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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Denise Juneau and the Montana Native American Vote

Last week I was enlisted to help edit a news package for Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) that would also end up on the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour.  This was a rush job, as it pertained to the 2012 election, and that was in less than a week.  We had to work quick to get this done in order to air.  Very typical for news…but something I hadn’t done before.  It was a whirlwind edit.

First off…the story.  Click on the link above to watch the end result.  Basically it is about how important the Native American vote is to the elections in Montana.  While we did showcase one candidate (who was the first Native American to be voted into a statewide post), the main story had to be about the vote itself.  Because if you make a piece about one candidate, and air that, you need to provide equal air time to the opposing candidate.  So we had to do this properly.

How did I get this job? Well, the producer is a Native American producer out of Idaho, and I have a lead into that community on several fronts.  Mainly because I too am Native American (1st generation Salish descendant, part of the Flathead Nation in northwestern Montana).  But also because the camera operator runs Native Voices Public Television, and I was an intern there in college. And he is my stepfather…but that’s besides the point.  I’m a decent shooter and good editor (so I’m told), and they wanted my talent.  So on Tuesday I flew from LA to Great Falls…a trip that took 11 hours, mainly due to the layovers in Portland and Seattle.

I tried to pack light.  I packed my 2012 MacBook Pro, AJA IoXT, mouse, assorted cabling and 500GB portable hard drive and clothing into my backpack.  And then in the camera bag I packed my Canon 7D, GoPro, headphones and various accessories.  Then a pelican case with a 2TB CalDigit VR.  All perfectly sized for carry on…nothing needed checking. The camera operator was bringing along a Sony HDCAM camera…tape based (one reason I was bringing my IoXT…to capture the tape)…as well as an audio kit with shotgun mic, wireless and wired lavs, Lowell lighting kit and a Sachler tripod.  While he was slated to be the main camera guy, I brought along my 7D and GoPro to shoot extra stuff.

Now, while I was landing and staying in Great Falls, we needed to go to Havre Montana…120 miles away.  So we were up early and headed out.  I mounted the GoPro on the roof of the car to get driving scenics, and shot a bit out the window as we drove with the 7D.  When we arrived we needed to go to a few locations to get  some interviews before the rally that evening.  I’ve never worked in news, but because I have seen a few reports, I noted that often they have a wide shot of the reporter talking to someone before the interview, or a second camera shooting the interview, so I did the same.  Shooting a wide of the interviews to use as intros or cutaways. Between getting interviews and the rally, we also got as much b-roll as possible: campaign signs, scenics, town shots, as well as the reporter/producer standup.  I was glad that I was there with the 7D, as pulling over to get a quick shot of a sign or a poster was really easy…a lot easier than pulling out the big HDCAM camera and sticks.

When we got to the rally I was relegated to audio duty.  Handed a boom mic and the wired lav and a small mixer, and charged with getting the audio, and riding the levels.

The rally wrapped at 7PM and we needed to get back to the hotel.  While we drove back I offloaded the 7D and GoPro cards to my portable hard drive (loving the SD card slot in my laptop now), and then transcoded them into Avid Symphony.  The vehicle we were in had an DC outlet so I didn’t have to worry about power. I was very glad to have this “down time” to transcode the footage.

When we got back to the hotel we ordered pizza and set up my remote edit station.  I connected the camera to the IoXT via SDI, and that to my MBP via Thunderbolt.  Then the CalDigit was connected via Firewire 800…fine for capturing and playing back DNxHD145 (1080i 29.97).  I was lucky enough to have an HDTV in the room, so I used that as the “client monitor,” connecting it to the IoXT via HDMI.  We watched the tapes as we captured, and then the producer wrote the story (he had to write a print version, a radio version and a web/broadcast version). We did have the first part of the story written, he did it as a stand up in the field.  The rest of the story he recorded as temp with a Snowball mic and Garageband.  And then he and the camera guy went to bed…long exhausting day.  I edited a “radio cut,” just audio stringout of the standup, narration and interview bites.  That took about an hour for a 5:30 run time.  Then I too hit the sack at 12:30.  We agreed to meet at 6:30 AM to finish the rest of the cut.

At 6:30 met in my room, drowned ourselves in coffee and continued to edit.  After an hour we had the piece done, with a run time of 5:17.  I did a quick audio pass to even things out, very rudimentary color pass using the HDTV…and then compressed a file and posted it for the clients (NAPT) to review and give notes.  We hoped to have it delivered by that day, but since the Exec Producer was traveling too, they didn’t get a chance to see it until later.  So, I packed everything up, backed up the media onto the external drive and the CalDigit VR (redundancy!) and headed to the airport (11:30 AM flight).  I received notes while on the road, and when I landed (9:55) I got home, set up the drive on my main workstation, addressed the minimal notes, did a proper audio pass and color correction using my FSI broadcast monitor…and compressed it for YouTube per the clients request. I had that uploaded to their FTP by 1AM, and it was online by 6AM…YouTube, NAPT website and Facebook.

