July 23, 2009

Murch and Coppola on FCP

There is an interesting video of Walter Murch (see earlier blog post) and Francis Ford Coppola talking about their latest collaboration, Tetro, on the Apple website. Murch gives his reaction to the latest changes to Final Cut – and it is generally little things that he is particularly enthusiastic about, such as being able to have different coloured markers to represent events like effects, and the new timecode window (which is movable and resizable, so that he can refer to it more easily).

Apple Updates Final Cut

Apple has updated Final Cut Studio, apparently with more than 100 new features. New are: Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5 and Compressor 3.5 – and the fact that it will only now run on Intel-based Macs. However, the price is down (dropping £50 to £799 [$999 US]).

FCP has some 50% of the TV editing market, but it hasn't been upgraded for two years, while Adobe, Avid and Grass Valley have become more competitive, so the revamp is probably overdue – although there hasn't been a widespread clamour for more new features, more a desire for support for such things as Blu-ray that other systems have had for so long now it was getting embarrassing.

The headlines for Final Cut Pro 7 are:
  • New versions of Apple’s ProRes codecs – 4444 for very high-end use, 422 LT for mainstream broadcast use (at around 100Mbps), and 422 Proxy for offline and mobile editing (will there be an iPhone app for that? – probably not as this compression is still almost twice the data rate of DV)
  • Easy Export allows you to continue working on projects thanks to background encoding
  • iChat Theater support allows real time collaboration via iChat, even if they don’t have FCP
  • New speed tools allow you to change clip speed more easily, without losing audio synch
  • Alpha transitions for moving mattes
  • Native AVC-Intra support for the latest Panasonic broadcast cameras.

Compressor 3.5 takes care of FCP's Easy Export functions, for publishing to YouTube or MobileMe, or export to iPhone, iPod, Apple TV or mobile phones, although you can do most of this from inside FCP. It can also create Blu-ray discs – although DVD Studio Pro (which hasn't been upgraded) doesn't support Blu-ray, leaving Adobe Production Suite the better choice for Blu-ray authoring. Compressor has also been made easier and quicker to use, and is also part of the new Logic Studio.

Motion 4 has a few interesting new features, including the ability to adjust depth of field within a 3D canvas by selectively highlighting a single object or using multiple objects to create a racking focus effect (this will be particularly attractive to anyone shooting on lower-budget cameras who wants to get more of a film look); there is also a new tool that makes it quicker and simpler to create credit rolls and its 3D capabilities have been extended with the ability to add point and spot lights to cast realistic shadows or turn any shape, video plane or paint stroke into a reflective surface.

Color 1.5 works better with FCP, so that things like speed effects can round-trip between the two without completely falling apart. It now has 4K support, working natively with files from cameras like the Red One, and outputs directly to ProRes for HD or DPX for film.

Soundtrack Pro 3 (which is also part of Logic Studio) adds new audio editing tools, such as Voice Level Match (which extracts volume information from the vocal content of one clip and applies it to another without altering any other audio content, so you can quickly match voice levels). It is also simpler to target and reduce specific frequencies, such as rustling paper or a bump, without affecting dialogue. There is also a new Advanced Time Stretch that stretches and compresses audio with "incredible precision" and without pitch changes.

Apple has also upgraded Final Cut Server (asset management and automation) to 1.5, which adds support for offline editing using ProRes Proxy, production hierarchies to organise media, and support for still sequences to easily view and manage image sequences for graphics and effects workflows. It has also more than halved in price to £799 (unlimited client licence – which was £1999 previously – the limited licence was £999) or a £249 upgrade.

Logic Studio includes Logic Pro 9 and MainStage 2, with more than 200 new features. Logic Pro 9 gets new Amp Designer and Pedalboard plug-ins, and new Flex Time tools for altering timing and tempo quickly. MainStage (for live performance), includes new Playback and Loopback plug-ins for backing tracks and real-time loop recording. It costs £399.

David Fox

HD video recording in a nanoFlash

Convergent Design has finally started shipping its long-awaited nanoFlash recording unit. It allows any camera equipped with HD/SD-SDI or HDMI outputs to record at up to 160Mbps 4:2:2 using the Sony XDCAM codec (or up to 220Mbps I-frame only) on a small, lightweight recorder.

It will give popular, low-cost cameras, such as Sony's EX1, the ability to record higher quality (including green screen effects shots) on lower-cost solid-state media (as it uses Compact Flash cards that are available for about one eight the price of proprietary media), and bypassing the camera's inbuilt compression system.

