Digital Production Buzz/Larry Jordan Interviews Phil Bates

Last nights Digital Production Buzz featured Artbeats’ President Phil Bates. Larry Jordan and Michael Horton chatted with Phil about the recent aerial footage Artbeats filmed in Washington, DC.

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Artbeats shoots RED EPIC Aerials over Washington, DC

By Phil Bates, Artbeats President & Founder

Artbeats Washington, DC aerials. View the demo reel here.

After months of work from Artbeats staff, outside consultants and our pilot, the Transportation Security Administration granted us a waiver to spend two days shooting aerials over Washington, DC. The monumental red tape included getting clearance from the military, Secret Service, FBI and TSA. With that work behind us, we still had to get permits, as well as clearance from the tower at Reagan International Airport. Because of their busy weekdays, they asked us to push our daytime flights to Saturday.

Even with the waiver, we were not allowed to fly over the mall or shoot the White House. We were required to have a police officer accompany us in the helicopter during the flight and pre-screen us on the ground. At our airport, two Army Intelligence Officers waited for us to land so they could look over every shot, make sure there were no security violations, and delete any problem clips on the spot. Because of this we did quick cuts while shooting, so anything cut would be short.

Our equipment included the Pictorvision eclipse gyrostabilized gimbal mounted on a TwinStar helicopter. The camera was a RED Epic-X with an Optimo 24-290 lens. We shot at 30fps, 5K 2:1 with a Redcode setting of 8:1 and 6:1 for the nighttime shots. Our media was 256GB SSD cards, which gave us around 60 minutes of shoot time. The lens gave a small amount of vignette at all the way wide. No big deal, an easy crop.

Our first flight started on Friday near sunset from our small airport outside the “Freeze”, a term for the round shaped 7 mile wide restricted area over DC. Along with the pilot, camera operator, and director (me), having a police officer on board plus the weight of the camera gimbal meant a very limited amount of fuel thus only an hour in the air over the capital.

On our route over the Potomac into the “Freeze” we could easily see the Langley CIA building on our right in full view tempting us. Originally we wanted to shoot it, but our DC consultant warned us not even to ask. In contrast to the 1500ft altitude minimum requirements when flying over buildings over NYC, our route into DC along the river limited us to 200ft max above the ground. This is because flights arriving at Reagan are approaching just above our heads. All arriving planes had to keep us in sight at all times. In fact, any airline pilot not able to see us must abort the landing and turn around for another approach. The TSA were also watching our every move, making sure we stayed away from the restricted airspace over the Mall, White House and VP’s home.

Normally, I like to shoot from low altitudes, but this proved to be a problem near the Pentagon where the geometric shape of the building is lost at that level. We needed to fly west away from the arrival lanes in order to get permission to get higher for a better view.

The Capitol building and Washington Monument were the two landmarks that drew the eye and the camera. It was hard to pan away from those amazing structures. The best shots were shooting lengthwise down the Mall from east to west or from the other side west to east. Doing a slow camera dolly move north to south (or vice versa) with the Monument and Dome lining up gave us the best framing. The 12x lens gave us the reach we needed. Along the river we saw missile batteries on a rooftop. The police officer on board said we could shoot it but risk it being deleted. We stayed away. Our shot list also included universities, the Watergate, Arlington, stadiums, other monuments and hospitals. It took us 4 different flights to shoot daytime, night time, and dusk versions.

Back on the ground the Army officers carefully viewed the clips in RedCine. They were very savvy and comfortable using the program by themselves. Since there was no time to download we read the clips directly from the card. Only a few clips were deleted from the first three flights, but eight clips were in violation on our last mission. Of these we were able to save four by trimming the R3D in and out points. All in all, we lost very little to these deletions, since we shot a lot of redundant footage. The officers who were very friendly never told us what they were looking for, just zoomed in now and then to seemingly random areas. They were amazed at the detail we were capturing at 5K, which in this case worked against us! After one officer finished looking at the last clip, he asked us: “How in the world did you get clearance to fly in P56? That’s a huge amount of red tape.” Yes it was. 🙂

I am also very thankful to our crew and Artbeats staff who made this shoot possible.

Shooter’s Diary: Lights, EPIC, Action in San Francisco!

By Annette Gaillard, Artbeats DP

As we mentioned in a previous post, Artbeats recently acquired a new RED EPIC camera. We spent a few days doing testing on the Oregon coast, filming lifestyles at a local Coffee House and shooting aerials on the East Coast. Now it was time for me to take it on the road just in time for the holidays.

Over the years we’ve received a lot of requests for holiday related footage. Being from a rural area on the west coast, I wanted to capture the magic of the holiday lights and decorations in the city. For this, I chose the beautiful and eclectic city of San Francisco. Blue skies, a little haze in the air, but otherwise ideal conditions for filming, and a great opportunity for me to work with the EPIC. Before leaving I decided to upgrade the build on our camera, so we finally have playback available on the camera. We’d also recently received our side handle, but had not had the chance to test it.

Looking over the city from the top of Lombard Street.

Over the past three years, I have gotten very used to filming on the RED ONE and am not a big fan of change, however, the EPIC made the transition relatively painless. Many of the menus are very similar to the RED ONE, just more accessible via the touchscreen LCD. I did find myself accidentally hitting buttons on the optional side handle, which caused minor confusion a few times. The playback option worked flawlessly and so did the camera, which was a big relief. As with any software upgrade, you never know if a new glitch will show up while you’re out in the field.

