One Day in Tallinn

IMGP6263As indicated in my last post, I had the pleasure of traveling to Estonia last week to participate in a social media training course hosted by Eesti People to People funded by the Youth in Action Program of the EU. Fun times.

We had ten countries represented and at least that many languages so it was an incredibly fun, incredibly informative experience. Mid-way through the week-long event we took a day trip from our small host village of Nelijårve to the capital city of Estonia. By sheer chance I was filming my fellow participants on the old Soviet-era train carrying us across the frozen countryside when I accidentally flipped my camera into Cinema mode. Canon users will recognize that Cinema mode drops the camera into 24fps mode and applies one of a selection of video filters which are generally a tacky waste of time. In this case however, the filter that happened Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 10.47.13 AMto be selected was "Dynamic Black and White." I realized that while old, tired Cold War trains look pretty drab in normal video (and not the cool, derelict, rusty iron gate kind of drab), they actually look pretty groovy in black and white. In that moment I decided to spend our day trip in the capital filming my friends roaming the city, stumbling down cobble-stone streets, smoking cigarettes next to old buildings and then use that footage for some kind of avant-garde short film to be screened at the end of the conference. Boo-yah.

After about six hours of this, an idea popped into my head and I have to admit right off the bat, that I shamelessly stole the hook from Hangover 2. The basic concept is a story about a group of tourists who wander into the city of Tallinn and one by one start to disappear. The story is told from the perspective of one of the participants, who is perhaps left alone at the end of the day. The city is anthropomorphized as a living thing that draws in unsuspecting visitors and never lets them go. The crux of the story is the line, "Tallinn has them now" which is what I stole from the Hangover 2's "Bangkok has him now" catchphrase. If I could find some sombre violin music and record a narration track, boom, we got ourselves a short film.

Now the tech details are the fun part of this, although the non-technical might decide to skip this paragraph since it won't make a lot of sense. I did a little digging and found out that in fact the "Dynamic Black and White" mode has one distinct advantage. The AVCHD codec used by the DIGIC IV image processor encodes the video signal at 24MB/s using a 4:1:1 color space. this means that the image processor bundles together groupings of four pixels and averages the Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 10.51.08 AMcolors and the brightness of that bundle and encodes those values to the file, saving 75% of the space that encoding the same data for each individual pixel would use. When using "Dynamic Black and White" mode, however, the camera knows it is discarding the color information so it "takes over" the unused data and records only brightness data (technically luminance) at twice the resolution of color recordings. The second advantage of shooting in this manner is that when I dump the files into Adobe Premiere an start editing, I can edit the files natively rather than having the computer desaturate and grade each clip in post. Since my goal was to finish the video and render a final version as soon as possible, this cut the render time down and got me in under my deadline.

This was, however, the first time I had worked with files recorded in CINEMA mode and despite the user manual saying that they are recorded in 24 frames progressive, the files are actually encoded at 29.97 interlaced(upper field) so using a 24p sequence present from a camera like the XA10 will result in a choppy final video. The key is to edit in 29.97 interlaced and render in 24 progressive using a codec that you trust (I use H.264 every time). In the end you get the proper 24 frames per second film-look that you were promised in the beginning. You just have to know how to get there.

Finally, as a note to all the Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 10.53.47 AMnon-Papua New Guinea-affilliated viewers, the language I use to record the narration is Melanesian Tok Pisin. It is a trade language spoken by the roughly 4 million residents of the island of New Guinea and is categorized as an English Pidgin. The country of Papua New Guinea has over 850 distinct indigenous languages and Tok Pisin (literally translated "the bird language") facilitates communication and commerce between the island's inhabitants. And yes, I do encourage native speakers to call me out on the translation.

So with all that being said, I hereby present "One Day in Tallinn," filmed in the streets of Tallinn, Estonia. Enjoy.