Final Cut Pro

Halloween slides into view in a dolly shot

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

A frame from last night’s camera tests. Noise removed and image sharpened with the NeatVideo plugin.

Activity Monitor-1
15 hours from now, the noise from my Canon T2i’s ISO6400 footage will have been significantly reduced. 15 hours. 15. This is why I need a 12-core computer ASAP.
I stayed up late yesterday with Dmcm - Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia1 testing our new dolly, and for some inexplicable reason most of our camera tests included either pumpkins or skulls. I thought this frame in particular was very pretty.

Like every DSLR shooter with a slider (the non-professional term for a fixed-length dolly) I’m now constantly fighting the urge to post video clips of slow moving shots cut to ambient music. But the internet’s bandwidth is safe for now, as my hands are tied while the NeatVideo FCP plugin takes its sweet time2 to remove noise and sharpen all the footage.

  1. @dmcm is a person, but I think he should adopt the DMCM molecule’s diagram as his signature []
  2. On my quad-core it seems it takes 17 hours to do the denoising on 20 minutes of footage. 17. []

A beforeAfter wordpress plugin

Thursday, September 30th, 2010
ungraded
graded

What you see above is an example of the beforeAfter jquery plugin in use. If you drag the controls overlaid on the image to the left or right, click anywhere in the image1, or click the links just below the image, you’ll be able to compare the graded and ungraded looks of a frame from a short film I graded a couple of months ago.2

beforeAfter was written by admin at catchmyfame.com. You can find the original code, see some demonstration images, and read up on his reasons for developing the plugin in his blog post about beforeAfter.

I was very happy to come across this plugin. I’ve wanted for a while to be able to post before-and-after examples like this to my blog to demonstrate film grading and photo editing work, and this was nearly exactly what I needed. I took the code, wrapped it into a WordPress plugin, and modified it to add a few features. Since I was to benefit from code released freely into the wild by its author, it’s only natural to release the modifications. The beforeAfter wordpress plugin I’ve constructed can be downloaded here:

http://zachfine.com/beforeAfter_wp.tar.gz

I wrote the plugin’s original author to ask for his blessing before releasing this altered version of beforeAfter, and he agreed. Below are excerpts from that email message, which explain my alterations to the code and also contains some instructions on how to use the plugin:

<email message>
On Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 2:53 PM, Zach wrote:
Hello there,

I was extremely happy to find your jquery beforeAfter script on the net. I’ve wanted for a while to post before and after images to my blog that help show people how to make adjustments to photos or grade video footage, beforeAfter seems like a fantastic way to do that.

I constructed a wordpress plugin based on your script and installed it on my server. It worked very well, but I realized while testing it that the following additional features would be very useful to me (and possibly to others as well):

  • the ability to have an arbitrary number of instances of beforeAfter containers per page
  • the ability to set custom “Show only before” and “Show only after” text strings via custom attribute in the container’s html.
  • the ability to set a custom initial wipe starting point via custom attribute in the container’s html. The reason for this is that I want the beforeAfter controller and its function to be instantly obvious to visitors, so I want to manually place the initial wipe point over the area of greatest between-image contrast — or I might want to place the wipe point over the area I mean to emphasize.

So I read up on javascript and jquery and made a few modifications. It was only after making these modifications that I noticed the script’s license stipulates “No Derivative Works”. I think this means I can’t use the modifications I’ve made unless you give me approval to use my modified version of your script, though I could be wrong. I was planning on sending you these modifications regardless, thinking that in the best-case scenario you might like the modifications and/or make them available to others.

My mods to the script:

Example of container html:3

<div class="container" data-wipeto="35" data-beforetext="original" data-aftertext="graded" data-animateintro="true" data-introdelay="3000" data-introduration="3000"> <div><img alt="ungraded" src="http://zachfine.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/LB-01-00-57-05-original.jpg" height="254" width="450" /></div> <div><img alt="graded" src="http://zachfine.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/LB-01-00-57-05-graded.jpg" height="254" width="450" /></div> </div&

Note that I’ve set the user configuration settings above using valid html5 custom attributes. In this manner each container can have its own settings. The html5 spec requires that custom attributes be lowercase and begin with “data-”. Unfortunately this means no camelCasing, which cuts down on the readability of variable names. Maybe underscores are allowed?

Because my goal was to allow an arbitrary number of beforeAfter containers on a page, I’ve changed the jquery selectors in the script to look for divs of class “container”, rather than id “container”. I’ve always used id’s to single out individual design elements on a page, and classes for a class of elements. I could be wrong about this paradigm.

