Tech Corner-2 Qtr-2018

OLLIE is the title of a movie being made for Fox. Well, it is actually the name of a dog, but is also the code name for this film I am editing along with Billy Weber. Production started in February of 2017, went for about five months with two units shooting around Vancouver, British Columbia. Post-production has been going ever since. To clarify and modify the movie’s story, Fox studio executives approved a three-week additional shoot. That started March 12 and finished (mostly) by the end of March.

What was second in importance to shooting great new material was being able to see what was shot cut together as quickly as possible. The producers and directors (there being two units shooting every day) wanted to see before the next day’s shooting if they were getting all the pieces necessary to tell the story.

I volunteered to make that happen.

To complicate matters, nearly all shooting would happen at night on exterior locations. And the weather could be a factor: The year before it had rained for all but five days during production. I was a bit apprehensive. Working nights, in the rain? What have I gotten into?

But the schedule worked in my favor. Working with executive producer John Starke it was decided that every day I would receive dailies directly from set, edit that material, then output cut sequences to go back to both sets each night. With crew turnaround, travel, transfer and compression time, it left about seven hours to cut dailies into coherent scenes. On-set crew call was generally at 7 p.m., so dailies could leave set for editorial at about 7 a.m. every day.

Working with camera original media would be too difficult. The movie was being shot with Arri digital cameras, at 3.2K resolution. The file sizes alone would make transferring and storing dailies too cumbersome. But each unit had a video assist operator. They were recording every take, with sound, in a compressed format. Using that media was ideal.

First unit and second unit were assigned a portable LaCie 4TB each. The video assist operator would transfer all recorded media to that unit’s drive by the end of their day, and transportation would bring it to the production office. There my post PA, Cole Doran, would transfer each unit’s dailies to a master LaCie 8TB desktop drive from which I would work.

When I traveled it wasn’t clear exactly how this all would work. I’ve never done this before. It isn’t the first time I’ve stepped off a cliff like this. I’ll figure it out.

I brought my laptop, a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, mid 2014) that has been an incredible workhorse on many projects I’ve edited the last couple of years. For displaying on an external monitor I brought a Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme. It is neither intense, nor extreme, but it does a fine job connecting to a monitor via HDMI. And a second monitor, to which my laptop would connect via HDMI.

On my work drive I had transferred the current cut of the movie. All the media in every sequence/reel. I was fairly sure I couldn’t fit the entire movie plus the new material on 8TB, so our assistant, Michael Nouryeh, transferred just the dailies media that was in the cut. We used Automatic Duck Media Copy for that.

Automatic Duck Media Copy (ADMC) works by looking at an Avid sequence and copying the media in that sequence to another location. To do this, my workstation at Fox had to be booted from a second internal drive.

ADMC does not work on Mac OS prior to Sierra (10.12). Our office systems are at 10.9. Fortunately, I had previously installed Sierra on a second internal drive. Jeez. Did I ever say this was easy? Like traffic, it was one of those experiences that at every turn, there’s another roadblock.

So, each reel of the movie was exported as an AAF with no media. The computer was re-booted on the Sierra drive. ADMC would take each AAF, find the media files on the attached ISIS storage, then copy the full clip onto the external 8TB drive. What makes this work well is Avid Media Composer’s media databases, that keep track of every piece of media.

The master Avid project was copied to the external drive as well. Thus, Avid could open the movie and see all the dailies clips organized, like with the master project.

Next hurdle was how to edit the material from set. I was fairly sure that compressing the dailies into DNxHD media would take too much time. Thus, this was going to be my biggest test of AMAlinked media. AMA stands for ‘Avid Media Access.’ With the correctly installed plug-ins, AMA allows Avid to link to camera original media without any additional processing. And media from video assist would work.

There are serious drawbacks to working like this. Media Composer works best with media it generates. It is compressed, but it can be very fast. And it essentially can never be lost or unlinked, as is possible with AMA. Avid very smartly keeps track of all the imported media in a very strict file structure, with a complex file naming system. AMA-linked media can be named anything and put anywhere. Thus, can be unlinked and lost.

Every day Cole Doran would copy on-set media to a VideoAssistMedia folder on the work drive, and in a sub-folder by day and unit (‘1st-20180312’ for day one of first unit). In Media Composer, I would create a bin of the same name and through the Source Browser, link the video clips of that day.

Curiously, the frame recorded by the camera on this production is much larger than the final projected image. The highlighted area in the center represents the final image.

In order to make a usable cut sequence, each shot had to be reframed. Fortunately, Avid has added the ability to non-destructively alter source settings. By right + clicking an image, a menu selection for Source Settings can be selected.

By changing the size to ‘71,’ the frame is resized to the correct aspect ratio for this project. Source settings can also be used to apply a LUT, adjust playback rate, and/or change audio sync for one or multiple selected clips.

A drawback to this process is there is no time to look through dailies, organize bins, check sync or any of the normal dailies tasks. Look at the coverage, slam a cut together and send it to set. And apologize for being sloppy.

The two video assist operators used two very different systems for recording and managing video assist media. First unit’s Justin Johns used a video recorder, a Raptor HD Quad from Playback Technologies in Burbank. “Video assist has always needed to instantly recall what may be hundreds of hours of multicam footage (SD or HD) using a small portable and DC-powered system,” according to Steve Irwin, the company president. The media output is H.264 QuickTimes.

On second unit, Dave Joshi used a QTAKE setup. QTAKE is software that runs on a Macintosh computer and creates QuickTimes. ProRes 422 LT, which were sent to editorial.

The performance of an edit system declines when the CPU and hard drives are taxed heavily by playing linked video. And H.264, from the first unit, was problematic. Michael Krulik of Avid shared the following. “This is due to H.264 being Long GOP and highly compressed. Playback will require a powerful computer to properly decode the frames. ProRes LT is an I-Frame video like DNxHD so requires less CPU and more bandwidth from the storage.”

Not that I understand all of that. But H.264, slow, ProRes, fast. But neither file type played as well as regular Avid media.

There were several quirks I could never quite get around. When media from set was linked, the clips defaulted to stereo pairs. I could modify to get dual mono, but found at odd times they’d end back up as stereo. I decided to live with it and cut with a stereo dialogue track. Then, when I would group multicam clips, the audio came up as two mono tracks.

Once the day’s dailies were cut, outputs were made for the set and, at the producers’ request, I drove to set every day to review with the director.

It isn’t a process I’d want to do for a long time. But for three weeks it was tolerable. And did we get everything we need?