Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Doings and Goings On

I could be working on a script. I could be doing some rotoscoping. I don't like doing either so I'm writing on this blog.
Via Chance Shirley, Ron Brinkmann on FCP X. Ron points out that Apple trashed Shake, which was a pretty important compositing program 'till they bought it and decided they didn't want it anymore. I bet the makers of Nuke and AfterEffects are pretty happy about that decision.
So Apple may be bringing the "pro" part of Final Cut Pro to an "end of life" in the product development cycle. Which is very good news to Avid and Adobe.
Hey, I actually edited a feature on a... Cube? Sphere? D-Vision? I don't even remember what it was. It was on a PC and it was a real bear to operate, that's for sure.
So, where am I going with this? I have no idea. It's a good thing I didn't get that dual six-core Mac I was talking about.
The Philadelphia Desert in Earthkiller. Matte painting by Joe Chapman.
Boy, on the movie Earthkiller we're having quite a hard time with our bluescreens. For some reason they're really hard to key. They look like they're correctly exposed. The GH1 is hacked so it's operating at 30Mb/s, so theoretically it should work better. But we're just having a bear of a time with these keys.
Today I eliminated one or maybe two characters from the screenplay of Earthwar. Just think of the money that will save on lunches.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today in the Machine June 28 2011

Brian Schiavo takes you through the process of creature building. One of the best ideas of this creature is to not try to make the whole creature as a suit. That's going to make life vastly easier. I am, however, very amused at the idea that Brian thinks a PA will be operating the creature and not him. ;-)
Although it takes five-and-a-half minutes for them to get into it, the new Zacuto Camera Test is interesting. The short answer is that film does not do well in low light and does great with highlights. Of course, we already knew that.
The other short answer is that all the cameras look great. But we already knew that too.
My studio is a mess and we have to keep a battery of fans going just to keep the temperature reasonable. If my studio becomes clean you'll know that I'm not even trying to do work anymore. I'll be avoiding work by cleaning.
We have acts one through nine on Earthkiller. Maybe we have a lock of the whole picture? We might open up act 8 for a couple things, I don't know yet.

Final Cut, Premiere, and the GH1

So, there are some limitations in Adobe Premiere when it comes to so-called "merged clips". We really need to have the option of using at least two tracks of audio. What if we have two characters and one is far behind the other? Normally on set we would put a plant mic or a lav on either the close character or the far one. That's standard operating procedure. We don't do anything nuts with multitrack audio like they do in TV or big-budget pictures. We just want to have the option of two tracks. Most of the time we'll use only one track (I think we did all of Android Insurrection with one track.) But we need the option of two.
And Premiere won't let us do that. Phooey on them.
There's another way to go and that's to make each clip a sequence. And then to edit by cutting a sequence made up of other sequences. Whatever you do, though, never ever alter one of those originating sequences.
Or, you can sync all your footage on timelines and then copy and paste from the "synced" timeline onto an "edit" timeline. We've actually made quite a few pictures that way. It's not necessarily the world's most awesome way to work, but it's a way to work.
Another advantage that Premiere has over Final Cut is that it'll read the .mts files that are made by the Panasonic GH1. With Final Cut Pro you have to convert those files to Quicktime movies. And presumably FCP X can read the files directly -- although it still seems to need to convert them. Yeah, I know.
The strange thing about FCP X is that we don't have to do anything right now. I do have a list of things I want changed though:

  1. Oh please heaven can't we have a simple key command to export a still image? "File > Export > Using Quicktime Conversion > Format > Still Image"? You're kidding, right? Who thought of that? 
  2. I know that you guys at Apple only edit home movies. But you've been shouted at by professional editors for many years until you've gotten most things right. Still, you can't seem to fathom that I have more than one hard drive with (shudder) more than one project I have to work on each day. The default location for all the render files and such should be saved with the project. I shouldn't have to manually change the scratch disk drive every damn time I change drives and/or project. It may be that FCP X has fixed this, I don't understand their new and much bemoaned data management system. Premiere, on the other hand, has always had this problem under control.
  3. I do kind of hate how I'm married to a codec (specifically ProRes) when working with an Apple product. I don't mind the Quicktime wrapper even, but making me work in ProRes (although it's a perfectly good codec) but not letting a PC write to ProRes is pretty obnoxious (and exactly the sort of thing people accuse Microsoft of doing.)

