A Hawk with built-in skydiving goggles! (nictitating membrane)

I thought I knew a lot about animals, especially the ones I grew up with. Nope, not even close! Did you know that some hawks, if not all, have built-in goggles? I had no idea! I know that sharks do, to protect their eyes when they pounce on huge chunks of meat and bones. Since raptors, especially hawks and falcons, dive at such high speed, they probably need a little help to protect their eyes, much like skydivers wearing goggles. I have forgotten my goggles a few times during my skydiving days. Yups, it’s not pretty.
Anyway, this video turned out crisp as usual using 20mm pancake f1.7. It’s an amazing lens for a closeup.

Second retirement from skydiving

I sold all my skydiving stuff today, retiring from it for the second time.  It was a good ride, making new friends, flying supersonic canopies and discovering near-film quality shooting/editing.  I will miss the thrill somehow, but the new adventure has begun.  This website will continue, obviously not about skydiving anymore, but to wherever it takes me.  It will be about people mostly, and about their souls, about changes and about the truth.

Open Beauty

There was a scene in the movie “American Beauty,” of a young man, of him showing his girlfriend some footage of an ordinary bag twirling in the air, caught in a whirlpool of wind, never touching the ground. Everything about it was ordinary, yet it was powerfully beautiful. We do not need to travel to exotic locations to appreciate beauty. It is with us everywhere. Like the character in the movie, I just drown in it sometimes.
Take a parachute opening for example. I have seen it thousands of times, and so have millions of other skydivers. I slowed the footage down, and magical thing happened. It reminded of a delicate flower shell in stop motion, shouting to the world, wanting to fly. I utilize whatever is around me, because there is insane amount of beauty, everywhere. I am grateful for being able to capture some of it, forever.

Uprising and inspiration

I shot this skydiving footage about a week ago but it sat in my computer because I just didn’t have any editing inspiration. I am pretty weak at creating music, so I usually “borrow” them from the internet. It’s wrong, but heck, I don’t make any money from it. I know, I know.. that’s what everybody says.
Anyway, after searching high and low, I just could not find a piece that fit this group. I wanted something that was upbeat. Just for the sake of googling, I typed in the key word “uprising,” which is the name of the skydiving team group, and voila! I could not believe it — perfect song called “Uprising” by Muse!
I used Canon T2i for indoor footage with 50mm 1.8, opening up the lens all the way. GH2 was used for the skydiving footage. I experimented with color grading, making outdoor shots warm, matching the indoor shots. In overall, I am pretty satisfied with results. I don’t think I can shoot video and edit for living. I only like it when I am inspired. I dislike the idea of doing something I enjoy because I HAVE to.

720P 60fps slow motion with Panasonic GH2

The concept and the acting was cheesy and silly, but creating this video was 100% pure fun.
I decided to shoot the whole sequence in a 720P 60 fps mode, with the intent of slowing some parts down for true slow motion in the 24 fps edit line. I was a little concerned about the lack of sharpness compared to 1080p, but GH2 holds up very well — much better than T2i.
I inserted “Bill + Kathy” (dropzone and the airplane owners) at 00:13 in After Effects, for a little gag the locals might appreciate. Motion tracking with Mocha worked well, as usual. Photoshopped decal slipped a little during tracking, but you really had to look frame by frame.
I forgot about the 180 shuttle rule at 00:46, shooting it in 1/50 by accident instead of 1/125, resulting in undesirable motion artifact for some indoor shots. Freefall footage, however, shot in 1/200 shuttle speed, looked pretty good in slow motion, with the footage conformed from 60 to 24 fps.
For color grading, Magic Bullet Mojo was used for ground footage. It turned out a little dark, so lightened it a little using Colorista. For skydiving footage, Colorista was used, bringing up the shadows and giving a slight greenish tint. I added a little yellow to the midrange and a bit of red to lightend hilights.
As I use the GH2 more, I really could use for shallow DOF. I need to get a faster lens.  For technical aspect of achieving slow motion, see my other blog.

Twixtored parachute landing shot with Panasonic Lumix GH2

Twixtor is a great tool to slow down the action, but it only works decent if,
1. The background is somewhat unobscured.
2. The motion of the subject is predictable and in somewhat linear motion.
3. If the footage shot on a tripod.
For this footage, I wanted slow down the action just as the skydiver let go of the toggles, but the footage was too dizzy for Twixtor to calculate. I, therefore, had to settle for the part with a cleaner background. It didn’t turn out too bad regardless, but it isn’t exactly what I wanted.

