Digital Production Buzz
September 29, 2016
Alexander Rea, Creative Director of Technology, Framestore
Les Zellan, Chairman, Cooke Optics
Laura Blum, Blogger, FilmFestivals.com
Wes Plate, President, Automatic Duck
Michael Kammes, Director of Technology & Marketing, Key Code Media
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, what would it be like to fly to Mars? Lockheed Martin has designed a brand new interactive VR experience on a school bus. Alexander Rea, the creative director of technology joins us to explain how it works.
Larry Jordan: At IBC, Cooke Optics announced a new release of some of their most celebrated lenses, the Cooke Speed Panchro. Les Zellan, the chairman of Cooke Optics, joins us tonight to talk lenses, technology and the art of making glass.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum, writer for Thalo.com wraps up her series on films of the Arab Spring, and how they’ve influenced funding and production throughout the Gulf.
Larry Jordan: Next, Wes Plate, the president of Automatic Duck checks in with an update on some of their latest technology.
Larry Jordan: Michael Kammes, director of technology and marketing at Key Code Media looks at the process of transcoding, what it is, and when you should consider it for your projects.
Larry Jordan: And as always, James DeRuvo joins us with a DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts: production, filmmakers, post production and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry covering media production, post production, and marketing around the world. We are celebrating our 17th year of podcasting. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan.
Larry Jordan: Generation Beyond is a first of its kind, national education program designed to inspire the next generation of students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Started by Lockheed Martin, it focuses on what it will take to go to Mars, and who will make the trip. The extent of this program caught our attention because it features an interactive, immersive, virtual reality experience to enable school kids to discover what it would be like to travel to and drive on, Mars. I’m looking forward to learning more about this school bus to Mars in just a couple of minutes.
Larry Jordan: Also, with the launch of the iPhone 7 and IBC both behind us, attention now turns to hardware updates from Apple. James DeRuvo has some thoughts on exactly that as part of our DoddleNEWS update in just a moment.
Larry Jordan: I also want to remind you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at Digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week, gives you an inside look at The Buzz, quick links to all the different segments on the show, and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. Best of all, every issue is free.
Larry Jordan: Which brings us to our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo, the senior writer for DoddleNEWS. Hello James, welcome back.
James DeRuvo: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: So, what’s the news?
James DeRuvo: Well, you were talking about Apple, and riding high off the iPhone 7 launch last week, Apple waded in a little bit of rough waters this week as they’re facing a class action law suit over defective trashcan Mac Pros. It’s that sleek design that came out in 2013. The law suit alleges screen malfunctions are causing processing defects and system failures, and making them completely unreliable for day to day use. The law suit seeks an injunction prohibiting Apple from selling and distributing the machines until they’re fixed, plus damages for those who have purchased trashcan in the last couple of years.
James DeRuvo: I think that this could be a little combination between a little bit of user error and a design flaw. The Mac Pro trashcan design has this central core cooling design which sucks in air from underneath and cools the entire system through a central core. And it becomes very easy to block the air flow if you have a very messy desk. So it could be a bit that the design is a little bit of the issue, could be a user issue as well, but considering Apple hasn’t updated or given any attention to the Mac Pro in three years, this is a pretty big deal and it might put the kibosh on whether or not Apple’s going to update it this year. I honestly don’t think they will.
Larry Jordan: OK, we’ve got Apple in possible problems with the Mac Pro. What’s story number two?
James DeRuvo: DJI announced their answer to GoPro’s Karma personal drone this week. The Mavic Pro offers everything you can do in the Phantom 4 drone, but does it in a form factor that is so tiny you can fit it in the palm of your hand when it’s fully collapsed and you can unfold it and have it flying within seconds. It’s got 4K video, a follow me mode, a track mode, portrait mode, circle mode and my personal favorite, a sports racing mode. You know those NES like playstation game controllers?
Larry Jordan: Yes.
James DeRuvo: It’s controlled by a game controller that is about that size that can merge with your mobile phone to give complete control with telemetry updates through the DJI Go app. The cost of the Mavic Pro will 999 with the controller, and 749 without and it will ship in October.
Larry Jordan: DJI is the largest drone manufacturer in the world. Do you think they’re going to be able to overcome GoPro?
