How I Work: App List

I use a lot of extra, smaller programs to make my work easier. After gauging interest on Twitter, it seems many people are curious about what I use. A while back, I wrote about some iOS apps, but an expanded and updated list including Mac apps is due, since many of those apps have been abandoned, or have been replaced in my workflow with others.

Mac

Post Haste (Free) As the original developer of Post Haste, I may be a little biased, but it’s such an indispensable app for preparing a folder structure (and template project files) to keep everything organized. Digital Rebellion has done a terrific job with version 2 and is continuing to take it places I never could have.

Alfred (Free, £15) A long time ago, I was an avid Quicksilver user. But Alfred has since taken it’s place. Alfred is a great way to not only launch apps, but quickly browse or search the file system, open 1Password logins, assign system-wide hotkeys to nearly anything it can control, and so much more through extensions. To get the most out of Alfred, you’ll need the Power Pack, but it’s well worth the cost of entry.

iStat Menus ($16) I like to keep an eye on my system, especially now that I’m on a laptop. iStat Menus is an easy way to do that. With a quick glance to my menu bar, I can see how hard my processors are working, how much RAM I have available, the ambient temperature of my machine, disk activity, and network activity. There’s also a free dashboard widget available with access to the same info, but I’m not sure if it’s still actively maintained.

Transmit ($34) FTP is just a part of online life ((Personally, I prefer not to use services like YouSendIt, DropBox, etc… It just never seemed very professional to me. But I realize not everyone has access to their own FTP server.)). Transmit is my go-to FTP (and more) client. It’s just very well polished, and can even keep favorite connections in your menu bar, or mount servers right in the Finder. There are other free FTP clients out there, but Panic really knows what they’re doing.

Carbon Copy Cloner ($20) Although many might dismiss this as simply an rsync wrapper, Carbon Copy Cloner is such a great utility to have. For me, it makes a weekly bootable clone of my system drive, and will also be used to make incremental backups of project files and assets to archive on a 3TB Guardian MAXimus I have coming in.

CrashPlan (Free, $1.50-$12/mo.) I know I am no longer biased since I work for Code 42 Software, but CrashPlan has been such an integral part of my backup solution for many years prior. It’s free to use if you just backup locally or to a friend’s computer. If you wish to backup remotely to CrashPlan’s servers, a CrashPlan+ subscription is required. I have the Family Unlimited plan which allows me to back up up to 10 computers.

Growl (Free for OS X 10.6 and lower, $1.99 for OS X 10.7) I really don’t like pop-ups interrupting me while I’m working, but sometimes they can be extremely useful. Growl lets me configure notifications from supported apps and even has a Boxcar plugin, which is great for getting notifications from BG Renderer.

iOS Apps

ColorSchemer (Free) I’ve only recently started using it, but ColorSchemer is a great app for browsing and generating color palettes. You can arbitrarily set up your own color schemes, or pull them from a photo. This has replaced both ColorSlide and cliqcliq Colors (the latter has since been abandoned).

Animator SW ($2.99) Sometimes, you just need an easy way to time out actions when animating. Animator AW allows you to time frames of action. For example, if you’re animating a character, you can act out the motions yourself, and mark a keyframe at each important step. You’ll then have a list of how long each action takes and on which frames they occur. FPS is fully customizable and a log can be emailed out.

KataData ($4.99) Video footage takes up a lot of space. KataData can calculate storage for various camera & codec formats. Just enter the total running time of your footage (or renders) and it will show you how much drive space you’ll need.

Timecode ($6.99) Panoptik’s Timecode is just a great timecode calculator. It can even display comparative timecodes of different formats (eg, DF vs NDF, PAL vs NTSC, frames vs 35mm 3-perf, etc).

Due ($4.99) I usually need reminders or timers running. Due is the best timer/reminder app I’ve seen for iOS. It’s extremely fast and easy to set up reminders or timers on my iPhone 4, which is important because I want to do stuff, not spend time setting up a reminder to tell me to do stuff. There’s also a companion or stand-alone OS X app available.

Clear ($2.99) While a simple list app, you really have to use Clear to see how smart it is. Completely gesture driven, Clear a fun way for me to keep lists throughout the day, and check things off or remove them as needed. Are there other apps that do the same thing? Definitely, but this just works for me.

So there it is, the list of small but important software in my daily workflow. Do you use anything you think I should check out or that might work better? Let me know. I’m always willing to try something new.

