Simplifying Setup, Extending Types of Events DJP Can Cover
Posted by Doug Johnson, Nov 26
Back in October 2016, DJP was shooting a rugby tournament in northern Utah. The shoot went very well for the most part, but the director and I were really struggling with one thing: seeing the video on our monitors. Because we were outdoors, the amount of light around us was overwhelming our monitors, even though we were under a canopy to block the sun. Additionally, even though we arrived more than two hours before the start of the event and we were only running two cameras, we were still setting up equipment as the event began. It was at that point that I decided that DJP needed a mobile production facility that would effectively be a control room on wheels.
Planning began pretty much immediately -- many designs were considered. At first, it was quite modest -- just two or three stations for the crew, but it became apparent quickly that that wasn't going to meet the needs of the various types of events that DJP covers. Sporting events, for example, can really benefit from instant replay, and there was no way to handle that. Concerts need good audio, and there was no place for an audio engineer. Conferences and sporting events alike both need graphics, and there was no space for someone to do that. So the design began to expand and by the end of 2016 the basic design had evolved to cover all of the basic needs for all of the types events that we support, which means that the final design included space for eight crew members: director, technical director, instant replay, audio, engineer, PTZ camera control, graphics, and a space for a producer.
DJP started to acquire the equipment to make it happen pretty much right from the time we decided to build the trailer, and acquisition continued for about a year. One thing that we had decided from the get-go was that if we're going to all of this trouble to build a trailer, it has to support the latest technologies -- so everything inside the trailer from recorders to switcher to monitors all supports 4K, and all cameras connect over fiber optic cables with distance capabilities measured in miles, not feet. And when you start talking about features like instant replay and graphics the 10-input switcher we had at the time was no longer sufficient, so we upgraded to a 20-input, 2 M/E switcher (that means it can handle up to 20 video sources like cameras and that it can output two independent, finished video feeds). We started meeting with trailer dealers and picked the one we wanted to go with and in May 2017 we placed the order for the empty shell.
Manufacturing delays meant that instead of receiving the trailer in late June or early July, it arrived in mid-August, at which point construction began. And even though it wasn't even close to done for our August events, we still have used it for every event we've shot since we got it.
Construction still hasn't been completed -- it takes a long time to do this properly -- but the trailer has really simplified things for us a great deal. Setup times for events are nearly always under an hour-and-a-half, often under an hour, compared to 2-3 hours before, and are no longer done at a frantic pace. And having all of the equipment pre-wired means that we aren't having to troubleshoot issues nearly as often. It also means that we can incorporate equipment into a production that there just wouldn't be time to connect and configure otherwise, like audio processors to keep sound levels in check, or a cellular Internet connection with proper antennas for stream-anywhere capabilities. The trailer brings other benefits to the crew as well... for example, now, because we have more than a dozen big video monitors (instead of one or two small ones) and proper speakers, we can really see and hear what is going on.
While it may be that the DJP crew benefits most from having the trailer, it also means that our customers really benefit as well. We can do a higher quality production than we could before. It also means that we're in and out of your facility much faster, making video production less intrusive into your business. And putting the crew in the trailer means fewer people inside your facility, reducing the interruption and distraction during an event. Other types of events which were difficult to cover previously (specifically, anything outdoor) is much, much easier.
As far as I can tell this is the only trailer of its kind in all of Utah. The only other mobile production facilities are either tiny vans which are seriously limited in their capabilities or big 53-foot tractor trailers which costs tens of thousands of dollars per day to operate and are only capable of operating at the largest of facilities due to their power and other resource requirements. The DJP trailer has the space we need for a full crew, but yet can be powered from just two household-style power circuits, or even a portable generator. Our primary fiber optic cable is 200 meters long (and can be extended out to 900m), so we can park it pretty much anywhere. That means we can both go anywhere we need to and provide all of the services that someone could need.
So what we have now is a mobile production facility capable of handling 4K video from up to 20 cameras or more, with a crew of up to eight inside. It features a 2 M/E switcher, which means we can generate two separate programs simultaneously -- one for a projection screen and another for an Internet stream, for example. It can also run off of internal battery for up to two hours, or a generator all day when a power source is not available.
The other good news is that DJP doesn't charge any extra for using the trailer over what was previously our normal way of doing things. The trailer is included with any of our multi-camera packages.
Construction of the trailer is nearing completion -- as of this writing it's about 75% done. If you wish to follow its progress from start to finish, we've been documenting it on our YouTube channel.
A new, free tool from DJP
Posted by Doug Johnson, Nov 26
Yesterday DJP launched a new website, www.lutmath.com. It's a brand-new, free site for manipulating 3D LUTs.
If you aren't familiar with 3D Look-Up Tables (LUTs), they are used to process video to give it a different look. LUTs can be as simple as converting an image to black-and-white or altering image contrast, all the way up to creating distinctive looks as seen in some of the big Hollywood blockbusters. Some movies have a very distinctive look to them (think back to the green tint of The Matrix and the recent trend to color movies with teal/brown) and often these can be applied quickly to a video using a LUT file.
But there's always been one thing about video editing software that has bugged me. Not every tool supports LUTs, and even those that do often have limitations, like not being able to modify the intensity of a LUT. I've downloaded a few free LUTs off of the Internet, and sometimes I like the look but it's just too much. So I wrote some software to allow me to modify the intensity of the file. The intensity can now be dialed back (or boosted if that's what you want).
I also recently stumbled across another problem that a properly designed LUT can fix -- making two dissimilar cameras match. DJP's primary cameras are the Sony PXW-Z150s, but we regularly also use a pair of Sony SRG-300SEs as PTZs for getting shots with ultra-smooth motion, or for when we need to put a camera somewhere where having an operator would be distracting, impractical, or dangerous. But the problem is that the Z150 and 300SE put out images that don't match that well. The 300SE tends to have lower contrast and it tends to take on a bit of a purple tinge in the reds. By itself it usually looks okay, but when we're switching between the Z150 and 300SE the difference in the image between the two is quite noticeable, even to the lay viewer. I spent quite a bit of time tweaking the color settings of the 300SE, but it never quite matched. In trying to figure out a solution to the problem, I had the idea that the problem could be solved with a LUT which modifies the image of the 300SE to make it look more like the Z150. So I came up with a way to do that (by using calibration files for the two cameras), and have posted that tool on the LUTmath.com site as well. I can upload the resulting LUT file into a Blackmagic Design SDI-to-HDMI converter and the camera's image is processed in real-time without any additional delay before it hits the switcher. We used it for the first time in the Beatles Cinestage event and the difference is pretty remarkable. The 300SE matches the Z150 much better now.
The other tool on the site allows two LUTs to be combined into one. This is useful with hardware or software which only allows a single LUT to be applied at a time, or to reduce the amount of processing that the computer has to do during playback and rendering. Again, during this last Cinestage event I combined a LUT I had created to correct some contrast issues introduced by the Teradek VidiU we use to stream to the internet with a LUT I created in Da Vinci Resolve to give a slight boost in contrast and saturation just to give the video a little extra pop... the LUTmath.com site was used to merge the two individual LUTs into a single LUT I could then upload for real-time processing.
The site is available now, and it is totally free to use. If you do anything with LUTs I'm sure it will be useful for you.