Analogue Wayback, Ep. 20

D2 – recursive editing

Video production and post transitioned from analog to digital starting in the late 1980s. Sony introduced the component digital D1 videotape recorder, but that was too expensive for most post facilities. These were also harder to integrate into existing composite analog facilities. In 1988 Ampex and Sony introduced the D2 format – an uncompressed, composite digital VTR with built-in A/D and D/A conversion.

D2 had a successful commercial run of about 10 years. Along the way it competed for marketshare with Panasonic’s D3 (composite) and D5 (component) digital formats. D2 was eventually usurped by Sony’s own mildly compressed Digital Betacam format. That format coincided with the widespread availability of serial digital routing, switching, and so on, successfully moving the industry into a digital production and post environment.

During D2’s heyday, these decks provided the ideal replacement for older 1″ VTRs, because they could be connected to existing analog routers, switchers, and patch bays. True digital editing and transfer was possible if you connected the decks using composite digital hardware and cabling (with large parallel connections, akin to old printer cables). Because of this bulk, there weren’t too many composite digital edit suites. Instead, digital i/o was reserved for direct VTR to VTR copies – i.e. a true digital clone. Some post houses touted their “digital” edit suites, but in reality their D2 VTRs were connected to the existing analog infrastructure, such as the popular Grass Valley Group 200 and 300 video switchers.

One unique feature of the D2 VTRs was “read before write”, also called “preread”. This was later adopted in the Digital Betacam decks, too. Preread enabled the deck to play a signal and immediately record that same signal back onto the same tape. If you passed the signal through a video switcher, you could add more elements, such as titles. There was no visual latency in using preread. While you did incur some image degradation by going through D/A and A/D conversions along the way, the generation loss was minor compared with 1″ technology. If you stayed within a reasonable number of generations, then there was no visible signal loss of any consequence.

Up until D2, performing a simple transition like a dissolve required three VTRs – the A and B playback sources, plus the recorder. If the two clips were on the same source tape, then one of the two clips had to be copied (i.e dubbed) onto a second tape to enable the transition. If you knew that a lot of these transitions were likely, an editor might take the time before any session to immediately copy the camera tape, creating a “B-roll dub” before ever starting. One hourlong camera tape would take an hour to copy. Longer, if the camera originals were longer.

With D2 and preread, the B-roll dub process could be circumvented, thus shaving unproductive time off of the session. Plus, only two VTRs were required to make the same edit – a player and a recorder. The editor would record the A clip long in order to have a “handle” for the length of the dissolve. Then switch on preread and preview the edit. If the preview looked good, then record the dissolve to the incoming B clip, which was playing from the same camera tape. This was all recorded onto the same master videotape.

Beyond this basic edit solution, D2’s preread ushered in what I would call recursive editing techniques. It has a lot of similarities with sound-on-sound audio recording innovated by the legendary Les Paul. For example, television show deliverables often require the master plus a “textless” master (no credits or titles). With D2, the editor could assemble the clean, textless master of the show. Next make a digital clone of that tape. Then go back on one of the two and use the preread function to add titles over the existing video. Another example would be simple graphic composites, like floating video boxes over a background image or a simple quad split. Simply build up all layers with preread, one at a time, in successive edit passes recorded onto the same tape. 

The downside was that if you made a mistake, you had to start over again. There was no undo. However, by this time linear edit controllers were pretty sophisticated and often featured complex integrations with video switchers and digital effects devices. This was especially true in an online bay made up of all Sony hardware. If you did make a mistake, you could simply start over using the edit controller’s auto-assembly function to automatically re-edit the events up to the point of the mistake. Not as good as modern software’s undo feature, but usually quite painless.

D2 held an important place in video post. Not only as the mainstream beginning of digital editing, but also for the creative options it inspired in editors.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Will DaVinci Resolve 18 get you to switch?

DaVinci Resolve has been admired by users of other editing applications, because of the pace of Blackmagic Design’s development team. Many have considered a switch to Resolve. Since its announcement earlier this year, DaVinci Resolve fans and pros alike have been eagerly awaiting Resolve 18 to get out of public beta. It was recently released and I’ve been using it ever since for a range of color correction jobs.

