Queen Of The South Season 2 – camera tests

Queen

Alice Braga plays Teresa Mendoza

I thought it might be interesting to share these tests with you.

I was invited to join the second season of Queen of the South, a successful FOX21/ USA network series which had already had a great first season.  It’s based on a very successful Mexican / Spanish language novel called La Reina del Sur by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

It had already been done as a Spanish language telenovela and this would be the second season of the US version of this epic narco cartel story.

I’d worked with showrunner Natalie Chaidez before on her show for SyFy, Hunters. David Friendly was the other EP who’d been with the show since the beginning.

Natalie originally described this story to me as a kind of cartel version of the classic All About Eve.  In the first season Alice Braga plays Teresa Mendoza who just barely manages to survive a trial by fire as she’s forced to flee from her comfortable and insulated life after her cartel pilot boyfriend Guerro is assassinated by cartel boss Epifanio Vargas (Joaquim de Almeida).  Forced to flee for her life she crosses the border illegally into the US from mexico and comes to the attention of Epifanio’s estranged wife Camilla Vargas (Veronica Falcón) who’s established her own Dallas based cartel stateside.

Queen

Joaquim de Almeida plays Epifanio Vargas

Learning the ropes and starting off as a drug mule, Teresa starts her journey to one day becoming a drug queenpin in her own right.

In the first season Teresa was really only barely surviving episode to episode and this season would see a gear change and really begin to explore her rise.  By season end she will start to challenge Camilla herself and we wanted to find ways to offer more of what Natalie describes as the aspirational drug cartel boss lifestyle !

Queen

Veronica Falcón plays Camilla Vargas

Our plan and remit was to bring more bling to the second season and to show the trappings of what success in a drug distribution world look like.  Aspirational locations and lifestyle, richer surroundings and more obvious wealth.  We would still have the gritty counterpoint and action that marked the first season as well, hopefully just adding on a layer of wealth and glamour to mask the ugly down and dirty side to her world.

This test was among the first I shot for Queen of the South, using Alice Braga’s stand-in Jamie Buckley.

Along with producing director David Boyd ACS, we tested a few ideas.  One was to shoot the more punk locations and scenes using a Super 16 sized cutout on the Alexa or maybe a RED.  We’d also use super 16 lenses for this to make sure it was a bit rougher and uglier looking, making it a bit more raw and unpolished.   Then we’d use the full sensor width / Super 35 for the richer and more lush locations and we wanted to see how that looked when shot.  You’ll also see a few different ideas for lenses as well.

The first season was shot using Panavision pVintage / Ultraspeeds and I was leaning towards keeping that choice, as I’m already a fan of those lenses.

We also looked at anamorphic lenses with the idea maybe of doing a 1.78 cut out but with the signature anamorphic look and flares on the glitzier locations.

We also came up with a simple idea that we used to do back on the old days on film where you simply stretch the frame by 5%.  This is a simple way to create anamorphic like bokeh.

If you listen to the sound on this, you’ll hear my candid views and discussion as I narrate this test to the show runner Natalie.  Normally we’d watch this together in a grading suite, but she was in LA at the time and David and I were in Dallas.

In the second longer clip here you’ll see me auditioning a few different looks for the show.  One would be the basic dallies look which I’d strike a LUT from for Dallas.  Then we tried a few different looks for whenever the show moves to Mexico.

Season 1 had already established a very heavy tint for scenes in Mexico, the typical yellow brown wash that is almost a cliche these days and I wanted to try and do something a little more sophisticated and subtle.  So you’ll see me auditioning those looks as well.

The second clip also has some practical tests of a few ideas from the first tests.  There’s a couple of “16mm” shots that re executed using a BM micro.  There’s also some auditioning of some techniques for shooting in a car.  I had my patient key grip Kerry Rike go for a drive with me as I tried a few ways of shooting him in motion.

There are some cool tests for an obscure device called an Arri Varicon and a newer version of the same thing made by Panavision, the Panaflasher.  The idea here is that you use a kind of veiling flare on the lens to alter the contrast in the image, or essentially, flare the blacks a little, sometimes with white light, and sometimes using coloured light.  If you watch you can see me adjusting it to eye as we’re shooting.  Let me know what you make of that !

The second season of Queen Of The South is currently airing on USA.

http://www.usanetwork.com/queenofthesouth

You can also watch the first season on Netflix.

https://www.netflix.com/title/80107369

 

 

Posted in Equipment, General, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

IRND Filters

I recently shot a movie of the week in Vancouver and was lucky enough to get some early samples of the new Panavision IR ND filters.  I tested them here on both the Alexa and the Ursa Mini 4.6K.

