Larry Jordan’s Techniques of Visual Persuasion

You may know him as a speaker, trainer, or web presenter. Or from the long-running Digital Production Buzz podcast series. Or his 2 Reel Guys series with the late Norman Hollyn. Regardless of how, Larry Jordan is well-known by most working and aspiring video professionals. But Jordan is also an accomplished author, with several books to his credit. The latest is Techniques of Visual Persuasion + Create powerful images that motivate.

Commercials, corporate videos, or entertainment – the art of persuasion is at the heart of what every editor does. Persuasion is about convincing someone to want to do whatever action you want to have happen or to share a feeling you are trying to convey. In addition to creating persuasive messages, we ourselves are also consumers and recipients of these same communications. Therefore, knowledge and understanding is key. It is Jordan’s premise that with modern life’s faster pace, proper communication today is more like haiku than a lengthy report. Every professional needs to know how to make their presentation – whether spoken, still, or motion – succinct and impactful. This book is perfectly laid out to get that point across.

Techniques of Visual Persuasion is arranged into three sections. The first covers the fundamentals of persuasion. The second is about developing persuasive still images and the last section is about persuasive motion images. This book is arranged like a text book, which is a good thing. It’s well-researched and detailed. Each chapter starts with the goals to be covered and ends with a recap. Each is also capped off with an anecdote (like Larry starting a fire in a TV studio) or a guest contributor’s point-of-view. The pages are illustrated nicely with sidebars, images, and charts that help make the point of how and why one example is more inviting or persuasive than another.

Jordan covers a wide range of theoretical and practice advice, such as the 180-degree rule, the rule of thirds, three-point lighting, sans serif vs. serif fonts, and much more. But it’s not all just concepts. Jordan has a lengthy background in software training, including several books around Final Cut Pro and Adobe products, as well as his PowerUp series of videos.

Section two includes two chapters on the basics of Photoshop with practical examples of how to use its tools to enhance and repair still images and create layered composites. Section three goes even deeper into real-world experience. Jordan covers topics, such as suggested camera and audio equipment, interviewing techniques, how to properly record audio, and how to properly plan and produce a video shoot. This section also goes deepest into software basics, including a detailed look at Adobe Audition, Apple Final Cut Pro X, and Apple Motion.

Techniques of Visual Persuasion is a like a college film program condensed into under 400 informative pages. All of it written in a very engaging manner. I found that it’s not only a good first read, but useful to have around for a quick reference, whether you are just entering the field or have been in the business for years. Larry Jordan is a gifted presenter who can express complex topics in an easy-to-digest manner and this latest book is no exception.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Improving your mix with iZotope

In classic analog mixing consoles like Neve or SSL, each fader includes a channel strip. This is a series of in-line processors that can be applied to each individual input and usually consists of some combination of an EQ, gate, and compressor. If a studio mixing engineer doesn’t use the built-in effects, then they may have a rack of outboard effects units that can be patched in and out of the mixing console. iZotope offers a number of processing products that are the software equivalent of the channel strip or effects rack.

I’ve written about iZotope products in the past, so I decided to take a look at their Mix & Master Bundle Plus, with is a collection of three of their top products – Neutron 3, Nectar 3, and Ozone 9. These products, along with RX, are typically what would be of interest to most video editors or audio post mixers. RX 8 is a bundle of repair effects, such as noise reduction, click repair, and so on.

Depending on the product, it may be available within a single plug-in effect, or several plug-ins, or both a plug-in and a standalone application. For instance, RX8 and Ozone 9 can be used within a DAW or an NLE, in addition to being a separate application. Most of the comprehensive iZotope products are available in three versions – Elements (a “lite” version), Standard, and Advanced. As the name implies, you get more features with the Advanced version; however, nearly everything an editor would want can be handled in the Standard product or for some, in an Elements version.

