Archive for December, 2010

2010 Roundup

December 31st, 2010

Although it’s not this site’s birthday today (that was 3 weeks ago, and someone really gave me a present!), it’s a good time to review what’s been going on since then. In slightly more than a year I published 167 posts (15 below target), thrashed about 30 more drafts (good ratio, I guess), but the blog itself didn’t catch on as much as I thought it could. I didn’t believe it really would, because there’s so many good blogs out there, and only few ever become top blogs. Plus it’s ever harder to create something that surpasses the ever-rising sneezing bar. But it’s also possible that it hasn’t even reached a powerful sneezer yet, who knows. I can only look at the numbers and there’s no skyrocketing tendency in sight. Which is good on the other hand, because there’s not too much pressure to ship at a constant level, in terms of timeliness and content. Because even after a year, I still feel there’s a lot to learn for me, and that’s one of my tasks to continue in 2011, which I’m looking forward to, and hope you do too.

Happy New Year!

The Best Part of the New Job

December 31st, 2010

Every day, somebody somewhere gets a new job, and they talk about it with their peers. The only problem is what they’re talking about, because it’s rarely “There’s a lot of responsibility to take, tough decisions about risky endeavours, emotional labour, going out on a limb, but I enjoy all the freedom it’s giving me”. Instead, it’s “And everyone gets a Macbook!” which is no source of inspiration whatsoever.

Tapeless Workflow in Final Cut Pro 6

December 21st, 2010

Time again for a technical topic. Shane Ross has released two excellent video tutorials for tapeless workflow in Final Cut Pro 7 on Creative Cow (Link 1, Link 2), and since I had to work on a all-digital-file-only project lately, I wanted to share some of the issues I ran into when using Final Cut Pro 6.0.6 and how I adressed them.

On the HD I got from the 3D studio there were all different types of files. Uncompressed .mov, H.264 Quicktime and several .tga, .png, .jpg sequences, most of them 1920×1080, some 1280×720. The final master was to be delivered in 1280×720, which meant converting would be inevitable at some point during the process.

Create reference movies

I decided to convert at the very beginning because editing full-res HD image sequences is a real hassle. To have the computer do the conversion over night I used Quick Time Player 7 to create a reference file for each image sequence. To do this, choose “File → Open Image Sequence…” or press Cmd-Shift-O. Then select the first file of the image sequence and hit OK. A dialogue box pops up where you have to select the proper frame rate. It may take a while till all frames are loaded. Then click “File → Save as…” or press Cmd-Shift-S to save out a reference movie. Select the radio button “make reference movie” at the bottom of the dialogue and save your file with a proper name. Repeat this for all of your image sequences.

Convert with Compressor

When this was done, I launched Compressor and created a preset for my target media, for which I chose the ProRes 422 HQ codec with a frame size of 1280×720, no fields, no audio. Then I imported all of the QT reference movies I created before as well as the H.264 and uncompressed QT files, applied the preset to all of them, set the destination they were to render to (external HD), launched the queue and went to sleep.

Converting using Final Cut

Should you—for some inexplicable reason—not have Quicktime 7 on your computer, you’re having a little more work. Launch FCP, go to “Final Cut Pro → User Preferences” (or press Option-Q… Option is the key that says “alt”), select the “Editing” tab, and set the “Still/Freeze Duration” to 1 frame. But before you import the files, read the IMPORTANT! note below, because you also have to adjust the “Imported Still/RGB Video Gamma” to 2.20. Then drag your image sequence folders to Final Cut’s Browser window, go through them one by one, selecting all of the files of each image sequence and drag them into a new sequence. It makes sense to set up ypur default sequence to the specs you want your output files to be, so in my case this would have been 1280×720 pixels, square PAR, 25 fps, ProRes 422 (HQ) codec, no audio. Otherwise you have to adjust your settings each time when exporting. Then export each sequencs by going to “File → Export → Using Compressor…” and from here it’s the same route as above. Or you can export them manually by choosing “File → Export → QuickTime Movie…” if you don’t need any sleep.

