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What’s the next big thing in wireless follow focus?


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#1 Andre Trudel

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 04:28 AM

NAB has come and gone. I’d like to open up the discussion once again regarding wireless follow focus. Now, I think we can still all agree that Preston is still the leading unit of choice on most big budget projects shot here in the states. I know a lot of operators own BFD’s and are very happy with them but, I’m curious about all the different choices that seem to have emerged over the past couple years. I’ve had AC friends of mine talk about the new Arri 3 motor system and have been told it’s cheaper then the Preston. We now have units using wifi, G4, etc… What’s the next big thing in wireless follow focus?

When you’re on a budget but would like a digital alternative to the fiz, is there a particular unit you would recommend or like?
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#2 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 09:52 AM

We now have units using wifi, G4, etc… What’s the next big thing in wireless follow focus?



Quick clarification, Prestons and Scorpios have been using wifi for 10+ years and the G4 in the new preston is GENERATION 4 radios, not 4G celluar
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#3 Andre Trudel

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 04:26 PM

Thanks Eric,

Your responses are always extremely knowledgeable. I was not aware that Preston and Scorpio used wifi. I knew they worked on the 2.4gh frequency but for some reason did not make the connection that it was the same 2.4gh that wifi operates on. I have read about the Preston G4 upgrade and I understand that it is not the same as the G4 cellular. It was late at night and I was just thinking about all the different options in wireless focus systems.

What is your opinion on the ARRI Wireless Remote System?
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#4 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 01:01 PM

What is your opinion on the ARRI Wireless Remote System?

If it is the same one that I have used I would say that the handset is kind of cool but the motors suck(not sure if they have other motors). The cables were built in to the motors meaning if you want a spare you need an entire spare motor. Also the motors seemed kind of weak. Perfectly fine for master primes under normal conditions but if you want to use something stiff they just won't cut it. Also the motor mounts built into the motors really suck. No choice but to use a dogbone most of the time. I don't think the motor cables used the standard digital motor pinouts so using other digital motors might not be an option.

~Jess
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#5 Sydney Seeber

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 01:19 PM

What is your opinion on the ARRI Wireless Remote System?

but the motors suck(not sure if they have other motors). The cables were built in to the motors

~Jess

That's their lower end motor, the CLM-2. The -3 motor is stronger and more compatible as well as costing 3 grand.
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#6 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 01:25 PM

If it is the same one that I have used I would say that the handset is kind of cool but the motors suck(not sure if they have other motors). The cables were built in to the motors meaning if you want a spare you need an entire spare motor. Also the motors seemed kind of weak. Perfectly fine for master primes under normal conditions but if you want to use something stiff they just won't cut it. Also the motor mounts built into the motors really suck. No choice but to use a dogbone most of the time. I don't think the motor cables used the standard digital motor pinouts so using other digital motors might not be an option.



The presently Shipping Arri Remote Focus is fantastic and has the most powerful motors available. It is a worthy system that needs to considered
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#7 Charles Papert

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:18 PM

To answer (I think) the original question, there are starting to emerge lower-cost digital alternatives. The BFD now has a digital receiver and the upcoming HoFoPro will also be compatible with existing digital motors. Both are/will be significantly cheaper than the Preston, Scorpio, Arri or C-Motion systems.

As fars the "next big thing", my belief is that we will start to see touchscreen interfaces come online within the next few years. After 100 years of pulling focus by turning a knob, the new model would allow the assistant to maintain focus by touching an object on a screen. Rack focus could be enacted by making a second tap and perhaps dragging across the screen to dictate the speed of the rack. I think there would still need to be a manual override knob incorporated (with the display indicating where it "thinks" focus should be as a reference) but with the option of going to autopilot at any time. This would require a lot of processing and some pretty intricate software that would obviously use face-recognition algorithms, but it raises some interesting questions--what happens when the actor turns his head and both eyes disappear from view, what happens when you dolly through foreground objects or the subject goes behind a wall--but I have a sense that these stumbling blocks will be managed by keeping the human element part of the process, so that this will not become automated focus as much as auto-assisted focus, best used to maintain sharps on a subject with camera and subject moving (i.e. the least creative but most difficult part).

The demand for this kind of technology is coming not from the high end but from the ever-growing market below that, where everyone and their soccer mom are getting into large-sensor cameras and refusing to accept that focus pulling is a skill that takes many years to hone. Thus there is a push to make that job "easier" via technology such as focus assist. Certainly this kind of technology will cause grumbling in the ranks, as the most sought-after AC's will lose their special edge when it comes to pulling accurately under "impossible" conditions (anamorphic/wide open/large format) but ever-evolving camera technology is changing all of our jobs whether we like it or not. At some point stabilizers will have auto-roll correction or post-stabilization will become more common and newbies will be turning out footage that looks "perfect". As we all know, there's a lot more to great Steadicam than dead-on horizons, but it is one of the yardsticks we use to rank operator's skill level.

This is conjecture of course, but I think it's just a matter of time.
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#8 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:23 PM

As fars the "next big thing", my belief is that we will start to see touchscreen interfaces come online within the next few years. After 100 years of pulling focus by turning a knob, the new model would allow the assistant to maintain focus by touching an object on a screen. Rack focus could be enacted by making a second tap and perhaps dragging across the screen to dictate the speed of the rack. I think there would still need to be a manual override knob incorporated (with the display indicating where it "thinks" focus should be as a reference) but with the option of going to autopilot at any time. This would require a lot of processing and some pretty intricate software that would obviously use face-recognition algorithms, but it raises some interesting questions--what happens when the actor turns his head and both eyes disappear from view, what happens when you dolly through foreground objects or the subject goes behind a wall--but I have a sense that these stumbling blocks will be managed by keeping the human element part of the process, so that this will not become automated focus as much as auto-assisted focus, best used to maintain sharps on a subject with camera and subject moving (i.e. the least creative but most difficult part).



