Thursday, December 08, 2011

And now a note from your sponsor

Or, hopefully, several notes.  This is the band I play in, our next gig is on Thursday 15th Dec, in the Bath area.
It's at Widcombe Social Club, and the google map link is here

I see it's described as a 'great venue for comedy, cabaret and live music' - we'll be aiming for the latter.

That's not me in the pic, that's Clive and Verity on alto sax (the only instrument to play of course).   So far, we're looking to field 6 Altos, 2 Bari Sax, 3 clarinets, 3 trombones, 6 Trumpets, Bass Guitar, Drums and Keyboard, plus an MD and a vocalist.  No ukuleles though.

Come along and recalibrate your ears to live music, Basie to Prince, with nods to Shaw and Coltrane.

/ end of sponsor's message

That was the year that was...

Our wefcpug 2011 ended* with the December meet, in the BBC at Bristol.  Richard celebrated his attainment of Jedi status (FCP X accreditation, congrats) with his own canter through the app.  Opinions were voiced, eyebrows were raised, tuts were tutted.   As the Chinese were alleged to say about the French Revolution's effect, it's 'too early to say'.   We're still at the point where we're (all, I think it fair to say) are impressed by the speed and power of the thing, but no-one amongst the paying customers has used it for paying work.   For the future?  Sure, how long are you planning/guessing for?   There's no doubt that eyes and credit cards are wandering towards Avid's Media Composer:  the one thing we all (subject to later recount!!) seemed to agree on is that knowing the MC toolset and workflow is, right now, compulsory for craft editors in Broadcast/Film.  And especially so as we'll move into collaborative working in 2012 and beyond.

As for the rest (Premiere, Lightworks, FCP X next gen) it's going to be an interesting year to come.  I'm not (this is Phil, folks) declaring 'end of days' for FCP just yet, but I do feel like a big reset button has been pressed for those of us still somehow in the broadcast/film/post-production industry and we're back in year 2000.   This time, the impetus and the brains are with Adobe; Avid 2011 seems a different beast to Avid 1990's, and Apple are playing elsewhere.   And this time the intriguing outsider might turn out to be an old favourite, Lightworks.   Or they might all go bust (apart from Apple and their cash mountain).

I shall try, and succeed, resisting the temptation to download any free trials for the holiday period.  There are other fish to fry, or turkeys to roast at least.   There may well be further trivia on this blog, possibly even a review of the year, before we meet again in 2012.  If you have been reading, thank you, and have an enjoyable holiday.   Unless you've failed to commission/employ us.  Further important news follows on the blog.

*except for the 2011 meal out, probably in the Indian restaurant in the Ashton Gate area, probably on Tuesday 20th.   You may well know more than I do by the time you read this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another wider view

This should be on the lines of 'people who enjoyed that last post also...'   My attention has been drawn to the views of the intelligent*, witty man-of-film Mark Kermode on similar matters, especially the demise of the projectionist in the multiplex.   Mark's got a book out 'The Good, the Bad, and the Multiplex' (available at all good...) and there's a smart piece on his blog here which I missed first time out, this September.  Do watch to the end, there's a sneaky visual joke in the last shot.   I hope it's deliberate, anyway.

*Disclaimer - he bought me a drink at the Watershed when I was there to review a conversation he chaired (admirably).

A wider view

Back in the salad days of wefcpug, when we met in a place with no bar, but closer to the inns of Bristol, no visit to the watering-holes was complete without a tally of TV screens showing sport in the wrong aspect ratio.  Even in the days of analogue TV, the TV would be resolutely tuned to the 4:3 feed, and then some hapless member of the bar staff would press random buttons on the remote to make the picture stretch to the screen width.  More often than not, it would be the letterboxed conversion, not even making full height.   Since it was only football, none of us cared about the spherical people waddling around the pitch, and anyway it was one way to find out whose round it was first (first to mention).
With luck the advent of analog switch off and HDMI connections has done away with all this (but never underestimate the ability of man-in-pub to mess up) - but in yesterday's paper came word that someone else cares.   Read all about Charlie Brooker's aspect ratio rage here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A tale of two launches

That's launches, not lunches (just checking).   The successful launch first, of the NASA Mars lab yesterday afternoon our time.   How times change - whereas in the previous century we had to make do with grainy black and white coverage courtesy of the BBC, complete with techno-babble commentary from the likes of Sir Patrick Moore or James Burke, now it's possible to watch a live HD stream from Cape Kennedy itself, complete with NASA's own voice-track.

There's a good service provided by the folk at wired.com which offers a couple of links to streams - and you can add comments too.  Still here.

The countdown is something of a strange non-linear affair - as happened yesterday, the clock is stopped at T-4 minutes for status checks, which took around 10 minutes on yesterday's launch.   All went off well in the end, of course - let's hope for a succesful landing and mission, in 8 months or so.   One fact that I'd forgotten:  unmanned launches presumably can allow higher G forces - yesterday's acceleration was such that, 5 minutes after launch, the payload was moving at 10,000 mph.

News arrives today of a delay in a second launch.   The countdown to the launch of 'Lightworks' is currently on hold - with news today that the planned 29th November date won't be met.   The good news is they're now talking about both the Windows and Mac/Linux versions.   Let's hope it's not an 8 month wait for this.   (And that it's not over Christmas week).

Dec 2011 meeting - Monday 5 Dec

The final wefcpug of 2011 is currently being wheeled out to the launch pad.  As promised at the November meeting, Richard will be examining the entrails of FCP X as it now stands, and making his predictions.   Usual place and time (BBC Club, Bristol, 7pm), Monday 5 Dec - email me or Richard to book your place through border control.

Monday, November 21, 2011

So and So's.

This morning’s ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4 had an item decrying a trend in current speech (and especially prominent in interviews) that’s been my number 2 annoyance for several months - the rise of the so and so’s.   This is the habit of beginning every response with ‘So’.  I reckon this all began in the US, specifically in the world of Tech and corporate media.   I’ve noticed, and been especially annoyed by, the prevalence of ‘people who say so’ in promo videos on (and about) the internet, with anything connected to Web 2.0 and later most susceptible.  Anyone who styles himself (it’s nearly always men, btw) a CEO or a CTO of a start-up company, and especially a small company, will, I guarantee it, be a ‘so-sayer’.   Also (but less irritating) the small army of well-meaning folk who produce their own how-to videos for YouTube - the ones that are just a camera pointed at screen, or a screen grab, with a muttered voice-over that starts something like “So here’s how to...’

Now the expert on Today put it down to insecurity, an audible form of inert filler, which enabled the speaker’s brain to formulate the next sentence (or, usually, the first sentence), but I’m less forgiving;  to me the ‘So’ has an undercurrent of ‘Let me explain this in simple terms for you ignorant folk’.  Fine if it's a freebie YouTube video (AND you do know what you're talking about); not so fine if you're taking part in an interview.   And very not so fine if you keep on doing it for every answer.

Here’s a handy guide for ‘so’ spotting, in corporate media at least.  The ‘so’ speaker phenomenon is often associated with a particular design and costume aesthetic.  Be alert any time you see interviewer and interviewee dressed in matching, or complementary coloured shirts that still bear the fold-lines from their packaging.  Other signs to recognise:  they’ll be striving to be cool, to transmit an atmosphere of informal chat (which often makes the conversation seem even more forced and artificial);  they’ll be in a white or black ‘limbo’ set.  

In historic times, ‘however’ was the word to avoid.  (It still is, by the way).   Perhaps I should be kinder, and say ‘however’ was the editor’s friend, the ready-made marker for the razor-blade.   That was rule 2 of the quick edit - rule 1 being to remove the first line (or paragraph, depending on the interviewee’s loquaciousness).  Rules that the ‘Today’ programme, being live for the most part, must envy.

The number 1 annoyance? Another time - for the moment let’s just say presenter eyelines.  Maybe my next piece will be titled ‘Look at me when you’re talking to me’.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

First view / Last Chance to see

The newest exhibition space in Bristol is now open for business, the M-Shed in the harbourside area.   If you haven't yet been to see the Martin Parr photos, you've got until the 27th November.
The details are here.

