Making Documentaries as an exercise for Filmmakers

In this day and age when content appears to be free in every category, its hard to see the benefit in creating and producing a documentary project without a signed deal with a distributor, especially since the democratisation of equipment and free distribution on the internet have completely changed the landscape. However for me personally, its a way to stay engaged, interested and actively practicing my filmmaking techniques. The road forward is not always clear and I for one, have taken “giant leaps of faith” that the next project will come in time to pay the bills and to provide new and exciting opportunities in creating something amazing. As the traditional avenues dry up, other opportunities arise from the ashes.

Creating documentary projects with a budget or otherwise, has for me, provided that new interest and opportunity to explore a different field to my own, to become excited about a subject that previously I had no real knowledge on and to expand my view of the world. In the last five years, I have produced a documentary series on YouTube called “State of Electronics” which looks at the effect of a changing industry. Of particular concern to me was the apparent abandonment of “understanding technology” in our modern societies, in favour of simply using technology as a consumer. I realised that the challenges facing the Electronics Industry are very similar to that of the Film Industry in that the ecosystem of hobbyist, education, retail and industry has been disturbed, forever changing how things are done. This isn’t always a bad thing since change brings about new innovations, however there is certainly a lot of collateral damage as well and its these effects on humanity that really interests me as a filmmaker.

State of Electronics can be seen here:
One of the more personal subjects for me is the subject of “An Education in Technology”, something I believe Australia is now feeling the effects of or lack of. In my spare time, and in an effort to help my Son to understand technology, I teach Arduino as an elective at a school to help reverse this trend so I really have adopted a lot of what I have learnt from the series personally. The episode on education can be seen here I am filming and editing new episodes of “State of Electronics” as I write this so stay tuned.

I am also working on another project which is completely different in nature. Its an Art based project but involves racing cars, collectors, fine art painting and more, which I will reveal in due course. However I can say, I am working with some amazing people, who are incredible to work with, in producing a documentary that I believe will be really fun to watch.

The contrast in the projects alone is keeping things interesting for me and providing great opportunities to meet some incredibly diverse characters. They all prepose considerable challenges in visualising their core issues, finding effective and affordable techniques in representing the arguments, solutions and human consequences of their subject matter. However for me that’s the fun!

“Broken Wings” is a documentary project which investigates the possibility of buried Spitfire Aircraft at wars end, in Queensland Australia. The project is truly long standing now, having begun 16 years ago. While my partner, James Carter and myself have not spent 16 years full time on the project, its never far from our minds. Lately James has been releasing one to two snippets a week on the Broken Wings YouTube and Facebook accounts and the interest is certainly building again. You can see more about “Broken Wings” at the official website here or join the conversation on Facebook

“Wreck Adventures” continues the aviation interest and also involves James Carter among others. The project began as an invitation to go find WW2 wrecks on Vanuatu, a remote island off Australia’s eastern coastline. The project while in hiatus for now, would have been a hoot to make on an ongoing basis and I’m still hopeful one day to make more of it. Wreck Adventures can be seen here.

So despite the lack of general interest in funding unique and perhaps niche documentary projects in Australia, it is still worth having a go as a Filmmaker, in exploring and experience something different and learning about something completely new to you. It keeps you honed and practiced just like a magician or concert cellist ready to perform on the big stage when the time comes. Most importantly, it may very well be your lasting legacy at the end of days.

TELLING STORIES WITH STILLS ONLY

HongKong_TL

Late last year, I experimented with the idea of using stills (photographs) only to tell a story. The idea isn’t new but still I wanted to play around with the concept of time, movement and boil down the essence of what is required for sequential filming! So on a journey to Beijing with good friends, who kindly agreed to being filmed, I set about playing around with my 5D3. Apart from feeling like I was the ultimate tourist, taking 1000’s of shots, I think onlookers thought I was crazy as my shutter clicked away non stop on seemingly useless scenarios!

Many years ago, I shot a TVC for Mayne Health (director was Jamie Doolan) using nothing but stills. Back then, it was all 35mm roll film. I spent quite a bit of time practising timing, shooting sequences and then “telecining them to video” using a Vistavision gate! The process was quite laborious with a lab technician having to piece together hundreds of rolls of 24/36 exposure stills film into one big roll of film! Overall, the process was very effective. We used two cameras side by side – One was set to shoot very high shutter speeds, something that was not possible using 35mm motion picture film. The second camera was set to shoot very slow shutter speeds so that we could capture (simultaneously) motion blur and mix this with the crisp action!

Mayne Health
Click image to see video

Later I went on to shoot a music video for a Sydney based band called “Wicked Beats Sound System” using a similar technique. It employed  several film based stills cameras again, shooting both blur and sharp at the same time but by then I had perfected a much simpler way of shooting. That clip ended up winning a national gold award for cinematography in the music video category. Its kind of like “Stop Motion” photography in that a shot is taken only when something has changed in front of the lens, otherwise only one shot is needed. Seems bleeding obvious in principle, however when you apply this to realtime activities, you do have to think fast. Its a very different way of shooting.

Brand New Day
Click image to see video

Time lapse is I guess another extension of the same theme. A series of images to compress time and reveal motion that would otherwise go unnoticed. With the advent of digital, time lapse images are everywhere and almost passé! I’ve shot lots of time lapse sequences because it often becomes useful for jobs that I’m pitching on, or actively filming, and I love the process! In Singapore one year, while working on some very post heavy work for HP, I spent a month, shooting every morning and afternoon, time lapses from my hotel room. It was a way to pass the time and do something creative. Singapore was expanding rapidly,  concentrating on infrastructure building and I was fascinated by the movement of cranes, people and the general business of this growing city! Quite often on reviewing the footage, I would excitedly discover something I didn’t notice in real life, such as ships moving or other extremely slow moving objects. Finding a story line for this video was initially quite hard. However I soon realised there was a strong visual metaphor happening with the images. In what looked like a single day, we see Singapore “awakening” into the new age as it is literally being built in front of us! The connected image sequences tell a story of rapid growth, energy and dynamism that a film shot in realtime could not hope to achieve. With no real intention to make anything more then a special interest video, I have since had hundreds of requests for footage and usage rights from that video. Everything from Airlines seeking inflight footage to stock footage libraries wanting clips. On my vimeo channel its had 14,000+ views so I think the technique does have interest.


