My latest film “An Evenly Matched Game” hits the Film Fest.

An Evenly Matched Game Poster imageHey, I’ve been offline for far too long. Since the last post, I completed my summer 2012 film titled “An Evenly Matched Game”. Check out the website and trailer here: http://anevenlymatchedgame.com/ And our facebook page at : http://www.facebook.com/AnEvenlyMatchedGame and finally our IMDB page

Wish us luck at the Starz Denver International Film Fest as well as Sundance and others.

Love and Robots poster frame

“Love and Robots” Hits the Festival Circuit.

Love and Robots poster frame

I’ve wrapped post production for my short film “Love and Robots” and now I am in the process of entering it in film festivals. The film is entered into the Sundance festival, The Boulder International Film Festival, and the Festivus film festival in Denver Colorado. “Love and Robots” is the story of a female robot who wonders if robots can experience the emotion of love. It was shot with a Panasonic GH2 DSLR camera with a dedicated volunteer cast and crew and no budget to speak of.

I am also in the process of finding a venue for the unofficial world premiere. You can check out the trailer at: http://loveandrobotsfilm.com/trailer.html we also have an Internet Movie Database page and a Facebook page.

How Final Cut Pro X Broke My Heart.

Like a Vegas romance, what happens in Vegas, should probably stay there. Such was my brief love affair with Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. I bought Final Cut Pro X, the first day it was released and immediately dove into editing with it. And like a hot love affair, I relished in all the new, different and better qualities and overlooked its shortcomings.  I even wrote a long blog post extolling FCP X’s virtues.

FCPX broken heartIt is now some three months since that initial post and I no longer have FCP X installed on my Mac. Here’s the story of how I fell out of love. After editing a couple of minor projects with FCP X, I decided to edit my short film project titled “Love and Robots” with it. First off I struggled with FCP X’s media management when it dated my event as 2009, probably because I hadn’t set the date and time in one of my cameras. I then created my project, thinking that projects in FCP X where similar to sequences in FCP 7. I discovered much to my surprise that you can’t rename a project once it’s created. And even stranger, if you duplicate a project, it duplicates and renames the media associated with the project. And don’t try to move your event from its initial location on your hard drive, because FCP X loses it and you can’t reconnect the event, unless you move it back to the folder where it was created. What about FCP X’s much touted metadata and keyword organization? Well, I had several hours of footage and hundreds of clips that I carefully logged into scene smart folders. I had shot this project on a DSLR, so I was using double system sound. So when I went to use the highly touted sync clip feature, I found the matching video and audio clips for a take and synced the clips, FCP X then proceeded to sync the clips and created a new clip, which lost all the metadata from the original clips. All the hours I had spent organizing my video clips into smart folders were lost. The lesson here being, that you need to sync your clips before adding smart keywords. So like a date that can’t handle their wine, FCP X’s media management turns really ugly, really quickly.

As far as just editing video, FCP X did an admirable job. There were some little peeves, like not being able to copy and paste clip attributes, not being able to key frame color correction parameters, and not being able to edit a text template without, creating a new template in Motion. All of these were little irritating things, but not relationship breakers.

That brings us to the big break-up. Everybody knows that FCP X’s most glaring flaw is its inability to export XML or even an old fashioned EDL. Having XML support is critical in any film project because several people need to collaborate on the project. So when it came time to want to do some effects work in Adobe After Effects and to edit the soundtrack, FCP X essentially locked me in the hotel room. I was stuck not being able to export my sound as tracks. Practically every editor out there separates their audio into tracks, usually the first two are for dialog and then ambience and then effects and then music. And usually you can send these off to the sound editor for further editing. Well since FCP X doesn’t use tracks per se. You can’t separate the various parts of your soundtrack. And worse yet, you can’t export your sound as separate clips. “Round-tripping” soundtracks is critical to film workflow, and this is something that slammed the brakes on my project and made me abandon FCPX as a viable editor. This is a massive fail, that unless it is resolved, will kill Final Cut Pro as a professional  editor.

