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Recent Blog Posts in June 2011

June 29, 2011
  PromaxBDA: One day at the NY show
Posted By Marc Loftus

I attended part of the PromaxBDA (www.promaxbda.org) show today at the Hilton New York on Sixth Avenue. The first session I sat in on was "A Conversation with Anderson Cooper." Cooper is a CNN anchor, reporter and host of AC360. During the session, he announced that he will launch a new daytime television show this September. Anderson will shoot at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and will include a live audience. Cooper will host the show and serve as its EP. The program's focus will not be on news, for which Cooper has built a well-respected reputation, but on pop culture, social issues and guilty pleasures, of which he apparently has many, including the Housewives reality series.

Later in the afternoon, I sat in on Lee Hunt's "State of Design" session, which is always interesting, as Hunt analyzes promo trends throughout the broadcast and cable fields. This year, his presentation focused on the effectiveness of cross-channel promotion. Hunt looked at how broadcasters are using story arcs to move viewers from one show to another. He also detailed the pros and cons of using squeezed credits, weaved credits, embedded credits, and squeezed credits with promotional elements for closing one show and opening another. His Website (http://leehunt.com) features the entire presentation and examples of different broadcasters' attempts at each.

And I had a chance to catch up with composer Joel Beckerman, whose Man Made Music (http://manmademusic.com) on 46 th Street is undergoing a major renovation. Man Made Music sponsored the lanyards that each attendee received with their PromaxBDA exhibit badge, which shows how important this show is not to just graphic designers, but to music companies too. In fact, Beckerman noted that one of his clients, Encore, was keeping their graphic identity, but updating its on-air persona with new music, reinforcing the importance sound can play in creating an identity.

Construction at Man Made Music will be completed in August and the reconfigured space will better serve the creative team. Beckerman says he's seen a decrease in client-attended sessions over the years and that has allowed him to alter the layout of his space. An isolated drum room is being constructed, and space that previously served as a live recording room will be made multifunctional. Man Made Music recently completed a rebrand for the Golf Channel. The studio is currently working on a re-brand for MSNBC and on a project for AT&T.

Continue reading "PromaxBDA: One day at the NY show" »

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June 23, 2011
  Apple ships FCP X, defends position
Posted By Marc Loftus

I met with some folks from Apple - just a day after Final Cut Pro X was released, and almost as soon after the new release started coming under fire. Both of the company's demo artists, who were asked not to be quoted directly, were well versed in FCP X's new features and provided a pretty compelling demonstration showing why FCP is well suited for broadcast and independent film work.

What they told me was interesting, and our conversation began with a review of the last 10 years of Final Cut, which was introduced in 1999 as a $999 product. Prior to this week's announcement, 2009 saw the latest upgrade, with Final Cut Studio, offering editing, motion graphics, DVD authoring and color correction tools. 

They pointed out successes in the broadcast market with users at BBC, CNN, Fox News, Univision, Walt Disney, CBS, ABC, and Turner Studios, among others, and also pointed to the independent film world, where submissions have been accepted at Sundance, the NY Film Festival, Telluride, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

On the feature film side, True Grit, with Jeff Bridges, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, were edited with Final Cut Pro, as was The Social Network, which won the Oscar this year for "Best Editing."

And sales have grown from a half million users in 2006 to more than 2 million in 2010. A Frost & Sullivan survey noted that while the video editing industry grew at a rate of 7 percent overall in 2010, the Final Cut Pro business grew by 15 percent. And a SCRI survey reports that 54 percent of professional broadcast and video post production houses are using Final Cut Pro, suggesting that they are the market leader.

Interesting background, right? Many will however say, "That's all in the past."

OK, so let's look past the "fantastic decade" that they are touting and focus more on the new release - FCP X. 

First off, how did we go from Final Cut Pro 7 to Version 10? What happened to Versions 8 and 9??!

The folks at Apple don't see Version 10 as an upgrade, but as an entirely new and re-engineered release that was built from the ground up.

"Designed for today's workflows," FCP X features a completely new architecture - a 64-bit architecture that's able to use all memory in today's newer Macs. The original Final Cut Pro was built during the OS 9 days, and while it evolved, didn't truly take advantage of the newer Macs' performance. This release, they say, needed to be an OS X native application with newest Cocoa tools. It was given a new look and provides users with a "more interactive experience." Their words - not mine.

