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Recent Blog Posts in October 2011

October 17, 2011
  CCW 2011: Lights, Cameras, Quality
Posted By Fred Ruckel

By Fred Ruckel

NEW YORK -The Javits Convention Center played host to CCW this year. Upon descending to the lower level you can see the distant booths and the feeling of where do I start sets in. I had made my list of things I wanted to see and planned to explore some of the unknown ones out there. 

With everyone getting immersed in stereoscopic these days, there was no shortage of 3D hardware and software to be seen. Panasonic had a very nice new camera, the AG-3DP1, P2 camera. Having two lenses and sets of electronics made for a great 3D picture. The only downside I could tell was the camera must be very front heavy and therefore would be difficult to balance in a non-studio environment. I played with the controls and it seemed to have a great range of adjustments, putting it on par with some of the other very expensive cameras. 

Shooting 3D has become commonplace these days, however viewing it on set is often cumbersome. Marshall Electronics has a great on-set monitor, the Orchid OR-70-3D. This little 7-inch screen allows for stereoscopic viewing without the use of glasses. This technology will be showing up all over as the market develops. Nothing could be better than being able to see a full stereo 3D shot live to make important decisions. The monitor also allows a viewer to see the waveform and vector information for each eye. This is crucial as it ensure the colors are balanced between both eyes, something that if done wrong, can take a lot of time in post to correct.

Autodesk was showing the newest Smoke on a Mac (smac as we call it). This program has come a long way. Originally on Unix, ported to Linux, now ported to Mac as a scaled back version of Smoke, it still boasts a deep toolset. A first-time user wouldn't know what was missing and therefore it would be a fully-featured system for them. As a long time Flame artist, all my favorite tools are the ones that are left out in the scale back. I am sure that I could make it work and learn new ways to skin the cat. Keep an eye out for this to get bigger and maybe one day become Flame on Mac - now that would be awesome.

Avid had the usual showings of the gear. One thing of note is that apparently in three weeks time a new release is coming out that is going to be a game changer. Avid had been the long time standing NLE champ, but Apple came on hard for the last 10 years with Final Cut. Adobe has come back for another round with Premiere, which has been re-written for a third time. Keep an eye on this segment of the market as things are about to change. Time will tell, Avid says 3 weeks. We shall see.

The studio lights market has been a major growth area as well. Back at NAB I had noted this segment was going to see a big leap due to lighting technology changes. This show was not short of everyone showing off studio lights using LED technology. Every light manufacturer had an LED offering. While all new to this area, they are making huge progress. Being that LEDs are programmable there is a wide range of effects that can be programmed and reproduced exactly. Its almost like lights have hit the digital age.

Thunderbolt technology is finally making its way into the production pipeline. At the Autodesk booth I saw a Thunderbolt Raid connected to a laptop making for a truly portable high-end workstation. There are a few vendors with production ready Raids available, Promise Technology was at the show with an array or arrays. For those who aren't familiar with Thunderbolt, using display port technology one can connect up to six devices in a chain and attain speeds up to 10Gbps bi-directionally. That speed is enough to sustain full resolution HD video. Until recently this kind of speed was only achievable with Fibre channel, which is very expensive. While only a few computer manufacturers have started implementing it on systems, you can bet in the next year it will all go that way. Unlike USB, a Thunderbolt cable has the same connector on both ends making plug and play a lot easier than USB as it has a different connector at both ends. If you are looking for a storage upgrade, keep a watchful eye on Thunderbolt.

The conference was also filled with lots of speaker events that really were targeted to today's pressing issues. Most often attendees skip the conference part and just look at exhibits. This was not the case at this CCW as speaker panels drew people in to learn what was going on and what was next. The past few years in the production and post production business has really evolved. So much so that many people are confused on which path to follow and what is the best choice for their business that will be future worthy. 