The mothership

Each of these products is an AU, VST, and/or AAX plug-in compatible with most DAWs and NLEs. It shows up as a single plug-in effect, which in iZotope’s parlance is the mothership for processing modules. Each product features its own variety of processing modules, such as EQ or compression. These modules can be stacked and arranged in any order within the mothership plug-in. Instead of having three individual effects applied to a track, you would only have one iZotope plug-in, which in turn contains the processing modules that you’d like to use. While each product might offer a similar module, like EQ, these modules do not function in exactly the same way from one product to the next. The range of control or type of function will differ. For example, only Ozone 9 includes mid/side EQ. In addition to new features, this newest series of iZotope updates includes faster processing with real-time performance and some machine learning functions.

If you can only buy one of these products and they perform somewhat similar tasks, how do you know what to use? First, there’s nothing to prevent you from applying Ozone, Nectar, or Neutron interchangeably to any individual track or a master bus. Or to a voice-over or a music mix. From the standpoint of a video editor using these plug-ins for the audio mix of my videos, I would simplify it down this way. Nectar 3 is designed for vocal processing. Neutron 3 is designed for music. Ozone 9 is designed for mastering. If I own all three, then in a simple mix of a dialogue track against music, I would apply Nectar 3 to the dialogue track, Neutron 3 to the music track, and Ozone 9 to the master bus.

Working with iZotope’s processing

Neutron, Nectar, and Ozone each include a wealth of presets that configure a series of modules depending on the style you want – from subtle to aggressive. You can add or remove modules or rearrange their order in the chain by dragging a module left or right within the plug-in’s interface. Or start from a blank shell and build an effects chain from the module selection available within that iZotope product. Neutron offers six basic modules, Nectar nine, and Ozone eleven. Many audiophiles love vintage processing to warm up the sound. In spite of iZotope’s sleek, modern approach, you’re covered here, too. Ozone 9 includes several dedicated vintage modules for tape saturation, limiting, EQ, and compression.

All three standard versions of these products include an Assistant function. If you opt to use the Assistant, then play your track and Nectar, Neutron, or Ozone will automatically calculate and apply the modules and settings needed, based on the parameters that you choose and the detected audio from the mix or track. You can then decide to accept or reject the recommendation. If you accept, then use that as a starting point and make adjustments to the settings or add/delete modules to customize the mix.

Neutron 3 Advanced includes Mix Assistant, an automated mix that uses machine learning. Let’s say you have a song mix with stems for vocals, bass, drums, guitars, and synths. Apply the Relay effect to each track and then iZotope’s Visual Mixer to the master bus. With the Standard version, you can use the Visual Mixer to control the levels, panning, and stereo width for each track from a single interface. The Relay plug-ins control those settings on each track based on what you’ve done using the Visual Mixer controls. If you have Neutron 3 Advanced, then this is augmented by Mix Assistant. Play the song through and let Mix Assistant set a relative balance based on your designated focus tracks. In other words, you can tell the algorithm whether vocals or guitars should be the focus and thereby dominant in the mix.

Note that iZotope regularly updates versions with new features, which may or may not be needed in your particular workflow. As an example, RX8 was just released with new features over RX7. But if you owned an earlier version, then it might still do everything you need. While new features are always welcome, don’t feel any pressure that you have to update. Just rest assured that iZotope is continually taking customer feedback and developing its products.

Be sure to check out iZotope’s wealth of tutorials and learning materials, including their “Are you listening?” YouTube series. Even if you don’t use any iZotope products, Grammy-nominated mastering engineer Jonathan Wyner offers plenty of great tips for getting the best out of your mixes.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Soundtheory Gullfoss Intelligent EQ

There are zillions of audio plug-ins on the market to enhance your DAW or NLE. In most cases, the operation and user interface design is based on familiar physical processing hardware. Often the user interface design is intentionally skeuomorphic as either a direct analog to the physical version or as a prompt to give you a clue about its processed sound and control functions.

When you first open the Gullfoss equalizer plug-in, you might think it works like many other EQ plug-ins. Grab a frequency point on the graph line, pull it up or down, and spread out or tighten the Q value. But you would be totally wrong. In fact, this is a plug-in that absolutely requires you to read the manual. Check out the tutorial videos on the Soundtheory site and its operation will make sense to you.

