The Official ShortSight Films Round-Up of 2013

Yes, that’s quite a pompous title, isn’t it? I think so yet I’m still using it since it conveys the subject of this piece very nicely. It’s a quick round-up of the things I’ve done and films I’ve made in the past year. What better day to this than Dec 31st?

We’ll be chronological.

January 2013

In January the film we shot in November finally saw the light of day. This piece about the Hawk HF3000 gestated far too long because of anxieties about the production values and some self doubt in the presenter. Eventually, this little (and very popular) gem appeared:

February and March 2013

These two months passed without any sign of productive work. I did purchase an old 1D mk2n and the fantastic Canon 200mm f2.8 L mk1 and the rather cheaper but still very good Canon 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 USM via eBay.  This re-invigorated my interest in photography which led to:

A very busy April 2013

I went to my first Autocross event. I loved it and plan to go again in 2014. The entertainment and enjoyment is unparalleled in any form of motorsport.

LyddenSolberg Clash_FP_7893

The same month, Adam had access to another nice car, and we filmed the following review:

Fired up by this and my desire to make some personal projects I sought out subjects for some short films. First up was my brother, Giles Cooper:

This was quickly followed by a visit to Brands Hatch to see another first for me, Truck Racing:

_FP_8652_FP_9305The real highlight of this day for me, though, was the racing by these little chaps:

_FP_8842

May 2013

May arrived with a flurry of gardening activity which I don’t share on this blog. My birthday was celebrated in style at Brands Hatch enjoying the classic touring and sports cars racing on the full Grands Prix circuit.

_FP_7119 _FP_6864 _FP_6843 _FP_6829 _FP_7055 _FP_6946 _FP_6810

I determined I would like a more flexible long lens for this type of work. I still have yet to purchase one, mainly because I’m saving for a house deposit.

June, July, August 2013

The summer was quite leisurely. I produced some photos of wildlife and the countryside and due to other commitments failed to be productive on the blog for some time. This worried me and eventually in

September, October and November 2013

I woke up with a start. I’d be slack all summer and felt rusty on FCPX. I needed to do something. I did somethings. I went to the Goodwood Revival and loved it, certainly something I should be tempted to attend again in the future. Strangely, I did not blog about this but my video spirits surged on discovering a plug-in Called SliceX. It’s simply brilliant. It highlighted shortcomings with my existing 2011 MacBook Pro which sent me down the path of considering buying a new machine. I didn’t. In the end I bough 16Gb of the rather underrated KomputerBay memory for it and my workflow was transformed.

First came

then

and

followed by

then a short film about Jon Lovett and his Honda Blackbird

and

late November was gloriously cold and bright, with cerulean blue skies. Sadly all of these elements were missing the day I set out with Adam to film the rather fabulous XCS 427:

December 2013

December? Well, this month I’ve been very carefully considering my options for future equipment and how I’m going to make the video work start to pay. After some lengthy discussion with dam we’re launching a new website to host our writing and videos.

http://www.quickdrives.co.uk

And that concludes my round-up of the year. If you have any comments, or suggestions please do share. I’ll be back in the new year with updates on QuickDrives and it’s proposed launch in February 2014.

In the meantime, (providing you’re on the same calendar as me) Happy New Year!

Piers

What Next?

Often I lie awake of a night wondering what lies ahead. Although outwardly confident I have a number of insecurities I try to hide. I very much enjoy making the short films that I blog about here at shortsightfilms.com and I wonder where that might lead.

In my previous post I laid out in very broad terms how I see my options for new equipment going forward. Between you and me that can of worms remains firmly opened.I’d love a C100 but can’t really afford one at present, and the 70D is impressive with its touchscreen autofocus and usability but lacks the image quality edge of the C100. Ignoring this technical stuff I want to continue making these films for a long time to come. Sadly, in order to finance improvements in equipment and greater scope in subjects, the films have to start paying their way.

I’ve been discussing this a lot with my good friend, and frequent collaborative partner in these films, Adam Wilkins and we have tossed back and forth ideas on this subject for several years now. Given how busy we both are most of the time it has seldom come to anything. We chat around ambitions but never get anywhere in real terms.

I pottered down to see Adam in Worthing on Saturday last and arrived in some dreadful weather. Four to six foot waves lashed at the single, sea-foam carried over and onto the road beyond. I stopped briefly to film it on Vine and struggled to open my car door, such was the force of the winds.

Having gathered up Adam from his cosy abode we hastened to an appropriate drinking establishment where I promptly hijacked him with a pad of paper and two pens. We sketched out our ideas for a long time, working out what was viable and what was not, who could commit to what and for how long. In the end, we reached a decision. We are going to launch a new website.

