Aspect Ratio Mattes for 16:9 Projects

January 26th, 2014

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This link will download a bin of preset Matte Effects of commonly used aspect ratios that can be added to the top layer of an HD sequence. Since HD was introduced in Media Composer, the preset aspect ratio mattes still assume a 4:3 source and were never updated for 16:9.  These mattes were created and adjusted for a 16:9 aspect ratio. The bin was created in v6.5.4.1 and should be able to be opened in most versions of Media Composer. The mattes are as close as I can get based on the parameters available. 

Update to FrameFlex vs. Resize

January 26th, 2014

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It seems I fell victim to different behaviors with FrameFlex whether it be on the source side or in the timeline when I did my original test and described here.  In my test, I compared FrameFlex in the timeline to a resize using 3DWarp effect with HQ setting active. Where I went wrong, was assuming that transcoding the sequence with FrameFlex baked in was using the pixels from the higher resolution clip it was linked to and was surprised that both results looked exactly the same. The behavior is that a transcoded sequence with FrameFlex will apply parameters applied to the Source Setting as an extraction, but not the ones created with FrameFlex in the timeline regardless of active settings in the transcode dialog window. The result is that it will behave no differently than a 3DWarp or other resize effect and end up having no difference in quality defeating the purpose of using FrameFlex in the first place.

My thinking was once the editing was done, and a conform to the camera originals was completed, one could just do a transcode to the a mastering resolution and continue on from there. In order to preserve the higher quality extraction offered via FrameFlex, you need to render the FrameFlex effects in the timeline as you would any other effect as seen by these examples (courtesy of Grant Petty 4K images from the Blackmagic camera):

Click on image for 1920 x 1080 version. Here is the transcoded version of the event in the timeline:

transcoded.png

And here is the rendered version:

render.png

As you can see, the rendered image is sharper overall in comparison to the transcode as it is uses all the pixels of the FrameFlex region of interest. In transcoding, the image is first getting scaled to 1920 x 1080, then a resize is applied.  So be sure to plan accordingly when using FrameFlex in the timeline for your mastering needs. I suggest creating a clip color for the event in the timeline as it is not possible to know which clips have a timeline FrameFlex applied to it as the green dot can now mean one or all of the following; frame rate mismatch, XY resolution does not match project, or a color transform is active.

Media Composer and OS X Mission Control (spaces and desktop)

January 7th, 2014

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I got an email from my friend Joseph Krings,  about using Mac OS Spaces and Media Composer because I had mentioned it to him as being quite useful. Well it wasn’t me, but our mutual friend Tim Squyres that had made the suggestion and now was something I just had to try. I am probably the last person to know about this function, but I started looking into it and how to set it up with Media Composer when editing on a MacBook Pro (or any single monitor configuration).

There is plenty of information on setting up multiple desktops, such as this one.  On my MacBook Pro, I press the F3 Button to access the UI for setting it up. Just move the cursor to the upper right corner and you will see a square with + sign. Click that. In my test scenario, I added three desktops in this order from left to right:

  1. Bins
  2. Script in full screen mode (ScriptSync), optional if you’re using ScriptSync. 
  3. Composer and Timeline windows

This is done by dragging the individual windows into each of the different desktop icon representations, then organizing their layout from each window. All in all, it works quite well. Double clicking a clip will load it in the source monitor as expected, and that desktop view will become active. “Find Bin”, and ScriptSync editing all work as expected. The main benefit for me is to not have to deal with having multiple bins open and trying to organize them in whatever real estate I have available on a single screen. While Tab’d bins are nice for some workflows, there are times when I want to see multiple bins in a frame view where a single glance will tell me the coverage or information needed. And bins can each take on the size needed for the best display. Once set up,  I “four-finger swipe” back and forth between desktop views closely replicating the two monitor (or three screen in this case) Media Composer experience I am accustomed to when editing with desktop systems.

The only small inconvenience is that Media Composer does not remember the desktop layout it belongs to when launched a second time. There is a way to pin an application to a desktop view, but only works for applications that have a single UI window. Media Composer has multiple windows being assigned to different desktops and therefore cannot be pinned via the OS X UI.  I am still testing workspace layouts within Media Composer to see if I can get a combination that works and will provide an update if possible.  Perhaps someone else has been successful in saving a multidesktop configuration with Media Composer? If so, let me know! Because of this,  I leave the Project window and bins on the original desktop view as they will always open there, moving the Composer and Timeline windows to another desktop view. It’s quick to set up and good for the whole session.

