Category Archives: Kev’s Shed

Video tools, toys and adaptations

A review of the Lishuai LED508AS lighting kit

Lishuai LED508AS
Lighting with the Lishuai LED508AS kit

We’ve seen a gradual move away from tungsten video lighting for a number of years now – and for all sorts of reasons. Firstly there’s the ecological issue about using tungsten lights. Burning a metal filament within a gaseous-free glass chamber is not the most efficient way to generate a light source. Most of the energy in this process is used up in creating heat (as tungsten ignites a such high temperatures), which is not only wasteful but also a really unwelcome guest on any film set if you happen to be sat in front of a tungsten lamp for any length of time. The more lamps you use the greater heat is generated which means you either suffer from the heat or have to use more energy by introducing cooling machinery – which in turn creates other unwanted side effects for the sound guy.

The heat issue also means you are limited to how close you can light your subjects – especially if you are filming subjects which are really not that keen on being heated. For instance, I’m sure there are many forms of wildlife who will act very unnaturally under heat-omitting light sources. I’m sure there are even some who would expire under them.

Apart from the high running costs and heat side-effects, Tungsten bulbs are also very delicate – especially when hot. In this state they can also be very dangerous and tend to explode into thousands of tiny molten glass fragments which is why you should never use them without a safety glass in place.

So with all this going against the tungsten light it’s really surprising that they have lasted this long and are in fact still manufactured today. Whilst various alternative light sources have been with us for some time they have been somewhat lacking in performance and have not been able to deliver the same quality of light offered by tungsten lamps. This has certainly changed in recent years though – especially in relation to LED lighting.

Lishuai LED508AS-KIT
The advances in LED Lighting

The state of LED

LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) have been with us since the early 60s and were originally used for all manner of functions such as appliance indicators and other low-intensity applications. Since then this technology has advanced considerably and spread into all manner of light applications and today can be found in everything from car headlights to video displays. This has also resulted in a number of LED constant lighting solutions for video and photography – of varying quality. Whilst LED is a very efficient way to generate light, the light quality is not always the same from one system to another. Generally speaking, the more you spend on your LED lighting the more advanced it will be and will offer a much more accurate colour rendition.

This colour accuracy is known as a CRI (Colour Rendering Index) value which, according to Wikipedia, is a “quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to reproduce the colours of various objects faithfully”.

I don’t intend to research and write about this any further now but a LED lamp with a CRI value of anything above 85 is considered to be “very good” – whereas “very bad” would be at the other end of the scale down at zero. Whilst there are other contributing factors to the quality of light it’s the CRI value that will be often the quoted measure of quality. In video terms anything below 80 will start to cause colour inconsistencies in things like skin tones – especially when there are other light sources falling on the subject.

Lishuai LED508AS Kit

You can spend many, many hundreds of pounds on a single LED light panel so you’d be right to question exactly what you’d get from a Lishuai LED lighting kit which costs a shade under £500 plus VAT for a 2-panel kit (available from ProActive in Hemel Hempstead, Herts). And it’s not just two LED panels you’re getting for this money – it’s two screw-on diffusers, two heavy duty stands, two mains supply units, two battery chargers, four 4400mAh NPF-style batteries and a couple of bags to carry and store it all in.

Lishuai LED508AS Bag
What comes in the Lishuai LED508AS Kit

You’d be in your right mind to expect something quite sub-standard for this kind of money but Lishuai quote them as having a CRI value of just over 80. It’s not perfect admittedly, but in practice the colour rendition is extremely good when compared to the level of investment. Mores the point, your colour rendition is far more likely to be impacted by external light sources, operator error and the colour inconsistencies within the camera itself rather than an LED that’s churning out a CRI value of 80+.

CRI performance aside, there are far more important features and benefits of the Lishuai LED508AS-KIT that have impressed me so far. Each lighting panel measures around 33cm by 17cm and include 508 LEDs – 254 of which are rated at 3200K and 254 at 5600K. A rotary knob on the rear of the unit allows you to dial in your colour temperature from 3200K to 5600K – and anywhere in between. I’ve found this to be extremely useful in mixed lighting situations where it’s enabled me to make a choice between balancing to either depending on the situation. If there’s predominantly external natural light in a room just turn the colour temperature to 5600K. If there’s some really nice artificial lighting then it’s just as easy to balance to that – without the need to add gels or exclude available lights. I’ve also used them outdoors in bright sunlight to add a little fill to an interviewee’s face who was standing in shadow with a brightly lit building behind them. Because of their cool running temperature I could get the lights within a foot or so of the interviewee’s face – positioning the panels almost touching each other to give me a large light source to compete with the strong sunlit background.

