Happily skinning cats for cash

Oooh, thank GOODNESS I’ve spent way too much money on encoding software.

Panic job came in tonight. The sort of job that needs to be balanced with entertaining a 4 year old intent on watching Shaun the Sheep on your computer, but at the same time needs to be done tonight. Encoding existing media should be like falling off a log for money. But sometimes it isn’t.

Tonight, I had to prepare an FLV (complete with HTML, SWF player and other bits) and a high bandwidth WMV suitable for embedding in PowerPoint from a job signed off and completed 6 months ago. The final files needed hoofing up to a server for easy-peasy download by client tomorrow morning. 30 minutes of lining things up, hit go, watch TV, then later on tonight, gather up the files, upload them overnight, and wake up tomorrow in the smug satisfaction of a quality job delivered on time, on budget.

But no.

Tonight, Episode is having ‘senior moments’ with the ClientServer process. This mystery process launches behind Episode, gets lost, hangs around and bumps into things, causing Episode to wait patiently until hell freezes over. Episode won’t actually do anything until I flush the errant ClientServer process down the drain (open Utilities, Activity Monitor, search for CLientServer, click Inspect, click Quit). But on relaunching the job, it happens again. Rinse, repeat. Madness is doing the same thing expecting different results. So I Log out, Log in, restart, wave chickens over the computer (I have two chickens – real live ones that lay eggs – that are getting quite adept at this). Same thing. Sorry, chickens.

Sod it, I’ll fire up QuickTime Player Pro. It spends 45 minutes beavering away, earnestly chomping through 2 pass pro encodes, and delivers with pride a pile of poo that has to be flushed away immediately.

Right.

Squeeze. The old codger might do a better job. Fire it up, add a deinterlace filter, tweak the interface beyond its wildest dreams (I need 3000 kbps average, 6000 kbps peak – these movies will run from the hard disk, and I need quality quality qualitaaaaay). But no. Same old same-old. I remember why I gave up on Squeeze.

Oh dear. It’s time to kick the dog. Hello Compressor, nice Compressor. Gorgeous squeeky bone for you if you’re a nice Compressor today. We run through a few little practices. Testing little sessions. No, the test render you’re looking at isn’t the actual test render because you forgot to reset the file name, so even though it’s done it, and the file you see in the finder has a modification time/date that matches when the process finished, that ISN’T the movie it created. Compressor needs you to follow on behind it with a plastic bag, and pick up its poop and delete it as you test and retest.

But the old dog did it. It delivered.

And yay! Transmit has just gone ‘bing!’ to let me know it’s all on the website. If you haven’t looked at Ripple Training’s Compressor course, I’d heartily recommend it. There’s no point debating metaphysics with a dog, but if you just throw it a frickin’ bone…

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A fundamental law of capacity?

An interesting situation cropped up a few days ago. Regulars may remember that I now shoot tapeless with an EX1, which has been a beautiful thing for my market niche.

So, a couple of very simple setups in a day: shoot an operations control room, interview a couple of people, maximum 2 mins of edited material. Then zoom off into town, intervew a few people at a conference. Maximum 1 minute of edited material.

So, 80 minutes of SxS card space should, in theory, be plenty. As I’d be travelling by public transport, I could lose 3 Kg of computer equipment by leaving it at home. Big mistake.

The lovely thing about tapeless is that when shots don’t work, you can delete them. The side note is that you need to start and stop between takes, otherwise it’s hard to chop things out, and with interviewees that have been ‘volunteered’ by their boss, and really unwilling to do any more than the bare minimum, there’s no real chance to fiddle with clips.

So the inevitable happened. The first shoot consumed 45 minutes, even with the occasional delete. The second shoot looming, I could sit on the train and manage my clips to get rid of 15 mins of dross, but with the risk of mucking things up, or I could split the journey and pop home to unload the cards. Which I did.

Okay, so I always knew this was an option, and would have bought the laptop if the option hadn’t been there, but it’s taught me a lesson, which will cost me £800: you need double the capacity of your planned maximum utilisation.

That goes for hard disks too. And power strips, come to think of it. Teabags. Edit days. Toddler clothes. Hmmm. A pretty universal thing, then.

PS: How come a train ticket from A to B, and from B to C, costs less than A to C?

