Decompressed from NAB I was nudged to take a stab at a top 5 list for the show. I thought I'd add one entry better and do it as a blog. I confess, my selection bias goes to world-class quality at prices indie filmmakers actually have access to. (There may be a few exceptions below but quality at any price will have to await other lists).
Canon had few major announcements at NAB and is still the company to watch as it let the genie out of the bottle in transforming capture technology well into post production with its Canon 5D camera well over a year ago. For the few that missed it: Canon accidentally backed into a brilliant cinema niche. A place that has virtually all competitors now scrambling to offer a response to the full frame sensor technology that gave real high-end internal 14-bit capability to a cinema camera that costs in the neighborhood of $5K complete with world-class lenses. Of course the Canon 5D effort is not quite a full digital filmmaking camera in the IO sense and with no visible cinema plan for its own market, this is now Canon's ball to drop or to run with. That said, few products these days can be called groundbreaking — with its 5D, Canon began an unintended revolution that nobody can predict. Canon's next effort may tell the tale. So far so good.
CineForm enables traditional tools to operate and edit realtime film and HD for stereographers from 3D to 2D. This is done through CineForm's Active Metadata for an out-of-the-box solution that stands to become a authentic game changer. CineForm has allowed for realtime 4K, 2K and HD film color correction with its First Light product across most QuickTime and AVI mode tools such as Apple Final Cut, Adobe After Effects, etc. CineForm Neo3D includes virtually the entire suite of CineForm packages plus those for editing and tweaking 3D disparity corrections up to IMAX format. Neo3D handles a host of keyframe ready 3D issues including inter-axial (camera seperation), keystoning (toe-in problems with convergence and horizon layers), skew (one camera not planar aligned to the other), disparity zoom, vertical misalignment (mismatched lenses), color correction and more all in realtime. Unlike most traditional packages CineForm does not dictate a workflow but offers its Active Metadata codec based solution on-the-fly to any QuickTime-based editor or effects package. CineForm is the first company to develop multi-stream video fed into one file format (video multiplex) that is SDK customizable. CineForm's David Taylor asserts, "We seek to make the CineForm files and its powerful metadata the de facto standard for communicating picture data along with non-destructive technical and creative image corrections between all points in the post-production workflow." And nothing from CineForm under Active Metadata needs to be rendered until needed. So, is CineForm really at the cusp of a revolution for post and delivery? I would not bet against it.
With new Photoshop and After Effects tools Adobe has pulled another gorilla-sized rabbit out of its master hat. AE's new auto Roto Brush mask and rotoscope tools will be a must for most serious production environments. Digital matte painters will find background re-creating abilities in Photoshop via Content Aware Fill a real labor saver. Pulling delicate mattes with the new Refine Edge Bru makes for another phenom utility. After Effects and the Adobe Premiere cutting package have gone multi-layer at realtime workflows thanks to the 64-bit native operation Mercury Playback Engine married to GPU Nvidia support (at up to 192 gigabytes of RAM fully addressable). Support for standard pro color LUT formats and a Mocha tracker with export of editable masks are among the list of major upgrades. As with all suite offerings, there are still a few gaps and issues in the Adobe Production suite lineup. All the same, Adobe has managed to make a veteran tool a practically indispensable one. While Adobe has no native 3D workflow, it is supported by CineForm tools that support QuickTime or AVI based solutions (see above).
Along with its Da Vinci acquisition, BlackMagic is one of a very few companies at NAB to reinvent itself along with its designer post process pipeline in general. A few of BlackMagic's high-end tools are still beyond the reach of budget conscious indies though BlackMagic has shaved about one zero off of Da Vinci's old color correction offerings (from an average of roughly $500K to about $30K for Mac and $50K for the Linux solution that sports full-on 3D post editing workflows). More to the point, BlackMagic boasts a range of indie friendly solutions including a software only Da Vinci version along with an UltraStudio Pro USB 3.0 rig and an indie priced open architecture Decklink HD Extreme 3D for 3D cinema workflows. Hence, a range of BlackMagic tools do serve and service independent film in a hands-on sense with an upgrade path to the high-end. Very innovative.
Yes, I know, a company nobody has heard of in the top 5? The reason I placed this one is for the importance of 3D on the production scene. This German-based group has found a powerful way to make 3D capture with its inherently complex issues (setting and adjusting 3D interocular for example) far more painless and interactive for cinematographers along with client directors and producers. This is done via "a patent pending DPC, Direct Plane Control that offers the stereographer a simple tool to control all important stereo parameters right on a wireless controller, which is directly executed by the rig motors and fully visible while shooting." (Words straight from Sebastian Cramer, founder of Screen Plane to yours truly). The German-based group presented an intuitive and simple tool to create matching and correct 3D footage, even if the image is zoomed or parameters are changed live during a shot. In other words: Screen Plane means on-set interactive 3D feedback and control. And (of course) with all adjustments available recorded as metadata into post production. Lest there be any doubt - taming 3D cinema into a straightforward workflow is a very big deal. This is a company to watch. DSLR rig development for the Screen Plane system is also not far ahead.
For audio, Zaxcom makes a handy little wireless recording solution that can service (for example) a number of actors packing body microphones on a location shoot with a minimum of fuss at exceptional quality. Put another way: no one else has a remote control recording wireless solution at any price. Zaxcom succeeds in offering wireless timecode and audio multiplexed together at indie budgets. That means practical high-end indie audio in the field. Here are the pieces: TRX900LT (recording wireless transmitter) Diva or Fusion audio recorder (10-track audio recorder) remote ERX1 (sees scratch track and timecode for cameras and plugs into audio jack of camera) IFB100 (transmits audio and timecode to camera).