DaVinci Resolve 18 is available in two versions: Resolve (free) or Resolve Studio (paid). These are free updates to existing customers. They can be downloaded/bought either from the Blackmagic Design website (Windows, Mac, Linux) or through the Apple Mac App Store (macOS only – Intel and M1). The free version of Resolve is missing only a few of the advanced features available in Resolve Studio. Due to App Store policies and sandboxing, there are also some differences between the Blackmagic and App Store installations. The Blackmagic website installations may be activated on up to two computers at the same time using a software activation code. The App Store versions will run on any Mac tied to your Apple ID.

(Click images to see an enlarged view.)

A little DaVinci Resolve history

If you are new to DaVinci Resolve, then here’s a quick recap. The application is an amalgam of the intellectual property and assets acquired by Blackmagic Design over several years from three different companies: DaVinci Systems, eyeon (Fusion), and Fairlight Instruments. Blackmagic Design built upon the core of DaVinci Resolve to develop an all-in-one, post production solution. The intent is to encompass an end-to-end workflow that integrates the specialized tasks of editing, color grading, visual effects, and post production sound all within a single application.

The interface character and toolset tied to each of these tasks is preserved using a page-style, modal user interface. In effect, you have separate tools, tied to a common media engine, which operate under the umbrella of a single application. Some pages are fluidly interoperable (like edit and Color) and others aren’t. For example, color nodes applied to clips in the Color page do not appear as nodes within the Fusion page. Color adjustments made to clips in a Fusion composition need to be done with Fusion’s separate color tools.

Blackmagic has expanded Resolve’s editing features – so much so that it’s a viable competitor to Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro, and/or Adobe Premiere Pro. Resolve sports two editing modes: the Cut page (a Final Cut Pro-style interface for fast assembly editing) and the Edit page (a traditional track-based interface). The best way to work in Resolve is to adhere to its sequential, “left to right” workflow – just like the pages/modes are oriented. Start by ingesting in the Media page and then work your way through the tasks/pages until it’s time to export using the Deliver page.

Blackmagic Design offers a range of optional hardware panels for Resolve, including bespoke editing keyboards, color correction panels, and modular control surface configurations for Fairlight (sound mixing). Of course, there’s also Blackmagic’s UltraStudio, Intensity Pro, and DeckLink i/o hardware.

A new collaboration model through Blackmagic Cloud

The biggest news is that DaVinci Resolve 18 was redesigned for multi-user collaboration. Resolve projects are usually stored in a database on your local computer or a local drive, rather than as separate binary project files. Sharing projects in a multi-user environment requires a separate database server, which isn’t designed for remote editing. To simplify this and address remote work, Blackmagic Design established and hosts the new Blackmagic Cloud service.

As I touched on in my Cloud Store Mini review, anyone may sign up for a free Blackmagic Cloud account. When ready, the user creates a Library (database) on Cloud from within the Resolve UI. That user is the “owner” of the Library, which can contain multiple projects. The owner pays $5/library/month for each Library hosted on Blackmagic Cloud.

The Library owner can share a project with any other registered Blackmagic Cloud user. This collaboration model is similar to working in Media Composer and is based on bin locking. The first user to open a bin has read/write permission to that bin and any timelines contained in it. Other users opening the same timeline operate with read-only permission. Changes made by the user with write permission can then be updated by the read-only users on their systems.

Blackmagic Design only hosts the Library/project files and not any media, which stays local for each collaborator. The media syncing workflow is addressed through features of the Cloud Store storage products (see my review). Both collaboration via Blackmagic Cloud and the storage products are independent of each other. You can use either without needing the other. However, since Blackmagic Cloud is hosted “in the cloud” you do need an internet connection. 

There is some latency between the time a change is made by one user before it’s updated on the other users’ machines. In my tests, the collaborator needs to relink to the local media each time a shared project is accessed again. You can also move a project from Cloud back to your local computer as needed.

What else is new in DaVinci Resolve 18?

Aside from the new collaboration tools, DaVinci Resolve 18 also features a range of enhancements. Resolve 17 already introduced quite a few new features, which have been expanded upon in Resolve 18. The first of these is a new, simplified proxy workflow using the “prefer proxies” model. Native media handling has always been a strength of Resolve, especially with ProRes or Blackmagic RAW (BRAW) files. (Sorry, no support for Apple ProRes RAW.) But file sizes, codecs, and your hardware limitations can impede efficient editing. Therefore, working with proxy files may be the better option on some projects. When you are ready to deliver, then switch back to the camera originals for the final output.