This certainly was a down and dirty edit.  And I’m sure it took longer than most news stories do.  I also know that the ability to edit at least the tapeless formats native would have sped things up, but I did have time to transcode as we drove back.  Although, if we shot entirely tapeless, I’m sure I could have had the rough cut done during the trip back.  And I know that using another NLE, say Adobe Premiere, would allow me to edit the formats native and save on transcode time. But I needed solid tape capture, and Avid with the IoXT gave me that.  Yes, I could have captured with the AJA tool as ProRes and brought that into Premiere (I say, anticipating y0ur comments).  I used Avid as that is what I was used to and it’s best to use what you know when you have a quick turnaround.  One of these days I will learn that app better.

Sorry, it has been a LONG while since I posted anything about A HAUNTING.  I was going to get into the FINE cut stage of the process when I was on my first episode, but then I got buried in things like the fine cut for that episode, beginning the rough cut of episode 2…prepping other episodes for audio mix and online.  This show took a lot of my time. One big reason is that, while the show needed to be 43:30 for the domestic version…and 48:00 for the international cut (an extra 4:30 of material called SNAP INS that we put at the end of the sequence to be added by someone later…cut into the show).  Anyway, the schedule we had was for cutting shows of that length. However, some of the scripts were a little longer and the rough cuts ended up being 62 min for my first episode, and 68 minutes for my third.  That means that I needed to take extra time to cut that extra footage.  I average about 3-4 minutes a day (pushing 10-12 hours a day) so that is a few days more of work.  Which is fine….gives us options to cut, and options for snap ins.

My second episode? Yeah, that was a tad short.  42:50 for the rough, so I had to extend scenes and draw out moments to make it to time, and for one long edit session, my producer and I (she moved back to LA after production wrapped, so it was nice to have her in my cutting room…er…garage) figured out the extra four and a half minutes of program time for the international cut.

So now I want to talk about the FINE cut process.  This is what happens after the producer gives me notes…although if it is my segment producer that might just end up being the second rough cut, and when the EP (executive producer/show runner) gives notes, THAT is the fine cut.  And that is what we send to the network.

The Fine Cut is one of my favorite parts of the editing process.  Because that is where I can go back and finesse the scenes, add moments, tweak the cut, do any special transitional effects that the networks love.  See, for me, the rough cut can be a chore.  I have to take this pile of footage and assemble it into something that makes sense.  Look for the best parts, put them together in some semblance of order.  Sure, I do try to finesse the scenes so they work, but I don’t spend a lot of time on this as I need to just get the cut out for the producer/director to see.  “Git ‘er done” as Larry the Cable Guy would say.

Then I get notes…and can start on the fine cut.  I can go back, look for better shots or angles (since they tend to ask, “isn’t there a better angle or take for this line?”)…mine the footage for something I might have missed. Spend time making the cut better.  Tweak the music better, add more sound design to make it sound richer, or to sell the cut (or in this case, the scary moments) better. That’s the phase I just finished up now…on my third episode.  And it’s one of my favorite parts because I can go back and look at the other options…find great looks or moments to add to the cut to make it better. Where the rough cut might have you hacking at the block of wood to get the general shape, the fine cut allows you go go in with finer carving tools and add more detail, smooth out some edges (to use carving as a metaphor).

This is also the part of the post production phase where we settle in on the VFX shots we will be using, and then I prep those for the VFX guy. We have had some issues with a few VFX shots, in the way they were set up, that were difficult to pull off given the budget of the show. But most of those were dealt with in cutting the scenes differently to make them work better, to lighten the load on the lone VFX guy plugging away in his VFX cave. For this part, since we were working at full res, we’d export out Quicktime movies of the footage, with handles when we could manage, and reference quicktimes of our often pathetic attempts in temping them (If only you saw how rough some of my VFX attempts are. Yeah, not my forté).

And then we send this off to the network…and hopefully their notes won’t cause too much pain.

OH…and one note on the last episode I am working on. I have been using Avid Symphony 6.5 pretty much since the start of the series, as I was beta testing it since June. And it allows more “voices” of real time audio…basically more tracks of audio.  I still get 16 tracks, but instead of them all being MONO, and needing to use two tracks for much of my audio like SFX and music…I can modify them to stereo tracks and thus they only take up one track on the timeline.  This gave me more options when I did the sound design. Which it turns out I spend most of my time doing. Sure, I cut the picture, but a lot of the scare that happens, in my latest episode at least, is due to audio hits and cues. Relying on what you hear more than what y0u see to sell the scare.  To me, it works a lot better than seeing the ghost…flashing it and then hinting at what people see tends to work better.  On the first two episodes I did I used mono tracks…but because I found myself very limited in what I could do, I tested using 7 mono tracks (1 for narration, two for interview, 4 for on camera audio) and then 9 stereo tracks  (2 for music, 7 for SFX). I sent an AAF to the post mix house and they said it came into Protools easily, so for the last show, I had more audio tracks for sound design goodness.

