Posts Tagged ‘software’

Synaesthesia is now one of the best things in life…

By which I mean it’s now completely and utterly free. Go download it now, and start using it to make films and video more efficiently.

The rest of this post will concern why I’ve made this change, and perhaps to wax lyrical on software development.

I’ve never really considered myself a software developer, but rather a filmmaker. I’ve written and directed a couple of shorts, but I consider my role in filmmaking to primarily be one of support. I help people make their films, usually in a technical capacity. Over the years of doing that, I conceived a spreadsheet template that grew into a database, and a fully-fledged software solution. I did this, mostly, to make my working life easier. There’s only so much data about a project I could hold in my head, and scraps of paper, both of which have their faults. I created a system that would tie a lot of the elements of filmmaking together, that worked well on both low- and bigger-budget films.

Around five years ago, it occurred to me that, although very niche, the database and associated tools would be useful to other people making films, maybe enough that I could work on and support it for a living. I set about (I want to use the word “weaponising” here, but it doesn’t quite work) making the system usable by people other than myself. After a year of that, and based on some feedback, I then changed the look and feel to how it is now, and finalised my list of everything the software had to do before I would be happy to ask money for it. That was another couple of years of tinkering.

At that point I got serious about it. I took a gamble and spent the better part of a year working on it exclusively (much to the Surreal Road bank manager’s chagrin) to get it complete, had a beta test with a small number of participants. Perhaps I should have taken the lukewarm reception as a sign, even at that point. When I talked to people directly about Synaesthesia, they were often excited, but when people actually used it, less so. Likewise, the bank didn’t look too kindly upon my business plan for the software, and industry journalists (save those who then used the opportunity to sell me advertising space in their publications) were uninterested. More signs, perhaps, but this was during the height of a global recession, and in any case I was having too much fun. This was going to change the way people made films.

Synaesthesia was released on January 18th, 2012 with a price tag of $399. 6 months later I dropped the price to $199. Because I had the foresight to track these things, I can tell you since then, the trial version has been downloaded directly from this website 32 times. The software has actually been used by 111 “unique” users.

I have sold 0 copies.

Clearly, it’s not setting the world on fire like I’d hoped. Looking back, I think I can identify a few reasons for this, such as timing, and even the incredible awkwardness of trying to build a desktop application on top of a Filemaker database (I’ll be surprised if you can point me towards a single Filemaker-based application that can auto-update like Synaesthesia can), but more than anything, I think perhaps there’s simply too much of “me” in it.

Successful films (and stories, natch) work best when the creators impart a little of their souls into them. The best stories tell you about the human condition, and have personality, two features that must be powered by personal observation and honesty to some degree. Software doesn’t work like this. It is merely a tool to do a job, and having something that confounds expectations of how software works (especially on Macs, where all applications look alike), will turn many people off. Next time (if there is indeed a next time) this is something I’d probably seek to change. Simplify things. But only if there’s a way of making something that isn’t bland.

I still maintain that Synaesthesia is the best tool available for collecting information during a shoot. I’ve looked at the competition in every respects on this, and I believe Synaesthesia wins out every time. If the final barrier to entry– price– can be removed to allow more people to see if I’m right, then that wins out over trying to make money on it.

Posted: March 15th, 2013
Categories: Synaesthesia
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Synaesthesia for Filemaker Server…

While Synaesthesia was originally conceived as a single-user application, it was built using the Filemaker framework. Filemaker is a popular database software solution, and is most typically used in a server/client environment. That is, multiple people can log in to a single database (hosted with Filemaker Server) and make changes simultaneously. It’s a very effective system (and very popular within the film industry).

We now feel Synaesthesia is mature enough to be used in a multi-user environment, and with that in mind, we are in the process of optimising the current version for use with Filemaker Server. With that in mind, we are going to be rolling out a limited beta version of Synaesthesia specifically for Filemaker server.

If you are interested in the power and capabilities of Synaesthesia and already have a Filemaker Server system, we want to hear from you. Go to our Synaesthesia for Filemaker Server beta signup page and let us know some details about your setup. We aim to start the beta programme in a few weeks time.

Posted: June 28th, 2012
Categories: Synaesthesia
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Synaesthesia 1.0 update and price drop…

Synaesthesia, our film production & logging software has been updated. The latest version fixes a number of issues with shooting mode that were discovered on a recent multi-camera shoot, where Synaesthesia’s shooting mode was used to retrospectively log their clips (more on that at a later date).

The update adds the ability to apply a “template” to file paths in exported documents (accessible from the preferences window). So you can now for example, have Synaesthesia automatically change all file paths from  /Volumes/Data/ to n:\ if you need to send the file to a Windows user.

Finally, we’re announcing a permanent price reduction of Synaesthesia. Effective immediately, the new price will be $199 per user license (anyone who purchased a license in the last 30 days will be credited the difference).

Get the new version here.

Posted: June 18th, 2012
Categories: News
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The Many Problems with Prelude…

I was initially very excited by the promise of Adobe Prelude (replacing Adobe OnLocation as of version CS6). The idea that it can streamline (even automate) the Digital Image Technician’s workflow of copying and checking digitally-sourced footage on-set and making proxies, thus freeing up the DIT to focus on more useful tasks, such as logging information into the footage’s metadata.

I spent a couple of days using it on a multi-camera shoot, but the results were disappointing. Allow me to count the ways:

  1. It hangs a lot
  2. It’s impossible to batch-edit metadata (it seems to work in principle, but ultimately it will hang)
  3. If any errors are detected during an ingest, none of the footage ingested shows in the project window
  4. You can create bins, but cannot open these bins in separate windows
  5. There’s no way to create metadata templates (so that you only see/edit the metadata tags you’re interested in)
  6. Ingested footage doesn’t appear in the project window until the entire ingest has completed
  7. It’s not possible to transcode footage from the project window
  8. It’s not possible to duplicate footage from the project window
  9. There’s no way to apply metadata during ingest
  10. Despite it being plastered all over the product page on Adobe’s website, there’s no way to transcribe the audio from within Prelude
  11. There’s no way to do anything clever with the metadata. For example, I was hoping I’d be able to produce copies of the clips but renamed to the scene and take number. No such luck.
  12. There’s no thumbnail view
  13. You can’t sort clips by any metadata field (in fact, you can’t display the metadata fields in the spreadsheet-like project view)
  14. You can’t set any event (notification, action) to trigger on completion of ingest
  15. There’s no way to filter the event list
  16. The help system redirects to the Adobe website (because when you’re on-set you always have a reliable internet connection)
  17. Worst of all, it seems to be corrupting files whilst copying (although I can’t prove this conclusively, I did encounter 2 corrupt copied files although the originals were intact)

Although this isn’t a case of “Adobe dropped the ball” (it is only the first release, after all), it does seem like even basic functionality that is required by all DITs is missing. Part of the reason this is so disappointing is because they already have much of this working in Lightroom. They’ve even structured the UI with a 4-room (ingest, logging, list, rough cut) metaphor along the same lines of Lightroom, but have failed to properly utilise it.

It does seem that Adobe is using Prelude to push you into moving the footage into Premiere and then doing more there, but I don’t really want to start moving data between applications at this stage. There’s a “rough cut” feature that I didn’t even use, because well, that’s what Premiere is for.

Posted: May 12th, 2012
Categories: Opinion
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Comments: 2 comments

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.