Let's Face It: Face Detection Technology Makes Canon a Director's Dream
For TV director Michael Bleiden, a complicated shoot involving many moving parts meant leaning on the Canon XF305 tapeless HD camcorder to get things done right…and right now.
Bleiden's task was a tall order: Shoot a spot, several minutes long, involving more than a dozen TV stars lip-syncing a classic rock song and lots of choreography. Shoot time: Two four-and-a-half hour sessions, over two days. Delivery time: 9 a.m. the following morning. Adding to the pressure is the fact that it would need to be shot in HD by one camera operator with minimal lighting.
Millions of viewers would soon be watching the spot—an intro to an awards telecast—so needless to say, the pressure was on. To tackle this daunting task, Bleiden knew that only Canon's professional grade XF305 tapeless HD camcorder could help him meet the production challenges. He needed maximum mobility, and couldn't rely on a focus puller or a wireless follow-focus system that would add weight to his camera-support rig. He needed fast production workflow, so separate shots could be edited together and approved while he was still shooting. He needed optimal stability to keep all those famous faces in focus as he ran backwards down a series of narrow hallways. And most importantly, he'd need a lightweight camera that delivered network-level broadcast HD picture quality.
"We were moving into a much higher-stress environment with this assignment," explains Bleiden. "It had a tighter deadline, more coverage needs, more celebrities, and more people watching. The XF305 camera came almost in answer to a prayer of mine."
“Face detection essentially is a virtual assistant, a digital focus puller that helps you compose your shots and achieve the look you want.” —Director Michael Bleiden
While auto-focus gets a bad rap in the professional realm, Bleiden considered the XF305's auto-focus crucial in these circumstances. "It can be very handy when you're shooting solo," he admits. "I was wishing for a professional HD camera that not only had auto-focus but also the kind of face-detection technology I had seen on digital SLRs. Lo and behold, a few days later I learned about the Canon XF305, which has both. I literally planned the whole shoot around the XF305's features."
Indeed, it was the XF305's face-detection feature that truly came to Bleiden's rescue here. As he shot the group lip-synching, he maintained a wide shot with the XF305's 18x Canon L-series zoom lens and relied on the camera's auto-focus and face-detection technology to keep the picture sharp. He was running backwards, after all. "Based on the framing I chose, the XF305's face-detection technology would find the ‘hero' in the shot and, for the most part, follow that person's face and keep it in focus anywhere they went in the frame," Bleiden says.
By and large, the XF305's auto-focus and face-detection technology sped production and proved indispensable. "Face detection essentially is a virtual assistant," he insists, "a digital focus puller that helps you compose your shots and achieve the look you want. Without it I would have needed a human assistant who would have gotten in my way, or a wireless follow-focus, and I was looking to keep every spare ounce off the Steadicam."
The video aired on TV the following evening as the introduction to a spectacular awards show. The network was thrilled and, most important, Bleiden was proud of a job well done. "I've tried everything," he says, "but after I worked with the XF305, I realized that this is the camera that we have been looking for."