Amazing Flash Animation

30 05 2008

Thanks to Alan Miller, over on the Avid L2 board, for sending along this link to this amazing Flash Animation page for the Dutch store HEMA. It’s worth watching a few times.

What Being An Assistant Really Means

28 05 2008

Tim Leavitt, over at the ever valuable blog View From The Cutting Room Floor, has a great definition of what an assistant editor’s job is on a blog post:

“Anything that goes into or comes out of the Avid is my responsibility: digitizing footage; importing graphics; making tapes, DVD’s, and EDL’s; etc. I am also responsible for helping the editor locate or organize any of the material already in the Avid to make his or her job easier.”

He then goes on to say that organization is what makes this all possible and goes on, in a three-part blog entry (part one is over here, part two is over here, and part three is over here).

Among students who want to be editors (and filmmakers who want to be editors) it is often too easy to ignore just how easy it is to get caught up in red tape if you’re not organized. Yet, that aspect of film editing is often dismissed as non-creative and not worth studying. Take it from Tim — it’s worth its weight in trim bins (hmmmm, old joke there; let me know if it’s too ancient-film for you).

Thanks to Tim for codifying this all.

Tivo and Disney Agree On The Future

28 05 2008

An article in today’s Electronista talks about a deal between Tivo and Disney Studios to offer videos on demand from Disney, some of them in HD. TiVo, for those of you living under a rock for the last four or five years, offers a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) service, tied into the consumer’s television — meaning that you can watch downloaded content on your own timeframe, as well as fast forward and backward through the program.

The problem with DVRs, as I talked about in yesterday’s posting, was that you could only watch material which had already aired (or was just then airing) — there was no way to get LITTLE MERMAID if it wasn’t playing on television. The great thing about this announcement is that you will be able to download and watch everything that Disney puts up on the TiVo site, regardless of whether it’s run on television recently. You might be able to see Steamboat Willie (hence the image on the left, courtesy of the BBC) anytime you want.

There is one huge “ah-ha” which is bound to make it much more difficult for the service to catch on than it should be.

TiVo made it clear movies in standard definition will be available for a 24-hour period, although how many HD movies will be available and if the timeframe for watching them will differ from the SD offerings was not specified.

Any number of people have talked about why 24 hours is a ridiculous time frame, myself included (in the post “How Do People Watch Films? And How Does Apple Rent Them?“). Especially for households with children, the idea that you’d be able to rent any film, watch it all in 24 hours, and then never have to watch it again, is preposterous. When my daughter was two, she would have watched THE WIZARD OF OZ about 50 times a week if we let her. The idea that she could complete watching a film in one 24-hour period and then not want to watch it again that week defies belief.

This is going to turn people away from this business model, and dig into the purchase or disc rental side of things, effectively killing this very valuable TiVo concept. It’s too bad, and it’s another example of the entrenched film industry not seeing beyond the tip of their nose, the same nose that they will cut off to spite their face.

Storytellers Talk About Telling Stories

27 05 2008

Current TV logoCurrent TV has a series of videos on their web site which are designed to teach people who are thinking of creating short documentary pieces and uploading them to their site (they call them “pods”) the basics of the short doc form.

And, while their pieces on editing are woefully basic for anyone who has done their own editing (“This is a fade out. This is a fade in.”) there are a number of short interviews with people who make their living telling stories. There are pieces from Ira Glass, Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, Catherine Hardwicke, Xeni Jardin, and more.

There is also an interesting piece from Elvis Mitchell, who has to be one of the most intelligent, well-read and relaxes interviewers on the scene today (download podcasts of his always fascinating and educational KCRW radio show — The Treatment — from the KCRW website or from iTunes). He discusses the illusion of objectivity in documentaries. What they are looking for, right now, he asserts is “a point of view.” There is also a discussion about how filmmakers like Michael Bay will definitely be stealing from people in the underground.

Check these out.

Viewing Media MY Way

27 05 2008

Well, not MY way exactly. But OUR way.

