Archive for September, 2013

Mix & Match Continued…

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

I’ve gotten into looking at what happens with the different settings when using test frames such as the ones in the images. Following is the different Field Motion settings for a 25p to 24p frame rate conversion. What has caught my attention is the background gray scale and the Blue/Red combination of the square over the 1 second cycle. Although the letters show a distinct two frame blend, the background has all different gray scale values from the start to the end of the cycle. It clearly shows the difference between the interlace setting versus the progressive setting. I took the RGB values and mapped then into a spreadsheet and plotted out the P and the I against each other for a 1 second cycle. A further calculation would show the percentage of the blend over time of the pulldown cycle for each frame blending operation. That chart looks like:

FM_P = Progressive (Blue)

FM_I - Interlace (Red)

gray-scale-chart.gif

Here is what the 1 second cycle looks like on a per frame basis when set to Interlace. Note the distinct Black and White Backgrounds for the first 12 frames, then the blending starts with frame 13 :

25-24-fm_i.gif

And the progressive set of frames start the frame blending right from frame 2 over the course of the 1 second cycle:

25-24-fm_p.gif

Field Motion and Mix & Match

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Ever wonder how different settings might affect Mix & Match? What do the resulting frames look like? The following is an example of worse case scenario of a 29.97p source that is brought into a 23.976p project type. Progressive to progressive is a challenging frame rate and format to deal with in Mix & Match. The idea is that you may want to play with the values in the “Field Motion” column one added to your bin view.

field-motion.png

In this pop-up menu, changing progressive to interlace, interlace to progressive will result in a different Mix & Match algorithm being used for the real time frame rate adjustment when playing. Depending on footage type, and target display, one may be better than the other. If dealing with footage that already has a 2:3 cadence in it, then set it to that.This blog entry will show 29.97p to 23.976p. Each graphic displays the one second’s worth of frames for the original format.

Here are the original 30 frames from the 29.97p project (click for original size):

original.png

This next graphic is that clip opened and transcoded in a 23.976 frame for the same 1 second duration (now 24 frames). This example shows the result of the Field Motion value set to “progressive”. Every 3 out of 4 frames are blended. This would most likely be a better choice for interlace display viewing (click for original size):

progressive.png

The following example is the same clip but with the Field Motion set to interlace. Here, 1 out of 4 frames is a blended frame. This would be better choice for progressive display viewing (click for original size):

interlace.png So play around with both the Field Motion Settings as well as the different type of motion effects in the motion effect editor to get the best looking frame rate conversion based on your primary delivery format. In the future, I will look at other frame rate Mix & Match results “under the microscope” to see what is happening to the frames.

Deciphering the Strategy

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

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 Avid has recently released several Press Releases and whitepapers that give an indication as to the direction the company. Visit the Avid Press Room to catch up on all the news from IBC 2013. And there has been a bit of chatter on several forums about Avid Everywhere (not to be confused with Adobe Anywhere) with the release of the Avid Everywhere Whitepaper. While I am still trying to make my way through the collection of buzz words and catchphrases, this particular posting has to do with a smaller, but still significant insight into what the strategy is for Avid Media Composer and its place in a digital pipeline.

The whitepaper references a new platform with: a new metadata schema, talent brokering, rights management, third party integration, etc. with no real detail or examples of these forward looking statements. But to me, (as my mother used to say: “Actions speak louder than words”) it’s watching the everyday, smaller actions Avid makes that confuses me as to what the strategy might be moving forward. This is just one example that I ran into recently, that made me ponder the steps leading to this digital nirvana:

I was beta testing the AMA DPX plug-in for Glue Tools a few months back, and had a need for it and went to look for the actual release. I was surprised to not see it on the Glue Tools website as I was ready, credit card in hand. I emailed Glue Tools inquiring about its availability and was informed that Avid revoked the AMA license for DPX as they were now going to do it themselves.