IMPORTANT: GAMMA SETTINGS IN FINAL CUT PRO 6

I don’t want to go too much into detail here, but it is vital to pay attention to FCP’s Gamma settings. I ran into this problem when taking the locked edit to Color, adjusting the image there, rendering the files and taking them back into Final Cut — the colors looked all different. So I exported a SMPTE bar image from Final Cut to Color and realized there is a color shift, but it did not happen when I opened the Color renders in QuickTime Player. Then I figured it had to be Final Cut’s Gamma Settings and when switching to 2.20, everything was okay. So make sure your Gamma Settings are correct, go to “Final Cut Pro → User Preferences” (or press Option-Q), select the “Editing” tab and set the “Imported Still/RGB Video Gamma” to 2.20 (see image). You’re running into all sorts of trouble when you’re on “source”.

Next step: Offline Edit.

With ProRes it’s not really necessary to edit offline, especially because the ProRes Proxy codec is only available from FCP 7 on, but you may want to go for smaller files nevertheless to edit when you’re on the road or whatever. So import your video files to Final Cut, select them all and either right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window and choose “Media Manager…” or go to “File → Media Manager…” to launch…the Media Manager! To create proxies (smaller files with reduced quality), choose the “Recompress” option and select the codec of your choice. Adjust all other settings as displayed in the second image. Select a folder where the proxies will be stored (“Media Destination”) and hit OK. In the popup dialogue name the offline project and confirm once more, and then Final Cut will generate the proxies.

Now here’s a caveat: In his tutorial, Shane Ross is using Final Cut 7 which does everything properly. In Final Cut 6 however, I realized that some files are being renamed and Final Cut appends a “-v” to the file names. I don’t know how this is happening or why (nor seems anyone else), but here’s the thing you need to do to work on without relinking issues. In your offline project, select all of your video files and right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window to select “Rename → File to match Clip” (see third image). This will rename all the files according to the clip names in one fell swoop. Otherwise the easy workflow that Shane is using in his Offline/Online Tutorial won’t work because the file names don’t match.

Going Online again

So what Shane does is to use two external hard disk drives, one has the Online Media and the other holds the Offline Media. When your edit is locked, you selct your sequence in the Final Cut Browser window, open the Media Manager and select the “Create offline” option from the drop down list, then you set the codec you want to ouptut. Ideally, this is the very same codec you encoded your files with before. Once again, select the folder the Online version of the project will be stored in and give the project a proper name. Close the Offline project to avoid confusion. Next, mount your hard drive with the Online Media. In the Online Project, select all your video files and either right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window and choose “Reconnect Media…” or go to “File → Reconnect Media…”, choose “Search…”, navigate to the appropriate folder and hit OK. If everything works out, Final Cut should relink to all Online files now. If not, well, you’ll have to relink the files manually. But you shouldn’t when you followed the steps above.

Finishing

When your sequence matches your Offline edit (hopefully), you can now take the Online version to Color or Motion or whatever you need to do. A few more pieces of advice here:

  • When working with both Motion and Color, bear in mind that you need to render clips from motion back into Final Cut as physical files because Color won’t recognize the “soft link” between the Final Cut edit and the Motion effects that are only rendered in the Final Cut Timeline.
  • Don’t use speed ramps when working with Color, it can’t handle them and will screw everything up. Color can handle clips with a constant speed change, no matter if positive or negative, but when you use speed ramps, you need to render your clip to a file and bring it back into your Final Cut Timeline.
  • Don’t forget about the Gamma issue, especially when you’re grading on a different system than you’ve been editing on.

WikiLeaks is Facebook Inverted (and Time Magazine is stupid)

December 21st, 2010

Time Magazine, as you may have heard or read, made Mark Zuckerberg the person of the year 2010. The reason they chose Zuckerberg over Julian Assange is that they think that Zuckerberg has transformed people’s lives by changing the way they exchange information and create a network with 500,000,000 members — while Assange was just a fad that nobody would care about any more in 6 months time. As always, someone hasn’t done their homework, I reckon.