Soundtheory launched Gullfoss (which gets its name from the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland) as its first commercial product after years of research into perceived loudness. According to Soundtheory, Gullfoss is not using artificial intelligence or other machine learning algorithms. Instead, it employs their computational auditory perception technology. More on that in a moment.

Gullfoss installs as an AU, VST, and AAX plug-in, so it’s compatible with a wide range of DAWs and NLEs. License management is handled via iLok – something most Pro Tools users are very familiar with. If you don’t own a physical iLok USB key (dongle), then license management is handled through the iLok License Manager application. You would install this with a free iLok account onto your computer. iLok management allows you to move the plug-in authorization between computers.

The Gullfoss equalization technology is based on balancing dominant and dominated frequencies. The plug-in automatically determines what it considers dominant and dominated frequencies and dynamically updates its processing 300 times per second. User control is via the Recover and Tame controls.

Increasing the Recover value accentuates dominated frequencies while Tame adjusts the emphasis of dominant frequencies in the mix. Bias controls the balance between Recover and Tame. A positive value shifts more of the processing based on the Recover frequencies, whereas a negative value shifts the emphasis towards Tame. Brighten tells the Recover/Tame mechanism to prefer lower or higher frequencies. Boost balances low versus mid frequencies. Positive values favor bass and negative Boost values decrease bass and increase mids. Finally, there’s an overall gain control and, of course, Bypass.

By default, you are applying Gullfoss processing to the complete sound spectrum of a track. There are left and right range boundaries that you can slide inwards. This restricts the frequencies being analyzed and processed to the area between the two boundary lines. For instance, you can use this with a tight range to make Gullfoss function like a de-esser. If you invert the range by sliding the left or right lines past each other, then the processing occurs outside of that range.

One tip Soundtheory offers as a beginning point is to set the Recover and Tame controls each to 50. Then adjust Bias and Brightness so that the small meters to the left and bottom of the graph hover around their zero mark. This provides a good starting point and then adjust more as needed. Quite frankly it requires a bit of experimentation as to how best to use it. Naturally, whether or not you like the result depends on your own taste. In general, this EQ probably appeals more to music mixers and less to video editors or audio post engineers. I found that it worked nicely as a mastering EQ at the end of a mix chain or applied to a completed, mixed track.

I’m a video editor and not a music mixer, so I also tested files from a corporate production, consisting of a dialogue and a music stem. I ran two tests – once to the fully mixed and exported track and then also at the mix with the two stems isolated. I found that the processing sounded best when I kept the stems separate and applied Gullfoss to the master bus. Of course, this isn’t the best scenario, because the voices and music cues would change within each stem. However, with a bit of experimentation I found a setting that worked overall. It did result in a mix that sounded clearer and more open. Under a proper mix scenario, each voice and each music cue would be on separate tracks for individual adjustments prior to hitting the Gullfoss processing.

In regards to music mixes, it sounded best to me with tracks that weren’t extremely dense. For example, acoustic-style songs with vocals, acoustic guitars, or woodwind-based tracks seemed to benefit the most from Gullfoss. When it works well, the processing really opens up the track – almost like removing a layer of mushiness from the sound. When it was less effective, the results weren’t bad – just more in the take-it-or-leave-it category. The Soundtheory home page features several before and after examples. As a video editor, I did find that it had value when applied to a music track that I might use in a mix with voice-over. However, for voice control, I would stick with a traditional EQ plug-in. If I need de-essing, then I would use a traditional, dedicated de-esser.

Gullfoss is a nice tool to have in the toolkit for music and mastering mixers, even though it wouldn’t be the only EQ you’d ever use. However, it can be that sparkle that brings a song up a notch. Some mixers have commented that Gullfoss saved them a ton of time versus sculpting a sound with standard EQs. When it’s at its most effective, Gullfoss processing adds that “glue” that mixers want for a music track or song.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Does Apple’s mid-2020 iMac deliver?

