Useful Tools- Part 2

•January 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Here are a few more of the tools I use all the time. Please do comment any of your own tips..


Pluraleyes

This can be a lifesaver. If you’ve ever had many different cameras and audio recording devices turning over at the same time but without any useful syncing clap or jam TC, then it can be a real timesaver. You simply throw the media from the different sources on to separate tracks of a timeline, send it to pluraleyes and it analyzes the audio waveforms from all the devices and moves them into sync- genius!

There are a couple of caveats, however, that can lead to a bit of frustration. Firstly, reliability. I have had a number of occasions where Pluraleyes has failed to correctly align the right sections of audio, even though they are clean recordings without much noise. Often, when this happens, it’s very hard to know the source of the problem, and you can find yourself re-running the process many times over with different processing options- never any the wiser as to what the issue is.
Secondly: TIME. Pluraleyes can take an incredibly long time to do it’s job. Mainly this is a problem with long sequences- so f you give it a break, and chop up your media into different sequences- e.g.- Day 1, Day 2 etc, then you should get quicker results. However, the 2 issues have sometimes combined in my experience and led to me wondering if I really have saved any time over manually syncing to visual cues in the end.
In short, Pluraleyes can be a gift from heaven that saves your life- but it’s not going to be right for every situation. I do wish it had existed a few years ago when I was presented with a boxfull of DV tapes that had been shooting on and off on 10 different cameras during a night of shooting a low budget music video. No slates, no claps, a repeated song performance- literally no discernible way to get the footage synced to the track apart from painstaking leg work. At one point I was using the distant flash on the top of Canary Wharf as a last resort- and that flashes about once every 5 seconds!!! Aaaargh- I’m coming out in a cold sweat even thinking about it. With Pluralyes (working properly) I would have avoided a MASSIVE amount of stress and time wasted- but a note to DPs and Directors- it doesn’t always work, and it’s release does not mean that you can completely stop caring about giving proper slates and claps to your editor!!

XML4Dailies
The development of FCP’s XML support over the last few years has led to a slew of supplementary applications that help editors by wrangling the data stored in FCP’s project files and using it in a variety of different ways. This application takes customizable logging data (like Scene, Take, notes etc) from clips in a sequence and creates a new version of the sequence with text overlays containing that information. This is a great timesaver for feature film dailies, when you need to send out rushes and execs/ director etc would like to see this information as they watch. It certainly saves alot of typing, and a nice feature is it’s compatibility with DVD Studio Pro. There’s a great 30 day demo version and then it’s $45. The creator- Spherico, has been messing with XMLs for a long time, and has a load of other tools and info that might be useful for your project too.


XMiL Exporter
Another XML manipulator- this application is great for features and documentaries, when you need to maintain a Filemaker Database to track footage and elements throughout your project. It translates FCP XMLs to a format that FMP can import easily, and also automates the creation of reference stills for cross-referencing in your Database. Using this tool, I was recently able to have a PDF pictureboard created in Scene order that I updated every day of the shoot. The director was able to keep track of the shape of the story by looking at representative frames of every single setup he had shot already- all in the order of the film. We found it extremely useful to have while planning pickups and keeping our eye on the structure of the film as a whole, and once we moved into post, we were able to print out the images so we could have a tangible visual continuity available at all times in the edit suite- Walter Murch style. It sosts $49 and it’s worth checking out their other offerings too.

Useful Tools- Part 1

•December 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In the spirit of christmas I thought I’d share some of the useful tools I use every day to help me as I edit. Some of these are real lifesavers and can help you stay organized and efficient, reclaiming you loads of time and allowing you to focus on the creative edit without getting bogged down too much in the essential under the hood legwork.


Dropbox

I’ve been using Dropbox for a long time now, and it just keeps getting better and better. It’s a great way to sync your essential files between all your machines, to ensure all your work is constantly being backed up incrementally in the cloud, to share work for approvals, notes etc, and to allow seamless project sharing as part of a wider system. ( I used this on a recent film to allow us to use Unity style project sharing and flexibility within an FCP workflow- which I’ll outline in a separate post). Currently I pay for the 50GB package, and can’t imagine working without it- especially now they’ve released an update introducing easy selective sync, allowing you to specify the folders you wish to stay in sync on different machines. If you’re not using Dropbox, you should be- oh, and the 2GB package is free.