The panels are also dimmable (flicker-free) from 10 to 100% which is a really neat feature when trying to create mood and shape to your subject. Lishuai rate the lights at 8500 Lux at 0.5m (falling to 2500 Lux at 1m) so these are not going to light up an entire theatre by any means. However, I’ve found them perfect for lighting interviews and talking-head pieces and on more than one occasion my subjects have been somewhat startled by their brightness.

Lishuai LED508AS knobs
Lishuai LED508AS Controls

The units can be either mains or battery powered (30.5w) – which is another really useful feature and demonstrates how much more energy efficient LED lighting is over traditional tungsten lighting. Running the lamps at full power – at a mid colour temperature – will give you around 2.5 hours using both batteries. There’s also a really useful battery power indicator in 25% increments so you know how much longer you have left before a recharge or switching to mains. In my mind though, 2.5 hours is plenty – and if you already have other kit running off the NPF battery system (I have a monitor that will) you can always cross-use these.

Lishuai LED508AS batteries
Running the Lishuai LED508AS on supplied batteries

Lishuai LED508AS Conclusion

Of all the features mentioned above the one thing that I instantly fell in love with was the lack of heat. I’ve also got an Ianiro 3-head lighting kit and whilst I still use this for some shoots the heat they generate is a serious negative. A lot of my work is based around talking head interviews which are often filmed in the subject’s place of work with limited space and no air temperature control. Once you have a couple of tungsten lamps running in these conditions it doesn’t take long for the videographer/talent relationship to diminish – which in turn doesn’t do anything for their performance and for my end result.

The only negative I have noticed with the lamps, which is not really a negative at all, is that I left the batteries on the lights at one point and also attached the mains supply. This caused the lights to pulse slightly. Once I’d removed the batteries the pulsing stopped instantly – so if you ever experience this you’ll know what to do.

I’m now into my third shoot using these lights and I’ve already started questioning the logic of packing my old tungsten lights into the car. On the last two occasions they’ve not been out of their case at all – relying solely on the Lishuai kit to illuminate. As there’s always been an additional light source at the location (either a window or an artificial source of some kind) I’ve been able to use this in order to create my 3-point lighting for modelling – and used the light’s variable colour temperature according to the source.

You might have guessed from this article that I’m more than chuffed with the Lishuai kit. It’s exceptional value for money and convinced me that my future lighting investments will be in LED. They are cool – in every sense of the word!

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: More information on the Lishuai LED508AS lighting kit is available from www.proav.co.uk

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Varavon camera slider review

Varavon camera slider

Justifying the purchase of a Varavon camera slider

It’s all too easy to get dragged into buying shiny new toys in this game. The impulse to purchase is often overwhelming so you have to keep your wits about you in order to differentiate between your ‘needs’ and your ‘wants’. But, in a creative industry such as this, there’s often a very wide grey area between wanting something and needing it.

I’ve built up a pretty comprehensive DSLR shooting kit over the past year or so. Whilst there’s a few things in there that are definitely ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’, so far I’ve been pretty much self-contained on every filming commission I’ve come up against. However, there’s been one “grey area” item that’s been missing from my set-up until now – and that’s a camera slider.

I know I’m pretty late to the party on this but on the odd occasion where I believed I really had to have a slider on a shoot I’ve been able to beg, steal or borrow one. Over the last year I’ve had a play with a few different makes and models and been left both hot and cold by the experience. I’m sure some of my less positive experiences with sliders have been due to my inexperience with that particular system but there are definitely good and bad examples out there.

Another thing that I’ve learnt is that sliding, as with every other camera technique, becomes easier the more you do it. I guess I’m really leading up to an attempt to justify my purchase but, if I was going to perfect this technique, I really did “need” to add a slider to my regular kit.

The inspiration to slide

We are all exposed to a constant stream of inspirational examples of video and film production. For a long time now the showcase for works has no longer been limited to just TV and cinema. Video is everywhere – and there are a lot of very talented people creating it. Great techniques and creativity therefore spread quickly and widely around this creative community. Platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube not only help spread these creations around the community but, more importantly, they provide the facility for admirers to pose questions to producers and for them to share how they achieved their masterpiece.