Now, with numerous editors editing on different machines with hard drives comprised of identical data, we've found another exciting issue with the Panasonic GH1. Whenever you format the SD card on that camera, the counter resets the name of the movie file to "00000.mts". What this means is that every danged day we start out with files that have exactly the same file name as every other day on the shoot. So yeah, we're very careful to put each of those files in their own directory.
But -- if you go from a drive named (say) "0801 edit" and work on a drive named (say) "0801 drew edit", you can find that Final Cut can lose the location of the files pretty damned easily. And now you have the problem that your files all have the same names. So you go in and manually reconnect the media. But sometimes Final Cut decides that an entire sequence should come from (say) "day 04" and your edit gets very very wack.
I wish the GH1 would let you manually reset the counter to zero on movie files. Interestingly the GH1 does let you manually reset zero on the names of the still picture files. What I'm thinking now is that we shouldn't be re-formatting the SD cards but rather should be erasing the data inside them on a computer. We'll see if/how that system works in a test at some point before we shoot the next movie. (Ha! Like we ever do tests.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Final Cut Pro has Unexpectedly Quit

You know your software is in trouble when it gets bashed on the Conan O'Brian show:

Apple making the latest version of Final Cut into iMovie Pro is not an immediate panic for us. I'm sure we can ride out Final Cut Pro 7.x for the rest of the year or, heck, even into next year.

I'm just going to go ahead and quote PSA from his response to the post below:
i need to upgrade my machines before worrying too much about the software side. from what i've been reading, the most recent version of premiere, cs5.5, is much more stable. given a box with a mercury capable card, it should chew through huge projects with relative ease, not to mention all the dslr codecs being native. as for final cut ex, it looks a lot like the imovie interface on steroids. me no likey. i was forced to do a job in imovie (so the client's wife could make changes... shudder) and it was a retarded nightmare. a film strip mr jobs, you finally get around to applying the magical shiny miracle rub to the pro-editing wares and you give us a film strip interface? no wonder the BBC ditched apple and put premiere on all of their editing desks.
Being able to work without converting to ProRes has a huge advantage for us. Then I started wondering, "How much does Premiere cost?" And the attractiveness of Adobe Premiere became even greater. You can get Premiere, Photoshop, and AfterEffects from a subscription for $85/month. You can activate the suite on two computers for that price but you can only work on it with one computer at a time. That seems pretty fair.
I know from experience that editors who know one of the programs (Premiere or Final Cut Pro) can jump on the other program very quickly. They're practically the same interface.
I have had very bad experiences with Premiere. Apparently if you type "Adobe Premiere Sucks" into a search engine, one of my posts will come up in the top ten. But I've also gotten it to work. So the program has had it's ups and downs.
And it's not like there isn't a history of Apple telling its professional user base to shove it. Hey -- anybody remember when Apple yanked the SCSI interfaces off their computers even though every graphics professional had a SCSI scanner? Good times.
So we're going to ride out the Applestorm for another year and see what happens.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What I need

I need a mockbuster (by the way, that's a trademarked term owned by The Asylum) of John Carter of Mars.
I need a Total-Recall-like movie too.
Ooh, wait. Darkchylde! Somebody write a script about a teenage girl who turns into nightmare creatures!
Hey! A Halo mockbuster!
But what does my sales rep want? DRAGONS! Dragons attack New York. We can do that, right?
The thing is we can do any story. Just put it in a world where dragons are attacking New York City. It's an interesting kind of freedom. A hitman and his girlfriend try to get away from the mob -- while dragons are attacking New York City. Or a teenage girl comes into her inheritance but must fight her evil aunt -- while dragons are attacking New York City. Or a man learns he will rule Scotland as his wife goes insane and freakin' dragons attack New York City. You get the idea.
Here's a Blender dragon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Post Fear

Slurpy android.

