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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for September, 2006

Just giving the airdate again, so that it is on the top.

SEPTEMBER 29, AT 8:00PM ET/PT…on the History Channel.

Set your Tivo.

We spent the last week on MORE fixes. I fixed the audio so that it was now the proper configuration. I called the closed caption company and they fixed the typos and sent new files, and a 24fps one for the HDCAM tape…since the previous one was a 30 NDF one, thus the reason closed captioning drifted. We were all set to get the dubs done when my producer was looking at the show, waiting for the dub process to start…noticed something.

A lower third was wrong.

One of our interviewees had the wrong book title under his name. My producer only noticed this when he went online to find it and verify a few things. But he couldn’t find the title we had, but another book with only one word different.

Great. Well, we hadn’t started the dubs, so we still had time for fixes. And since I had to do this, I would fix the three pictures that were kicked back for moire issues. So I changed the name, strung out a sequence with those changes, cut to cut so we just had to insert edit them into the show in a linear bay. We had to do this in a linear bay as FCP isn’t completely frame accurate with insert editing.

OK…output done…8 interview bytes and 3 stills all ready to go. We get to the bay, drop in the interviews and they fit fine. We look at the first still with the moire issue and WHOA NELLY! Minor moire issue? It was MAJOR. On the HD screen, it was fine. On the SD monitor, an image so trippy you’d swear you were on LSD. Well, THAT was not good. And my fix? Well, my fix didn’t fix it. I still had a zoom out and zoom outs are still bad for these. I simply did not see these on the HD output. it was an SD issue only. BIG SD issue. Line art…never use line art. Or if you do, PAN…TILT…never pull out or push in. My fix didn’t work. But thankfully the online tape-to-tape guy knew what to do. He blurred the image virtically and re-edited them in. We checked all 15 line art paintings, and 10 of them were bad. We could only fix 9 of them.

But, we fixed them. And we fixed the lower third, avoiding embarassment for us and egg on the interviewees face. But we tried to clone the HDCAM tapes with closed captioning…and it just wouldn’t work. I don’t fully understand how closed captioning works…all I know is that the engineers said it wouldn’t take properly. What to do? We went to D5, which accepted the closed caption just fine. And since the deliverable was to be either D5 or HDCAM, 1080p 23.98, we delivered D5.

MAN…this show really has become a learning experience. And the GOOD news? In three weeks I am slated to be one of two editors on another HD show for the History Channel. And due to all I learned on this one, I was a shoe in. Having worked with this company on two other shows, and with the DP on my LAST one…I have an edge.

I am going to lay out an outline of my finishing workflow. I am not going to go into much detail for the simple fact that not only do I need a little job security (being one of the few guys who knows how to successfully do this is valuable) but also because I consult for a fee…which I guess is job security as well. But, I will lay out how easy this output was…even though it bumped into a few walls along the way, mainly due to working with HD for the first time.

Issue #1 was show timing. I needed to deliver a show that was rigidly timed in a DROP FRAME timecode. It needed to be 94:10 with :25 second blacks between each act. Well, as you may or may not know, DVCPRO HD 720p 23.98 is a non-drop code. And you can ONLY work in a non-drop timeline. Even if you go to the uncompressed codecs…non-drop only. So task #1 ws to find out what time I needed the non-drop master to be in order to get the drop frame downconverted master to be perfectly timed. The solution (this I will give you) was to take my rough cut, copy it and paste it into a 29.97 timeline. If I was short, I’d add slug to make up the time..if I was long, I’d chop off the excess until I had perfect timing. Then I copied all the footage again and pasted that into a non-drop 23.98 timeline and noted what the end time was. THAT was my target for the main cut. I put a marker there.

