Lights, robo-cameras, action

Mr David Wong directing crew member Justin Chew (left) during a rehearsal at the NUS' UCC on March 20, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - It may be easy to picture a scene like this in a musical performance video: The camera focuses on a performer, then pans to another musician before shifting to a shot of the entire orchestra.

But you may press the pause button to reflect if you are told that such a shot is taken without a person holding the camera.

Instead, the camera, along with others, is being remotely controlled by a crew member backstage.

This is how local firm Rolton Productions has been able to record performances by choirs and classical music groups with multiple cameras, despite Covid-19 rules limiting group sizes during productions.

Its use of the pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras is among several ways adopted by performance and production groups in Singapore to continue operations amid safe management measures.

Theatre company Sight Lines Entertainment delivered its shows over Zoom when venues were closed in 2020.

Other examples include the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's offer for patrons to watch its shows in-person or via digital streaming.

For Rolton, the PTZ cameras help reduce the manpower needed during production, allowing clients to maximise the number of performers under group size limits.

The five Canon CR-N500 remote cameras, which cost $7,500 each, were bought in the middle of last year. They are used for indoor productions, such as those in concert halls or recording studios.

While each PTZ camera is unable to move from its position, it is able to rotate and focus on different performers during recording.

The cameras are connected by cables to a controller, which costs $2,800 and can be deployed in a separate location at the performance venue.

The set-up allows a single person to control the cameras, and have them switch among 100 pre-programmed angles to record from.

The cameras can be placed on stage - which is out of bounds to crew members - to capture close-up shots of the performance.

The technology has allowed Rolton to scale its business and meet the demands of both big and small clients, some of which might need a combination of remote cameras and cameramen.

This also means that the firm can take on more projects, both in number and variety.

Rolton Productions’ founder David Wong with one of the company’s Canon CR-N500 remote cameras. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The company's founder David Wong, who was a member of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, said business has grown steadily over the past four to five years due to the growing interest in recording and live broadcasting of classical music productions.

Projects continued to come during the pandemic when there were restrictions on live performances.

"In the last two years, a lot of people wanted to carry on doing concerts (and) performances, and the only avenue is through some kind of (recording) production," he added.

An example he gave was how more schools have turned to having their student group performances recorded for streaming.

According to Mr Wong, the market rate for a single-day production with multiple cameramen can start from about $6,000.

But the cameras are not meant to replace cameramen whom Rolton engages for some projects. The firm does not have any staff who are videographers.

Mr Wong said that they cannot replicate the experience of veteran cameramen, who can work with the video director to produce a recording that is of a higher creative level.

"Operating PTZ cameras is a simple technical skill," he said, adding that it is no different from picking up a digital camera to take photos.

"The real challenge is not to train more technical crew to control the PTZ cameras but for the industry to nurture more video directors - which requires musical knowledge, production experience and technical wizardry - who are able to master the art of using these cameras," he added.

Correction note: An earlier version of this article said Rolton Productions' founder David Wong is still a member of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. This is incorrect as he is a former member. We are sorry for the error.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.