Thursday, 17 November, 2011

Alexa post - Log-C, LUTs, best practices

I've got three calls since morning from editors in prominent post houses - one with offices in LA, Vancouver, New York... yeah, yeah we know... and another with offices in Bandra, Andheri, Chennai, London… 
Complaining that Alexa footage looks 'milky and low contrast'.

I had written earlier about struggles in digital movie-making

Some details on the Alexa camera itself here…

Here are some simple facts…

The Arri Alexa camera can shoot 'linear' (technically called Rec.709) which looks 'normal'. Or as LogC which looks 'milky and low contrast'.

LogC gives you more latitude. Which, depending on the calibre of the cinematographer, means, he can mess up the exposure and you fix it in post, or he can shoot amazingly and you can change the 'look' and better it in post.

On the set you can shoot LogC (milky) and yet monitor Rec709 (normal). So, many people get fooled into believing what's on the monitor is being recorded.

LogC need to be converted before you can see them normally.
Avid has no method of doing this logC-linear ('milky' to 'normal') conversion.
In FCP you can get Nick Shaw's plug-in for $ 30 (Rs 1500) and apply it to all clips.
But it is 8-bit and not for production.

Alternately you can download a LUT for the Log-C to Rec709 conversion from Arri's web site. Google 'Arri LUT generator' and you'll find it. And also Arri's excellent white paper on how it all works.

You can also use Resolve, or the free Resolve Lite to do this conversion. Download it for free from Blackmagic's web site, struggle with it for a few hours, and then get an expert to do it for you.

Best of all, if you're shooting for TV, and you really don't want to mess with this Log-C business, just shoot linear or Rec709.

About the data coming out of the camera (can't call it 'footage' any more)

Alexa shoots HD 1920x1080 on memory cards - called SxS cards.
or it can shoot '3k' to a Codex digital recorder.
or it can record out to as video to an HDCamSR VTR on to HDCamSR tape.

On memory card it shoots Quicktime movies in the Apple ProRes4444 format.
On the Codex it shoots ArriRAW files that have to be converted before you can edit them.

Copying all this data to WD, or Seagate or LaCie disks is a risk. A drive fails, you need to reshoot. Period. 

There are two kinds of people - those who have had to reshoot because of a hard disk failure, and those who have yet to reshoot because of a hard disk failure. Carry a piece of wood to knock on from time to time if you are the latter.

Or, hire someone to do data management for you. Whatever you decide, don't let the post house manage your data. And never leave your data on someone else's hard disk. It is vastly easier to browse, copy and use anyone's data in a post house's shared hard disk - than it used to be in the 'film and video tape' days.

For data storage on movies I'm currently working on - Canon7D, Red, or Alexa, TV or cinema or commercials - I'm currently using RAIDs from Sonnet, G-Tech, and Maxx. All are good. And safe. I also advice backing up to LTO tape for long term storage.

On backup for all this media, I've written about this a while ago, but the basics remain the same…

In terms of disk space…

Shooting HD as ProRes4444 uses up about 140 GB per hour of shoot, 
ArriRAW does it at 10 GB per minute, or 600 GB per hour.
ArriRAW has more resolution and latitude than ProRes4444, but at a cost.
There's only one Codex recorder that can shoot ArriRAW, in India, so far.

If all this sounds complicated, it really is just a bit. If you'd like peace of mind, do all that I've recommended and you're safe. 

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve - the real deal

Blackmagic announced yesterday the immediate availability of Resolve Lite 8.1.1, the free version of DaVinci Resolve colour correction software for the Mac. The free Resolve Lite has been around for many months now, with limitations. One being that you could use only 2 nodes, meaning effects or layers, and that you could work on at the most, an HD timeline.

The new Resolve Lite 8.1.1 breaks the node limitation, but the HD limitation remains. Still, you get a full-blown colour correction tool that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just a few years ago, for free. Just download and use. To give your movie a professional 'look', to be a colour correction extension to FCP and Avid systems. Seriously professional tools, now easily accessible by anyone.

In forums and web sites, dismay is being expressed by 'pros' who lament the fall in value of the work of colour correction, and Blackmagic's 'ruining the market' for this hallowed area of post-production. Whichever way this thing goes from here forwards, here is my take on the real deal in this move by Blackmagic.

Film and video post houses of 5 years and older, have their fill of Autodesk Lustre, Quantel iQ, Baselight, Nucoda, and other systems. For film based colour correction, they employ DaVinci and Pogle systems tied to telecine machines. The total number of such entities in India would not be over 100. And the world over, maybe 500 or so.

Resolve may or may not sell to these few.

