Plug-in Round-up

One way to spruce up your editing application is through various plug-ins for effects filters, transitions and generators. Your options range from single-purpose filters, like Magic Bullet Colorista II and Digital Anarchy Beauty Box, to full suites, like Boris Continuum Complete or GenArts Sapphire. Such filters enhance the power of your favorite editing or compositing tool by connecting through an API (application programming interface), like Avid AVX or Apple FxPlug. Not all APIs are equal. Some, like AVX, don’t permit custom user interfaces, which is why Colorista II or BorisFX’s new 3-way Color Grade are available for Final Cut and After Effects, but not Media Composer.

This has been an active year for plug-in developers, in part, due to the need to become 64-bit-compatible with Adobe CS5. Here’s a quick round-up of just a few of the more popular updates.

Click on any image below to see an enlarged view.

Boris Continuum Complete 7. BorisFX’s BCC package is one of the most wide-ranging collections of filters, covering 3D text, stylistic effects, keying, particles and much more. A big new addition is their own 3-way Color Grade filter with custom lift/gamma/gain color wheels and an innovative masking method, complete with tracking. BCC7 now includes an OpenGL-accelerated particle-based 3D generator, which is used in several filters, including the Beat Reactor, Particle Array 3D and Pin Art 3D. Another new addition is a warping engine that drives both video Warp and Morph filters. BCC offers many unique tools and effects not commonly available in other filter bundles. It’s hard to find a competitor that matches just the sheer volume of this collection. Quite a few of the BorisFX filters may also be purchased separately as Boris Continuum Units.

GenArts Sapphire and Monsters GT. When you ask editors what’s the ONE package to buy – the first answer is usually Sapphire. This collection of over 220 visual effects plug-ins is known for high quality and providing a great look. There are no presets, but the default starting points look great and are easily modified to dial in your exact effect. The newest Sapphire versions have been accelerated for faster GPU-enabled rendering and have been optimized for certain NVIDIA cards. There are quite a few specific new effects, including TVDamage, Technicolor2Strip and Technicolor3Strip, plus new transition effects. Sapphire filters can now fully process 32-bit HDR floating point footage with no clamping.

A welcome addition to the GenArts line-up is Monsters GT for After Effects. Monsters filters have been a choice for high-end systems, like Quantel, but now, desktop designers and editors can take advantage of this collection of 50 unique effects. These are also optimized for certain NVIDIA cards for GPU-enabled rendering. I’m a particular fan of their artistic effects, like M_Brush. It has an awesome number of controls to dial in a very precise stylistic look to the image. This differs from Sapphire’s AutoPaint, by being medium-based (oil, chalk, water, etc.) versus style-based (Van Gogh, Pointalize, Hairy Paint) as in Sapphire.

Noise Industries FxFactory. Final Cut editors and After Effects compositors have been a fan of this collection since its inception. It was one of the first set of filters to take advantage of the Apple FxPlug API. Unlike other companies, which tend to develop only in-house, Noise Industries has partnered with a number of other developers to offer a diverse spread of solutions – ranging from traditional effects filters to a Stereo 3D toolkit. You only buy the particular filter set you want and it runs under the FxFactory filter management application.

One new partner is Luca Visual Effects with its Light Kit package. It’s a package of seven filters with various flicker and leak effects along with color treatments, gradients, vignettes and regional lighting.

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Looks. The Looks Suite is a bundle of companion filters and applications developed under the Magic Bullet banner. These include the new Colorista II, the amazing Looks (plus PhotoLooks for Photoshop) and a host of other image manipulation tools for conversion, frame-rate changes and resizing.

A new tool is Magic Bullet Denoiser. It’s a comprehensive noise reduction tool that can be as simple as using one slider, but also includes more advanced tools for motion compensation, film versus video and color channel tuning.

