6 Below

From IMAX to stereo3D, theaters have invested in various technologies to entice viewers and increase ticket sales. With a tip of the hat to the past, Barco has developed a new ultrawide, 3-screen digital projection system, which is a similar concept to Cinerama film theaters from the 1950s. But modern 6K-capable digital cinema cameras make the new approach possible with stunning clarity. There are currently 40 Barco Escape theaters worldwide, with the company looking for opportunities to run films designed for this format.

Enter Scott Waugh, director (Act of Valor, Need for Speed) and co-founder of LA production company, Bandito Brothers. Waugh, who is always on the lookout for new technologies, was interested in developing the first full-length, feature film to take advantage of this 3-screen, 7:1 aspect ratio for the entire length of the film. But Waugh didn’t want to change how he intended to shoot the film strictly for these theaters, since the film would also be distributed to conventional theaters. This effectively meant that two films needed to come out of the post-production process – one formatted for the Barco Escape format and one for standard 4K theaters.

6 Below (written by Madison Turner) became the right vehicle. This is a true life survival story of Eric LaMarque (played by Josh Harnett), an ex-pro hockey player turned snowboarder with an addiction problem, who finds himself lost in the ice and snow of the California Sierra mountains for a week. To best tell this story, Waugh and company trekked an hour or more into the mountains above Sundance, Utah for the production.

To handle the post workflow and co-edit the film with Waugh, editor Vashi Nedomansky (That Which I Love Destroys Me, Sharknado 2, An American Carol) joined the team. Nedomansky, another veteran of Bandito Brothers who uses Adobe Premiere Pro as his axe of choice, has also helped set up Adobe-based editorial workflows for Deadpool and Gone Girl. Ironically, in earlier years Nedomansky had been a pro hockey player himself, before shifting to a career in film and video. In fact, he played against the real Eric LeMarque on the circuit.

Pushing the boundaries

The Barco Escape format projects three 2K DCPs to cover the total 6K width. To accommodate this, RED 6K cameras were used and post was done with native media at 6K in Adobe Premiere Pro CC. My first question to Nedomansky was this. Why stay native? Nedomansky says, “We had always been pushing the boundaries at Bandito Brothers. What can we get away with? It’s always a question of time, storage, money, and working with a small team. We had a small 4-person post team for 6 Below, located near Sundance. So there was interest in not losing time to transcoding.

After some testing, we settled on decked out Dell workstations, because these could tackle the 6K RED raw files natively.” Two Dell Precision 7910 towers (20-core, 128GB RAM) with Nvidia Quadro M6000 GPUs were set up for editing, along with a third, less beefy HP quad-core computer for the assistant editor and visual effects. All three were connected to shared storage using a 10GigE network. Mike McCarthy, post production supervisor for 6 Below, set up the system. To keep things stable, they were running Windows 7 and stayed on the same Adobe Creative Cloud version throughout the life of the production. Nedomansky continues, “We kept waiting for the 6K to not play, but it never stopped in the six weeks of time that we were up there. My first assembly was almost three hours long – all in a single timeline – and I was able to play it straight through without any skips or stuttering.”

There were other challenges along the way. Nedomansky explains, “Almost all of the film was done as single-camera and Josh has to carry it with his performance as the sole person on screen for much of the film. He has to go through a range of emotions and you can’t just turn that on and off between takes. So there were lots of long 10-minute takes to convey his deterioration within the hostile environmental conditions. The story is about a man lost in the wild, without much dialogue. The challenge is how to cut down these long takes without taking away from his performance. One solution was to go against the grain – using jump cuts to shorten long takes. But I wanted to look for the emotional changes or a physical act to motivate a jump cut in a way that would make it more organic. In one case, I took a 10-minute take down to 45 seconds.”

When you have a film where weather is a character, you hope that the weather will cooperate. Nedomansky adds, “One of our biggest concerns going in, was the weather. Production started in March – a time when there isn’t a lot of snow in Utah. Fortunately for us, a day before we were supposed to start shooting, they had the biggest ‘blizzard’ of the winter for four days. This saved us a lot of VFX time, because we didn’t have to create atmospherics, like snow in front of the lens. It was there naturally.”

