Creative Cloud – a line item on our invoices?

Premiere Pro reads timecode, has a better chromakeyer than FCPX, and has a basic workflow that makes sense. There’s loads to love. But today, I have revoked my subscription to Creative Cloud, and am reverting to CS6. Why?

It turns out that I earn my income using FCPX. It’s the tool that effectively puts food in the mouths of my family and keeps a roof over our heads. The same can be said of Sony and Canon cameras, but by and large, I’m perceived as an editor, and an FCPX editor at that.

FCPX is very important to me, and changes to FCPX have a direct impact on my family. If I were a carpenter, and somebody changes the way my saws or hammers work, I am very interested in that and will abandon the ‘trend’ in favour of the ‘reliable’ in a heartbeat. I have Adobe software – Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects – for a backup plan, for clients who are not Mac-based. I use it very infrequently.

Okay, so Illustrator is great for getting a logo out of a downloaded PDF from a company’s annual report. I can isolate it, scale it, then use Photoshop to rasterise it, and the screenshots I obtained, ready for animation. Whilst I like the new selection tools for cutting things out of a background, I don’t use it as much as a Motion Graphics artist would. I just need PhotoShop, Illustrator and AfterEffects as special ‘Swiss Army Knife’ tools. That’s just CS6. Maybe even 5.5.

One exception is Audition – my audio editor of choice, far better than SoundTrack Pro, immediately usable unlike Logic et al. Can’t do without that – if only to apply my Izotope plug-ins for voice-overs and interviews, and repair bad location audio. But I digress.

So Adobe are closing the doors on the ‘grandfather’ deals – folks who signed up to Creative Cloud early on at a 50% discount. CC is now established, those deals are gone.

I have been told ‘if you don’t get value from the Creative Cloud deal, you’re either not working or use other software’.

Boggle!? (note the use of the interrobang)

I am a freelance video editor. I need to work with the right tool for the right job. I need to remain up to date with my skills. My main editor is FCPX because of the kind of work I do – short form (1-5 minute). I use Premiere Pro for paid work 4-6 times a year because it does Time Of Day code, and it’s the editor of choice for a couple of clients – if they hire me to deliver a final programme, we work in FCPX. If they want to edit it further, I work in Premiere Pro so they can take it further.

So, I own CS6. I will have to pay £47 per month to be ready to edit stuff for those four Premiere Pro clients. That’s £564 per annum, and I will see less value from that than I do from – for example – an additional prime lens for my C100, or a budget for good plug-ins for my existing software.

So, here’s the solution: Edit software as a line item.

If you require me – a freelance video editor/director – to edit in Adobe Premiere CC, I will add £77 as a line item to my invoice to cover the cost of the latest version of the software. It’s a line item. Adobe have raised the cost of ownership for people who are NOT exclusively Adobe based, and that cost must be passed on, otherwise I am subsidising Adobe. I, a freelance artisan editor/director, am subsidising a global conglomerate organisation that cares not for my business or my success.

I don’t get the value from the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription because I don’t have enough clients who DO get the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Most of my clients don’t give a fig which edit solution I use. At £24 per month (grandfathered-in rate) Adobe CC was an expense I could swallow. At £48 per month, I need to draw a line. Maybe your line is different. I need to invest in many things – hardware, software, storage, archive, backup – and to have a £50 hit per month on something that doesn’t deliver that value, it has to be chopped. Nothing personal, just business.

Adobe doesn’t care about freelancers who major in other platforms (FCPX or Avid). This isn’t hyperbole, just a business situation. There are more people that Adobe want to court who will pay, than there are ‘special cases’ like the freelance market. The Creative Cloud makes it a little more hard line, is all.

The Creative Cloud let me down a few times when I REALLY needed it. My confidence in it has been trashed. Maybe Adobe can work out a system where ‘limited use’ users can keep abreast of the current edition and use the Suite on paying jobs for a top-up fee. Maybe that’s what the £77 per moth ad-hoc rate is all about.

Either way, it’s a line item on my invoices.

The ‘science’ of ‘awesome’?

What is it about manflu and training DVDs? Once again, I am confined to duvet, lines of lemsip cut with vitamin C ready for snorting, and I am watching the latest instalment of Per Holmes’ Magnum Opus – “Hot Moves – the Science of Awesome”. And once again, it’s an amazing watch.