It’s not new, but another tool worth noting in the Looks Suite is Magic Bullet Mojo. This is a slider-controlled, color grading tool based on VFX director Stu Maschwitz’s model of “memory colors” – often used in blockbuster films. It naturally defaults towards the trendy teal (backgrounds) and orange (skin tones) look of many film grades, but isn’t limited to that. This makes it an easy-to-use color grading tool for those who don’t want to get bogged down with curves or lift/gamma/gain adjustments.

CoreMelt Lock & Load X. CoreMelt Complete V2 is another high-quality, FxPlug-based collection that works within FCP, Motion and After Effects. You can purchase either the Complete V2 bundle or just specific filter sets, such as Pigment (color tools) or Luminous (glows and blurs).

In addition, CoreMelt offers Lock & Load X – a fast-rendering image stabilizer. It works like Apple’s Smoothcam, but processes only the portion of the clip that’s on the timeline and thus is a lot faster. In addition, they’ve added camera coefficients to smooth out rolling shutter artifacts from CMOS cameras, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. If you are posting a lot of handheld 5D jobs, then this is an essential item in the toolkit.

Digital Anarchy Beauty Box. Unlike a general noise reduction filter, Beauty Box is built around skin retouching. There are a number of controls to adjust smoothing as well as color correction, but the detection model is color based. You first dial in the masked area to be smoothed using an HSL-style keyer to isolate skin from the background. Then the smoothing controls will only affect the masked area, such as an actress’ face.

Automatic Duck. This collection of plug-ins continues to set the bar for excellent timeline translation, with products to move among many of the leading NLE hosts, as well as into After Effects. Despite competition and some NLEs doing these tasks internally, the Automatic Duck products continue to be the most reliable option. Automatic Duck’s ProImport and ProExport products have gained important new features this year, such as the ability to relink RED proxy media to RED .r3d files during an import. Another application worth checking out is Media Copy. This has becomes a full-fledged product designed to archive Avid and FCP project files and associated media. Look for a review of Media Copy 3.0 in the future.

Boris AAF Transfer. Not all of Boris FX’s plug-ins are effects filters. Some are information conduits between applications. BorisFX developed Boris XML Transfer to import Final Cut sequences into After Effects. It has recently added Boris AAF Transfer (a Final Cut Pro export plug-in) to move projects into Avid Media Composer or Avid DS. The main difference between these BorisFX solutions and others is that BCC filter information in the timeline is transferred with proper data and keyframes – as long as the corresponding filter is also available on the target system. The AAF Transfer plug-in has recently been updated to include reel numbers and timecode from the source master clips (not enabled in the initial release).

Digital Heaven Loader 2. This great little utility was designed to help Final Cut Pro editors organize all media that’s not in the Capture Scratch folder. Loader stays resident, but unobtrusive, on top of the FCP interface. Drag-and-drop a file (still, graphic, movie or audio file) to Loader’s contextual pane and Loader will automatically copy the file to a target folder location. Audio tracks will also be converted to FCP-friendly formats and sample rates. For example, if you have some temp track in iTunes (44.1kHz .m4a files), simply drag them from the Finder to the Loader icon and it will copy the files to a target folder for that project, convert the files to 48kHz .aiff and place the imported clips into a bin in your FCP browser. New in Loader version 2 is the option to set the FCP destination for imported items (Named, Time-stamped or Top Level of Project), audio conversion settings and faster copy/conversion times.

Here is a further look at some other filters.

Boris FX BCC Cartoon Look

Boris FX BCC Cartoon Look

Boris FX BCC Glint

Boris FX BCC Pencil Sketch

CoreMelt Luma S Curve

Noise Industries FxFactory Pro Emboss

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Colorista II

GenArts Monsters GT Brush

GenArts Sapphire Cartoon Paint

GenArts Sapphire Film Effect

©2010 Oliver Peters

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Starting out

I often speak with students looking for that first job after film school. They are keen to find out what they should know in order to work as an editor. The reality is that students starting out in post need to know a whole lot more than editing. In fact, just about everything EXCEPT editing. That’s because much of the nuts and bolts post production work for ingest, logging, conversions, etc. is done by people who fill the role of a post production assistant or assistant editor.