One of my favorite Mac geeky type blogs is Adam Christenson’s MacCast. Adam spends a chunk of time giving us Mac news, and then answers Mac questions from his huge audience (most of them ask questions that I couldn’t even conceive of, much less know that I don’t know the answer). Along the way, he often gets into larger issues.

On the May 11, 2008 show, Adam talked about how people use their Netflix accounts, versus how they use the Apple TV. This led to the conclusion that many people watch their films in many ways. I’m going to try and expand on this excellent discussion (to hear Adam talk about this just zoom on over to the archive page for that MacCast).

The basic thrust of Adam’s argument was that he (and others) don’t download everything onto their Apple TV, just the impulse rentals. Netflix was for things that he didn’t mind waiting around a day or so for. And buying DVDs was for movies that he really wanted to own.

Now, I would add a few other methods of watching films. For one, there is the fanciful idea of actually going to a theater and seeing the film on a big screen, with film or digital projection. I’d also add in watching films on pay or free television (that is, without or with ads). As a side issue, there is also the VOD (video on demand) model, in which we grab movies from our cable or satellite provider, and watch their selected titles when we want to — at a price.

My point is that there are a number of ways to view films (and, by extension, any moving media, and the smart distributor would try and service all of these means:

  1. Movie theater. For the large scale, social experience. This means seeing the movie more or less when THEY want you to see it, and we have to go where THEY want us to see it. THEY also control what we see — unless it’s in a theater, we aren’t going to be able to watch it.
  2. Buy a DVD. For a more intimate experience. This means seeing the movie more or less when YOU want to see it, and making some arrangement to purchase the disk. That means buying online and waiting for it to arrive (in which the when is indeterminate), or going to a store and buying it. Depending on where you buy it, THEY control what we see — to a greater or lesser degree — depending on what is in stock.
  3. Rent a DVD. This means seeing the movie more or less when YOU want to see it, and getting the disk from somewhere, let’s say a video store. In this case, there is a lag between the impulse to see a movie and when you can view it, but WE can control WHERE we want to see it. THEY control what we see — especially if you rent from a place like Blockbuster, which has a limited selection and may be out of a particular title. While it’s pretty cool to window shop for the film we want, it may not be a very wide window.
  4. Netflix the DVD. Here we give up the “when” until we receive the DVD but then we can control when we want to see it. It also means WE can control the where. WE also control the what – we can see pretty much anything we want, so long as Netflix has it.
  5. Cable/satellite television. Here WE control the where (so long as there is a television in the room), but THEY control the then. We can’t control the content completely — THEY determine which films are available for us to see.
  6. VOD network. Here WE control the where and WE control the when, within certain parameters. THEY determine which films are available for us to see.
  7. Free television. Here THEY control the content — we’re limited to what is on. THEY control the when, as well. Sure, we can time shift, using our little DVRs, but we can’t watch something today, if it doesn’t run until tomorrow. WE control pretty much nothing, and we get commercials integrated within the program as well.
  8. Download services. Here, THEY control the content, but there is no theoretical limit to how many films can be accessible — only a business limitation (download windows may run out, for instance) so, as more content becomes accessible, WE can begin to take control. WE control the where, and there is little to no time lag, so WE pretty much control the when (depending on download times, and whether we’re streaming or not). There will also be a business model where we’d download to own, giving us large control.

There are variations within these eight categories, but you can see that they run the gamut from THEIR total control to OUR total control. So, why wouldn’t we want to have total control.

The truth is that going to a movie theater is, once you’re there, a hell of a lot easier than downloading something to Apple TV. Someone gets the movie, someone runs it for you, someone makes your food and drinks, and then someone cleans it all up after you’re done. There’s an incredible amount of service there, not to mention the group experience.

Despite Apple’s success at simplifying the downloading process, it still isn’t as easier to get and watch a movie on Apple TV as it is at a theater. You’ve got to figure out how to hook up the equipment at first, you’ve got to figure out how to download and then play the film back. You’ve got to pop your own popcorn and clean up the Coke stains on the floor (carpet?!?!?!) when you’re done.

