Archive for August, 2010

James Cameron shows off his Pace rig

Apple making noise like it may re-enter TV sweepstakes (or why I hate cable and satellite)

7.6.10  Apple employees are sworn to secrecy but somebody is talking over there.

“The people familiar with the company’s plans also said that Apple executives are well aware that the battle for the living room is going to be arduous, and that the company must get it right the next time.”

My wife gave me an Apple TV last Christmas but I asked her to return it to the store.  Looking at the home entertainment console groaning under the weight of the cable box, the Wii and the DVD player, I wasn’t ready to add another level of confusion not to mention a fourth remote.  But quietly I hoped that someday there might be  way to cut the cable cord and lose some of the expensive clutter.

UPDATE  8.22.10
A la carte television sounds like a wonderful thing particularly since I don’t want to pay for all those sports and home shopping channels and besides the “over-the-air” nets should be free, right?  So why has it taken so long to break the cable and satellite monopolies?  Perhaps we need the prophet Jobs and his army Apple to topple the old temple of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Kevin Rose swears it will happen but don’t hold your breath.
Hell, I will even buy an iPad if it will free me of the local cable bill.  Just get me out of this indentured servitude. Please.
Update: 8.25.10
According to the The Wall Street Journal:
The company is working on a new device that would allow users to stream video, such as rentals, to their TV sets, according to a person with knowledge of Apple’s plans. Unlike Apple’s existing Apple TV hardware, which stores downloads users can access on their televisions, the new device would act as a conduit for streaming media more directly, and could be announced as early as September, the person said.

Apple declined to comment.

Lower prices for TV shows, along with the new TV-streaming device, could help Apple in the pitched battle to pipe content into American living rooms. Traditional cable- and satellite-TV providers are already facing competition from companies including Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC. Google Inc. soon plans to roll out its own Web-TV service, too.

Media companies, however, have been wary of pumping too much content online, worried that they could encourage viewers to cancel their monthly TV subscriptions. The tens of billions of dollars media companies make each year from monthly bills are a key source of profits


Did Exhibitors screw the pooch when they jacked up ticket prices for 3D?

Adding a few bucks may seem like a modest increase to admissions, but will moviegoers always be willing to pay a premium once 3D becomes standard fare?  It reminds me of a time when the record companies got overly zealous in raising prices for CD’s as the new format began to replace vinyl.  Napster came along and the rest was history.

UPDATE 5.20.10

The Wall Street Journal talks about a new milestone in ticket prices – “The $20 ticket (for Shrek 3 in Imax 3D) may prove to be a psychological barrier too steep for some moviegoers to overcome, but the industry appears ready to take the risk, especially in the wake of a string of 3-D blockbusters, from “Avatar” to “Alice in Wonderland.” 3-D movies accounted for the vast majority of last year’s 10% jump in domestic box-office sales. That figure is likely to climb even higher for 2010.”

UPDATE 7.14.10

Richard Greenfield, analyst with BTIG Research in New York, argues that theater operators and studios risk alienating increasing numbers of moviegoers from the 3D format by charging high ticket prices.

In a survey of 2,600 consumers, Greenfield found that 77% of respondents believe the average $4 premium for a 3D ticket (compared to 2D) too excessive, including about 37% who said they would not pay extra to see a movie in 3D. More than 80% of respondents said they had seen a 3D movie.

Greenfield conducted the survey in advance of the July 15 initial public stock offering (IPO) for Los Angeles-based RealD, which licenses 3D technology to motion picture exhibitors, in addition to its side-by-side technology (allowing for 3D images to both the left and right eye) to stream content into a single channel to any 3DTV.

RealD offers theater operators free 3D upgrades to existing digital projectors in exchange for a 40 cents to 50 cents license fee per moviegoer, according to Greenfield. The studios and RealD subsidize the cost of theatrical 3D glasses.

“It is pretty clear from the [respondent] comments that they are not happy with the movie exhibition industry and are clearly differentiating between paying ‘up’ for movies like Avatar vs. less exciting, lower quality movies,” Greenfield wrote.


UPDATE: 7.21.10

Fewer and fewer moviegoers are making the 3D choice when they plunk down their money at the box office.


Update: 8.15.10

The Financial Times weighs in the continued viability of the 3D marketplace based on the recent crop of dud releases:

It was hailed as the great saviour of the film industry, but since 3D technology propelled Avatar to a record-breaking $2.73bn box-office haul, fears are growing that Hollywood is endangering its profitable new format.

“The studios and theatres are overpricing 3D films and there’s too much of it out there,” said Richard Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG Research.

