Thursday, February 2, 2017

Recording the Past - World War 2

"WarGen" is not an established term, but might soon be as the project takes off to record the memories of those veterans and civilians, who lived through the Second World War.

WarGen is the initiative of Dan Snow and Jame Holland, historians and broadcasters.

Hardy Productions UK is pleased to be part of that initiative, helping to identify WW2 veterans and civilians who might be willing to talk to camera about their memories and experiences during the war.

Typically, those who have been interviewed have been in their late 70s and older, and what is challenging is that there seems to be a lot of them, not just in the United Kingdom, but world-wide.

WarGen currently has about 300 volunteers, world-wide, seeking potential interviewees. It is not limited to interviewing just those from the UK but is open to all, regardless of which side of the conflict they may have been on. What better way to record a balanced view of that war?

So far, since Christmas 2016, Hardy Productions UK have filmed three civilians who lived through WW2, of varying ages, and there are more coming forward, mostly military veterans.

Here are those interviews we have recorded so far (transcripts of the interviews can be found by clicking on their names):

Mrs Susan Grievson (civilian)


Mr Bernard McKnight (civilian)

Mrs Joan Hughes (civilian)

We are looking forward to meeting our next interviewee soon, with several others in the pipeline.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

High Dynamic Range - VLog and the like

VLog - SLog2 - SLog3 - CLog are all camera settings created by camera manufacturers to enable filming with a higher dynamic range than can be achieved with normal camera settings. We use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 with Panasonic's own VLog-L imported to provide this effect.

This still (recorded in UHD) is typical of the output from a GH4 when using the VLog-L setting. It is flat, lacking contrast, but it has a wider dynamic range than a normal setting (reckoned to be approximately 12 stops as opposed to the more normal 10 stops).

This reduces the amount of burn out of "hot spots" in the film. 

This is the same still after Panasonic's own LUT (Look up table) has been applied post production, generating a richness and subtlety of colour not seen in the original.

But there are limitations with VLog if, in the case of the GH4, down to a banding effect that is sometimes seen in shots where a LUT has been applied. This is principally as a result of recording in 8bit format inside the camera, which can be reduced by recording in 10bit when sent to an external recorder.

There are ways around this, one being to change the project settings in the NLE to 32bit floating points. Others have found that using DaVinci Resolve colour management avoiding LUTs can also minimise banding effects.

Sometimes, using VLog, you can achieve some very striking scenes ......

Friday, January 29, 2016

Compiling for Film Festivals

Compiling for film festivals is something that we have undertaken three times now, first for the 12th Manchester International Short Film Festival in 2014 (17 programmes in all), followed by the Manchester Indie Film Makers Group at the Manchester Central Library in July 2015 and most recently the 13th Manchester International Short Film and Animation Festival running from 22nd to 28th February 2016 (30+ programmes).

Often under-estimated, but we would suggest that the way in which independent films, lovingly made by experts and enthusiasts alike, are presented is critical to the standing and success of a festival as well as the films. Film makers wish their films to be shown, ideally, at their best, and will often go to great lengths to ensure that the best quality version of their film is presented to the audience.

You could just receive the films for each programme event on separate discs or USB fobs, and project them one by one onto the screen in front of the audience, but that would not do anything for the professionalism of the Festival, whether it be consisting of one programme or several. It would just look unprofessional!

Since 2014, we have received from film makers over 400 films for presentation at festivals, in all shapes and sizes, with file sizes ranging from 500MB to 35GB.

We have compiled them into the various programmes, normally 90 minutes in duration, creating 'stings' to front title and end title for each programme with short announcements in between each film.

We have created the 'stings' using our most favourite compositing program, HitFilm, creating 3-dimensional space which can be viewed by a 'camera' from any direction.

Each programme is rendered to a file type suitable for blu-ray disc production, equipped with markers at the start of each film. Care has to be taken here as films arrive in different frame rates (23.976fps, 24fps,25fps, 30fps are typical). Some are progressive, some are interlaced. We have found by experience that the safest format to convert all of these to is 50i (50 interlaced frames per sec, equivalent to 25 full frames per second) which seems to limit any loss of quality of the films on the blu-rays, avoid uneven movement and so on.

Each blu-ray is provided with menus, designed to match the brand of its festival. The programmes can be presented in high definition in any venue equipped with high definition projection, showing the programmes and their films off to their current best, in a professional and slick manner. With 4K blu-rays in the offing during 2016, that may well become the best, but we are not there yet!

The work and times that goes into the compilation is extensive, from the downloading of the various films, to the creation of the stings, to the assembly and rendering of the programmes, to the preparation for and burning of the blu-rays.

This is in addition to the hard work put in by the festival organisers who have to select the films in the first place, viewing sometimes literally thousands of films offered to them, developing the individual programmes, creating an order in which the films are to be shown.

