Excellent camera tips for getting the best footage to edit

October 16th, 2010

Here are some amazing camera tips to make sure the footage you shoot won’t end up on the cutting room floor!

Facebook pixel dimensions for 16×9 video upload

October 6th, 2010

Hey all,

I just tried to upload a 16×9 HD video clip to Facebook, only to discover that they actually rescale everything to some funky dimensions.  The result was my video image was squeezed into some crazy aspect ratio.   So I did some research and learned that your 16×9 video needs to be 400 x 225 pixels in order for them not to scale it.  I know that size is hell of ridiculously small, but they have millions of videos to host, so I guess I can accept it.  Anyway, 400 x 225 is your man.

“Rachel Getting Married” – Technical Movie Review

March 29th, 2010

“Rachel Getting Married”, starring Anne Hathaway, surprised me by having one of the most incredible sound mixes I have ever heard. Generally, I would think a film like Avatar would have a better mix, but “Rachel” kicks its butt.  Why? Because it is way more difficult to mix this type of quasi cinema verite realism.

The sound mix more than complimented the hand-held loose camera style. In fact, I listened to this film in Sony headphones and it was incredible. The mix brought me into the whole world of the wedding and it actually felt like I was in the movie at the wedding!  Sometimes I would feel like a car was pulling up in my own driveway and I literally paused the movie, got up and went to check my driveway to see if someone had pulled up. The mix was that immersive. There were dozens of layers to the mix and it was brilliantly balanced by Jeff Pullman.

The thing is, this mix is so superior because it literally makes you forget you are watching a movie. By contrast, some of the big Michael Bay type movies sound really bad ass but they just make you think you are listening to a bunch of designed sounds that don’t have any base in reality.   “Rachel” , on the other hand, was real delight to hear. I never once strained to hear the dialogue, but there was music and crowds over the whole movie and it all seemed perfectly blended.

I liked this mix so much that I am now going to be posting a new section on this blog called “Technical Movie Reviews”

If you want to hear a perfect mix, a ten on the scale, then this is the benchmark. Get yourself some headphones and a beer and go to the wedding.  Oh, it didn’t hurt that the acting was off the charts amazing.

16×9 Pixel Dimension Calculator for Proper Aspect Ratio

February 11th, 2010

I just found this perfect little tool for calculating 16×9 pixel dimensions. The calculator is actually designed for HD screen sizes, but I use it for determining pixel ratios instead.

There are tons of video and social networking sites that have specific upload pixel dimension requirements.  And of course, we need to upload our file with those exact specs so that the video doesn’t look stretched or blocky.   So try this calculator for convenience.   A baby could use it.

16×9 Pixel Dimension Calculator

Apple Updates Final Cut Studio – More Than 100 New Features

July 23rd, 2009

Apple Updates Final Cut Studio with More Than 100 New Features
New Versions of Final Cut Pro, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, Color and Compressor
Press Release
July 23, 2009    Source: Studio Daily

Apple today announced a significant update to Final Cut Studio® with more than 100 new features and new versions of Final Cut Pro®, Motion, Soundtrack® Pro, Color and Compressor. Final Cut Studio features Final Cut Pro 7 which expands Apple’s ProRes codec family to support virtually any workflow and includes Easy Export for one step output to a variety of formats and iChat® Theater support for real-time collaboration. Motion 4 includes enhanced tools such as 3D shadows, reflections and depth of field for stunning motion graphics and visual effects, and Soundtrack Pro 3 features new multitrack audio tools to streamline audio post production. Color 1.5 includes better Final Cut Pro integration and support for full color resolution, and Compressor 3.5 adds new features that make it easy to set up and customize your export options. At $999, the new Final Cut Studio is $300 less than the previous release and is also available as an upgrade for just $299.

“With 1.4 million users and 50 percent of the market,* Final Cut Pro is the number one professional video editing application,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “The new Final Cut Studio includes more than 100 new features and dramatically expands Apple’s ProRes family of codecs so editors can work in the studio with the highest quality video or on location at low bandwidths.”