This html produces the following

Redundant image removed –see demo at top of this blog post, it’s a working example of the result of that container’s html.

Any beforeAfter settings not set by the user in the html will get the defaults. The “wipeto” point will be set to “50″ (out of 100), the “beforetext” will be set to “Show only before”, etc.

Here’s the jquery code I use to iterate through each of the the divs of class “container” in the DOM, iterating through each div’s custom attributes to construct an object of options, and then calling the beforeAfter plugin on that div and passing it the set of user-set options:

<script type="text/javascript">
$(function(){
   $('div.container').each(function (index) {
      var $div = $(this);

      var userOptions = {};
      $.each(this.attributes, function(i, attrib) {
             if( /^data-/.test(attrib.name) ) {
              userOptions[attrib.name.replace(/data-/g, '')] = attrib.value;
              }
      });

// Adding just one more option to the object of arguments:                      
      userOptions['imagepath'] = '<?php echo WP_PLUGIN_URL . "/beforeafter/js/"; ?>';

      $div.beforeAfter(userOptions);
   });
});
</script>

This bit of script is in my wordpress plugin, with more comments, here: http://zachfine.com/blog/wp-content/plugins/beforeafter/beforeAfter-source.php

I made a few of changes to the jquery.beforeafter.js script to make use of the new “wipeto”, “beforetext”, and “aftertext” vars, and to remove camelCasing from the options/defaults vars to be consistent with the html5 custom attributes. My altered version is available here: http://zachfine.com/blog/wp-content/plugins/beforeafter/js/jquery.beforeafterZ.js
</email message>

I plan to use this plugin quite a bit in the near future. I hope you all enjoy using it as well. Thanks again to admin at catchmyfame.com for writing the original plugin and allowing me to distribute and use this modified version.

  1. Clicking rather than dragging the controls works just fine on iPhone/iPad. []
  2. Yes, I really did track a “power window” to the actress’s face, matte-ing a selective color adjustment, to restore/enhance the blue color of her eyes. Thanks for asking. []
  3. Yeah, the formatting doesn’t look so hot after it’s wrapped by your web browser, but you should have seen it before! The demo of the plugin at the top of this blog post can serve as a more readable example –see the html code of the post. []

My Steadicam Merlin recipe for Canon T2i with kit lens and Rode Videomic

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Canon T2i on Steadicam Merlin
Notice the pencils? They’re there to keep the Rode Videomic’s mount from doing its job. When the mic is semi-isolated from camera movement by its anti-shock mount, it wags from side to side, and has a very negative impact on camera balance. A pair of pencils tighten its suspension up just so. Click to enlarge photo.

A while back I posted a video of one of my more successful tests flying a Canon T2i DSLR on a Steadicam Merlin. In the Vimeo comment thread, people asked for my recipe1, and I promised to post it. Time passed2. I experimented with other, heavier lenses on my camera, and adjusted the Steadicam to each, erasing the previous settings.

The other day I ran second camera on a commercial shoot, needed to use the kit lens and Rode Videomic, and thus had to dig up my recipe. And there’s the recipe above, that image, taken with a cell phone camera. That’s pretty much all I recorded of my recipe, the rest is easy to derive from there. Here’s how I’ve got it set at the moment:

Img 0656
Another image of that seat-of-the-pants adaptation to steady the Rode Videomic’s shock mount. Click to enlarge photo.
  • Stage Mounting Hole: N
  • The stage mark is lined up right about at -1.25.
  • End Weights: 1 start, 2 full
  • Middle Weights: 1 full, 1 finish
  • Arc size: if “-” is -1 and “+” is 1, I’m set right around -0.15 –not sure if that’s the same setting as in the photo.
  • Gezornenplatz screw is in place, and the arc joint is locked. The setup works best when it is as stiff as possible.
Balance is everything on the Merlin, so any change to the weight or center of gravity of the stabilizer’s payload will make this recipe a starting point at best, if it’s of any use. Using a different lens, or zooming the kit lens from 18mm to 55mm would change the balance. If I were to configure the camera with anything other than a Canon T2i with the kit lens3 and a Rode Videomic (don’t forget the pencils or pens), I’d probably recommend ignoring this recipe and starting from scratch.

I hope this information is of use to someone.

Neatvideo Test 6400Iso
On a semi-related note: I just ran the NeatVideo noise-reduction filter on that steadicam clip. To my eye, it once again did a nice job removing noise from video shot on the T2i at the 6400ISO setting. Click the thumbnail at right to see a large example frame.

