The First Law of Filmmaking tends to read along the lines of: Know Thy Camera
Eric Escobar’s excellent blog has a recent post that deals with this issue. He shoots the same image with two different cameras. One camera is the HV20 shooting with a 4:2:0 codec the other is the EX1 shooting at it’s highest quality at 4:2:2 with a lens adaptor.
Clearly the EX1 wins this shootout (if you click through, give the image a few moments to download). The HV20 is downright ugly in comparison.
Now - I don’t care at what frame rate you shoot, the EX1 is far more filmic. Yes? Will 24p make the HV20 feel any more cinematic? No way Josť.
Eric is onto something here... Know Thy Camera.
He mentions that he had trouble with the HV20, fighting all the auto controls of this consumer-oriented camera. Whereas on the EX1 he was able to get the exposure he wanted. This, I think, gets to the crux of the problem. And it’s a problem that I was reminded of recently re-reading the terrific book “Professional Photoshop” (the link is in the sidebar on the right). It’s the issue of Highlights vs Significant Highlights.
Go back to Eric’s post and look at those two shots again. To my eyes the biggest difference (besides depth of field) is exposure. On the auto settings the HV20 sees the brake-lights of the cars and the bright patch of light of the sky and thinks, “Gee, those are the highlights. I must protect for those highlights.” The camera ignores that this is a generally low-key image and acts as if the most important part of the image is the sky. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Eric, using his eye and experience, knows better than the auto-iris and sets up the EX1 much differently. Although he says he’s protected his highlights, he’s actually let his highlights blow out in the blur of a short depth-of-field and selective focus. He’s made the choice that the highlights of the sky and car lights are insignificant and instead chosen the significant highlight in the woman’s face. And he exposed accordingly.
The HV20 has the truly important part of the image, the woman’s face, completely compressed into a narrow range - as seen here in FCP’s waveform. In post, when we dig out that detail we’ll be pulling up noise and degrading the entire image. In that process we’ll let those highlights blow out because... who cares??? We want to see the babe!
And this takes me to a discussion I had recently with a colorist friend of mine who opined that he’s tired of the “protect your highlights” mantra. I tend to agree with him. We’ve both recently seen too many filmmakers walk in our rooms with footage that protects for the sky out the window and buries the truly significant detail - like human faces - into the bottom 30% of the waveform. No, not even Red can completely save you.
As Dan Margulis says in his book, there’s highlights and there’s significant highlights. Based on what I see coming through my doors I say filmmakers need to make sure they protect for the Significant Highlights and let the rest blow out. Especially on a camera like the HV20 where it’s far more damaging to try and dig out an underexposed face than to let a window blow out to white.
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I only have time for a quick post tonight...
The last 3 weeks (and for the next month) I’ve had the opportunity to work on JL Cooper’s MCS- series of hardware controllers. Last week I posted on the Color-L mailing list that the customization software for the Spectrum colorist control surface basically... well, sucks. It’s buggy and it doesn’t have half the controls that the Eclipse software has. I was very disappointed. My buddy Mitch responded that he was told at NAB the Eclipse software would drive those panels.
The thought hadn’t occured to me. On Monday I installed the Eclipse software (instructions here) and it worked. I imported my keyset and that worked as well! Joy, oh happy day.
One small tweak had to be made since the Eclipse does have one extra button that the Spectrum doesn’t.
So Spectrum users - get out there and behold the power of a fully functioning control surface. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!
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In this previous post I lamented how Apple seemed to be dragging its heels on providing BluRay authoring tools in its Pro Apps suite.
I got at least one fact wrong: Compressor 3 does export for BluRay.
Where did I go to find this out? Adobe!
Specifically, the DAV TechTable blog - which is filled with useful how-to's on BluRay authoring and I've placed into my RSS reader (now that I'm an owner of the Adobe Production Suite CS3 bundle, which supports BluRay authoring on the Mac).
