Multicam — Shooting Videos from All the Angles

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2003

Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine Camcorder & Computer Home Video Magazine Logo

The next time you videotape an event, consider asking a buddy to join you with his camcorder. As a team, you’ll capture perspectives from different angles, and you will captivate your audience. Rather than risking boredom for the single-cam viewer, you can switch between the camera angles and enliven your program. Whether you switch live using a video mixer, or you record everything on both camcorders and perform the “switching” during the edit process, you can create videos that rival those on TV.

Two Camcorders More than Double the Fun

That second camera angle, whether it’s taken by an unattended camcorder on a tripod or by your friend who performs pans and zooms, adds a new dimension to video viewing. If you want to produce a multicam program on your own, you can simply mount your second camcorder on a tripod and set it to a wide-angle view of the action. Then you can move around with your main camcorder and get close-ups, audience reaction shots, side angles, low angles, high angles and Dutch angles (where the camera is tilted to the side.) You are free to move wherever you want with your camera. Rather than limit yourself to pans and zooms, try moving side to side and moving in on the subject. Why not take a crack at the MTV shaky-cam technique? You can experiment with the camcorder’s special effects and try out some features you may not know you even have. All the while you know you are capturing the main action with your stationary camcorder.

If you have a friend with a camcorder, it’s best if he or she tries to maintain a steady wide shot most of the time. If you can communicate with one another using wireless headset walkie-talkies, then you can direct your assistant. Some people use cell phones with headsets to speak to each other during a shoot. It’s important that you have a plan so that you don’t run the risk of both of you getting sloppy footage during a critical portion of your program.

Applications of Multicam

Community theater, music performances, school sports, dance recitals, instructional videos, weddings—nearly any video can be enhanced with two or more camera angles. If you are shooting a play or a musical, one camera at the foot of the stage gets dramatic close-ups. To avoid interfering with the audience, place the camera at the far corner of the stage. Ask if you can tie into the performance director’s headset so you can be told which character will speak when. The second camera, behind the audience can get the wide angle.

Music videos, whether rock’n’roll or classical, look better when covered from multiple angles. If you perform your camera “switching” during the editing process, use the audio track from only one of the camcorders. In the editing process you will insert video from the other cam. More about this later.

For most sporting events, keep the camcorders on the same side of the action. Otherwise, viewers can become confused if they see the team running in one direction in one cut and then in the opposite direction in another. Dance recitals benefit from multiple camcorders to alternate between a wide shot of the entire stage and close-ups of individual dancers. Some videographers create a horizontal split screen showing the wide shot at the bottom and close ups on the top.

When shooting a wedding with only a single camcorder, you usually get the backs of the bride and groom. A second camera inconspicuously placed in a back corner of the altar enables you to capture the faces of the bride and groom as they exchange vows. It also gets a good shot of the processional, and maybe even a reaction shot of a parent with joyous tears.

Moving Up to Three or More Camcorders

Incorporating a third camcorder during a wedding adds shots of the bridesmaids and groomsmen, over-the-shoulder shots of the bride and groom during their vows, shots of readers at the podium and shots of singers at the piano or organ.

Three camcorders at a football or hockey game increase the chances that you will be able to follow the ball during a quarterback’s sleight of hand or the puck racing to the goal. Stage and music performances are frequently covered with two cameras at either corner of the stage and one behind the audience.

It’s a good idea to conduct some advance planning to know who will get what kinds of shots. Headset intercoms help keep things organized. Live switching of three or more camcorders will avoid long nights in the editing room.

Live Switching

Most TV shows shot in a studio use multiple cameras tied into a switcher that goes to the master videotape recorder. The director looks at a bank of monitors to see each camera’s video, and he speaks to each camera operator through his headset. When he is ready to get a shot from camera-three, he says “ready camera-three; take camera-three.” The advantage of live switching, over using an editing program to create the multi-camera effect, is that your program is “in the can” at its end. You save tons of hours in the edit room. The disadvantage is that if the director makes one error, it is on the videotape forever.

The advent of camcorders has allowed multicam producers to employ a technique called “iso,” meaning isolated cameras. While all the camcorders are fed to the switcher and a master videotape recorder, each camcorder also records the video onto its own videocassette. Should the director make an error, you go to the edit room and simply replace the shot with one from a camcorder. Isos let the director become more creative and take chances, knowing he can fix mistakes in post-production.

In addition to two or more camcorders and a video switcher, you need tripods for each camcorder, a bank of monitors for the director, long cables to send video to the switcher, headset intercoms, a sound person to handle a microphone on the set and a master VCR. Lighting for multicam requires that the light stands are not shown in shots. Either you hang some lights from the ceiling, hide the stands behind tall plants or arrange the cameras or light stands so they are not visible on camera. You also need a director with nerves of steel who is very familiar with the workings of the video switcher.

Video Switchers

In the analog days of television, studios needed special timing devices to synchronize the cameras and maintain a stable signal. Digital switchers came on the market about ten years ago, and they greatly simplify the process of mixing signals from cameras. The switchers not only let you switch between three or four cameras, they mix audio, produce multi-screen effects, add special transitional effects and even allow you to incorporate chroma key.

Chroma key is a way to superimpose your talent over an image from another camera or the signal from a VCR. Television weather uses chroma key to show the map behind the meteorologist. Chroma key works by shooting against a special green or blue background. The talent makes sure nothing he is wearing matches that color, because the switcher substitutes that color for the signal from another camera, videotape or computer graphic.

