Archive for the ‘Workflow’ category

CAS Workflow Seminar

January 1, 2011

The Cinema Audio Society will host “The Digital Gameplan,” a comprehensive workflow seminar next Saturday, January 8 at the Sony lot in Culver City. The day will focus on sound, from production to delivery, but if it’s like a similar event held in ’05 (which I participated in), there will be plenty to chew on for picture folks, as well. Members of all Hollywood locals and societies are invited along with producers, folks from facilities and film students. And the price is right — it’s free. For more, see this pdf.

When: Saturday, Jan 8. / 10 am – 2 pm

Where: Sony Pictures Studios, Cary Grant Theater
10202 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA
Enter using the Madison Gate.

It’s best to send an RSVP to this email address, but they will admit you regardless.

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Conforming Headaches

November 24, 2010

For better or worse, high-end feature films and television still follow an offline/online model, cutting with some kind of lower-res proxy and conforming a higher-res original. The dirty little secret of our new file-based workflows is that despite the many advances we’ve seen, conforming is still a pain in the butt. Why? Because no conforming system can fully conform Avid effects. Sure, cuts and dissolves can be handled easily, but more often than not, effects work has to be painstakingly rebuilt by eye. That seems downright crazy to me — in the wonderful, all-digital, file-based workflow of the future, people are still studying the locked cut, figuring out what the heck was done, and reconstructing it by eye.

Yes, there are exceptions. If you do your offline in Media Composer and finish in Avid Symphony, everything comes across. That’s a wonderful thing and if you work that way, you become dependent on it quickly. But unless you color correct in Symphony, you’re going to have to export, which means baking in a look and accepting a maximum raster size of HD video. On the Final Cut side, the XML export format opens the door to full conforms, but even then, in many DI environments you still don’t get everything.

I had a chat with a product marketing person at one of the DI system manufacturers recently, and I asked him why. His answer surprised me. His view is that we editors don’t care — we expect and have no problem with a by-eye conform. That might have been true once, but not today. Once you start doing complex effects work and see it conformed perfectly with little or no effort, you start wondering why things should work any other way. And you start to chafe at all the behind-the-scenes effort expended by editors and assistants, just trying to get back to something that worked just fine in the offline editing room.

This is a long-standing, Tower-of-Babel problem — there is no standard effects language. And it seems that each manufacturer has their own selfish reasons for not spending the money needed to make really good translations possible. That was tolerable in the days of film and HD, but in the all-digital present, it seems more and more anachronistic to me.

File-Based Basics

November 17, 2010

I recently finished a TV movie that was shot on Red and Canon 5D, cut in Media Composer 5, conformed in Smoke, and timed from the original raw R3D files in Lustre. None of that is particularly unusual these days (though timing from the R3Ds is still rare in television). But there seem to be a whole lot of people who are confused about these processes. If you’re among them, then maybe the following will help you make sense of it.

First, the epiphany. You’re shooting with a file-based camera. Okay, that’s not unusual. You’ve been working with film and/or tape for years, going through all kinds of gyrations — is this really so different? But then it hits you. The camera generates files on disk. And from then on, everything is a file. Everything. All you’re going to do is create files, copy files, move files, archive files. That’s terrific, you think, that simplifies everything. But then it hits you — there are way too many file types! And no standards. The list of acronyms is bewildering: r3d, rmd, mxf, omf, mov, dpx, log, linear, log c, aaf, avb, dng, psd, wav, xml, prores, tiff. Soon you begin talking about these things — and people around you start looking at you funny.

The beauty of a file-based workflow is that you can manage most of it with off-the-shelf computer gear. But that’s a curse, too, because now you have a raft of choices to make. Do you do as much as possible in the ‘offline’ editing room? Or do you get adult supervision from a post house? Or both? There’s a massive decision tree to navigate, and every choice influences every other choice.

So let me start with a couple of caveats: First, leave time to figure this stuff out. Don’t wait till production begins. Start early and go through the various permutations, talk to everybody you can, learn as much as you can. Second, remember that nobody knows everything. This has always been true, but in the wild-west science experiment we’re all now engaged in, where things are changing daily, it’s a certainty.

So what are all these choices you’ll have to make? They break down roughly as follows:

  1. Production
    Which camera(s) are you using? Which audio recorder?
    What kinds of files are you creating?
    What frame rate, sample rate, timecode rate, raster size are you recording?
  2. Dailies
    Who’s doing them? What do you need for editing, review and conforming?
    Who syncs and how will they do it? Who backs up and when?
    How are drives being moved around; where are they stored?
  3. Editing
    What system will you use? What kind of drives/raid?
    How will you output cut material for review?
    What are you turning over to sound and music?
  4. Conforming
    Will you roll your own or have a post house do it?
    How do you handle visual effects created in your editing room?
    And those created by the vfx team?
    What kinds of files will you use for color correction?
    And for television, a crucial question — when do you convert to HD?

There are some simplifications in this list, to be sure, but it should give you a basic overview of the terrain. Yes, it can seem overwhelming. You aren’t going to come up with a perfect solution, just one that satisfies the needs of your particular production. The more questions you can answer before you roll, the happier you’ll be.

Interview on Hollywood Reinvented

November 13, 2010

My friend Larry Jordan, editor and creator of the new blog Hollywood Reinvented, has just posted an extended video interview with me. Topics covered include digital editing in general, Final Cut vs. Media Composer, the need for editors, and the future of post production. It’s all nicely edited into tasty, bite-sized pieces (if you let it play, it’ll move from clip to clip without interruption). The full post is here. I hope you enjoy it.