For the current Manchester International Short Film and Animation Festival, due to run 35 different programmes over a period of 7 days in Manchester from 22nd February 2016, approximately 2 man months have been necessary for the compiling work.

For information on this festival, go to and if you live in the Manchester (UK) area, do go along an enjoy what the best international indie film makers have to offer.

The next Manchester Indie Film Makers Group Festival is planned for September 2016 at Manchester Central Library. 

MISF&AF graphics by Laura Cross Twitter: @LauraLoola28

Friday, May 1, 2015

Creating moving shots out of stills

We have recently been putting together a video "slide show" for Hough End Hall, a sadly mistreated stately home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester which is currently up for sale and which the local community, the Friends of Hough End Hall, are trying to raise money to buy and use for the community.
The slide show is being prepared for showing at this year's Chorlton Arts Festival and to advertise a new book "The Story" by Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping.
So what has this to do with the work that Hardy Productions UK usually do? All will be revealed.
A while back we invested in some interesting video software called HitFilm 3 Pro which works well with Sony Vegas Pro 13, our normal film editor. HitFilm is designed principally to create special effects although it can be used as a film editor in its own right.
For the purposes of Hough End Hall slide show, we wanted to create some short movie clips out of still photos to show realist movement.
HitFilm can do this using its 3D projector facility.
The screen shot to the right shows the set up, with the still photo split into two planes, horizontal and vertical. A projector (the lower of the two "cameras") projects onto the two planes, and the second camera moves to reveal quite a realistic 3D image.
The resulting movie, in HD, looks like this:

This particular shot didn't have any clouds in the sky, so it was not necessary to introduce sky movement, but in a sequence with a different still photograph, we have this:

Here, we have sky movement as well as ground movement as the camera drops in elevation. How did we achieve this? Well, can you keep a secret? Yes? So can we!
What I can say is that you cannot do this with every photograph you have. To make it easier, you need a horizon somewhere near the top of the lower third so as to generate realistic movement in that horizontal plane.
The movie above was made from the postcard (left). To make it more realistic, I made the jpg taller, painting in additional sky above and additional road below, removing the inscription at the same time.
Hopefully you can't see any joins in the resulting movie!
Footnote: I am hoping that the blogger videos will improve with time - they seem to be very fuzzy at the time of uploading. If not, I will replace with uploads to YouTube direct.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Filming with Movement

Michael Thompson holding a GoPro Hero 4 Black camera
mounted on s LanParte 3 axis gimbal stabiliser.
One the most difficult things to do is achieve decent, smooth camera movement at a reasonable price, something that almost everyone expects out of films these days, very different to the days when camera movement was almost non-existent. The zoom lens, introduced to motion pictures around the 1960s, was one of the first devices for achieving simple smooth movement, hardly used today in that context.
There are many devices that you can buy which will achieve camera movement for you, including

  • sliders, 
  • jibs, 
  • tracks, 
  • steadicams and so on
All are fairly limited in the movement they can create, at a price.
Steadicams are probably the most flexible of these, but they are quite difficult to operate without training and a lot of practice.
Hardy Productions UK have just invested in a 3 gimbal stabiliser, seen in the photo above, which is designed for very small cameras such as GoPros and smartphones. They are not particularly expensive and can give very good, smooth results without a lot of training and with limited practice as can be seen from this short film which was originally filmed in ultra high definition in one take (and presented in that format on YouTube if you are able to view in 4K):
Now it is a matter of being able to afford something similar for very much larger cameras, starting price £2000 approximately!
And don't forget the increasing popularity of drones, some of which now have cameras mounted to film in 4K very smoothly. But if you are going to use these professionally, you will have to observe the various regulations now in place including the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK.
For the time being, using the 3 gimbal stabiliser with GoPro alongside shots taken more traditionally by larger cameras is not a bad solution.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Talbot House - Supporting families of people with learning disabilities

Gabe and Shaun outside Ron Keeling's K-Style Barbers
in Chorlton-cum-Hardy (scene from ANGEL SNOW)
People may well ask why we selected Talbot House as the organisation to support during the promotion of our latest short film drama, ANGEL SNOW.

Ron Keeling, who had given us considerable help with the making of ANGEL SNOW and whose family have a strong association with Talbot House asked if we could contribute to them. We said "yes".

So it was that last Tuesday morning, we arrived at Talbot House, tucked away in the Newton Heath area of Manchester to meet up with Bernie Wood, the General Manager, her wonderful colleagues, all parents and carers.

Bernie Wood, General Manager, Talbot House
 First stop, a welcome cup of tea and then into the main office (just about fits three desks in there) complete with 4K camera, lights and sound equipment.

I should know better than to film against a bright window background, and when Bernie saw herself on the small screen afterwards, she was the first comment that her face was in shadow, despite a small fill in light on her face during filming.