Have fun swiping!

Locator VFX Workflow Utility

January 6th, 2014

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Some of you may have seen postings by Chris Conlee on various forums describing his free utility to convert Markers (locators) used for VFX into a SubCap file allowing for the metadata to be an overlay burn-in for reference outputs. This is a great time saving utility literally saving days on shows with many VFX. Chris describes how it works in this COW posting and downloads can be found here. I suspect with a little fiddling it can be used for any comments contained with Markers that you may want to have displayed on output deliverables.

iXML AMA Plug-in Update

January 5th, 2014

Media Composer 7.0.3, the third maintenance release of Media Composer 7.0.0 brings some fixes and small refinements to the iXML AMA Plug-in that was introduced with 7.0.0. The good news is that it is out of the “danger zone” that I blogged about in its initial release here.

At least, while in a 1080p/23.976 project, timecode is correctly  interpolated and does not drift over the course of the clip by the .1% pulldown factor (1 frame every 00:00:42:16).  The Read Me also lists other bug fixes such as being warned when linking via AMA that a timecode mismatch exists between file and project type. While this is a nice addition, it is only in the console and the user is not notified of a mismatch at time of linking unless always checking the console becomes part of the process - which is clunky at best. With BWF import, the user is presented with timecode of file and can see right away what changes might occur at time of import.

My biggest issue now is that it is still a “Sophie’s Choice” when using either AMA or Import methods as they are not the same. Actually BWF import has gotten worse compared to BWF import in previous versions. Here are the differences in the same file using AMA versus import (click for larger image):

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As you can see, the iXML contains a few more fields of metadata such as “Circled” and Wild Track” compared to BWF, but BWF import is missing Track metadata 4-8 which used to work.  iXML still does not support monophonic tracks into a single clip, pullup or pulldown workflows, nor allow for 1/4 frame resync in 35mm Film Projects, even if you link and do a transcode/consolidate. As far as BWF is concerned, import for frame rate is not prompted for some project types. For example, I get the timecode prompt when importing a BWF file into a 720p/23.976 project, but not in 1080p/25. And in the case 720p, it is using a 60 frame count which is not a SMPTE standard instead of a converted 30fps:

If AMA is the way of the future replacing “Import”, it really needs to provide all the functionality of the existing “import”. I guess as yet another workaround, one could export an ALE of the AMA linked files and merge them into the BWF imported ones to have parity. But why make users do that? What would make AMA a great tool is to allow for it to have “source settings” like other AMA linked formats. Not only for consistency purposes, but to allow the user to have control over the metadata with a refresh and update much like Wave Agent allows for with BWF and incorporate the existing BWF import functionality:

wave-agent.png

It should also be noted, that with 7.0.3, you cannot create an audio EDL from any imported or AMA linked BWF file. It will come up 00:00:00:00. I am sure this will be fixed in the point release, but the “workaround” for now is to duplicate the START timecode column into an AucTX column and use that to generate EDLs.

I have no real issues with iXML AMA Plug-in being a work in progress for a period of time, but not at the expense of existing and functioning workflows such as BWF import. I hope iXML and BWF Import functions will be addressed in the near future and not have to be a choice of the lesser evil depending on your workflow needs.

Avid DMF Considerations

December 30th, 2013

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One of the many new features that were part of the 7.0.0 release was Dynamic Media Folders or DMF. DMF allows for media services to be applied to folders as a set of rules and actions and processed whether the Media Composer application is running or not. The solution appears to be a localized version of Interplay Central as you can see “Interplay Central - Progress Monitor”  flash for a few seconds in the browser’s tab before changing to “Background Queue.” I think it’s great that technology and solutions get repurposed for different uses and markets once developed.

