AMIRA live with Multicam mode in China
The hugely popular Chinese TV talent show I AM A SINGER, produced by Hunan Television, recently concluded its fourth season with a grand finale attended by numerous international guest singers. Winners from previous seasons performed onstage, as did 25 of the most influential Chinese pop stars. The production team used 23 AMIRA cameras to film season four and the live broadcast of its finale, utilizing the Multicam mode introduced with SUP 3.0 and enhanced with SUP 4.0, and recording ProRes 422 in Log C. Several members of the technical team behind I AM A SINGER here share their experiences of working on the show.
Why did you start shooting with AMIRA from season three of I AM A SINGER?
Lihong Zhou (technical director, head of production control center): Mainly because of its cinematic look. We preferred AMIRA's large sensor, high resolution and of course its high dynamic range, and hoped that we could bring some exciting new changes to the show with the strengths of AMIRA. After shooting with the camera for two seasons we have gained a lot of valuable experience, which has helped to drive Hunan Television forward.
Liang He (equipment manager, preproduction equipment section chief): We purchased AMIRA cameras mostly for shooting I AM A SINGER, but for our TV channel it's more than that. We could have gone the rental route for just one show, but the more important consideration is that Hunan Television can benefit from the upgraded technology. In the early stages we had divided opinions about making such a big investment in new cameras, but the success of season three was recognized by industry peers, who were very positive about high image quality and high dynamic range in TV production. A year of using AMIRA has made it self-evident that this is the trend for TV; we must have the courage to embrace technological advancement.
It's also worth mentioning that AMIRA is constantly being upgraded and adapted to different production environments. In 2014 we had AMIRA SUP 1.0 and 1.1; last year it evolved through 2.0 and 3.0, and now in 2016 we are moving to 4.0. With the finale of I AM A SINGER season four, AMIRA has fully adapted to shooting reality shows. It's such a versatile camera; we can use it for reality shows, promotional videos or as a studio camera, so it has turned out to be very cost effective.
Shichuan Huang (reality show section camera director): With such a big investment we had to go through a strict evaluation, so we did very thorough testing of cameras on the market. After image comparison and color grading we felt the ARRI images had the best overall quality and a cinematic feel. Our camera operators enjoyed operating the AMIRA; there was a slight increase in weight but everything else felt the same as traditional broadcast cameras, and of course the image quality was much better.
Was the workflow efficient?
Lihong Zhou: When we were shooting season three, AMIRA was a new arrival on our production. We shot Log C and did color grading in post, and overall it was successful but there were some flaws with the integration into our system. With the assistance of ARRI, season four brought great improvements, especially in color calibration, camera settings and shot matching. These might seem trivial, but it matters a lot for live broadcast. By solving a number of technical issues we established a flexible, reliable workflow.
Li Jiang (visual designer): On season three it was only a basic HD signal relay with the AMIRA, but this year we managed to seamlessly integrate AMIRA with our Sokong EFP system, which enabled us to control iris on lenses ranging from cinema zooms to wide-angle HD broadcast lenses and box lenses. It integrated very well into our traditional live TV workflow and so far we have been very satisfied with AMIRA.
Chao Zhang (video engineer): The cameras output signals to Sokong CCU for adjustments of iris, color temperature, gamma and look, and after that they are sent back to the director for live switch and then live broadcast. Last year we relied on the operators for these adjustments, but this year we managed to control iris and exposure with our dedicated technical team. It liberated the operators and greatly simplified the workflow. Using cinema-style cameras for live TV was a big innovation and set an example in the industry; I believe it's worth the effort and it's going to be very fruitful.
Compared with traditional broadcast cameras, what's the difference shooting on AMIRA?
Shichuan Huang: The difference was striking: AMIRA has much better sensitivity and overall image quality, so we didn't have to use a lot of light. With greater tolerance for exposure we can easily balance images in post, allowing us to focus more on creativity.
AMIRA is constantly being upgraded and adapted to different production environments.
Jiabei Peng (camera operator): AMIRA has beautiful color rendition and high sensitivity. The lighting was fairly dim when we were doing dress rehearsals; we had to dial up the ISO as high as 3,200 but it looked totally fine. For a TV show the image quality was a huge step up thanks to AMIRA. In post the footage was very pliable and had greater latitude for manipulation than other cameras, and the new EVF with focus magnify feature made manual focusing a breeze.
Linxuan Zhou (studio 400 crane operator): The Canon 17-120 mm lens has a different field of view on AMIRA than traditional broadcast cameras; I mostly used broadcast lenses with a B4 adapter. The depth of field was shallower so I had to take extra care on nailing focus. The images from AMIRA in Rec 709 mode looked more vivid, with better detail in the highlights and shadows. The camera's menu system was the most intuitive I have ever used. Sometimes when we were following a subject we had to walk backwards and occasionally we would bump into the wall, but AMIRA is so robustly built that we never had any issue.
How and where were the 23 AMIRAs used?
Shichuan Huang: The setup varied but during live broadcast we used seven AMIRAs to follow the singers and another seven with their agents. Apart from that we also had two interview rooms, each with one AMIRA on a dolly track and another in a fixed position. The judges had one AMIRA on them and the others were used in studio 400, or in the audience seating area, or for cutaways.