I had to export my movie and since there is no EDL support, I had to go through the movie cut by cut and hand-log all of my shots. I then reconstructed my entire edit using Final Cut Pro 7. Essentially Final Cut Pro X cost me four weeks of editing. Needless to say the thrill was gone. And like the end of  a bad romance, in a fit of rage I threw out Final Cut Pro X. Now my Mac is free of it, good riddance.

I finished the film in Final Cut Pro 7 and now I am slowly weaning myself from eight years of loving Final Cut and have started to edit on Premier CS5.5. It is sad.

You can see the trailer for Love and Robots at: http://www.vimeo.com/28967865

 

 

Why I Love Final Cut Pro X (The minority report, despite the tar and feathering by my peers.)

NOTE: Since writing this post, I have found serious flaws in Final Cut Pro X. Please see the follow-up post “How FCP X Broke My Heart.”

Okay, first sentence; it’s not perfect. But something this revolutionary, never is. In the words of Morpheus, you need to “Free your mind.”

FCPX GUI

iMovie Pro...Not!

I should just say that I have been editing video as a profession since 1985 and I’ve worked on everything from old CMX tape editors to KEM flatbed film editors to most the NLEs out there, I’ve edited national PBS shows and I teach Final Cut Pro editing at the local community college.
The most important thing I ask of an NLE is that it be fast and be intuitive. On these two counts, I’ve found Final Cut Pro X to be both. I’ll also add the caveat that while I’ve only logged about 16 hours using the new app, I’ve been able to do some pretty amazing stuff in that 16 hours.
Before I get to all the complaints that editors are posting (and they are well documented, to say the least) I want us all to take a deep breath and look at the bright side of life, as it relates to video editing. FCP7 was getting old, editors have been flocking to Premiere because of 64bit architecture, and “native editing” which FCP7 didn’t do. Also for the five editors in the world that edit 4K on a regular basis, FCP7 didn’t handle that workflow , so you had to use proxies (boo hoo!) Well, ladies and gents, FCPX does do 64bit, “Native” editing and 4K. I’ll actually use that 4K editing for time lapses, so hooray for 4K! The 64 bit is nice and in case you haven’t noticed we’ve now got a whole new host of 64 bit effects, They alone are worth your $300 that you are crying about spending on a full-featured NLE. It’s even got “Looks” included. I do love Stu and Red Giant, but for the price of Red Giant Looks, I’ve got a whole NLE attached.