But in the case of DMF, there are some considerations to be made depending on your workflow and whether you are better served with a foreground/background transcode, or using DMF. And as usual, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on what your sources are and what you plan on doing with the media once edited;  Is it to be finished inside Media Composer or conformed elsewhere? An important one is whether you are dependent on FrameFlex or not as part of the process. As you can see from the following screenshot, not all transcodes are created equal and the user needs to be aware of which one is being used (click for original size image). The NOTES field indicates DMF, and Background Comparability ON or OFF.

dmf-considerations.png As you can see, the same original AMA linked clip will have different metadata attached to it after a DMF transcode or a foreground/background transcode process once linked in the bins. The Image Aspect Ratio and Reformat values are not the same (Stretch? Nothing’s been stretched). Some of this is based on whether you have compatibility ON or OFF in the transcode settings, and I will get to that in a future blog dedicated to FrameFlex. The issue is that even with these settings turned off in the DMF profile, the file is transcoded as though it were turned on. Click on thumbnail to see full size image of DMF Transcode settings.

dmf-transcode-settings.png

It makes sense for Color Transform to be baked in (for now), but not for raster and image size. It is either a bug or a limitation of the DMF’s external transcode engine. Anything listed as 16:9 in the Image Aspect Ratio column at a 1920×1080 resolution will not have the ability to use FrameFlex in the timeline. Which for an offline to online process FrameFlex on proxy media should be part of the basic design.

Another consideration is when using DMF, there is no project association attached to the media. The DMF clip has an empty “Project” field.  If you are using DMF for media to be associated with different projects and later use the Media Tool or third party software applications to find associated media, it will be problematic at best.

I find that background transcode is the overall better solution for formats that are not 16:9 or greater than HD in resolution. Background transcode allows me to manage clips to a defined project, keep the raster size “live” for FrameFlex and downstream conforms all for the small price of keeping the Media Composer up and running. Having Media Composer not running with DMF does not offer enough advantages considering what I am giving up. It would be an entirely different matter if I could run Background Services on a separate system that did not have Media Composer installed. Perhaps that will be a future consideration as referred to in this blog

As with any project, think through all your needs from start to finish, and pick the best path for success.

Plotagon

December 30th, 2013

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In the course of my “industry research” I came across a very cool little application called “Plotagon“. It is a simple integrated script and storyboard application with real time playback and voices of what is written, very similar to a gaming engine, or a SIMS type environment. It will be interesting to see where this application goes as they expand its toolset as it can be used in marketing, social media, education and to some extent, filmmaking. I was able to very quickly write a bad script and using the preset list of actions create a small scene. Once complete, it can be shared via the Plotagon site as well as YouTube if desired. You can see this masterpiece here. The script can be exported using the Fountain markup language supported in several writing applications. The entire process is very easy, and somewhat addicting. The filmmaking process would need more controls over actions, timing, angles, etc. which would make the UI more involved, but I can see them pulling this off in future versions.

This reminds me of technology I have seen in the past with PowerProduction’s software offerings for storyboarding and recently its integration as a plug-in for NLE systems.  Martini QuickShot can be used in Final Cut Pro and Media Composer as an AVX plug-in allowing editors to add missing shots as needed rather than just a title with “Missing Shot” providing better previsualizuation when working with production and producers. I have often sent printed timelines or exports in frame view to production to give the a better idea of the shot size and angle to better support the story. In 2005, Media Composer exported interactive HTML storyboards from Avid FilmScribe, but unfortunately most of the web-based templates no longer work.

Editing,  like any language, is in a constant state of change. The combination of script, game engines, editing continue to shape how stories are told and shared across different distribution channels and will be fascinating to see how tools used by storytellers will evolve over time.

My Two Favorite 7.0.3 Bug Fixes

December 27th, 2013

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Win Van den Broeck does an excellent job of listing all the available fixes and “new” items in Media Composer v7.0.3 in his blog. For me, my two favorites are listed as bug fixes in the 7.0.3 Read Me, that border on being new features as they start enabling new workflows, or re-enabling old ones.