Ironically many A-list Hollywood feature film editors aren’t the most technically savvy people in the editorial department. They are hired for their creative talent and storytelling abilities and it is often their assistant editors who handle many of the technical chores – especially in the world of computer-assisted, digital “film” editing.

Here are some pointers and areas in which to become moderately proficient as you enter into a post production career.

The obvious – Many post production jobs are freelance gigs. It is essential that you understand how to market yourself. Learn the finer points of interpersonal relationships on the job and working with clients and/or supervisors. It’s equally important to learn how to handle your personal finances in order to survive.

Office productivity tools – Though it may not seem like a part of editing, apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Keynote and FileMaker are the glue that binds information together. Make sure you know how to use such tools to create and modify spreadsheets, how to turn a client’s PowerPoint into video and more.

Research – The Internet is a wonderful thing, so hopefully you’ve learned how to use it for more than Wikipedia and Facebook in college. For instance, if you are working on a documentary, you may be asked to do some research to augment the script. Learn how to go deep and spend your research time productively.

Avid versus FCP – In the real word, no one cares about this perennial platform war. You will be expected to know one or the other, depending on what the shop that hires you owns. Learn them both. Period. Small indie shops will likely base their workflows around FCP. Major LA studios, films and TV shows – as well as TV station broadcast news departments – will use Avid.

Basic VTR set-up and signal flow –  You aren’t going to be asked how to set-up every VTR ever made, but the world of tape isn’t totally gone, yet. Make sure you understand the basics of video levels and what the readings on a waveform monitor or vectorscope mean. Learn how to use a patch panel or router to get audio and video signals between a deck and an NLE. Make sure you have some basic understanding of what the common level controls do on a VTR and how to read and understand a manual when you need to get down to specifics.

Tapeless – The flipside of what I just wrote is that the modern film and video production world is on a rapid march towards complete file-based workflows for acquisition, post, delivery and archive. Learn the best practices for these general concepts, as well as specific formats, like P2, XDCAM and RED.

Audio recording – You won’t be asked to be the next Eddie Kramer, but it’s quite common to record scratch reads and other types of voice-overs as part of an edit session. Learn a bit about mic selection, placement and adjustment, so that it’s second nature when your editor asks to have the system ready for a scratch recording.

Photoshop / After Effects – Not all editing workstations will have advanced graphics software installed.  Nor is every editor a Photoshop whizz. But the more you know as an assistant, the more value you offer. These apps are used a lot to prep logos and graphics for the edit, so when an editor can hand off these tasks to a talented assistant the productivity picks up. After you’ve mastered these, you can tackle Motion, Shake, Nuke, etc.

Encoding and authoring – As the world becomes increasingly tapeless, it becomes commonplace to send DVDs or web files to the client for review and approval. Become the expert.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but a bit different than telling you how to sync up dailies. These are the types of “life skills” that a modern post professional should know beyond the artistic values of story and what makes a good cut.

Professional resources

There are quite a few good resources for aspiring editors and filmmakers. One such resource for new folks interested in growing in the business is the Production Apprentice website. My friends there have set up a site to help those starting out and give a little back to the industry. You’ll also find interviews from pros working on all sides of the camera that will give you a taste of aspects other than just camera or editing.

Alphadogs in Burbank hosts a monthly Editors’ Lounge event. One of these recent meetings discussed the relationship between editors and assistant editors. They were generous enough to record and post a two-part video of their hour-long presentation. Part 1 and Part 2 here at Vimeo. Check out the Editing Careers videos, as well (Part 1 and Part 2).

Plenty of books and training videos are “must haves” for new editors. It’s fairly common for many film students to be comfortable with FCP, but often they graduate without ever having touched Avid Media Composer – a staple of the film and television post world.

Avid has one of the most aggressive academic programs, so editing students would be remiss not to take advantage of that. A great way to ease the learning curve is Steve Hullfish’s “Avid Media Composer for Final Cut Pro Users” training DVD from Class on Demand. This four-hour DVD leverages a user’s existing FCP knowledge by pointing out where to find – and how to use – similar tools within Media Composer.