Titles and Text sucked in FCP7, They suck a whole lot less in FCPX, font previews is just one little thing that makes me edit faster, and everyone knows a fast editor is an employed editor. Oh yeah, those nice 64bit effects and transitions are rendering in background while I keep editing, I wonder if I’m going to miss the “render wander” hmm… no more billing for watching the render bar, no wonder some editors are upset.
Video editors hate making friggin’ slide shows. But almost every friggin’ project involves animating Joe the photographer’s wonderful stills into the project. At times I’ve contemplated (gag) going into iMovie just to use the Ken Burns effect. For the record, I hate iMovie and I would hate iMovie Pro, if that’s indeed what FCPX was (and it isn’t.) But if I can take a still sequence and Ken Burns it without having to key frame, that’s mo’ money in my pocket. Yet another FCPX feature that makes me a faster editor.
Once you get over the initial new GUI shock, FCPX turns out to be very intuitive. I was able to make some edits right away without even opening the Help menu, where all the documentation is stored, a far cry from the four volumes of dead tree manuals that came with FCP6. For me anyway, the trim window and the precision editor are far more intuitive than FCP7.  Slipping, sliding rippling, and extend edits are all a piece of cake. Also I have to mention how easy syncing is now. On FCP7 I have the Plural Eyes plug-in just to handle syncing dual system sound. I shoot with a DSLR, so most of the time I’m doing dual system sound. With FCP X it’s as easy as importing the sound clip and choosing “Synchronize Clip” from the Clip menu, that’s it ! It’s simple and just works.
I’ll have to say that initially I’m not a big fan of FCPX’s media management. You kinda have to get over the ideas of projects, sequences, and bins. And that’s sorta like saying you have to get over the idea of breakfast, lunch and dinner. And no “Save As” is just freaky. I’m thinking events are like projects used to be and projects are like sequences used to be. I’m still messing with this whole new paradigm, So I’m going to say that I need to mess with this more to judge it. But I will say this, there are those that are saying you can’t put footage on an external drive and that you can’t share projects and assets, That is just plain wrong. You can import clips to wherever you want, and FCPX can use them, it does give you the option to copy the clips to the same drive as your project file, but you can opt out if you wish. And you have menu options for sharing and copying assets and projects for another editor to use. It’s no Final Cut Server, but big post houses that are running FCP Server are going to stick with FCP7 as long as their slow moving corporate giant minds will allow.
That brings me to “native” editing. Why the hell do you want to edit h.264 on a SD card natively? Because you like to be slow? Okay, most of you are smart enough to transfer your cards to the hard drive where you can import them into the NLE for editing. But then you say “I’m editing H.264 natively” you may think you are, but for all those edits you’re making, the NLE has to transcode and make I frames and reconstruct the GOP structure, that’s just the way it is. So while FCPX will let you do that now, the smarter way to edit is to let FCPX turn all that long GOP crap into beautiful 422 I framed ProRes for you in the background while you edit away “natively” and when you export your project , you’ve got a nice archival quality ProRes copy of your program. You DO have an archival ProRes copy of every program that you create, don’t you?
If you are worried about output formats, spring $50 for the new compressor or use your old compressor on your exported master file. And if you need to go to tape, you really should already have AJA or Matrox or Black Magic hardware. DVD? You probably already have DVD Studio Pro and the DVD standard isn’t going anywhere soon, so upgrading DVDSP is pointless. Blu-ray? You can output to an external burner and you even have limited custom menu options available in Compressor.
At this point I should point you to the excellent David Pogue article where he talks to Apple product managers to dispel many of the myths about FCPX. You can read that article here: Pro editors weigh-in on Final Cut Pro X
Now, let me tell you what i hate/ dislike or need to have added to FCPX. I need AAF export or XML export to send projects to After Effects. I need round-tripping or multitrack export to Soundtrack Pro or (gag) OMF export to send audio to Poor Tools (SIC.) Multi-Cam would be nice, although I don’t use it much in FCP7. I need more numeric input options. There are a lot of the time where I’m editing “by the numbers”, so knowing where to type in time code numbers for ins, outs and durations would be great. You should be able to tag clips on import like the old “Log and Transfer.” I’ve found in the “Import from Devices” window that you can import partial clips from devices, but you can’t label them in that window before importing them.
Finally, I’m going to directly quote David Pogue as to the bottom line:
“Professional editors should (1) learn to tell what’s really missing from what’s just been moved around, (2) recognize that there’s no obligation to switch from the old program yet, (3) monitor the progress of FCP X and its ecosystem, and especially (4) be willing to consider that a radical new design may be unfamiliar, but may, in the long term, actually be better.”

