Thursday, April 15, 2010

DV Student Blog: Notes from NAB, Day 2

by Monica Thies

Day 2 at NAB… focus on Post Production...

My dad and I typically stick together at this since he knows so many people and can introduce me (we all know its “who you know” a lot of times…foot in the door..that whole deal). Also, I know that it helps my professionalism level, since everyone knows I look about 16, and when wandering around at a conference this large, I look about 12 (starry eyed and all with the exhibits). Well this morning he had two meetings to attend, and no thank you to sitting in on those, they are about frequency and blah blah blah…snoooore. (Even dad gets bored at them).

So I decided that while he was away for a few hours I would “hang out” where I’m most comfortable, in the Post Production area (South Hall in case you ever attend). Walking into the Avid booth (where better to start than with our favorite editing software…ha.) they have a Pro Tools DX presentation in progress, the second part of the editing audio/video presentation to show how to effectively utilize the software. Something to always remember if attending a conference is that although they enjoy educating users, most of it is still about marketing their products and showing off what it can do, meaning there are often things they could be leaving out. Such as, leaning into a “mini” presentation given specifically at the “Avid Media Composer” section of the booth, I caught that Avid Media Composer 5 (Nitris DX) is NOT releasing initially in 64-bit version and will release later instead, 3-5 months later. (Big issue for me since the CS5 suite is releasing 64 bit native…) But anyways, at the editing video/audio presentation I walked into, they were using the Pro Tools program to recreate the sound effects from 2012. The Pro Tools was using the Video Satellite integration, meaning you can watch the video as you are doing the sound effects and audio editing. The sound board was the largest sound board I have ever seen, and it has four monitors. The digiboard had to be around my arm span (so 5 feet?) in width. The Avid MC5 integration was beautiful, you could see the timeline through the Video Satellite (and dear gods was that a complex timeline for that movie) and all the video as well as the timeline in Pro Tools with all its editing capabilities for sound.

One of the newest features Avid is priding itself on is at release of Media Composer 5, it will be supporting native RED camera and native QuickTime. (RED camera resolution is incredible by the way… never really noticed until it was on a beautiful LED display). Avid also was demoing Avid DS, the Avid equivalent to After Effects or Combustion/Smoke. As a compositor, I was not a fan of the interface on the program. Like all other Avid products, the interface is more complex and less convenient looking. The work flow view was not easy to follow and I would not instantly recommend this software based on what I saw during a quick demonstration.

Avid had a newer piece of software that I had not seen yet, called Avid Interplay. It is an engine that all clips can be logged, labeled, organized and I’m sure other things that weren’t covered during the “Managing Assets” presentation. As the presenter said, “the main editor doesn’t have the time to log clips and label them” and this way the “assistant editor can log and label clips without having to open Avid Media Composer.” It enables two editors to simultaneously be working and the one working in MC5 has to click “Update bin from Interplay” and the bin is updated based on the work the second editor could have been doing “merely seconds before.” (She was very eloquent with her words). Interplay allows for clips to be automatically sorted based on time code, camera or a few other preset options. Interplay also allows for inter-computer usage and allows for customizable folders, for example, if clips need to be approved before they can be exported, then a “needs approval” folder can be setup and the clip can be highlighted and a drop down changed to “approved” or “denied.” Interplay allows for the clips and media to be exported out of MC5 without actually using MC5, this is helpful for quick exports and reduces the amount of time needed to load software just to do one simple task. Avid MC5 can also be set up for “multi-camera editing” in the source monitor, with a green line around the one which is actively being used in the timeline. The Metadata tools in the MC5 software are the best in the industry, especially for multi-camera editing, and it is easy to see why, since the bins can be organized based on camera groupings. With the multi-camera editing, an editor can easily select a clip, right click, and select a different camera view from the same grouping, just separate angle if needed without having to drop in a separate clip. The clip locator allows you to find the clip within two mouse clicks and find the original bin, and all connected metadata associated with the clip. Very useful when we begin doing multi camera shoots for our program.

Asset management seemed to be the hot topic of post production of NAB this year, as I heard CNN giving an Adobe CS5 presentation about it, then continued on to Autodesk just in time to catch two of the visual effects supervisors from Avatar (Lightstorm Entertainment, Daniel Neufeldt and Nolan Multha) present about their asset management. I was super excited and completely in shock. It was one of those just stop what I was doing (pretty sure I even almost dropped my phone) and just listen and absorb information (I wish I was better at auditory learning….) They were midway through their presentation but I showed up for the best part. Just in time to hear them say Avatar used around 16,000 processors for rendering. Each FRAME took 60-70 hours (because of R/L eye for stereoscopic 3D), totaling to over 100 million hours of rendering. In total, it was around 2 ½ years of just rendering the movie. Keeping track of each and every plant, leaf of that plant, and every root that was part of that leaf was the hardest part. Hundreds and hundreds of low-res proxies were done as the movie was being filmed so James Cameron could use his “virtual camera.” Avid WAS used to edit Avatar, just in case anyone had any questions still about it really being the industry standard software.

And the best part yet??? They showed us the bonus features from the DVD early. Yeah, I know, it comes out in the next few days, but that still gives me the chance to blog about it real fast before it does release. James Cameron’s opening line of “this is not an animated movie” sort of made me perk up instantly, since, yes I knew it wasn’t animated, but that he was going to show us why it wasn’t and can never be considered that. The actors and actresses had to do EVERYTHING their characters did, so those way badass jumps the Nav'i would do onto their animals, from branches to branches, all of it, was them actually acting. James Cameron had hundreds of extra cameras set up around set just to capture the body movement on the actors to recreate it perfectly. To create the avatars the actors and actresses had to sit in a sphere of lights and have hundreds of pictures taken of their face from every angle possible so that the avatars really were individual to each person. On top of that, while filming, any close up shots would also include a mini camera on a boom attached to a helmet, but the camera was angled at the face, so there were mega-close ups of the facial reactions, once again, for animators to recreate each eye twitch, each slight eye narrowing that the actors did naturally while acting. The set? Except for props, it was pretty much the equivalent of a giant warehouse. The Avatar Mo-cap suits had the hair and ears, most likely for placement, and often times the actors/actresses had to put tiny green dots over their face and lips (I’m guessing for tracking purposes). James Cameron showed us his virtual camera and how he could hold up the camera to any actor on the “set” and be able to see that actor’s avatar and the environment they were in instead of seeing them sitting on a warehouse. All animations and tracking were done in Maya.

Be prepared to watch the Avatar special effects the minute you get the DVD, it truly is amazing what visual effects work was accomplished for this movie. And the best part? It was all done about five years ago, then they had to render.

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