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November 2007
Galactica Goes High-Speed with Phantom HD
The Sci-Fi Channel’s action-adventure series Battlestar Galactica recently used Vision Research’s Phantom HD camera to capture high-speed action and fight sequences for episodes from its upcoming fourth season.
Panavision Acquires Joe Dunton & Co.
Panavision recently purchased the camera inventory of Joe Dunton & Co. (JDC). Joe and Lester Dunton joined Panavision’s executive ranks upon completion of the transaction.
Abel Cine and Zacuto Team Up
Abel Cine Tech and Zacuto USA have partnered to bring Zacuto’s line of camera-rigging products to a wider market. 
More P2 Memory
Panasonic has introduced a 32GB P2 solid-state memory card for its line of P2 HD and P2 solid-state camcorders and decks.
Panther T6 Alu Tripod
Panther has introduced the T6 Alu tripod system for DV and HDV camcorders.

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Galactica Goes High-Speed with Phantom HD

The Sci-Fi Channel’s action-adventure series Battlestar Galactica recently used Vision Research’s Phantom HD camera to capture high-speed action and fight sequences for episodes from its upcoming fourth season. The popular series returns to the airwaves with Battlestar Galactica: Razor, a two-hour telefilm. Longtime series cinematographer Stephen McNutt, CSC chose the Phantom after seeing footage from the camera demonstrated at the NAB convention in Las Vegas last April. “I went [to NAB] for the first time in a long time to attend the feature-film Digital Cinema Summit,” he recalls. “I was wandering around the show floor and saw some incredible slow-motion footage at the Abel Cine Tech booth. People didn’t even know the Phantom was there.”

The Phantom shoots at up to high-definition (1920x1080) and 2K (2048x1536) resolutions at a maximum of 1,000 fps using PL-mount lenses. The camera measures 7.62"x5.47"x12.13" (19.4x13.9x30.8 cm) and weighs in at 12.125 pounds (5.5 kg). It features a 2048x2047 active-pixel, Bayer-pattern CMOS image sensor at 42-bit color. Shutter speeds are adjustable up to 1⁄500,000 of a second and the ISO is rated at 600 ASA.

In addition to the Phantom HD, Vision offers the Phantom 65, which shoots up to 4,096x2440 at 125 fps and offers image resolution comparable to 65mm film. The Phantom 65 also uses PL-mount lenses and is nearly identical in weight and size to the HD model. Both cameras are capable of 11 stops of latitude, according to Vision Research.

Images are recorded directly to an onboard hard drive with 32GB of storage and are made available for immediate review and transfer to external hard drives for postproduction. Phantom also plans to offer CineMag external memory magazines with up to 512GB of additional storage, enabling longer runtimes and less downtime for offloading material. Footage is captured uncompressed using Vision’s proprietary lossless Cine file format. The camera comes with Cine Viewer, a Windows utility that is used to transcode footage into image sequences for direct editing in nearly any NLE or finishing tool.

Galactica is normally shot with two Sony F900s recording at 1080/24p HDCam. “We haven’t been doing a lot of slow motion,” recalls McNutt. “Last season, we did a boxing episode where Lee (Jamie Bamber) and Adama (Edward James Olmos) were fighting at 120 fps. Razor has a lot of explosions and action sequences. We wanted to accent that at up to 250 fps and even 500 fps.”

McNutt previously employed film cameras and frame doubling of the F900 footage in post to capture high-speed action. “We’d shoot the F900 at 60i, double the frames in post and then de-interlace them,” he notes. “That brings the footage back to a progressive state, but you can get some artifacts. When I wanted to go above 120 fps, we’d bring in an Arri 435, shoot 35mm and transfer to D-5.”

“The upside with digital,” says 1st AC Chris Thompson, “is you can see the results right away. Traditionally, with film, you wait until the next day to get the negative reports. With HD you see it instantly, and you go again or you move on. We used Zeiss primes on the Phantom, up to 150mm and primarily 85mm. We didn’t use any zooms, which mainly had to do with getting our T1.4 stop.”

McNutt found his lighting approach to be nearly identical to his experience with high-speed 35mm photography. “It’s the same as film when you shoot on a Photo-Sonics,” he observes. “You pour more light in. The look of Galactica is very industrial and fluorescent, so I’m limited in how far I can go with additional lighting units. With interiors, I wouldn’t be going to 1,000 fps very often. With film, I normally turn off the shutter, which gets me into about the same exposure range I had with the Phantom.

