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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for September, 2007

OK…I haven’t posted anything in a while (although I have a LOT to say) because I am busy. And I mean…BUSY. I am working on three projects at once: 1) Discovery Channel show (day job that pays the bills), 2) Short film that I am color correcting and prepping the audio for a mix, and 3) A short film by the same director that I am editing.

On the Discovery show, I am entering editing territory I am not too familiar with. CHARACTER driven show…they want to focus on the doctors and their motivations…how life in the trauma center affects them and how they deal with death. Different from the process shows I am used to cutting. This isn’t TOO unfamiliar…I have done this before. But I have done it with constant help from a producer or writer…someone to either write a script, or sit with me and figure out what goes where and assemble the show. A creative collaboration. Someone who has seen ALL the footage…who was on the shoot, and knows it. Because I haven’t seen it all (shame, but that would have taken 5 weeks of solid watching, and I didn’t have that much time…yes, it is that much footage), so I look at certain things and am given direction on what to look at or look for, and we talk things over and lay out the show.

That is not what I am getting lately. We did have a writer, but he wrote traditional surgery stuff…stuff the network doesn’t want…and he had to leave the show for health reasons. Then I had another producer, but she was overwhelmed. Doing all of the busy work on the show, and assisting on two more, so her attention was divided and unfortunately she could offer little guidance. Typically I should have a Producer and then an Associate Producer…the producer collaborating with the story and the AP doing all the busy work. I didn’t get that until the week before I left for Amsterdam. I got full time attention in the bay and we cranked out a good show.

But, not the show the network wanted. MORE on the docs, LESS on the mechanics of dealing with patients. More here, less here. And when I returned my producer was gone…as was half the staff. Shooting was over…it was all post now. And my producer had another project…so…I then had my EP who helped during the last week before I left. Now I return and his attention was divided on three shows (as it should be as EP), getting one ready for online, another fine cut, another rough cut. So I was left to my own devices to figure out how to reorganize the show, and how to get more character into it. I had become a producer/writer/editor.

I edited Act 1 four different ways in 4 days. None of which worked out. Then the weekend…and then tackling it again on Monday. 6th day I get something that looks good…but then I see the rough cut of the first act of the second hour of the show and see where it is going…and it is BRILLIANT. The other editor knocked it out of the park. BANG ON what they wanted. Her and HER PRODUCER did a great job. For the two weeks I was gone the other editor was assigned a producer/writer who helped figure out the voice and theme of the show…and they just nailed it. But now he is done and off to another project. So the other editor and the EP flush out the remaining Acts. All good….all GREAT.

So…OK then…my cut is very lackluster in comparison. What to do to…make it better? What to do? I stare at the scene cards…re-arrange them. Then tackle the cut on the system…play it. Shake my head and re-arrange the cards again. Stare at them. Pound my head on the wall. I simply do not have what I need to have to process this. So I start watching interviews…FULL interviews. Pulling selects that I thought were good statements. Exec Producer popped head in to ask progress. SLOW…but getting there. He tosses out ideas that I decide to tackle to clear my head. 2 work, 4 don’t. But, the two are good. So I look at the cards again…think think think…how do I…

INSPIRATION! I break up Act 1 so I build tension…start to know a character, lead that into a trauma…a tense one…then I end the act halfway thru. Open the next act with more on the doctor…more reason why he does what he does…finish on great statement that leads BACK into trauma bay. Wrap it up…good ending statements. But then…how do I intro the NEXT doctor? I gotta make it smooth. The show has to flow…can’t be small individual story “pods” that I then slam together with a fancy quick flashy transition (what I am used to doing on process shows). I have to flow from one character to the next…a stream…not a bunch of puddles. Man, what is happening to my mind…puddles?

OH…it must be the lack of sleep. Because while I am doing all of this, I still have those TWO OTHER PROJECTS I AM WORKING ON TOO! Sleep? Well…yeah…kinda.

