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.

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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.