Technology

Adobe Tech Day 2019

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4th Qtr, 2019

The ACE Tech Day featuring Adobe was attended by the curious: Many were editors who hadn’t seriously used or had experimented only briefly with Premiere Pro. And their curiosity was rewarded. Held Sept. 7 at Raleigh Studios, Tech Day had many from Adobe’s team in attendance, including Mike Kanfer (Principal Strategic Development Manager), Meagan Keene (Senior Product Marketing Manager), Michael Phillips (co-inventor and designer of Avid’s Media Composer and general all-around very smart guy) and several others.

Adobe always brings a full team to events such as this. The day was led by Van Bedient (Head of Strategic Development) and presented by Karl Soule and Matt Christensen.

First up was an exclusive sneak peek extended scene – previously shown only at the 2019 Comic Con panel – for Terminator: Dark Fate. Directed by Tim Miller, edited by Julian Clarke, ACE, they are the team that used Premiere Pro and connected applications on Deadpool. It was a very entertaining start for the day. One couldn’t tell how Premiere was used, but it looked great and certainly isn’t a bad advertisement for the editing software. Next was a video presentation featuring the many productions that have used Premiere Pro. These included the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, David Fincher’s Mindhunter and FX series Atlanta. Next was a look at Premiere Pro.

The main focus of the presentation was a new workflow to facilitate editors sharing on a network. It’s called Premiere Pro Productions. A Production is the umbrella project you would create for a film, documentary or episodic TV show. Within that you’d create folders and bins for editors and assistants to work.

Part of the Production workflow includes a new data model for tracking clips and sequences which eliminates any instances of duplicate clips which previously could occur. The point of a Production is to organize bin locking, where several editors can share a Production and lock bins (dailies, sequences) while they are working. Once locked, no one else can alter anything within that bin.

There is no chance you could open a locked bin, do a lot of your best editing work, then lose it because it can’t be saved. Soule demonstrated as he and Christensen locked and unlocked bins. They also showed off the Freeform bin arrangement, where picture tiles in a bin can be up to four different sizes and can be placed anywhere in the bin’s work area. It is an impressive new feature.

Then some magic started happening. Adobe has been investing resources into Artificial Intelligence that is applied in different tools, which they term Sensei. Premiere Pro now uses what’s called ‘Content Aware Fill for Video.’ They showed a shot of a couple in a field. As it pans, a boom operator comes into the shot. By drawing a mask around the boom operator, the computer figures out the pixels needed to replace him with the background. It is very similar to the Mocha Pro plugin from BorisFX. It was very impressive.

Then Richard Zhang took the podium. He is researching AI for Adobe, and showed not only how deep learning can create deep fakes, i.e. a person saying something different from what they actually said, but also how deep fakes can be exposed. One great example of manipulating media through AI had a ballet dancer modifying the behavior of a standing person – to becoming a person mimicking the ballet dancing. Funny. And scary.

After lunch Vashi Nedomansky, ACE, and director/editor Todd Douglas Miller discussed the making of the CNN Films documentary Apollo 11. Adobe is intent on having a place in the Hollywood editing community. They have an edit suite in Santa Monica designed for training. They offer free one-on-one training for ACE members. They have seminars at the Motion Picture Editors Guild. And they have a direct email address for ACE. I’ve used it, and got an immediate answer to my comment.

And Adobe is open to collaboration with other developers. Bedient made the point that Adobe works with about 320 partners who write add-ons or extensions to Premiere Pro. One example is Frame.io, which has a system for remotely getting notes from a director that can be placed directly in your timeline.

So, these curious editors may have gotten inspired to kick the tires on Adobe Premiere Pro on their own. There was certainly enough in the Tech Day presentation to pique their interest.

IBC 2019

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4th Qtr, 2019

The IBC (International Broadcasting Convention) has always been a showcase for the latest products and developments for content creation but this year’s event doubled down by attracting a number of established artists to present masterclasses or public interviews. Chris Dickens, ACE, an Oscar® and ACE Eddie winner for Slumdog Millionaire, shared insights into how he helped Dexter Fletcher’s biographic musical Rocketman about shy piano prodigy turned international superstar Elton John.