Here's the post which gives explicit instructions on how to export from Compressor for BluRay authoring in Encore DVD. It's not a built-in preset in Compressor, so you'll want to build and save these settings as a Custom Preset.
If you're a glass half empty person, you've got to wonder why this setting isn't shipping as a preset in Compressor. Is it an ominous sign of Apple trying to keep its boot on the neck of BluRay? If you're a glass half full person, hopefully this is a positive omen that the next version of Final Cut Studio will have much more explicit support for BluRay authoring.
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Stu Maschwitz on the ProLost blog today points to a filmmaker who used both Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks to finish an entire feature. The film is Wasting Away and has won numerous awards on the film festival circuit. The filmmaker, John
"Because of the tight deadline, Apple Color was not a viable solution. The film had been shot on a Viper FilmStream Camera, which gives footage a strange kind of greenish tint, and Color was taking way too long to export footage after color correction had been applied. We needed a solution which allowed us to try different looks, iterate very quickly through them, then export the footage from Final Cut Studio at full resolution once color correction was applied."
He had 10 days to finish this show - which doesn't seem like a particularly rushed deadline to me. Although from the picture of his edit room accompanying this post I infer that the color correction in Color would have been driven by a mouse, rather than a control surface. I've found the control surface easily doubles my productivity (you can read my initial experience here). So a 90 minute feature color corrected with a mouse could easily take 5 working days... just for the initial grade. And that's without even getting into establishing a look. And look creation in Color is an exercise in patience + fortitude + luck, as his Producers seemed to have discovered:
"In late 2007, I worked with Sean and Matthew Kohnen to provide Color Correction on the film Wasting Away. The film had already been graded in Apple's Color (formerly "Final Touch") but the color just wasn't what they wanted."
Without talking to anyone involved in the production, I suspect they tried to use the ColorFX room in Color. They probably found it both slow to render and inflexible. If I were them, I wouldn't want to tread over the same ground again either. And so John's decision to give the Colorista / Magic Bullet Looks isn't just reasonable, it was smart. In my review of Looks I wrote:
"I offer this up as my highest praise: In many respects, I wish Looks was the ColorFX room in Color."
I still stand by that assessment. In fact, my preferred workflow today is to color correct in Color to set the initial grade and then move into Looks to stylize the image. Setting the base grade, whether in Color or FCP is important. Once you've graded an entire scene and all the shots match, applying Looks on top of it helps increase the likelihood that the look you've developed will apply consistently across those shots - minimizing the need for time consuming tweaking and re-rendering.
Why Color over Colorista? In two words: Secondary Rooms. The ability to mask/isolate multiple areas of an image really help us sculpt an image. In fact, you could say that one of the main themes of the new excellent book by Steve Hullfish The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction is how to use masks to enhance your image and tell your story.
And while you could do the same thing with multiple layers of Colorista or FCP's built-in 3-Way Color Corrector - it's nowhere near as fast and flexible.
But here's the thing that got me really intrigued and why I'm writing about this today... (from Stu's blog)
So if you read Flowers's excellent article and see his screenshots and ask yourself, "Is Stu listening? Does he realize that filmmakers want powerful and easy-to-use color correction tools that turn their NLE into a proper finishing tool? And that they're already using Magic Bullet for this, despite his intentions?"Well rest assured, the answer is yes.
If Stu adds control surface support and healthy secondary controls in his Color-killer - I'll be his bestest friend for life. Oh. And yes. I'll buy the software.
I like Color for it's ability to help me take the craft to a higher level. I curse Color for its idiosyncrasies that do nothing but inhibit our ability to be assured that the timeline we feed it is the timeline it returns to us. Not to mention the (not so) little bug that kills many interlaced workflows.
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This post is a shameless plug for a great workshop being held in NYC on Saturday May 17th. If you know anyone who might be interested in the following, please forward them any of the URLs listed below.
