MCA-I Madison Session Notes

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at a breakout session for the MCA-I Madison Spring seminar. The topic was tapeless post-production workflow (specifically for FCP, but we did briefly discuss Avid & Premiere Pro). I promised everyone there I would post links to resources and some of the software we discussed in that session (and some we didn’t get to), so here it is:

Software:
Canon EOS Plugin – The official Canon plugin for Log & Transfer. Convoluted download process: Select Mac OSX, then click find “EOS MOVIE Plugin-E1 for Final Cut Pro Ver1.2” in the list, and accept agreement.
Magic Bullet Grinder ($49) – Batch processing of DSLR footage, including proxies with timecode burn in.
5DtoRGB – Process DSLR footage with more control and bypass QuickTime.
5DDtoRGBB – (Unmentioned) Will launch multiple instances of 5DtoRGB for pseudo-batch processing.
Clipfinder 2.2 – Software to reconform FCP XML to RED proxies for passing to Color, among other advanced RED functions.
RED Final Cut Studio 3 Installer – Includes QuickTime codec, Log & Transfer plugin, and Color REDRAW plugin, as well as a useful whitepaper on RED workflow.
REDCine-X – 1st light color correction and transcoding of RED files.

Resources:
RED User Forums – (Unmentioned) Community of RED users, including posts from RED staff.
Inexpensive Archiving for Tapless Media – Post from Little Frog in High Def (Shane Ross) covering some LTO solutions he found at NAB2011.
FCP 7 Digital Workflows (PDF) – (Unmentioned) Straight from Apple, covers working in several formats, including REDCODE, P2, XDCAM, and AVC. Unfortunately, it does not cover DSLR footage. And for obvious reasons, only covers Apple software.

So there’s the things we went over, and some items that didn’t make it into the discussion in the alloted time. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions.

Introducing Post Haste

PostHaste256
UPDATE: Humble pie. I already had to fix a pretty critical bug. Post Haste 1.0.1 has just been released.

One of the more tedious tasks in post, with the exception of rotoscoping, is just setting up a project. A while back, we discovered the usefulness using a template folder to keep everything consistent. Thomas Tomchak at Suite Take goes into great detail about project templates. But we were still duplicating folders, copying and pasting, and renaming multiple files before we could get started. I decided to make the write my own software to make things easier. The result is Post Haste.

Post Haste really just does one thing, but does it well: automatically generates a project folder for you. All you have to do is enter information such as project number, client, etc. and Post Haste will create a project folder with files in place and renamed. It’s customizable to allow up to five fields of information and auto-fills certain fields such as date, editor, or suite. Take a look.

Post Haste is completely free. There are no nag dialogues about how you should give me money. Really, I wrote the program for myself to make things easier. But to make things interesting, I’m releasing Post Haste as “luchware.” If you find it useful, consider buying me lunch.

How to Install Final Cut Studio 3

Yesterday, Apple quietly announced the new Final Cut Studio. The “what’s new” page actually has some nice features, though many I’ve talked to are surprised this is a full point upgrade to Final Cut Pro (myself included). There’s already comprehensive posts covering the new features and what they could mean. I really don’t have much to add.

Today, however, I am posting perhaps the most important link: How to Install Final Cut Studio 3. This is spot on from my own experience and a very comprehensive guide.

[via @editblog]

Why Film Editors Complain Alot Today

I was going to write up a post on the recent ACE pre-announcement—which is apprently all the rage lately—that they are giving their first ever technical award to Avid Media Composer. This award is also meant to be a snub against Apple, whom ACE feels is not listening to their concerns. As I said, I was going to write this post. Norman Hollyn took the words from my mouth.

Sorry folks, but that’s just the beginning of it. and complaining about not being consulted about our editing platform of choice reminds me of the days when some editors refused to move off of film because it “just wasn’t right.” I’m trying to think of how many editors who refuse to edit digitally are working today. The answer to that would be — none.

Give Me h.264 Editing or Give Me Headaches

Apologies to Patrick Henry. One of the rumors floating around concerning Final Cut Pro 7 (and QuickTime in Snow Leopard) is that it will support native h.264 editing (via Philip Bloom). Depending on your point of view you may have read that and thought “F-ing awesome! About time!” or “Oh, great. Fantastic, another codec that shouldn’t be used for editing.” Both reactions are appropriate, because as with nearly everything, this is both good and bad. This new workflow might save time and headache, or it could end up being more of both.

The Good

Not too long ago, a camera came on the market that offered inexpensive acquisition of full-raster 1080p video on a full-frame sensor using 35mm lenses. You know which camera I’m referring to. (Hint: It’s the Canon 5D MkII.) The images from this camera are great – shallow depth-of-field, great glass, decent color. Though problems arose with the format Canon chose for their QuickTime files: h.264. In Final Cut Pro, users had to either put up with dropped frames and poor performance, or transcode the footage to a more friendly format.

I firmly believe that anything that makes life easier is generally good. With native h.264 editing, users can now pull the QuickTime files straight off the camera and begin cutting. Just like that. No transcoding, saving on hard drive space and (potentially) time.

The Bad

Most editors will be able to say that they’ve seen this before with HDV. At first, Apple allowed editing of HDV footage by transcoding it to the Apple Intermediate Codec, otherwise, editing was just plain awful. Then they allowed native HDV timelines. Like this announcement, some rejoiced, others sighed… heavily.

The problem with natively editing with codecs like HDV and h.264 (both variants of MPEG compression) is that they’re not meant for intermediate use. And many (myself included) would argue that they shouldn’t even be acquisition formats. Now, with editing natively in those formats, footage is being compressed on acquisition, compressed on timeline renders, and more than likely, compressed again on output, with another potential compression when uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo (which is where a lot of these pieces end up). That’s a lot of compression.