All right, that does it for this episode of…A HAUNTING, the post process.

The forty second episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download.

This one is about…stealing.

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

Sorry, I’ve really let this blog, and my podcast, fall to the wayside. I’ve fallen behind on stuff I’ve wanted to write and podcast about. If you would like to know why, here’ a great article from Kylee Wall on the Creative Cow about being a post production dad.

The short of it is that I’m working 12-15 hours a day on A HAUNTING to get it done before it starts airing. And I’m setting aside the remaining time to be with my family, so they don’t forget what I look like.

SOON! Soon though. I have a great blog post I want to write about going from Rough Cut phase to Fine Cut phase. And a podcast about borrowing ideas from other people. So… soon. In the meantime, read that blog post by Kylee.

This is very interesting…given my current situation.  Production company in Virginia…production happening in Virginia.  Post being a mixture of Virginia and Los Angeles.  Really curious how this would handle long form shows.

One thing I find myself doing very often while editing remotely…me in L.A., the production company in Virginia…is exporting Quicktime files of my project for my producers at “home base” to watch.  I will do this on an Act by Act basis…when I finish an act, I’ll export it, upload to their FTP.

Now, like most, if not all of you, I don’t like to sit and wait for a long time while this process happens.  I have stuff to do. So I want this to go fast.  And I have found a formula that makes it not only go fast, but keeps the file sizes small too.  Without making the video look too crappy.

First off, I want to note, this is REVIEW quality. Meaning, you watch it for content, not quality.  The outputs aren’t high res, they aren’t high quality.  They are OK quality.  This is how I keep the file sizes small, and export times fast.  How fast?  Real time fast.  A 48 min sequence exports in about 50 min. OK, a little SLOWER than real time.  But what if I told you this includes a timecode window? One that I didn’t render before exporting?  Yeah, that impressed me too.

OK, so the first thing I do is highlight all my tracks, and from start to finish on the timeline.  Then I do an EXPERT RENDER…meaning, “render all effects that aren’t real time effects.”  Since I render as I edit, this often takes little to no time…but some stuff slips through the cracks.  Then, I make a new blank layer, and drop on my Timecode Generator effect.  And then, without rendering again (if you did another expert render, it would want to render that timecode…for the entire length of the sequence)…I simply choose FILE>EXPORT.  A window pops up asking for export type, and location of where the file should go.  From there I click on the drop down menu and choose EXPORT TO QT MOVIE, and set my destination, and file name.  Then I use the following settings.

1) This is the main export window.  I’m not going to repeat all the settings you see here, I only want to point out that I use 640×360, as I am editing a 16:9 sequence, and I make sure it is chosen in both the WIDTH AND HEIGHT section, and the DISPLAY ASPECT RATIO section.  This frame dimension must be consistent in all export window options. Oh, and USE MARKS means that the IN and OUT points I set are the range that will be exported. I will have my full timeline up, but only want to export one Act, so I mark IN and OUT for the act I want to export. Make sure that is checked, otherwise it’ll export the whole sequence.

OK…moving on.

2) I click on FORMAT OPTIONS to get the above menu.  I make sure to enable AUDIO and VIDEO here. Even though I might have it chosen to do video and audio in the previous menu, if it isn’t chosen here, you won’t get it. Gotta to it in both places.  Click on AUDIO…choose 44.1 and 16-bit stereo. If you want smaller QT files, make it mono, or 22.0 and mono.  I don’t do this. Because audio is very important. If the picture quality sucks…fine.  People can see past that. But if the audio sucks, is noisy…then the QT is unwatchable.  This is the one area I keep the settings in the GOOD range.

OK, click on VIDEO and you get:

3) A couple things to mention here.  At first Avid defaults to SORENSON 3.  So click on the drop down menu and choose H.264.  If you leave the DATA RATE on AUTOMATIC, that allows you to adjust the slider.  If you type in a number, RESTRICT TO, then you can’t. I generally keep it on AUTOMATIC and put the quality at MEDIUM.  For smaller files, you can restrict to 1000 or 1500 kbps.  I just find MEDIUM to be a good middle ground. Another important thing to do, is change the encoding from BEST QUALITY, where it defaults, to FASTER.  This is the key to the fast export times.

Click OK.  Click OK again..the other OK, in the MOVIE settings.  Then click SAVE AS…and name it whatever you will.  This way you don’t need to redo your settings.  Just choose the preset you make and you are ready to go.

Then watch it progress in real time.

Now, if you want fast encoding of QT H.264 files…also in real time. Then look at the Matrox solutions. Compress HD is a PCIe card that fits in the MacPro computers. And then there are the MAX versions of their hardware IO devices.  If you use the Matrox H.264 option, that will trigger these devices to kick in and aid the encoding process. Making high res H.264s in real time.  Chew on that.

