Monday, March 31, 2008

Upgrade Progress

Finally got around to the Final Cut Studio 2 upgrade on Friday. Before that, I’d been contacting the other musicians whose music we used in the temp track to see about licensing their work. I’ll tell you more about that later, but the artists have been so incredibly helpful--some even offering to rework their songs a bit so we can use them--that I just wanted to quickly thank them all now for their time and support. You’re all amazing!

The upgrade went smoothly. I started with a fresh install of the OS, did all the system and firmware updates, then installed Final Cut Studio and a few other essential programs. Technically, I’m not quite done, because I’ve still got to install the Matrox MXO utilities, and then calibrate the display I use with it. Some people have reported problems with the Matrox drivers, so I wanted to make sure that the system was stable otherwise, before I added that to the mix.

The movie is divided up into seven ten-minute segments, each of them in its own project file, because all of the Final Cut Studio apps seem happiest when working with projects about this length. So, I opened my first ten-minute project file in Final Cut 6, which converted it from a 5.1.4 to a 6.0.2 project.

A few little glitches: the opening shot of the movie is a sunrise shot, but we actually filmed a sunset and reversed it in Final Cut—after the conversion, the reverse filter wasn’t applied for some reason, although the speed changes I’d made to the clip were; I’ve altered the framing on a lot of shots, and some of those changes didn’t stay; other little oddities. There may be other problems I just haven’t noticed yet, but so far these are easily fixed.

So, upgrade complete! Pretty much, anyway! After fixing any problems and converting to the ProRes codec, it’s on to effects work and then into Apple Color for the first time!

Exciting! Kind of!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scientists Agree: Twizzle Does, In Fact, Sizzle!

I’m overjoyed to tell you that the Seattle-based band Twizzle is letting us use two of their tunes in the movie! We can’t thank the incredible duo of Sir Mildred Pitt and Spacecake enough!

Honestly, I was terrified about contacting them, because I’d fallen so completely in love with the songs and if they said no, I was going to be devastated. Really devastated. And sad. Really sad. In fact, between you and me, I’m so in love with the songs and so averse to being really devastated and sad, that if they had said no, I probably wouldn’t have taken the songs out at all, and would have moved to Kazakhstan and sold the movie illegally on street corners for 300 Tenges apiece. I know what you're thinking: 300 Kazakhstani Tenges sounds like a lot of change. Believe me when I tell you, it’s not. It would be a hard, dangerous life and I’d have to move often and quickly, as the Kazkhstan Secret Police doesn’t take kindly to that sort of thing. But, that’s how much I love these songs.

[Edit: The Legal Department of Northanger Productions would like to take this opportunity to state unequivocally that at no time did Guy ever seriously consider engaging in copyright theft or any other illegal activity. We won't let him. We promise.]

Thankfully, Twizzle just agreed to let us use the songs, and none of that happened, so I’m pretty happy with how everything worked out. Although the more I think about it, the fine citizens of Kazakhstan may quite possibly be our target demographic.

The two songs we’re using are “Falling,” from the 1999 album “Soda Fountain,” available (for free!) on Comfort Stand. And “Don’t Geddup,” from the 2007 album “S’Prise Inside.” Listen to some tracks from the album on the Twizzle website, then run out and buy it here!

But, wait! That’s not all! Mildred has another band, Library Science, and the latest album is available here! And here! And of course here!

And don’t forget “The Bran Flakes,” Mildred’s band with Otis Fodder. A new album is being released this Summer!

And if you order right now, they’ll include this ABSOLUTELY FREE!

See you at Hansen’s! I’ll order you some mayonnaise bites!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Brief History of “Zorg” Upgrades

I know what you’re thinking: Two posts in a day and three within a week from Guy! Something’s terribly wrong! Any second, it’s going to start raining frogs!

Not to worry, it’s all part of my post-audio, delayed-onset, procrastinator’s New Year’s resolution to blog more consistently, which like so many of my past resolutions, of course leads me to massively overdo said resolution, ending in total burnout before the research-based conclusion that one simply needs to repeat any activity for 21 days for that activity to be habituated.

But that won’t happen this time! And I'm going to start exercising, too!

And what better blogging material to share with you than my latest post production dilemma?