The use of sliders to change the camera’s perspective mid shot is just one of the techniques which have inspired me. Sliders can be used to move the camera closer to the subject too, with or without tracking focus, but the draw for me is the slider’s ability to add temporal parallax to my images. There are some magnificent examples out there and the reason we all love them is that this technique gives us another dimension and depth to our images.

Temporal Parallax

With two eyes set apart we perceive the world around us in 3D. Known as ‘Spatial Parallax’ – this enables us to judge where we are within our surroundings. ‘Temporal Parallax’ enables us to give perspective information to the viewer using the two-dimensional image created by a camera. Instead our two eyes (or two lenses of a 3D camera), temporal parallax is added by a slider by moving the camera along a perpendicular path to the subject and giving the viewer a differing point of view within the same shot.

Adding foreground and background information within the shot adds even more depth information to the viewer. Imagine you are on a train looking out of the window. Anything near the train whizzes past your view whilst items in the distance appear to move by slowly. Your brain takes in this information in an instant, calculating where foreground and background objects are now and where they were a moment ago and from this it interprets depth.

Sliders obviously don’t travel the same distance or speed as a train, but even minor movements can generate the same depth experience for the viewer – especially if you work at including foreground and background information in your framing.

To BVE with a mission

I finally satisfied my slider lust during a visit to BVE London in February. One of my missions there was to look at and price up the current slider options out there and I settled on the Slidecam S 900 from the Varavon range supplied by Proactive in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Varavon Slidecam S 900 with DSLR rig
Varavon Slidecam S 900 with DSLR rig

As I mentioned earlier I have tried out a number of other solutions. I’d long since ruled out the various Igus linear rail systems (or even building a DIY Igus slider) because I didn’t have a lot of faith in the aluminium rail construction. With the rails exposed I couldn’t trust myself not to give it the occasional bash and dent. If you’ve ever used a slider with a dent or protrusion you will know what I mean. Everything is magnified through the lens and even the tiniest imperfection can cause your slide to come to a sudden unplanned stop or cause an unwanted jolt in your slide.

Whilst the main body of the Slidecam S is made from the same lightweight aluminium (total weight of the unit is just 2.56 kg), the roller bearings themselves run along much more durable chrome-coated aluminium shafts. These shafts are also protected from external bumps, damage and dirt as they are located within a recess.

Protected slide shafts on the Varavon Slidecam S 900
Protected slide shafts on the Varavon Slidecam S 900

The carriage itself has a three-roller bearing assembly which gives very smooth and constant slides. Within the kit you also get a neat little oil applicator which clicks into the shaft recess and enables you to lubricate and clean the path at the same time. And because this is a recessed path you don’t need to worry about oiling getting everywhere.

Atop the carriage you have a 3/8” screw thread with for mounting a flat base tripod head. Proactive have put together a bundle consisting of the Slidecam S 900 with an E-Image fluid action EI-717AH head which comes in at £260 plus VAT. However, if you have your own flat-base head, the Slidecam S 900 can be bought on its own for £225 plus VAT.

There are various mounting screw points (both ¼” and 3/8”) on the main body to attach the slider to tripod/s or other threaded mounting solutions. The slider can therefore be used horizontally or vertically – or indeed under-slung if you have the right mounting grip to attach it. The unit also comes with its own screw-on adjustable legs which attach to each end of the slider for table-top or floor use. Each leg unit has two independently adjustable and lockable rubber feet to help stop the unit from slipping when used on a polished surface.

Legs and attaching points
Legs and attaching points

Varavon actually produce a range of sliders for different payloads and applications. This starts with the Slidecam Lite (600mm and 800mm lengths), then the Slidecam S (900mm, 1,200mm and 1,500mm), then the heavy duty Slidecam EX Plus (800mm and 1,000mm) and finally the super-heavy duty Slidecam ENG (only available in 1,000mm). Whilst an 800mm Slidecam Lite would have probably been perfectly adequate for me with its 9kg payload (and lower price tag at £230 plus VAT with head), I felt that the extra width of the ‘S’ version would offer greater stability when my DSLR was fully loaded. The ‘S’ can handle anything up to 19kg so more than I would ever need with my present shooting kit.

It’s also worth noting that Varavon also produce a unique curved slider, the Slidecam Arc 90. Though I’ve not had a play with this I can see where this product might come in handy. But as yet it’s not made it on to either my ‘want’ or ‘need’ list.

