Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Deep AVIs within After Effects Pro.

The professional version of After Effects has the very import feature of 16-bit processing. This is something CineForm loves and we made extensive use of this on the production of Dust to Glory. To allow greater than 8-bit AVI support within After Effects, CineForm has created its own I/O module to offer importing and exporting of deep AVIs. Cool huh? Yet this comes with some resistance from Adobe themselves as we had to override their existing After Effects importer. The concern is fair, just as AE doesn't support deep AVIs (annoying to our customers), the CineForm importer doesn't support DV (annoying to many of their customers.) Unfortunately the two importers can't play well together, as After Effect is missing the mechanism that Premiere has which enables multiple importers to co-exist. Sigh.

To overcome Adobe's concern and the After Effects limitation, the new release of Prospect HD (v1.1 is due out any day now) will allow you to select which importer you will use on the launch of After Effects. You can permanently select deep AVIs, or stay with 8-bit processing, or dynamically select which you are using in each AE session. The beauty of this approach is it actually overcomes the AE limitation for all AVI types (with a little user work-around.) It turns out the AE limitation only applies to the action of importing, not to using multiple AVI types loaded in previous sessions (weird I know.) If you're working with deep AVIs but you still need to mix in some DV clips, here is how you can do it (in PHD v1.1.) Starting with a project with deep AVIs, to add DV elements:
1) save your project and close AE.
2) re-open AE (while holding SHIFT+CTRL) which will open the CineForm importer control panel.
3) Select 8-bit AVI mode from the CineForm pop-up.
4) reload you project and import all the new DV elements.
You are done. Now all the media types work together while gaining the benefits of deep pixel processing. If you need more deep AVI elements, simply repeat the steps and switch back into deep AVI mode. This shows AE is so close to working as we all would prefer, yet this work-around allows the highest quality output without compromissing your source flexibility.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Putting the team back together for the 48 Hour Film Project.

The 48 Hour Film Project is a touring guerrilla film making competition. Last year was the first time in San Diego for this competition, so CineForm put together a team. This was a team of software engineers (camera, lighting & sound), technical support staff (editing), the wife (writer & acting), even the company's insurance agent (boom operator) all lent a hand. With actors from Criag's list we had a total blast and made a fun, but not yet a winning film. This year we are back to try again.

Like last year, we will be shooting HD, totally overkill for this type of project (SD only projection.) We do it because can -- it was also a plus to shoot a little wide for very fast setups, then crop in within post (HD giving us the extra definition for the crop.) The whole film was written, shot, edited, and mastered out in 48 hours so HD actually helped us save time. We where the only team last year with HDV cameras, this year I expect to be competing with other HDV teams (some may competing using our software.) Last year was shot with two JVC HD10U cameras, this year it will be either a couple of Sony Z1s or any upcoming prototypes I can get my hands on. What every we shoot with, we will be using the latest Aspect HD (hopeful a beta of the next release as nothing finds bugs faster than a competition like this.) I hope we can shoot something worth while to post online.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Scripting the rendered world.

It seems that there is an increasing number of customers using primarily computer generated sources. Customers are showing up with large number of Targa (TGA) or TIFF sequences and trying to work out the real-time editing work-flow. Although Premiere and After Effect happily import TGA sequences it becomes a very labor intensive task to convert tens or hundreds of sequences into separate AVIs. So I have been working on a simple shell tool to help batch convert image sequences CineForm Intermediate AVIs. This was is an off shoot of the work required by Pixel Havest (Lbs project); a version of this tool now runs on the film scanner. This is in an alpha version today, but I will make it available to Prospect HD customers upon request. Feedback is welcome.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

3D CineForm

Prospect 2K is CineForm's next big thing for film-makers, but it is still in the development stage. We are working with partners to beta test this on real film projects like Lbs (see my first post.) In addition to Lbs we have another project with a partner I can't yet name. This is a cool project working with elements from a 3D IMAX film. Each frame (and for each eye -- left and right images) is 2048x1501 -- although I recommended that they reduce the resolution to 2048x1500 (that odd number simply bothered me -- although I tested to confirm no technical limitations with such weird vertical sizes.) This is a computer generated project so the images are razor sharp.