One of the hot workflow topics these days is "tapeless acquisition". Whether it be P2 cards for your HVX-200 or those little SD cards for a Red camera, managing that data while on-set has become a valuable asset. Frequently called the "Data Wrangler", the person who manages the off-loading, verification and subsequent re-initializing of these cards is a position of tremendous responsibility. Given that it's a relatively new crew assignment, training opportunities are few and far between - while the stakes in getting it wrong can be hazardous to one's career development.
If you live in New York City metro area, next Saturday May 17th The Moving Pictures Collective (Mopictive) is offering a Tapeless Acquisition Workshop. By the end of the day you'll walk away with a system for data management that can be applied to any tapeless shoot. It's being taught by Michael Vitti - the Fearless Leader of Mopictive who has extensive experience with "data wrangling" - and Jamie Hitchings - an Apple Certified instructor - who will walk the attendees through the entire Log & Capture process. Special Guest is a great guy I've known for many years, Michael Woodworth of Divergent Media, developer of the software app, ScopeBox. He'll be talking up scopes (how read them, how to use them, and why you need them) and monitors - a great ancillary skill for anyone who's trying to break in onto the set.
Here's the rub - signups have been light. If a few more people don't get signed up before next Tuesday or Wed, the event will be cancelled. Keep in mind, class size is limited to 10 people. This is nearly a one-on-one workshop. You'll have full access to the instructors and plenty of time to get all your questions answered. You'll learn the theory which can be applied to any tapeless situation as well as practical applications that'll allow to immediate implementation of that theory.
You can find out more details about the workshop here.
You can sign up here. Price is $300.
Full Disclosure: I am the Treasurer of Mopictive (which is a DBA of the New York Final Cut Users Group and also a certified NYS 501c3 not-for-profit). Over 50% of the proceeds will go to Mopicitive and furthering its mission to the training of Digital Storytellers.
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It's written in a diary format, since I found that my perception of the device changed as I used it and became more proficient on it. I think it'll help mouse-driven Color'ists better understand what the transition to the control surface was like.
I've got a few blog postings on Color workflow that have been bottled up as I was focused on (1) working on paid jobs and (2) writing the review.
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I'm going to do it as a running diary, so those considering making the switch from mouse to control surface get an idea of how my transition went.
In the meantime I will say this: Productivity is going through the roof!
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But times, they are a-changing. True 24p cameras are affordable and available. With some forethought these cameras mitigate much of the need for 24p emulation (yay!).
Far more in demand is the ability to create the ever elusive "Look". Whether for a flashback, dream sequence, historical recreation, emotional impact, stock emulation, or mimicking an in-camera technique (diffusion) - coming up with some "Look" (always - one which nobody has ever seen before) is a frequent request. The Magic Bullet Looks subset of filters has always been a stand-by of mine - though, unfortunately, it stands-by a bit more than I would have preferred.
Why? It suffered from having to work within the Final Cut Pro (or After Effect) filter User Interface.
..and that sums up how I've long felt about the older Magic Bullet Editors package. Powerful, but it gets old fast.
In mid-October Red Giant Software released Magic Bullet Looks. It's an upgrade for Magic Bullet Editors - and my first impression was, "Wow. Sexy".
My second impression: This is easily
the best-looking, best-feeling interface I've seen... anywhere.
It's fast. It's responsive. And best of all - the 100+ Look presets
all update to show you a preview using the current frame you've got
loaded! What a time-saver.
The point of the presets isn't to just apply it and move on (you know who you are) - but to use it as a starting point. With the new Magic Bullet Looks, if a client asks for a contrasty diffuse look - I can open the presets tab, reveal the Diffusion presets, and by looking at the small thumbnail pick the preset that seems to get me closest to the desired look. Once applied, I can start tweaking until I dial-in a pleasing result.