Get a-head

I must admit that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to tripod heads being a proud owner of both Vinten and Sachtler sets of sticks. However, I must also admit that with the E-Image EI-717AH Flat based head you get a lot of product for very little money (£55 plus VAT if bought separately). As both my tripod heads have ball-levelling mounts they are unsuitable for use on the slider without an adapter. These adapters are not a great solution as they tend to mount the camera in a much higher position which, in my mind, could make the whole assembly unstable. The additional E-Image head was therefore a very wise investment for me.

The E-Image screws directly on to the slider carriage and can be roughly tightened using the carriage’s Easy-Mount dial. Whilst this is a handy means of quickly attaching the head to the carriage you will definitely want to tighten the head even further. This is achieved by locking the head’s pan position and then screwing it down further to the carriage until it’s firmly fixed.

The head comes with a slide-locking plate for attachment to the camera which allows you to quickly attach and remove the camera whilst on a shoot. Whilst the head’s optimum payload is somewhat less than the slider itself (6kg), it is still well within the weight of my fully-pimped DSLR camera.

The head has a fluid damping drag system to ensure smooth pans and tilts as you slide. It also incorporates a built-in counter balance system to give you increased control of camera moves – and the ability to lock either or both pan and tilt actions. In addition the head also comes with an in-built bubble level and a really handy telescopic pan bar so you can operate the entire set up from some distance.

The E-Image EI-717AH Flat Based Head
The E-Image EI-717AH Flat Based Head

Yes you do get all this for £55 plus VAT so it’s not fair to compare it to the likes of my Vinten and Sachtler. It’s simply not in the same league in terms of performance and price but it is more than adequate for use as a slider head. When I first tested the head it had spent a few cold hours in the boot of my car and was as stiff as a board when trying to pan or tilt with it. Though all tripod heads will perform differently under colder conditions operating the E-Image was a real struggle. Brought indoors and warmed up to room temperature it loosened up nicely.

Varavon camera slider Conclusion

Like most other sliders this combination works best when laden. The head is quite heavy in itself (1kg) so with camera on top you have enough resistance to create wonderfully smooth slides along the entire length.

There are some nice little touches with the Slidecam S which are missing from some of the other options out there. For instance, along the entire length of the slider there’s an inch measure gauge so you can note and repeat the distance of travel within a shot. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much engineering to knock up a means of attaching an adjustable stop of some kind to the slider so you can limit the range of movement more precisely.

The carriage also comes with its own bubble level which is really handy for either ensuring your slider is dead level or even for making it just off level and letting gravity slide the camera downhill. And though it’s never a deal breaker the sliders comes in a neat and robust carry bag.

The thing I like most about this Slidecam S bundle is its robustness. I can be a pretty clumsy oaf at times but I can’t see anything flimsy or susceptible in the construction of either slider or head that would yield under normal use. In this game it’s very hard to come across any product that boasts, “Built to last”, but I think Varavon could quite rightly claim that on this occasion.

I’m sure the Slidecam S will satisfy my needs for some time. However, one of the sliders that I used last year was motorised and I have to admit I really liked that option. Being able to set variable speed to the slide was very handy, especially when you have the slider positioned where you cannot easily move the camera smoothly and to its full extent. Thankfully Varavon have introduced the Motorroid attachment for their straight sliders which I’ve no doubt will be added to my kit bag in the not too distant future.

The Motorroid is available in three kit versions – the L1000 (£295 plus VAT), L1500 (£315 plus VAT) and L2000 (£325 plus VAT). These are all the same unit but vary according to the pulley belt length which is defined by the length of slider it’s to be attached to. The unit comes supplied with AC Adapter and with an optional 12v, 4800mah battery at £45 plus VAT – added to which Varavon are also producing a time-lapse controller called the Timeroid which will be announced soon.

If you are still sitting on the slider fence but really want to add this new dimension to your productions then check out the Varavon camera slider range and get sliding.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: For further details and specifications please visit www.proav.co.uk. You should also check out this Olivia Tech Video on the Motorroid – www.vifocam.com/oliviatech-motorroid-800-special-edition-28-off/

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Edius 6.5 – a serious alternative to the obvious

Video Artisan’s route to Edius 6.5

There’s plenty of choice these days in professional NLEs (nonlinear editing systems) and pretty much all of them will do the job at hand. My guess is that the professional market share today would probably place Adobe Premier at the top of the pile closely followed by Apple’s Final Cut. However, sitting behind these are some amazing NLEs – and in my view none more so than Grass Valley’s Edius.

