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Archive for August 29th, 2012

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR Cameras Streamline the Production of a Major New Animated Stop-Motion Horror Comedy

The efficiency and creative uses of a classic movie-animation technique have been greatly improved of late due in large part to the advanced features, compact size, and high-resolution still-photo capabilities of EOS 5D Mark II SLR cameras from Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions. The technique, known as stop-motion animation, is distinctive in appearance but traditionally labor-intensive, entailing frame-by-frame photography of a puppet “actor” to create the illusion of movement. LAIKA, the renowned animation studio near Portland Ore., has recently streamlined the photography and workflow of its latest stop-motion 3D feature film, ParaNorman, using 60 Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras and other advanced digital technologies.

“It took us 86 weeks to shoot the principal photography,” noted John Ashlee Prat, one of five lighting cameramen on the film. “The Canon 5D Mark II has features that helped us to expedite this process.” A horror comedy about a small-town boy who can see and speak to spirits, ParaNorman’s eponymous hero must battle an assortment of ghosts, witches, zombies, and terrified humans to save his town from doom. In order to capture the more than 400,000 separate stop-frames needed to create ParaNorman, the film was divided among five camera teams and 50 separate units at LAIKA’s 151,000 square ft. studio. Each unit had its own shooting stage, sets, puppet “actors,” equipment (including Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras), and a crew working on different portions of the film simultaneously. Director of Photography Tristan Oliver supervised the entire production. Of all the film-resolution digital still cameras on the market, Prat explained, the 5D Mark II had the best combination of features needed for the 3D stop-motion animation of ParaNorman.

“Stop-motion animators need a live-view reference to see and record their progress,” he said. “We tested every off-the-shelf digital SLR camera that can provide live view and the high-resolution RAW image files we needed, and we found that the Canon 5D Mark II live view is far superior to any of the others. The 5D Mark II also provides the RAW image output we needed, and a USB connector to feed files to our in-house network.”

Production Workflow
Compact, lightweight, and compatible with Canon’s wide selection of EF Series lenses, the 5D Mark II digital SLR camera is equipped with a 21.1 megapixel full-frame Canon CMOS sensor and DIGIC 4 image processor for exceptional still-image capture in a number of RAW or JPEG modes and sRAW options. (The 5D Mark II can also record exceptional full 1920 x 1080 HD motion imagery, which wasn’t needed for ParaNorman’s stop-motion still-photo technique.)

Although the Canon 5D Mark II is designed to record to CF media cards, LAIKA instead used the USB output of each camera to feed all image data directly to computers running Dragonframe stop-motion animation software. Dragonframe recorded each image in the resolutions needed to a server farm, and enabled animators to review their work at any time by shuttling footage back and forth on a special keypad.

“Dragonframe ingests a full .CR2 Canon RAW format file for each frame along with a JPEG, which can be played back for animator reference,” Prat explained. “The RAW files and JPEGs get exported out as a neat little package to editorial for smooth postproduction workflow. Later on we resized and worked in 2K, but still had the hi-res RAW files to fall back on when we needed to do special effects on specific shots.”

Creative Advantages
Photography of a stereoscopic 3D film requires the capture of not one, but two frames – a left and a right image – 24 times for every second of screen time (in stop-motion animation that number is doubled to 48). The compact size of the Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR camera (as opposed to traditional film cameras) greatly facilitated the capture of the corresponding left- and right images needed for 3D, especially given the miniature sets and puppets being photographed. Each 5D Mark II camera was mounted on a computer-controlled motorized horizontal slider, which moved the camera first right and then left for sequential capture of all the necessary 3D frame-pairs.

“The slider is necessary because we can’t put two cameras side-by-side to successfully photograph little 8- to 12-inch puppets in a miniature world,” Prat explained. “We have to use the inter-ocular distances appropriate to that world in order for it not to look miniature. Depending on the shot, those distances can vary from as little as half a millimeter to maybe 10 or 12 millimeters. That’s why the 5D Mark II on a slider works so well. In addition, the compact SLR form factor added stability to our motion-control rigs and allowed us to design smaller-profile rigs that allowed us to put cameras in interesting places – in tunnels and in low-angle situations – that increased our ability to create interesting shots. Another reason why the 5D Mark II is well-suited for stop-motion animation is because it captures images directly through its lens, without parallax. What the animator sees is exactly what he’s going to get, which is crucial for any kind of filmmaking.”