(NOTE: I am working with footage from the Canon C300…accessed via AMA and consolidated, not transcoded. So our footage is XDCAM 422…a GOP format. And GOP formats don’t allow for SAME AS SOURCE exports. So I can’t do that and use, say COMPRESSOR and add the TC burn there. If your footage was DNxHD in any flavor, you’d be able to do that. But I wonder if doing that, then taking into Compressor or Sorenson and compressing is any quicker than the real time, direct output from Avid that I have laid out here.)

OK, so I’ve been bad about blogging lately. I blame work.  Long hours are bad for bloggers.

ANYWAY…so that you all don’t go into withdrawl, I’ll link to a great post by my friend Jon Chappell over at digitalrebellion.com.  His post on Avid AMA best practices is one that anyone who uses and Avid must read.  Not “should” read…but MUST read.  This is required reading.  There will be a pop quiz.

The forty first episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download. This one is about the dangers of going above and beyond .

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

I’m going to avoid the tech in this post, and try to concentrate on the creative.  Because to tell the truth, there isn’t a lot of tech involved, just editing.  Yes, can say things like the trim tool in Avid make cutting this show very easy, as the trim tool, in my opinion, is one of the best tool for cutting narrative.  It allows me to nuance the scenes better than I could with FCP.

Oh, sorry, I’m talking tech.  I’ll stop.  I’ll stop saying things like I’m doing my temp mix on the timeline without the audio mix tool open, I’m using keyframes. Not chopping up the audio tracks and lowering/raising levels in the mixer and adding dissolves, like I always have done in the past.  I’ll skip saying that.

I guess I could say that I’m sticking to traditional editing, and not relying on a lot of fancy transition effects.  Well, I’m using ONE, and only as a transition between scenes that denote a passage of time. It’s a simple film leak that’s super imposed between the cuts, with speed ramps for 4-5 frames on either end to make it look like a camera starting and stopping.  Other than that, it’s all straight cutting.

And that’s what I want to really get into…the cutting. The way I approach the cutting. This show is an interesting cross of interviews, narration and recreations.  That makes it a bit of a challenge to cut.  See, I can’t just cut it like a narrative show, just cut the scenes as scripted. I need to make sure that the narration fits, and that interview bites fit. See, I have to have the scenes driven mainly by the sound bites, with the audio from the scenes to be lowered to make room for them, and only have it break through at certain points so that story points are made in the narrative.  It’s a balance…a tough one.  Because the dialog of the actors will be the same as the interview, so the interview audio needs to go over the acting, but then punctuate the scenes with audio from the scenes.  And still allow for space for narration to fill in the gaps.

Now, while they did take a lot of this into account when they shot, there are still moments where I have more narration than I do scene, so I need to recut the scene after I add the interview and VO so that I can cover what is being said. It can be tough at times, but it can also allow me to find reactions to emphasize what is being said.  It’s a challenge, and all this does add time to the edit. I’m not cutting a doc with VO and sound bites that I just need to fill in with b-roll and music…nor am I cutting straight narrative, where I can rely on performance to carry the story. I need to blend both.  And moreso than previous shows I have cut that had recreations, like Andrew Jackson and the Mexican American War.  Those relied mainly on VO and interview bites, and all the recreations were basically backdrop to those.  Very few sound ups were had.  But this show has a 60/40 split, leaning towards performance over interview.

OK, with the story part cut, I need to also address audio.  I tend to cut the story and the interviews and VO first, and then go back and add music and sound design. And yes, I mean sound design. More on that in a second.

MUSIC

This show will have a composer, and the temp tracks we are relying on are from previous shows and other cues in their library.  The music will all be redone, so what I am doing is just temp, but it needs to sound like the final to make the scenes work…to sell it to the producers and network. So a good amount of time is taken on the music. And as what always happens with music, the timing of the scene changes slightly when I add music, and add sections where the music punctuates the action.

SOUND EFFECTS

Well, I have to say “sound design.” No, I am not an audio mixer, but I still need to do quite a bit of sound design. I need to layer music, and small hits, rises, impacts…scary SFX cues and demon breaths and all sorts of audio to make the scary parts work. I mean, you should see them without the scary music or effects. They are creepy, sure. But add the SFX and it REALLY sells it. Audio can get pretty thick…16 tracks of audio, and more than a few are stereo tracks. Go down to the WEEKS 3-4 post and see what my timeline looks like. I might have 3 tracks of video, because I might layer a couple shots, have a layer for transitions, and another for titles. But that’s it.  AUDIO? 16 tracks…the most I am allowed for real time playback. Audio is by far more involved than video.