James DeRuvo: Yes. I was joking with somebody the other day that the drone wars have officially started. I think this is going to be a really interesting holiday season as we see who actually is going to win the drone war between DJI and GoPro. They’re both excellent machines with really good features. It really just comes down to whether or not you already have your GoPros or not. The GoPro has the advantage of having the pull out three axis gimbal that you can place anywhere, and use. But then again, the Mavic Pro has live 4K video streaming and all these automatic track modes and follow me modes, so it really just depends on what you want. But they’re both very excellent drones.
Larry Jordan: It will be fun to watch. What’s our third story this week?
James DeRuvo: When I got my first computer it had a 20 megabyte hard drive, and I thought I will never ever be able to fill this. 30 years later, SanDisk has announced a one terabyte SD card.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
James DeRuvo: It can write at 90MB per second and read at 95MB per second. It’s designed for 4K and 8K video and the expected price is around $800. No word on when it’s going to ship yet thought but I bet it’s probably going to be after the first of the year.
Larry Jordan: James, for people that want more information and are just hungry for the news, where can they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: You can read more about these stories and others at DoddleNEWS.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for DoddleNEWS and James, thanks for joining us. We’ll chat with you again next week. Take care.
James DeRuvo: Alright Larry, take care.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Generation Beyond was created by Lockheed Martin to enable young kids to envision what it’s like to fly to Mars. Part of this experience is a one of a kind virtual reality thing designed by Alexander Rea. Alexander describes himself as a creative director of technology. Hello Alexander, welcome.
Alexander Rea: Nice to be here, thank you for having me on.
Larry Jordan: I have been looking forward to this conversation for several weeks and before we start talking about the school bus, tell us what Generation Beyond is about.
Alexander Rea: Well Generation Beyond is Lockheed Martin’s STEM education initiative and Lockheed Martin works with McCann Advertising in New York and McCann reached out to Framestore and I had the pleasure of working with Framestore to produce this, as you put it, one of a kind experience, on the first ever Group Beyond bus. Its goal is to inspire children through this experience where we bring them on a school bus and have them drive on the surface of Mars.
Larry Jordan: When was it that you got involved in this project?
Alexander Rea: McCann came to Framestore in the fall of last year, and the project kicked off right before the end of the year. Then we premiered at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC on April 15th. Lockheed is the premier sponsor of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
Larry Jordan: They just walked up to you and said “Here’s a school bus, make it float on Mars?” What was the challenge?
Alexander Rea: McCann New York does all the advertising, to put it simply, for Lockheed Martin. They were tossing around this idea for the better part of a year, maybe longer. They came to Framestore and said “Can this be done?” I said, “Yes, I know we can do about 40 percent of it and the last 60 percent is going to be like going to the Moon for the first time. We’ve got to figure a lot of things out.” Framestore has the right team to make that happen and the brief was really simple. “It has to look like a school bus on the outside, has to look like a school bus on the inside, and we’re sending kids to Mars. Go.” That was basically it and we achieved that through some of the wizardry of Framestore, which is a 30 year VFX company, and great fabrication partners that we had, and an amazing client and agency relationship that was willing to take the risk, which was on all parties, and we were able to achieve something in a short amount of time that has never been done before and has been a very successful project for us.
Larry Jordan: Let’s put your technology hat on for just a minute. I’m looking at a school bus. What did you do to make it look like we were driving on Mars? What technology did you use, and how did you put it together?
Alexander Rea: It looks like a school bus on the outside, so the illusion persists. When you get onto the school bus, you start to look around a little bit. You can imagine the audience is children, so if you’re a big kid, you might notice some things are a little off. Most small children did not. … Custom built transparent LCDs taking 4K LCDs that you would buy at a big box retail. Then we just mounted those and constructed transparent versions of those which basically means that they are semi-transparent, you can see out of them. And when you get onto the bus you can look out of the window and then when the bus started moving, we changed the image from clear to the surface of Mars, and that was achieved by using game engine technology. We used a game called ‘Unreal’ which is used to make console games, something for your PS4 or Xbox and we developed a suite of technology that turns the bus itself into a game controller. Essentially the content that you are looking at on the windows, looking out of the bus onto the surface of Mars was produced by a video game engine, and all the modeling and programming was all done by Framestore New York.
Larry Jordan: Was this one giant monitor of immense pixel width? Or were you feeding multiple streams of video off a server farm?
Alexander Rea: It would have been ideal if we could afford to custom make screens, but we ended up using what was commercially available, so we used four 84 inch, 4K displays that covered most of the windows inside the bus and those were connected to four high end gaming PCs which were in turn connected to one server, and Unreal’s game engine has a multi-player mode, a client server model, and the Unreal server was collecting all of the control data. The bus itself, the movement of the bus, the position of the bus was being translated into the server, which in turn was then controlling the clients which were the windows themselves. If you can imagine that you are inside of a bus which is inside of a video game, and what you see on the screen is what you would see if you were perhaps playing a multi-player game and you were looking out the window of a vehicle.