OK…so now that I have that down, I edited the show and addressed all the network notes only to find that we were 10 min SHORT! Doh! OK, so my producer scanned thru the interviews for great bytes and re-wrote the script and I frantically edited for 2 weeks to get myself there. With much struggling and adding more footage to the battle scenes, I got the show to time. I sent the acts one by one to my server for the composer (located in Colorado) to download and begin composing. Meanwhile, I work on the Shake comps for all the green screen footage I have. For the shots that were just beyond me, I subcontracted to a buddy of mine who is a Shake guru. He did 6 of the toughies, and I managed the simple keys…with much help from him. At the same time we had a guy working on our maps in Phoenix AZ. When he was done, he’d simply e-mail me a project file and I’d render it out (we are using Curious World Maps for the map software). I would then add those maps to the cut. Master still footage came in, and master Stock Footage (on DV…and how I upconverted this will be another post another day) and I cut it into the show…all working towards getting everything at full resolution.

The stills were fun. 4000×3000 mainly. I did most the moves in FCP, but did some of them in AE when I wanted to stylize the black and white ones, adding a little color. These took a while to render. And it was a mad dash to get all of them at full resolution. But, we did it and finally I was ready to prep for the output.

I uprezzed the footage using FCP and rendered it out…adding the higher resolution After Effects comps and maps. I needed to output a texted and textless master, so I duplicated my sequence and removed all the text and rendered again. When that was done I exported that to an external drive. I was able to fit both the texted and textless outputs onto a G-Raid.

I took this G-Raid and my laptop and project that I created for the final output to the audio mixer. Initially we were going to do the typical online workflow where we output the final picture and temp audio to HDCAM, then layback audio at a later date. But we were cutting things close, and I had to cancel layback once. Not wanting to incur another deck rental, I asked the mixer for the audio files. I would add them to my timeline and output the master picture and audio at the same time. He was hesitant, because they have done this in the past and had issues with sync. My solution was to bring my hard drive and laptop to the mix and after watching it and making sure it was good, to take the audio files and tie them to my picture…right there in the bay. I then checked sync at the head , middle and end of each act. I had to slip a couple things, that he reproduced on his end. But by the time I left, things were perfect.

I then took the drive, picture and audio to a post facility for output. Now, my machine is equiped to do this, but I am unfamiliar with the HDCAM deck and I wanted someone who was an expert with it to manage the output. So I went to a post facility specializing in FCP and did the output. A couple hiccups occurred that were fixed on the spot. But eventually the spot was output, twice (texted and textless) successfully.

I had my masters. The finish line was in site.

Off to the dub facility for closed caption encoding and downconvert and we were set. Out the door it went, and as you will note below in my previous post, it had minor issues that we addressed and resent.

This final output was not without its snags. Not everything went as smoothly as I would have liked, but I learned many things that will make the next one go much smoother.

I’ll be reminding you all of the airdate next week…BECAUSE IT AIRS NEXT WEEK! Friday, September 29, 2006…8:00 ET/PT.

I have another History Channel show that I start in 3 weeks, and it has it’s own set of issues, so I will continue bloggin away.

OK, the show was kicked back from QC (Quality Check) but for VERY MINOR reasons. Well, minor on my end. First, three instances where pictures “moired,” where tightly grouped lines in line drawings wavered. But they were so minor that the head engineer said to forget that note. The other reasons, one was a closed caption issue (3 words were incorrect and the captions began to slip behind picture and VO halfway thru the show) and an audio issue. The audio issue was that the show wasn’t stereo, but rather mono. That was my fault. I assigned the outputs incorrectly. So the closed caption facility sent in revised captions and I am now laying back the audio properly.

But notice there is a lack of bad levels. That passed with flying colors. So that Quicktime Compression trick worked….nicely.

So a minor setback. Other shows that I have worked on have been kicked back for bigger reasons, and I have had some not get kicked back. But for my first broadcast HD show edited with FCP to have minor issues…is big for me.

As is the comment the colorist who output the show gave to me: “Dude, this looks really good. Nice job.”

The 3-way color corrector is a powerful tool.

