Friday, June 7, 2019

And now for something rather different

For some while now, I have been, as a member, working with the Manchester Indie Film Makers Group, a volunteer group based at Manchester Central Library, filming (no sound) in our small studio in Chorlton scenes for "Six Million Voices", about the diary of Anne Frank.

The Programme for Six Million Voices 
performed at Manchester Central Library, 1 June 2019

This film has been set to the music of Chris Williams, a local composer, who has been working on her Anne Frank project (with the knowledge and permission of the Anne Frank FRONS in Switzerland) for some years. Nigel Anderson has brought the footage and music together, much of it filmed against a green screen or a black screen, creating the appropriate backgrounds.

"Six Million Voices" was performed for the first time on 1st June 2019 in the Performance Space at Manchester Central Library in front of the Lord Mayor of Manchester and an invited audience of about 110 people. Lasting about an hour, the film was supported by a live speaker for Anne Frank's voice, Sheney Bridge (aged 12).

The whole production was received well, and now the Manchester Indie Film Makers Group is looking for other venues to perform this production, potentially in local churches, theatres and schools.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Handling the DJI Ronin-S 3-Gimbal Stabiliser

In my previous blog, I talked about the DJI Ronin-S which has made a big difference to my filming life, particularly when filming on the move.

But one of the aspects of such filming is the weight of the equipment involved, including the stabiliser itself and the various items that often have to be attached to it in addition to the camera and microphone. The additional equipment may include a 7" video monitor, sound recorder and lapel microphone sound receiver. The total weight of all of these can amount to about 6kg (13lb) which is significant if you are filming on the move for a significant amount of time, say during a continuous take of several minutes. Those arms can become very tired, although they do build up additional strength with time!

I have been testing out the DF DigitalFoto Spider Clamp Mounting Plate with Strap, designed specifically for the Ronin-S and the Crane 2. Here is a short video on the subject.

The device, consists of a Mounting Plate which is bolted to the Ronin-S and an easy to clip on strap to attach to the plate.

The strap goes over the left shoulder and back round under the right arm, securing the complete assembly to the camera operator, so that it does not fall away.

Some care needs to be taken to avoid obstructing access to the Ronin-S controls, such as the focus wheel, record button etc.

The outcome of the testing is that I am pleased with the device which does help with the problem, but as with all things, you have to become familiar with using it.

Monday, February 25, 2019

It has been a while ....

It has been quite a while since I posted to this blog - over 2 years, during which time a lot has happened.

I have been filming quite a large number of interviews for WarGen (see the last blog), approaching 30 of them and I have been helping the Manchester Indie Film Makers Group (based at Manchester Central Library) to make their latest production for a live audience, Six Million Voices, in June of this year.

But singly the most interesting piece of gear that I have obtained is a 3 gimbal stabiliser for filming on the move, the DJI Ronin-S purchased soon after it came on the market, last Summer. This piece of equipment complete with a focus control attached to it has made a major difference to my filming life, enabling stable footage to be achieved while on the move, backwards, forwards, you name it! And most importantly, the ability to focus pull at the same time. My Lumix GH4 camera is not best known for its smooth autofocus abilities, so this is a very important feature.

This picture shows a typical rig of the equipment with one of my trusty GH4 cameras. There is a stereo microphone mounted on the camera's frame, and a sound recorder mounted together with a wireless receiver. In this case, we were filming a short interview, the subject moving forwards and the camera moving backwards, maintaining a more or less constant distance between them. The stereo mike provides some depth of sound while the lapel mike provides a clear voice from the interviewee.

Chris Burton walking the corridors of Manchester Central Library 
while talking to camera.
Often, I have a 7" monitor mounted on the Ronin-S as well as this gives a much better screen for manual focus.

This is not light equipment for continuous filming, probably weighing in all 5 or 6 kilos depending on what is on board, so you need to develop strength in your arms.

But more about that another time.

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.