Panasonic Lumix GH2 Mid and wide angle lens tests


I was very excited to get my Panasonic Lumix GH2 DSLR for a couple reasons, the most important being the the extended tele converter zoom mode which adds a 2.4X zoom to the normal 4/3s sensor field of view by actually using 1920X 1080 pixels from the sensor without interpolating the resolution. This is also good in that it allows the use of traditional C-mount 16mm film lenses with the GH2 without using the digital zoom. So here are a series of test using various lenses with the GH2 in both the Extended Tele Converter zoom mode and in the normal zoom mode.
There are a couple things to note, while in the the Extended Tele Converter mode the camera does not output  an HDMI signal, the new HDMI output does help  with focusing this camera. All of  these tests were shot at extremely low light levels (about 26 Lux) The camera is set to ISO 3200 and the shutter speed is set to 1/50 sec. and all the footage was shot  23.97 FPS at 1080P.  I then edited all the footage on a 720P timeline in Final Cut Pro with minimal grading (only white matching). The C-mount lenses all were using the same Rainbow Imaging M4/3 to C-mount adapter. The 2/3′ broadcast lens used my custom  fabricated M4/3 to B3 lens adapter. Also note ththis test was to test lenses with a less than 50mm full frame FOV.
I’ll lead off with the most pleasant surprise. The first lens is a no name Chinese C-mount 25mm F1.4 CCTV surveillance lens that I picked up on Ebay for approx. $20. This is a retro-focus lens, meaning that the focus adjustment is behind the iris. The shot was shot at F1.4 and is surprisingly clean over the entire FOV and I didn’t have to engage the ETC mode to achieve full sensor coverage. As long as you don’t have to pull focus during a shot, this is an excellent and cheap lens for low light 50mm equivalent shots.
The next lens is my sentimental favorite, this is a Angénieux retrofocus 9.5mm f2.2 lens. If you want that  60s  Cinéma vérité look, this is your lens. Using the GH2’s ETC mode this lens is another  50mm  equivalent lens, while slower than the Chinese lens, it has a nice clean center with a slight soft vignetting around the edges. I also shot with this lens without the ETC mode, which I’ll show in the wider angle shots.
The next lens is also a surprise in that I had written it of as a bad lens at one point because of it weird chromatic aberrations when zoomed in . (More on that later) but when set to wide open iris and zoom, the lens actually looked pretty good. This is another C-mount CCTV lens, but it is a Canon and it is both fast (f1.4) and wide (11-70mm zoom). Again this is another lens that ends up being a 50mm equivalent.
This next lens was a huge disappointment for me. Having used ENG cameras for many years, I was very excited when I adapted  a 2/3″ Fujinon 9.5-133mm 12X broadcasts lens from my old Ikegami HL-95 camera to a M4/3 mount. For all the effort, I am heartbroken at the results. While the lens is really old, I can’t see any fungus when inspecing the lens, and after several careful back focuses, I have to admit, this lens looks terrible. Given the potential for this lens I just have to say I am disappointed.
So, there is no shortage of  fast lens that will give you  a 50mm full equivalent  FOV. The hard part is finding an inexpensive lens that will give you a wider FOV.
The next test is where I took the 1080P vignetted footage from the Angénieux retrofocus 9.5mm f2.2 lens and dropped it into a 720P timeline at 100%. This is my favorite shot. The Angénieux has nice soft edges and a wide enough FOV (28mm equivalent FOV) for most wide angle close-ups. It’s a great “love scene” lens. If you can stand shooting a vignetted shot, knowing that you will crop it in post, this is a great lens.
Next up were the two common kit lens that come with the Lumix GH1 and GH2. Don’t misunderstand that these are inferior lenses,because they are not, Both are fine lenses in their own right. The only downside is that they are relatively slow. f4.0 for the 14-140mm and f3.5 for the 14-47mm. Both these lenses give you a approximately 28mm equivalent FOV and are quite clean from edge to edge. If you don’t need a long lens or  Optical Image Stabilization that the 14-140mm offers, then the 14-47 is a good lightweight lens 9and cheap).
The final set of test are just to show the natural vignetting of the the C-mount and 2/3″ lens. They are quite interesting to note the edge differences.

DIY GoPro Jaybilizer Jib Arm Test


This is a test of a DIY jib arm design for small, light cameras like the GoPro Hero. the boom is a 12′ paint extension pole. I need to work on the trapeze so that it has less friction, but overall I can see this as a useful tool. I want to try my Samsung HZ10W next, as the GoPro is not the best video quality and the fisheye lens is so wide that you cannot avoid lens flares. Shot at 720 60p conformed to 24Fps. ungraded, edited as Prores in FCP, compressed with the Elgato Turbo H264HD.

Slomo: Conform vs. Optical flow


This was a test comparing 24fps conform to optical flow.The 60 fps to 24 fps conform using Cinema Tools is about the limit before the footage looks to jerky. With Optical Flow in Apple Motion, shot duration (RAM size?) seems to be the limiting factor. If I go beyond 30%, I get stuttering and artifacting after about 400 frames. I know that you can get better results using simpler back grond and foreground shots. Here is a great tutorial from CrumplePop on using Optical flow: 1000fps for free – using Motion Optical Flow instead of Twixtor
Shot with Lumix GH1 with 28Mbs settings, post in FCP6 and Motion, compressed to 5Mbs with Elgato Turbo h.264HD. No grading.

