Lower Thirds done right

We all need to do tummy tags. Name captions, usually running along the bottom of the screen. It’s part of the plumbing, rather than the showy part of a production. There’s a simple FCP generator if all you want is two lines of left aligned text at the bottom, with perhaps a strap behind it. But what happens when you’re doing a corporate job title? Time to launch Motion or LiveType, and there’s fiddle and faff, and rendering, it’s all a hassle unless you have the time to set up a Motion template and adopt a format for a series.

A lot of us are knocking out stuff for a variety of uses, where all you want is just a neat little name caption – just a little more than the standard generator can provide. Often it ends up as three little chunks of generator, a couple for the text plus another for the background, and it all gets a little messy and needlessly complex as you begin to wonder if you’d be better off in Motion after all…

Well, I’ve simply got to rave about this…

http://alex4d.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/free-final-cut-plugin-lower-third/

Okay, so as well as doing

  • three lines of text on a lower third
  • justify-right and centre as well as justify left
  • control over box behind (so it can bleed off bottom and sit halfway through the top line

It now does the insanely useful:

  • graduates off to the left or right for that expensive feathered edge look
  • position text anywhere (not just lower third, not just inside text-safe)
  • put returns inside the textbox to wrap into multi-line text areas
  • provides a 3 layer hierachy of text with as many lines as you’ll need

This one little plug-in covers about 97% of my needs for lower thirds. No rendering required, no trips to Motion, only one channel in your timeline, quick to set up a style and modify it, and it’s free!

Journeys through Archivia

BluRay Drobo Lto Raid-five.

Sounds like a character in an Iain M. Banks novel.

They’re all options for storing lots of STUFF. And we editors have an awful lot of it. Yes, folks, it’s another rant about where to stuff all our stuff, because Rick and I had a little debate on how LTO (tape drives to you and I) just don’t do it for us. Oh – that project I did five months ago? Aah, here’s the backup tape – well, three of them. Client wants to change the end board. Right. 10 mins editing, half an hour compression and upload, A DAY OF RESTORING TAPE TO HARD DISK. And will the client pay for that? No sir.

Yes, this is the professional way of doing things, and there are lots of white papers to prove it.

But I’ve been in the IT world too. These tape archives are like ornaments. You’re not actually supposed to USE them. No. Sheesh – ever tried doing that? Don’t want to do that. You’ll be there all day. Then you’ve got to do the whole thing in reverse. No. tape archives don’t seem to fit.

Ah, but they are long lived. I’ll give you that. The tape, if it doesn’t succumb to mould, demagnitisation, crinkles caused by being stored the wrong way up, are very long lived. Unlike their tape drives, which are heathen beasts that chew tapes the day after their warranty runs out, need expensive medicare to keep them beyond 5 years, when the new model stores 10 times as much but doesn’t accurately read the old tapes.

I did a shoot yesterday in a lovely studio where the busy in-house photo department were raving about their Drobos. One to wash and one to wear, so to speak. But at some point, it/they fill up, surely? Yes, we buy a bigger disk! But what happens when you have 2T drives in all four slots? We buy another Drobo! And how do you do your off-site backup? We haven’t got to that yet, but we could buy another two Drobos! You get the picture. Great, but every Garage Forecourt needs a back yard to stick the bangers in. Not really for display, but too useful to throw away.

Hard disks – cheap ones – are cheap now, and I know people who swear by them, but I know others who swear at them.

I’ve been really chuffed about CD-ROM. I started using that when a friend invested £4.5k in the brand new Philips device. I still have my at-home copy of Backup 001. You’ve read about how the Director file couldn’t be read. I also found a bunch of floppies – 8 inch hard sectored ones.

The point is, dear reader, that an optical disk (a whole bag of them in fact), kept in the dark away from extremes of heat and cold, has outlasted backup tapes (for which the drive is no longer available), hard disks (I wouldn’t know where to start with SCSI these days), Flopticals, Syquest 45s (and hands up anyone who remembers Bernouli), and has better data integrity than a box full of Kodachromes (though that may be my fault as I didn’t tape the box shut) and Ilford FP4 negatives.

But in all of this, I’m not sure what was worth saving.

Rick pointed out that when you’re creating something for yourself, something that will document a special time or place or happening that will be wanted/paid for in years to come, you bloody well look after what you’ve got. I’ve looked at most of the stuff that I’ve got, and it has no value now. Beyond nostalgia.

about 10 years ago, I and a group of colleagues spent a happy day in a car park, chopping up betacam tapes and throwing them in a skip. Each tape had to be rendered unusable, and the cost of having them bulk erased and recycled was rather more than our time, the skip, and the few crates of beer that inevitably showed up. Why did we do this? It was 10 years of rushes, botched takes, bits of white paper, and all the other dross that nobody was interested in. But it contained factual data and so had to be destroyed. I feel very bad about that afternoon now. But who wants our rushes? Our hours of presenters that, once tape rolls, blank out completely for umpteen takes? Our gentle pans round suburban vistas, ruined by ‘life’ at the end?