It can record full-raster 4:2:2 160/140/100Mbps I-Frame or 100/50Mbps Long-GOP video on two CF cards using a Sony MPEG2 hardware CODEC. It is small enough (10.5x9.25x3.5cm) to fit onto a DV or HDV camcorder, and weighs less than 400g. It can also be used with helmet cams or to create tiny 3D rigs (multiple units can be triggered simultaneously).

Features include: HD/SD-SDI and HDMI I/O, with Loop-out, and monitor / playback to a professional or consumer display; embedded audio (HD/SD-SDI or HDMI); NLE support for Final Cut Pro (.mov); Avid, Edius and Vegas Pro (.mxf); optional remote control with Record Trigger and a red Tally LED; good battery life (6.5 ~ 19.5volt, 6 Watt power consumption when active and 0.2W in stand by), optional battery adapter; LTC input; and optional ASI Encode/Decode (MPEG2 TS) with closed captioning, for use as a tiny professional player/recorder for microwave uplinks or IP connectivity.

 It can also operate as a Standalone HD/SD-SDI → HDMI or HDMI → HD/SD-SDI converter. Recording formats include: 1080i60/50, 1080psf30/25/24, 1080p30/25/24, 720p60/50, and 486i/576i (4:2:2 I-Frame at 30/40/50Mbps - IMX), plus PCM 16/24-bit audio. Using two 32GB CF cards, it can record about 50minutes at 160Mbps, 80 minutes at 100Mbps, or 160 minutes at 50Mbps.

 Further features that are promised for future free firmware upgrades include: metadata support (for a wide range of information, such as programme name, location, format details, scene ID, good take info, etc.); Redundant Recording, for mirrored recording to the two CF cards at once; RS-485 remote control, including metadata input; 24p removal; time lapse capture; 1440x1080, 4:2:0 Long GoP at 18 ~ 40Mbps recording; 10-bit recording (it is currently 8-bit only, as MPEG-2 is); MPEG1 Layer II (ASI) audio.

Most of these features will also be coming to the existing, larger Flash XDR unit (which has four CF slots, HD/SD-SDI I/O and XLR audio inputs). The best price We've seen for it so far is $2,775 – although it only seems to be shipping in the US at the moment.

Related post: Convergent Design Odyssey7 + 7Q

By David Fox

Free training at IBC...

Visitors to IBC will be able to get free camera, lighting and general production and post-production training (including seminars, small group sessions and 15-minute one-to-one opportunities from the UrbanFox). IBC has been running limited post-production training for several years, but the rest is new.... The interesting sessions take place in IBC's new Production Village (in Hall 9 - where Sony used to be). It will offer a seriously packed schedule of free, independent training sessions from some of the best in the business, as well as manufacturer-led sessions and the opportunity to compare cameras and equipment from differnet manufacturers side by side. "The aim of the Production Village is to help people to improve their skills, irrespective of what lights or camera they are working with, particularly with reference to HD," explained David Dawson-Pick (left), of DDP Enterprises, which is organising the free training sessions. The training should be applicable to a wide range of equipment, and all the sessions (including one-to-ones) are on the IBC website (click on IBC Training - it doesn't allow deep linking) or at the reception desk on site. Tutors include: Christina Fox, of UrbanFox.TV, who will be covering low-budget HD camcorders, audio, shooting interviews, camera support and production on a budget; DoP Jonathan Harrison, who will be doing his renowned Lighting On The Run as a double-session (giving it the time it needs but usually doesn't get), plus seminars on soft lights, lighting in difficult locations (such as jungles), and energy-saving lighting, as well as daily lighting clinics; Multi-camera expert, Peter Taylor, who has worked on such events as Glastonbury and the Proms for the BBC, will have sessions on OBs and multi-camera lighting and lenses; Technology specialist, Alan Roberts will cover colour science, how to set up an HD camera, test cards, operational tricks, and all your high-end camera questions (he will also be launching his new book at IBC, in conjunction with the EBU, called Circles of Confusion - an in-depth look at how to get the best out of HD); Drama DoP, Paul Wheeler, who also teaches at the NFTS, will reveal how to get a particular look using lenses and filters, how to pick the right high-end camera for the job, and location workflow. Visitors to the Village will be able to compare cameras and other equipment from different manufacturers (such as Anton/Bauer, Arri, Autoscript, Canon, JVC, Lite Panels, Panasonic, P+S Technik, and Vinten), while a BAFTA and RTS-award winning make-up artist, Shaunna Harrison, will demonstrate air-brushing techniques and prosthetics, so that you can see how they look using different cameras and lighting. "That's enormously helpful with understanding how flesh tones come out and how to light for them, and so that you can understand the demands of the make-up artist," said Dawson-Pick. The various trainers, and others, have also shot short video masterclasses, which will be viewable at IBC. The Post Production Training Zone, where you can find out more about Apple, Avid and Adobe software, is in Hall 7. David Fox

