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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for March, 2008

As NAB 2008 approaches, it means that the FCPUG SUPERMEET is also approaching, and your time to get tickets is running short.

Why do I mention this? Am I advertising for the Final Cut Pro Users Group? Well, a little. But really I am doing this to mention that this is really one of the best places to network…meet other people in your field. And this is pretty important. Easily over half the jobs I have gotten were referrals from other editors. But most of all it is fun to meet other people. Before I post the details of this Supermeet, let me share a story with you from the Supermeet that occurred at the last MacWorld in San Francisco.

At the break, Larry Jordan told the audience, (and I paraphrase) “As we go into the break I want you to take this opportunity to meet someone new. Walk up to someone and ask them what project they are working on right now.” So I did just that. I was downstairs hanging with my CalDigit crew when a guy came up and looked at the product information. I asked him what he was working on…what sort of production did he do. He said ‘podcasting.’ I then proceeded to tell him that I heard that podcasting is THE place to be…a booming industry that is set to be the next great thing in media. Since many people are turning away from TV and turning towards the web for much of their viewing content. He nodded in agreement.

Then we were about to part ways and I asked him his name, after first introducing myself. He introduced himself as Craig Severson. Now I heard all of this from a podcast I regularly listen to…This Week in Media. This is an important fact to mention because Craig Severson used to be a host of that show, and a few others. And it was Craig that I heard all of the stuff about podcasting that I had just told…Craig…about.

So you never know who you’ll run into.

ANYWAY…this is an event not to be missed. It isn’t just marketting up on stage, more often than not there are great demos…and the networking to be had can’t be beat. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it this year, but there are plenty of others to strike up a conversation with. The first year I went I met Mike Curtis of HD for Indies, which was darn cool.

Oh, and they will be giving away a LOT of stuff. Over $20,000 worth…easy.

Nuff talkin’. Here’s the info:

The agenda is nearly set for the 7th Annual NAB FCPUG SuperMeet which will
be held at the MGM Grand Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, Wednesday, April 16
beginning at 7PM. (doors open at 5PM)

Tickets are only $15.00 per person and include 3 raffle tickets and are on
sale now. Here are the particulars if you are gong to NAB

Where? MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
Grand Ballroom
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109

When? Wednesday, April 16, 6:30M till 10:30PM (doors open 5:00PM)

Why? – Because you need to get out and learn something and then PARTY!!
What’s on the Agenda?
- Apple – Richard Townhill – “Latest about Final Cut Studio”
- JVC – Craig Yanagi and Tim Dashwood – “What’s new from JVC and Filming for
a Music Video”
- Adobe – Steve Martin – “How CS3 Production Premium can compliment your FCP
workflow”
- Blackmagic Design – M. Dot Strange – “We are the Strange”
- Red Digital Cinema – Ted Schilowitz and the Red Team – Footage from Red
shooters from around the world will be shown
- Wounded Marines Careers Foundation – Inaugural Class
- Phantom High Speed Camera – Noah Kadner
- “The scariest “editing” tool you will EVER see”- Philip Hodgetts
And MORE!

How much? Just $15.00 for online purchase (includes 3 raffle tickets).
$20.00 at the door (includes one raffle ticket).

Any Raffle prizes? Over $65,000.00 worth! For current list of raffle prizes,
visit the lafcpug web site.

- This event is open to the public. Seating is first come first serve.
- Free Food and Cash Bar will be available
- 30 Vendors showing off their “toys.”
- Everyone gets a copy of the SuperMag, Magazine filled with 100 pages of
feature articles and tutorials.
- 250 SuperBags will be handed to first 250 people through the door

Apple is supporting the User Group Network by co-sponsoring this event.

Tickets are on sale NOW for only $15.00 each (includes 3 raffle tickets) and
this event is expected to sell out. “SuperMeets always sell out.

For complete details on the SuperMeet including directions, current list of
raffle prizes and a link to where to buy tickets, visit the Los Angeles
Final Cut Pro User Group (lafcpug) web site at:

http://www.lafcpug.org/nab_2008.

A couple weeks ago the system drive on my new Mac Pro took a dive. It started out with a few system extension errors, then it couldn’t read or play DVDs, then it started making a pretty irregular noise.

