The Canon T2i is a wonderful film production tool capable of capturing totally boring "clips" that scream home video or it can deliver truly wonderful, jaw dropping images. So what makes the difference between a simple YouTube "video clip" and a video that can legitimately claim to be a true, cinematic experience for the viewer? It's more than just the camera and the person using it. Ultimately, creating the "film look" for your production involves all three of the main production stages; pre-production, production and post production.
Planning out your production day in advance like making sure you are at the location and ready to roll camera during "the Golden Hour" as opposed to high noon with the hot sun and harsh shadows all around takes some thinking ahead. You don't always have to have a full script or even a storyboard to make a great film - but do at least jot down a shot list so that you remember to get all the footage you will need.
What about budget? Fear not, these are the days of the micro and "no budget" filmmaker. I wrote a post recently on what I called Lower Cost Filmmaking around the idea that you can make a decent film with almost any camera if you know its limitations and find creative solutions to work around them - don't let lack of gear stop your project. Did you know that you can rent fantastic production gear over the Internet and have it shipped to you?
TWO HOT TIPS FOR SUNNY DAYS
There are two pieces of extra gear that are going to make a huge difference in the look of your film...Neutral Density filters and a LCD Viewer. Filming on a bright day can mean that even at a shutter speed of 1/50th and and an ISO of 100 you can't get that beautiful shallow depth of field shot because your whole image is blown out with too much light. Cutting down the amount of light hitting the sensor is where Neutral Density filters come in and I recommend getting the Variable kind that incorporate 6-10 stops of light reduction in a single, screw-on filter.
On bright days, the T2i's LCD is so washed out with light it's almost unusable - you simply can't see the screen. So get yourself an LCD Loupe that covers and magnifies the LCD screen so that even on the brightest day, your LCD screen is easy to view. Either that or throw a towel over your head and over the back of the camera like photographers did in the Wild West days - yes, you will look like a total dork but at least you'll be able to work.
How you've setup and stabilized your camera is going to make a huge difference in the end result. What can be achieved in post production, a.k.a. editing, is truly remarkable but do some things right during production and your task will be ten times less frustrating and faster.
Here's a quick checklist:
* Put your camera in full manual mode and film like a big boy or girl so you have full control over the camera. (Come on you big scaredy cats, stop messing around with the automatic/green box "P" mode (you know what "P" stands for right?)
* Film at 24 frames per second - it's what we are all used to from watching big screen movies
* Set your Shutter Speed at 1/50 and basically keep it there whenever you are filming at 24fps
* Set your video frame size to 1920x1080p HD - might as well get the best image possible out of the camera right?
* Use the Neutral Picture Style or set a custom or "Flat" Picture Profile (optional)
* Keep your ISO as low as the shot allows - I try to stay on ISO 100 if I can but when I have to raise it I try to stick to ISO 160 or to multiples of 160, like 320. It has to do with "native" versus "non-native" ISOs if you really want to investigate the issue further.
* Focus manually
* Instead of relying on AWB mode (automatic white balance) manually white balance each and every shot. (Do as I say, not as I do (or in this case "don't"))
* If your film has dialogue use some kind of external audio digital recorder with good to great quality microphones
* Use fast lenses with constant aperture if you can afford them. I like prime lenses but constant aperture zooms are okay too)
* Open up your camera lens aperture (the smaller numbers) to achieve "shallow depth of field" particularly for your "beauty shots"
* Use other F-stop's (aperture) settings creatively.
* Protect your highlights from blowing out by filming a tad bit underexposed
* Avoid "nausea cam" and keep the camera stable using a tripod, monopod or other type of rig
* Don't always use locked off tripod shots - let some motion into the frame using panning, tilting, a slider, jib, steadicam or similar technique. If someone or something is moving through the frame that can be more interesting than a "tallking head" closeup.
* Get a wide variety of shots (wide masters, medium and closeups) for every scene
* Film LOTS of B-Roll - it WILL save your life!
* Film something specifically for your opening titles - here's a real chance to be super creative
* And for extra credit: experiment with some creative shots like extreme closeups, unusual angles, slow motion, time lapse - that kind of thing
POST PRODUCTION TIPS (FINALLY)
Okay you're in great shape to begin. Here are the steps I recommend:
Data Wrangling/Conversion - The part before the editing fun begins.
* Backup all your storage cards before you do anything. I create a folder called "RAW Video Card 1" and drag the entire contents of my first used SDHC memory card into it. Rinse and repeat for every SDHC card - changing the "1" to a "2" and so on.
* If you don't need to use your SDHC memory cards right away for another project, place them aside in a safe place until your project is completely edited and delivered.
* Launch MPEG Streamclip, Compressor or similar.