You can see the Ursa Mini 4.6K is much more susceptible to IR pollution in this torture test under tungsten lighting.

I also compared the Schneider IR filters and you can see in the above link they really don’t measure up, whereas the Panavision IR’s look really great and were very consistent across their range.  I went onto use the Panavision IR ND filters for the movie and I thought they were great and really consistent.

Up until using them on this film, I’ve pretty much only used the wonderful Mitomo TRUE ND’s, but as some will know these are obscenely expensive and hard to come by.

Well, I recently discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that you can now BUY the Panavision IRND filters, because they’re made by Lee, and Panavision own Lee.  And they’ve just started to sell them to us the general public !

Lee call these “ProGlass Cine IRND filters”.

Here’s the official page from LEE.

And here’s the official Panavision page.

And just to make sure they’re the same filters I checked by camera testing them!

So here’s a quick exterior IR filter test.  I shot using the Alexa Mini, shooting ProRes 4444 Log C 1920.

I shot the Panavision IR filters, my new LEE IR filters (which should be the same) and some Tiffen IRND’s as a comparison, along with the Alexa Mini’s own internal ND.

Below is a little edit of the 2.1 ND in all situations, so you can compare.  I was surprised how well the Tiffen did actually, as I’ve seen them be a lot worse.  The 2.1 ND is a real test because at that density you generally see lot’s of variation in colour and consistency.  As an extra check I’ve also shot using no filters at all.

Here’s the Digital Pigeon preview file (faster load)

Or watch here on Vimeo.

All I’ve done here is apply the Resolve / Arri default REC 709 LUT and I just used a curve to open the blacks up a little bit more.  I then applied this grade to all the clips.

I used shutter angle / shutter speed to regulate light levels and used false colour on the grey chip to maintain exposure.  It was all shot over about a 40 min period with very little cloud, so it should be consistent.  All the exposures are noted on the slate.

As expected, there are little variations in exposure and most surprising to me was that I found the Arri Alexa Mini internal ND’s to be a little green and differing in density on this default grade.

But if you want to check for yourself, go ahead and download the original camera files here courtesy of my friends at Digital Pigeon.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone sees anything different, feel free to leave a comment if you do.

There are some tiny differences in the way the edges are finished on the LEE filters compared to the PV filters but the glass is the same, as are the pouches. I really like the little notches on the PV filters to let you know by touch how many stops they are.  I would pay extra to have my filters engraved with my name the way the Panavision ones are, I wonder if that’s hard to do?

 

 

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Intrigue – How far will you go ?

 

I’ve been flat out in pre production on a new Telemovie I’m shooting in Vancouver, but I wanted to share this little short film project from earlier in the year.

Following on from the launch video I did for the Olympus EM-5 Mark II, I thought it was time to put some of the newly updated features to the test on an actual short narrative style shoot.

I’ve been doing a lot of testing of the new FLAT video profile for the Olympus E-M5 Mark II and I was really keen to find out how far I could take the image if it was recorded to a more robust codec using an external recorder.

After the initial launch of the E-M5 Mark II Olympus have been taking feedback from video users and have included some of that feedback into firmware updates to further improve the video capabilities. Most significantly they’ve created a FLAT profile for shooting video and the thinking is to try and squeeze a little more DR into the image by starting with a lower contrast and flatter picture profile. This then allows you to put the colour and contrast back in during the final grade.

About the Shoot

I wanted to see how the camera and new profile would produce in a very minimal environment.  For me, this is when using a mirrorless camera really excells.  I can be very discrete and shoot without any requirement for permits.   With just two crew and the two actors, I was keen to try the camera in a few scenarios where I knew it might shine.

So I had three days.  Luckily I had some friends in LA on a recent trip to California that I was able to rope in for this shoot.

Now who hasn’t thought about driving the open highway in a classic car like a nice ’65 Mustang ?

So I had in mind to shoot some in-car work and also to visit some of the more iconic locations of California.

Starting at a wonderful standing “movie version” of an American gas station, we set the scene between our couple who meet for the first time.

The Story

After some initial frisson over the bowsers he leaves before they can talk, but she eventually finds a little surprise he’s left her.  A ring !

Later she realises that he’s left her a message inside the ring, it’s an Instagram handle.  Looking it up she realises he’s left her a picture clue for where he might be next, so she takes off to track him down.  After arriving at the beautiful Joshua Tree, she again finds another ring.  Checking in on Instagram, he’s left yet another clue, and she’s off again, this time to the snow capped mountains of inspiration point, about 90 mins outside of LA.

Once in the beautiful mountains she finds a third ring and it points her towards Santa Monica Pier where she finally meets up with the mysterious stranger.  They have a dance by the sunset before he finally offers her a final ring.