Then, it froze. Boom, system down.

So I had to get a new drive and install the OS and all the apps. This took a day and a half. Which brings me to a quick tip. I used to say CLONE your drive if you ever updated your system or version of the applications. Well, now I think that cloning your working system drive and saving that is a good thing. So now that I have my system back up, I have a clone of the OS on a shelf…just in case.

Well, I am now TWITTER . Scott Simmons of the EditBlog got me started. Man, that guy has gotten my attention a lot lately.

Anyway, Twitter is like a..well, SMALL blog. Sorta. It is a cross between a chat message and a blog….a short 140 word “this is what I am up to now” sort of announcement. Cool when I don’t have a whole lot to say, other than “editing today, and installing Tiger on my laptop.” Boring stuff to mention on the big blog.

Iffin you care to track me my username is: comebackshane

Scott wanted to get an ALL POST Twitter community started, so the people from his comment list are who I am typically following.

This is just a quick follow up to the post I made a few posts ago about an article/rant that Scott Simmons of The Editblog wrote about how the young editors of today seem to lack basic technical skills needed for editing professional level videos. I did say that I would blog about it myself, but since there is a great discussion happening in the comments, I felt that I should just direct your attention to them.

For the past week I worked my butt off on a rough cut for a segment on female boxers for a History Channel series. Now, by rough cut I mean following the script, adding music moments and montages where I feel they need to go. Swapping a few things in the script so that they make more sense to me. By the time I am done I actually have a fully scored and temp mixed show. Typically. That is due to some high level producers not being able to watch a rought cut without music and with just a few shots thrown in so that you get the sense of pacing. We need to give them more…the cutting style had to be there, the fancy stuff you do with the editing has to be there. Because really this is the START of the fine cut….all that we typically do for the fine cut is move things around and cut things out, add stuff here and there, then start fine tuning the audio…music and sound effects. This is why the rough cut for a 1 hour show typically takes three to four weeks. Then after than you have a few days to a week to do the fine cut, then a couple more days to lock picture…then you’re done.

The rough cut is where all the major work happens. At least in my world.

Well, the lead producer just left the screening and only had good things to say. He loved the story, he loved the characters, he loved the editing style. He was excited. He did have some concerns like the story straying from point, but he was so drawn into the story and the small sections that he almost didn’t want to see it go. “This would make a great series on it’s own…but how it fits with our main point…it doesn’t. It’s a shame to have to cut it, but we do.” And I agree. This would make a facinating reality show, but we need to stay on point. So I will trim a little here and a little there, but keep most of the great comments that people made, and it will end up a great segment.

I’m just a little giddy. Rough cuts don’t usually go this well. Having a producer so drawn in as to be leaning forward and smiling…really getting into things, then having to say “crap, I’d hate to lose that, but we need to trim this…Oh, I need to show this to the Executive Producer. Let’s show him the rough…just for him to see.”

Man…I feel great. He really liked my cutting style. And he loved the writing, so the writer/director is giddy too.

OK…off to fill in some holes in the music. And to start the trimming process. God I wish I could post these cuts.

This is a big difference from the first two segments I cut. The first one had ZERO B-roll. All of it was going to be told thru animation, so I just had to concentrate on pacing and story. I lacked good music too, so that made things tough. The other segment was facinating, but I was severely short on b-roll as well. I had some, but it was shot with specific context in mind, and the segment changed a bit and fell away from that context. And they shot a LOT of footage of a video game that I could not use. I’d have to do a lot of blurring for most of the angles I COULD use.

But that was when the series was going to be of a more sexual taboo nature, but it has changed from that…pretty drastically. Away from the sex to just “strange” history.

ANWAY…I am straying from point. Back to the music.

Norman at Holly’n Wood found this sales video that Avid made for version 1.0 of their edit system back in 1990. Looking at the interface, Avid sure has come a long way.

On a side note, that Since FCP 2.0, the interface hasn’t changed a bit.

Scott Simmons of the EditBlog has written a great article over at Studio Daily. All about how the up and coming editors who learned on Final Cut Pro lack much of the basic knowledge of the technical side of editing. It rings very true, and I agree 100% with what he is saying. I will post my thoughts on the topic soon. I have a rough cut to attend to.

