New developments in mobile HD production


When widescreen HDTV was first demonstrated back in the 1980s, the pictures were great but the size and price of the kit left much to be desired. Two decades on, broadcast-quality 1080i/720p HD cameras and recorders have reached levels of compactness and affordability that would have seemed impossible in those early days.
When I designed the original Polecam rig in 1998, and established the company which today sells it and offers it for hire, we found ourselves competing in a world where clients were prepared to trundle very large and heavy camera mounts around except on the rare occasion that they needed extreme portability. That gradually began to change, influenced by the introduction of high-quality compact SD (later HD) cameras and by increasing concern about health-and-safety issues. In addition, the ever-increasing price of tickets to live events made event promoters anxious to give audiences an uninterrupted view of the stage. Demand for large camera rigs declined as producers opted for the new lighter and more compact solutions.
Ten years on from company's inception, the Polecam rig has become the centrepiece of an entire production system comprising HD and SD fixed-lens or zoom cameras (including stereoscopic pairs if required) through to compact storage on tape, disk or solid-state media. Being independent of hardware manufacturers, we are free to select and integrate the best equipment available to match the needs of a growing band of highly mobile production service-providers.
The transition from heavyweight to easily transportable systems is by no means a regional phenomenon. Even in the USA, portability and operational flexibility have become important factors as fuel costs increase and the need for maximum production efficiency is recognised. A typical daily production schedule involving three separate locations can be quite literally very heavy going with a traditional camera crane needing pre-shoot site inspection, transportation and construction licensing plus long assembly and dismantling times…and of course mains electricity. Weighing just 35 kg in its transit bags, Polecam can be carried in by car, camel, horse, hand-trolley or if necessary even over a couple of shoulders. The entire system can be established and operated on any surface firmer than a quicksand (we can even accommodate that!) and powered, if necessary, entirely from batteries. The rig itself has an integral counterbalance and is designed for comfortable and efficient manual operation.
In Russia, which has a strong and highly creative film industry that enthusiastically embraced HD digital cinematography, Polecam is no longer viewed as an alternative to heavyweight camera rigs but as an outright replacement. An experienced Polecam operator has far greater creative freedom than any heavyweight-crane driver, delivering fresh viewpoints and camera swings in almost immediate response to the producer's demands. If a higher camera position than Polecam's 20 foot stretch is called for, the rig is quite commonly set up on the roof of the vehicle (typically a Land Rover or equivalent) in which it and the rest of the kit were brought to site.
The world of broadcasting continues to change, most notably in the direction of specialised channels offering advertisers access to tightly focused audiences. This does not necessarily mean any increase in the size of the overall television advertising cake. However, it could do before long if web-based television channels modelled on the BBC iPlayer pattern of viewer-selectable video sources begin to compete with specialist print media. These new channels will in turn regard high production efficiency as absolutely essential while demanding the same high-impact creative camera-work expected by every viewer brought up on tradition broadcast and Hollywood fare.
In terms of quality, the latest miniature HD cameras deliver pictures that are well within the acceptance level of broadcasters and digital cinematographers. Quality levels will continue to increase for the simple reason that portability and mobility are now mainstream requirements for the entire industry. The combination of file-based capture to high-stability power-efficient and climate-tolerant solid-state media will also spur rapid advances in the storage capacity and versatility of mobile production systems. On-location post-production is already commonplace and will become even more flexible given the high processing power of modern off-the-shelf laptop computers running industry-standard software such as Apple's Final Cut Pro.
My own experience of mobile shooting has taken me from commercials production in, on and under the Hawaiian surf to the wilds of Alaska (assisting in shots for the recently-released film 'Arctic Tail'). Polecam itself, and its auxiliary cameras and recorders, have been used in even more hostile conditions such as the Sahara where temperatures and dust levels go way beyond traditional 'Code of Practice'. In hot and sandy environments, recording to silicon makes a great deal more sense than the standard combination of helical-scan VTR and rechargable vacuum-cleaner. An incidental but key feature of Polecam is its ability to be used as a body-mounted harness. This opens up an enormous number of creative possibilities including vehicle tracking shots from the back of a Jeep. Polecam is mainly used with a prime wide angle lens producing a wide depth of focus which makes shots of this kind highly effective.

Tags: polecam | hd camera | hdtv | iss024 | polecam rig | N/A
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