GoPro on a Mic Boom


This is a test mounting the GoPro Hero HD on a microphone boom, with some care and a better boom operator, this might be a good solution for quick and dirty crane shots. Below zero temps outdoors made this a an indoor test. This was shot at 720P 60fps conformed to 24fps. Edited in FCP with no grading.
Note for animal lovers: All the trophy mounts were inherited from my Father-in-law.. I only shoot wildlife with cameras.

Sony NEX VG10 Pass and Fail

Sony NEX-VG10I received the Sony NEX VG10 with high expectations, here was a camera that promised to be a DSLR killer at a reasonable price, it’s not. Here’s why.
I was thinking, here is a camera with interchangeable lenses and a APSC sized sensor from Sony, finally a camera that could breach the gap between camcorder convenience and DSLR image quality but I was wrong. As far as video quality is concerned, yes, it is a winner, it has interchangeable lenses and a large APS sized sensor, rivaling the Canon 7D DSLR in a camcorder form factor. It has a flip out LCD and a convenient hand held body with a proper handle, decent on-board mics and both a Sony intelligent shoe and a cold shoe for mounting an external mic or light. The included E-series 18mm-200mm f3.5 lens is great and you can easily adapt the mount to accept not only Sony A series lenses but just about any 35mm still lens out there to wok with it. I bought the E-series to Canon FD lens adapter and threw my good ol’ Canon FD 50mm F1.4 lens on it, and it works wonderfully. The 24Mbs H264 codec delivers exactly what I would expect as far as video quality is concerned, although you are stuck with 1080i 29.97 FPS. I also noticed some moire artifacts when zooming or panning. And I have to say that this camera was ideally suited for the particular shoot where I tested it. I was shooting hand held POV shots with the camera mounted on my Jaybilizer HDSLR camera stabilizer.
So what’s my gripe? First, no manual audio level controls, sure it’s got an 1/8″ external mic input, but only AGC level control, this is totally unacceptable on a $2000 camera. I’ve got several sub-one thousand dollar Sony cameras that have audio level controls. I was actually hoping at this price point to see XLR inputs, but I would accept an 1/8″ mini input with level controls. This is a massive fail that I cannot over state.
Second , I have to address the insufficient user manual and unintuitive user interface. I took the camera out on a shoot and was stymied by such simple task as formating a SD card . You have to go to the Menu button and then the Setup item and scroll down to the Format Card item, where it tells you to press the OK button. there is no OK button. After trying all the available buttons, I discovered that this is the button labeled Focus, nowhere in the manual is there any allusion to the OK button and that it is indeed the Focus button. The manual is horrid, the worst manual I’ve ever seen for a camcorder, let alone a $2k camcorder. It feels like the manual was written by two marketing guys on a 12 hour deadline.
I could go on and on about the audio or lack of audio control, but what about simple things like LANC? It’s a Sony for Chrissake, A Sony without LANC remote? What? And the LCD viewfinder only rotates 90 degrees, again you wonder why? Every other flip out LCD viewfinder in recent history rotates 180 degrees so you can look at it from the front of the camera. Again, a big “What where they thinking?”
Overall this would be a great camera at the $1K price point but at $2K you are at least into the prosumer feature range and the lack of audio control is , as I said before, totally unacceptable. I have a forlorn wish that this is something that can be solved in a firmware update, but I’m not holding my breathe.
In the meantime, I’m torn between the great image quality that the large sensor and interchangeable lenses deliver and the dumbed down audio and the lack other features that we’ve come to expect of a camcorder at this price point. It feels like the whole thing was rushed to market without much thought to what professional videographers really need.

Panasonic Officially Launches the LUMIX GH2 at Photokina

Lumix GH2 DSLR The Lumix GH2 was officially launched today at Photokina. Actual units will ship mid December in the US for $900 body only. Cool features include expanded ISO, 3D Lens capability, the ability to take stills while recording video Varible Frame Rates, and live HDMI output. Not so cool features include 24Mbs limited AVCHD and no audio level controls or headphone output. Judge for yourself, here’s a link to the GH2 press release
and the GH2 Web page.