Smaller post houses have lower end systems from Filmlight, Quantel, Autodesk, and Scratch. These would be in the thousands the world over, and maybe a few hundreds on India. And then there are the Avid-FCP-Smoke shops.

Resolve may or may not sell to these too.

So, combined, the 'high to mid end' market numbers in the thousands maybe 2-3 thousand, maybe more, definitely not more than 10,000. The world over. Okay, 20,000 tops.

Now, coming to the hordes of documentary, small TV commercial, TV serial, and budget film-makers, these number in the millions. FCP itself has sold over 2 million seats worldwide and in India maybe over a hundred thousand. Avid, Premier Pro, Vegas and other NLEs are a smaller number but I could guess them to be a million together.

So there is this 3 million strong 'indie post' market for Resolve Lite. Many of these Resolve Lite users will go in for some Blackmagic hardware as a video out for their Resolve. Either a HD Extreme 3D, or an Intensity card, or a Thunderbolt equipped Ultrastudio. So Blackmagic opens up another avenue for hardware sales. Even if only one-fifth of this market dabbles in Resolve, its a great number. And it can only increase, unlike the multi-crore 'pro' post houses.

Unlike software which can be easily 'shared', hardware is strictly one per system. And it helps that Blackmagic hardware is now compatible with Avid as well as Premiere Pro. And, of course it supports FCP 7 which may have been discontinued by Apple, but it still works for most movie-making situations.

The move to make the Resolve software free, and now, add almost all features in the free version, is therefore, basically a business move by Blackmagic. It may dismay the few thousands (even tens of thousands) of 'pro' users, but it could mean a windfall in business for Blackmagic. By making the software that runs on their hardware, rather than depending on other companies' software (like FCP, Avid and Premiere Pro) alone, Blackmagic have done nearly what Apple have been doing for nearly a decade now.

But what happens to the actual job of colour correction, imparting a 'look' to a movie. And what about the human who does this all. Will the software being free or economical (the full featured unto 4k version also costs only about $1000 or Rs 60,000) devalue this once prized occupation?

I think quite the contrary. Look at other trades. 

Editing, which could only be done on large Steenbeck systems and even Avid systems costing almost half a crore rupees (over $ 50,000), can now be done on laptops costing under a lakh rupees. FCP changed that. But editors still make as much (or as less) as they did in the mid nineties when costly Avids ruled.

Sound designing which can be done on even less endowed PCs and Macs have not led to sound engineers being paid less. or their craft in any way devalued. In fact, my sound friends who travelled in buses and trains own some fancy cars now.

So, if anything, this so called 'commoditzation' of technology, does create the impression that anyone can own the means of making movies. Only in the short term. Initially everyone and his dog go out and buy or download these 'cheap' software, and try their hands at using it. Once they see how hard it is to be creative and operate something, they develop a greater value for the man behind the machine. 

I am firmly convinced about this and I've seen it happen over and over again.

So, in the coming months brace yourself for some abysmally colour corrected movies by amateurs who've just downloaded Resolve and are trying to make their shots look good. But after that, there will be colorists who will own their own Resolves and movie-makers will queue up to work with a specific colorist. Then they will not bother with what software he or she uses, they will go by what they see on a screen.

For colorists this is a boon. For once, they can own their own grading system for a sum that's less then many of their daily or weekly earnings. And now, they can finally be paid for their skill and not for the cost of the equipment. The 'take home' package for independent colourists just got bigger. Wait and see.

More on the Canon EOS C300 - the FAQ

The Canon EOS C300 announcement left many a question unanswered. Until now. Canon has put up a FAQ on their Cinema EOS camera systems. 

Canon Cinema EOS FAQ

There's some very interesting explanations on latitude, dynamic range, ISO, 8-bit vs 10-bit, and other such geek stuff. Interesting read.

Saturday, 5 November, 2011

The new Red camera - Scarlet X

Scarlet X with LCD touchscreen viewfinder

Scarlet X as the new Red camera announced yesterday, will ship on Nov 17, 2011. Yes, for a camera company that's known for intricate shipping schedules, systems in Beta, slipping delivery times, this shipping on Nov 17 is also a big story.

And the price too. At $ 9,750 for the Canon mount version, and $ 11,250 for the PL mount version, it severely undercuts the F3 and the yet to be released Canon EOS C300. Alexa, Sony F65 will also feel the heat, but only somewhat.

As far as features go, the Scarlet X…

Has a HDRx mode to offer up to 18 stops of latitude.

Shoots at 5k resolution at 12 fps
4k at 1-24 fps
2k at 60 fps
1k at 120 fps
Widest variety of frame rates - 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 47.96, 48, 50, 59.97
The 47.96 is an interesting addition for 'dual rate NTSC 24fps'

It uses a Redcode RAW at 440 Mbps or about 50 MB/sec which is comparable to HDCamSR or SR lite in data rate. About 3:1

It shoots to SSD and has a Canon or PL mount. And supports Red's own LCD touchscreen of the Bomb EVF as viewfinders.

