10 Questions with Magic Lantern's Trammell Hudson

November 1st, 2009 Jump to Comment Section 4


Trammell Hudson

1. How would you describe yourself?
I’m a computer programmer who happens to have an interest in Photography.

2. Why did you get into independent film making?
“Why” is a harder question than “how”? Like most everyone else,I saw “Reverie” and knew that I had to get a 5D. I didn’t have any Creative vision or film that I wanted to make, so I joined a team For the DC 48 Hour Film Project and things just snowballed from there.

3. What made you want to design the Magic Lantern Firmware?

On the 48hfp we ran into all the limitations of the stock firmware.We had to film with the lens barely attached to the camera to allow aperture control. We had to shoot dual-system audio and sync it in post, which slowed us down. Our shutter speeds and ISOs were all over the place, too, which made cutting between shots difficult. I was familiar with the CHDK project for Canon’s P&S cameras, and figured that something similar could be done for the 5D. They had done some of the initial hard work involved in getting a firmware dump from the camera, so I was able to start from there.

4. What plans do you have for the new 5d firmware update? Can we expect anything beyond 24p/25p?
You would have to ask Canon about their plans… I’ll update my code to work with their new firmware once it is available. It would really please me if Canon incorporated all of the features from Magic Lantern into their firmware. On my road map for upcoming Magic Lantern releases: * 1080i HDMI output (still having technical problems)* SMPTE time code jamming* Scripting* USB control from the Impero remote follow-focus* Waveforms and vector scope* Auto boot

5. On your Wikia Page you describe the Magic Lantern as “ an enhancement atop of Canon’s firmware that makes your 5D Mark II into the 5D Mark Free” What exactly do you mean?
Most equipment is “closed” in that what you buy is what you get.Sure, you can put it on rails, add a follow focus and matte box, but you can’t really change what is going on inside the box. With Magic Lantern, however, the internals of the camera have been opened up so that it is possible to add new features that the manufacturer might not have ever imagined. The 5D Mark II was intended for photojournalists, not film makers,so the feature set was much more tailored towards news reporters in the field. The first major features that Magic Lantern added were to support single-system audio with live monitoring this alone makes the 5D much more useful on the set. In the process of learning how to add these, however, we learned much more about how the camera works inside and have been able to add newer features,too. Some of these might not mesh well with Canon’s product road map;perhaps they were saving onscreen audio meters and manual gain control for a dedicated video camera. Perhaps they hadn’t considered the film making market for the DSLR form-factor. In any event, Magic Lantern brings the ability to add these features to the user, not just the manufacturer. The 5D is a great camera and I hope that my project helps Canon sell more 5D camera bodies. We’re not in competition, despite the rhetoric on some of the forums: Canon has created an incredible camera and I’m really pleased to be able to add some measure of additional value to it. The fact that they have added manual exposure control and will be adding 24/25p frame rates indicates that they are engaged with their user base and that they are working to improve the cameras that have already been sold.

6. Have you been working on Magic Lantern for the 7d?
I have been spending quite a bit of time on it. The firmware loader appears to be doing more checks on the firmware file, making it harderto replace Canon’s with my own. But I’m confident that sometime soon we’ll have support for the 7D.

7. You recently added 1080i while recording on the 5d, any plans to enablethe camera LCD and still feed to a directors monitor?
This isn’t likely to work out for technical reasons, but is asked frequently enough to have its own FAQ: Magic Lantern FAQ

8. Have you made millions with Magic Lantern?
Not exactly millions, but I have met lots of very passionate cinematographers and film makers. Many of the users and manufacturers have generously donated equipment and funds to the project The user community of Magic Lantern has been really incredible in their support and their patience. There is a dedicated set of beta testers on the ml-level mailing list who try out my latest builds and a group who are very active in providing user support on the forums. I’m only working on the project nights and weekends, so progress has not been as rapid as I would like sometimes and questions frequently get missed. Here’s a partial list of folks who have been very active in supporting the project: Thanks

9. Where do you see Magic Lantern a year from now?
Hopefully not sued by Canon… More seriously, that’s a very good question. In an ideal world,Canon would supply a firmware with all of the features that everyone wants, but I suspect that they will be more conservative in what they add to the 5D Mark II, 7D and upcoming 1D Mark IV. I’m hoping that Magic Lantern will have full support for all three of the camera bodies with similar feature sets. It would be great if Canon Would provide some documentation to make this easier, although I’m committed to making it work without their support. One of my main goals is to make Magic Lantern -the- open platform for digital 35mm cinematography. One way to do that is to make it easier for everyone to contribute. Ideally we will have transitioned the GUI code and most of the camera functions to a scripting language and made it easier for higher-level programmers to write new extensions for the firmware. The barrier-to-entry right now is fairly high: to add new functions to Magic Lantern requires downloading sources, cross-compiling them, linking against a dissected firmware header and hoping that things won’t go all pear-shaped. With a scripting language we lower the barrier to just editing a text file on the CF card. At that point it becomes much, much easier to try things out and I hope that every DSLR filmmaker gives it a try.

10. Are you still looking for a steadicam Rig?
I’m still looking for a steadicam and additional pieces of kit to improve my own film making.


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