“They are converting all of their movies into 3D without any regard to quality.”

A US ticket for Cats & Dogs, which was panned by critics, cost up to 50 per cent more than Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which was released in 2D recently to great critical acclaim. Yet Cats & Dogs cost less to make thanInception and was only converted into 3D after production had finished.

“Why should releasing a film in 3D and having the audience wear 3D glasses cost more?” asked Mr Greenfield.

The studios have packed their release schedules with 3D films: Tron: LegacyThe Green HornetMegamind and Yogi Bear are lined up for the coming months, whileAvatar will be re-released in 3D at the end of August.

Proponents of 3D insist that it can be a powerful tool when used correctly. “It’s a tool for filmmakers and a premium entertainment experience for moviegoers,” says Rick Heineman, vice-president of marketing at RealD, which makes 3D projection systems for cinemas.

But other analysts say Hollywood is playing a risky game by betting on unwavering consumer enthusiasm for 3D – and for higher prices.

“The studios are guilty of short-term thinking,” says Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, which tracks film box-office performance. “They all jumped on the 3D bandwagon but they’re avoiding the real issue, which is their bankruptcy regarding storytelling.”


3D and Blu-ray are made for each other

3D and Blu-ray drive each other to market.

Carolyn Giardina’s article in Variety spells out a breath of fresh air for the Blu-Ray market:

Despite Sony’s victory over rival HD-DVD in the format war, Blu-ray has remained a format without a compelling value proposition. It delivers a better picture than DVD, but not dramatically better, and consumers have been moving toward the convenience of streaming rather than the quality of true HD on Blu-ray.

There’s one area, though, where Blu-ray seems to have the edge: stereoscopic 3D. In fact, 3D may put Blu-ray in millions more living rooms — and, in turn, Blu-ray may help drive 3D in the home.

Don Eklund, Sony Pictures’ executive Vice President for advanced technologies, recalls that during the format war with HD-DVD, critics said Blu-ray was over-engineered. Those advanced capabilities, however, have proven essential in giving the format an advantage in 3D homevideo, which requires storing and moving massive amounts of data. Blu-ray does this much better than Web streaming.

A single Blu-ray disc can hold an entire 3D movie at full 1080p HD resolution, and the players can pump that data to the screen with no problem. With Web streaming, the consumer doesn’t need a lot of storage space, but few broadband services have the speed to handle a dual load of 1080p video for the left and right eyes – required for 3D.

Eklund estimates a player must be able to handle 50-55 megabits per second (Mbps) for 3D with full HD for both eyes. An Akamai Technologies study pegged average broadband speed in the U.S. (including consumer, corporate and mobile) at just 3.8 Mbps. AT&T’s DSL maxes out at 24 Mbps.

Ahmad Ouri, chief marketing officer at Technicolor, believes Blu-ray has the edge for the foreseeable future. “It will be very difficult to stream a 50-gigabyte file, even if you have a high-bandwidth pipeline to the home,” he says.

Blu-ray launched in 2006, and the Blu-ray Disc Assn. (BDA) asserts that the format has reached more than 10% penetration, counting set-top players and the PlayStation 3 – ahead of where the DVD rollout was at a similar point in time.
Blu-ray stakeholders tout the format’s image quality and connected features, but Ouri says that “in terms of differentiating features for the consumers, I think definitely it will be 3D” that drives sales.

3D has also given consumer electronics firms, eager to sell 3D flatscreens, a reason to get behind Blu-ray.

“3D will likely become a standard feature on the majority of new HDTVs, and that will certainly support sales of Blu-ray,” says Lexine Wong, senior exec Vice President of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

With 3D cable and satellite still scarce, and terrestrial 3D basically nonexistent, Blu-ray is the most market-ready 3D delivery system available today.

Even with 3D, though, Blu-ray may have a limited window to make inroads. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan calls for a massive increase in Internet bandwidth to the home, enough to make 3D streaming practical, within 10 years.

That plan has driven another group into the 3D Blu-ray camp: broadcasters.

The broadcasting industry isn’t keen to surrender spectrum for wireless broadband – something the FCC plan asks them to do – nor are they eager to use all their bandwidth for 3D TV.


RED ONE Workflow in detail

Dennis Alaniz is a Chapman alum and former student of mine who has been a very busy editor and on-set DIT.   As I have said many times, the new camera technology has created tremendous opportunities for young filmmakers to get hired and get on-set and go to town managing data, looks and how the final edit is going to be made.   It takes organization, discipline and passion because there is a mountain of raw data out there ready to be corralled and whipped into shape.   I think you will find his breakdown to be very useful.

