Wednesday, 22 October, 2008

Browse hard disks like floppies or USB drive

Anyone who's a tinkerer has many hard drives sitting on their shelves from older systems. 120 G gets replaced by 250 which gets replaced by 500 and so on. And one doesn't really throw away old drives. At the same time, connecting a SATA drive inside a case or even inside your PC/Mac is cumbersome. Screws, connectors case lids - too much hassle.

So, I checked out a USB to SATA/IDE adapter some time ago. A friend, sent me a link. I bought mine on eBay. Rs 800 and very innovative.
It works fine, but can be a bit cumbersome. Too many connections to make just to connect a drive. And the SATA connectors come loose any time. So the experience is only marginally bettter than connecting a bare drive to a computer or external case.

Then last month while in London, I bought this a USB drive dock. From Maplin at Tottenham Road. This is really terrific.

Bare drive can be just slid in 'browsed' and slid out. Push a button and the drive pops out like toast. No screws no connectors. Just keep the dock permanently connected to your Mac or PC. Even MacBook Pro. My dock sits on my table permanently connected via USB to my MacPro at work. And a drawer full of drives, now working like floppies.
It even works with laptop sized 2.5 in. drives.

I even got another through a friend who went there last week. A USB/SATA drive dock with a card reader and hub. Also from Maplin but at Wembley. I could get used to this place.

This has a SATA port. And a card reader and USB hub.

And to connect it to my MacBook Pro via eSATA I have a Sonnet TempoExpressCard SATA adapter.

This drive dock thing comes in many variants (and colours)

From GeekStuff
or ThinkGeek
and some others here.

It gets even better. If you want Firewire and can spend a bit more, Vantec makes one with Firewire.

And like me, if you're worried that the drive is exposed from the back check out the one with a case.

And a final twist, one with a fan.

Bear in mind that these things are a bit heavy. They have weights in them, else when the drive spins they'd fly. As a curious experiment try this. Connect the drive, and let it mount on your Mac. Then browse through folders, open and close a file or two. Then, unmount the drive, after its gone, switch off the dock and pop out the drive and hold it in your hand.

The drive is now spinning down from 7200 rpm to stop. The sheer torque it generates twists your hand like an unseen force.

There's even a 'Please note...' at one web site which seems to be translated by a machine into English. It reads...

"Note: In order to keep still, the docking station has added weight this preventing the docking station to move when you are plugging in or out your HDD. This added weight is unfortunately increasing the shipping cost… We are very sorry for this inconvenient but there is nothing we can do on this matter. Thank you for your understanding."

The English is quaint, but this thing works. Recommended. If you can afford it get the version with Firewire and cases for your drives.

Sunday, 12 October, 2008

Post for a feature length film on a Red camera

Shooting a feature length Indian film with a Red camera is now a possibility. Cameras are coming in, and hiring them is getting easier. Some have already done it. And many more are testing the waters and mulling it before taking the leap.
Apart from all the other arguments and discussions on the aesthetic of Red vs. film, the post workflow is a different. And if the Red camera saves you money from not having to shoot hundreds of cans of film negative (each costing about Rs. 10,000), it also needs you to be responsible with the storage of this data. And have a good plan on how to finish the film.

So, for all those who are considering shooting on Red, here's a check-list of gear you must own or have access to. For the post of a movie shot with the Red camera.

On location
MacBook Pro
Firewire CF Card readers - two at least.
Portable RAID 1 drive. Like the
Sonnet Fusion F2
You'll also need a SATA adapter like the Sonnet Tempo SATA ExpressCard/34
A good utility like ShotPut Red for copying and backing up these files.

At your place
Desktop MacPro - 4 core or more 2GB RAM per CPU, so an eight-core needs 16 GB RAM
Safe RAID - Sonnet Fusion, CalDigit, anything running RAID 5 or RAID 6 for which you can get failed drives replaced in India easily. And with 5 drives or more.

Licenced software - FCP, Crimson, GlueTools, Pomfort.
Red software - RedAlert, RedCine, RedRushes. The latest versions tried and figured out.
Large monitor - Apple or some other 30". Small monitors are a disaster.
Capture card - BlackMagic or Kona Broadcast monitor - or good LCD TV.

All Software - Buy, Buy, Buy. Don't look for cracks, don't pirate. 

All this can go between Rs 7-10 lakhs. If you don't want to sink in that kind of money figure out rentals with a post house. Or installments with a bank. But do NOT skimp on any of these.

Red shoots data. On CF cards. Your rushes are data. As long as your data is safe you have a movie. If your data is lost, only a re-shoot can get it back. And till you re-shoot, you don't have a movie.
With Red data, a drive failure can make you lose 20 hours of rushes in a fraction of a second. Especially with cracked software.

Now is Rs 10 lakhs too expensive? So develop a paranoid, maniacal reverence to data and obtain a obsessive compulsive disorder of continuously making backups and triple-checking them. Once per hour.

Next, get a good post crew. Identify an editor. Have him or her improve their reading on digital formats and get familiar with the Red workflow. And all the products listed above. Avid or FCP doesn't matter as long as the editor has a good plan. If the editor is Red-skeptic, get another editor.

Repeat this process till you find one who believes. Make sure your editor's plan is in sync with the people at the post house that is doing the final film grade and output. Again, both the editor and the post house need to believe in this whole thing. If they are skeptical, or in a Red-bashing, or FCP-bashing, or Avid-bashing or general digital-bashing mood, let them go.

The editor's age doesn't matter as long as his thoughts and beliefs are from this century. Yes, even twenty-somethings can be really old school when it comes to the Digital Film process. Finally, identify all the deliverables - film print, promos, trailers, HD tapes, DigiBeta tapes, DVD, maybe Blu-ray - and ensure the editor and post people have heard of all these and have a plan on starting with Red and ending up with all these.

Actually your post plan also depends on the final deliverables. If your post team don't have a plan, find a consultant (hint, hint) who can sell you a plan. Yes, sell a plan, as in pay money and get something in return. The goods you're buying is advice. Don't expect free advice.

Most consultants treat free and paid advice with different degrees of seriousness. So if you have the intent (to pay), make it known up front. Making a film and completing it so that people can buy tickets and watch it, all this starting with a film camera and film, is easy. If you and your crew know how to, can follow instructions, and have a plan.

The same applies to starting out with a Red camera and CF cards. Except that the instructions are different, as is the plan.