Singapore Awakens from karl von moller on Vimeo.

Having had plenty of opportunities to shoot time lapses everywhere I’ve been, I consolidated many of these otherwise useless bits of video into another “special interest” video.  Art or just fun on my part, “The world in motion” provided a way for me to show some of these clips in a fun way. Since this video however, I have shot many other sequences in South Africa, Malaysia, China, Australia, Vietnam and even in Singapore, so at some point I might look at updating this video.


The World in Motion from karl von moller on Vimeo.

“A trip to Beijing” was yet another iteration in the technique of telling stories using only sequenced still images. This time, I wanted to use just one camera and concentrate on the lifestyle of traveling, covering enough of the experience visually and simplifying everything into just the bare minimum. It’s an experiment in “temporal motion”, which relies heavily on the idea that our brains can predict motion as well as extrapolate what happens between frames. Its effective only because I think our brains can store, briefly, what we see. This is known as persistence of vision and it’s a kind of “lag effect” in our vision system. So long as a frame is visible long enough (and this factor I think various in all of us), the persistence of vision will capture the frame in our brains, to enable a comparison with the next frame that follows. If they have a logical progression, our brains create links built from what we already understand to be true of the world around us (perceptual/cognitive skills), making sense of both frames and building missing information that should have/could have been captured if we had used a higher frame rate in the first place. So how many frames do you need to make a sequence? A single frame will tell a story! Just ask any photographer. However to reveal new information between frames you need at least two frames. That’s why even two similar pictures hanging side by side can tell a story with a revelation/twist/surprise etc. My experiment was to try and boil down the photography to a minimum, while still capturing the essence of the action in front of the lens, creating a strong style. I believe it forces the brain to “think” as the images pass by. Not the forward cognition kind that we do by carefully analysing (concept formation, pattern recognition, language, attention, perception, action, problem solving, critical thinking) but the more cerebral kind that relies on feelings, abstract thinking, intuition, emotions and other creative thought process. The story telling comes from both places. The factual content is represented in each frame and the creative elements come from what lies between the frames. The right combination creates an immersive experience that is rich in texture, movement, revelation and story telling.

In my video, music helps to drive the images along, just like a music video, however it serves to trigger what looks and feels like memories. Instead of shooting long exposure images (blur sequences) I chose to post process the images in After Effects using a my own scripts to generate film style effects etc. The images are quite F**ked up with jitter, blur, frame skipping, colour bleeding etc to create a contrasting effect to the pristine high speed shutter images of the action! In editing, I found myself cutting very quickly between scenes to drive interest and create a sense of forward motion. The story is documentary and not one I had any control over. It was a real holiday and I went along for the ride so I made no real attempt to control the direction of the story. However, I think it captures the energy and general excitement of discovery by the participants in an effective way. If you have any ideas and thoughts please go to my vimeo channel and comment there. I look forward to reading them :-)


A Trip to Beijing from karl von moller on Vimeo.

The Genustech “Eclipse” ND Fader

Recently I received a package from Genustech, a manufacturer of camera equipment including filters. They sent me their new “Eclipse ND Fader” to try out. Playing with new gear always excites me so I set about testing the ND Fader against the original Genustech filter I had bought a few years back. My original version is an 82mm thread size , so its a bit heavier then the new Eclipse 77mm.

 

My Original Genustech ND Fader with Markings ending up underneath the lens

Clearly though the construction of the new Eclipse ND Fader is lighter in weight then the original but without sacrificing durability. Playing around with the Eclipse I was quite excited that they had improved the range the Fader’s “light cutting” ability without sacrificing on quality. To be slightly more clinical about my tests, I threw up a Macbeth ColorChecker and a Focus Sharpness chart and went about testing. The test results can be seen via this PDF report I prepared here:

Effect of changing the depth of field by setting the Eclipse to Minimum and then Maximum

image demonstrate the range of the Eclipse from No Filter, at Minimum and then at Maximum without changing camera settings

What my results ultimately show is that the Eclipse will slightly warm up the tone of your image, but only by a small amount. In my tests, very little Green or Magenta was introduced into the picture, which can make Post correction difficult. Since I generally don’t mind warming skin tones a little, I found the Eclipse to be excellent for imaging people. Overall I’m very happy with the new Eclipse ND Fader because of the improvements to the quality of the glass, the reduction of “colour cast” and continued attention to Sharpness. Of particular note are the Markings on the side of the filter, which are now in a better position for normal operation. They are incrementally marked in one stop indexes approximately and the markings did mostly conform to what I was seeing in my viewfinder. I found that the range of the filter allowed for 7-8 stops of difference between minimum and maximum. Off course you can go further then what is indicated as Maximum but I highly recommend that you don’t. Shortly beyond maximum you start to venture into an area where the filter will produce undesirable results. While I didn’t include it on my test results, I did find that there was very little difference in colour cast across the full range of the filter which was nice to see.

The Eclipse will cut your light input initially by about 2 stops at its minimum when compared to no filter at all. So you will need at least 2 stops of light above your base exposure to use this filter. Given that I use this filter mostly in outdoor scenarios during daylight hours, thats not a problem. Up until recently, Ive been using a 10 stop filter made by Lee Filters to shoot time lapse footage. Now that I have the Eclipse I’m more likely to use it instead as its far less restrictive. For instance I can dial the Eclipse to minimum, set my framing and then dial it back down by 8 stops to shoot long exposure time lapse. With the Lee Filters “Big Stopper” (10 stop ND) thats not possible. To be fair its a fixed ND! The only way I can pre-frame my shots with this filter is to physically remove it from the lens, set my framing and then return it back to the lens. There’s always an inherent risk of bumping the framing doing this so its not an ideal way of working. The Eclipse will solve that for me which is great!