I don't agree, I see the focus knob as the most efficient way to pull focus, A touch screen requires too much attention to the screen and the mechanics where the knob has a natural flow to it.

Afterall how is the focus puller going to pull if the touch screen can't read his fingers thru the caked on breakfast burrito grease on the screen
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#9 Fabrizio Sciarra SOC ACO

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:28 PM

Burritos and screens never matched...
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#10 Sydney Seeber

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:46 PM

we will start to see touchscreen interfaces come online within the next few years. After 100 years of pulling focus by turning a knob, the new model would allow the assistant to maintain focus by touching an object on a screen.

I dunno man, I think we're a long way off from that. I've spent tens of thousands of $$$ on the top of the line cameras from Nikon and Canon, I've used Leica and Hasselblad, and all of the autofocus systems hunt more often than not. I think it could work if you gave a system very specific parameters, such as which direction it needs to roll and related what have you, but if those guys haven't figured it out after all this time, I don't think a perfect solution is right around the corner.
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#11 RonBaldwin

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:56 PM

Charles makes an interesting point, and like he said it is years away. Just look at what we have now compared to 5 yrs ago. I just dream of days long gone where a focus puller actually got marks instead of what they are forced to do today -- stare at a monitor and "wing" it because this fabulous hd world we live in has somehow erased the need for cutting and doing rehearsals. Whedon and hd can suck it.

rb
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#12 Charles Papert

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:58 PM

The knob is natural only if you know what to do with it (that's what she said). Consider the difference between an experienced AC and an indie filmmaker; the former pulls focus numerically, always thinking distances and relationships and numbers and they dial the knob based on that. The indie person has no training in estimating distances and would be lost without a monitor; they turn the knob until the image comes into focus--more often, past the point and then they tweak it until it looks sharp. That's hardly efficient and the results are no bueno. Again, I think automated touchscreen technologies are being designed with that market in mind but if properly achieved, will start to hammer into the high-end industry as well.

While composition of a frame is an artistic choice, maintaining focus in many instances is a mechanical process. The goal is, generally, to keep things sharp; there's not as often a debate about degrees of sharpness as there may be regarding nuances of framing. (Of course there are creative choices to be made in timing and location of focus, which I addressed in previous post). If the device exists and does the job better and more reliably than a given AC, that's money in the bank. We have always accepted that there are takes with blown focus as part of the filmmaking process (within reason) because AC's are only human. We all know how hard it is to maintain focus on a 290mm screamer--the best you can hope for is "pieces". Imagine if this proposed technology worked well enough that it kept such shots consistently in focus. Any issues that the AC's had with flow or feel or crusty boogers on their screens would be irrelevant as producers, directors, DP's would demand that they use the tool that did the job better on a consistent basis. Again, this is all conjecture but it's not impossible to imagine that we are at a place technologically where this could happen; my cheap point-and-shoot recognizes various faces in the frame and makes a focus choice based on that data. Sydney: I hear you on the high end SLR's autofocus still hunting, but we have seen price and technology breakthroughs all across the board in so many aspects in the past few years, often coming from unexpected places. Regardless of the many things one can say about RED, they did bring a camera to market at a radical price point that the industry claimed would be all but impossible.

My guess is that we will see a rough-and-ready version of touchscreen focus within a few years that will not be good enough for "serious" work but will satisfy the unwashed masses; how long it takes for this technology to mature where it bests the abilities of the top focus pullers, who knows.
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#13 Brian Freesh

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 07:24 PM

Clairmont is currently demo-ing exactly what Charles is talking about. I don't know if you or the others in this discussion are aware these already exist, Charles, or if you're just a genius. Maybe both? Maybe neither?

The thing at Clairmont has a touch screen, a mouse, and a focus knob (IIRC). As far as I'm concerned it is pretty cool, but far too bulky in general, definitely too bulky for steadicam. The sensor box is enormous and sits above the lens. They have it mounted to an 6x6 studio Mattebox, I dunno if that's the only way to do it or not. Come to think, it's probably no worse than having a large light panel on the rig, so maybe Steadicam use is not out of the question. They also have it hard wired, I dunno if it's wireless too.

I think it's branded Moviecam, which makes me wonder why it's not just branded Arri.
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#14 Charles Papert

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 09:17 PM

Didn't know about the Clairmont thing.

In my mind there is a vague parallel to the evolution of non-linear editing. I came up as a tape editor and for years my world was all about crunching timecode; trimming seven frames here, adding three there and calculating split edits etc. I didn't learn any non-linear systems until Final Cut Pro came out and it took me a little while to wrap my head around the fact that I didn't have to deal with the numbers any more, I could simply focus on the footage itself.

In the same way, AC's have always had to devote a lot of their brain to calculating distances and turning the knob accordingly. My conceit is that the future of focus pulling will be more image-based, with the hardware doing the translation into feet and inches (or meters), just as non-linear edit systems do with timecode.
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#15 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 09:45 PM

Great conversation guys. Things are changing. For a long time, I was horrified by a focus puller that wanted a monitor, but these are brave new times. On my current show, "Blue Bloods", my focus puller, Tom Bracone, is doing an amazing job using the set-up pictured here. He tries to set it up in a place where he can keep an eye on the actors as well as the monitor but this does not always happen. Neat set-up. Preston HU3 attached to a gobo head via a Manfrotto clamp. Panasonic HD monitor with BOXX HD wireless receiver attached.

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