But again, this adds time. A lot of time.  Hunting through music cues for the right one, one that you didn’t use before. And wait, what was that one I heard when looking for something in that last act? Where is that one, it will work great here.  And then listening to all sorts of WHOOSHES and IMPACTS and ghostly audio again and again to see what might work, and what just sounds cheesy.

So I delivered the rough cut of my first episode…and it was 58 minutes long. It needs to be 48 minutes for international distribution, with 5 minutes taken out for domestic. So it’s a tad long.  I’m awaiting notes on that one. In the meantime, I’m in the middle of Act 4 of my second episode (of 6 acts) and making headway. Just today I cut 2:48 of finished, fully mixed and sound designed video.  A little slower than usual, I try to get 4-5 min done a day. But today I was working on a scene that was full of dramatic tension buildup, and ghostly encounter, so it took a little time. I expect notes on my first episode tomorrow, so when that happens, I’ll stop work on episode 2 to address those so we can get that off to the network.  Then back to finish up the rough cut to get that to the producers. And by then my drive with the next episode will arrive.

No rest until it’s over.  #postdontstop

The fortieth episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download.

This one is all about how you need to leave the editors alone when the tackle the initial edit…the rough cut.

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

After a long hiatus, the Edit Bay podcast is finally back. The thirty-ninth episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download.

This one is all about how the stuff I watch on TV doesn’t look nearly as good as when I color corrected it in my edit bay.

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

OK, this has been an odd couple weeks, as I took half a week off to vacation up at Lake Arrowhead, and then I had a tight tight deadline to get this show done.  But I’ll keep this short and sweet too.  I’ll mention the obstacles I faced, and how I solved them.

OBSTACLE #1: The heat.

Yes, it was getting hot in LA.  In the 90’s in the valley where my office…er…garage…is located.  And my garage lacks one major component…insulation.  So while I did buy a 12,000 BTU air conditioner, it really didn’t cool the office down at all.  And that made working out there intolerable, and dangerous for the equipment.  So, I did the only thing I could do at the time…moved into the house.  I set up a small table in my bedroom and set up my new 2012 MacBook Pro (non-retina) along with one of my Dell 24″ monitors and a speaker so that I could continue editing in a nice cool setting. I brought in my nice chair, bought a Griffin laptop mount to get the computer up to a reasonable height to match the Dell, connected the hard drive and was ready to go.  This setup helped with obstacle #2.

OBSTACLE #2: Slow computer

Even though it is a tower with loads of RAM (if you think 16GB is loads) and a nice graphics card (Nvidia 285GT) with a Kona 3 card…Avid Symphony seemed to struggle. I would get beach balls periodically that would last about 30-45 seconds, then finally go away. The system would lag behind my keystrokes, meaning I’d hit 5-6 keys…then wait two seconds for the Avid to catch up to me.  And I would get consistent FATAL IO ERRORS…related to the Kona.  And this horrid “K” key bug where I’d press “K” to pause playback, only it wouldn’t, it just slowed playback down until I released it…in which case it resumed at full speed.  I’d need to his the spacebar to stop.  That happened periodically.

So in moving into the house, I began using my laptop to edit.  And let me tell you, most of those problems went away. By most I mean the “K” key issue persisted, and I got one FATAL IO ERROR…but only after I installed the AJA IoXT box to the system.  And then it only happened once in two weeks. And I didn’t use the IoXT all the time, as my reference monitor had to be left out in the office/garage, as I have no room on my bedroom setup for it.  Ah well.  But overall, the laptop performed a lot better than my tower.  Even encoding an H.264 with TC burn was faster on that laptop.  My 2008 MacPro is showing it’s age.

OBSTACLE #3: lots of footage, lots of scenes, music to be added…

Basically…time.  I was running short on time, and I had a lot of footage to cut.  In the end I went a couple days over my deadline, and ended up with a 57 min rough cut.  The cut should be in the 48 min range for international, with three minutes removed for domestic.  So I am 10 minutes long.  No biggie, that just means that the episode will have to be attacked with a machete to cut out enough stuff to get me to time.  It took me longer than usual as I had a small library of music that I needed to choose from, and I’m a bit too much of a perfectionist when it comes to music editing and temp audio mixing.  It’s a blessing, and a curse. My cuts sound good…but take longer to do.  It turned out to be fine, as the producers were still focused on the first episode that another editor cut…so I had some breathing room.  Still, it took eighteen 12-14 hour days to get this cut done.  3 days more than I was allotted for this.  I hope the next episode will go smoother.  I think it will.

OBSTACLE #4: other things

Yes, other things needed my attention.  I was on vacation, so was busy trying to work and pack at the same time. Then trying to work with the kids constantly coming in because they heard some cool moment they wanted to see, and they wanted to watch me edit (at that point I switched to using headphones so they couldn’t hear things), and I was trying to deal with two onlines for MSNBC that needed tweaks here and there (Defending Casey Anthony and Ted Bundy: Death Row Tapes.  Casey already aired).

