The only thing that changes faster than the faces in front of cameras in porn is the technology behind those cameras. The craft of video production is an invisible one. Content creators often strive to produce a seamless product that further blurs the division between fantasy and reality.
If anything, the progression of porn through the decades can be viewed as a slow zoom, in which filmmakers bring us ever closer to the objects of our desire. The more these technologies progress, the nearer viewers get, not only to having their fantasies magnified, but to experiencing them first-hand.
My focus continues to be on camera sensors and the way they render skin tones. I am not a resolution junky. I don’t care if the camera is 4K, 6K, 8K or VR capable, if it renders skin tones poorly, it is not a tool I will use.
In many ways, video production is an arms race. Studios and directors must utilize an ever-evolving arsenal of equipment, and shooting techniques, to keep up with competitors. XBIZ went to those rarefied filmmakers on the frontlines of this technological revolution to see what equipment and techniques they are using to produce higher quality content than ever before.
Angela White, head of AGW Entertainment, said that the recent, industry-wide push for higher resolution cameras is not her primary concern.
“My focus continues to be on camera sensors and the way they render skin tones,” White said. “I am not a resolution junky. I don't care if the camera is 4K, 6K, 8K or VR capable, if it renders skin tones poorly, it is not a tool I will use.”
In the last year, White has concentrated on utilizing LOG recording options.
“Not to be confused with RAW recording, LOG recording is geared towards extracting the greatest tonal range out of a camera's sensor,” White said. “When combined with intelligent editing and grading in post-production, recording in LOG allows for stunning image results, whatever one's creative vision may be.”
While recording technology continues to improve, White believes the keys to quality video production are the same.
“Regardless of your creative vision, choosing the appropriate location (color, space, depth etc.),” White advised, “utilizing adequate and appropriate lighting setups, manual, rather than auto, camera operation, making quality audio capture a priority, informed post-production and understanding optimal codecs for output formats, continue to be the bedrock upon which quality video products are based.”
Brad Armstrong, director for Wicked, also dismissed the current obsession of shooting with high-resolution cameras.
“I'm more of a technique over technology kind of guy,” Armstrong said. “I think what you’re shooting is much more important than what you’re shooting on.”
Armstrong went a step further in his dismissal of 4K, believing that these cameras can actually diminish the quality of a film.
“I still use the Canon 5d Mark 3. I love the filmic look it gives me,” Armstrong said. “I hate that super sharp 4K look, where you can see every pore, every pimple and every inch of a girl’s razor burn in all its glory. I like things to be ‘soft and pretty.’”
He pointed out that many directors are jumping on the 4K bandwagon without first considering why they are making the switch. He wished directors would remember that these technologies are just tools, and that their use does not guarantee quality.
“In a perfect world, you're blending technique and technology,” Armstrong said. “But, if you're shooting shit, and you're shooting it in 4K just because, it's still just really sharp shit.”
Aiden Starr, director for Evil Angel, said that it is not so much new technologies that have helped give her films a unique look, but the crew manning, or rather, “wo-manning” those cameras.
“Having a primarily female crew is a stand out point for my process,” Starr said. “For years, the roster of adult directors was mostly male. Digital download and streaming grew over the previous commercial outputs of porn like a carnivorous plant. Female-based crews are the flowers of that process. The future really is female.”
In terms of specific technologies, Starr mentioned her switch to LED lights.
“The quality has gone up and price come down quite a bit since they first came out,” Starr said. “The advantage there is keeping the performers cool, thus allowing better stamina and energy.”
Cullen McRae, a producer at Bang Bros, acknowledged that while 4K has become the standard, he is already looking ahead to embrace the next generation of content: virtual reality. In terms of deciding what, and who, to shoot, his team has put increased focus on examining the analytics and statics behind their most popular content.
“We at Bang Bros have an entire floor dedicated to analytics made up of some fresh-faced Ivy league grads crunching numbers all day,” McRae said. “Today’s porn star cannot just rely on looks, they also have to score high in the analytics department. Our team spends countless hours running numbers and using top secret algorithms that identify the top girls in the industry to shoot.”
