Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Train (shot & edited on iPhone 4)

August 24, 2011
iPhone 4 | ReelDirector 3.2 | Movie Looks HD | "Security Ballet" from Up in the Air score by Rolfe Kent

Movie Looks HD is available as a free download on the iPhone App Store for a limited time, through September 1st. It lets you add to your videos various filters inspired by a number of Hollywood films and TV shows (not unlike how Instagram lets you add to your photos filters inspired by vintage cameras).

So in the case of Movie Looks HD, a frame from your original video might start out like this:

And if you wanted to give it a CSI sort of look, you'd apply the present called "Crime Scene".

Or, you could use "Neo" to give it the slightly sickly color of the "inside the Matrix" scenes from The Matrix.

An imitation of another popular look is the "Optimus" filter, which provides the tangerine skin tones and teal backgrounds that have, apparently, been all the rage in recent blockbuster films.

Transformers uses this look a great deal, hence the invocation of that venerable Autobot's name. (For an overview of recent uses of this color scheme in Hollywood films, check out this great blog post at Into the Abyss).

I wanted to test this app out, so I took a handful of shots while I was on a NJ Transit train earlier this week. In order to have a go at the "everything done on the phone" experience, I used ReelDirector to edit the shots together, exported the video, and then applied a preset from Movie Looks HD (in this case, I used "Optimus").

I'd never used ReelDirector in earnest before, aside from a light test drive months ago, so editing on the phone was in itself a novel, and at times, challenging, exercise. The screen is a bit too small, and finger-on-screen control a bit too imprecise, for this to feel truly useful to me. I'm sure that were I to have sat down to do this at a computer, I would have been able to finish the edit much faster (or at the very least, gotten to this point in editing much faster...and then perhaps might have spent hours on end doing micro-tweaks and adjustments. This is a fault of mine).

Regarding Movie Looks HD, the software without a doubt does what it says it will do. It does take a long while to render (in my case, 38 minutes for a 1:26 clip), and it can only render while it is the primary app open on the screen. If you pick up a phone call, the render will pause, and then resume when you go back into the app. A little annoying, but really, I've never used a computer that could instantaneously render out video files, so I understand this limitation as a fact of life.

You are, after all, editing and color grading a video on your mobile telephone.

It did an ok job with the color adjustments, similar to what I'd expect from the presets available in the desktop plugin software Magic Bullet Looks, created by the same company, Red Giant. The range of controls available does not compare to the desktop plugin, but hey, once again, it's a phone.

There were two noticeable drawbacks. First, at some point in the workflow, the resolution dropped from High Definition to standard definition. This is probably a result of my own ignorance, though. I tried searching for reports of other people running into this problem, and came up empty. Second, in many of the presets, Movie Looks HD applies a crop to your video clip in order to give it a widescreen look similar to what you might get in a movie theater. Not the end of the world, but if you plan on using Movie Looks HD, you should make sure that your subjects are close to the vertical center of the frame, and have a good amount of headroom.

Though I would not replace my video camera and laptop with an iPhone, I do appreciate its small and inconspicuous form factor, and the ease with which videos can be uploaded. I would not use the iPhone to shoot something that I had planned way in advance, but it would be the tool of choice for grabbing a quick shot on the street, making it look nice, and then sharing it up to the web in a short period of time.