Technical & Practice

The Open at Turnberry

The 9th Green at 'The Open' at Turnberry

I’ve just comeback from working on ‘The Open’ at Turnberry, a large media BBC event with other tv channels from America and Japan. So how do you cover such a large event with lots of things going on at once?

My job was ‘Greens and Tees’. We had over 80 microphones covering the 18 holes, set microphones covering Greens and Tees and 18 people with radio packs and gun microphones walking the fairways – all out in strong winds, rain and sun! Everything had to be kept going (even in the rain), brought in each night and put out again before play the next morning.

Also covering just the course were 52 cameras!

This output constituted the ‘International mix’, basically coverage of all the action going on. You then add to the BBC output the studio and commentary, roving commentators on the course, giving a close up view and single camera units doing interviews and presentation pieces to camera. Then both the Americans and Japanese had their own set of ‘Turnberry’ facilities to add to the International mix (the International feed also goes world-wide for use by anyone who wants it). With all these facilities you can imagine the amount of people involved!

The International mix is obviously ‘live’, so with up to 18 holes being played at once and the possibility of two matches on each at the same time, how do you make all that appear on one ‘live’ TV screen???

Whilst the BBC had a truck full of Video machines recording the other matches going on at the same time and quickly replaying them back as if it were live, the one thing production had to be was selective.

You ask what relevance has this got to me? Actually quite a lot in way you approach any event you’re going to shoot/cover. What about sports day? The BBC had over 100 microphones and 60+ cameras and over a hundred staff - you have 4 camcorders, two handheld mics and 6 students. The answer be selective and plan! Even the BBC couldn’t show everything and had to choose the matches to follow, even though it had facility to technically cover everything – which you haven’t!

Do some research; don’t just turn up on the day. Work out which events you have, which would be most visual/interesting and restrict choices to the number of cameras you have – better to cover a few events well than everything poorly – give your camcorder teams responsibility for just that event. Follow just few competitors, don’t try and show everyone – research – maybe someone has an interesting story to tell and you could follow them through their progress during the whole day?  Or even a number of people, but be selective!

Unlike the BBC you don’t have the facility to just let things happen and react on a large scale, so planning and research are a must to get anything out of it that will interest and not just be a few blobs running around a field or massed wide shots of the event you’re covering with no story line.  This all applies not just to Sports day, but any event you’ve been asked to cover by your school/university – Plan and be selective!

Lastly, do remember you need parental permissions for minors! Again thinking ahead and restricting your coverage to a few participants will give you less of a headache!

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Death by Transition

Will somebody please warn students about this nasty disease that seems to be prevalent amongst media students?

In my travels around the country, I see many students’ short films/videos and often cringe at whizzy transitions between shots, which add nothing to the film but often distracts from what otherwise could be a very good piece of work.

SPECIAL TRANSITIONAL EFFECTS should be used appropriately and for a particular purpose, otherwise they may detract from the director's intent.

A film transition is a technique by which shots are joined together to make a scene. Most films will include selective use of transitions, usually to convey a tone or mood, suggest the passage of time, or separate parts of the story.

CUT The simplest transition between shots is a straight cut, which occurs when one image is immediately replaced by another. It is the simplest, most common way of moving from one shot to the next, and is considered a ‘smooth cut’ if there is continuity between the two images. For example, in a conversation scene such as the one shown here, the cut moves directly between the two pupils.

FADE A fade works much like a theatre curtain. A fade-in shows the beginning of a sequence, as the screen gradually changes from black to a picture, and a fade-out shows the end, as the image returns to black.

DISSOLVE The dissolve is also known as a cross dissolve or cross-fade. Two shots overlap each other with the first gradually disappearing while the next one appears, and then remains alone on the screen. Thus, one shot blends into the next one. Unlike the cut, it takes up time and space on the screen. A dissolve influences the audience's perception of screen time and the rhythm of events. It suggests a thematic tie between two shots. An example of a time bridge, or change in time, might show a teenage girl playing tennis dissolving to the same person a few years later nursing a baby. A dissolve can also show change in event rhythm. For example, by dissolving between a canoe on a river to a bustling harbour.

