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Field Use of Viper

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By Carolyn Giardina
As NAB approached, Thomson organized an extensive test and demonstration for its new Viper camera, which is generating much attention in the film community with its ability to capture an uncompressed 4:4:4 10-bit log stream of data directly to a hard drive.
Below the Line joined the crew on a portion of the shoot, which occurred on stages and on location in and around Los Angeles. The crew tested under and overexposure, 4:2:2, full bandwidth RGB, and Cinemascope, using both the Zeiss 20 Prime and Canon HJ21 X 7.5. The Viper recorded to a Director’s Friend, a portable data recording system.
Two respected cinematographers lensed the images. David Stump, ASC, who specializes in visual effects, shot blue and green screen of a model pouring a glass of water on a stage at Hollywood Camera in Burbank. He also shot outdoor background plates on Mulholland Drive. Commercial shooter Bill Bennett lensed a short called DayDreams, as well as dual shooting portions of a Dodge commercial—aptly including the Dodge Viper—using both Viper and film for creative effect, and did some additional aerial shots from a Gyron mount on an A-Starhelicopter. Technicolor Creative Services, VidFilm and Pac-Title handled post.
“I was mostly testing the color bit depth in the camera and its resolution for pulling blue and green screen mattes. Traveling matte photography in regular HD modes is pretty difficult if what you want to output is a film or film-quality product,” explained Stump after wrapping for the day.
And based on his first Viper shoot, it was the color depth that Stump identified as the camera’s greatest benefit. “Generally speaking, in the realm of HD when something has gone white, it’s gone. That forces you to make the creative decision about how bright or overexposed something is going to be right here, right now, on the set. And it’s final.” With Viper, he said, “You certainly get a lot more latitude in terms of correcting things in post.”
Areas that could use improvement: “Where the technology of film is colliding with the technology of video.” He cited display as an example. “When you view the material uncorrected or corrected from the Viper you are viewing it back in the realm of video, 8-bit. The camera can be capturing at 10-bit log or a 12-bit linear, but you still have to compress that signal to see it on a monitor.” To that end, Thomson/Grass Valley marketing manager Mark Chiolis suggests the use of a dual link HD-SDI monitor on set.
The demo has been shown at NAB, at the ASC, and via Firewire hard drives to area post houses for further testing and experimentation.

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