Side Project one is semi on hold. I had to work on it for a day…color correcting a few shots from different scenes so I can talk to the director about what I wanted to do and convery, and get her input as to what she thought and what changes she’d like to do. Ok, that wasn’t bad.

But that is something I need to backburner for now. She (the director) just finished shooting a majority of her SECOND film, and she wanted a rough cut so they could see if they needed reshoots, and see how to film a few key scenes. So I tackle this….and initially I am given a WEEK to do this. OK…this is a short film…targetted at 30 min. When I worked on a 30 min kids show, we had a week to do the rough cut…but I was able to work 9 hours a day. Now? I only have 3-4. Why?

Well, I work all day on the paying gig…then home for dinner, play with the kids…get them to bed. Dishes to be done. Quick chat with the wife about affairs of the day…start work at 9 PM or 9:39 PM…work untl 1 AM or so. Go to bed. WAKE UP AT 6 AM TO GET THE KIDS READY FOR SCHOOL! That’s right…5 hours sleep. Maybe four if I didn’t get to sleep right away. This happens for a week. I am DEAD ON MY FEET…er…in my edit chair. NO WONDER I can’t think straight in the edit bay…can’t get Act 1 to work. Mentally wiped…physically sleepy.

Call from Short Film Producer…can we see it? Nope…I only edited 3 scenes out of 9. I may need another week, and even then I won’t be done. Because there is SO MUCH FOOTAGE. Shot DVCPRO HD on the HVX-200. I finally figured out tonight how much footage I am wading thru…NINE HOURS. Why nine hours? Well, this film utilized TWO HVX-200 cameras…Multicamera shoot. So EVERY scene was shot with two angles. Footage doubled. And another reason I have so much footage? I am looking at EVERY TAKE. Not only was this ultra low budget…so they didn’t have all the key crew…but when the did have the key crew (Script Supervisor in this case), they didn’t do key things…like say “that take was no good…try again. Ok, that was good, print that. OH…Genuis! Print that!” On a narrative TV series shot on film, they wouldn’t print every take. Some takes were OBVIOUSLY bad. So they didn’t even have the editor look at them. HERE? I see EVERYTHING. And there is no indication in the script notes as to what was good, what wasn’t. Key time saving technique. Also, the script supervisor pages weren’t formatted properly…lines indicating what character was on camera for what take. So I have to search and search to find it.

I get calls all week on when can they see the cut? I tell them (producer, actor, director) that I will be lucky to be halfway thru. My day job comes first…family still needs to see me. And who doesn’t need a LITTLE sleep. OK, they’ll watch what I have on the weekend. During our many conversations I realize something…no one on the crew has even SEEN the footage! Not one second. NO WONDER they are clammoring to see a cut. They haven’t seen ANYTHING. OK. We’ll watch what I have, then I’ll give the director the drive they gave me with all the footage back to her. I copied over everything to my main RAID drives. SO she can look at what she has. But the producer, saying “in all your wonderful free time (ta ha ha) can I burn DVDs of the dailies for her? Ooookay. Good thing I have a capture card and DVD recorder so I don’t have to go through AUTHORING everything. But…time time time…

This is when I figure out that I have 9 hours and 20 mins. Stringing out the dailies for output. LAND SAKES ALIVE! How long will this take me? I can’t keep this schedule up…

And all the while I am working on two different edit systems. Avid for the day job, FCP for the side projects. So I have to mentally shift gears and get my head in gear to work with each system. Another mental juggling act.

GAH! It is 2:45 AM…why am I NOT in bed? stupid stupid stupid…

IBC is FINALLY over…and I am on my way home. I figured that during this long flight I could take some time to write about what I saw…what impressed me, what didn’t, what is new, what isn’t. If the in-flight movie (Ocean’s 13) was working properly (no audio) I probably wouldn’t be doing this. I do have my iPod, but the of the movies I encoded for it that I have left, I forgot to get the subtitling so all I hear is Japanese and Chinese in BIG sections of KILL BILL. And I have no window seat to enjoy the ocean view.

SO…what I will do then is write. I planned on doing this anyway, but now seems like the perfect opportunity.