Making Intuos 5 Touch Work

Part of my everyday gear includes a Wacom. At home and my previous jobs, that would have been my personal Intuos 4. At Code 42, I received a brand new Intuos 5 which includes touch gestures, similar to a trackpad. Unfortunately, those gestures just don’t work reliably. And because of the way I use my tablet, with the keyboard above, I got a lot of accidental touch events. Here’s how I tamed them.

First, a picture of my setup…

As you can see, any time I reach over the tablet to type, that could cause problems for touch gestures. ((I prefer my tablet here, as opposed to the side where a typical mouse would be, because it feels more natural that way.)) To remedy that, I disabled most of the touch gestures and limited them to mostly scrolls/pans. Here’s my settings:



I slowed down the pointer speed to reduce unwanted cursor movement as I use the keyboard. I also completely disabled any clicking. Zoom & rotate were finicky at best, and don’t even seem to function in After Effects, so they were disabled as well. This leaves scrolling and navigation, which is what I really want touch gestures to be. It’s really nice to just lift my pen and use the same hand to switch between desktops, reveal the desktop, and even use Launchpad. ((Yes, sometimes I use launchpad. If set up right, it can work well.)) For custom gestures, I modified three finger tap & hold to save, and disabled five finger anything. Holding a pen, it’s not an easy gesture, especially when trying to keep the pen far enough away from the tablet to enable touch.

Ideally, I’d like to see Wacom do three things with their drivers. 1.) Somehow increase reliability of touch, but I have no idea of the engineering already involved in the current drivers. 2.) Be able to relegate touch input to a certain portion of the tablet, in my case the left side or corner. 3.) Add a customizable delay to the “Show Express View” option. This wasn’t covered here, but if you rest your finger or hand on the Express Keys, a HUD pops on screen showing you what they do. Current delay is just under a second, and I hit it a lot while typing.

So that’s what I do to tame touch on the Intuos 5. After using it this way for about a week, it’s working well so far. I still have to customize the Express Keys and customize settings for each app. But I’m waiting for my tower to come in before I do that. ((I’m temporarily on an i5 iMac, waiting for my tower to arrive with dual displays.))

My Backup Solution

BackupMultipleHDBacking up data is one of those things that so many people know they should do, but don’t, either because they never get around to it, or think they’ll be okay without it. If you’re in the latter group, trust me, you’ll realize you’re not okay without a backup, probably when it’s too late. If you’re in the former group, take advantage the lighter workload that this time of year can bring and get going on your backups! Let me highlight the backup strategy I personally use.

First, please note that no single backup strategy is perfect for everyone. I approach my backups as a freelancer occasionally working from home, father, and Apple geek. The approach I use will almost certainly differ from what you use (or will use). This is just meant as a springboard from which we can remind each other about backing up our data.
 

Hardware

My main setup is a MacPro, which gives me the luxury of having up to four drives installed internally (more if you are clever), versus a laptop which is sparse on drive expansion. In my case, I have a 320GB system drive, 500GB clone (320GB for clone, plus a spare 180GB partition), 1TB media drive, and a 2TB Time Machine volume. But I could easily substitute an external for any of these if I were on a laptop.

Strategy

Regarding the backups themselves, I have a three-tiered approach to my backups:

  1. Bootable system clone
  2. Versioned local backup
  3. Remote critical backup

Let’s go through these one-by-one.

1. Bootable System Clone

This is a complete clone of my main system drive, made weekly using Carbon Copy Cloner (throw the guy a donation, too). This is a backup I rarely (if ever) use, but is invaluable. If I am working on a project, and something completely trashes my system (bad blocks, system drive failure, etc.), I can immediately boot off the clone without having to wait several hours to restore my system. I can continue working off this drive until I have time to repair the original system drive.

In all honesty, this isn’t a necessity, but I have so many drives littering my office, it seemed like a no-brainer to have a bootable system clone.

2. Versioned Local Backup

I go the easy route here, and simply use Time Machine. Using a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive, I can backup my entire system drive as well as my 1TB media drive, which stores larger renders, captured footage, my stock library, etc. I chose to use Time Machine because it’s built in to the OS, and integrated into several applications I use daily (Mail, Address Book, etc…) There are several other options out there, but it just tends to work.

What’s great about a versioned backup is the ability to recover files not just from a hardware failure, but accidental deletion or file corruption as well.