“We were shooting first at 120 fps, and we felt the motion wasn’t quite slow enough,” continues McNutt. “Then we shot at 500 fps and that looked too slow. So we went back to a range of 250 to 300 fps. The Phantom was very effective, with beautiful images and quite remarkable latitude.”

The Phantom uses circular buffer memory recording to capture high-speed events. “The interesting part is the triggering mechanism,” McNutt remarks. “The hard drive is hooked into the camera, constantly sending information like a surveillance camera. All you have to do is push the trigger, and it saves from the moment you pushed it back to a predefined point in the past. At 1,000 fps at 32GB you have 4.5 seconds of running time. Then, when you’re viewing, you can play it back in real time and pick your handles for transferring. Otherwise I could be downloading a lot of stuff I don’t want.”

As production was completed for Razor, the high-speed digital footage went through Galactica’s post pipeline. Post supervisor Gregg Tilson at Universal Studios outlines the process: “They took the raw, uncompressed Cine files on hard drives to Northwest Imaging & FX in Vancouver [where the show is shot]. The Cine files were converted to 16-bit TIFF image stacks with Vision’s Cine Viewer and laid back to D-5 in a Smoke bay. It’s raw footage with no color correction applied other than a regulation 709 basic color matrix.”

Once on D-5, the Phantom material was treated identically to HDCam-originated material from the F900s. The D-5 was down-converted to Beta SP and offlined on an Avid at Universal. “We cut from the Beta SP tapes in standard definition,” notes Tilson. “When the offline edit is complete, we go to an Avid DS at Level 3 Post, our online house. They take the D-5 submasters in and we do an assembly master from our offline Avid bin.

“We have a day and half of color correction on a da Vinci 2K and output to HDCam at 1080/24p,” Tilson continues. “Finally, we deliver two masters: a downconverted DigiBeta to Sci-Fi for broadcast in standard definition and the HDCam that airs later in high definition on Universal HD. The Phantom material looked great and definitely held up to the high-speed film footage we’ve done. Ultimately, the Phantom was easy to integrate into our workflow, once I learned that Northwest was going to do the Cine file conversions and send me a D-5.”

“That was the big thing, the post workflow,” says McNutt. “The Phantom fits ours really well. I’d love to have the camera on the truck all the time. It’s a simple learning curve for production. Our digital-imaging technician, Mike Sankey, learned the operational basics in about 8 1/2 minutes.” Although the high-speed footage shot for Razor was ultimately sped up to normal speed for the broadcast edit for creative reasons, McNutt used the Phantom again for additional episodes during the season.

Though the Phantom HD is relatively new to the production world, Vision Research has been in the camera business since 1950. It was originally known as the Photographic Analysis Company, a developer of ultra high-speed film cameras for military, automotive and industrial image analysis. The company shifted emphasis toward digital imaging and spun off Vision Research in the 1990s.

“Production is a broad market,” observes Phil Jantzen, Vision Research’s Cinema Project manager. “Each camera has certain feature sets and applications. We wanted to create an open-platform camera with the ability to modify and improve. If you need new features, we are more than willing to enable them if we can. With our military and automotive background, there’s always some custom tooling. We tried to bring as much of the flexibility of our industrial cameras into the production world as possible.

“We’ve built CMOS cameras for almost 15 years now and never bought an off-the-shelf sensor,” Jantzen adds. “Algorithms designed for high-end digital still cameras help us compete with the three-chip cameras. The big, glaring difference is the ability to write at high speed, totally uncompressed, thanks to the Phantom’s internal buffer and flash magazine. Phantom isn’t limited by a recording format, other than the basic overhead inside the Cine file. You’re shooting uncompressed at a high frame rate, which interfaces very well in a totally digital workflow.”

Vision recently formed a distribution partnership with Abel Cine Tech to bring the Phantom HD and 65 into the professional broadcast and feature filmmaking market. “The world is going raw, uncompressed and IT-based, and we like to be on the cutting edge,” says Mitch Gross, Abel Cine Tech’s rental manager. “Phantom fits with our vision. It will initially be perceived as a niche, high-speed camera. As it evolves, it will come to be seen as a workhorse camera. That’s Abel’s history with products like the VariCam, MovieTube and Aaton.”