“The film is about Elton’s battle with himself and moving away from who he was as a child,” Dickens said. “In one scene he swims underwater and is confronted with himself as a boy but by the end of the film he has come to terms with who he is.” Presenting clips including a sequence that appears early in the film accompanied by John’s “The Bitch is Back,” Dickens described the script as a heightened version of reality. “It had two sides, this real-life drama and a fantastical story of his success with musical sequences which tell his life through song.

It gave us a license to play around visually but I couldn’t quite unify the two dramatic tensions in my head. The biggest challenge was finding a way to combine all the elements to give the film tonally the same feel all the way through.”

Elsewhere, there were sessions devoted to the VFX behind Avengers: Endgame and insider looks at the cinematography and grading of Netflix series Mindhunter and Black Mirror interactive episode “Bandersnatch.” Attendees were treated to a special showing in Dolby Vision and Atmos of Game of Thrones’ season 8 episode “The Long Night,” the episode which landed Tim Porter, ACE, the Emmy® for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series.

HBO executive producer Greg Spence and Steve Beres, HBO’s senior vice president of Media and Production Services were on hand to talk about the show’s production. The virtual production of Jon Favreau’s The Lion King was another highlight as explored by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, ASC, and VFX supervisor Rob Legato, ASC.

New ways of working were also a theme on the exhibition floor. Aiming to find new ways to create, produce and distribute content on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, Avid announced its participation with Disney in a five-year partnership with Microsoft. The partnership will be run through The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB, Disney’s technology hub, and will be aimed at delivering cloud-based workflows for production and postproduction or from ‘scene to screen.’

Microsoft has an existing strategic cloud alliance with Avid and the companies have already produced several media workflows running in the cloud, including collaborative editing, content archiving, active backup and production continuity.

“By moving many of our production and post-production workflows to the cloud, we’re optimistic that we can create content more quickly and efficiently around the world,” said Jamie Voris, CTO, The Walt Disney Studios. “Through this innovation partnership with Microsoft, we’re able to streamline many of our processes so our talented filmmakers can focus on what they do best.”

The announcement was separate but related to a wider move by major studios to rethink production workflows in the cloud. During the IBC conference session titled “Hollywood’s vision for the future of production in 2030,” tech bosses from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros. gathered to discuss a 10-year blueprint for the process, as outlined by non-profit research initiative MovieLabs.

“There’s been a massive increase in content production and brand extensions, and we need faster production cycles and more rapid iterations,” said Universal CTO Michael Wise. The MovieLabs report suggests assets need to be created and ingested straight into the cloud. Any tools used on content assets in this new workflow must come to the cloud, rather than the  other way around. “We need the entire industry to come together on this,” said Bill Baggelaar, senior vice president of technology, production and postproduction technologies at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“We don’t want to build our own tools to manage cloud solutions but would require the ability to plug into our own preferred vendors.” MovieLabs is working toward the creation of a standard, a big part of which will be security.

A common ID system would be critical to identify the thousands of workers interacting with studios’ content, the speakers related. “This would also formalize protocols for crew members who wish to use their own devices or plug their own kit into studios’ production networks,” noted Daphne Dentz, senior vice president, mastering & production technology, Warner Bros.

Adobe used the IBC platform to unveil Auto Reframe, a new feature for Premiere Pro that uses the company’s Adobe Sensei artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform. Slated for availability later this year, Auto Reframe is developed to reframe and reformat video so that the same project can be published in different aspect ratios, from square to vertical to 16:9 versions, the company said.

Like Content-Aware Fill for After Effects, which was introduced in the spring, Auto Reframe is designed to “accelerate manual production tasks, without sacrificing creative control. “For broadcasters, or anyone else who needs to optimize content for different platforms, Auto Reframe will help you get there faster,” Adobe writes in its blog, citing tools designed to “analyze, crop and pan footage to prioritize the most compelling parts of your video.” The company also demonstrated new Best Practices guides, which include ones for working with native formats, using project templates, using Motion Graphics templates; mixing audio with the Essential Sound Panel, exporting video and using third-party tools with Adobe tools.

