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Brooks Institute Initiates Digital Cinematography Curriculum

Students shoot commercials with Panasonic 24p cameras. (May 26, 2004)

Brooks Institute, a world leader in professional photographic and motion picture education, recently launched a course in Digital Cinematography studies that introduces students to professional shooting conditions with Panasonics 24p AG-DVX100A mini-DV and AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema camcorders.

With award-winning Director of Photography Daniel Pfisterer as instructor, the course curriculum not only gives the students an intensive hands-on experience with the cameras, but also introduces them to professional standards and deadlines as they shoot 30-second commercial spots for actual clients.

Brooks, with a diverse Southern California faculty in Santa Monica and three locations in Santa Barbara, CA, currently enrolls more than 600 students in its film program, with four Degree Programs -- Film & Video Production, Still Photography, Visual Journalism and Visual Communication. The Film & Video Production Degree currently is approved for three majors -- Feature Film, Commercial Film and Visual Effects & Animation. The degree earned at Brooks is a Bachelor of Arts Degree (BA) and is equivalent to a traditional four-year university/college BA.

To support its Digital Cinematography class, instituted by Program Director Glynn Beard during the current school year, Brooks purchased five AG-DVX100As, an AJ-SDX900 and a Panasonic AJ-SD955B DVCPRO50 studio VTR. Instructor Daniel Pfisterer is also the owner of 24pCine, LLC (, a commercial production company based in Santa Monica, CA with a client base includes the BBC, Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel (TLC). He has shot commercials and high-profile documentaries for many international clients, including the United Nations.

?Having shot on Digi Betacam PAL for most of my productions, I was curious how Panasonics new 24p cameras would compare, Pfisterer said. ?Id done many tests with both the DVX100A and the SDX900, and based on the great results, recommended these cameras wholeheartedly to Brooks, where I have been teaching cinematography for a year.

?My tests had actually cross-compared the Panasonic progressive cameras to both 16mm and 35mm film. With this knowledge, I designed a new, upper-division digital cinematography class from the ground up with the goal to shoot a series of 30-second commercials on both the DVX100A and the SDX900, as well as Arriflex film cameras. My objective is to help Brooks dive into digital acquisition and give them an edge over other film programs that cling to a traditional ?celluloid curriculum.

Pfisterer described the progression of his students assignments. ?During the eight-week, high-intensity course, we produced 16 spots with only one-week turnaround time for each spot. Some of the commercials were for actual clients, others were spec spots. Apart from the theory of digital image acquisition, processing and recording, the class was very much a hands-on, immersion experience. I decided to make this an industry class, giving my students the opportunity to get to know important players in the movie capitol. Class meetings were held at Ascent Media, Clairmont Camera, Otto Nemenz and FotoKem.

He continued, ?Every spot had to be shot on both a 24p camera and a film camera. The guidelines were designed to test the cameras under various lighting conditions, including nighttime with high contrast and low light, and high-key daylight scenes with fewer lower contrast ratios. Before shooting, I let the students test the dynamic range or latitude of the camera. We found that the DVX100A can handle 6 stops of underexposure and 2 2/3 stops of overexposure for a stunning total of 8 2/3 stops, a 400:1 ratio of tonal range from darkest black to brightest white) in the 24p mode with cine-Gamma. The other DV cameras we tested could only handle a maximum of 5 stops, a 32:1 range. (Negative stock has a range of 8-10 stops.)

?The first two spots were shot on the DVX100A and 16mm film. The great thing about this small camcorder is that you can literally go out and shoot a short film or documentary, edit in 24p on your Power Book G4 or Power Mac G5 using Final Cut Pro and come back from the shoot with a finished cut. Thanks to the ease of use and simple work flow, each group was able to turn around one spot per week.

Pfisterer added, ?The workflow for shooting on mini DV and DVCPRO50 (SDX900) was the same; we edited on Final Cut Pro on a dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5, and we captured via IEEE 1394 from the AJ-SD955B deck. Ascent Media in Burbank up-rezed our edited 24p spots to D-5 HD using a Wilcox Alchemist Platinum. This allowed us to do tape-to-tape color correction on a DaVinci 2k Spirit system, facilitating some tweaking of exposures, black-levels, contrast, color, saturation, etc.