Final Cut Pro 7, the latest version of Apple’s Emmy Award-winning editing software, includes new versions of Apple’s ProRes codecs to support virtually any workflow with the addition of ProRes Proxy, for offline and mobile editing at low bandwidth; ProRes LT, for general purpose editing; and ProRes 4444 for editing and visual effects at the highest quality possible. Easy Export allows users to continue working on projects while encoding is done in the background and the sequence is exported to YouTube, MobileMe™, iPhone™, iPod®, Apple TV®, DVD or Blu-ray. iChat Theater support allows real time collaboration by sharing Final Cut® timelines or individual source clips with iChat users anywhere in the world, even if they don’t have a copy of Final Cut Pro. Other new features include new speed tools to change clip speed with ease, alpha transitions to create dramatic effects using moving mattes, and native AVC-Intra support for the latest high quality Panasonic cameras.

Motion 4 extends award-winning, easy to use animation tools so video editors can quickly create everything from basic titles to animated credit rolls to stunning motion graphics. Enhancing 3D compositions is faster than ever with new customizable features that add point and spot lights to cast realistic shadows or turn any shape, video plane or paint stroke into a reflective surface. Motion 4 gives editors the flexibility to adjust the depth of field within a 3D canvas by selectively highlighting a single object or using multiple objects to create a racking focus effect.

Soundtrack Pro 3 adds powerful new audio editing tools including Voice Level Match which extracts volume information from the vocal content of one clip and applies it to another without altering any other audio content so editors can easily correct mismatched voice levels. An enhanced File Editor includes new tools to make sophisticated edits and fine tune volume adjustments by targeting specific frequencies such as the rustle of a paper or the bump of a desk without affecting dialogue. The new Advanced Time Stretch feature stretches and compresses audio with incredible precision using three Apple-designed algorithms or other algorithms available as third party plug-ins.

Color 1.5, Apple’s easy to use professional grading application, now works with a greater range of sequences and effects from Final Cut Pro and an integrated workflow allows editors to complete projects entirely within Final Cut Studio. New 4K support works natively with files from cameras such as the RED ONE and outputs directly to ProRes for HD or DPX for film. Expanded support for new high quality formats includes AVC-Intra, XDCAM 422 and ProRes 4444, for grading with the maximum amount of color information.

Compressor 3.5 makes encoding and delivering in multiple formats easier than ever with the ability to automatically detect QuickTime® settings and create an Easy Export template or a mini “droplet” on the desktop that automates specific Compressor actions. New, customizable sharing options make it easy to publish to YouTube and MobileMe, or export for iPhone, iPod, Apple TV and mobile phones. For the highest quality HD material, menu templates and encoding presets make it fast and easy to create Blu-ray discs. Final Cut Studio also includes DVD Studio Pro®, a powerful DVD authoring environment with drag and drop tools, on screen editing and real time previews.

Soundtrack Pro and Compressor are also available as part of the new Logic Studio®, allowing Final Cut and Logic® users to collaborate and share files.

Apple today also introduced Final Cut Server 1.5, the asset management and automation tool for Final Cut Studio. Final Cut Server 1.5 includes powerful new features like lightweight, offline editing with ProRes Proxy, production hierarchies to organize media, and support for still sequences to easily view and manage image sequences for graphics and effects workflows. Final Cut Server now includes unlimited client licenses and is available for $999 or as a $299 upgrade for existing users.

Pricing & Availability
Final Cut Studio is now available through the Apple Store® (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers for a suggested retail price of $999 (US) and existing Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro users can upgrade for a suggested retail price of $299 (US). Full system requirements and more information on Final Cut Studio can be found at www.apple.com/finalcutstudio. Final Cut Server 1.5 is now available through the Apple Store (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers and includes unlimited client licenses for a suggested retail price of $999 (US) and existing Final Cut Server users can upgrade for suggested retail price of $299 (US). Full system requirements and more information on Final Cut Server can be found at www.apple.com/finalcutserver. *Based on data from broadcast and professional video market research firm SCRI International, Inc. showing Apple is the market leader for post-production with 50 percent of broadcast and post non-linear editor purchases in 2008.