Post Haste

This is a neat little tool that allows you to create template folder structures for your projects that can be automatically generated at the start of a job, and customized to include template project files already named by Name, Project Number etc. It’s a great deal easier to stay organized when there is a logical starting point in place, and the template files can save lots of time too.


Loader

This FCP plugin is another great one. Whenever you need to import media into FCP, simply drag the files onto Loader. It will automatically copy the files to your chosen media location, moving audio files and graphics to separate folders, before importing related clips into the FCP browser. It’ll also convert any audio files on the fly to your projects defaults (usually 48Khz 16bit). The conversion is nifty- as it always pays to ensure you don’t mix your sample rates in FCP.
Used in conjuction with the previous tools, Loader can ensure that you never get the dreaded reconnect nightmare- when you realize that half of the temp music files you have used are on a machine 13,000 km away, and it can streamline multi remote-user environments too. It’s well worth having, and costs $79 USD

Sequence Liner

This tool is also for FCP users, when Dual System sound has been used along with jam sync so the TC is the same on Video and Audio. It helps get a bit closer to Avid’s brilliant AutoSync function, by taking a folder of Audio and one of Video and creating a timeline with them synced together. Once that’s done, all you need to do is merge the clips
and you’re away- although there are some bugs that remain in FCP with merged clips, so test your workflow fully. The app is free but as always, I encourage you to donate if it saves you time.

More to come in Part 2….

Full circle- The flipcam effect and when to stop editing

•October 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Back in the late 1800s, when moving picture was first invented, it was dismissed by many as a fad. People simply couldn’t see the point in watching people doing boring things on a screen. Many early films were just that, a long shot of a gardener digging, or people going about they’re day:

It wasn’t until the concept of dramatic editing was stumbled across that cinema as we know it was born, and the world fell in love with the silver screen. It was actually Edwin S Porter who first grabbed audiences and dragged them into an more exciting world of tension and emotion with ‘Life of an American Fireman (1902/03)’. It is in this film that the first example of cross-cutting between 2 separate lines of action can be seen. For example. The fire alarm being triggered and cutting to the alarm going off at the fire station The seed was sown:

From this moment, the craft of editing was born and cinema developed a sophisticated language and culture of its own over the next 50 years. The advents of TV and now web video have created a myriad of even newer and complexed visual codes and languages- but that basic original discovery is still at the centre of what film editing is.

It is with some irony then, that I, as an editor- a studier and practitioner of the very conceit that is modern film- have grown rather fond of that old fad of- well, not editing. I recently bought a small handheld flip-style video camera, have used it to capture moments in my life that I find interesting or funny, and have really enjoyed letting those moments play out as they happen, rather than going to work on them and adding loads of clever edit tricks to ‘create’ drama. Now sure, it may be slightly that I don’t want to spend ALL my spare time editing as well as my work time, but mainly I think it’s because there is a refreshing simplicity and honesty in these captured moments. Here’s a nice clip I grabbed in Whitechapel, where I used to live:

Now it’s shot on a low quality camera, and there’s no sound at all, but there is still something meaningful in those few seconds that would somehow be less pure if I were to then cut into some close up shots of the kids that I shot a minute later, or added emotional music. Vimeo has a whole group dedicated to similar little videos that people have shot on consumer cameras, and it’s worth having a look through as there are some little gems among them. Here’s a couple I quite like:

and

But it’s not only the online consumer/prosumer video world that is enjoying this technique (if you can call it that). There are many examples of long 1-take music videos (OK GO!?), and, less frequently, scenes in movies that play out as one shot, but the best recent example I have experienced of a whole feature film emphatically embracing this style is Giddeon Koppel’s feature documentary ‘Sleep Furiously’. It’s a great film that manages to instill a sense of real substance and meaning, by allowing us to observe events at a pace in line with the subject matter. There’s no doubt that the film is still an ‘edit’ (and a very good one) but the approach has been far less about crunching scenes together in order to send clear messages, and more of a poetic one. One that allows for those real moments- that one might pass by normally- to breathe and begin to take on meaning as we watch them unfold. It’s well worth watching the film, but here’s a little excerpt:

As an editor, this has all reminded me that, for all the post techniques and technologies we have at our disposal, it’s important to allow those certain special moments that might turn up in the rushes to breathe properly- so that audiences can feel that same feeling that we do when we discover a fantastic moment in our dark little edit room.

And as an internet user, how funny that after 100 years of the evolution of cinema, the new cutting edge of web video is awash with the type of films that back in 1900 were being disregarded as a passing trend that would never catch on- if only they had treadmills back then.