The Rules

I had no tripod.  This is all shot handheld.  No gimbal, no monopod.  There are a couple of shots where I had the camera mounted using a suction mount when it was on the car, but that’s IT !  So everything you see here is done using the amazing 5 axis image stabiliser.

The Outcome

With a grand total of four people, three days and 600 miles of driving this is what we got done !

The Gear

Everything was recorded on an external recorder over HDMI using the “clean feed function” of the camera.  I used a 5″ Blackmagic Video Assist recorder to record the HDMI signal to 1920 ProRes HQ on it’s internal SD card.

Intrigue was edited and graded using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve (which is available as a free download here)

If you’re interested in what the visual differences are with the flat profile, you can get a sense of where the grade started to where it ended up by looking here. The first image is the final grade and the second is the ungraded shot.

 

I used a combination of lenses, mostly the outstanding Olympus 12mm F2, and the Olympus 9-18mm F4-5.6.  I love these lenses because they are so lightweight !  For ND I used the SLR Magic Vari ND and in addition to these lenses I had some PL mount Zeiss MK 3 Superspeeds from my friends at Blacklist Digital and an MFT–> PL lens adaptor from Hot Rod Camera.

Thanks to

Special thanks to the awesome Jane Harber,  Armen Taylor on acting duties and especially to Jessica Clarke-Nash, who helped shoot and cut this for me. My good friend Hook did the grade.

I also really want to thank Kristy Galea and Olympus Imaging Australia for her awesome support and making this shoot possible, and Quett Lai for his masterful technical support.

Download your own files

For direct viewing in vimeo go here.

If you want to download some juicy large ProRes files to try editing and grading your own clips then go here.

Very special thanks to my friends at Digital Pidgeon for making these files available for download, it’s not easy doing such fast hosting of large video files.

Posted in Equipment | 36 Comments

In Memory of Morgan

I just learned of the sad news of the passing of a colleague Morgan Evans.

You have probably seen him on your screens and not realised it.  I was lucky enough to know this amazing stunt performer and director and got to work on a few shows with him.  I’ll never forget his boundless enthusiasm and energy and love of life.

I still remember seeing one of his VCA films as a young filmmaker and being so astounded at the audacity of his stunts, humour, production value and the political commentary he managed to combine in one simple film.

Although we hadn’t crossed paths lately, I miss you already and the world is poorer for not having you around.

Morgan Evans (pointing behind camera), Tony D’Aquino and I working on a TVC in Vietnam

 

 

 

 

 

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Ursa Mini 4.6 And Alexa side by side

So here’s an interesting one.

I had a chance while shooting some tests recently of the new Olympus firmware upgrade to the Olympus E-M5 Mark II to shoot some tests in a studio under controlled conditions.

I set up a 3200K balanced lighting setup and then also able to shoot the Ursa Mini 4.6K in RAW and then shot the same again with Arri RAW on an Alexa XT.

This was shot using Cooke S4’s and both cameras were exposed for ISO 800.

I designed this scenario to show some contrast and I’ve also added a brightness ramp on the back wall.  You can work out how many stops over and under from the Fc readings here.

 

Tungsten Set

 

 

 

I think the UM4.6K stacks up very well against an Alexa shooting RAW, but I’d love to hear if you think it does.

The only thing I’ve noticed now that I’ve had some time with these files is that there appears to be a small amount of IR contamination in the blacks around Maddy’s shirt and the fabric on the table on the UM4.6K.  This can be easily corrected but it’s unexpected.

I used a mitomo True ND6 here and these filters have been very reliable for me on other cameras.  I have to admit a lot of the other shooting I’ve been doing for Blackmagic I’ve been using the firecrest ND’s and haven’t seen this problem before.  It may well be that the TRUE NDs are letting in some IR that the UM4.6K is seeing, but I’d have to test further for that and haven’t had a chance to.

In any case please do enjoy these camera original files hosted by my friends at Digital Pigeon.  I’d love any feedback too if you’re finding the files fast to download or not.

Here are the Blackmagic shots.

http://bit.ly/1U7P4OB

And then the Arri Alexa RAW

 

A002C001ALX_1.1.1

Arri Alexa RAW open gate Cooke S4 32mm

http://bit.ly/1Z2VONe

A002C007ALX_1.5.1

 

Arri Alexa RAW open gate Cooke S4 75mm

http://bit.ly/1o24uWv

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Equipment, Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Ursa Mini 4.6K Carnival

With the recent shipping news on the much anticipated Ursa Mini 4.6K camera, I wanted to give people a chance to download and grade some more files.  I have a few other more “test” style shots coming, but for now I’m keeping it fun.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Santa Monica Pier at sunset and this is a selection of shots I managed to get.