Finally the area seems to be getting its act together - there's the makings of a good harbourside walk from the SS Great Britain back to the MShed area, with a fine view across the water to the (disappointing) newly built bank HQs and the city skyline.  Admittedly the Bristol harbourside lacks the natural beauty of Salford Quays, but it surely can't be long until someone puts a broadcast centre there?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Worst Nightmare in Post?

It's a wrap, the final 'cut' has been called.  If you're old school (and forgetful) you might shout 'check the gate' (of the film camera, for any slivers of celluloid that are lodged in there).   Otherwise you box and label the tape (still old school) or, heart in mouth, eject the chip and backup/store safely.
Assuming all that has happened, what can possibly go wrong?
Imagine you've taped an exclusive interview with the boss of Apple (at the time, the ex-boss) but your base is across the pond:  and some time in the next few days the master tapes become missing air-freight.

That's what happened, way back, to the production team of 'Triumph of the Nerds'.   At the time, they got on with the material they had - but some 20 years later, the VHS copies have been dusted off.   Read what happened next (with satisfyingly technical sidelines) here and then here.

PS  Paul, if you're reading this, my lips are sealed :-)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

November 2011 meeting

Coming up next Monday, that's the 7th November 2011:  another 'show 'n tell' session, this time as promised Don Fairservice will be showcasing his recent work.   There'll be a chance to catch up with events in the outside world, with news of forthcoming software releases too - all in Phil's web roundup.  Plus, if time, we'll continue last month's doc / critique sessions with more from John Burgan - and possibly other materials currently being trawled!

See you on Monday next, 7pm at the BBC Club, Bristol.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A last quack from the duck

Many of you will know of Automatic Duck, the first and best inventors of software (in the pre 'apps' days) to transfer edit information between FCP, Avid, and AE, as well as ProTools.  Not only did their software work, and work well, but they always struck me as nice guys to do business with.   Time after time I've come across posts from Wes Plate (founder of the company) explaining how to do stuff, or promising to make something happen.   For many a pressured editor, Automatic Duck came to the rescue like the seventh cavalry.  And let's face it, it's a great name for a company.

Alas, it looks like the Duck has become the first victim of the new order represented by FCP X - in what would appear to be a chilly climate for third-party suppliers, it's been announced that the company will no longer be updating their software or able to support customers in the manner accustomed.   Wes himself now works for Adobe systems.

But they're going out in style; they've made the current offers free to download, even including the recent FCP X to AAF/OMF export.   That's a generously good-spirited offer back to the community, and well deserving of a round of applause here at the wefcblog.

Read more of the background / link to the downloads here.  (It's a now rare dotted IP address in the link, btw, offered by the Duck because of the delays in DNS promulgations.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Our connected world

What comes first to your mind when you think of Thailand?  The food, the exotic architecture, or more recently (though blink and you'd miss the reports) the floods that are devastating the country?  Bet you didn't think of Thailand as a major manufacturer, especially of hard drives (which they are, or rather were).
It seems that ALL of the major HD manufacturers (Hitachi, Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba) either have plant in Thailand, or are dependent on Thai suppliers.
As one headline put it, 'Brace yourself..for the coming HD shortage'.

My first notification came from another direction - with a call from my opticians to say that Hoya couldn't supply a particular lens for several weeks.   I've been looking around the usual HD suppliers, and there are already price rises and 'sold out' labels across the board.

It's probably too late already to avoid problems, if you need large numbers - otherwise there's always SSD to consider.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Piece by piece the good news arrives (FCP X)

Or, given the context, maybe that should be tile by tile (colour joke).
We've mentioned the unbelievably free colour correction software Da Vinci Resolve frequently at the wefcpug, with a promise of a run-down/review soon.   Which is to say, once I've read my way through the 300+ pages of the manual and conquered the usual fear-of-unknown-interface problems.

As of today, there's more reason to do this - and to rejoice.   Following the update of FCP X, adding XML import/export to the app (admittedly its own very special dialect of FCP X), there's now an update to da Vinci Resolve (yes, including the free version) that speaks this dialect.  So FCP X'ers are liberated from the underwhelming colour correction interface in 'X' and can turn to Resolve.
It's a very welcome development - according to Blackmagic:

The new Resolve 8.1 software update includes support for Apple Final Cut Pro X XML round trip, new layer node composite effects, ACES colorspace support, compatibility with Avid AAF for round trip with Avid Media Composer™, Final Cut Pro 7 clip size and position support, new copy commands for grades, upgraded EDL features, support for UltraStudio 3D for Thunderbolt™ and compatibility with the 2011 MacBook Pro 15” computer.
With this new update, DaVinci Resolve can now import and export Final Cut Pro X timelines using the new Final Cut Pro rich XML file format. When working in Final Cut Pro X, customers will get full timeline round trip where projects can be moved between Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve,retaining the multi track timeline with frame accurate cuts, dissolves and even speed changes. DaVinci Resolve will also use rich XML from Final Cut Pro X to link to original camera footage. DaVinci Resolve supports full media management for Final Cut Pro X projects including additional source clip folders and alternate image source when conforming edits in Resolve.
Because DaVinci Resolve supports grading of high resolution and bit depth files, edits can be exported out of Final Cut Pro for finishing in the highest quality. An alternative workflow is to use DaVinci Resolve 8.1 to manage extremely high resolution raw image formats such as RED, ARRI, CinemaDNG and DNxHD and then to grade and render to ProRes or uncompressed media for Final Cut Pro X.

Read all about it here 
Download the software (and the hefty manual) by registering here

This is big news for FCP - not just for colour graders but (fingers crossed) someone somewhere might be creating linkages for the rest of the post-production work that's done.  Soundtrack Pro (or better) - it's you we're talking about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blame the algorithm

Observant readers (aren't you all?), depending on how this blog is accessed, will have noted the tasteful ads served up by Google in between the pearls of wisdom.   For the most part, the ads, which are chosen by the gnomes in the googleplex, are presumably picked for their pertinence to the aforesaid pearls.  So, it's the usual suspects:  hardware vendors, edit software trainers, broadcast-related manufacturers.   But yesterday's post about the RTS meeting, which contained words such as 'Twitter', 'Reporter', and 'Journalist', brought forth an ad for pest control advisors.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another event in Bristol, 25th October.

The Bristol Centre of the RTS is hosting a talk by Matthew Eltringham, who is editor at the BBC's college of journalism.  It's title is 'Can TV News keep up? The battle between web and telly.' 
Here's the precis of the talk:

The coverage of the Summer Riots (2011) proved that online beats rolling TV news in breaking live coverage. For the news audience, the web was the winner as TV and Radio struggled to keep up with events across the country.
The live web coverage from mainstream media operators like the BBC, Guardian and Daily Telegraph had the speed, immediacy and breadth to reveal the full extent of the crisis on our streets. Traditional platforms were left trailing as the Web, Twitter and YouTube stole the march.
All big news media organisations are plunging into the world of social newsgathering with its potential to engage audiences and share content.  But  #ukriots taught us why journalists need to use the power of social media and also to understand its many pitfalls, to avoid giving credence to half-truths, rumours and factoids. It also showed how flexible and compelling these new platforms are in telling news stories.


Open to all, not just RTS members (though it might be advisable to write) - see www.rts.org.uk/bristol
BBC conference room, Bristol 
7.30pm on Tuesday 25th October 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

November 2011 Bristol event

An early pointer that this year's Encounter festivals are almost upon us.  The 2011 season is the 17th of this international film festival, which incorporates Brief Encounters and Animated Encounters.

As usual, it's at the Watershed - dates this year 16-20 November.

Much more, in colour and with pix of Wallace and Gromit, here

coming soon to Bristol

Very soon, in fact tomorrow - Saturday 15 October @1530 - there's a special screening at the Watershed of 'How the world got mixed up', a BBC doc at feature length which forms part of BBC2's 'Mixed Race' season.