WIPES The wipe is the technique where one shot is replaced with another by the movement of a distinct edge, or shape, which replaces the previous shot by “wiping” it. There are hundreds of different wipes. Some of the common ones are a straight line, an expanding circle and a page turn – often used in tacky wedding videos! However, like all transitions, wipes have their place if used appropriately. One of the most cited examples is their use in Star Wars, to make the film seem more classic and epic.

Normally, these types of transitions are used to lead the viewer from one location or time to another, or more specifically from one segment of a story to the next. Wipes are highly conspicuous, and as they evolve to become more elaborate, they are increasingly popular with students as a quick and dirty way to liven up their film. If a film needs livening up, then there is probably something wrong with the content or structure.

In my view, students need to understand that their choice of edit, be it a cut, fade, dissolve or wipe, should be chosen for purpose and not because it’s a gimmick. They should ask themselves, does this transition contribute to the look and pace of the film, does it enhance and clarify the visual sequence, and is it appropriate to the content of the programme? If it doesn’t earn its place, don’t use it. Cut

Video excerts from 'Book to Screen' - Dramaticmedia

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Mac or PC??????

It’s the age old question fervently fought over by passionate enthusiasts on either side!!stevejobsbillgatessmall

It pits one man against another - well two in particular!!!

So which man do you believe in then???   Which one has the better machine for a multimedia based education platform?

The only thing to do is weight up each platform, so let’s start by looking at the equipment provided by Mr. Gates:-

  • The PC’s main advantage is that it’s cheap.
  • You can build it from cheap parts if you require a specific type of machine.
  • It’s completely customizable, build the machine to suit its use, install the custom software you require.
  • As well as hardware there’s a myriad of software available for it.
  • Everyone has one, the world uses it, so it’s familiar to most students.
  • The IT department love them because they can play with them to their hearts content - it gives them a reason for being!

Mr Job’s offering is a very different animal and approach to computing.  Now, I’ve used both computers over a good many years and still use a PC , so here are my list of Mac advantages.

  • The Mac’s hardware is designed with it’s software in mind - it’s truly plug and play - you’re not on the internet trying to find drivers all the time.
  • It’s software is integrated - open iMovie to edit video and itunes provides your sounds and iphoto your stills.
  • You don’t need third party apps to burn a DVD.
  • You can migrate third party software from one mac to another, you don’t have to reinstall.
  • You have most multimedia software as standard.
  • You won’t need the constant attention of the IT department.
  • It’s not virus prone.
  • Open the box - it works!

Now it sounds like I’m biased here, but that’s because I am!  As I’ve said I’ve used both PC and Mac for a good while.  Yes a Mac is expensive initially, but……. it’s all there to run your media based courses at the beginning - no video capture card and software to buy and fit, and drivers to find because it doesn’t quite work with the PC motherboard.

From the moment you plug in the firewire from your camera, to the moment you burn your finished DVD, it’s already there and integrated so one programme talks to another - no leaving one programme and then having to work out how to get your material into another.

Getting a PC to work on a wireless network for instance has always seemed to be hit and miss.  My Macbook Pro picks up the networks so well,  I don’t even notice.

One of the most positive things I can say for the case of Mac over PC that will interest you is work flow.  I’ve literally found the amount of multimedia work I can do to be quicker with a Mac.  Be it in the architecture or the way the programmes work together, I can simply get more done - an important thing to consider when you’re thinking about your students project work.

I’d be very interested to hear your opinions and experiences???


Size does matter!

The retail trade would have us believe that increases in mega pixel numbers (mB) i.e. the number of pixels on the photographic chip, are directly proportional to getting better images from any new camera, whether video or stills.

This is in fact not completely true!!!

Another major attribute that affects picture quality is the actual physical size of that CCD chip (i.e. the actual size of each individual pixel), image quality is not just about the number of pixels.

My first Digital SLR camera was a Fuji Finepix S1 pro which proudly announced itself as having a 3.4 mega pixel. My mobile phone, a Nokia N95, boasts a 5 mega pixel camera. So I wandered into my garden this morning and took a picture with both.

Click to see full image

Even though the Nokia has 50% more pixels as the Fuji, the Fuji’s pixels are over 6 times bigger, spread over a chip area of 23.3 x 15.6 mm, where as the Nokia’s pixels are crammed onto a tiny chip just 4.8 x 3.6 mm.