The full spec on the Scarlet is at Red's Scarlet page

The Canon C300 won't ship till 2012. And the just announced 4k HD-DSLR even later. Canon has some breathing space to probably massage their pricing, and even add features. Maybe a 100 Mbps codec, more features through software etc.

It's going to be an interesting 2012 for cameras, and editing stuff from those cameras. At about this time next year, who knows what we would be making movies on.

The new Avid Media Composer 6

Just after the Canon EOS C300 announcement came the announcement by Avid on their new Media Composer 6 editing software.

Broadly, here's what's new...

New interface but not radically new
Fully 64bit so better use of RAM and faster performance especially for large projects.
Works with other hardware like Aja Kona, Blackmagic Decklink, and, of course Matrox
Better Stereoscopic 3D workflows
5.1 and 7.1 outputs and mix within MC
ProRes encode and decode on Mac
New DNxHD 444 codec for high quality RGB444 workflows
AVCHD and Red Epic native support
Colour grading with Artist color panel
Purchase stock footage online from within MC 6
AvidFX and Boris in all versions

Nitris DX will be available at a lower price of $ 5500
Symphony 6 will be a software product for $ 6000 and will work with the same third party hardware from Aja and Blackmagic.
This might mean some competition for Smoke on Mac.

The full specs on Avid's home page here...

Pricing at $ 2500 (about Rs 1.4 lakhs) 
Crossgrade from FCS any version to be unending at $ 1500 (about Rs 85,000)
Upgrade from older versions to be $ 300 (about Rs 17,000)

So, this is a whole new and improved MC 6 with definite performance improvement over past versions. But the changes are not as radical as the FCP-FCPX change which may have put off some editors.

There are huge new features which it is hoped editors will embrace and use more effectively. Actually some of the features even in earlier versions of MC made it foray into finishing systems territory, and this new version continues this trend.

This version of Avid works with the Aja Kona and Blackmagic, so for users with a Mojo SDI that could not work with HD without the pricey MojoDX, can now run Avid with the Aja Kona at $ 2000 or a Blackmagic HD Extreme at $ 1000. 
For more details on third party hardware support for the Avid MC here are links...

Aja's web site on the use of MC 6 with Aja cards...

Blackmagic's page describes the use of MC 6 with Blackmagic cards...

Canon's new EOS C300 video camera for film-makers

A couple of days ago, Canon made big news about new products that will affect the way movies get made and edited.
Canon announced a new video camera the EOS C300.
A blow by blow account is here...

This is a video camera that Canon has built after studying the response to the 5D MkII, 7D and their range of HD-DSLRs. These were actually cameras that were intended to be still cameras that could shoot movies too. But ended up being used as video cameras for docus, ads, even feature length movies.
The EOS C300 is made as a movie camera first. It will be available in early 2012 for about US$ 16,000.
More information will be available as we go along, but from the announcement, highlights of this new camera are...
Super35 equivalent sensor
8.3 Megapixels resolution
No auto settings, everything manual all the time
LCD screen, XLR inputs included
Rolling shutter effects reduced
MPEG-2 50 Mbps Full HD (MPEG2 422@HL) codec not H.264
So FCP/Avid should be able to do playback without conversion
Canon log gamma to stretch dynamic range
Up to 60 fps for slow motion
'True' 24fps, not 23.98fps
PL mount and EF mount versions
New '4k' lenses to match the camera
Built-in cooling system

As usual, Vincent LaForet has made a movie with this camera and its available for viewing here...
and a behind the scenes video of Mobius

More on the C300 as information is out, but the $16-20k (Rs 8-10 lakhs) price tag will not affect the 5D MkII and 7D crowd, but it could end up challenging the Sony F3 and maybe the Alexa. Let's wait and see till after Jan 2012.

Canon also announced the future development of a full frame still camera capable of recording 4k movies at 24P with M-JPEG compression. 

The still-under-development 4k capable Canon still camera

There's also the announcement by Red on a new camera, but more at it happens.

Thursday, 6 October, 2011

Steve Jobs leaves behind the Mac, and his 'touch'

Steve Jobs - farewell.

A few hours ago, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, ex-CEO, and creator of the Apple Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad - devices that sold in the hundreds of millions - left us. His devices and ideas forever changed the way the common man uses a computing device often even to make a living.

There are several tributes celebrating the life of this extraordinary man - at All Things D, GigaOM, Macworld, and even a live webcast at

I'd like to reminisce on how the Apple and Mac affected us in India over the years.