Blackmagic announced Blackmagic RAW 1.5, a new software update with support for Premiere Pro and Media Composer, plus Blackmagic RAW Speed Test for Mac, PC and Linux,  so customers can work on a wider range of platforms and editing software with their Blackmagic RAW files. Blackmagic RAW 1.5 is now available for download. “Blackmagic RAW is now available for editors working on all major professional nonlinear editors,” said CEO Grant Petty.

“You can now edit native Blackmagic RAW files in Premiere Pro and Media Composer and then finish them in DaVinci Resolve without needing to create proxy files.”

Tech Corner 4Q19

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4th Qtr, 2019

Traveling to foreign lands to work is one of the exciting aspects of editing. Today nearly everything is being shot in distant locations. Not always, but sometimes the editor gets to come along. There are a few things to bring along when you travel. Well, one essential thing: a phone.

When a phone was just a phone, it was pointless to bring it on a foreign trip. Who you gonna to call, presuming you can figure out the correct sequence of digits to actually make a call? In Hungary for example, my current location, a phone number has 11 digits. A US phone has 10. But what you actually need to type/dial is confusing. The country code for Hungary is 36. But to reach someone locally, you dial 0-6. What? International phone calls are totally confusing. Best to just not call anyone.

But today a phone is your most important possession in a foreign location. Here are some essential phone apps for foreign work/travel.

Google Maps: If you’re going to surrender all of your privacy and data, at least give it to a company that delivers a good service. Maps is amazing. You know exactly where you are on a map pretty much anywhere that has cell service. And by giving a destination by typing, talking or just pointing to the map, Maps will direct you by car, public transportation or foot. Yelp has no presence here, so restaurant and shopping recommendations and reviews also are available in Maps. I would literally be lost without it.

Currency Converter: Hungary uses two currencies, the Forint and the Euro. Hardly anyone uses Euros, so one has to figure out the conversion between Forints (HUF) and U.S. dollars. Currency Converter is free (with ads), quick and easy. That 1,000 HUF sounds like a lot of money until you convert it to the $3.45 it is actually worth. Not a simple exchange rate.

Google Translate: This app is amazing. Point your camera to any foreign language text and Translate will give you the English translation in real time.

According to Wikipedia: “The Google Translate app for Android and iOS supports more than 100 languages and can translate 37 languages via photo, 32 via voice in ‘conversation mode,’ and 27 via real-time video in ‘augmented reality mode.’”

WhatsApp: This is a text-and-talk app between two agreeing parties, i.e. no spam calls or texts so far. It works over Wi-Fi rather than a cellular connection. Thus it is limited, but it can make local and international texts and calls. For free.

BKK FUTAR: This is a specific app to the Budapest public transportation system, but similar apps exist in other international cities. Budapest’s transit system is extensive and excellent. Not unlike Google Maps, BKK Futar first will identify your location. You then type in where you want to go, and it calculates several routes to get there. The various steps can include by foot, bus, electric bus (trolleybus), tram, suburban railway and underground metro. A separate page lists every step on your journey. And in real time it shows your exact location on a map as you are traveling.

Bolt: Uber, the unregulated ride-share service, was banned in Hungary in 2018. Bolt is an app and cab service that is its closest replacement. It is very simple. Register with email and phone, add a payment credit card, order a pickup and tell them where you are going. A map will show where your driver is at, and give steady updates on when you’ll get picked up. Drivers will also take an in-car credit card or cash.

Apple Wallet: Oh my, is this a revelation. Apple Wallet for iOS can store a credit/debit card. When you need to pay for something at a store or restaurant, a mobile card reader is brought out. The amount is typed in, then you hold your phone over the handheld device, it is detected by the phone, you approve the transaction on your phone via fingerprint (in my case), you then see a check mark and hear a ‘ding,’ and you’ve just paid your bill electronically. No card swiping, no potential card number skimming like at U.S. gas stations. Perfectly secure. And paying electronically is ubiquitous in Budapest. If I can avoid it, I am never taking my credit card out of my wallet again. Wallet can hold multiple credit cards, Apple Pay, and any other secure document you need to store … like a return plane ticket.