So now I’m confused, and still without a solution for DPX directly in Media Composer. Avid has been telling customers DPX support was going to be part of Media Composer v6 (as part of its Stereo 3D solution). So for two years, the promise of DPX, but still nothing. When will we see a DPX AMA Plug-in from Avid? What I don’t understand is why Avid won’t let a third party develop such a solution regardless of whether Avid creates one or not. If Avid makes a better one, so be it. Price and functionality dictate consumer’s choices and at least there would be a solution. In turn making Media Composer a more flexible solution with all file-based formats and not falling victim to Avid’s codec prioritization process. Wasn’t that the reason for the AMA open architecture and platform in the first place according to the marketing message? So Avid didn’t have to keep up with all the different formats?

Or why not consider an exclusive sell-through for a period of time in Avid’s “oft-forgotten” Marketplace and garner more traffic with a revenue share? (My previous thoughts on Avid Marketplace). It seems to me, that offering customers more choice is better than trying to do everything yourself and offer less. Take advantage of Glue Tools, a company with years of customer feedback and development with DPX and other frame-based formats. Perhaps a “divide and conquer” method might be a better approach in getting solutions to customers sooner rather than later? Let these third parties deal the open standard formats, while Avid concentrates on getting the iXML AMA plug-in to work properly and getting the QuickTime AMA plug-in to extract all the metadata from .mov type formats such as Alexa ProRes and Blackmagic Cinema cameras without all the workarounds.

As stated in the “Avid Everywhere” whitepaper:

“When ingesting media, robust metadata
tagging and management are critical to
realizing full asset potential across
the value chain. In close collaboration
with our customer community, Avid intends
to lead the creation of a new industry-
standard metadata tracking system, where
metadata will be generated algorithmically
and provide a significantly greater level
of detail, making it possible to take a
flexible and adaptable view of assets at
any stage of the lifecycle.”

I’m all for whatever this is and will be, but can we start with the basics for now?

An update to portions of this blog can be seen here.

Innovation in Everyday Things

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

 

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The pressure of competition and the rapid changes of technology create the need, or better yet, the “expectation” by the customer for “innovation” in the tools they use every day. I think some companies see the definition as two different things.  Some as a evolutionary process or as a completely new, never before seen, knock your socks off” function or feature. I find that in chasing the latter, many miss the halo effect of innovation in seeing how one feature/function affects another and the ability to provide a platform for it to happen. Most, if not all “innovations” are because something happened before that allowed it to be. You may be noticing the recurring term “platform” in my blogs and what that might mean to Media Composer as a strategy. Note the original 1550 definition: “plan of action, scheme, design,” from M.Fr. plate-forme, lit. “flat form,” from O.Fr. plate “flat”

Early on in Avid’s history, Eric Peters explained to me the “bowling pin” theory of how hitting one pin affects the others when hit by the ball and use that as a basis for technology development. That has always stuck with me; to look beyond the first pin, and the interaction of what will happen when the first pin is hit and how that may develop a breeding ground for innovation.

“Missed it by that much”

“Missed it by that much!”

A good example of this is where Avid might be going with color management and ASC CDL support. It is an interesting start, but what is currently available in the product is more of a catch-up feature checklist that many could argue is a few years behind the curve of “LOG” based workflows (pun intended). 2007 introduced support for ASC CDL value tracking with the clear goal of applying it as metadata to “LOG” based images. It is good to see that the feature has been enahnced with Media Composer v7. But is missing two basic concepts; one is an obvious “ticket to play” type function, and the other one can be “a platform for innovative change” in how programs go through the post process. The latter was part of the original design concept of ASC CDL. Just a quick side-note that the ASC CDL technology is on the short list for the 2013 Science and Technical Achievement Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS).

1.    The concept of a LUT is to create quick color space conversions for a given workflow. In the case of Avid Media Composer with or without the Symphony option, the system is both an offline and online system. A LUT can easily be applied to sources from whatever color space to Rec.709 as Media Composer and Symphony Option are Rec.709 systems. What is missing is the ability to remove LUTs with a simple and single operation for the selected sequence when doing the color correction pass. There is the ability to update or “refresh” a sequence, but no simple means to remove it from the sequence (not the sources). Most colorists will want to have access to the original dynamic range of the sensor for color correction. Right now, it is a multi-step workaround operation that needs to be carefully managed if multiple sequences are referencing the same sources as it involves removing from the sources and not just the sequence. Stay tuned for a PDF on that in the future. But this should have been part of the initial feature set to create a “solution”, rather than just a new feature.