Using the Creative Cloud tools to their fullest

6 Below features an extensive percentage of visual effects shots. Nedomansky says, “The film has 1500 shots with 205 of them as VFX shots. John Carr was the assistant editor and visual effects artist on the film and he did all of the work in After Effects and at 6K resolution, which is unusual for films. Some of the shots included ‘day for night’ where John had to add star plates for the sky. This meant rotoscoping behind Josh and the trees to add the plates. He also had to paint out crew footprints in the snow, along with the occasional dolly track or crew member in a shot. There were also some split screens done at 6K right in Premiere Pro.”

The post schedule involved six weeks on-set and then fourteen more weeks back in LA, for a 20-week total. After that, sound post and grading (done at Technicolor). The process to correctly format the film for both Barco and regular theaters almost constituted posting two films. The RED camera image is 6144 x 2592 pixels, Barco Escape 6144 x 864, and a 4K extraction 4096 x 2160. Nedomansky explains, “The Barco frame is thin and wide. It could use the full width, but not height, of the full 6K RED image. So, I had to do a lot of ‘animation’ to reposition the frame within the Barco format. For the 4K version, the framing would be adjusted accordingly. The film has about 1500 shots, but we didn’t use different takes for the two versions. I was able to do this all through reframing.”

In wrapping up our conversation, Nedomansky adds, “I played hockey against Eric and this added an extra layer of responsibility. He’s very much still alive today. Like any film of this type, it’s ‘based on’ the true story, but liberties are taken. I wanted to make sure that Eric would respect the result. Scott and I’ve done films that were heavy on action, but this film shows another directorial style – more personal and emotional with beautiful visuals. That’s also a departure for me and it’s very important for editors to have that option.”

6 Below was released on October 13 in cinemas.

Read Vashi’s own write-up of his post production workflow.

Images are courtesy of Vashi Visuals.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2017 Oliver Peters

Sound Forge Pro Mac 3

There are plenty of modern tools that deal with audio, but sometimes you need a product with a very narrow focus to do the job without compromise. That’s where Sound Forge Pro fits in. Originally part of Sonic Foundry’s software development, the product, along with its siblings Vegas Pro and Acid, migrated to Sony Creative Software. Sony, in turn, sold off those products to German software developer Magix, where they appear to have found a good home. I recently tested Sound Forge Pro Mac 3, which is the macOS companion to Sound Forge Pro 11 on the Windows side. (Sound Forge Pro 12 is expected to roll out in 2018.) Both are advanced, multichannel audio editors, dedicated to editing, processing, and mastering individual audio files, as opposed to a DAW application, which is designed for mixing.

Although Magix’s other products are PC-centric, they’ve done a good job embracing and improving the Mac products. Sound Forge also comes in the Audio Studio version – a lower cost Windows product designed for users who don’t need quite as many features. There is no Mac equivalent for it yet. The former Mac version that was sold through Apple’s Mac App Store is no longer available. Naturally a product like Sound Forge Pro may require some justification for its price tag, since the application competes with great audio tools within most modern NLEs, like Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro, or Resolve. It’s also competing with Adobe Audition (included with a Creative Cloud subscription) and Apple Logic Pro X, which sports a lower cost.

Sound Forge Pro is primarily designed as a dedicated audio mastering application, that does precision audio editing. It works with multichannel audio files (up to 32 tracks) in maximum bit rates of 24-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit float at up to 192kHz. It also works with video files, although it will only import the audio channels for processing. Sound Forge Pro for the Mac comes with several iZotope plug-ins, including Declicker, Declipper, Denoiser, Ozone Elements 7, and RX Elements. (The Windows version includes a slightly different mix of iZotope plug-ins.) That’s on top Magix’s own plug-ins and any other AU plug-ins that might already be installed on your Mac from other applications. The bottom line is that you have a lot of effects and processing horsepower to work with when using Sound Forge Pro.