3. Remote Critical Backup

If something catastrophic were to happen to my home (fire, tornado, robbery), I want to be sure my most important files are safe. I don’t just mean AE and FCP files for work; family photos, videos, tax, and insurance documents top that list above anything work related. So I make sure those go off-site. Luckily, software like Crashplan makes that incredibly easy.

For a very reasonable cost ($1.50/mo up to 10GB, $3/mo unlimited single computer, $6/mo unlimited up to 10 computers), I have unlimited off-site backup, including file versioning. There are other services like Mozy and Backblaze if Crashplan isn’t you’re thing. The important part is to get those files somewhere outside of your home. The nice thing about Crashplan, though, is you can use their software for free to backup to a friend’s computer. All you have to do is give your friend a drive, have them install Crashplan, and enter a code on their computer. (And really, why not just reciprocate and offer to be a backup destination for them as well?)

I am slowly extending my off-site backups to not-quite-so-critical files, including those on my media drive. But it’s a slow process. If I really wanted to, I could send a drive to Crashplan and avoid the online transfer entirely, but I don’t find that necessary for these files.

Conclusion

In the end, you need to find a backup solution that works for you. If you only chose one, I really recommend going off-site, either with a service like Crashplan, Mozy, or Backblaze; or with a drive you store in a safe-deposit box once a month. The important thing is to get those files to another physical location in case something happens to your home. Beyond that, if you can use a local backup for easy recovery, add that to the strategy as well. The bootable system clone? That’s just if you’re can’t afford any down-time for a drive failure.

Drives are getting cheaper and the best backup is one that you can afford to have fail.

Produce Before You Consume

The problem is, your mind starts filling up with new information, and there’s only so much you can learn in a day before your mind is exhausted.

This is something I admitedly struggle with on a daily basis. Being in a creative industry, I need to create… and not even just for work. I really need to do my own projects to both stay sharp and have an outlet. But it’s all too easy to just sit back and consume, whether it be Facebook & Twitter, stories in my feed reader, TV, or even something helpful like tutorials.

Carlos Pero at Web Producer has a great write up of why it’s important to create something before consuming something.

(via @MakeCoolShit)

Is apprenticeship dead?

For some reason, I’ve spent a lot of time perusing the Pro-App discussion forums on Apple as well as the AE forum on Creative COW. Many people on these boards are very, very helpful. When I get the chance, I try to pitch in as well to help someone through a problem.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed two possibly (probably) related trends, mainly on Apple:

  1. Senior users responding with the air of “why are you wasting my time?” or “your wrong/that was stupid”
  2. Novice users posting questions along the lines of “I was hired to cut this commercial and I don’t know anything about broadcast!”

I’m guessing after seeing too many of #2, you get the attitude of #1. But no one is forcing that person to post or respond. As far as #2 is concerned, I’ve gotten in over my head, too; however, there seem to be more and more of these posts.

While this seems to be a relatively new trend for video, it’s old news for designers and audio engineers. Got a copy of Photoshop? You’re a designer! Pro Tools? Hey, now you’re an audio engineer! Have FCP? You’re now an editor. Gonna by that new Scarlet for $2,500. That makes you a DP!

I made a similar observation on Slashdot back when Apple lowered the price of Shake in June, 2006 ((And I’ll also note that some people called me out on it. If you go up two levels, I did make a rather snide remark which made me sound like an elitist prick.)):

When powerful software gets into the hands of the untrained, the trend seems to be that it lowers the value of the services of people who do know what they are doing. […] I’m not saying the price drop in Shake is entirely bad, just that it will bring in more people who think they know what they’re doing, when really they have no idea.

Recently, I discovered this thread on FCP-L. The general consensus is that apprenticeship seems to be dead, at least in the video/indie-film world.

I don’t knock people for wanting to get into the biz, and learning a few things the hard way. I did too. But there is, more and more, a trend of people NOT starting out as assistants or apprentices…learning the craft while on the job and watching how it is done. People will just buy the equipment and without any knowledge go off and shoot something. […] What gets me is when these people now go “I have a client and am making a commercial for broadcast…how do I do this[?]”

comebackshane

I know many, many people (especially some with me in film school) who just decided since they had a camera and computer, that made them a DP/editor/director. I’ve seen sophomores at UWM drop of their “DP” reels expecting to get jobs shooting commercials. Now learning something along the way is one thing. You fall. You get back up and try again, learning something along the way. Only these don’t appear to be falls, but rather willfully walking off a cliff and asking for a parachute on the way down.