Other great aids are Steve Cohen’s new “Avid Agility” and Martin Baker’s “Final Cut Pro Killer Secrets”.

Last but not least, if you want to pick up some broader filmmaking tips, take a look at Guy Noffsinger’s “How to Make a Documentary”. This DVD takes a humorous look at all the elements that go into producing not just documentaries, but any long-form project.

©2010 Oliver Peters

FCP Helpers

Apple Final Cut Pro is generally said to be an 80/20 application, trading off some niche features for a lower price. More often than not, this descriptor is meant in the negative. Avid editors using FCP frequently lament about media management, render files and so on when comparing FCP with Media Composer. Yet, the fact that Apple targets the sweet middle, has left the field open for high-end systems on the Mac, like Avid Symphony, Autodesk Smoke and now, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve. This means advanced systems are available for the tiny market segment that wants them, without the need for Apple to develop a similar application itself.

I tend to view this 80/20 scenario as an opportunity for innovation. Avid, Autodesk, Quantel and others largely handle R&D internally. Although they embrace some openness in the interchange of media and file formats, their core features are typically closed to outside development, unless there’s an applicable SDK or API. Final Cut Pro incorporates a number of open and extensible technologies often available through the OS itself, like XML, QuickTime, Apple Events, Core Image and others. Granted, these are typically Apple-specific and not actual ratified standards, but they do provide a wide open development field for small and large entrepreneurs alike.

These technologies provide a relatively easy path for programmers to create a mix of plug-ins, utilities and applications that augment the native power of FCP. I’ll be the first to admit that I like to have everything inside the application, but the sheer diversity of options exceeds what’s available in the competing systems. For example, if you want Avid-style media management or control of project preferences, there are several different developers who have such solutions. The beauty of this for the user is more control and customization over your system – sort of the “shade tree mechanic” approach to media.

Here is a concise list of most of the companies building useful tools to enhance your Final Cut environment. Unlike effects plug-ins, these solutions are designed to improve productivity, reliability, efficiency and generally make your FCP experience better.

Assisted Editing

Automatic Duck

AV3 Software / GET

Boris FX / XML Transfer / AAF Transfer

Boris FX / MyMusicSource

Digital Heaven

Digital Rebellion

Edit Groove

Edit Mule

Glue Tools

Post Haste

Singular Software / PluralEyes / DualEyes

Smart Sound

Spherico

VideoToolShed

XMEdit / Traffic

XMiL

Update: With this post, the DigitalFilms blog passed 500,000 views, since its launch in March 2008. I’m glad many of you have found it helpful! Thanks.

©2010 Oliver Peters

Easy Canon 5D post – Round III

The interest in HDSLR production and post shows no sign of waning. Although some of this information will seem redundant with earlier articles (here and here), I decided it was a good time to set down a working recipe of how I like to deal with these files. To some extend this is a “refresh” of the Round II article, given the things I’ve learned since then. The Canon cameras are the dominant choice, but that’s for today. Nikon is coming on strong with its D7000 and Panasonic has made a serious entry into the large-format-sensor video camera market with its Micro 4/3” AG-AF100. In six months, the post workflows might once again change.

To date, I have edited about 40 spots and short-form videos that were all shot using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Many of the early post issues, like the need to convert frame rates, are now behind us. This means fewer variables to consider. Here is a step-by-step strategy for working with HDSLR footage, specifically from Canon 5D/7D/1D HDLSR cameras.

Conversion

Before doing anything with the camera files, it is IMPERATIVE that you clone the camera cards. This is your “negative” and you ALWAYS want to preserve it in its original and UNALTERED form. One application to consider for this purpose is Videotoolshed’s Offloader.

Once that’s out of the way, the first thing I do with files from a Canon 5D or 7D is convert them to the Apple ProRes codec. Yes, various NLEs can natively work with the camera’s H.264 movie files, but I still find this native performance to be sluggish. I prefer to organize these files outside of the NLE and get them into a codec that’s easy to deal with using just about any editing or compositing application. Generally, I will use ProResLT, however, if there is really a quality concern, because the project may go through more heavy post,  then use standard ProRes or ProResHQ. Avid editors may choose to use an Avid DNxHD codec instead.

