excerpts, quips, and musings on the production and post-production industry, and other stuff of interest

Arri Alexa Mini Announced

What an unfamiliar sensation to write the words “lightweight” and “ARRI” in the same headline. But here it is: Camera manufacturer ARRI just surprised us with the announcement of a new cinema camera: The ARRI ALEXA Mini. A small and lightweight, carbon fibre version of their hugely popular ARRI ALEXA cinema camera.

This camera from Arri will finish off what was left of RED in Hollywood. The previous case for RED was the ability to fly their camera body on a variety of drones, jibs, and rigs. Now if a director is shooting on Alexas or Amiras (and who isn't in Hollywood?) and need to get a mobile shot or into a tight space they're going to grab the Mini, not the RED.

Further irony that this Arri announcement came on the heels of RED's Weapon camera upgrade announcement. I doubt that's a coincidence.

TIP: ShotOnWhat is a great resource if you're curious about what camera was used on a given movie.

Atomos Shogun Release Delayed

We know that the cornerstone of our success in the last 4 years has been delivering the technology professionals need at the right time & price without any sacrifice for reliability & performance in the field. So while we feel everyone’s pressure to have Shogun available, we refuse to release a single sub-standard Atomos feature. We will not treat our community of users as Beta testers and will not release the Shogun until the standard we are famous for has been met.

Well if that isn't a shot at Blackmagic, specifically, and RED more generically then I don't know what is! Though I appreciate them taking the time to perfect the firmware...whether or not they achieve that remains to be seen.

Everything You Need To Know About Codecs

I explain the concepts behind different types of codecs, but I also give some real-world examples which should help you understand how these algorithms work on a practical level, pulling frames into Photoshop to break them down and examine how our codecs have changed the image.

Why Make Video Look Like Film?

Art Adams has an interesting interview with Lance Lones of Rubber Monkey software:

Lance: Film look is indeed sort of a strange thing to try and define. On a technical level there are very specific colour responses and associated printing responses. But  that’s really only half of the story, because the real arbiter of a film look is this funny plastic thing called the human brain which does all sorts of odd things. Both it and the human eye adapt over time, so the exact same thing will look different depending on a number of things such as how long you’ve been sitting in the theatre, whether or not it was sunny or cloudy outside the theatre, how dark the theatre is, and what colour the walls are, just to name a few.

So, coming back to film… well, it’s hard to say what the film look is. It’s not the exact colours that are important, but moreover film has what I call a more “organic” feel: the highlights roll off nicely, the shadows roll under nicely, there’s a strange twist in the middle of the colour response, and a curious lack of real deep blues. When running through a projector, the fact that the photosites move around from frame to frame (grain!) adds to the effect, which your brain puts together and screams “film!”

I agree digital isn't exactly like film, but it's darn close. The gap is closing rapidly. I have a very hard time telling the difference in theater between a scene shot on film and a scene shot on a digital camera. Arri's Alexa has gone a long way to minimizing the gap.

It's All in What You Teach

Oliver Peters writing on his own blog:

Change is attractive to new users, with no preconceived preferences. FCP X acolytes like to say how much easier it is to teach new users FCP X than a track-based system, like FCP 7, Premiere Pro or Media Composer. As someone who’s taught film student editing workshops, my opinion is that it simply isn’t true. It’s all in what you teach, how you teach it and what you expect them to accomplish. In fact, I’ve had many who are eager to learn Media Composer, precisely because they know that it continues to be the “gold standard” for feature film editing software.

There are some concrete reasons why film editors prefer Media Composer. For many, it’s because Avid was their first NLE and it felt logical to them. For others, it’s because Avid has historically incorporated a lot of user input into the product. Here are a dozen factors that I believe keep the equation in favor of Avid Media Composer.

That's an interesting take down to the FCP X is the easiest NLE to teach/learn. Maybe some people gravitate to it faster than others. Maybe some teachers find it easier to explain. It may just be in the teacher. A good teacher can make learning interesting regardless of the tool, skill, or concept being taught. But as I've said before:

Let me be clear about this: nobody cares what NLE you use. If you're getting the job done and the client is happy that's all that matters. If a particular NLE caters to your workflow better then another. Fine. Use that NLE. If you need to adapt your workflow to better utilize the NLE then adapt your workflow. But seriously, stop with the "this software is faster" or "I'm 2x faster in..." All the NLE's on the market today - FCPX, Premiere Pro CC, MC7 (and yes, even you Autodesk Smoke) - work well and can get a story cut. All of them are fast, fluid, and when used by an expert, can accomplish the art of editing.

I Don't Need This Stuff

Good NAB wrap-up video by Sebastian over at cinema5D and a good reminder that stories drives video, not simply technology (plus I love the look of Zeiss CP.2's):

Post NAB 2014 Thoughts

After spending the last week trying to process the onslaught of technology I witnessed at this years NAB, here's my brief thoughts:

1. Me-Too

So everybody makes a camera now. Sony, Panasonic, Canon, JVC, RED, Arri...yeah we've all heard about these companies. But Blackmagic, with their 2 additional iPad screens on a sensor,  will now offer 5 different camera models for sale. BMD claims to ship the URSA and BSC by July...though their history says otherwise. AJA didn't want to get left out so they developed the CION (see here). This camera looks like a shoulder-mount camera persons dream. It's balanced, good dynamic range, global shutter, PL-mount, XLR inputs and on and on and on. I do wonder how this will impact AJA's relationship with other camera manufactures which they have traditionally supplemented through recorders and converter boxes....?

