Green screen state of the art

This jaw-dropping green-screen mashup reveals the how-to (or at least the what) behind a lot of relatively normal-looking location shots. The key, of course, is the quality of the background plates…. these shots demonstrate that you can focus on your foreground action with your actors, and then assemble the other elements in a virtual world, offline.

Adding snow, helicopters, explosions, reflections, background traffic, sky shots, etc. can all be done days before or months later… although the most common scenario will simply be to shorten the day by reducing the complexity of each shot. This allows smaller tech crews to get background plates while the talent can be spared from having to do retakes simply because a car in the deep background missed its cue.

By doing some tough action shots first, directors can make note of background action that occurs just before a closeup, and be able to cut to the closeup with the action still tailing out in the background of the closeup shot. By dedicating one of the cameras to the upcoming closeup shot, the background action can thus be compressed in screen time, while the talent enjoys a much better chance of getting their take right. They don’t have to be “on” at precisely the instant something happens behind them. Safer actors, more relaxed directors, more intense time-compression in editing. (Although the whole process just makes the “authenticity” bar that much higher).

Green screen for “normal” shots also means that setups involving kids can focus on the kid shots to meet stricter day length restrictions, then embellish the action afterwards.

One particular challenge, which also has a special effects solution, is the thickness of the air or apparent sharpness between the foreground elements and background. The eye of the effects house is critical here. I felt like the Times Square shot had a little too much contrast between the foreground guy and the background… and the actor’s performance seemed a little disconnected from the “reality” that was superimposed after the fact. But these were probably first takes, and no doubt the final print was a lot more believable.

By the way, I always keep a green screen 8 foot flex backdrop in my van so that any interview we do can be superimposed over any background plate we’d like to envision.

Thanks to Jeff Morin who told @GarryTan who put it on his Posterous blog, which I follow!

Flurry of tablet interest

Here’s an article pointed out by Cringely in today’s Infoworld.

Flurry Analytics see evidence of local Apple tablet testing.

Steve Jobs is quote as saying, “This is the most important thing I have ever done.”

Sports Illustrated etc. stoking iSlate rumors

You heard it here 697,423rd. Lots of talk about upcoming announcements, domain URLs that have been purchased, mysterious machines appearing, even a case last year of hari kari involving a Chinese person whose copy of a secret iPhone or tablet device was stolen.

I’ve been busy moving and starting up a new business, so I haven’t been either keeping up with the buzz or adding to it myself.

But today a couple of things crossed my desk… not quite fresh, but not stale yet either, which I’ll pass along just to prove that I WANT to be a blogger even if I haven’t been much of one for the last couple of months.

From my friend Todd Alexander comes the link to this from Time Inc… how Sports Illustrated would use such a device to combine print and video into a whole new medium that would effectively replace the magazine for many people:

Certainly this would be relevant to all the discussions last year about an economic model for the News Corps’ and Times’ of the world. The implications for both print and TV are huge.

And then here’s a Christmas weblog from TechnoBuffalo with a few plausible insights into what this device could be named and how it might work.

There are hundreds more where these come from…. including another post on TechnoBuffalo yesterday. It appears the market demand is getting stoked, the pundits are starting to weigh in, and it won’t be long before Kindle and its ilk will have another product to compete with it for market share in the high-tech distribution of print content.

Might be a good time to by Apple stock? Is this the Kindle-killer?

Why writers are willing to negotiate

Sent from my iPhone

WWW – Writing without whoredom

Liz Craig, Writer has a great rant on her blog. She refers to penny-a-word writers as “word whores” and stresses the importance of creative professionals standing up for the value of their work. It’s a fun read, especially if you’re a writer. She says in part:

The blogosphere is a gaping maw that demands to be fed with words. Like a coal furnace in a ship’s engine room, it must have fuel shoveled into it continually to keep it “hot.” The blog-fuel is the “articles” these speed-typing drones crank. Their work is not, shall we say, of the highest quality. But quality is not a concern for most owners of monetized blogs. The writing is just the obligatory filling between pay-per-click advertisements.

Liz, you are so right. Seth Godin, in Small is the New Big, which I’m reading right now, called the internet an echo chamber. Dididididid youuuuu sayyyyy youuu nneeeeddddd aaaa wwrrriiitttttterrrr?

Liz also included this delicious video rant by Harlan Ellison:

As a creative guy I agree emotionally with Liz and Harlan. But for those of us who haven’t written dozens of books, movies and Flying Nun, Outer Limits & Star Trek episodes, there’s a collossal yeh-but that keeps us from being able to throw our weight around while negotiating. As Vizini put it, we are absolutely, totally, and in every other way caught in the maw of that beast Liz writes about, the disadvantages of globalization. So while I’d like to think folks hire my services because they love me, the truth is all they care about is my body of work. And for all of us who scribble on the cave wall, if we’re not writing our own words but the thoughts someone is paying us to express, it really is just a business proposition and the only real question is how much they will have to pay.