I have tried the various encoders, like Compressor or Grinder, but in the end have come back to MPEG Streamclip. I haven’t tried 5DtoRGB yet, because it is supposed to be a very slow conversion and most TV projects don’t warrant the added quality it may offer. I have also had unreliable results using the FCP Log and Transfer EOS plug-in. So, in my experience, MPEG Streamclip has not only been the fastest encoder, but will easily gobble a large batch without crashing and delivers equal quality to most other methods. 32GB CF cards will hold about 90-96 minutes of Canon video, so a shoot that generates 4-8 cards in a day means quite a lot of file conversion and you need to allow for that.

MPEG Streamclip allows you to initiate four processes in the batch at one time, which means that on a 4, 8 or 12-core Mac Pro, your conversion will be approximately real-time. The same conversion runs about 1.5x real-time (slower) using the EOS plug-in. The real strength of MPEG Streamclip is that it doesn’t require FCP, so data conversion can start on location on an available laptop, if you are really in that sort of rush.

Timecode and reel numbers

The Canon camera movie files contain little or no metadata, such as a timecode track. There is a THM file (thumbnail file) that contains a data/time stamp. The EOS plug-in, as well as some applications, use this to derive timecode that more-or-less corresponds to TOD (time-of-day) code. In theory, this means that consecutive clips should not have any timecode overlap, but unfortunately I have not found that to be universally true. In my workflow, I generally never use these THM files. My converted ProRes files end up in separate folders that simply contain the movie files and nothing else.

It is important to settle on a naming strategy for the cards. This designator will become the reel ID number, which will make it easy to trace back to the origin of the footage months later. You may use any scheme you like, but I recommend a simple abbreviation for location/day/camera/card. For example, if you shoot for several days in San Francisco with two cameras, then Day 1, Camera 1, Card 1 would be SF01A001 (cameras are designated as A, B, C, etc.); Day 1, Cam 2, Card 1 would be SF01B001; Day 2, Cam 1, Card 3 would be SF02A003 and so on. These card ID numbers are consistent with standard EDL conventions for numbering videotape reels. Create a folder for each card’s contents using this scheme and make sure the converted ProRes files end up in the corresponding folders.

I use QtChange to add timecode to the movie files. I will do this one folder at a time, using the folder name as the reel number. QtChange will embed the folder name (like SF01A001) into the file as the reel number when it writes the timecode track. I’m not a big fan of TOD code and, as I mentioned, the THM files have posed some problems. Instead, I’ll assign new timecode values in QtChange – typically a new hour digit to start each card. Card 1 starts at 1:00:00:00. Card 2 starts at 2:00:00:00 and so on. If Card 1 rolled over into the next hour digit, I might increment the next card’s starting value. So Card 2 might start at 2:30:00:00 or 3:00:00:00, just depending on the overall project. The objective is to avoid overlapping timecodes.

Renaming files

I never change the names of the original H.264 camera files. Since I might need to get back to these files from the converted ProRes media at some point in the future, I will need to be able to match names, like MVI_9877.mov or MVI_1276.mov. This means that I won’t remove the movie file name from the ProRes files either, but it is quite helpful to append additional info to the file name. I use R-Name (a file renaming batch utility) to do this. For example, I might have a set of files that constitute daytime B-roll exterior shots in Boston. With R-Name, I’ll add “-Bos-Ext” after the file name and before the .mov extension.

In the case of interview clips, I’ll manually append a name, like “-JSmith-1” after the movie name. By using this strategy, I am able to maintain the camera’s naming convention for an easy reference back to the original files, while still having a file that’s easy to recognize simply by its name.