Now I know that there are the factors of lens quality on each, but the fact remains that even though the pixel count of the Fuji is less, on picture quality the Fuji wins hands down. Each pixel has 6 times the available light to work with, therefore definition and contrast are better – especially in low light.

This is largely the reason why a digital SLR camera out perform its compact camera cousin, despite the pixel numbers being equivalent or even in some cases larger.

The same can be said of a professional video camera over a domestic or even semi professional camcorder.

So when the nice new camcorder you’re buying for your University/School boosts ‘HD’’ on the size, how much should you believe it?

I was recently tempted by an advert in my local Maplins Electronics store for an ‘HD’ camcorder for a mere £149. At that price I thought I had to try it!! After I got it home and shot a few scenes on it I transferred them to my computer for more critical analysis.

The resulting movies were quite disappointing and although the cheap lens obviously played its part, the tiny chip size simply let the pictures down. When you are trying to cram enough pixels onto a 1/3” chip to achieve HD status, you loose light sensitivity and image quality by making the pixels smaller.

You have to remember the chip in a HD video camera can be trying to create up to 150 frames of picture a second (Red, Green and Blue x 50), a stills camera has to reproduce just one frame. The more sensitive the chip and the faster it can work.

The BBC maintains that to record a ‘full’ HD picture, the bite rate (internal speed of the camera) must be above 50 megabits per second (mbs). Most domestic HD camcorders have bit rates as low as 5 mbs! Speed is another undeniable fact that contributes to better image quality.

So the bottom line is that for increased image quality of both video and still pictures then pixel numbers, though important, are far from the whole story. Overall chip size and the internal speed of the camera also have a huge effect on the actual quality. So when you see a piece of equipment labelled ‘HD’, don’t simply take it at face value, it maybe just good marketing!

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Does Quality matter?


Better quality can give you better exam results! Yes it can, it’s a fact!!

Think of your favourite piece of music. Imagine it being played on a small radio in the kitchen – tinny and echoy.
Then imagine again, the experience of hearing it being played on a very expensive Hi-fi system – It’s as if you were there!

A question – Which experience did you enjoy the most? The obvious answer has to be the Hi-fi system, but that then creates another question - ‘Why?’

Of course the instant answer is ‘because the Hi-fi system is better quality’.

But think about this for a second, ‘Better Quality’ is actually only an observation of the difference; it’s not the answer as to why your emotional response is better to the Hi-fi system.pmc_ob1Somehow, in a subliminal way, the Hi-fi system is communicating to you on a greater level, simply allowing a better emotional response to take place to the music – making the music more enjoyable and effective, involving and memorable.

We can take this ‘Quality’ revelation a step further, as it’s not just about reproduction.

Imagine again that you have two recordings of the same interview; one recorded using a cheap microphone into a mobile phone, the other was done via a professional ‘quality’ microphone and top quality recorder.

Taking the thread further, which would you find more interesting to listen to? Remember, these are the same words from the same person recorded at the same time; the only difference in the speech is the quality of recording.

So quality can make someone more interesting????????

It’s not just a matter of sound, as these observations can also be applied to the visual side as well. Why is a film more enjoyable on a large high definition screen, than a small standard TV? It’s the same film after all - you’re not enjoying quality, but you are more involved in the film and it’s story line!

Let’s use the hypothetical parallel example of a students video project work. They’ve spent a large amount of time on it over the year and as they’re quite talented the artistic work has been done very well. The only difference was the fact that the origin footage was shot on a good quality semi-professional camera rather than a basic camcorder – which will get the better marks? Will the examiner be more draw into a project simply with better quality recorded material without realising?
Whether conscious or not, they will have enjoyed, been involved and interested more in the version shot on the quality camera. Subconsciously they will be more drawn into the artistic content and maybe even judge it to be better than if it had been recorded with the lower quality camera. It maybe exactly the same standard of work on behalf of the student, but the original ‘Quality’ version would probably score a higher mark than the other.