Larry Jordan: I don’t generally sit in a bus while playing a video game. I must admit that I’m laughing hearing you describe this. This is pretty amazing. Were they looking at photo realistic or was it more cartoonish?
Alexander Rea: It was as best as we can achieve with game engine. So when you look at video games today, you can see aspects that are photo real and some things that you can tell that it is real time generated. Framestore won an academy award for the visual effects for ‘Gravity.’ We know how to do photo real CG, for example ‘The Avengers’ films, ‘Harry Potter,’ and the limitation we’re working with is the limitation of the graphics card capabilities and the power of the PCs to achieve the real time rendering, because keep in mind this bus can drive anywhere in Washington DC, and content will be rendered real time on screen. So because it’s real time rendered, because it has to change on the fly, like a video game, you turn left, you turn right, you turn up, you turn down, it’s not a linear start stop experience. So we are limited by the capability of the graphics cards that we had at the time when we produced this bus. A year from now, two years, five years from now, it’ll be exponentially better. But we were only limited by the power of the computers. We could have made it hundreds of millions of polygons, but we had to keep the polygon count in check in order to reduce latency and again limited by the hardware that was available in April when we launched this.
Larry Jordan: You said something that I didn’t understand, so I want to come back to it. You say the bus is driving, so it doesn’t just drive the location and stop? The bus is actually traveling through physical space while the kids are watching Mars go by?
Alexander Rea: Exactly. It’s synched one to one, and there’s videos on generationmarsandbeyond.com and also fieldtriptomars.com that show some of the behind the scenes experience. The bus is driving in Washington DC. We created over 200 square miles of actual streets of Washington DC in the video game engine. So it’s synched one to one, so when the bus moves, imagine you’re going up Highway One, and you’re in a car, and the speed of the car and the velocity of the vehicle with the bumps and the turns are being represented on screen. So it’s synched one to one.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Alexander Rea: So we created it with reality. We had to do that because it couldn’t be scripted, it had to be real time because it’s a city. And we had a route, but what if there was traffic? What if there was a detour? It’s Washington DC, what if there was a motorcade that was detouring traffic? We would have to change our course, so it had to be real time. So we developed a drivable VR one to one landscape synch experience.
Larry Jordan: That is just amazingly cool. Aside from faster graphics cards, if you had to do the project again, what would you change?
Alexander Rea: I think really other than particular project related variables and time and money, if we could have gone more photo real, I definitely would have gone more photo real. We designed the project to scale and the bus itself right now is actually touring the country through a separate company that isn’t responsible for the touring version of the bus, but it’s going to multiple cities. That information’s available on Generation Beyond and also if you just Google ‘Lockheed Mars Bus’ you’ll see a significant amount of press and PR around where it’s appearing.
Alexander Rea: If I could change something it would be the power of the computers that we had. If it could have been real time it would have been a better experience obviously and if we could have custom made some of the hardware, like I said we used commercially available strains, but with unlimited funds we could have built bespoke hardware. Because all the hardware we used, was stuff that you could buy, so we were limited only by that.
Larry Jordan: Have you ever been on the bus when kids are watching? What’s the kids’ reaction?
Alexander Rea: Absolutely. We built the little showrunner room in the back where the generator was and all the computers, so the footage you see on fieldtriptomars.com is actually footage that was shot on the initial runs of the bus. And the big kids and little kids have an amazing reaction, and it was quite rewarding, because as you could imagine, we were working up to the 11th hour on this. As I mentioned, this started at the end of last year, and it launched in April, so you do the math. There’s only a finite amount of days there to pull off something that has not been achieved before. The reward, the payoff was when we were on the bus the first time and their reaction which was captured on film. Their reaction was amazing, it made all of the sleepless weeks worth it.
Larry Jordan: That is so cool. Really quickly, is Framestore a development company or is it a production house?