This 115 minute long DVD/MP4 feature is an ‘addendum’ to the ‘Master Course In High-End Blocking & Staging’ course – a 6 DVD set of mindbending info, but rather than cover the mechanics of telling a story, or covering a scene so it will cut well, this DVD is about getting the trailer shots – as the narrator puts it, ‘awesome for the sake of being awesome’.

In his usual style, Per and his team hose you with information. It comes thick and fast – though I detect a slight slowing of in tempo in this iteration, though that could be the lemsip. You know an iconic shot when you see it, but the team demonstrate how and why these shots work. And variations that don’t.

Funnily enough, the audience for this production is probably a lot wider than previous titles, not only because it’s great for low budget indie movie makers, but because it taps into the virtual world. This is a must-have for 3d animators and motion graphics designers looking for a movie style.

But even if you’re just going to invest in a slider or even tape a GoPro Hero to a broom stick, you’re going to get some great ideas and solid learning from the title.

It’s ‘required reading’ (watching) if you already have the ‘Visual Effects for Directors’ series, and a fun intro to the style of Per Holmes if you’re thinking about jumping in, but remember that this is the fun bit. You’ll still have to learn the footwork with Blocking & Staging.

Any peeves? The download version is a DVD image which really wants you to use FireFox extensions. I much prefer a smaller straightforward MP4, preferably HD for my AppleTV. But that’s such a minor thing and I believe HCW may be going MP4 soon.

In conclusion, this is yet another solid training title from HCW that rewards repeated viewing and pulls no punches in delivering high quality and high quantity learning material.

Level Up!

As we’re all aware that you can build a business from videography, there will be times when you invest in equipment. There will be times when you divest from equipment. The hope being that you divest your equipment when prices are high, and invest in equipment when prices are low. At all times, you bear in mind that equipment must pay back its original capital (what you paid for it) over time, but some kit can’t be a ‘line item’ (something you explicitly charge for).

So, you may buy a camera, and allocate a portion of your daily rate to pay for that camera. In a year or eight, it will have generated enough income to cover your ownership (the capital cost, the interest on any loans, the maintenance cost of keeping it working and the insurance cost of, well, insuring it), and whatever the accountant says to ‘write it off’.

But do you do that to your tripod?

Another way of looking at this is to get an idea of how much it costs to hire the kit you use on a daily basis. Well, maybe not all of it, but a full camera bag (including batteries, stock, a few accessories), a couple of microphones, and some sticks to put it all on, and some cans to hear it all on. That hire cost can be saved by owning your own kit, but the cost of owning your own kit must be recouped by charging for your own kit as if you had to hire it.

Now, having established that any purchases you make MUST be a revenue generator in a direct or indirect sense, what happens when you sell some kit that’s been written off, been a revenue generator and has since become a dust generator? Whoopee, free money.

It’s a bit like one of the many ‘FaceBook Farming Games’ you will have heard about. You’ve ‘levelled up’ and have been awarded a sack full of coins to invest in your farm/kingdom/videography business. Watchoo gonna doobout dat?

It would be lovely to go out and splurge on something you’ve always desired – that Steadicam system you always dreamed about, a full-on DSLR system with ALL the glass, or whatever. But really – the adult in all of us has to say: ‘what will generate enough cash, or enough ‘experience points’ (client goodwill/stickability/attractability) or enough ‘skill points’ (your own awesomeness/speed/capability) to pay for this quickly and earn enough to buy yet more toys?

Just like lottery winners, you need to know that a pot of cash needs to be invested in such a way that it returns enough profit to pay for its generation cost, AND keep its value over time (so it beats inflation) AND then generate an income for you on top of that. The inflation proof income generation of a million quid may be quite modest. You can tell I married an accountant. It makes great pillow talk.

And so here I am, having levelled up because I sold my Z1s and all their accessories, not willing to put the coins into the bigger pot, but to dedicate it to getting more experience/skill points. Okay, that’s a really nice position to be in, and I really hope you find yourself in that position too. But, then how does one ‘not screw it up’?

Okay, so ignoring all the toys… (I wanted Canon L series glass), what will your AUDIENCE see?

