Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season!

Mike and Nance

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Auteurs

One of the complaints (and I share this complaint) regarding the NetFlix streaming service is that you cannot get the commentaries on the films. Another complaint that I have is no CC track but that's another story...

So, we have a startup that intends to fill the gap. They will stream films with commentaries as well as maintain a focus on classic film and art film. They are already in talks with Criterion to provide their content and commentaries as streams.

I hope they succeed. There is clearly a market niche that can be filled here nicely.

Check them out HERE.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The importance of slating.

I have always been a huge proponent of slating all shots. I cannot begin to describe the importance of this as well as to stress the impact that the clapper loader can have on a scene.

Now, finally, someone agrees with me. Check it out HERE.

Monday, July 27, 2009

ProRes 444 + PAL in Color 1.5 = NFG

I just love this:

Apple KB Article.

Thanks Apple. Clearly related to the Quicktime gamma shift that has been in Quicktime for like - well, forever...

I see it all the time if I try to render out of AE. Then you have to apply this:

After rendering into a QuickTime/h.264 file, open it up in QuickTime and select “Show Movie Properties.” Highlight the video track then click on the “Visual Settings” tab. Towards the bottom left you should see “Transparency” with a drop-down box next to it. Select “Blend” from the menu then move the “Transparency Level” slider to 100%. Choose “Straight Alpha” from the same drop-down and close the properties window and finally “Save.”

Apple really needs to fix this. I am going to guess that it must be an overwhelming task to fix it as they have, long ago, acknowledged that it is in issue.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

FCS 2009 first impressions

Well, after the obligatory 6 hours of installing the software, Nancy and I had a little bit of time to check things out. We took the feature that she is re-editing (Surviving in LA) and loaded it up. It asked to convert the project from version 6 to the current version 7 and then proceeded to load the project just fine.

We LOVE the new TC overlay window. VERY nice. Would have been nice to also be able to specify a TC to jump to using this but alas is it display only. Still a very nice improvement. Nance loves the new marker system as she is a marker junkie.

For grins, I rendered out some animation from Lightwave to the new ProRes 444 codec (since I do not have access to a camera that produces an uncompressed colorspace) and looked at it in FCP and it is truly stunning. And very fast as well. This is a really nice addition.

We also tried out the iChat theater system that will truly prove to be a boon. SO nice to be able to show the client a WIP and get approvals that way. I played with Motion briefly and the new features look to be a nice addition to the app. I tend to prefer doing quick and dirty motion graphic work in Motion as opposed to AE which I reserve for more complex projects.

Nance will dig into the changes for Color next week I suspect and after she does I will post her thoughts here. The update to STP includes a thing called Voice Level Match. This will allow you to match dialog amplitude across multiple clips simply by clicking once on the clip that you want the other clips to match to and then click on the errant clips to level ONLY the dialog to that first clip.

I admit I was sceptical. So I did a test where I setup a bunch of background cacophany in my studio here - Mostly music and other sound effects. I then recorded some dialog in the room at two different distances from the mic. Then I tested the Voice Level Match. It was VERY simple to use and it worked amazingly! Very cool.

As has been noted elsewhere, DVDSP has NOT been updated. They did add the ability to burn right from Compressor including Blu-Ray, but DVDSP still remains stuck at version 4. A friend of mine speculates that Apple wants physical media to go the way of the Dodo and as such will not invest development time into DVDSP.

So, all in all, $300 (x2 for each machine) is money well spent on this. I HIGHLY reccomend the update as well as the new package if you are not a current user. While there were a LOT of things I was hoping for that Apple did NOT do in this release, it is still a solid update and well worth the money.

There are some nice training resources for free online now for this. has about 3 hours of training and Ripple has training that covers only the new features. So the combination of the two make a nice free training suite.

Additionally, Apple has put ALL of the ProApps docuementation online HERE.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Final Cut Studio 2009 packaging

Well, FCS arrived and I was a bit amazed. Previously, FCS was in a huge box that weighed a ton with all of the manuals. Now what we have is a small box, the size of a stack of DVDs. All documentation is provided on disk.

Thank you Apple. This is a very green solution, adds convenience to the user, is less wasteful and reduces costs which Apple has clearly passed on to the customer.

Nice work.

Final Cut Studio 2009

As I am sure everyone is aware was released yesterday morning at about 8:30 AM EST. I have been under NDA on this for a while so I was aware of what this was going to be feature wise. It's an incremental update and the update price is very cheap at $299. I won't go into all the new features here right now as there are plenty of blogs doing that as I write this.