The 64-Bit Question – By Giles Baker

July 13th, 2009

The 64-Bit Question

64-bit computing is a hot topic in the video production industry—and a lot of people are talking about the benefits of a complete 64-bit system. You may think that moving to 64-bit is expensive, but not necessarily. It’s actually possible to take advantage of the benefits brought by 64-bit systems without much expense, and in today’s environment, anything that brings incremental improvements to productivity without a big cash outlay is worth investigating. This article explores the advantages that 64-bit can bring to various video production workflows, and discusses the easiest ways to upgrade systems to take advantage of these gains.

Are We There Yet?

You may be waiting for 64-bit computing to arrive, an eagerly anticipated explosion that delivers unprecedented new computing power. The reality is that 64-bit computing is not going to arrive as a massive sea change; it’s already here. In fact, you may at this moment be sitting in front of a 64-bit capable machine that can add dramatic productivity improvements to your business, and not even know it. All you may need is a memory or operating system upgrade to start working at blazingly fast, 64-bit speeds.

Whenever the industry moves to a new architecture like 64-bit, it does so in a transitional manner that takes a number of years to complete. Those that move first are the most demanding users who value the benefits of the technology highly enough to endure the teething problems that are a natural part of early adoption. Eventually, as the technology advances, all users will make the change. We are well past the early stage now, and it is fair to say that for all involved in professional video production, the benefits of 64-bit easily justify the cost and time to migrate. In fact, if you wait for the transition to be complete, you will undoubtedly find yourself behind the curve.

The Benefits of 64-Bit

The biggest difference with 64-bit is memory. With a 32-bit address space, the computer can identify 232 individual bits of data, corresponding to 4GB of memory. In practice, operating systems, particularly Microsoft Windows, reserve a portion of this memory for “personal use,” meaning that less is actually available for running applications. With a 64-bit address space, computers can talk to 264 individual bits of data, corresponding to 17.2 billion gigabytes—an effectively unlimited amount of memory that can be used for running multiple applications, often with increased performance.

With more memory, video workflows gain two important benefits, both of which can give you an edge in your business: efficient high-resolution production and more flexible workflows.

Hi-Res and RAW

With more and more productions shooting high-resolution RAW content, the capacity to handle any resolution your clients request might be the deciding factor in getting a particular job, so it pays to be ready. Equally important, the additional productivity from investing in more memory for 64-bit systems equates to less time and lower cost to complete a job, providing the freedom to price more competitively or to increase margins.

Smoothly playing multiple streams of video in real time requires that many frames must be loaded into memory simultaneously so that they can be processed quickly. With cameras like RED capturing very large frame sizes up to 4K and beyond, 32-bit systems run out of memory quickly, hindering performance. With 64-bit systems, memory can be specified according to the expected workflow—if large frame rates will be the norm, you can add up to 64GB to maximize performance.

All Apps, All the Time

Running all your applications at the same time equates to a more efficient production system, leading to lower production costs. More importantly, it opens the door to experimenting more during production because there is no longer a time penalty associated with moving content to and from other applications. For example, if you can use Adobe®After Effects® to add motion graphics to any element of an Adobe Premiere® Pro timeline without having to save and close work in some other application, you are far more likely to experiment because the tools are immediately available. This flexibility can bring a creative edge to your production that improves your reputation, and ultimately, your business success.

As the solutions from the major software providers become well-integrated desktop production systems, workflows become increasingly seamless and flexible. But the reality is the race to higher resolutions means that often there isn’t enough memory in the system to run all the applications you need at the same time, and you have to close/reopen the applications that are used less frequently. With 64-bit systems, the removal of memory limitations means this issue is eliminated—you can add as much memory as you need to run multiple applications.