Ruggedly built, the Canon 5D Mark II integrates many advanced technologies designed for convenient operation. Among these is a self-cleaning sensor unit, which employs a low-pass filter at the front of the sensor to automatically shake off dust with ultrasonic vibrations. The EOS 5D Mark II also has a coating on the front surface of the low-pass filter to increase its resistance to dust sticking to the sensor.

“The self-cleaning sensor feature of the Canon 5D Mark II saved us a lot of time because we didn’t need to take the lens off to clean the sensor,” Prat added. “Also, after principal photography we checked all the 5D Mark II cameras for their total number of shutter actuations, and some of them got up to 150,000. We are rolling our current fleet of Canon 5D Mark II cameras on to our next production, although not for principal photography. Instead they will be used to support all the other departments for their photographic needs. We expect they will make it through the next production with little problem. Principal photography will be done with
Canon 5D Mark III cameras, which feature a noise level that’s two stops better than the original Mark IIs, and that’s even better for us.”

Although the comical characters in ParaNorman experience many frightening adventures, LAIKA’s use of Canon 5D Mark II cameras provided no unpleasant surprises. “The Canon 5D Mark II performed beautifully,” Prat concluded. “We were able to shoot the whole movie without having any cameras fail on us, which was wonderful. This gives me confidence in our decision to use the 5D Mark III on the next production. Canon has made a commitment to the cinema world, and they listen to users to learn how they can improve their products. They stopped by LAIKA to see how we do things, which we really appreciate.”


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Benedum Center for the Performing Arts Upgrades to Digital with HARMAN Studer Vista 5 Console

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — The Benedum Center, a project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and a renowned performing arts venue in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s cultural district, recently added a HARMAN Studer Vista 5 digital audio mixing console with 42 faders to support a variety of theatrical productions and live music performances. The console was purchased through New York-based Sound Associates (www.soundassociates.com).

Chris Evans, House Sound Engineer for the Benedum Center, first saw the Vista series of consoles at the AES Convention in San Francisco in 2010. Evans, who has been with the Center since its renovation and re-branding in 1987, ultimately chose the Vista 5 because he believed no other board felt closest to analog.

“The relationship I have with HARMAN also helped,” Evans said. “After a valuable discussion with Studer, who were very helpful in navigating the system, it felt like the right choice.”

During the summer, the Benedum Center hosts at least one performance per day—a very busy schedule with little time to adjust to a new console. “The Vista 5 was easy to install and is even easier to use. More importantly, it sounds great,” Evans noted. “The transition to the Vista 5 has been seamless and it’s given me greater flexibility with far less hassle than our previous analog board.”

With a variety of performances and acts hosted by the Center including Blue Man Group, Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line and more (including a recent performance by The Beach Boys), the ability to move audio around the building is something that Evans relies on constantly. “I can patch something downstage right to FOH and go through the system without having to touch the console,” Evans stated. “It can operate as a mixing console and routing matrix. The Vistonics™ surface is so easy to navigate. I also use all the built-in features, from compressors to EQ to delay.”

Evans also noted the console’s Snapshot function as a key asset during live events. “I’ve done a number of shows where there are two or three different bands, so I am able to save a snapshot of each band’s settings and be ready to go with my input list,” he said. “It’s always set up as either I or the touring engineer left it.”

During the Center’s own theater and opera productions, the Vista 5’s cue list has been another great asset for Evans. “It’s easy to program and I use it extensively,” Evans noted. “We included two racks of 48 channels of DSP which I can put anywhere with additional fibers if needed. This is a real flexible solution for what we are doing.”

Since the purchase of the Vista 5, everyone at the Benedum Center has been pleased with the console. “Studer’s support is on a whole other level, it’s easy for me to do my work and count on the performance of their products,” Evans concluded. “The value of the Vista 5 was apparent immediately and the whole team here adapted to it right away.”

