Great Do-It-Yourself Podcast Tips

10 06 2008

There are two really great sites that I like to tour around to get tips and technique tricks for FCP and Avid.

First, David Forsyth, over at Amber Technology in Australia, does a podcast called “Avid Tips and Techniques” which has featured discussions about the Audio Mixer, Animatte, the Super Bin, and more.

One or two Final Cut sites. My favorite are the series of tutorials about the entire Final Cut Suite from VASST, a company that does training videos. If you look up their store using the company name RHed Pixel in iTunes you’ll be treated to a great series of excerpts from those videos. I like the one called “Total Training for Final Cut Help – Final Cut Studio.” A warning — VASST’s free tutorial website hasn’t been updated in a very long time.

Another good FCP podcast, though it hasn’t been updated since early March, is Creative Cow’s podcast “Creative Cow Final Cut Studio Tutorials Podcast.” Creative Cow runs those great web forums on practically every production and post technology known to mankind (and womankind too).

A cool series of short tips and tricks from the people at Digital Heaven, who make some really neat plug-ins for Final Cut (including a large timecode window, for all of you Avid editors who miss throwing that up during music or sound spotting sessions). Their podcast of video tutorials for FCP can be found on YouTube or at this address in iTunes.

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Feature Envy

9 06 2008

ScriptSyncOliver Peters, in his blog Digital Films, has a posting about Avid’s ScriptSync, the technology that allows somewhat automated connection between the script inside Avid, and individual takes. This allows the editor to edit in the lined script mode and, as for me, I often look at the script supervisor’s lined script when I edit. Once I finish my first cut, I’m rarely looking at the script — by then, it’s all about what the footage says, not what the script says.

But I often refer to the lined script (and the facing notes pages as well) to find out what has been shot for any given line of dialogue or bit of action. When I worked with the extraordinary editor Gerry Hambling on FAME, I saw that he did his own lined script, even though he had received one from the set. This is actually even doubly cool, because it means that the lined script will reflect what was actually in the dailies (even great script supers can make mistakes) as well as forcing the editor to really examine the footage that he or she has received.

So, in the scheme of things (and despite its shortcomings) this Avid Media Composer feature is A Very Good Thing.

But “more features” is not always A Good Thing.

We are all aware of Feature Bloat, the natural tendency of software programs to grow more features as they get older and need more selling points for new versions. Microsoft’s Word is often trotted out as an example. This program has gone beyond its 1981 origins (as Bravo) and its 1983 release, into a program which now takes 20 megabytes at its core (not including its countless ancillary files). I remember installing Word back on my early Mac, and it took about eight floppy disks to get it on my drive. Now, I look back fondly on those days. There are features in Word that, I’d bet, less than 1,000 people use on a regular basis.

The real problem is that one person’s useless, memory-hogging feature, is another one’s must-have.

Right now, I’m writing my new book (THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, coming in December from Peachpit Press, buy early/buy often) and, this morning alone, I’ve used the following features:

  • bookmarks
  • cross-referencing
  • index
  • table of contents creation
  • image resizing
  • image cropping
  • split screen editing
  • separate section styling
  • borders and shading

and many more.

My guess is that most of you who use Word don’t care about half of those, and that a large number of you have features that you would care about far more than I. Those of you who use other word processors will feel similarly, I’m sure.

I’ve been involved in a group that has been presenting Avid with feature requests that we absolutely need. And while the list has been arrived at by consensus, it is amazing to me how many people have different opinions about what they can’t live without. I’ve also seen how one person’s feature must-have, is another’s oh-I-just-use-this-workaround-and-I’m-satisfied. And, while I’m not involved in anything similar for Apple or Adobe (not because I don’t want to — I’ve just never been asked), I’d be shocked if they don’t go through a similar prioritization over everything.

[And that doesn’t even take into account the issue of how expensive or how much time it will take to effect these requests. There is the issue of ROI — Return on Investment — all the time in software development. Do you want to spend $100,000 software dollars on features that won’t matter to most people, or on features that will?]

So to my mind, ScriptSync is an awesome new tool that everyone should want (especially documentarians who can afford to get transcripts of their shoots), but I’m not brazen enough to think that everyone will want it.





Avid Girds Its Loins

18 05 2008

WARNING: This post is chock-full of editing-geek mojo. If you’re not interested in editing and editing tools, then I’d suggest you surf over here instead (just kidding, just kidding).