Getting to 64-Bit

If you are a Mac user, odds are you probably already have a 64-bit machine. With the exception of the very first generation, all Intel-based Macs are 64-bit capable, and all versions of Mac OS X that run on those machines are 64-bit too. This means that a memory upgrade is all that is needed to realize the benefits of 64-bit.

For Windows users, the decision is a little more complex. The major question is whether the CPU in your system is 64-bit capable. If it is, then you will need to purchase a 64-bit version of Windows to take advantage. Microsoft sells the 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate upgrade for just over $200.
The majority of CPUs built in the last three years can run 64-bit systems. At Adobe, we survey our customers to understand the capabilities of their systems. Our latest information shows that the vast majority of our Production Premium CS4 customers have 64-bit capable machines.

For memory there are a number of considerations. The first is the simple question of whether the computer can physically accommodate more than 4GB of memory. This depends on the number of slots on the motherboard and type of memory expected. Most desktop machines will accommodate at least 8GB of RAM. Most laptops are limited to 4GB, although that is changing, with new machines allowing up to 16GB. There are a number of resources on the web that can help you through this process – try searching for “how to upgrade memory.”

At today’s prices, PC users should be able to upgrade a desktop system to 8GB RAM and Vista64 for less than $400. This may prove to be the most cost-effective upgrade you can make to your current system.

Up Close: Dv3 Productions and 64-Bit

One Adobe customer that has moved to 64-bit systems is Dv3 Productions, founded by brothers Obin and Amariah Olson. In Fall 2008, the Olsons became among the first to use the RED camera’s tapeless workflow built around the RED importer plug-in and Adobe Premiere Pro CS4. Their project, Fatal Flaw, is a short film produced by Joseph Simpkins of Living Water Films.

The brothers used Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium software to drop 4K resolution native R3D files straight onto the Adobe Premiere Pro timeline, without transcoding or rewrapping, and 64-bit machines to work either online or offline with the same RAW master files.

The Olsons note that a major benefit of using Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium is that the applications are all optimized for 64-bit computer systems. The latest version of Adobe’s toolset offers increased performance and editing speed, rapid switching among tools, and improved stability—all of which free up time. The move to 64-bit has given the Olsons confidence to work in real-time in client-supervised sessions, editing video and creating effects on the fly using native RAW video. Dv3 Productions got all of these benefits at a low cost that has quickly paid off in improved creativity and better client service.

Goodbye Kodachrome

June 24th, 2009

I came across this article that made me a little sad. Kodachrome is my favorite film of all time.


Here’s the article by Scott:


By Scott Simmons of Studio Daily

Real film lovers of the world probably shed a tear today as Kodak announced the retirement of KODACHROME film. From a moving image standpoint Kodak discontinued Kodachrome Super 8mm stock back in 2005 which wasn’t a real surprise. Super 8 is only shot these days for that specific look and feel and for those film people who really want to be nostalgic. I bought a Super 8 camera from a yard sale a few years ago that was in very good shape. I never shot a frame since the cost to buy, process and transfer the stuff properly just wasn’t worth the $$. The film-lover in my soul sank as I proceeded to shoot on DV and apply lots of film-like flashes and edge fog.

One paragraph that stuck out to me in the Kodak press release was this:

While Kodak now derives about 70% of its revenues from commercial and consumer digital businesses, it is the global leader in the film business.

It’s amazing to think how a global leader in the film market could see such a shift in their core business. I guess it goes to show that no matter how much better film really is, be it still or motion picture, the added cost really isn’t worth the benefit for many most.