Different approaches to a career in the Edit Room

•September 21, 2010 • 3 Comments

This post is really in reply to another blog post which I first saw here, so please have a read of that first.
I feel that it’s a more complex issue than Tej suggests over there but rather than start hammering my keys into that comments section, I thought I would have a look at it in a more constructive way in this blog.

Firstly, I think to assume that all assistant editors are waiting to be editors is a little disrespectful in itself. The role can be a career on it’s own, and there are many skilled, dedicated professionals out there who have spent many years assisting on feature films, are hired again and again for their experience and who have no desire to change jobs. It is a full-time role, requiring a wide range of skills and technical knowledge. This rings true even more in the current shifting landscape of digital filmmaking, where there are a myriad of options and pitfalls at each point of the various post workflows available.

But even if we properly align the discussion around the process of learning to be an ‘editor’, it’s still important to understand the complexities of that craft and where it has come from.
Let me say up front, I’m what you could call ‘self-taught’, in that I did not train at film school, nor did I spend many years as an assistant before cutting in my own right. However, my early decision to learn to ‘operate’ and then cut as much as possible  and learn that way was a thoroughly informed one, and not at all a gung-ho, arrogant tactic, like is sometimes implied. While I’m sure there are those who think that all you need to be an editor is some knock off software and a laptop, I would hope that far more have made an educated decision about their approach to learning the craft.

I was lucky when I was starting, as I was able to get in touch with a number of seasoned, senior feature film editors to ask they’re advice on moving forward, and their insight was pretty interesting. It was suggested to me that as the computerized edit room had developed, the role of the assistant had shifted both figuratively and geographically  to the point where they were no longer as close to the crafting of the film as had been the case previously. The apprenticeship environment of learning the craft on the shoulder of the editor and director had changed, and while it was still an option to approach a career that way, and successfully so, it might be well worth embracing the digital age, and going out to learn by doing, and making some mistakes, as it would likely offer more experience relevant to ‘editing’ than an assisting role on a film.

That is what I chose to do. I learnt to operate the basic tools relatively quickly, and have been learning about the craft of ‘editing’ with every job I have ever done since then. In the early days, because of my lack of experience, I would offer myself for free to anyone who would have me- a fair deal as I hadn’t proved myself in any way- but I learnt lots, and fast.
At that stage of a career, to argue that an inexperienced editor costs clients money is a bit simplistic, as an editor with no track record simply won’t be hired by anyone with any real budget- they’re certainly not going to be charging ‘top ‘dollar’. When I started, I was able to cut my teeth and gain trust  on low budget music videos and shorts with great directors who knew they’re vision- there was little risk for them, just a free ‘operator’. But as I built up a body of work that showed my instinct and ability, I began to prove my worth and settle into the job as a professional. I’ve still got a long journey ahead, but that is what every editor has to do, regardless of whether they have spent 15 yrs as an assistant or been to every film school in the land- they have to prove they’re worth with a track record.

Whichever approach is taken, there are struggles along the way. I have met people who chose the route of assisting, and some of them are undoubtedly keen to cut more, and feel they don’t get enough opportunity. It’s a full time job and only rarely is there an chance to cut a scene. Even if that opportunity arises, and it’s done well, the credit will often still go to the main editor. They also find that because they haven’t cut different sorts of work already (say music videos or short films), they don’t get asked to work on those things either, the very things that can give them the beginnings of a showreel.

Conversely, those who chose the other approach, may have a long track record of certain types of work, but aren’t given as many opportunities to widen their horizons on other material, as they haven’t yet done their time in the assistants room.

It’s certainly an interesting conundrum, but I would suggest that we could do well as a community to try to create a good environment to foster talent- wherever it’s come from, and whatever background it has, because a strong, robust post-production industry benefits all of us. Avid vs FCP, Film School or no film school, Assisting or Not. These issues are unimportant when we look at the bigger picture. While the petty arguments carry on, the wider landscape in our industry is shifting under foot, and we should really concentrate more on supporting each other through these changes, so we’re well positioned to adapt to the new and exciting times ahead. There are cowboys in any industry, but the cream will rise to the top eventually.

The iPad as a control surface

•September 16, 2010 • 1 Comment

A number of videos have popped up on the web of a new app which turns the iPad into a control device for Apple’s Color Grading software. This follows a number of audio mixing apps that show potential real time control of levels and effects in FCP and other audio software suites. I’m excited and intrigued by the prospect of being able to carry around 4 or 5 different virtual control surfaces in my backpack, as I’m often hired to set up shop on location or at a production office, and anything that allows me to travel lighter is a real bonus. However, there are a number of caveats to this utopian vision of a fully mobile grading and mixing setup.