A look at some of the new features of FCP X

Color sync - guarantees color consistency across the post process and maintains color profile. The new release offers color grading tools for controlling saturation, exposure, and matching color, as well as for keying and creating masks. A vectorscope, waveform monitor and histogram are also built in.

Resolution independence - native file formats in the timeline with no conversion.

Grand Central Dispatch - access all of the cores in a Mac for optimum performance. Rendering takes advantage of it too and, in fact, rendering is pushed to the background. 

Media organization - tools have been added to help in organizing media. And the computer does it for you. Content Auto Analysis, for example, detects the type of media and labels it appropriately. Sections that are shaky will be noted, face detection identifies people in a scene and the size of their faces will determine whether it's a close up, medium shot, etc. In fact, multiple faces will determine two-shots, group shots, etc. - all automatically. Users can also quickly add metadata tags (sunsets, rain, groups, close ups) and that footage will then appear in several different sections. The media isn't copied, it's just the metadata, keeping things light. 

Sync issues - Problems that pop up during editing have also been addressed through Magnetic Timeline, Clip Connection and Compound Clip features. Want to move an entire group of clips, sound effects and transitions? The Magnetic Timeline feature helps to move them so that they butt up against other clips without creating any black space on the timeline. If there is a conflict between elements, a separate lane is created, showing the editor where there is overlap. Clip Connection locks video and audio so that they can be easily moved together. And Compound Clips collect multiple elements and then collapse them in the viewfinder to simplify what you are looking at. They can be moved all at once, and expanded to reveal all of the underlying elements.

Apple pointed to a handful of pros that were working with FCP X before its release on Tuesday and all of them had good things to say. They include Outpost Digital's Evan Schechtman in New York City;  

Trailer Park Post Production's Scott Ivers, which posts a high volume of trailer work; and Dean Devlin of LA's Electric Entertainment, which produces the show Leverage

What about the professional features? I know, I heard this too from pros in the field, so I asked them. Their answer is that FCP X supports all flavors of Pro Res, and a range of cameras that are used by professionals, including AVC HD, Canon's DSLRs, P2-based cameras, and those that record in the AVC Intra format. Red? Alexa? It looks like those formats need to be converted. Apple does offer a "codec package" that adds support from different codecs, and reminds users to check regularly for updates. 

Also - and this is kind of important - projects that were created in any of the older versions of Final Cut Pro will not open up in FCP X. "You can open the media," they said, but if you are looking to pick up where you left off on a job, it's not going to happen.

Apple is only selling Final Cut Pro X through the Mac App store - no boxed product - and the price is $299.99, which they also point out as way less expensive than their competitors. The download takes up approximately 1.3GBs. Once users purchase the product, they can then download the 1,300 royalty free sound effects that come with the release. 

Apple says FCP X will run on any Mac that was released in the past few years. System requirements include 2GBs or RAM (4GBs recommended), Core 2 Duo processor or better, an Open CL capable graphics card, and OS 10.6.7 or later.

In related news, Apple released the 64-bit Motion 5, which is Grand Central Dispatch enabled, and uses the GPU for realtime previewing. The interface has been updated and tools and layouts have been redesigned. Smart motion templates are included and users can create their own motion templates. Chroma keying tools are also included, and the price is just $49.99.

And Compressor 4 is designed to serve as a more advanced encoding companion to FCP X, providing a range of delivery options. Users can set up distributed encoding sessions to farm out encoding jobs, and create streamlined settings libraries for reoccurring encodes. Pricing is also $49.99.


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June 22, 2011
  SMPTE Stereoscopic 3D Conference Looks at Viewer Comfort and Beyond
Posted By Igor Ridanovic

NEW YORK - The second day of the SMPTE conference on stereoscopic 3D was marked by presentations focused on viewer comfort, S3D processing and display technology.

Papers presented during the morning session addressed various ways to improve S3D viewer comfort through mathematically derived production guidelines, post production depth grading, and even viewer controllable apparent scene depth.

Didier Doyen of Technicolor France described the concept of embedding dense disparity maps in the S3D video signal and using them to allow TV viewers to adjust 3D intensity to flatten or enhance the appearance of depth. This adjustment could be used to suit personal tastes or to compensate for eye straining hyper convergence or hyper divergence.

The most jaw dropping presentation of the morning did not involve S3D directly, but it implied various possible applications in S3D imaging. Marc Levoy showed examples of several prototypes developed by his team at Stanford University. Particularly interesting was a demonstration of the ability to selectively refocus arbitrary planes in a still photograph in post production.

