Posts Tagged ‘final cut studio’

Introducing Synaesthesia…

Synaesthesia is the new software product by Surreal Road. It’s been in development for around four years now, and is almost at a point where it is production-ready.

But what is it?

Having worked on all sorts of film and TV productions in different capacities (of greatly varying budgets), it often amazed me how “disconnected” every role seems. This is especially true in areas like post-production, where people employed to enhance or otherwise change particular shots would do so without any knowledge of the history of that shot. It might be possible to find out the camera and lighting setup used for a particular shot in some cases, but what about the intent behind that setup? What was the cinematographer aiming for, and how can I better enhance that, as opposed to the more usual practices of (at best) attempting to reverse-engineer a shot in order to understand it, or (at worst) changing things in a more haphazard manner until something looks good.

This was a problem I’ve encountered on almost every production, and in part it’s unavoidable. The reality is that just as the writers are often left outside the gates of production, so too are the production crew long-gone when it comes to post. This also becomes a practical and logistical problem. Where is a particular reel of film? What was the time and date of a particular shot? On a very organised production, it is likely that the editor would be armed with most of this information, but in all other cases, there is simply no one around to ask.

I look at software created for the visual effects industry, and it is staggering: the functionality and capabilities of VFX software is advanced to the point where it’s possible to use these tools to quickly create shots that are indistinguishable from reality. But when it comes to the actual production process, we’re in a technological drought. Even popular writing software, such as Final Draft, is only slightly more useable than TextEdit, even with years of industry experience and development put into it. What was I supposed to use in my capacity as data manager on various things to stay on top of everything? Excel?

The solution of course, is that (those computer-savvy enough) people tend to cobble together some sort of database (usually in the ubiquitous FileMaker Pro) which serves the immediate needs of the production. Much of the time this works out rather well, the production ends up with a bespoke system that covers most of the bases, something “good enough”. But what about those people who haven’t the time or the resources to create something from scratch, or those people who just want to hit the ground running? Well, you are who Synaesthesia was designed for.

At its core, Synaesthesia is about keeping track of things about a production, from start to finish. Here’s a typical scenario:

  1. You have a production. You add notes, storyboards, descriptions of characters, of sets, all to get a sense of what it’s about.
  2. At some point you have a screenplay. You import that and it links all the scenes with sets and characters you’ve previously created, and adds anything that’s missing.
  3. You refine the script, importing new versions as you go along, further fleshing out what you want to shoot and so on.
  4. You create a database of people and equipment  you’re going to need, and assign them to different parts of the production.
  5. You start shooting. You log what’s shot as it happens, along with notes, things like whether the take was good or not, what was recorded and making last-minute script updates.
  6. You import data directly from digital footage (such as RED camera footage), in order to accurately log timecodes, and shooting parameters.
  7. You start editing, having access to all your previous notes for each clip of footage that was shot. You can import sequences from an editing system and have Synaesthesia tell you which shot is used where. You can make changes to the edit from within Synaesthesia, and save those back to your editing system.
  8. You can designate certain shots as needing effects work, and update those shots as new effects versions are completed.
  9. Finally you can archive all the reels of footage, noting their locations, in case they’re ever needed again.

That’s quite a broad overview, and it assumes you’re going to use Synaesthesia from start to finish. But perhaps the best part of it is that you don’t have to. Maybe you’re only concerned with pre-production, and just want a place to keep storyboards, concept art, and screenplay versions organised? Maybe you just want to log continuity during a shoot? Or maybe you just want to tweak a couple of edits? Well then, Synaesthesia can help you.

It’s probably also helpful to mention what Synaesthesia (at least, in its current form) isn’t for:

  • It’s not for budgeting or scheduling
  • It’s not a replacement for software such as Final Draft
  • It’s not a replacement for systems such as Final Cut Studio
  • It’s not a server-based system, (it’s not possible for multiple people to make changes to the data at the same time).

A more detailed list of features is available  here. As I’ve said, Synaesthesia isn’t quite finished yet. It’s capabilities are still being worked out. But there are several key principles that we’ll always try to adhere to:

  • It will be simple to use
  • It will integrate with software you already use
  • It will give you the information you need

But more than anything else, I want it to be for whatever you (the user) need. With that in mind, we will be inviting people to try out pre-release versions in order to tell us what you like, what you don’t, and what’s missing. You can sign up for an invitation here.

Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio: The Letterbox…

Crops… are all well and good, but sometimes you’d rather retain the complete, original image. For example, if you need to make a 4:3 dailies tape which contains 16:9 elements, you’d better be sure the whole image is there in case anything important is happening at the edges. In this case, what you need is a letterbox, rather than a crop.

A letterbox retains the original shape of the footage, typically filling the rest of the frame with black (in the case of Final Cut Pro and Motion, the underlying layers provide the rest of the frame, or if there are no underlying layers, the background colour is used). By default FCP will letterbox any footage that doesn’t fit the timeline completely, automatically scaling it so that either the top and bottom or the left and right edges fit completely within the frame. This means that ordinarily you don’t need to do anything to letterbox footage. If for some reason you do (and are happy to use FCP’s scaling process to do it), the easiest way is to adjust the scaling parameter until it looks right. If you need it pixel-accurate, you’ll have to get your calculator out and plug in some numbers to get the exact percentage:

( width of timeline output / width of footage ) x 100

Repeat this for the timeline output and footage heights and compare the two results. For a perfect letterbox, use the lower percentage. Conversely, for a perfect crop, use the larger percentage.