I sat in on one conference about the multiple acquisition formats in the workflow. The room was full and panelist each addressed different concerns with the all-data world we live in now. From Red to Alexa to ProRes, there was something for everyone to learn. The biggest thing I took away from it was that the days of the signal purist are numbered. I sat with a grin as I listened during Q&A and most people all talked about ProRes being their finishing format. One person even dared to say that ProRes and uncompressed raw are virtually identical. ProRes 444 @23.98 can only sustain a bit-rate of 264mbps, whereas HDCAM SR can sustain 880mbps. One thing is certain, what is high-end now is almost unattainable and what is midrange now is soon to be the high-end. 

It would seem that these days less people care about the quality of the signal than the speed at which you can work with mixed media. The next few years will be very interesting to watch as the format wars heat up and what will be considered the new "high end." I just pray it isn't ProRes.

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October 04, 2011
  Desktop Post: Part 2 - Adobe Premiere CS5.5
Posted By Daniel Restuccio

Adobe Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro in Adobe CS 5 was a watershed release. The program was written from the ground up in 64-bit environment that is fully exploited on the Mac OS X and the very stable Windows 7 system. The kind of hiccups running Premiere in a 32-bit funky Windows XP operating system are mostly banished. Refinements to this aspect of the engine in CS5.5 is that the 64-bit addressing of using the CPU cores has been further optimized improving overall stability when editing projects with large files, i.e. Red One or Red Epic projects.

Adobe, with this 5.5 release seems recommitted to their flagship editing software. With Premiere 5.5 projects can be truly cross platform and the benefits of Dynamic Linking across other Adobe apps continues to enhance Premiere's profile as a serious NLE. Demand for Adobe's Production Premium CS5.5 has grown 22 percent year-over-year with 45 percent growth on the Mac. The recent announcements at IBC that Adobe Production Premium 5.5 will be used extensively at the UK broadcast network ITV and the acquisition of IRIDAS lends serious credibility to the notion that Adobe means business and that everyone should consider giving Premiere another look.

 

The Premiere Pro 5.5 upgrade sports a number of fresh features. It has an improved Mercury Playback engine; better DLSR editing, specifically the merge clip feature connects video clips to sound clips when shooting using a double system acquisition; customizable keyboard shortcuts so you can make your keyboard emulate Avid Media Composer or Final Cut Pro 7; an enhanced insert and overwrite editing features; and a new importer allows you to natively work with Red Epic footage. There are more GPU-accelerated features, including time remapping, speed change, footage interpretation options, field order processing, filmic transitions, blur effects and more.  The existing support for Red R3D is enhanced and now Epic footage can be imported. What is significantly missing is native support for Arri Alexa footage. 

What is called the Mercury Playback Engine is a collection of features that includes 64-bit addressing, enabled multithreading and the ability to access CUDA technology on specific Nvidia cards. This is specialized functionality built into Premiere Pro 5.0 that has been enhanced in PP 5.5 enabling it to do a lot more. As a 64-bit app, Premiere allows for all the RAM in a system to be addressable. This, coupled with the reasonably stable 64-bit Windows 7 operating system, makes for a mostly reliable editing environment.  

Premiere Pro 5 had really good multithreading, Premiere Pro 5.5 "does more" with the MPE. Are you going to notice it? Well maybe.  The work goes smoother and dare I say it, the system doesn't hang up as much.  (We all know that other NLEs never crash right?) 

The CUDA technology built into the Nvidia card is the really big deal. The first CUDA SDK was released in 2007 and is now at Version 4.0.  The Quadro 5000 based on the new Fermi architecture, supports more programming languages such as C++, has 352 CUDA cores, a display resolution of 2560 x 1600, two display ports, a double precision floating point performance of 360 Gigaflops, and works with the Nvidia 3D Vision Pro kit to preview 3D projects in Premiere Pro 5.5 on a display that supports 3D viewing. 