The overall build quality of the Eclipse is excellent at a price point far less then the more expensive Heliopan and the ND Faders made by Light Craft, making the Genustech ND Fader excellent value for money as well. Another major plus for me is the availability of a lens hood that works for the Eclipse ND Fader. Many other manufacturers don’t provide what I believe is an essential piece of equipment, aka a way to kill glare and lens flare! Genustech do have an option to buy a rubberised hood that can extend in three stages to protect against flare. It works by screwing it onto the front thread of the Eclipse ND Fader. Obviously this can restrict the maximum width of your lens size (vignetting) but does at least provide some way to control light hitting the front element. It also helps to protect the front element of your lens/filter when you transport your camera from location to location. Many other manufacturers don’t even include a front thread on their filters, so using a third party lens hood is almost impossible.

Using the Eclipse to shoot Long Exposure Time Lapse with a Konova Rig

I was told that the Eclipse will sell for (RRP) US$165.00 from the 5th of December 2012. That makes it one of the best value for money ND Faders on the market in my opinion. For more details about the Genustech Eclipse ND Fader visit http://www.genustech.tv/home/eclipse-nd-fader for more information.

A quick update from Melbourne

In recent times my personal life has been a complete mess, with constant travel, work and other stresses making life complicated and messy. It lead to me becoming quite sick when I was finally able to relax back home in Melbourne. I guess when you finally can relax your body will start to repair itself from all the damage done! I keep asking myself, why? Why punish myself so hard? Why work continuously? The answer will only make sense from a freelancers perspective. Because there is a constant fear of never working again and the pressure of mortgages, bills and family concerns playing top of mind! Family for me is everything. I live and work to make things possible, to explore the dreams of our young family. So what does all this have to do with this update? Well, its by way of an explanation for my lack of updates in recent times. The march of life has seen me travel back and forth to Singapore and China quite a few times this year already and I am now three jobs behind on my updates! Over the next few weeks, I will try to fix that. In the meantime, I’m sitting in the lounge at Melbourne Airport about to board my flight to Singapore – the march continues :-)

Researching the History of Electronics in Australia!

Hello to all. My Blog has been quiet of late, simply due to the immense task of my current project! Now that my documentary covers the history of technological development in Australia, the task of researching information has been all consuming! I don’t think I realised just how big this project was going to get when I started but now that it’s underway, I’m fully devoting what spare time I have, into the documentary series.

I have had to go back to the beginning, when Australia was’t even federated, to understand how the development of an industry took place. As I have mentioned before, the beginning of “Electronics” in Australia for me begins with the introduction of the Telegraph in 1854. It’s interesting to note that Telegraphy is essentially a “digital” form of electronics and quickly spread, creating a “web” of lines across the nation. Some that I have interviewed called it the “Victorian Internet” which is apt considering that Telegraphy started in Victoria first with the first poles going in between Melbourne and Williamstown in 1853. ribbing aside, the uptake of this early form of communication in Australia was swift and heralded an amazing era. The relevance of the early adoption of technology and the spread of Telegraphy across Australia has many parallels with Australia’s current National Broadband  Network (NBN) plan, which is fascinating to me. My documentary seeks to showcase this early era by collating a series of conversations on camera and presenting them in a linear fashion along the timeline. Many of the incredible innovations that followed produced some of the most influential Companies of Australia’s short history! So much so that “Government” and these influential Companies are so inextricably bound that they may as well be considered the same thing! That’s why to understand the “State of Electronics” in Australia, you need to understand the “History of Electronics” in Australia. A good example of this influence is that of AWA (Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd). As mentioned in my previous Blog entry, their influence in Australia was immense for about 60 years and helped shape Government policy, create a Radio industry, create a TV industry, create a Research & Development ethos, setup Telecommunications in general, strategic development of niche areas of the industry, and train a vast number of individuals to become tech savvy! AWA’s demise as major player shouldn’t be immediately relegated to the history books as much of that companies legacy is still being felt today. Indeed, the court case surrounding the demise of that Company is still in progress from what I understand.

Site of the Marconi Companies test transmissions from Pt Lonsdale Victoria to Devenport Tasmania 1906

So far I have interviewed a large list of people both in Sydney and Melbourne. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Johnston (Jaycar/Electus Distribution), Matthew Connell (Chief Curator the Powerhouse Museum Sydney), Ian Debenham (former Curator the Powerhouse Museum Sydney), Campbell Bickerstaff (Curator the Powerhouse Museum Sydney), David Demant (Senior Curator Museum Victoria), Ian oToole (Curator Kurrojong Radio Museum), Stephen Jones(VJ, Computer Historian & Author), Clare Gervasoni (Curator University of Ballarat) and Graeme Hood (Electronics Engineer Lecturer University of Ballarat). This list is by no means complete and is in addition to the following previously interviewed subjects: Dick Smith, Andrew Greatbatch, Peter Atanackovic, Bill Petrski, Owen Hill, Eugene Ruffolo, Andrew Griffiths, Matthew Pryor, David L Jones, Leo Simpson, Doug Ford, Andy Gelme, Jon Oxer, Grant Petty and Chris Nicol. In addition to that, I have filmed Australia’s first Computer CSIRAC, the Kurronjong Radio Museum collection, Silanna Semiconductor’s cleanroom and Fab plant, Blackmagic Designs factory, Observant’s assembly area, Hanna Print’s “Silicon Chip” printing line, and many, many individual labs and workspaces. It’s certainly been incredibly interesting to me and I think will be interesting to quite a wide variety of people when the documentary series is complete.

