Photo phun II

Time to come back with a look at photography – just for the fun of it. Earlier this year I talked about using Pixelmator as an alternative to Photoshop. When I work with photos, I prefer to use Lightroom, Aperture and/or Photoshop (in that order). For extra effects, a touch of Tiffen Dfx, DFT Film Stocks or Magic Bullet Looks also gives you more pizzazz. While Pixelmator is pretty “lite” compared with Photoshop, it still gives most casual photographers more than enough control to enhance their images. Since it is based on Apple’s Core Image technology, it can also serendipitously take advantage of some of the FxFactory effects plug-ins.

Below is a set of images processed strictly with Pixelmator. I did use some of the FxFactory filters just because they were there, but understand that most of these effects also have native equivalents within Pixelmator. So, FxFactory filters are not an essential part in using Pixelemator as your image processing application. Click on any image below for a slideshow.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in the new year!

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Inside Llewyn Davis

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Fans of Joel and Ethan Coen’s eclectic brand of filmmaking should be thrilled with their latest effort, Inside Llewyn Davis. The story follows Llewyn Davis as a struggling folk singer in the Greenwich Village folk scene at about 1960 – just before Bob Dylan’s early career there. Davis is played by Oscar Isaac, who most recently appeared in The Bourne Legacy. The story was inspired by the life of musician Dave Van Ronk, as chronicled in the book “The Mayor of MacDougal Street”. Although this is the Coen bothers’ most recent release, the film was actually produced in 2012 in true indie filmmaking fashion – without any firm commitment for distribution. It was picked up by CBS Films earlier this year.

df_ild_02The Coen brothers tackle post with a workflow that is specific to them. I had a chance to dig into that world with Katie McQuerrey, who is credited as an additional editor on Inside Llewyn Davis. McQuerrey started with the Coen brothers as they transitioned into digital post, helping to adapt their editorial style to Apple Final Cut Pro. For many of their films, she’s worn a number of hats – helping to coordinate the assistant editors, acting as a conduit to other departments and, in general, serving as another set of eyes, ears and brain while Ethan and Joel are cutting their films.

df_ild_07McQuerrey explained, “Ethan and Joel adapted their approach from how they used to cut on film. Ethan would pull selects from film workprint on a Moviola and then Joel would assemble scenes from these selects using a KEM. With Final Cut Pro, they each have a workstation and these are networked together. No fancy SAN management. Just Apple file sharing and a Promise storage array for media. Ethan will go through a project, review all the takes, make marks, add markers or written notes and pass it over to Joel. Ethan doesn’t actually assemble anything to a timeline. He’s only working within the bins of the broader project. All of the timeline editing of these scenes is then done by Joel.” (Although there’s been press about the Coen brothers planning to use Adobe Premiere Pro in the future, this film was still edited using Apple Final Cut Pro 7.)

df_ild_06Inside Llewyn Davis was filmed on 35mm over the course of a 45-day production in 2012. It wrapped on April 4th and was followed by a 20 to 24-week post schedule, ending in a final mix by the end of September. Technicolor in New York provided lab and transfer services for the production. They scanned in all of the raw 35mm negative one time to DPX files with a 2K resolution and performed a “best light” color correction pass of the DPX files for dailies. In addition, Technicolor also synced the sound from the mono mix of production mixer Peter Kurland’s location recordings. These were delivered to the editorial team as synced ProRes files.

df_ild_05McQuerrey said, “Ethan and Joel don’t cut during the shooting. That doesn’t start until the production wraps. Inside Llewyn Davis has a look for many of the scenes reminiscent of the era. [Director of photography] Bruno Delbonnel worked closely with [colorist] Peter Doyle to establish a suggested look during the dailies. These would be reviewed on location in a production trailer equipped with a 50” Panasonic plasma that Technicolor had calibrated. Once the film was locked, then Technicolor conformed the DPX files and Bruno, Ethan and Joel supervised the DI mastering of the film. Peter graded both the dailies and the final version using a [Filmlight] Baselight system. Naturally, the suggested look was honed and perfected in the final DI.”

df_ild_04Inside Llewyn Davis is about a musician and music is a major component of the film. The intent was to be as authentic as possible. There was no lip-syncing to the playback of a recorded music track. Peter [Kurland] recorded all of these live on set and that’s what ended up in the final mix. For editing, if we ever needed to separate tracks, then we’d go back to Peter’s broadcast wave file multi-track recordings, bring those into Final Cut and create ‘merged clips’ that were synced. Since Ethan and Joel’s offices are in a small building, the assistants had a separate cutting room at Post Factory in New York. We mirrored the media at both locations and I handled the communication between the two offices. Often this was done using Mac screen sharing between the computers.”

df_ild_03The Coen brothers approach their films in a very methodical fashion, so editing doesn’t present the kinds of challenges that might be the case with other directors. McQuerrey explained, “Ethan and Joel have a very good sense of script time to film time. They also understand how the script will translate on screen. They’ll storyboard the entire film, so there’s no improvisation for the editor to deal with. Most scenes are filmed with a traditional, single-camera set-up. This film was within minutes of the right length at the first assembly, so most of the editorial changes were minor trims and honing the cut. No significant scene lifts were made. Joel’s process is usually to do a rough cut and then a first cut. Skip Lievsay, our supervising sound editor, will do a temp mix in [Avid] Pro Tools. This cut with the temp mix will be internally screened for ‘friends and family’, plus the sound team and visual effects department. We then go back through the film top to bottom, creating a second cut with another temp mix.”