I will have my copy of it this afternoon and this weekend I will blog about the install / upgrade experience and how it handles my existing projects in each of the apps. I'll also put together a set of links for reviews and comments on it as well as links to the plethora of free training that is now up on the net that Apple partnered with to create.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Snow Leopard, QT X and FCS 2

Just a quick note that I had a chance to test FCS 2 under Snow Leopard. I did a variety of tests with all of the apps except DVDSP. I had NO issues with any of it. FCP worked just fine as did Color, STP, Compressor and Motion.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Saul Bass

Saul Bass was, among other things, a title designer. He had 61 feature film credits to his name and he had a very distinctive style. Starting in 1954 with Carmen Jones, his career spanned 5 decades up to doing the title sequence for Casino in 1995 (He is credited with the title sequence for 1998's remake of Psycho but it was the title sequence that he had designed for the original film). Saul was active in this art until his death at 76 in 1996.

Saul Bass had done it all. Films. Packaging. Products. Architecture. Corporate identification. Graphics.

Saul Bass's client list included United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Frontier Airlines; North American Rockwell, Hunt Wesson, Quaker, Alcoa, Lawry's, Dixie, Saturday Evening Post, Warner, Minolta, The United Way, Girl Scouts and many more.

A classic example of Saul's style can be found in the opening credits of Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder:

And a look at what Star War's might have been with Saul's touch:

Saul also directed a film that was a personal passion. The film was crewed by friends and family and I had only heard of the film but had never had the chance to see it. Recently, I ran across it on the net. So, with no further ado, I present Quest:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saul Bass's Film Title Design Credits:

Psycho (1998) (title designer)
Casino (1995) (title designer)
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) (TV) (title designer)
Higher Learning (1995) (title designer)
The Age of Innocence (1993) (title designer)
Mr. Saturday Night (1992) (title designer)
Cape Fear (1991) (title sequence by)
Doc Hollywood (1991) (title designer)
Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmaker (1991) (title designer)
Goodfellas (1990) (title designer)
The War of the Roses (1989) (title designer)
Big (1988) (title designer)
Broadcast News (1987) (title designer)
The Human Factor (1979) (title designer)
Alien (1979) (title designer) (uncredited)
That's Entertainment, Part II (1976) (title designer)
Rosebud (1975) (title designer)
Phase IV (1974) (title designer)
Such Good Friends (1971) (title designer)
Grand Prix (1966) (title designer)
Not with My Wife, You Don't! (1966) (title designer)
Seconds (1966) (title designer)
Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (title designer)
In Harm's Way (1965) (title designer)
The Cardinal (1963) (title designer)
The Victors (1963) (title designer)
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) (title designer)
Nine Hours to Rama (1963) (title designer)
"Alcoa Premiere" (title designer) (1 episode, 1962)
Advise & Consent (1962) (title designer)
Walk on the Wild Side (1962) (title designer)
Something Wild (1961) (title designer)
West Side Story (1961) (title designer)
Exodus (1960) (title designer)
The Facts of Life (1960) (title designer)
Spartacus (1960) (design consultant)
Ocean's Eleven (1960) (title designer)
Psycho (1960) (pictorial consultant) (title designer)
North by Northwest (1959) (title designer)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) (title designer)
The Big Country (1958) (title designer)
Vertigo (1958) (title designer)
Bonjour tristesse (1958) (title designer)
Cowboy (1958) (title designer)
The Pride and the Passion (1957) (title designer)
Saint Joan (1957) (title designer)
The Young Stranger (1957) (title designer)
Edge of the City (1957) (title designer)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) (title designer)
Attack (1956) (title designer) (uncredited)
Storm Center (1956) (title designer)
Johnny Concho (1956) (title designer)
Trapeze (1956) (title designer) (uncredited)
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) (title designer)
The Big Knife (1955) (title designer)
The Night of the Hunter (1955) (publicist) (uncredited)
The Shrike (1955) (title designer)
The Seven Year Itch (1955) (title designer)
The Racers (1955) (title designer)
Carmen Jones (1954) (title designer)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sign of the times

Well, they did it. Kodak has officially retired Kodachrome. I know there are those that will disagree, but I think that film's days are numbered. As digital technology advances (although it seems to have slowed recently), the ability to produce images digitally with the latitude and resolution of film are quickly approaching. MSNBC has the story HERE.