In recent weeks, I have been deeply involved in research. Each interview takes an enormous effort to research, organise into questions and then formulate a plan as to how those answer are to be included into the documentary timeline. The style I’m attempting to go with is very much driven by “Conversation”. My interviewed subjects are intercut to deliver information to the audience in both a factual and hopefully at times, “light hearted” manner! My original question is then removed leaving only the conversation in it’s place. So as each interview is researched, a constant eye needs to be kept on the Edit timeline to see what’s missing in terms of the story telling, key explanations of electronic terms and processes, historically important figures and so forth! Basically I’m threading the “Conversations” of the many into an informative ride in history, without the help of a narrator, graphics or interviewer. It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle that is both fun and daunting to put together!

This week I have quite a few more interviews planned and as a result the Edit on the project has had to slow down. On the bright side, the documentary will be quite detailed and I believe the only one of it’s kind, showcasing Individuals and Companies that have or are currently innovating in Australia. I’m very much looking forward to updating both the current Trailer and more information about the project as soon as possible, so keep checking this Blog for further updates. Many thanks for your patients! Cheers!

“State of Electronics” expands to three parts!

A very quick note really to inform you all that my Documentary “State of Electronics” is now expanding to include not only the current trends in the Electronics Industry in Australia, but also what I hope will be a thoroughly informative and interesting look into it’s early history! I realised that I’m potentially the only person interviewing some of Australia’s most prominent pioneers in the field of Electronics & Computing.  Some of the individuals I have already interviewed had a lot to do with AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd). That company was unbelievable in its day and is historically important to Australia. The AWA story is one of many amazing stories that are begging to be told. Other stories include Ducon Condenser- another huge Manufacturer of Components in Australia. It has a lot of bearing on the direction the industry is taking today so it’s still relevant. I had the great pleasure of filming the Silanna Semiconductor’s clean room and interviewing some of it’s staff. That Company can trace it’s origins back to AWA.

Another major factor in my decision to expand the Documentaries content is that I am stunned by how many “Things” have been invented here in Australia!There are so many incredible innovations in the field of Electronics & Computing that to not include them would be a major mistake. To name just a few items, I have compiled a simplified list:
1877 – Louis Brennan patents a wire-guided and wire-driven torpedo for harbour defences.

1878/79 – Henry Sutton of Ballarat invents the carbon filament lamp 16 days after Edison demonstrates his!

1885 – the Telephane – precursor to television is invented by Henry Sutton of Ballarat!

1889 – Arthur James Arnot invents the Electric Drill in Melbourne and Patents it.

1890 – Professor Richard Threlfall of Sydney University is the first person in the world to suggest publicly (at a meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science) that ‘Hertzian waves’ might be used for Telegraphy — Which would be commonly known as Radio!

1926 – The first Cardiac Pacemaker in the world is used to revive a new-born baby!

1929 – Alfred Traeger develops the first pedal wireless transceiver for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

1932 – George Julius invents a Totalisator with an automatic odds-calculating device.

1934 – The first Car Radio is fitted to a car made by Kelly’s Motors in NSW.

1939 – Degaussing of Ships to help protect them from magnetic mines was patented by Frankin Barnes of Scoresby Victoria.

1947 – A team at CSIR (the fore-runner of the CSIRO) built CSIRAC, the world’s fifth computer, and the first to play ‘computer music’.

1950 – The Flying Doctor’s radio service is adapted to operate the School of the Air.

1952 – Alan Walsh (CSIRO) develops the Atomic Absorption Spectrometer.

1958 – David Warren develops the prototype of the Black Box flight recorder.

1961 – Ultrasound – David Robinson and George Kossoff’s work at the Australian Department of Health, resulted in the first commercially practical water path ultrasonic scanner.

1975 – Interscan – An aircraft approach and landing guidance system using microwaves was successfully tested at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne.

1976 – Electronic Ignition System. A silicon-chip ignition system for small engines in lawnmowers and chainsaws was developed by the Notarus brothers in Sydney.

1978 – The first Bionic Ear was fitted to an Australian patient.

1979 – Geoff Healey invents the Race-Cam.

1981 – The Earth Leakage Circuit breaker is developed in Adelaide by Gerard Industries.

1993 – Australia invents the first Underwater Computer – Bruce Macdonald at the Australian Institute of Marine Science developed the world’s first underwater computer with a multi-button hand-held keypad that mimics a conventional keyboard.

1997 – Neil H. E. Weste and David Skellern were the first to invent WiFi – they invented the first 802.11a chip.

1998 – The Aurora solar car achieves a world record speed of 100.9 km per hour over one hour, running on commercial solar cells and lead-acid batteries

So to be able to tell the “History” of an Industry and how it shaped todays industry, is vitally important I feel. The Documentary will be split into three sections now. Episode 1 will deal with the early days, and is essentially a recount of important innovations in Australia from 1854 (the first telegraph pole) through to the (US) Invention of the Transistor in 1947. Episode 2 will be the start of the “Current” doco which deals with the early experiences from Dick Smith, Owen Hill, Leo Simpson, Andy Gelme and anybody involved in electronics before 1982. Although the PC was introduced really in 1975-77 (Sphere1, Apple, Commodore PET & others) it isn’t really until many of the “Micro Computers” are commercialised (IBM, Microbee, TRS80, other Z80 based Computers) in 1981/82. So Episode 2 ends with the introduction of the PC in 1982 in Australia, with the first Australian designed & manufactured PC the Microbee. Episode 3 takes us through from 1982 until the present day. It’s a huge task I have set myself but one that I’m keen to see to the end. If you think you may be able to help with the Documentary, please feel free to contact me through this website.

I have two other Posts on this project now. You can reach them both here: the Beginning and “State of Electronics” Trailer is now Online

Another thing I should mention is the extraordinary response my initial trailer has had. It’s been linked on so many Blog sites, referred on Twitter and Facebook. There are many comments on Youtube, Vimeo, the EEVBlog and many, many more which have been very encouraging. Thank you to all. Just yesterday it was spoken about on the Amp Hour Podcast Episode16 (a podcast for electronic enthusiast & engineers). If you don’t know the Amp Hour and you are interested in Electronics I highly recommend it. David L Jones, who appears in my Doco co-hosts with Chris Gammell – Check it out!

