Tag Archives: Ninja

On Set: “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, Dora Madison Burge, and Cody Linley

Setting up a shot on the set of "Champion."
Yours truly setting up a shot on the set of “Champion.”

As some of you may already know, I started working on a new feature film called “Champion,” as Dir. of Photography/Cinematographer. It stars Dora Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights), Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), and… wait for it… Lance Henriksen (every awesome movie, ever). I’ll cut to the chase: I’m approaching 40, and had no idea who Dora or Cody were before they signed up for this film (but it turns out they’re awesome).  But Lance Henriksen?! How effing sweet is it that I get to have one of my all-time favorite actors in front of my lens? I never would have thought I’d get this opportunity. Strap in, because I’m going to gush about this for a while.

Bring me the hat of Lance Henriksen
Let’s start the bad-assery here: Me wearing Lance’s hat. Well… his prop hat. It counts.

Like many people who are about my age, I first saw Lance in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and again in “Aliens” in 1986, as the android synthetic human called Bishop. We all know how bad-ass the knife scene in that film was, and so far, everyone on set has been able to keep their cool and not ask him to do it. No-one wants to be “that guy.” He really did do it, BTW, and he said that Bill Paxton didn’t know about it beforehand; Paxton’s surprised expression while Lance was stabbing the knife between his fingers was authentic.

Since “Aliens,” Lance has been one of my favorites. His roles are always just so cool. But what I really love about working with him is the fact that Lance Henriksen the man is simply a dream to work with. He’s incredibly nice, laid-back, professional, and his experience really adds to the production. All of us on the crew of “Champion” will be better filmmakers after working with him. During breaks on set, Lance can often be found “holding court” as the crew gathers around him to hear his stories.

AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of "Champion".
AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of “Champion”.

Now, on to the tech: We’re shooting “Champion” on two Panasonic AF100 cameras capturing footage to Atomos Samurai recorders. Day One was a test of our patience, however, when one of our Samurais kept spontaneously turning itself off. After a firmware update failed to fix the problem, it was determined by the Atomos LA office that it was a faulty unit. They overnighted a new one to us the next day. I call that some pretty sweet customer service. Since then, both units have been flawless. Using the Samurai in the field is a dream. I wish they had brighter screens, though.

Both of our Samurais are running AtomOS 3, which adds some awesome and much-needed features to the unit, including peaking, zebras, false color, and the ability to not only mark clip ins and outs during playback, but also export XML so you can then open your rough cut in Final Cut Pro. Talk about a time saver: you can do your rough edit in the car on the way back from the set! I still wish the screen on the Samurai was brighter, but I can live with it, since I’m using my Cineroid most of the time anyway.

Since our MacBook Pros do not have eSATA ports, one piece of new technology that has made life easier on set is the new LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA hub, which makes things flow much faster and allows us to save a lot of money in the storage budget. Footage can be backed up on multiple eSATA drives by our dailies editor without wasting any time. Before, we had to use USB 2.0 or FireWire docks, which was excruciating, considering we’re shooting about 100GB of ProRes footage per day. Yay for Thunderbolt. I just wish the Thunderbolt architecture would mature faster with third party suppliers. There aren’t many Thunderbolt products out there, which really confuses me, considering how fast it is.

New Announcements from Atomos at NAB Show 2012

I had the chance to interview Atomos CEO Jeromy Young at NAB, and he told us some very cool news about some upcoming products and updates, including the new Ninja 2 and the AtomOS 3.0 update, which will be released on April 30, free for Ninja 2 and Samurai users. Original Ninja customers will not be able to apply the upgrade (I’m betting due to hardware limitations), but Jeromy says that an economical upgrade path will be provided for original Ninja customers. Check out the video below!

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Atomos Samurai Review: Unboxing

Atomos Samurai Shipping Box
Unboxing the Atomos Samurai

My Atomos Samurai arrived yesterday, and after trekking to AllTex Electronics to pick up an SSD drive, I finally had a chance to try out the little recorder that I’ve had my eye on since I first saw it behind glass at NAB in 2010. The only SSD that AllTex had in stock that was fast enough, and not insanely expensive, was the 90GB Corsair Force SATA 3. It was not on the Atomos approved list of drives, but I figured with a peak write rate of around 500MB/sec it was plenty fast to record ProRes422 (HQ), which puts data down at around 220MB/sec, give-or-take. It was strange, though, that there was absolutely no information in the Corsair tech specs at the store about the drive’s sustained write rate. I decided to take a gamble on it, and sure enough, it seems to work just fine. After recording a single fifty-five-minute take in ProRes422 (HQ), I didn’t get a single glitch from the drive.