Even though Sound Forge Pro is essentially a single file editor, you can work with multiple individual files. Multiple files are displayed within the interface as horizontal tabs or in a vertical stack. You can process multiple files at the same time and can copy and paste between them. You can also copy and paste between individual channels within a single multichannel file.

As an audio editor, it’s fast, tactile, and non-destructive, making it ideal for music editing, podcasts, radio interviews, and more. For audio producers, it complies with Red Book Standard CD authoring. The attraction for video editors is its mastering tools, especially loudness control for broadcast compliance. Both Magix’s Wave Hammer and iZotope Ozone 7 Elements’ mastering tools are great for solving loudness issues. That’s aided by accurate LUFS metering. Other cool tools include AutoTrim, which automatically removes gaps of silence at the beginnings and ends of files or from regions within a file. There is also élastique Timestretch, a processing tool to slow down or speed up audio, while maintaining the correct pitch. Timestretch can be applied to an entire file or simply a section within a file. Effects tools and plug-ins are divided into those that require processing and those that can be played in real-time. For example, Timestretch is applied as a processing step, whereas a reverb filter would play in real time. Processing is typically fast on any modern desktop or laptop computer, thanks to the application’s 64-bit engine.

Basic editing is as simple as marking a section and hitting the delete key. You can also split a file into events and then trim, delete, move, or copy & paste event blocks. If you slide an event to overlap another, a crossfade is automatically created. You can adjust the fade-in/fade-out slopes of these crossfades. The only missing item is the ability to scrub through audio in any fashion. So, no mouse scrub or JKL-key jogging with audible audio, as you’d normally find in an NLE application. That’s apparently there in the Windows versions, but not in this Mac version.

All in all, if audio is a significant part of your workload and you want to handle it in a better and easier fashion, then Sound Forge Pro Mac 3 is worth the investment.

Originally written for RedShark News.

©2017 Oliver Peters

SpeedScriber

Script-based video editing started with Ediflex. But, it really came into its own when Avid created script integration as a way to cut dialogue-driven stories, like feature films, in Media Composer. The key ingredient is a written script or a transcription of the spoken audio. This is easy with a feature that’s been acted according to defined script lines, but much harder with something freeform, like a documentary or news interview. In those projects, you first need a person or service to transcribe the audio into a written document – or simply cut without it and hunt around when you look for that one specific sentence.

Modern technology has come to the rescue in the form of artificial intelligence, which has enabled a number of transcription services to offer very fast turnaround times from audio upload to a transcribed, speech-to-text document. Several video developers have tapped into these resources to create new transcription services/applications, which can be tied into several of the popular NLE applications.

Transcription for the three “A” companies

One of these new products is SpeedScriber, a transcription application for macOS and its companion service developed by Digital Heaven, which was founded by veteran UK editor and plug-in developer Martin Baker. To start using SpeedScriber, install the free SpeedScriber application, which is available from the Apple Mac App Store. The next steps depend on whether you just want to create transcribed documents, captioning files, or script integration for Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, or Apple Final Cut Pro X.

If you just want a document, or plan to use Media Composer or FCPX, then no other tools are required. For Premiere Pro CC workflows, you’ll want to download an panel installer for macOS or Windows from the SpeedScriber website. This integrates as a standard Premiere Pro panel and permits you to import transcription files directly into Premiere Pro. The SpeedScriber application enables roundtripping to/from Final Cut using FCPXML.

First, let’s talk about the transcription itself. It should generally be clip-based and not from edited timelines, unless you just want to document a completed project or for captioning. When you launch SpeedScriber for the first time, you’ll need to create an account. This will include 15 minutes of free transcription time. The file length determines the time used. Billing for the service is based on time and is tiered, ranging from $.50/minute (30/60/120 minutes) down to $.37/minute (6,000 minutes). Minutes are pre-purchased and don’t expire.

Once your account is ready, drag-and-drop or point the application to the file to import. Disable any unwanted audio channels, so that the transcription is based on the best audio channel within the file. Even if all channels are equal, disable all but one of them. Set up the number of speakers and language format, such as British, Australian, or American English. According to Baker, support for five European languages will be added in version 1.1. The service will automatically determine when speakers change, such as between an interviewer and the subject. It’s hard for the system to determine this with great accuracy, so don’t expect these speaker changes to be perfect.

