Spanned P2 Clips with Timecode Past Midnight

So one of those things that doesn’t come up much, but is really important, is the prohibition against letting timecode go past midnight. Once it gets past 23:59:59:23 (or 29 or 24 depending on your timebase) it goes to 00:00:00:00. If that happens, how does your timecode-based editing system know that the footage with lower numbers comes after the footage with higher numbers? It’s a timecode break. Computers aren’t good at guessing.

I ran into this problem recently with a multi-camera P2 shoot using Time of Day timecode on a 2-hour show that started at 11pm. The timecode started at 23:00:00:00 (approximately) and ended at 001:00:00:00. That’s no good for FCP. What we should have done was start the time code at 11:00:00:00 instead, but the show started late, and we were supposed to be done before midnight, and nobody had planned to shoot past midnight and nobody remembered it would be a problem. The big problem I ran into was since these were 2 hour AVC-Intra clips recorded on P2 cards, everything was spanned over about 17 clips on each camera. But since the timecode reset, FCP couldn’t figure out how to combine the spanned clips into the one clip I wanted.

I could have just log & transfer imported all the individual clips, laid them out on a timeline, and then exported that timeline as one big QT file, but that would take forever to import and export since the files are so big. What I did instead, thanks to an idea from David Wulzen at Creative Cow, was go in and edit the start timecode in the Contents/Clip/*******.xml files for all 70 of the clips I wanted to span, and now FCP joins them up with no problem. Hooray for the Internet!

More Editing With Canon 5D Mark II

We shot 3 days with the Canon 5D last week. It looks awesome. I highly recommend it. Here was our workflow:

1. Record separate audio at 48048, stamped at 48000. This is possible with some audio recorders even if you’ve never noticed it before. Check your manual.

2. Copy contents of CF card to hard drive.

3. Convert h.264 QTs to ProRes HQ QTs using Compressor.

4. Use Cinema Tools to batch conform QTs from 30 fps to 29.97

5. Sync in FCP.

6. Edit!

Reasons to Edit in 24p

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about 24p editing because it’s so complicated and misunderstood. Last year I wrote about shooting 24p but editing 29.97 arguing that nobody is going to notice the difference. This year I want to write about the reasons to go through the trouble to shoot and edit 24p. And, as always, 24p = 23.98 fps

1) Blah, blah, blah, film blowups. My big pet peeve about 24p discussions is the obsession with film blowups. First there was the completely false idea that shooting 24p “advanced” was somehow better than 24p “regular” for doing film blowups. I hope nobody believes that anymore. As long as you use the right workflow, there is absolutely no difference in the end product. The more pervasive rumor is that the only time it makes sense to edit in 24p is when you’re going to do a film blowup. This is also false, for reasons I’ll get into below. And who the hell is wasting their money by blowing video up to film anymore?

2) Computers. Here’s my big reason for progressive 24p editing. A lot of video is made for computer displays these days, and computers and interlacing go together like two things that don’t go together. If you’re going to show your film on the web, it’s going to look a lot better at 24p than 29.97 with pulldown in it. And considering that a lot of web video is higher quality than DVD at this point, you’ll really appreciate the boost.

3. DVDs. If you make a 23.98 QuickTime and compress it to MPEG-2, it will play perfectly on any DVD player. If your DVD player can upconvert and output 24p via HDMI, it might actually play it that way on your 24p HDTV. If you play the DVD on a computer, you won’t see any interlacing. And, since DVD encoding is generally based on average megabits per second, the fewer frames you have in a second, the more data goes to each frame.

4. Educational. Editing 24p video has taught me so much about the way video works. I worry that computers are so easy to use these days that kids who didn’t grow up have to create config.sys boot menus in order to play Doom won’t really get under the hood of their computers and learn what they’re really doing. In the same way, if video just works (like it used to) then you could edit for years without really knowing what you’re doing on a technical level. I like to know how things work, and I think it’s valuable for more people to know. The proliferation of incompatible video formats may be infuriating, but it requires people to learn about technology in a really useful way. It also helps me pay my rent on time every month.

The Costs of Blu Ray

I’ve had an HDTV for almost two years now, and I’ve generally been content with the quality of HD television broadcasts and anamorphic DVDs. But when I saw I could get a Panasonic BMP-BD35 Blu-Ray player for only $250, I got myself an early Christmas present.

It arrived last night, and the first thing I tried was a blind A/B test of DVD playback. I hooked up the BD35 and my beloved Sony DVP-NS315 DVD player to the TV using component video cables. I saw almost no difference between them. The BD35 outputs 480p through component cables, and the 315 does 480i, but my Panasonic 9UK television does a great job removing 2:3 pulldown so the end result is basically the same.