Following the screening, the programme's director David Okuefuna (who was previously a BBC director based in Bristol) and Bristol-based executive producer Michael Poole will lead a discussion on some of the issues raised.

This event is the first in what's to be badged a 'Made In Bristol' preview:  this one is presented in partnership with BBC Bristol as part of Black History Month at Watershed.

Full details for this free event here (Watershed site)

when the dust settled...report on Oct11 wefcpug

It may have been a Monday night, and after work, but there was plenty of lively discussion and a widespread divergence of views and opinion at this month's wefcpug.   For once, we weren't arguing the future of editing tools, but important topics like narratives and story-telling.   And what provoked this outbreak?   Viewing of just one of the graduate films from the Newport School of Film Doc, with many thanks to John Burgan, who brought the material along.

Sure, the discussion did range around FCP X versus the rest - with a growing group that comprises 'the rest'.   There'll be another exclusive screening at next month's wefcpug, when distinguished editor and wefcpug member Don Fairservice shows his current work.   Keep following this blog for details - the date is 7th November 2011.

In the meantime, we'll be keeping tabs on the tech developments, both in FCP X and in Lightworks, as they move out of beta phase / continue their update paths {delete where appropriate}

wefcpug aside, there's an eventful media calendar in Bristol - see the next entries.

Friday, October 07, 2011

wefcpug Oct 2011 - Monday 10th

Monday's wefcpug continues the conversations from last month, with a unique chance to view new work from rising talents at one of Wales' leading film schools:

Documentary at the Newport Film School

Founded by the father of British documentary John Grierson in 1966, Newport Film School is one of the oldest film schools in the UK. It all started with just one clockwork Bolex camera, but Grierson was unapologetic – “Give them a box, a cardboard box with a hole in it. You don’t need sophisticated equipment. What you are going to say is more important.”

Ten years ago the film school launched the UK’s only BA (Hons) course solely focused on documentary film-making which has grown steadily since then. Programme Leader John Burgan will present a selection of shorts from the current crop of graduates.


And we return to the new boy on the block, FCP X.  With the recent .1 update is the package ready for the real world yet?    As they say everywhere, your voice counts...

Join us at BBC Bristol, 7pm on Monday 10th Oct - email me or Richard to be sure your name is on the list for the guys at security.  There is no charge for entry to this meeting.

The inevitable day

Given that this blog and our group wouldn't have happened without the work of Steve Jobs, it would seem wrong not to mark his passing.  So a tip of the hat to a genius who's affected our lives and our careers, and a pause to reflect before business continues.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another piece in the puzzle (that is FCP X)

Or do I mean the puzzle wrapped in the enigma?  Our friends in the West have announced the first update to FCP X to (I quote) make it 'even more flexible, powerful, and compatible'.   Compatible with what, exactly, and let's face it, that is a pretty low starting level to build from.   But let us not be churlish:  XML export and import are promised, with the beginnings of ways to tag audio files so they'll fit into good old tracks in an audio mixing app (like Soundtrack Pro??).   Well, churlish for a little longer - these are such obvious requirements, and there were rumours about hooks for them with the first release, that the initial 10.0 launch looks more and more of a botched job.

Smiling happy faces now:  the announcement is here but currently the update hasn't appeared in the app store (Tuesday, 1635 Bristol time).

I have been hearing dark tales about problems with the autosave (aka 'save') in FCP X deciding not to - more details welcomed.   Leave them in the usual dead-letter drop, I'll find them.   (That's what comes of seeing Tinker, Tailor and Spooks on the same day.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

October 2011 meeting - date confirmed 10th Oct

Such a packed agenda to get through last meeting that we deferred seeing John's studio award videos until the October meet - for which we neglected to set a date.

I can exclusively reveal that, in a (usual) change to our (usual) schedule, it'll be on the second Monday, ie October 10th, so both I and Richard can attend.

Possibly we'll be talking about FCP X yet again (d'you think?) with maybe some new fuel for the fire.   Maybe a point 1 release, maybe some bug fixes?   The next couple of weeks could see some developments.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Sep '11 report - moving on with Lightworks

The September meet and another year begins for the wefcpug, and the only thing we can say for certain is that this will be another year of changes and innovation. To begin with a report. Phil demo'd both FCP X and Lightworks on the same machine, a MacPro tower.

Admittedly the Lightworks demo was courtesy of BootCamp and Windows7 (and thus slightly disadvantaged in terms of system access). A fuller write-up will be along shortly when I've finished another project or so, on both systems.

But in brief, the subjective results I presented:

> FCP X is fast, powerful, easy to use and well suited to self-contained file-based workflows. Compressed long-GOP camera formats are no longer a problem - conversion to ProRes (in FCP newspeak 'optimised' formats) takes place in the background and doesn't delay editing. Much better handling than classic FCP 7.

> The 'magnetic' timeline is very useful for certain edits (and editors) - especially when working with cutaway (or B-roll) shots that aren't inserted into the main video track, but left floating (with their audio tracks) to delay decisions. FCP X promises to remove the danger of overwriting clips that aren't seen in the timeline window and will preserve sync at all cost. (But it has done away with out-of-sync indicators).

I'm less impressed by the interface, which is too crowded and inflexible. Other current negatives are, of course, the lack of integration with video hardware (eg Matrox) and audio fader panels, (and for that matter the lack of audio tracks in the conventional sense), inability to export OMFs natively, though I can probably live without EDLs now, and lack of tape support (excepting dumb 'capture now' through firewire).

I think the main disappointment I have is with the inflexible, gloomy interface.

I came to Lightworks without expecting much. It's a beta release of an open source version of a 20 year old product. Furthermore, it's running in a slightly crippled version because I don't have a native Windows machine any more, hence it's on a BootCamp drive sitting atop Windows7. Just tweaking the hardware to work properly (NOT the fault of Lightworks, requiring a bit more compatibility between BootCamp and W7 - now fixed by updates) took a couple of days. But, as I said at the meeting, what I found was surprisingly easy to work with, and a good intuitive piece of editing software.

In total contrast to FCP X, you can't get a more minimal desktop than Lightworks: it's just about blank. You populate it with clips and assemblies, which you fit into racks when you feel like it. You can be as tidy or as messy as you like - have as many clip 'tiles' in view as you need: and for that matter any clip can become an assembly - ideal for adding auxiliary or replacement audio tracks. 

Input on my setup is Firewire, with the ability to log and capture.   Setting up the deck control was quick and easy - the dialogues had obviously been written by people with TV engineering experience - and offered the surprise option of capture into MXF files. I really like the edit/trimming methods which are intuitive and fast to operate.

I could go on, and I will in the fuller document - but it's obvious that I am very impressed by Lightworks. Just 10 minutes was enough to convince me that this is software I can work with: best of all, I found myself thinking more about pictures and sound than about menu options or keyboard shortcuts.

So, where does the future lie? Jason mentioned on Monday that there was the promise of a statement from Lightworks this week, and it's here . There's the promise of a port of the beta version to Mac and Linux this year, with a launch of the commercial Lightworks (windows) in November. This offers free and paid options, the paid version giving access to pro codecs. And there's Matrox support too.

In the meantime, we must surely soon see an update to FCP X to bring it up to pro level. So, watch this space (and I haven't even mentioned the A's: Avid and Adobe).

Monday, September 05, 2011

Today's meeting - open software, closed formats, open minds? FCP X and Lightworks

Another reminder that 'today' in the title refers to Monday 5th Sept 2011 - kickoff for the new season. We've had a couple of months, and by no means has the dust settled, but it's time for the wefcpug to form our own opinions of FCP X. See the capabilities (and missing features) and judge for yourself at tonight's meeting, when Phil (with nothing up his sleeves, and aided only by a MacPro) runs the app through some of its paces in a live demo. (If there's electricity, a room, and a monitor!). But that's not all. Before your very eyes, the same MacPro will transform itself into a Lightworks edit station, using the magic of BootCamp, Windows7 (and the benefit of a week's hacking the setup until it ran). Why put yourself through all the pain of reading other people's reviews - come and make up your own minds. In what will probably be the first of a long series run..... 7pm onwards, BBC Bristol, meet in the club: in you're not yet on the list for security email phil before 4pm today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New season opening for wefcpug - next week Sept 5th

Calling wefcpug, new season starting soon.