There will be times when zoning out on the couch and popping in a DVD will be preferable to going out to a theater. There will be times when selecting a DVD will be too tiring, so you’ll just watch what happens to be on cable on the moment (or, if you can’t afford cable, what’s on free tv). There will be times when it is easy to stop off at the local video store on the way home from work and choosing something that you can just pop into the DVD and zone out to. And there will be times when you think “wow, I want to watch that Maggie Gyllenhal film from last year,” and the iTunes store will make it easy to find and download it for you (or any number of other online film services that will pop up in the next few years).

[And, yes, there will be times when finding a film online and watching it from your computer will be just fine as well.]

[A final aside — I haven’t even bothered to talk about the financial or technical considerations, which will vary from person to person, and situation to situation, but will be very influential as well.]

The point is that we want to view OUR media OUR way. No one solution is going to solve everyone’s needs. The smart media companies will be the ones that realize that the dumb move will be to specialize in one of these methods. They will realize that the more of these eight bases that they cover, the better they will serve all facets of the market. And the more successful they will be.

[Thanks to Adam for sparking these thoughts.]

Being Sold To

22 05 2008

BLADE RUNNER, courtesy The Blade Runner PartnershipI was at a meeting today at USC at which someone from an IT committee was talking to us about how the university is attempting to fight email spam.  He told us that over 98% of all emails (estimated at over 35 million per day and rising) is now spam.

Let me say that again — over 98%.

That is horrifyingly staggering.  It also ties in rather well with a conversation I was having Tuesday night with some people I was meeting up in Silicon Alley.

I’ve been counting the amount of time I can go without being sold to.  I go to a web page and there’s a popup.  At the security station at LAX on my way up to Northern California on Tuesday I looked down at the tray they give me to put my shoes and jacket in when you slide it through the detector.  There, at the bottom, was an advertisement.

Taxicabs in New York have ads on top and in the back seat.  When I’m on hold on the phone to my book they try and sell me something.  There are video ads in the aisles of my supermarket and at the islands where I pump my gas.

In short, life is beginning to look like BLADE RUNNER or MINORITY REPORT.

[There was an article in Tuesday’s New York Times about a developer here in Los Angeles who is building some towers in downtown LA and is putting 20 story high billboards, made of strips of LEDs based on what he saw in BLADE RUNNER.]

So, I’ve been timing it.  The longest I’ve gone in the last few weeks without being sold to is about eight minutes, when I was taking a shower in the morning.  (Note that if I had been standing at the urinal in my health club I would be staring at an ad.)

I don’t know about you, but I have two reactions to this constant upselling.  First is that I am real tired of it. The second reaction is horror and surprise — at the fact that I no longer am feeling the horror of constantly being sold to.  I am getting used to the constant barrage.  And that’s the scariest thing of all.

Welcome to the future, folks.

New Editor Demos

22 05 2008

Harry Miller, who I’ve mentioned in the past for creating two fantastic Avid tutorials on sound, has been assembling more tutorials on his Editor Demos site. As of now, he has uploaded demos that describe the following (click the buttons to play the demo right from his site) [And I should mention that I’ve simply copied the HTML right from Harry’s site to create the rest of this entry. That way I got to keep his cool buttons!!]:

Using the Timewarp plugin.

VFX: Animatte
How to create a new shot, or to fix a problem area

Working with AudioSuite plug-ins in Media Composer. (Flash video)

Audio Tools in the Media Composer
How to balance audio in a Media Composer sequence, using the Audio Mixer with sliders, Auto Mode, and linking channels. (Flash video).

Export from Avid
This slide presentation will illustrate how to export a sequence from an Avid in order to burn a viewable DVD or compress a Quicktime movie. (Slide presentation)

Self-Serving Announcement

18 05 2008

Digital Production BuzzYou’ve heard me talk about Larry Jordan and Mike Horton’s Digital Production Buzz radio show/podcast (actually, I’ve never heard it on the radio in real time; I listen to it every week in my car driving to or from work — thanks to the podcast version of the show).