Sad in a way. I shot many hundreds of rolls of Kodachrome and loved the images it produced...

Kodak's Kodachrome gallery can be seen HERE.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I have to confess, I love what Pixar does. I have seen every film they have done and while some are better than others, I have thoroughly enjoyed every film. The company has an amazing history. A small group of computer geniuses at ILM who had a dream for computer animation. A dream that Steve Jobs was able to see when he purchased the division from Lucas and spun it off into Pixar.

Pixar's original product was a very high end rendering package. In addition to this, the company was winning awards at Siggraph with their amazing animated shorts as well as making about 5 animated commercials for products such as Listerene. When it became clear that sales of the rendering product and revenues from the commercials were not going to sustain the company, Steve Jobs, John Lassiter and Ed Catmull struck a deal with Disney to produce a feature.

And the rest, as they say...

I have been a Lightwave 3D user for many many years. Doing good 3D work is hard. REALLY hard. I know how much work I put into my Lightwave projects and I look at Pixar's work and I am always floored by it.

This morning I ran across a story about a 10 year old girl that was dying of cancer and whose dying wish was to see Up before she died. Her cancer was advanced to the point that she was bedridden at home. The family frantically contacted Pixar to ask for their help. They responded by sending an employee to the girl's home with a DVD of the film. They screened the film for the young girl who passed 7 hours later.

Pixar does not acknowledge that this happened nor will they say who the employee was.

Thanks, Pixar. You guys are, as I always suspected, a class act.

You can read the news story HERE.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thy Will Be Done

One of the folks I work with, Jacob Cunningham, recently completed his first film. It's a documentary about a paraplegic. I had the opportunity to view the film and I thought it was just stunning. A number of elements of this film differentiate it from the typical doc and I wanted to get the word out about it. The film recently opened the Ventura Film Festival.

Jacob met Carl Erickson at the apartments where he lived and the topic of what Carl did for a living came up. Carl said that he was the caregiver for Kevin Natale, a paraplegic. Carl went on to describe the circumstances under which Kevin was stricken down at the age of 14 by a bullet.

Kevin was at home when his 21 year old neighbor, Brian Adams, came over to the house and shot Kevin. To this day, no one really knows why Brian did this and Brian, now serving time, is not talking.

The film, chronicles the events leading up to the shooting and what Kevin has endured in the intervening 19 years since the shooting. The lives that have been shattered and all of the impact that this single event has had on those directly involved as well as those on the periphery.

Some of the things that stand out in this film are the truths that are presented. Some of it inspiring, some of it sad. Jacob does not gloss over the ugly parts of the story (such as Kevin and Carl's shared drug addiction) as many films of this type tend to do. This type of storytelling is, in my opinion, a much stronger form than many other docs that tend to gloss over the underbelly of a story.

Another aspect of this film is the fact that it it has had a measurable positive impact on the lives of those in the film. Jacob has a number of interviews with Brian's mom, Joyce. What struck me about this is that she is one of the innocent parties whose life has been forever changed by these events. Typically, in stories like this, the peripheral folks are glossed over or are judged. This is not the case here. You come away with a real feeling that this is really one of the true victims in all of this.

Jacob facilitates a meeting between Kevin and Joyce for the first time since the shooting. In the intervening 19 years, Kevin had reached a point of forgiveness for Joyce and Brian and conveys this in their meeting. Without Jacob's film, this might never have happened.

The film is very well paced and very engaging. It's well photographed and the viewer's interest is constantly maintained. There was only one shot in the film that I felt needed adjustment and after talking to Jacob he knew exactly the shot I meant before I described it and said this was one of the places he was planning to make a final adjustment on.

If you have the opportunity to see this excellent film, I urge you to do so. You will walk away with an insight into some lives that have endured a real tragedy and see some very strong people deal with this in both positive and negative ways.

Bravo, Jacob.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Media package vs. Streaming

Last year I wrote about the fact that my perfect home movie delivery mechanism would be HD on demand for a fixed price such as the NetFlix model. Well, since that time, NetFlix has started a service to implement just that.

I own an xBox 360. NetFlix first partnered with Microsoft to provide delivery of content via the internet to the xBox. When this was announced, I jumped all over this... I had to update my xBox account to a paid online account. This was done by buying an account card from a local video game store.

Once this was done and I had setup the account, I had access to a new que in NetFlix for on-demand content. I qued up some HD movies and some SD movies and set about watching them.