Edit (2010/08/03): After a day using this reconstructed recipe and reviewing the resulting footage, it’s obviously more bottom heavy than the recipe with which I recorded that clip I’d posted to vimeo. Though this recipe balances the camera, there is sway when changing direction as a result of the bottom’s greater inertia. I think I’m going to try reducing the spar angle and lowering the gimbal so as to better equalize top and bottom. I want to get back to a 3-5 second drop time.4

  1. A combination of steadicam weights and settings for a particular camera configuration and style of shooting is called a “recipe”, in the parlance of our times. []
  2. Sorry about that y’all. []
  3. A slow, but very lightweight and sharp 18-55mm lens, with Image Stabilization []
  4. Yep, I see that Garrett Brown, the inventor of the Steadicam Merlin, recommends a 1-second drop time in that video. But I think I’ve gotten better results with a markedly less bottom-heavy setup, though it actually does make the device more difficult to balance at first. []

The motorized mixing control surface of the future, on iPad

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

When doing sound mixes, film/video editors often make use of hardware control surfaces like the Mackie Control Universal Pro. Such mixers connect to the editing system via MIDI.
Euphonix Mc Mix
Euphonix’s "MC Mix" hardware control surface. A nice piece of kit, costs $999. It’s a little smaller than the Mackie Universal Controller, a plus in my opinion.
The editor slides the faders on these fancy control surfaces to adjust the volume for each of the edit’s audio tracks during playback. When the editor is not moving the faders, motors built into the control surface move them to match the edit’s pre-existing settings. The automatic movement of the faders can seem a little like something from Poltergeist.

Unfortunately, the motorized movement of these faders can also be noisy, especially the clacking sounds emitted as many faders pop into position at once. This can be distracting when trying to mix a quiet, emotional scene. These controllers are also pretty expensive, starting at about $1000.

Enter the iPad and Saitara Software’s “AC-7 Pro Control Surface”:


(problems with the embedded video above? try this direct link)

The control surface in the video looks very cool to me. It’s silent, can be seen in a dark editing room, appears to function as well as I’d need, and the cost of the app is only $9.99. I’ve played with a friend’s iPad, and know the touch-sensitivity of that screen is accurate and responsive enough that I’d have no problem adjusting several tracks at once with this interface. For those addicted to the feel of hardware faders this might not cut it1, but for me it’d be a big improvement over moving the faders in Final Cut Pro’s “Audio Mixer” window with a mouse. I can’t justify spending $1200 on a set of faders I’d barely touch except a bit towards the end of a project, but $102 ? Hmm.

Ac-7 Pro

Yet another reason to consider an iPad. I wonder how long I’ll hold out? Sigh.

  1. I don’t think this is just a matter of purely subjective preference –one can feel where a hardware fader’s control is in space, and there’s probably a bit of resistance built in so the user can feel when the level has been set at unity without having to look. []
  2. $510 if factoring in the cost of an iPad, which can also be used to access the iPoo social network. []

Test of NeatVideo plugin; Noise removal from Canon T2i 6400 ISO clips

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Test of NeatVideo plugin; Noise removal from Canon T2i 6400 ISO clips from ZachFine on Vimeo.

if you’re on a fast machine, I’d recommend watching this full-screen with HD set to “on” –if you’d like to download the original QuickTime file rather than watch it embedded in a web page, there’s a download link low on the right side of the movie’s Vimeo page.

I shot some 1080p video in low-light with my Canon Digital Rebel T2i set to its 6400ISO setting, which resulted in very noisy video.

I tested the demo version of the NeatVideo for FCP filter to see if it could remove or minimize the noise. The results were encouraging, so I bought the “Pro” version of the plugin for $99.

This clip shows the results of the application of this filter to a couple of my more dramatically noisy clips. The filter renders very slowly, compounded by the fact that I’ve set the temporal filtration to use 3 frames.

You’ll see portions of the clips both with and without the noise removal, and split-screened sections for comparison. I think the result is pretty remarkable and usable, though the noise is peeking through the darker areas of the frame in the first clip. I wonder if I can smooth that out if I build a better noise profile or if I increase the temporal filtration?

Music:
“Do The Global Twist” by “The Neatbeats”, from the awesome album “japanese groupsound”.

I had to chop the song in half. Go buy the song or album to hear the very enthusiastic jam session in the middle of the track. Fun stuff.

Looong Steadicam Merlin + Canon T2i shot

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Looong Steadicam Merlin + Canon T2i shot from ZachFine on Vimeo.