The website installer for DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 includes the new Blackmagic Proxy Generator application. This automatically creates H.264, H.265, or ProRes proxy files using a watch folder. However, you can also create proxies internally from Resolve without using this app, or externally using Apple Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder. The trick is that proxy files must have matching names, lengths, timecode values, and audio channel configurations.

Proxy files should be rendered into a subfolder called “Proxy” located within each folder of original camera files. (Resolve and/or the Proxy Generator application do this automatically.) Then Resolve’s intelligent media management automatically detects and attaches the proxies to the original file. This makes linking easy and allows you to automatically toggle between the proxy and the original files.

Regarding other enhancements, the Color page didn’t see any huge new features, since tools like the Color Warper and HDR wheels were added in Resolve 17. However, there were some new items, including object replacement and enhanced tracking. But, I didn’t find the results to be as good as Adobe’s Content Aware Fill techniques.

Two additions worth mentioning are the Automatic Depth Map and Resolve FX Beauty effect. The beauty effect is a subtle skin smoothing tool. It’s nice, but quite frankly, too subtle. My preference in this type of tool would be Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box or Boris FX’s Beauty Studio. However, Resolve does include other similar tools, like Face Refinement where you have more control.

Automatic Depth Map is more of a marquee feature. This is a pretty sophisticated process – analyzing depth separation in a moving image without the benefit of any lens metadata. It shows up as a Resolve FX in the Edit, Fusion, and the Color pages. Don’t use it in the Edit page, because you can’t do anything with it there. In the Color page, rather than apply it to a node, drag the effect into the node tree, where it creates its own node.

After brief clip analysis, the tool generates a mask, which you can use as a qualifier to isolate the foreground and background. Bear in mind this is for mild grading differences. Even though you might think of this for blurring a background, don’t do it! The mask is relatively broad. If you try to tighten the mask and use it to blur a background, you’ll get a result that looks like a Zoom call background. Instead, use it to subtly lighten or darken the foreground versus the background within a shot. Remember, the shot is moving, which can often lead to some chatter on the edges of the mask as the clip moves. So you’ll have to play with it to get the best result. Playback performance at Better Quality was poor on a 2017 iMac Pro. Use Faster while working and then switch to Better when you are ready to export or render.

Fusion

Complex visual effects and compositing are best done in the Fusion page. Fusion is both a component of Resolve, as well as a separate application offered by Blackmagic Design. It uses a node-based interface, but these nodes are separate and unrelated to the nodes in the Color page. Fusion features advanced tracking, particle effects, and a true 3D workspace that can work with 3D models. If you have any stereoscopic projects, then Fusion is the tool to use. The news for Fusion and the standalone Fusion Studio 18 application in this update focuses on GPU acceleration.

Before the acquisition by Blackmagic Design, eyeon offered several integrations of Fusion with NLEs like DPS Velocity and Avid Media Composer. The approach within Resolve is very similar to those – send a clip to Fusion for the effect, work with it inside the Fusion UI, and then it’s updated on the timeline as a Fusion clip. This is not unlike the Dynamic Link connection between Premiere Pro and After Effects, except that it all happens inside the same piece of software.

If you are used to working with a layer-style graphics application, like After Effects, Motion, or maybe HitFilm, then Fusion is going to feel foreign. It is a high-end visual effects tool, but might feel cumbersome to some when doing standard motion graphics. Yet for visual effects, the node-based approach is actually superior. There are plenty of good tutorials for Fusion, for any user ready to learn more about its visual effects power.

There are a few things to be aware of with Fusion. The image in the Fusion viewer and the output through UltraStudio to a monitor will be dark, as compared with that same image on the Edit page. Apparently this has been an ongoing user complaint and I have yet to find a color management setting that definitively solves this issue. There is also no way to “decompose” or “break apart” a Fusion composition on the timeline. You can reset the clip to a Fusion default status, but you cannot revert the timeline clip back to that camera file without it being part of a Fusion composition. Therefore, the best workaround is to copy the clip to a higher track before sending it to Fusion. That way you have both the Fusion composition and the original clip on the timeline.