The transcription experience

Accuracy of the transcription can be extremely good, but it depends on the audio quality that you’ve supplied. A clean interview track – well mic’ed and in a quiet room – can be dead-on with only a few corrections needed. Slower speakers who enunciate well result in greater accuracy. On the other hand, having several speakers in a noisy environment, or a very fast speaker with a heavy accent, will require a lot of correction – enough so that manual transcription might be better in those cases.

Once SpeedScriber has completed its automatic transcription, you can play the file to proof it and make any corrections to the text that are required. It’s easy to type corrections to the transcription within the SpeedScriber text editing window. When done, you can export the text in a number of different formats. I ran a test clip of a clear-spoken woman with well-recorded audio. She had a slight southern drawl, but the result from SpeedScriber was excellent. It also did a good job of ignoring speech idiosyncrasies, such a frequent “ums”. This eight minute test clip only required about a dozen text corrections throughout.

If the objective is script integration into an NLE, then the process varies depending on brand. Typically such integration is clip-based, although multi-cam clips are supported. However, it’s tougher when you try to connect the transcription to a timeline. For example, I like to do cutdowns of interviews first, before transcribing, and that’s not really how ScreedScriber works best. In version 1.1, FCPX compound clips will be supported, so segments can be cut before transcription.

A clear set of tutorial videos are available in the support section of  the SpeedScriber website.

Integration with NLEs

Media Composer is easy, because it already has a Script Integration feature. Import the text file that was exported from SpeedScriber as a new script into Media Composer and link the video clip to it. If you purchased Avid’s ScriptSync, then you can automatically line up the clip to sentences within the script. This happens automatically thanks to ScriptSync’s speech analysis function. But if you didn’t purchase this add-on, simply add sync points manually.

With Premiere Pro, select the clip, open the SpeedScriber panel and from it, import the corresponding transcription. The text appears in the Speech Analysis section of that clip’s metadata display. It will actually be embedded into the media file so that the clip can be moved between projects complete with that clip’s transcription. You can view and use this text display to mark in/out by words for accurate script-based selections. When you import the script and link it to a multi-cam clip, synced clip, or sequence, text will show up as markers and can be viewed in the markers panel. Premiere Pro is the only integration that can easily update existing speech metadata or markers. So you can start editing with the raw transcript and then update it later when corrections have been made. However, when I tested transcriptions on an edited sequence instead of a clip, it locked up Premiere Pro, requiring a Force Quit. Fortunately, when I re-opened the recovered project, the markers were there as expected.

The most straight forward approach seems to be its use with Final Cut Pro X. According to Baker, “This is the first Digital Heaven product with broad appeal by supporting Avid and Premiere Pro. But FCPX has ended up having the deepest integration due to the ability to drag-and-drop the Library, which was introduced in 10.3. So with roundtripping, SpeedScriber rebuilds the clip’s timeline without any need to export. Another advantage of the roundtripping is that SpeedScriber can read the audio channel status from the dropped XML, which is important for getting the best accuracy.”

There’s a roundtrip procedure with FCPX, but even without it, simply export an FCPXML from SpeedScriber. Import that into your Final Cut Pro X Library. The clip will then show a number of keyword entries corresponding to line breaks. For each keyword entry, the browser notes field will display the associated text, making it easy to find any dialogue. Plus, these entries are already marked as selections. When clips are edited into the sequence (an FCPX Project), the timeline index enables these notes to be displayed under the Tags section.

SpeedScriber shows tremendous potential to accelerate the efficiency of many spoken-word projects, like documentaries. Half the battle is trying to figure out the story that you want to tell, so having the text right in front of you makes this job easier. Applying modern technology to this challenge is refreshing and the constantly improving accuracy of these systems makes it an easy consideration. SpeedScriber is one of those tools that not only gets you home earlier, but will give you the assurance that you can easily find that clip you are looking for in the proverbial haystack of clips.

©2017 Oliver Peters