The first one is 24fps timecode support in the SoundTC column for “NTSC” based project types. I’ve written about workflow issues with SoundTC in this blog, but basically the issue was that SoundTC was always hard-coded to 30fps timecode in a 23.976 or 24.000 HD project type. This was a workflow carryover from NTSC based workflows before HD was available, but never updated in the nine years since HD was a standard Avid project. This is important to workflows that sync in third party systems prior to editorial as there is only one master clip that needs to carry all the timecode information. From a conform perspective, productions were putting this timecode in any of the other five AuxTC columns making it very inconsistent from production to production. With 7.0.3 and forward, there is now a self defined timecode column for this metadata. Some things to be aware of though as the “bug fix” is just enough to allow for 24 frame counts but know that:

  • ALE has a new Global header  ”SOUNDTC_FPS” where the value 24 or 30 can be defined. Unlike the header for Video FPS, the ALE will not import if there is a 23.976 value. Only 24 or 30 can be defined. This type of ALE will only work in 7.0.3 and forward. I have not tried it in an earlier version to see what happens, but I suspect a similar error message will pop up. 
  • Any one clip can either be 24 or 30. Unfortunately you cannot track what the value is other than loading the clip and scrolling bast the :23 frame count to see what it’s doing. I recommend adding a custom column and entering a value there if it needs to be tracked. It would be nice if the global header from the ALE be used as a column once imported.
  • The user is prompted with the choice of 24 or 30 only when that field is empty and a new value is being entered by hand or by “duplicate column” feature. If there is a value there, any new entry will assume the frame rate of the existing timecode. If you need to change the timecode count type, delete values first, then enter a new value where you will prompted. An exception to this is merging an ALE where SOUNDTC_FPS is defined. All existing values will now reflect what is defined in the ALE.
  • If you create an EDL with mixed timecode values in the SoundTC, it will not be flagged with an FCM command or comment.
  • If you export an ALE from the bin, it does not contain the new Global Header
  • You can bring a bin with 24 frame timecode in the SoundTC back to MC v6.5.4.1 and it will count as 24, but you will have no ability to change it as in 7.0.3 if needed.
  • Bringing a bin forward will assume the 30fps timecode and remain as such in 7.0.3, but can be changed once value is deleted and a new one entered.
  • User will be prompted when doing a “duplicate column.”

My second favorite one is the change to the ALE merge process. In all previous versions, merging an ALE into existing masterclips was not a true merge, but a “replace with” whatever was in the ALE. So if there was existing metadata in a column that was not in the ALE, it would get deleted. For example, here is a bin with metadata before the merge (click images for larger version):

703ale-merge-before.png And in previous versions, merging the following ALE:

new-ale.png

would result in the bin now looking like

pre-703_ale-merge-2.gif

Where only the fields in the ALE remain, but all the other column metadata has been deleted. In 7.0.3, the same ALE merge results in

703ale-merge-after.png

Where all the metadata remains and only what is in the ALE changes after the merge. This one has lots of the workflow benefits as external databases can now be easily repurposed in editorial at any point in the process.  The metadata update does propagate to the subclips, but I still need to test for .sync and .grp. This starts enabling color workflows as mentioned in this blog entry.

Both of these features are much needed workflow type solutions. I hope Avid is reaching out to the third parties that create dailies for post production to generate ALE with only changed columns as a feature as well as be aware of the SoundTC column, even if it is to be tracked as redundant metadata during the transition process.  ALE merging of a subset of columns is currently done by editing the ALE itself to only contain relevant fields and is how the above example was created. Some databases will export only selected fields which makes the process a whole lot smoother.

For me, these are more than bug fixes, but workflow enhancements important to the post process. I almost would have highlighted these two in the “What’s New” section of the Read Me rather than in the bug fix list, but good to know these are now available.

Giving Voice to Metadata

December 27th, 2013

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I think anyone using PhraseFind, ScriptSync, and SoundBite  appreciates what dialogue can bring in finding what you’re looking for as part of the editorial process. At times it is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. So it was interesting to see the Apple patent on voice-tagging photos and using Siri to retrieve them as part of the claims expanding the capabilities of voice based interaction with Apple devices. It will be seen as new and innovative if and when it hits a future version of iOS.