In addition to visual effects, Fusion templates are also used for animated titles. These can be dropped onto a track in the Edit page and then modified in the inspector or the Fusion page. These Fusion titles function a lot like Apple’s Motion templates being used in Final Cut Pro.

Fairlight

Fairlight Instruments started with a popular digital audio workstation (Fairlight CMI) at the dawn of digital audio. After Blackmagic’s acquisition, the software portion of Fairlight was reimagined as a software module for audio post built into DaVinci Resolve. The Fairlight hardware and control surfaces were modularized. You can definitely run Fairlight in Resolve without any extra hardware. However, you can improve real-time performance on mixes with heavy track counts by adding the Fairlight Audio Core accelerator card. You can also configure one or more Blackmagic control surfaces into a large mixing console.

Taken as a whole, this makes the Fairlight ecosystem a very scalable product line in its own right that can appeal to audio post engineers and other audio production professionals. In other words, you can use the Fairlight portion of Resolve without ever using any of the video-centric pages. In that way, Resolve with Fairlight competes with Adobe Audition, Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro, and others. In fact, Fairlight is still the only professional DAW that’s actually integrated into an NLE.

Fairlight is designed as a DAW for broadcast and film with meter calibration based on broadcast standards. It comes with a free library of sound effects that can be downloaded from Blackmagic Design. The Fairlight page also includes an ADR workflow. DaVinci Resolve 18 expanded the Fairlight toolset. There’s new compatibility for FlexBus audio busing/routing with legacy projects. A lot of work has been put into Dolby Atmos support, including a binaural renderer, and an audio Space view of objects in relation to the room in 3D space.

On the other hand, if you are into music creation, then Fairlight lacks software instruments and music-specific plug-ins, like amp emulation. The MIDI support is focused on sound design. A musician would likely gravitate towards Logic Pro, Cubase, Luna, or Ableton Live. Nevertheless, Fairlight is still quite capable as a DAW for music mixes. Each track/fader integrates a channel strip for effects, plus built-in EQ and compression. Resolve comes with its own complement of Fairlight FX plug-ins, plus it supports third-party AU/VST plug-ins.

I decided to test that concept using some of the mixes from the myLEWITT music sessions. I stacked LEWITT’s multitrack recordings onto a blank Fairlight timeline, which automatically created new mono or stereo tracks, based on the file. I was able to add new busses (stem or submaster channels) for each instrument group and then route those busses to the output. It was easy to add effects and control levels by clip, by track, or by submaster.

Fairlight might not be my first choice if I were a music mixer, but I could easily produce a good mix with it. The result is a transparent, modern sound. If you prefer vintage, analog-style coloration, then you’ll need to add third-party plug-ins for that. Whether or not Fairlight fits the bill for music will depend on your taste as a mixer.

Conclusion

Once again, Blackmagic Design has added more power in the DaVinci Resolve 18 release. Going back to the start of this post – is this the version that will finally cause a paradigm shift away from the leading editing applications? In my opinion, that’s doubtful. As good as it is, the core editing model is probably not compelling enough to coax the majority of loyal users away from their favorite software. However, that doesn’t mean those same users won’t tap into some of Resolve’s tools for a variety of tasks.

There will undoubtedly be people who shift away from Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro and over to DaVinci Resolve. Maybe it’s for Resolve’s many features. Maybe they’re done with subscriptions. Maybe they no longer feel that Apple is serious. Whatever the reason, Resolve is a highly capable editing application. In fact, during the first quarter of this year I graded and finished a feature film that had been cut entirely in Resolve 17.

Software choices can be highly personal and intertwined with workflow, muscle memory, and other factors. Making a change often takes a big push. I suspect that many Resolve editors are new to editing, often because they got a copy when they bought one of the Blackmagic Design cameras. Resolve just happens to be the best application for editing BRAW files and that combo can attract new users.

DaVinci Resolve 18 is a versatile, yet very complex application. Even experienced users don’t tap into the bulk of what it offers. My advice to any new user is to start with a simple project. Begin in the Cut or Edit page, get comfortable, and ignore everything else. Then learn more over time as you expand the projects you work on and begin to master more of the toolkit. If you really want to dive into DaVinci Resolve, then check out the many free and paid tutorials from Blackmagic Design, Mixing Light, and Ripple Training. Resolve is one application where any user, regardless of experience, will benefit from training, even if it’s only a refresher.

