The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts

Apr/19

17

What Drives NLE Choice?

One of the best things about conferences (like NAB) is the opportunity to discuss topics of the day with other smart people. I frequently imagine that the best part of being in a larger company would be the robust discussions during feature development.

In one of those discussions, I found myself saying “Track based NLEs are for people who make video for others; FCP X is for people who make video for themselves.” Even if true it would be a gross oversimplification, but indulge me for a minute.

The original NLE for making TV for a lot of “someone else’s” is of course Avid’s Media Composer. Absolutely track based.

The NLE’s that followed – Media 100, Final Cut Pro (classic), etc – were all track based and shared conceptual similarities with Media Composer, because that’s what people expected. That they were used to make video for other people was almost a given: that gear was expensive so it had to generate a good income.

NLE software became affordable when it was separated from a hardware component, so FCP Classic started to empower those who would have otherwise gone to a production company, to start doing it themselves.

At that time I was still producing video for others, but our good friends in Sydney, who “produced video” by hiring camera operators, cameras and edit bays and expertise, bought a DV camera and FCP and started doing it themselves. It was FCP 1.2.5 that bought us together when I answered a 2-pop.com forum question for them, before we realized we were in adjacent cities.

All generalizations are going to be inaccurate somewhere. Trackless FCP X is definitely being used by those making videos for others. And Resolve, Media Composer and Premiere Pro all have individual users making video for themselves, but those using track based tools, tend to have been in the industry the longest, and they know track based tools because the only way we could afford them was by making video for others.

Now there are a hundreds of ways people making video for themselves as part of their primary job, or as their primary income, and they tend not to have come out of a traditional production workflow. FCP X is definitely easier for those people to pick up and be productive, which I think is why it is so popular (outside the traditional industry circles).

Apr/19

16

Some Reflections on NAB 2019

NAB 2019 was almost like returning to the past as were were podcasting from the show floor, just like 2004 – 2007! Back then it was DV Guys/Digital Production BuZZ and we had a huge case of gear for an audio only show.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and we’re live streaming with Switcher Studio, adding multicam video switching to the live stream! Of course, we all know that no-one watches live streams, but we had some quality interviews recorded for OWC Radio hosted by Cirina Catania interviewing creatives about tech.

This year’s production gear would fit in a bag about a quarter the size of our audio only rig of earlier days! Not to make it easy we added lighting.

Greg mans the control table for audio (the mixer), video (the iPad) and screen support material (the MacBook Pro).

In return for assistance with the podcast OWC gave us a home on the corner of the booth for NAB. Let’s just say that OWC Radio got a lot of attention while the corner table was mostly empty.

Lumberjack System was one of the sponsors of the Content Creators Celebration where we mostly handed out finger lights and glow sticks, while talking to people about how Lumberjack gives them more time to be creative.

The highlight of the week was, without a doubt, the Faster Together Stage where LumaForge did all the heavy lifting organizing a truly inspirational evening. The Faster Together stage replaced the Supermeet on the Tuesday night. Dan Berube and Michael Horton – the people behind the Supermeets – called an end to a successful 18 years in January of this year.

Now, I’ve heard some criticism that the Faster Together stage was “very corporate” because one company was hosting, but in reality, the event was way less corporate than the Supermeets, where the stage presentations were mostly sponsored. Occasionally Avid, or Adobe would put up a creative on stage, but mostly it was “dog and pony” shows of the latest, just announced, features of their flagship apps. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

When I first talked with Sam Mestman about the Faster Together Stage he indicated he wanted to move the event back toward creativity and community – away from the corporate approach!

He, and a very dedicated team from LumaForge, delivered on that with a stage full of editors, producers, colorists, YouTube stars and technologists. Not a corporate or product presentation in site.

Our Faster Together table highlighting all the ways that Lumberjack System gives you more time for what you are really passionate about.

We had planned to demonstrate the entire Lumberjack Workflow at our table, but I didn’t expect our reliable NEX 7 to simply stop recording!

As a team, Lumberjack was able to contribute to the on stage presentations by doing what we started doing; logging during the shoot. Chris Fenwick, Alan Seawright and Brad Olsen (and probably others) had planned to interview guests at the event before it started, asking them six questions like what inspired them to get into production, and edit those into six on stage presentations during the event.

Ambitious yes, but Chris recruited our Greg Clarke to log during the shoot, and used Lumberjack to do six string-outs, one for each question. This gave Chris a huge head start and he made the screen time for the presentations. After the event he posted on Twitter:

Could NOT have pulled it off without @philiphodgetts and Greg from @LumberjackSys – their logging system made the quick turn possible. I’m SO thankful they were able to assist. 

Chris Fenwick @chrisfenwick

After more interviews for OWC Radio on the Wednesday, we packed up the production gear on the booth, had a relaxed evening when we finished, and returned home on the final day of the show.

Apr/19

15

I Am Grateful for My Friends

Driving back from NAB last week I realized how grateful I am to my friends, not only for their friendship, but what I’ve learnt from them.