Having raised the issue of quality as paramount, it is a mistake to assume that ‘Quality’ is simply an issue involving the standard of equipment. It is also knowing how to get the best from the equipment. You may have a professional microphone, but if you don’t put it in the correct place, it won’t record a good sound. A professional camera is no help if the material is out of focus or over exposed.

Last point; imagine sending a novice out with a professional quality HD camera and a professional cameraman with a standard DV camcorder to record the same event.

Who do you think will come back with the best quality pictures? Mmmmmmmm!

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Hearing Ain’t That Simple

earYour ears are one of the most under valued of our senses.  The human race is so visually orientated, we totally  underestimate our hearings ability.  Our ears collect and process a huge amount of subliminal information of which we remain blissfully unaware.

Imagine being at a Party or in a busy restaurant.  Your Partners conversation becomes boring and you find yourself listening to a couple on a table 10 metres away, ever done that???   How do you do it?    Then obviously your Partner mentions your name, your brain kicks into gear and suddenly they have your full attention again!!!!

Your hearing has an amazing ability to process all the complex information involved in volume, phase, time of arrival, tone, character etc - and even in a noisy situation like that, allow you to disregard all other noises and tune into the focus of your attention.

On the other hand a microphone is a very simple device in comparison, without the ability of your ears and the processing behind them (i.e. your Brain!).  A microphone is simply a device that generates a voltage when sound vibrates a diaphragm, as the volume increases and the diaphragm vibrates more, the voltage down the cable increases.  The only measurement and reference of sound a microphone has by itself  is volume.

If you put a microphone on your table at the restaurant or party it would have no option but to listen to your partner!

So what does this all mean when you come to use a microphone during a recording?  Although engineers have been able to give some microphones a directional bias their use must be carried out with an understanding of their capabilities and it should not be assumed that they are hearing what we are hearing.

Hollywood portrayals of microphones underneath helicopters hearing through the double glazing of a sky scraper don’t help the understanding!  Believe me, you won’t even be able to hear the helicopter engines under the rush of wind blasting down from the rotors!!!   That little diaphragm would be fighting for it’s very existence!

So understanding the capabilities of your microphone is a must, as well as actually listening to it as you record, so you can judge how it’s doing.  If it’s a directional microphone understand how it picks up, point it in the correct direction and get it as near as possible to give it a chance of hearing the conversation.

Miss use of microphones is rife.  Currently the worst example of this is the global use of ‘personal’ lapel microphones.  These microphones are ‘omnidirectional’ - they have no directional bias and pick up sound from every direction.  Whilst their one advantage is movement and the ability of the person recording not to have to think too much, if you are recording in a reverberant room you’ll hear it - much better to use a quality ‘cabled’ directional microphone you can point at the sound source - the mouth - and loose some of the room effect. boywithpole Plus, have you ever rested your head against someone’s chest and covered the  other ear?????  It’s no great - most sound comes not from the mouth, but the chest cavity and throat.  As I’ve said, there is not getting away from the freedom the personal radio microphones give, but remember, that’s about their only advantage over a ‘proper’ microphone.  If you can put a good quality directional microphone on a pole and follow the person speaking around, you’ll get a much better sound.

So next time you see someone wearing a hearing aid (basically an omni mic and amplifier), have a little more understanding when they ask you to repeat what you’ve just said!
Hearing ain’t that easy!!!

See what your ears can do and whilst you’re there have a virtual haircut - You’ll need headphones!

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inner ear

    If you’re interested in more about how your ears work have a look at this article!
    Click the ear!

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Tape is Dead : Long Live Tape!

We have come a long way since cave painting was used as a means of documenting or telling a story, but in the last century the rate of change has been dramatic, and over the last twenty-five years that progress has been exponential.

Moving picture recording of any quality used to take a pantechnicon full of wire and associated hardware, is now available on a mobile phone.

For the first three quarters of the 20th century, Film ruled supreme, then in the late 1970s and early ‘80s; tape came snapping at its heels. Film inheritently had its own archiving in the form of the negatives, which were storable for years and new prints could be struck with no fear of obsolescence.


Film was beautiful, a black art form in its self, mysterious and expensive.