I’ve embedded a lot of links throughout this post, so I hope you’ll take the time to check them out. They cover some of the enhancements that were introduced in earlier versions, the history of DaVinci Resolve, and links to the new features of DaVinci Resolve 18. Enjoy!

©2022 Oliver Peters

Six Premiere Pro Game Changers

When a software developer updates any editing application, users often look for big changes, fancy features, and new functionality. Unfortunately, many little updates that can really change your day-to-day workflow are often overlooked.

Ever since the shift to its Create Cloud subscription model, Adobe has brought a string of updates to its core audio and video applications. Although there are several that have made big news, the more meaningful changes often seem less than awe inspiring to Adobe’s critics. Let me counter that narrative and point out six features that have truly improved the daily workflow for my Premiere Pro projects.

Auto Reframe Sequence. If you deliver projects for social media outlets, you know that various vertical formats are required. This is truly a pain when starting with content designed for 16×9 horizontal distribution. The Auto Reframe feature in Premiere Pro makes it easy to reformat any sequence for 9×16, 4×5, and 1×1 formats. It takes care of keyframing each shot to follow an area of interest within that shot, such as a person walking.

While other NLEs, like Final Cut Pro, also offer reformatting for vertical aspect ratios, none offer the same degree of automatic control to reposition the clip. It’s not perfect, but it works for most shots. It you don’t like the results on a shot, simply override the existing keyframes and manually reposition the clip. Auto Reframe works best if you start with a flattened, textless file, which brings me to the next feature.

Scene Edit Detection. This feature is generally used in color correction to automatically determine cuts between shots in a flattened file. The single clip in the sequence is split at each detected cut point. While you can use it for color correction in Premiere Pro, as well, it is also useful when Auto Reframing a sequence for verticals. If you try to apply Auto Reframe to a flattened file, Premiere will attempt to analyze and apply keyframes across the entire sequence since it’s one long clip. With these added splices created by Scene Edit Detection, Premiere can analyze each shot separately within the flattened file.

Auto Transcribe Sequence / Captioning. Modern deliverables take into account the challenges many viewers face. One of these is closed captions, which are vital to hearing-impaired viewers. Captions are also turned on by many viewers with otherwise normal hearing abilities for a variety of reasons. Just a few short years ago, getting interviews transcribed, adding subtitles for foreign languages, or creating closed captions required using an outside service, often at a large cost. 

Adobe’s first move was to add caption and subtitle functions to Premiere Pro, which enabled editors to import, create, and/or edit caption and subtitle text. This text can be exported as a separate sidecar file (such as .srt) or embedded into the video file. In a more recent update, Adobe augmented these features with Auto Transcribe. It’s included as part of your Creative Cloud subscription and there is generally no length limitation for reasonable use. If you have an hourlong interview that needs to be transcribed – no problem. 

Adobe uses cloud-based AI for part of the transcription process, so an internet connection is required. The turnaround time is quite fast and the accuracy is one of the best I’ve encountered. While the language options aren’t as broad as some of the competitors, most common Romance and Asian languages are covered. After the analysis and the speech-to-text process has been completed, that text can be used as a transcription or as captions (closed captions and/or subtitles). The transcription can also be exported as a text file with timecode. That’s handy for producers to create a paper cut for the editor.

Remix. You’ve just cut a six-minute corporate video and now you have to edit a needle drop music cue as a bed. It’s only 2:43, but needs to be extended to fit the 6:00 length and correctly time out to match the ending. You can either do this yourself or let Adobe tackle it for you. Remix came into Premiere Pro from Audition. This feature lets you use Adobe Sensei (their under-the-hood AI technology) to automatically re-edit a music track to a new target length. 

Open the Essential Sound panel, designate the track containing the cue as Music, enable the Duration tab, and select Remix. Set your target length and see what you get. You can customize the number of segments and variations to make the track sound less repetitive if needed. Some tracks have long fade-outs. So you may have to overshoot your target length in order to get the fade to properly coincide with the end of the video. I often still make one manual music edit to get it just right. Nevertheless the Remix feature is a great time-saver that usually gets me 90% of the way there.