In comparison, the ColorFX room in Apple's Color makes much of the same promise as Looks. It has a bunch of prebuilt presets. But the thumbnails provide zero insight into how any particular preset might react with the current image (unless my image is a low-angle shot of the Golden Gate B
I offer this up as my highest praise: In many respects, I wish Looks was the ColorFX room in Color. The nodal approach that Color uses to creating a look is very powerful but very unintuitive. To be fair, Looks doesn't have the kind of repair (RGB split), grain management, and math tools of the ColorFX room. But the Color interface doesn't try to help me along as Looks does. MB Looks has a nifty help feature that describes every filter I can apply as I hover my mouse over the filter. Unfortunately, the help text is unhelpfully located at the polar opposite end of the screen from where my mouse is hovering. The font size of the help text also assumes I've got my 20-something set of eyeballs. Us "experienced" folk need a little more help than that, please.
Another shortcoming of Looks is that as I'm working on a Look, I can't see it output to my external monitor. I'm finding color decisions I make within Looks have to be tweaked once I press the "Apply" button and my monitor updates to show me what's really happening with the image. I don't think I can blame the Red Giant folks, I believe this is a limitation of the Final Cut plug-in architecture. Color Finesse suffers from the same problem when used as an FCP plug-in.
Lastly, it's clear that much thought went into assisting us in designing a look. Looks uses a Subject / Matte Box / Lens / Camera / Post metaphor, guiding a filmmaker in deciding what effects to apply in what order.
For a more general audience I think this is fine. But I would like to be able to toggle into a PowerUser mode that doesn't restrict me from placing filters that exclusively belong to the Camera elsewhere in the chain. At times, I felt more restricted that I should have been. I understand the metaphor / paradigm that Looks is using and that much of its target audience is actually freed by following this logical workflow. Still, I'd like the opportunity to be freed from the shackles of reality when creating unreal or hyper-real looks.
Overall, Looks is a fantastic product. There are a dozen nice little interface elements I haven't mentioned that really speed up user interaction. It's an amazing upgrade for anyone who owns the previous version of Magic Bullet Looks. And if you find yourself constantly trying to implement specialty looks, it's worth the full purchase price. I hope Apple's Pro Apps team takes a close look at this software... while it's missing some of the power features I'd like to see (flexible re-ordering of filters), it has a certain "fun-factor" missing from much of today's professional apps. And the rendered results look great.
Be sure to check out the blog of the creator of Magic Bullet Looks. There's a secret feature that I haven't gotten into that's very nifty.
You can download a demo here.
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That scene reminds me of Avid's recent announcement that they won't be on the show floor at NAB. This announcement was made a few weeks ago and sent huge waves through various online forums as everyone chimed in on what they thought of it. I don't concern myself too much with Avid anymore, as their price point for the software I want isn't at a price I'm willing to pay. But I was once a Symphony guy, the Avid vs Final Cut article is the most popular pages on this website, and the Symphony is an NLE I directly compete with, so I started reading the commentary around the net.
The most thoughtful comes from Frank Capria at Capria.tv. He has some good insights into what Avid hopes to gain out of this strategy. He believes theirs a risky strategy and details some of the shoals they need to avoid. I add: It's not like NAB is going the way of the Consumer Electronics Show where many companies feel they can't get their message out anymore. NAB is very relevant and good products do get their message out from that platform. If Avid is bailing on NAB, then something is not right at Avid - and they now admit it.
What I haven't read is a good reason Avid's been forced into this realization. I don't think it's the pressure from Final Cut...
My last NAB was two years ago - and Adobe unveiled the start of their Studio package. And honestly, it was a very very strong showing. The audio editing tools surpassed Soundtrack Pro, Premiere (today) is only a rev or two away from seriously being able to replace Final Cut. Their DVD solution is said to be top-notch. And of course, After Effects and Photoshop are the winners in each of their classes.
When you plot out from NAB 2005 to October 2007, Adobe has continued to execute - adopting Apple's "Studio" concept to help lock-in users, Apple continues to improve its Pro Tools division, most notably with the acquisition of Color. With Adobe and Apple poised to take direct aim at each other at the sub-$3000 NLE market, Avid's failure to execute in integrating apps it has acquired doesn't bode well for them.