- Upgrading SD cards to SxS: speeds up your acquisition in time critical situations. I doubt this situation affects many, but it would get me from end of shoot to warm bed quicker on every job. Very expensive though, and nobody will see the difference.

- Upgrading to daylight running Fluorescent lamps. Sigh, how often are you asked to do an interview in mixed tungsten and daylight, trying to get the outside without burning it out, having dimmed your puny little tungsten lamps you bought so you don’t fry your subject? Clients will see (and feel) this difference, sort of, but they probably won’t pay for it over standard tungsten.

- Getting into DSLR – now, there’s an investment for the modern videographer. Trouble is, you’re going to expose yourself to a whole new world of want. Clients will see the difference, but you’re going to have to do a whole lot more work for it, AND you are going to need really silly expensive stuff: LCD viewfinder (£250), shoulder stock (£350), batteries (£100), lenses (at least £1500), new bag, software, training – it will end up the same price as a brand new pro camera. But the pictures are worth it. Honest. Buy a 550D and a Tokina 11-16 and find out.

- Invest in a few high end plug-ins. I’ve already managed to get a job to pay for Magic Bullet, and I’ve been with Colorista for a long time. DVmatte Pro has made chromakey a joy, and FX factory has done great things for me. They will for you, so long as you buy them for a job based on how many hours it saves you. Clients don’t pay for plugins – not directly, anyway. But they’ll like the expensive look you can make (‘expensive’ is subtle – use the Magic Bullet waveform monitors to stop things oversaturating or blowing out, and explore the curves to add richness).

- Buy a Steadicam – get the shots you can only dream about as the camera floats around your scene. However, the learning curve is steep and requires arms like Popeye unless you get an arm and vest. You’re not going to get usable results in the first three months. You’re not going to get good enough until there’s a year of it under your belt. You’ll get lucky now and again, with shots that make the show, but you’re never going to be a full-time Steadicam operator (OTOH we may not want to be).

- Get a bunch of crash cams, including the GoPro Hero HD and a little DSLR. With this setup, you’re going to get shots that you will never ever get any other way. Put a GoPro on the end of a broom handle or three, and pretend it’s a PoleCam. Put a DSLR in the corner of the room and shoot timelapse like there’s no tomorrow. Clients love these shots, but you’re signing up to a whole lot more kit in your kit box.

Or just calm down and mix and match.

Microphones, tripods and lamps don’t go out of date, and will last a long time. I think I’ll level up a lamp or two (a Kino and a dedo spot), add a 50mm f1.4 lens and get a slider from the Z1 cash. Each one of those will be seen by clients. Will I earn any more on a daily rate? No. Will I get repeat bookings? Will I get fans? Will I be proud of the new work? Yes. That will generate the extra income, be it ever so small. But over time it adds up.

Oh, yes, and I need a GoPro Hero. And a 24-80mm f2.8. And a Steadicam. I really want a Steadicam. And a MacPro. And Adobe CS5. And Boris Continuum. And most of the Foundry plugins.

Oh dear…

Where’s yo’ head at?

nullI’ve been restricted to quarters due to Man Flu recently, and have kept some rather odd company, in the form of the boxed DVD set of ‘Visual Effects for Directors’.

Over 7 intensive DVDs, the Hollywood Camera Work team takes you through the basics and the not so basics of working with 3d software, compositing, match moving, a deep dive into chromakey (from painting a studio to planning shots in a small cyc studio), and dealing with simulations that overlay your movies – explosions, collisions, hard/soft body interaction, particles.

All this is from the point of view of an Indie film maker with an HVX200 or something similar, non-esoteric 3d and compositing software running on desktop computers, and a big vision.

It’s not a course in how to use 3d or compositing software, though it pulls no punches on giving you very detailed information. Rather, it’s to gain an understanding of the process to enable the director or producer to fully comprehend the unfolding workflow when ‘we’ll comp that in post’, and how to plan a chomakey shot that tracks round a subject so they can be inserted into a CGI scene.

Like the other product in HCW’s stable – “High End Blocking & Staging”, this is not an easy watch. You’ll be ‘drinking from the firehose’ so to speak. Info comes thick and fast, and you’ll benefit from repeated watching. There’s over 10 hours of stuff in there, spread over 7 DVDs, and there’s no time for tourists. Buckle up, take notes, and there’s coursework for you to test yourself on hosted at the HCW website.