Content will be provided by us both with extra material from guest columns. There will be a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and links to both of our Google+ accounts. Our intention is to produce one original video a month, plenty of articles and comment, and to generate some income through advertising. I’ve already linked this blog and the new site to G+, incidentally.

Having beaten our brows over the detail, and many important decisions made, we then had to find a name we both agreed on, and that, more importantly, was still available to register. Many good ideas came and then fell at the latter hurdle. As the evening wore on some of the suggestions became ridiculous. Among those (quite rightly) rejected were: “cylinderhead” , “wormandpeg”, “bushes”, and finest of all, “pinking” .

Eventually I returned from a visit to the lavatory with “quickrack” which was rejected by Adam as too geeky, and was not available anyway. He then suggested “quickdrive” which we mutually adjusted to the domain-available and our final choice of quickdrives

I registered this the same night. Our intention is to launch the new site on 1st February 2014.

This blog will continue as a source of my wittering, musings and more technical stuff around the films. Of course, I’ll still be doing my own projects which won’t necessarily be on-topic for the website, and so they too will need an outlet. This next month will be very busy, we need to get a design, logo and advertising sorted in a very short timescale. Luckily, we are not short of ideas and drive.

Watch this blog for more updates. I’ll be keeping you up to speed as we work toward the launch date. If you need to contact us with comments, suggestions or ideas, please use this link.

Finally, given the date today if you’re celebrating then Merry Christmas, if not, enjoy the holidays!

Piers

Upgrade time?

As you know I’ve been making my little films now for three years and for most of that time I’ve used a Canon 550D/T2i as my main camera. There are two support cameras – a Canon IXUS and a Polaroid bullet cam, but the problem is mainly with the 550. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of this camera as time goes on, but it’s so light and easy to use (especially now I’m running Magic Lantern) that it’s simply the relatively poor image quality that makes me want to move on.

Poor dynamic range is my principal gripe – crushed blacks combined with blown highlights. DSLRs do not come with built in ND filters which would help this in bright conditions, but under the overcast skies of England most of the time I need the range at the bottom end, not the top. ND Grads could help with this but adds to size, weight and complexity of shooting, although I am giving this some serious thought. Given that I would like to start making films commercially in the near future, a better camera seems a sensible place to start.

I should point out that for the list below you’ll notice a Canon EF mount bias* due to the money I have tied up in compatible glass.

Option 1: Canon 5D mk 3

Another DSLR. Bigger, but with that delicious full-frame sensor for photography and recently given uncompressed HDMI out. This camera is also superb in low-light. At around £2k it isn’t cheap but is the most familiar option, and would hold value reasonably well. To get the best from this I’d need to combine with an Atomos Ninja 2 on a cage, making it bulky. This camera would reduce the moire and aliasing I get in main shots. It will also cost more for memory cards if I capture in-camera.

Option 2: BlackMagic Design (Various)

The BMD Pocket Cinema camera is around £850. This has 13 stops of dynamic range (great!) but reportedly eats batteries like Cookie Monster does biscuits, and uses MFT lenses. Handily, the PCC records straight into ProRes, ideal for use with FCPX. The bigger sisters, 2.5k and 4k are twice and three times as expensive respectively. I hear good things about both – if only supply weren’t so much of an issue. All in all very tempting but too beta for me.

Option 3: Canon C100

I’m torn on this one. Around £4k to pay and you still don’t get 4:2:2 – like the 5D this would need an Atomos. I do, however, love the form-factor, the larger batteries and from what I’ve seen the picture is pretty good too. Like the 5D, a monster for low light – and the Super 35mm sensor is basically APS-C. Sorely tempting but… AvCHD? Seriously? Loathe the packaging of those files and I do intend still to shoot in camera for a fair amount of B-roll. Ugh.

Option 4: Canon EOS M

Eh? Didn’t I just say I’m fed up with the picture from the 550D? Didn’t I just dismiss the Pocket CC for poor battery life? Yes. But I could get two full kits of the EOS M for less money than one PCC. This would give me consistent images across multicam shots and ultimately make my life easier, even if there’s no improvement in image quality.

Option 5: Panasonic GH3

Popular. Clean HDMI out. Can record high-bitrates and in-camera full HD 40% slow-motion. Full time autofocus if required. Impressive, but MFT. Also, I can’t help wondering if it will be replaced in the new year. I’ve heard the image, compared with the 5D3 is noisy. £1200 ish for a kit with lens. Probably not for me, since it too would require an Atomos to get the best out of it and I’d be starting again with glass.