From Larry Jordan I’ve learned to be a better talk show guest. Larry always makes sure his audience “keep up” with the conversation, and has frequently guided me to “back up a little and explain” before we go forward. He’ll probably need to do it again, but I am learning to make sure those listening are understanding.

From Sam Mestman, Cirina Catania and Michael Horton I am relearning the importance of community, and that we’re not in the software business, we’re in the business of giving people time. Time they can spend doing what’s really important to them.

From Cirina I’m learning, not only how to be more positive, but also how to simplify topics when I discuss them.

I’m sure there are dozens of other lessons I’ve learnt from friends, but these come to mind right now.

Jan/19

22

FCP X, Workflow Extensions and Workflows

Workflow Extensions are definitely my favorite new feature from FCP X 10.4.4. I had long been jealous of Panels in Premiere Pro CC, even with their limitations. Being able to put an interface to someone’s (our) app within the NLE seemed like a nice feature. I think Apple’s Workflow Extension are superior because they run native code (not through a Javascript/HTML interface).

Of course, we immediately get questions about when we’re going to put all our apps in Workflow Extensions. It happens with every new Apple technology release. “When will you do an iOS version?” “When are you going to create a Watch app?”

Since these are Workflow Extensions we need to think about workflow. What makes sense being in the host app, and what does not make sense? What makes sense are workflow apps that you “touch” and get back to FCP X. Workflow apps where you go away from FCP X, perform some combination of activities and then go back to FCP X, do not make sense.

Thus, asset management, review and approval, and training apps make sense. You want to view the reviewer comments in FCP X, in the native timeline or clip being commented on. You want to search for a clip and bring it to FCP X.

As we proved in 1999 with the first of our training products, The DV Companion for FCP, having the instructional video floating over the app makes a lot of sense. (Technically Workflow Extensions don’t float, but they are there in the app, so it’s much the same.)

A limitation on Workflow Extension is that they must have a single interface window, so document based apps aren’t suitable.

So, when it comes to the Intelligent Assistance Software and Lumberjack System apps, it makes sense for some to become Workflow Extensions, and not others, based on workflows. Apps like Producer’s Best Friend – where you generate reports and then get back to FCP X – or Sync-N-Link X – where you have clips in FCP X that you want synchronized and immediately sent back in FCP X – make a lot of sense.

Conversely Change List X makes less sense in a Workflow Extension because the output is not used in FCP X at all. Similarly the two translation apps don’t make much sense as Workflow Extensions.

For Lumberjack System, Lumberyard makes sense as a Workflow Extension because – again – it uses Event Clips as the input and the result is updated in FCP X. noteLogger and backLogger make no sense as Workflow Extensions because the are used before FCP X. They are, as is real time logging in the iOS app, “pre editing” tools to be used before the NLE.

Similarly Lumberjack Builder not only makes no sense as a Workflow Extension, but isn’t even possible. Builder takes an input from FCP X (Event Clips) but work continues in Builder. You can update an Event with Keywords logged in Builder (because it’s more efficient) but Builder is really designed as a companion NLE to FCP X, again to be used before finishing work is done in FCP X.

Transcription Workflow Extensions only make sense if you haven’t really considered the workflow. While it wasn’t automated transcription, Lumberjack was first to bring transcripts into FCP X back in early 2015 for the OJ Simpson Documentaries. We discovered that even a perfect transcript in FCP X is still a terrible workflow. Searching is difficult, and there’s no way to build a story based on text, the way transcripts are used.

Getting transcripts into FCP X is solving the wrong problem, which is working with transcripts in a way that makes sense. That’s why Greg and I spend a lot of time thinking about the workflow, and realized there was no way that transcript workflows could be grafted into FCP X, and it was/is our belief that it’s not a high priority for the Pro Apps team. So we built an entirely new kind of NLE for text driven editing.

Being a document based app, meaning you can have multiple documents open at once, with each document carrying multiple stories, it can’t be shoehorned into a Workflow Extension, but more importantly it would be the wrong thing to do. FCP X is not the place to be editing with text.

So, when thinking about Workflow Extensions, consider what workflow problem they solve. Where the Workflow Extension functionality is used IN a FCP X workflow, it probably belongs in a Workflow Extension. Where it independently enhances FCP X workflows, either before or after the primary FCP X work, then it isn’t appropriate for a Workflow Extension.

In a rather interesting article on creative collaboration, Here Comes the Automation: How AI is Poised to Change Filmmaking, we get this quote:

“When a distinguished but elderly industry executive says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” — Clarke’s  Law No. 1, slightly modified

It led me to think of how many of our creative tools in use every day were simply impossible a few years back. You don’t have to go back too far to be in a pre Internet era. Non-Linear Video Editing is less than 30 years old. A million dollar Da Vinci Resolve suite is now a free download from that Internet!

HD and 4K capable cameras on portable computers good enough to edit that with. (Speaking of which, check out LumaTouch for a look at what can be done on those iPhones and iPads carrying the camera.) Creative storytelling is more accessible than ever.