Not enough hours in the day…

I’m helping out on a little project. Well, big project. And here’s a question that’s baking my noodle:

With the need to capture 80 hours of video material per day (yes, you got that – 80 hours per day) and preserve it in all its high quality goodness, whilst also making web versions available within 24 hours or so, should I go tape or tapeless for HQ recording?

Of course the sensible answer is tape. It’s boring, it’s kludzy, and really quite expensive considering… But to make things interesting, out of those 80 hours of recorded goodness (per day), I may want to get a couple of hours of it per day out onto the web. Not sure which bit of the 80 hours. That’s the problem.

Spending time spooling through tapes, ingesting them, editing them – ouch.

So I could go tapeless. XDCAM-SD would be great, a bit pricier than tape, but all the long term goodness of tape but with the random access of tapeless file based workflow. But where to find 15 XDCAM-SD camcorders for three weeks?

I love SxS cards, but the cost and availability for rent hasn’t quite reached ‘feasability’ yet. 15 stations recording 75 mins per sitting, multiple sittings per day. And what if there’s a hold-up on ingest? What happens when we can’t get enough erased P2 cards to the troops on the front line?

I could get some really cool broadcast kit: 15 Grass Valley Turbos recording SDI. For three weeks? The cost is astonishing.

P2 cards: there’s enough of them out there. At a cost. But ingesting P2, whilst fast, isn’t as fast as you’d think. Not when you have 30 cards per hour – and quadrupling up is fine, but it becomes a sausage factory. Need lots of warm bodies to be aware of what they’re doing under pressure.

Attach MacBook Pros running some FireWire disc recording software? Possibly, but the concatenation of all those files takes more time than you’d think. And the cost is almost into GV Turbo territory.

I’ve calculated somewhere between 8 and 12 terabytes of data to capture and archive in a two week period.

There are so many ‘cool’ solutions out there. Shoot to Compact Flash with Z7s, shoot to P2, shoot to XDCAM, shoot to Final Cut Pro or even a MacBook Pro running Veescope, CaptureMagic, ScopeBox or DV Monitor Pro. All of them wonderful in their own right, but when you’re shooting something as big as a sporting event, without necessarily being a major broadcaster, how do you best serve the requirements of your client?

If you can’t rent the kit, you have to buy it.  If you can’t afford to buy the kit, you have to rent it.

There are times when a big box o’ tapes wins over tapeless. However much I love a file based system.

Once more into recession, dear friends

This has absolutely nothing to do with editing, or shooting, or script writing. But it is something we’re all going to deal with: Discounts.

Now that our Darling Chancellor has admitted it, times are getting tough. When you do your shopping, you cruise the isles, you dig amongst the vegetables, and maybe spot those short dated items that will sit well in your freezers. You’re looking for value for money. Well, all of us are doing that. In every walk of life and every business.

My work is based on daily rates. Kit, people, time spent gazing at the ceiling, sitting on planes, wallowing in baths, hacking through HTML, in fact spending time doing things that don’t involve family and relaxation. Yes, wallowing in baths does not count as relaxation because that’s where great ideas form. Even waking up at 0400 with a fantastic solution to routing video through three venues in real time counts as billable time in my book.

That time you spend in baths, or cruising the web, or chewing the fat with colleagues, or stir-frying garlic, or painting the bannisters, it’s all research. Werner von Braun (the original Rocket Scientist) sagely stated that ‘”research” is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing’. Research is vital in these times: are you doing what you need to do? Is there a better way of doing what you do? Is ‘what you do’ actually doing what your clients need you do to do?

We’re knowledge workers. We know things. We are, dare I say, Mentats. We are not grocers. We don’t go down to a Soho pub and gather round a bunch of geeks and bid on their Web 2.0 ideas as if they were the catch of the day. We are not farmers. We don’t plant a million identical idea seeds and harvest those that grow beyond knee height. We are not hunters. We don’t chase after Entrepreneurs and snare them to be a trophy on our walls.

Intellectual property and research isn’t something that one can ‘discount’… but I’m getting more questions from new business that dangle on ‘and how much of that quote are you going to discount?’. That tempts many to load the original quote, and that tends to over-inflate things as more jobs drop away because they seem too expensive.

Thank you, Mister Darling. Another fine mess you’ve left us.