“Previously On…” Wraps Principal Photography

For the last two weekends, I have been shooting a small comedy pilot called “Previously On…” in and around Brooklyn. Destined for the New York Television Festival, it is the creation of Ben Stoddard and Miranda King. While I don’t have any stills to show, you can check out Ben and Miranda’s very funny web series “Fothing”.

The whole pilot was shot on Canon DSLRs. About 2/3 of the footage was captured on a T2i, with the rest on a 5D Mk II. I had the primary camera mounted on Redrock Micro’s Field Cinema Bundle, while inserts and B cam shots were captured with the Captain Stubling rig. We used minimal lighting setups, relying heavily on available light and deliberate blocking to deliver a polished but natural aesthetic. The result straddles a fine line between verite and narrative.

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Metal-Coating 3D Printed Parts

A couple of months ago, I designed a bracket that allowed my Beaulieu R16 16mm camera to use 15mm rods and accessories. I had it printed in nylon and, given the infrequent use that camera gets, it served its purpose. I couldn’t help wondering, however, whether there was a more durable solution.

Film equipment takes a lot of abuse. That’s why Arri uses cast aluminum for their camera bodies and even the smallest accessories are milled from blocks of solid steel. Nylon, needless to say, does not satisfy the same requirements. I ordered a test print in stainless steel, however, and was thoroughly disappointed. The piece warped and melted when it was cured after printing, making it unusable. What I wanted was a 3D printing medium that combined the reliability and precision that nylon offered (it is typically the default material for 3D printing services) and the sheer strength and permanence of steel.

Stainless Steel Bracket Prototype
The stainless steel prototype print.

What I found, after searching forums and blogs, was a company in Maryland that specializes in nickel-coating 3D-printed pieces. RePliForm coats models for engineers, artists, and manufacturers and, according to their website, Boeing is starting to incorporate their process. Late last week I contacted RePliForm about getting a sample coating to evaluate. I shipped them one of my bracket prototypes from Shapeways and they turned it around in about 24 hours.

I must say, it shows a lot of potential. Because it’s just a sample coating, there’s no polishing or anything, so it looks a little like cast metal. Nevertheless, it has proved very durable, with just enough flex to allow the 15mm rod bracket to tighten. With the right finish, this could be a completely viable method for practical custom camera accessories. Commercially-produced accessories often cost in the hundreds or even thousands. This cost but a fraction of that. Below you can see one of the original black nylon prototypes, the sample coated bracket to the right, and the stainless steel test print in front.

15mm Bracket Prototypes
(From left to right) An uncoated nylon prototype, the nickel-coated sample, and the stainless steel test print.

 

Nickel-coated bracket
The nickel-coated 15mm bracket.

 

 

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“Hazard” Nearing Completion

It’s been a long time coming, but “Hazard”, which began production last December, is finally nearing completion. Picture lock was achieved a couple of weeks ago, with sound design and VFX now under way. Below are some stills to whet your appetite:

Stay tuned for progress and remember, everyone that donated through Kickstarter has a ton of gifts on the way!

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DIY Camera Accessories

People love to talk about the “democratization of film making”. Amateurs and professionals are using the same inexpensive digital equipment and, as a result, the internet has exploded with content. I, for one, find that incredibly exciting. With the barriers to production and distributing seemingly shattered, producers have to create truly unique and compelling pieces if they want to capture an audience.

To that end, one tool that has experienced a parallel revolution is 3D printing. Once the exclusive domain of architecture and design firms, 3D printing services are now cheap and accessible enough that anybody with a computer and mailing address can realize their own designs. Services like Shapeways and Ponoko even allow these DIY designers to set up shops to sell their products to the public. Where cinematographers once relied on rental house machine shops or their own mechanical ingenuity to rig solutions to different jobs, they can now harness the power of 3D printers to shape nylon and stainless steel into any form they need.

A pocket-sized gear head I designed in AutoCAD and printed with Shapeways.

 

I recently had an idea for a short, impressionistic piece about the architecture of Manhattan and I decided I wanted to shoot it using a pinhole lens. Pinhole lenses are, by definition, very simple. There is no glass to focus the light, just a hole drilled in brass or foil and, at their most complex, pinholes of different sizes can be swapped like prime lenses. What I wanted was a single pinhole lens whose aperture could be adjusted depending on the situation.

I ordered a “zero-aperture” iris from Thorlabs for about $40 and spent a Sunday afternoon designing the plastic housing that would allow me to mount it to a HDSLR. I received my design printed in nylon a week later and assembled the whole thing in about fifteen minutes.

The fully-assembled variable-pinhole lens with Nikon F mount.

 

Prior to the development of fast, sensitive digital sensors, most pinhole photography and cinematography had to be in broad daylight and use very long exposures. Nikon’s D7000 can produce high-quality images at ISO ratings up to 6400 and even at 25,600 ISO it can shoot usable footage. Below is a collection of test clips I shot with a Nikon D7000 right after building the lens.

Using the same methods and services, people have built gyro rigs for GoPro cameras, tripod mounts for iPhones, and 35mm adapters. I think this is where the democratization of film making really lies.

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