Q In a previous issue, you were talking about color bars and laying them down on a master tape. I’ve been working at a place that has been getting a lot of different tapes in, and it seems like each one has a different flavor of bars and tone at the beginning of the tape. Aren’t color bars just for setting up machines? Why so many?
A This is the point where I’m supposed to say that the good thing about standards is there are so many to choose from. Unfortunately, while there are standards for certain test signals, in most situations they aren’t strictly followed. There are test signals that are used to test “system performance” and others that are used to align machines. Some people add their own touches to the signal, and some manufacturers just go with “what’s been done before.”
Since there are so many different flavors, it’s important to make sure that the test signal you use has enough information in it. You want to ensure that when your show goes through the high-def production chain—from production to distribution and display—it looks the way you meant it to.
Before you try to figure out the signal you want to use, you need to figure out what you’re trying to do. Some-times, your needs may not be the same as what other people need. There may be an occasion when you’re just trying to establish confidence in what you’re doing or how you’re setting up your machine or system. There may be other times when you’re meeting a specification provided to you.
Recently, I was on a set that may or may not be typical for what others are doing. We were shooting digital, rather than film. On the stage, we had a monitor for the DP (who also was a camera operator) and one for the AC to follow-focus. In addition, there was a client monitor close to the set, as well as a client monitor near the producer’s table.
The monitoring didn’t stop there. There also was an on-set edit system that doubled as a video-assist recording station, so takes could be played back and also cut into sequences. This meant a lot of cable, a lot of monitors and the potential for a lot of confusion.
Let me pause here to point out something I’ve noticed on sets.
I was on set for two commercial shoots for the same client recently. The shoot days were separated by about a month and, more significantly, they were separated by technology. The first was 35mm film; the second was digital capture. Other than what they were shooting with, the crew, client and final needs were the same.
It’s interesting how things have changed with the advent of digital capture on set. I’m not talking about workflow and digital-imaging technicians. I’m talking about how video assist has changed in digital cinematography versus film cinematography.