Audition. If you pay for a full Creative Cloud subscription, then you benefit from the larger Adobe ecosystem. One of those applications is Audition, Adobe’s digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Audition is often ignored in most DAW roundups, because it doesn’t include many music-specific features, like software instruments and MIDI. Instead, Audition is targeted at general audio production (VO recordings, podcasts, commercials) and audio-for-video post in conjunction with Premiere Pro. Audition is designed around editing and processing a single audio file or for working in a multitrack session. I want to highlight the first method here.

Noise in location recordings is a fact of life for many projects. Record an interview in a working commercial kitchen and there will be a lot of background noise. Premiere Pro includes a capable noise reduction audio filter, which can be augmented by many third party tools from Accusonus, Crumplepop, and of course, iZotope RX. But if the Premiere Pro filter isn’t good enough, you need look no further than Audition. Export the track(s) from Premiere and open those (or the original files) in Audition.

Select the Noise Reduction/Restoration category under the Effects pulldown menu. First capture a short noise print in a section of the track with only background noise. This “trains” the filter for what is to be removed. Then select Noise Reduction (process). Follow the instructions and trust your own hearing to remove as much noise as possible with the least impact on the dialogue. If the person speaking sounds like they are underwater, then you’ve gone too far. Apply the effect in order to render the processing and then bounce (export) that processed track. Import the new track into Premiere. While this is a two-step process, you aren’t encumbering your computer with any real-time noise reduction filter when using such a pre-processed audio file.

Link Media. OK, I know relinking isn’t new to Premiere Pro and it’s probably not a marquee feature for editors always working with native media. When moving projects from offline to online – creative to finishing editorial – you know that if you cannot properly relink media files, a disaster will ensue.

Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, and Resolve all have relink functions. They work well with application-controlled, optimized media. But at other times, when working with camera original, native files, it might not work at all. I find Premiere Pro works about the best of these NLEs when it comes to relinking a wide variety of media files. That’s precisely because the user has a lot of control of the relink criteria in Premiere Pro. It’s not left up entirely to the application.

Premiere Pro expects the media be in the same relative path on the drive. Let’s say that you move the entire project to a different folder (like from Active Projects to Archived Projects) on your storage system. Navigate to and locate the first missing file and Premiere will find all the rest.

The relinking procedure is also quite forgiving, because various file criteria used to relink can be checked or unchecked. For example, I frequently edit with watermarked temporary music tracks, which are 44.1kHz MP3 files. When the cut is approved and the music is licensed, I download new, non-watermarked versions of that music as 48kHz WAV or AIF files. Premiere Pro easily relinks to the WAV or AIF files instead of the MP3s once I point it in the right direction. All music edits (including internal edits made by Remix) stay as intended and there is no mismatch due the the sample rate change.

These features might not make it into everyone’s Top 10 list, but they are tools generally not found in other NLEs. I use them quite often to speed up the session and remove drudgery from the editing process.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Analogue Wayback, Ep. 13

More corned beef, please.

In two decades of being freelance, I’ve done my share of on-site edits. Some are booked well in advance. Others start with a panicked call from a producer early in the morning.

It was a cold St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2007. My friend – the producer – called on Friday morning with an urgent request. She was in Savannah doing a show for Spike TV to air that Saturday evening. It was a mix of Florida and New York crew, but the main editor was snowed in and couldn’t get a flight from New York to Savannah. Could I quickly drive up to Savannah as the main editor (out of two) to get the show on the air? So I tossed clothes in a bag and headed to Savannah, getting there by mid-afternoon.

If you’ve ever seen the Nathan’s Famous competitive hot dog eating contests, then you’ll get the drift. It was like that, featuring the same competitors, except that it was themed around St. Patrick’s Day. Think corned beef and cabbage instead of hot dogs. As with most “plausibly live” competition shows, there was a Friday and Saturday round, plus featurettes and graphics. The preliminary round was to be recorded Friday afternoon and then the final round on Saturday. The editors had to package the show into an hourlong competition to be fed up to Spike late on Saturday afternoon in time for network QC and an 8PM slot for air.

The event was set up in the River Street area with our two production trailers parked nearby. These contained the live control room and two Avid systems connected to Unity shared storage. The intent was to record the live rounds straight through an Avid to the Unity and then build the feature segments, clean up the live events, and package everything into a finished show formatted to network time.