All in all I like my cut.  I will need to go back and “fancify” things…rock and roll it a little.  Add speed effects and cool transitions and the like.  I did a bit while I was doing the rough after seeing what the first cut had, I had to try to keep the same style, and make it “not boring.” I did mainly focus on the story, but also wanted to have SOME cool things to make it stand out.  And that cool stuff takes a while.  I wonder how long the editors of AMERICAN HORROR STORY get to cut a show?  I’ll see if the assistant editor Misha comments here and lets us know.  He follows me on Twitter, and we’ve had pizza together…so I hope he might.

OK…the cut is done, and I’m off to eat dinner and watch a movie with my family.  Here’s a picture of my timeline:

OK, time for another review for a hard drive enclosure: the RAIDAGE GAGE104U40SL-SAUF 1U 4 Bay RAID Enclosure from iStarUSA. This one is cool…it stands out. That’s why, when the makers asked me to review the unit by commenting on a previous post, I leapt at the chance. Well, after first starting to compose the email gently letting them down… “Thank you for your interest in my blog. I’m sorry, but I no longer do hardware reviews for drive enclosures as I find them dull and the same old same old…” But then I got a wild hair and clicked on the link to look at the thing.

I liked what I saw.

Here’s why I liked what I saw. This is a slot loading TRAYLESS hard drive enclosure. I can take bare SATA drives I buy off the shelf at Fry’s or order at newegg.com and put them in the unit right away. No trays to screw onto the drives first. Pop open the door, and in they go.

I’m a HUGE fan of this type of enclosure, because I use bare SATA drives to archive all sorts of things. Camera masters, media managed show masters, show outputs, stock footage, music, and sound effects. And I also use them on occasion to edit from, although that is rare. You see, I currently have a SansDigital unit connected via eSATA that I use as a trayless enclosure, although it isn’t designed to be one. Yes, you can slide the drives in, but the unit wants you to then screw them in, to keep them in place. The drives aren’t as snug in their beds as they should be…they are only held in place by the connectors. So it isn’t the best solution, which is why I mainly use it only for archive solutions.

But this unit is designed for the bare drives. It holds them in place without the need for trays.

And it has nice release handles to aid in getting the disks out.

And it’s VERY quiet. There are fans for cooling, but I don’t hear them. I hear the drives more than them, and when you close the big front door…even that sound becomes very minute. Barely noticeable. My MacPro is louder.


And there are indicator lights on the front so you can see which slots have drives in them, and if they are active.

OK, so we have one cool feature… that the unit takes bare SATA drives without trays. Let’s add a couple more cool features.

CONNECTIVITY.

This unit pretty much has it all. It covers nearly all the bases. It has eSATA (my current connection of choice), Firewire 800 (two connectors), Firewire 400 (one connector), USB 3.0. You can connect this to just about anything (Yes, for Thunderbolt you will need an adapter). Perfect! I can connect it to my MacPro via eSATA, or to my 2012 MacBook Pro via Firewire 800 or ultra fast USB 3 and use it to back up tapeless media or files from my laptop. Or use it as my media drive. Macs used to lack USB 3, but now they are available on their laptops…and they are a Windows workstation standard, so on a Windows PC you have ultra fast USB 3 connect-ability as well.

To answer your question before you ask it…no, you cannot connect it to your tower via eSATA and another computer via Firewire or USB 3 and have it show up on both at the same time. It won’t work, I tried. And why two firewire 800 ports? Loop through. Daisy chaining drives is possible with this.

FOOTPRINT.

Well, it does have a pretty major footprint. Meaning that it does take up a big part of your desk. But you can set one of your monitors on top of it, or put it off to the side under your decks. Unlike my SansDigital that stacks the drives vertically, this design has the drives side by side. But that is to enable it to do the other cool think I liked about it.

IT’S RACK MOUNTABLE!

It takes up 1 U of rack space. That stands for ONE UNIT…one width high. In that respect, it takes up very little space. And since I happen to have a rack or two under my desk, it fit in perfectly. So perfectly that I’m most likely going to buy the unit when testing is over. I like it that much.

RAID TYPES

The unit can be configured in many ways.
- JBOD (Just a Bunch of drives), meaning that each drive shows up as a separate drive. Put four drives in, you see four drives appear on the desktop.
- RAID 0
- RAID 1
- RAID 3
- RAID 5

Don’t know what those all mean? Then go here for some light reading:

Most people use JBOD like I do, for archiving, RAID 0 for speed, or RAID 5 for speed and redundancy.

SPEEDS

Yes yes…”how fast is the thing?” I know that’s what you want to know. Alright, I tested it only as a JBOD unit. That’s the default setting it ships with. I tested it in this manner as I didn’t have four drives of the same make/model/size in order to test the other RAID types. Those are all in my other RAID. I did have four drives of varying size, so I tested the speed of the unit in JBOD mode via firewire 800 and eSATA. Those being the fastest and more common connector types.