Our creative tools are in a constant state of evolution – a.k.a. change – and we’ve only just started realizing how “artificial intelligence” (i.e. machine learning based) tools are going to work their way into creative tools and workflows. This will likely fundamentally change the way we interact with creative tools, much the way non-linear editing of video on computers did 25 years ago.

Being open to change is essential, otherwise we risk being that “elderly industry executive” saying something was impossible, that others are doing every day!

I’ve certainly learnt to stop saying “that’s impossible” because it’s rarely true for very long.




Thanks to an introduction by a mutual friend, I had the opportunity to chat with Alex LoVerde of SyncOnSet, and it stuck me that the best technology is one driven by a direct, and often personal need. It also struck me how different two ostensibly similar “metadata companies” can be.

(more…)




I don’t always cross post my appearances on Larry Jordan’s Digital Production BuZZ, but I thought I did a particularly good explanation of the basics of AI and Machine Learning and how they might apply in production, that I thought I’d share this one.

Philip Hodgetts: The Basics of AI – Explained




Sep/18

5

Where we’ll be at IBC 2018

Greg and I will be at IBC 2018 and we’re looking forward to seeing you there.

If you’d like to pick our brains for up to an hour, then schedule a meeting with us. We’ll run through your workflow and offer suggestions on where there might be efficiencies, or we’re happy to demonstrate the innovative Lumberjack Builder. If you’re a Lumberjack customer, we’d love to hear how you’ve been using it and how it could be better for you. We’ll even buy you a beer!

Other than those meetings we’ll be mostly hanging around the Atomos ProRes RAW Theater as that seems to be the center of FCP X action this year.

As there’s no Supermeet this year, those of us who’d see each other there, are celebrating the Not Very Supermeet so come join us there.




Web APIs (Application Programming Interface) allow us to send data to a remote service and get a result back. Machine learning tools and Cognitive Services like speech-to-text and image recognition are mostly online APIs. Trained machines can be integrated into apps, but in general these services operate through an API.

The big advantage is that they keep getting better, without the local developer getting involved.

Nearly two years ago I wrote of my experience with SpeedScriber*, which was the first of the machine learning based transcription apps on the market. At the time I was impressed that I could get the results of a 16 minute interview back in less than 16 minutes, including prep and upload time. Usually the overall time was around the run time of the file.

Upload time is the downside of of web based APIs and is significantly holding back image recognition on video. That is why high quality proxy files are created for audio to be transcribed, which reduces upload time.

My most recent example sourced from a 36 minute WAV, took around one minute to convert to archival quality m4a which reduced the file size from 419 MB to 71MB. The five times faster upload – now 2’15” – compared with more than 12 minutes to upload the original, more than compensates for the small prep time for the m4a.

The result was emailed back to me 2’30.” That’s 36 minutes of speech transcribed with about 98% accuracy, in 2.5 minutes. That’s more than 14x real time. The entire time from instigating the upload to finished transcript back was 5’45” for 36 minutes of interview.

These APIs keep getting faster and can run on much “heavier iron” than my local iMac which is no doubt part of the reason they are so fast, but that’s just another reason they’re good for developers. Plus, every time the speech-to-text algorithm gets improved, every app that calls on the API gets the improvement for free.

*I have’t used SpeedScriber recently but I would expect that it has similarly benefited from improvements on the service side of the API they work with.




Jul/18

19

Speech-to-Text: Recent Example

For a book project I recorded a 46 minute interview and had it transcribed by Speechmatics.com (as part of our testing for Lumberjack Builder). The interview was about 8600 words raw.

The good news is that it was over 99.98% accurate. I corrected 15 words out of a final 8100. The interview had good audio. I’m sure an audio perfectionist would have made it better, as would recording in a perfect environment, but this was pretty typical of most interview setups. It was recorded to a Zoom H1N as a WAV file. No compression.

Naturally, my off-mic questions and commentary was not transcribed accurately but it was never expected or intended to be. Although, to be fair, it was clear enough that a human transcriber would probably have got closer.

The less good news: my one female speaker was identified as about 15 different people! If I wanted a perfect transcript I probably would have cleaned up the punctuations as it wasn’t completely clean. But reality is that people do not speak in nice, neat sentences.

But neither the speaker identification nor the punctuation matter for the uses I’m going to make. I recognize that accurate punctuation would be needed for Closed (or open) Captioning for an output, but for production purposes perfect reproduction of the words is enough.

Multiple speakers will be handled in Builder’s Keyword Manager and reduced to one there. SpeedScriber has a feature to eliminate the speaker ID totally, which I would have used if a perfect output was my goal. For this project I simply eliminated any speaker ID.

The punctuation would also not be an issue in Builder, where we break on periods, but you can combine and break paragraphs with simple keystrokes. It’s not a problem for the book project as it will mostly be rewritten from spoken form to a more formal written style.

Most importantly for our needs, near perfect text is the perfect input for keyword, concept and emotion extraction.




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