When the first Apple Mac was available, it sold in India for about 4-5 times (right, US $ price multiplied by 4 or 5) due to the combination of some ridiculous taxation, and human greed.

Two of these - Mac SE and Apple II - along with Imagewriter and Laserwriter printers and software like MacDraw, Aldus Pagemaker, and others, costed over Rs 6 lakhs in 1986. But with just these two machines, we designed and executed the entire Discovery of India Exposition at Nehru Centre in 1989 - it stands to this day.

In the early nineties while the PC struggled to show graphic images, and play sound smoothly, the Mac shone in these areas. Almost all ad agencies in Mumbai had Mac computers, and even a job description called 'Mac operator'. When one needed an artwork changed, one had to have a 'Mac operator' or you couldn't. For the world's easiest to use computer I've always found this queer.

Avid Media Composer was the first widespread editing system on a computer - an NLE on a Mac. In the early nineties Avids first replaced Steenbecks and Acmades for feature film editing, and then went on to become the main editing platform even for ad film and TV work. Replacing 'cut to cut' systems like the RM 440 and RM 450. Renu Saluja was probably one of the first editors to embrace this new way of working while many held on to their Steenbecks.

After Avid, Media 100, Cosa After Effects, and many other software made an editor's life easier, and edits looked better. All of these only ran on the Mac. The DVision and Premiere briefly threatened the Mac and many in India especially those who sold alternative editing systems like edit* spread the word that "Apple company is closing down".

Steve Jobs had then just left Apple and started another computer company - NeXT. The first NeXT computer was an innovation. Black and cube shaped with an optical drive. CMC at Cuffe Parade had one, and they ran some animation and CGI software on it. We did a spinning Earth animation for the Nehru Planetarium. Watching that on a 20 inch colour monitor was a dream. We drank to celebrate that day.

In the mid nineties with built-in ABVB boards that the PowerPC 9500 Mac could handle, Avid got more affordable and my friend Adi Pocha bought one. It was a beige Mac with a very fast CD-ROM drive, 56 MB of RAM, when most PCs were 4 or 8 MB. And a whopping 18 GB hard disk space. This was Avid Media Composer on a Mac in 1996. Anand, Peter, and me worked on hundreds of commercials TV shows (Sorry meri Lorry, Suno suno tring tring tring, etc) in the next 5 years or so.

Avid briefly announced that the Mac version would not be supported and then back tracked and made new Mac versions. Truevision, ABVB, and then Meridian versions of Avid Media Composer with a variety of names MC400, MC800, MC1000, MC 9000, Film Composer. And a variety of 'resolutions' AVR3, AVR6, AVR 75 and even 77 which gave way to ratios - 1:5, 1:10 and finally 1:1.

Avid managed through all this confusion, to protect their market share, mostly on Macs. Discreet edit* briefly threatened Avid as it was PC-based hence India-friendly, but Discreet pulled the plug on that.

In 2000, in an Avid dominated universe of editing systems, Apple shipped Final Cut Pro. Apple's own editing software. With no easy way to interface the new Firewire based DV cameras, FCP quickly caught on. For me, it was a life saver. I was stuck in Dubai shooting with a DV camera with nothing but Meridien Avids on rent at US$ 350 per hour. 

A friendly Mac dealer gave me an FCP 1.0 box, and another friendly ad agency artist let me use his Mac (then a G3) at night to edit my capsules for CNN and Sony. For nights on end I used this new easy to use software. My livelihood depended on it then, so cribbing about bugs and how different it was from Avid was not an option. $350 per hour for Avid, or free for FCP, the choice was easy.

But even in the early 2000s editors like me couldn't afford to own an editing system. An Avid in 2000 cost more than an apartment at Andheri West. So I bought an apartment instead. Many years later, a kind Mac reseller (called PCS) gifted me a used 'buy-back' PowerPC 9500/132 as the Mac was known then. It barely ran FCP, but enough for me to explore it thoroughly and help many a Mac reseller support an FCP system.

The iPod was introduced by Apple in 2000, the first music player by a computer company. In India it was a disaster. Slow internet, no iTunes store, Firewire port so only Mac connectivity -  and a very small Apple Mac population did the iPod in, for India. A dealer once told me that Apple gave a prize to anyone who in 2001 could sell 30 iPods in one month. Today most Apple retailers even in India probably sell that many in a day or even an hour on weekends.

FCP on a Mac was the first editing system that practically anyone could own. My friend Abhinay bought a system in 2002. Using this, his company RDP produced over a hundred TV commercials, many of which were edited by me - first on a G3, then G4, the G5. As Apple made machines that were affordable and even replaceable every 2-3 years. 