Avid LogoI spent most of yesterday at a meeting up in the beastly hot city know as “Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” along with a group of editors, talking to some of the people from Avid about what’s coming up for them, especially as revolves around the release of their new Media Composer software, version 3.0 (due out in early June).

Now, many of you know that I like working on the Avid. I started out on Lightworks, way back in the stone age of NLEs, and subsequently was forced to work on Ediflex and Montage before I got to work on the Avid. It took me a little bit to get used to it, after the very film flatbed feel of the Lightworks. But I’ve been using it pretty consistently since then and have gotten very used to its look and feel.

But the company very nearly ran aground for several years, when it couldn’t figure out what it wanted to do and how it wanted to interact with its users. Now, admittedly, feature and television editors are probably the worst group of users you’d want to have as a manufacturer — we’re incredibly detail-oriented, we’re under so much time pressure and stress that we have very little patience for errors, but we also want an incredible amount out of our editing systems. If you were going to choose a market to create an NLE for, I’d go for wedding videographers way before us.

But we are very visible and we do help to drive the NLE companies forward in their product development.

So, when Avid started its “New Thinking” campaign, many of us approached it with some trepidation. Was this sloganeering or course correction? Was it a sincere effort at reclaiming lost loyalties, or a cynical attempt to woo people away from Final Cut?

After yesterday’s meeting, I have to say that I’m very encouraged. Many of us in the room, including fellow bloggers Steve Cohen, of the ever informative Splice Here, and Harry B. Miller III, of the ACE Technical Blog, felt pretty positive about some of the new features. One that I am particularly happy to see, is the Avid FX application, which will now be integrated into Media Composer. Previously available as a stand-along application as part of the PC-only Avid Suite, this is Avid’s response to the increasing practice of Avid editors to go out and use Motion for titles creation, only to have to import them back into Avid. (As an aside, Jay Cassidy — who is cutting the new Jim Sheridan film — told me that he does his titles in After Effects.).

Based on Boris, Avid FX can easily create and animate titles which, like Motion, can be made from a large number of templates. For anyone who has no time to make titles, but still needs them in their cut, this is a great time saver. It was pioneered by Apple in Motion (and, before that, LiveType), but from the demo we saw, Avid has more than stepped up to the plate to give us a similar tool.

Like Motion, it is keyframable, works off of a timeline model (which is manipulatable) and pretty responsive, even on a single core laptop. It doesn’t work in quite the live/interactive way that Motion does (requiring the user to click on an “Apply” button in order to see changes), and is scattered across many overlapping windows. But it is completely integrated within Avid, rather than residing in a separate application, and that should make it even easier to use than Motion and Final Cut. It was absolutely thrilling to see it.

Two other strong additions to the Avid product are the timecode and caption burn-in effects (these are actually in the present version of Media Composer, but are pretty new so many of us were just learning about them). YouTube tutorials on these can be found right here for the timecode burnin effect and here for the caption effect (which not only can create subtitles, but can also be exported for use in DVD subtitle tracks).

One other thing that we saw that we are hoping to use in January when USC opens their new cinema school building, is the Avid Media Station. This is, essentially, a stripped down Avid, which will allow the actual picture files on one Avid, to be sunk up with matching audio files on Pro Tools. Though this was demonstrated as a great way to allow sound editors to easily receive files for editing (without forcing the picture editing team into the time consuming process of creating QuickTime movies for them), we are hoping to use it as an easier way of projecting dailies and cuts. Right now, we hand OMF sessions over to our sound department, which are then sunk up to a tape or to film for projection. In the future, using the high quality digitized picture (at DNxHD36, in our case), we can easily sync it up to the same ProTools session. Voila. Time saved. Quality enhanced.

[I told you this was going to get geeky. I apologize right here, right now.]

All in all, we were pretty excited.

This is what happens when you have healthy competition between products. The user always wins.

Oh, and speaking of user, you might want to sail on over to Avid’s new blogs.  There you will find actual Avid engineers and developer type people, talking about what they are up to.  And it’s not just sales talk, it looks like it’s going to be a great place for interaction.





Multi Clips

1 05 2008

Geek Alert!  Geek Alert!!

Tim Leavitt, over on his blog, View From The Cutting Room Floor (that reminds me of my old series of editor interviews in the Editors Guild Magazine, which we used to call The View From The Cutting Room Ceiling) has a posting about how to create bullet-proof multi-group clips in the Avid.