And so it was, but with some post-production jiggery-pokery, I doubt that you would know it. I shan't say how it was done, but thank goodness for special effects!

Frane Crake, Support Worker / Administrator
After Bernie, it was Fran's turn to sit in front of the camera, in the same tight office, by turning the camera round through 90 degrees and re-positioning the lighting and the microphone.

Fran, like Bernie, talked about why Talbot House is so important to her and to all of the families that are being supported by it.

This organisation receives no Government support, relying entirely on the good nature of the people who recognise the importance of what is being done there.

In fact, it was so very noticeable with all of the people who spoke to us, Bernie, Fran and three parent carers, that they all spoke from their heart. They have known the good times and they have known equally the not so good times.

With 5 interviews in the can and various other shots taken of activities such as a regular meeting with parent carers, and some "pampering", designed to make the parent carers and the cared feel good, it was time to get back and start on the post-production of the film.

Released today, this can now be found on YouTube, by clicking below:

Donations can be made through the Talbot House website. And if you come to the Angel Snow premiere on 20th February, you too can have the opportunity to contribute to an excellent organisation.

The money being handed over to Fran Crake of Talbot House.

During the evening of 20th February 2015 at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, a total of approximately £310 was collected for Talbot House.

There will be further opportunities to raise money through a major raffle and through further showings of Angel Snow and accompanying films.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The making of "Continental Shift" (Stolen from a Crow)

"A girl, once took a momentous trip, To embark on a continental shift ......"
It is Sunday, 31st August 2014, it is relatively fine, and we are in our back garden. This is a typical Summer's afternoon, you might say, but it is not.
We are assembling the set for our filming of "Continental Shift" (Stolen from a Crow) written and sung by Crispin Case-Leng. This is to be an exotic "hut" looking towards the sea.
OK, there is no sea in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the nearest water being the river Mersey, half a mile away. But we do have green screens, and with these set up in the right position, we can create during post production, a sea aspect.
"That would change her life, Illuminate each of her nights, Embrace her in a tenderly mist ......"
It is now Sunday evening, Crispin has arrived, the sun is sinking below the horizon, the lights are set in position, the track is laid down for the camera, the sound system is ready to play, so that Crispin can mime, sing and play.
We are using a 4K video camera, producing an image size exactly four times that of High Definition.
Cables are hidden from camera view, the camera is rolling, sometimes on a tripod, mounted on a track, sometimes on a monopod when we get in close to the singer, his hands and the guitar.

Cut away with and without the green screen
"A boy, once turned his page to places new, Found something unintended, his heart grew ......"
"Music .......... and Action!"
The camera has started, the music has started, the singing and playing have started, and we are away.
The beauty of this kind of filming is that you do not have to worry about the sound quality. The microphone on board the camera is there only to make sure that we have a synch with the original sound recording.
"Now the lady looks at the man, With something in their eyes only they can understand ......"
It is Tuesday, 2nd September, it is again fine, and we are at Rivington Pike, not far from Bolton in Lancashire. This is an old and abandoned estate once owned by the Lever family, famous for soap. The old house is gone, but the bridge has not, nor the uncared for Japanese gardens and lake.
Here, the boy meets the girl, represented by a glowing orb which follows and leads him around the estate.
"Spreading its wings to the far corners of the world, To take up the girl in a blissful whirl ......"
It is Thursday, 4th September and this time we are at Heysham, just south of Morcambe, for the final beach filming. We need a rock pool (not many of those on the west coast of Lancashire) and a steady shot of the sea to use as the background, replacing the green screen at the back of that "exotic" hut.
Again, the weather is just right. The tides are right also. We couldn't have planned it better. It is to be an afternoon shoot at low tide with rock pools exposed. The boy finds a bottle with a note in it, in a rock pool, the note having "spread its wings to the far corners of the world".
And then a late afternoon visit to Morcambe just up the coast for a walk and fish and chips, before returning for an evening shoot when the tide has come back in.
"The open rift is now closed ......"
The filming is over and the post production begins. We have at least 9 takes at any
one time to choose from, synchronised with the original soundtrack, with the green screen in place, so that it can be replaced by the sea in the background.
Fortunately, it all works well and it is not long before we have it put together, to be viewed by our client, Crispin Case-Leng. Let us tweak this and that, let us switch to the Heysham shots here and the Rivington Pike shots there, each telling the story within the overall story.
"To cause a warmth to build, Within each other's souls ......"
We all had great fun making this film and given a chance, would make another one, one day.
You can view the resulting film (in 4K) on YouTube.
And you can download the original sound recording for free from Soundcloud.

The music track of "Continental Shift" (Stolen from a Crow) was produced by John Delf, engineered by Mark Winterburn and Rory Vallely at Edge Recording Studios, Alderley Edge. Joe Oakes was on the drums, Charlie Allen on synths, and help came from the genius of Tony Forshaw.