Innovator’s Beat: The Cream of the Tech Crop at NAB 2014

Make your next birthday wishlist with our product picks from the annual NAB Show tech summit.

A few years ago it was 2K, then it was 3D, and last year it was all 4K… but when it comes down to it, it’s all a bunch of ones and zeros, right? Although 4K still held a strong presence at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show (April 5-10), no technology in particular dominated the week-long convention in Las Vegas. If one could discern a trend at all, it seemed to be about streamlining and simplifying—the same ideas at the core of the last decade of advancement in film technology.

Each year, NAB gives itself a theme—a barometer of the market, if you will. This year’s theme was “Channel Opportunity,” which was perhaps more apt than its creators realized, since this year’s show proved that untethered creativity comes from restricting and funneling energy into new directions.

A product, and a person, that personified the slogan were RED Camera and its former chief, Ted Schilowitz. After ushering in the game-changing digital cameras as right-hand-man to RED founder Jim Jannard, and bringing the company to its current enviable position in the market, Schilowitz discovered that he was the kind of guy who’s more comfortable being on the edge of revolution than part of the status quo.

A Sony representative shows off the new 4K-Capable Alpha 7S. Courtesy of Sony.

A Sony representative shows off the new
4K-Capable Alpha 7S. Courtesy of Sony.

“RED was a huge risk at the beginning,” said Schilowitz, sitting inside his new digs—supercomputer innovator Silverdraft’s onset service system-in-a-truck, MobileVIZ. “Then, as everyone started using it, that risk dissipated. After seven years and a million miles on an airplane, I retired.” A retirement that lasted about two days, when the president of post-production for features at 20th Century Fox demanded that Schilowitz come on board to ‘consult.’ Officially, that meant working with the studio on high-resolution digital movie production and advanced post-production pathways and workflows.

Six months later, as Silverdraft’s president, he’s at the forefront of creating greater power and rendering speed for the computer-centric movie and TV industries. Schilowitz said he asked himself: “Why should users be limited to desktop computers and relegated to generic render blades?” The answer came in the form of Silverdraft’s Devil & Demon Strategy—an optimized, super-fast computing system with a small footprint in post-production, VFX, CGI, web and interactive media. (MobileVIZ, built to facilitate immediate on-location pre and post-production, is outfitted with this 35-node, 25 TFLOP supercomputer.)

“Not only are we focused on reshaping the outdated model of computing for our industry,” he explained, “we’re also democratizing the availability of ultra-high-powered computing.”

Sounds expensive, right? Not always. “There are a few ways we help indie filmmakers,” said Schilowitz. “Part of my mission is to make resources available for interesting projects that can’t afford the typical rendering costs, even with cloud rendering. I am more than happy to talk with any filmmaker to make MobileVIZ available in any off-hours to kick out their renders. We can do that at a very different price structure for low-budget projects.”

“There are a few ways we help indie filmmakers. Part of my mission is to make resources available for interesting projects that can’t afford the rendering costs.”

Another company channeling its talent toward opportunity is Blackmagic Design (BMD). Back in 2012, BMD broke into the camera manufacturing business with their Cinema Camera, followed by their Pocket Cinema and 4K Production cameras.

Blackmagic Design on the NAB show floor.

Blackmagic Design on the NAB show floor.

The Cinema—a 2.5K sensor with 13 stops of dynamic range, available in EF and passive MFT mount models—was easily affordable by indie filmmakers at $1,995. In 2013 came the even cheaper ($995) Pocket Cinema with 13 stops of dynamic range, a Super 16 sensor, MFT lenses with ProRes and RAW recording capabilities. The same year, BMD also released the slightly higher-end $3,995 Production 4K Camera, boasting a Super 35 sensor and global shutter for 4K and Ultra HD production.

This year, the company unveiled the URSA, their studio production camera. Although the priciest of their offerings at $6,000, it’s still at a lower price point than any other comparable camera. The URSA was designed to be a more robust camera then its predecessors, made for those with heavier workflow needs, and built to handle the ergonomics of large film crews as well as single-person use. It has accessories built in, including a 10-inch fold-out monitor, XLR-in and SDI-out, Genlock, a Super 35 global shutter 4K image sensor and internal dual RAW and Apple ProRes recorders.