This is not the most exciting shot in the world to watch, but it was for me the most successful of my increasingly steady pairing of a Steadicam Merlin with Canon EOS Rebel T2i and Rode VideoMic .

In order to stop down the kit lens‘s aperture enough to achieve anything approaching deep focus in the relatively dark location, I had to shoot at the camera’s 6400 ISO setting. My next big purchase will probably be a fast superwide zoom, maybe the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 . My Canon 20mm f2.8 is just not wide enough –it’s the equivalent of a 36mm field of view on these APS-C sized sensors.

The steadicam was balanced so that it was just barely bottom heavy. About a 4-5 second drop (when the contraption is swiveled so that the camera and the counterweight are both level in front of me, it takes the camera about 5 seconds to float back upright). I enjoyed working with it so balanced.

The terrain was a little tricky. I had to weave around furniture, adults, and running little kids. It’s not the smoothest path I could have carved through the space, but I’m pleased with the improvisation. Around 45 seconds the camera tilted a bit, probably after I ran into something. I tried to tip it back.

The Rode Videomic is just directional enough to isolate bits of conversation in front of the camera. I can clearly hear my cousin Bruce explaining the intricacies of the game “Risk” and my Uncle Bob talking about a play he’d seen called “The Whipping Man ” as the camera passes each of them.

I applied a very temporary color correction with Final Cut Pro‘s 3-way color corrector filter, and applied very sophisticated titles and transitions, and exported to 1080p H264 using Compressor before uploading. Yay.

If it looks stuttery, try toggling “HD” to “off”.

my first online DSLR video

Friday, March 26th, 2010
I’m pleased with the look of the footage. The edit was just a quick bit of fun. Mostly this was about testing my DSLR video workflow, with a secondary goal of cracking my sister up.

If you set HD to ‘on’ and go fullscreen, or click through to the video’s vimeo.com page and find the download link low in the right column, you can see this one at 1080p resolution. If the embedded video doesn’t play smoothly, try pausing it and waiting for it to finish loading before hitting play, or toggle HD to off.

pizza and the dream of not being filmed from ZachFine on Vimeo.

A little video of an evening of pizza-making and camera-dodging.

Shot and uploaded at 1080p resolution, so feel free to toggle HD to on and play this one back fullscreen.

Video shot with Canon Digital REBEL T2i DSLR set to the “superflat” picture style. Canon 50mm f1.8 lens.
Converted to Apple Prores, edited in Final Cut Pro 7.0.2, graded in Apple Color.

Exported to the QuickTime H264 at 1080p24, restricted to 8000kbps, audio 44.1Khz 16-bit AAC 128kbps.

Music: the first third of “free space incesticide” by Eight Frozen Modules.

A preview of my Canon DSLR picture style tests…

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
Color Style Test Preview

Coming soon, the results of my test shoot of several of the most popular “flat” color styles people have been using in their attempts to preserve the maximum amount of picture information in the H264 files recorded by Canon DSLRs.

I shot the same setup with 5 different color style settings, and will be looking at all of them in Apple Color in order to determine which setting I prefer.

I’m well aware that tradition holds that no camera test is complete without a photo of a beautiful lady holding a redundant umbrella and smiling at the photographer, but I decided plastic grapes would just as ably serve that function1.

  1. And the grapes had to stand-in, as no people were around when I shot these tests []

FCP howto: See clip thumbnails in list view

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
I know a lot of editors who like to leave Final Cut Pro’s “Browser” in large icon mode so that they can see a visual representation of each clip. I happen to think that the Browser’s list view is more compact and displays more useful information for each clip. But that layout is a hard sell for visual thinkers.

Enter the Browser’s Thumbnail column:

Thumbnail Column

To enable this column, just right-click any column header, and select “Show Thumbnail” from the contextual popup menu:

The Menu Item

Just as in icon view, you can click on each thumbnail and drag left and right to scan through the clip’s contents. If you press the “control” key any time while scanning through the clip and keep it held down as you release the mouse button, you’ll change the “poster frame” displayed in the thumbnail for that clip to the last frame displayed.

It’s worth noting that the thumbnails, at least in the case of the 16:9 clips I used for these screen captures, are not displayed at the proper aspect ratio. It is also worth noting that the thumbnail doesn’t change size if the user widens the Browser’s Thumbnail column. I’m sure these small issues will be fixed in some future version of FCP (wink wink nudge nudge Apple ;) .

stills from video shot on the T2i

Friday, March 19th, 2010