Genius Scan: This takes a picture of a document, allows you to straighten and crop, then creates a .pdf file. A mobile scanner with only your phone.

Hotspot Shield: A reasonably useful VPN, or Virtual Private Network. It is designed to mask your identity over public wifi for

Vivino – Scan, organize and track wines to create a fun chart of your wine experiences.
more security, and to make it seem like you’re connecting to the internet from Uzbekistan.
Mobile Passport: When returning to the United States you have to fill out a document about your journey, get a picture taken, then wait in line to get through customs. Mobile Passport speeds that up and (I’m told) gets you into a shorter line.

Finally, the second device you need to have at all times is….a spare battery. With your phone constantly on, this is the only way to make it through the day.

Cuts We Love 3Q19

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3rd Qtr, 2019

There’s no escaping the grim fascination of this neo-noir crime thriller nor the horrific inevitability of its conclusion. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are detectives Mills and Somerset on the trail of a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as a motif in his murders.

The film is largely set in a claustrophobic, dark and perpetually-raining hellish vision of New York City (though the city is never named). For the denouement, serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is driven in custody and handcuffs by the detectives away from the city into a wide-open sun-parched industrial landscape.

“It was always meant to be a daytime or early evening scene,” explains Richard Francis-Bruce, ACE. “When a journalist asked [director David Fincher] whether he chose that location with its electrical pylons as an homage to North by Northwest, he said, ‘No, I just thought it was a great location.’

Funnily enough, the first scene we shot with Brad, which is the second scene in the film when he is waiting for Somerset to turn up, it was raining hard but they liked the look of it so much they shot everything else with rain machines. They just wanted the end of the film to be different.”

In the distance a van approaches the trio and the tension racks up. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, when all will be revealed, and yet it is not that moment,” says Francis-Bruce, who was Oscar® nominated. “The van and the driver are a false ‘gotcha.’ It’s built with fast cuts as the van gets closer and screeches to a halt when Somerset fires his gun. You know Doe has a master plan. But it’s not the van. Could it be what’s in the van? As Somerset considers the box, we hope the audience thinks that there’s a bomb. The intent is to build layers of suspense and peel them back one by one.

The principal photography on the ground was shot at a time when the vegetation was very green and lush. The POV from the helicopter was done weeks later when the ground was parched. The earlier material was color timed to match the later shots. “This was the last film I cut on film so the ability to do multiple versions wasn’t there. That was a bit of a blessing since I was able to spend time cutting the principal story and when we got the aerial footage I could work out where to drop it in fairly easily. If I’d had all the material at once the scene would have been a lot more difficult to build.”

He says, “Suspense works better slowly. We lengthened the scene, strung it out by cutting up the dialogue between the two stories – one with Mills and Doe and one with Somerset. Once Somerset stands up there are three cuts of the box before he decides to run. He is just stunned and doesn’t know what to do.”

The audience feels just as stunned as Somerset because of Freeman’s reaction on opening the box. “The script had Somerset saying, ‘Oh dear Christ’ to be played over the radio on a shot of the SWAT team’s helicopter. But Morgan’s reaction to opening the box was just so disturbing it communicated everything. It was the first take. After that he couldn’t get it quite right.” The realization is only driven home to the audience on John Doe’s words: “…her pretty head.” “It hits you like thunder clap.”

Fincher had no intention of displaying what was in the box but the scene exacted such a visceral reaction when shown to New Line Cinema execs that the studio started to get nervous. “One idea was to substitute the head of Mills’ pet dog but that was never shot. People imagine they see a lot more gore than they do. Some tell me they’re convinced they’ve seen a head in the box. “If you look very closely though there is one shot of the open box with a piece of hair. It’s very slight. Was it really there?”