The second part of the day was dedicated to the latest in stereoscopic display systems including holographic displays.

While holographic TVs are not going to appear in stores soon, V. Michael Bove gave a good overview of the promises and constraints of the technology, which is a subject of research at MIT and several other institutes worldwide. Holographic eyewear-free images deliver comfortable 3D pictures by eliminating the vergence/accommodation disconnect which can cause eye strain in conventional stereoscopic display systems.

Douglas Lanman from MIT Media Lab offered an improvement of another autostereoscopic monitor suitable for hand held devices based on the 100 year old parallax barriers display. He invited the audience to download plans and build their own mock display using nothing more than an inkjet printer, transparencies and some software.

While waiting for the next year's SMPTE stereoscopic conference, I might just do that!

Igor Ridanovic is a film and TV technology consultant in Los Angeles.

Continue reading "SMPTE Stereoscopic 3D Conference Looks at Viewer Comfort and Beyond" »

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June 22, 2011
  A look at the Produced by Conference 2011
Posted By Ed Heede
BURBANK - The Produced by Conference (PBC) confab is a three-year-old "educational forum" and gathering of media pros across film, TV and Web. It took place on the Disney Burbank Studios lot June 4 and 5. PBC was co-sponsored by the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI).

On the producers' side, the show was chaired by notables Gale Anne Hurd, Vance Van Patten (PGA chair), Rachel Klein and Marshall Herskowitz. More traditional studio machine producers such as Harvey Weinstein (The King's Speech), Ian Bryce (Transformers, Spider-Man franchises), Bonnie Arnold (How to Train your Dragon, Toy Story) were there alongside the rather less orthodox and indie side represented by people on the order of Kevin Smith (Red State) and Jason Blum (Paranormal).

Did all the glitter and celebrity value make for an experience worth its time and money? According to attendance figures, would-be producers and creative types from all media walks seemed to say, 'Yes.'

Roughly 2,200 people attended this year, more than double the attendance of last year's show. Clearly the PBC (www.producedbyconference.com) is gaining momentum. That's no small feat in an industry far from immune to a general economy that has seen better days. No doubt PBC success is due to subjects covered at the show ranging anywhere from finance to global distribution, film technology and new media opportunities.

Of more impact to Post readers - cinema and broadcast technology was also addressed via a number of panels.

"The Single-Chip Camera Evaluation" for one, pitted 11 digital cameras head-to-head for an evaluation "to accurately and impartially subject the leading single sensor motion picture cameras to a battery of tests designed to reveal the limits of their performance." All cameras including latest generation Arri, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Red, Sony and more were put through a battery of tests at their best available output measuring critical factors such as resolution and exposure latitude. (Tests were conducted non-profit and beholden to no camera maker). Results were not all that surprising. Arri came across as a top performer - at least in the dynamic range category, virtually matching Kodak film stocks at roughly 14 stops with all others bringing up the rear with some response near the 11-stop mark or less. Of course, there is a vast price disparity from something like an Arri Alexa at around $130K (with lenses) to say, a mid-range Sony PMW F3 10-bit camera at about $25K-$50K (with lenses), to a Canon 5D DSLR at near $5K-$10K (with lenses).

Robert Primes, ASC, Josh Siegel and others put together a test very much like this one earlier in the year at NAB. A brief overview of the NAB overview can be seen here:

http://provideocoalition.com/index.php/awilt/story/nab_2011_-_scce_charts

http://www.zacuto.com/the-great-camera-shootout-2011/episode-one


The proviso for cinema pros is that camera technology is now accelerating quickly over time with big changes and ramifications to be seen within a one-year to two-year horizon. That's good for DPs, producers and indie filmmakers across the board.

Other film technology panels dealt with "Digital Cinema and the New Entertainment Model" where most panel chairs agreed that the entire entertainment model was at a kind of flashpoint where the old 35mm celluloid past was continuing to give way to a purely digital experience from exhibition (already at 50 percent digital screens nationwide) to Video on Demand (VOD). At "The Post Production Ecosystem: Making Smart Business Choices" a valuable if somewhat biased (Avid sponsored) panel on how to shepherd projects through the various workflow paths available to media makers. All focused on the business impact of major issues from file-based workflows to 3D cinema and mastering.

