TV gets technical – Soap bubbles in HD

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While many TV viewers won’t give it a second thought, technology defines the end product they see on their television screens by determining the quality and the way the story is told. Over the next two pages, Linda Loubser explores the technology used on three South African TV productions – The Wild, Saktyd and Mzansi Love: Kasi Style.

South African pay-TV broadcaster M-Net’s The Wild has been hailed as a groundbreaking soap since its launch in April 2011.

According to executive producer Bobby Heaney from Imani Media, part of what makes the soap unique is the fact that it is shot completely on location on a game farm near Heidelberg in Gauteng.

Another unique aspect is the production’s use of the Canon EOS 5D MkII – originally a stills camera.

“We were the first in South Africa to use 5Ds on a long-form project. Although it caused some problems initially, it has put us a step ahead of our competitors because we are producing high quality, high definition (HD) footage.’

Heaney explains that the initial problem was that the 5D, being a stills camera, doesn’t record audio separately. “We have to sync every single shot and do a full clapperboard routine. The process is longer and more time consuming, but we’re in a good rhythm now.’

Among the advantages of the 5D, according to Heaney, is its ability to get into small spaces. “It’s very mobile,’ he notes.

However, it is also difficult to get handheld and moving shots with a 5D as it can be “quite bouncy’.

“We are looking at switching to other HD cameras with further advantages, but nothing can be confirmed yet,’ says Heaney.

He explains that they shoot mostly with a three camera set-up, using tripods as well as a slide and glide system for moving shots. “It’s very quick and easy to set up,’ notes Heaney.

“We also have a Jimmy Jib that we try to use once or twice every episode, we use Steadicam once or twice a week, and occasionally we shoot handheld as well. We have a lot of movement in the camera work which adds to the quality of the show.
“Much of The Wild is shot outside, so we also use wide and panoramic shots, which makes it more visually interesting.’

According to Heaney they use Canon lenses – 400mm, the normal 50mm lens and down to 17 or 18mm.

The two directors of photography (DOPs) working on The Wild are Leon Kriel and Greg Heimann. “Between them they operate one week on, one week off,’ explains Heaney. “We’ve also got four directors: Alex Yazbek, Krijay Govender, Jonny Barbuzano and Gert van Niekerk.

“We work very hard and meet regularly to make sure we’ve got a uniform look, but each director still brings a slightly individual look to it as well.’

In terms of lighting, most of their indoor scenes are permanently lit to save time, with standby lights bought in as they are needed. “We also recently introduced eye lights. Battery operated lights are placed close to the camera to register as little pin pricks of light in the actor’s eyes, bringing their faces to life,’ says Heaney.
According to DOP Leon Kriel, they use 4K or 6K lights, as well as Kino Flos, which are not too hot on the actors and easy to move around. “We also try to use as much natural light as possible,’ he adds.

The 5Ds, as well as most lighting and sound equipment were bought by M-Net for the production.

Audio

Anthony Naidoo is the head of department for audio on The Wild and Heaney notes that, while they struggled with the audio initially, the quality of the audio now matches the video.

Says Heaney: “For audio we use two booms and some lapel microphones. We’re constantly upgrading and we’re very proud of the picture and audio quality we manage to maintain. We believe it’s even better than in a controlled studio environment, despite having to battle the elements every day.’
According to Heaney it’s not unusual for crew to work in minus temperatures, or to have to work in the blazing sun the whole day, and they often have to battle strong winds as well.

The cameras on location feed into three monitors on a movable trolley for the director to check the footage wherever they are shooting. “We don’t vision mix on the spot, we record everything and then leave it to the four editors for the post-production based at Sasani Studios,’ explains Heaney.

Post-production

Senior post-production supervisor and editor Dale Venediger explains that there is a small post-production set-up on the set of The Wild, where the footage is downloaded and the files are transcoded to a native format they can be edited in.

The footage is also backed-up and the audio and video is synced. “This is then transferred onto transport drives which are couriered to Sasani where it is ingested into the server,’ continues Venediger.

“We edit on Final Cut Pro, and where necessary we use Adobe Photoshop and After Effects for effects,’ he explains.

The Wild has a combined cast and crew of about 140 people working on the production.

Heaney notes: “I am the leader of an excellent team and the success of The Wild is largely due to the exceptional working relationship that the entire team has with each other.

“Cast and crew have to travel an hour to work and an hour back each day. Some crew members have to leave Johannesburg at 5am and then work a very long day. It’s a challenge to try and keep the crew from burning out, but we’ve changed the schedule to working a normal five day week with a full weekend to recover.’

By Linda Loubser

Screen Africa magazine – August 2012

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