The show has finally been output, dubbed and shipped to the network. I am finally done with this show. Well, sort of. I have to back up the P2 footage and project files, After Effects projects and media, Shake scripts and media, finishing paperwork. And I have to keep at least the cut on my drives for we have a spanish language version to do for History Channel en Espanol. Right now I am wiped…and very relieved to have this done. Especially after three weeks of 16-18 hour days, thru weekends. So I will type up at least a bit of my finishing workflow. I can’t give up TOO much, as I do need to have the crutial information close to my chest, as I do consult for money. As does Larry Jordan and Mike Curtis, so I cannot just let information out. But I will lay out a general idea of how things went.

Pretty slick really.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to remind my daughters who I am.

Let me start by saying that I am stupid. Well, that might be a bit harsh…DUMB. I made a stupid DUMB mistake. ASSUMPTION rather. And it all had to do with the internal waveform/vectorscopes in FCP.

They aren’t accurate. This shouldn’t come as a shock to many, and it really wasn’t a shock to me…well, OK, it was a little. I thought that I could get away with using the built in scopes on FCP. After all, they looked like they were registering things properly. I wasn’t having too many problems with the “blind spots” that Larry Jordan pointed out in one of his monthly newsletters. They looked good…and my picture looked good. And moreover, I did a test output to DVCPRO HD for QC and when they contacted me and informed me of all the hot spots on my footage, I located the spots on the timeline and sure enough, they were over 100IRE. So I adjusted by dropping a Broadcast Safe filter on and chopping off the top end. So I felt confident that all was good.

But then came today…the day of the final mix (to be blogged about later) and layback (process to be touched upon when successful). I was at a post facility using one of their bays and outputting to HDCAM…a bay with proper HD scopes. I got the audio all laid in and we started the output and I was monitoring the footage and..uh oh, the blacks were crushed. VERY low…below 0. Mainly in the blue areas, but often in the red (HD scopes monitor the levels of primary colors separately)…and there were lots of times the REDS and BLUES shot well above 100IRE. But, how was this possible? On my scopes they read fine, and these weren’t areas that QC kicked back as bad. What was happening now? Was it the fact that now I was outputting 8-bit uncompressed 1080p 23.98 via a Kona 3 to an HDCAM deck? Was the output via HD SDI thru the Kona sending out a clearer signal with all the hot spots and ultra dark areas that are somehow chopped off when you output via firewire to the AJ-HD1200 deck? I couldn’t explain it.

So we cancelled the output and tried to figure out what to do.

The engineer…my buddy…had a solution. To export the footage in a special way. That way will be a secret that I will keep to myself. When I re-imported that footage and dropped it in the timeline above the originals, I found that the exported clip had chopped off the portions that are above 100IRE, and clamped (chooped, whatever) the portions that go below black. In other words, it does what Broadcast Safe should do, but doesn’t really do.

So….I will do this process and try the output again tomorrow. The audio sounds GREAT though. Can’t wait to watch it on TV. Sure, I have seen it 3 times already, and will watch it 2 more times…but I will still watch it when it airs. Or, rather, I’ll TIVO it and watch it when I can.

So I have been working non-stop for three weeks getting this show ready for output. Locking picture, green screening finals, getting map finals, replacing stills with full rez versions, using After Effects on some. Finding out that the time I alotted for our hosts closing was 4 seconds shorter than planned, so I needed to extend several acts and get the changes to the mixer. I had to build a credit bed, verify spellings in lower thirds. And a MILLION other tiny details. All this on top of color correcting the show.

The plan was to go to a post facility tonight, and output two HDCAM tapes…one texted and one textless (one with lower thirds and titles and one without)…then off to the sound mixer for layback on Saturday…Closed Caption on Monday, dubs on Tuesday. But…I wasn’t ready. I felt rushed. I WAS RUSHED. Very harried. To top it off there were 6 stills that we couldn’t find high rez versions of. Either couldn’t clear the pics I used, or find them at high resolution at the Library of Congress (where we got the low res versions). I was very nervous about using stills that I pushed in 400%-600% on..just against my nature.