Recently I had the pleasure to discover two new blogs that cover the arena of editing. Alex Gollner’s Editing Organanized (yes, misspelled on purpose) and Norman Hollyn’s Hollyn-wood

A recent article on Hollyn-wood goes into detail on how we are editors, not “cutters,” and how the impact of how we structure a scene adds to the overall story. We don’t just cut together the footage according to the script…often we do and find that they script is wrong. So we need to have a good sense of story and visual structure to help the script be what it wants to be.

It’s a good read.

Editing Organazized has great FCP tips, like this one and that one…both showing how to do great slow motion with Final Cut Pro.

Last week, on Thursday (March 13th for those who really want to know) we needed to output the rough cut of the first show and send it to the network. In actuality it was the SECOND show, but episode one was still being edited…but that’s besides the point. So on Thursday I was pulled off my editing of a segment for show one (EP 101) and assigned to cut the tease for show two (102).

“Cut the tease”….sorry, that always makes me giggle a little.

Anyway…this was the beginning of a series of “missteps” that caused a couple complications with the assembly of the show. For the record, we are editing DVCPRO HD footage mainly shot with the Varicam, at 720p 23.98 This footage was captured via the Kona card and not via firewire, as firewire capture throws the audio off sync by two frames…audio leading by two frames. Instead of adjusting the sync on each and every clip we drop in the timeline, we captured via HD SDI from the Kona 3 ensuring perfect sync. Because of this, the Easy Setup we chose was AJA KONA 3-720p 23.98 DVCPRO HD Varicam:

OK…that in mind, let’s move on to the series of events that caused a few complications.

We are in an XSAN environment. Each machine connected to shared storage, with multiple editors editing sections of the final show. One editor handling two segments, another on the third, and me working on the tease. When we were all done and ready to “stitch the show together,” something odd happened. The lead editor opened our projects on his system, copied the contents of our sequences then pasted them into his main sequence and…the aspect ratio and dimensions of the clips were off. They were wrong from both me and the editor working on the third segment. The image was squished and stretched. And when we looked at the MOTION tab of one of the clips, the scale was 133%, and it was distorted at -33. Hmmm…odd. Why was this? Well, I looked at my sequence settings, and they were…well…wrong:

1280×720…not 960×720. Square pixels…compressor was 8-bit uncompressed. What the…? How did this happen? Well, I looked at my Easy Setup…I chose the wrong one. AJA Kona 3-720p 23.98 8-bit Varicam…8-bit UNCOMPRESSED, not DVCPRO HD. That means square pixels, uncompressed timeline. And that any clip dropped into this timeline would be scaled to fit that timeline.

But you ask “how could this be when FCP 6 prompts you to change the sequence settings to match the clip settings? Surely THAT would have made the sequences right…right?” Well…yes, that does happen, but only when you CUT or OVERWRITE footage into the timeline. This DOES NOT occur when you copy and paste footage into the sequence, like I did. I was cutting the tease…meaning that I culled scenes and soundbytes from the main sequences from each segment…copy and paste. And then we have the great OPEN TIMELINE of FCP 6. Because of this, I can put footage that doesn’t match the sequence settings into said sequence and NOT have to render. No more RED render bar…dark green. A very unnoticable dark green I might add. So I copy and pasted merrily along blissfully unaware that I was doing anything wrong.

THIS is the proper sequence settings I should have used:

The other editor was in the same boat. Apparently he too had the same Easy Setup (I believe I set up that computer as well…ahem…) and he took bits and pieces of a couple sequences full of selects to start building his cut. So too did not get the “settings” warning.

Whew. OK then. Now we need to fix this.

We fixed one clip…scaled to 100%, distort back to 0. Then we selected the clip, hit Apple-C to COPY, then highlighted the other clips and hit OPTION-V, Paste Attributes, and chose BASIC MOTION and DISTORT. This fixed the other clips. We had to do this carefully, as not all the footage in the sequences were DVCPRO HD. We have plenty of archival footage that was captured at DV resolution, and loads of stills with moves applied to them. Fixing the DV clips was easy, just did the same Paste Attributes thing. But the stills…the moves were now all wrong, so we needed to fix those.