Alexander Rea: Framestore is a 30 year old VFX post production company. Started in London and we’re in London, Montreal, New York and LA. London and Montreal do most of the Hollywood work, so if you go to IMDb and you look up Framestore, there’s 100, over 150 films since the mid 80s. If you’ve watched TV or the movies, you’ve seen our work in the last 30 years from the work we do in New York such as ‘Geico Gecko,’ and the M&M characters, to shots in ‘The Martian,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ all ‘The Avengers’ films. So it’s a VFX post production company, and we have been able to build a VR studio in New York and LA, leveraging our CG and VFX pipeline and we’ve been able to produce some great content through some of those relationships born out of the movie production that we do, and some of the newer relationships that we’re forming with some of our partners and media partners here in New York.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Alexander, for people that want more information about the school bus to Mars, where can they go on the web?
Alexander Rea: The best place to direct people is the overall campaign hub which is generation-beyond.com and from there you can learn all about the Lockheed STEM education initiative, and then of course from there you can get to more information about the bus.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Alexander Rea is the creative director of technology at Framestore, and the guiding genius behind the school bus to Mars. Alexander, thanks for joining us today.
Alexander Rea: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Take care, talk to you soon. Bye bye.
Alexander Rea: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum is a filmfestivals.com blogger, a Thalo.com contributing writer, and a discerning film critic. And best of all, she’s back. Hello Laura, welcome.
Laura Blum: Delighted to be back.
Larry Jordan: Laura, last week we were talking about films of the Arab Spring and we looked at ‘As I Open My Eyes,’ and ‘Sandstorm.’ There’s another film I want to quickly touch on which is ‘Barakah Meets Barakah.’ What’s that?
Laura Blum: Larry, ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ is a blistering critique of the restrictions placed on young Saudis. We haven’t seen the likes of this. It is a romantic comedy and as with any rom-com it’s about the obstacles to getting together, but in Saudi Arabia it’s really compounded because one obstacle is that there’s no public space for a couple to meet.
Larry Jordan: Tell me about some of the groundbreaking techniques that Barakah uses.
Laura Blum: For one thing, there is female skin. There is female leg. There would be female belly but that’s part of the fun here, and that’s because the film starts out with a title card that lets us know that the blurred images are not due to censorship, and it’s just a little jab at Saudi censorship. There’s been a tradition, a history where Saudi’s were always watching American films on VHS and anything slightly risqué, say alcohol or holding hands, all of that was pixilated.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking that we’ve looked at ‘As I Open My Eyes,’ and we’ve looked at ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Barakah Meets Barakah,’ and all of these are new films growing out of the Arab Spring. How have production trends evolved because of these films?
Laura Blum: That’s such a great question. So production is really a work in progress in the Arab world. It’s definitely evolving, we’re seeing a lot more work from first time directors, as we’ve talked about these millennials. And there’s something of a shift in the region’s production hubs, so Egypt used to churn out about 40 films a year, and that’s dipped down to about 15. Lebanon is still coming out with a few, but Syria’s production has ground to a halt there. The Emirates have come out with some big budget productions, and one that’s opening in the States in October is called ‘Bilal’ and it’s a very impressive animation from Dubai which was also at the Toronto Film Festival. Just what kind of player the Gulf will continue to be remains to be seen but quickly I’ll say that you’ve got a new generation of filmmakers who are experimenting with art house cinema, but also with genre story telling like comedies and thrillers and horror films, also with some fiction, non-fiction hybrids. And these millennials have been exposed to pop culture from around the world, especially online, and now they can join in with their own low budget productions.
Larry Jordan: Where is funding for these films coming from?
Laura Blum: That’s another great question. We were just talking about this. ‘Pink Bra’ would not have made censorship traditionally in Saudi Arabia. Arab cinema has gotten a shot of adrenaline from unconventional funding sources. There are a lot more local grants coming from non-governmental wallets which means less censorship, more opportunity for debut story tellers. Then there’s also a spillover effect across the industry. So we’re seeing more polished, professional productions and more sophisticated narratives with fewer stereotypes and fewer conventional ticks. Again, some of these are coming from local funds, some of them are European funds, but there’s much more access to other sources and you’ve got the likes of Vimeo and Netflix and they continue also to shift this landscape, both in distribution and in up front funding. So Arab filmmakers are really finding unprecedented outlets within reach.
Larry Jordan: What have these independent films done if anything, to influence larger mass market outlets?
Laura Blum: Let’s go back to this notion of ‘Barakah Meets Barakah.’ Saudi Arabia only has one public theater, and apparently it’s an Imax. But the filmmaker is not just interested in making a film, he’s actually trying to bring a kind of Hollywood to the coastal town of Jeddah. So, he’s interested in laying down the infrastructure for a Saudi film industry. That’s just one country, one example where this new filmmaking is getting some real traction and may start to make some big changes much more systemically.