RED WORKFLOW by Dennis Alaniz                                    August 5, 2010

DISCLAIMER: As an emergent technology, a RED workflow that works today will likely need to be refined in as short a time as a month. The workflow I describe below suited my particular situation at my particular time. It is my hope that what I learned will serve as a guideline for any future workflow using RED technology.

And remember, the newer the technology, the bigger the risk. It hurts living on the bleeding edge. Trust me! The list below is what we specifically worked with. If you can get better, faster machines, do it!


2 RED Cameras with Mysterium X Sensor (30.4 firmware and 30.5 firmware)

Please do what you can to have the same firmware on both cameras. It can save you a major headache later in the process.

6 16GB Flash Cards for RED Camera

You need more! Ideally, you would never reuse a card. We were stressed to keep cards clear so the film could keep shooting. An external drive is also an option, but moving parts make things much more precarious.

2 MacBook Pro Laptops for DIT

A laptop of decent speed that can connect to firewire or e-sata is necessary to keep cards copied and cleared. It doesn’t need to be laptops, but you should have one or two separate machines to copy the flash cards over to external drives. Laptops are more helpful if you need to stay mobile.

2 Flash card readers

As many as you need and can plug in to your machines. Just keep flash cards copied and empty IF the data has been verified by an MD5 after the copy.

Mac Pro (8 core, 16BG RAM) for Asst. Editor

You’ll need a fast machine to facilitate copying files, rendering video, and keeping several apps running. Most importantly, you need to stay as much in pace with the production as possible.

REDRocket video card

An extremely expensive accessory, but if you can afford it, it will keep you moving at an impressive pace and allow you to manipulate and play back the image with very little performance hit. Something your Director and Cinematographer will thank you for. Every single day!

E-SATA Card for Asst. Editor

The $20 from Best Buy will suit you just fine. As long as you’ve got a lot of very fast connections (that are hot swappable) to your Mac Pro because you’ll be shuffling a lot of drives.

6TB Redundant storage

8TB G-TECH RAID 5 with G-TECH E-SATA Card (not the same card as listed above)

6 2TB G-TECH External RAID 0 (Set Drives)

These six drives were broken into groups of three: A, B and C. When one card was copied off, it was copied to both drives in a group at a time. (ex. Card 001 was copied to Drive A1 and A2. What card was copied to what group depended entirely on availability. This redundancy will be explained in the Appendix 1 below. Exactly how much you’ll need depends on a great many factors. 6TB barely suited us. I would have been happy to have an additional 2.

6TB Work Storage

2 4TB G-TECH External Non-RAID

2 1TB External FireWire

The two 4TB drives were my personal raw RED storage, Import/Export, SFX Drives. Again, I’d have been happier with about another 4TB. This redundancy is also explained in Appendix 1. The 2 1TB were used as an emergency back-up to the editor’s drive and as a delivery drive respectively. Ideally, you’ll have a back-up drive onsite and offsite for every machine being used.

Optional Hardware

Laptop and USB External Drive (at least 500 GB)

Delivering low res dailies for use on set (more on this later).

Software: RocketCine-X (depreciated)

Viewing dailies and transcoding footage


Transcoding for upres (the official replacement for RocketCine-X)

FileMaker Pro

Maintaining a shot database

ClipFinder (2.2 and 2.5)

Exporting shot information and still images for use in FileMaker Pro. Different versions will be explained later.

R3D Data Manager

Used to verify the MD5 of your clips after they’re copied off the card. This program is a must!

Final Cut Pro (Or the NLE of your choice)

Shot organization and synching dailies


To reiterate the critical pieces of data from above, we shot on a newer model RED with a Mysterium-X sensor. That alone drastically altered my intended workflow. I won’t go into all the technology as to why, but simply say, know the color science of your camera! The Mysterium-X uses a new color science called FLUT and was the specific reason for this workflow.

Knowing the color and gamma space your finishing in isn’t necessary, but it saved me a step early on in the process. Whatever you choose, be consistent in it when transcoding from RED. We were working in a color space of Camera RGB and gamma space of REC709. (ADDENDUM: Changing post houses last minute may facilitate rerendering all the red footage with a different gamma space. This is still an unknown)

As the director was also editor for this film, I was required to work from a trailer on set. This made my job easier and allowed me to keep pace with the production. Equipped with the above hardware, our day-to-day workflow is detailed below.

On-Set Workflow:

Footage shot on the RED to Flash Cards.