Picking up with the unfinished business from the end of year, what else*** but FCP X and a quiet look under the lid, comparing notes between ourselves, comparing alternatives even?

Should be the usual place, Richard checked we're ok last month - more details in a day or so too.

Monday 5th Sept, BBC Bristol, 7.00pm

email phil@brightfilament.co.uk to come along.

***and of course if you have a 'what else' to talk about, let me know.

Monday, July 04, 2011

wefcpug meeting tonight 4th July - season's finale

A reminder to regular readers that it's the last meet of the 2010/11 season at the usual place (BBC Bristol) - usual time (7pm).   We might make this an outdoor one, if we can keep the noise down :-)


Phil

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More for your reading list - X files episode 2 (FCP X)

Lest anyone should feel underinformed, here's today's slew of recommended reading with my own precis

http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/faq/

and about time too - Apple responses to some of the current questions in the ether.   I particularly like the phrase ' it has also generated a lot of discussion in the pro video community' as a masterpiece of understatement.   Nothing especially new if you've seen the Pogue article, but firmer promises of ways to export OMF and interface with track-based audio mixing apps (which they all are!) though the implied tagging of clips looks like a messy workround which will not save time (to put it mildly).
But the tone is as conciliatory as I expect Apple ever gets.  And there's a firm assurance that FCP 7 will work with Lion (if there's anybody left in the room!)

http://library.creativecow.net/tutorials/fcpxtechnique

the first of the free tutorial videos online.   I haven't sampled them yet - I have to confess that I find  video-based tutorials slow and inefficient compared to a well-written article or even a manual.   But that's just me...they're fine for walk-throughs and first looks.

http://danrubottom.com/2011/06/what-apple-did-get-right-in-final-cut-pro-x-part-1/

some good news about the newer audio features to partly compensate for the lack of a dedicated audio app, or OMF export

http://digitalcomposting.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/x-vs-pro/

now this one is compelling, authoritative and worrisome.  Written from the perspective of a software developer (not just any old software, but the awesome 'Shake'), the piece skewers the Apple corporate culture.   It has the ring of truth, commercial truth, about it.

This is his final para, which summarises the position I'm finding myself in (well, apart from the heartbreak.   It IS only software after all):

So if you’re really a professional you shouldn’t want to be reliant on software from a company like Apple.  Because your heart will be broken.  Because they’re not reliant on you.  Use Apple’s tools to take you as far as they can – they’re an incredible bargain in terms of price-performance.  But once you’re ready to move up to the next level, find yourself a software provider whose life-blood flows only as long as they keep their professional customers happy.  It only makes sense.

A reminder - bring yourselves, your insights and your opinions to the wefcpug on Monday night (July 4).   We'll discover it was all an Independence Day joke (american sense of humour);  the real FCP X will be launched and demo'd:  viewers, timelines tracks and exports will be restored and we can reconfigure our desktops to our hearts' content.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The X files (the truth is out there somewhere)...

The marketing disaster that is 'New FCP' versus 'FCP Classic'...new readers can catch up here
It's the best summary of the state we're in that I've come across.

To precis:  David Pogue of the NYT stepped into water too deep for comfort, his follow-up article contains more gen from Apple than anywhere else regarding the future, and how they'll get out of the mess they're in.   Richard Harrington has blogged comments on the issues from our point of view (us being the pro editors and onetime customers!) - plenty of detail and a good place to go hunting links.

In particular, it may be prudent to download the FCP (Pro-Apps) updater files in case you find yourself with just the FCP DVDs you bought and for some reason they're not supported online any more.  The current link is here

Also don't miss the Conan edit crew's take on all this (if you haven't seen this viral yet).  The blog link didn't work for me, it's also here courtesy of msnbc.   (Bit of an irony there).

Me, I'm still working through the ripple tutorial videos,  trying to decode the Avid and Premiere product descriptions and tackling a much harder conversion course:  adapting my (Eb alto sax) mouth, fingers and brain to the (Bb) clarinet.   It's week 2 in the house and there are tears of joy when I realise that half the fingering (above the break to the upper register) I KNOW ALREADY.   Yes, I know, too much detail, sorry about that.   There are some neat and (for Apple) uncomfortable parallels to be drawn here.   Like the universal interchangeability of a music score,  the retention of muscle memory.  To be continued.

Another historic parallel:  see wikipedia for the tale of New Coke and always remember that Coca-Cola came back stronger than ever in the market when they recanted...

A diversion from the X factor

I'm doing a lot of screen surfing just now - all information pipes that relate to FCP, editing, Apple are bursting at the seams.   Just like 1999.

Amongst it all, hidden in a Macworld article about the BBC's data handling for its websites is this gem:

"In the past 3 years we've moved the to a dynamic 3 tier, largely php, java and mySQL stack fronted by software loadbalancers called the Platform," Van Gulik explained. "This Linux based system is hosted at two datacentres. It makes use of a lot of Key Value stores, for example NoSQL products like CouchDB. Clever use of message queues; lots of efficient automated build chich is mostly based on maven, automated test (e.g. hudson), simple fast caches (varnish), lots of snmo and some solid Zenoss monitoring, novel log file handling using an fully internal system called teleport and so on."

I'm not sure we can promise lots of snmo or even build chich at the next meeting, but we'll give it a go.

Monday, June 27, 2011

July 2011 meeting next Monday (4th July) - any hot topics anyone?

FCP - the X factor or stick with FCP Classic?

Yes folks, Independence day is the next scheduled wefcpug get-together.   Currently expected to be the usual place.   On the agenda - unless anyone has a newer MBP than mine (which wouldn't be hard) it'll be a talking shop re. the X factor.    There'll be as much news and reviews as I can fit in (no shortage of sources) with some funny video takes on it all too.

Come along, and remember - for everyone who turns up there's another opinion on FCP X !

Phil

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

FCP X - first reactions and some urgent reading

Yes, of course I bought it, won't we all?   I'll be writing up my own experiences of FCP X over the next couple of days (or even longer!) but here's the first impressions of the package and the process.

Process first:  as you know, FCP X is a download from the AppStore.  Now, comparing it to my first experience of purchasing FCP (1.2.5 if you must know) - at £179 it's cheaper than in 1999 but even with a 6Mbps broadband line the download time only just beat the time it took me to cycle to the shop and pick up the discs.   It's a BIG download, especially if you purchase Motion too.   Around 4GB in total when installed (maybe it's a compressed download file - difficult to tell with the App store, you don't get all that much feedback.)   Then there's another whacking big download (1.5GB or thereabouts) of updates through Software Updater - which installs audio filters, Motion templates and codecs.   And I wouldn't be surprised if there's more to come!

Remember that FCP X and the rest are 64bit apps - you will know this means Intel macs only, but early Intel Mac Pros and MacBook Pros won't work either (minimum processor is the Core 2 Duo).

BIG warning here from Apple that, if you've got a previous FCP or FCS installation, you should partition the drive and install FCP X on a different partition (I've simplified - you'd better read the full info from Apple themselves).   My response is 'do as I say not as I do' - the advice came a bit too late for me, humph!   But all seems to be well - the 'old' FCP  suite has been moved into its own folder, and still works.

We're not done with downloading, by the way - the only manual that exists at the moment is the online help - but it is available as a download pdf and is probably worth reading before you go too much further.

Go to http://help.apple.com/helplibrary/#product (or the root, help.apple.com and navigate via 'Video editing').   There are links in each of the manuals to the pdf versions - either top left (Motion - which calls out the pdf explicitly) or top right (FCP which is a confusing 'print' icon - but of course you can print as pdf).   When you've read the 500 + pages, read on :-)

Very very first impressions from me -
 good that FCP 7 is untouched.
 FCP X is fast, very fast.
Panic notes:  where are my tracks, my timecodes.  For that matter, where are my previous projects?  Where's Lisa Brenneis when you need her?

