Technical Aspects of Videography
Q: What equipment do you use to film and edit?
A: We use two DSLR cameras: a Canon T3i and a Canon 6D – mounted depending on circumstances on one of two counterweighted stabilizer systems: a Steadicam Merlin, or a Steadicam Pilot. Our cameras are fitted with either a 24mm prime lens or an 11-16mm wide angle lens. We use Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 and Final Cut Pro X to edit our videos.
Q: I’m interested in making videos. What equipment would you recommend?
A: Bear in mind two essential considerations:
- Camera cost is proportional to light sensitivity. Every camera delivers beautiful video under bright sunlight. If you want high quality video in the shade, or indoors, you’ll need to pay extra for this capability.
- Stabilizer cost is proportional to stability and ease-of-use. Every stabilizer works well if you move at a snail’s pace on a windless day. If you want to accelerate or need stability under windy conditions, you’ll need to pay extra for this flexibility.
We believe that a good cost-performance “sweet spot” exists at around the $600-$800 price point, each, for a video-capable DSLR camera and a stabilizer. Any system built from components in this price range should be adequate for a majority of amateur videography projects.
Q: What’s the learning curve for this equipment?
A: Stabilizer systems are all about touch, feel, and timing. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument. You can make noises on day one, but the results will likely be somewhat unpleasant.
We recommend setting a personal expectation of 60 hours of practice, to establish a satisfactory level of competency with any stabilizer-based videography system.
Q: I can’t get the same look in my finished video, what specific camera settings are you using?
A: Our Camera Settings:
- Video mode of 720p at 60 frames per second.
- Sharpness 2, Contrast -4, Saturation 0, Color Tone 0.
- Shutter speed of 1/125 to 1/250.
- ISO 100 (sunlight) to ISO 800 (indoors).
- Aperture of F4 or higher for dynamic shots; F2.8 for close-up static pose work.
- Focus using Quick Focus at the point of closest approach to the subject.
- White balance on auto unless there’s a big blotch of solid color in the shot, in which case we flip to whatever manual WB setting looks about right in the display.
Our Video Editing Settings:
- Editing timeline set to 30 fps.
- All footage used at either 100% or 50% speed, nothing else. (To avoid frame stutter.) Slow motion is achieved by selecting 50% speed.
- Brightness and contrast adjustment using RGB parade display.
- White balance using eyedropper tool in Fast Color Corrector.
- All footage has Unsharp Mask applied, default settings. Where necessary, higher amounts of sharpening are applied to compensate for soft focus.
- Audio gain normalized so max peak is -3 dB.
Q: How do you achieve smooth-looking slow motion?
A: The technique is to film a scene at a faster frame rate than called for in the final video, and to then play back that scene at the slower frame rate. This achieves “true” slow motion without any lost information.
We film everything at 60 frames per second, but our final videos use a playback frame rate of 30 frames per second. The difference between these two is the true slow motion percentage that can be achieved.
It’s also feasible to use software to interpolate missing frames required for true slow motion, but this requires some crisp (non-blurry) footage, and software that can do a decent job at guessing what the intermediate frames ought to be. We film ultra slow-motion takes at shutter speeds of 1/500th or faster, and then use After Effects.
Video Composition and Style
Q: These random cosplay pose videos are okay, but why don’t you make videos with more of a storyline, or use cool special effects?
A: We don’t have enough time. Even the simple videos we currently make take about 20 hours to prepare, film, and edit. We do know how to craft storyline and special effect heavy videos, but the time commitments are severe, and in excess of what we can currently allocate to this hobby.
Q: Why all the goofy camera movement?
A: The camera movement compensates for the lack of visual excitement in filming someone that’s more or less standing still.
Traditional filmmaking hold the camera as a window unto the world, and lets the action unfold, typically as pre-planned scenes enacted by trained professionals. Trained professionals know how to move, and more importantly, how to pace themselves to hit physical and time-based “marks”. This is not easy, and is the reason why acting is a profession that takes lifelong training.