With eSATA I got speeds in the 98MB/s to 108MB/s range. A bit faster than I get with a G-Raid connected via eSATA, or my SansDigital. VERY nice.

Firewire 800 resulted in between 69MB/s and 82MB/s…which is typical for the other drives I have as well.

For the RAID 0 and RAID 5 testing, I relied on the manufacturer to provide the numbers. I’m sure if I had the 4 drives to test with I’d get the same numbers they did. I’m confident they were truthful in their reporting. They connected it via eSATA to a windows machine.

Here are the RAID 0 numbers:

Between 111MB/s and 123MB/s using the AJA test…but upwards of 140MB/s using the ATTO benchmark. I think I trust that one better on a PC.

And the RAID 5 numbers:

RAID 5 gave pretty much the same numbers as RAID 0. Between 111MB.s and 119MB/s, and upwards of 140MB/s using the ATTO test. Now, the reasons the numbers are a LOT higher like 300MB/s, is the limitation of eSATA connections. That’s near it’s limit. For faster speeds, look at GigE Ethernet, Fibre and SAS connection speeds. But for the connection types it has, that’s pretty dang decent. Perfectly fine for multiple layers of compressed video formats like ProRes and DNxHD. 3-4 streams in my tests.

No, it isn’t a speed demon, but what it offers is ease of use. Easy to get drives in and out, so you can buy bare SATA drives (cheaper than ones with enclosures) and swap them out for archiving camera masters, show masters, or going back and forth from project to project. And because it is rack mountable taking up only 1U of space…it’s compact and out of the way.

By the way, they have a pretty cool video that shows off the unit on YouTube. Check it out.

Now that I have a laptop with USB 3, and my Tower sporting eSATA…this is on my wish list.

The units run for $375, and can be found on Newegg.com

(The unit was returned at the conclusion of the review)

Week 2 was a full week.  A LONG full week.  There is a lot of footage to go through, a lot of script pages to go through…so my days are ending up being 12-14 hours long.  It’s a good thing I enjoy editing…otherwise that’d be a bit much. But I love what I do.  I guess in this situation that’s a good and bad thing.

Well, I cannot say enough how good the C300 footage looks. It looks great.  And they are using prime lenses, so it is really sharp. And it does very well in low light.  Some scenes are very dark, but I can still see what is going on.

Now, this show is pretty unique in that it employs interviews, narration, and recreation audio. But the narration and interviews do tend to cover a lot of the scripted scenes.  I just have to let a few key lines be heard.  So this makes editing a bit tricky.  I have to cut the scene like you would a scene, yet make sure I leave enough room for narration and interviews to cover up the parts that need to be covered up, yet let the lines I want to hear be heard at the right time.  And I want these scenes to make sense if I turned off narration and interviews.  So, what I do first is cut the scene like I would cut the scene.  Then I drag in the narration and sound bites and try to fit them in.  If I need to extend the scene a bit to cover more of either of those, before I can do a sound up on my lines, I then deal with that.  Typically adding more pauses, looks, reactions…breath.  If i need to shorten the scene, I do so but still try to have the dialog make sense. Yes, it is going to be covered up by voiceovers, but still, I want it to work.

On the technical end, I am working slightly longer hours because I need to group the clips myself…multicam them.  The Assistant Editor will do them for the next episode.  This episode I was told that it wasn’t done (something I agreed to), because most times both cameras don’t cover the same action, and it might be best to just treat them as separate takes.  I agreed to that, and thus why they weren’t grouped, but then I found that grouping them helps me speed up the process.  First, I can watch both angles at the same time when previewing footage.  Second, I’m finding that more than a few times, the lines being read differ from each other.  They aren’t sticking to the script strictly…mainly in scenes with the kids.  They want the kids to act natural, so they are having them adjust the lines sometimes to best fit how they say things. It does help the kids give better performances, but it does make editing more…challenging. I prefer the better performances…let me deal with getting them to match.

As for the Avid performance, one thing is plaguing me.  Well, a couple things, but the biggest is that the PAUSE button…the K key…isn’t pausing. It isn’t stopping playback about 1 times in 4.  25% of the time, it doesn’t pause.  It’ll just slow down the footage. I then have to press the space bar to get it to stop (space is PLAY, but that also STOPS).  I’ve mentioned this on the COW forums, and the Avid ones.  And I have found others posing the same issues. And there are no solutions, there are workarounds.  One person suggested I remap PLAY to the K key.  And I did, and that stopped the issue. But then raises more issues, like when I press the K key, then press L…things go double speed. Don’t ask why I do that. Habit I formed in FCP that when I pressed play, then moved the playhead with the mouse, FCP then picked up playing…because it doesn’t stop unless you tell it to, even if you move the playhead. Whereas Avid will stop if you move the playhead.  8 years of habit…tough to break.