New Edius 6.5 NLE
The New Edius 6.5 NLE at Video Artisan

It is true to some extent that editing systems are like football teams. Once you pick a team as a child (more often picked for you!) it’s is virtually impossible to switch allegiance later in life. It becomes part of who you are. Whilst NLE-choice doesn’t exactly follow this there is undoubtedly a certain amount of loyalty amongst users and it takes a fair bit of crappy development and bad PR for an NLE manufacturer to lose users to another manufacturer. It does happen – as per Apple and their introduction of FCPX (more on which later) – but once you have your head around the way an NLE works it’s hard to switch.

I guess this is a major part of my reasoning to upgrade my own, ageing Edius 4.6 editing system up to the latest version (Edius Pro 6.52 to be precise) housed in a shiny new and beefy PC. Over the years I’ve grown to love Edius. Whilst my old system didn’t have enough grunt to handle DSLR files natively (I had to convert the MOV files to Canopus HQ files to make them workable), I’ve rarely thrown something at the timeline that Edius has been unable to handle. Whilst other NLEs have caught up with Edius in this respect I still think it’s still hard to beat for its stability, simplicity and source compatibility.

The latest version has built on this reputation and on boot-up carries the legend… “Edius Pro 6.5 – Edit Anything”.

Why Edius 6.5 and not the obvious?

Even with my prejudices it would have been foolish of me not to consider the NLE market leaders. Over the years I’ve had a reasonable insight into all of them – and all have their strengths and weaknesses. But before you get that far one of the first questions for anyone facing this choice is… Mac or PC?

The computer platform has a bearing on your decision even though Premier and Avid (more on which in a moment) are true cross-platform solutions. FCP and Edius on the other hand are platform specific (Mac and PC respectively) but will work on opposing platforms under emulation software (BootCamp on a Mac and Hackintosh on a PC). However, I don’t know anyone who is doing this seriously – so your computer platform choice will narrow your choice either way.

Ruling out any Mac-only option was easy for me. I know this is going to upset a few Mac-heads out there but whilst they make pretty machines that work very well – Apple have demonstrated to me a complete lack of respect and understanding of their professional users. Whereas we all accept that the first editions of any upgrade can be a bit flaky to say the least, the first version of their latest software (FCP-X) was a complete and utter pile of poo and drove many of their users away to other systems. The initial omission of backward compatibility with projects created in previous versions of the software showed that they simply do not understand how this industry works and I doubt they want to understand it either. I think they’re far too involved in the consumer markets of iPhone/Pod/Pad/Tunes to set aside the kind of resources needed to support a professional product. I know that FCP-X has come on since then but that move alone told me that Apple wouldn’t be that interested in me as a user.

Furthermore, I also think that FCP is the least user-friendly of the bunch. If you look at any of the online support forums there’s a huge amount of user questions posted about some of the more basic functions of FCP. On the IOV’s forums there are probably four times as many threads about FCP as there are about any other NLE – despite the fact that it’s not the most widely used system. That either means that the majority of FCP users are either thick or too lazy to read the manual – or the system itself is not intuitive. I strongly believe it’s the latter.

Avid’s main strength is that it’s widely used in the broadcast and film industries. Whilst the entry price is very similar to the others if you opt for an ‘Avid Approved’ system its going to set you back a few bob (more than my budget allowed for). On the plus side, because they were one of the first NLE manufacturers to aggressively market themselves to the education market there’s a massive user-base who have learnt their editing craft at college or university using this NLE.

Though Avid is the system I have least experience with, to me it is still the nearest thing there is to an ‘NLE standard’. Cost of ownership and upgrade paths, and a poorer take up at my end of the market, did leave me feeling that I would be on my own and without the familiar surroundings offered by Edius 6.5.

Premier was a more difficult option to discard as it has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. My first NLE experiences were with the early incarnations of Premier so I know it quite well – and it fitted in budget wise. The entire suite of Adobe tools (PhotoShop, AfterEffect etc) work beautifully together and, to be honest, I’m not ruling out installing then entire Production Suite at some time in the future to run alongside Edius.

I guess you could say the old allegiances played a vital role in my final decision – and they probably did. However, I genuinely think that those allegiances have been formed through years of trusting Edius to do the business for me. Decision made!