We have a fairly workable post-production process now. We have a few editors who each can put in a few hours per week. We've never really calculated how many hours it takes to edit a feature. Probably something on the order of 250 hours? That's 250 hours of concentrated work though. And it doesn't include audio editing or visual effects done outside of the picture editing program. But we should be able to finish a picture edit in a couple months.
Being that I fear Apple's upgrade path in Final Cut Pro is to make it more impossible for professional video editors to use it, I've been re-checking-out Adobe's Premiere.
I've edited two features on Premiere. Apostasy was edited in version... 3? or so. I used a video card and imported the video onto this huge SCSI 9GB (!) hard drive I bought.
We had some difficult times editing Solar Vengeance with Premiere. Premiere hates it when you bring in libraries and libraries of stuff (like music) because it has to render previews of all that dang music. It makes opening a project take a loooooong time. And, for whatever reason, when we were doing the color correction in Premiere, the dang program would crash fairly regularly. I would get three edits in and then BAM! Crash.
But my biggest problem with Premiere is that it wouldn't export OMF files for us to use in audio editing and mixing. That issue has apparently been solved.
Right now Final Cut Pro 7 works for us. Who knows? Maybe we'll be using a frozen version of FCP 7 for the next ten years as Apple runs off with the amateur market.
But of course option number two is that Apple decides to put a secret switch in Final Cut Pro X v.5 called "I know what I'm doing, get out of my way" for professional editing facilities which lets us get our work done.
I'm very pleased that Premiere has (finally) included OMF export. And I'm glad it's a potential backup if we need to jump off the Final Cut Pro teat. ("Jump off the Final Cut Pro teat"? Grab your bull by the hand and don't mix your metaphors.)
But here's yet another issue: every lab we use can accept Final Cut Pro projects with flattened ProRes422 Quicktimes. Maybe this new version of FCP will convince labs and everyone else to go to an open - source wrapper and compression format.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Sweet. We're on Vanguard Cinema's homepage now. This is a very cool piece of art. I dig the widescreen-ness of it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Order Now!

Battle NY: Day 2 is available for pre-order from Amazon. The movie comes out on August 23rd.
The artwork isn't here yet. That... concerns me. But only temporarily! I dig this movie.

And if the above link doesn't work, here's a permalink for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Are you under the impression we're not going to use Andrew Kramer's light saber preset in Android Insurrection? You shouldn't be.


There are some things which just seem fishy. Like the idea that The Confession, a web-series made exclusive to Hulu, is profitable.

Videoguys has a system recommendations page for PC's and Mac's. I do want a dual-6-core Mac, but it's going to run us $4500 even with an education discount.

Name your shared folder something non-stupid. Stu on Dropbox naming conventions. Writing the Pandora Machine Wiki has made me think through our procedures. A shocking number of those procedures have to do with logical naming of folders and files so that they can be easily found.

The boys down at Abel Cine on color sub-sampling. Yup, you actually need to know this.

I have more liquor and food in my apartment than I ever had before. Partay tomorrow!

I think we're locked through act 5 (of 9) on Earthkiller but I have a bunch of dialog replacement to do (actually replacing the camera audio with the dialog from the audio recorder because one of our editors... er... made some technical decisions which were less than awesome.)

Greedo was played by a woman. Or, at least some of the shots Greedo was played by a woman. Sometimes Greedo was played by a man. Which is, of course, awesome.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blood Puddles

Oh man, this is something we totally could use. Blood puddles for when you don't want liquid blood all over the set. Which is often. Via.
The wrap party for Android Insurrection is on Sunday. Liquor and sandwiches. Those are the things on my mind.
I'm trying to figure out where I should put the standard for web uploads on our wiki. Maybe there should be a page called "web uploads". 640x360 is the answer, by the way.
We have picture lock up through act 5 on Earthkiller. But we're still missing dinobot animations inside some of those acts.

