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Monday, October 26, 2009
UPGRADE: PART 2
By Jamie Stuart 



Here's Part 2 of Jamie Stuart's look at Apple's new Final Cut Studio, which he used to make his short film, Isn't She?.... Read Part 1 of Stuart's review in the Fall issue.



A week before I was set to resume shooting Isn't She?..., I installed Apple's new OS Snow Leopard. I proceeded to spend the entire week flipping out, losing hair, sending dozens of freaked out e-mails to Apple.

The cause of my China Syndrome? QuickTime X. And ColorSync.

For Snow Leopard, Apple decided to realign the OS's color mechanics to work with ColorSync. Furthermore, the new version of QuickTime, QuickTime X, was not just designed to upgrade the program from 32-bit to 64-bit, but they also sexed up the standard interface to make it more palatable to casual users.

Simply put. In no uncertain terms. QuickTime X is a fucking abomination.

And Apple knew it wouldn't fly for professional users. So they've maintained a new version of QuickTime 7 that works with all pro applications. In fact, they even confirmed to me that QuickTime X, with its over-saturated, over-bright picture that bizarrely features the controls over the image, is specifically for common users — while they recommend QuickTime 7 for pros.

Thing is, though, QuickTime 7 doesn't even look exactly how it used to — because the OS is now synched to ColorSync. The blacks aren't as rich. The color is a little less saturated and milky.

What this means is that, let's say I create and upload a Quicktime for people to see online. I'll be mastering it using the new Quicktime 7. However, once it's online, because QuickTime X is the OS default, it'll be viewed in QuickTime X if you're on Snow Leopard. If you're on a previous OS, you'll view it using the old QuickTime 7. Or, if you download the video and you're on Snow Leopard, you can watch it with either X or the new 7. Point is: Whereas in the past I was mastering for a one-format-fits-all-sensibility, now my work, while mastered with one program, might actually be viewed by any one of three programs. And that kinda sucks.

Eventually, I adjusted to the properties of the new QuickTime 7, and, putting that mess behind me, the first day of shooting arrived. Four days later I was in post-production and putting Final Cut Studio through its paces.

This short film, which was originally supposed to be a light dramedy in the Hughes/Crowe mold had morphed into a technically complex monster with dozens upon dozens of VFX composites: Everything from simple cover-ups to 3-D cartoons to 3-D photorealistic animations (I even created masks to blur background areas that picked up lens adapter grain because the focus was too close). I found myself becoming a sort of DIY Fincher.



One spirit-crushing composite was the brilliant result of trying to be creative during the shoot to save time. In order to simplify a montage, I concocted the idea that the main character would walk along in a wide shot as the background changed to show both a passage of time and location. Shot it in a few minutes. Great. Onto the next scene.

In post-production, however, the reality hit that I was going to need to rotoscope her walking with a 40-point mask for 250 frames! Furthermore, due to street traffic, most of the backgrounds were composites as well. Then, I was also going to have to deal with objects like trees and fire hydrants that she passes behind while moving. These are not the types of shots that are supposed to be found in DIY productions. And it was one of dozens.

The bulk of the compositing consisted of manufacturing — and often animating with a 3-D camera — computer screens, Blackberry screens and web pages. Each screen needed to be built from scratch, each web page required graphic design.

At a certain point in the haze of doing all this, just getting to switch up by flopping one shot 180˚ because I accidentally shot the character's wrong hand (and also adding digital steam to the contents of her cup), felt like a delight.

I shouldn't complain, because I truly enjoy doing all that stuff. That's what it's all about if, like me, you get off on using the medium to its fullest. This is why I'll never understand and respect filmmakers who simply pick up a digital camera, handhold it and improvise with their friends. So what? Just plain lazy.

If anything, expectations are so low for DIY work that it's incumbent upon the filmmaker, in my opinion, to work even harder to prove himself. DIY is a method not an aesthetic. There's no excuse, no matter what your budget is, for a lack of creativity or lazy technique. None. Whatsoever. Good filmmaking is good filmmaking.

Anyhow, aside from the initial freakout over Quicktime X, both Snow Leopard and Final Cut Studio have been mostly hassle-free. Snow Leopard even cleared up about 10 GB on my hard drive.

One strange defect I've noticed, however, is in the relationship between Final Cut Pro and Color — though I'm not sure whether this is a FCS issue or a possible QuickTime X issue.

Basically, Color is supposed to import Final Cut's 3-wheel color corrector if it's been applied to a shot and treat it as if it's a primary adjustment. There were about 50 shots that I sent to Color to create corner vignettes to replicate the look of the lens adapter (either because they were composites from scratch or close-ups I shot without the lens adapter). Most of the shots returned to Final Cut without any irregularities. However, a handful of shots that I'd adjusted the color on using the 3-wheel color corrector (I'm not talking about mids or blacks, actual color shifts) came back looking putrid. It was as if Color imported the color correction, then added the same color correction on top of it again. The results were over-saturated in the direction I'd previously shifted the color.

What else? What else? Soundtrack Pro. I used Soundtrack Pro as I always have — to both record all the foley sounds (the only live audio I ever use is dialogue), and to also manipulate tracks that require effects like reverb, distortion and so on.

For this short, even though I had great music from Edie Sedgwick (Justin Moyer), there were a handful of diegetic pieces that needed to be character specific. For two of the characters, I simply used loops from Garage Band. But for another character, I wanted a very specific pseudo-indie rock sound, so I quickly wrote and recorded a handful of riffs combining drum loops with my acoustic guitar distorted to sound like a lo-fi electric guitar garage recording.

Blah, blah, blah. I'm five days away from premiering the short at this point. My brain is flattened, fetid roadkill. I can barely make enough sense of language to make words cohesive. Hopefully, it shows in the finished short.

Nothing else to say. Splat.

Below is a teaser of Isn't She?.... See the short here.












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# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 10/26/2009 08:02:00 AM
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