These courses are sometimes called a ‘film school in a box’, and that’s a pretty good description. It’s 25 years since I’ve sweated through intense lectures and come up gasping for air. But then I find that sort of thing an enjoyable experience….

It’s not going to be suitable for every videographer. It’s aimed squarely at indie film production of the high-tech type (Blocking & Staging is much more general and recommended for all ‘film makers’). The price, $329, is a bargain for what you’re getting. A wise investment. But since I bought my set, HCW are now offering you an option to download images of the DVDs, and they will post you a box and some labels.

Why? Because I had to pay VAT and import duty on my set, suffering delays and surcharges along the way. This way, you download the DVD images, and burn your own disks – the official labels are valued at $3 so do not attract surcharges and duty.

Besides which, this is the sort of thing that’s great to dip in and out of on a small screen as well as the home setup. There is SO much information, it needs repeated viewings to allow all that great knowledge to become part of your own mental toolset. It may not be as instant as Neo’s upload – “I know kung fu…” – but you’ll empathise with with the intensity of the upload experience.

http://www.hollywoodcamerawork.us

Build it and they will come

At last. Final Cut Pro 7 is now happily installed and earning money.

But oddly enough, I started a new project this week and, entirely unbidden, we’re suddenly deep into the world of Alpha Transitions: a little animation or visual element that swoops over the screen, hiding the outgoing clip and revealing a new clip.

Although its presented as a new feature in FCP7, it’s not exactly that new to users of Final Cut Studio, as Alpha Transitions were used in DVD Studio Pro 3, and they’re a sort of ‘apprentice piece’ technique in most FCP editors’ education when learning how to use travelling (moving) mattes.

What FCP7 has done is to make the whole process easier by providing a simple interface: here’s the transition, there’s your animated video element, and here’s a separate matte that defines where to wipe in the new video (hidden under the element above).

Even so, it’s not the first Alpha Transition plug-in. I’ve owned the SupaWipe plug-in published by Idustrial Revolution for some time now, and as usual for me, I used it once and it has since languished in my Effects folder.

So, fast forward to today, getting stuck into a new project, and Russell is hard at work in After Effects cooking up an Alpha Transition or two to help the programme get between historic and cultural references to ‘right here, right now’ voxpops.

Okay, so there’s 720 MB of  Apple-supplied transitions available, which boil down to a dozen or so examples – a couple of which are very useable! But one should really ‘roll your own’. I’ve had a quick browse of the online tutorials (including a great set from Ripple Training) and I’m sure new ones will crop up that are FCP specific.

But when planning an alpha (or ‘object’) transition there’s one major step that I haven’t seen made obvious enough, and that’s the transition matte or ‘Wipe Matte’.

For an alpha transition to work, think about it like this: it’s a standard wipe where you hide the edges behind a moving object. At some point, the object has to extend over the entire width or height of the screen. This may sound blindingly obvious, but in the many examples I’ve seen, it hasn’t been mentioned. So a pirouetting dancer is scaled to fit so her head touches the top and feet touch the bottom of the screen. The Apple ‘leaves’ transition ensure that at one key point, the leaves overlap the width of the screen. A seagull swooping over the screen has its wings extend off the screen edges. And so on. So not every element is ready for Alpha Transitions.

How do you start making one?

Motion is excellent for this. Having isolated your video element (through rotoscoping, chromakey, or more commonly using a rendered object’s alpha channel), create a new layer above it to generate the Wipe channel. Keyframe the points of a black bezier shape over your video element ensuring that it’s a full edge to edge wipe against a white background. Export this as a separate movie and drop into your Wipe matte channel.
Ripple Training have an excellent series of tutorials on using Alpha Transitions.

Should I get the time, I’ll make a ‘how to make your own’ movie too.

A Case of Upgrader’s Remorse

FCS3Final Cut Studio ‘new’ is out. It’s been two years since the last major update, and we’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular new features. Personally, I’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular fixes, but that’s a different story.

Cut to the chase: should a Final Cut Pro user upgrade? Is it worth £250?

Short answer: sort of.

