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Tools

Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

Needables
  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Filmmaking (181)

Monday
Oct142013

M is for Marmalade—Watch and Vote!

Warning! This is a horror short. It’s all scary and stuff. If you are my mom, don’t watch.

I did the color grading for this creepy, wonderful horror short by Gus Krieger. It’s an entry in the ABC’s of Death 2 search for the 26th director competition—if Gus wins, his short will be included in the feature film, a sequel to the orginal ABC’s of Death.

The winner is chosen by Facebook “Likes” (because what could be more horrific than that?), so head on over and put a thumb on it!

Further warning: Gus has given me the OK to write about the process of coloring his film, so watch for that in coming weeks.

Wednesday
Oct022013

Creative Cloud? Give Me a Cloud That Can Cook

I’ve got some time on my hands. Twenty-five hours and seven minutes, to be exact.

I’m working on a new short film that I can’t wait to share with you. But I have to wait, because it’s rendering. This thousands-of-frames-long Adobe After Effects project is rendering really, really fast. But also really, really slow. And so I’m waiting for it to finish rendering on one blazing fast (but agonizingly slow) computer.

When I wrote about the After Effects ray-tracing renderer (which this project doesn’t use, by the way), I think I buried perhaps the most important point way at the bottom:

Along with CS6, Adobe unveiled Creative Cloud, which includes subscription pricing for the Creative Suite applications. But is that really what After Effects power-users need from “the cloud?” What if that subscription also gave me access to a cloud-based render farm that is constantly Backblaze-syncing with my work directories and is ready to instantaneously render my 1,000-frame animation on 1,000 virtual machines at the push of a button?

Then what if Adobe removed the button?

It used to be my dream that After Effects would speculatively render my work in the background, using every ounce of my computer’s processing power. Now I want the same thing, but with Adobe supplying the processors. That would be worth a subscription fee.

The “big iron” days are over. Simplicity is the new powerful. Fast is the new good. The computer is the new hardest working guy in the room. Except it’s no longer in the room.

What I want from my Creative Cloud subscription is access to an infinite render farm that I only pay for when I need it. Adobe needs to productize what my friends at Atomic Fiction have built for themselves—an infinitely scalable, virtual render farm—that they’ve never seen with their own eyes.

What I meant by “removing the button” is that Creative Cloud should be like Tony Stark’s Jarvis. “I rendered those 3,000 frames for you sir, would you like to take a look?” This isn’t new technology I’m talking about—it’s simply smart use of existing technology. Which, by the way, is actually what Adobe’s good at.

I’m not a Creative Cloud hater, and quite frankly I find the backlash against it tiresome and paranoid. But Adobe did themselves no favors by launching their cloud initiative first as a new way of paying, without simultaneously offering new functionality made possible only by a massively distributed architecture.

Want to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of your customers Adobe? Make Creative Cloud not just mandatory, but indispensable. And maybe give it a British accent.

I’ll be waiting.

Monday
Sep022013

Prolost Boardo

Some people procrastinate writing by shopping for notebooks, or perfecting their Markdown preview CSS. Some procrastinate their work by cleaning their desk, and some procrastinate cleaning their desk by working.

I procrastinate storyboarding a new video I’m working on by creating iPad templates and After Effects presets designed to make storyboarding easier.

If you read my post on storyboarding on the iPad, you may remember that my app of choice was Penultimate. I lovingly created storyboard templates for it and defended its clean simplicity. Penultimate makes it easy to sketch out, edit, and rearrange a series of boards using a custom template, and export the results to a PDF.

There was one feature that I wished for however: the option to export to individual, numbered PNG files. If all you want to do with a storyboard is print or share it, a PDF is perfect. But if you want to take the frames and create something else with them, it’s much better to have them as individual files.

For example, you might want to bring them into Storyboard Composer HD, where, right on your iPad, you can sequence them into a timed-out animatic, or board-o-matic. complete with camera moves and sound.

Or you may want to edit this board-o-matic on your computer. Usually I use NLE software such as Adobe Premiere for this kind of thing, but the power this solution offers comes with a price: doing some things is less simple than in a dedicated app such as Storyboard Composer.

It occurred to me that I could use After Effects to automate some of the most common board-o-matic tasks. Although After Effects is not a great environment for creative editorial, it is an excellent platform for automating some kinds of motion and imaging tasks.

But first I needed to solve my problem of getting individual PNG files of my storyboards. I began investigating tools for ripping images out of PDFs, and simultaneously I continued my gentle harassment of Penultimate’s creator, Ben Zotto. The app allows a single page to be exported as a PNG, so, I reasoned, there’s a certain consistency in offering this option for multi-page exports.

You may recall that Ben and I blogged back and forth about how users should best make feature requests of developers. It was a bit of a love-fest, and I deeply admired Ben’s commitment to a simple, clean, user experience.

In May of 2012, Penultimate was acquired by Evernote, and is now free. It’s still great, but I’m no longer using Penultimate for storyboarding on the iPad.