Adobe will tell you point blank you don't need an Nvidia card to take advantage of the Mercury PE features and functions, but the reality is that it does make many of the functions in Premiere Pro run more efficiently. Think of it as a render farm on a card for certain effects and processes. In PP 5.0 the list of accelerated effects included: 

Alpha Adjust, Basic 3D, Black & White, Brightness & Contrast, Color Balance (RGB), Color Pass (Windows only), Color Replace, Crop, Drop Shadow, Edge Feather, Extract, Fast Color Corrector, Gamma Correction, Garbage Matte (4, 8, 16), Gaussian Blur, Horizontal Flip, Levels, Luma Corrector, Luma Curve, Noise, Proc Amp, RGB Curves, RGB Color Corrector, Sharpen, Three-way Color Corrector, Timecode, Tint, Track Matte Key, Ultra Keyer, Video Limiter, Vertical Flip, Cross Dissolve, Dip to Black and Dip to White

In PP 5.5 there are more accelerated effects including: film dissolve, additive dissolve, invert, directional blur, and fast blur. The film dissolve uses linear color blending and mimics the way a dissolve would happen if you had done it in a optical printer with two pieces of film. So the look is more "cinematic" from that point of view. With these additional filters added to the existing list of GPU enhanced effects you can see the trend towards more filter operations are being tossed to the GPU.

Normally, when you're combining media of various types, sizes, frame rates, pixel aspect ratios, and so on into a sequence, the CPU is cranking overtime to make that work. Premiere Pro CS5.5 throws more of that under the hood labor to the GPUs on the Nvidia card. Deinterlacing, blending modes, color space conversions are also dealt with here. The goal is that you just want to be able to drop footage into the timeline, toss as many effects as possible with minimal rendering, and edit in as near to realtime as possible. The card definitely helps with all of this. 

DSLR

Canon's sales figures of DSLRs appear to be a carefully-guarded secret. However, an informal straw poll of Los Angeles rental houses identified the DSLRs Canon 5D and 7D as popular shooting gear along with the Arri Alexa, Sony F3 and Red One. At this year's Sundance Film Festival, Like Crazy, shot entirely with a Canon 7D DSLR, was sold to Paramount for $4 million. Ed Burns made his new movie Newlyweds on the Canon 5D Mark II. Bandito Bros recently sold Act of Valor for $15 million, also shot almost entirely with the Canon 5D. With these examples DSLRs are exerting a strong influence on production and post production. 

DSLR footage may look great but to many it's a post-production headache. The Canon DSLRs shoot an H.264 4:2:0 8-bit color at a variable bit rate that ranges from 38- to 45Mb per sec. Many editors transcode the DSLR footage into ProRes 4x4 or DNxHD 120 to edit on FCP or Avid. Premiere Pro has been able to import DSLR footage natively since 5.0 and with 5.5 has expanded the range of DSLR footage to include Canon and Nikon DSLR camera formats.

The H.264 files that DSLRs shoot are not ideal for color correcting.

Premiere Pro 5.5 can edit DSLR footage in its native format and plays back a lot smoother than 5.0.  It is essentially rendering the codec on the fly thanks to the MPE and CUDA technology. Premiere Pro CS5.0 was unable to use more than 4GB of RAM on the GPU (VRAM). Premiere Pro CS5.5 can use more than 4GB of VRAM.  If you do decide to transcode anyway when you go to export DSLR footage with the CUDA tech it can squeeze all the quality that is there with minimal additional artifacting. 

Export DPX

One of the most kick-ass features of Premiere Pro 5.5/Media Encoder is the ability to export out DPX files. These are the foundation assets of visual effects work and as of this writing you can't do this with Final Cut Pro 7 without buying Gluetools and you can't do this at all with FCPX. After Effects has been able to do this forever but with the GPU enhanced technology those plates will be vastly improved coming out of Premiere and the Media Encoder.

The reason for this is that without GPU acceleration Premiere Pro and After Effects use the basic set of scaling algorithms to do previews and render footage. With the CUDA technology Premiere can take advantage of much better scaling algorithms that normally would take way too long to be practically useful in a production environment. In simple terms, your DPX files will look a lot better and bake out faster using the card than without it. So if you are doing high-end effects work it is to your advantage to make DPX plates using the CUDA enhanced technology. 

Continue reading "Desktop Post: Part 2 - Adobe Premiere CS5.5" »

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