(SECAUCUS, New Jersey--October 15, 2008) More than 20 years after it went off the air, The Electric Company, the popular seventies show for kids eager to polish their reading skills, is coming back. The 2009 version of the literacy series, which recently initiated production in New York City, is being shot with Panasonic P2 HD cameras.
The primary cameras are AJ-HPX3000 native 1080p one-piece P2 HD camcorders, with AG-HPX500 shoulder-mount camcorders utilized for slow-motion effects. The weekly series, with 35 new 30-minute episodes targeted to the six to nine-year-old set, will debut next January on PBS KIDS. The new The Electric Company, which the New York Times describes as “refitted for the age of hip-hop….a more danceable version of its former self,” is a production of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street. Bill Berner is Director of Photography with Digital Imaging Technician Dave Satin.
The updated The Electric Company is a not-so-secret society with headquarters “somewhere in the big city” in a natural food diner. The four semi-superheroes who meet there have pledged to use their powers for good and can scramble, recall, project and animate words in astounding ways. In keeping with the original show’s ties to theater, the show’s Executive Producer Karen Fowler tapped three people involved in the Broadway rap-salsa-pop musical “In the Heights” (recent winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical) to helm the music for the series, and chose Tony and Academy award nominated playwright and lyricist, Willie Reale, to be head writer.
DP Berner explained that the proof of concept for the new series was shot with Panasonic’s HVX200. “The producers admire that camera, but when it came to shooting the series we wanted to up the ante photographically, with 1920x1080 4:2:2 acquisition and reduced depth of field. In short, we wanted the highest quality, most cinematic images we could possibly afford.”
“The experience with the HVX200 had solidified a commitment to a tapeless workflow and influenced us to use another P2 HD camera,” the DP continued. “The HPX3000, with its spectacular pictures, 1920x1080 sensor, 10 bit AVC-Intra codec, 14-bit DSP and compatibility with cine-style lenses made it an obvious and ideal choice.”
Berner was sold on the HPX3000 to the extent that he purchased one for himself, which he rents to the production. The second HPX3000 and HPX500s are rented from Liman Video Rental Co. (New York, NY).
The Electric Company is highly mobile, with roughly two-thirds of production being shot on location in and around Manhattan, with backdrops ranging from Harlem’s Jackie Robinson Park to sidewalks, rooftops and community gardens to a corner of Staten Island standing in for a Caribbean island. There is a small standing set located in Newark. Each episode features an 11 minute narrative, with songs, sketches and other inserts furthering the story line and enhancing it’s curricular goals.
“With extensive exteriors and limited auxiliary lighting, we need the best possible exposure, latitude and dynamic range,” Berner said. “Even in bright, uncontrolled natural light, we’re able to pull the widest possible exposure range, utilizing the camera’s Dynamic Range Stretching (the HPX3000’s DRS function varies the gamma correction to match the contrast within the image).”
“I have measured the dynamic range of the HPX3000 out of the box at something over nine stops,” DIT Satin noted. “With cine-gamma and DRS, I routinely can tune well over 10 stops of dynamic range, depending on the gamma settings that I use.”
“The DP conservatively rates the sensitivity of the HPX3000 at 24fps with 0dB gain and a 180 degree shutter at ISO 320, and I am able to modify that without introducing objectionable artifacts into the picture,” Satin said. “My matrix and color correction settings yield a very saturated, punchy state-of-the-art look that the producers absolutely love!”
“The HPX3000 provides a beautiful, filmic look to The Electric Company. The camera has excellent dynamic range, S/N and colorimetry,” he continued. “The producers require several different signature looks for different recurring segments of the show, and I am able to deliver these looks with great ease and speed. The post production department has reacted enthusiastically about the quality of the pictures.”
Berner is shooting The Electric Company in AVC-Intra 100 1080/24pN. The HPX3000s are outfitted with Canon Cine Style 21X 7.5 and Fuji Cine Style 4.7 X 13 lenses, Heden Zoom motors, Micro Force Zoom controllers, and Chroziel Follow Focus and Matte Boxes. The DIT has two BarTech BFD/M1 Motor rigs that he uses to control the HPX3000s’ iris settings wirelessly, and uses Panasonic AJ-RC10-G Remote Control Units to control the cameras.