Until the next update – Enjoy!

Magnatron

How do you even describe what “Magnatron” was? Well the Official line is it’s a 10 story high “Skill Tester” (inspired by the arcade game) built on the lawn of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it’s the worlds largest “Skill Tester” game ever to be created! Magnatron uses a 30m high construction crane as it’s lifter, while a huge 18m High enclosure was built from truss to create the enormous scaled stage area! Acquiring its name from the large Electro Magnet used to pick up prizes inside the enclosure, the magnet weighed in at 750kg by itself so everything about this project was huge! Ultimately, 14 contestants got the chance to pit their “depth” perception skills in front of a live crowd during the middle of the AFL Grand Final (round1), using Magnatron! As far as I know, this was a world first! Using an enormous construction crane as a “game’s machine” was an incredible idea! That idea was born from the minds of two young gentlemen from Clemenger BBDO Melbourne – Luke Thompson & Seymour Pope who came up with the concept!

A year or so ago I took part in another grand Carlton United Brewery (CUB) project called “Drop the Bomb“. Like that project, Magnatron is a very large scale, publicly viewable media stunt that took place in realtime on the day. This type of production is very exciting but also very stressful because you only get one chance at it! So the build up of the filming of the event was filled with many technical issues. I was pretty keen to get a time lapse rig on to the project pretty early on. It was always going to take a while to physically construct the “Skill Tester” and I knew that production costs would be prohibitively expensive if we were to film the entire thing with crews etc. So I put in a call to a friend to enlist the help of Sydney based EONFX, who provided the semi permanent Time Lapse Rig installation. I wanted that camera to run 24 hours a day at 1 frame every 15 minutes, so that we could see the transitions from night to day and back again in quick succession. The position of the camera had to be placed so that we could not only clearly see the construction process but also make use of the giant icon in front – the MCG!

After several visits to the company constructing the Crane and the Magnet, the creatives and I made up a list of places where we wanted to position cameras to record the event. The list was extensive. As the pre production continued, it was clear that Channel 7 (a local TV network that was broadcasting nationally for the AFL) would come on board to assist the Production by committing some of their resources to the project. Channel 7 were now planing to do some live crosses to Magnatron during the course of their live telecast of the game. The benefits to us included access to their helicopter, a remote camera head mounted inside the enclosure of Magnatron and several roving cameras around the perimeter. One angle that was always planned was a view from the Magnet looking down onto the prizes (hopefully). Because the Magnet was so large my initial concern was the effects of Electromagnetic radiation effecting our cameras. We opted for a small camera to be mounted onto the magnet, which could record in a self contained fashion. Wayne Daisley, Channel 7’s Technical Manager, offered up his Gopro HD Hero for testing and to our surprise, the camera not only survived but performed flawlessly! So it was decided that a Gopro Camera would be mounted using a magic arm to the Magnet on the day!

For me, Magnatron is as much about the construction of the worlds biggest “Skill Tester” as it is using it! For that reason, I wanted to record the construction process in a similar fashion to those documentaries you see on Nat Geo or Discovery channel like “Mega Builders”, “The Worlds Toughest Fixes” and the like! They often punctuate the story line with sped up motion, time lapse and wide angle lenses to achieve a grand look! To be honest, I don’t know how else you could record such an event because the shear scale at which the construction took place pretty much dictated the wide angle lenses and time lapse photography anyway! So it wasn’t too hard to achieve that feel. initially I was toying with the idea of shooting with Shift and Tilt lenses to make the “Magnatron” look like a child’s toy but I felt this could work against the actual scale of the life sized project. So ultimately, I spent many early mornings playing with the construction crew at the MCG site, taking hours of Time Lapse footage. This was in addition to the Time Lapse rig we mounted permanently at the site on a tower.

“The Tower of Power”

As all projects commence, there is usually some delay that causes things to be arranged at the last minute. This project was no different. Jason Byrne, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s Senior TV Producer pretty much dealt with constantly shifting sands and demands from the Creatives and yours truly! To his credit, he handled that job incredibly well. One of those demands was the “Tower of Power” as it became known – a 12 meter high tower which supported our semi permanent time lapse rig! Standby props man and all round good guy, Peter Blackwood was called in to help out in this department! Initially I had asked for a lighting pole to be placed into the ground at a given spot at the MCG. It soon became obvious that this was a very high profile location where everything we did had to conform to extreme safety rules, union conditions as well as MCC/MCG management rules etc. The whole backstory of the approval process would take up so much of this blog entry, that I’m going to give you only the brief version! We eventually were granted permission! However, we had to conform to a standard approved by an Engineer, all with only a day or so notice! Peter Blackwood managed to locate a construction company that had two sections of an industrial sized crane, with engineering approval tickets etc, which we could have delivered to the MCG site quickly! Jason and his team of guys at Clemenger handled the rushed approvals, while Greg Dunn and EONFX in Sydney rushed to prepare our time lapse camera! Greg and I coordinated the technical requirements and we opted for a Solar powered rig, with a mobile broadband modem installed – all controlled from EONFX’s proprietary system. The camera we ended up installing was a Canon 550D. Set at Aperture Priority in Jpeg mode, we uploaded every image to a custom website for backup. In addition, the files were stored inside the camera rig on two mirrored laptop drives! As the equipment made it’s way to the MCG site, the Magnatron construction crew were about to break ground. I arrived early on 6/9/2010 to film the fencing going up as Peter Blackwood began to dig holes in the ground for the foundation of our tower! The following day, the trucks started to arrive with our massive crane base! A totally massive overkill for our tiny package but it got the job done! It had the added benefit of being incredibly stable so the time lapse footage needed virtually no stabilisation at all! In addition it had easy access to the top with an inbuilt ladder and safety rails! Once all the sections had been craned into position, Peter built some hoarding at the base to be able to safely lock the public out. A high fence was also installed. He provided lifting ropes & pulleys to help replace the car sized batteries every so often, as well as places to store safety gear etc. It was a truly magnificent setup! Our only alien on the tower was a nesting Magpie, who insisted on flashing it’s ass at our cameras a few times! The irony is incredible if you want to read the tea leaves on any of this – Collingwood (commonly referred to as the Magpies) had made it into the Grand Final for the first time in decades. I took it as an omen of some sort?! Any case, that Magpie wouldn’t give up even when we installed some anti bird spikes onto of the camera!

