Cut of a motion picture through special edition releases of most of his films. Let’s take Aliens, for example. Not only is this film this a fantastic representation of the rare occasion when a sequel film matches or even surpasses the quality of the original, but it also demonstrates a filmmaker’s respect for his predecessor by effectively extending the original storyline of the Alien universe while further developing existing and new characters and plot points. The practical special effects created for Aliens were top notch, the direction, casting and acting were spot on and the creature design (courtesy of H.R. Giger) and execution were completely believable, all culminating in an effective suspense/horror/action film. When this film was released as a special edition laserdisc box set in 1991 (along with Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking Alien), Cameron convinced 20th Century Fox to allow him to insert almost 20 minutes of excised footage back into the film to create his preferred director’s cut. What a treat for fans of the film.

Alien and Aliens Laserdisc Box Sets

Alien and Aliens Laserdisc Box Sets

I actually saw Aliens a couple of weeks before its official release date during the summer of 1986. May father’s construction company had a contract with AMC Theaters to build multiplex movie houses throughout Florida. I worked for him during my high school summer breaks. We finished the AMC Seminole 8 at the Seminole Mall in early July and were treated to an exclusive screening of Fox’s biggest summer release as a reward for completing the project on-time and on-budget. I have vivid memories of the screening; I thought it was the best “scary” movie I had ever seen and recall it strengthening my interest in filmmaking and the burgeoning home theater market.

In 2003 Fox released an incredible  9-disc DVD box set entitled Alien Quadrillogy that represents the ultimate collection of all four Alien films along with all of the behind-the-scenes production materials available for each. This is a fantastic collection and has provided me with days and days of entertainment and enlightenment. But, like their laserdiscs counterparts became over 10 years ago, DVDs are so last decade to me.

Alien Quadrilogy DVD Box Set

Alien Quadrilogy DVD Box Set

So you can imagine my delight when I read about a complete Blu-ray collection of the films in the works. As it turns out, the box set will first be available in the UK on October 25. No doubt it will be coming to the US for the holiday buying season. But with some recent concerns about certain 20th Century Fox catalog titles receiving less-than-stellar HD digital film transfers (see my post about the Predator Blu-ray), and James Cameron’s comments about using grain-removal processes to improve the look of Aliens, some of us in the film appreciation and home theater communities had some concerns. Well, folks, there’s good news. Several home theater and multimedia Websites have published screen captures of the Aliens Blu-ray presentation and things are looking just fine. Check out the following sample 1080p stills from the Aliens Blu-ray to see for yourself. Now let’s hope that The Abyss will be getting the same star treatment soon.

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Digital Cinema Update

August 12, 2010

I’ve recently posted articles about Sony 4K Digital Projection and Dolby 7.1 Surround. Both of these technologies enhance feature film presentations by providing audiences with higher resolution imagery and more lifelike audio. And while 3D projection is all the rage right now, I personally feel that improvements to the presentation quality of a motion picture are more significant. 3D production and presentation technology may eventually end up being the standards for movies and might even make their way into our living rooms as the standard broadcasting format. But, as I’ve mentioned before, a good story and a quality presentation are the most important factors in creating an enjoyable movie experience.

Well, in the few short weeks since I first reported that the management at Channelside Cinemas in downtown Tampa upgraded to 4K projection for all of their movie screens, a new crop of Sony 4K Digital Projectors have popped up in the bay area. Taking a look at the Sony 4K Projection Theater Finder, there are no less than 10 movie theaters within the tri-county area that offer the current state-of-the-art in digital screening. The Muvico Starlight 20 in Tampa is an all-4k house and the Regal Park Place Stadium 16 now has screens with 4K projection and Dolby Surround 7.1. Progress is a good thing!

Muvico Baywalk

Now, just because your local theater may boast 4K projection or Dolby 7.1, that doesn’t automatically mean the movie you’re seeing takes advantage of these technologies. Only movies originally shot in 4K or on film then edited and finished in 4K can offer a true 4K presentation. And to experience Dolby 7.1 sound, the movie soundtrack has to be mixed and mastered in 7.1. Not every movie goes through these processes. Nevertheless, the more 4K and Dolby 7.1 installations we have, the more likely we’ll see these production methods becoming the standard. You can check which movies are currently available for 4K presentation using the Sony 4K New Release Schedule and which movies are availble for Dolby 7.1 Surround by using the Dolby 7.1 Surround Location Map.

Most theater managers don’t make it a priority to inform the general public what technologies they offer. Nor do they list on their Websites which films or which screens offer the special presentations. I frequently call theater box offices to verify which showing of the film I want to see is being presented in 4K, 2K, Dolby 7.1, Dolby Digital or THX. The clerk answering the phone rarely knows; sometimes the theater management isn’t even sure. I equate this to a car dealership having a limited edition vehicle on their lot but not knowing which one it is. If the management and staff isn’t educated, how can they educate the public? Come on, guys!

I encourage all movie fans to seek out the special presentations in their area. If the publicly-available showtime listings don’t make it clear what’s available, ask the personnel at the theater to find out and let you know. Perhaps if they realize the public has an interest in seeking out special showings they’ll do a better job at promoting them. I think you’ll find it worth the effort. You can’t do much to ensure a great story but you can ensure the best possible presentation.