It sounds like admitting I still watch VHS or something, but my TV is not even fully 720p. It’s 1024×720. I know, I know. It’s practically EDTV over here. It also doesn’t have an HDMI input, so I can’t test to see if the BD35’s upconverting is better than my television’s. I could get an HDMI input card, but on my Panasonic 9UK model plasma it can only do 1080i, not p, so I’m not that excited about spending over $100 to get something I can already do with component.

I don’t have any professionally produced Blu-Ray discs yet, so I tried burning my own. I don’t have a Blu-Ray burner or media, but I used Toast 9 to encode some of my own HD videos to AVCHD and burned it onto a DVD-R. It seems that most recently produced Blu-Ray players can read AVCHD encoded material from a DVD even though it’s not on a Blu-Ray disc. What I’ve seen so far is an increase in quality over SD DVD but I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly different. Of course there are a lot of variables in my experimentation so far. I don’t know anything about the relative quality of the Toast encoder. I do know it takes a long time to encode. It’s multi-threaded, so it’s pretty much maxing out all my cores, but it takes longer than almost any other kind of encoding I’ve done on this computer. My first tests were with DVCPRO HD 720p-originated footage, which at 960×720 is even lower resolution than my TV. Those didn’t show much difference from SD DVD at all. My 1920×1080 animated series (which originated as 12 megapixel stills) had a clearer increase in quality. The title graphics especially were much sharper. The US version I have will not play back video encoded at 1080p25, although I do get audio and a blank screen while it’s playing and a single tantalizing frame of video just as I hit stop.

Having a Blu-Ray player in my home got me excited about the possibility of producing Blu-Ray discs for films I work on. I looked into the manufacturing costs, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It’s about $4/disc to manufacture a short run of 1000. It’s not DVD-cheap, but it’s pretty good. However, the dirty little secret of Blu-Ray manufacturing is the dreaded AACS. DVDs had a quaint DRM system called CSS. It is still in use, but it was permanently broken nine years ago, and is absolutely no impedement for anyone who wants to make copies of DVDs. It costs money to add CSS to DVDs, and pretty much every large distributor still uses it. But the great thing about DVD is that CSS was optional. If I want to do a 1000-disc run of my short film, I only have to pay the manufacturer their fee, which has been subject to intense downward pressure over the years as competitors lowered their prices. Right now I could do it for about $1000.

AACS is mandatory for Blu-Ray. It is expensive. And it is not subject to price competition. If I want to make 1000 Blu Ray copies of my HD short film, I can pay someone like Pacific Disk a $500 setup fee plus $3850 for the manufacturing. That’s a perfectly reasonable price, and over the next year it’s pretty much guaranteed to go down. But before Pacific Disk can make any copies for me, I have to get a license from AACS. It costs $3000 just to get myself registered with them. Then I have to pay 4 cents per disc plus a $1000 order fulfillment fee, so $1040. There also seems to be a $1300 charge for a content certificate. In all it could cost more to get the AACS that I don’t even want than to actually manufacture the discs. That price could go down, or it could go up. AACS is the only game in town, so they can do whatever they want.

Basically in order to make Blu-Ray disc manufacturing economical you have to do huge runs. And that requires huge marketing budgets in order to get people to buy the huge number of discs filling up your warehouses. For now it looks like Blu-Ray will be dominated by the big studios who just happen to run AACS.

Switched to DirecTV

When I moved into my apartment 4 1/2 years ago, I had Time Warner Cable and their Roadrunner Internet. The Internet connection was extremely unreliable and after about 6 months we switched to Verizon DSL, which has been rock solid with the exception of a few days with a router failure down the street somewhere, or something like that. It was fixed fairly quickly. The Time Warner SD video signal was also slightly unreliable. I got some digital breakup every once in a while, and on demand type interactive things never worked.

Things got really bad when I got my HDTV almost two years ago. We didn’t have any HD broadcast channels for the first several weeks, and it turned out the wiring on the way into our house was done really badly. We eventually got TWC to send a really great contractor to run a new wire from the tap, which resides in the back yard of our neighbors two doors down.

My girlfriend calls it the Time Warner Rat King. Read more

Don’t Write Off Avid

Over the past couple months I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to check out two cutting-edge tapeless workflows, both of which seemed at first glance to be difficult to work with in Avid. First was the Arri D-21 with an S.two digital magazine. Before I had a chance to look at it I was actually told that it would not work with Avid. I was pretty sure there’s always a way to make anything work, so I went in and looked at it firsthand.