Firstly, the software isn’t quite there yet. There are many reports of a real lag in the response times when making adjustments on the iPad, which can make it difficult to control, particularly when adjusting parameters over time, like recording the levels of a music or FX track in real time while playing back the timeline. The communication between the iPad software and the mac can be unreliable at the best of times and even a lag of just a few fractions of a second can throw you off (as evidenced by the incredible lengths hardcore gamers will go to to eliminate the problem in their setups). This issue is bound to improve over the coming iterations of OS and hardware, though, and is no-doubt more bound up in the communication between ipad and Mac, than the control surface software itself.

Gamer's ruin

However, there is a wider problem that prevents these apps from rendering their more expensive hardware cousins as obselete, and that is that they lack any means of giving the user any tactile feedback as they’re being used. Without having the physical form of, say, a weighty color correction ball under your palm, it is much much harder to ‘feel’ your way towards the adjustment you are looking for. You have to keep looking at the software control surface in order to see what you’re doing and so can’t concentrate on the actual effect that is being created on your output monitor. This slows you down, and makes it very difficult to ‘sense’ your way towards the effect you’re trying to create, a problem that is only compounded by the software lag mentioned above.

Tactile Feedback

It is certainly exciting to see these early versions of control apps pop up. There is no doubt that they have the potential to help out hugely on those jobs which require a easy, light, mobile setup. To have a multi-touch device available that can free up screen real estate and allow dynamic control of keyframeable parameters is a clear advantage, however I don’t see it marking the end of more expensive, well-made, physical control surfaces that have high build quality and intuitive ergonomic design. We are still (for now) physical beings and need physical, tangible tools to carry out many creative tasks. Especially those that are as sensory as grading and mixing.

Cinema in a fast changing digital world

•September 14, 2010 • 1 Comment

Welcome to the brand new home for my discoveries and thoughts on editing and post production. I hope to be able to share some great articles and info from all over the web, as well as start some fruitful discussions that will, in turn, descend into pointless flame wars. I will also post the best of the videos and images that I come across on my travels, and periodically some of my work here too.

First up is an article from Mike Jones about where and when special effects stop being so special, and start becoming the norm. It’s an interesting and thoroughly researched essay well worth a read, but it has got me wondering about whether it really should be technology that drives artistic expression in cinema.

http://www.mikejones.tv/journal/2010/9/13/not-so-special-fx-theorising-visual-normality.html.

Here’s my somewhat simplistic  two pennies worth.

As a film editor, I am keenly aware of the ‘special’ effect becoming a normal part of the moving image design process. Some of what I work on has few, if any ‘cuts’, but is for example, a complexed compositing or animation job. It is indeed true that technological advances have meant that we now receive imagery in extraordinarily dynamic ways from many different sources, creating a plethora of new languages and codes, but I would argue that the human brain, no matter how well versed in the new faster, 3d, multi-layered language sets, is still fundamentally and biologically just as affected by traditional ‘framic’ cinema language as it was 50 years ago.
I recently had an interesting experience to illustrate this from a personal point of view.

I went to see Avatar, as it should be seen, at the Imax cinema in London. I found it an extremely visceral experience and certainly came out feeling that I had been part of a rich, almost tactile experience that had blasted the senses in new and unique ways. However, 2 days later that had faded away, the adrenaline breaking down, to leave- well, not much. Perhaps the word ‘unobtanium’ repeating in my mind like a bad sandwich, but that’s a little harsh.

Then that thursday, I went to see ‘A Prophet’ at the small local cinema. This is a traditionally ‘framically’ composed film about a life spent behind bars, but not only was the experience fully emotionally immersive at the time, but it’s impact resonated for many days after leaving the theatre. The point is not that one is a better film than the other, just that as a ‘cinema’ experience- my brain was fully emotionally occupied by the second film despite the fact that we live in such a fast moving world of digital imagery and messaging, and I’m used to reading images in a different way in this digital age.

For me, there is plenty left in the old 2D bird yet. That said, I have just finished working on a music promo which allows the viewers 360degree control of where they’re looking throughout the video. The experience is certainly a new and exciting one for the form, but I’m not sure I would put it in the same box as cinema.

 
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