Axel Braun, director for Wicked, agreed with White on the importance of understanding technologies like LOG over simply shooting with the highest possible resolution.
“I’ve been shooting in 4K for a while already, and as far as resolution at the moment it’s pointless to go higher than that, although I do use cameras capable of shooting 8K,” Braun said. “Shooting in LOG and color grading has always been very important to my movies, and since I own a post-production company (Level5 Post) with a full DaVinci Resolve 14 suite, that’s just an integral part of my arsenal.”
For his current project, “Justice League XXX: An Axel Braun Parody,” Braun has expanded his range of prime lenses and completely moved away from zoom lenses.
“A fast glass makes a tremendous difference in quality, although shooting with primes does slow down production,” Braun said, “but I do love my bokeh, and when you’re already on set for 20-plus hours, an extra hour is not going to break you.”
Kristel Penn, marketing and editorial director for Grooby, said that, like Bang Bros, her crew has put increased focus on 4K and VR.
“Our producers are starting to shoot in 4K and we’ll continue to explore how to implement it to our sites without negatively affecting user experience,” Penn said. “VR has been on our radar for some time now, but we’ve purposefully waited until the technology was more cost-efficient to our customer base before proceeding.”
Jonni Darkko, director for Evil Angel, observed that most videographers are excited about the influx of higher quality cameras.
“One of the big technologies that are helping people produce better quality content is the availability of better and affordable optics,” Darkko said. “Cabin and Sony are leading the pack in quality glass!”
He also listed a number of other technologies that have improved his work, including affordable LED lights, Adobe Premier and even Amazon ordering as it streamlines the process of tracking down wardrobe.
Jake Jaxson, CEO of CockyBoys, said his company has put more emphasis on the type of content they are shooting, as opposed to what they are shooting with.
“We’re focusing on character-driven content that explores the need and drive to why we want, need and desire the sexual experiences we seek,” Jaxson said. “The downside is that [features] take and cost much more than traditional b-roll set ups.”
The added cost has paid off, as CockyBoys is releasing some of their features on more mainstream platforms.
“My last film, ‘The Stillest Hour,’ was just released on Dekkoo.com, a new streaming platform that currently holds the largest collection of gay and queer cinema,” Jaxson said.
2017 XBIZ Gay Director of the Year mr. Pam, who serves as director of production for NakedSword.com, claimed that one of the joys of filming porn is in experimenting with new techniques.
“NakedSword’s recent film ‘MXXX: The Hardest Ride’ features a multitude of cameras,” mr. Pam said. “The majority of the film is shot with two Sony cameras that have traditional camcorder bodies but DSLR lenses. However, to really capture the motorcycle stunts and car chases we used GoPro cameras, gimbal stabilizer rigs and drone shots. Tom Faulk’s motorcycle jumps were recorded on iPhone 7s in slo-motion and turned out beautiful.”
Unfortunately, not every new technology delivers the best results. After being blown away by the quality of photos she could take on her iPhone 7, she tried taking sex stills during a four-way orgy on her phone, instead of her $5,000 Canon SLR camera.
“The video footage looks great,” mr. Pam said, “but the photos suck! Thank gawd our post-production team was able to salvage at least ten good pics for the marketing campaign, but they were still not nearly as hot as SLR pics.”
Daniel Peterson, owner of VRPorn.com, was excited that the initially tech-related issues of scale, resolution and viewer comfort with VR have largely been worked out. Now, the attention in VR has shifted to what is happening in front of the cameras.
“There has been an increased focus on the narrative, on the actual experience in the scene,” Peterson said. “It’s not just filming people going at it. For example, almost every studio is now producing creative scenes of various cosplay characters. Many studios are also experimenting with CGI special effects, such as the CGI work found in VRCosplayX videos.”
Peterson believes that much of what is happening now in VR will pave the way for what becomes standard, not only in porn, but in all virtual reality.
“The adult industry has always been at the forefront of technological advancement,” Peterson said, “and we are seeing that pattern play out again for VR.”