Double-system sound

The best approach for capturing high-quality audio on an HDSLR shoot is to bring in a sound mixer and employ film-style, double-system sound techniques. Professional audio recorders, like a Zaxcom DEVA, record broadcast WAVE files, which will sync up just fine and hold sync through the length of the recording. Since the 5D/7D/1D cameras now record properly at 23.98, 29.97 or 25fps, no audio pulldown or speed adjustment should be required for sync.

If you don’t have the budget for this level of audio production, then a Zoom H4n (not the H4) or a Tascam DR-100 are viable options. Record the files at 48kHz sampling in a 16-bit or 24-bit WAVE format. NO MP3s. NO 44.1kHz.

The Zaxcom will have embedded timecode, but the consumer recorders won’t. This doesn’t really matter, because you should ALWAYS use a slate with a clapstick to provide a sync reference. If you use a recorder like a Zaxcom, then you should also use a slate with an LED timecode display. This makes it easy to find the right sound file. In the case of the Zoom, you should write the audio track number on the slate, so that it’s easy to locate the correct audio file in the absence of timecode.

You can sync up the audio manually in your NLE by lining up the clap on the track with the picture – or you can use an application like Singular Software’s PluralEyes. I recommend tethering the output of the audio recorder to the camera whenever possible. This gives you a guide track, which is required by PluralEyes. Ideally, this should have properly matched impedances so it’s useable as a back-up. It may be impractical to tether the camera, in which case, make sure to record reference audio with a camera mic. This may pose more problems for PluralEyes, but it’s better than nothing.

Singular Software has recently introduced DualEyes as a standalone application for syncing double-system dailies.

Your edit system

As you can see, most of this work has been done before ever bringing the files into an NLE application. To date, all of my Canon projects have been cut in Final Cut and I continue to find it to be well-suited for these projects – thanks, in part, to this “pre-edit” file management. Once you’ve converted the files to ProRes or ProResLT, though, they can easily be brought into Premiere Pro CS5 or Media Composer 5. The added benefit is that the ProRes media will be considerably more responsive in all cases than the native H.264 camera files.

Although I would love to recommend editing directly via AMA in Media Composer 5, I’m not quite sure Avid is ready for that. In my own experience, Canon 5D/7D/1D files brought in using AMA as either H.264 or ProRes are displayed at the proper video levels. Unfortunately others have had a different experience, where their files come in with RGB values that exhibit level excursions into the superwhite and superblack regions. The issue I’ve personally encountered is that when I apply non-native Avid AVX effects, like Boris Continuum Complete, Illusion FX or Sapphire, the rendered files exhibit crushed shadow detail and a shifted gamma value. For some reason, the native Avid effects, like the original color effect, don’t cause the same problem. However, it hasn’t been consistent – that is, levels aren’t always crushed.

Recommendations for Avid Media Composer editors

If you are an Avid editor using Media Composer 5, then I have the following recommendations for when you are working with H.264 or ProRes files. If you import the file via AMA and the levels are correct (black = 16, peak white = 235), then transcode the selected cut to DNxHD media before adding any effects and you should be fine. On the other hand, if AMA yields incorrect levels (black = 0, peak white = 255), then avoid AMA. Import “the old-fashioned way” and set the import option for the incoming file as having RGB levels. Avid has been made aware of these problems, so this behavior may be fixed in some future patch.

There is a very good alternative for Avid Media Composer editors using MPEG Streamclip for conversion. Instead of converting the files to one of the ProRes codecs, convert them to Avid DNxHD (using 709 levels), which is also available under the QuickTime options. I have found that these files link well to AMA and, at least on my system, display correct video levels. If you opt to import these the “old” way (non-AMA), the files will come in as a “fast import”. In this process, the QuickTime files are copied and rewrapped as MXF media, without any additional transcoding time.

“Off-speed” files, like “overcranked” 60fps clips from a Canon 7D can be converted to a different frame rate (like 23.98, 25 or 29.97) using the “conform” function of Apple Cinema Tools. This would be done prior to transcoding with MPEG Streamclip.