Summary of first look:   it's a different way of working.  As Paul described it in our last meet, there's now a strong feeling that FCP is but one way of manipulating the morass of media that is stored somewhere on the system.   It's similar to the way Aperture is set up:  media exists in a giant bucket somewhere, not necessarily organised into folders - the app does all the hard work of finding stuff and sorting it, based on the metadata it already has (date, time etc) or metadata you give it (keywords).  There's new terminology - 'events' are the organising idea for rushes.  Think 'shoot' rather than 'event' and it makes sense.   'Projects' are a way of organising events - it's the project that has the timeline attached.  Note it's timeline singular, you need to 'think different' about duplicates, safety copies, versions.

Definitely gone missing, presumed drowned:  tape digitisation, transport control, edit to tape, print to tape.   No way of using previous version projects / sequences, not even via XML.   Function key shortcuts (even insert/overlay edits through f9 etc) - though the keyboard seems infinitely customisable.

Still there, but almost invisible:  most of the FCP keys work as you'd expect, the JKL transport, in and out point markers.  But first assembly editing (as opposed to detailed trimming) hides this pretty much from you.

No export to Soundtrack, in fact no Soundtrack at all - the next few days will see how far working on the timeline will match Soundtrack capabilities for mixdowns and FX on audio.

Lots of new toys to explore - new Motion with an even jazzier interface, new improved titling, new alternatives to 'slugs' for placeholders.   Scopes that look pretty good, and keying that is reported to be perfect (yeah, heard that a few times before).  Watch this space.

DISCLOSURE - Phil is not paid by Apple to endorse this product (as you may have noticed) nor is he one of the chosen few given prior experience of the FCP X package - he's bought it with his own money.  The opinions are most definitely his own, and you are reading them as they form in real time.  So contents of this package are very likely to change.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Now selling - let the show begin (FCP X)

Just in case you hadn't noticed, FCP X is now available at £179.99 through the App Store, with Motion and Compressor available at £29.99

Let the reviews start!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

London Supermeet 2011

 Roll up and read all about it here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Next meeting - next Monday - June 6th

As you might recall, way back at the last meeting, in the heady aftermath of so many public holidays, we confirmed June 6th to be our next chance to come to terms with Change.

Or not, as the case may be, as we while away the days to this year's launches and upgrades.   Plans are still being finalised, we may or may not have a visiting demo:  but movies are still there to be seen, problems to be solved.   Bring along your share of either to the BBC Bristol Club, Monday June 6th, 7pm:  the usual injunction please to let Richard (see sidepanel for email contact) know you're coming.

In other news:
congratulations to Richard for actually winning the uke shootout.  See here for details.

And in music news:
Phil has just started to blow on a clarinet (it's a straighter, shorter version of his familiar alto sax) and it's doing his head in.  It's like moving from one edit system to another - but all the keys (subtle wordplay here) have been shifted along the keyboard, everything is a little bit smaller,  and the notes may look the same but they're different pitches.   So it's going really well.   (Please read the following sentence in a cod Geordie accent:  Day Two in the House and it's F, B flat and E flat).

Friday, May 27, 2011

An old adversary returns.

The price of memories (to paraphrase Wendell Phillips) is eternal vigilance.  At least, that's the case if the memories are kept on videotape.  Way back, when a VTR filled a room, and cost (as memory serves) some 50x the annual salary of the engineer who tended it, one opened a tape box with trepidation.   Yes, readers, videotapes were once 2 inches wides, weighed a ton, and did come in a box.  There were essentially two makes:  Scotch and Memorex, and the latter, especially when not a new tape but, a year or so old, could contain a surprise.

The surprise was called, somewhat unimaginatively, the 'white powder' syndrome.  Said powder would be seen coating the top surface of the wound tape, sometimes loose in the box too.   The powder was a byproduct of chemical degradation in the tape -  assumed to be the 'binder' that held the metal oxide layer onto the polymer base of the tape itself.   At the very least, playback could involve frequent drop-outs of the signal, with possible clogging up of the magnetic heads, which entailed a tedious unthreading, spraying and cleaning of both the head assembly and the various guides and rollers that came into contact with the tape.   At worst, there was no playback at all because so much of the oxide had degraded.   This problem is immortalised in the 'White Powder Christmas' (1) and 'Good King Memorex' Christmas tapes of 1970's BBC VT fame - and although there are reports of similar degradation in some 1" archival tapes, I had thought it consigned to history and (literally) fading memories.   Until this week, that is.

In a fascinating report about the near disappearance and resuscitation of the BBC's Domesday 1986 videodisc, Andy Finney writes of the problems of playing a 1980's videotape (the master for the video sequences).   The laservision discs themselves haven't survived too well, either:  even discounting the problems of sourcing a working BBC-Micro based player to read the material, the discs are liable to delamination, rendering them unplayable.  But all's well that ends well, and there's now a 21st Century version of the Domesday material, on a website of course, accessible to all.  Though I have yet to do the sums, I suspect the entire contents of the original project, data and video, would fit comfortably in the SD card of a smartphone, which would have no problem in playing the lot!

Reading about these problems prompted me to check up on a couple of things, primarily the stock of family home videos (8mm video and VHS-C) and look what I found:


VHS-C (actually JVC brand VHS) from 1988





VHS (Sony brand) 1989

The good news is that both tapes were still playable - and have been hastily digitised - without major problems.  But I can't help thinking this was a close-run thing.  Other brands (TDK, Scotch S-VHS, BASF) from the same era don't show the problem.

Lessons for us all - especially if dealing with originals.
- have a quick check visually.  If in doubt, make safety copies.   But be prepared:  if it's VHS for instance, do you still have a VHS cleaning tape? (2)  VHS is no longer a mainstream standard, who knows what will be around in say 5 years time?
- don't assume that once you've made a digital copy, your archive is safe.  Welcome to the world of 'eternal vigilance' as you tend your hard drives, RAIDS, or digital tapes.


Phil

Footnotes:
1.  Despite what you might read on the internet, this is the true derivation of 'White Powder' - it's not a drug-related in-joke aimed at famous names.  Not deliberately anyway.  (That all came much later).
2.  Though I always used to reckon that playing a BASF tape was just as good as using a cleaning tape.  BASF tapes had a reputation for being slightly more abrasive, in my experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May2011 notes: FCP X, NAB snapshots, BBC HD camera list


Despite stated intentions and best endeavours, to nobody's surprise we indulged in flights of fancy, speculation, unfounded rumour and downright guesswork when the wefcpug discussed the almost-announced Final Cut Pro release.  Admittedly, some of the guesswork was pretty intelligent, and the group's collective thanks and respect go to Paul D for his contributions.

On surer ground, Phil presented his own take on how best to prepare.   Simply put, it goes:  fast mac, fast GPU, lots of RAM.   To back this up he drew extensively from a useful paper that Silverado (a US re-seller) have made available for free download – all they ask is your email address.  Kudos to them.   Even better, we agreed with their conclusions.  If you want to know more about hyper-threading of CPUs, Turbo boost and the intriguingly named 'Grand Central Dispatch' this paper is a must.  Or you can plough through the tons of useful info on the Apple developer site (which I was halfway through when the Silverado paper came through – saving a great deal of thinking).

This month's contenders from the useful and free shelves of the apps store were:

Alfred – a simple, unobtrusive apps launcher that has found a permanent home on my macs and persuaded me to retire the Dock
and from Blackmagic the equally simple and useful diskspeed tester.   On my 2010 4-core MacPro this gave some very interesting results:
Firewire 800   64.1 MB/s write, 70.6 MB/s read
Internal SATA (single drive)  58.3MB/s write, 46.2 MB/s read
Two-disc internal RAID  264.3 MB/s write, 259.7 MB/s read

The first two figures are as expected, but the simple RAID result surprised many of us:  they are a brand new install, less than 2% occupied at present – we'll revisit this test in the coming months to see what happens when they've been used a while.
The output of the app is visual and full of the detail you need.  The green ticks and so on in the lower half of the pic (detail lost in fitting into this blog) correspond to the various flavours of video file that might be used (from DV to 2K).

