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AJA releases desktop software v15.5 for KONA, Io and T-TAP

AJA Video Systems recently released Desktop Software v15.5 for KONA, Io and T-TAP products, featuring additional functionality for both HDR and 8K workflows, plus new performance upgrades enhancing creative freedom and flexibility across Windows, Linux and macOS. New features include Metal support on macOS and full compatibility with macOS Catalina; HDR over SDI via VPID; and HDR Test Patterns for 8K/UHD2/4K/UHD/2K/HD workflows. For the KONA 5 PCIe I/O card, the update also adds full 2SI SMPTE raster support for 8K; RGB support for 8K capture and playback; and 8K to 4K downsample via HDMI.

Desktop Software v15.5 introduces new functionality with NLEs, including deeper HDR integration with Avid Media Composer 2019.11 and native 8K or 4K (downsampled from 8K) playback with Adobe Premiere Pro 2020. The update also adds SMPTE ST 2110-40 monitoring via SDI on AJA Io IP and Avid Artist DNxIP and AJA NMOS support for multiple devices connected to a single host. Additionally, Desktop Software v15.5 increases speed and creative support on Mac workstations – including the new Mac Pro – by featuring full compatibility with macOS Catalina, new Metal support on macOS and other optimisations.

Desktop Software v15.5 highlights include:

  • Full compatibility with macOS Catalina
  • New Metal support on macOS
  • HDR over SDI via VPID 
  • HDR Test Patterns for UHD2/UHD/HD
  • Deeper HDR integration with Avid Media Composer
  • Full 2SI SMPTE raster support for 8K on KONA 5
  • RGB support for 8K capture and playback on KONA 5
  • 8K downsample to 4K via HDMI on KONA 5
  • Native 8K or 8K to 4K downsampled output with Adobe Premiere Pro
  • HDMI input detection improvements
  • New countdown functionality to mark out or end of clip in AJA Control Room
  • New fan controls and fan speed indicator in AJA Control Panel
  • DirectShow updates including addition of support for KONA 5 and KONA IP
  • Support for Windows®, Linux® and macOS® 

AJA is represented by Visual Impact in South Africa.

FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY: How the Rialto Extension System adds even more performance to the Sony Venice 6K RAW

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

In the May issue of Screen Africa we spoke to director of photography Willie Nel about the starring role that the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera played on the set of upcoming feature Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer.

“By the end of a shoot,” he told us, “you know what a camera can or can’t do. With the Venice, there wasn’t an issue in sight. Honestly, it’s like the Swiss army knife of cameras to me, and definitely has set the new standard.”

With the launch of a brand-new, high-end accessory for the camera – known as the Venice Rialto Extension System – we checked in with both Nel and Goran Music (of local distributor Visual Impact) to learn more about how this latest piece of gear adds even more flexibility and performance to the Venice 6K RAW.

HIGH-PROFILE ADMIRERS

The Venice 6K RAW has won its share of fans – both locally and internationally – and it was, in fact, during “detailed discussions and further collaboration with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment” that a prototype of the Extension System was first engineered to meet the production company’s exacting needs (including 3D rigging) as they began shooting the sequels to Avatar, the highest-grossing feature film in history.

First demonstrated at Cine Gear 2018, though refined since then, the Rialto Extension System essentially allows the Venice to be broken into two pieces – so that the image block and lens may be placed in tighter spaces, or else simply positioned further away from the body of the camera.

For Nel, being able to ‘build’ the camera in this manner changes both “the shots you can achieve and the shots you are willing to achieve”; he explains that the system allows you to think differently about camera placement. He describes set-ups where he has been able to put the image block “on the dashboard of a car and still look at the driver” and enthuses about the freedom of movement the Rialto Extension System allows, commenting that he is able to operate the system with the agility of a hand-held camera while still being assured of the ultra-high-quality images that the Venice is known for.

HOW DOES THE RIALTO WORK?

The Rialto Extension System consists of a front panel cover, an image sensor block case, a 9-foot cable and a 9-foot extension cable. The addition of the Extension System, furthermore, adds an HD-SDI output and a 12V or 24V output for powering accessories such as lens servo motors and monitors.