Avid doesn’t use the embedded reel number from a QuickTime file in its reel number column. If this is important for your workflow, then you may have to manually modify files after they have been imported into Media Composer or generate an ALE file (QtChange or MetaCheater) prior to import. That’s why a simple mnemonic, like SF01A001 is helpful.

Although this workflow may seem a bit convoluted to some, I love the freedom of being able to control my media in this way. I’m not locked into fixed metadata formats like P2. This freedom makes it easier to move files through different applications without being wedded to a single NLE.

Here are some more options for Canon HDSLR post from another article written for Videography magazine.

©2010 Oliver Peters

The Social Network

Who would have thought that the online world of social media would make an interesting movie? That’s exactly what David Fincher set out to do in The Social Network, the story of how Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) became the youngest billionaire in history – thanks to a little start-up called Facebook. The Aaron Sorkin script is based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

This was a return engagement for a number of Fincher’s crew, including cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club) and editors Angus Wall (Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Kirk Baxter (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). The past two films – shot with the Grass Valley Viper camera – raised the bar for an all-digital production and post production workflow. The Social Network does that again, as the first released studio picture shot with a RED ONE camera equipped with the upgraded Mysterium-X sensor. As in the past films, the editorial team used Apple Final Cut Pro connected to an Apple Xsan shared storage system as their weapon of choice.

Angus Wall explained the workflow, “From our standpoint as editors, it was a very easy film to work on. Tyler Nelson and Alex Olivares, the assistant editors, handled all the data management and file conversions at David’s production offices. They converted the native RED camera files to Apple ProRes 422 (LT) for us. After that, it was pretty much the same for us as on Button or Zodiac, except that this time we were working with 1920×1080 images, which was great.”

When I suggested that Benjamin Button must have been more of a challenge as an effects film, Kirk Baxter quickly pointed out the similarities. “There are about 1,000 effects shots in The Social Network. It has a lot of digital matte paintings, but there was also face replacement much like in Button. In this film, there are two characters who are twins, but in fact the actors aren’t. So a similar process was used to turn one of the actors into the twin of the other. Although the story isn’t driven by the same sort of visual effect, like the aging technique that was a dramatic device in Benjamin Button, it still has a lot of effects work.”

For a fresh feel, Fincher tapped Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the score. Angus explained, “This worked out extremely well. Trent and Atticus were hired relatively early in the process.  Since they were working in tandem with the cutting, we were able to drop in a lot of near-final tracks instead of using temp music. This was great, because we had about 30 of their tracks to work with, all of which were actually intended for this film. That’s much better than the norm, where you scour your iTunes library to find some workable music to put under scenes.”

David Fincher shot approximately 280 hours of footage, recording all of the scenes with two and sometimes three RED cameras. The production schedule spanned from September to March, with a pick-up scene shot in July. Baxter and Wall worked out of Rock Paper Scissors (Wall’s LA editorial company) during shooting, staying up with the production during the first assembly process. Once production wrapped, editing was moved to Fincher’s production company offices. The two editors split up the scenes between themselves during the fine-cutting of the film.

Baxter explained, “David is a busy guy, so he doesn’t constantly sit over your shoulder while you’re editing. If Angus or I started out on a complex scene during the assembly, we usually stayed with it throughout post, since we were already familiar with all the footage. David would bounce between our two cutting rooms reviewing and offering his notes. He’s a very good director for an editor, because he knows exactly what he wants. He’s not an ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ type of guy. But he doesn’t overwhelm you either with information. At the beginning, he’ll set a general direction of what he’s looking for to get you started. Then deeper into the fine-cut, he’ll start tuning his approach and giving you more detailed comments.”

Most first assemblies are long and then the editor has to do major surgery to get the movie to the desired length. This wasn’t an issue with The Social Network. Wall explained, “The script was around 160 pages, so we were concerned that the first assembly was going to be correspondingly long. Our target was to keep the film under two hours. From the start, Kirk and I cut the scenes very tightly, using faster performances and generally keeping the pace of the film high. When the first assembly was completed, we were at a length of 1 hour 55 minutes – actually a minute shorter than the final version. Unlike most films, we were able to relax the pace and put some air back into the performances during the fine cut.”

