Archive for November, 2013

Using the Macbeth Chart

Monday, November 25th, 2013

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This blog is in response to a posting I saw on the Avid Community Forums from a user demoing the use of the Greta MacBeth color chart with Media Composer for removing color casts and such from a shoot. The forum thread and demo video can be seen here His YouTube demo video can be seen here.

I think it’s great that users participate in sharing their solutions and taking the time to make demo videos. In this case, I wanted to show how the same concept of using a chart but with much fewer steps.  This is a demo that I used to do at the Sundance Film Festival Digital Center for filmmakers over the years.

A quick and silent demo video can be seen here. It’s bad enough you have to see me, I did want to subject you to my talking as well. But the concept is pretty easy to grasp; Instead of reading numbers from the color picker and making a best guess as to which part of the luminance scale to change values, just click the target value and use the “match” feature to complete the task much faster while creating a nice curve rather than truncating shadows and highlights in trying to accomplish the same thing.  You can download the digital version of the MacBeth chart I created here. Just make sure to import as 601/709 so that the RGB values are not changed. The numbers may not be exact, but are close enough for a quick starting point in getting a better looking image quickly. Of course as with all color correction, scopes, proper monitoring, are needed.

For additional and related information, Art Adams helped design a better chart for video work and speaks to the limitations of the MacBeth chart here.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that the reason for picking a black point on my shirt was to find the blackest reference point in the frame.  The black square on the Macbeth chart can never be a true black due to the fact that it’s reflective. Some color charts used to have holes, or black felt and such to reduce reflection in order to get a true black. Peter Fasciano, a good friend who has taught me a lot over the years gave me a small empty tomato paste can lined with velvet, that one would point off axis to the lens. Now that was black! Thanks Peter! I just didn’t have it with me the day we shot these test scenes.

Emulating Avid ScriptSync with Apple FCPx

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

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Moviola provides a lot of great instructional videos and webinars for the film and video industry. So it was with great interest that I signed up for “Emulating Script Sync with FCP X” which was streamed on November 19th. Those who missed it can watch it as a rebroadcast here.

All in all I learned a lot about FCPx’ handing of metadata and search functions as I have only dabbled with FCPx. The presentation was very clearly laid out and presented by someone who really knows the application. I am also a big fan of metadata and what can be done with it and was impressed with many of the functions available in FCPx. The standout ones for me were:

  • Multiple selection within a clip to apply a metadata tag
  • Filter by clip type (group, sync, etc.)
  • Saved searches
  • Hide/reject spans on clip
  • Creating string-outs based on metadata spans
  • Markers are searchable
  • Batch renaming based on concatenated metadata fields
  • The promise of merging ScriptE notes from the set. I know the team at ScriptE and they create great products.

As far as the “Emulating ScriptSync” portion, it was not even close to the concept of ScriptSync.   The solution shown was clearly based on script metadata provided by a script supervisor via their reports. I agree that no one knows better than the script supervisor anything and everything of what is being captured on set. Re-purposing any of this metadata is a no-brainer for NLE systems and has been a long time request with Media Composer, but its ALE merge operation is too limiting to take advantage of it at this time.

But back to “ScriptSync”. ScriptSync is not about pulling up a single span of a single clip as seen in the presentation. It is certainly a powerful search function of FCPx to do so, but Avid Media Composer ScriptSync implementation is all about context and choices based on review of all the takes for a given line or lines. Even reactions to lines for performers not speaking. It’s about seeing at a glance the coverage for a given scene, and with a single point and click, review all relevant takes, choosing the best one based on where it is in context of the story. As Walter Murch told me once on scrolling versus clicking to a spot: “you find the shot you need on the way to finding the shot you thought you wanted.” It is also about reverse search from the timeline as well. When asked by the director, “what else we got for that line?” and having the ability with a single click, open the script, highlight the intersection of dialog and selected take and immediately see all other coverage for that span of dialog is very powerful.

But that being said, ScriptSync could be so much more with additional development should Avid choose to do so. The addition of Nexidia’s phonetic technology a few years ago removed a lot of the tedious task of lining a script to mere minutes, but the fact that it is dependent on a flattened text file is but one of the limitations hampering its full potential in both scripted and non scripted shows that create transcripts from the dailies. As far as the other features shown in FCPx, a second pass at Media Composer’s FIND feature would go a long way to take advantage of the metadata in Media Composer.

Also note that ScriptSync should not be confused with PhraseFind, which is also based on Nexidia technology and offers a different benefit/value to the workflow, especially if no script or transcript is available. Each have their advantages and disadvantages, but if there is any written representation of dialog, ScriptSync is the way to go.

The Need for Dedicated Frame Counts

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

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In addition to VFX workflows using DPX, sequential TIFF or otherwise, many digital cinema cameras also acquire frame based sequential files. Two examples would be the line of Blackmagic Cinema Cameras using CinemaDNG and ARRI with ARRIRaw. GlueTools is in beta with an ARRIRaw AMA Plug-in for Avid Media Composer support and Adobe Premiere Pro CC now supports CinemaDNG natively. But frame counts are used differently depending on which files are being used where you are in the workflow; camera originals or VFX?