Shooting in San Francisco is not without its challenges. In some cases, parking simply isn’t an option. For these instances, I’d hop out, grab the gear, and have my assistant circle the block, sometimes multiple times, until I had completed the shots I needed. Having a smaller camera like the EPIC, as well as a small tripod to trek around the hills of San Francisco was definitely a benefit. After navigating the streets, I wished that I had told the film office that I needed traffic control, as the best vantage point was often in the middle of the street. The San Francisco Film Office was extremely helpful in the planning of this shoot. Even though we were a very, very small crew, a permit was needed since our end product is for commercial use. My contact was able to provide me with information on areas I was not allowed to film, for various reasons, and also suggested many alternative sites. Unfortunately, they did not know about several of the private events that had been booked, which blocked some of the best holiday locations for the days that I was there. It had been quite some time since I’d been to San Francisco, and I had forgotten about the grid network cable for the trolley cars. If you’re into realistic shots of a city, the cables are no big deal. However, if you want a clear view of things, good luck!

This is part of the 17,000 lights outlining the buildings in the Embarcadero Center.

There is so much to film in San Francisco, and I wasn’t able to get nearly everything I wanted, but in the end this shoot was definitely a success. We captured some spectacular holiday footage, a large number of establishment shots of the city and some unexpected environmental content. You’ll find this footage soon in our royalty-free stock footage library.

Looking back, I have to say that my overall experience with the EPIC was a success. At this point I feel that the only real drawback to the camera are the Redvolt batteries. You get approximately 30 minutes recording time and they take 90 minutes to charge. The chargers available at this time only hold one battery. Depending on how many batteries you have, you are up a lot during the night to get batteries charged for the next day. I personally can’t wait for the RED quad charger to come out. I found that using a mixture of the Redvolts and the Red Bricks was the best way to make it through the day and for charging to be manageable at night.

I learned quite a few things about San Francisco, and will definitely change how I plan to do things on my next film shoot there. Most importantly, I would budget more days. There is so much ground to cover, and so many great places to film. When choosing a hotel in San Francisco I would recommend that you make sure it has parking available and ask what vehicles it can accommodate. The hotel we stayed at for this excursion did have parking available. Unfortunately it was fitted to accommodate sub-compact cars, rather than the SUV we use to haul our gear. It was definitely a challenge, and one morning I was forced to request that other cars be moved.

My parting suggestions to all the other stock shooters: even though it is very important to have a shot list, don’t tie yourself to it. Keep your eyes peeled because there are so many opportunities that pop up. Even though these unexpected shots may derail your plan, they can be completely worth it. Go for the things that take more time to shoot, that are harder to get. Lastly, releases, releases, releases…the shot maybe fantastic, but if it needs a release and you don’t get one, it could be worthless.

View of the financial district at night.

Artbeats is now shooting on the RED EPIC

Artbeats has just taken possession of our first of two Red EPIC cameras. We’re very excited about this because it will give us more versatility for future shoots.

For example, the EPIC is much lighter and smaller than the Red ONE, and this will allow us to go out shooting with a smaller crew and lighter tripod. We can hopefully stay under the radar in situations where a large camera is uncomfortably conspicuous and could draw the attention of onlookers, potentially ruining a shot. The lighter weight is a tremendous asset with jib shots and for hiking the camera into remote locations, and helps reduce the overall weight burden in gyro-stabilized aerial gimbals.

In addition, the smaller footprint and weight will allow us to use a much more affordable beam-splitter rig for S3D shoots.

The EPIC is an improvement on the previous Red ONE in many other ways. For example, the image quality has gone up, giving us a higher resolution (5K vs 4K in the Red ONE). New, higher frame rates will allow us to shoot slow motion at high resolution. One of the most significant improvements is HDRx which expands the dynamic range of the sensor beyond that of film, giving us the ability to shoot in high contrast situations without worry of clipping highlights.

Artbeats is all about increasing quality and production value in our products. The shooting potential the EPIC brings will mean greater quality footage for our customers in the near future.

Learn more about the RED EPIC on RED’s website.

Behind the Scenes: New Fireworks POV stock footage collection

By Phil Bates, Artbeats President & Founder

This summer, the Artbeats film crew was given an opportunity to film fireworks from a unique perspective, one that not many people get. Homeland Fireworks, a specialty pyrotechnics firm in Oregon, allowed us to place our cameras directly inside the launch pit. We soon discovered that this would not be a typical shoot.

When you place a camera within a few feet of the launch mortars, you are putting the equipment at risk. During the shoot, we were not allowed to sit with the camera. Instead, we had to push the record button, then move to a safer position away from the launch pit. Even so, we were asked to wear protective clothing, as well as eye and ear protection. At any time, one of the launch tubes can rupture, which is the cause of many pyro accidents.

There were shell casings and burning debris constantly falling on and around the camera. We used a protective foil, but unfortunately we can only cover so much. At one point after a show, I walked up to the camera to find burning embers still sitting on the camera body. The lens is also directly exposed to ash and embers. The pyrotechnician graciously agreed to blow off the lens using a can of air at five minute intervals during the shows.

We used Nikon mount fish eye lenses on our RED-MX cameras. The cameras were pointed nearly straight up for maximum coverage. Due to the concussion involved, we used SSD cards instead of RED Drives. Fortunately none of our equipment was damaged during any of these shows.

On a personal note: It is exhilarating to watch a fireworks show from that close. Eye and ear protection is mandatory but you still feel the concussions in your chest. Since the show happens directly overhead you need to be lying down or you can end up with a bad neck ache. Trust me though…this truly spectacular sight is worth the discomfort!

We are very thankful for Homeland Fireworks for allowing us and our cameras such close access.

The Fireworks POV collection features 39 clips, captured from three different firework shows including the Hillsboro Air Show, which is the largest firework show in Oregon. The collection is available in either NTSC, PAL or HD. In addition, every clip can be purchased individually, in resolutions up to 4K.

View the Fireworks POV clips/collection.
View the Fireworks POV demo reel.