Shooting with the RED ONE cameras introduced workflow changes for this film. Tyler Nelson (first assistant editor) handled the data management, creation of dailies and the final conforming of files to be sent to Light Iron Digital for the digital intermediate. Nelson explained, “I’m very particular about how the files get handled and so maintained control throughout the process. I was using two workstations with RED Rocket accelerator cards running ROCKETcine-X software to process our dailies. I would generate ProRes 422 (LT) QuickTimes for Angus and Kirk.  However, when it came to delivering visual effect elements and our final conform, we needed a bit more control, so I used a script that I wrote in FileMaker Pro to reference our codebook and pull our online media.”

Nelson continued, “When I received the locked cut, I generated an EDL for each video track and then used my FileMaker Pro script to parse the EDL to drive the transcode of the RED files into 4K DPX image sequences. I used these same EDLs to import each reel into After Effects CS5 to assemble our final conform. The footage was shot in 4K [4096×2048]. David framed his shots with a 2.40 matte, but with a twist.  We added an extra 4% padding on all sides so that if we wanted to reposition the frame north, south, east or west, we had a bit more image to work with. Effectively we had 3932×1638 pixels to use. The final images were exported as 2K [2048×1024] DPX sequences for Light Iron’s DI.” This extra padding on the edges of the frame came in handy, because Nelson also stabilized a number of shots. SynthEyes was used to generate tracking data for use in After Effects for this stabilization.

Early testing with various DI processes allowed the team to settle on the optimum RED settings to use in REDline (RED’s command line-driven software rendering engine). All files were delivered using the REDcolor (color space) and REDlog (gamma) values, which provided the most latitude to Light Iron’s colorist, Ian Vertovec. Light Iron CEO and DI supervisor, Michael Cioni explained, “Working with the full-range (flat) DPX files gives us nearly as much malleable range as with the native R3D raw files. Although it’s nice to grade in raw – because you have additional control to change color temperature or ISO values – that really isn’t practical in a film like this, with over 1,000 visual effects. You don’t want a lot of different vendors applying their own image conversions to the files and then later be unable to match the different shots at the DI stage. With log-like DPX files, they behave similar to scanned film negative and fit nicely into the existing pipelines.”

Cioni continued, “Ian graded the files using one of our Quantel Pablos. Since much of the look of the film was eloquently established on set, the grading came naturally to nearly every scene. The Social Network will really show off the expanded latitude and low-noise characteristics of RED’s M-X sensor. The scenes in this movie really live in the shadows. This film will deliver to audiences significantly more detail in images below 10 IRE as compared to typical digital cinema sensitivity. Although the majority of the first release will be seen as film prints, the future of all movies is digital, so the priority was given to the look of the digital master, rather than the other way around.” Technicolor handled the film-out recording for release prints, including digital-to-film color transforms from the DSM (Digital Source Master). The film’s final output is cropped for a 2.40:1 release format.

The technology angle of The Social Network is fascinating, but I wondered if there were any creative challenges for the editors. Kirk Baxter pointed out, “It was very well scripted and directed, so not a lot of story-telling issues had to be resolved in the edit. In fact, there were a number of scenes that were great fun to put together. For example, there’s an early scene about some of the legal depositions. It takes place in two different boardrooms at different times and locations, but the scene is intercut as if it is one continuous conversation. David gave us lots of coverage, so it was a real joy to solve the puzzle, matching eyelines and so on.”

Angus Wall added, “This is a movie about the birth of a major online power, but what happens on the computer is a very minor part.  For us, it was more important to concentrate on the drama and emotions of the characters and that’s what makes this a timeless story.  It’s utterly contemporary… but a little bit Shakespearean, too.   It’s about people participating in something that’s bigger than themselves, something that will change all of their lives in one way or another.”

UPDATE: Here are several nice pieces from Adobe , Post magazine (here and here) and the Motion Picture Editors Guild that also go into more detail about the post workflow.

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2010 Oliver Peters