Needless to say, editing went on longer than anticipated and we missed FedEx (started the final assembly at 5PM for a 5:30 PM output to be gotten to the LAX FedEx drop off with a late drop of deadline). Since we missed the deadline, we took a little longer to tweak the show and then output it as H.264 that we then uploaded to an FTP site for the network to download and view.

Oh, and when I say “we did this” and “we did that,” I mean the OTHER editors did most of this fix and output. I had to leave at 6PM sharp to get home to watch the kids as my wife had an important meeting to get to. So I got to miss out in all the fun. At least locally. I was on the phone for a bit of this.

This is the sort of thing that happens when one is deep in the “creative” aspect of cutting. You attention is so focused on story and content that you aren’t really paying attention to the technical. When I was an assistant I’d notice this a lot in the other editors. They would render to the wrong drive, or mix AVR (Avid Video Resolution) formats in the timeline, typically titles rendered in the wrong format, causing the WRONG FORMAT error to pop up. Now that I am the editor, I am the one not paying attention causing the WRONG FORMAT errors.

Needless to say I won’t make THIS mistake again.

COMING UP: On the next episode of Little Frog in High Def…

Shane’s edit station goes from the occurance a few small minor annoyances to a complete system meltdown.

Avid announced today that they will be rolling Avid Express Pro into Media Composer cutting the price of the software version of Media Composer from $5000 to $2500. This means that Avid Express Pro will be discontinued by the end of Q2, 2008 (meaning by the summer). This also means that the software will now be in a more competitive price range with Final Cut Pro. I know that now I will be getting it…as soon as I wrangle up $2500 (I did just buy a new system after all).

Upgrade from Express Pro for $495, and if you are a student, the software can be had for a paltry $295. Man…I wish I had this opportunity when I was a student.

AND…Avid is starting a new support community that will have users helping other users with the software. Much like what Apple does on their forums, and what you can get for FCP at the Creative Cow, LAFCPUG, DVXUser. Although the Creative Cow also has a great Avid forum as does DVXUser.

Quick thoughts? I am excited about this. I am a huge Avid fan (avid fan…always like that expression) and find it not only viable, but often the only solution for many workflows…just like I think that FCP is the only solution for other workflows. And I think that lowering their price will only help them gain back some market share and footing they have lost in the past.

EDIT: I wish this format had a STRIKE THROUGH font so I could show my original comment and the fix I made to it. It was pointed out that the support forums were there, they are just tagged as *NEW* because they revamped them. I knew this, but suffered from a brain fart. They have been there, but I always found them lacking. I hope they become better. The interface certainly is better.

And they aren’t too expensive either. $5100 U.S.

WVR5000

Bob Zelin came out with this scoop. And this means that there are HD scopes that are now within my price range. Before this, you were looking at $10,000 to $15,000.

I have to pay of my current system first, before I can consider getting these. Soon I hope.

EDIT: Fellow editor and friend points out that the HD version of the scopes are $5800.

Here is the Kona KBox mounted on the back of my IKEA “rack.” I had to add an extra piece of wood to the side, but the 2U rack brackets fit nicely.

Now…onto TIME MACHINE. In my MacPro I have 5 drives. The system drive is in Bay 1, I have three Seagate 500GB drives in the other 3 bays. One stands alone as a work drive, where I store show exports, imported footage and other odd and ends that I transfer to the server. The final two are RAIDED as RAID 0 and I use them to capture media too before I transfer it to the XSAN.

I have a fifth drive installed in this MacPro. The fifth drive resides in the normally empty second optical bay. It is connected to the computer via one of the two spare SATA connections on the logicboard (accessed by removing the fans) and a 3.5″ to 5.25″ adapter kit. I use this drive as my TIME MACHINE drive, since I am using Leopard. Already this has saved my behind.

There was a small bit of temp footage that we had in the system that was accidentally ripped from the DVD as h.264. When I added this to the timeline, it required rendering…a clue to me that it was not an editing codec. So I copied the file to my computer, used Compressor to convert it to DV, and copied the DVD file back to the XSAN. I then went to reimport this clip and dropped it into the timeline and..it STILL recuired rendering. HUH? I looked at the clip and it STILL said it was h.264. Somehow it was still referencing the clip on my desktop, or in the trash…somewhere. So I dragged the clip to the trash and tried to empty it. It couldn’t…FCP was still referencing it. So I quit FCP and then emptied the trash. To make sure that it linked properly, I also trashed the converted file on my drive. Then I opened FCP and…and…the clip was offline. I looked at the file I copied over and it was corrupt…zero KB.

