Tom Ramcigam (magicmarmot) wrote,
Tom Ramcigam
magicmarmot

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A few months ago, I discovered an issue with my editing system when dealing with longer-form projects. Since I originally put the system together before the introduction of Firewire and DV, it isn't all that surprising that both my video capture card and my editing software have both been obsoleted. They still work, but there are issues that make the workflow difficult and incompatible with newer editing systems. For instance, I can't edit DV footage directly (or .avi or .mov) with the program, I have to import and render. Likewise, to output to an .avi or .mov file I have to render, and it has to go in stages. It's a real PITA when I'm working on an external project.

Now I do have different editing software (Vegas 4.0) that will allow me to work on DV files directly, but Vegas doesn't have the rather nice suite of compositing tools that I have for Speed Razor. Vegas is phenomenal at audio editing, and even audio-for-movie editing, but it just doesn't handle complex composites very well.

So I've kind of been on the search for a new hardware/software combination with an eye to the future. Since my system works for now, I'm not in a huge rush, which is a good thing.

There are a few caveats which have come up since I was last looking at putting together a film composition workstation. Back in the infancy, I was looking strictly at video and audio production. High-def was still just a Japanese dream, and digital video was a newly-formed concept. I had only worked on a couple of movies, and hadn't shot any of them. Now I know the future direction that I want to go, and high-def is definitely a big push. Not so much for direct-to-video release, since I think that DVDs will still be a strong contender for quite a while, and direct internet release may bypass HD-DVD/BluRay players since the industry is playing the can't-decide game and there is the nifty H.264 compression which allows for high-def transmission at pretty decent rates.
But when you capture and edit a movie in high-def (either 720 or 1080p) and downsample it to DVD, it looks better than something shot at the same release resolution. I have seen this myself and been truly amazed, but I am now a firm believer. And with the advent of low-cost high-def cameras, I know that I will be heading in that direction.

There are two directions that I want to head in:

1.) Creating movies of my own for release.
Not too hard to understand. I like making movies, and there is a particular segment of the market that I want to play in. I think that this is the true future of moviemaking in America, and I think that the neighborhood movie theater is a dinosaur that will be slowly smothered by the studio system.

2.) Working on other people's movies as a visual effects and postproduction artist.
This is a bit trickier. The things that I enjoy and that I'm really good at have to do with the production of illusion in film. And doing it for somebody else means that I need to be able to access HD footage in various formats that go way beyond a firewire plug.

The good news is that I have found a really nice solution, in the realm of five separate pieces:

1.) The AJA Xena LH capture card.
This card has three things going for it that I really need: component video in, SDI in and out, and HD-SDI capability. Compnent I need for my existing DVCPRO deck, unless I want to throw even more money at an SDI solution (which I still might); SDI I need for my dandy professional production monitor which likes SDI as well as component; and HD-SDI which I can hook up to pretty much any High-Def deck that would be necessary to read in source tapes from other productions shot on things like D5, DVCPROHD or HDCAM. I do think it's likely that most HD footage would probably come in via a portable hard drive since it would likely be even cheaper to buy a 300GB firewire drive than to rent a d5 deck for a couple of days, but I'd really like to be avble to have the option.

2.) Discreet Combustion 4.
This is the low-end professional solution from discreet (now Autodesk), who also do Flint, Flame, Smoke, and all of the nice high-end digital film manipulation stuff. Combustion is an amazing effects and compositing program, and works in tight concert with the Xena card.

3.) Vegas 6.0.
Where Combustion is an effects and compositing program, Vegas is an editor with amazing multitrack sound mixing capabilities. With 6.0, there is the nice 5.1 AC3 encoder. And it works with high-def.

4.) Main Concept H.264 encoder
I believe that this will be the format for the future of high-def distribution.

5.) DVD-lab PRO
Check this out: a DVD authoring solution done by a small company that allows access to EVERY piece of the DVD authoring package, including the Virtual Machine code and bypassing the abstraction layer. Freakin' amazing.

Of course, all of these together are pretty freakin' expensive. The nice thing is that I can start off with just the first two and be really happy.

Ah. Direction.
Tags: filmmaking
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