Eco-Tourism: Video shoot for ‘Le Casuarina’, Kangaroo Island

I’ve always loved Kangaroo Island– from my first taste of it with my family back in the 1980’s, to the numerous visits paid in the last few years. Recently, Emma Sterling and I had another reason to travel there- to produce a series of promotional videos for a holiday home called Le Casuarina. Since this was to be a new endeavour for us, we decided we would make a number versions of the piece, demonstrating what could be done for a variety of budgets. Called as I often am by nature, I couldn’t resist spending time in the garden filming bees and birds, hanging over the ferry bow shooting dolphin… and along with interiors, exteriors, some peopled shots and stills, we came home with a hefty volume of footage.

The main distinguishing feature of our deluxe package (above) was the use of models and actors, and the video’s extended 3 minute duration. Stylistically, placing people in the video creates a much more personal ‘lived in’ feel for the property, and also helps hold the viewer’s attention for longer, with a suggestion of story. It does so at a price though, and working with actors is costly and more difficult to schedule than shooting bricks, mortar and the surrounding environment. Local filmmaker David Mackey (who I first met many years ago when I storyboarded his short film $um Assault) and his wife Belinda Mackey, a talented South Australian model and actress, both volunteered their time to play as guests of the house. Tess O’Flaherty, another talented local actress performed the voice-over once we’d returned to Adelaide, and the score was created using a great software package called SmartSound SonicFire Pro. While I’m a musician myself, SonicFire was able to save me countless hours of composition and recording time, and allowed me to conveniently export versions of the song at four different durations and with variations in instrumentation. Nice.

For the ‘standard’ version, another fine local actress Michelle Nightingale volunteered her time and talents. As you will see, many of the shots are the same as in the deluxe version, and there is much common material in the script. The whole process would have been much faster to turn around if we weren’t so obsessed with riding the bleeding edge of production techniques though! We shot all the footage on our new Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000 , and the pictures looked great. Since it is sold as a ‘Dual Camera’ (a hybrid of digital still and video) it offers traditional photographic control of the video image (aperture, ISO, shutter-speed) and offers the kick-ass bonus of recording FullHD progressive footage (1920 x 1080). We shot everything in the highest resolution and frame rate (1080p at 60 frames per second) without any expectation that our editing software, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 would struggle processing it.

Sure enough, whenever our 1080p editing timeline reached about a minute of content, the program would crash. We purchased and installed the MainConcept MPEG Pro H.264/MP4 plugin and enjoyed improved results, but still could not get more than about three minutes of material onto the timeline without toppling the system. This is on a powerhouse i7 920 cpu, with 12 Gb of RAM, might I add. Admitting defeat after experimenting with countless variables, Emma edited the project in segements, down converting slabs of footage to 720p resolution, and re-importing them into a 720p timeline. We floated the two longest clips online yesterday, and as always, have spread the word using Web 2.0 platforms, most notably Facebook and Twitter to help get the pieces circulating. With any luck, we’ll be able to follow this job with more commercial work along a similar vein armed with the knowledge to just shoot 720p resolution footage in the first place… at least until the next patch for Premiere Pro is released.

If you’d like to know a bit more about Le Casuarina, please visit the property’s website.

Dan Monceaux

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Tomorrow Studio: a new home for digital media in Adelaide

Back in June, Emma Sterling and I moved our digital media business, danimations, into an exciting new premises. Located at Level 1, 193 Wakefield Street in Adelaide’s downtown CBD is the Tomorrow Studio, a South Australian state Government initiative to bring complementary start-up companies from the digital media sector together, to foster a culture of collaboration and rapid growth. We are very proud and fortunate to be a part of it.

Offering the added benefits of heavily subsidised rent, terrific shared facilities and a tenancy contract that can be exited with minimum fuss, we applied back in the first quarter of 2009, and moved in with the first wave of tenants in June. The culture of collaboration is strong already, and under our roof we have a spread of businesses offering services including web, graphic design, animation, 3d graphics, multimedia, network services, video (that’s us), simulations, game development and electronic publishing. No two businesses are in direct competition, and we’re able to keep our own hours with 24 hour access to the building. Many of the tenants (us included) have lock-up offices, while the remainder work in the building’s open-plan central space.