First, RED. They finally started shipping the RED camera last week, and a few people have their hands on them. They only have the RED Flash media to record to (4.5 min or so), but they are shooting. The cameras lack the ability to record audio on the camera, but the camera does have the inputs, so that is something that they will address with a firmware update in the near future. On the REDUser website, there is a place where people can post their test shots. I went to the demo where a nice man named Mark-Allen gave a workflow demo on how to get RED footage into various edit systems. Since they are very friendly with Apple, of course it works well with FCP. But they also have options for Avid and Adobe. The camera records to a format called RED RAW, which is wavelet based and can record 4K footage at 26MB/s. That is one VERY EFFICIENT codec. “virtually lossless” is what they called it. 2 hours of recording to 320GB hard drives that they are still working on.

They have two tools to get footage out of the RED RAW and into workable formats. REDCINE is a stand alone application that has many many tools. This allows you to view the footage on the set, and make some color correction changes for a “one light” transfer, making sure the footage looks decent before you import it. You can create custom looks and save them (Graeme Nattress made a few that they have as presets). From there you can encode to ANY quicktime codec you happen to have installed on your computer. ProRes, DVCPRO HD, DV if you want…uncompressed (but why?)..and if you have the Avid codecs, you can go to the DNxHD codec or anything you happen to need. The second tool they offer is RED ALERT, which is just a pared down version of REDCINE. Basic conversion tools without all the color correction aspects. Originally intended as an internal tool only, it was so useful that they made it available to the public. Another way you can import is via the LOG AND TRANSFER option in Final Cut Pro. This option will be in a future release of FCP (due shortly) and allows you to have access to all the controls available there, IN and OUT points, importing and then instant access to the footage.

After the demo I asked the question apparently on everyone who stayed behind to ask questions…what does RED recommend archiving to? Because, of course, there is no tape…it is all data. I don’t know if this is the official word from RED as to what they are doing, but Mark-Allen mentioned LTO drives as the better bet to go with. Hard drives are just too volatile (don’t we know it!) and HD DVD or Blu-Ray might not work for the LONG haul. WHo knows how good they are for? They are new. But LTO backup has been in use by credit card companies since the 1970s…over 30 years…and the data is still readable. So that does indeed seem like a very secure way to go. Expensive for the initial purchase (the drives go for over $1000), but in the long run, they’ll pay for themselves.

Whew…that was a lot about RED. Apparently they did fix the audio on OCEAN’S 13…but I missed half the movie now, so…onward.

Sony XDCAM EX. Small camera size that is on the level of the HVX-200. This camera too is tapeless, recording to Express 34 cards….EXPRESS 34! Meaning that you can use your MacBook PRO to offload the footage. Unlike P2 where you need an older Mac, or some VERY EXPENSIVE Panasonic P2 card reader. Now, I am not a camera guy (although I used to be), so I don’t know many of the intricate details, but I was impressed by a few options. First, the pros:

It records ALL of the formats that the larger XDCAM cameras record. 25Mbps, 35Mbps in the usual MPEG-2 4:2:0 format at 1440×1080 or 960×720. But it ALSO records the new 50Mbps FULL RASTER 1920×1080 format. NICE. And the image is very crisp.

It records to the Express34 cards, like I mentioned. So importing the footage will be easier and less expensive than other similar cameras.

A future release of FCP (like, the NEXT one) will support direct XDCAM IMPORT via the Log and Transfer option. No more relying on the Sony software to convert the footage. Apple was a bit looser lipped than normal…which is nice.

The main handle SWIVELS. You know, the one you grip when you hold the camera, the one with the BIG zoom controls? This is great for putting the camera in really high (above your head) hand-held positions and really low (below your waist) hand-held positions. Heck, you don’t need to be a shooter to see the advantage of that.