Conforming Red

October 17, 2010

Red is now Hollywood’s great science experiment, with workflow options proliferating almost every day. How do you do dailies? How do you transcode and sync? Who is archiving your media? We’re finally starting to get our arms around those issues, but there are still too many options. And the bigger question now is how you conform.

“The Social Network” team actually did it in their offline cutting room, moving from Final Cut to Premiere and from there to After Effects, using EDLs (not XMLs) and dpx files (not the native R3D files). They then turned over to a Pablo for timing. (Adobe has posted a video laying this out.) I’m finishing a TV movie that was cut with Media Composer 5, conformed in Smoke and timed in Lustre using the native R3Ds, which gave us all kinds of color control. And those are just two of the dozens of permutations available. Before we started shooting, I spent a full week going over them, and at the end, the conversations were so filled with jargon that a normal mortal listening in would have thought we were nuts.

We do more and more visual effects work in our offline editing rooms. In television, I’ve gotten very spoiled seeing my work conformed perfectly using Symphony. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom in that — if you get something right, it’s finished and you never need to think about it again. But in features we don’t generally experience that particular thrill, because above HD resolution everything has to be rebuilt, and too often, by eye. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. Smoke is powerful, interfaces with Lustre for timing and understands many MC4 effects — but MC5 is another story. Baselight understands XML (but not all effects). After Effects is cheap but doesn’t understand either one. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The whole thing is a mess. Conforming complex visual effects by eye is crazy, and somebody is going to make real money straightening it all out. More fundamentally, will we be conforming in our cutting rooms or at a post house? Or will increases in processing power make the whole thing moot?

Meanwhile, be prepared for a new workflow on every show you do, with new options, new gotchas, and new things to learn each time.

The Fourth Paradigm

July 27, 2010

In my working lifetime, I’ve seen three major workflow paradigms. First was pure film — we edited with workprint and mag film, we made visual effects with an optical printer, we mixed with mag dubbers, we cut negative and made an answer print. It was artsy-craftsy, there were lots of quirks, long experience taught you the tricks, and there was only one way to get the job done. Linear tape was next: editing with 3/4″ U-matic machines, dubbing your cut material until you could barely see an image, cleaning a list and onlining. Digital non-linear merged all those processes together: shoot film, telecine workprint, edit digitally, conform film, cut negative — a hybrid, with lots of alternatives, which we slowly figured out over a good 15 years. DI conforms eventually replaced negative cutting for most productions.

Now, with the advent of file-based cameras, we are seeing the fourth paradigm, where everything, from camera to cinema screen, is a file. No film, no videotape, no audiotape. All media is digital and it all lives on hard drives (or flash drives). Some of us have boldly jumped into this new world, but I’m not sure if the full import of the change has hit home yet. It means that in theory you can do everything that needs to be done with an ordinary desktop computer in a tiny office.

I just started a show that’s shooting on Red and Canon 5D. Red files are converted to Avid media via RedCine-X, synched in a Media Composer, and shipped to us on 1T drives. No digitizing, no tape, no decks. Conceptually, this is the simplest workflow ever, but in reality, the number of permutations has gone through the roof, there are no standards and everybody skins the cat differently. Planning is critical, but even with two weeks of daily phone calls and meetings to set up our workflow, there were surprises once the train began to roll.

This is the workflow of the future, of course. Tape and film may linger, but in the end, it’s all going to be ones and zeros. I hear myself talking now and have to laugh at all the acronyms: MXF, DNX, DPX, LTO, WAV, R3D, RMD. This is the new vocabulary of the editing room, and if you don’t know what those formats are, well, you will soon. And that only skims the surface, because the real question is what you do with those files, what software you need to manipulate them, what kind of drives will play them and how you’re going to look at the images. I’ll try to offer some hints about all this as we move forward, but for now, welcome to the brave new world of end-to-end digital production, where you can do anything in the privacy of your own editing room — and where every mistake is potentially yours alone.

NAB in the Rear View Mirror

April 19, 2010

What a difference a couple of years makes. Avid (and Media Composer 5) picked up several awards at NAB, including a Videography Vidy award, a Pick Hit from Broadcast Engineering, and a Star Award from TV Technology. Not bad for a company that a lot of people thought was moribund a few years ago. Apple, of course, was a no-show at NAB, and the Final Cut community seems to be taking notice. Here’s a quote from the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro User Group forum: “I hope Apple takes this as a wake up call. Because Avid is making FCP seem like the Media Composer of five years ago…”

Oliver Peters offers a great summary of post production-related NAB news on his blog here. I was intrigued to see that some of the new digital cinema cameras generate both raw files and either DNX or ProRes simultaneously. We thought the lab would end up in the editing room. Maybe it’s actually going to end up in the camera. And later this year, it looks like Lightworks is going to have a new life as a free download, with the code released to the open source community. The modern Lightworks has plenty of useful features, not the least of which is background saves. And it can edit both ProRes and DNX without transcoding. Don’t count them out yet. Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned¬† previously (here and here), Premiere might be morphing into a legitimate contender.

Not long ago it looked like the editing software wars were nearly over. Today, the playing field is a whole lot more level — and exciting.¬† This is how it’s supposed to work. Competition drives innovation — in economics, and in evolution. And we, the editors, win.