A Little Less Less

Back when I first posted about storyboarding, many readers suggested alternatives to Penultimate. There is no shortage of busy, complex, feature-crowded notebook apps in the App Store. Most of the suggested apps made my head hurt with their cluttered UIs. But a few folks suggested that I look at Noteshelf ($5.99 on the App Store).

It’s hard to imagine that Noteshelf didn’t draw inspiration from Penultimate in its design and feature set. It’s a note-taking and drawing app that works on the model of multi-page notebooks that can be lined with various virtual “papers,” including ones you create yourself.

Most importantly for my storyboarding workflow: your drawings can be exported with, or—crucially, without, the paper template embedded, in various formats, to various destinations, including numbered PNG files to Dropbox.

But Noteshelf is not just a me-too app. It’s sturdy, attractive, well thought-out, and not without restraint. And there are a few things about it that I like better than Penultimate. Its “ink” overlaps more realistically. It features highlighter “markers” that are great for shading storyboards. And it works much better in landscape orientation.

Templates

Like Penultimate, Noteshelf allows you to create custom paper templates. But instead of helpfully packaging them up in a unique file type that can be one-tap installed like Penultimate, Noteshelf simply offers the option to import any image from your iPad’s Photo Library.

Quirks aside, Noteshelf offers almost everything I want from an iPad storyboarding sketchbook, and few things I don’t. I can quickly bang out a bunch of questionably-legible cinematic chicken-scratches and export them to my laptop. So what do I do with them then?

Prolost Boardo for After Effects

Prolost Boardo is a set of three Animation Presets for Adobe After Effects that automate the process of creating an animated storyboard, or board-o-matic.

Easily create animated camera moves, including cross-dissolves, camera shake, and cycling animations, all without using any keyframes.

The video shows you how it works, but it’s deceptively simple. There’s some complex math going on under the hood to make these virtual camera moves smooth, realistic, and predictable. Anyone who’s ever tried to animate 2D artwork in an NLE can tell you how frustrating it can be.

Boardo, on the other hand, makes it so easy that you might use it just for fun.

Boardo works with any kind of storyboards, wherever you create them (and includes instructions on customizing the settings for whatever format you like), but it defaults to work with frames drawn in Noteshelf using one of two templates. You can download them here.

This is is the most powerful and complex tool I’ve created for the Prolost Store, and I really think you’re going to like it. Prolost Boardo is available now for $24.99.

Tuesday
Aug062013

Cinefex Classic on Kickstarter

Cinefex needs your help to make something great.

The first issue of Cinefex I bought had Robocop on the cover. It was bagged and boarded at Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis, and I remember thinking it was expensive, and really fancy. I read it cover-to-cover, not understanding much of anything I was reading. When I got to the end, I read it again.

The Robocop article still stands out as one of my favorites. I went back and read it several more times, and with subsequent issues providing context, each new reading brought new understandings. It’s not only where I learned about zirc hits and methylcellulose, but also where I learned about Paul Verhoeven’s philosophy about violence in movies, and how an MPAA-ordered cut-down of the film’s more violent scenes had the unintended effect of transforming satirical, intentionally over-the-top violence into just plain violence. This wasn’t just an article about how some visual effects were accomplished. This was a juicy, practical essay on the filmmaking process.

Cinefex is still great, but nothing they’ve printed in recent years matches the infectious, inspirational glory of the back catalog. Here are some tidbits I remember to this day:

  • The elevator shaft that McClane throws the explosives down in Die Hard is a miniature, built in forced-perspective. This was, in part, to allow the model to be smaller—but the real, ingenious reason for the perspective trick was to make the explosion seem to accelerate up toward the camera.
  • When filming the motion-control miniature of the flying Delorean landing in the rain for Back to the Future II, the model was covered in vaseline, which was smoothed and re-stippled with a toothbrush on every frame, to simulate the wet car being pelted by raindrops.
  • Speaking of crazy stop-motion, in Robocop, ED–209’s machine-gun fire was animated by hand, as an in-camera effect. On each frame with gunfire, Tippet’s crew would shut off the set lighting and the rear projection, insert a tiny light bulb into the miniature gun barrel, hand-sculpt a cotton muzzle flash over the bulb, and re-expose the frame.

The deceptively minimal writing in these articles made these ideas and techniques seem not only understandable, but downright doable. Every issue would light a fire in my brain that could only be doused in my backyard, with a Super 8 camera, a cable release, and probably some unsafe household chemicals.

This was my education in visual effects. Cinefex is the reason I didn’t sound like an idiot when applying for film school, and for my first job.

When I landed my dream job at ILM, I thought maybe I’d “made it.” It was when I was first interviewed for a Cinefex article that I knew it was true.

Cinefex launched a great iPad version of their magazine last year, and each time I launch it, I see that floating wall of covers, and wish that I could have my dog-eared, worn-away back issues in this searchable, slick format.

And that’s exactly what they’re going to do—but they need our help.

Cinefex Classic is a Kickstarter campaign to bring the Cinefex back catalog to the iPad. There are ten days to go in the campaign, and they are close. Let’s get them to their goal so we can all have access to this amazing archive.