Update 8/21/16. Since version 8.1, a user can remove LUTs associated with clips on a sequence. Still no ability to do it on a per event basis. 

2.    ASC CDL is a much used workflow, and one that is totally dependent on workflow interaction with third party systems before and after the editorial process.Seeing as there are no means to color correct ASC CDL values only in Media Composer, it is about collaboration. ASC CDL is, by design, a solution to transport color decisions between systems. The original 2007 design supported this via ALE from dailies systems, tracked it as metadata that represented the baked in values, then exported that as an EDL to be a starting point to be used or not by colorists. But for the most part, it was to make good-looking dailies and pass along “intent.” Where innovation could have occurred, is by enhancing at the same time, another feature: ALE merge. Since ALE is still the only way to pass this information into an existing clip. So while the first pass of dailies works well, what could have been a fundamental change to how productions interact with the colorist is lost. The simple process of having a more robust merge, dailies can get into editorial sooner, while keeping the ability for ASC CDL to be truly “live” throughout editorial and being much closer to final color correction saving time (and money). By enhancing this one feature, combined with the new ASC CDL values would have brought both a fundamental and innovative solution to how television programming is done today.

Let’s hope we see these changes in a future release.

Stock Footage Tracking in Media Composer

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

stock-bin.png

This one comes courtesy of Matt Schneider of Postworks NY. We were in an email exchange going over how to get comments in the EDL as a production was using it to track stock footage vendors in the Comments column in the bin. It isn’t obvious that a column labeled “Comments” in the bin is not the same as the “Comments” option in EDL Manager.  But since the production needed to track a stock footage, this seemed like the right place to put the information to generate a report. As an FYI, EDL Comments are derived from highlighting an event in the timeline, going to the record side monitor menu and selecting “Add Comment”.  This will pop up a window into which text can be entered. These are “event” comments for the EDL.  Would be nice to have that available as a right-click on the event itself in the timeline.

Matt then said; “Oh, we can just enter then into the ASC SAT and ASC SOP columns.” Great thinking! These columns are normally used for ASC CDL color workflows, but since they weren’t using color management on their native Rec.709 source clips, it made for a very nice workaround for clip based comments (versus event based) in an EDL allowing for two columns of info to be tracked. Here is what these comments would look like in an EDL.

edl-rights-management.png

If you ignore the comment header name, then this workaround could be used not only for Stock Footage, but also for any custom metadata needing to be tracked. The setting to make active is “Color Decision List” in the Comments tab of EDL Options.

color-decision-list.gif

But EDL’s are not easily imported into an application like Microsoft Excel so I suggested using FilmScribe XML export as an alternative as it includes all custom columns in a bin in an easy to parse XML format. So from the bin example above, you can see that information can be tracked in additional custom columns. In this example, I created one for Stock Vendor, Rights, and Cost. You could have as many as you like.  There are dedicated Stock Footage column available in Media Composer, but they are currently reserved for stock footage purchases via the Avid Marketplace and cannot have values entered into at this time. But if these columns were open to user entry, a user could right-click on a sequence and generate a stock footage report directly. For now, the FilmScribe XML is another workaround for exporting this metadata and works in versions v5.x and later for as many metadata columns desired.

Following is just the portion of the XML file that deals with the custom columns from a single event in the timeline. The Column Name is listed after the <Custom Name => XML tag with its value. A simple XSLT could be created to parse this XML and exported as a TAB or any other type of file needed, for example to import into Microsoft Excel.