The Sima SFX-9 (MSRP $599) has four inputs, has both chroma key and luminance key to isolate images with blue or black backgrounds, pre-set wipe speeds and a built-in audio mixer. The unit has such digital special effects as mosaic, paint, strobe and negative image. The Multi Screen feature has a variety of wipe patterns including diamond shapes and window blinds.

The Edirol V-4 (MSRP $1195) is a 4-channel video mixer with 200 transition effects. Two channels use S-Video connectors and two use composite RCA video jacks. Effects may be applied to two channels at a time to give each camera a digital effect. The mixer has a T-bar video fader and a unique “beat synchronization” system to coordinate video switching to music through its MIDI connector. Special effects include picture-in-picture (PIP), luminance key, strobe, mirror image and shake.

The Videonics MXPro mixer (MSRP $1495) boasts 500 special effects with storage for 30 of your favorites and a menu to find them. This audio and video switcher lets you preview several cameras on one monitor, has color correction and chroma key and has a time base corrector (TBC) inside that helps stabilize the video signal. With PIP you can combine up to 16 images on one screen. Special effects include “organic shape” transitions (geometric objects) and trailing transitions where a trail of the previous image continues into the next picture.

The Videonics MXProDV (MSRP $3295) includes all of the above features, plus it lets you plug in digital camcorders using FireWire connections, S-Video or standard composite video. The FireWire output can go directly to a nonlinear editing system, maintaining video in its native digital format. This eliminates the need to digitize video prior to editing, as is the case with video mixers that have only analog video inputs and outputs. The MXProDV produces digital effects in real time—eliminating much of the rendering time required with nonlinear editing systems.

Datavideo makes the SE-800AV 4-input video mixer (MSRP $2600) with a joystick control that positions PIP (picture in picture) effects or may be used for white balance and color correction. The mixer has a novel “voice sync” function that allows you to advance or delay the audio, and it comes with connectors to control editing VCRs. An optional four-panel LCD monitor system attaches to the top of the mixer to form a complete package. If you want to get by with just two camera inputs you can use the Datavideo SE-200 switcher (MSRP $579), but you will need their TBC-3000 time base corrector (MSRP $749) to perform live switching.

The Panasonic AG-SW100 (MSRP $1370) is a 2-input video mixer where the audio automatically is mixed with the video. It has an output level control for both audio and video. The AG-SW350 (MSRP $3995) is a 5-input mixer that may be operated by AC or DC for use in the field. It has nine wipe patterns that may be operated manually or automatically with adjustable wipe and transition times. The unit has a color bar generator and a USB graphics interface.

Panasonic’s flagship mixer, the MX 75 (MSRP $6500), is an 8-input industrial grade mixer with broadcast quality component video. It comes with 600 effects and wipe patterns including page turns, accordion, spheres and ripples. A joystick lets you position and size the effects and to adjust colors. It has an audio mixer with four stereo inputs, remote control connectors to control editing VCRs and a USB graphics interface. A built-in LCD screen monitors the system status.

Multicam—the Software

United Media makes a software package designed to work with most versions of the Adobe Premiere editing program. Multicam-2 (MSRP $299) lets you switch between two camcorders. Multicam-4 (MSRP $599) allows you to synchronize four cameras, preview cuts and edit a multicam shoot as if simulating live camera switching. The video program you “switch” with Multicam may be exported to the Premiere timeline. You can select cut points between multiple cameras without losing their reference points and add effects and transitions. Multicam supports Canopus, Matrox, Pinnacle & Firewire cards as plug-ins to Adobe Premiere.

Editing for Multicam Look

Even without dedicated multiple camera software, you can still create the live-switched look with almost any nonlinear editing program. Here’s a trick that camcorder shooters have used for years: A minute or so before the show starts, put all the camcorders into record. Then take a still camera flash unit and set off a flash that all the cameras can see. This will be your starting reference point during editing as you lay down the footage from each camcorder onto your timeline.

Select the camcorder with the best audio to be on the bottom track of your timeline. Then place the other camcorders’ video only, on the tracks above. Use the razor tool to select the cuts from the camcorder footage you want. You may need editing software that lets you monitor just one video track at a time, but most applications include this feature. While a dedicated software program such as Multicam-4 will streamline the process, you can still achieve the live-switched look on your own.

Once you get into the swing of shooting multicam, it may be hard to go back to the single camcorder shooting style. Multicam videography captures the action from a variety of different angles and gives the viewer a more robust and dynamic look at the action. Video audiences are becoming ever more sophisticated, and they are used to seeing movies and television that provide the viewer with multiple angles on the subject. DVDs have the capacity to store multiple camera angles and, with the right software, you can make a DVD where users can choose the camera angles right from their DVD players’ remote controls. Shooting videos from multiple cameras can make video viewing an interactive experience. Whether the viewer acts as director or you do, having the capacity to switch between a wide shot, a low angle and a close-up, makes your camcorder videos look more like real television. In fact, you are producing real television.

For information on products mentioned in this article, go to these websites:

DataVideo SE 800 AV,
Edirol V-4,
Panasonic AG-SW100, 350 and MX 70,
Sima SFX-9,
Videonics MXPro,

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