Well, besides that, I just wasn’t ready. I hadn’t sat down and watched the show thru to see if there were any glitches or minor hiccups. I didn’t check everything to see that levels didn’t stray about 100IRE…I didn’t have everything prepped for the output. I wasn’t ready. Yet I was still driving to the post facility to do the output.

Then fate stepped in.

The gas light on the car came on…I was low on gas. I pulled into a gas station to discover that I forgot my wallet at home. The post house contact went out to get dinner so he was not reachable…so I called my wife to come help me by bringing my wallet. Then I sat and waited. And contemplated. I was not ready. If I output tonight, and layed back tomorrow, and when the network go the tape they kicked it back for some reason, was I really saving us time and money? No. So I called my producer who was VERY understanding. He said that he too felt that we needed to wait. After all, we weren’t airing for three weeks, so what was the rush?

So…I cancelled the output…cancelled the layback…filled my tank up with gas and drove home. With my kids (who came with my wife to give me my wallet)…and sang YODA (by Weird Al Yankovic) at the top of my lungs with my daughters. Weight lifted.

AIRDATE: Sept 29th at 8PM ET/PT on The History Channel. THE MEXICAN AMERICAN WAR

So, if your are a Nielson household, please make EXTRA sure to tune in.

Oh, and how do you like the new look? My other blogging software wasn’t allowing me to archive…so I had to move.

-shane

Well, almost…kinda. We locked the first hour to time, so we sent that off to the audio post facility for sweetening. And while I was awaiting notes I began color correction. I have gotten two Acts done but then received more notes and spent the weekend addressing them and adding more time to the show (we were short by 10 min). Tomorrow I will have a locked show, and send another OMF to the audio guy. For that process I bought Automatic Duck Pro Export 3.0. I needed to retain the levels and rubber banding of audio I set to assist the mixer in the ultra fast mix he needs to accomplish.

Now, lets get to the color correction.

At first I was going to work in a 10-bit uncompressed timeline when I color corrected. But then it hit me…DVCPRO HD is 8-bit, so what do I gain by going to a 10-bit timeline? Nothing but file size…so I would be working in an 8-bit uncompressed HD timeline when I color corrected. Well…no…not really. With advice from others who do this stuff daily, I was told that I could color correct on my DVCPRO HD timeline and monitor that on my external monitor..many of the adjustments being real time. Only when I wanted to output did I need to drop the footage into an uncompressed 8-bit HD timeline and render for the better compression. All the original render files referenced the DVCPRO HD footage, now that it was 8-bit, it would create new render files. SWEET! That is a HUGE timesaver. And yes, I could if I had a Kona 3 cross convert from 720p to 1080p on the fly with the card…but I don’t have the card, so I will do my thing.

So…for all the b-roll, interviews and host stand ups, I color corrected them to look normal, but good. Those color corrections required no rendering whatsoever. But, for the recreations, we wanted a certain look. A rich color look that I found in the Magic Bullet presets called COLOR REVERSAL. As you would expect, not only did it look good, but the render times were WAAAAAYY up there. A five min segment took 30 min to render. No no no…that wouldn’t do. I have very little time to waste here. So I set about seeing what I could do with the 3-way color corrector. After playing around for a few minutes I realized that I was onto something. I was actually getting the look that the MB preset provided. a few more tweaks and I was just about spot on. The darks were as dark, the colors exactly the same saturation and color…the look matched…and the clip had a dark green render bar…meaning it required no rendering. Well, I was absolutely GIDDY! But then I noticed that the whites weren’t white. To get the look I liked I had to dial the WHITES color wheel into the blue. This caused the white to have a blue tinge to it. Hmmm…couldn’t have that. So I went into the LIMIT EFFECT area and dropped the LUMA range down so that the white was white. BINGO! Now it was perfect. I mean spot on to the Magic Bullet look. And the best news, I had a light green render bar, so I could look at it in real time. And that 5 min chunk…it took 3 minutes to render instead of 30. 10x as fast. Now i was really giddy. So I made it a favorite.