</Start>
<End>
<Frame>878744</Frame>
<Timecode Type=”Start TC”>10:10:14:08</Timecode>
</End>
<EndOut>
<Timecode Type=”Start TC”>10:10:14:09</Timecode>
</EndOut>
<ASC_SOP>T3</ASC_SOP>
<ASC_SAT>All Rights</ASC_SAT>
<Custom Name=”Video File Format”>MOV</Custom>
<Custom Name=”Stock Vendor”>T3</Custom>
<Custom Name=”Stock Rights”>All Rights</Custom>
<Custom Name=”Cost”>$100</Custom>

<Custom Name=”Footage Rights”>T3</Custom>
<TapeName>A001C007_120923_R33F</TapeName>
</Source>
</Event>
<Event Num=”3″  Type=”Cut” Length=”134″ SourceCount=”1″ >
<Master><Reel></Reel>

Avid FilmScribe does export a TAB file, but only allows one custom column to be defined and added to the list. In this example, I added vendor and then opened the TAB file in Excel.

tab.gif

This method is less useful than the two fields available via EDL Manager and the ASC column workaround, and far less than the XML method but does have the advantage of being in a ready to import format for Excel.  But seeing as an EDL can contain many comment lines as long as it is preceded by an asterix (*), a nice update to EDL Manager would be to allow multiple (or all!) columns to be selected and added to an EDL export. But for now, one of these methods may be of use.

Media Composer Companion Applications

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

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Over the years, I have done many presentations on workflow and workarounds when implementing particular solutions with Avid Media Composer. Whether it be text editing of ALE files, file renaming, or using MetaCheater to extract essentual metadata from QuickTime files still not available from Avid’s QuickTime AMA plug-in. Manufacturers are moving quickly and what used to be reserved for “high-end markets”, is now everywhere. For example, Sony just announced a series of 4K camera at less than US$ 6,500 joining the Blackmagic 4K Production camera at US$ 3,995, not to mention 4K coming to a phone camera near you. Not only are there new formats and codecs, but color management via 1D and 3D LUTs and ASC CDL workflows to make full use of the sensors used.

Adding to the “essential postproduction toolkit” is Assimilate Inc’s Scratch Play.  Free to download for OS X, Windows and even works on the Surface Pro for on-set use allowing color decisions to be made as well as generating LUTs and ASC CDL to be used in downstream processes. At the very least, it is the universal resolution independent codec player sorely needed in many pipelines. While applications exist by camera manufacturers such as Sony, Canon, RED, etc. they are of course dedicated to their own formats. Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Lite has been the essential free tool for both OS X and Windows and is way more than a viewer, but a full DI color workstation for dailies creation and color mastering. Assimilate offers a full DI workstation as well, but different tools are needed at different points in the pipeline. And while Resolve can be used to create LUTs and CDL’s, the fact that it can do so much more is what can actually get in the way for a quick look at a file and creating a LUT or ASC CDL file expressing intent to a colorist. Both solutions have their place, but the creation of a nimble subset functionality of the Scratch product is a great idea as a tool, and of course gets “Scratch” into as many hands as the free Resolve.

The bad news is that for Media Composer v7 users, none of the LUT or CDL values work. Neither of the two 3D LUT’s imported into project (3dl and LUTher) and the ASC CDL values use the XML specification. Here is an example for a single file:

xml.gif

Media Composer only accepts an ALE file (TAB) for metadata import. And even if it were in ALE format, Assimilate would also need to include START and END timecodes as well as filename in a column called “Source File” as Media Composer is very strict about how its merges. Too strict even. Maybe Assimilate will add this to the product or Avid will update its import functionality to either support the LUTs or ease up on ALE merge. But adding an XML import would be even better, not only for LUT  + CDL workflows (as it could define order), but locators and spanned locators, etc. could be supported from on-set logging applications like MovieSlate.

I wonder if Avid reaches out proactively to these third parties and helps them enable the workflows with their products. “Media Composer As A Platform” will be a future blog topic. As much as Avid touts “openness”, the day to day workflows can be very quite challenging and the binary format of AAF is not the easiest to deal with for many workflows. ALE, for better or for worse, is what is available now, but the workflow could be so much better.