But the story doesn't end there - at the high end, Avid has mismanged the DS and Symphony offerings. They confused many of their customers and never quite differentiated those platforms enough. But at least they had more breathing room. In the $60,000 - $80,000 NLE market they have a proven, turnkey toolset and not much competition - but AutoDesk is changing that...
I was recently involved with a FCP + Smoke/Flame integration demo at a local reseller. I spent 10 minutes of a demo modifying a timeline with effects and text within FCP. Using the same media, the Smoke was able to import that timeline (via XML) and ingest the media and play it back on its drives. The rest of the Smoke demo was very impressive - it's come a long way since I last saw it in v3. And it's a Symphony killer - at least in terms of feature set. (It's also very complex, deep machine that is a tougher transition for the Symphony editor to make than the transition to Final Cut - slowing its adoption rate and giving Avid some time.)
But with a basic turnkey Smoke system running on Linux for $90,000 (compared to that system costing $180,000 five years ago) and impressive media sharing capabilities in an FCP shop, the top end of Avid's market is starting to get squeezed as well.
It seems to me that Avid's NAB strategy this year akin to them stopping living life like the Red October and deciding to become the American hunter sub getting scared out of the water. They're about to get torpedo'ed and they need to differentiate. Fast. The process needs to start last week. And it did, with their announcement
For Avid, the only thing worse than not being at NAB is being at NAB and looking like they have nothing new to offer - for the third straight year in a row.
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I finally got one, sent from the Contact form on this website. The sender was complaining about finding "another editor claiming to be a colorist" and mentioned something about the real-time nature of his color-correction hardware and how he charges "$1000 per hour" (sniff, sniff).
On the one hand, I love the fact that I got hate mail from a "professional colorist". It means the software is starting to make the hardware-based folks nervous enough to start Googling us. And that means our tools are getting powerful. Though not quite there yet - as evidenced by his 'real-time' comment and another comment he made that Apple Color's "secondary tools are crappy". Gee, I guess he cracked open a copy to check it out (though I'd counter than Color's secondary tools are far less crappy than FCP's non-existant secondaries - we're moving in the right direction).
On the other hand, I'm annoyed by My First Hate Mail. Where did My First Hater get the idea I claim to be a Colorist? Certainly this website makes it clear, my finishing skills are broader than just color correction - but color correction is my specialty. I have grown tremendously in that skill set over the past 7 years. I read everything I can get my hands on and then I do it... over and over and over and over and over again.
Yes, I enjoy color correcting 1200 shots in a few days. Tweaking contrast, balancing tones. Yes, there isn't a single show I've worked on that 6 months later I don't look at and say, "I could do that better today." But heck, if there's *any* professional working today who thinks all their work is perfect and they have nothing new to learn - they're on a professional decline or delusional or both. They've definitely stopped growing.
Color correction - and Final Touch (now Color) - rejuvenated my enthusiasm for my career. I originally renamed and refocused my company to specialize in Finishing and Color Correction for very pragmatic reasons (easier to differentiate myself from every other FCP owner working in his mother's basement). 18 months later I discover I love this focus far more than I thought possible. It blends my dormant Director of Photography gene with my Editor gene and gives balance and indulgence to each.
In the end, the writer of My First Hate Mail and myself have this in common: We both make pictures look better. And, ultimately, who decides if our pictures indeed look better and our services worth paying our asking rates? Our clients.
I'll let My First Hater claim the mantel of "Colorist". I'm on the road to Craftsmanship. I'll continue to grow, learn, and occasionally teach. I'll keep trying to base my business on my Skills. I just hope My First Hater does the same or he'll get Moore's Law'ed out of the business. When today's iMac can handle 1080p, how much longer before it can run his DaVinci? In Real-Time? Something to think about...
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No, no, no.
I decide to change the hallway light bulb to 6500k. What happens next falls directly under the header of "The Law of Unintended Consequences"...
You see, my room is at the end of a hallway - so changing the bulb outside the door solves the problem of mixed light temperatures filtering into the edit room. But when you walk down the hallway, suddenly that one light fixture stuck out like a sore thumb. It's a lone brand-new bulb shining in its glory - a full 3000 degrees hotter than any other light in the hallway.