The Rialto system boasts great compatibility, with operators being able to customise the camera for specific scenarios in under three minutes using a single 3mm Allen wrench. The image sensor block weighs just 1.8kg (with PL mount) and 1.4kg (using the native E-mount), and the cable system can extend up to 18 feet (5.49m), offering a highly-configurable, flexible and portable method of operation.

Crucially, the Rialto Extension System enables the Venice to be suitable for many different mounting configurations and filming scenarios, including use with gimbals and handheld stabilisers, underwater and helicopter housings and 3D/VR rigs. Nel points out that this easy compatibility has a significant time-saving benefit on set, as the Rialto Extension System balances quickly and easily with gimbal set-ups, avoiding lengthy breaks and disruptions to the momentum of the shoot.

FIRMWARE UPDATES ADD FUNCTIONALITY

Also recently available from Sony is the free Venice Version 3.0 firmware upgrade.

This further enhances the camera’s capabilities, with the manufacturers incorporating feedback from filmmakers and taking the decision to “protect the customer’s investment by allowing the camera to grow with the user.”

Version 3.0 firmware will add a recording profile within the X-OCN (eXtended tonal range Original Camera Negative) codec. This new profile, called X-OCN XT, captures the highest-quality imagery with the AXS-R7 portable memory recorder. Moreover, for demanding visual effects work and productions requiring the utmost in image quality, the new X-OCN XT profile maintains exceptionally economical file sizes (comparable to Sony’s F55RAW file size), making the workflow affordable and efficient.

Other firmware highlights include new imager modes – including 6K 2.39:1 and 5.7K 16:9 – for greater shooting flexibility, and additional de-squeezed ratios for various anamorphic lenses (x1.25, x1.3, x1.5, x1.8), as specifically requested by filmmakers such as Nel, who enthuse about the “dramatic anamorphic drop-off” the Venice 6K RW naturally provides. The new firmware update also provides for a 6G/12G-SDI switchable output enabling 4K SDI output and wireless remote control via CBK-WA02, for controlling and changing key functions and menu settings with increased flexibility.

For filmmakers, the Rialto extension to the Venice 6K RAW promises the perfect marriage between agility and performance, with the smaller footprint of the camera not compromising its exceptional image quality, nor its range of iconic in-built features like its Dual Base ISO (500/2500) and eight-step mechanical ND filter system.

For Nel, the “amazing sensor” of the Venice 6K RAW is the closest approximation of “what the human eye sees” he has discovered so far – and cinematographers can now combine this peerless performance with a highly adaptable set up that removes constraints and enables greater freedom and creativity on set. “The Rialto Extension is a revolutionary innovation,” concludes Nel. “It has turned the Venice into a brand-new camera for me.”

 

Inside the new all-South African production of the world’s most successful reality TV show, Survivor SA

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Survivor SA is back for a seventh season, as the castaways brave inclement Samoan weather and pit their wits against each other at Tribal Council. Screen Africa chatted to the producers of the show at Afrokaans, as well as the technical services providers at Visual Impact, about what has gone into making this season the “best-ever” instalment to grace South African screens.

“TIME TO REVIVE THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”

Handrie Basson, owner of Afrokaans Film and Television, explains the process of how his production company became involved in the show.

“Essentially, Afrokaans acquired the rights to execute the format of Survivor in South Africa in late-2016. But a lot of our current employees have worked on Survivor before in their individual capacities as freelancers, or worked for the previous production company, Endemol SA. We are true fans of the show, and when it came to light that there was an opportunity for us to purchase the format rights, we went for it. It was a long process, but [we were granted them] and then we pitched the show back to M-Net. We told them we thought it was time to revive the greatest show on earth.”

Basson explains that the first reboot of the show – season six, which was shot in the Philippines – “went very well, and we believe it’s because we’re in a situation where fans are producing the show for other fans. We were very favourably compared with the big international versions of the show – and I think South African audiences really sat up and took notice. From a storytelling point of view, from a visual spectacle perspective, the production values and scale – it was on the back of this success and this momentum that we announced the seventh season. It’s been a journey of passion, and it all stems from the fact that we really love the show.”

TECHNICAL FEAT

Of course, a show with the scope and format of Survivor South Africa provides more than its fair share of technical challenges – and, as Basson explains, due to scheduling concerns, this edition of the show proved particularly demanding.