Self-build or Specialist-build?

It was then a matter of making the choice between self-build PC or buying a turnkey solution from a specialist NLE builder. I didn’t take long over that decision. Whilst there was a considerable saving to be had in buying the bits and slapping them together I rather like and value the additional peace of mind and support offered though a specialist system builder. There are quite a few good companies out there who build turnkey NLEs but the one that always floats to the top for me is DVC in Hove. They have been around for yonks and have a mighty army of satisfied clients out there – and that doesn’t come about through building shoddy systems that are not suitable for use in a professional edit suite. They are also great listeners. I visited their stand at BVE North to spec up and price a system and was dealt with by Ringo (DVC’s famous super sales guy and technical guru) who listened intently to me talking about the type of productions I was producing, what I was shooting on, other applications I’d be putting the system to and how content would be distributed and stored.

I explained that the majority of my work would be short promotional films that were generally aimed at website distribution but equally likely to be turning out on DVD and/or Blu-ray. I also provide freelance editing services to other production companies and agencies so the system had to be just as comfortable in dealing with longer programme formats and able to ingest material from both analogue and digital sources. My NLE would need enough system storage to handle this without offloading projects to temporary archive. Speed and reliability were major ‘wants’ of mine – all of which had to be provided within my £2.5k budget.

Ringo instantly pointed towards a DVC Ivybridge System – and started adding on all the specifications and accessories that were needed for my requirements into his quote calculator. After a bit of pushing and shoving things around to match my spend, the final machine consisted of an Intel® Core™ i7-3770K Processor 3.5GHz with Hyperthreading (8M Cache, up to 3.90 GHz) running the Windows 7 Pro 64 bit operating system. With 8GB of RAM, 8TB of SATA HD storage and a 128GB SSD system drive – this little beast would eat it’s way through pretty much anything I cared to throw at it – with ease!

DVC helped do a few more tweaks to the standard packages to help the budget work – such as dropping the monitors (I’d use my current ones) and adding a Black Magic Design Intensity Pro card. This would add HDMI, component, composite and SVIDEO in and out to the already included Firewire, USB3, Network and plethora of memory card connections. With Edius at its heart this system really should be able to edit anything.

The Delivery

I opted for delivery rather than collection from their Hove offices mainly because I was being tight fisted. It was cheaper for them to ship it to me rather than drive there to collect – but I can see why some people prefer to collect and get a quick hands-on introduction session from the DVC guys.

With my Edius experience I was pretty sure I wouldn’t struggle too much with the software. But if I had been a complete Edius virgin the free training DVDs that are included with the system would pretty much have had me editing from day one. These films are produced by DVC’s MD, David Clarke (he who knows everything that needs to be known about Edius and NLEs) and take you through all the steps from capture through to delivery in a series of simple to follow tutorials.

I don’t mind confessing that I found even the basic stuff very worthwhile viewing. These include a general tutorial DVD on Edius 6 – plus an update DVD on the new additions and improvements of Edius 6.5. Thoughtfully DVC also installed copies of these on the system itself – with an easy to navigate HTML indexing system so you can quickly and easily study specific functions and processes of Edius.

With all these resources to hand there really is no excuse for not being able to get editing straight away. Nevertheless I’m like every other lazy person out there and often prefer to pick up the phone and ask someone rather than reading the manual (or in this case watching the video). This is where buying from a specialist system builder really pays off as I’ve already solved a couple of simple problems by making a quick call to Ringo. I’ve never been made to feel like I’m a pain, or told to RTFM – and on both occasions his vast knowledge has instantly pointed me to the solution.

Put to task

The system was delivered in a big cardboard box – which was duly ripped open and installed in the edit suite. I have a number of projects about to start and one which is about to go into its post production phase – but before all that I had to transfer over projects that were already under way on the old system so it took a good day to get everything networked and talking to each other nicely.

It was great to know that my old Edius 4.6 projects would work perfectly in 6.5 – with only some minor changes to Xplode transitions which are no longer supported. I’ve also got to re-link some media as I will now be working with DSLR files in the native format rather than the Edius HQ conversions that I needed on the old system. I think that’s a small price to pay though. I’ll also be keeping the old system connected up for a while as there’s bound to be things on there that I’ll be needing later (such as all the fonts I had installed that are not on the new system). And besides, the long term plan for the old system is to keep it networked and working doing transfers, encoding, uploading, archiving and copying. There’s no rest for the decrepit here at Video Artisan!