CONS? MPEG-2 Long GOP 4:2:0. This just isn’t a great codec. Yes, you can convert to ProRes when you import, so you have better control over the image. I am glad, because I’d hate to work with that or HDV natively. Yeah yeah, I know many of you are and are doing fine. Whatever. It is a cumbersome format to work with, and I count my lucky stars that I have yet to have the pleasure. Many grumblings from co-workers and friends however. FIXED LENS. Whatchagonna do? The HVX-200 and Canon XL-H1 have this too. Seems to be the trend among the sub-$5000 cameras.

Still…the COOL THING? The camera will cost $4000. Yep…you read right…$4000. And the 16GB cards will go for under $1000. Tow of them and the camera will set you back under $6000. CHEAPER than the HVX-200. Nice to have competition out there. And when Red gets the Red Pocket Cam out…there goes the neighborhood.

EDIT: I AM GETTING MANY E-MAILS AND COMMENTS THAT THE PRICING I QUOTED SEEMS LOW. THAT ACCORDING TO STUFF THEY HAVE HEARD AND READ THE CAMERA WOULD BE PRICED AROUND $6000 U.S. NOW, SEEING THAT I WAS IN EUROPE, I MIGHT HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE PRICE IN EUROS. WHICH MAKES SENSE, 4000.00 EURO COMES OUT TO ABOUT $6000 U.S. WE’LL SEE WHEN THE CAMERA IS INTRODUCED. THANKS GUYS.

So…with the Panasonic HVX-200 and P2, the Sony XDCAM EX and Express 34, and Red and the RedFlash, RedRam and Red Drive…ALL recording tapeless…we are moving towards more and more tapeless acquisition. The networks better pay attention to this. Several of them, including Discovery whom I work with a lot, still REFUSE to accept data files. They insist that the footage reside on tape and that the tape TC be referenced in the project files. This means that you have to shoot P2, transfer it to tape, then recapture that tape in order to work with it. This pretty much negates the cost savings you have shooting P2 in the first place, because of the Deck Rental/Purchase required to do this. So pay attention Discovery, National Geographic…the future is tapeless!

Apple? I didn’t notice anything new. I heard that they came out with a new version of Logic, but I missed it. And Avid? Not there. Panasonic? There, but only had meeting rooms. No camera displays. And I wanted to check out the 500 cameras, since that is what we were considering shooting our next series on. But noooo. Darn Panasonic. And I couldn’t find MOTU either. I was looking forward to seeing the V3HD in person and ask questions and get answers, but nope, they weren’t there.

Hmmm…Ocean’s 13 is finally over, and the next movie is starting (8 hour flight). This one is the new Fantastic Four film…but now the airplane seems to be suffering from electrical issues. My reading light is going on and off, the call button from several seats is ringing at random, and the audio is cutting in and out on the film, and the picture is flickering like mad. This is NOT a good sign when one is flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Getting me a little anxious really. I’d better get back to writing to get my mind off of this. And try to finish before my batter runs out. So no more blathering.

AJA – The I/O HD was there in all it’s glory…but still not shipping. Two weeks is the word now. I know, this is difficult to take for all those that want one and need one now. But really, would you like a WORKING model in two weeks? Or one now that doesn’t work reliably? I vote for the former. But I chatted with Jon Thorne and Gary Adcock and caught up. Jon playing some ULTIMATE AVENGERS cartoon on the laptop that I now have to go find and rent….it looks cool. HULK SMASH! (he fights with Capt. America)

BlueFish 4:4:4. OK, I mention these guys because I recall considering them when shopping for a capture card about 4 years ago. They had a good rep. And I found out from a couple people at IBC that the BlueFish guys are the old CINEWAVE people…off on their own after Pinnacle was bought by Avid (or maybe a little before that). ANYWAY, their stuff was VERY expensive. And it really didn’t look like it offered anything different from the MUCH CHEAPER Black-Magic and AJA options. They even had an HD SDI/DVI converter that was easily triple what the HD Link Pro costs. Not sure why they are so expensive. Aiming high?

