Tape goes West at UWE


Three years ago a convoy of white vans arrived at the Faculty of Arts at the University of West of England in Bristol. An hour later its entire stock of SVHS camcorders, linear editing decks and analog tape were history.
In came Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro and Panasonic digital camcorders. Now 20 professional tapeless HD camcorders have taken up residence, joining 80 other standard and high definition digital models.
Mark Barton, senior film instructor at UWE, explains the ethos:
"We're dynamic, we're creative, we're positive. The university wants to give the students the best, most realistic production experience it can. We keep upgrading our technology and we keep attracting great students."
Delivering applied higher degrees is UWE's raison d'etre and the faculty is well positioned to teach real, relevant skills and theory. A glance at the staff list at the University of West of England shows a connection between the world of production and education: Liz Banks is billed as a Senior Lecturer, but she's also been behind BBC documentary series, short films and dramas. Charlotte Crofts' short film Bluebell has been shown at film festivals from Pinewood to Palm Springs.
But the students' main contact time is with the instructors. "The instructors are all jobbing professionals with a real insight into modern media practice. Among us are videographers, journalists, photographers, designers and technicians so the students are learning from practitioners." Notes Barton.
UWE's media facilities are extensive, including banks of non-linear editing stations. "It may sound like some kind of highly tuned media organisation, but in the real world there is no such thing. The instructors like glitches. The fact is that Final Cut converts the media into big ProRes files and slows the editing process down. The fact is that getting Final Cut Express files into Final Cut Pro requires a workaround. And recording two mono feeds via XLR connectors is not what some camcorders are designed to do - so how do we get around it? These issues get the students thinking in a way today's professionals do."
The faculty recently adopted the HMC-81 camcorder. It is a robust shoulder-mount design with manual features, solid state recording, progressive and interlaced modes and can capture in a range of standard and high definition modes. "Mastering the HMC-81 prepares the students for professional production." Remarked Mark Barton.
The HMC-81 camera is a great learning tool with advanced recording functions including pre-record, interval recording, shot marker and metadata capture. Other professional features include waveform monitor display, focus assists such as focus bar display and enlarged display, white balance, mode display, zebra display, colour bar, tally lamps, slow smooth zoom and soft landing, slow shutter and synchro-scan shutter functions, and three programmable user buttons. "The HMC-81 is a professional camera that will push the students." Said Jill Keane, Business Development Manager of Holdan, the UK Panasonic distributor.
However, today's economy dictates that cost is a big consideration. Holdan's Keane continues: "The camcorder may be good value but the college looked beyond the initial outlay. For them there were considerable savings on tape. But the savings don't stop there - with no moving parts or tape mechanism, we would expect the cameras to go on for years with only a need for basic maintenance."
Well equipped they may be, but if the students need inspiration, they are in the right place: UWE is in the fortunate position of being in a hotbed of creative talent. Bristol is a media stronghold, home to the BBC, ITV, Aardman Animations, Endemol, Icon Films and E3 Media. It was only natural then UWE should be a centre of excellence in media education.
The students have a growing list of credits behind them. In recent years UWE students have produced award-winning work. This includes the Kodak prize for creative filmmaking twice in the last three years, having work screened at prestigious festivals such as the Sheffield and London Documentary Festivals, and a UWE student winning the Channel 4 Talent award for most promising newcomer in the Longer Documentary category.
Post-graduation the faculty has some notable success stories behind them, including alumni that have produced commercials for Ikea, been the props master on Alien vs Predator and even set up a new TV channel in South America.
"We're energetic and forward-thinking. To make the most of the new Pansonic camcorders we have plans for a sophisticated ingest system and are considering developing a new TV studio. This is an exciting place to study." Enthuses Mark Barton.

Tags: panasonic | fcp | final cut pro | univercity of west of england | uwe | hmc-81 camcorder | holdan | iss050 | N/A
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