Larry Jordan: It’s an amazing thing from a series of protests into documentaries into feature films and to continual changes for society. It’s an amazing time.
Laura Blum: It truly is.
Larry Jordan: Laura, thanks for joining us today. This has been a fascinating conversation. Laura Blum is a filmfestivals.com blogger, a Thalo.com contributing writer, and a discerning film critic. Laura, it’s been a great visit, thank you.
Laura Blum: Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Wes Plate is an editor, a software pioneer and the co-founder of Automatic Duck, and Automatic Duck makes translation software allowing different apps to share projects. Today they offer tools to translate Final Cut Pro X projects to After Effects, and Final Cut Pro X to Motion and other cool stuff. Hello Wes!
Wes Plate: Hey Larry, it’s good to talk to you again.
Larry Jordan: The last time we checked in was April at NAB when you’d just launched your new translators from Motion to Final Cut X. What’s the latest from Automatic Duck? You guys doing any work, or just kicking by the side of the road doing nothing?
Wes Plate: You’re right, at NAB we announced Xsend Motion which is a new application that translates Final Cut X projects to Motion, to make it easy to send your clips from Final Cut to Motion, and in June we shipped that product and so it is available to FX Factory and a lot of people have been really taking advantage of the powerful feature that that makes possible. So since that we’ve been working on updates to Xsend Motion and also Ximport AE which is the part you mention that goes Final Cut X to After Effects. So we’ve been busy. I’ve also been doing a lot of editing, traveling and running, and so I feel like I’m in a whirlwind, but having a great time.
Larry Jordan: I know that if I ask you to announce the next ten products that you guys are coming out with, you’re going to decline, but what technology are you watching? Are you still staying in the translation space and helping stuff move from place to place?
Wes Plate: I would say I’m more interested in workflow in general. My history is as an editor, and I’m spending a lot of time lately doing editing, which is just so much fun to get back into my roots and use Final Cut in a professional environment and do real projects, some of which will actually be aired nationally. Being able to just sit in the chair of the editor and feel where some of the challenges are helps inform where improvements might be made. I look at the whole thing, not just how can I get from one project, one application to another? But where are the little roadblocks that are making my work inconvenient? I look generally at the overall workload in that way.
Larry Jordan: You’re not going to tell us the next ten projects you’re coming out with?
Wes Plate: You were right in your prediction Larry that I was not going to tell you.
Larry Jordan: I also understand you’re going to be speaking at the Final Cut X Creative Summit which is coming up shortly. What is the summit, and what are you going to be talking about?
Wes Plate: Yes, I’m thrilled about this. Last year, Future Media Concepts, who produces Post Production World Conference at NAB and they also produce the Editors Retreat Workshop and Adobe Video World, as well as doing lots of training. Last year they created a conference for Final Cut Pro X editors, and they called it the Final Cut X Creative Summit. This is the second year of this conference and it’s a great opportunity for SDP or Final Cut Pro X editors to meet each other and talk about the technology, talk about the tool and how to be creative with it. I’m going to be doing a session about integrating Final Cut X with animation tools, with Motion and After Effects. I’ll be talking about how to use Final Cut with other applications, and it’s also a great opportunity to meet the team that makes Final Cut. Apple is going to be a big part of the conference, and I think there’s actually a day where all the attendees get to go visit the Apple campus and Apple will be doing some presentations. I’m a part of some Final Cut Pro groups and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for what might be coming at this conference, what Apple’s going to be saying and I’m just excited to meet all the users again. It was a lot of fun last year, and I’m sure it will be again this year.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information about the summit, do you know what website they can go to?
Wes Plate: Every time I want to go to it, I just Google ‘Final Cut’ or ‘FCPX Creative Summit,’ and if I remember right it is actually FCPXcreativesummit.com. If you go there you can learn more about the conference as well as the schedule and all the various people who will be speaking. It’s really a Who’s Who of luminaries in the Final Cut X world, developers and users alike. Great keynotes are scheduled, so I would encourage people who are interested in Final Cut Pro X to check it out. I think they’ll have a great time there and learn a lot.
Larry Jordan: And for people that want more information about Automatic Duck, where can they go on the web?
Wes Plate: If you go to Automaticduck.com you can visit our website and we are on Twitter as autoduck, that’s AUTODUCK.
Larry Jordan: Wes Plate is the co-founder of Automatic Duck, and Wes thanks for joining us today.