EDIT SHARE. These guys were right next to me (I was working the CalDigit Booth) and I finally ambled over there on the third day. They were pretty busy the first two days. So I asked for a demo, and I got one. This program takes the “Avid Unity” approach to project organization. When a bin is open by the owner, it is LOCKED and others can open the bin, but not make changes. Well, it goes a bit further and makes is so even if that bin ISN’T open, you cannot make changes to that bin. Projects for each user is stored locally on their system, but all systems can see it. If they want access to a cut so they can make changes, they first copy the bin to a transfer section called UNPROTECTED BINS, then copy it onto their own system. This is pretty handy, so that you can see what the other person is doing on their, so that you can make your section match, or use footage from their section (as a tease out for your show act, for example)…or whatever.

Each “bin” is in fact a separate project file. That is how they organize this. And it is a neat approach. But If I have too many bins open at once, the Browser fills up. But you can have one bin for CUT, and another for footage…you can have a main project (bin) of the source footage that everyone shares. But that footage bin would have to be “owned” by one person, meaning others couldn’t modify it.

OK, how does it work? You launch the EditShare program which then launches FCP as well. And then (this I like) you choose the USER and the Project you are working on. This is VERY handy. And depending on the project you choose, Edit Share assignes media drives to that project, so if you quit one project and open another, then program switches what media drives it then accesses and writes to. VERY nice. On the Finder level I saw how it worked. Open the server drive and you see folders for the users that in turn contain project folders than contain project files that are your bins.

While I did find some of this useful (projects pointing to specific hard drives), overall I wasn’t too blown away. After working at a company that had a HUGE FCP shared storage network and seeing how they do things, it really isn’t that difficult to work that way. This might be for people who really want and need the Unity way of doing things. But I was impressed by one thing. And this is huge. An 8TB 3U shared storage network option I asked about (including the server) costs $23,000. Oh, that is a lot…but the impressive part? NO SEAT LICENSE! Sold as it you have the ability to add 16 seats…for no additional cost. I found that VERY impressive. And while I’d have to work with the Edit Share software, it isn’t too painful..I could learn to like it. If you have one seat, you could do uncompressed HD work, the more seats you add, the bandwidth drops, as expected. But in a shared workflow environment you won’t have all stations working with uncompressed HD. You would have the footage stored in an offline codec like DV or Offline RT, so that you have room for LOTS of footage, and so many people can access it. I’d have a separate station with a separate drive set up (HDPro from CalDigit…read my review) for Onlining.

And this works for Avid, Adobe CS3, and FCP…the biggies. Overall I was impressed and liked it. And would consider it as an option. Very impressive. I was able to grab a T-shirt as the show closed down. The only swag I was able to swing.

OOP, on reserve power. Gotta go.

I saw something when we were setting up at IBC that I wanted to mention. Because it directly relates to something that I do on all the shows that I work on.

At one booth I saw the face of the host of a Discovery Channel show I worked on…a series really. It was a freeze frame image of this host with burned in time code and no background, so I couldn’t tell which show it was from. They were busy setting up, so I didn’t have a chance to ask the guys (and gal) what it was right away. I waited until the show was running and they weren’t so busy.

The guy is a historian named Dan Martinez that hosted the UNSOLVED HISTORY series I worked on. I was one of many editors assigned to work on those shows (typically three of us on a show, up to five for the two hour ones) and was curious if this was one of the ones I worked on. I spoke to the guy doing the demo and discovered that it was indeed one of the UNSOLVED shows…the one on PEARL HARBOR. Now, I didn’t work on that one, but I was at the company that did. The man doing the demo, Tao, was delighted to find out I was one of the editors of these shows. He worked on the international version of all of them. I asked him to run me through the demo…what did he do? INTERNATIONAL VERSIONING and MIXING. He took the international master that we provide and remixes the audio and re-does all the text for the various countries it airs in.

OK, a quick note on what we provide for International versioning.

We provide a textless tape (no lower thirds…interviewee name and title…or map names) with split track audio, a DA88 audio tape with 8 separate tracks, time code information as to where the lower thirds and map text resides, and additional footage, called PLUS ELEMENTS, that is to be added for countries who have shorter or no commercial breaks.