Blackmagic designs also featured in the informal and partial NAB review:

 there's an interesting add-on piece of hardware - the Hyperdeck shuttle -  to record uncompressed material onto SSD via HDMI or HDSDI
 there's a very interesting development in their top-range colour correction suite 'Da Vinci' – with a limited feature-set version (Da Vinci lite?) promised in July as free software.   The idea is presumably to tempt us all to become colourists and upgrade to the paid versions.   Hearty cheers from me at least – a brave piece of marketing which I think will pay off for them.

Left unanswered at the meet were the big questions about FCP to come:  what happens to plug-ins and filters, tape ingest, compatibility with prior versions.   Probably no answers in June, but we'll be meeting again on the 6th on the offchance.

Postscript – Kudos too to the BBC HD commissioning team, and especially Ian Potts, for the recent revisions to their website and the clarity they've brought to the question of which cameras are approved for BBC HD productions.   I'd like to think we in Bristol can claim a little of the credit for this, when one awkward individual took Ian to task at a BBC/Bristol Anchor meeting about the issue.  He promised to take another look at the site, and this is the result.  The current camera list is linked at the top right.  I confidently predict this page will be updated frequently over the year.

Thanks again to Noise Industries for donating the raffle prize - 'Light-Kit' from their plug-ins store.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Meeting next week - Monday 9th May

What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn; 

(Antonio's opening speech, 'Merchant of Venice', Wm Shakespeare) 

Admittedly, the Bard probably didn't have Final Cut Pro X in mind when he put quill to parchment, but the sentiments fit. Antonio goes on to say  

And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself. 

But we'll have no sadness at the wefcpug meeting next Monday, 9th May, usual place (BBC Bristol), time (assemble from 630pm). Rather we'll echo 'two-headed Janus' (Merchant again) and look back to NAB, forward to the aforesaid FCP and how to prepare.

The webscape is full of (mostly) uninformed speculation, guesswork, uncertainty and doubt, or as Bill S put it: an infinite deal of nothing.   We'll be doing a bit better than that, I hope, with a rundown on this year's new hardware and how it's going to change the way we work.   Let's talk cameras, storage, graphics and yes, tech stuff too!    (Note, the presentations will NOT be in verse, nor in iambic pentameter.   Unless you insist).
 
I pray you, have in mind where we must meet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What happens in Vegas...(FCP X preview)

One variant of the saying goes 'What happens in Vegas...stays in Vegas' (substitute 'on location', 'on the road', 'in the cutting room' as you like).   But this time what happened last night in Vegas will be spreading round the web as the world (or at least the FCP-aware part of it) awakes.   And why should this blog be any different?

The best account I've found so far is thanks to the ever-reliable (!) macrumors site.    Yes, US spelling of rumour.   Read it here.   

Welcome back.   By the way, did you spot anyone you know in the snaps?   I hope to have some first-hand reports from our agents in time for the next wefcpug meeting.   Of course, the next stage will be a bonfire of speculation, further rumour and spurious advice.   Again I say, why should this blog be any different?

So here goes:
- as widely expected, it'll be the full monty regarding Cocoa coding, 64-bit, use of all processor cores, internal workings reliant on core animation, 'Grand Central Dispatch' and other OS X thingies.  Background rendering (yay), background 'conversion' of footage during ingest.   Flash interface with new wizzy timeline (no-one mention iMovie, right?)

- some nice surprises in the handling of sync (in theory it'll all stay together 'magnetically' folks) and audio processing in the timeline.   Looks a bit Soundtrack-like:  it's very easy to add fade-ups and downs at the ends of clips in STPro by option dragging the edge.   I hope and expect they've added the other nice thing I like in STPro of automatically mixing between tracks if you deliberately extend one into the other.

- no mention of the future plans for the rest of the suite - though there is a hint here that there's more to come.

- the big news for me is the promised scalability of performance - the implication I read is that FCP X will use as many cores as it finds (or is allowed) and this will mean it's worth buying the big Mac Pro towers after all!

- I see a familiar looking top menu bar and timeline in some screen shots, so it's not going to be a start-from-scratch for any of us.

- I 'look forward' to seeing demos of the face recognition, automated filling in of metadata and sorting, and 'advanced precision timeline'.   Time will tell if these are help or hindrance.   Same thing goes for the helpful automatic syncing of footage.   An aside:   there's always an exception that will trip up automated processes.   Take the 'Ben Hur' theatre project I shot and edited last year.   The master takes had two sound tracks - direct feed from the theatre sound desk, and my own mic feed.   They weren't in sync with each other:  not a technical error, just a matter of physics.   Although the delayed feed to the house speakers didn't help either!   How would the automatics cope with that, I wonder?

Predictions I feel safe in making:   it'll need 'Lion' running on as powerful a Mac as you can afford, with much RAM as you can afford.  While you're at it, you might want to upgrade your internet connection too, since FCP X will be bought via the online Apps Store.   BTW the US price quoted is $299.   No mention of upgrade price - this seems to be the way Apps are priced on the store (see 'Aperture').  And there probably won't be much change from £299 either, once VAT is added - but that's speculation on my part.

What we don't know about.   Where to start?   The rest of the suite (see link above for a hint).   Interchangeability with older project files (bet that's one way).   Will legacy projects be analysed and 'improved' on the fly?   Is ProRes the one-size-fits-all setting?   Do we have the same runaround with settings and preferences as today?  How long until there's more to see on the Apple site?  

Your views, fears and hopes welcomed - at our next meeting if not beforehand.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The truth about Salford

One (amongst many) irritations in the news coverage of the Beeb's move to Salford has a light shone upon it today in a piece in the Manchester Guardian.   (I know, I just write that to annoy).
Read about it here

Apart from the writer's perceptive comment that
Salford has never lacked creative talent. This is the city that produced Ben Kingsley and Christopher Eccleston, Tony Wilson and Shelagh Delaney, the Ting Tings and Happy Mondays,
(which puzzlingly fails to mention me), the comments below the piece online give a hint of the tough choices that people are facing.

To add a personal perspective (what else are blogs for?):
I was born in Manchester, grew up in Salford (actually in Eccles, to be even more pedantic) and, like all Salfordians, wish to preserve the distinction between the twin cities.   Alas, my campaign to echo the Minneapolis-St Paul concept (even the initial letters match) has not yet borne fruit, but I remain hopeful.  I well remember the 'Nations & Regions' conference held in the Lowry centre at which Tony Wilson campaigned for a significant BBC presence (he was talking of a channel) in Manchester - and was somewhat patronised by the audience for walking into fantasy.
I wish the Beeb folk at the Media City well, obviously, but not without reservations.   For a start, I'll quite miss that horrible 60's block that is 'New' Broadcasting House, Manchester.   Nor am I a fan of the modern mega-blocks that the BBC now inhabits - Media City has the look of a sterile environment, and the PR about how exciting it'll be smacks of hysteria to me.   What is it about the BBC that's driving it to the waterside in all its office moves?  Glasgow - check, Birmingham - check (canals, admittedly), Salford - surrounded on 3 sides by the stuff.

A hint here for Bristol?

RTS Bristol meeting - Freesat HD

I should have noted our thanks to the RTS Bristol Centre for acting as co-host to this month's wefcpug workshop on DSLRs - and here's a reminder of their next meeting, as mentioned on Monday.  It is open to members and guests - so do come along.  The meeting, at the BBC building in Bristol, starts at 7.30pm.  I'm promised news of exciting and significant developments in the subscription-free world at this meeting.

This is the RTS notice:

Freesat, the UK’s fastest growing television platform is a joint venture between the BBC and ITV, offering over 140 television and radio channels, including free HD channels - and all subscription free.
James Strickland  is a leading figure in the innovation world and has been responsible for developing the Freesat platform to offer new services and features for viewers. James will explain the operation and take a look at the future for subscription free television.
Please note that this meeting is preceded by the Centre AGM  at 1900  members will receive full information  by post.