Well, this week Larry and Mike are interviewing me on the show. I’m not quite sure just what they’ll find so interesting, but I know I can trust them to do it. For those of you who are interested in what I sound like with a cold, tune in on Thursday from 6-7 Pacific time (you can hear it live on their site right here). And just to make it even more interesting for you, they also promise to interview Patrick Nugent from Roxio about the new Toast, and editor Michael Jones. That interview is described thusly on their web site:

Michael Jones was the editor for the revival of “Banana Splits” for Warner Brothers. Shot in Australia, Michael developed an intriguing on-set editing workflow using Final Cut Pro and it’s multicam feature to show the director what they shot almost as soon as the scene was over. Listen as he describes his new workflow.

Listen early and listen often.


To listen to the finished show, go to this archive page for the Buzz May 22nd show.

Avid Girds Its Loins

18 05 2008

WARNING: This post is chock-full of editing-geek mojo. If you’re not interested in editing and editing tools, then I’d suggest you surf over here instead (just kidding, just kidding).

Avid LogoI spent most of yesterday at a meeting up in the beastly hot city know as “Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” along with a group of editors, talking to some of the people from Avid about what’s coming up for them, especially as revolves around the release of their new Media Composer software, version 3.0 (due out in early June).

Now, many of you know that I like working on the Avid. I started out on Lightworks, way back in the stone age of NLEs, and subsequently was forced to work on Ediflex and Montage before I got to work on the Avid. It took me a little bit to get used to it, after the very film flatbed feel of the Lightworks. But I’ve been using it pretty consistently since then and have gotten very used to its look and feel.

But the company very nearly ran aground for several years, when it couldn’t figure out what it wanted to do and how it wanted to interact with its users. Now, admittedly, feature and television editors are probably the worst group of users you’d want to have as a manufacturer — we’re incredibly detail-oriented, we’re under so much time pressure and stress that we have very little patience for errors, but we also want an incredible amount out of our editing systems. If you were going to choose a market to create an NLE for, I’d go for wedding videographers way before us.

But we are very visible and we do help to drive the NLE companies forward in their product development.

So, when Avid started its “New Thinking” campaign, many of us approached it with some trepidation. Was this sloganeering or course correction? Was it a sincere effort at reclaiming lost loyalties, or a cynical attempt to woo people away from Final Cut?

After yesterday’s meeting, I have to say that I’m very encouraged. Many of us in the room, including fellow bloggers Steve Cohen, of the ever informative Splice Here, and Harry B. Miller III, of the ACE Technical Blog, felt pretty positive about some of the new features. One that I am particularly happy to see, is the Avid FX application, which will now be integrated into Media Composer. Previously available as a stand-along application as part of the PC-only Avid Suite, this is Avid’s response to the increasing practice of Avid editors to go out and use Motion for titles creation, only to have to import them back into Avid. (As an aside, Jay Cassidy — who is cutting the new Jim Sheridan film — told me that he does his titles in After Effects.).

Based on Boris, Avid FX can easily create and animate titles which, like Motion, can be made from a large number of templates. For anyone who has no time to make titles, but still needs them in their cut, this is a great time saver. It was pioneered by Apple in Motion (and, before that, LiveType), but from the demo we saw, Avid has more than stepped up to the plate to give us a similar tool.

Like Motion, it is keyframable, works off of a timeline model (which is manipulatable) and pretty responsive, even on a single core laptop. It doesn’t work in quite the live/interactive way that Motion does (requiring the user to click on an “Apply” button in order to see changes), and is scattered across many overlapping windows. But it is completely integrated within Avid, rather than residing in a separate application, and that should make it even easier to use than Motion and Final Cut. It was absolutely thrilling to see it.

Two other strong additions to the Avid product are the timecode and caption burn-in effects (these are actually in the present version of Media Composer, but are pretty new so many of us were just learning about them). YouTube tutorials on these can be found right here for the timecode burnin effect and here for the caption effect (which not only can create subtitles, but can also be exported for use in DVD subtitle tracks).