Though, those of us who have run the gauntlet ((I’ll fully admit, I’m still in that process. I’m pretty sure it never ends.)) really should try and help those who need it. And especially those who ask for it. Mark Raudonis later notes that apprenticeship is not dead in his shop:

We make it a point to teach, encourage, and give people an chance to contribute to the team effort. The first mistake they make would be my fault… I didn’t teach them. The second mistake is their fault… they didn’t learn. The third mistake is their last one… at our shop.

If you come across those that seem to have gotten in over their head, be willing to help out. It may be our only chance to keep apprenticeship alive. Just be weary of those that get into these situations who then refuse to think or learn, but instead wish to have others do the work for them. They won’t learn. They don’t want to.

The Give and Take of the Creative Process

When working in a creative field, it is inevitable that you become attached to your work. Making something out of nothing (or just raw elements) requires us to put some of ourselves into it. Many times, it is impossible to maintain complete creative control over the process. This can be a good thing in the case of collaborative art forms such as film, or not quite so good such as the case of a single designer working to please a client.

Regardless of reason or degree of good-ness, it is important for those in the creative fields to have an outlet. When your creative vision is continually “compromised,” — I use quotes because in general, I think we creatives take ourselves far too seriosuly — there needs to be a medium in which you can express yourself as you originally intended.

This all comes about because of a recent Screen Grabs post on Engadget regarding the new Fall Out Boy music video.The primary point of contention is the presence of several Nokia camera phones throughout the edit:

The version of the video that we worked on night after night is not the version that aired, yet somehow a cut full of glorious camera-phone shots did.

-Bassist, Peter Wentz

falloutboy-nokiaNow, I’m normally one to lambaste product placements. Sure, than can be subtle enough to leave the integrity of the piece relatively in-tact yet still effective. But they can also be over the top and turn something into a commercial. ((Take, for example, a recent Heroes episode. I am fine with the Sprint phones used as props; they are part of the story. But when a character doesn’t get reception in Africa and another utters the line “You should’ve signed up with Sprint,” I draw the line.)) So I can understand the frustration. However, this comes along with the territory, especially when your creative work (song/video) is a product which someone else sells (record labels). The video is hardly a provocative piece of art to be held in the highest regard, especially when the closing shots feature a rocker removing a mask (a-la Mission: Impossible) to reveal Sarah Palin. It’s just something fun to watch and help sell your album (and now for some reason, Nokia phones).

I guess my point is this: Yes we get attached to our creative work, but when that work is for hire, we need to learn to let go and realize it is not a personal project. Especially when you ink deals with record companies and become the product yourself.

It is up to us to build amazing things

As you may or may not have heard, Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 was released this week. Some new features in After Effects and Photoshop have my curiosity piqued, but it is doubtfull I’ll take the plunge into this latest incarnation anytime soon. (That is, not until the post houses and clients I work with begin to use After Effects CS4. Hell, I still have After Effects 6 installed just in case someone still uses that version.)

Of all the posts I’ve read on the web regarding the new version, Andrew Cramer at VideoCopilot.net has the most solid advise I’ve seen:

If you look at the big picture, After Effects 6.5 has enough capability to create things that would stop time and newer versions regard this as well.  After effects is a compositing application and it is up to us to build amazing things. No new feature is going to do that for us…

Though I’m waiting to see that in the feature list of CS5: “Amazing Builder™ — No designer needed!” Actually, scratch that.

We tend to get caught up in the latest featuresets and plugins ((Don’t get me started on Trapcode plugins. Yes, I do use them. But for the love of God, Particular, 3D Stroke, and now Form do not instantly make your animations and designs ‘teh awesomes.’)) and can forget that they are just tools. And without us and our imaginations, they just sit idle.

Now I’m tempted to fire up that copy of After Effects 6.5… just because.

Only say yes when it’s yes.

Motionographer has a nice piece up from Bret Ashy of The Ashy Agency about preparing for life in the real (design) world. There are several good tips in here for recent graduates and newcomers as well as freelancers. My favorite:

2. Humbly Go – No matter where you interview, always treat the company as if they’re your top choice. Don’t approach your interviews with any attitude of self-importance. The reason I say this is because one of the companies in your ‘Not in a Million Years” column could be the big star six months from now. If you gave them attitude at your interview, they’ll remember you, and you’ll have burned a bridge at a company that might have moved in your Top Choice column overnight!

DON’T BURN BRIDGES, EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU’RE A GREAT SWIMMER

Seriously. Don’t come off as self-righteous. I’ve been involved in discussions regarding these people. It’s never good.