Wes Plate: It’s always great to talk to you Larry. Thanks.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: In his current role as the director of technology and marketing at Key Code Media, Michael Kammes consults on the latest in technology and best practices into the digital media communication space. He also has a strange love of workflows, codecs and process which just warms my heart. Hello Michael, welcome back.
Michael Kammes: Good evening Larry. Good to talk to you again.
Larry Jordan: So what’s caught your attention this week?
Michael Kammes: Almost every week I get pulled into a discussion on encoding and transcoding, and as we’ve talked before, I’m one of those weird folks that actually enjoys codecs and transcoding, so it’s been all about transcoding this week.
Larry Jordan: Why is transcoding so important?
Michael Kammes: There’s been a discrepancy, a disparity actually, between camera manufacturers and post production as I’m sure you know. Camera manufacturers come out with camera codecs that look great but don’t work well in post, to have a pleasurable editing experience. So being able to create files that are easier to use in post and still hold up is very important.
Larry Jordan: I will confess that editing H.264 natively is not my favorite way of editing. Why not do transcoding in the NLE, because every single one of them supports it? Why do we need to have transcode be a separate process?
Michael Kammes: That’s a real good question. We find a majority of NLEs aren’t as fast as dedicated transcoders. It also ties up your NLE by doing these transcodes. When you could be using the NLE to do editing tasks, you’re now tying it up with transcode.
Larry Jordan: What software are we recommending for transcoding?
Michael Kammes: There’s a couple of different ones. Obviously Adobe Media Encoder is fantastic, and it’s pretty quick. When we get into some of the higher end applications, that also have workflows built in and have analytical tools to make intelligent transcoding decisions, where we’re looking at stuff from Telestream like Vantage, or ContentAgent by Root6.
Larry Jordan: When you say intelligent decisions, what does that mean?
Michael Kammes: Traditionally, you tend to throw files at an encoder and say, “Go.” Those encoders will transcode to a set frame rate at a set frame size. But, what if you’re taking camera original cards which have hierarchies? What if you’re dealing with MOVs that may have letter boxes or pillar bars? You manually would have to go in there and set those parameters. By having intelligent transcoders, it can analyze the file and make transcoding decisions based on what it sees in the visual realm of that file.
Larry Jordan: If we are shooting camera native, and a lot of the lower end cameras are shooting a format of H.264, what should we transcode into? What codecs are good mezzanine formats?
Michael Kammes: That’s a good question and it comes down to your workflow. If this is going to be long form, whether it be a feature film or a documentary or unscripted, a lot of folks will do a standard def. offline using antiquated codecs like 15 to 1 or 14 to 1. I’m a big fan of following what some of the newer studios are doing, which is transcoding to a ProRes 422 or a DNx 145, so your offline is broadcast quality. So if you run out of funding at the end, you can still do an export for a broadcast quality master instead of being stuck with an offline.
Larry Jordan: Michael, you’ve mentioned Telestream Vantage and Root6 ContentAgent. What are we looking at for pricing for these tools?
Michael Kammes: It’s relatively expensive. It usually starts, with the CPU and everything, about 30,000 and goes up from there. So they’re more facility grade. But what we find with a lot of facilities is that they want the creatives to create and offloading the transcoding to a dedicated system that also has some intelligence built in, allows the creative to create instead of doing the transcodes.
Larry Jordan: How about at the lower end, and a smaller work group? What would you recommend?
Michael Kammes: Adobe Media Encoder. That’s always a really good solution. And I’ve recently been using Sorenson Squeeze quite a bit more because Telestream has announced end of life for the Episode product line which is a product that I’ve loved for many years.
Larry Jordan: I had not heard that, when did that occur?
Michael Kammes: About a month ago. Telestream, after several years of supporting Episode, they actually bought the technology from a European company, and the Episode Pro, Desktop and Engine family have been end of life unfortunately. It’s a shame because Episode gave the ability for clustering, across a network, which was great. And the Engine product allowed you to do ProRes on PC which was kind of a diamond in the rough.
Larry Jordan: When should filmmakers consider transcoding as opposed to editing camera native files?
Michael Kammes: Good question. There’s a couple of factors that go into that. First is, speed. How fast do you need to edit, can your system handle those kind of camera originals? If you need more color latitude, perhaps consider transcoding to a codec which gives users more flexibility in terms of color. We also want to look for faster exports. If you’re in a better format like a ProRes or DNx or Cineform, your exports can be faster than a more compressed format. And I think lastly, if you have more time in your schedule, then transcoding makes a lot of sense.