I have a drawer full of tapes – I don’t know how many, but it’s four layers deep, in racks in a 1 meter wide unit. Full of crap plus 1% gem and 1% historical document, and I have absolutely no idea where the gems and documents are in any of them. I have no desire to ingest 6 months of footage to find it either.

And on my shoot yesterday, every time a take was hopeless, I deleted it. Every timelapse shot was shot in-camera, so a counter counting down from 5 minutes to zero took 4 seconds, not 5.25 minutes. You shoot more, you keep less, it’s good.

I can’t afford to store footage on disk like I can on tape. I can’t afford to lose good footage in the wilderness of tape unlike the well named takes of file based workflow. I just need to offline my file based workflow somewhere cheap and reliable – and duplicatable. Is that a word?

I call BluRay Data – anyone want to raise?

The Old Army Colonel And His Son On Holiday

Another edit is in the can. In approximately 9 hours, I’m off to do a Z1 shoot and really wishing it could have been an EX1 job. Okay, so I could shoot HDV – but the shots would stand out like trout in a fishbowl.

Whatever. No. Tonight, whilst I compress FLVs and upload them, I’ve been going through Ripple Training’s Deep Dive course – all about Motion’s 3D. Lots of Alphabet street and ‘which way is up’ moments. Ages ago, I did a fair bit of early After Effects and even Specular’s Infini-D, but often got lost. I had to get some ‘Doe, a deer’ rules.

So I thought I’d share these silly mnemonics for those who only sporadically dip their toe into the 3D universe:

“X is a cross” (as in across, left and right, geddit?), so therefore Y is uppY downY. And “Z is like Zoom” in and out. Not strictly accurate, but when it’s late and you’re reaching for the right (wrong) slider…

And for Motion,

“Red-X” or “Red Cross”, “Green trees grow up”, “Blue oceans into distance”.

Of course this is all second nature to Motion Graphics designers, and sure – I can reel off pixel aspect ratios and Composite modes in a flash, but if you’re not doing it every day or even every month, we all have those ‘The Old Army Colonel And His Son On Holiday” moments.

If you still remember your Cosines from your Tangents, that is.

Bridge to Engine Room: We need more power!

Having switched from DV (and DV derived from HDV) to the EX1’s 720p, the quality is wonderful, but suddenly there’s lots to re-learn. Okay, so we’ve got 720p25 to progressive PAL worked out. That’s all fine and dandy. Good quality, easy peasy, quick and efficient. Move along, nothing to see… (it’s all about ensuring FCP does not try to do anything interlacy with your 720p footage – see Rick’s article on Ken Stone’s site).

But today I’m asked for some rushes from my 720p25 shoot as an NTSC DVD. Hey, no problem, just run it through DVFilm Atlantis (or  alternatives such as Graeme Nattress’s Standards Conversion plug-ins) and… Oh.

Glaringly obvious point, but of course most of these processes assume interlaced video on both sides of the conversion, taking their motion queues from the extra time info that’s not present in 720p25. The results limp along with blocky scaling and a definite cadence to dropped frames.

So this morning I’m rolling up my sleeves in the Compressor Kitchen, armed with knowledge from Ripple Training’s ‘Compressor’ course and a newfound confidence in switching on Frame Controls.

If you’ve not played with Compressor before, you’ll need to understand that experimenting with controls is very counter-intuitive, and until you learn (thank you Ripple) how to choose snippets of a given movie to play with, rather than using the whole chunk, any little twiddle can easily put hours on an encode time. So you don’t play. It seems that the merest click on something takes you from a bit of a longish wait to taking the rest of the day off. Or the weekend. And the end result (should you let it run its course) often isn’t visibly different.

Which is why I’m writing blog entries with my MacBook Pro raising a sweat on an encode from 720p25 to NTSC ProRez, thinking about buying an OctoCore or at least another rendering Mac. For those with long memories, when Sorenson Pro came out (how many years ago? Ouch), there was a similar period of much sighing of users and sweating of Macs as it was good but incredibly slow to compress. Now much is the same for H.264 and downconverting HD.

But 8 cores doth not make 8x speed. Making virtual clusters may reduce a 30 minute render to 20 minutes, but it’s not the step change I experienced when I switched from G4 PowerBook to Intel and render times reduced to a fraction. What I want is something in the corner that just does FTP uploads, WMV conversions, Downrez, and I want it to work overnight. I’ve attempted to steal my wife’s MacBook, but this hasn’t worked out. An OctoCore Mac Pro would be lovely, but expensive – I’d need a screen, and with all that power knocking around, it would be a sin not to use it for Motion, so that’s another seat of FCP… A Mac Mini would be charming, but maybe a tad underpowered? Could I control it through my MacBook Pro screen via WiFi? I’m sure it can handle FTP, and perhaps if I switched Episode to it, that would work out too. Or Flix Pro instead – wouldn’t want to be without Episode.