In later years the price of Apple systems dropped significantly in India as Apple india participated in their sale. Anyone could own and Apple, so everyone who could afford it, did. And since anyone could own an editing system because of FCP, many movies looked like anyone could have made them.

2007 saw the iPhone, again not very popular in India at first as it was locked and not sold here. I got one because someone I knew had one but didn't like it so sold it to me cheap. In later years I got the next models as well.

Eventually I got an editing system in the shape of an iMac, another Apple computer that was affordable. Then a Powerbook, a MacBook Pro, another iMac, yet another MacBook Pro and another iMac.

In Apr 2010 on a trip to the US just in time for the iPad's release, I had a niece book me one which I got the day it was released. It was shipped while I was still in India so my nephew simply couldn't resist just looking longingly at the box. I let him open it before I got there, and he promptly jumped into his car and got himself one.

Such became the power of Apple's product that people just longed to own them. Apple stores, all over the world, added to this 'hook' that customers experienced. If you walked into an Apple Store, touched, felt, used a machine. You just bought it. Or at least some software, accessories, something.

With no formal management training, no market surveys, no product testing in the marketplace, none of the 'safe' methods of making and selling products - Steve Jobs still managed to turn Apple around. From bankruptcy in 1996 to more money than many countries in 2011. 

Wherever Apple goes from here - and there is reason to believe that it will continue to do well - one thing is for sure. Even in faraway India, Apple managed to touch the lives of many tens of thousands of creative professionals - editors, photographers, sound recordists and engineers, graphic artists, CGI artists, architects, bridge builders and space engineer… the list goes on. And for many millions of common people who own an iPod, an iPod touch, a iPhone or an iPad. Apple is part of their daily lives.

Alvidaa Steve Jobs. Friend, wherever you are, you and our creations will touch and be touched by people and be remembered for many decades. We are fortunate to have lived in your times.

Monday, 26 September, 2011

Avid and FCP for just over a lakh Rupees

Apple is still selling Final Cut Studio 3 which contains Final Cut Pro 7, Motion, Compressor, Soundtrack Pro, Color.DVD Studio Pro. For the price of about Rs 60,000 or maybe lower, this is still a good bargain. 
The price of Avid Media Composer, (software only) on the other hand, is Rs 1.4 lakhs.

But, for a very short while, you can get both for substantially less. 

Avid has a special offer for Avid Media Composer in exchange for your FCP number, for less than Rs 60,000. So, if you buy FCP 7 now, give Avid just the number of your FCP, you can have an Avid and a FCP for a little over Rs 1,10,000.

Avid's offer ends Sept 30, 2011. You need to give them a valid FCP license number. Not the software, just the serial number.

More details here

Or, just get in touch with Real Image or any other Avid resellers in your area.
And by the way, it is possible to run Avid and FCP on the same system. 

If your requirement is to be able to capture from tape and play out to a VTR or monitor, you need hardware. The Mojo SDI will work in Avid but not FCP. And Mojo does not support HD. Blackmagic cards support HD and work in FCP, but not in Avid. So also Aja cards.


Get in touch with me and I can suggest how best to configure a system for FCP and Avid.

Friday, 23 September, 2011

Final Cut Pro X update 10.0.1

Some days ago Apple released an update for Final Cut Pro X. 10.0.1. This remedies some of the features missing in Final Cut Pro X (FCPX). Mainly, XSan compatibility, XML import-export, and other features.

There's a detailed discussion on this along with statements from Richard Townhill from Apple at, the full article here.  

There's also a link to Apple's whitepaper on FCP X for FCP 7 editors.
This is also an interesting read.

But one of the significant takeaways from these two is that you still cannot and probably will not be able to open FCP 7 projects in FCP X. Not even via XML like we used to be able to open FCP 7 projects in FCP 6 via XML. That isn't supported.

The 24@25 PAL film workflow is still not supported, so if editing feature films in India is what you do for a living you can continue with FCP 6 or FCP 7. Or, if you happen to have an FCP 6 or 7 licence, you can buy an Avid Media Composer 5.5 for under Rs 60,000.

Premiere Pro too doesn't support the PAL 24@25 workflow that we in India use for editing feature films shot on 24fps and edited via a telecine to video.

If anyone is absolutely interested in editing feature films shot on film in FCP X, there are workarounds by doing telecine to HD files. This is especially good for low budget films shot on 16mm film. It is possible to edit and finish all picture post within FCP X.

But FCP X is not the same as FCP 7 or anything else. Its a whole new way of approaching the job of editing. Many lament its radical departure from FCP 7 and earlier versions. But I feet FCP X is not as different from other editing systems, as manual film editing on Steenbeeck and such systems was from non-linear editing. 