* Convert your H.264 encoded clips that the T2i created into something like ProRes 4:2:2 or Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC). Editing native H.264 files is a huge drain on your computer's CPU and will make editing much, much harder.
Even though I eventually deliver my video at 720p size I generally keep my files at 1080p resolution all the way through the editing process. When I'm finished editing, I'll export a master copy at 1080p for safe keeping and then use MPEG Streamclip to downconvert it to 720p for distribution.
* Place your brand spanking new ProRes-encoded clips into folder called "ProRes Video Card 1"
* Copy over your digital audio files to a new folder called "RAW audio Card 1"
* Sync and replace the #$@&%$*-fest audio so generously recorded by your T2i with the beautiful, lush sound recordings furnished by your external digital recorder and mic combo (This step can be done manually in Final Cut Pro or if you have the dinero save yourself some time and hassle and buy PluralEyes or DualEyes and have the audio syncing done auto-magically for you!)
* Create a new folder called "Sync Clips Card 1" to store your video clips which now have your newly sync'd good audio.
* Now I want to create a little editing working area on whatever drive I will be editing off of. Typically I just create a folder with the name of the project and in there will place my:
RAW Video folders
RAW Audio folders
Sync Clip folders
Final Cut Project
DRAFT Version (used to store my work in progress exports)
FINAL (will eventually hold my 1080p MASTER HD and 720p Distribution-ready movie file)
RENDER (to house your Final Cut Pro render files)
* I often will go ahead and create several other folders I use to organize my editing workspace even if they are empty at first:
Images (jpegs, screen grabs etc)
Documents (for things like scripts, storyboards)
* BACK UP this entire folder to another drive. Set up some kind of system for yourself to remember to regularly back up your project as you edit - stuff WILL happen along the way that will make you cry so at least have a backup to resort to as you wipe away the tears!
GETTING FCP READY TO ROCK
The first thing I usually do within Final Cut is select File-->Import-->Folder to import all the Sync'd Video folders into my Final Cut project's Browser Window. These folders hold my ProRes encoded video clips with the good sync'd audio already incorporated.
At this point I navigate under the "Final Cut Pro" menu and select "System Settings…" Here I can set my render file (called "scratch disk" in FCP lingo) to the RENDER directory I created earlier in my project folder.
Next, I drag into the project timeline the first ProRes clip I am going to work on - this allows me to set up my "Sequence Settings" mostly automatically because then Final Cut will ask me if I want to have it configure the Sequence Settings according to the parameters of that first clip I dragged into the timeline.
I select "Yes" with extra enthusiasm, it saves a bit of time and is easy.
But there are still a couple of custom settings I want to make in the Sequence-->Settings… window. The first is perhaps unique to my situation because of the rather weak Macbook Pro I edit on. In order for some of my effects to render I have to go click on the "Video Processing" tab of the Sequence Settings window and select "Render in 8-bit YUV."
In the "Timeline Options" tab I use the following settings:
Hit the blue "OK" button to save your Sequence Setting choices and exit out of the window.
By the way, you can set up FCP 's default project settings to do most of this configuration automatically for you
As the project rolls along I like to create lots of sub-folders within the Browser window, called "bins", to organize my stuff - but that's just me, be as messy and unorganized as you like.
AN OPTION: EDITING IN 720P AND REFRAME
Another option you have is edit in a timeline set up for 720p versus letting it default to its native 1080p resolution as you might normally.
What this gives you is when you move clips in your timeline they will be automatically reduced in size to 66.67%, giving yourself quite a significant play area to reframe your shot with.
Reframing is done simply by adjusting the "scale" setting for the clip in the motion tab up from 66.67% to as high as 100% and then dragging and sliding the clip around in the Canvas to a new position, because your project frame size is smaller than the clips you are working with, reframing doesn't cost you any of your clip's resolution.
COLOR CORRECTION AND GRADING FILTERS, PLUG-INS AND MORE
Some terminology to get us started:
I view color "correction" as simply getting your white's white and your black's black - it's a technical exercise to get your video "correct" in terms of broadcast standards and the levels they set…but hang on a minute, most of us are not distributing our videos over TV and Cable stations that have to meet government mandated quality or technical standards.
For us who put our stuff up on YouTube, Vimeo or even on the big screen - what is "correct" anyways?
To my mind, what most people are talking about when discussing how they modified the look of their footage in editing is "color grading" - the artistic manipulation of light, colors and saturation in editing to reflect the creator's vision…which could be anything from a desaturated black and white look to the overused orange skin'd actors and teal backgrounds that is so popular in action films at the moment ( I don't get this look but hey Hollywood likes it.)
