Archive for the ‘Tools/Equipment’ Category

Dimmer Boxes

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

When I was looking through the new edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook, I noticed a lot of little changes and additions. An example: In a list of equipment to bring to the set, in the lighting category I noticed one addition: “dimmer boxes.” I can’t argue with that — dimmer boxes help one light with finesse, and they’re fairly easy to come by.

I went to the trouble of making a couple dimmers (aka “hand squeezers”) myself about a year and a half ago. I made a couple of 600 watt boxes, as well as a 1000 watt box. The supplies I got from the local home improvement store, though I remember that the 1000w dimmer was not widely available. If I remember correctly, I built all three dimmer for about $100 in supplies. They would have been cheaper, but the 1000w dimmer was considerably more expensive than the 600w.

In retrospect, instead of making those boxes, I would have been better off simply purchasing one of the many dimmer boxes or router speed controls (which can be used as a dimmer box) that are commercially available. They’re cheaper, they’re probably more reliable than anything I could build, and the heavy duty router speed controls can handle more power than the ones I built. Plus, the router speed controls have a safety fuse, which my self-built dimmers lack.

Shopping for some last week, I ran across lots of varieties. Here are some:

Dimmer Boxes:

Ikea Dimma – 300 Watts and under – $7.95
Note: Not useful for most motion picture lights, but if you just need something for practicals, these are nice and cheap.

Smith Victor – DC-1 Dimmer Control – 600 Watts and under – $23.95

Router Speed Controls:

Harbor Freight Tools – 15 Amps and lower – $19.99

MLCS Router Speed Control – 15 Amps and lower – $20.95 and $28.95, respectively, for the “home” and “industrial/commercial” use boxes

Grizzly G3555 Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $31.50

Rockler Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $39.99

If, however, you wish to build your own, you can find instructions in Blain Brown’s Motion Picture and Video Lighting, 2nd Edition (p. 241) and, of course, there are plans aplenty on the ‘net.

Review: Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Note: Though it’s clumsy phrasing throughout this review I refer to the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher by its full name because Primera makes a similarly named unit, the Bravo SE AutoPrinter. The AutoPrinter model prints, but does not burn, DVDs. It’s a critical distinction, and one that you want to make sure you’re aware of if you decide to purchase either unit!

**

Though the days of online distribution are upon us, DVDs still remain a (if not the) most effective way of sharing work seriously with an audience.

Obviously, one way of producing DVDs of one’s work is to burn discs individually on your computer. After burning, you can label them by hand or, if you have a printer that accepts DVDs, use a printer. This method works fine if you’ve just got a handful to burn. Sometimes these printers can be fussy, though. Don’t get me started on my experiences with my Epson R200 printer.

Another way of producing DVDs is to have them produced by a professional duplication house (e.g., DiscMakers). This is the way to go if you need hundreds for festival submissions, online or in-person sales.

But what about if you need somewhere between a dozen and a thousand? What if you find yourself needing to burn and print a moderate number discs, particularly projects that need to be updated intermittently (like, say, a demo reel)?

The Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher aims for this market. A combination laser jet printer, DVD burner, and robotic arm, it automates the burning and printing up to 20 DVDs at a time. I have been testing one for the past couple of months, and here are my findings:

Pros:

Once set up, it does the job without hassle. Setting up the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher with a Windows-based computer was fairly hassle free. And once it was set up the unit performed like a charm. Readers of this site may be doing a double-take — Did Paul just say Windows machine? Yup. I first tried setting up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher using an older “sunflower” iMac. That unit simply didn’t have enough RAM and processor speed to do the job. Worse, though, was the fact that, regardless of the Mac computer I used, the included software was buggy and the features were limited. On a Windows-based machine the Bravo SE Disc Publisher has worked flawlessly and the included burning and label design software is easy to use.

Automation is a beautiful thing. The Bravo SE Disc Publisher will do runs of 20 discs. In my tests, the unit only stopped mid-run because of an error once, and that error was an operator error. (The “finished disc” tray should be extended when printing one disc, but pushed in when printing two or morel I left it out once when I should have pushed it in.) After a number of runs I grew confident that the unit didn’t need “nursing.” I felt confident leaving it alone and concentrating on other work.

It’s pretty speedy. The time it takes to burn and print a run of 20 is dependent on a lot of factors — the length of the program, the design of the label, your computer’s processor speed and RAM. With my set-up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher was able to burn 20 DVDs of a short program (30 minutes or so) with a basic text label in about an hour. I was satisfied with those results.