It reminded me an awful lot of a pending patent and prototype I had designed and built at Avid over three years ago that used multiple descriptive tracks on any given piece of media. Currently metadata tagging is either clip based, frame based, or span based and can be a drawn out process. The idea behind this solution was to use voice annotation and descriptions to the video. In its most simple form, a single track would describe what is going on in the scene. Because it is time based as the tagging happens during a record/playback - all search results layer line up to that portion of the clip. Or using “context based range searches” can further refine search results. Things get even more “descriptive” when creating multiple metadata tracks, where each track can be of a certain category, for example:

  1. Characters, placement, movement, position, etc.
  2. Camera, angle, framing, movement, zooming, etc.
  3. Location, objects, day, night, interior, exterior, colors, etc.

Any search can now use all tracks, or just a subset of tracks to filter out results as needed. Combining voice tagging metadata with pre-existing “metadata: such as camera  name, shoot date, scene, take can make for a very powerful media management system that could not only be considered new and innovative, but extremely useful as well to productions dealing with not hundreds, but thousands of hours of source material. Some customers I discussed this with had needs for forty or more descriptive tracks on any given source. One could even consider recording a tagged “descriptive” track directly to camera during production and used anywhere downstream in the production cycle.

Voice, the new metadata.

FrameFlex vs. Resize

December 14th, 2013

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Avid FrameFlex is a new feature in Media Composer v7 that allows for image re-framing. The FrameFlex parameters go back to the original high resolution master using more pixels to create the new frame rather than resizing an HD frame to the new size. One result involves more pixels being used and scaled down, versus the latter which takes pixels and blows them up. Scaling tends to result in a higher quality image compared to the reverse. So with this in mind, and knowing that only FrameFlex uses the original source file resolution, and any scaling operation that is not FrameFlex is restricted to the HD resolution of the project, I set out to compare the different methods of re-scaling versus extraction.

  1. FrameFlex
  2. 3D Warp Effect with HQ active
  3. Standard Resize effect 

The image above is a 4K (quad GD) R3D file. As you can see from the FrameFlex bounding box, it is a rather aggressive “punch-in” for the shot. In FrameFlex terms, it is 50%, as far as resize goes, it is 200%.  The results were really surprising. In the end, I did not see 200% of “wow” difference. For the most part, it was very difficult to see the differences between the two operations. While there is some very slight softening, it was not as much as I thought it was going to be. And just to be sure, I did the same extraction in RedCine X Pro to use as reference. In that frame there is a difference in the gray area of the shirt which could be attributed to the 12bit to 10 bit transcode. In all tests, the R3D was done as a FULL debayer to an uncompressed HD MXF file.

Here are the resulting frames exported as TIFF. Click links to download each file.

I also did a quick test with the standard Resize effect which does not have an HQ button and there is some very slight difference there, compared to the 3D Warp resize with HQ active. If you want to download the zip file with all the TIFF files, click here. In the end, it’s different tools for different jobs. The 3D Warp does give you extra image control such as rotation to level out a horizon when needed. 

Quality overall is difficult to tell from stills alone. Codec, aspect ratio (other than a multiple of 16:9) motion and other factors do come into play, but with all things relative, I was more surprised at how well the resize from HD stood up. Even the amount of detail and noise in a shot could affect the overall quality of the resize versus extraction operations. Here is a download of the same test with the XAVC 4K codec. In this case, the 3DWarp is less crips at the same 200% push, but as expected, with smaller push-in, it becomes less noticeable.  Also, there would be a distinct visible quality difference had the same re-frame was shot as Quad HD resolution to start with versus an extraction,  but that is a test for another day.

PhraseFind Tips

December 6th, 2013

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PhraseFind is one of the more innovative methods available to search lots of footage based on what is spoken, in addition to what might be logged as metadata. This phonetic indexing and search functionality is technology licensed from Nexidia which powers other similar solutions such as SoundBite from Boris. Anyone who has used it will gush over the time-savings and usefulness this brings to workflows. But I bet that many users are not benefiting from the full functionality that PhraseFind offers or how to enter terms correctly to ensure proper results. Unfortunately this information is not part of any Media Composer documentation that I could easily find.