But film as an acquisition medium for motion pictures is not dead yet. There will always be the those who insist on shooting it as long as Kodak and Fuji make it. And it will always be gorgeous with a dynamic range that digital has yet to reproduce. A Kodak rep was recently in the office talking about 2-perf (as in 2-perforation) 35mm film as a new format to nearly cut the cost of shooting film in half. At least in half from shooting 4-perf. Not a bad idea but 2-perf isn’t new, it’s been around for many years. I guess it’s just a matter of Kodak beginning to push it more and more as film is shot less and less. Here’s some 2-perf discussion if you are interested: Is 2-Perf the new 3-Perf?, Panavision Proposes 2-Perf Film System for Indie Filmmaking, Film at Half the Price, 2Perf – the film format for the digital chain (pdf link). You can’t just shoot 2-perf on any film camera as they have to be modified but some are available.

But I digress … goodbye Kodachrome (I will not insert a Paul Simon pun). My dad shot a whole lot of stills on you over the years. For reflection here’s a nice little 4 minute You Tube video about the “end of Super 8 Kodachrome film processing.”

Power in a cup: How to help your java help you make better edits!

June 9th, 2009



Silly as this subject may seem, a good cup of coffee, can keep an editor focused, motivated, and creative in late night sessions. When you are getting tired in a late night edit session, the best thing to do is work out. Do some isometrics or go out side for 5 minutes per hour and do pushups and jumping jacks. But if you’re like me,  you might be a little more on the lazy side once the sun goes down. So I rely on the stimulant that has been proven in battle (and on truck routes) for the ages: a good ol’ cup o’ joe. Of course, don’t forget to lay off the sugary foods or you will be crashing hard by the time you load your next tape to digitize.

A great cup of coffee is way more effective at keeping the editor happy than a crappy cup of coffee. So here’s my recipe for a great cup of coffee:

1) Make really fresh coffee!! I mean, fresh, so that when you pour it into the cup, it has only been brewed less than 2 minutes.

2) Superheat your mug prior to pouring the coffee. This is best done by having the cup sit with boiling water in it during the time the coffee is brewing.  The cup has to be super hot so that the coffee will stay hot and fresh longer, making it take longer to drink. This also has the effect of spreading out the caffeine intake over a longer period of time … which has the effect of a gradual boost in alertness and an equally gradual coming down period hours later. Plus, the pure delight of a piping cup of great coffee lasts longer and makes you a happier editor.

3) Don’t put too much crap in your coffee. Only use milk or half and half. No artificial creamers. Coffee has an amazing property of the flavor being changed by chemical reaction upon contact with the milk molecules. In other words, a cup of coffee with a mere teaspoon of cream tastes 100 percent different than black coffee. Too much dairy will counter act the caffeine effectiveness.  Also, make sure the milk/cream is pre-heated before putting it into the fresh coffee. How do you preheat it? Be your normal resourceful editor self.

4) Never use those plug-in coffee warmers that you set your mug on like a coaster. Those things continue to keep the coffee artificially warm which is tantamount to leaving it cooking at the coffee maker. After 5 minutes of heating cooked coffee, it turns disgusting.

And that’s it. Sometimes the small things are just as important as the cut. Because let’s face it, what kind of creativity can you bring to a project when it’s late at night and you are feeling like a zombie?

Goofs In The Credits? Don’t Wreck Your Film!

May 13th, 2009

I know, I know, this is a blog about post production problems, not necessarily about a film’s content. But content is king and I have seen more than a few times when bad judgment on content bleeds into the post sessions to wreck a film and unnecessarily break the budget.

Many times, I see indie filmmakers(of both shorts) and features fall into the trap of being so in love with their footage in the cutting room, that they just HAVE to put all the outtakes in the end credits. Ok, this is a bad, bad, bad, idea… unless your film is of the Will Farrell variety.

Here’s an example. I recently worked on this extremely powerful project about a woman’s struggle to tell authorities about being raped. It was a well-written and smart drama that had all the elements of a successful film festival hit. Cool.

But the director just could not bear the idea of leaving out the “hilarious” out-takes during the credit sequence.  Yeah, hilarious. This huge drama unfolds on screen and we are thinking the film is brilliant and moving… until the credits roll and we see all the gaffs and f-words that were supposed to be left on the proverbial cutting room floor (actually, these days there is no “cutting room floor”, just a delete button.)

