Blog, business, post production for film and video

Great day learning about the 5d

Yesterday I attended a half-day session arranged by The Association on the Canon DSLR cameras. Snehal Patel led the workshop of twelve people. I think I was the only one who wasn’t working in Hollywood, and we had quite a few veteran members of the ASC there as well. The industry is changing significantly. From the tech and post side of it, I think I have an incredible grasp on the realities of shooting with these new DSLRs. Now I want to get better on the production side as well.

One interesting thing about the day was a discussion by the DPs in the room concerning the disappointing performance of the RED One camera in real-world situations. Specifically, the cost of the camera, with all of the bells and whistles, is much higher than everyone expects (still much lower than traditional cameras, but the hype doesn’t match with reality). Secondly, the processor is just not robust enough to handle low light well; in fact, during shoots, the RED consistently requires more lighting (which equals more time and more money spent) than traditional cameras — DPs were complaining that you had to stick light everywhere, even in shadows, to make sure something showed up in the footage. So I’m leaning much less towards the RED right now, and seriously getting closer to either the 5D or the 7D, which excels in low-light situations. (I’m interested to see how the new RED cameras fare, but I’m not interested in purchasing any of them, either.)

Another illuminating conversation was how the major studios are attempting to cut down on technical staff (DITs, digital managers) in an attempt to save money on set. It’s going to backfire, but I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Blog, business, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound, Uncategorized

Panasonic P2 cards to come down in price

StudioDaily reports today that Panasonic is releasing a new, cheaper line of P2 memory cards for their video cameras. The P2 is a card, kinda like an SD or CompactFlash, but bigger. It does away with tapes in the production workflow, and, more importantly, can completely eliminate the “capture” process (where you have to play the tape back off of a deck to ingest the footage into the computer) — instead, you just dump the video files over from the P2 card onto the computer!

P2 cards originally were as expensive or more expensive than the cameras, making them prohibitively expensive. But with this new announcement, it looks like Panasonic is truly trying to carve out a niche for this technology. One of the cameras I am interested in is an HVX200, and the price-cut in P2 cards makes this option even more lucrative.

I wonder what will happen with Panasonic and Sony and Canon when Red releases its incredible Red Scarlet camera? It completely bypasses tapes or cards, and works direct to hard drive (I believe), and has a higher resolution than most of the current offerings.

So maybe there is a silver lining to not being able to buy a new camera just yet: there will be several new offerings by the time we are ready to acquire some new equipment…

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Is product placement doomed by the recession?

I always thought that the product tie-ins for Chuck and Heroes were kinda funny (I don’t even remember what companies they were!), but I didn’t know that the whole concept of product placement as a viable advertising vehicle was going to go away. And then this morning, Jeep decided to cut its losses in the wake of Chrysler’s financial situation, and not promote the phenomenal tie-in of the Jeep in the new Terminator movie.

It’s funny. They are in deep financial distress, and really need to keep selling cars in order for a Chapter 11 to work (or else they have no reason to do a reorg). But it’s hard to continue to advertise when there’s no money to spend. How to solve it?

I find some of my clients in a similar position: unable to make more money, but unable to advertise to bring new clients in. It’s a tough economic climate we’re in, and some of the things that we have done to help clients are:

  • cut costs of design and production,
  • cut costs of printing and other buyouts,
  • advise on ways to maximize the return on investment for advertising, and
  • create flexible payment plans for our clients.

We hope this helps keep some of our customers coming back for more projects with Hearken Creative, and we hope that your company is weathering this storm well.

Blog, business, graphic design, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound, Uncategorized

Auto-Tune & Photoshop: embrace the march of progress

So I’m doing a lot more music recording these days. And one of my favorite tools is a wonderful little program called Auto-Tune, which, if used correctly, does exactly what its name implies: automatically pull a note that is out-of-tune back to perfect pitch. Let’s say there’s one note out of a whole phrase that’s a bit off-pitch: why re-record the whole verse for that one note? I just punch-in the plug for that one note, and we’re back in business. [TIME did an article on Auto-Tune, and the company has its own podcast mp3 so you can hear how the program works.]

I do the same thing with Photoshop a lot right now because I am now selling stock on iStockphoto. They need every photo submitted to be as close to perfect as possible, so I go in and “airbrush” all the little imperfections out, creating (hopefully) a more marketable/usable photo.

But I’m also conflicted. Overuse of Auto-Tune turns out lifeless vocals. And I love to “grunge” up my graphic design work, when the project calls for it. Imperfections are what make things human, and removing all of the human element isn’t always a good thing.