“If this thing actually ships, it could possibly be the new RED—coming to a low budget shoot near you!” said Bryan Olinger, video director of radio network iHeartRadio’s newest stage in Burbank. I ran into Olinger wandering the halls of NAB looking for higher-end products for the stage, while exploring the coolest low-budget gadget options for personal use as well.

“If this thing actually ships, it could possibly be the new RED—coming to a low budget shoot near you!”

Perhaps one of the best features for indie moviemakers looking to invest in a camera is the removable sensor. As BMD develops new sensors, the Super 35 can be upgraded to a newer version without users having the burden of purchasing an entire new camera. This is a perhaps inevitable, but wholly welcome, development.

AJA's Cion, available for purchase starting this summer. Courtesy of AJA Video Systems.

AJA’s Cion, available for purchase starting this summer.
Courtesy of AJA Video Systems.

Two other companies that jumped into the 4K motion picture camera manufacturing space this year were AJA, a company known previously for manufacturing disk recorders, and Sony. AJA revealed their CION model—a $9,000 4K camera able to record directly to an internal ProRes 4:4:4 that shoots up to 120fps (although they were only showing up to 60fps at the show).

Meanwhile, Sony announced its first 4K-video-capable still camera, the Alpha 7S, based on the same body as the A7 and A7R but with a lower-resolution 12-megapixel sensor. However, the A7S can’t record 4K internally, requiring an external hard drive via HDMI at 8-bit 4:2:2 capture. The price is rumored to be around $2,300.

Beyond capture, workflow solutions are probably the next most important thing in the current landscape of digital filmmaking. From recording and sharing footage to adding effects, delivery, and storage, moviemaking is long past the simple shoot-print-store days of film. Even students using a Canon 7D need to know how their footage is getting from A to B—and then to Z—safely. Adobe jumped into the streamlining business with its Creative Cloud (CC) service two years ago, and offered some substantial updates at this year’s NAB. These included updates to Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC and Adobe Anywhere, the collaborative workflow platform that empowers teams using Adobe professional video apps to work together, managing centralized media and assets across virtually any network.

With that, Adobe CC has essentially removed the need to share (or steal, in less upstanding cases) popular programs like Lightroom and Photoshop from the equation. After all, when you can pay an a la carte low monthly fee, have everything stored in the Cloud, and enjoy the knowledge that you won’t have to buy an expensive update six months down the line, it’s the perfect blend of low-budget filmmaking with high-budget software. MM

Indie-Friendly Products at NAB 2014

Anton/Bauer // video.antonbauer.com/Products/Categories/Batteries // Its new Digital Battery Series is made with the unique needs of 4K camera set-ups in mind.

Glidecam //glidecam.com// Lightweight handheld stabilizers that don’t exceed $700.

Litepanels // litepanels.com/croma_flight_kit.php // Croma Flight Kit is a compact LED lighting kit that comes with extra power and mounting options, and can even expand with the addition of extra fixtures down the road.

MYT Works // mytworks.com/products/glide/myt-paradox-modular-slider-system // With the motto “Born out of Frustration,” MYT Works’ look is sleek, and they offer mini dolly, glider and slider systems.

Red Scorpion LED // redscorpionusa.com // Although the higher price might not be right for a moviemaker on a budget, consider renting their large LED with some serious throw range.

SmallHD // smallhd.com/luts // If you own a DP7-Pro monitor already, this free firmware update that enables you to save a LUT to an SDHD card is totally worth the purchase.

Wooden Camera // woodencamera.com // Making some great camera accessories at more reasonable prices than Element Technica, and better quality than RedRock.

Zacuto // store.zacuto.com/recoil-v2-for-canon-c100-c300-c500 // An EVF adapter and recoil system that allows you to use the Canon C100/300/500 as handhelds.

 

This article was first published in our Summer 2014 issue, on stands now. To subscribe toMovieMaker Magazine, click here.

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