But…hmmm…couldn’t I just make that a plugin? How would I get this look to someone else? XML? Well, thanks to the help of Graeme Nattress, I was able to make it a plugin. Here it is for you to enjoy. Now, it crushes the blacks to get the deep color, so if things are too dark, bump up the BLACKS lever and MIDS lever until you get it right.

Tomorrow I lock picture and continue with the color correction. I also have 20 Shake comps I need to do. Green Screen shots. A couple are very difficult and require a lot of finessing so I have farmed them out to a buddy (Pat Sheffield, the guy who taught me how to use it) who is very Shake savvy.

AND….we need to get DVDs out regularly, and it takes me 10-12 hours to author one from a DVCPRO HD 90 min timeline. So I bought a DVD recorder and tested recording an image fed thru an AJ-HD1200 deck. That was spotty at best. Hiccups left and right that appear while outputting, but don’t appear on the master. Playback to the monitor issues. So I could output it, then play it back from the deck…but then I have to rent a deck every time. No…my solution? Drop the cut into a DV timeline, add the TC Reader plugin and render. 5 hours for 90 min. Then 90 min to output to the recorder thru my DSR-11. 6.5 hours…OK…better. Gives me a better chance to make FedEx….

I have been working all weekend long, so time for bed.

EDIT: Mike Curtis of HDFORINDIES.COM asked me a few questions concerning my workflow.

Am I mastering back to DVCPRO HD?

No. I did a test output to test possibilities as other people have. But my requirement is still HDCAM 1080p 23.98

Sounds like you don’t have an HD SDI card…correct or no?

I do have an HD SDI card. A Decklink HD card with HD SDI only. That is the reason I bought the HD SDI option on the PVM-14L5 monitor.

If you are mastering back to DVCPRO HD, and you are mastering via firewire, I am not aware of the benefits of 8-bit uncompressed? Am I missing something?

I must have explained something wrong…it was late, and I was tired. I am not mastering out to DVCPRO HD…I just did a test to see what the result is. I plan on mastering out to HDCAM, and that is why I will upconvert to 8-bit uncompressed HD

Do you plan on mastering back to DVCPRO HD via HD SDI?

No. If I did master to DVCPRO HD it would be via firewire…for true lossless export. HD SDI output is for the HDCAM.

NOW…my biggest issue still has to do with the fact that HD at 23.98 doesn’t have a drop frame timecode….and I want to know why? Why not when drop frame code is the only way you can ensure proper real world timing of a show? Non-drop will assign one number per frame, but since playback isn’t 24fps, but rather 23.98…slightly slower, you need to drop 2 numbers every minute except for the 10th minute to ensure that you are spot on in terms of real time. A buddy of mine who works with HD on a daily basis fails to see why that is an issue…and we battle quite a bit about it. Why drop frame TC? Well, because the networks demand it. That should end the conversation right there.

The rubberbands are rotting and breaking…time for another solution.

You have no doubt seen the new Mac Pro that Apple released this week. Due to the processors not requiring as much space for cooling, there is more room for drives…so Apple has made space for 4 drives. Drives that they claim that can be raided together for working with uncompressed HD. Which you can, but then where do you install your operating system? External firewire drive? Try to get a PATA drive into the space reserved for a secondary optical drive?

Anyway…I have an internal 2TB Raid on my G5. Four Hitachi 500GB drives. And I still have my main HD and secondary internal HD….for a total of SIX internal drive. I laid out my entire process when I built my POPSICLE RAID a few months back. As you can see I used rubber bands and popsicle sticks. I felt like MacGuyver. “If only we had a RAID we could get out of this situation!” “Don’t worry. I have six popsicle sticks, a bag of rubber bands and a swiss army knife…I CAN DO IT!” But, as Joe pointed out on LAFCPUG, rubber bands weren’t the best solution. He said that the heat would cause them to eventually break. I agree. This was meant to be a temporary solution until I bought an external SATA RAID case.