While it’s really inside baseball, it’s one of an increasing number of really good tutorials on the Avid that people are starting to post.  Soon my students will have answers to all of the questions that I can’t answer — at two in the morning!!





Avid — Negotiating Corners

17 04 2008

== And, Maybe, Turning Them

Avid LogoIt’s really too early to tell, but I’m incredibly encouraged by what I’ve seen from Avid in the last several weeks, as they’ve pre-announced, and announced a lot of things in the weeks leading up to the NAB show, just now finishing up in Las Vegas.

There have been oodles of press coverage in the last week and a half on the latest announcements from Avid, regarding their new hardware and software. See the pieces by Phil Hodgetts and Steve Cohen, as well as this press release from Avid. I have been studiously avoiding chiming in about this, waiting for the people who know much more about this I do, to weigh in first.

But I must say that, after a few years in which Avid has forgotten how to innovate, it seems as if they are finally thinking of the future.

Let me explain a little bit about what I mean by the future.

Sure there was new hardware announced. There are a line of DX processor boxes which don’t connect through the bottleneck we’ve come to know as Firewire. For any editor who has pressed the PLAY or STOP button on the Avid and waited an excruciatingly long two seconds for the machine to respond, this is really great news. In fact, the audience at the April 8th Avid event at Universal Studios in Los Angeles cheered when Matt Feury (who does the awesome Avid filmmaker interview/podcasts) jokingly announced this as a major upgrade. To us, it is.

They also announced huge price cuts and the banishment of the Xpress Pro product line to the great NLE graveyard in the sky. To those of us who felt that Xpress Pro was, simply, Media Composer bowdlerized for profit, this is also great news.

[As an aside, this follows on Avid’s earlier announcement of a new website, forums and — best for me — a commitment to expand their efforts in educating their users.]

In fact, the greatest news about all of this is not the hardware, but the fact that the new management team seems to be paying attention to its user base again. They’re meeting with us on a regular basis, talking about bug fixes, enhancements and release plans in a way that I haven’t seen in years.

Here’s an example that, in my geeky little way, I’m pretty excited about. FilmScribe is Avid’s ancient tool to create various output lists — EDLs, Film Cut Lists, Optical Pull Lists, etc. It’s always been an amazingly effective, but amazingly clunky, tool.

Now, you can drag and drop a sequence that you’ve created onto any number of template files (in the Mac OS Finder window — and, I presume, on the PC as well). If you drop it onto an EDL template, it will create an EDL for you. If you drop a metadata file onto a template for, let’s say, an XDCAM I assume that it will create an Avid ALE file automatically.

In other words, the Avid is finally becoming modular — in the way that Final Cut is, and has been for a very long time. That means that, as new camera formats keep coming out, Avid will be able to accommodate them much faster. The lengthy wait for P2 and EX-1 card compatibility was excruciatingly difficult for users and certainly hurt Avid — as customers could much more quickly get those cameras to work in FCP.

So, yeah, I love being able to drag stacks of video tracks around on the timeline (who wouldn’t? FCP users have been doing it for years.), but what I really like about Avid’s announcements is that is bodes well for their ability to make really great future announcements.





Here’s Looking At You!

4 04 2008

Right now I’m involved in an international project called RIVERS, which is one of the more interesting films I’ve edited in the last buncha years.

The premise is this — five film crews, from five different cities, will each shoot and create one short film about the people who live and work around their rivers: the Danube, Mississippi, Rio Grande, Amazon and the Ganges. As they are shooting (on the Panasonic AVX200, using P2 capture technology) they are also sending the footage back to me in Los Angeles so that I can create a “meta movie” with all five rivers. This film will highlight the similarities and differences among the lives of the people who live around the five rivers, as well (I hope) give some personality to the rivers themselves.

It’s a great project, but here’s the other interesting thing — virtually everyone who I’m working with on this project is in a different city. I’m crafting a film without the ability to look into the eyes of my collaborators. I’ve often said that more than 50% of what I do as an editor has nothing to do with my ability to make a cut. Most of it revolves around my ability to let my collaborators know that the film that I’m making is the same one that they want to make. It’s about looking into each others’ eyes and knowing that we have each others’ backs.

And that’s much harder to do when we can’t see each other.