Apple told us at WWDC that more Intel Macs were on the way. The latest iMac refresh is the first fulfillment of that promise. In the Mac desktop line-up, iMac covers a span from two to ten CPU cores and up to 128GB of RAM. iMac Pro covers 10 to 18 cores and up to 256GB of RAM. This makes the 10-core configuration a bridge where the two branches overlap. It offers cost-effective performance and poses a great value for consumer power users along with professional editors, designers, photographers, engineers, and others. The recent refresh includes changes to the 21.5-inch iMac model, as well as the iMac Pro line. But I’m going focus on the 27-inch 5K iMac, since that model will most interest video professionals.

More power, faster storage, and nano-texture glass

The 5K iMac supplied by Apple for this review was configured with the Intel “Comet Lake” Core i9 10-core CPU (3.6GHz, Turbo Boost up to 5GHz), 64GB of DDR4 RAM, the Radeon Pro 5700 XT GPU (16GB of GDDR6 VRAM), and a 4TB SSD. It also came with the optional nano-texture glass display, keyboard with numeric keypad, trackpad, mouse, and 10Gb Ethernet. As tested, this would cost $6,158 USD (without AppleCare or tax). However, if you opted for a 1TB SSD, that retail cost would drop significantly. Fusion Drives are gone and replaced by all-flash storage options ranging from 256GB up to 8TB. The Blackmagic Disk Speed Test application clocked the internal 4TB SSD read/write speeds at around 2500-2900 MB/s respectively.

Before talking performance, let’s look at the rest of the iMac. It’s still the familiar silver form factor, but with a cooling system optimized for the 125W CPU. Four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, 1Gb Ethernet, headphone jack, and a faster SDXC (UHS-II) card reader. Plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. If you need to connect to NAS storage (LumaForge Jellyfish, QNAS, Synology, etc.), then you’ll want to order your iMac with the optional 10GbE upgrade.

Recognizing that we are all spending more time at home, Apple improved the webcam to 1080p with an updated image sensor, enhanced the speakers with a variable EQ, added a three-point, “studio quality” mic system, and enabled “Hey Siri.”

The Retina 5K display sports 500 nits of brightness, one billion colors, and support for P3 wide color. True Tone color technology has been added. It’s a nice feature for the non-pro user. Turn it off if you are doing anything color-critical, since it warms or cools the color temperature of the display depending on the lighting environment.

The biggest buzz will be around the nano-texture glass option, first introduced as an option for the Pro Display XDR. Traditional matte finishes use a coating that reduces glare and reflections, but with a loss of contrast. Nano-texture is a method to etch the glass at the nanometer level so that it redirects light. The objective is to reduce glare while maintaining contrast on par with that of the standard finish. It achieves that goal, although at a close viewing distance, text will look crisper on a display with standard glass.

At $500, it’s a reasonable option and less costly compared with the XDR. However, if your room doesn’t have a lot of direct light hitting the screen anyway, then you may not appreciate as large of a benefit from the nano-texture finish. In theory, heavy-handed cleaning could scuff the display. Apple claims that if you use the supplied cleaning cloth and occasional water (if needed), then screen damage is highly unlikely. Be gentle, don’t scrub, and you’ll be fine.

How does it stand up to an iMac Pro?

I have access to several similarly-configured 10-core 2017 iMac Pros, so it seemed like a great opportunity for some head-to-head testing. The iMac Pro’s Xeon/Vega combo versus the new iMac’s Core i9/5700 XT combo. Both have 10-core CPUs, 64GB RAM, and a GPU with 16GB VRAM. The iMac Pro is designed as a workstation with appropriate parts and thermal cooling system. Until the 2019 Mac Pro was released, the iMac Pro was Apple’s most powerful Mac. On the other hand, the iMacs use components designed for general computing and gaming. That’s not to say they aren’t powerful. In fact by the numbers, the 10-core iMac features faster components than the equivalent iMac Pro model.