Option 6: Sony Alpha 7/7R

I don’t know enough about this yet to draw any conclusions but I’m hearing good things. Uses e – mount lenses, so again a pain in the pocket. The “base” model 7 is comparable in price to the GH3 / BMD CC 2.5k but of course isn’t an SLR. Like the GH3 it’s a CSC but this time boasting a full frame sensor. I’ll update when I know more.

Now, I’m not unaware of adaptors for lenses. These can be a real boon but always a compromise, especially when trying to get a wide angle shot since adaptors tend to lend magnification and often lose infinity focus. I’d rather stick with dedicated EF mounts if possible.

What should I do? I’m not sure. I’ll be thinking this over during Dec/Jan and will probably go hunting bargains at The Photography Show at the NEC in March. Whatever happens, you’ll see the results right here on shortsightfilms.com.

*Amro, thanks for pointing this out! This edit corrects that.

NEW: Cobra Replica XCS 427 Review

A cold, drizzling morning. Low cloud blots out the sun, weighing heavy on the shoulders of two men driving to a secret location off the M11. Both are pensive. Today, one must drive a car with unknown but high triple figure BHP in previously unexplored conditions. The other must film this event…

As promised in an earlier post this weekend I set out for darkest Birchanger with my colleague, Adam Wilkins to visit Walker Partnership to see the XCS 427. This had originally been pencilled in for the Saturday but the outlook was mixed. At the last minute a swap to the fair-forecast Sunday was made and we turned up in a light drizzle that failed to even once abate throughout the day.

The XCS 427 is a rather fancy bit of kit in more ways than one. Firstly, it is available to self-build, though personally had I the money I should pay for a factory build. The standards they apply are phenomenal. This demonstrator felt as solid as a new BMW, with a great interior and attention to build quality and detail unexpected in my experience of this type of car. Secondly, it is designed using camber-compensating suspension which uses all in-house parts to enable the broad tyres to remain flat to the road throughout cornering, braking and acceleration. This suspension lends the XCS 427 road manners and ride quality that surprise in a very pleasing way. A more than adequate animation may be viewed here:

http://www.walker-partnership.com/xcs_427_frameset.htm

This car also houses a 600bhp+ supercharged Chevrolet LS3 V8 engine, so the fancy suspension is really necessary to keep all this in check. The film only occasionally does this justice. The engine note is spot on. The car growls unmistakably in that V8 fashion but pootling about simply rumbles pleasantly, never anything the neighbours would object to. Unleashed, it roars gloriously, joyously, triumphantly. The side-pipes are perfectly tuned – no need for fancy valves here.

Despite the cold and wet we managed to get a lot of filming done and at the end this short film, only 03 min 51 sec was carved out of 19 Gigabytes of footage and endless sound recordings. I’ve used the object remover from my SliceX purchase of a couple of months ago to remove four things, one of which was a reflection of Adam’s script in the door of the car at one point. I’ll leave you to guess where the others lay. The SliceX proves its worth almost every time I open FCPX, and I now consider it an essential add-on.

Please let us know what you think – if you like please click the heart button, or leave a comment. Sadly, Vimeo won’t let you like without an account but this is no inconvenience to set up. This film may also be viewed on YouTube at:

The filming of this was actually quite straightforward. There are a couple of shots after the opening sequence with which I’m not happy but had little alternative footage and was forced to use. Adam’s YouTube channel hosts the first version, mine both are the second take – neither particularly to my satisfaction. Sadly by the time these were shot the weather was closing in again and the light was all but gone.

At 2:30pm.

Winter is definitely on its way…

Coming in January:

- MX-5 mk 1 twin-test. Modified vs. Unmodified.

Coming later (I now have no idea when):

Storm Warrior – Test Driven

Coming soon…

It’s been a busy month at ShortSight Towers and this coming Saturday, weather permitting, we’ll be filming the new XCS Cobra. As usual Adam Wilkins will be at the wheel and he’ll be giving his take on this fake snake.

The Storm Warrior is also due similar treatment but this has been delayed so it’s likely the new year will see a rather chilly resolution to film this off-roader.

The new year may also bring a much bigger project but I have to keep this one under wraps as nothing is finalised yet.

Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for the XCS review in the next week or so!

Update: I’ve Been Busy!

Last post I promised to make something new each week. I haven’t stuck strictly to that rule, but this is because I’ve actually overproduced and have had a hard time choosing what to share. A selection of three follow here. Firstly, let me bring you up to speed.