Last year I worked on a film called JACK IN THE BOX, about which I’ve spoken in the past. What I didn’t mention in those earlier posts was that the film was cut long distance, with my co-editor and director on the East Coast, while I was cutting away here in the city of Lost Angels. We were quite successful (thanks to the talents of Michael Phillips) at exchanging edits and material so that we could keep current on each other’s work. What was much harder was the experience I get from sitting next to my director and feeling how he or she feels about the work that we are doing together. I often describe my job as “crawling up inside the head of my director,” something which is really necessary if I’m going to be editing long distance.

I think that we’re going to be seeing this more and more as we move content distribution to the web. I’m not saying that companies will be outsourcing their editing, but we’re going to seeing more situations where the director wants to work with a particular editor who may not be in the same city. Even here in Los Angeles, with traffic so horrible that it can take me an hour to drive five miles, there will be advantages to, occasionally, allowing the director or producer to view and collaborate from a different part of town.

As soon as non-linear editing came along, I found that I was taking advantage of my ability to output a cut of a scene or sequence and bring it down to the director on set while he or she was shooting. We’d sit in the trailer and watch the cut, and I’d watch his or her face to get their first reactions. It was a great way to climb inside the director’s head, and I’m glad I could do it that way.

Now, with digital dailies being streamed to offices and homes using Internet or off-Internet technologies, the number of films that have nightly screenings of their dailies is getting perilously low. So, how can I communicate with you, without looking at you.

One technology that I’m going to try on this film is SyncVue, a program which sits on top of Skype and allows up to ten people to view and control a Quicktime movie, as well as to carry on a Skype conversation at the same time.  Combine that with a program such as Audio Hijack Pro, which would allow me to record the conversation for later playback, and I’ve got some tools to start learning about how my collaborators view each part of each version of their film.  Many films use iChat Video to collaborate, though it doesn’t have the control and commenting features of SyncVue.

The point is this: we are increasingly going to be working at distances — whether that is the distance from one continent to another, or from a shooting stage to an editing room.  We may be working crosstown or cross-continent.  Right now, the ability to replicate human interaction is horrifyingly bad.  And while I don’t think that we’re ever going to get to the place where remote access to another human will completely replicate immediate visual access, the advances in bandwidth and display technology are going to narrow that gap appreciably.

This is one of the reasons why I was enthusiastic about Avid’s new CEO — Garry Greenfield.  He comes from companies who have done long distance server technology.  The people and companies who move rapidly and enthusiastically into this “space space” are going to lead us into the real possibilities for a connected world.





Avid’s “New Thinking”

18 03 2008

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the announcements that Avid came out with yesterday. It’s the first part of their attempt to right the ship that has been listing to the side, as of late. More announcements are coming, particularly some new hardware. But this press release deals mainly with business practices, and less with tech-y stuff.

Which puts it right up my alley.

Chief among the changes is that they are beginning to simplify their product line. They are completely eliminating Xpress Pro, and dropping the price of Media Composer Soft so that no one will pay more than $2495 for the full-on MC. Students can purchase the Educational Version for the much much lower price of $295 which doesn’t have some of the additional software that comes with the full version, but is an absolute complete version of the Media Composer.

Here’s the amazing thing about this. Not too long ago, when you had to buy breakout boxes and other stuff from Avid, a typical Media Composer cost you $60,000 to get in the door. Now you get that for $2500. And it’s a better version of MC than the Adrenaline. Let’s do the math on that — that’s less than 5% of that old price. If you’re a student, you’re getting MC for about 1/2 of 1% of the original price.

Amazing.

The other things that Avid announced yesterday revolved around the user community. Anyone who’s had the patience to listen to me babble over the last few years knows that I’ve felt that the company has not been doing a good enough job of getting tutorials and documentation out there (tips, tricks, techniques, you know.. the kind of stuff that the Final Cut community puts out in droves). Now, it appears that they’re going to try and fix that. They’ve started a new community web site and are encouraging people to upload training videos. In other conversations I’ve had with them, they tell me that they’re looking into ways of seeding this phenomenon and, folks, if you want to help out please speak up to them, because they seem to be way open to listening.

Yeah, some people want to hear about the new hardware. But, for me, that wouldn’t be “new thinking.” The really “new” part of the announcement, seems to be their commitment to interacting with us — the users.

Let’s hope they keep it up.

The press release is here. The new community site is here.