When MiniDV camcorders were first introduced many aspiring videographers immediately realized that they could take advantage of the revolutionary technology and create a very professional production for a fraction of the cost compared to high-end broadcast systems. Since then the computers, editing systems, hard drive storage solutions and other equipment has all gotten more affordable and more capable of supporting the rigorous needs of video. Now, HDV cameras and high definition DVD solutions like Blu-ray and HD-DVD are about to revolutionize the industry once again and make an even higher level of professional quality production tools available to the budget-conscious independent producer.
I had the pleasure of talking with a producer out of Michigan that has recently impressed many of his customers and peers with a relatively humble production system (only by traditional broadcast standards...it's actually a quite impressive set-up!). Wes Cardone of W. Cardone Productions combined the strength of a new AMD dual core workstation with the Adobe Production Studio Software, a Sony HDV camcorder and a few DV camcorders to put together professional video coverage of a recent equestrian event. In fact, Wes and his crew managed to show up at the Encore Horse Trials in Ann Arbor with video cameras & equipment in hand after being invited to cover the cross-country competition just three days earlier. When Wes shared his experiences with me and sent a few of the completed DVDs he created I was so impressed that I felt compelled to share his story as a testament to how technology can help you create a truly professional DVD with just a modest budget.
Prepare For The Unexpected
In addition to the technology and the budget it's important to remember that there are several other "skills" that will help you create a truly professional looking product. The first, and most crucial is planning, which isn't always easy - as Wes describes here:"We had literally three days to plan for this equestrian event. We were invited on a Wednesday and had a crew assembled and cameras rolling that Saturday morning at 7:30am. Probably the biggest hurdle for us was understanding the various cross country skill level tracks superimposed over each other and applying that understanding toward optimum positioning of available video resources. This was an overwhelming task. I did not have a clear mental vision for the maps until after the cross country event was at least half over. We would have never had success were it not for my crew, all experienced in equestrian eventing.
The nature of a cross country equestrian competition yields horse and riders leaving the starting line at timed intervals. At any given time there may be up to three horse and riders on the track simultaneously. There were times when a horse stubbornly refused a given jump to the extent that the rider following him passed him by adding to the confusion factor for video operators. An operator may be expecting a particular horse and rider and see what is thought to be him in the distance. The operator only learns of the discrepancy when the distance closes enough such that the rider's piney can be read. A problem develops if the actual rider for taping then appears before the discrepancy is discovered. For this reason we needed to caution contestants that our hands are tied when such events transpire and we may not capture the full ride.
There were a number of considerations in planning how to deploy available resources. First of all, where can we capture the action? One site we identified covered both the start and end of one track. It might be possible that two riders needing video would be visible at the same time - one at the start and the other running the finish line. What about the position of the sun? But then again, lens flare can probably be accepted for this type of shooting as long as we don't see a persistent glare. Lens flare did appear is some video. Is the site too close to an obstacle such that the horse would be distracted at the critical jump time? Does the area the site covers have changing light conditions? That is, is one area a horse passes through shaded while others are bright sun?
The first riders were scheduled to ride at 7:30am so we arrived at 5:30 to allow enough time to set up a booth, get each camcorder operator on station, and allow time for contestants to sign up at the booth. Arriving at 5:30am we witnessed a magnificent sight with the sun just rising over the horizon and the morning mist still over the ground. We captured this on video, which made for an equally impressive display on television.
Wes' crew covered the Dressage events from various locations, the Show Jumps with multiple camera angles and the cross country events from strategically pre-determined positions taking the factors he mentions above all into careful consideration. But, even with all of his anticipation and planning a few unsuspected challenges popped up along the way. Wes and his crew used Family Radio Service (FRS) walkie-talkies to communicate with each other throughout the event only to find out that their communications were interfering with the judges. The production crew had to change to a different channel and operate at a lower power output that made communications difficult at times - at an event where talking with fellow crew members was critical!
As the day wore on and the moisture in the arenas dried out, the dust in the air created another obstacle. Wes said "In some cases we had to select different positions to put the wind at our backs. We were fortunate in that putting the wind at our backs did not therefore put the sun in our lenses." Fortunately the crew was flexible enough to deal with the communication difficulties and track conditions appropriately and still capture some excellent footage of the entire event. Once the Encore Horse Trials were complete, Wes headed back to his studio where he created a custom DVD production for each of the participants.
Back in the studio, all of the footage from the two-day event was captured into the new AMD Dual Core computer system and work on the production began with the Adobe Production Studio Premium software along with a few other helpful tools. Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 was responsible for most of the heavy lifting allowing Wes to edit down his raw footage, create transitions and effects, cut between the multicam shots and enhance the video for the most professional results. Premiere Pro's color correction and Image Stabilization tools were especially important for the Encore Horse Trial production because some members of the videography crew were not professional videographer's and were chosen primarily for their knowledge of the sport. This is a realistic trade-off for many independent producers and sometimes it is better to choose a person that can anticipate the "perfect shot" knowing that you can rely on your post production tools to eliminate any signs that the video was shot by a novice. Sport-knowledgeable crew also anxiously serves as technical consultants. A critical example of this was in the selection of still photos captured from video. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the position the horse holds its ears at can make the difference between embarrassing and proud results.
Some of the other software programs included in the Adobe Production Studio Premium were also instrumental in designing the final DVD from W. Cardone Productions. Adobe Encore DVD 2.0 was used to break each DVD production into chapters allowing viewers to quickly view the Dressage, Show Jump and Cross Country events. Dual audio tracks allowed for user selection of music or original camcorder audio. Adobe Photoshop CS2 together with Encore DVD were used to create a professional looking DVD Start Menu. Pixel Pops PopDrops v1 was also used to help create the DVD menu template and matching DVD disc label including a custom image of the rider and their horse artistically beautified with Photoshop. The custom disc labels were later printed on the DVD(s) with the Rimage 360i DVD duplicator & printing system. The Rimage 360i is an affordable solution for creating professional looking DVDs with high-quality color inkjet printing directly on the disc.
Another affordable tool used in the Encore Horse Trial DVDs was the new Sonicfire Pro 4 Mega Bundle with Mood Mapping technology. Attention to audio is another one of the key elements necessary to giving any video production that professional touch. Sonicfire Pro 4 allows you to create a custom audio track designed specifically for the length you specify and is much better than traditional audio loops. The new Mood Mapping technology is a quick and easy way to account for changes in the mood of your production and, as Wes described, was especially helpful with this production. According to Wes, Sonicfire Pro was very useful for quickly creating the audio elements for the standard parts of the video like the intro and Dressage events (where all horses are required to perform a pattern pre-determined before the event) and was even more appreciated when the Mood Mapping was required. There were several times when a horse missed a jump and being able to easily change the mood of the audio helped create an infinitely more entertaining production. One example Wes offers is "In one case a horse forcefully threw its rider creating viewer concern for the safety of the rider. Mood Mapping facilitated music for those few seconds reinforcing viewer anxiety."
I know how difficult it must be to believe that a production of this level could be executed with such professional results with state-of-the-art equipment that cost just a bit more than $10,000. Apply a percentage of that equipment cost over several productions and it's easy to see how much more affordable it is to be an independent producer with professional results.