S.two’s system records to a heavy-duty hard drive array that can then be plugged into a fancy dock that processes the video and allows you to ingest into your computer via HD-SDI in real time. Essentially it turns a tapeless workflow into a tape workflow. You get deck control and everything. The one advantage FCP has over Avid in this workflow is that the mag automatically generates a FCP XML file that allows easy batch digitizing. What you get with Avid is more work for the Assistant Editor because you have to enter the start and stop times and names and whatnot manually. Why they didn’t use the cross-platform ALE format, I don’t know, but it’s really not a big issue. It’s just like working with tapes.

With the RED workflow there’s absolutely nothing anywhere close to “realtime” processing. What you get with RED is a lot of waiting. It’s like processing 35mm film. It takes time. For some projects this isn’t really a big deal, for others it is. RED and FCP have been like two peas in a pod from the beginning, but Avid is getting things worked out nicely. The disadvantage Avid has at the moment is that it doesn’t read metadata from QuickTime files. If you were to import any QT file into Avid, its timecode would always start at 01:00:00:00. But the new REDRushes, which comes with REDAlert can create an ALE for easy batch importing.

The situation as I see it right now with all these crazy workflows being introduced, is that all you’re still doing as an offline editor is generating a list of numbers for the conform. In most cases, Avid and FCP are equally good at doing that. And if you feel more free and comfortable to create and actually edit in Avid, you should be working in Avid, no matter what anyone says about how well FCP handles newer tapeless workflows. Of course, that’s assuming you have someone in the production—such as myself—who actually understands what’s going on under the hood.

Monetized HD Video Online

I just finished Time Travellin’ Episode One: “Robot Overlords”, my first new movie in a very long time. It’s also my first HD movie. I’ve edited a lot of stuff in HD over the past year or two, but nothing of my own. For the past few days I’ve been spreading the movie around the multitude of online video sites. My favorite is still Vimeo, because they have the best picture quality. But thanks to the limited amount of movement in each frame, this photo animation technique lends itself extremely well to video compression, so it looks pretty good even on YouTube (in “high quality” mode). But Vimeo doesn’t have any revenue sharing options. Call me crazy, but I’d like to make some money on my films. Vuze worked very well for me with Two Night Stand, but that was a kind of lucky fluke that I don’t plan on repeating. Of course I still uploaded it there, but the problem with Vuze is that it’s not something you can just embed in your website. You can embed a teaser clip, but in order to see the whole thing you have to download it in the Vuze client.

To download the full version visit

Obviously the reason they can afford to host HD video is that they’re using the Bittorrent network to share the bandwidth load. If Vuze switched to a web-based video distribution system they’d lose a lot of money on bandwidth costs and might not be so eager to share revenue with content creators.

I made a stand-alone website for this photoanimation technique and I had to choose one site to embed the videos with. I started with Revver, because I’ve earned about $120 from them in the past, and they have pretty good video quality. But all of that money came in a long time ago, and I’m not sure the drop-off has anything to do with the amount of traffic I’m getting. I feel like the quality of the advertising has changed, and fewer people are interested in clicking on the ads they’re showing.

I had a little experience with before, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it. I uploaded the new movie there, and I was really impressed. There are a lot of advertising options, the video quality is very good, and there are many, many customization options. I still don’t quite understand everything I can do, but I’m learning. There seems to be an option to upload your own encoded flash video, which I tried, but it wouldn’t load. I’m going to look into that more. But it also seems that they’re not resizing videos when they do the encode. I uploaded a 1280×720 H.264 QuickTime file and the flash file is still 1280×720. The bitrate is variable and hovers around 700 kb/s which seems good enough. I haven’t had enough traffic on blip to get any money yet, so I’ll report back on how that goes.

In other money-making news, I finally applied to be a YouTube “partner” so I could get ads shown next to my YouTube videos. I’m still getting 1,000 daily views on Two Night Stand there, so I’m hoping that brings in a little cash. I won’t get any reports from them for 60 days though, so it’s a mystery what kind of money that will bring in. I hadn’t applied before because they ask you how many videos you plan to post in the next month and I figured I wouldn’t qualify because I didn’t upload frequently enough. But I went for it, and they very quickly appoved the application. I’d say anyone holding off on applying should do it ASAP. What I love so far is the ability they give to brand your channel and video. I added logos for my main channel, and the 15framespersecond channel The scariest thing so far: you have to individually submit each video to turn on revenue sharing, and if it isn’t approved it will be removed from YouTube. I’ve enabled ads on all my videos except the 2.5-million-view Bad Webcam Sex video. I’m afraid they’ll think it’s dirty, even though it is very, very not dirty. The “high quality” YouTube videos are actually pretty good now, and it’s a long way from the old days when everything was blurry and four frames out of sync. And you can’t beat those traffic numbers. A few million views is nothing on YouTube, which is crazy.