There is also the challenge of long file names. Versioning with VFX can get quite long, and the BNC cameras in their initial state allowed nearly unlimited file naming. Tracking these files through a post workflow involves managing both the file name, the frame count of the file, and the timecode. The advantage of frame counts is that they do not need to adhere to a frame rate - they are whatever the rate is imposed on the clip itself which is useful in high frame rate workflows. SMPTE only recognizes 24, 25, 29.97/30 (DF/NDF). But neither of these NLE’s support a dedicated frame counter that is managed according to the workflow.

Media Composer gets close with DPX, VFX and Transfer column which support up to 32 character prefix and a 7 digit count separated by a dash “-”. But those columns were added several years ago before frame-based cameras and are limited in flexibility of file naming. It also has a frame count that can be displayed above the viewers, but no way to set its preference and has no timecode to frame conversion. The MetaCheater application from many had this feature in it when creating ALE files from VFX .mov proxy files which is quite useful, but can be so easily integrated into the NLE itself.

Adobe also gets close and offers preferences for frame-based counts to start 0 or 1, as well as timecode to frame conversion. But it is an “or” tracking system and not a separate field where one can track both timecode and frame counts visually.

What is needed is a mashup of the two NLE solutions and offer a dedicated Frame Count column allowing for:

  • Start count as 0
  • Start count as 1
  • Parse frame count from file name
  • Convert timecode (from clip metadata any timecode source) to frames
  • Track folder name containing sequential files in its own field
  • Sequence side preference for 0 or 1 frame count

A minimum of 7 digits is needed to cover the full 24 hours of timecode, but there is no real need to limit the actual frame count. Once frame counting is properly managed, it can be concatenated with any column for asset management tracking, automated pulls as part of a reporting solution as simple as:

  • <start><filename><frame_count><sequence frame count>
  • <end><filename><frame_count> <sequence frame count>

By tracking frame counts and file names separately, the NLE can offer the most flexibility in metadata management of the sources as well as the sequence/compositions. Reporting can be man-readable print-outs or XML for automating pipeline processes.

Image Seduction

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Lately I have been spending a lot of time discovering Adobe Premiere Pro CC. Future blogs will address my adventures with the product itself for the workflows I have to deal with as I get deeper into it. But I have to say, that right off the bat, there is a lot to like and my 20+ years as a Media Composer editor found it to be very approachable. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the images in the viewers. As editors, we stare at our GUI screens and video viewers for many hours a day so it is an important factor to consider.  When I load the same media in Premiere Pro CC that I was using with Media Composer (v7), it is like a whole other viewing experience. Very much like finding out you need glasses to see fine detail. The footage in this case was 4K R3D files, and while performance does affect which debayer setting is chosen during editorial, the comparisons between similar debayer settings is pretty striking.

Adobe Premiere CC’s approach to debayer is much more straightforward than Media Composer; right-click the image and select debayer for either pause and playback states.  Media Composer on the other hand, does a “behind the scenes” debayer when AMA linking to the R3D files, so you need to think it through. For example, linking to a 4K R3D file, green/green mode is displaying “nearest fit” automatically, then scaling as needed to project type. So for a 1080 project using 4K files, it is a 2K debayer (1/2) for green/green. Then from there the timeline setting will reduce it further to 1/4th or 1/8th. Redcine X Pro has a similar “Nearest Fit” setting in it’s debayer setting for transcoding based on resolution of output codec:

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I have both Media Composer and Premiere Pro installed on the same system, so monitoring, CPU, GPU, drive subsystem, etc. is exactly the same. I chose a clip with plenty of detail between main characters, focus, foreground and background. I made sure the debayer and viewer size were exactly the same.

When both were set to 1/2 debayer, the images were the closest in quality, but Premiere Pro CC is still a bit sharper overall with the biggest difference being that Premiere Pro CC could play, scrub and JKL the images while Media Composer barely played the clip at all. For all examples Premiere Pro CC is on the left and Media Composer on the right. Click for full screen image:

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The difference was more obvious with the 1/4 debayer. In this case, this was green/yellow for Media Composer and is most likely the setting most will use as it offers a better balance between picture quality and performance. I found that overall performance was about the same with Premiere Pro CC at 1/2 debayer and Media Composer at 1/4 debayer.  Click image for full screen version:

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The most striking difference was using the 1/8the debayer setting. The image quality on Media Composer is quite noticeably softer, while Premiere Pro CC still quite sharp and was closer to Media Composer’s green/yellow mode for quality. Click image for full screen version:

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Performance aside, Media Composer’s viewer images are additionally affected  by the fact that the viewers are only displaying half an image, even after the debayer process; one field of an interlace frame, or half of a segmented progressive frame. That makes for a big difference when going full screen for review or out to an HD monitor when working with a client. It goes without saying that when staring at the GUI source/record monitors all day, the better images are much easier on the eyes, and in a way more seductive to the editing process itself. 