Larry Jordan: Michael, this has been a fascinating interview. For people that want to learn more and follow your thinking, where can they go on the web?
Michael Kammes: Two different places, you can go to michaelkammes.com or my web series, fivethingsseries.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s M-I-C-H-A-E-L K-A-M-M-E-S. The Michael Kammes himself at michaelkammes.com and Michael, thanks for joining us today.
Michael Kammes: Always a pleasure Larry, thank you.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and story tellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Les Zellan is the chairman of Cooke Optics, best known for their precision lenses for film and television. And recently Cooke announced new lenses at IBC that we want to learn more about. Hello Les, welcome.
Les Zellan: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I’m doing great, and before we start talking about the new announcements, I wonder if you could start by describing what Cooke Optics does?
Les Zellan: We have been making lenses for the motion picture industry since the days of Thomas Edison and George Eastman, back in the 1880s. As far as I know, we are the oldest continuously functioning company servicing the industry. There are a few companies that are older than us, but they really weren’t involved in the industry until more recently. Actually I love this story, George Eastman before he started Eastman Kodak, came over to our company in England and met the founder of it, William Taylor, to discuss lens making, and what problems there may be. And then he started Kodak in 1889, and our company goes back to 1886 so we’ve been doing this a while.
Larry Jordan: What makes Cooke Lenses different from lenses say from Panavision or Canon?
Les Zellan: Today at least we all use pretty much the same raw materials that we grind and polish. And it really comes down to the philosophy that we use in our design. Our philosophy goes back, again, back to the 20s and it’s the look of our lenses that has been described, not by us, but by the industry, as what’s called the Cooke Look. It’s a warm look, it’s very flattering to skin tones, it’s highly dimensional. Some people call it a roundness. It is flattering and it’s not a harsh look, not a high contrast. It’s just a pleasant, very natural look. There are stories where the stars of movies, especially in the heyday of studios where the stars would specify in their contract that they had to be shot with Cooke lenses. That’s a look that’s been consistent with us almost 100 years now, especially in this day of digital. Digital as you and I have discussed before, is pretty sterile and as the camera manufacturers quest in the K race, 2K, 4K, 8K and then it’ll be 16K and onward and upward, ultimate resolution does not necessarily make a picture that is really suitable for telling a story. And if you can’t keep the eyeballs on the screen, whatever screen it is, whether it’s your iPad or your TV or your movie, if you don’t like the look of what you’re seeing, you’re not going to stay. For the most part, ultimate resolution does not supply a pleasing image.
Larry Jordan: Part of your new announcements was going back to the past. What did you announce at IBC?
Les Zellan: We announced at IBC what we call the Panchro Classics. In the 1920s, just as talking movies came in, we introduced what was called the Speed Panchros and these were the first fast, specifically designed motion picture lenses and again, we have letters in the archives from studio heads saying that these lenses made talking movies possible. Before talkies, they could light with anything and most of those anythings were big carbon arc lights that made a lot of noise. Obviously when sound came in they couldn’t do that anymore. The state of incandescent lighting in the early 20s was primitive at best. So a lens that could use less light was absolutely fundamental for the industry to adopt talkies, and we had them. We went on to make them from the early 20s to the mid 60s and there were several series of the panchros. There were speed panchros, there were deep field panchros, there were telepanchros, but they made I would say a great majority of the movies from the 20s to the mid 60s.
Les Zellan: What we noticed when digital cameras came out, because of the sterileness and what I like to say that digital is a boring format, as the cameras got better and better, the cinematographers are looking for ways to reinject character and personality. Things that in film is there intrinsically, but in digital it’s not. They were looking for ways to put this personality back into the pictures. One way they were doing that was anamorphic has been very big lately and anamorphic offers its own personality that can help digital not look so antiseptic. But another way they did it is by using old lenses. They’d get old speed … , speed panchros, anything they could find, and speed panchros, obviously not made for 55 years now, were really in demand. They’ve made a lot of recent movies. They never stopped being used, but with digital they became more to the forefront again. We have the designs, so we said “This is silly, people are struggling to find enough of this old glass that’s in good repair, let’s make them again.” We had to update the old designs somewhat as the glasses that we have to work with are different today than they were 50 years ago or longer. We updated it to a modern camera mount, the PL, and we put a modern linear iris in it, we put our metadata, our eye system into it, but the look and feel of lens and the character of the lens, we did not mess with. And judging from the reception we’ve had since … and since IBC, they should have done this a couple of years ago. It’s been overwhelming.
