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VariCam 35 offers a stellar performance on latest children's television commission Apple Tree House

With its diverse cast and messaging tackling issues appropriate to youngsters Apple Tree House, a production for CBeebies, does exactly that.

Developed by the producers of successful children’s TV series Rastamouse, the show combines live-action and animation in an engaging fusion. With shooting led by Director of Photography Kelvin Richard, the live-action sequences were captured entirely in ProRes 422 and 4K on the VariCam 35, supplied by 24-7 Drama in London.

The series consists of 30 x 15-minute episodes and will air on the under-6s channel in 2017. The story follows a boy named Mali, who has just moved on to an inner city estate. There he meets his new best friend Sam and together they overcome childhood dilemmas and solve problems, with a number of important messages about life for young viewers to follow.

Animators working on the show, produced by Gregory Boardman and Eugenio Perez for rights holder Five Apples, wanted the highest possible quality for the transition scenes, and the VariCam delivered, recording in true 4K that required little post-production processes to clean up.

“The animators wanted much higher quality than Pro Res 422 HQ, and also they wanted to use true 4K rather than 2K or pseudo-4K as you would find on a lot of other cameras. The only one that does it natively and internally is the VariCam,” said Director of Photography, Kelvin Richard.  “In order to use on a dolly, handheld and easy rig, the camera also had to be as compact as possible. The VariCam 35 was able to satisfy both of those things."

Thanks to the excellent colour reproduction and the unique dual-native ISO setting on the VariCam 35 (800/5000) the footage has not needed much adjustment. The production made use of this feature during filming, primarily shooting at the native 800 ISO but increasing this to 2500 ISO for a number of the low light scenes.

“We’re only slightly touching what comes straight off the camera. It’s quite a true look and is very complementary to the different flesh tones we have on the show which all reproduced well, I especially like the way the VariCam 35 settings handle the highlights which had a nice 'wrap around' feel'. I have been involved in the initial grades and the show is grading well without too many changes on my part, and the production team have been very happy.”

"Natively it looks great, so it's then just a case of whether you want to warm it up for the sensibility of your show,” added Kelvin Richard. 

“I’m a great lover of the Panasonic ‘look’ anyway – you have a straight out-of-the-box good look”

The VariCam 35 comes complete with two native sensors, at 800 and 5000 ISO. “We had a moon surface scene which would have required more light as we intended to shoot at a higher frame rate for a slow motion effect. To set up additional lighting would have required more time than we had to complete the scene as we were working to a tight schedule."

“We were able to quickly set the camera to 2500 ISO which gave me the shooting stop without the need to reconfigure the lighting set up."

“From what I saw the noise was very low; it was very comparable to the native 800 which is a great achievement.”

"It felt right to suggest that as it was a new series we should go for a new camera as well"

“What’s great about the VariCam look is that it’s very complementary to the highlights, it doesn’t blow them out and it’s quite sympathetic towards them. With or without filters, it still has quite a balanced look even when you’re shooting at a wide dynamic range.”

“I’m a great lover of the Panasonic ‘look’ anyway – you have a straight out-of-the-box good look and you don’t have to spend time making it a good look afterwards in post. It inherently has one,” continues Kelvin Richard.

Whilst on set, the intuitive interface as well as the great native output from the VariCam enabled Kelvin to start shooting quickly, without having to spend time adjusting settings on the camera every time.

"Saving out setup data to SD card allowed us to load our additional cameras, when deployed, with the main camera set up parameters which made life a lot easier."

Combined with the flexibility offered by the additional native ISO, it made for an incredibly usable camera that allowed the Director of Photography to focus on capturing the perfect image, rather than being held back by the technology.

“I personally prefer not to have to adjust settings constantly, because the more settings you have to change and check the more you’re getting away from actually shooting the image. So to be able to just set up and know the image can be recorded faithfully is really helpful,” said Kelvin Richard.

“It felt right to suggest the VariCam 35 because as it was a new series, I felt we should go for a new camera as well."