The speed tools (ramping from slomo to fastmo) are welcomed. The markers that move when the edits under them move are welcomed but frankly should have been there from the get-go. The new codecs are great if you know how to use them (and I reckon 70% won’t touch them), and there were little irritations – inconsistencies and pseudo-bugs – that have disappeared.

Motion’s got better, though still no preset for anamorphic PAL. Color is almost usable by mortals. Hopefully, SoundTrack Pro is stable enough to be relied upon to get something useful done by the deadline. LiveType’s gone.

But in its stead is a nasty ‘auto’ fashion, the auto-everything – auto export, auto burn, auto voice levels, that’s not necessarily what a pro app wants or needs. And then there’s simple stuff. The FCP text tools are STILL broken, so certain fonts aren’t selectable. The FCP lower third can’t do multi-line text – not because it can’t, but because FCP developers have chosen not to. No, the answer isn’t ‘do it in Motion’. The 16:9 action and title safe are not industry standard, just a 10% 20% rule of thumb. Thank goodness for developers like Martin at Digital Heaven and Alex at Alex4d, who leverage the latent power of FCP and get the little things right.

Bells and whistles? None of my clients, nor my colleagues’ clients have or want iChat – we use Skype’s screen share instead. Not everyone has a use for AVCIntra. The BluRay discs that Compressor burns are only ‘screeners’ – nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly ‘authoring’.

And you really know when Apple’s casting around when features such as ‘tick marks’ for SD get big billing in the features, when 4:3 crop marks would be more useful but aren’t supported.

The community is pretty unanimous in declaring themselves Underwhelmed. Good word. Sums it up. As much as I love Apple products, it’s as if the company has done the bare minimum – the absolute minimum – to get us to shell out for an upgrade. The FCS3 upgrade feels like the recent MacBook Pro upgrade where we got a nice machine, nice screen, but lost the PCIe slot in favour of an SDHC slot.

There’s repairs to the facia – thanks for that. But many users are thinking ‘how is this going to change my work? What will my clients notice after I’ve upgraded?’ and the answer is ‘nowt’. Which is a pity, because there’s lots of little things that are a great step forward for the platform. Which is why this should have been FCS 2.5 and FCP 6.5, not a full revision. After all, Compressor’s just got a .5, and DVD Studio Pro hasn’t been upped at all.

It’s a classic case of Buyer’s Remorse, that awful trough of disillusionment we often go through having just purchased something but can’t quite get immediate gratification.

Give it a couple of months, and there will be no way I could work with FCS2. Just in time for the Snow Leopard upgrade and we’ll do it all over again.

Betting the farm?

MacWorld is but a fading memory. NAB has come and gone. WWDC is over. MacBook Pros are being booed at. Still no FCP. Not even a whisper. Where’s the beef?

No, I am not going to join the rant about how FCP hasn’t been updated and how Apple may be abandoning the Pro Video market as exemplified by the dropping of PCI Express in the Location Video workhorse 15″ MBP. I don’t buy that. But I do buy into the fact that something serious needs to happen with FCP for its long term health. So much is broken. So many compromises. Sure, the enemy of ‘Good’ is ‘Better’ and at least FCP is out there.

And 6.0.4 is good. Good enough. It does what I want it to do, but that’s now. Things change. Innovation. Things must evolve in the face of change, or die. So is FCP dying or evolving? Probably pupating is closer to home. Getting ready for the next OS.

Look at what SnowLeopard is bringing: 64 bit, so FCP won’t slow down on large RAM hungry projects (currently only 2.5 GB RAM can go to FCP, no matter how much you have installed). QuickTime X improves H.264 and pokes connectors into custom hardware. OpenCL taps into your GPU so rendering Core effects gets a speed bump, and Grand Central should make multi-processor machines deliver on their promise.

And then there’s the fact that FCP isn’t a spring chicken. It has a history, and a complex one at that. There are things deep in Final Cut Pro that really shouldn’t be there. Stray DNA, vestigial PC routines, note that I’m guessing, but pretty sure that their removal would require complex surgery.

So I’m betting the farm on a re-write of FCS, with significant chunks making their way into Cocoa to make FCS into a full-on Snow Leopard app with a future, rather than a rehash on the same chassis. And hoping same goes for Color, SoundTrack Pro and Motion, with the assumption that LiveType gets put out to grass.

It would be a mammoth task. But Apple’s done this before with the Intel switch.