UPDATE: 11/20/2013

I went back and did the test again with images whose resolution matched the project type so any 2K+ to HD scaling and/or debayer would not be part of the image representation seen on screen. In the following examples, the footage is 1920 x 1080 H.264 camera originals from a Canon Mark II 5D.  Again, with performance having some impact as to why one would have a timeline viewer with less than Full resolution, the following screen grabs show Adobe Premiere Pro CC on the left, and Media Composer on the right. Click for original full size screenshot.

Full - Green/Green 

Here the quality of the images are very close, but with Premiere Pro CC still taking the lead as far for image quality. It may be a result of gamma, contrast differences that make it appear sharper, or Media Composer’s viewer only be 1/2 frame display:

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Half - Green/Yellow

Here it is still pretty close but in addition to whatever might be going on with the “Full - Green/Green” version, the Media Composer softness starts to become more noticeable in comparison. 

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Quarter - Yellow/Yellow

This mode clearly shows the softness differences between the two, especially while video is moving.  One could argue that Yellow/Yellow is not used that often, but in comparison to Premiere Pro whose differences are hard to tell between all of them, one could edit in quarter image quality and get 2x or 4x the performance compared to full when dealing with layers, and VFX.

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Update 1/9/15: Version 8.3 now allows for GUI and Full Screen monitors to have a color display setting allowing for more accurate viewing during editorial.  This is accessed via a right-click on either the source or record monitors. For Full Screen Play, it is access if the Full Screen Play settings. Pop-Up monitors or source settings viewer do not yet have this feature.

Working With Prosumer Audio Recorders

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

There was a posting on several of the leading user forums (as seen here) from someone who needed to import WAV files recorded from a Roland Edirol R4. These devices are great for music type recordings, but are lacking when it comes to double system production and postproduction needs. Inspired by the question and the challenge, the following PDF describes the steps to get from this:

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To this:

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There are other issues with these type of devices such as lack of timecode and other metadata, but at least the scene and take from the folder name can now be used.

Download the step by step guideworking-with-prosumer-audio-recorders-in-a-post-workflow.pdf

What To Do With Avid MediaLog?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

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Back in the days of tapes-based workflows, MediaLog was a handy tool to provide loggers, producers and other contributing collaborators to  participate in the dailies prep process. It still has deck control, timecode support, clip creation, logging, ALE import/export and the ability to open Avid projects and bins. It was a key solution in the editing process of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian” posted in 2002 with all 500 hours of DV material viewed and logged via MediaLog controlling a DV deck. This was before the price of Media Composer was $995 and was cost prohibitive to have at home for logging purposes. 

MediaLog has also been used as a companion tool for metadata management when prepping lists such as cutlists and EDL’s used in the downstream conform process. Its ability to set bin display to see all elements of the sequence and make corrections as needed made it a useful tool anywhere in the post process.

But with the demise of tape-based acquisition, MediaLog is quickly showing its age, but is still part of the Media Composer installer.  I gave it a quick look to see if anything had changed with it and whether or not it had inherited any new functionality from Media Composer. Unfortunately it has not.

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None of the new UI or control has been added, which is not that big of deal but in the example above, the new clip color cannot be assigned, and the clip icon does not indicate that these clips are AMA linked. So its use as a metadata handler for file based workflows, or working with newer versions of Media Composer is diminished. 

So what to do with MediaLog? It could become more of a file-based preparation tool for Media Composer the same way that Prelude is that tool for Premiere Pro.  Adobe Prelude has a great feature set, quick logging, and can transcode as part of the process. MediaLog could become that tool for Avid, even one that users may pay for.

What could it do?

  • Update UI and all bin logging capabilities currently available with the version of Media Composer with which it is being shipped.  
  • Enable MediaLog to have AMA and AMA Plug-in support for those working in the field preparing footage for Avid editorial. 
  • Add a single pop-up monitor for viewing, and the addition of single and spanned markers
  • Background transcode and GUI for DMF on its own CPU. DMF right now can be a timesaver, but only being available on the same system as Media Composer doesn’t make it as valuable as it could be when compared to background transcode. This could be the paid option.
  • Import ALE, but create bins only to be used by Media Composer
  • Source settings for color management and FrameFlex
  • Basic sumcheck copy and reporting
  • Make this a separate downloadable application from Avid.com and not part of the Media Composer installer.

This would become a tool used by shooters, producers and assistants where a full-on editing system is either overfill, complex, or overpriced for the task at hand. Seeing as MediaLog is basically a re-compile of a subset of existing Media Composer functionality, this isn’t a start from scratch type effort.

Maybe other third party tools have taken the place of what a file-based MediaLog could do, but direct bin support of all logged material from set is a compelling solution to offer Media Composer based productions. Or… Kill it? Right now it bloats the installer download size for something very few people probably use in its current state.