Footage offloaded using R3D Data Manager to verify MD5 and to duplicate on two of the above 2TB set drives.

Data from one of the two set drives is copied to one of two 4TB G-TECH Non-RAID drives. I was always delivered only A2, B2 or C2. This was to ensure that, if I corrupted a drive, I never corrupted the other in the group.

Using RocketCine-X (Now depreciated), newly copied footage is transcoded to 720p Proxies and saved to USB external 500GB drive. Footage is then transcoded again to 2K and saved on the 6TB G-TECH RAID.

720p footage is loaded into Final Cut. Organized into bins and properly labeled.

Raw RED footage is again loaded into clipfinder to export an XML of all data along with highest quality screen captures, one every second.

XML is imported into FileMaker Pro. Cross referencing organized footage in Final Cut, missing data (i.e. Shot name) are filled in FileMaker Pro.

Up to 3 screen captures per shot are added to the FileMaker Pro database for visual reference.

At the beginning of the next day of shooting, audio from the prior day is delivered and copied to the 6TB RAID

All footage captured the prior day should be in its own daily Final Cut Pro project. The prior day’s media is then reconnected to the 2K media on the 6TB RAID. This “online” project is synced to the newly received audio.

The day begins again from the top.

In post, the workflow isn’t so dogmatic. Some shots have been pushed in beyond what the 2K image can handle and so is being reconformed to a 4K online. VFX shots are also being reconformed to 4K.

4K Upres:

Place all footage to be reconformed into a new timeline.

Export XML from Final Cut.

Using ClipFinder 2.5 (THIS IS IMPORTANT! ClipFinder 2.2 CANNOT handle the following steps!) import the XML using the Import FCP XML with relevant settings defined (ex: VFX requires 8 frame handles).

Replace the MOV with the R3D media.

Send everything to a RedCine-X Bin. (This, specifically, is what you need ClipFinder 2.5 for)

Double check the color settings are correct for each clip and export them as 4K files (VFX clips go to their own drive, online 4K shots go back to the 6TB RAID).

For footage to be reconformed in FCP, go back to ClipFinder and choose Run Conform on FCP XML file. Make sure you point the application to the folder with the NEW 4K FOOTAGE!

Import this new XML into FCP. The newly imported clips can now be dropped into the show timeline and will be pointing to the higher res 4K footage. Double check that your push-in, repositions, filters, etc., match the clip it’s replacing. Resting it above the 2K allows you to keep the 2K as a reference in case something goes wrong.

The advantages to this particular workflow (on and off set) are:

It allowed me to run onto set with the low res proxy to answer any continuity questions with great ease.

I was able to show the director, cinematographer, costumer, etc., high res footage approximately 1-2 hours after it was shot. Using RocketCine-X, I was also able to grade some shots on the fly to verify we were on the right track.

Finding shots in the FileMaker Pro database was easy as I could cruise the database looking for a particular image, or search by day it was shot, scene name, etc.

Editing online could begin immediately. While on set, I put together a teaser to show the crew incorporating footage shot as recent as the day prior.

The delivery file to the post house will require no reconform later down the line. They intend to take our semi-graded 2K ProRes file, with an EDL to notch out the shots, and do any touch-ups to that file.

Reconforming to a 4K image is extremely easy as I have the raw RED material handy and, since the file names were honored, sending it to RedCine-X is painless and the REDRocket cuts down transcoding time drastically.

Disadvantages to this workflow are:

As the 6TB drive is connected to the editor’s machine and not mine, streaming 2K over an ethernet cable is not reliable. Pulling that much data and hitting the drive from two machines can cause a massive performance hit.

Sharing Final Cut projects isn’t easily done. To solve this, any changes I made on my end had to be copied to the editor’s project by hand on his machine to ensure he wasn’t editing the same project at the same time.

Editing online takes a LOT of hard drive space and render times can escalate quickly. To create a DVD of the full timeline can take anywhere between 5 and 8 hours.

Here’s a link to the FileMaker Pro template I used on set. It’s hard coded to extract the reel name based on where I had the raw RED files stored, so that will need to be modified to suit your needs. The included XSLT file is to handle the translation from ClipFinder’s particular XML format into something FileMaker Pro can handle. When you import an XML file into FileMaker Pro, you’ll see where to use this XSLT file. (NOTE: This has not been tested with an XML from ClipFinder 2.5)

That, in a nut, is the majority of my workflow . There were a number of subtleties in variation I had to employ to accomplish any particular tasks (ie. uploading for web, creating specific screener DVD’s) and can describe any of those in greater detail if you need assistance with your own workflow.