I guess this story isn’t over yet as I’m about to start putting the new system to proper use – but I have every confidence in it. I’ve also grown to have every confidence in Edius being able to do everything I demand of it – and every confidence in being able to lean on DVC should I hit any problems or need a quick chat.

I’m not sure any NLE user could ever want any more than having total confidence in their system – and I’ve got it. Lucky old me : )

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Video Artisan

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Music Licensing for Corporate Video

Music copyright is a nightmare. It’s an incredibly confusing subject and yet failing to understand it can be potentially ruinous. And it’s not as if we can simply skip around the subject as it’s something that we in the corporate video production industry have to deal with on a daily basis. As rights owners ourselves we also have a vested interest in observing it and insist others observe it too.

Things got a whole lot easier for those in the UK wedding film market (and other private functions) a few years back with the introduction of the MCPS LM and PPL licences – negotiated by and available through the IOV. These clients are almost certainly going to want their favourite commercial music scores dubbed on their wedding film and these licences were devised to address this in a simple and cost effective way. I know that they don’t presently extend to online use as yet (well not officially at the time of publishing this blog), but for the majority of your commissions you can properly licence yourself for a wedding for under a tenner. And so you should!

Corporate Video – a different case

However, for those of us in the corporate video world things are quite different. The only similarity is that quite often our clients will also ask for their favourite commercial track dubbed on their corporate video too. What they have no appreciation of is the complexity and work involved in obtaining all the necessary permissions to do this – and absolutely no clue whatsoever about the fees that they might be facing. With no standard licences available everything has to be by negotiation – often between many individuals and organisations involved in the creation of the music works (music score and lyrics) and the recording itself (the record company and the performing artists).

Even if you do manage to set up communications with the rights owners or their agents most clients simply don’t understand that the rights owners will charge whatever they feel your client can afford. Sometimes they will refuse outright to grant permission if they have any kind of objection (moral or otherwise) to their works being associated with some brands or areas of business. It can often be hard to explain this to them – and even harder to explain the risks involved if they choose to ignore your advice.

Musical Choice for Corporate Video

This leaves the corporate videographer with five choices.

  • Don’t use music at all. A stupid statement really as music plays a vitally important role in telling a story. If you ain’t using music then you ain’t making movies.
  • Be an Ostrich. Don’t worry about copyright, run the risk and use whatever music you and your client likes. Another stupid option and you’d be an idiot to do this – and you’d also expose your client to potential costs too. I have to mention this though as there seems to be plenty of videographers and clients that make this choice and I hope they suffer for it.
  • Commission a score. This is often the best solution and it’s not always as expensive as you might think. You can also hanker to your client’s wishes to some extent by commissioning a piece “in the style of” the commercial music that they might have originally asked for. The real benefit though is that your music score should be perfectly matched to your film – edit for edit.
  • Production Music. This is music specifically produced for use in audio visual productions. It is usually licensed for use according to the medium it is used on (video, audio recording, Internet  broadcast etc.) , the territories in which the end programme is distributed (within a specific country or continent etc.)  the duration of music used (normally in 30-second chunks) and normally the period for which it is licensed (e.g. the licence could be effective for just a year or two). The benefit of this is that there’s a massive catalogue of music at your disposal – many of which you’ll recognise from TV theme tunes and commercials. The drawbacks are that, whilst massively cheaper and easier to licence than commercial music, it can be expensive to use and you’ll often have to re-licence it as the client starts using the video in places it wasn’t originally intended to be used or, quite simply, the licence expires.
  • Copyright-Free (or Royalty-Free) Music. Like Production Music, Copyright-Free music has been produced specifically to be incorporated into audio visual productions. The main difference is (and what makes it my favourite choice) is that once you buy the track or album there is nothing more to pay. You can use the tracks as much as you like, wherever and on what productions you like, and not have to cough up a penny more or fill in forms and keep tabs on licence periods or where your films are being distributed. Simples!

AKM Music – my first choice

There are quite a few copyright-free libraries in the UK but none as widely used and well respected as AKM Music. The quality of some libraries has caused some users to scoff at the idea of using copyright-free but all I can imagine is that these people have never seriously listened to AKM’s offerings. With thousands of individual tracks and nearly 150 albums covering every genre of music I’ve rarely looked to them for an off-the-shelf music score and not found what I’m after. Their production standards and music variety is really second to none.