No. I think an iMac might find its way onto my desk. A fully fledged Mac that can do useful things, and if my MacBook Pro died, it would be capable enough – and at a pinch, transportable enough – to take on all work duties. How about a 1920×1200 iMac with maxed out RAM and a hairy chested graphics card? Oh dear…

Hmmm – and the recipe for Compressor? I’ll post it when I’m sure it’s efficient and repeatable. Watch this space.

Back to school

This may be a missive in the school of ‘Painfully and Slowly Working Out the Patently Obvious’, but in the face of a sudden delay in the start of an edit, I decided to splash out on something to cheer me up until the tapes arrive (four to six hour delay). And being a bit of a sad git at heart, what do I choose? To cuddle up to an Iain M. Banks? To go for a long cycle ride in the balmy summer air?

No, I’m watching training material.

There’s a lot of really great training material out there on very exciting subjects. And I’m surfacing from a long dip in Ripple Training’s Compressor 3. Yes, the thought of ploughing through a few hour’s worth of Compressor training is hardly going to make a spike on most people’s Richter scale, but it pays off.

The first comment I’d make to any new investor in any of the many of the downloadable training programmes from the likes of Ripple Training, Lynda.com and Total Training, is to watch EVERYTHING, don’t skip the first few chapters even if you’re drumming your fingers through it thinking that this is all in the manual. I suddenly discovered the ‘Upload via FTP’ destination and the ‘FLV’ encoding elements in my Compressor that I didn’t know I had. Soon you’ll be into deep dive stuff, inserting chapter markers, hooking cheap hardware to accelerate your H.264 Compressor encodes, optimising your WMV encodes, learning how not to reduce your Mac to an unresponsive jelloid mass by not switching on unnecessary options and using job chaining, how to avoid unnecessary key frames cluttering up your natural stuff, and making very nice video for distribution and optimal use within Final Cut Pro. And on and on.

The benefit for any UK based Final Cut Pro editors is that the dollar is so Euro amp; Pound friendly that good training is an absolute bargain. Lynda.com and Pixel Corps offer very very broad ranges of materials (The Corps has a more cliquey follow-on meet-your-tutor, discuss-with-peers feel, Lynda has oodles of everything to watch and learn, but doesn’t follow on – take your pick). Ripple Training is focussed on the Final Cut Pro niche, and if you ‘dress to the Adobe’, Total Training makes training you want to watch. Beyond that, many kind and talented souls have made screencast tutorials and all of them have much to offer.

Okay. Now and again, there’s the occasional dog. A ‘what a waste of everything’ moment. But at least by churning through the tutorials and the training, you’re able to discern, and that means you’re learning. Learning and training leads to doing better, doing it faster. Increasingly effective earning power. And now, with any luck, that bike with the tape hasn’t left yet, so I can take another sneak peek at Ripple Training’s Motion 3 Deep Dive.

Zmatte is dead, long live DVmatte Pro!

For those with long memories of the UK FCP User Group, you may recall my rants about chromakey and DV. How in theory it should not be done, but in reality it can be done with external plug-ins.

Two offerings lead the field in terms of quality and affordability.

I chose Zmatte over DVmatte Pro a long time ago because, while DVmatte Pro was actually better in the long run, it was too slow and fiddly for the extra 20% of quality you got, and I quickly found out that clients didn’t notice.

So I championed Zmatte. Four clicks and you’d be pretty much there.

Then in September 2007, as a member of the Pixel Corps, I tried version 3 of DVmatte Pro.

The interface has been slimmed and yet it’s more powerful.

The speed is astonishing – due to the fact that rather than burdening your Mac’s main processor with arty stuff, it uses your Graphics Processor to do the work, which is exactly what it was designed for. ‘Hardware Accelerated’ is always an exciting term for graphics geeks.

It does the usual magic of using the ‘shredded’ colour information in DV and HDV and supplementing that with extra detail information gleaned from the brightness (luminance) part of the image.

It now does all the graceful things we like in good chromakeys such as edge wrapping. Still not as gracefully as Zmatte, but the quality is superb and the speed…

… DVmatte Pro is bloody quick. You can actually watch a live preview. You can actually watch a live preview of HDV material being keyed on a MacBook Pro. An 8 minute edit of talking heads against green renders ‘better than hardware’ in about 40 minutes on such a machine – from 1080p EX1 footage. That’s fast.
You will need to watch the on-line tutorials as there are some things to understand, but if you’re needing to do chromakey with FCP from DV, HDV or XDCAM-HD, you really should check out DVmatte Pro.

Online: http://www.dvgarage.com/prod/prod.php?prod=dvmattep3