And if we made that transition two decades ago, we can make this one now. I'm trying. And I urge anyone who's keen to do so too. FCP X is available as a free 30 day trial now. So what's the harm?

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

IBC 2011

The International Broadcasters Conference (IBC) begins in Amsterdam today. Part of this is a large - about 5 times as large as NSE Goregaon in Mumbai - exhibition that opens tomorrow and runs till the 13th Sept at the RAI complex in Amsterdam. This exhibition shows the latest in TV, video, film, broadcasting, webcasting and other allied fields.

As in previous years, I'll be there. But this time I won't be representing any post house, or manufacturer. Just myself. Roving around finding out the latest, and sniffing out trends that will affect the way we make movies, show them, and how audiences will 'consume' the stuff we create.

In the lead up to the expo, I've been in chatting with people in media out here in India. And overall many say they are gearing up for changes. Quite far reaching changes in the way things move in this field. And some are still living in denial and believe there's still business in post as it stands today.

Post, or post-production, which used to be done out of large facilities like Pixion, Prime Focus, Reliance. These, and others are closely observing the evolution in movie-making. Large, well appointed multi million dollar central machine rooms, proprietary systems - hardware and software - and other such expensive installations are being upstaged by small economical desktop systems that people own and use to create entertainment. The Rs 1 million ($ 20,000+) VTR being replaced by the memory card reader that costs under Rs 500 (US$ 10) even in Bandra. 

The revolution that happened in IT some decades ago when large mainframes were upstaged by desktop PCs. Huge tape storages were replaced by floppies at first, and hard disks later. This seems to be the trend that's nearly happening in post production - of films, TV shows, and commercials.

Broadcast - where one central entity sends entertainment out on cable or satellite... to homes which wait for it to arrive. Is gradually being nudged by webcast - where entertainment is always available for anyone to watch anywhere, any time. 

This is still in its infancy in India because of our slow Internet connections and not so widespread use of broadband. But this new method of 'broadcast' is poised to forever change the way the public receives programs - movies, songs, TV shows, shorts, etc. 

I've seen cabbies, and elevator operators ('liftmen') watch movies or parts of movies, or just songs, on their mobile phones. In their free time. Maybe these are downloaded at the present time, but they'll soon be streamed when bandwidth scales. 

People acquire and share movies via software like WhatsApp and see them or show them around to an audience that is increasingly getting used to watching entertainment whenever they have the time, rather than waiting for it to show up on their TV sets.

Digital is making rapid progress in quality while getting more and more economical to use. This has given birth to movies which get made at a very low cost. Where otherwise the cost and complexity of using film made it near impossible to make a movie that one had thought out in one's head. 'Stanley ka Dabba' has been a trend setter in this space and many more movies will follow suit in the coming years.

Film projector based theatres are giving way to digital projectors playing entire movies at high (2k, soon to be 4k) resolution with digital surround sound. And being digital, the movie looks as good three weeks later as it did on the first day.

So watch this space for the next week as I report on the latest, the greatest, the fastest, smallest and cheapest - tools for storytellers as Avid likes to call it. Tools which help us draw people into a darkened room, take money from them, and make them laugh, cry, and forget their daily lives. Within the end of the decade we will be doing it differently, far far differently than our forefathers did for almost a century.

Count on it. 

Monday, 11 July, 2011

FCP X cannot (yet) do 24@25 film editing

This is to clarify FCP X's capability, or lack thereof, of some workflows being used in some parts of the world. Specifically India.

FCP X is not currently capable of doing a feature edit in the 24@25 method with an EDL or cut list as the final output. Or even if you need to make an OMF for sound at the end of the edit.

One can, however edit a feature on FCP X. Something shot digitally where the final output for release can be made from within FCP X.

FCP X may not support some of the tape based workflows in use in TV here. But FCP X is still an editing system. So, with some third party help for managing tape, FCP X can still be used in TV shows.

On '24@25 editing'

A lot of editors in this part of the world still edit feature films... 
...shot on film at 24fps (yes, there is such a thing as 24fps) 
...transferred to SD video at 25fps (4% fast, but frame count intact)
...captured into FCP as 25fps, conformed to 24fps using CinemaTools and edited at 24fps.

After editing is complete, EDLs are made for the DI process, or cut lists for manual negative cutting.

India releases close to 800+ feature movies a year using this method. Editing is done on FCP or Avid Media Composer, but I don't have figures for percentage of each.

So, for these features, FCP 6 and 7 are adequate and will continue to be so. 
FCP X currently lacks any feature that would make this 24@25 editing possible.