AKM Music for corporate video and promotional films
AKM Music webite right at your finger tips!

Their music is offered in two delivery forms – either as an instantly available track download from their website or as albums on disk by post. A complete album will cost you less than £40 and there are discounts for bulk purchases as well as show deals and website offers every now and then. The disks can be provided as an Audio CDs or as CDROM – the latter containing WAV files that you can just drag and drop to your timeline without need to re-encode (my personal preference).

AKM Music on disk
Available as Audio CD or CDROM

Making a musical choice

Sometimes I’ve not known what I’m looking for or where to look – but a quick call to AKM Music has narrowed my search to a selection of suitable albums. MD, Anthony McTiffen, really understands what his clients are doing with his music so after a few key questions about pace and style and he’s already lining up a list of suitable auditions. Anyone who has felt at a loss when it comes to choosing a music score for a corporate will understand how much time you can invest in this process. For some producers it’s a nightmare – but Anthony seems to know how to take this pain away.

Of course you could, as I often do, try and keep up with their recent releases. These do seem to come thick and fast at times but you can easily whittle these down to those that are aimed at your particular sphere of work. The wonders of Internet technology means you don’t actually have to buy an album or track before you hear it. The preview facility on their website means you can audition albums prior to purchase – and also search their entire catalogue using key words.

Latest Release – AK142 Aspirations

Maybe it’s only me but they seem to release an album the moment I’m starting to look for a score for my next corporate video. The news of the release for ‘AK142 – Aspirations’ came at the perfect moment for a cut I was doing on a corporate video. In this case the music just had to follow a similar line to previous films commissioned by that particular Blue Chip. Whilst they allow plenty of artistic latitude there are boundaries to follow on style and content and the press release from AKM Music gave out all the right signals.

If I had to describe the album in a nutshell it would be, “light and positive”. The album actually consists of seven different (though of a similar style) music scores with various underscores. Some of the tracks also come with an alternate mix of the original – which I think is always worth listening to as it can conjure up completely different images to the original. However, what I find even more useful are the underscore tracks which can give quieter, less impactful, passages within a film a much greater significance and atmosphere. This album in particular has some fantastic underscores which I will no doubt use in some future production – maybe even on their own without their head score.

AKM Music Aspirations
AKM Music Aspirations – Light and Possitive

If I had to pick some favourites from this album the first would be track 4 – ‘A Welcome Sight’. This score is also varied or underscored on tracks 5, 6 & 7 and reminded me straight away of the massively popular ‘Elbow’. I’ve only been a recent follower of Elbow’s music, having been inspired by their BBC Olympic theme tune, but it’s the kind of music that’s going to be backing visuals for years and years to come.

It’s not the only useful track on the album though. When I listened to track 1 – ‘New England Breeze’ it reminded me of some of the best wedding day films I’d seen online. I know this album is aimed at corporate videos but this track tells a story – and a happy one at that. Whilst it created a wedding scene in my mind I’m sure there are corporate video subjects where this will fit perfectly. ‘Happy at Work’, track 13, is also very unique – with a person whistling in it that really does give one the impression of someone being happy at work. I can imagine the variants of this track also being extremely useful – one having a really techno feel to it and another consisting of just the whistle itself.

I could go on describing the images this album conjures up for me but I guess like any creative element it’s going to create different things to different people. The best thing therefore is for you to go off and audition the track online. Better still – if you are at an event where AKM Music are exhibiting take a few minutes out and listen to the album in its entirety.

Final passage

Music plays such a vital role in what we do. If you just slap on any old tune then your videos are not going to be reaching their full potential. Choosing the right track is never a simple process, but having the right choice (at the right price) at your fingertips makes this process a whole lot easier.

For me, copyright-free music is the most logical and most profitable choice. I also happen to think that it’s the right choice for my clients too as they get a high quality and appropriate music score without all the agro of complex licensing issues of Production Music. It’s also a million miles away from the certain humiliation that can result from having to tell your client that either they can’t afford Queen’s ‘We are the champions’ – or the fact that Queen don’t actually want to associate themselves with the client’s company!

I rarely look much further than AKM Music for my scores these days. I’ve also commissioned Anthony to produce a bespoke score before and he’s delivered the perfect solution on that occasion too. Keep an eye out for their next release – and give them a bell if you really find yourself scratching around for a great music score on your next corporate.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: For more details visit www.akmmusic.co.uk

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