Tape was comparatively cheap in comparison and the cameras were more accessible as domestic versions gave acceptable results for the masses. But the professional formats seemed to change almost annually. There was `Quad, `one inch, `‘U’matic, `Beta, `Beta-SP, `SX and finally, in 1993 the much revered `Digibeta(digital betacam). The Beta format in its various guises stayed ahead of the various `DV-CAM and `DVC-PRO Semi-pro formats. And archiving on tape was both cheap and straightforward and the digital tape media could be dubbed and copied many times with very little generation loss.

The 21st century has brought us to the next watershed, namely recording to solid-state media.

There are some massive advantages;

  • Instant access to the video rushes, no winding through a cassette.
  • Lower power consumption in camera, few moving parts!
  • Lighter smaller domestic cameras.
  • Tiny media cards – SD, Flash etc.
  • Faster downloading of rushes into the edit system, not real time like tape!
  • No ‘run up’ time from standby, so recording starts the instant the button is pushed (some cameras even have a built in ‘cache’, which means it is constantly recording over a 15 second memory slot if the camera is switched on!).
  • The ability to instantly delete the last take (but handle with care!),

…….to name but a few.

But, if we thought film was expensive then the price of professional digital media cards - SxS, P2 etc - takes media costs to a whole new level.

So as I slide toward having shelves full of portable Hard Drives at a Terabyte a time, but are they safe? What about archiving?

One little knock, simply the drive falling onto its side can see you forking out for Data Recovery in a panic…………..

So, where do we go from here?

The ‘in’ term is “work flow” and what ever that is, you have to ‘get it sorted’!

I have been using a semi-pro Sony EX3 that uses a Sony bespoke media card since November last year and I’ve only really just worked out a safe and acceptable archiving system.

I purchased a tiny Hewlett-Packard laptop with a built in Express card slot which allowed quick and easy downloading from my expensive Sony SxS cards to the hard drive of the HP note book and a 250 GB external hard drive. I now get two copies of 58 minutes of material on separate drives in about twelve minutes.

So is this latest generation of solid-state media digital camcorders worth the trouble?

The answer I think has to be a resounding yes. But…….

Archiving is very easy and cheap with tape and the cost of archiving media cards is expensive. Putting a labelled camcorder tape box on a shelf is a lot easier than trying to store a SD card the size of your fingernail! Let alone remembering where you stored your students’ rushes on the hard drive!

In the end it’s both a technical and budget driven argument.

So to sum up, in my humble opinion, the future is bright and the future is ‘Solid’.

And tape is dead, but long live tape!

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Content is king!

Click the U-tube movie ‘Play’ button, it only lasts 20 seconds!

Fast Tube by Casper
 There is no doubt, even with a tiny screen with poor definition and pathetic sound, the well produced content of this clip did its job - hopefully it made you smile a little!

The plot of the piece had been well thought out and story boarded, the setting well chosen and artistically composed, the scripted words minimal yet effective, the acting good and well directed, the editing expertly done creating a piece with brilliant artistic timing!    It’s an advert that fulfills its purpose - to inform, communicate, entertainment and most importantly be memorable – hang on!!!, isn’t that exactly what you want your students project work to be?

‘Content is King’ means that without original, artistic and desirable creative content, be that text, story line, acting, graphics, or video - any media project is going to fall short of appeal, interest and pure entertainment, regardless of factors like technical quality - no matter how good that quality might be.

The artistic input to any multimedia is paramount. Planning layouts and composition (2D or 3D) is a creative art. Getting the words correct and making them interesting takes a journalistic skill so the story flows, whether that be the written or spoken word. Turning those words into a visual script and story boarding, making those words come visually alive, is a stretch of the artistic imagination.

So if “Content is King”, is “Kingship” difficult is achieve? The likes of U-tube and other ‘User-Generated’ content seems to imply that “Anyone can do it”. But you only have to look at the most successful clips to see that the quality of content of those clips is high, whether that be gained by a professional approach or by accident - i.e. they just happened to be in the right place at the right time!

In the end artist talent will shine through poor technical quality, it‘s something that can be seen, like noticing the developing talent of a young student through a rebellious teenager!

So can we state “Technical quality isn’t important, it doesn’t affect the content or restrict its expression?”.  What do you think?

There is absolutely no doubt that content can over come poor quality, where as high quality cannot necessarily overcome bad content.

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