Fortunately, there are more opportunities to make a decent living in creative pursuits than really any other part of the economy — if we “do hard work” as Seth puts it, or use our right brains, as Dan Pink puts it. But I think I know where this movie plot is heading.

Here’s what I posted on her Linked-in discussion:

Great post, Liz, and I loved Harlan’s rant. Personally, as I shift from producing expensive videos for institutional clients to freelance writing while I retool and relocate, I’m resolved not to settle for commodity prices, because I don’t and never will do commodity work.

Here’s the economics of it, though: Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus and Henry George called it the “limits of subsistence”: the minimum that workers are willing to accept in order to gain employment. Average the world, and it turns out it’s rice & beans & a shelter. Or maybe just the rice.

So remember that these word whores might have just graduated from college and are living rent free with mom. Or they’re housebound parents toiling at night to fight foreclosure. Or perhaps they live in Mumbai and can smell the slums from their doorway.

Globalization flattens the entire world, pressing good people against the limits of subsistence in an unfortunate, undesired competition for finite resources. It used to only affect mindless drone work like assembly line factory jobs. For the last decade it has affected computer programmers, accountants and now doctors, who must compete with what highly trained specialists in India and China are willing to work for to review X-rays … or even perform surgical procedures.

And now more creative work than we care to admit can be outsourced. You’re right, the beast of the internet is like a raging furnace that needs constant, fresh “content” in order to continue providing what Seth Godin called an “echo chamber” … a plasma stream of mostly inconsequential words and images.

So while we can prove our value to those who need our skills, and demand what we’re worth from those who can pay us, the cruel fact is that when engineers in China are worth $1.57/hour in the marketplace, a penny a word for writing at home might be a pay increase. And from the client perspective, if a company doesn’t really NEED golden words because they’re marketing to fools, fools gold is a lot cheaper.

Keep your overhead low and your powder dry, my friend. This problem won’t be going away.

There: I just fed the beast with 437 words. Where’s my McDonald’s breakfast? 🙂

Not binging on Bing

I’m a search engine agnostic. No expertise whatever, and no real preference.

I don’t even remember when I started using Google… probably when I discovered Opera the first time. Since then, my favorite browsers default to Google. (Opera, Firefox, the new Safari). So when Bing came out, I tried a couple of searches. I did a quick comparison… I took note of the attractive design of Bing. But I went back to Google. I liked the results better.

Fast forward two months. Bing’s inching up…If you pick the right day, Bing plus Yahoo together might be at 20%.  The media are all atwitter about it. So… I tried it again. (Not that I care about who’s bigger. I’m really just interested in which, if any, is better at helping me do my work).

This time, I did a real search for something I needed to find. Aerial videography purveyors in Los Angeles. Especially one in particular that I worked with in the past, who used a P-38 (or was it a P-58) with bombay doors to get gyro-stabilized images, and cover a lot more ground a lot faster, without as much vibration, as a helicopter could do.

So I tried several variations of search terms, and ran them in both Bing and Google. I discovered the — I don’t know what to call it — hover feature of Bing that lets you drill a little deeper into the result by rolling the mouse over it. I like that. But in every case, I liked the Google relevance much better. Here’s the last try, with the best search terms I came up with…. but the contrasts I note here were similar in every case.

TestBing

I like that Bing lists all my recent searches, though Google does that as a drop down when I start another search. Bing doesn’t show any paid advertising on these pages, though… which in this case are just as helpful. Out of the 10 things on the first page, only 3 are actual aerial videographers, (results 5, 6, and 8.) … and all of them are not true aerial documentarians, but wedding videographers.

Here’s the Google page with the same search criteria:

TestGoogle

The Google results were quite useful to me. At the top are 3 ad-based responses, all from leading companies who do aerial work in LA. To the right are 8 sponsored ads, 4 of which are from companies that do aerial videography in LA.

Most importantly, the non-sponsored results of searching the web produce 10 first-page listings, 8 of which are either working videographers or stock footage houses with LA aerial shots to sell. The other 2 deal with scientific aerial survey instruments or methodologies.

So for now, I don’t expect to start binging on Bing. With this one isolated finger to the wind, it feels to me like Google is not just bigger at search… they’re also better.

Cool Gadget

Here’s an idea whose time may have come. Think Kindle with books AND movies AND music, available from multiple stores, harnessing tens of thousands of aps…

Like a lot of great ideas, it is the next logical step, and yet it’s still a nice surprise!

Concept photo of the rumored Apple Tablet

Concept photo of the rumored Apple Tablet