And then there's Television, 300+ channels in 20 languages. TV is largely dominated by FCP. And TV is still largely SD, with channels requiring a DigiBeta or Betacam tape master. For these workflows too FCP X can be used for the editing, but a third party app like Media Express would need to be used to make the tape outputs.

After observing some editors I've encountered here, FCP X may actually be a better choice as it really is simpler than FCP 6-7. No easy setups to mess up, no frame rate issues. Media is managed by FCP so no maze of Capture Scratch folders. Colour correction is automatic. Clip organization could be automated too. Rendering is background so less time spent making masters.

Thursday, 7 July, 2011

Apple FCP X remedies?

Apple to Allow Additional FCP 7 Enterprise Licenses and More on FCP X

Is the headline and there are some issues that Apple has seemingly assured users would be fixed. Particularly the ability to be able to still buy FCP 7. I'm not sure if these assurances really amount to much, or frankly, are even necessary. And, in the absence of a real time frame for implementation, I'm putting these down as, like they say in our Government, "in due course".

So here are the assurances and my observations (in italics)

1. FCP XML in/out is coming via 3rd party soon…no FCP 6/7 support project support coming ever it seems…

If XML in/out is supported, then porting FCP 7 projects to FCP X should be easy/possible. I've been working with FCP X for a few days, doing real edits. I see no reason for going back to FCP 7 for real editing, if you're really happy working in FCP X. Also, opening an FCP 7 project in FCP X has no real utility for me after the FCP 7 project has been delivered. But for some people its necessary to be able to open old projects.

2. Ability to buy FCP7 licenses for enterprise deployments coming in the next few weeks…

This will be applicable only to those who have a volume licence and wish to add more seats. Individual users still won't be able to buy FCP 7. In India it doesn't matter as most FCP seats in India are obtained from a supplier called 'Bit Torrent' and most Indian FCP users obtain their 'licence' from a volume licence source called Serial Box.

3. FCPX EDL import/export coming soon…

This should be helpful. But I don't think all features in FCP X can be supported in an EDL.

4. FCPX AJA plugins coming soon for tape capture and layback…capture straight into FCPX bins.

You don't need to capture to an FCP bin. If media is added it will show up in the Event library. In any case Blackmagic's Media Express v3 application that's free with any Blackmagic card is vastly more useful than FCP's log and capture window.

5. XSAN support for FCPX coming in the next few weeks…

XSan will be free with MacOSX 10.7 Lion, so this is really good.

6. FCPX Broadcast video output via #Blackmagic & @AJAVideo coming soon…

This is good and needed.

7. Additional codec support for FCPX via 3rd Parties coming soon…

Depending on which codecs. FCP still needs to be able to directly import 'orphan' AVCHD .MTS and XDCamEx files that are delivered without the correct folder structure. Very common in India. And, Premiere Pro and Avid MC 5.5 can directly work with AVCHD .MTS
8. Customizable sequence TC in FCPX for master exports coming soon…

Lukewarm. Why do you need sequence TC when you don't have edit to tape. And Aja's and Blackmagic tape output utilities can do ETT. You can always export as QT from FCP X and modify the exported QT's timecode in CinemaTools or QTChange. Then do ETT with Aja VTRExchange or BM Media Express.

9. Some FCPX updates will be free some will cost…

Let's see the free and let's see the cost. Once again, Indian users are used to 'managing' software costs.

Sunday, 3 July, 2011

How FCP X will really matter to India

I bought and downloaded FCP X the day it was launched. And now I'm reading the manual and watching training videos to get the 'funda behind' FCP X. It's taking time because FCP X is a whole new app. It does a whole new set of things in totally new ways. Its almost like how I made the transition from Steenbeck to linear tape editing to editing on a computer (first Avid, then FCP)

My preliminary observation is that FCP X is meant for the 'new editor'. The person who will shoot a movie on a tapeless camera. Someone who finds bins, sequences, master clips and their tenuous  connections very hard to fathom. Who doesn't bother with Easy setups, settings and all those 'pro features'. I come across many such because they call or write me with some rather basic questions.

So FCP X is for that newcomer who needs to quickly and easily put together an edit and output it to a modern distribution format like web video, DVD, Blu-ray or a variety of file formats. Such a user probably doesn't even know or care about what a DigiBeta or HDCamSR is.

And such users are in the millions, while the pros are only in the thousands. These 'new age pros' make documentaries, corporate films, AVs, small commercials, news capsules, even wedding videos. Some of them are really accomplished film-makers or directors who have no time or patience to learn the intricacies of editing on a computer. But they do have editing sense. And have gotten sick of waiting upon 'pro editors' and their fusses about systems hanging and crashing and all the jargon.