“End of the World” skydive video with Panasonic Lumix GH2

The world will end only after the gospel is reached to all nation, all people groups. The Rapture Day, 5/21/2011, was a dud, as predicted. Only a false prophet would predict something like that.
I planned on using the portable green screen to make some skydivers ‘disappear,’ but it didn’t work out. I did, however, video nine skydivers who were having fun jumping as if there was no tomorrow. GH2 performed nicely, as expected. I got a chance to use the new ND filter for the ground footage. It seems like there is no deterioration of the image like it was with cheap Polaroid filter, even shot at 720p upscaled to 1080p on the timeline, for the ground footage.
I left all settings at -2 other than saturation at 0. It color graded nicely. All I had to do was touch ’em up a bit with Colorista II, balancing lumina and boosting a bit more saturation. I was pretty pleased with the results, especially for freefall stuff.
The second skydiving footage is shakier than usual due to not clipping the left camera wing properly, preventing it from inflating. I had to fly in a really weird boy position to compensate!

Dumbing down GH2 to make it look less video’ish

My latest challenge with GH2 is to make great looking videos that look very close to film, as cheap as possible. That simply means, at the moment, using the standard 14-42mm kit lens that came with the camera and by using whatever light that is available.
Many bloggers talk about the importance of great lenses. Yes, I agree, to a point, especially when it comes to STILL pictures. HD video is dumbed down so much in DSLR’s and micro 4/3 that it’s not going to make a huge difference in video quality. On an average, yes, but when an artist pushes the limit on whatever lens he/she already has, I strongly believe the results can exceed most of the other footage out there with $1000+ lens. Too many people blame the equipment for poor capture and upgrade to the latest and the greatest, fueled by sponsored equipment review bloggers. NO! We should not be caught up in such BS. Sponsored athletes and artists are always biased, because it’s their job!
The footage below was shot with Lumix 14-42mm kit lens, ISO 160, 1/125-1/250, f16-f20. I didn’t want shallow DOF, just to see if I can make it look filmy without any help from it.
Without any color grading, the footage from GH2/14-42mm looks pretty good, but even ‘regular’ people can tell that it looks video’ish. I dumbed down the footage by adding blur and by lifting the shadows. The highlights got blown out a bit during the process, but not too bad. Sometimes less is more.
Again, it’s work in progress. I am constantly experimenting, trying to get best results with whatever I have without falling in the trap of getting the latest and the greatest.
Other lenses will probably give me better filmy look, but what’s the challenge in that? 🙂
Oh.. one more thing. DO NOT use the OIS (optical image stabilization) when video’ing freefall. It works sometimes, but when it doesn’t, the video looks almost awful, as shown the last 1/2 of the footage below. It has something to do with frequency vibration and OIS overcompensating.

Computar 12.5mm for skydiving

I had high hopes for the cheap Computar 12.5mm when I took it up to the sky. The plan was to take a video in its native state (25mm full frame equivalent) and crop it in 2.40:1 cinematic mode during post to get rid of the vignetting.
I knew the lens was not real sharp compare to the kit lens, but it produced very filmy looking footage on previous tests, so I expected it to perform accordingly. When the footage was loaded into FCP, I was pretty disappointed. The image looked somewhat filmy but just didn’t have enough details to make it pop, like it was for last week’s footage. Also, there was a blue light streak/blob in the middle when shooting against the light. This, however, might to due to the bad glass since I bought the used, pulled off some video equipment.
In conclusion, I will not be using this lens for skydiving and use it once in awhile in a very low light situation when I really need f1.2

Finally got to jump the GH2!

As soon as the church service was over, I ran outside to check the sky. I have not been able to get out to the Parachute Center, AKA Lodi, for a couple of months due to weathered out Sundays, my day of ‘rest.’
It was iffy, but I decided to head out anyway because I could not bare waiting any longer.
I have had a Panasonic GH2 for about a month and have been very anxious to jump it to see how it performs on freefall.
It was a good call, driving out. We only got 7500’ on my first jump, but full altitude on the second. The clouds made spectacular background.
GH2 performed well. The built-in stabilization kicked in, smoothing out the video a bit. I still had to use the FCP Smoothcam to make it silky smooth. The resolution is noticeably higher than T2i. The video looked quite sharp even if I had to zoom in a bit during post.
The footage color graded nicely. The kit lens looked crisp during freefall, almost TOO much. I will try the lower quality Computar lens next time to see if I can get more filmy look.
Overall, I am very happy with GH2. It’s much better than T2i for freefall videography. It’s smaller, sharper and has more features for what I do. The two biggest features I find is very useful are,
(1) Being able to look through the viewfinder or in a Liveview mode.
(2) Being able to manual focus quickly by zooming in 10x with one button.
Oh.. this just might be the first freefall footage ever taken with GH2!