It was gone.

Crap. Here I am, Sunday night and hour 10 into a 12 hour shift, and I lost media and I don’t know where the DVD is, and it is footage I need. Crap crap crap.

Then I remember that I have Time Machine running. What the heck, I’ll check. So I open my desktop folder and then hit TIME MACHINE. I go back one notch and…YUP, there it is…on the desktop. So I copy the DV file over…RESTORE it…and drop it on the XSAN. Import that into FCP and all is good.

I like Time Machine.

But this also points to an issue with my connection with the XSAN. I know something is up because I have to type in my password any time I want to copy footage to it…AUTHENTICATE it. And I can’t create folders on it, nor set it as my scratch disk. I gotta call the IT guys and get them to look at it.

The official title of the History Channel Series I am working on is STRANGE HISTORY. The stories will mainly deal with taboos, cultural and sexual, and strange cultural practices from around the world. There, now you know.

The first week there I was working on one of the rental systems. Because my computer hadn’t come in yet and because they didn’t play on renting my system for a few weeks yet. Now, this rental system was a bit lacking. Sure, it had the Octo Mac 3.0Ghz and a LARGE Mackie Mixer (that you would find on an Avid system) with 16 channels, 4 of which we use. Two for FCP, two for the deck…oh, 5…one for the microphone (temp VO). It had a Kona 3 card, was on one of those HUGE editing desks, was nestled in a rack, and had big HD LCDs. Not color correctable ones, but an early model Sony Luma series that was fine for producers to look at. The computer monitors? Lacking….WAY lacking. 17″ square LCDs…brand I haven’t heard of. SMALL, to say the least. I suffered on these for two weeks. The third week I was on my system. The rental didn’t start on it until THIS week, but I wouldn’t allow myself to suffer any more.


About the mic. We had it plugged into the Mixer, but then, how to get that audio from the mixer into the computer? The Kona 3 cards only have AES EBU audio in, so what do we do? Well, I happen to have the Griffin iMic, a device that takes an audio input via RCA and plugs into the computer via USB. This shows up on the INPUT list in the VO tool just fine. ISSUE…I had one, but Griffin no longer made the iMic. So for 3 weeks we have been shuttling back and forth from bay to bay. I finally searched EBAY and found a few. We will be getting them in soon. Why not get a USB mic and be done with it? Well, we already had mics, and to control them from the mixer is a breeze, so why not just get the $20 tool that allows you to use that?

Now for the types of footage we are working with. Plenty of Varicam DVCPRO HD 720p24 footage. A few 32GB cards worth of P2. Then comes the temp footage. DVDs with screener footage, temp stills, FLASH MOVIES from the internet…VHS screeners. Hoo boy…where to start. DVDs we are ripping using DVDxDV. I find it much more stable than MPEG STREAMCLIP, and the encode process is fast and very clean. I have the PRO version on mine, because one show I worked on had DVD as a master, and I needed to encode it uncompressed SD to match everything else.

The flash video (odd that we have to do this, but the clearance people said that is where they were directed) presented a problem. We tried FFMPEGX but that didn’t do it. And we tried iSquint, but that didn’t encode to an editable format. I could have gone with Visual Hub….but our budget was tight, and we had other fish to fry. OH, and FIRST we had to get them off the web using a few website services that did this. SO I did a test capture using iShowU and that worked out very well. I took the result into Compressor and used the Advanced Conversion presents (DV/NTSC) to upscale it and make it into a workable codec and all was good. And because of the open format timeline, we could mix DVCPRO HD and DV just fine without rendering.

Mind you all of these DVD rips and internet downloads are ALL temp. WE are putting reel numbers that indicate that they are TEMP only. When we lock picture, THAT is when we order the master footage and capture it properly.