?I asked Ascent Media to do a film-out of several of the DVX100 and SDX900 spots. The class and I would then compare these film-outs with the spots that originated on film and with the 24p commercials. The spots that were shot on the DVX100 or the SDX900 looked considerably more filmic than anything I had ever seen from any non-progressive cameras, including my own Digital Betacam PAL as well as DVCAM cameras I have used. We screened all of the spots on a high-definition DLP projector with Aarmadillo front-end processing to compare the 24p-originated spots to their film-originated siblings.

?The first impression I had while watching the DVX100 spots projected on a large 40-foot screen was how well the image held up on such a large screen. While this is only a 25Mbps format, it has detail resolution that looks close to that of 16mm film. Spots that were shot on the SDX900, a 50Mbps format, were even more impressive, with rich blacks that held amazing amounts of shadow detail and highlights that did not blow out. At times, the images acquired on the 24p cameras looked so brilliant with rich but natural colors that I caught myself double-checking with the projectionist to make sure we werent in fact looking at a film-originated spot. When switching back to film, the most obvious giveaway was the grain.

Discussing some practical aspects of the coursework, Pfisterer said, ?We discovered some non-technical things when doing our comparisons. Not only were the 24p cameras easier to use than the film camera, performances captured on the 24p camera in several cases seemed more natural. The performers seemed more at ease with the smaller camera. Cumbersome, bulky film cameras can definitely have the effect of making an actor feel uneasy, very aware of the artifice of production. Panasonics 24p cameras are unobtrusive and less intimidating to the student filmmakers as well as to the cast, improving their performances and ultimately helping you make a better movie. Moreover, the film-like images the cameras produce will put students and indie filmmakers at a competitive advantage both at festivals and film markets versus folks shooting with conventional (interlaced) video cameras.

Pfisterer has recommended for Brooks to put a stop on purchasing any more non-24p cameras. Instead, they are considering buying more DVX100As, a second SDX900 and probably a VariCam in the near future. ?Students shopping around for film schools may want to make sure that the school they choose is on the cutting edge of technology. I feel that as more and more films are shot on 24p cameras, why not be ahead of the curve? Give students the tools and training they need to be ready for the real world once they graduate.

The AG-DVX100A offers over 20 new user-requested features, plus all the top-performing functions of its predecessor (AG-DVX100). New features include enhanced 24p and 30p progressive mode functions; improved color reproduction; new cine-like gamma curves and enhanced image adjustments; a slow shutter function for higher sensitivity and dramatic motion effects; smoother zooming and focusing; a new squeeze mode for 16:9 recording; and new auto focus assist and interval recording modes for improved ease and versatility.

Panasonics AJ-SDX900 offers filmmakers the ultimate in acquisition flexibility, expressed in the operator-controllable selection of EFP-quality 4:2:2 sampled DVCPRO50 or classic 4:1:1 sampled DVCPRO recording, with support for native 16:9 wide-screen. The

AJ-SDX900 combines in one camera the ?look and ?feel of electronic film, high-performance 525-line field production, and low-cost NTSC compatible news. It is also the first 50Mbps 4:2:2 sampled standard definition camcorder to offer 24 frames-per-second progressive scan (480/24p) acquisition, in addition to 30 frames-per-second progressive (480/30p) and 60-fields-per-second interlace scan (480/60i) capture.

For more information on Panasonics 24p digital camera line-up, visit

Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and presentation products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, the principal North America subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC), one of the worlds leading producers of electronic and electric products for consumer, business and industrial use.

For more information on Brooks Institute, visit

Daniel Pfisterer can be reached at [email protected].

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Related Keywords:Brooks Institute, Digital Cinematography, Panasonic, AG-DVX100A mini-DV, AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema, Daniel Pfisterer, Glynn Beard, AG-DVX100A, AJ-SDX900, AJ-SD955B, DVCPRO50, 24pCine, Arriflex, Ascent Media, Clairmont Camera, Otto Nemenz, FotoKem, Alchemist Platinum, DaVinci 2k Spirit, VariCam,


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