Sometimes video projects aren’t exactly public. One example is Alp d’Huez, a wonderful play by John Rosenberg. I was asked to shoot video of one of the last performances by Jennifer Summerfield, who was one of the two leads, and her husband, photographer Kyle Cassidy. As far as I know, the only purpose for the video was for the play’s participants to have a good record of its performance. But that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t use it as an opportunity to hone the editing and video chops a little.
When I shot Curio’s Twelfth Night– and I ought to create a blog entry for that story– I had only one camera, and used it to shoot three different performances. I then edited those as though they were a single performance, in the manner of a three-camera sitcom. But for Alp d’Huez, we were able to use three cameras to shoot simultaneously. All three were Panasonic cameras: Kyle set up his Lumix DSLR at the left side of the stage, and I set up the GH2 at the right side. I used my TM700 camcorder as a handheld from the center audience. The GH2 got the Rode microphone and recorded the main soundtrack.
We tried to set the cameras up with similar settings. We shot at 30 fps mainly because I wasn’t sure if Kyle’s camera could do 24 fps. We set the manual focus for a point roughly in the middle of the stage, and hoped that, for the stationary cameras, a deep depth-of-field would keep things in focus. We selected the basic tungsten white balance on all three cameras though, as you’ll see, there are some differences that required some color correction. As for framing the shots, I expected to use the now-standard trick of shooting in full 1920×1080 high-def, and reframing for lower resolutions in post. Happily, all three cameras ran without any glitches, like battery exhaustion or file-spanning foul-ups.
The Adventure in Editing was in fighting the limitations of my computer. It’s a fast system, but it’s just not fast enough for smooth, jitter-free editing of three hi-def video streams. There is a feature in Premiere Pro that enables one to watch up to four synchronized video feeds simultaneously, and switch between them as a director might run a live TV broadcast. It’d be simple: press the 1,2,or 3 key to select th active camera, in realtime. This _would_ be terrific, but my system just isn’t fast enough to handle three streams smoothly. I thought about rendering the videos down to a lower definition, editing those, and replacing them with the higher-def stuff afterward… but the rendering’d take thirty hours for each stream. So I couldn’t use that feature.
But this job was FAR easier than Twelfth Night was. On Twelfth Night, I had to cut around variations on the staging; an actor’s position, motion, and dialogue would not have been the same from performance to performance. Also, I’d had to choose which soundtrack to use for a particular bit of dialogue: sometimes, I’d had to edit in individual _words_. But on Alp d’Huez, those decisions didn’t exist. The play’s pacing was perfect, the sound was decent, and all three cameras recorded the same action. So it was solely a matter of choosing the right moments to switch from one view to another.
This meant editing for the performances. There are moments when Jennifer is doing something really spectacular, but sometimes it seemed more right to use an angle that favored John’s reactions. This is one of those play-versus-film argument topics. In a play, the audience chooses where to look. So if the actors and directors want to direct their attention, they have to work to do it. In film, if we want to direct your attention, we can simply _point the camera at it_. Simpler, maybe less challenging in one way, maybe more in another.
Anyway, it took me about a week to do a complete first pass on the editing. I’ve sent the file off to Kyle and Jennifer– and as I’ve said, this wasn’t a job for a professional purpose or to meet a deadline. So I’ve been playing with the color correction as well.
The picture below shows all three cameras’ views: the Lumix is on the right, the center’s the TM700, and the right one is the GH2 (which used the Sanity firmware hack for higher bitrates).
The GH2 and the Lumix are roughly similar– the GH2′s a little darker, and I like its contrasts. But notice that the TM700, the camcorder in the middle, is very different from the others. The colors are boosted a little bit, and there’s an overall greenish tone that needs to be fixed.
I don’t think one can match every color perfectly, unless one has a staff of colorists and high-powered workstations. And Premiere Pro offers a lot of methods for color correction: RGB curves; adjustments to R-G-B values in the lows, high and midtones; a “fast adjuster that lets you push a slider around a color wheel; more detailed versions of the “fast” corrector; and several ways of looking at the image’s color values in various forms of histograms. And remember, adjusting just one color of adjusting just one region isn’t easy with video, where the pictures move.)
So I decided that I’d focus on certain major elements. There’s that yellow bedspread, for one thing. There are the blues in John’s shirt and the blue and green in Jennifer’s scrubs. Elsewhere, there’s a skirt Jen wears that appears black from the side cameras, but slightly brick-reddish in the middle camera. (Skin tones are usually very important in this, but generally, they remained close to each other during all the adjustments.) So I spent a few hours rebalancing colors, adjusting the saturation, redrawing the color curves…
Better, eh? I think there’s still some improvement (the scrubs are kind of vivid in the middle frame). But I’m starting to get the hang of color correction, which is a very difficult job to accomplish. I think that I’ll need to make a little checklist to use with cameras ion the field, so the images are more congruent with one another, and save myself some post-production work.
So am I going to do this to the full video? Not just yet. Y’see, I’d have to take these corrections, and generate whole new video files with new color values, and use those in place of the originals. And rendering those would take a LONG time. So, for now, I’m going to let the project sit, editing and all, until I have to make it all pretty’n'stuff.