Users can use the following syntax operators to really zero in specific content with extremely high confidence in the results. So… From my modified Nexida documentation on search tips:

A key part of successfully searching audio with Nexidia’s technology is to understand a few basic rules regarding entering search terms. The syntax used here is entered directly in the text entry of the FIND window:

Characters:  A general rule of thumb is to spell out every word in the search query.  This includes:

  • Numbers:  Instead of ‘2008′, type ‘two thousand eight’.  Spell the number using the variation in which it is most likely to be spoken — for example, in an address, ‘495′ is likely to be referred to as either ‘four nine five’ or ‘four ninety five’. 
  • Acronyms:  Separate acronyms that are spoken as a series of letters with spaces.  For example, ‘FBI’ would be entered ‘F B I’ and ‘NCAA’ would most likely be entered ‘N C double A’. 
  • Symbols, Punctuation: Omit all symbols and punctuation such as $, ! and -. 
  • Abbreviations:  Spell out an abbreviation the way it is pronounced.  For example ‘Mr’ should be ‘Mister’ and ‘Dr’ would be ‘Doctor’ (or ‘Drive’).

Quotation Marks:  These are the only non-alphabetic characters that are valid to use in the search box (other than “&” for spanned ranges - see below).  Placing quotation marks around two or more words tells PhraseFind to search for those words together in the sequence they were entered.  For example, entering “President Ford” “United Nations” will launch a search for President Ford as one term and United Nations as the other term.

Spelling:  Because we’re not searching a transcript or other text, correct spelling is not required.  In fact, modifying the spelling of words can actually help improve the results.  If the correct spelling of a word is not pronounced the way in which it is typically spoken, adjust it so that the letters more closely match how it is spoken.  For example, when searching for ‘Barrack Obama’, try ‘Buh rock o bahma‘.

Expression Analysis

This method extracts discrete sequences of adjacent terms that are most likely to have been spoken together, and therefore yield good results for the user:

Multiple Searches:  Given a multi-word search – each individual term, as well as the literal string is independently searched.  An example — President Ronald Reagan – typed into the search box would produce the following search requests:

  • Search (President Ronald Reagan) 
  • Search (President) 
  • Search (Ronald) 
  • Search (Reagan) 

Quotation Marks:  If terms are enclosed in quotation marks, the terms inside the quotation marks are searched together, and the remaining words are each individually searched.  A literal search is not executed when quotation marks are included.  An example – healthcare reform  “Ronald Reagan” – typed into the search  box would produce the following search requests:

  • Search (healthcare) 
  • Search (reform) 
  • Search (Ronald Reagan) 

Span Based Searches

This is very useful when looking for content in a more contextual manner rather than specific instances as noted with the previous method. The FIND interface gives no UI indication for this type of search but is possible if the proper string is entered. For example, if I were cutting a program on the Red Sox winning season from all the broadcast material available, I may want to find footage of Papi and Home Run within a certain time span of each other. The results would indicate that the clip context is probably what I am looking for in this case, versus any time Papi, home, run or “Home Run” are uttered.

The notation is:

  • “Term1 &X Term 2″ … where X is time in seconds.
  • So for my example: “Papi &20 home run” would find those terms within 20 seconds or less of each other

This can also be used to identify 2 or more words within a certain amount of time in a clip.  For example,

  • “Term1 &5 Term2 &10 Term3″

Will locate files with term1 and term 2 within 5 seconds of one another, then within those files, determine if term3 is spoken within 10 seconds of the first 2 terms.  Note this order dependency.

Update: Version 2.0 of PhraseFind re-introduced with Media Composer v8.8 no longer supports span based searches.  

Using the Macbeth Chart

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

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

November 10th, 2013

frame-count.jpg

 

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

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:

nearest-fit.png

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:

half-half.png

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:

quarter-quarter.png

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:

eighth-eighth.png

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:

full.png

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. 

half.png

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.

quarter.png

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

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:

edirol-before.png

To this:

mc-import.png

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?

November 3rd, 2013

medialog.gif

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.

medialog-bin.gif

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.

Avid Metadata Logging and Tracking

October 29th, 2013

avid-metadata.gif

Many times I get asked what the different columns do in Media Composer as far as logging metadata and how one column may be better than another for a certain workflow. A very useful document has been updated to reflect changes with Media Composer v7 and also has a quick primer on the ALE header specification for different project types.

With ALE being the only “man-readable” file format that is supported for import, knowing how and what these columns do is a useful skill to have. Many of the tips presented here on 24p deal with metadata and how to get that into Media Composer, so consider this the master cheat sheet.

