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Telling the History of St. Louis

With Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the Missouri History Museum
Organized under the banner of the Missouri Historical Society, the Missouri History Museum, the Library and Research Center, and the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in St. Louis are not your typical local history institutions. 

In addition to the main museum building, which houses public galleries, classrooms, and an auditorium, it also consists of a Library and Research Center. Here is housed a library, archives, artifacts, documents, photos and prints, moving images and sound. The institution also runs the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, which was builtas a local military museum honoring individuals from St. Louis who we lost in World War I. 

Originally hired as the Audio/Visual and Auditorium Coordinator, Eric Wilkinson is now the institution's Media Developer and oversees the production of exhibit videos, educational productions, and promotional pieces. As part of his arsenal, he uses a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K EF, which he uses to make a wide variety of media, including long form oral histories, exhibit media, educational media, promotional media and documentary films about St. Louis and its history (including one on the History of Route 66 through Missouri that is currently in production).

Needing A Filmic Look

Eric was in one of the last classes at his college to work with film, and his experiences doing so largely shaped his approach to the work he does today. He studied Cinema and Photography in school and worked for many years in LA afterward. He then joined the team at Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center, and when the time came to add a new camera to its video arsenal, Eric knew he wanted something that could provide a cinematic feel. But working for a nonprofit cultural institution, he also needed to stay within his budget and make sure that his team could archive the things that they produce in the best possible way.

"We have a wide variety of things that we shoot and, when I looked at the options available, I found the Blackmagic Cinema Camera to be the best option for us," said Eric. "I've used other options in the past and liked what Blackmagic was trying to do and the look and feel the camera provides. Plus getting CinemaDNG RAW at that price point was mind blowing at the time."

In addition to the image quality, Eric also appreciates the Blackmagic Cinema Camera's open standard file formats, which not only give him the ability to record directly to files that are compatible with all major post applications, but also give him the peace of mind that his archived video won't be obsolete any time soon. 

"Being a history museum, we have to think about how we are going to archive this media, which has always been very frustrating as formats are always changing, being born and dying," Eric said. "For the archivist, this fact, along with the closed formats so many platforms have been using, makes life very difficult. So open formats are important to us. We have a protocol for archiving, and I wanted a camera that fit with our protocol as best as possible. This camera fits our needs very well."

The Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center also has the region's largest moving image and sound collection. It houses media on just about every recording format of video and film ever produced, including 2" video. According to Eric, the museum is one of very few institutions in the country, if not the world, that has a working 2" video player and it has a digitization lab with the ability to digitize nearly every format of video ever made. 

"We have a great infrastructure in place for digitization and archiving of this media, but integrating born digital workflows with the standards for archiving magnetic media is a challenge," said Eric. "One thing that is great about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is that some of its recording formats are directly achievable, meaning that for things like our long form oral histories, we don't have to render an archival copy; our systems can take what the camera records and it will be available as it was shot in the future."

From Short Segments to Long Formats

Because Eric shoots so many different types of video projects for the museum, and since his camera setup depends on each project's specific needs, he appreciates the versatility and reliability of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. 

"I like not having my files divided up into a hundred 4GB files across multiple memory cards," he said. "I like having the option to shoot multiple formats, including RAW. In almost all situations I shoot in RAW, except the long format oral history interviews that we regularly shoot."

Eric uses a variety of Canon L Series lenses, a set of Zacuto rails, a Redrock Micro matte box and Cavision follow focus. For sound he uses a 2 channel Juice Link preamp for phantom power with his Schoeps CMIT 5U microphone. He also has a small lighting and grip package for location work, as well as some equipment that he has donated to the cause, including a Kessler jib with pan/tilt head. 

The museum building also has a small studio used for shooting oral histories with some old lights donated by the local cable company.

"These oral history interviews are hugely important to the museum.  They are typically two to four hour shoots, sometimes as long as six, on important topics with people we probably won't ever have the opportunity to sit down with again. So it is important to have a camera system that will do what it is supposed to do every time."

Surpassing Expectations

Eric also appreciates the camera's durability. You might not immediately think the museum, being located in St. Louis, would do too much shooting in extreme conditions, but Eric was pleasantly surprised to discover that the camera handled a few bouts of extreme heat without a problem.

"Early on in our experience with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera we were shooting an eight hour time lapse outside in the middle of summer," he said. "The camera was set up in direct sunlight all day where the high was over 90 degrees with high humidity. I was sure that when we went back, we were going to find that the camera had crashed. It hadn't."

For another timelapse, Eric had the camera on the roof of a building in the summer and rain was threatening. So he covered the camera with a black plastic bag and let it run. It never rained, but the camera didn't overheat. Eric has since shot several more of these types of setups and the camera has never crashed, shut down, overheated, or otherwise done anything out of the ordinary.

Eric sums up his experience with the camera by pointing out that, as a history museum staffer, he may not be the typical Blackmagic Cinema Camera user. But he can relate to anyone who has a small video production department and a limited budget for gear. The Missouri History Museum needed a camera that could assist with a wide range of needs, shooting styles and recording formats, and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a product Eric knows will last him for many years, especially at such a reasonable price point.

Sample video clips from the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center:

  • Feature length "experimental documentary" produced for the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis. Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera except for opening sequence:
  • Example of short form series on topics related to St. Louis and its history. This one is about a printing company. Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera:
  • Example of outreach video that helps tell the story of the Missouri History Museum. Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera:
  • Example of an exhibit "trailer."  Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera:
  • Example of gallery media for 4K video wall (shown on four HD monitors). This piece is part of a series of videos telling stories of various St. Louis coffee roasters for an exhibit currently running on the coffee history of St. Louis. Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera; full screen video is up-resed to 4K using Magic Bullet Instant HD from BMCC RAW 2.5K:

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Cinematography


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