2. Make sure it moves

Every company now makes a portable slider, jib, and some sort of Movi knock-off. Manufacturers of sliders and jibs have been in a race-to-the-bottom as they continue to refine manufacturing processes and reduce the price. A smooth, lightweight slider can now be purchased for under $1K. I just recently purchased the Duzi from Cinevate for $400 from B&H. There's little reason for videographers and indie cinematographers not to add motion to their shots if it's needed. At the very least, price isn't the problem now.

It seemed like their were a million different Movi-like products. The most interesting of them seems to be the Letus Helix (see here). I see this part of the market taking a similar trajectory to sliders and jibs. In another 18-24 months these products will sell for under $1K and provide smooth, fluid, balanced motion. If you gotta have one now, there's plenty of good products to pick from. If you can wait then I'm sure there's even better (and cheaper) products on the horizon.

3. Manage that media

Since everybody is making a camera now and they all shoot at least 1080p, many shoot 2K/4K/6K images and all cameras shoot to solid-state media there's no better time to get serious about asset management than right now. As shooting becomes cheaper and more cost-efficient for greater and greater resolutions you better start thinking now about how to ingest, edit, deliver, and archive those assets. Whether you're looking at CatDV, Cantemo, eMAM, or something else it's time to get serious about managing your media and/or backing up that media. There is no day coming where you'll shoot less (unless you retire), ask for slower speeds, need less storage space, or not need to resurrect an old project. Everything that shot is now expected to be recalled on a whim and repurposed. Regardless of if you're in news, commercial, corporate, or event tracking your media and reusing it is only going to grow more important. So get in the habit now of maintaining strict folder structures, and creating archives of your work.

4. Blackmagic won't stop (cause they can't stop)

I already referenced BMD above, as they dropped 2 new cameras in our laps (both well under $10K). They also kicked out a slew of video converter boxes, signal routers, and a little something called Resolve 11. Yours truly from March 2013:

I might be off my rocker here, but I can't get over how close DaVinci Resolve is to a NLE. Now there are some serious limitations with Resolve as an editor compared to Media Composer, FCP7/X, or Premiere Pro. Without a doubt as it stands now, Resolve is not in the league with any of the systems from the big 4 A's (Apple, Adobe, Avid, Autodesk). Resolve's conform tab offers very little compared to the other NLE's. So I'm not comparing the product as it stands today, but more in looking at where BlackMagic could take the product. I'm willing to bet that they have an NLE up their sleeve somewhere.

A couple weeks later they showed off Resolve 10, which looked even more like a NLE. A year later, 2014, Resolve 11 shows up and it looks even more like a NLE. BMD has a serious powerful and market disrupting strategy at play here. Short-term I image most of us will stick with the paid guns that have always done traditional NLE stuff - Avid, Apple, Adobe, Autodesk. But what about the next wave of video editors, vfx artists, and colorists? If they are in high school today, they can download the same version of Resolve that "the big boys" run....and oh yeah, it's completely free. BMD is training a whole host of up and coming artists on their software. Not necessarily because it's better, but because it's more readily available and accessible.

The other A's  have no choice but to drop their price in order to compete. And that's exactly what we're seeing year-over-year. FCPX - $299. Adobe moved to a subscription plan that can cost an individual as little as $20/month. Avid continues to lower the price of Media Composer, now down to old Final Cut Studio prices at $999 and Autodesk just announced a subscription service for Smoke which again lowers the price from $3,499 to $1,750 per year (you can also subscribe per month at $195 or per quarter at $545).

It seems like BMD, with Resolve, is further eroding the "make money on software" concept which was so popular in the 90's and early 00's. Now companies need to rely on additional sources of revenue to generate income - Avid sells Isis, Apple sells it's hardware to run it's software. If BMD's pace of development for Resolve doesn't slow down or their business model doesn't change I can see some serious struggles ahead for the other NLE's as they try to justify their costs in an ever softening NLE landscape. In 2, 3, or 4 years Resolve could be just as, if not more, capable than a Media Composer, FCP, or Premiere. Look at how fast FCP and Premiere have moved on product development. FCP X only came out 3 years ago and it's had several upgrades. Premiere since CS5.5 has moved at lighting speeds to add features and increase usability and interoperability. (And yes, I'm leaving Avid off this fast moving list as I still think they're a lumbering dinosaur that caters to a specific segment of the market, and not much else). Autodesk with Smoke 2013 and now 2 years later, Smoke 2015, has made drastic rewrites to its UI and UX designs. BMD certainly has the long-game in mind with Resolve as a NLE though (see Philip Hodgetts' remarks here).


So what's next? I have no idea! I do know that there's no better time to be in this industry than right now. It's becoming more affordable, with hardware/software that allows you to create just about anything. My only recommendations:

  1. Buy the fastest computer you can afford, it'll last longer than going cheap
  2. Buy as much storage as you can afford, you'll never complain about having too much space
  3. Manage your media. Start creating strict folder structures and naming conventions. Start backing up your data. A file doesn't exist until it exists in at least 2 places (preferably 3).
  4. Keep learning. There are tremendous resources for hardware or software training available to anyone willing to spend the time to learn - Twitter, YouTube, CreativeCow,, manufactures websites, books, etc. People not knowing means they just don't want to take the time to read what's out there.
  5. Meet people. This is something I'm not good at. I like being behind a camera or a computer...I'm an introvert. But meeting people, networking, attending premieres, talking with vendors, etc. is part of the social experience of our profession. It's also important if you want to develop other contacts for future purchases, jobs or learning opportunities.