“You work backwards from the premiere date the broadcaster gives you, asking yourself: When is the window of opportunity for us to shoot? We didn’t have a lot of turnaround time so we needed to find a destination with local expertise. If the country understands Survivor and knows what the show brings to the nation, it is a much faster process. And, with our specific intention to make the show visually different from season six – Samoa fit the bill, but it meant we had to film during a period when the weather in the South Pacific can be very unpredictable.”

Visual Impact’s Stefan Nell, who acted as head of technical and lighting on Survivor Season 7, explains the company’s extensive role in the production: “We supplied all the camera, engineering, control room, lighting, data and post equipment on this year’s Survivor series in Samoa. The only technical departments we did not supply was sound, as that was done by Rian Engelen of Core Media from the USA. We shipped a total of seventeen tons of equipment to Samoa, and – thanks to our shipping supplier, Pioneer Freight – everything arrived and was returned on schedule and in good working condition.”

He provides a comprehensive rundown of the scale of the production: “We used 16 Sony PMW 400 cameras, as well as a variety of other cameras and extras including Go Pros, Sony FS7s, underwater housings, drones and a VR Rig. This was accompanied by a huge selection of Canon HJ series lenses, from HJ11s to HJ40s, and various lenses for the FS7. This year we also had two sets of flyaway kits for vision and engineering control. As we did last season, we used CCU control during all challenges and at Tribal Council, but the main difference this year was that we had a MCR permanently built at tribal council and then a mobile kit for daily challenges. Both systems ran over fibre, enabling us to not only cover large distances but also to provide complete services from camera control to comms. This year, we were also the lighting supplier to Survivor and we made use of our fibre infrastructure to run all lights on DMX with a control desk in the MCR, giving us unprecedented visual control not only on camera but also in terms of lighting – thereby completing the circle for me.”

For Marius van Straaten, who acted as liaison between Afrokaans and Visual Impact during the production, “The most exciting technical aspect of Survivor this year was that we decided to use LED lighting running with DMX control over fibre. The lights we used are the latest and best in lighting technology and the results are evident. We had a mix of ARRI Sky Panels – in all sizes from S120s, S60s and S30s – Digital Sputnik DS6s and DS1s, and then a selection of The Light Velvet LED panels, including 4×1, 2×1 and 1×1 panels that are waterproof.”

Nell shares this enthusiasm over the lighting over the show, saying: “This decision to use what are essentially ‘film LED lights’ saved us on power requirements, as they run way more efficiently than HMI or tungsten equivalents, and also the fact that these lights are RGBW gave us complete colour and white control. One of my favourite comments from our clients was that it did not look like other Survivors, it looked more like a movie, which I took as a huge compliment and justification for using this quality of lighting on a TV show.”

Nell confirms that the biggest challenges on set related to the at times ferocious weather on the ‘Island of Secrets’, sharing the following story from set: “My most intense memory was one night, right after a Tribal Council, a storm hit. It was 1am on my birthday and I was up a cherry picker, wrapping the lights in tarps so that we did not have any more damages. Then the wind picked up and the rain came down so heavily, the picker arm was swaying in the wind and I just managed to get the last tarp on when the safety officer called it unsafe and told me to come down. It’s the start of a birthday I will never forget!”

SURVIVOR’S SECRET SAUCE

Despite these trying conditions, the Visual Impact team displayed the “mental strength and professionalism” required to capture the action on the island – and, as Basson puts it, from the viewer’s perspective, “the weather really becomes a character in this season. From a narrative point of view, I really loved the texture that the weather brought into play.”

Indeed, it is precisely this ‘realness’ – the show’s unscripted, uncontrived and spontaneous nature – that both Basson and series producer Darren Lindsay identify as its true enduring quality: the reason people stay enthusiastic about the show year in and year out.

“With Survivor, what is fantastic about the format is that it is about social relationships,” Lindsay says. “Though the game has its pillars, which provide elements of cause and effect, the rest is completely unprompted. We don’t know how these people are going to react – and because we film them almost 24/7, the experience is exhausting and there is nowhere to hide. Everything you see emerges from the interplay of the social dynamics on the island.”

They give us some insights into the behind-the-scenes steps they take to ensure that what we witness on the island is as authentic as possible.