Media Composer and Pro Tools

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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Avid acquired Digidesign in 1995 in the past 18 years, both products have developed into leaders of their respective industries. But for all these years, audio for post, and the idea of how connected these two solutions could become for post, has never really been achieved. Some things have been done, for example you can co-install the two products on the same system. Not run them at the same time, but have them installed on the same system. And there have been incremental improvements in metadata exchange such as pan/vol and Markers (used to be named in Locators in Media Composer), there have been no groundbreaking features for interchange and collaboration when it comes to the post process. I have recently been involved with a production looking for a solution based on the video seen here, an Avid marketing video that shows workflow between Media Composer and Pro Tools, and its ability to link to alternate takes in a multi-track WAV files with MIX and ISO tracks from a production that uses a “dailies process.”

The important takeaway here, is that in order for this to work as seen in the video, the BWF files must be imported and synced in Media Composer. And while that offers some nice editing advantages for track management, it will not work for sync dailies created in any third party system being used today. Most features and television programs require sync dailies as the assistants have moved on to other tasks in the digital workflow. This is a part of the industry where Media Composer and Pro Tools are very dominant solution - yet working this way, prevents the audio conform to do a very important feature in the sound post process of getting to the best ISO track recorded for the character. I also find it interesting in the video, that the properties for matching the BWF files does not include “Source File” or “TapeID” which is how filenames are tracked in Media Composer either via import or via the iXML AMA Plug-in. If the BWF does not contain a value in the “Tape Field” then that cannot be used to make a match, yet the filename itself would seem to be the first obvious place to look for a match. The following shows the same BWF file imported and linked via the iXML AMA plug-in. The Tape field is either empty or wrong.

import_ixml.gif

Dailies will most often sync the MIX track and create a single master clips that is VA1 or possibly VA1A2 depending on the mix. The metadata in the bin will display track information if available. Scene and Take can be extracted from the BWF if logged, but is often corrected or amended to match the camera reports. Because it is now a single master clip, it can only have one timecode in the Start column and that is always the timecode for picture. When syncing, timecodes often do not match and a resync is done to create perfect sync and as a result, the audio timecode is tracked in an alternate column. (see this blog entry for related thoughts on sync). And herein lies the basic problems for conform interop between Media Composer and Pro Tools.

  1. Pro Tools only looks to the Start or the SoundTC column for the conform.
  2. SoundTC only works at one frame rate

As mentioned, the Start timecode used for video cannot be 100% correct due to creating true sync in the dailies process - this explains why you might find events that are 1-3 frames off in the conform process. So why not use the SoundTC value? Well that’s where there is the second problem that Avid has yet to address since it introduced HD in 2004. SoundTC is hard-coded to count as 30fps regardless of project type. A leftover of the NTSC offline world of standard definition production. This is a known issue, and is brought up every release to be addressed to no avail. So dailies providers are forced to putting the production sound timecode into one of the other many timecode columns; namely AuxTC1 through AuxTC5. There is no consistency as to which one, and it doesn’t matter since Pro Tools does not know how to conform from any other column but Start and SoundTC.

Another caution when using AuxTC columns is that flipping a project type from HD to SD will change the way those columns count. So a value stored in AuxTC1 in a 1080p/23.976 project will count as 30 if project tab is flipped to NTSC 23.976. So exporting an EDL or AAF at this stage would have incorrect timecodes. So how do these conforms get done? Using EDL Manager that allows source timecode to be from any TC counting column. So for all the goodness of AAF, it cannot be used in one of the most basic workflows used in the industry unless you are working at NTSC or PAL rates and their HD equivalents.

Avid likes to market the best in media and metadata management which was true in the SD days - Since the introduction of HD and file-based formats, it has not quite lived up to that level. The metadata is certainly there in the bins, it’s what you can do with it that’s important. So Avid, for the 10th anniversary of offering an HD solution, please fix:

  • Media Composer: SoundTC to at least match the frame rate of the originating project and continue counting at that rate regardless of project switch. Or better yet, allow it to have a timecode rate assigned to it on a per clip basis. This will create a single unifying column for all dailies workflows to use creating consistency in the conform process.
  • Pro Tools: Conform from any source or timecode column available in the AAF.  It’s the wild wild west out there with file-based workflows and a professional system needs to be as flexible as it can be to keep the workflow moving along.

This will at least allow the most basic of functions between two of the leading products used in our industry offered by the same company.