One of the things this man did was add translation VO over the interview bytes by ducking the audio and adding in the translation (German, French, Italian, whathaveyou). He also remixed the music when needed as well. For example, the PEARL HARBOR episode used music that was in the feature film, that the show had bits and pieces of throughout. They didn’t want to license that for international, so he composed and scored new music and replaced it. They also cut out the feature film footage and added the plus elements to make up the difference. And then noting our time code information from the texted master, and utilizing a low res QT file for reference, he would locate the lower thirds and map text and replace them with German or French or Italian (again, whathaveyou) language versions of the titles.

But I noted something when I was watching TV in my hotel room in Amsterdam. I found that they aired National Geographic and Discovery Channel, and did so in English. The titles were still in English, and the show was subtitled. I asked him why in this case they didn’t do Dutch translations. “Ah, that is because most of the population here speak English. And those that don’t, read the subtitles.” Very true. Every person I ran into spoke very good english. And I mean everyone. I could see that. He did point out that he still noted our text time code numbers for when he adds the subtitles. So they would appear higher on the screen as to not cover the lower third information. Handy.

It was very nice to see what happens to the international masters that we prep. I would liked to have seen a show fully realized in German or something. But…next time.

I have additional stuff to add to my review of the CalDigit HDPro Raid solution. I posted it to the original review, but wanted to make a new post as well so that I ensured that people saw it.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

OK, I forgot to mention something that impressed me. And for some reason I thought it was common among other RAID 5 solutions, but I hear it is rare. OK…after I yanked out the drive and then put it back in and started the Raid rebuild, I realized that I could continue to work with the drive as it rebuilt the raid. The performance of the raid dropped from 400MB/s to 190MB/s, but I was still able to access footage on the timeline and edit. It did the rebuild in the background. This means that there is ZERO downtime with this. VERY handy feature.

Now, the other feature is something I discovered while working the show at IBC. I mentioned to the CalDigit folks that it would be really nice if the unit had an audible warning when a drive failed. Currently you can set it up to e-mail you if anything unusual is happening, but it would be nice to have an audible warning as well. “Oh, we have that!” was the reply. And Alex Chen, the owner, showed me where this was. In the RAID SHIELD software, you open the controller and then click on PREFERENCES. In there you will find an option called BEEP. Check that and when you hit OK you hear the unit beep twice to indicate that the feature is active. So when a drive fails, or the unit starts to overheat or other issue occurs, the unit will beep. Sweet!

AND the units aren’t only for the Mac. It is cross platform, so it works on the PC as well. It works with Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro (we ran a PC with CS3 on it playing footage, and Matrox uses the CalDigit units in their booth), and recently it was found to work with an Avid as well.

Well, this site…which contains FCP tips and tricks as well as a few tutorials from Capt Mench and myself…has been down for a while. Server issues. Some hacker is putting links on the site that are inappropriate, and the server thinks the HOST is doing this (redirects to ad sites or somesuch)…so the just keep yanking the site. Odd stuff.

ANYWAY…the video tutorials were acutally posted on an iWeb page, so they are still available. That can be found here:

ProAppStuff

Hopefully we’ll get the site…the FULL SITE…up and running soon.

EDIT: Ahhhh…I see that the site now re-directs, so simply clicking on my link to the right, or going to www.proapptips.com will get you to the tutorial page. Sweet.

OK, I have been here for 8 days already, vacationing with the family. Now I check into my new hotel and begin work. Access to the internet has been VERY limited. Internet Cafe’s mainly, as my hotel does not have access. Hopefully my new one will. And I haven’t blogged because, well, I was vacationing. Walking around, riding bikes, walking, taking a canal cruise, walking, feeding pigeons, walking. OH, and walking. My feet hurt.

ANYWAY, IBC starts tomorrow and I will try to find interesting stuff to blog about. I already have a blog I am working on about seeing Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel here, so that will be next.

OK…off to rest my feet…and, well, change hotels.

(Odd, all of my blog commands are in dutch! I’ll have to post a pic when I can upload it to my iDisk.)