The upside:

It's great being able to jump onto the NetFlix web site and add a film to my que and watch it immediately. For example, Nancy's sister is visiting us right now for her last week in the U.S. before she moves to southern India. As we were discussing India, the topic of Ghandi came up and she said she had never seen the film. I was able to jump onto Netflix and add it, go into the family room and immediately watch it with her.


The Downside:

This is new technology. As such, it still needs to mature a bit. Rewinding or fast forwarding can be a bit painful as it has to re-que the video before it plays it and this can take up to 20 seconds to do. Moreover, when you start a film, the system guages your connection speed and scales the quality of the video to match it.

Many times, it has decided on a very high bitrate only to encounter a connection slowing at which point it stops the film, resets the sample rate and rebuffers the video at the reduced quality. This can be disruptive and annoying.

Overall, the feel of this system is clunky. But, I suppose, this is to be expected with a new system like this. Additionally, they have a lot of catching up to do in terms of converting titles to their streaming system. So you have a significantly reduced set of titles to choose from vs. the DVD library offered by NetFlix.


We're close. This system needs finessing but it's damn close. They need to add the extras that DVDs offer and clean up the video buffering model that they are using so that the viewer's experience is uninterupted. As it is right now, I use it and I am mostly happy with it.

I think this is the future. No more buying DVDs. Why would you? If a film has repeat viewing value, just add it to your que again. The addition of NetFlix's excellent web site for adding and managing titles as well as tracking your preferences is an added bonus.

And, finally, NetFlix has also added this to TiVo. The TiVo interface is a LOT more rudimetary than the xBox incarnation. However, if you have a NetFlix account and a TiVo with lifetime subscription support, there is no added cost unlike the xBox where I had to spend $40 on an anual account upgrade. Still, $40 is not the end of the world.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gearhead Revisited

Back in June of 08, I was pining for a low cost gear head for the indie crowd (original post HERE). Almost exactly one year later, there is an answer from a company called GearNex. They demoed this at NAB 09 and the folks that I talked to that got to see it were very very impressed. Multi-speed transmission for both tilt and pan providing adjustable turn ratios.

The unit is priced at $4995 pre-order and expected first units to be shipped in June. They are saying they have a 6 to 8 week delivery time due to back orders now. Now, while $4995 is not a drop in the bucket for most indie folks, it IS a huge difference between the cost of an ArriHead or Mitchell gear head. And, rental is always an option as well.

If I get my greasy paws on a unit, I will post a detailed review here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to the grindstone

Dateline: May 2009, Moorpark, CA:

Well after an insanely busy few months, I am FINALLY back to doing a bit of blogging here. And, there is a LOT to blog about! First off, what have I had going on in my life?

Well, I went through the joy of a kidney stone and I have another on the way. Not fun...
I lost a friend of mine in a motorcycle accident about 2 months ago. Danny Mourning, who played the tough guy in our film "The Aquarium".

Nancy has been re-editing a feature film "Surviving in LA". It's an independent feature that was shot on 35mm. Some of the original edit was "interesting". One sequence in particular I looked at and my initial response was that it was so bad it should just be cut entirely but Nancy re-cut it and it's stunning now.

I finished the conversion of the main web site of my employer from classic ASP to This was an insanely time consuming and difficult task. The web site is one of the most complex systems I have ever worked on. 16 hour days, 7 days a week but we finally got it done and it is 99% good to go. Still a few glitches here and there.

Nancy got her SteadiCam certification completed and then had to have surgery so she has not been able to do any vigorous physical activity but she is almost 100% and should be back in the rig soon enough.

The Aquarium has an IMDB page after all these years LOL. After the folks at IMDB are done updating it, I will post a link in the blog.

After about 20 drafts, Thicker Than Blood is finally complete and we are starting pre-production on it. I have started storyboarding it in Lightwave. I will be blogging the progress of the film as we move through the process.

So that pretty much catches us up, dear reader.

Media Updates:

And speaking of Steadicam shots, this was pointed out to me recently: A Steadicam operator using a Segway. Amazing stuff. Check it out on the ProVideo Coalition site HERE.

Recently, someone pointed out this Spanish commercial on YouTube to me:

Just a STUNNING masterwork of storytelling. In about 48 seconds, we are introduced to a character that we are immediately invested in, watch her as she goes through the creation of her gift and finally come to see her selflessness in the end. No dialog.


OK, I have a list of topics that I have piled up here to blog on, so I will leave you this this for tonight. More this week.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Long time...

Don't ask.

Just read this if you are an Indy fan: