Friday, January 8, 2010

My Introduction To Shooting Slow Motion Video

Watching a dove being released and taking flight shows the extraordinary in the ordinary that is part of the allure of shooting super slow motion video.

 Balloons, Butane, and Balls of Flame
This was a test, so I only filled the balloon about half full of butane. I ignited my long handled butane lighter, the kind you light barbecues with, and slowly advanced it to the balloon. I'm not sure if there was any sound or not, I was too fascinated by the ball of flame that engulfed my arm in a flash, then melted away leaving only the smell of burned hair, to hear it. Hmmm, I think maybe I should come up with a different way of igniting that butane filled balloon!

Slow Motion Video At 1000 Frames Per Second
David Fischer, a friend of mine and long-time still photographer and motion director, and I, were in David's studio in the middle of a slow motion video shoot. We were shooting footage using the Phantom HD High Speed video camera. This amazing camera can capture HD footage at 1000 frames per second. When the video is played back at slower rates, say 30 frames per second, you have ultra slow motion video. We were also beta testing Grand Vitesse Systems software with the new user interface and the next generation hardware of the GVS9000 2XU 444 VTR which is due to be released in January 2010.

Flight Of A Ladybug In HD
The combination of the Phantom and the GVS9000 VTR made shooting truly a breeze. The camera shoots in 4 second bursts (32 gigabytes of data) and captures continuously. This means you can set the capture time to actually start at up to, well, almost four seconds, before you hit the record button. That is hugely important when shooting action that can be impossible to predict, such as the flight of a ladybug from a finger. Before you capture a scene you can set the frame rate from 24 fps to 1000 fps, or even much higher if you don't need the HD resolution. Once you've captured your four seconds it only takes a couple of moments to play it back. A simple slider allows you to set the play back speed, which is then color-corrected and converted to the desired codec, or format, on the fly. The whole process is incredibly simple and efficient and really allowed us to focus on the creative aspects of our shoot. Like figuring out how to ignite the gas-filled balloons with out injuring ourselves!

 Phantom HD, GVS 9000, And Ease Of Use
Using the Phantom with the GVS9000 2XU 444 VTR was incredibly easy. My experience with video prior to this shoot was limited to a Panasonic HVX-200. While I have been shooting still images professionally for over thirty years, I am still very new to motion. I found using the Phantom with the GVS9000 system to actually be easier than shooting with the Panasonic!

Custom Soft Boxes And Lots Of Light
One challenging aspect of shooting ultra high-speed (slow motion) video is that of lighting. To shoot at such high frame rates requires a lot of light. Most of our clips were shot with 10,000 watts of tungsten light. Our primary light source was a custom built soft box with five 2000-watt lights mounted inside. Depending on the shot, we would sometimes throw an additional 4000 to 6000 watts of light onto the background and or add some 1000-watt lights back on the subject for a rim light or highlight effect.

 Monitor Calibration And Exposure Confidence
An important consideration is monitor calibration. The GVS 9000VTR software provides a histogram, Waveform, Vectorscope and many more options to facilitate accurate exposures. It even offers the ability to capture RAW to compressed format to see a visual difference in quality before you save your shots. Because we were using a dual monitor set up and did not go through the calibration process, the result was a rather large discrepancy between our two monitors, and resulted in a less than comfortable confidence in our exposures. It needs to be mentioned that exposure is very important when shooting with the Phantom and frequent white balancing is a good idea. Fortunately both white and black balancing are simple to execute.

 Vast Storage Capability
Another feature of the GVS9000 VTR that really helped our production efficiency is the vast storage capability in such a compact and portable unit. We were able to shoot RAW all day without interruption and without fear of running out of hard drive space. The configuration we were using featured a storage capacity of 4,000 gigabytes with hot-swappable drives and RAID level 5 protection. The GVS solution can transfer massive amounts of data at incredible speeds.

The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Shooting with the Phantom was truly a case of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. In one case we decided to shoot tumbling dice. I dropped a single die, from two or three inches high, onto a marble surface. I had to drop them from a low height because if the die moved an inch closer or further from the camera, we would lose our focus. The die clattered about for just an instant and stopped. David and I looked at each other, agreed that there wasn't anything exciting about that particular bit of action, but decided to play it back anyway to check focus. It was mesmerizing! The die hit the marble surface, rose up and almost out of the frame, came down with a slow, lazy spin, hit the marble popped up, and just hung there spinning for what seemed like forever. Totally cool!

Water Balloons And Woman's Hair
Whether it was a water balloon bursting and leaving a teardrop shaped body of water hanging, seemingly frozen in the air, a cat twisting to land on it's feet, or a woman's hair undulating in the wind, the Phantom allowed us to see things as we had never seen them before. The GVS9000 VTR gave us the capability to quickly see our captures and make adjustments without interruption in our flow. It is hard to stress how important that is for both our creative process and the bottom line.

Ruggedized Video Recorders And Media Management
GVS is a Leading developer and manufacturer of ruggedized digital video recorders (VTR) and media management for the broadcast, defense, digital cinema, post production, and live event. Utilizing their broad experience they have created a series of configurations including complete hardware and software systems that are self-contained in industrial flypack cases.

If you have an interesting project that you would like to try out on the 9000VTR, you can contact GVS directly at 415-777-0320 or online at

This slow motion experience is a great example of my approach to stock video (read more here), that shooting video for stock makes sense if you have passion for what your shooting, and/or you can take advantage of an appropriate still shoot by adding video, or as in this case, an unusual opportunity presents itself.

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