Melbourne has had it’s wettest winter in many years, breaking a long running drought with plenty of rain! So much so that areas in country Victoria were heavily flooded for a week. Why am I telling you this, well our Time Lapse rig wasn’t connected to the power grid but rather it was self contained with 2 x 20W solar panels and two deep cycle 12v batteries! The inclement weather did stretch the friendship on a few occasions with the solar system and caused us to climb the “Tower of Power” to exchange the batteries with a spare set. A large metal dog box was lifted to the top of the tower which contained our spares and supplies. Lifting two heavy batteries to the top of the tower was made possible with a rope and pulley system and a zip up tool bag. The rest was hard muscle work to carefully lift the heavy weight 12m in the air! I did it several times as did our team members Tom Davies & Stu Heppell. I knew that the Power levels in the batteries would become an issue and to help me sleep at night, especially when I was sent to Sydney on another job for a couple of days, I decided to build an iPhone App to help maintain the system. The iPhone App was installed only on a few phones as a “Developer” and not put onto the App store but it basically allowed access to a Log file which recorded the Battery Voltage levels and the last recorded image. That way I could preempt when a battery change was necessary and also see that the last image had indeed been recorded and uploaded to the website! Not to big note myself as a guru programmer, but the App was incredibly useful and worked perfectly!

Testing day!

For some it was a full 12 months and for others only a month however, we all had finally made it to the testing day. Magnatron had completed it’s building phase but had to be tested before being made ready for the event! So a day of fun was organised for the CUB crew and many had a crack at trying to use Magnatron! It was definitely harder then everyone expected but possible! I could see a big difference on the construction crew, especially Darren Brink from Kennovations, who looked visibly more comfortable. He and his crew did a magnificent job of assembling the components that make up Magnatron, which included many fail safe systems like backup battery units and generators, should the main generator fail. This prevented the Magnet from “Letting go” of it’s payload, in the event of a power failure! Hopefully those guys will write up a blog entry on the construction but it was all pretty impressive stuff. 17 tonnes of heavily reinforced concrete had to be poured to stabilise the base of the Magnatron crane! All that concrete had to be removed directly after the event, leaving the surrounding parklands in an untouched state!

For me and my team, it was all about trying to recreate the day as best we could. All the prizes, $100,000AU in total, had been assembled into custom built cages and were now on the stage. So one by one we lifted them with the Crane and Magnet, recording each lift with my GoPro camera. It was also the first time we saw the major prize – a Toyota Hillux being lifted completely over the top of the 18m staging structure! Pretty amazing sight!

Our small team consisted of two other cameramen using DSLR cameras as capture units. They included Stu Heppell, who operated a 7D camera supplied by on set Editor Alister Robbie. Jaque Fisher operated another 5D MKII as did I, while we also enlisted the help of a P2 camera for a static wide angle view. That camera was left on it’s own mostly although Stu was responsible for keeping it safe. Tom Davies was our runner who resupplied us all with cards and batteries. Back behind the curtain was Alister Robbie. He had set himself up inside a hired van with his edit suite equipment and still donning a safety vest, he processed the footage and pre selected material for the the next days broadcast! Others on the day included our fearless leader Jason Byrne and his offsider Julian Costanzo. Both Luke and Seymour were also instrumental on the test day. Outside of our main team but still vitally important were the guys from Traffik in particularly Nick Harvey, Clemenger’s Mick McKeown and Sonia von Bibra, Darren Brink from Kennovations, “Dutch” the construction sites safety officer and many others. In all it was quite a large team.

The big day – 25th of September 2010!

After a huge build up towards “the day”, Saturday the 25th of September came around and everything was ready to go! The construction crew had completed all the testing successfully and we had recharged and downloaded our cameras in preparation for the stunt! My first job for the morning was to follow the induction of the contestants to the construction site and to place the last camera – another GoPro HD onto the scissor lift where the contestants were due to compete from. That camera would point directly at them as they looked up to witness the awe of Magnatron! It would also record their reaction as they became aware of their results, so it was pretty important! For the rest of the day, we ran around with our DSLR rigs and captured the joy’s and failure of the contestants one by one! All said and done, the production was a massive undertaking, requiring many hours of time-lapse, technical meetings and recci’s, and good old fashioned diplomacy! All up 100,016 people who attended the Grand Final saw the spectacle! 3.4 million watched it live on television! It’s been viewed Online in it’s countless forms many times! While not my normal kind of work, I think Magnatron was successful! There is a Youtube Video on CUB’s Channel here

“State of Electronics” Trailer is now Online

After several months of researching, interviewing and filming, I’m excited to present the first public Trailer to my new Documentary “State of Electronics” – A discussion on the Electronics Industry in Australia. Even though the documentary is focused on Australian Electronics Design and Manufacture, much of it applies to all countries from around the world.

The discussion is focused initially on the world of Hobby Electronics and how it’s decline could effect the Electronics Industry in the future. The Documentary then discusses many issues that face industry including the issue of “Repair and Recycle”, “Education”, “Surface Mount Technology”, “Globalisation”, “Opportunities” and many many more off the cuff & candid comments from Industry professionals.

The Documentary features interviews with famous Australians and Industry professionals including Dick Smith, Dave L Jones, Doug Ford, Leo Simpson, Grant Petty, Matthew Pryor, Jonathan Oxer, Andy Gelme, Andrew Griffiths, Eugene Ruffolo & Bill Petreski. In the future, I am planning to interview just a few more before the final release of the Documentary soon.

