Ad agency opts for High Definition

Fortune Promoseven's in-house post production unit, Outpost, recently invested in High Definition equipment. In an exclusive interview with Digital Studio, Tom Prabhu, producer and director at Outpost, shares his reasons for investing in HD kit and lists the benefits for clients.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  October 3, 2005

I|~||~||~|Tom Prabhu used to be a creative designer at Fortune Promoseven, one of the leading advertising agencies in the Middle East. But after doing the same job for eight years, he decided one Thursday morning in 2002, that he was ready to take his skills to a new level. The next Sunday, he was back at his office with a fresh idea, a new proposal and ready to negotiate a deal with the management. That Sunday, Outpost, FP7’s in-house post production unit, was conceived. Today, this in-house unit, run by Prabhu, handles the making of corporate films for the agency’s clients. Prabhu’s reasoning was simple. “As an ad agency, we know the look and feel that a client must have, and the tone his corporate film should take to create awareness about his brand. But sometimes, this is lost when you convey it to a production or post production house,” he explains. “That lack of satisfaction with outside work is what made Outpost an attractive proposition to the agency. When a client today says he wants to make a corporate film, he is so much more comfortable knowing that we can do it in-house because we understand the brand and know how best to promote it. Having worked in the ad field, I felt I would be able to direct the flow of a corporate film at the production and post production stage,” he adds. For Prabhu, the transition from creative designing to director/producer has not meant a complete change in the tools he uses. He still employs Illustrator and Photoshop extensively to create the look he wants and then brings them to life through Final Cut Pro. “I have learnt to use FCP on the job but the rest was part of what I was doing anyway,” he says. Being at Outpost has been a continuous learning experience for Prabhu. In just three years, he has seen a significant departure from standard definition (SD) and a greater acceptance of high definition (HD). In fact, seeing that HD is the way forward, the producer has sought to bring this format to FP7’s clients as well. As part of those efforts, Outpost recently invested in a Sony HDV camera, a Final Cut Pro (FCP) HD edit suite and an Avel-link HD DVD player, all of which he purchased from the US. ||**||II|~||~||~|In fact, he claims to have been the first person in Dubai to have the Final Cut Pro HD. “I went to the US and bought all my systems from there including the HDV camera (HVR-Z1U). I found the HDV a lot cheaper in the US than it was here. Also, I was there when Apple was launching the FCP HD and went and picked up my copy. Likewise, Avel-Link is not a brand that is available here but I wanted to show my clients what their film would look like in HD,” he says. “There’s a marked difference and I wanted to bring them the latest technology while also making it affordable. HDV makes that possible.” Prabhu praises HDV as a format that ‘will revolutionise the way we look at high quality video’. “The biggest advantage of shooting with the Sony HDV is its impressive 1920x 1080i resolution. The quality and contrast of the images you get with this camera are very good,” he says. Also, he finds the HVR-Z1U’s ability to give a film look impressive. “The HVR is designed around interlaced video, reflecting Sony’s commitment to the 1080i flavour of HDV. Thus, the recording modes are DV (480i) and HDV (1080/50i) with a CineFrame24 special mode designed to give a film-like effect,” he says. “If you’re shooting people, you’ll be delighted to find various film modes that give you some pretty good picture quality. With the film look, you get smooth skin, no over exposure and good contrast,” he adds. Again, according to him, videographers always long to get the best depth of field (dof). “Shallow dof takes us back to home video, however the HVR-Z1U has a lot to be proud of. Its dof is one of the best I’ve seen on any video cameras in the entry-level range. On a camera that costs US $5000, this is very impressive,” he says. Likewise, he lauds the colour extractor feature on the HVR-Z1U and its shot transition button. “You can select the colour you’d like to retain and the rest can be turned to greyscale. Also, with the shot transition button, you can register the settings of focus, zoom, iris, gain, shutter speed, and white balance, and then change the recording setting from the current one to the registered one, resulting in a smooth transition of scenes. For example, you can shift the focus from closer to farther objects, or change the depth of field by adjusting the iris. In addition, you can develop scenes under different recording conditions smoothly. If you register the manual adjustment functions of the white balance, the scenes will develop smoothly between objects indoor and those outdoors,” he says. ||**||III|~||~||~|But Prabhu is also aware of the challenges of working with the HVR-Z1U. Getting the focus right on the camera is a nightmare, according to him, despite the fact that Sony has provided a 4” 16x9 wide LCD screen. “This is a fundamental problem with shooting in HD. In an SD camera, if you are slightly out of focus, it won’t be noticed. However, Sony has come up with a clever idea; the ‘expand focus’ button located on the right side of the camera enlarges the image on the LCD temporarily to get the focus right. However, this feature can be used only in the standby mode. If you are recoding, it won’t work,” he warns. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of working with the HDV camera is its integration with other editing solutions. In the beginning, everything looked simple, according to Prabhu. “Even Apple said it’s like DV, ready! set! go. However, this is not true when you’re using a DeckLink card. In my case, I have Blackmagic’s Decklink SP card, which is connected to my betacam SP from my G5. After installing FCP Studio 5 inside Final Cut, under audio/video setting, the video preview does not show up. This was very annoying. What’s the point of editing in HD if you cannot get a preview in the HD camera/deck. Instead, I get the down converted video on my SD monitor when HD preview is selected,” he says. Although Blackmagic posted a solution on their web site, Prabhu says that it does not work. Likewise, there is no preview on the FCP preview window either, when capturing. Rather, the end user is forced to rely on the camera LCD to see what they have captured. Despite these challenges, the director/producer thinks that between FCP Studio and Sony HVR-Z1U, ‘it’s a happy marriage’. “It’s the ideal system as it supports both HD and SD. It is as easy as working on DV footage once you have got everything sorted. Now, I have a complete HD solution including FCP Studio along with Motion and DVD studio Pro, and this cost me US $1300. If you spend about US $600 more you could even get a Decklink HD card and start working on DVCPRO HD codes, which will be easy on your CPU,” he says. With the G5, FCP HD Studio and the Sony HVR-Z1U, FP7’s post production unit has a complete HD production and post kit. “Outpost is completely geared to produce HD from production to final output. As a first step towards migrating to HD, we have started with the Sony HVR-Z1U and FCP but we hope to move to more sophisticated HD solutions in future as demand for it increases.” Prabhu has put together a list of images on his web site to show the effect of special features. View them at ||**||

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