Posts Tagged ‘review’

The Hiero we deserve, not the Hiero we need…

The Foundry’s Hiero launched last month, after a public beta period. Described as “a pipeline in a box”, perhaps the best way to think about is a bells & whistles conforming system.

Here are some of the things it can do:

  • Conform media
  • Transcode or rename media
  • Track versions (to some extent)
  • Generate NUKE scripts

It’s fully extensible through python, so in theory a lot of features can be customised to specific workflows. Quite frankly, I would have killed for this on almost every production I’ve worked on. It would have made a lot of data management chores a breeze. There are a few notably absent features, such as the lack of scene detection, and the extremely limited notation functionality, but that will happen in time no doubt.

The Foundry view Hiero as a kind of post-production hub, managing shots coming in, and shots going out. A client can view the latest overall version of a show, before going into a grading room. On one hand this is a necessary step: colour grading is less often about colour and more about asset management and versioning. This fulfils a crucial need: to have a stage that exclusively deals with editorial issues prior to grading.  So with Hiero, the production team goes over to the Hiero system, reviews visual effect versions, checks editorial issues, delegates more work and so on. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that in the real world.

For starters, who’s responsible for maintaining this hub? In general, the production team would lack the expertise required to manage the process, and in any case, from their perspective, they are paying everyone else to ensure the various pieces fit together. At the launch event, there were talks by people who’d been using it at visual effects houses The Mill and Framestore. But even these are edge cases: it would be extremely unlikely to have a single facility responsible for doing the bulk of the post work on a major film. On a typical film, The Mill might be handing off a bunch of effects to a DI facility elsewhere, and not really care how it fits in with elements from other sources (let alone that the production might not want the Mill having such a level of control over the film). Likewise, the DI facility will expect to just conform everything in the grading suite, as they always do. There wouldn’t be much benefit to adding another link in the chain.

So it could fall to a third party, who would coordinate everything, but then who is going to pay for such a service? I agree with the principle of Hiero, and I’d argue that someone should be paying for such a service. But if there’s one thing we know about post, it’s that people hate having to change their workflows.

So where does that leave us? Currently Hiero is around $5,000 for a node-locked license, and that prohibits it from being considered a utility a freelancer could invest in, or that a facility would pay for “just in case”. I hope that the Foundry can crack this problem, because it can arguably make post easier for all of us.

The Foundry offer a 15-day trial of Hiero, as with all their products.

Lustre 2008 and Brett Manson…

Earlier today I met with colourist Brett Manson from Video Lab, South Africa, to talk about his approach to grading and take a look at what’s new in Autodesk’s Lustre 2008.

Brett doesn’t have what you might call a typical colourist’s background: rather than learning the ropes as a telecine assistant or the equivalent, he started out a Flame operator. The first major difference was that he approaches grading in a very different to many of his contemporaries. Rather than work almost exclusively in the primary controls, he instead uses them to get a very rough balance, and then begins pulling luminance keys for highlights and shadows, working on them independently. He says that this approach is not necessarily better or worse, but more a matter of personal preference. Watching him do it though, I’m not sure I agree. It takes a little bit longer to pull the keys (by a matter of seconds) than to dive straight into primaries, but the results look much more pleasing to the eye in a very subtle way. Furthermore any tweaks are made much more visually, and he exploits Lustre’s ability to grade both the inside and outside of the keyed regions. He also points out that this method also gets around a current limitation of Lustre which is that detail destroyed by the primary corrector cannot be subsequently recovered by the secondaries (though stacking secondaries together is a completely non-destructive process). I asked him about the common perception that working with secondaries increases the level of noise in the image, but he points out that what actually increases the noise is what were traditionally called “secondaries” on analogue systems; namely vector changes, or sharp hue changes, rather than overall manipulation. He then went on to prove the point in front of me, though I’m sure that Lustre’s robust softness algorithms also play a big part in the fact that it was very hard to break the images.