Monday, June 6, 2011

3 of 9 acts

Oh, here's a good time-waster. 40 ways you can avoid making movies: listening to these podcasts instead of actually making movies.
We're locked on Earthkiller acts 1 through 3. That's out of 9 total acts. I'm hoping to lock 4 and 5 today. Rebecca Kush is on that right now. She's making a punchlist for me. Wish us luck.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Dangers of Predictions

Within five years there won't be a significant distinction between TV and broadband.
-November 7th, 2007
This was written during the recent Writer's strike. Marshall Herskovitz writes an interesting essay. It does seem to me that the inverse of most of his conclusions have come true, however. He looks at how government and corporate interests have poisoned the TV business:
It started in 1995 when the Federal Communications Commission abolished its long-standing "finsyn" rules
I'd say it was after 1995 when TV started actually getting good. The vast wasteland that was television from its inception through, oh I don't know -- how about when Buffy the Vampire premiered? -- all happened under "finsyn" rules. But afterwards, television programming has actually gotten relatively good.*
Most of that programming has been on HBO (or maybe AMC). But it sure has raised the bar on network programming too.
And perhaps FinSyn has been all but irrelevant as the increase in quality is a result of the fact that now the network' multivarious channels are all in competition with each other. I dunno. Nobody really does.

And it's not clear that there won't be a significant distinction between TV and broadband. Until more than Dr. Horrible can make money back from an Internet release nobody's making money with broadband. Arguably Netflix makes some money with broadband, but, er, we don't (and won't) really know for a while.

Companies are, however, making money in TV. The mysterious "Internet dollars" haven't materialized. Sure, there are some IPO's that happen with companies tangentially related to content producers but by definition those companies aren't making money (yet) which is why they had to have an IPO. 
Here's an essay on the Kickstarter campaign for the serial "Divine". They raised $20K by people donating money through Kickstarter (I have zero idea what the tax consequence of this sort of "income" is.)
If that's not the essence of capitalism, I don't know what is.
Well, I'm afraid you don't know what is. What we have here as an economic model is the same as a church -- it's called "tithing". It doesn't even involve investors, just donors. Capitalism, in almost anybody's theory of what it is (Smith or Marx) doesn't involve donating. This is more like crowdsourced patronage. It worked for Tchaikovsky, it could work for you. But if you're gonna go ahead and work that way you may as well hit the gym and become a trophy wife.
Basically, business-wise, you have to look at two numbers: how much money you spend over how much money you take in. Now, with a church, you get to spend however much money people give you. With a business, you get to have spent some portion of the money you will get.
Now it's true that in the independent feature world there are a lot of movies made using the economic model of "get some rich guy to put a bunch of cash up-front that he'll never see again." Kickstarter has modified that model to "get a whole bunch of people to put a smaller amount of money that they'll never see again." Which is just like being at church. They pass the plate around, you put some money in (maybe you'll get a communion wafer out of it.)
As long as you get donations, you're on the top of the world. Just ask Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

And not only is video-for-the-internet not viably financial, it's artistically a nightmare.
I'm a-gonna say it. Video for the iPhone sucks.

I am the biggest fan of Cory McAbee's American Astronaut. But I started watching Stingray Sam and I was thinking "something is wrong here". There's something off with the framing. And it's true. The framing is... bad. Which is odd coming from someone who made the brilliant American Astronaut.

Now, I read somewhere, and I can't find where I read it, that the Stingray Sam "series" is yet another attempt to make the Internet Millions™ by "monetizing" a cross-platform media experience for the iPhone and the... oh criminy, I can't even talk like this.