Why would this director ruin my experience by making me sit through the absolute cliché of cliché bloopers. Everybody knows these bloopers and even if it’s Tom Cruise falling on a banana peel or Gweneth Paltrow having trouble yielding her whip in the dominatrix scene from Iron Man 2, it really isn’t funny or cute.

But after a filmmaker works so hard to achieve a certain tone, why torpedo it with a lame bit of outtakes that ruin the whole mood that was masterfully created by the film?

Whenever I see those bullshit outtakes, I see amateurs at work. People, outtakes are not funny. But what is funny is how the director’s credit card was declined for the EXACT amount of hours that were billed for making these hilarious outtakes. No joke. We spent about 4.5 hours making the most “knee-slappingly funny” credit sequence, using all kinds of software like After Effects and Photoshop. And when the bill was totaled, her card was past its limit for that exact amount. We held the master until she called in for reinforcements to help fund the genius credit sequence.

I’m only this bitter because I was really enjoying the movie. But I felt like an idiot for liking it once the underbelly of outtakes ripped the film out from under me.

And looking back, it is always the first time filmmakers and amateurs who love these bloopers. Like I said, if you are going for a Will Farrell tone for the whole movie, then knock yourself out in the credits with some crazy fart outtakes. Otherwise, rape just isn’t that funny.

DEAR GOD, MAN! Auto-Exposure From Hell !!

May 1st, 2009

So I’m eagerly awaiting the delivery of these “ultra important” HDV tapes that are supposed to becoming for transfer. And right on time, the FedEx guy shows up with a box. I open the tapes, pop one in the deck and… it’s an interview with a high profile celebrity. The sound is perfect. The color is rich… but wait… what the…. OH NO! They shot the celebrity with the auto-exposure turned on. Say it ain’t so!

The tape looks wonderful, but every time the guy leans toward the camera or leans back (which seems to be about every five seconds because the guy is pretty animated) the exposure changes. He’s wearing a light shirt and the background is pretty dark. So when he leans forward, the entire image darkens by about 1/4 stop. Now, that may not seem like much, but 1/4 stop in HDV is like someone fired up an extra 2K softlight in the room. Then the guy leans back and everything goes back to “normal.”

The thing is, there is no way they are ever going to re-shoot this footage, so the only thing to do is fix it. Enter Kirk. A lot of you may have all kinds of ideas about how to solve this problem, but here’s the way I did it:

First I marked each transition where the picture density changed. It turned out to be 83 times across 4 tapes. (Most of the footage was of the brighter variety.) Then I measured the length of each transition. They ranged from about 2-14 frames.

Then I duplicated the sequence.

In sequence number one, I dissolved to black (actually it was emptiness) at each “bright” transition, then dissolved back up at the next transition. So I was left with a whole sequence of nothing but the “normal” footage in the timeline that kept dipping to nothingness (alpha channel).

In sequence two, I did the exact opposite, ending up with all the bright footage, dipping down to nothing at the transitions

Then, I took the “normal only” sequence and played with the density until it matched the look of the bright one.

Next, in After Effects, I composited the two sequences on top of each other, making it look like one long sequence of “bright” footage. I flattened it by nesting it in a new composition. Then I played with the density and contrast until the “bright” footage looked as normal as I could get it.

Then I laid it all back to HDV tapes to have a clean archive master of the adjusted dailies.

How did it look? By my eye, I could see the changes at each transistion. But that could have been because I was looking for and anticipating each change. The client was more than pleased with the adjusted footage. And in the end, when it was all cut together in an EPK, it was downconverted to digibeta and looked amazing. Nobody would ever be able to tell. The biggest shock about the adjusted footage was the producer’s face when I handed him the bill. But it was certainly cheaper than the alternative of not having the footage.

Today’s lesson: NEVER EVER shoot with auto-exposure on unless you are doing run and gun paparazzi work … or home videos.