First, not only is it not Zuckerberg who made Facebook successful, but the every single one of the people who joined and persuaded their friends to join. Other venture firms who (finally, because FB is not the first of its kind) realized the potential of this platform and added value by providing services that made it ever more exciting to be “in”. That said, the reason behind FB’s success is, quite bluntly, peer pressure. And wherever you find peer pressure peaking, you can assume it’s a fad at work.

Second, business models. Let’s compare both.

What WikiLeaks does is take information form ominous closed circles whose motifs we know little about but we believe to manipulate our lives, and spreads it online for the general audience to start offline activity. The premise is that an individual takes a huge risk to obtain the secret information, and she takes massive efforts to avoid any exposure.

Facebook, on the other hand, collects information about peoples’ offline activities and transfers it to ominous closed circles we know little about. The premise is that an individual is looking for an easy way for maximum exposure, not willing to invest too much effort for some hoopla only for herself.

As we know from hundreds of thousands of past examples, the first business model is rarely taking the route to success, whereas the second is unstoppable when it has enough momentum, because there’s obviously little to lose and lots to win. With WikiLeaks, it’s the other way round — unless, if you think about it, everyone were using (i.e., contributing to) it.

To reference my last post, Facebook is not an electric vehicle. It’s a 20th century chassis with a 21st century bodywork. And it keeps on running because segments of certain industries chose to make it so, believing it would give them an upside. Some were right, some were wrong. But the correlation between chances of winning and the number people playing the game is a negative one anywhere, not only online.

Forced to Noise

December 19th, 2010

Last friday US Congress passed a law on electric vehicles, which until then used to have two upsides: Their exhaust carbon footprint is eco-friendlier and they make a lot less noise. The latter is what the US Senators and Governors seemed to be concerned about, because the law they passed says that an electric vehicle must be audible so you can hear it approaching. It’s not too hard to imagine a bunch of elderly folks wondering what the difference between this new tech and their old tech is, suddenly having a rare Eureka moment: “It’s the sound! Yes! We need sound! Vroom!” (People who are more into conspiracies can feel free to prefer the idea that Big Oil has, ahem, brought in some persuasive, irrefutable arguments.)

When you think about it, this is not only nonsense, it’s madness. Instead of taking the leap forward, they took the step backward. What would have made sense is passing a law obligating car manufacturers to fit their cars with an autonomous telemetric system that recognizes people crossing the driving lane and automatically slowing down the car. This is not SciFi, these systems are already at hand. Of course today no one would buy this expensive extra because everyone believes they’re a good driver, it’s only the others who are the idiots. Instead of using the potential that’s available through electric vehicles and take it to the next level, which by the way also means a push for technology ventures (now there’s an incentive to improve these systems!) and enhances the circulation of money (re-defining “must-have-extra”), people with poor imagination minimized the benefit of innovation by taking the choice to make the new technology more similar to the old one. Car manufacturers now have to increase air friction to produce more noise, or install sort of a loudspeaker making noise, adding more weight—either way the mileage goes way down.

So now both advantages electric vehicles used to have could be gone in the future. What remains is increased cost, because service for these vehicles won’t become a lot cheaper if there are not enough models on the road. The consumer’s choice, again, is thrown back to where we’ve already been. Hint: It’s not where we should be going.

The Product Is You

December 12th, 2010

As Hugh wrote in his newsletter, “If you look at products as amplifiers of human potential, they look a lot less like commodities.” When you reverse the logic, what does the way products look tell you about human potential? It’s not about intelligence as much as it is about taking risks, not to blindly follow the manual and only do what you’re told.