On location, the A camera is mounted either on a tripod, jib, Steadicam or dolly, and the B camera is mounted on a tripod, dolly, or used handheld. The cameras are attached to the DIT cart with video/audio/control cable harnesses that are 50 meters long. (Satin is experimenting with some cable drivers to extend that distance to 100 meters.)
All signals arrive at the back of the DIT cart and are distributed to various on-set monitors. Satin takes a mono audio feed and timecode from the audio cart that is distributed to the cameras. He feeds HD-SDI of each camera to the audio cart to two 8” HD-SDI monitors.
The production’s video village comprises a cart with two Panasonic BT-LH1700W LCD monitors for the producer’s use. The Hamlet, a rolling stand, holds two Panasonic BT-BT-8400 monitors for the director’s on-set use.
DIT Satin characterizes the production as “very mobile: it is not uncommon to have one main location with three mini moves per day.” In terms of on-location workflow, each HPX3000s is equipped with two 32GB and one 16GB P2 cards.
“We treat the cards like videotape rolls,” Satin explained. “The cards are numbered sequentially, as they would be on any long-form project. I back up the cards on two G-RAID drives set up as RAID 0 Stripes.I copy the files using the DUO PCMCIA adaptor plugged into my dual 2.6 Ghz Macbook Pro’s CardBuss slot, and the G-RAID is connected via FireWire 800. I routinely get transfer speeds of over 280 Mbs/Second, which means a 32GB card is backed up in 18 minutes.
Satin continued, “I use Panasonic CMS software to verify that the contents of the days G-raid drive and the P2 card contents are identical, and then I make a second backup onto another FireWire drive for safety. The G-RAID shuttle drives are delivered to post and I hold the backup drives and the P2 cards until the assistant editor informs me via a text message that all of the material has been safely ingested onto the SAN and the AVC intra-100 files have been transcoded into Pro-res 422 files by Final Cut Pro, and that it is safe to re-format the cards.”
The Electric Company is being edited in Final Cut Pro in Apple’s ProRes 422 Codec at 23.98 fps. The deliverable to PBS is 1080i/59.94 videotape. PBS will air the series in both HD and SD.
“PBS is handling its own downconversion, and the SD version will be letterboxed,” said DP Berner. “That’s great for us, as we only have to frame for one format, and a lot of our framing only works in 16:9.”
“The HPX3000s are producing stunning images and performing flawlessly,” Berner said.
“You can’t help but love the HPX3000,” DIT Satin added. “The images are really great, and I’ve yet to meet an experienced DIT or DP who didn’t just love the pictures the camera makes.”
About the AJ-HPX3000
With three 2/3” high-density 2.2-megapixel CCDs, the HPX3000 captures cinema-quality images in full-raster 1920 x 1080 resolution with 4:2:2 10-bit sampling, utilizing the powerful, new AVC-Intra codec. The HPX3000 offers intuitive film camera-like operation with advanced gamma settings, including Film-Rec mode (made popular by the VariCam). Designed for episodic television, filmmaking and commercial production where mastering quality is essential, the HPX3000 records in industry-standard DVCPRO HD at 1080 in 24p, 25p, 30p, 50i and 60i, and in AVC-Intra. AVC-Intra, the industry’s most advanced compression technology, provides high-quality 10-bit intra-frame encoding utilizing the Hi-10 and Hi-422 profiles of H.264 in two modes: AVC-Intra 100 for full-raster mastering video quality and AVC-Intra 50 Mbps for DVCPRO HD quality at half the bit rate, thereby doubling the record time on a P2 card. For added flexibility, the HPX3000 can also produce standard definition recordings in DVCPRO50, and is 60/50-Hz switchable for worldwide use. For more information on the HPX3000, visit www.panasonic.com/broadcast
About Panasonic Broadcast
Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast and professional video products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company is the North American headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC) of Japan, and the hub of its U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations. For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, access the company’s web site at www.panasonic.com/broadcast