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In An Ideal World…

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What if we all spoke the same language?

It’s an intriguing question when you look at it in a global context. Gone would be the inability to communicate with people in different countries. No longer would someone fear that a weaker grasp of a foreign language has the ability to hold them back. The world would have one less difference for people to discriminate with. For fans of Douglas Adams, it would be as if we all inserted a Babel Fish into our ear.

The same thought could be put into the world of editing systems. What if there were one format, one codec that everyone agreed upon? Right about now, anyone who has ever waited patiently for the blue bars of a conversion program to finish has dreams of a Codec Utopia.  Not only would it eliminate some of the “hurry up and wait” that all editors know all too well, it would help avoid some of the digital degradation of our footage.

Let’s take a step back for a second and relive the days of analog tape. Betacam SP, 3/4″ U-matic and other formats that gave us headaches with all their flaws. In those days, we were very cognizant of how many generations we lost through the various versions and dubs we had to make. Every time we went from one tape to the next, we lost a generation. If you were the kind of person to edit your stories on a work tape, and then edit from the work tape to package the show on to the master show tape, then you lost another generation. Then, if you had to do a “Best Of” show, you were probably cutting from a master onto a new master…you see the vicious cycle. Every generation meant you lost a little bit of the picture quality. The same went for ENG departments on a budget who couldn’t always go out in to the field with single pass tapes. Tape hits were the norm after a few run-throughs, and editors sometimes lost great shots because of simple wear and tear.

Nowadays, cameras shoot file-based media on to digital storage devices, and you can copy files as many times as you like without fear of quality loss. But when it comes to putting that media into a show, you run into problems. First, there’s the question of what system you use. Some programs, Avid, take your source media and convert it into its native media format. Yes, it’s high quality, but in essence, you’re taking the shots, breaking it down and re-encoding it in an entirely different language. Anyone who’s seen a badly translated sign will all of a sudden see the potential for error.

Now, what happens if you have a large shop with different edit systems? If one edit system’s high-quality export format isn’t read by the other system, you tend to have to find a compromise, which usually means a lower-quality, compressed codec. That means you aren’t working with the best quality footage possible. And then comes the occasional need to transfer media across the internet, either via ftp or other transfer protocol. In order to facilitate this in a low-bandwidth environment, you usually have to compress the file…another language change, which they may have to re-encode for their systems on the other end.

Even our country plays a part in the incompatibility of systems. In the world, there are 3 television formats…NTSC, PAL and SECAM. Each of these have different frame rates and scan rates. PAL, for example, works at 25 or 50 fps, while NTSC works at 29.97 or 59.97. To be able to cut something encoded at 50 fps for NTSC, you must first convert the file to the NTSC frame rate, which affects the overall look of the viz. I won’t even begin to get in to cameras that shoot at 24 fps that then need to be cut at 29.97.

You see, despite all of our advances in technology, we fall in to the same problems as we had 10-20 years ago. Commercial competition breeds not only better products, but the realm of incompatibility on a larger scale. Now, there are edit systems out there that read many different codecs and formats, and even read them off of the original source, without having to pre-convert the media. However, what happens when you render? When you export? It may be idealistic, naïve and entirely inconceivable for us to one day see one system that every newsroom, production house and editor working independently at home uses. It may never happen…but it bears some food for thought. Instead of making products that make our picture bigger, crisper and 3D, let’s remember the golden rule of television editing…Garbage in, garbage out. At the very least, it would end conversations like this…

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Even In The Quietest Moments

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

 

In my life, I try to juggle a number of things. There’s the needs of managing a department, my work on shows that has me out-of-town at times, prepping class lessons…all the while making sure to have quality at-home time with my family. It’s a very rewarding life I lead, but does require some time management. What I’ve discovered is that there are some stretches of time that before went by where I could get more done. Riding the train in to work provides 20 minutes of quality writing time. Waiting for the train allows me to go through emails. Having two computers on my desk leads to multi-tasking.

 

The same can be said in the edit suite. There is an old axiom in television…”Hurry up and wait”. There may never have been a truer saying for the editor’s life in the non-linear world. In my previous post, I talked about being prepared before you even step into the edit suite…but what about once you’re into the project?

 

The beauty about the non-linear world of editing is that it IS non-linear. In the days of tape-to-tape editing, you had to wait for certain things to be completed before you moved forward. Oh sure, you could cut a story or feature on a separate tape and then dump that in once you got to that point in the show…but you lost a generation of video quality. Not exactly rewarding for you to think ahead if it compromises the quality of your work. But that’s not a problem anymore. You can start a new sequence, cut what you need to cut, and in some cases drop that sequence down on to your master timeline as one chunk without any video degradation. This allows you to keep working while waiting for an element of the show that’s taking a little longer than expected.

 

In some cases, even rendering time can be beneficial. It’s true that the life of the non-linear editor can sometimes be measured in progress bars. At times, it seems we watch those green/blue/black units of completion scroll across our screen more than we edit. But that “can’t do anything else” time doesn’t have to be a mandatory break. Think about what you can do that doesn’t require your editing computer. Anything from email correspondence with clients updating them on progress, gathering shots from an archive system on another computer, listening to music for the next piece in advance so you’re not wasting valuable edit time…all this can be accomplished in the time it takes your system to do a long render.

 

Of course, and perhaps above all else, is to make sure that you feel ready for the next part of the project. Sometimes, this means taking that 10 minutes or so and grabbing a snack, heating your lunch or simply refueling on coffee. The more alert and nourished you are, the less likely you are to make little mistakes. When I pull an all-nighter, I go in prepared…not just in having my materials in order, but in making sure I have what I like to call Edit Fuel. Have a late small meal prepared for the long renders, and some snacks for the shorter ones. If you’re tired, and you feel like you’ve been up for 3 days straight when you’re only in hour 6, you will start to miss things. This is where frame flashes, unwanted jump cuts and bad audio mixes happen…when the editor is not at 100%. It’s true that sleep deprivation can affect your hearing, so if you’re too tired to hear properly, how can you make a good mix? Take care of yourself and you’ll be better able to take care of your project.