“The Phantom is a whole different animal,” says McNutt. “You get immediate playback at 500 fps and can judge everything — do we have to reset or can we move on? That’s what the digital world offers us: the ability to make absolute decisions absolutely.”

by Noah Kadner

contact info:

Abel Cine Tech at (212) 462-0100.

 
www.abelcine.com
Panavision Acquires Joe Dunton & Co.

Panavision recently purchased the camera inventory of Joe Dunton & Co. (JDC). Joe and Lester Dunton joined Panavision’s executive ranks upon completion of the transaction. JDC has rental facilities in London and Wilmington, North Carolina.

“With the acquisition of these assets, Panavision will expand its inventory of high-end film cameras and lenses to support its growing worldwide business,” says Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of Panavision, Inc. “It is another step forward in our strategy to acquire valuable assets on a selective basis and attract entrepreneurial industry leaders to our executive team.”

Notes Joe Dunton, “I’m very pleased to be reuniting with Panavision, a company at the very top of our industry. It’s an incredibly exciting platform for Lester and me to continue our innovative approach to solving the issues faced by filmmakers on the set every day. We couldn’t be joining a better team!”

The purchase includes all film camera equipment owned by JDC, along with a wide assortment of spherical and anamorphic lenses and camera accessories.

contact info:
 
www.panavision.com
Abel Cine and Zacuto Team Up

Abel Cine Tech and Zacuto USA have partnered to bring Zacuto’s line of camera-rigging products to a wider market. Both companies specialize in the sales and rental of HD camera packages, with a focus on providing a high level of support to filmmakers. The Zacuto product line is rugged and highly versatile. Products can be combined in virtually endless combinations to suit the precise needs and preferences of each camera operator. All the components are designed to work interchangeably for quick assembly and custom configuration. A key feature of the Zacuto line is the Z-Release system, which offers quick-release functionality. Components can be assembled, locked securely in place and disassembled with the flip of a lever.

contact info:  
www.abelcine.com
www.zacuto.com
More P2 Memory

Panasonic has introduced a 32GB P2 solid-state memory card for its line of P2 HD and P2 solid-state camcorders and decks. The 32GB P2 card, model AJ-P2C032RG, will have a suggested list price of $1,650. Camcorders equipped with the new 32GB P2 card will offer greater recording capacity than tape-based and disc-based systems, and will offer the benefits of no-moving-parts reliability and fast IT file-based workflow. With five 32GB P2 cards installed, the AJ-HPX3000 and HPX2000 P2 HD camcorders can record for up to 2.5 hours (over 3 hours in 24p) in AVC-Intra 100 or DVCPro HD and 5 hours (over 6.5 hours in 24p) in AVC-Intra 50 or DVCPro 50.

Panasonic’s P2 card is based on reliable, solid-state memory, consisting of four SD cards, like those now used in digital still cameras, packaged in a rugged, die-cast frame that weighs 0.099 pounds (45g). This convenient card has four times the capacity and four times the transfer speed of a single SD card. The P2 card is reusable and connects instantly with laptops and major nonlinear editing systems to eliminate the time-consuming task of digitizing.

The P2 card is resistant to impact (up to 1,500G), vibration (up to 15G), shock, dust and environmental extremes including temperature changes. It operates in temperatures from -4° to 176°F (-20 to 60°C), and can be stored in temperatures from -40° to 176°F (-40 to 80°C). Unlike tapes and discs, the P2 card has no rotating or contact parts. The solid-state P2 memory card can transfer data at speeds up to 640Mbps to provide the professional user with fast, easy operation. Compared to tape or disc, P2 acquisition requires no media consumption, resulting in tremendous savings in media costs as well as environmental benefits.

The new 32GB card is fully compatible with the current 16GB P2 card, so users who’ve upgraded their P2 product(s) and computer systems for 16GB operation are ready for 32GB operation. P2 users who haven’t completed this upgrade must do so in order to take advantage of 32GB operation.

contact info:  
www.panasonic.com/broadcast
Panther T6 Alu Tripod

Panther has introduced the T6 Alu tripod system for DV and HDV camcorders. The T6 fluid head comes with a two-step drag control, vertical and horizontal brakes, and a sliding balance system with a quick-locking plate to center the camera. The T6 Alu (Code. no. ST6001), with rigid 75mm aluminum legs, also includes a ground spreader and a padded bag.

contact info:  
www. panther.us