Well, that doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. I spent all my money on other things (including a production monitor)…and the Raid works very well. BUT…I did have cause to look inside my machine recently and yes, the rubber bands were indeed failing:

And in fact…a few were broken:

So I needed another solution. I didn’t want to get the G5 Jive. I really liked the idea of the popsicle sticks. The resourcefulness that my buddy Patrick had in coming up with that idea. So I needed to improve on the design. That is when I came up with the idea of attaching the sticks to the drives with drive screws. Then they are still attached to popsicle sticks, and there is nothing there to fall apart. Well, not for a LONG time. So off I set to get drive screws.

I had some difficulty. I went to Fry’s Electronics…a HUGE megastore that houses nearly everything electronic. It has a big section for computers, and sell all the separate components so that you can build your own machine. But they didn’t sell drive mounting screws separately. All they sold were small kits of screws and mounts for attaching logicboards to computer cases. I bought one, but realized that the screws that were included poked out too much. The drives were jammed in there pretty well with the rubber bands, they wouldn’t fit with the screws poking out. But I did use them on the top drive…the one under the optical drive. I used my Mikita drill and drilled holes into the sticks.

Then I had a thought. I could get screws at the hardware store. Beveled ones so that they could go flush against the wood. So I brought an internal drive to the hardware store (to make sure I got ones that fit…I doubt they know which size screw works on an internal SATA drive) and I found the size that would fit. Size 6-32 3/8″ screws.

So…I measured where I needed to drill the holes, then bound all the sticks together so that I would only have to drill once and made the holes. I screwed the first screw into the stick and…CRACK. It broke. Of course it broke. The beveling of the screw forced the wood apart. So I had to inversly bevel the holes on the popsicle sticks. Man, who thought shop class would come in handy when adding stuff to your computer? I used the Mikita again, this time with the phillips head screwdrive attachment and I beveled the holes:

I attached the other three sticks just fine…no cracking. But, I was short one stick. So I went off to the corner market to get a replacement.

After carefully removing the frozen outer coating of the wood support stick, I was ready to go.

Here is the result of my afternoon of driving around, drilling holes, beveling them, and removing outer coatings:

When I went to put them back into my G5, I found that it went in a lot easier. The rubber bands were bulkier than I thought. They sat into place well, and the fan slid right in…lickiddy split.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to get more replacement wood support sticks…to have around in case of emergency.

It’s a beautiful thing. Yesterday I got the call that my monitor was fixed and ready for pickup. When I retrieved it, i looked at the invoice and saw that the G-Board had failed. So they installed an M-board and HD SDI card, and the G-Board died. Is the entire alphabet in there?

So I brought it back and connected it to my card…and after a few settings in FCP I got a signal to it. An HD signal. And MAN, is it sharp. Yeah, CRT monitors are they way to go. Comparing it to my Dell in Digital Cinema Preview mode…there is no contest.

And yes, I got the Decklink HD working. Took a while, but I think it wasn’t seated in firmly enough previously, because now it is working gangbusters.

So now I can get to work…today I am working on most of my green screen comps.

I tell you I have the WORSE luck with equipment. First my G4 right out to the box has problems (logic board)…then my G5 had a kernal panic everytime I turned it on (bad processor)…iBook had issues later in life (logicboard replaced 3 times…known apple issue)…then I couldn’t get the Tascam mixer to work properly.

Now, it is the new 14L5 monitor.

When it arrived I unpacked it and set it up and pulled out the optional HD SDI board…and…noticed…that…it…came…with…hmm. What is that? A small circuit board with the letter M on it. OK…well…OK. I take off the back plates and install the card (following the manual, but skipping one line) and then I connected it to my Decklink HD and turned it on. It was nice. I got a TV signal to it, and a DV signal to it…but the optional card button on the monitor wasn’t activating. I go back to the manual…and find the line I skimmed. “Before you install your BKM-blah blah you must first replace the M-Board in the monitor with the one provided. Contact your local Sony repair facility.”