I shot Ursa Mini 4.6K PL and no ND.  These are RAW 4:1.  I had the Angenieux 16-42 and the 80-200 TLS which is a rehoused Nikon lens.  Both are T2.8 lenses.

Because they’re compressed RAW, only the CURRENT version of Resolve will open these files. It’s a free download.

Also, I want to acknowledge my good friends Digital Pigeon for hosting these very large files.   They are hosting these for me for nix so please pay them a visit in return and consider their specialised high volume super fast file sharing options.

They put all the others to shame and I know from personal experience these guys are the best.

http://www.digitalpigeon.com/

And so the files.

I was going to cut a little piece together, but I figure it’s just best if you get to try them for yourself.  I’ve got some little preview shots but best you download to see what they’re really capable of.

I’ve tried to include the darker evening and mixed lighting shots.  Normally a challenge for any camera.

If you grade and share these files online, please remember to acknowledge the source. I’d love to see you post your grades back here in the comments too.

 

1741 C0016_1.2.1

http://bit.ly/1ZhoO3S

1741 C0018_1.3.1

http://bit.ly/1R8mgTO

 

1747 C0027_1.3.1

http://bit.ly/1R8mlaf

 

1758 C001_1.5.1

http://bit.ly/1R8mQAZ

 

1811 C017_1.6.1

http://bit.ly/1R8n0Ix

1812 C018_1.7.1

http://bit.ly/1R8nezw

1818 C0024_1.8.1

http://bit.ly/1R8nlLg

1819 C026_1.9.1

http://bit.ly/1R8ntKK

1823 C031_1.11.1

http://bit.ly/1R8nChe

1826 C35_1.1.1

http://bit.ly/1R8nOgG

1748 C0028_1.4.1

http://bit.ly/1R8nZbE

 

 

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Olympus E-M5 Mark II FLAT profile tested

***** UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION. SEE BELOW

 

Further to some recent camera testing, here are the results for the Olympus E-M5 Mark II using the new flat profile.  Late last year Olympus released a significant firmware update to the E-M5 Mark II that among other improvements, added an extra video shooting profile.

Using the flat profile allows you to try and squeeze a little more dynamic range into the eight bit file being recorded by the camera.  You should use the flat profile when you know you’re going to be grading later and in doing so you’re going to preserve as much detail for the grade as you can.

Another way we can preserve information is to use a better acquisition codec.  The E-M5 Mark II allows us to record the clean feed from the HDMI (unlike the E-M1) so that means I can use an external recorder.

For these tests I dual recorded, both internally to the none-to-shabby All-I codec but at the same time I also recorded 1920 ProRes HQ files with a Blackmagic Video Assist.  This is a small low cost monitor / recorder that’s very well suited for this job.

When it came time to compare these files I also learned something.  Now, with the FLAT profile loaded, I expected that the internally recorded ALL-I files would look almost the same as the externally recorded ProRes HQ file, but I’d find the ProRes files would be more be even more robust to work with because they have less compression and are 10 bit files instead of 8 bit.

What I didn’t expect was there was a slight difference in colour hues.  This was confusing because bit depth and compression shouldn’t affect how the colours are reproduced.  So I went back to Olympus and it turns out that they have used two different colour gamut standards.  So internally the camera uses the older REC 601 colour gamut standard, but on the HDMI output they use the current HD spec of REC 709.

Now I don’t think that many people will notice or even worry about this difference and the external recording is at least using the more up to date gamut standard.

So to reiterate here again, this is the same lighting setup I used in the recent E-M1 test I posted.

Here’s the lighting plot.

Tungsten Set

And here’s what you’re looking at on screen.

I also set up a daylight colour temperature version.

Daylight Set

 

And here’s what you’re looking for here…

And then the same candlelight version.

So unlike the E-M1, because we’re now shooting big boy formats like ProRes, these files are much bigger than the internal camera files are normally, so be prepared !

You can find these files, hosted and shared by my good friends at Digital Pidgeon, who offer a very fast and secure file sharing service.

Here’s the edited ProRes and All-I internal comparison original file.

1gb E-M5 Mark II Colour Hue intercut

 

As a little coda to this, I’ve since learned the following….

I’ve confirmed the HDMI output is 4:2:2 @ 8 bit.

I’ve also learned that the frame rate is DIFFERENT on output compared to what’s recorded internally.

This means, you choose 24 FPS in the menu, internally it’s recording 23.976 (the us / japanese version of 24 fs) BUT on the output over HDMI it’s straight 24 FPS.

Same for 30 fps.  It’s recording 29.970 internally but outputting 30 FPS over HDMI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Equipment, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 34 Comments