“At this stage, some of the visual effects shots have been completed and dropped into the cut. Then there’s more honing, more effects in place and finally another temp mix in 5.1 surround. This will be output to D5 for more formal screenings. Skip builds temp mixes that get pretty involved, so each time we send OMF files and change lists. Sound effects and ADR are addressed at each temp mix. The final mix was done in five days at Sony in Los Angeles with Skip and Greg Orloff working as the re-recording mixers.”

df_ild_08Even the most organized production includes some elements that are tough to cut. For Inside Llewyn Davis, this was the cross-country driving sequence that covers about one-and-a-half reels of the film. It includes another Coen favorite, John Goodman. McQuerrey described, “The driving scenes were all shot as green-screen composites. There are constantly three actors in the car, plus a cat. It’s always a challenge to cut this type of scene, because you are dealing with the continuity from take to take of all three actors in a confined space. The cat, of course, is less under anyone’s control. We ‘cheated’ that a bit using seamless split-screens to composite the shots in a way that the cat was in the right place. All of the windows had to be composited with the appropriate background scenery.”

“The most interesting part of the cut was how the first and last scenes were built. The beginning of the movie and the ending are the same event, but the audience may not realize at first that they are back at the beginning of the story. This was filmed only one time, but each scene was edited in a slightly different way, so initially you aren’t quite sure if you’ve seen this before or not. Actions in the first scene are abbreviated, but are then resolved with more exposition at the end.”

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

Simplicity

df_simplicityThe ongoing battle in all areas of the tech sector has focused on the conundrum of simplicity versus complexity. The central question being, whether or not a professional application needs to be complex by its very nature. We’ve seen this in the Final Cut Pro X arguments and we will see it again with the new Mac Pro. Clearly everything Apple has been doing for many years, is to enhance the user experience by hiding some of the complexity under the hood.

This recently has come home to me in several ways. First, when Apple launched Final Cut Pro X a little over two years ago, some of my acquaintances on the Pro Apps team made this comment in regard to the streamlining of user settings compared with FCP 7. They pointed out that they would no longer need to field those tech support calls from confused users. Although I’ve always found this versatility useful in FCP 7, I do recognize that what they were saying was quite true, as the myriad of user format options was overwhelming for nearly all beginning and casual users. By streamlining this, FCP X allows users to quickly dive in and start editing – with the added benefit of lower support costs for Apple.

I recently had my 2009 Mac Pro repaired at a local Apple Store. This took a longer-than-normal amount of time and towards the end, I was calling the Geniuses every other day to find out what the hold-up was. In those conversations, the tech on more than one occasion noted how complex the Mac Pro towers are and how long it takes to run the proper diagnostics in order to truly isolate and repair a hard-to-define issue. In the end, the repair was well done and they were more than fair. In fact, the final bill was so low that I’ve come to realize the Genius Bar service simply can’t be a profit center for Apple. It is, in fact, part of Apple’s holistic approach to the customer experience. From a corporate point-of-view, this means that pressure has to be on quick repair and lower operating costs. Under this concept, wholesale board swaps – even when it amounts to using a bazooka to kill an ant – are far cheaper than component-level electronics repair. With that philosophy, the design inherent in an iMac or new Mac Pro, is bound to yield rewards for Apple in the cost of operating its Genius Bar repair service.

Another variation of this is software. As part of the repair, certain components were replaced that tie into how software, like plug-ins, is serialized to a particular machine. In essence, my machine was now internally viewed by some of the licensing as a different computer. To clean up some of these issues – and to do an upgrade to Mavericks – I opted for a completely clean installation of the OS, coupled with re-installation of all applications and re-authorization of all necessary software and plug-ins. No migration. It’s the sort of thing that can do wonders for your machine’s performance, but it’s also something everyone avoids. This took two-and-a-half days. As I went through this process, the easiest part by far, was re-installation of any Apple application. Not only was this simple, thanks to the App Store, but some of the older apps that were installed from discs, were then subsequently upgraded to App Store versions. The second easiest was Adobe using Creative Cloud. Again, log-in and download the applications you want to use. Among the plug-ins, FxFactory (and their associated partners) was easy, because they, too, have adopted an App Store-style model.

If you look out at the greater world of computing, the macho-tech experience of dealing with towers, peripherals, add-ons and more is waning for all but the most complex set-ups. Naturally, if you are going from a large investment in these add-ons to a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt, you are going to need to buy some adapters, docks, etc. to see you through the interim transition. But look around you. The reliance on such peripherals is the exception and not the rule. Most users are on laptops. If they have a tower, it’s probably not much more that the stock set-up. Mac users have migrated to all-in-one iMacs. Tablets are everywhere. I almost never take my laptop on the road anymore, unless I need it for actual production. My iPad is more than adequate. All of this means that for the vast majority of users – including pros with demanding requirements – the hardware is fading into the background, because simpler solutions are powerful enough to get the job done.

My dad used to repair TVs. He worked through an era when component-level troubleshooting gave way to circuit board/module swaps. While the pieces might have been more expensive, the cost in labor was less for complex problems. Fast forward to today and there probably isn’t a single flat panel that we buy, which has much if any ability to be repaired. Computers are following that same path and so is software.

This will scare many. I used to write simple autoexec.bat files in the DOS days. These let me create a menu page with a table of contents for the applications I used. Typing in the number of the application from that list would launch the software and when done, would exit back to this menu page. I certainly have no need, nor interest in doing that with any modern OS. It was a skill set based on the needs of a cruder technology, but is now as obsolete as setting up a 2” Quad VTR. Tinkering with your computer or software falls into the same realm as shade-tree auto repair. You can do it on a ’57 Chevy, but you certainly can’t do it on any modern automobile. To some this may have seemed like fun. To me, I’d rather get on about with the business of using the software/hardware to achieve results.

©2013 Oliver Peters