The DSLR night - and our next meeting in May

Despite the plague epidemic that struck two of our guest speakers on Monday night (get well soon ) there was plenty to see and touch.   Thanks to Nick and Sundeep of Canon UK for coming along with such an impressive selection of hardware, I think I counted 4 DSLRs plus two video cameras.   (I couldn't get close enough to see them all and count!).   The stunning projector was also a Canon - the WUX10 if anyone's  interested (and let's face it, most of us were).

The next meeting will be the second Monday in May - safely after all the bank holidays and wedding celebrations.   So it's to be Monday May 9th.

Plans at the moment are to do a retrospective of NAB and any announcements that may or may not have been made then :-)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Set your PVRs

Since we'll all be at the wefcpug/RTS special meeting next Monday (4th April) - see previous posts for details - better set your recorders for BBC3 9pm.

wefcpug regular Jason Porthouse has edited 'My Brother the Islamist' for local production company Grace productions - more details here courtesy of the BBC site

Small fingers required

The perplexing iMovie app for iPhone has been joined by another app for those with small fingers - now you can edit/compress/upload to Vimeo using their own app.  OK, it's editing Jim, but not quite as we know it:  one step up from editing in camera (and there's lots to be said for that).  But just as it's theoretically possible to write your next Great Novel on an iPhone/iPad, now you can make the movie too without ever needing a desk.
All (some of) the details over here with a cute vimeo video of it all in action.   Note the link is to the blog in general, there's no permalink available - so if you're reading this in Christmas 2011 you'll have to do your own search of the Vimeo site.   Also there on the apps store.   Our favourite price, too.
So who's going to volunteer to cover Monday's DSLR fest then???

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sound Advice from the BBC academicians

The news is all over their channels today - audiences don't like TV soundtracks when they can't hear the words for the music.   There is a remarkably low-key and sensible foreword from the new bloke in charge of BBC-1, Danny Cohen, to a useful set of videos on what we must now apparently call the BBC college of production (or is that a Faculty within the Academy?).

I've had a jolly time watching a couple of these videos, jerky though the playback is on my broadband connection (of which more another time).    I'm feeling generous today, so I'll commend the one giving advice to one-person bands or self-shooters in the unfortunate BBC parlance.   It begins with the now obligatory picking-the-camera-bag-off-the-shelf sequence, and the advice is somewhat obvious, but they mean well and presumably there are people who need to be told this.   But how did they get the job in the first place, I ask snarkily...

In other areas, raise a cheer for the video celebrating that rarest of beasts, the Dubbing Mixer.   I was especially pleased to see, just in the closing frames, the tea-tray with, I think, choc hob-nobs, in view on the mixing desk.   As any old-style film editor or director (guilty as charged) knows, the whole point of booking a dubbing theatre, especially the grand ones in Soho, was to gorge on tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits while sitting on a comfy sofa watching someone else do all the work.   The only quibbles I have with the redoubtable Mr Foulgham ( a dubbing mixer of renown and talent) is the use of the phrase 'voice-over' to describe a scripted narration of commentary. (Narration is the correct term - voice-over according to this pedant and many before me is to be confined to use of sync sound over cutaway pictures).  

And a second point;  moving and fitting though the high wire walker film is, surely we should declare a moratorium on the use of Erik Satie as background music?   Taking it further, any editor knows there's an army of desperate music writers and performers out there, aching to write for TV.    Maybe we should have a moratorium on all re-use of recorded 'commercial' music in TV backgrounds.  Now that would take me back to my starting days...

Next meeting - DSLRs for cinematography - April 4th 2011

DSLRs for cinematography
A film-makers' workshop

Exciting new breakthrough in capturing the moving image, or just a passing fad that's being hyped by equipment suppliers?  The use of digital stills cameras (notably the Canon D5 range) to film high quality moving images at (relatively) low cost is raising interest around the world.  It's technically possible - the last season's finale episode of 'House' in the US was filmed this way - but how practicable is it for you and the programmes you make?  How, for instance, is the sound recorded?

Join a panel of film-makers and suppliers in an informal workshop on DSLR cinematography, held in association with the Bristol-based wefcpug (Final Cut User group).  Organised with the help of Canon UK and Pink Noise in Bristol, this will be a mixture of hands-on demos and presentations.  We'll hear from those already using these techniques for drama and documentaries, and gather comments from expert trainers.

We'll try to follow the process through from image capture to editing and final delivery - join us for a leap into one digital future of TV.

Monday April 4th, BBC Bristol 7pm onwards.

This could well be a packed meeting.  We're in the conference centre at the BBC (thanks to the RTS) but it's first come first served.   Make sure of a place by contacting Richard in the usual way!!

A big media week in Bristol

The 'big media week' began of course with the March wefcpug on the Monday.  As a starter course, I ran through the headliner items as I saw them from the BVE show last month:  this turned out to be not so much a presentation but a rolling discussion. 

There are a couple of developments since, as it happens:
- amongst the cameras launched, the AF-101 from Panasonic has a published evaluation from Alan Roberts, which pulls no punches.   Find it here.
- the new disc recorder, the Atomos Ninja, which shows great promise, has yet to appear on the 'shelves'.  According to the urbanfoxtv blog, deliveries were being held pending a hardware upgrade/bug solution.

Our main course (which, for timing reasons, came before and after the starters) was a race between various routes to compress for the web.   It's all (with sample videos) on Richard's wefcpug website.

And so to Thursday night,  the glitz and glamour of Bristol's own TV awards ceremony, the RTS West of England awards, which this year were held at the spanking new Showcase Cinema de Lux in Cabot Circus.   Read all about the awards elsewhere  but raise your glasses please to wefcpug member David Neal, who this year had the daunting task of editing and playing out the clips reel to an audience of 250 of Bristol's media moguls.  No pressure there, then.

Although I wrote 'clips reel' not only (as you'd expect) were the clips edited on FCP, they were played out from the mac too - via HD-SDI to one of the cinema's 4k projectors.  Only the week before, we were told, the last of the cinema's film projectors had been stripped out.   The future is disc-driven!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading the Runes at BVE. Canon XF100, Panasonic AF101 cameras.

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but there seemed more of a buzz about the BVE trade show (Earls Court last week) than the last couple of years.  Certainly more new cameras, and a wider range of formats than in recent years, and on the face of it, more for your money in terms of picture quality.

I'm not a great fan of exhibitions, with the crowds of wannabe film-makers, overpriced catering and demos too slick to be convincing - but this year's BVE started well for me, with a piece of good luck.   By happenstance, the first familiar face I saw was Dr Alan Roberts, the man who knows Everything about cameras.   Alan tells me that the talk he debuted for us in Bristol (Things we've forgotten we knew) has now been through 30 or so performances.   Given that he changes the talk each time based on instant feedback, it's probably about time he came back to us;  like Nelson's Victory, few of the original timbers now remain.

Alan's top tips for me to see were the new Canon and Panasonic cameras, previously announced but now shipping - the Canon XF 100/105, which is a smaller, cheaper, 1-chip version of the XF300/305 models, with an impressive set of features and picture quality, and the Panasonic AF101, the 4/3" sensor 'digital cinematography' kit with interchangeable lenses.  If you knew where to look (such as under the big 'Canon' sign) both models were in evidence at the show, and I'm certain we're going to be seeing their footage everywhere, soon.

Which means, oh goody, time to start revisiting the techy details of formats, codecs, and workflows.  Whether it's the Canon, with mpeg-2 files on CF cards (as MXF format) or Panny with AVCHD files on SDHC cards (or for that matter, at a higher price, the new Sony F3 XDCAM on SxS cards), the recordings are files, no tape anymore.   And obviously, they're not particularly compatible.  Add to this the abundance of shooting formats (frame rate, HD field size, i or p) and it's going to be an 'interesting' couple of years in the cutting room.