Lustre 2008 Screenshot

Another unique trait he seems to have is that he really likes to get his hands dirty. In several of the shots he showed me, there were some really complex mattes that had been drawn by hand, adding the effect of rays of light for example. In one memorable case, he’d created a matte by tracing the outline of wire mesh on a previous shot, and used that to simulate a shadowed light source. This thing had probably 200 or more bezier points to it, and when I asked that it must have taken ages to create, he told me that it didn’t, and then went on to prove the point by going through the whole process right there and then. He then recreated a very stylised opening sequence from shot footage, turning a foreground actor into silhouette and then flooding the frame with graduated colour. One other, more subtle effect he uses a lot is to create what he calls “paths of light”- bright regions to lead the viewer’s eye to the point of interest. One technique he uses a lot is to add a lot of softening to a rectangular shape which creates a kind of star pattern at the corners. When he grades using this shape, it produces an almost subliminal focal point, with four streaks of light literally pointing at the item or person in question.

So what of the new version of Lustre? When I looked at Lustre 2007… I complained that it was lagging behind in the feature department, and to be perfectly honest, I suspected that it was starting to go the way of combustion. However, I’m pleased to say that the last year has seen a lot of improvements. I was most impressed to see the addition of Smoke’s timeline at last, since I’d been bemoaning its absence since version 1.0. And I’m pleased to say that it’s integration is not half-hearted at all. You get pretty much all of the editorial capability of Smoke, with thought put into automatically locking certain timeline tools during grading, and the ability to copy grades across tracks. If I was going to fault it in any way, it’s that there isn’t any option to blend between tracks. At least not yet- the 2009 release promises more timeline features, so it’s likely we might see this functionality implemented in some way. Either way, an outstanding development that I’d all but given up on seeing.

Lustre 2008 Screenshot

Brett was eager to demonstrate another new feature: Lustre has a new 3D tracker. It is really outstanding, and I could have sworn we were looking at Imagineer’s tracking technology. Basically you draw a shape around the object you want to track, and it will then go off and track every pixel in the region, adhering to both scaling and rotation of the image content- and pretty quickly too. And that’s not all- it will even track through crossing objects. Brett showed me a shot that trucks sideways, tracking a girl sat on a window ledge. When a tree in the foreground obscures the girl for a few frames, Lustre happily picks up the tracking smoothly without any issues.

Everyone should buy Lustre just for this

says Brett. Other new features include GPU improvements, CDL support and general performance tweaks. Though there’s nothing new in terms of colour manipulation (fingers crossed for some sort of blending modes in the future), this latest release will surely reaffirm Lustre’s status as a heavy-duty grading system.

Posted: January 11th, 2008
Categories: Tools
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Mac OS 10.5 Leopard First Glance…

Well it’s been exactly one day since I installed Leopard on my laptop, and here are my thoughts so far:

  •  In contrast to Windows Vista’s release, pretty much everything works out of the box.
  • Filemaker Pro does not work at all (for non-US English-speakers) unless you set the system’s international settings to US (but then at least you can customize everything back to the way you want it). With the exception of some other little utilities, everything else seems to work fine.
  • The spaces feature works well enough, even on dual-monitor setups. I’ve not really taken advantage of it yet though.
  • I realised I can’t use Time Machine because I don’t have enough free space. You need an external disk, and in actual fact it doesn’t need to be empty, but just for my MacBook Pro, Time Machine was asking for around 120GB free space. So it looks like I’ll have to shuffle some data around if I want to use it. It looks like it won’t let me back up to a windows network either.
  • The stacks feature is ok, but at this stage seems a bit pointless. It has allowed me to get rid of the folders and items from my desktop though.
  • By default, OSX will now hide network drives from the desktop. Since I use things like JungleDisk, it was more convenient to switch it back on.
  • Quickview is really good. Just tap the space bar, it pops up a window with the contents. I now find myself wishing that all file types were supported. For example I’d like to open Quickview on a zip file and get a list of the contents of the file.
  • The coverflow file browser isn’t as useless as I’d initially suspected. It’s really nice to spool along through a list of files visually. But unfortunately the thumbnails aren’t drawn quickly enough: you have to spool along and then wait a second or two for the images to display. And they don’t seem to be cached either, so this problem persists.
Posted: October 27th, 2007
Categories: Tools
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