OK…now on to how I spent my days. The first 3 days I spent looking at footage of female boxers. Figuring out how to use markers to mark and name the footage, then use those markers to subclip the master tapes. The other editor just went with the markers, but I liked the actual subclips. Of course this presented me with a few issues in dealing with these subclips…which I talk about on the Apple forums. Then I was presented with a script…well, semi OUTLINE with interview soundbytes paraphrased…and no transcripts. So I then spend the next two days listening to interviews and making a few selects. The BIG producer came in and said that this segment wasn’t going to be in the first episode anymore, they have changed the order of a few things, so I was asked to start looking at footage for another segment. Again, no script, just interviews, so I listened to them.

The next week I was told to move onto yet ANOTHER segment, as it had more stuff to get into. And it did, the other one had no b-roll, it was all interview. It had to be, the story takes place in communist China in the 1970’s. There would be generic b-roll, but we didn’t have any yet. This other segment had more, and the producer had more of an idea about what points he wanted to hit, so I moved onto that. I spent the rest of the week cutting up the 3 hours of interviews into a 15 minute story. On Friday, I was handed a script. I was off.

Did I mention that the first rough cut for the first show was due the FOLLOWING Friday? I didn’t? Oh, well either did they. I find this out on Tuesday.

Well, I can’t go into details, but the delivery was pushed until Monday, then after a screening it was pushed to Tuesday, because huge structure changes needed to be addressed. What looked good on paper didn’t on TV…which is typical. So I came in on Sunday and worked for 12 hours, then came in on Monday and worked hard until I finished my segments at 3. WHEW. All we needed now was a quick tease, to tie the segments together and find a bridge…or leave that alone for now. Just need to get the network something to show how we want to approach things. Then I come to find that we need more changes, and delivery was pushed until this Friday.

WHEW.

So today I was back on boxing girls until I get a new script. Mind you, this is all very typical for this kind of work. I grow to expect it. And I know that all the effort I put in on the weekend might get tossed aside in favor of a new approach. BUT, that work still served a purpose. To find out what works and what doesn’t. Knowing what doesn’t is a pretty big thing. Now all we need to do is find out what does work.

IFC, the Independent Film Channel, is having a film contest.

To promote this contest they have made a GREAT promo video…

What makes me like it more is the fact that I WORK in broadcast TV, and must adhere to those rigid standards. Frankly, it can be a bit tiring. I mean, make the colors look good, make it not look to hot, but when I get a show kicked back because I am .02 above 100IRE…that pisses me off! What about my content? Oh, yeah, the networks have hacked that to death with their notes and there are structure rules to follow and then we get to the show timing, and my head REALLY swims when it comes to the technical mathmatical crap that we have to know about video levels. Sometimes I just want to make a good story that people will enjoy.

Sorry, ranting. Rough weekend. Watch and enjoy.

EDIT: Thanks to Scott of The Edit Blog for the link

Last December I was asked to edit a trailer for a documentary. This trailer would be used to solicit finishing funds. And while they couldn’t pay much, they could pay. Since I wasn’t doing anything in January and halfway thru Febuary, I took the job.

The client asked how they should deal with the payment I said that I would like half up front, and half when I deliver the final. That sounded fine to them, so I received half the payment and the tapes to begin editing.

I worked on the project for about 3 weeks, and delivered a rough cut. Then I waited…and waited…and waited. Finally two weeks ago I received word from the director (the guy who hired me). The producers partnership had split due to philosophical differences in the way they wanted to approach the documentary. So not only was it on hold, but it might be shut down altogether. At least the one that I was asked to edit. The producers might end up with separate docs…but for me, the project was done.

Now, I am glad that I got half up front, because the doc was DOA. I am darn sure that trying to get partial payment after what happened would be darn near impossible. Who would want to pay for nothing? This is a lesson I learned the hard way on a previous project. Getting paid is VERY important. If you don’t arrange weekly payments, you need to arrange some sort of payment so that you can have something to live off of while you work.

Now, typically I work for production companies that do TV shows, so I get paid weekly, so this isn’t a situation that I normally find myself in. Having been stung before (like I mentioned) I tend to do this half up front thing. In the television production world they give you a first payment for research and to start production, then more money when you start shooting, then a final payment when you deliver the final and all the production bibles. This is what I based my payment plan on.