Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's a good time for filmmakers. You can go to any mainstream electronics store, pick up an HD video camera, pretty fast computer and writing, editing, graphics and audio software for affordable prices, then go online and find hours of tutorials, inspirational short films, and forums to learn to make a film.

Now this isn't anything new. Filmmakers have had affordable gear available for at least a decade. The tools were good, the quality decent to pretty good, but required a lot of work to get exceptional results.

The caveats of course were what you were willing to compromise on. The paradigm was good - cheap - fast... pick two.

As time passed, Moore's Law made things more interesting. For the amount of money we spent 10 to 15 years ago, today we've gotten exponentially more powerful and affordable tools. Our paradigm is still good cheap and fast, though now we can have all three in various price ranges.

These days we're seeing movie budgets from 0 to $300 million. The interesting thing is that 4k Red, HD capable DSLRs, prosumer HD cameras are used on both low and high budget productions.

Previously our choice was shoot DV, run it though some film look recipe, transfer to film, looking gritty, blown out with obvious video artifacts. It was a compromise that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

The current crop of cameras are much closer to a cinematic aesthetic, so most viewers won't notice the difference. Even a consumer camera has some flavor of HD with a 24p mode. Transfer to film is optional, since digital projection is steadily being added to theaters. Even if a theatrical release isn't planned, HD quality can be maintained with both streaming/downloads and Blu Ray. Scaling the image down to something more manageable on YouTube and Vimeo actually enhances the look if done correctly.

On the post side, software like Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects quickly matured and put to use on major feature films and TV series. In response, some of the traditional heavy hitters have been restructuring their pricing. Software only products like Avid Media Composer, DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Smoke For Mac are affordable for boutiques and individuals, without compromising on functionality.

Enthusiasm has been high amongst professionals, especially those who opened boutique shops using powerful yet affordable hardware and software.

There has been some curious backlash though in forums, blogs and panels. Look around and you'll read about how film is still the gold standard for image acquisition, and how Media Composer is the editing system of choice for most professional feature film editors.

The HD DSLRs are the latest tools to get the backlash. Highly compressed codecs, poor image processing and less than ideal form factors, are some of the complaints. Yet both on YouTube and Vimeo, there are many examples of stunning imagery. That seems to be what baffles the pros who don't want to compromise on image fidelity. The supporters of these cameras find they get a beautiful image for a very affordable price, so they are more than willing to deal with the shortcomings.

The uneasiness is to be expected. There are many examples of industries that used expensive unwieldy equipment with experienced operators, replaced by user friendly, inexpensive tools. Adding to the uneasiness has been closures of some established post houses in recent times.

Lost will be the apprentice/mentor model where someone spends years honing their skills under the tutelage of a seasoned pro. Learning now is a mixed variety of school, online tutorials, videos, books, and hands on experience.

This DIY learn as you go method isn't perfect either, as some will just copy tutorials instead of learning the core fundamentals. There will be new methods of figuring out who's skilled and who isn't.

One of biggest benefits is an openness about teaching anyone, and not keep it a secret art only to be passed onto insiders. Software developers have noticed too, and been developing their own tutorials and special learning edition versions of their products. They also have heavily discounted student editions, to help grow the future user base.

Now that anyone can make a movie, there is a flood of content online, good and bad. This is no different with art, music, photography or literature. Not everyone will attempt to make a living at it, and not all of those who try will succeed. It'll definitely be exciting to see what creatively will come from users of these new tools.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Forget switching, use it all.

There's been anxious debate on post production websites, blogs and twitter feeds about when and what Apple will deliver in the next version of Final Cut Studio. Adding to the anxiety are new updates by both Avid and Adobe that leapfrog over Final Cut Pro in certain features like native Red and DSLR support.

The speculation on when Apple will deliver FSC has ranged from 2011 to 2013, with reaction ranging from Apple not caring about the pro market to if it's time to switch to Adobe or Avid.

Why switch, when you could use all three as part of the workflow.A minimum combo of Final Cut Studio and Adobe Prodution Suite Premium would handle many editing, sound design, motion graphics, compositing, and compression needs. In the past Adobe couldn't shake the old legacy Premiere memories a lot of users had, but that should change with the new version. The rest of the suite are must haves like Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and After Effects.

There isn't too much overlap in the two product suites, and Adobe wisely added features to make it easier work between FCP and Premiere Pro though XML.

Avid's also changed a few things since trailing FCP on affordability and features. Their clout with feature film editors is still strong, but sometimes price wins out. Media Composer has dropped in price significantly for the software only version and been adding new features like native Red and DSLR support.

We're doing more varied tasks for clients and ourselves than ever before, and so far there isn't a single software package that can do everything. Unless you're a starving filmmaker, there's little reason to stick to one software package, because despite the marketing, it won't do everything you need or want.

The constant stream of hardware updates means you can always buy an older Mac or PC at a good discount. It's feasible to set up individual editing, compositing, 3d stations, and have everything networked together. Being a one man shop, doesn't mean using just one computer, let alone one software package.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I worked on this little project about 10 years ago. Arati needed help on her short, and I wanted some footage to practice editing on Final Cut Pro, and this is the result. I believe Kal worked on this sometime after American Desi, but not sure.

It's nice to look at these little projects years later.

It's been a while..

I haven't really posted anything of late, mostly because it's been easier to link to Twitter or Facebook.

But this space is too good to leave empty, so I'll have to be more active here soon.

In the meanwhile, just follow me on Twitter.