Converting edited 29.97 Video to 23.98 in FCP

For the past couple weeks I’ve been working for Revel in New York, a very cool new online video series. I started after they had already shot several pieces, and some of them had already been captured and assembled. Almost all the video was shot 24p on a DVX-100 and captured at 29.97. I figured I wouldn’t try to get too fancy, and just kept editing that way since some work had already been done at 29.97. Then I exported an edited video for upload and I took a look at it. As I should have realized, it was full of interlacing! There are a lot of moves on still photos, and it was just unacceptable. So I decided to try something I’d never done before. I took a piece that was edited as regular old 29.97 and converted it to 23.98.

First I media managed everything, so I could always go back if I screwed it up. I made a new project copying only the linked media, with 3 second handles. The handles were very important, because without them I couldn’t properly remove the pulldown on some clips. There needs to be a little bit of leeway at the beginning and end of the clip, since there will be some frames removed.

Once I had my newly created project, I selected all the DV NTSC master clips in the bin and clicked on “Tools/Cinema Tools Reverse Telecine.” Cinema Tools went to work on all the clips, and automatically removed the 2:3 pulldown.

Now I had 23.98 media in a 29.97 sequence, all of which was informing me of a newfound desire to be rendered. So I hit ⌘ + A to select all the clips in the sequence, copied to the clipboard, created a new 23.98 sequence, and pasted into the new sequence. Now I had 24p clips in a 24p sequence, with no need to be rendered. The trouble of course, was thanks to the removal of 6 available frames per second, some of the clips were now off by a frame. Some were even out of sync, but they were nice enough to tell me that. I had to go through manually and make sure everything fit together properly. Since the pieces were only about 3 min long it wasn’t too odious. Every once in a while I had to slide a clip 1 frame forward or back.

Once I was satisfied that I had a sequence that matched my original cut, I exported a fully progressive QT. The moves on the artwork are significantly better now, and there is no interlacing to be found.

IMAX is Great

I’ve seen a couple 35mm movies blown up to IMAX. I saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the Boston Aquarium on opening day. Harry and The Potters rocked the lobby while we waited. Yeah, I saw them before they were cool. Now they’ve sold out and gone all corporate Wizard Rock. Last weekend I went to see The Dark Knight at the only IMAX theater in NYC. I had to stake out Fandango at 2:45pm last Tuesday in order to snag tickets before they sold out.

Simply put, it’s a very impressive experience. I did a little research on the technical specs. I had thought IMAX was just a fancy name for 70mm, but although it uses 70mm film, it actually runs sideways through the camera to get a little extra resolution, like the old VistaVision process that used two sideways 35mm film frames to approximate one wide 70mm frame. Unfortunately, they couldn’t feasibly shoot the whole movie in IMAX, so there are large portions in boring old 35mm, which frankly just doesn’t cut it when projected back to back with IMAX shots. A lot of times scenes will have IMAX establishing shots, then immediately cut to 35mm. The first time it happened it got my hopes up, because I was expecting to see a whole sequence in IMAX, but it just ended up being disappointing. Eventually I got used to the idea.

And the real winner is the sound. There’s no Dolby matrix or anything. It’s totally uncompressed sound. And there are obviously some fantastic speakers involved. When I saw the boring old 35mm version at the Union Square theater on opening night, the subwoofer case was rattling, which was really annoying. It’s kind of par for the course though. In the past few weeks I’ve also seen Wall-E slightly out of focus, and Wanted projected through a spherical lens instead of anamorphic. When the Universal logo came on, the Earth looked like this:

Imagine if someone were actually paying attention to the projection. I suspect that would have been fixed during the trailers. We walked out after the first minute and got our money back.

The downside of the IMAX Experience ™ for me was some weird projection issues. Dark scenes often had what looked like a slightly milky overlay in the center of the image, like someone was shining a large flashlight on the screen. It was subtle, but annoying. There was also a clear vignetting in some scenes, where the image loses brightness as it gets towards the edge. I have a feeling those are related issues, and have something to do with the physics of projecting such a large image. I didn’t see it so much in the IMAX sequences though, just in the 35mm blowup portions.