Clicking the image above will take you directly to the PDF document on avid.com saving you the time of trying to find it yourself.

Resolve ALE Merge for AMA Linked Files

October 26th, 2013

resolve-settings.gif

It is possible to log clips with Resolve and use ASC CDL values as part of Media Composer’s new LUT/ASC CDL support, when using AMA to link to original camera files. The trick is a little ALE editing of two column headings. It first starts with making sure Resolve REEL is correctly set using “source clip filename” as seen in the above screenshot. This is found in setting, conform options in the “assist using reel names from the” subsection. The clips will look like this in the Media Pool:

media-pool.gif

Do whatever color correction work for ASC CDL as per Resolve guidelines, and then export the timeline as “ALE and CDL…”:

export.gif

The ALE then needs to have to two column headings edited and is easily done in a text editor. The columns heading and example values will look like the following before editing:

ale-before.gif

Change “Name” to “Source File” and change “Tape” to “Name”. The original value in Name is exactly what AMA will produce in the “Source File” column when linking and now allows for a Merge to happen. The ALE will now look like:

ale-after.gifOnce edited and file saved, proceed per usual merge function in the import shot log settings. All metadata will be applied to the linked AMA clips including ASC CDL values as part of a color management workflow during the editorial process as well as any other values logged in Resolve.

This process will work for any ALE file as long as the filename + extension is somewhere in the ALE file - just edit its column header to “Source File”.

Tags & Keywords

October 26th, 2013

finder-tags-100065999-orig.png

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of metadata and what it can do for production and postproduction workflows all the way through distribution.  Needless to say, one of the many features catching my eye this week when Apple Mavericks was introduced was “Tags and Keywords” for any file on the system. “Keywords” has been quite the buzz with FCPx users and how it can be used to manage lots of sources quickly and efficiently when needed. I have equated, perhaps crudely, that this is basically a “FIND” function on invisible spanned Markers. I am not belittling the feature in any way, other than to describe an implementation using Media Composer terms. I think it provides a fantastic new way to group sources in any way one sees fit and can provide an alternate view on the sources. I also think this becomes even more powerful when used with other search type metadata to further refine the results as too many results can be just as bad as not enough in certain situations.

I can’t help but think that these tags and keywords will be supported in FCPx when the update is released (as well as being free based on what we’ve seen so far). Now any tagging or “keywording” done by anyone, anywhere in the process, can be repurposed during the editorial process.  It’s almost a form of “crowdsourced logging” as these files move from system to system with keywords added and then being able to inherently take advantage of this metadata is pretty compelling. 

Could it be repurposed in Media Composer? I would think so, but there are several functional areas in Media Composer that would need to be updated to take advantage of this:

  • AMA: At the very least, the QuickTime AMA would need to be updated to see these tags and Keywords in order to even have access to them within the project. I have mentioned this in previous blogs, but the QuickTime AMA only supports filename and timecode. All other available metadata is ignored and cannot be repurpsoed without going through additional steps using third party solutions. Clip color only seems to be an internal tag and not available outside of Media Composer/Interplay. 
  • FIND: The “Find” function in Media Composer was a good start, but in my opinion, one area of missed opportunity in changing the way users interact with their media. This deserves its own blog, but for starters, adding the ability to search for Markers and Spanned Markers would go a long way. But a shortcut for TAG and Keywords field would be better rather than having to enter the same search item twice in order to filter out results. 
  • SPANNED MARKERS: It is unfortunate that the first release of Spanned Markers was designed for one use case only without more flexibility in the way most users want to use spanned markers. Aside from the inability to search them, the fact that they cannot overlap is very limiting as spans can have different metadata needs separated by a unique tag, and then additional keywords. 

One of the downsides in supporting these type of features is not being cross-platform. But I am one who likes the tools to be the best they can be on whatever platform they are used, and not limited to the least common denominator of either operating system.

The other feature that caught my eye, but remains to be seen whether FCPx will support it (and to what extent) is the ability to remotely collaborate on documents as shown in the iWords for iCloud demo. For that we will have to wait and see.

 

Update 7/16/2014: As suspected, FCPx has added support for finder level logging as seen in this video.