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Thu 23 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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EDA attempts experimental documentary production

As the quality of digital products goes up, more professionals are beginning to experiment with consumer products to get the best value for their money. Giorgio Ungania, audio designer at Dubai Media Inc and a member of the Emirates Diving Institution (EDA), recently went on an environmental trip to Malaysia and produced a documentary in the most innovative way. Ungania shares the details of the production exclusively with Digital Studio.

I|~|gio2.jpg|~|The EDA team members brought along their DV cams to help collect footage for the documentary. |~|As a member of the Emirates Diving Institution (EDA), I was asked by a long-time friend, Ibrahim al Zu’bi, EDA’s director of Environment & Research, to go on a trip to Malaysia with 19 other EDA members and produce a documentary about the mission.

The biggest challenge was time. According to the schedule, the documentary had to be ready a week after our return to Dubai. As the documentary would have to be transferred to 35mm at a later stage, the temptation to go with HD was irresistible. And as the deadline was so close, we had to come up with solutions to minimise the post-production time. For one, we were just a two-person crew in production. Natascia Radice, a London-based director joined me for the shoot. As this was a non-profit project, there was no budget to hire a cameraman or other crew members so we had to rely completely on ourselves and on the other divers.

Fortunately, we had experienced underwater videographers on board. This meant that we could focus on out-of-water shooting while leaving the underwater footage to the experts. Living in a truly digital age, we also knew that pretty much everybody nowadays owns a DV camera or a digital camera. So we asked the participating divers to bring their own technology to Malaysia. We thought that if two eyes were better than one, then 15 cameras were definitely better than two.

Pre-production planning was the key to the success of the documentary. We had no choice but to carry with us a mobile editing station so that we could literally edit each day’s material overnight.

As the documentary was to be shot in HDV and Radice and I are Apple fans, we chose Final Cut Studio. Apart from being HD, native Final Cut Studio comes with very handy applications such as Live Type and Motion, which we used intensely for the opening and end sequences and for the subtitling. Both of us are also well versed with the application and used it extensively for on-site editing.

The main editing station was a Powerbook 17 equipped with 2G/byte of RAM and an external 300G/byte firewire hard drive. The mini-studio was light-weight and it took us literally two minutes to set it up in our hotel rooms and locations during our 10-day trip.
To optimise timing, I had created the opening sequence on Motion. The only thing we had to do was replace the dummy stills and clips with the ones recorded on site.
||**||II|~||~||~|The next issue was the sound track. For this, we researched and chose songs and music beds prior to our departure because we wanted to use our iPods in an experimental way. Music editing and sound design are stages typical of the post-production process. Wanting to minimise the time spent in post-production, we decided to equip all our cameramen, who were shooting on land with iPods so that they could play the relevant track when they were shooting a particular scene. This was like shooting a live event. We could not, however, do this underwater. For that, Apple will need to come out with a waterproof version of the iPod. The majority of the scenes were shot in Mabul and Sipadan, two deep-water oceanic islands known worldwide for their underwater wonders. Other scenes took place in Kuala Lumpur during a special event hosted by the royal family of Malaysia together with the deputy prime minister. We stayed at Mabul island. We stayed in very comfortable, basic wooden huts that were well-equipped with electrical sockets.

One hut was reserved for the mobile editing station and was labelled ‘the digital hut’. Here, we had all the computers and an incredible amount of chargers for all the batteries and adaptors. At the end of each day, we digitised all the tapes to hard disc and transferred the photographs to the ibook for photo retouching.

To save time, we decided not to log and capture each tape but to download the whole content and do the logging at a later stage. The Sony HDR camera works perfectly in tune with Final Cut, as each time one pauses the recording on the camera, an individual clip appears in the bin in Final Cut. After downloading the footage, we immediately began logging and editing the footage.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the documentary was the coverage of the clean-up event that took place on Mabul island. With the help of local authorities, EDA organised a beach clean-up in which local kids were taught how vital the preservation of the environment was for their own future and for the future of the local tourism business.
One of our divers, Siobhan Leyden, is a talk show host at Dubai Eye radio and she managed to conduct a live radio report about the clean-up. A section of her report was included in our full-length documentary.
||**||III|~||~||~|South African, Ernst Van Der Poll, another EDA member, was heavily involved in the organisation of the clean up. He is planning fund-raising events with NGOs all over the globe to equip the island with at least one medical clinic and improve the villagers’ access to drinking water. When it comes to environmental commitment and charitable events management, I’ve never seen people more driven than scuba divers.

Once back in Dubai, we had a few days to finalise the documentary as it had to be shown to the public in a week’s time. We recorded some links with Ibrahim in his EDA office in order to enhance the continuity of the documentary and to better explain the connections between the scenes of the various locations.

Most of the editing was done on site. What was left was colour correction, which was performed using a dual G5 with Final Cut Pro. We could have used the G4 laptop also for colour correction but we needed extra processing power to cut down the rendering timings.

As we wanted to integrate some interesting clips shot on the DVCAM, we used the same G5 to convert the footage into the HDV format. We later imported this into the timeline of our main Final Cut Studio project. The very last stage was the recording of the voice over, performed by Siobhan Leyden, and the final mix and sound design was carried out on a Pro Tools HD station. An HD DVD was burnt using DVD studio Pro.

As the projection was due to happen on a Sony KDE50 plasma screen, we personally tested some samples of the final renders on the monitor to check the colour matches. The result was truly impressive.

Working on the EDA project was extremely challenging but also rewarding because we experimented with so many new techniques that we can now implement in future low-budget projects.

Final Cut Pro proved to be an ideal platform because it never crashed the host computer, even when it was a G4 processor handling a huge amount of HD material. In addition, its HDV native feature saved us a lot of time as we could play the clips in real time immediately after importing them on our timeline. On the next EDA project, we hope to install Pro Tools LE on our laptop so that we can literally finalise the product before catching the flight back home to Dubai.

Giorgio Ungania works for Dubai Media Inc. and can be reached at giorgio@dubaitv.ae

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