Also debuting (but needing a little hunting out) was the 'Ninja' external hard-drive recorder, a neat box no bigger than the standard LCD camera-mounted monitor, which records in ProRes (you choose the flavour) from the HDMI output.

That was one of many extras available to hang onto the camera - and given the smaller form-factor of these new cameras, it's my first prediction that this year will see more and more of us turn to shoulder support / matte box / rail systems just to keep the equipment in a workable, portable form.   Plenty of those too at the show.  But, to some extent, compatible with each other!

After a week's reflection, mostly taken up with reading the brochures and mags I picked up at the show, (and then working out what I didn't see at the time), my main impression is that we've been here before  - roughly 15 years before, when the first of the DV cameras to hit broadcast TV (the Sony VX1000) began to make its mark.   The big deal then was how affordable 'high quality' DV pictures could be, at a price point (I think) of around £1500 - £2000, and how this would revolutionise productions.   Didn't quite happen except for docu-soaps on TV, but look what you get for your money now:  full HD, widescreen.  And (depending on how you correct for inflation) £1500 1995 pounds are the equivalent of some £2250 in 2011.  Hard drives are insanely cheap (1TB for under £40 if you buy the bare drive) and we all know about how the cost of editing hardware and software has dropped (compared to 1995!). 

My next prediction - this is to be the year when HD tapeless production goes mainstream.   Tapes for big drama and features, maybe, files for the rest of us.  Backwaters of broadcasting will stick with the expensive hardware they've got (better the devil you know) but for the rest of us, we can do better, smaller, cheaper:  so brush up your knowledge of standards, codecs, file formats, backups, transfers and yes metadata.  If you don't have an archive strategy, get one, even if it's just burning to DVD-ROM.  If you don't have media browsing / cataloging, get some.  And keep an eye to the future.   What comes next is cloud-based, collaborative, maybe even platform-agnostic.   But that's for another day.

PS.   There were quite a few 3D kits out there too.   So far, not in my living room.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feb 2011 - Apps Store, Aperture, Pixelmator, Lightworks, Sofortbild

It was generally agreed that the Apps Store is a Good Thing, provided you keep your credit cards well out of reach - it's the online equivalent of the Apple store, but more so!
And, to the surprise of some, there are bargains to be had, my favourites being:
Aperture - at £45, this has to be the best buy of the year, if photo-treatment and indexing software is what you need.  I'm a user of 'phpture' which is the brainchild of a freeware genius out there, making your Aperture collection accessible through an IP connection (and with a lot of php magic glue to make it happen).  More on this another time.
iPhoto / Pages / Numbers - Apple now sells the components of iWork and iPlay (whatever it's called) separately - with the prices around £12 and individually purchasable, again these are bargains.  Pages is a really good wordpro / layout program, and if you don't have Excel, Numbers is a must-have.
Pixelmator is my non-Apple choice.  A well featured graphics program, with good use of Snow Leopard's visual interfaces - at £18 a good choice for any cutting room.
What I like too is the recognition that we're often likely to run a couple of macs (specially if we've visited the Apple Store too often) and so the licensing system is on a 'user' basis, meaning you can install purchased software across machines that you own.

I'm sure what we're seeing is the beginning of a trend towards exclusive on-line delivery of software - and be honest, apart from FCP, when did you last buy a physical DVD of a program, and a trend towards smaller chunks of program, to do discrete jobs - wonder if there are implications here for the next iteration of Final Cut, then?

If you hadn't noticed, the Apps Store came with the last upgrade (download) of Snow Leopard - both it and the Apps are exclusively Intel Mac only....

In other news, I reported on the intriguing developments at Editshare, who have made Lightworks a free open-source program.   Currently it's Windows only, but Mac and Linux versions are promised by the end of 2011.  Track them at http://www.lightworksbeta.com/ - note the 'beta' in the title.
Couple of things aren't clear:
how editshare will make money and survive (though there are hints all around in the prices for surrounding kit, such as shared storage)
how you get the steenbeck-style controller.  Maybe they'll open source the 3D CAD plans so you can build your own.

I posed the question, what's the major difference between Canon and Nikon DSLRs - the answer being the £100 or so Nikon charge for tethering software.   Now there's a good FREE alternative, which I couldn't find on the mac on Monday night.   The reason for this is that I installed it on the G5, back here in the international operations centre for wefcpug, which is turning into a set of historic collections of mac hardware.  The software is called Sofortbild, which I translate as 'instant picture' - and it's available for download here, where the developer Stefan Hafeneger has done a superb job of explaining what it does, and how to use it!

Our next wefcpug is to be on March 7th unless otherwise notified here!
Thanks for attending/reading - watch out for the redecoration on this site.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Feb 2011 wefcpug meeting

A reminder that we reconvene for business this year on Monday next, 7th Feb - usual place (BBC Whiteladies Rd, back security gate) at the usual time - 7pm.
On the agenda -
kit & apps review from the last couple of months
planning this year's events at wefcpug
and of course - the world famous round-table Mac/FCP clinic.

All stray problems and unsolicited footage for viewing welcomed.  Except it won't be unsolicited now...

So, in a week when it's been announced that the BBC's Digital Media Initiative, far from saving them £18M, has cost £11M, do what they didn't, and attend wefcpug.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Our favourite FCP movie editor speaks...

...a letter from Walter Murch to Roger Ebert on his disenchantment with 3D movies from an audience point of view.

Read it here

Ah well, there goes another series of talks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another year, not just another update

The first impressions I have of the 'App Store' - now available on an Intel Mac / Snow Leopard desktop near you - are favourable.   The installation comes part and parcel with the latest (and possibly the last, in its current form) update to the OS, namely 10.6.6  Accept and download the update, and one restart later, there's a new icon in the Dock - the 'Spend It' icon, leading to the App Store, which is essentially a version of the iPod apps store for grown-up computers.

We've come a long way from feeding DVD installation discs into a slot to install software.  Not that it's called 'software' any more - apps it now is.  Finding apps is as easy as finding music in the iTunes store - as is paying for it.   Your existing Apple ID will do just fine!

What I liked:

- the interface is attractive, easy to use

- finding, downloading and paying is equally easy to do.  (though the download speeds seem slower than the dedicated downloads from the apple site of old).  Maybe the easy payment isn't quite such a good point !

- apps are priced down from previous incarnations.   For instance, iPhoto is available (at £8.99) separately from its buddy apps in iLife (iMovie and Garageband) and even if you want all 3, it's cheaper than the previous boxed set price.

- updates are handled automatically (they promise) through the app store.

- purchased apps can be loaded on to any other mac you own.   (In effect, this is limited to Intel macs though).  This can be done by running the app store on another mac you own (with your apple ID), where you will find the app marked as 'purchased' and so available for download free of charge.   I believe it's also permissible to copy the app across and authorise through the app store.   Of course, both macs need to be running snow leopard for this to work, too.

There appear to be some issues with apps you already own:  the only path to upgrade seems to be to re-purchase.   Maybe this will be sorted.

One app which is a bargain (and which I was about to tip for 2011 anyway) is 'Pixelmator'.   It's a great image editor (ideal for designing caption cards for use in FCP) with a neat cutting-edge interface, at an unmissable price of £17.99  Highly recommended.   This app has been recently discounted widely on the web, and this even lower price apparently includes a free upgrade (via the app store) to (and I quote) their 'totally awesome Pixelmator 2.0 for free'.

You can also find Aperture, the iPhoto for grown-ups, on the app store, undercutting its previous disc-based price - and I'm already reading rumours that FCP would have to / could go a modular route for sale there.   Interesting year already.

 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Next meeting - February 7th

Happy New Year to all.

I'm sure this is going to be a busy year in the production world, and especially in the FCP continent.   Neither Richard nor I have had time to draw breath, let alone plan a January meeting, and the hibernation instinct is strong.   So there's not going to be a meeting this month, instead we're starting up on Feb 7th, usual time and place etc.etc.

Do keep an eye on this blog, there will be more coming, with a fuller reprise of the 'Ben Hur' project and its challenges, as touched on in last month's meeting.

Phil