A few key takeaways from the show: an evident challenge yet to be solved by new media opportunities and the consensus agreement from most Disney producers that 3D cinema is not for all films and not necessarily even appropriate for the majority of films - at least from the Disney perspective.

Given its focus, the PBC show obviously catered to producers more than techno media geeks. Even so, it served its audience on a number of levels. An approach that is arguably what any entertainment confab should do. Whether confabs such as PBC serve the target audience as well as they could is subject for further study.


As an example: for a show on entertainment production - and therefore distribution where most content is made to be monetized (or not) - there was no panelist or booth I was aware of at PBC that represented primary source banks or primary lenders to the entertainment trade. As a matter of production education I would personally call that an oversight. But it could be that I'm nitpicking.

On the whole I'd have to say this was a good, well-attended show. Produced By Conference 2011 managed to cover a wide range of critical issues at some depth as it brought together hundreds of film commissions, media supporters, cinema enablers, studio filmmakers and suppliers from the world over. Not an easy act to pull off.
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June 21, 2011
  SMPTE Stereoscopic 3D Conference Brings Together Scientists, Engineers and Content Creators
Posted By Igor Ridanovic
NEW YORK - The 2nd SMPTE Annual Conference on Stereoscopic 3D for Media & Entertainment wrapped up its first day at the Millennium Broadway Hotel today. This time around the ornate Hudson Theater was outfitted with a Sony projector and a RealD 3D stereoscopic system, which several presenters used to deliver easy-to-understand illustrations.

The day was bookended by two observations on the current and the future penetration of stereoscopic 3D (S3D) in the consumer market. SMPTE president Peter Ludé opened the conference saying that although some analysts see a decline in the current number of S3D viewers, 40 percent of US film goers choose to the pay the $3.50 premium.

Gordon Castle of PwC closed the evening with a report on the S3D business landscape. The presentation, based on the PwC S3D international market study, was cautiously optimistic, naming the lack of quality content as one of the major adversaries to successful S3D consumer adoption. The study went further to forecast 2012-2013 as the years when S3D will reach its maturity.

Jenny Read of Newcastle University kicked off a series of thought provoking papers by challenging the prevailing notion that a minimal amount of distortion producing vertical retinal disparity in stereoscopic vision is the filmmaker's enemy and suggested that the induced illusion effect could be deployed for creative purposes.

She and other scientists cautioned that more cooperation is needed between researchers who work in labs and engineers who deal with practical applications of the S3D technology.

Such cross of science and technology was evident in the paper presented by Daniele Siragusano of CinePostproduction. Daniele worked with test subjects to measure the effects of S3D distortion and was able to test his findings as a working stereographer.

The second day of the conference will focus on S3D metrology and processing, as well as advances in stereoscopic displays.

Igor Ridanovic is a film and TV technology consultant in Los Angeles.


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June 14, 2011
  Red LA User Group Meets, Focuses on Education
Posted By Igor Ridanovic

BURBANK - Once every couple of months the Red camera owners and Red-curious industry pros gather at the Red Los Angeles User Group meeting held at Kappa Studios in Burbank. The most recent gathering took place on Saturday, June 11th.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the event organizers, but if I am not objective describing the user group meeting it's only because, like most other members, I get excited about what this gathering has to offer.

The Red User Group strives to go beyond equipment demos and sales pitches, and offers fresh content with good educational value to the members and public at large via the Red LA User Group YouTube channel.

This free event started with a generous breakfast spread. Over a hundred attending members took seats in edit and audio bays across the building to view a number of simultaneous half-hour presentations.

ChriRED L.A. User Group, Epics on a stereoscopic rigstian Bloch delivered the most educational session of the day. Christian, who is an author and HDR expert, spoke about the concept and theory of high dynamic range imaging, which is relevant for Epic, the new camera from the Red.

Putting his words into practice, Image Systems used Epic HDR footage in Nucoda Film Master to show why OpenEXR workflow is important for cinematographers who create digital images that rival those captured on film.

Constant Velocity Technology showcased their new solid state drive based RAID technology, which outperforms traditional drives by large margin.

There were also several Epics and Red Ones, a stereoscopic 3D rig from Element Technica, a seminar for starting scriptwriters, a member's project screening and over ten door prizes. But most importantly, there was a lot of face-to-face time and a lot of networking, which has resulted in several member project collaborations in the past.

Igor Ridanovic is a co-founder of RED Los Angeles User Group.
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