Ah. The little board did have an M on it.

So I contacted Sony and drove the monitor to the Glendale facility and they swapped out the cards and installed the board…for free. Warranty and all. Sweet.
I bring it home and plug it into the Decklink…and I cannot get an HD signal to the monitor. The Decklink is only sending out an SD signal. I know it works for a buddy of mine tested it at his place of employment and it worked fine…HD and all. But It wasn’t working for me. I called him for advice and he suggested that I reseat the card. So I did one better and swapped slots. Then I went to turn on the monitor and…nothing.

No power light…no power…nada. Sigh.

Back to Sony it went. So it will get repaired, but what is up with that card? It works on all manchines BUT mine. Hmmmm.

Now that I have SHAKE down (kinda…I get the basics and do a mean green screen) I am off to learn yet ANOTHER application called Curious World Maps. This software is basically very advanced Google Earth…allowing you to not only create maps, but overlay graphics, get in REAL CLOSE is you have that certain areas high resolution photos, and move three dimensionally. This software is pretty much only used by news organizations. We will be the first to use it in a non-broadcast news way. It is touted as very simple and fast to use but it has SEVERELY STUMPED ME. I have been struggling to do simple things, but just not getting it. It just isn’t intuitive. After Effects is intuitive, Motion…somewhat intuitive, but if you worked in AE, it isn’t at all. But my producer was able to manage to get the maps made, so I’ll be DARNED if I give up. But man, while working the x800 graphics card died and I have to resort to the stock Apple card, and maps are going VERY slow. sigh.

EDIT: I figured them out. I got the program figured out. After I tired to just give up and send a map still to AE for all my work, I stumbled upon an entry in the manual that just made everything click…so now I got it. Whew.

I am learning a lot of other programs, and doing so much in this show…which I am still editing. Yes, the one that prompted me to start this blog a year ago, The Mexican American War, is still in post. I have been stalled on Act one for 2.5 months. That is a LONG time. I edit one hour shows from start to finish in 5 weeks, two hour shows take 10-11 weeks. There are just a lot of issues. Music, maps, organization of the script…re-writes. This Act talks about how the war was started, and that is a very complex thing to tackle in 14 minutes, so there has been a lot of re-writes. Plus I have been playing with other software, so…

One year ago…last year…I was just an editor. An offline editor that cut the show to time and sent the show out of house to be onlined. One that had a graphics guy making graphics and doing all the green screen. I did some pretty full temp sound mixes, and I had the chops for finishing (having been an online editor for 2 years) and I knew basic motion graphics via After Effects. I edited using an Avid at whatever production company would have me. I had a G4 and two cheesy CRT monitors and a DVCAM deck for the few side projects that I had going.

Now…a year later…I am a full service post person. Offline, online, color correction, motion graphics, green screen comping, map creation and final output to tape. Everything BUT the sound mix. I have a solid G5, two Dell 24″ monitors, a Decklink HD card, PVM-14L5 color correction monitor and 13 hard drives…four of them in a 2TB Raid inside my computer for uncompressed HD work. I am a one man band post facility now.

MAN how time flies…Now if I can only get on to Act 2 or 3…

The ultimatte FCP plugin.

Two years ago…one year ago…heck, SIX MONTHS AGO…when you wanted to get really convincing green screen work done, you went to a visual effects house. I did this a lot. If not that, then we had a Graphics Artist in house that did all this work. Recently more and more editors find themselves not only editing, but delving into visual effects as well. I have a friend who is a commercial and music video editor who uses Motion and Shake all the time in his work. And now with the recent price drop of SHAKE I see the incidents of this only increasing.

And I have joined the ranks.

