Tech Corner – Harry B. Miller III, ACE

Another Show…Another New

…Everything

Harry B. Miller III, ACE
CE 2011 Qtr 4

If you are a picture editor easily frustrated by change, you’re in the wrong business.

Over the past six months I’ve worked on a 3D movie shot on 35mm 8 perf film and cut on FCP 7…a series shot on the Red camera and cut on Avid Media Composer (AMC) 5.0.3…a promo trailer shot on P2 and GoPro cameras, a destination film shot on 35mm 8 perf film and cut on FCP 6, a feature length scripted show shot on the Canon 5D and edited on AMC 5.5.3, a ‘sizzle reel’ editing on AMC 6.0, and now a pilot shot on the Alexa and editing on AMC 5.5.3.

Now FCP is EOL’ed (End of Line), film and film cameras have nearly disappeared (Eastman Kodak’s stock has lost 99% of its stock value according to Reuters because no one is using film), Avid has moved from 5.0.3 to a redesigned version 6, the Red camera line now has a new one called the Epic, and the motion camera company Arriflex has come out with the latest DP favored digital camera called the Alexa.

Change is good, but this is nuts.

Remember when your next film was going to be shot on 35mm and cut on Moviola? Like your last film?

But what is crazy good is how technology has made the editing room flexible. Now we can be completely mobile. Lap top computers have the computing power of yesterday’s mainframes. Storage enough for a feature comes in sizes just larger than a wallet. I regularly travel with three or four projects on separate drives in a backpack. I can work at home, or even on an airplane.

Here are several ideas to apply the latest technology to your editing setup.

  • Laptop: I’ve gotten the fastest Mac laptop available, the Mac Book Pro with an i7 processor and 8 GB of ram. A lot of video is processing: encoding to Quicktime, transcoding, etc. A fast laptop is invaluable.
  • Portable drives: there are hundreds of good options. The LaCie Rugged is fantastic: fast, and safe. LaCie has great deals in its refurbished store. I’ve also used WD Elements 2TB drives which retail for around $120. Crazy cheap.
  • Editing Software: Media Composer is my first choice, for its many features. But a copy of Final Cut Pro (not X…. please!) is an essential addition. Although not updated in years, it still is blazingly fast for quick fixes. It is also very handy to have Photoshop for image manipulation, and Sound Grinder for audio conversions.
  • Transcoding: nothing is simpler to make a Quicktime movie than Turbo.264 HD. My head starts to ache when I try to use Compressor or Sorensen Squeeze.

The next three recommendations aren’t essential, but are incredibly useful.

  • Avid’s Artist Mix: this is Avid’s flying fader mixer, formerly the Euphonix MC Mix. In clip mode (in Avid’s Audio Mixer) it allows you to adjust the sound output levels of every clip, in the source monitor or timeline. This avoids having to constantly use a mouse to adjust sound levels. You can also record a live mix, which is fantastic when mixing around dialogue and sound effects. And other related devices can be added for more options. I also use the Artist Control, which has 4 faders and several other hard and soft controls. These mixers also work in Final Cut and Pro Tools.
  • Keyboard Maestro: this software that runs in the background and is an extremely functional and capable macro program. Quickeys had been my preferred macro program, but was causing many crashes with Avid Media Composer. KM allows you to string together very complex series of mouse clicks, keystrokes, etc. And it can be triggered by external devices, such as USB connected external keyboards. KM reduces the complexity of everyday tasks to simple hot keys.
  • SoundMiner HD+ is a sound library program, for sound effects and music. It can be installed on your editing CPU and run at the same time as an editing program. I have all my sound effects on one drive, and all music on another. I simply drag the drive icon onto SMHD+ and it creates a library of all sound effects (or music) that is instantly searchable. It reads metadata that may already exist in the sound effects (most SFX libraries now come with extensive embedded metadata). And it will embed metadata that you add to each sound file, such as comments and notes. I’ve tried to extensively describe original composer music for future use. In addition, you can drag and drop sound directly into Media Composer and Final Cut. By using an AAF transfer process, it will include all metadata into an Avid bin.

And Yet Another New Camera

It seems like every week there is a new digital camera on the set. First it was Sony, then Panavision Genesis, Thomson Viper, Red, Phantom, Canon, and now the Alexa, by Arriflex.

The problem is that directors (and producers) apparently think all image capture is the same, so they are willing to use any camera and expect that it will look as good and integrate as easily as their main camera system.

Wrong.

Every camera is different. Cameras that don’t shoot 23.976, which include GoPro and Drift, are very problematic for post. The dailies playback speed must be changed before it gets into editorial, otherwise there is unending rendering or playback issues. Something production seems oblivious to. And the image quality is very different (and worse) than their main cameras.

One serious issue with some cameras is the bending image created when the camera is quickly panned. And no camera captures the wide dynamic range as film. So, explosions and fire often have to be digitally enhanced… to look like explosions and fire.

Reed Smoot, ASC, is experienced with multiple camera types. This includes shooting large format (65mm) films (Mummies: Secrets of the Pharoahs), 8 perf 35mm (The Legend of DaMing Palace), 3D (film and digital) (Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man, Jonas Bros: 3D Concert), and now the variety of digital cameras (Red, Epic, Alexa).

Asked about his preferences for digital cameras, Reed said the Alexa is not the same resolution as a Red but is more familiar and comfortable. Reed has worked with several flavors of the Red, including the Red Epic for 3D. It is very compact and works well as a steadicam. However, it has a complicated workflow and his assistants tend to dislike it.

The advantage with Alexa is it has a HD eyepiece monitor making lighting through the camera much easier. A new feature coming soon will be an optical viewfinder, again making it more comfortable for operators used to traditional cameras.

But according to Reed, no camera is better than its lens. Alexa has been partnering with Fujinon and has a lens made for the Alexa. Reed worked with the 25-250 lens in night and rain in NYC, with incredible sharpness. The camera optics today have never been better. And the Alexa is Reed’s first choice of digital cameras.

The next new camera is the Sony F65 (sexy name, eh?), which shoots up to 4K like the earlier Red camera.

According to Brad Wilson of Keslow Camera, the Alexa “will definitely give you prettier pictures straight out of the camera, but you’re limited to a baked-in look.” The Alexa can shoot to both RAW file type, to a 3rd party storage device, or ProRes 444. The Red Epic captures RAW files, which require a LUT (Look Up Table) adjustment to look more than just muddy images.

And according to Brad, DP’s aren’t looking forward to any particular new camera, but to “the new glass / lenses to take advantage of the resolution of these new cameras like the EPIC and F65.  The new Leica prime set and the Fujinon zooms come to mind.”

Change: get used to it.