Shot completely on the Canon 5DMK2, using the Zoom H4N Audio recorder, the Documentary was a massive undertaking by yours truly. I have to admit I did it completely on my own, with no assistance from anyone along the way. It was an experiment in filmmaking that I was keen to try as well as put modern DSLR cameras through the riggers of serious production filmmaking. By that I mean, to have them recording for hours at a time. In reality that’s not possible because the FAT32 file system on the cameras prevent a recording larger then 12 minutes on the 5DMK2. However, as I regularly shoot with 35mm Film cameras, where the maximum recording time is roughly 10 minutes per magazine, I’m well disciplined in taking a breather for a second or so while I press “Stop” and “Start” on the camera! So I never found this to be a limitation of DSLR cameras.

This project started when one day I realised that many of my favourite electronic stores had started to disappear. I also realised that much of the “culture” of hobby electronics was fast disappearing also. With the advent of Online resources, many schools, magazines and swap meets appeared to fade with time. As a kid, I enjoyed playing around with electronics and while I never got serious, I did go through 1st year Swinburne (Electronics) Engineering, after graduating from high school! Trouble was I looked out the window and watched crazy long haired louts running around with movie cameras, making films and was subsequently lured into their world. The passion for technology has stayed with me constantly. So making a documentary on “Electronics” was really a natural progression. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking at length with so many fascinating people, who appear to have the same disease as myself! Once bitten with the bug, you can’t help yourself but be interested in electronics. That’s why it is a great shame to me that young kids aren’t able to get into electronics as easily as perhaps my generation was able to. With the complexity of “Electronic Systems” today, how is anyone expected to start to learn? For Australia, I believe this to be a major problem of the future.

This documentary is as far as I’m aware of, the only documentary of it’s kind in Australia. There are no records like books, films etc which document the history of the profession of electronics! Many of it’s founders are fast moving on and I really felt like this story should be preserved as a Film to highlight how entrepreneurial & sophisticated Australians can be. My final version of the documentary is about 2 hours long and the exact format is yet to be decided. Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile enjoy the trailer!

The Natural Confectionary Company – A TVC featuring Emma Snowsill

On the 13th of May, I flew to the Gold Coast Queensland to start production of a Commercial for The Natural Confectionary Company via Production Company Chocolate Studios in Melbourne. While still overseas, I was contacted by EP Dave Ellis, about possibly directing a TV Commercial for them and, in only a few weeks, we developed a really nice treatment.

This job reconnected me with quite a few different people in Melbourne, including former Micronite Producer Barry Cail, who came onboard as a freelance Producer for this TVC. After having worked overseas for an extended period it was refreshing to be able to work locally again. Unfortunately we weren’t shooting in Melbourne but rather sunny Queensland, on the Gold Coast! When I say unfortunately I mean that in the nicest possible way, as I haven’t shot in my own home town for such a long time. Coincidentally, I used to live on the Gold Coast. I had worked at the Warner Movie World Studios for several years on such shows as “Mission Impossible” (the TV series), “Time Trax1&2″, and several “Movie of the week” projects. But that’s digressing!

Australian productions differ substantially from my OS work, in that they are always bound up in some sort of “Australianism” or colloquial detail that makes either the idea or the execution difficult for my overseas clients to understand. Typically a good understanding of both our slang and football is a prerequisite for good comprehension of the message to occur (generalisation but you get the idea). Mostly, I am in the belief that Australian advertising is meant for Australians only and is largely inaccessible to overseas markets which is a shame. I think even in Australia, many of the commercials are not aimed at new immigrants, tourists, business travellers or people who do not care for football, popular culture and trends. That’s a big sector of the community that is left out from targeted advertising. This commercial however was different. That’s why this project was fun to work on. Yes it does still involve some background history if you truly want to fully understand the TVC, however you could completely miss that and still enjoy the Ad!

Through advertising agency, The Ross Partnership in Melbourne, the Commercial was designed to be a parody of the “Action” style of TVC’s made in the early 1980’s, featuring legendary Australian Sportsmen and Woman. It was written by Meg Sorenson for TNCC in an ongoing campaign.I think the TVC is accessible to anyone because it pokes fun at a style that is ubiquitous across the planet in one form or another!

OK enough of the “thoughts behind the Ad”. This TVC was fun to make – pure and simple! We had a glorious sunny day to film the TVC on and a brilliant athlete to feature. Emma Snowsill is a remarkable person, with an amazing focus on her career. You can read more about her here to find out about her amazing achievements. I have never seen a person swim as fast as she could – Quite incredible! Emma is an Olympian gold medalist triathlete (Beijing 2008)! So I had my work cutout keeping up with her all day! The schedule was reasonably gruelling also with a huge list of shots to get in one day. This included shots of her swimming, running and cycling. We filmed the TVC at a popular Gold Coast beach at Currumbin heads. I’ve actually shot there on several occasions and it probably was used in many of those early “Action” sports TVC’s I spoke of earlier, which made it even more perfect! When I was asked by the production staff at Chocolate as to which crew I wanted for this job, I immediately wanted to regroup my usual crew from Queensland. Sadly my frequency is way down these days but mostly they are still all around. I had last worked with the majority of them on “Drop the Bomb” with Hammish & Andy (for a Carlton Draught stunt) which was only a year before I guess. Our Sound Recordist was Craig Walmsley, Camera Assistant was again David Cordell and Keygrip was Leigh Tait. Additionally we had Gaffer Glen Jones and his 2nd join us also. From Melbourne, EP Dave Ellis & Sara De Maria, Makeup Artist Selena Pertzel and Data Wrangler Kevin Wetdewich also joined the production. There were a few others and I’m sorry I haven’t mentioned your names here. Needless to say, it wasn’t a huge crew but a very effective one!