Now, I did try fixing it.  It first appeared under Avid 5.5.  But then I updated to 6.0…then 6.0.1.  Still happened.  I Patched using 6.0.1.1…same thing.  I switched to my laptop…SAME THING.  It’s taunting me.  So many people say they don’t have this issue, but I have it on several machines, using several versions of the app.  And others report this issue, so somethings up.

The second issue is that Avid still seems to not be able to keep up with my keystrokes, and often will lock up with a spinning beachball.  After the 4th I’m going to try to get my laptop set up to the main editing machine…and hope that cures that. But my MacPro tower is running 16GB of RAM, is running an NVIDIA card…is running in 64 bit mode, so I don’t get why this is still happening.  On more than one occasion I’ve had to force quit because it was just locked up.

There is a third issue, one that plagued Walter Biscardi…and that is one of TAPE NAME.  Or rather, the lack of one.  Unlike FCP, and Adobe, that assign the reel number a name based on the name of the folder you backed up to…or the name of the card if you import directly, Avid Media Composer or Symphony don’t do that.  They don’t assign any source to the clip.  This would help me greatly in tracking down footage masters. And this is a big issue when it comes to going to Resolve, as Walter found out.  And we don’t know how we’ll be finishing the shows just yet. So this is an issue that might affect us more, later.

But Angus of Avid did say that they know of the issue and will be dealing with it.  Can’t wait guys, thanks.

While I’ve been editing this, I’ve been onlining a couple other shows on the side.  TED BUNDY: DEATH ROW TAPES and DEFENDING CASEY ANTHONY, both for MSNBC.  These were editing with FCP, and on CASEY I’ve had to go in and do some touch up editing.  And I prep the shows for online and man, is FCP snappy and pain free, and no beach balls.  All the Avid slowness and locking up has made me really miss FCP.

On the plus side I sent out Act one for review, just to show them the style I’m employing, and I got back good notes.  They like it…and that is a load off. And I’m really digging the trim mode editing Avid utilizes.  I’m able to make tweaks to the sequences so fast, and I am always tweaking shots to fill the void, or to shorten so that the lines I need to be heard, are heard.

Yesterday I took a stab at editing the show using my laptop.  The laptop in question is the new 2012 MacBook Pro…2.3Ghz i7, 8GB of RAM, matte screen. I took the external drive with the episode and connected it via Firewire 800 (glad I got the non-retina…I need that connector).  I ordered a Thunderbolt to DVI/HDMI adapter from monoprice.com for a very reasonable $14 so that I could connect it to one of my Dell 24″ monitors.  Now, the laptop on the desk is a little low, and I’d like to get it semi close to the level of my Dell that I will be connecting it to, but I didn’t get a laptop stand…not for this test.  I’m too cheap…actually, too busy to go buy one.  So I used a box.

Yes, a box.

So as you can see, I have the laptop on the left, complete with project window, bins and mixer.  The large Dell has the Composer and timeline window. Nothing feeding my broadcast monitor yet.  I’m saving up for the AJA IOXT…or at least the AJA T-TAP.  Although of those only the IO XT has dual Thunderbolt, so I could connect the IO box and external monitor.  The T-TAP has one Thunderbolt port, so it’d be a choice of external monitor, or second computer monitor.  Not both….unless I shelled out for an Apple Display.  Not gonna happen.

So I set out to edit, and edit I did.

The new computer was definitely faster than my old one…a 2008 Octo-Core 3.0Ghz Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM. It ran circles around it.  It was able to keep up with my keystrokes, where the MacPro lagged behind a few keystrokes.  It scrubbed better, less skippy. Less beach balls.  Faster renders.  It was great.

Sorta.

You see, I have a script I need to follow, and I didn’t want to print it out and waste paper.  I like to look at it on the computer. But because I was editing with my computer, I could just lean over an look at the script.  I had to hide the Avid interface, or click away from it…read…then go back.  Distracting to say the least.  And I still needed to check email, look at show notes contained in emails, tweet, and iChat with the wife.  More than a few people on Twitter suggested that I get an iPad for this.  But guys, I just shelled out $2200 for a new laptop, I’m not about to shell out $500 more for an iPad.  Not just for reading the script.  The screen was small.  I’m used to two 24″ Dells to look at.  Suddenly I had a 15″ and a 24″.  It might have been better to have the second monitor to be smaller too. I might look into that.

So I put up with it for the day, but that was it.  I switched back to the tower the next day…just so I could have my script at my ready. But I miss my laptop already as the edit station.  It was solid.  A pretty good replacement for my tower, at least for running Avid Symphony and FCP.  I haven’t tackled Premiere with it yet.  I did tackle FCP with it today, rendering out an online I am working on at the same time.  The renders were much faster, and I didn’t get any General Errors like I did with the Tower. The laptop was better.

I might have to print out the script.  Because I under such a crunch, any speed boost would help.