My process always begins with the king of all FCP video filters… Color Corrector - 3 Way. Even if you don't do any other color correction or grading with your footage, do this one thing - in fact this one filter can dramatically change the look of your clip like almost no other.
Some pros say the right way to use this filter is to start by setting the "black point" but I like starting off my color correction with the "white point" eyedropper - mostly because I see more of an immediate difference to the look of the clip when I do it this way, THEN I go ahead and set the black point.
Because I generally film my clips a little bit underexposed in order to avoid blowing out the brighter parts of the picture - I find that raising the top-most brightness slider up a bit brings a bit more energy back into the frame.
If I have filmed the scene using a flat or neutral custom picture profile - then I also nudge up the color saturation slider a bit to taste.
SCOPE IT OUT
There's a great set of 4 scopes included with FCP to help you make better, more technically calibrated adjustments…one I'd like to highlight now is the "RGB Parade" or just "Parade" scope. With this window displayed, as you make adjustments within the Color Corrector 3-Way window you can see exactly what impact you are having to the red, green and blue color values of your video clip in real time…very fun and informative!
You don't want the tops of the red, green or blue waveforms to be higher than the "0" line on the Parade and your blacks should ideally rest on the bottom line.
There are another 3 sliders which are so excellent in the 3 Way Color Corrector filter. You will find them right below the Blacks, Mids and Whites color balance controls or "circles" - experiment and see how dramatically each of these sliders can improve your clip - it's worth the time.
I am going to share a couple tips I just reviewed myself from a tutorial video posted by Rich Harrington on adjusting skin tones using the 3-Way Color Corrector and the Final Cut Vectorscope. http://podcasts.creativecow.net/final-cut-studio-podcast/3-way-color-corrector-final
Two learning points really stand out.
The first is that it doesn't matter if the person is African American, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, or whatever, the color adjustments for skin tone are exactly the same. In fact, if you lit an office scene featuring an Asian businessman and then you replaced him with an African American actor while keeping the same scene lighting - any skin tone adjustments you had made in Final Cut for the Asian could be copy and pasted on the African American clip, "skin is skin" because we are actually adjusting for the color of blood which is red for everyone of course.
Next is how easy it is to get the skin tone correct. Start by using the crop tool to temporarily isolate just a small area of the person's skin. Now bring up the Vectorscope window (Window -->Tool Bench) and you'll see a diagonal purple line going from the center of the "radar scope" circle to the upper left - that's your skin tone line.
Somewhere near that (hopefully) will be a white or lime green blob, that's showing where your skin color is actually falling on the scope. Because you've previously isolated the skin area you can be sure that the scope is only showing you the colors related to the skin and not everything in your frame as it normally would.
The quick fix trick is to click and drag the central bubble in the "Mids" color balance wheel to move that blob to fall on top of the skin tone line and stretching in the same direction, use the other adjustments as necessary - then simply undo your crop and you're done.
SHARPNESS AND FOCUS
If you have used one of the recommended custom picture profiles for your T2i promoted by experts like Philip Bloom, Shane Hurlbut and Vincent LaForet then you will have set your camera to have the sharpness turned all the way down…why? Because the sharpening algorithms built into the T2i are not very good, and because you can always add sharpness back in during editing using FCP's much more advanced tools.
Okay, here's the truth about my process, I personally don't use the sharpness filter or the "unsharp mask" tool on the vast, vast majority of clips.
A few days ago I was wondering if perhaps I have been making a big mistake by not applying sharpness so I played with a few clips and added sharpness to them to see how it impacted my look.
I discovered that the more sharpness is increased the more my clips remind me of bad TV video and less like the film look I am going for. I hear photographers talk a lot about getting "tack sharp" images - and this is great for a print someone is going to be staring at in a magazine closeup or hanging on a gallery wall - but for the cinematic "film look" I don't get it.
I think your video should be in focus - but sharpened or not sharpened is a matter of taste. This may be a controversial viewpoint and feel free to comment and share what works for you, this is just my way.
LOOKS - THE NOT SO SECRET WEAPON
There's a great piece of software from Red Giant software that has dramatically impacted how high quality DSLR video looks - it is called "Magic Bullet Looks" along with it's baby brothers "Magic Bullet Quick Looks" and "Magic Bullet Mojo" - I use Quick Looks just because right now I can't afford the full, higher priced Looks product.
Its use is so widespread and predominant in DSLR color grading circles that it might as well be turned into a verb like "Did you Look that footage?"
With these tools, one click and your footage is instantly given a totally different and dramatic look/color grading. If you buy the full "Looks" package then you also have the ability to modify these preset look templates in very detailed and precise ways to give you exactly what you want or you can start entirely from scratch and build your own custom looks.