My hope is that Final Cut Pro will at least allow for ProRes rendering on h.264 timelines the way it does with HDV and XDCam EX footage. But that is still only a stopgap measure. The greater problem may be lack of understanding as to why the old way (transcoding to a more robust codec) is really the better way.

An Aside: Misunderstanding

It’s anecdote time. A documentary friend of mine who shoots and edits is in love with his HDV camera (one of the Sony prosumer ones, I believe). And with good reason. He could affordably shoot in HD, and in 24p as well. Well, really 24p with pulldown in a 1080i stream. Now, some of what he shoots goes directly to web and is on tight deadlines. He shoots, ingests his footage as native HDV 1080i. Edits in a native HDV 1080i timeline. Then waits. Then wonders why it’s taking so long for the “conforming to HDV” process. Then wonders why there’s this weird interlacing going on, especially when he down-converts the edit to DVD or lower res QuickTimes. This is all despite several conversations we’ve had as to the nature of HDV & long GOP MPEG-2, how the camera is actually recording 24p, and that videos on the web are progressive, not interlaced.

Now, this is a great shooter, a great editor, and an all-around good guy. He’s just not an engineer and doesn’t know all the technical details. This is what is lost on many people: post production is half creative fun, half engineering and technical voodoo. Democratization of technology is great and it allows many people to work creatively when they couldn’t before. But because of that, the details are obfuscated and many don’t know why what they’re doing isn’t necessarily the best way or is sometimes causing them more problems.

It’s a Sliding Scale

In the end, it will most likely only be the professional editors who even notice and/or complain about this new workflow in FCP, provided it is even true. We just have to remember that Final Cut Studio is an inexpensive product that can arguably scale from DV editing on a MacBook to full on feature editing on a network of loaded Mac Pros. It’s not just pros using Final Cut Pro. And if this new workflow makes life just a little easier for the hobbyists/amateurs/photographers/moms/students/anyone, then it’s probably a good thing. Though it doesn’t hurt to educate someone should they ask for help or have questions.

Aspect Matte – Easier Letterbox/Pillarbox Matting in FCP

The Widescreen filter in Final Cut Pro can be anoying for two reasons: you have to apply it to each clip and it leaves transparent bars instead of a true matte. I’ve been using the method described here for quite some time now. Me being me, I assumed it was common practice, but perhaps not. So I’ve decided to share my extensive matte collection with everyone.

Below you will find a zip archive containing PSD files in common resolutions/formats (including HD & RED) with the following black mattes:

  • 1.33 (4:3)
  • 1.5 (3:2)
  • 1.67
  • 1.78 (16:9)
  • 1.85
  • 2 (2:1)
  • 2.39 (2.35)

Enjoy and feel free to share. The files are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

zip Aspect Matte (Zip Archive)

Ease of Use is a Problem?

I work with complicated software and various engineering and hardware problems every day. Such is the life in post production. The average consumer should not have to deal with the issues I deal with. That is why there are software bundles like iLife to make things easier.

Christopher Dawson, technology director for a Massachusetts public school district disagrees. He thinks software like iLife is too easy and impairs students:

It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.

So his argument is that some software is difficult to use, therefore easy software should not be allowed.

When working in a professional setting, yes, you need to understand your tools inside and out to better understand how to get your work done. I see the effect lack of knowledge has all the time with edits we get back from freelance editors working in Final Cut Pro at home. We get 16:9 anamorphic footage edited letterboxed in 4:3 sequences, tapes captured as stereo instead of split-mono,  extraneous use of layered plugins to achieve a “look,” 24 layers of video with 76 layers of audio, most of which are empty… the list goes on.

That said, these are technical problems and not creative ones. When you’re in school (especially high school), little should stand in the way between the creative vision that is in your head and the final result, including software. There’s no reason for students to know NTSC frame sizes, what 3:2 pulldown is,  or the difference between RGB and YUV, that is, unless they want to learn more. In which case, let them grow out of the simple software and use the more advanced packages.

As for the assumption that using easy software causes students to struggle with more compliated software? I’ve been on both sides. Many, many times, it doesn’t matter what you’re used to, complicated software is still complicated.

If high school students are having trouble picking up “pro-level software on the Mac,” it’s not because they’re used to plug-and-play. There’s a reason it’s called “pro” software ((For the record, I started out on Media100 as a freshman in high school, then moved to Premiere & Final Cut Pro my junior year. I would’ve killed for something like iMovie where I didn’t need to make sure I captured my video as Motion JPEG-A through the Aurora card for it to play back out successfully)).

[via Daring Fireball]

Red delays Scarlet and EPIC

In an announcement on the Reduser forum this morning, Jim Jannard of Red Digital Cinema has stated they are no longer working overtime to push the release of Scarlet and EPIC. These cameras are still in the pipeline, they have just moved to a more typical development schedule.

I see no reason to continue to pay for rapid development and pushed schedules when the world is not ready to buy our product in the quantities that justify our urgency.  […] Retail camera sales are currently off 40-50%.

While it may be a blow to those who were hoping to get their hadns on one of those cameras once they were pre-announced, I can completely understand their decision. If the volume of sales won’t be there, it doesn’t make sense to push development as hard as they probably were.

Jon Chappell of Digital Rebellion highlights why this isn’t such a big deal, which I completely agree with. There may even be an upside. This may translate to more Red One sales, which could mean more support for the Red One in post. We’re getting there with RAW support in FCP, AE, and Premiere, but it could stand to be improved… especially 4k support in FCP.