Atomos Samurai Case and Contents
Samurai case contents (clockwise from top-left): Samurai recorder; regional power plug adapters; SSD caddies (2); SSD Dock; Dual Battery Charger; Batteries (2)

First Impression:
If I had to choose one word to summarize my unboxing experience of the Atomos Samurai, it would be, “impressive.” The unit comes in its own custom hard case, similar to a Pelican, with custom foam inserts and an included shoulder strap. In this case is everything you need to get started using your Samurai, including the recorder, SSD dock, batteries (2), charger, USB cable, USB bus power cable for the dock, and a FW800 cable. An especially-appreciated inclusion were two (2) BNC to Mini BNC adapter cables for your camera’s SDI feed, so that’s one less thing you would have to order separately, as you would with other recorders on the market. In fact, the ONLY two things you have to supply separately of what is in the Samurai’s case is the SDI cable that leads from your camera, and the hard drives to record to.

Atomos Samurai Field Recorder
Detail of the Atomos Samurai unit
Atomos Samurai I/O ports
Atomos Samurai I/O (from left): HD/SDI in/out (record loop-thru/Playback); LANC Control; Stereo in/out/headphone

Immediately after opening the case, it was obvious how nice the build quality is. The Samurai unit and the dock are both very well put-together, and I immediately fell in love with the fact that the dock is bus-powered; you don’t have to plug it into shore power, and this is so incredibly handy for field work. I was also impressed with how well the SSD fit snugly into the drive caddy. Tolerances through the system seem to be engineered very precisely; seams are nice and even, components fit together tightly, and the drive caddy fits into the Samurai with a nice snug click that inspires confidence.

Atomos Samurai Included Accessories
(clockwise from left) USB cable; power adapter for battery charger; regional power plug adapters; SDI-MiniSDI adapter cables
Atomos Samurai Included Cables
FireWire 800 cable (upper left) and USB power cable

There were some other features about the package that I thought were just plain cool right out of the gate. The battery charger not only has two slots for batteries, but it also charges those two batteries simultaneously, which most dual chargers do not do. Also, Atomos has included four different standards of plug adapters for the charger, so if you’re traveling, you don’t have to worry about powering your Samurai… Just the rest of your gear, which likely did not include this amenity at time of purchase. Yet another nice touch.

I didn’t think I was going to have anything to shoot that first night after getting the Samurai, but as luck would have it, my friend, comedian Jay Whitecotton called, and had something to shoot. We’re working on a documentary together, and it turned out that night was opportune to shoot something. I recorded a single take that was fifty-five minutes long in Apple ProRes422 (HQ). The file size was about 60GB. At the end of the night, the power meter on the Samurai showed that I had used less than 1/4 of one battery. Good power consumption? Check.

Next: Using the Samurai

Panasonic AF100 Recording Options (Atomos, AJA and the like)

The more I use my AJA Ki Pro Mini, the more annoyed I get with it. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, or even anything poorly, but its workflow requires a little too much effort for my tastes.

For instance, I really wish it recorded to SSD instead of Compact Flash. I would be happy with one SSD port. But, the thing that really bothers me is how it is so easy to lose recorded clips if you lose power to the unit or if the CF card gets pulled before it has been unmounted. Essentially, the cards mount just like a Mac volume, and if they get yanked without first unmounting them by hitting the SLOT button, then you will assuredly lose at least the last two or three clips that were written to the card. This means that you have to unmount and remount the card after every take if you want to make sure you never lose a file. Too much trouble on a busy set. Plus, someone will inevitably pull power to the unit on occasion, which also really hoses it up.

I think I’m going to order an Atomos Samurai when they start shipping this summer. I glanced at it and talked to the dev team at NAB earlier this year, and the little box shows great promise indeed. I can’t wait to get my hands on one. Has anyone used the Atomos Ninja with an AF100 with good results? How do you handle recording 24p thru the HDMI port? Do you have to do a pulldown in post, and if so, do you see motion jutter? Please let me know, and if you can, send a link to some clips. I wonder if the Ninja would be a good substitute until the Samurai comes out.