One other thing that we saw that we are hoping to use in January when USC opens their new cinema school building, is the Avid Media Station. This is, essentially, a stripped down Avid, which will allow the actual picture files on one Avid, to be sunk up with matching audio files on Pro Tools. Though this was demonstrated as a great way to allow sound editors to easily receive files for editing (without forcing the picture editing team into the time consuming process of creating QuickTime movies for them), we are hoping to use it as an easier way of projecting dailies and cuts. Right now, we hand OMF sessions over to our sound department, which are then sunk up to a tape or to film for projection. In the future, using the high quality digitized picture (at DNxHD36, in our case), we can easily sync it up to the same ProTools session. Voila. Time saved. Quality enhanced.

[I told you this was going to get geeky. I apologize right here, right now.]

All in all, we were pretty excited.

This is what happens when you have healthy competition between products. The user always wins.

Oh, and speaking of user, you might want to sail on over to Avid’s new blogs.  There you will find actual Avid engineers and developer type people, talking about what they are up to.  And it’s not just sales talk, it looks like it’s going to be a great place for interaction.

News Gathering In The YouTube Age

13 05 2008

An article last month in WIRED online, by Dylan Tweney, is provocatively titled “Even With Spike Lee Directing, Cellphone Movies Will Still Suck.” It talks about Nokia’s deal with Spike Lee to make a short movie based on amateur cell phone videos. The film, according to Lee, will have three acts, up to five minutes in length each, with “the theme loosely based on the concept of humanity.”

Yeah, it sounds awfully general, but that’s what you have to expect when you don’t know what users are going to submit. But Tweney poses an interesting series of questions:

Why couldn’t the project involve user-submitted cellphone clips from post-Katrina New Orleans? Shots of urban street life and racial conflict in the Bronx? Rival fraternities at a historically-black college in the South? Or cellphone videos of bank robberies?

Tweney answers his own question by saying that those projects would be way to real for Nokia’s marketing department.

Could be, but it reminds me of a talk I gave last year to a group of newspaper editors at the Philadephia Inquirer. Like everyone else in the newspaper business, they were completely freaked about what to do in a world where their newsgathering budgets were decreasing, while they were being beseiged by demands to incorporate online in their news plans.

One of the things that I talked about was using the power of social networking to help their readers contribute local coverage that they could no longer afford to do. People could upload videos of local high school baseball games, or store closings, or snow banks that hadn’t been cleared away days after a blizzard. With some boldness in an editorial approach, they could encourage people to post their own “videos to the editor” that would, in a Wikipedia sort of way, become self-correcting and self-policing.

One year later, I don’t see much in the way of progress on this front — at the Inquirer or anywhere. Some local television stations are showing viewer mobile videos of tornadoes or arrests, since their reporters can’t be everywhere all the time. But the filter is way too fine grain right now. Everything is going through a layer of editors to make sure that the material is “station approved” and up to their standards (this will leave me wide open for a crack about the lack of real standards in local news — so, go ahead, and know that I agree with you).

Someone is going to have to let go of some of that control in order for this idea to catch fire and become a true local news reporting tool. It would be great to have people uploading videos like Tweney suggests? That is the real place for his short video suggestions. It could propel news gathering in new and very exciting ways.



After I posted the above entry, I stumbled across an entry by Colin Mulvany in his blog Mastering Multimedia, in which he talks about his career path in his job as a multimedia editor at a newspaper in Spokane, Washington.  Interestingly, he talks about a survey from the Newspaper Association of America, which (among other things) documents just who is shooting video for newspapers today.  The chart below tells the interesting story.

Less than half of the people making newspaper video are videographers.  The bulk of them are, as I mentioned above, people who happen to be doing other things at the paper — mostly photographers.  This means that, for those people, newspaper video is illustrative, not story telling.  I know that this is a broad generalization and not even I quite believe what I just said 100%.  But my point is that telling stories using multimedia isn’t the same as taking a news photo, or even the same as doing print reporting.  It’s a different breed altogether.  And we may not be doing it justice.