“Casting is paramount,” according to Basson. “It is the foundation of the success of the format – you have to find the alchemy of different kinds of people and personalities to make the show come alive. Casting is one of our non-negotiables, and we invest lots of effort and resources into the process.”

The result is an interesting combination of hard science – including thorough professional psychological evaluations – and, as Lindsay elaborates, a viewer-centric model with a strong on-camera element to the casting process.

“The entire process went through eight steps. Everything was digital at first, but we did this for the fans – to make sure people really wanted to be on the show. After the entries had been whittled down, the creative and content team would actually do home visits with those people all over the country, to see how relatable and natural they were in conversation. This went hand in hand with a thorough examination to ensure the would-be contestants were both mentally and medically fit. The show puts people in extreme, demanding circumstances. As producers, we have that duty of care to make sure people can withstand it, while still making spontaneous, compelling television.”

Basson and Lindsay go on to describe various tasks the team undertakes in the name of authenticity – such as the “intricate dance of chaperones and travel coordinators to ensure the contestants really do only see each other for the first time on the boats as they approach the island” – and explain that, as fans of the show first and foremost, they feel a “duty” to keep innovating, while staying true to the spirit of the format.

Basson concludes: “In terms of the local production landscape, Survivor is a really expensive TV show. But, comparatively speaking – if you look at the international versions of the show – we don’t have nearly the same budget. And yet our challenge is to be even better than what they have to offer. Our position is firmly that budget isn’t an excuse, and that compels us to be innovative, be passionate and work that much harder to keep raising the bar.”

KEY TECH CREW:

Stefan Nell – Head of Technical and Lighting

Roedolph Louw – Head Engineer

Thomas van Greuning – Engineer

Gift Moloantoa – VR and Junior Engineer

James Macintosh – DIT

Riaan van der Merwe – DIT

Mo Ismael – DIT

Visual Impact invites Mediatech 2019 attendees to short film screening

Through experience and focus Visual Impacta leading provider of digital broadcast solutions – has developed its ability to handle large scale reality TV broadcasts over the last 16 years.

“We have worked on some of the largest reality television series such as I Am a Celebrity, Fear Factor, Survivor, Big Brother, Idols, You Deserve it and The Bachelor to name a few,” said a representative of the company. “To increase our scope on set and our differential advantage we have developed cost-effective fibre solutions allowing us to have connectivity and functionality over several kilometres and – on occasion – have integrated up to 40 cameras.”

Visual Impact’s fly away reality TV systems are renowned for their ability to bring a full-scale studio anywhere a client might need – from city to jungle. Nowhere has this ability been challenged as much as with the recently-completed season of Survivor in Samoa. Working on a remote island with periodic cyclonic storms and 40 km per hour winds challenged both the Visual Impact team and the equipment.

Survivor is the longest-running reality TV show in the world. This challenging show demands a lot from crew and equipment as it is often shot on rugged and remote islands like Samoa and the Philippines. For the first time ever ARRI Skypanel lamps were used on a Survivor series to light Tribal Council and the reality scenes – the team at Visual Impact opted for the versatile Skypanel S120, S60 and S30 lights.

One of the unique and very well developed features of the Skypanel are the built in lighting effects. Explosion, welding, paparazzi and fluorescent flicker are options available over and above the other 17 pre-programmed lighting effects. Explosion is the perfect effect for gun muzzle flashes and explosion effects. Welding mimics the sparks of a high intensity welding source. Process sends light shooting down the surface of a SkyPanel to imitate the effect of a street light passing over a car and finally the fluorescent flicker effect recreates the hum and flutter of a malfunctioning fluorescent bulb. The favourite cop car lighting effect has over five different colour combinations. These user-friendly effects make the lights very versatile and attractive to Directors of Photography.

Visual Impact is at Mediatech Africa 2019, currently taking place at the Ticketpro Dome in Johannesburg until 19 July. The company has put together a short film that shares the experience of using the ARRI Skypanels in Samoa in extremely challenging conditions. The film also features interviews with key players from the series as well as stunning footage of the breathtaking Samoan landscape.

To view the short film head over to the Visual Impact stand (G12) where it will be playing on a repeat loop for the duration of the three-day show.

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