I made it there in time to record the preliminary round, but immediately hit a hiccup. Every time I started the live ingest, Media Composer kicked out of record after less than a minute. After a bit of trial and error, I only recorded one channel of audio instead of two and it worked. Go figure. No big deal, since this was mono from the board feed anyway. We got it recorded, worked a bit into the evening, and had act one in the can.

The trailers had no shore power and ran off of generator power. The last thing the truck engineer did that night was to top off the diesel to make sure we would have plenty for the next day. He left the generator running with equipment power on, since it would be cold overnight. That way, we would be good to go for an early start on Saturday.

If you aren’t aware, St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah is a BIG deal. This meant an early call to avoid getting stuck in traffic headed to get a position for the parade. People had already been camping out on some of the city’s historic squares. We immediately saw upon arrival that the generator was now off. No power and it wouldn’t restart. Uh oh! After some frantic calls, the engineer finally located a generator repairman who was available and could actually get to our location without being stuck in traffic. We were finally up and running again by mid-morning – meaning a late start with a live contest to record and three more acts to cut. The day proceeded according to plan and we were working as fast as possible. But it was getting close to the drop-dead time to feed a final (to length) file to NYC.

Fortunately, this director was very trusted by the network, so they granted him some leeway. We were able to feed later without any network QC review and the show was allowed to run fat in length. However, this meant I was still working on the final act leading up to showtime, because of the late start. We finally fed the fourth segment while the show was already starting to air and made it with minutes to spare. Plausibly live was nearly live for real!

These competitive eating contests can be cringe-worthy, but given the St. Patrick’s Day theme, this one was even more so. At the crew dinner that night, our director – who had directed many MMA broadcasts – opined, that although he’d seen many disgusting things, this one might have topped them all!

©2022 Oliver Peters

Analogue Wayback, Ep. 12

The smoke was so thick…

One of the many things that’s changed for the better is that smoking is no longer common nor even allowed within most video facilities and recording studios. Watch any of the documentaries about legendary music studios or more recently Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” and it will strike you how prevalent smoking was – even around sensitive gear.

When I joined Century III, our first facility (prior to Universal Studios) was the former Bee Jay Recording Studios, which had its own classic rock history. We remodeled most of the building, but left some of the original studio control rooms intact, including all of the smaller B Studio. One of the essential tasks was to clean the windows, whose double-pane glass was quite hazy. Carefully removing them revealed years of nicotine build-up on the inside from cigarette (and other?) smoke that had seeped in through the wooden walls. You can only imagine that any delicate electronics and even patch bays suffered from the same fate.

Most of our clients weren’t heavy smokers or at least had the courtesy to step outside for a smoke break. However, smoking was still not verboten at that time and we endeavored to accommodate clients in any reasonable manner. The online edit suites at our brand new Universal facility were larger and designed to handle plenty of clients in a session. The suites include a raised platform for a producer’s desk and behind that, a large sofa and arm chair. That was the scene for one of our more uncomfortable sessions.

The booked session was for a large corporate presentation involving a short turnaround with some long nights. It was supervised by an older producer, who was a heavy smoker, and his younger associate producer. One of the other editors started out the session, but after the first day the client complained that the editor was too slow. So I pulled the short straw and continued the session in his place.

If this wasn’t the session from hell, then it was close. First of all, the senior producer spent much of the session making demeaning comments about various people. You know it will be over soon, so you just buckle down to get through it. As we worked later into the evening, he simply fell asleep during the session. Then, it was mainly the associate producer and myself – finally we could make progress.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the senior producer was a heavy smoker. He was planted in the arm chair the entire time with an ash tray resting on the arm. As he smoked, he would flick ashes from the cigarette in the general direction of the tray, missing it most of the time. Therefore, on the carpet around the chair leg was a rather large circle of cigarette ash. Although the suites were large with tall ceilings, the smoke simply accumulated. There was quite literally a fog in the room. If you looked from the hallway door across the room towards the window into the machine room, the view was pretty hazy.

Fortunately we got through the session and thankfully never saw them again. I know my colleague wasn’t and isn’t a slow editor, so I didn’t think their criticism was ever justified. But I’ve often joked to him that he must have been purposefully going slow just to get away from this awful client!

©2022 Oliver Peters