Not only am I a creative editor, but I am becoming a motion graphics and visual effects artist as well. I do not pretend that I have, nor will I have the skill set of the guys that do this all day long and have years of experience. But I can do a pretty mean green screen comp…IMHO. Not only did I get a nice key from my footage, but I was able to add that little extra that made it really convincing.

Keylight with Shake offered the same image degradation that happened with After Effects, but Shake offered tools and nodes that were able to get a great key. A HOLD OUT MATTE was the key. Once I used that the image cleared right up. I did some futzing and got a really nice key. But something didn’t quite seem right. I blurred the background a little for depth of field….I painted out the modern day lamp posts…but that wasn’t it. Then I looked at the cut with the comps…and every other shot had smoke running thru the shots. So great action shot with smoke…then suddenly three clean shots…then smoke in a shot again. So I need smoke.

But Shake doesn’t have a smoke node. But Motion does smoke…well.

So I used Motion to create a nice layer of smoke and added it to the comp…and it looked very decent. But all the other shots have smoke in the background, smoke in the foreground…swirling around the guys. So I went into Motion again and made some thicker smoke and then added it to the background…

I feel like I am working on LORD OF THE RINGS or something.

ANWAY…you’ve seen the footage I have had to work with below, now look at the results. First the green screen shots before I added smoke, then the finished comps with the shot before and after…so you can see.

EXAMPLE 1- http://homepage.mac.com/comeback/.Movies/GS-B.mov
EXAMPLE 2 – http://homepage.mac.com/comeback/.Movies/GS-C.mov
FINISHED COMP – http://homepage.mac.com/comeback/.Movies/GreenScreenFinal.mov

I just got this mixer. My producer owns it but barely uses it, if at all. So he loaned it to me…indefinately. I might buy it. The great thing about this mixer is that it interfaces with FCP directly. Changes I make with the sliders reflect on the FCP timeline. If I raise the audio on tracks 1 & 2, the tracks on the timeline raise as well. You can do this in realtime. When playing back you adjust the levels and it does it on the fly. AND, when you playback the sliders move to reflect the timeline levels. It’s pretty freaky really…those sliders moving as my timeline plays.

OH…and another cool thing. The transport controls. You can play, FF, REW, stop, shuttle and frame advance with the controls on this mixer. AND…you can map the sliders to various controls in Motion for quick manipulation. I love this mixer. And it is darn cheap now too.

It requires a firewire connection and its own firewire bus. This is a bit of a drawback, as I have firewire 800 G-Raids on the FW800 connection, but the G5 is designed that ALL the firewire ports are on the same bus. So for me to use the mixer with my setup and to cut my show, which is stored on G-Raids, I need to add my PCI firewire card. But if I do that, then I lose the HD capabilities of my Decklink HD card…because it needs to be installed onto slot 2 or 3 (slot 1 is the AGP graphics card, and the high speed slot, slot 4, if for the Sonnet 4+4 card) and no other card can be installed in the other slot…or I lose it’s HD capabilities. GAH! So if I want to use the mixer for the offline, I have to have the card installed. When I go to uprez and color correct, I have to take the card out and lose the control interface that I so enjoy. Eh…say la vie.

Now, the “other things.”

My show, that was supposed to be done in late April, is still in post production. Two months have been added as we have major re-structuring to do. And we are in full swing in pre-production for our next show. So my producer, who was tackling the maps for this show using the Curious Map software, has handed that task to me. He brought over his G5 with the x800 graphics card and the Curious software, and I am to learn how to use it. I hear it is darn easy, for it is meant for broadcast news so it is designed to be fast and easy to configure. Heck, if my producer could do it, I can do it. So I have that to tackle. And to learn Shake for green screen work.

AND…I will be doing the color correction. So I will be investing in a Sony PVM-14L5 monitor and HD SDI card for the monitor.

Looks like I am becoming a one stop shop…a one man band that can do everything. Time to incorporate I suppose.