Larry Jordan: Does age make a difference to a lens?
Les Zellan: The answer is unfortunately not really in one sense, and really in another sense. In one sense, I look at people like the camera manufacturers and other people and think what a great thing, they’re making something they’re selling for anywhere from ten to $100,000 and people are buying it, knowing it’s going to be obsolete in two or three years. It may not even last that long. They buy my product, and the products that I made, I am using the royal I here, the products that Cooke made 60, 70, 80 years ago, are still making films today.
Larry Jordan: That’s both exciting and depressing.
Les Zellan: I tend to wear that as a badge of honor, even though I’d love to sell more lenses. But the upside is that lenses will reasonably last a long time. It is probably the best investment that any rental house will make, and the glass they purchased ten, 20, 30 years ago is probably still working today, where the cameras they bought two, three, four, five years ago are probably already in the back room or being sold off.
Les Zellan: So, glass is a good investment. The miniS4s are a great case study.
I know we talked about those at one of our interviews a while back. When we originally introduced those lenses, we actually tried to revive the panchro name, about five years ago I think, and we called them panchros as a tribute to the old speed panchros. We got in a lot of trouble and we re-named them miniS4 which should have been the right name along, and the reason we got into trouble is that people that were expecting them to look just like the old panchros were disappointed as they looked like S4s, because the same color and feel of the panchros but are a modern design and I’ll explain the difference in a minute, and people that for whatever reason didn’t like the old speed panchros, wouldn’t even look at them thinking they were going to look like the old speeds. So it’s a lose lose for me.
Les Zellan: We got a lot of feedback right away when we introduced those lenses, and we renamed them the miniS4s which is exactly what they are. The difference between a speed panchro design and an S4, be it the original S4 or the miniS4s, is pretty straightforward. The S4s and the miniS4s are actually direct descendants of the speed panchros. The designs are in the same philosophy, the Cooke Look is the same. But what we did when we made the S4s is we made them cover a larger field. In the old speed panchros they were very small diameter, very small lenses, and due to that, on axis, they were really good. But as soon as you get off into the field, that is as soon as you get off of that center line or that center point and you start moving in any direction, they fell off very quickly. The S4s have the same look and color but they don’t fall off. They will hold resolution to what we call the picture height area, for a larger area, if where they start to naturally fall off. So the lenses that we’ve redesigned are small diameter, small lenses, and they’ll have the same look and feel and fall off as the original speed panchros.
Les Zellan: It seems to me that a lot of people have forgotten that the story should dictate the choices and not the technology. The technology is there as a tool, and the cinematographer and the director should make the appropriate choices to tell their story correctly, whether that’s using a brand new piece of gear, or using old stuff or using a combination. A lot of films where they have flashbacks, they’ll use maybe speed panchros for flashbacks, and S4s or 5is for the modern part. So using the right tool to tell the story to me is something that a lot of people have forgotten about.
Larry Jordan: Cooke lenses are not inexpensive because they last forever. For filmmakers on a budget who can’t afford to purchase their own set of Cooke lenses, what’s their option?
Les Zellan: Cooke lenses are available for rental almost everywhere.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about lenses and how to use them, what educational resource do you have available?
Les Zellan: You can go to Cookeopticstv. It’s where we’ve interviewed DPs and they tell us tricks of the trade. Whether or not they use Cooke lenses is completely incidental, so we urge people to take a look.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about Cooke and its lenses, where can they go on the web?
Les Zellan: They can go to Cookeoptics.com, that’s COOKEOPTICS.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one work. Cookeoptics.com and the chairman and owner of Cooke Optics is Les Zellan, and Les it is always fun talking to you, thank you very much.
Les Zellan: I look forward to the next time Larry, thank you.
Larry Jordan: I’m always impressed at the range that we have of the guests on this show. Whether we’re looking at interactive VR with Alexander Rae, or Les Zellan talking about new lenses by returning to designs of the 1920s from Cooke Optics. And then we shifted overseas to Laura Blum looking at the films of the Arab Spring, and Wes Plate, confab on the west coast called the FCP X Summit. Michael Kammes talking about transcoding, and James DeRuvo bringing us the latest news from DoddleNEWS. The range in our industry continues to fascinate me.
Larry Jordan: And thinking of fascinating history, there’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. And remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. You can talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com. Text transcripts provided by Take1 Transcription. Visit Take1.tv to learn how they can help you. Our producer is Debbie Price.
Larry Jordan: My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for joining us for the Digital Production Buzz.