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Diving into Jonathan Bird's Blue World with the DeckLink Studio

Jonathan Bird's world is not just blue; it is also expansive. From the coral reefs of Bonaire to Bird's in-house studio, a lot happens between scuba diving to capture footage and broadcasting to public television.

Bird travels all over the world to shoot Jonathan Bird's Blue World. In the process of filming the underwater adventure series, he has met a cast of characters-from hammerhead sharks to manta rays-that most broadcasters would never dream of approaching. Bird has also made a host of explorative discoveries-including the airplane graveyard on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean-sure to fascinate both five and 75-year-olds alike. The dives are undoubtedly the most interesting part of Bird's job, but his work does not end there.

 

Bird doubles as both host and director of Jonathan Bird's Blue World. Although he only has to walk a few steps from his bedroom to get to his workshop, he will not take all the credit for the Emmy award-winning series. He has a small, talented team of freelancers and interns and a toolbox of reliable gear-including Blackmagic Design's DeckLink Studio-to thank for seeing the underwater adventure program through to its third season.


Jonathan Bird shooting above water at Selingan Island, Malaysia. (Julia Cichowski)

Bird might have never known his true calling lay in the ocean had he not taken a scuba diving course as a required part of his college curriculum. Though he still questions what a degree in electrical engineering has to do with phys ed, he has no regrets. Diving quickly turned into a hobby that he paired with a longtime love for photography, and soon enough, Bird began working as an underwater videographer. 


Jonathan Bird filming a Lemon shark in the northern Bahamas. (Mark Tarczynski)

When he first started out in the early 90s, Bird spent much of his time in schools teaching kids about the ocean. He knew his message would resonate much better with a visual aid to distribute, so he taught himself video production. At the time, he did not see anyone doing decent underwater video in New England. Bird quickly became known as the exception.


A free-diver gives scale to a Sperm whale off the coast of Dominica, West Indies. (Jonathan Bird)

As part of a pilot project, he taught marine biology by video for the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications (MCET). This gig introduced him to many video production professionals, and soon enough, he was co-producing his first full-length documentary with Art Cohen, a broadcast journalist, producer and writer who has been in the industry for over thirty years. Sharks...The Real Story aired in 1997 and propelled Bird to make the jump into television.


A Tiger shark in the northern Bahamas. (Jonathan Bird)

He shopped his idea around for a family show about the underwater world, and decided to post episodes to the Internet in 2007 after failing to get a bite! His timing could not have been better. Jonathan Bird's Blue World was named one of the top 10 web shows to watch during the Writers' Strike by PCMag.com, and a public television distributor called Bird to see how much material he had for a first season.

Though he also works as a photographer, speaker, author and president of the non-profit Oceanic Research Group, Bird still finds himself learning more about his first love, underwater videography. He explains, "It's a tricky specialty.  Natural light underwater is extremely blue-there are hardly any red wavelengths in it-so you need to light scenes properly to get a good looking shot. The key is getting it right on camera, because there are some things you just can't fix in post."


Jonathan Bird filming underwater in the Galapagos, Ecuador. (Jukka Sorvisto)

Lucky for Bird, he has custom lenses from Fathom Imaging mounted on exceptionally reliable underwater housings from Ikelite, and ultra-bright underwater LED lights to help capture the best shots possible, along with tripods from Sachtler, which he and his team have used all over the world. He also shoots on a variety of HDV cameras, including Sony's FX7, HVR-A1U and Canon's XH A1.

Post production begins with a Sony HDV deck for capture. After he does voiceover, Bird edits the entire show in Final Cut Pro on a Mac Pro. And at the very center of his editing system is Blackmagic Design's DeckLink Studio, which Bird relies on for everything from real-time HD monitoring to broadcast-quality tape output.

When he first purchased the DeckLink Studio-after many comically disastrous experiences with other manufacturers' gear-he was skeptical. Could he rely on an SD/HD broadcast video card that cost hundreds of dollars less than comparable solutions? The Blackmagic Design product won him over quickly, and now Bird trusts it with essentially everything, from editing all the way to delivering masters to the distributor.


Host and Producer Jonathan Bird coming out of the water, Bahamas. (Bob Evans)

He recalls his first experience with the DeckLink Studio: "I popped the card into my Mac, hooked it up to a 42-inch Samsung monitor and it blew my mind, simply because it worked!" Bird was able to view footage in 1080p in real time as he edited, knowing that the HD quality he was looking at would be what the audience would see in the final product.

Another feature of the DeckLink Studio Bird enjoys is the super high quality real-time down-conversion.  To Bird, who was thoroughly unimpressed by past experiences with other equipment and software, "Everything looks exceedingly clean, like you shot in really good SD."

Though the DeckLink Studio proved its value to Bird early on, his ROI tripled when he was tasked with putting two seasons of Jonathan Bird's Blue World out to tape for an international distributor.  The first season of the show had been shot in SD, and the second season in HD, and he was responsible for delivering 12 tapes-half in HD and half in SD-to the distributor.

He rented a Digital Betacam Deck for SD and an HDCAM Deck for HD, and was expecting the absolute worst. Having dealt with his fair share of frustration in the past, Bird was pleasantly surprised that the DeckLink Studio helped him pull it off without a single glitch. He happily explained, "Along with just SDI and a RS-422 cable, I put 12 half-hour episodes out to tape in one afternoon."

Though he does not hesitate to say that the DeckLink Studio is the greatest piece of video gear he's ever owned for the price, Bird still finds it hard to believe that he produces a show that airs nationally on television and internationally online from the comfort of his own home.  "I consider myself very lucky; I get fan mail from all over the world for doing something that I love. There isn't a lot of programming that's safe for the whole family anymore, and the fact that Jonathan Bird's Blue World is 'surreptitiously educational' is an added bonus," he says.

He is still searching for funding to air Season 3 of Jonathan Bird's Blue World, but Bird is intent on continuing to explore the subjects and areas that interest him, and make sure viewers take something away from each adventure. He says, "I don't need a big facility, or cost prohibitive equipment to do something I get a kick out of." And in regards to securing support, something tells us that-come kelp or high water-he will find a way to keep delivering Jonathan Bird's Blue World to the masses.


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Related Keywords:Jonathan Bird, blackmagic, DeckLink Studio, Jonathan Bird's Blue World, Sony FX7, sony HVR-A1U, Canon XH A1, video editing, post production, videography, Fathom Imaging, HDCAM Deck

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