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HD Stock Rising

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

Companies Scour the World to Add HD Footage


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HD Clipsters

A native Masai tribe member in Tanzania checks out the Sony HDW-F900 CineAlta camera used by DP/director Craig Walters to shoot stock footage for Artbeats earlier this year.

Veteran director/cinematographer Craig Walters spent much of late 2004 and early 2005 taking four separate trips to the far corners of the world (11 countries in Central and South America, East Africa, the South Pacific, India, and parts of Asia) to acquire HD stock footage for a dozen new collections in the royalty-free Artbeats Digital Film Library. Walters usually shoots documentaries, and therefore, “I'm normally only concerned with getting visuals to tell a specific story, and I rarely get enough time for B-roll. This job for Artbeats was, in essence, 100 percent B-roll. My job was solely to concentrate on finding interesting and pretty pictures for their library.”

Walters and his small crew (camera operator, local guide, and a translator) often found themselves shooting in some of the remotest places on Earth. In many of those locations, the project's requirement that Walters shoot HD exclusively proved to be an asset. The DP explains that bringing a relatively lightweight HD package to such locations led to imagery that would not have been as easily accessible if this were a 35mm project.

“In Tanzania, we spent a couple of days shooting in a Masai tribal village,” he recalls. “It was a three-hour drive over a dirt road each way, so that is about six hours a day just getting in and out. But we got images that would not have been accessible by the highway, so we went ahead. In that situation, we had to be more flexible with time — we had to shoot in a way that would maximize what we could capture while we were there, since it took so long to get there. Shooting HDCAM maximized how much footage we could get, and we configured our equipment so that it was not too bulky for that environment. You do not want to be too high profile and attract too much attention when shooting in those places. You need to be streamlined, so HD waWells the only way to maximize the footage in that situation. Plus, when shooting dark-skinned people against bright backgrounds — our camera was able to hold great detail. After all, we were shooting real people in real situations — it's not like anyone had makeup on. It was a gratifying way to work.”

According to Walters, for his four trips for Artbeats (other DPs led one additional shoot as part of the overall project), he carried a Sony HDW-F900 CineAlta camera package specifically refined for this particular gig.

“The camera was an ideal choice for the situations we found ourselves in, whether shooting off sticks or handheld, when needed,” he explains. “We opted for the Sony color viewfinder, since bringing a true HD monitor was not an option, and using lightweight lithium batteries was important to keep weight to a minimum. Also, we only worried about ambient sound from the camera mic, since this was stock footage we were after, and we carried a standard Fujinon 7.5×20 lens. With an extender, we could get that to 300mm, which came in handy. Most of the time, we shot on the wide side, though we also did bring a 5mm Zeiss prime lens, which helped for cities and crowd situations. We did very basic setups in the field — no scopes or high-end monitors. The idea was to shoot using a very straight camera setup, as lightweight as possible, knowing that Artbeats could do extensive color correction later, if needed.”

The other key choice, according to Walters, was the decision to capture imagery at 30p (actually 29.97fps). “That avoided the pulldown issue with the whole conversion from 24fps, since much of this footage is typically used for television and other video or broadcast applications,” he explains. “Thirty frames worked well for that, and then going progressive allowed us to maintain the film-look quality.”

Top: Walters shoots locals elsewhere in Tanazania, while (bottom) he captures more footage during a shoot in Ecuador.

Growing Market

Artbeats displayed some of the footage captured by Walters earlier this year at NAB — pieces of what later became the extensive, all-HD Lifestyles and Establishments library from Artbeats. Company officials claim the project (shooting in 12 countries over the course of five months) is the most extensive effort to date by a major stock footage provider to capture HD-originated footage for a major library.

Around the same time Artbeats announced the global HD initiative, the company also made available a new library of HD-acquired material from the Iraq war. That collection, called Road to Baghdad, consists of clips cleaved from footage shot with an HDW-F900 CineAlta system in the Iraqi war zone by DP and U.S. Marine B. Sean Fairburn during the American invasion of Iraq a couple of years ago. (See the June 2003 issue of Millimeter for details on how Fairburn captured that footage.)

Artbeats president Phil Bates says these efforts are all part of the stock industry's latest focus — making as much HD-originated material available as possible. Although many libraries have been offering HD-originated footage in recent years, the more common trend has been the transfer of 35mm and other film material to HD — a trend that continues unabated. But Bates suggests the kind of global effort mounted by Artbeats to shoot HD footage is something that will become more commonplace in coming months.

“It's inevitable that everyone will be shooting HD in the future,” says Bates. “But we noticed more clients are already buying, or asking for, HD product, and we decided it would be wise to do it now, even though it's harder to distribute HD product, since bandwidth problems make it unreasonable to offer it for direct download over the Internet. Despite that and the outlay of this project, though, it was wise for us to do this. Until now, people had been looking for footage that could be HD, and in the past, that was always 35mm that could be transferred. But a lot of the clips people wanted were not already available, or easy to get, in 35mm. Since we shoot so much of it ourselves anyway, it just made sense to do it in HD this time around, and then offer the footage optimized for NTSC, PAL, or film, if that is what people want.”

Bates adds that Artbeats sees a ready market for such material in the broadcast world since television production is so rapidly evolving in HD's direction anyway. Artbeats and several other companies are therefore rapidly building technical infrastructures for capturing, color correcting, and transferring HD material to whatever format clients might need. The company, for instance, has a full-service facility at its Oregon headquarters dedicated to this sort of work.

And Artbeats is hardly alone. Karen McLaughlin, director of Film Image Partners for industry giant Getty Images, says Getty has made significant investments in recent months in Sony HDCAM and Panasonic D5 decks, HD production monitors, restoration tools, and large numbers of Macintosh G5 workstations and Xserve servers. These investments are all designed to build a larger HD pipeline, capable of converting existing footage to HD, acquiring new HD footage, and converting that footage to a variety of formats on demand.

“Requests for footage in the HD format have increased considerably over the past few years in all commercial, entertainment, and corporate market segments,” McLaughlin says. “The demand we are seeing in the entertainment community, for example, has grown to where nearly 100 percent of our major studio customer requests are for pre-shot footage in the HD format to be used in TV productions for pilots, sitcoms, dramas, and movies of the week. Therefore, Getty Images has made a significant investment to support the industry's move to HD.”

Among the elements that Getty Images will make available in various HD formats will be transferred clips out of major feature films from the Universal Studios film library. In a major industry move, Getty Images and Universal Studios recently announced an exclusive licensing agreement for HD clips from films including The Bourne Identity, Field of Dreams, Apollo 13, and The Mummy to be made available for licensing through the Getty library. The Universal clips are available at www.gettyimages.com/universalstudios.


HD Clipsters

Most major stock footage companies offer HD footage of one type or another these days, particularly film footage transferred to HD. But only recently have such companies been strategically looking to produce large volumes of HD-acquired material for their libraries, as 35mm remains the format of choice for many. A relatively small group has been actively pursuing and promoting HD-acquired footage on a large scale in recent years, however. One of the most well known is Footage Bank of Venice, Calif. (www.footagebank.com), which now offers high-definition footage exclusively. Following is a list of some additional companies that are also prominently pursuing the acquisition of original HD footage for their libraries. Note that this is only a partial list of companies actively pursuing an HD agenda, and there are many others jumping into the HD business each day.

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