This does not only apply to physical products in the store, but also to soft products that affect which way the company will go in the future by the criteria they’re selecting their employees and managers: Do they play it safe by choosing people who can be considered a safe bet or go out on a limb by picking those who go out on a limb? Or how people inside the company interact: Do they respect each other and look for the best solution or bow to the top-down structure which needs predictable results? How do they interact with the outside world? And so forth.

Every tiny bit adds to the outcome, and that’s why the aforementioned reversal of Hugh’s remark concludes that whenever a product looks like a commodity, the less risk the ones who contributed to make it so were willing to take. A commodity product is the result of mediocrity in the process of its becoming.

How RTL fails and what it means

December 11th, 2010

There is no correlation between audience share and ad revenue. This is a truth Anke Schäferkordt, CEO of RTL Television Germany, admitted she had to face this year, when, albeit RTL will have had the largest audience share in this decade, its ad revenues won’t have increased accordingly. And all they do is start whining, because they don’t have no clue what’s next.

And this is obvious for this whole generation of senior managers in media as of today. They might understand that the correlation between the two is gone, but they don’t know what the reasonable thing to do is. The reasonable thing to do, and, I might add, the only thing to do to stay on top in business, is to start taking risks. When your old business model is faltering and you’re the best at it, you better start getting worse quickly. This concept is hard to understand and embrace for someone who’s been taught the old model for 25 years when it still worked.

But guess what, the world has changed! Not in a disruptive fashion, but (pun intended) bit by bit every day. And now being good at making an appealing TV programme is not good enough anymore. Moving your old programme to new platforms won’t help. Had they done this 2 years back it would have been buzzworthy, today it’s an act of cutting their losses. What’s more, trying to bully your network distribtution partners into not permitting their subscribers fast-forwarding their ad breaks on VoD is no solution either. What you have to do is take risks and start inventing entirely new programmes.

Instead of forcefully trying to get the share of the pie you consider to be fair, make the pie bigger your way and have all the surplus! That’s what your job as a leader is, showing the world where to go next. That’s something to weigh in when your shareholders gather. And if you fail? Well, it won’t do any harm because being the best at the old model didn’t benefit you either (you have proof now!). Sure, you get all the fame for being the market leader, but that’s nothing the CEO’s employers, i.e. the shareholders, care about, because it’s not reflected in their pockets.

The old model used to give you more deniability when you took less risk – henceforth taking risk will be the only thing giving you any deniability. It’s the best that could ever happen, if you think about it.

2010’s Most Useless Item

December 4th, 2010

Thanks to my friend Olaf I can now answer the question “What do you think is the most useless thing that went on sale this year?”, because he pointed me to Playbutton. It’s an anachronism which reminds me of these maddening beeping birthday cards. Its purpose: It’s sort of a read-only MP3 Player to wear like a button, because it has a pin on the rear. What sounds like a neat idea at first, unveils its downsides at further consideration:

  • single function device: play, pause, skip. Can have image on the front. “Yeah, but it’s a conversation starter.” Sure, but:
  • sharing not possible: You have to go to a store and get your own. Or order online, wait for the mail to arrive. How lame is that? Obviously (young) folks who are “on” 24/7 are not the target audience.
  • not user-editable: It’s read-only, so what’s stored on it when you buy it will stay there forever.
  • very pricey for the consumer (~$20): A lot of money to ask for a device that when taken to its pieces cost nothing. You get buttons and music for free. The flash chip holding the music is too cheap too matter. The conversation it allows me to have is not enough of a Free Prize to make me pay this much extra.
  • audience: people who are into buttons. Well, I might be wrong here, but I suppose that some who is not into buttons will suddenly become a fan.

Newspaper reports say that the record industry is “very interested” in this device. No surprise here. The point is they like it for the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing the added benefit a design icon like this, no matter how small its audience, might hold in terms of connecting a tribe, make it easier for people to spread stuff they care about, they just see “works like a vinyl disc, but smaller and with even better profit margins”. Sorry guys, this business model’s retired from business years ago.