Starting with your original image–

–crop to fill the frame–

–or letterbox to keep the whole image.

Tip: To have FCP letterbox everything in a sequence use: Modify / Scale To Sequence

The only sure-fire way to check which shots Final Cut Pro has seen fit to resize automatically is to look at the motion tab for each shot. Make this easier for yourself by setting the canvas sync to Open, then quickly spool through the timeline with the Motion tab open.

The next part of this series will look at aspect ratios.

(Images featured in this article are Copyright 2007 BBC Worldwide Inc.)

Posted: February 7th, 2008
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Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio: The Crop…

In this part of the “Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio series, we’ll look at different methods for cropping a shot.

Sometimes you need to adjust footage to fit into a different size frame. For instance, you may need to add high definition material to a standard definition timeline. In these situations Final Cut Pro will automatically scale the footage up or down to fit the timeline. However, any form of scaling (and particularly FCP’s default scaling) will reduce image quality. If you find yourself in this situation, calmly open the motion tab for the shot and set the scaling back to 100%. This will ensure you get a pixel-perfect rendition of the original shot, and FCP will instead crop the footage to fit, instead of scaling it.

What this means is that all the pixels that don’t fit within the frame are discarded, in the same way you use the crop tool on an image in iPhoto, or a pair of scissors on a disappointing article based around Final Cut Studio.

What becomes important at this point is the region of interest, that is, the part of the image you want to keep. Final Cut Pro will keep the image centred by default (performing what’s known in the trade as a centre cut-out), but that doesn’t mean you have to keep it this way. Instead you can use the Center control to reposition the image (we’ll be covering the “Pan & Scan” technique that dynamically repositions a shot over time in a future article).

There is another situation which may require the use of a crop, which is when you mix footage which is a different shape. The most common example of this is adding widescreen-formatted (16:9) material to a fullscreen (4:3) sequence (or vice versa). In this case, the procedure is exactly the same, except that you may only need to crop the top and bottom of the image (or left and right sides), keeping the rest.

The option to crop crops up quite a lot within Final Cut Studio*. You’ll see check-boxes and dialogue boxes with crop options all over the place throughout Final Cut Pro, Motion and Compressor, particularly when working with different kinds of media. Just be aware that in general, cropping will discard the edges of an image in favour of filling the frame.
*Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

Tip: To crop unwanted parts of a frame, use the Crop parameters in the Motion tab. You can also feather this effect to soften it.

Posted: February 7th, 2008
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Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio: Basic Scaling with QuickTime Pro…

What if you’re not concerned about quality, and don’t have access to your Final Cut Pro system? Then turn to QuickTime Pro.

Anything you can view in QuickTime can be scaled to a different size. Unfortunately this method uses basic interpolation at best, and so the results will almost certainly be lacklustre. However, this can be a good choice to resize a lot of footage where quality is not an issue, and the more technically-minded can put Applescript to work to batch resize lots of clips without needing Compressor.

To scale footage in QuickTime Pro:

  1. Open the clip (or an image sequence).
  2. Select Window/Show Movie Properties.
  3. Select Video Track and click the Visual Settings tab.
  4. Type a new height or width (in pixels or percentage) under Scaled Size.
  5. Save or export the resized clip.


Tip: QuickTime Pro can also be used to scale image files or sequences

In the next part of the series, we’ll be looking at different cropping methods.

Posted: January 22nd, 2008
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Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio: Basic Scaling with FCP…

To resize footage quickly and easily, you can’t beat using the options built into Final Cut Pro’s interface. The results can be quite pleasing, and this method works particularly well for making images smaller, such as when adding 1080p HD footage into a 720p HD timeline.

FCP makes it very easy to resize footage directly from within the interface. In fact, this ease can be a bit of a double-edged sword; in many occasions it can be difficult to tell precisely which shots are being scaled and which are not.

The problem with this method is that you don’t have much control over it. There are three different methods available (Linear, Normal and Best), and images will almost certainly fall to pieces with a lot of scaling.

To scale footage in Final Cut Pro:

  1. Double-click the shot in the timeline or bin.
  2. Tear off the Motion tab so you can see it alongside the image. You should also stretch the canvas out as big as possible so you can see the effects of the changes.
  3. Select Sequence / Settings…
  4. Under the Video Processing tab, set the Motion Filtering Quality to the desired level (Best is usually the one you’ll want unless you’re in a hurry, and Linear will perform only very basic interpolation, good for fast previews).
  5. Adjust the Scale parameter percentage to suit.


Tip: Shake can be used to resize individual QuickTime movies too, and includes a much bigger selection of filters, such as Mitchell and Lanczos, each of which is better for different types of footage.

Posted: January 22nd, 2008
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