Anyway, obviously somebody gave them some money but, after seeing how big a disaster American Astronaut was financially, decided that they couldn't do a theatrical release. So they gave Cory money (which he totally deserves for being so brilliant) with the caveat that they were going to do some sort of Interwebs "buzz" thing with it and make it available on every kind of player and viewer in the universe.
Which specifically precludes a good-looking aspect ratio.
The iPhone is so dang small you just can't have those black bars at the top and the bottom of the screen (Cheezuz -- it's 2011 and we're still talking about letterboxing?) so we have to frame it so that it looks right on an iPhone.

And it just doesn't. Which is sad. Because as imperfect as Stingray Sam is, it's still kinda neat and I will buy the whole thing on DVD.

So here I am, the head of the world's smallest movie studio, arguing that big companies be given more power and that we all-but-ignore "new media" except to release trailers and such.
At least, that's what we should do if any of us want to stay in the black. And if we want to make anything good.

*Be advised that correlation does not imply causation, it my simply be that Finsyn was and/or is irrelevant to good TV shows, if my argument is correct.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Earthkiller animator needed

I put this up on a Blender forum:

We're looking for a Blender animator -- specifically someone whose skill set is animating a bipedal creature. We can handle the lighting, compositing, and rendering (but we don't have to if you want to do it ;-). Our regular animator is way too busy right now.
The android Helen in Earthkiller.
Of course we don't have any money, so this is a non-paid position. But there's IMDB credit and whatever footage you want for your reel. If the movie were to do monster business, you'd get a small piece of the back-end, but it's not likely to make that much cash. Just being realistic here.
My science - fiction production company, Pandora Machine, is in post-production on a couple feature films. One of the features, Earthkiller, has some shots of a dinobot that need animating. The "dinobot" is already rigged and ready to go in Blender.
Here's a brief teaser for the movie:
Android with Digital Anarchy's "Beauty Box" applied.
I'd say that the amount of animation is certainly less than 40 hours of work. The dinobot runs down some hallways, it gets shot at, it bites someone, finally it gets thrown out an airlock. We tried to shoot in order to keep the rotoscoping to a minimum, so the dinobot is typically the thing that's closest to the camera. You can see a closeup of the dinobot briefly in the above teaser.
Pandora Machine's "studio" is in a theater in Manhattan. Typically we don't have an open workstation so in addition to exploiting your labor for free, it would be awesome if you could work at your own computer. This is totally a gig which could be done remotely.
If you want to know more about us you can read my (not safe for work) blog at
Our deadline? Boy it would be nice to have this animation finished by the middle of the month. ;-)
Feel free to email me for more information.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pandora Machine Doings

We've locked act 1 of Earthkiller. And I mixed a "first mix" of it too. One decision which I haven't made yet is how much music should be happening through the movie. For this first pass I was (relatively) sparse with adding music cues. We'll see if that's how we continue to do things as we get some distance, listen to it again, and get notes.
I realize that I should be just finishing Earthkiller. But I spent an hour today making this shot. This shot was one of those things just "tugging" at me that I needed to make.
We had a number of last-minute hiccups on our last day of exterior shooting. Including the fact that on this "Abbey Singer" shot (meaning "the second-to-last shot") the camera kept having write failures.
Incidentally, we've never identified what causes a write failure on the GH1. Note that only since the camera got "hacked" has it had any trouble. And note that it doesn't matter what the temperature is (it was relatively cool when we were outside this day) or if we pop the battery or the SD card. Nobody's got any idea.
Anyway, we also were missing a set piece on this day. So we shot the scene with the big whirleydoomer robot contraption in front of the cast. Keeping the visual effect in front of the live action makes it much easier in post-production because you don't have to rotoscope or "cut out" the people in front of the robot. Robot goes on top. That should be a rule somewhere. Robot goes on top.
Anyway, it may turn out that the shot looks better this way than the way I first thought of it.
Virginia Logan, Juanita Arias, and Joe Chapman in Android Insurrection.
That all being said I did replace the sky behind them. That was made easier to do because the shot was locked down.
I figure that the editor is going to want this complete shot rather than to try to edit without seeing the effect, so we took this wide shot and made a big master composite which will take... 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete.
That sounds like an overnight job to me so I'm going home.