That said, I will never throw the tool out [like these people want to, or here’s Neko Case complaining about Auto-Tune towards the end of the interview, or these studio engineers who are as conflicted about using it as I am). If I can use it when needed but make it practically invisible, and then not use it when we have the time to get it right, then I think everything will be okay.

But taking the time to get things right is another concept that is dying right now — budgets are way too tight to actually try to do something right. So I work overtime even when the client isn’t paying for it, just so that I can be happy with the final result. Unfortunately, that cuts into the time that I’m supposed to be recording…

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Price of storage coming down?

You could always build your own inexpensive drives, but for those of us with no time, buying external hard drives has been relatively expensive. Not anymore: a good quality 1tb drive from Other World Computing (sans Firewire 800) is only $229!

For video, these are probably best for backup only; I like the FireWire 800 connection for working on Final Cut Pro. But I go through 1tb backup drives like crazy. I might pick up a couple of these.

But are we only cooling our heels with cheaper hard drives until the “next big thing” comes? Leon Bailey blogs about a Samsung press release concerning its own line of solid state drives (SSDs) — drives that have no moving parts and look more like computer RAM — that states

that the company expects sales of SSDs “to increase 800 percent between now and 2010”. That would be a huge increase over any timeframe but, unless notebook sales are also going to grow eight-fold over the next 18 months, there will have to be a major decline in the sales of traditional 1.8 and 2.5in hard disks for Samsung’s projection to pan out.

So are the spinning-disc hard drive days numbered? I’m not sure about 2010, but I do know that, historically, any computer equipment in my office that was older than 3 years old was considered archaic (no longer: most of my Mac towers are 3 years old or older). But the allure of faster, solid-state storage will be strong: we won’t have to wait for drives to spin up or power down.

Unfortunately, it’s no guarantee that solid state drives are the answer. Fujitsu is playing down expectations for the new drives compared to current spinning-disc drives, saying

As most rotating hard drives often park and enter a low-power mode in low activity, the actual gain by using solid-state technology is never more than about five percent, according to Fujitsu estimates. Reliability is also an issue, as some flash drives are often limited to roughly 10,000 writes per storage cell before the area becomes unwriteable, leaving drives near the end of their lifespans without the ability to record data.

In a review of a new(er) solid state drive from Silicon Power, Olin Coles states

Value is a relative term, especially when you discuss bleeding edge technology. People ridicule the thought of making the high-dollar purchase of an SSD over a standard hard drive, but then they get into their Hummer’s and Porsche’s and drive to Starbucks for a five-dollar coffee. At the ends of every emerging technology are two sides: one which will buy the technology and one that will not.

Well, I would love to be in the high-dollar group, but I’m not. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the price to come down. Until then, I’ll go out and buy a few more OWC drives.

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Testing the waters; discussing data storage for Hearken Creative

As a hyphenated company (graphic design-post production-corporate video), it becomes difficult to know where to start. So, we’ll just jump in wherever I feel like jumping in, and data storage is of high concern to me right now.

So let’s take a run-of-the-mill video project — a simple corporate video. Five minutes running time, which might equal 2-4 hours of tape. I keep all my captures, because that video might/will be useful for future projects. Each hour of SD video capture to Quicktime DV is approximately 13 gigabytes, making captured video top out at 52 gigabytes. I figure I will add another 2 gigs of custom audio, stock audio, stock video (frames, stingers, backgrounds, transitions) before finishing the project. So, a 5-minute corporate video has now turned into 40-60 gigabytes of data. A single-sided DVD holds 4.5 gigabytes; I could spend days archiving a simple 5-minute corporate video (and a dozen DVD discs). What happens when I have a feature, with over 60 hours of capture? Let’s see, 60 x 13 gb = 780 gigabytes. And that’s just capture, nothing else.
For live projects, I can take a 1-terabyte drive for work, and a second 1-terabyte drive for backup. Easy. But when the project is over, where do I put the data? I can’t leave it on the drive, because 1) I need the drive for the next project, and 2) everyone tells me that hard drives are not a viable archiving solution.

Enter the Blu-ray Disc (BD). On a dual-layer disc, I could get up to 50 gigabytes on one disc! And they would last! The problem: only one external BD burner is available for Mac so far: the LaCie d2. I hate LaCie products — I have at least 5 dead LaCie hard drives in my office. And I”m not hearing good things about the customer support on this new one.

So, I’m holding my breath, waiting for more Blu-ray products to come to market so I can start archiving my projects. Until then, I just keep buying more 1-terabyte hard drives…