Red Giant's lesser priced "Quick Looks" product give you more modest modification capabilities but they are there. One thing I might try is stacking effects to build entirely new looks even with the lower priced Red Giant software.
I'm going to fully jump on the Red Giant bandwagon and suggest you incorporate their tools into your workflow (and "no" I don't have any relationship with them nor did they give me anything)
Many of the Red Giant filter choices incorporate vignetting to some degree but FCP includes a vignette filter to achieve the same thing - vignetting tends to draw the viewer's eye to the brighter, central region of the frame but if overdone can be obvious and cliche - still a good tool to have in your back pocket.
ADD THE GRAIN - NOT THE NOISE
I'm not talking about wheat or cereals here but about film grain.
Traditional movie or still camera film has a texture to it caused by small metallic crystals of silver halide that reacts to light in such a way as to capture an image on the film strip. These individual particles are like the first "pixels" before modern digital cameras came along.
The pattern of these crystals on the film stock gave the movie its unique and particular grain so it's very organic in one sense. Different types of film stock each had their own grain look to them.
Noise, on the other hand, is an electronic artifact caused when DSLR video cameras are straining to see into dark areas of the scene. It's artificial noise or sometime I think of it like static buzzing - it's annoying and you want to swat it away. Generally speaking, the higher you push the ISO the more likely you are going to encounter noise in the dark areas of your frame. (on the other hand it's truly amazing just how high we can push our ISOs and still see little or no noise - this is where large sensor chips like that on the T2i shine!)
So noise we don't want and grain - we MAY want.
Before DSLR cameras became so popular for shooting video, traditional videographers were sometimes compositing film grain on top of their video clips during editing to cheat a bit of a film look but then that trend kind of fell out of fashion.
Now grain seems to be making a comeback once more and there are several new and upcoming software packages designed to add high quality, very organic, film grain into your DSLR video.
If you want to try it out, one I know of is called Rgrain (www.rgrain.com) and another is Grain35 - a kickstarter project from the folks behind CrumplePop http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crumplepop/grain35-beautiful-35mm-film-grain-scans-for-your-d which will be fully funded by the time you read this.
Cinegrain is the name of a third product in this category.
The difference of adding grain or not is very subtle, so subtle in fact that I often have trouble seeing any difference at all in the final Web video. That may have to do with compression when video is viewed on the Web - by the time a HD master clip is compressed off the editing timeline into something like H.264 mpeg4 for distribution and then uploaded to a site such as YouTube or Vimeo which may do further compression - the grain effect is mostly lost.
Final Cut Pro includes in the Video Generator effects area an effect called "Noise" which you can add to your video using the "overlay" composite method to get an idea of what the impact may be on your footage but for my taste - it's way too much - too many "particles".
I'd like to highlight a few cinematic touches that really make a video stand out for me and put me in the film watching mode:
* Simple but creative titles
* Music that fits the scene perfectly
I can usually tell within the first 10 seconds at the most if I'm about to be treated to a real experience or just another Vimeo test clip. A couple key queues are great titles/opening sequences and the tasteful use of mood setting music. I always groan when I hear one of the "Apple Garage Band" music clips being used as a background audio - I've heard national TV commercials use them but those tracks are so played out that it's an immediate "oh no, not again" moment.
I can't recommend using songs from your CD or MP3 collection as a soundtrack either because of copyright issues that totally suck but lawyers and DMCA take down notices are a hassle to deal with - so better avoid the issue by either buying a royalty free track from one of the many online services, making your own, or asking a musician friend to help you out.
"Atmosphere" is a rather vague term but your choice of story pacing (how long each cut is and how much breathing room between major beats) overall coloring (is the film as a whole filled with dark blues and grays to create a somber feel or is the frame bursting with bright sunlight, lens flares and dynamic colors suggesting springtime and happiness), certainly music and "NPR sound."
If you've ever listened to feature stories broadcast on National Public Radio you will quickly hear how they carefully use natural ambient sounds recorded on location to play in the background of the report to really give you the feel of the place or time they are talking about. Good films do the same thing - it's a subtle but very nice touch.
Pretty simple stuff here. I use Final Cut's File-->Export-->Quicktime movie to export a 1080p ProRes Master file and place it in the "FINAL" folder I created earlier. But then there's still one more step to go.
To create my final delivery file I launch MPEG Streamclip, import that ProRes master video file and export out a 720p mp4 or .mov file compressed using the H.264 codec. That's the video file that I upload to the Web.
So those are my thoughts on the use of the Canon T2i for creating cinematic experiences. I hope you have found this posting helpful to you and please drop a comment to let me know your thoughts and feedback, it's so appreciated!