The commercial was shot using both the RED One camera and a combination of Canon DSLR (5DMK2) and GoPro HD cameras. This was really what I would call the secret recipe for this TVC as using traditional film camera gear would have been far too cumbersome and to heavy to deal with for these kinds of activities. In fact, even the RED was too big really. Leigh built a fantastic rig to dolly the RED camera easily across sand dunes as well as providing a nifty trailer (for a Quad bike) for the RED to film low angle, running shots. Mostly though, we used the 5DMK2 for some of the more spectacular shots, such as a really low angle shot of Emma swimming over the camera. That was actually filmed from the bottom of the ocean (about 20 feet down) looking straight up at the sun as Emma powered through the waves. I had Leigh (a licensed PADI diver) shoot that shot for me while I had Dave Cordell film from the beach using the RED camera, a 25-250mm Angenaux zoom lens with a doubler! My game plan for the day revolved around the quick change over from one camera system to the next. So all the land based shots that required sound or were relatively simple to get with our rigs were shot on the RED camera. The rest were shot either on the 5D or Go Pro cameras! This included most of the swimming shots and several of the biking angles.

We did run out of light eventually. During the filming of the bike sequences the light did become a problem. That scene was again largely filmed on the RED One and a few shots from the GoPro camera. There is a low angle shot looking past Emma’s handlebar that was only possible to film using the GoPro as well as a shot of her head as she looks up while riding! Given the limited time we had, I honestly don’t know how else I would have filmed those shots?! After an incredibly successful fun day, we said goodbye to the crew and headed back to Melbourne the next day.

Post production took place at Chocolate Studios in Melbourne. It’s a very beautifully appointed Post Production centre with all the latest gear, including it’s own audio facility. On the 16th of May, we recorded a guide voice over track and then began sifting through a sizeable amount of rushes with my Offline/Online editor Marty. We actually decided that we would take the offline offshore so to speak and for a few days we cut the commercial on a private yacht in Williamstown Melbourne. This would have to be one of the more exotic locations I’ve conducted Post Production but was a lot of fun! The only thing we had to get used to was the unexpected wave action of passing boats in the harbour, which rocked us back and forth, but luckily I’m OK with boats! Any case, I tweeted about my experience and and got quite a strong reaction from many on Twitter! We actually did some pretty amazing work on that boat, despite all the distractions. For those that want to know about the tech side of things, we used Final Cut Pro on a laptop, some raid drives and made use of the onboard HDTV LCD screen!

The final leg of the TNCC journey involved audio Post Production with Paul McCosh at Chocolate, who created a fantastic track out of bits and pieces while the colour grading took place at By Deluxe Melbourne, with colourist Stanley Lopuszanski. We graded all formats from a single file in Scratch, giving each scene a distinctive look. Mostly again the “Looks” were heavily inspired by some of “those” TVC’s from the 80’s & 90’s and Stanley did a fantastic job recreating that experience. While I had the chance, I put the 5DMK2 material against the RED One footage and was amazed how good the 5D looked. It’s not the RED is bad, it’s just if you shoot carefully, using a narrow depth of field, the 5D is an amazing camera. However, Stanley was quick to point out it’s limitation with respect to dynamic range. The 5D does suffer from jagged edges on high contrast lines & detail. Still, it looks great in our TVC and most of the shots wouldn’t have been possible with any other camera system, without more money, time and effort! The Online was a relatively straight forward affair back in Chocolate Studios in Avid DS.

In closing, I have to say this was one of the most fun jobs I’ve shot in recent years. It was a pleasure to work on because the Agency was great, the Client was incredible and the Cast and Crew were absolutely amazing. Add sunshine and surf and you have yourself the perfect mix for a great job!

Here is the Commercial

[mbs slideshow=1]

State of Electronics – The beginning!

For the last couple of months, I have been working hard on a new project, tentatively called “State of Electronics”. It’s basically concerned with the history, development and future of the Australian Electronics Design and Manufacturing Industry. Partly fuelled by my own interests in Electronics, the documentary hopes to investigate the life cycle of an industry – how an industry is born, how it develops and then how it goes into decline. It’s a subject that can apply to many forms of industries including my own industry – the film industry.

Filming has begun and over the last couple of weeks and I have interviewed many people who helped create the Electronics Design & Manufacturing industry in Australia as well as those who are very active within it still today. The documentary will highlight many of the individuals who tinker in their back sheds designing and building innovative electronic devices, large & small scale manufacturers, Repairers, Component Suppliers, Design houses, Technicians, Businessmen and Woman, futurists, Hackers and Organisations with the sole purpose of showing a worldwide audience the state of the Australian Electronics Industry.

The format is driven by interviews that are mostly like “Discussions”. The topics vary from how people became involved with electronics as a child, how they developed their careers and then how they changed the world around them with innovation, good business sense etc. However, as with any good story, there is a darker side also. The Documentary is investigating the decline of the industry also. Through both economic and political change, the Electronics Industry is constantly undergoing change. World economic problems as well as technological advancements have meant the end of an era in certain sectors of the Industry, leaving jobs at risk or making them extinct! However, not everything is of doom and gloom. The documentary will also highlight individuals and companies that have been able to break through the difficulties and find their feet on a worldwide platform, delivering state of the art products and innovation.

As the project progresses I will update this blog with further information. For now, I can tantalise you with just a few images already shot on the 5DMKII. Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to describe the shooting process. The entire documentary is being filmed on Canon’s 5DMKII using L series glass. Audio is recorded using a Zoom H4N digital recorder and the video and audio are combined in Post Production, using Final Cut Pro. Because this is such a small gear package, I am largely able to handle most of the production needs by myself. When it’s all said and done, I will write up my feelings on going solo on such a big project, however for now I can say that it is incredibly liberating, somewhat demanding but very efficient! I’m also using my iPad as my “questions note pad” and also to carry out research on the fly (even while asking questions). I’ve had the opportunity to include “others” very quickly into the Documentary by being quick to research and write new questions for them. The iPad has made this possible. It’s an amazing tool used in this manner! The last thing I should mention is the overall size of the gear package i’m using, is so small that I can  (using a Defence Force term)  “deploy” very quickly by air or road to carry out interviews. On the 19th of July, I flew to Sydney for two days of interviews with just two pieces of luggage!

More to come!