For more information on the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, please visit www.trustarts.org

HARMAN (www.harman.com) designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment solutions for the automotive, consumer and professional markets – supported by 15 leading brands, including AKG, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon and Mark Levinson. The company is admired by audiophiles across multiple generations and supports leading professional entertainers and the venues where they perform. More than 20 million automobiles on the road today are equipped with HARMAN audio and infotainment systems. HARMAN has a workforce of about 13,400 people across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and reported sales of $4.4 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012.

Scouting for Victory with HARMAN’s JBL VTX Line Arrays

Victory Tour Production deployed a massive JBL VTX line array system for Jamboree Denmark 2012.

NORTHRIDGE, California – Billed as the largest scout and guide event ever held in Denmark, more than 37,000 gathered in a field just outside the city of Holstebro in northwest Jutland recently for the first-ever Jamboree Denmark 2012. Premier rental company Victory Tour Production took the opportunity to evaluate HARMAN’S newly-released JBL VTX line array system over the 8-day festival, which was organized by the five internationally-recognized guide and scout associations in Denmark. Looking to upgrade its inventory, Victory Tour Production hired a large system from AED Rent.

The company had first worked with VTX several months earlier at a 1-day festival called Herning Rocker at Teglparken Stadion, Herning. Victory’s Jesper Sørensen confirmed that the company was eager to put it to the test again. “When it came to the Jamboree we wanted a system that could be used to cover the entire venue with the same boxes,” he said. “We wanted it to be easy to run over minimum distances of 100 meters with a single CAT5 cable to feed input and processing—and without needing to install subs at delay positions. That was the main challenge and the VTX was extremely good at that, providing nice low-end coverage across the entire coverage area.”

In total the company installed 84 V25 fullsize line array elements and 24 S28 arrayable subwoofers. The V25’s were configured in two hangs of 12 per side, with 12 S28 subs per side configured as a cardioid array for improved rear rejection. In addition, there were six delay towers with 12 V25’s per position for the first delay ring and a further three masts with eight V25 elements for the second delay ring.

According to Jakup Andrias Knudsen, LydRommet Denmark’s Pro Audio Sales & Technical Support Specialist who provided system engineering support for the event, all delay towers were run with the X preset and the main system had a crossover at 80 Hz. “We tried different sub configurations until we found the one that worked best,” he said. “Since the opening and closing ceremonies were broadcast live, there was a major concern as to how much onstage spillage would occur and we found that the S28 works extremely well in cardioid mode, offering very good front-to-rear rejection.”

To get the best performance possible out of the VTX line arrays, the entire system was powered and processed using Crown I-Tech HD amps—with 42 I-Tech 4x3500HD amplifiers powering the V25’s and 24 I-Tech 12000 HD amps running the subs. JBL HiQnet Performance Manager™ was used for system optimization and was highly effective in controlling the massive setup. “Thanks to Performance Manager I only needed to confirm the system response using Smaart V7,” Knudsen said. “After some sub alignment, delay time measurements and overall response testing, we were ready to run.”

Environmental impact on surrounding neighborhoods was also an important concern for the event, according to Knudsen. “We were not specifically asked to steer the sound away, since local residents had been warned of the event 18 months in advance. However, we made some last-minute changes to the outer delay hangs to minimize spillage and ended up with an 18dB drop in SPL at the perimeter, which kept everyone happy.”

The VTX system successfully demonstrated its versatility while handling many different types of program material over the eight days—with the opening and closing ceremony including speech, video feeds and live music, and daily performances from DJ’s and live bands. Outstanding performance of the new D2 compression driver, in particular, showed just how revolutionary VTX is and Jesper Sørensen stated that the D2 technology had made quite an impact. “The D2 dual drivers are extremely powerful and provide a new means of listening to high frequencies. Some of the visiting engineers came with mixer setups and immediately noticed a difference in the high frequencies, discovering that they needed to mix in a new way to get the best out of VTX. All of them confirmed that the experience with the new JBL system was an excellent one.”

HARMAN (www.harman.com) designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment solutions for the automotive, consumer and professional markets – supported by 15 leading brands, including AKG, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon and Mark Levinson. The company is admired by audiophiles across multiple generations and supports leading professional entertainers and the venues where they perform. More than 20 million automobiles on the road today are equipped with HARMAN audio and infotainment systems. HARMAN has a workforce of about 13,400 people across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and reported sales of $4.4 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012.


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