In a world of dull orange lighting, the bright blue bulb became an eyesore. The next step?
That's right, I changed all the bulbs in the hallway to 6500k. The hallway brightened considerably (I figure the previous bulbs were at least 3 years old and were quite tired).
And then came my co-workers headaches. It seems the new bright blue light filtering out of the hallway and into their offices was mixing color temperatures with their 3000k orange overhead fluorescent lights. I'm guessing the constant white balance adjustments their brains were forced into executing tired people out.
So, what's a geeky finisher to do? That's right...
We installed a total of 25 6500k fluorescent lights!
All this because I wanted a properly lit edit suite and didn't want to close in my already small-ish space by covering the door with black fabric...
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- "The MCS/3000/MCS-Spectrum was our first controller for
advanced color correction.
- The Eclipse CX is a newer generation of this same
- The complete button/function layout is consistent between both
- The Eclipse CX has added lighted buttons for every control,
Aluminum side panels and an overall lighter design.
- The rings on the Eclipse CX are sealed and mounted with
rubberized ring surface for more precise control.
- The Eclipse CX uses just one power supply unlike the
- We have also finished it off with brushed aluminum knobs and a
new grey and black finish.
- Oh, we also made the front of the Eclipse with a single piece
of metal top and also one piece bottom.
- Finally, we have added a power supply with a locking connector."
Over the next two weeks I plan on demoing both the CX and the MCS-Spectrum. I'll report back my findings...
Eclipse CX - their new colorist control surface. Yesterday I got word it's finally shipping. The shipping price is $7,000 + $300 ethernet controller . Currently there are three alternatives to the Eclipse:
- JL Cooper MCS-3000 Series (approx $5700, same configuration as the Eclipse CX)
- Tangent Devices 200 Series (approx $5000 per panel)
- Tangent Devices CP-100 (approx $30,000)
I'm definitely in the market for a control surface. And since I don't do leases (cash only, baby) I'm more price sensitive than I might otherwise be - accounting for my not having invested in one of these yet. But keep an eye on this space, as I'll report back once I've gotten my formerly nicotine-stained fingers on one of these control surfaces.
Oh, and it seems Tangent Devices is responding to the release of the Eclipse CX with a specially priced bundle. Gotta love competition.
- Restore Project: A great feature to roll back your FCP project to a previously saved state. Use the pulldown menu, pick the date/time, FCP unarchives it, renames it to its original name (rather than project_name_datestamp.fcp) and off you go! Absolutely killer over the old manual method, which usually put you in a worse mood than you were already in (no one uses this feature unless they really have to).
- Render Audio/Video In Tandem: Previously FCP would render video
before audio. So if you stopped halfway through the render you'd
have to force an audio-only render to hear the matching audio. In
FCP 6 the two render in tandem.
- Shift-Delete Nested Timelines: No longer breaks audio renders.
- Uses both processors on my Dual 2.5 G5: I regularly hit 90%+ on
both processors. Usage was much lower previously.
UPDATE: I've booted back into 5.1.4 and I'm seeing about a 20%-30% increase in processor usage in 6.0.
More as I find them...
software developers asking them to include VHS and Betacam label
stocks in their software. Most replied that they're not set up to
support non-CD/DVD paper formats.
However, one developer, BeLight Software, responded, "We'll look into
it." I'm pleased to announce that they followed through and it's working
Their latest shipping version can handle the various VHS
and Beta label stocks from Ace (and a few others manufacturers). The
nice thing... you can build templates that link together different
stocks - so you can work on both the inside and outside label sheets
I am now abandoning my Classic-only Sticky Labels with a far more
functional, up-to-date piece of software. And since BeLight followed
through on adding this functionality I'm following on my promise to
let others know about it...
Get more info about Disc Cover here:
And download the demo of Disc Cover here:
And for the record, my only relationship to BeLight is that of a
happy, paying customer.