But as I ponder on the impact of FCP X on large post facilities and workflows in India, and particularly in Mumbai here is how it breaks down.

FCP X can not capture from, or output to tape, so all our DigiBeta and Beta based workflows which form a major part of advertising and TV in India, cannot work with FCP X. But you can edit an ad film if it was shot tapeless and you're OK with mastering out of FCP as a file.

FCP X does not have the 24@25 film edit workflow that FCP 7 and earlier versions do, so you can't edit a feature film, shot on film and needing a cut list or EDL on FCP X. But you can edit a feature that's not shot on film and does not need an EDL or cut list.

FCP X cannot make an EDL, so if your workflow involves going to Smoke/eQ etc via an EDL, then you can't use FCP X. Not even XML is possible. With the addition of a $ 500 plug-in from Automatic duck you can make an AAF from an FCP X timeline if you're really desperate.

FCP X does not (yet) support capture cards like Blackmagic or Aja, but that will change soon.

Apple has a FCP X FAQ up at their site explaining some of the changes in FCP X. 

But how much of an impact is all this to post and TV in Mumbai? India and Mumbai are somewhat of a 'special case' as far as FCP is concerned. Here's how...

I went over to a large post house in Bandra. There, out of 7 FCPs, 5 were FCP 6 (not even FCP 7), and two were FCP 7. The two FCP 7 licenses were not purchased, but…

Then, over to Khar where another international post house has about 3 FCPs and many more Avids. The FCPs here were some on G5 systems, and some on Intel. They also have a 'broadcast division' and some asset management thing with as many as 16 FCP systems. As far as I know none of these FCP licenses are purchased, but…

At a TV channel in Andheri East, there are 21 FCPs for internal channel work. This is largely tapeless. so maybe they can use FCP X. But their 21 FCPs licenses are not purchased (at least that's how it was when installed, maybe they've gone and got licences now) so even they are probably on 'free FCP'.

At a TV channel at Malad, they have 20+ FCPs all licenses purchased. Their VP told me that they are watching FCP X closely. Maybe at a future date I may go over and do a small workshop on how FCP X works out for broadcasting. I believe it does.

At the hundreds of 'hole in the wall' small studios at Andheri's Adarsh Nagar and Aram Nagar, I've not come across too many FCP boxes. In fact many post houses here don't even know FCP comes in a box. The Apple dealer usually 'bundles' FCP with the MacPro purchase.

Apple in India usually turns a blind eye to this and emails to their Sales heads normally don't elicit any response. Apple sells a system anyway, so what if the software isn't exactly paid for. 

So, what impact can FCP X have to a land where tape still rules, where film editing is still SD based, and FCP software is totally free for many if not most users?

In the near term, for institutional customers, the impact of FCP X will be practically nil. They will persist with FCP 7 for 1-2 years more till their existing hardware breaks down and new hardware doesn't support FCP 7. 

After introducing FCP X, Apple discontinued selling FCP 7. This doesn't matter to India one bit as most resellers and customers are stocked up with FCP serial numbers. And FCP 7 disk images are very easy to come by. So FCP 7 will be available in India approximately forever.

But over the next few months, individual film-makers will go out and get MacBook Pros and iMacs, and use FCP X by themselves. They will turn out good looking movies. As FCP X does some really advanced colour correction, and handles defects like camera shake, and adds pretty advanced effects quite easily. 

These individuals will quickly find out that if they apply themselves to learning the reasonably easy interface, they probably need not go to finish their movies in Smoke or eQ or Resolve. And so will emerge the new film-maker, armed with a machine, a software and a will to excel. That's how far I think FCP X will go.

As for Apple, where they sold probably (by my wild guess) only about 1 FCP license per 10 Mac system (sold for editing) In India, they will now sell one FCP per machine sold since FCP X is really hard to pirate. In any case at $ 300 Apple is not likely to bother with FCP X piracy when they didn't bother when FCP 6 or 7 at $ 1000 - $1200 was brazenly pirated.

Some users will crib and turn to Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer, both easily available 'for free' in India. Then they'll find that these are also complicated and not without their own shortcomings. So if you've got to learn something new, why not learn FCP X.

By the way if anyone in India had to really choose between paying... 
FCP X for Rs 13,000, or FCP 7 for Rs 55,000, or Adobe Premiere for Rs 85,000, or Avid Media Composer for Rs 1,40,000, and if that person wasn't a 'pro' who had some definite affinity to any of these, then its clear to see which one will come out on top as far as sales numbers go.

So that's the impact of FCP X in India. Largely 'free users', old arcane workflows, not-so-new machines, will skip FCP X. And a new breed of movie enthusiasts will embrace FCP X and drive the aforementioned 'pros' out of business. Wait and see.