Walter Murch on movie editing

There was a fascinating talk at the London SuperMeet by legendary, multi-award winning film and sound editor Walter Murch (pictured), about how he edited Francis Ford Coppola's latest film, Tetro. The all-digital production was shot on two Sony S900 1080 24p cameras (hardly the latest technology) and edited on Final Cut Pro. It was recorded both in HDCAM and to higher-quality external HDCAM SR recorders.

About a quarter of the images were manipulated in some way (such as the seamless splicing together of different takes in split screens), about half in After Effects – he worked with a visual effects artist in the edit suite, which he believes gave him more creative freedom. The rest of the effects were done at UPP, Prague. Some of the shots were blown up by 229%, "and they still work on a 50ft screen," although it helps that 90% of the movie is in black and white.

He had five edit systems, an Apple XSAN and 14TB of RAID storage on an Xserve. The editing was done using the ProRes 720p codec (chosen after lots of testing because it gave the best image quality for reasonable speed).

The movie was shot and edited in Argentina, and shot almost completely with locked-off cameras, which meant that the actors had to be very precise about their movements. All the equipment for the shoot had to fit in to two vans (there were no trailers). "It was a very low-profile film."

He also showed how he works, plans and tracks the edits, mainly using a system of coloured and differently shaped cards arrayed on a huge board (or two), to show what needs to be done, how it all fits together, and the emotional mood of each sequence. He works with a plasma display, alongside which he placed two cutouts of people (to remind him of the scale of the cinema screen he is working too – although on Tetro he also had a projector in the edit suite for viewing rushes).

The next FCP SuperMeet will be held alongside IBC in Amsterdam, on Sunday,
September 13 at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (a much more central, and lavish, venue than they used for the first IBC SuperMeet last year. As usual, it is predicted it will sell out (as all the SuperMeets so far have). Online booking is now open


David Fox

Cheap 35mm video

There is a lot of interest in Canon's 5D Mark II digital SLR for video production, as it is probably the cheapest way to shoot full-frame 35mm, and make the most of the shallow depth of filed you get with the bigger sensors. But "it has made me swear more than any other camera on a shoot, although the new firmware has made a huge difference," according to DoP, director and editor, Philip Bloom (pictured). The recent changes at least mean "you can now get the same exposure shot after shot," he told the recent Final Cut Pro User Group SuperMeet in London.

A huge bonus is that "the camera is incredible in low light," but there are problems. Even so, "I do think the camera is a game changer. Even with all the flaws it's got. If those are dealt with it will be brilliant."

He advised not to try to edit the native H.264 files, because they stutter in the editor, but to transcode it. The files can be converted in Final Cut Studio using Compressor, to ProRes, or in the free MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5, which is twice as fast. Unfortunately, the Canon shoots at 30fps, although users hope that Canon will issue a further firmware update for native 24 and 25fps. Meanwhile, there is no perfect way of converting 30p to 24p or 25p. The best way that Bloom has found is to change the time base in Cinema Tools (part of FCS). Although that will give an overcranked look (slow motion replay), it is simple to do. Otherwise, he advises using JES Deinterlacer, which is free, fast and retains the sound sync. It is also better to edit 30p native, then convert rather than converting the rushes.

Bloom also demonstrated JVC's small HM-100 camcorder, which records to cheap SDHC cards and can be set to capture in 35Mbps QuickTime, so that files can be instantly accessible to Final Cut Pro. "This is the quickest transfer you're going to have if you're a Final Cut user. There is no rewrapping, no capturing, and no transcoding. You just copy across the files."

SDHC can also solve one of the biggest problems with tapeless: "How do you archive? But these cards are so cheap you could store them." A 16GB card can store 50 minutes and costs about £25. The camera can also record MP4 files, for compatibility with other NLEs.

David Fox