The intent of our redundancy was to ensure integrity and safety of all critical data. After the film finished shooting, there were now 8 drives with 3 different copies of all the raw RED footage: one copy was split amongst drives A1, B1, and C1, another on A2, B2, and C2 and the third was split among my two 4TB drives Cold Storage – 1 and Cold Storage – 2. My two drives served as the drives I would use when, for whatever reason, I had to return to the RED footage to re-render anything. The two remaining sets were separated from each other and both put in a safe place in different parts of town. This ensured that the destruction of no one building would completely destroy the footage.

FileMaker Pro template

Panasonic releases DSLR 3D adapter lens

Panasonic has kick started the “First Year of 3D Era” thanks to the development of a digital twin-lens system that allows regular DSLR cameras to capture in 3D. Belonging to the LUMIX line, the new G Microsystem will be interchangeable, adding an entirely new dimension to traditional photography. Simple for the end user because of the flexibility of interchangeable lens cameras, this will provide  “instant 3D shooting, without distortion or time lag between left and right images.”

Details remain scarce, no release date or pricing information was announced. We do know, however, that it will be compact in size, and will be released by this years end.


Is the tide turning against a 3D world?

In a recent article in the New York Times, Joss Wheedon and J.J. Abrams speak out against stereo filmmaking.

While Hollywood rushes dozens of 3-D movies to the screen — nearly 60 are planned in the next two years, including “Saw VII” and “Mars Needs Moms!” — a rebellion among some filmmakers and viewers has been complicating the industry’s jump into the third dimension.

It’s hard to measure the audience resistance — online complaints don’t mean much when crowds are paying the premium 3-D prices. But filmmakers are another matter, and their attitudes may tell whether Hollywood’s 3-D leap is about to hit a wall.

Several influential directors took surprisingly public potshots at the 3-D boom during the recent Comic-Con International pop culture convention in San Diego.

“When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim,” said J. J. Abrams, whose two-dimensional “Star Trek” earned $385 million at the worldwide box office for Paramount Pictures last year.

Joss Whedon, who was onstage with Mr. Abrams, said that as a viewer, “I’m totally into it. I love it.” But Mr. Whedon then said he flatly opposed a plan by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to convert “The Cabin in the Woods,” a horror film he produced but that has not yet been released, into 3-D. “What we’re hoping to do,” Mr. Whedon said, “is to be the only horror movie coming out that is not in 3-D.”

By year’s end, there will be more than 5,000 digital screens in the United States, or 12.5 percent of the roughly 40,000 total, easing a traffic jam that has caused 3-D hits like “Clash of the Titans,” from Warner Brothers, to bump into “How to Train Your Dragon,” from DreamWorks Animation, to the disadvantage of both.

Tickets for 3-D films carry a $3 to $5 premium, and industry executives roughly estimate that 3-D pictures average an extra 20 percent at the box office. Home sales for 3-D hits like “Avatar” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” have been strong, showing they can more than hold their own when not in 3-D.

A 3-D movie can be somewhat more costly than a 2-D equivalent because it may require more elaborate cameras and shooting techniques or an additional process in the already lengthy postproduction period for effects-heavy films. But the added costs are a blip when weighed against higher ticket sales.

Behind the scenes, however, filmmakers have begun to resist production executives eager for 3-D sales. For reasons both aesthetic and practical, some directors often do not want to convert a film to 3-D or go to the trouble and expense of shooting with 3-D cameras, which are still relatively untested on big movies with complex stunts and locations.

Filmmakers like Mr. Whedon and Mr. Abrams argue that 3-D technology does little to enhance a cinematic story, while adding a lot of bother. “It hasn’t changed anything, except it’s going to make it harder to shoot,” Mr. Whedon said at Comic-Con.

The crowds cheered, as they had in an earlier Comic-Con briefing by Chris Pirrotta and other staff members of the fan site, who assured 300 listeners that a pair of planned “Hobbit” films will not be in 3-D, based on the site’s extensive reporting.

“Out of 450 people surveyed, 450 don’t want 3D for ‘The Hobbit,’ ” a later post on the Web site said.

But in Hollywood, an executive briefed on the matter — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate negotiations surrounding a plan to have Peter Jackson direct the “Hobbit” films — said the dimensional status of the movie remained unresolved.

Asked by phone recently whether die-hard fans would tolerate a 3-D Middle Earth, Mr. Pirrotta said, “I do believe so, as long as there was the standard version as well.”

In his own family, he said, the funny glasses can be a deal-breaker.

“My wife can’t stand 3-D.”

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