This new partner was having issues trying to edit from a mixture of Targa files, SGI files and PNGs -- about 100,000 of them. Playback was very slow. So I helped out with a few scripts to batch convert these frames into CineForm Intermediate AVIs. These new files are about 8 to 10 times smaller even while using a quality setting above what was used on Dust To Glory -- computer graphics are easy to compress as there is no noise component. Originally, the frames required 700+ GBytes; now they could nearly fit on a 60GB iPod (my yardstick these days -- I believe I can fit the entire 12 minute 4096x1714 StEM project on an iPod without visual loss.) Now as C.I. AVIs the playback is real-time and with multiple streams. I even tried successfully (for fun) playback of left and right channels as two picture in pictures so I could "cross-them-in" to view the 3D.

I'll tell more when I'm allowed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Wavelets Seen Everywhere

As most will know by now, CineForm uses a variation of wavelet compression. What that means is not so important for this discussion, but it is good to know that most compression is either wavelet or DCT (discrete cosine transform) based. Both wavelet and DCT have been around for a very long time, but for historical reasons DCT has been more prevalent (it was easier to put in silicon); DCT is used at the core of many common compressors like DV, DVCPRO, MPEG, and WM9. Despite the historical adoption of DCT, wavelet is considered a better compressor for image data but unfortunately it is not used widely (yet -- we are helping change this.) So it is very amusing to me when I read on several HD forums that CineForm's compression competitors, AVID DNxHD and Canopos HQ, are also attributed to being wavelet compressors -- which they're not. Why would this be, as neither company makes this claim? It seems the CineForm marketing message (with zero advertising dollars from us) has lead people to equate wavelet with high quality (nice, thank you, we totally agree.) So I guess some users assume the solutions of AVID or Canopus are also using wavelets to achieve their own quality claims. They might very well be nice codecs but they are not wavelet based.

Monday, June 06, 2005

So Apple is moving to Intel

Do we port to the Mac or does Apple come over to our camp? Not that I'm going to reveal CineForm's plans for Apple support, but it is clear that CineForm has always had an interest in porting to the Mac, to offer compressed Digital Intermediate work-flows under Final Cut Pro. The announcement today doesn't change our interest, but it potentially makes our work much easier. Porting to Quicktime has never been a big concern, but maintaining two optimized CODEC engines, one for Intel's SSE2/3 and another for the PowerPC's Altivec, is a bigger pain. Compression speed is of such high importance to CineForm, so optimization is key. If only the changeover was sooner.

Of course purchasing a G5 Mac today for post-production has got to be a hard decision. Final Cut Pro loses some of its gloss if it doesn't keep up with CPU performance (until it switches to Intel in 2007?)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Aspect HD sold to The Daily Show.

Even our HDV editing software is finding its way into broadcast. This Aspect HD system is installed on a very beefy laptop built by DV411, and is apparately going to be used for mobile HD production for Comedy Central's The Daily Show. I love that show. When I learn more I will post info here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

First Post

I've been asked to start this blog many times to cover the technical happenings at CineForm. But it is the recent post-production work for Lbs (Pounds) from CAVU Pictures that has led me to start this blog. Many other technical players behind this new film will be writing their stories, so I will be linking over when I find them. For information on Lbs the film : check out imdb and indiewire.com.

It is in the technical aspects where CineForm is getting involved. This feature will be running a variation of Prospect HD, the same editing engine used with Premiere Pro to complete the Dust To Glory project. This time we are using Prospect 2K -- the soon to be released big brother of Prospect HD. The Lbs project differs in many ways from Dust To Glory : here are some technical comparisons.

Dust To Glory Lbs
HD workflow :
telecined and scanned
Post res. 1920x1080
input : 35mm, 16mm, HDCAM & DV
BT709 color space 2.2 gamma 10-bit
Film workflow :
Scanned at 3K
post res. 2048 x 1276
input : Super 16mm
Cineon log 10-bit

For the D2G project, data was entered into the Prospect HD workstation via standard HD-SDI from HDCAM or QBit servers, so ingesting of data was very simple. Export was also a simple matter of playback from the timeline back out HD-SDI. Lbs is a different beast. We are working with a film scanning company (Pixel Harvest) to convert scanned frames directly into CineForm Intermediate (CI) and then using FireWire drives as the deliverable. Export will be to Cineon files for output to the film recorder. It is everything that happens in-between the scanning and the output to the film recorder that I hope to discuss here -- this is an interesting project, and just like D2G, we will be breaking new ground in film post-production.