I’ve been experimenting with plug-ins for Final Cut Pro X for a while, my favourite being the blur set produced for free by Alex4d. I recently added a couple of extra filters which added some complete effects. I’ve played about with layers and key framing (The Dream, last post) but wanted to do more.

I found a free trial of SliceX by CoreMelt. This has a tracker by Mocha built in and in certain circumstances this tracker is superb. Regardless, the various shaped masks afford a huge array of effects which may be customised on the go. My favourite effort with this is the below short:

One problem with this increasing complexity of operations has been my poor 13″ MacBook Pro has struggled more and more. I’ve been trying to work out what to replace it with, as the graphics card is three generations old now the Iris on-PCUs are out. The cost of a new iMac is less than a MacBook Pro and with better specification but being honest, nearly £2k is just a little pricey for me right now. As an interim measure I thought I’d add some more RAM (going from 8Gb to 16Gb) to hopefully speed up import and transcoding times.

Eventually (having purchased the full version of SliceX) I settled on some KomputerBay memory as it was about 4/5 the cost of the Crucial equivalent (my memory of choice) and if I were to sell the Mac in a couple of months I’d not lose quite so much money. This arrived yesterday. Before fitting I ran benchmarks for import, transcode, applying effect and export times.

I fitted the new memory.

Disaster. The benchmarks were initially much worse. I ran a memory cleaning app. Now they were much the same. I began to feel I’d wasted my money. I rang my brother.

My brother is a Senior Telecoms and Networking Engineer and knows about this sort of thing. He’s very computer literate unlike me. We discussed my frustrations and he commiserated but wasn’t surprised. I then asked in what sort of programs I should expect to see improvements. “Those that do lots of things at the same time, where it’s referencing the hard drive a lot” came the reply. A light bulb came on. I fired up FCPX again, and imported a load of old footage into a new event and without waiting started editing. I cannot describe the difference. The video below has multiple layers and sound effects which edited perfectly in real-time:

I now can start the import and transcode process and immediately scrub through clips, edit and apply effects while the machine churns away – something completely impossible with 8Gb. The video below, with basic editing, colour correction and addition of sound was edited and rendered before the import and transcode had finished! I’m loving the ease this affords me, and I now have no plans to upgrade my Mac in the near future.

I cannot recommend the upgrade enough. My delight knows no bounds. I now have renewed appetite to make many more films of increasing complexity.

I am very much looking forward to my next two car projects with Adam Wilkins. Keep your eyes open for the following.

Coming soon:

- XCS Cobra

Coming later:

- Storm Warrior

There will of course be more strange shorts as the whim takes me!

I’ve not been that busy

This title of this says it all; I’ve been very busy with work but my free time has been disappointingly free of uses for my cameras. Lying dormant and dusty they peer out from under magazines and from beneath chairs like one-eyed puppies hoping for a pat on the head. To be fair to myself and these trusty servants I have been using them but the truth is that nothing I’ve used them for has been worth blogging about. Today was very nearly a case in point.

I doubt you want to see a photo of my back garden. I certainly do not and I’ve spent all year developing its design. Yes, there are still some very pretty flowers in bloom and the general shape is still quite decent but I’m bored with photos of this. I need stimulation. To that end, I went for a walk with my cat. Mercer likes to follow me to the green near my house, and we spent a happy few minutes mooching around there before Mercer decided it was too windy and wet I had to carry him home. The time at the green was not wasted. It being mid afternoon in Autumn (equivalent to late evening in summer) the light was decent and the rain had abated. I dashed indoors and set up my slider on the tripod and set out to film this:

Now, you’ll notice the slider wasn’t very smooth. It was a cold day, which doesn’t help but being stored on-end in a boot for 18 months means a certain amount of near-invisible grime had accumulated. Although the slider felt reasonably okay in use the smoothness I like just was not there when examining the clips. Otherwise I’m happy with this film, and if you like it, please let me know by clicking the heart if you have a Vimeo account, or leaving a comment on this blog if not.

Before I go, last week I amused myself through endless wasted time trying to put the below 14 second clip together. I’m stubborn, and eventually it reached an acceptable point though there is still a big glaring flaw which you may well miss. Anyway, take a look if you care to:

Other projects in the pipe-line:

- Adam Wilkins reviews the Storm Warrior. Not a video game. Not a trekking boot. Not a rifle. It’s a kit-car, based on a Land-Rover Discovery chassis.

- If I can sort out some free actors, a short film based on a script I wrote a while back.

- More shorts like Fungus. I need to keep my eye in so I’m going to try to create one a week, weather permitting. Even weather not permitting. I’ll give it a go, anyway.

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