Cosplayers, by and large, are not trained acting professionals and cannot hit complex movement and timing marks. We therefore direct them to undertake low degree-of-difficulty movements, such as a transposition between static photography poses. But these are not visually exciting. The burden therefore falls upon the camera operator to make best use of “gimmicks” such as creative angles, camera movement, and light & shadow, to turn what is effectively a static object, into a visually appealing object that appears to be flowing through free space. We walk a fine line between using these techniques for dramatic effect, versus having them draw attention to themselves and therefore breaking the viewer’s sense of immersion.
Q: Why do you use such weak soundtracks for your videos?
A: Youtube uses strict song copyright scans to block or mute a large percentage of “good” music from being used. So we try to use the best of what’s not blocked.
Start with: Nice Sounding Songs
remove Songs Bad for Video
remove Youtube blocks, by Country
remove Youtube blocked for Mobile Devices
End with: Useable Candidate Songs
The only way to determine the status of a song is to make and upload a short test video. Youtube will usually render a verdict within minutes, but on rare occasions may take days to decide exactly how it wants to block the audio track. This makes song selection a tedious process, and a lot of work in of itself.
It’s important to note that Youtube’s blocks are an enforcement of the complex legal web for regionally-zoned music distribution and funnelling of advertisement revenue. Getting artist or record label consent to use a song, will not change this.
Q: Do you monetize your videos?
No, it’s far too much hassle for these hobby videos. Youtube pays around 1 – 4 US dollars per thousand views. Our videos only get a few thousand to maybe a few tens of thousands of views, so it’s not worth the time and effort to get proper licenses for the music.
Q: Why do you use these styles of songs?
The average cosplayer is not a trained actor or dancer, and therefore has a very limited range of actions that can be made to look good on camera, or timed to music. Experience shows that slightly upbeat tracks with neutral lyrics tend to accept the widest variety of footage that can typically be filmed at an event.
A lot of music sounds good, becomes painfully awkward when set to video footage obtained at events.
Other Common Questions
Q: What’s needed for more complex video projects?
A: Planning and preparation. A team that wants to succeed at more complex projects needs to do the following:
- Create a scene-by-scene shooting script that clearly identifies camera framing and movement requirements;
- Scout shoot locations, lay out (block) all scenes, and obtain filming permission from all site owners; and
- Draft a detailed and realistic shoot schedule, that includes travel times.
In our experience, teams that don’t do the above typically run out of time on their filming day, and don’t have enough video footage to realize their vision for the end product.
Q: Would you be willing to work on a collaborative project? Or could you make a video of me, or someone that I know, or of some event that I’m associated with?
A: While we welcome all project ideas, bear in mind that our specialization is in working the camera and video editing. Not in scriptwriting, location scouting, scheduling, or logistics. Planning and coordination are key to carrying out successful video projects, and it’s a lot of work that we don’t have time or interest in doing.
The scenes you want to shoot also need to be feasible, given the equipment that we have.
Q: I was at an event you filmed, but didn’t see my scenes in your videos. How come?
A: Most likely because we messed up during the filming process, and the resulting video clips were too shaky, out of focus, or too dark. Sometimes the footage doesn’t subjectively fit with the flow of the song.
Q: I was at an event you filmed. Can I have the footage you filmed of me, or of others?
A: Due to file size and event / cosplayer consent-related legal issues, we do not give out any of our raw footage.
Q: Can I borrow or rent your videography equipment?
A: Sorry, we don’t lend or rent out our gear.
Q: Can I hire you to do a paid job?
A: We don’t do paid work, since we don’t have the accreditation or the business framework to cover the associated liabilities. But if you’re based in Calgary and have a non-steadicam based video project that could really benefit from one or two critical steadicam shots, contact us. We may be able to volunteer an hour or two of our time to help out.
Q: How can I contact you?
A: Please do not message us on any local convention forums, Deviantart, cosplay.com, etc. Although we maintain a presence on these sites, we don’t check them often. Instead, send us a message by any of the following methods.