Results have been reliable. The DVDs I’ve burned work, and they look consistently good. ‘Nuff said.

Cons:

Not so hot on Macintosh. Though, admittedly, I tried using an iMac that didn’t have enough oomph to get the job done, the design/burning software included for Mac was not as feature rich.

Ultimately, whether this unit is for you depends on your DVD burning needs. The results are more immediate than sending the DVDs off for replication, and the thing is far speedier than burning and printing with your computer and a printer that requires you loading discs one-by-one. However, for the cost of a Bravo SE Disc Publisher (about $1500 online) you could do two 300 disc runs (including cases and full-color sleeves) at DiscMakers. And remember, you’ll need to purchase blank DVDs, blank cases, print inserts, etc. if using a Primera.

You’ll have to do your own cost-benefit analysis to determine what’s most cost effective for the work you do, but for what it sets out to do, the Bravo SE Disc Publisher is a success.

Use Caution, Leopard Ahead

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Apple’s new operating system, Leopard, was released about 5 minutes ago. If you edit video — and I assume you do if you’re reading this — read the post at Little Frog before you rush to upgrade. (Little Frog… Leopard… What is it with the animals today?). Shane Ross has some tips for upgrading, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

The golden rule? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Read on…

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after going on sale, Leopard is… going on a rampage. While there are, doubtless, some happy early adopters out there, several folks are making some noise about all of the problems they’re having post-install. Topics in the Apple Support Forums with such inspiring titles as “Installation appears stuck on a plain blue screen” are not reassuring.

So, for now, beware. As one MacFixit article states:

Apple, having allowed this shipment to slip six months already, has had to get Leopard out the door before the end of October by hook or by crook. You may reasonably conclude that this cake is probably not entirely baked. As with Tiger, an early software update (10.5.1) will likely be needed to correct a multitude of issues. Until then, consider yourself a beta tester.

If you absolutely must install Leopard, read this MacFixIt article about the best way to install Leopard.

Pulling Focus

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Focus is such a downright elemental part of the filmmaking process that it’s often taken for granted. Like sound, most moviegoers only notice it when it’s bad.

Aside from the occasional rack-focus, the work of a good 1st AC (or whoever’s pulling the focus) probably shouldn’t call attention to itself. And yet it’s work that takes nimble hands, good eyes, and a near-balletic sense of timing and movement.

I enjoyed FresHDV’s latest 3-part tutorial with Bob Sanchez on The Art of Focus Pulling, in which the FresHDV guys document Sanchez revealing how he approaches his work and some tricks of the trade.

Here are the links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Aside from learning some things, after watching the series I went away appreciating even more how, when it’s done right, the craft/art of it is simultaneously invisible and right before your eyes. How’s that for a paradox?

Update from Matt Jeppsen of FresHDV:

When we posted the last clip in our three-part “Art of Pulling Focus” series, I had quite a few people e-mail me and specifically ask for a quicktime and/or HD version. Well at long last, here it is. We’re sharing the 15-min Part 3 hands-on demonstration video as a 720p H.264 clip, available here.

Two Hands are Better Than One: LevelCam and “RebelCam”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Earlier this month, Matt over at FresHDV posted some photos of a new, fairly inexpensive ($50) gizmo called the LevelCam, which helps stabilize camcorder footage. This is no Steadicam — there’s no counterweight, no spring-loaded arm, no gimble. It’s just a small horizontal mounting surface that allows a camera operator to hold a camera level with two hands instead of just one. The LevelCam looks throw-it-in-your-backpack small, which is an added bonus.

Of course, if you’re too cheap to spring for something like the LevelCam — of if you just want to see how such a thing works — you could build a similar contraption. Stu Maschwitz’s DV Rebel’s Guide has instructions for building what he calls a “ghetto cam.” (Note to Stu: Not to get too PC on you, but I think “StuCam” or “RebelCam” would be a better name for it.) What is it? Basically a 2×4 and a couple of 1″ dowels.

I just built a “RebelCam” to see just how much it helps stabilize the image, and I have to say that it works better than I expected. The materials cost less than $10; building it took about an hour. The two downsides are that a) it’s kinda bulky and b) getting the camera mounted with a thumbscrew is a pain. For $40 more (and no effort) you can get a smaller, possibly more convenient version.

Of course, you can just try to hold the camera steady with one hand. People have done it for years. Or at least tried.