(This originally went out on the Cinematography Mailing List (http://www.cinematography.net) but since I haven't put anything on here for a couple of weeks I thought I'd share it with the wider world...)
Just wanted to share a few notes from the BSC Equipment Show today at Elstree Studios. Overall, I think a much more optimistic gathering than last year, and apparently very well attended, but the strongest feeling I came away with was how impressed I was with the new gadgets that people are designing.
I was blown away by the in-camera Pre-Viz system that JDC have designed - they have replaced the glow module on an ARRIcam with a video screen on which is projected the framelines (so the glow functionality isn't lost), but more importantly anything else that can be outputted to video. So they were demonstrating it with a 3D animatic of a giant. The material had been supplied by a VFX house as a 'rough', showing what a CGI character would do in a particular scene. The set has been built virtually in CG and put in the computer: when the camera is put in the physical set, its position is recorded in the computer and encoders from pan, tilt, zoom and track are fed into the set-up as well. Because it replaces the glow module in the optical path of the viewfinder, the image shows up in the eyepiece and on video assist, enabling the operator to operate the shot allowing for the CG element which will be put in later.
I hope I'm explaining this with the clarity it deserves - imagine trying to frame a shot with ordinary actors but allowing for a 16 foot high giant who will be comped in later (this is what they've been doing with the system on the new Harry Potter). This system puts the giant in your viewfinder in 3D, 'acting' in real time as the shot develops, and maintaining correct position as your camera moves. Needless to say, the flesh and blood actors don't have this advantage, but during rehearsal a puppeteer wearing 3D goggles with the same feed, and manipulating a 16' high head, does the moves of the CG character, to give everyone a chance with eyelines, blocking, acting, etc. They can encode as many axes as necessary for cranes or any other 'constrained' camera support, but hand-held and Steadicam are yet to be allowed for (although frankly I wouldn't put it past them to come up with something astonishing to deal with those situations...)
And the same system can work with projecting a virtual set into camera, or indeed anything anyone can spend the money to pre-visualise. I thought it was brilliant - congratulations to Lester Dunton and his colleague Olaf (whose surname I'm sorry I didn't catch) for an amazing job. They were printing off a fresh set of publicity sheets as I visited the stand, so I'm afraid I didn't get a URL for it, but I imagine you can get more information at the JDC website: http://www.joedunton.com/cgi-bin/jdc.pl
Another great design, another Olaf: 'Actor-controlled' lighting from Movie-Intercom (http://www.movie-inter.com). This is a series of lighting control boxes which link together. One configuration provides a fully controllable fire or TV effect with three channels of direct output which can be preset between a maximum and a minimum level - these levels can be 'frozen' to be measured, and the lighting will never go out of the preset range. Another configuration provides a sophisticated version of the 'spot meter pointed at the fire' gag where the output of the meter is used to drive some fixtures to augment the real light from the fire. A small metering box is pointed at the source (a display on the box shows when you're aiming at the brightest point) and the output fed to the control box which can be used to activate anything slaved to it. Point it at a practical on set, an actor can turn on the practical and any other lighting you've provided will come on too. No more tired electricians hovering over a line of switches trying to sync with an actor who has other things on their mind than doing the same thing every take... The box provides DMX out, so you can drive any size dimmer - you could put a light switch in the middle of the 007 Stage at Pinewood controlling a 40W golf ball, point the sensor at the lamp and switch on a 500kW rig with it...
Or you can bypass the optical sensor and use the box which senses the current going to the practical - the actor can turn off the TV set with its remote and turn off your TV effect simultaneously. The unit will also drive domestic ballasts for flouros to make dimmer & flicker effects. Olaf Michalke took me through the possibilities, my thanks and congratulations to him too.
LED lights were much in evidence, Dave Amphlett at Gekko (http://www.gekkotechnology.com) was showing his great Kisslite, a dimmable ringlight (tungsten or daylight) with built-in filter holders, since it effectively replaces a mattebox, and a three-LED on-camera kicker which I just want to have standing by all the time.
Howard Smith at Mk V (http://www.mk-v.com) has modified an all-terrain Segway to use as a Steadicam platform - you start constructing entirely new kinds of shots in your head when you see an Operator coming towards you on board a foot-controlled 'personal transportation system' spinning his revolving 'Alien Revolution' sled like a cheerleader spinning a baton (imagine a human-scaled version of the machine that drilled the Channel Tunnel...). He'll be at NAB next month, so some of you'll get a chance then to see the most eye-catching floorshow I caught today.
JDC's stand was also showing the Perfect Horizon stabilization system (http://www.motionpicturemarine.com/content/blogsection/4/31/) which looks very clever but you'd want to try it out on something more random than a deflated SpaceHopper.
I've left the bigger companies till last - they have their own Marketing Departments - but Panavision's Hylens system deserves a mention: motorised behind-the-lens cartridges containing diffusion, ND or even glass matte elements, driven by a remote control looking suspiciously like a PlayStation Console... PV mount only, expect to see a bunch of commercials using it in much the same way that the swing-tilt lenses drove new visuals. (It's on the front page of the Panavision website: http://panavision.com/)
Also Cooke had the only model so far of their 15-40mm T2 Zoom, interesting to compare with Angenieux's Optimo - that extra 5/6 of a stop seems to be worth about 1-1.5kg in weight...
All the booth-hopping meant I missed the discussions and panels going on on-stage - perhaps someone else who was there could summarise?
I just want to re-state how impressed I was with the innovation and commitment shown by the developers of the technology I saw: given the small size of this industry and the limited market for some of these items, the amount of work involved seems heroic and those who put themselves out there with their products deserve every success.