Emma Sterling edits in the danimations office
Emma Sterling edits in the danimations office

We’ve had a great run with the Department of Trade & Economic Development this year, and the Tomorrow Studio move follows our receipt of a Tomorrow Start grant which has help us upgrade our computers and aquire new technology and software- thrusting us over some major hurdles stunting our business’ growth. With the official champagne launch rolling by the other week, we finally feel like we’re ready to rhumba in the new space.

The Department of Trade has recently announced a second round of grants available to start-up businesses in the digital media sector, and there are currently some vacancies for new tenants in the Tomorrow Studio following the announcement that Holopoint (a leading games and simulation developer) has outgrown the space and is moving to another more suitable location.

For more information on the Tomorrow Start grants and the Tomorrow Studio, visit http://www.creativesa.org/

Dan Monceaux

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Theatre: Hitting the road with Slingsby’s ‘Wolf’

Emma Sterling and I have spent the past several weeks in an intense collaborative bubble, producing and performing (essentially VJing) video content for an innovative new theatrical performance for children. Directed by Andy Packer and performed by Ellen Steele, ‘Wolf’ is an original story by Andy Packer (written by Finegan Kruckemeyer) and developed by a collaborative team of specialists spanning many artistic disciplines. Full team credits are available at the Slingsby website. ‘Wolf’ explores the theme of fear and anxiety and their roles in our lives and Western folk story traditions. The performance is part physical theatre, part video diary and part new media performance, as the lone character Ruby slips into a dreamscape in which she is pursued and confronted by her fears and insecurities.

I’m writing this blog entry from just south of Tailem Bend, an early whistle-stop on the road to Mount Gambier, the place of the play’s original conception last year, and soon to be the place of its public premiere. As latecomers to the project, we had the task of devising the delivery method for three different screens of video content, and producing video sequences for several scenes, in a style harmonious to existing footage created by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions. Requiring a combination of wrapping double-screen images, and rolling single screen content, the imagery is at times immersive and environmental, at others direct broadcasts from Ruby’s video diary and in more surreal moments, manifestations of pure imagination. The video system prototype before we became involved required three networked computers, syncronised, each driving a single projector.

Our first challenge was to devise a neater technical solution that would also provide us with the performance flexibility we need to allow us to respond spontaneously with video, augmenting the performer’s movement and the story’s progress. Since we were already committed users of Arkaos’ and Numark’s NuVJ package, we roadtested and ran with Arkaos’ GrandVJ for the ultimate solution. Using this concise and powerful program, we are now able to run all three screens from a single Acer Aspire 6930G laptop, which we bought with the spoils of the commission. The key factors in running the system smoothly are many, with tech specs an important part of the picture. The Vista laptop we run has a 1 Gb dedicated video card, 4Gb of RAM and a dual core 2.4 GHz processor. Feeding the software files with the best compression codecs and ratios is critical. For GrandVJ, I’ve followed the recommended workflow and use H264 for HDV dual-screen clips, and Quicktime PhotoJPEG for SD clips. Starting the compression at 80%, I wind it back on some of the longer HDV clips when they start to stagger on playback.


Theatre: Slingsby’s WOLF Premieres May 6 (TVC)

Another early task we were set was to deliver a TVC for broadcast in regional South Australia, advertising the show and its imminent tour. For this we re-edited the existing prologue, shot by Sophie Hyde, and inserted an animated sequence created by Luku. We’ve also distributed the TVC via TubeMogul, a terrific tool for re-distributing online video across multiple portal sites.

So we’re passing twisted gumtrees, expansive pastures and the occasional road-train, racing towards the official premiere on May 6th. After three showings with test audiences last week at the Odeon Theatre in Norwood. After Mount Gambier, we hit a string of country towns across SA, including Kadina, Keith, Bordertown, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Pirie, Roxby Downs, Ceduna and Port Lincoln. As always, Em and I are packing multiple cameras so we’ll be documenting the trip as well as the show as both unfold.

Dan Monceaux

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