As a generality, you can say that the iMac should deliver better burst performance, whereas the iMac Pro is designed for lengthy, taxing performance, like constant use, extended rendering/encoding, and so on. But it really depends on the applications you are using and how much demand you place on the machine. When it comes to value, if we were to spec a 2020 27-inch iMac to closely match the 2017 iMac Pro I am using, then the iMac Pro currently runs about $1400 more (standard glass, no AppleCare, no tax). Is that added $1400 worth it? That’s where performance testing comes in.

Benchmark performance testing

I ran both machines through a series of identical benchmarks, including BruceX 5K for Final Cut Pro X, Puget Systems’ Premiere Pro and After Effects benchmarks, as well as custom projects in Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and DaVinci Resolve. These tests covered a range of media formats and codecs, such as DNG image sequences, ProRes, H.264, REDCODE raw, ProRes RAW, and BRAW. Media sizes ranged from HD to 8K and my sequences and exports were 4K. These projects tested scaling, camera raw decodes, color correction, effects, synthetic media, and so on. I stuck to the internal drive for all media locations and export destinations, since both the iMac and iMac Pro disk speed tests came in with very similar numbers.

The export results for the new iMac and the iMac Pro were neck-and-neck when using Apple’s applications – a few seconds faster from FCPX for the iMac and the same for both with Motion. The one exception was a 4K HEVC export of my 11-layer FCPX timeline. In that case the iMac clocked in a couple of minutes faster.

The Puget Systems’ Premiere Pro and After Effects benchmarks are designed around an overall target score of 1,000 possible points. Most Macs score in the 500 to 750-point range, while custom-built PCs often achieve 1,000 or better. Both the iMac and iMac Pro fell into the expected range, with the new iMac still beating out the iMac Pro. What really surprised me was that the iMac hit 1,027 in the After Effects benchmark! That so amazed me that I had to run the test again. Same result. I can only surmise that After Effects or the testing parameters favor the architecture of the Core-series CPUs and 5700 XT GPU over that of the Xeon/Vega combo used in the iMac Pro.

The Resolve test was the only instance in which the 2017 iMac Pro beat the 2020 iMac, with export times about one minute faster for a complex 7 minute, 4K color corrected sequence. During all of this testing, the cooling fans kicked into higher speeds for roughly the same amount of time and at the same places on both machines. For example, when exporting a Resolve clip that used temporal/spatial video noise reduction.

Should you buy one?

Clearly the new 27-inch iMac is a powerful performer equipped with one of the best-looking computer displays available anywhere. If you are an editor, designer, audio engineer, or similar creative professional, then you really can’t go wrong with one. A facility owner may skew towards the pricier iMac Pro, because it’s a workstation-class machine or they need more cores, more RAM, or additional Thunderbolt 3 ports. Customer upgradeability is limited – essentially none for the iMac Pro and only RAM for the iMac.

Of course, the “elephant in the room” question is: Should you buy an Intel Mac now, with Apple silicon presumably coming within a few months? If you need a machine now and can’t wait, then the answer is yes. Maybe you want to wait until second-generation Apple silicon hardware is out before taking the plunge into new technology. Or you need something that requires Intel, such as running Windows via Boot Camp. All good reasons for staying with an Intel hardware investment a while longer.

In reality, the transition to Apple silicon will take two years according to Apple. It may well be towards the end of that two-year period before we see comparable machines to today’s higher-end MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, or Mac Pro. We’ll know better once the first Apple silicon machines hit the market. In any case, Apple intends to support its Intel-based lines well after the transition is complete. Therefore, purchasing an Intel-based Mac today is likely to be less of a risk than people make it out to be.

The bottom line is that the mid-2020 27-inch 5K iMac in the 10-core configuration that I tested for this review is ideal for nearly any HD and 4K editing, color correction, graphics, and mixing. You can certainly go bigger with an iMac Pro or Mac Pro, but this configuration offers a tremendous value for these iconic, all-in-one desktop Macs. The 10-core model is that “sweet spot” where nearly every application can take full advantage of the available horsepower. If you need a desktop Mac now, then it should certainly be at the top of the list.

Originally written for FCP.co.

©2020 Oliver Peters