Basically, “Zorg” post is, sadly, a history of working with HDV on a Mac (yes, it’s been that long). My first editing computer was a Powerbook G4, running Final Cut 4.5, neither of which could really effectively edit HDV. Well, I gave it a good go, though, using a program called Lumiere HD (now irrelevant and out of business) to convert my footage to a lower-resolution format for proxy editing, until I discovered a rather severe audio drift problem. Ugly. My next computer was an Intel iMac, running Final Cut 5, which did offer native HDV editing and did a great job finishing the rough cut, until it wasn’t able to cope any longer with audio work. My latest computer is the 2.66 GHz Mac Pro, still running Final Cut 5.1.4 and has been up to all tasks, wonderfully stable, without even a program crash.

So, why throw all that good Karma away and upgrade to the latest, greatest version of Final Cut Studio yet again, you ask? Well, Apple has come out with two compelling reasons. The first is Apple ProRes, a new codec that offers a larger colorspace to work with, meaning that if we convert our existing HDV project to ProRes HQ (the high definition flavor), we’ll be able to take advantage of a far superior format to work in for both visual effects and color correction. Which would mean a better-looking final product. In theory, at any rate.

By the way, since I seem to throw the term “color correction” around quite a bit, if you’re interested in seeing what a dramatic difference it can make, check out this post by visual effects pro Stu Maschwitz on his ProLost blog.

Speaking of which, the second good reason to upgrade is Apple Color, a dedicated color correction program that ships free with Final Cut Studio. On the downside, it looks massively complicated, has a steep learning curve and appears to be fairly finicky, judging from the posts on the Apple support forms pleading for help. Nevertheless, again, using it should provide a better-looking final product.

Hard to learn? Buggy? Sign me up!

So, I’ve been wrestling with this decision for a couple of weeks now, trying to weigh the advantages of my beautifully stable system and staying in HDV versus the risk/rewards of upgrading, when I ran across this thread on Creative Cow. Exactly what I was looking for. Seeing the differences in the HDV and ProRes footage sealed the deal. Tomorrow, I’m wiping my hard drive with a clean install of the OS, then installing my shiny new copy of Final Cut Studio 2.

I’ll keep you posted on the upgrade.

Otis Fodder!

I first heard of Otis when Quentin forwarded me a link to the awesome Comfort Stand site, a Net Label that Otis founded dedicated to offering free music. We were both completely blown away by the album “Two Zombies Later,” which Otis not only produced, but contributed a tune to. We were so blown away that we used most of the album for our temp soundtrack!

I emailed Otis shortly after finishing the audio to ask if we could use some of his work in the final film. Fully expecting to have yet another restraining order slapped on me, I was pleased when Otis wrote back to say that we could! He’s as nice as he is talented. Simply put, we love Otis!

“Two Zombies Later” was a revelation for me and I'm now a confirmed exotica fan. You should just really do yourself a favor, stop whatever you’re doing right now and wander over there and take a listen.

I’ll wait. No problem.

See? I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

Check out Otis’ website, and also listen to his other band, “The Bran Flakes,” where he performs with the amazing Mildred Pitt (who we’ll be talking more about in the coming days).

Happy listening!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Famous Last Words!

I’m done with audio! Yep, it only took me a scant year to finish that phase of post-production.


I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to have that behind me. There were times I wasn’t really sure if audio editing was going to end. Ever. Maybe I’d already died and just didn’t realize it yet and this was hell and I’d be laying in footsteps by hand for eternity.

I suppose I should explain “laying in footsteps” a bit. I choose to explain this, as opposed to the deranged fantasy of already being dead and eternally punished. Anyway, sounds that are created to accompany the on-screen actions of actors, like footsteps or the sound of a door opening, are called Foley effects. And they’re usually created in real-time by a Foley artist on a soundstage watching the movie. So for example, if an actor walks across a room in a film, her footsteps would be rerecorded later by a Foley artist mimicking her actions, wearing similar shoes and walking across a similar surface, trying as best as possible to match the action on the screen.

But, we didn’t have a Foley artist or a soundstage, so I used Foley effects from the free (and royalty-free) sound effects libraries that I could find: the 5,000 + effects that come with Apple’s Final Cut Studio and two online libraries, the amazing Freesound Project (, which I made extensive use of and can’t thank enough for its mere existence, and Soundsnap (, which I didn’t use as much, but which also has some excellent recordings.

Which leads us back to footsteps. After locating the right sound (sneakers walking on a wood floor, for instance) I would then chop that clip up into individual steps and place them to sync up with the actors’ movements. Which doesn’t seem so bad the first, oh, hundred times, you do it. But, after adding footsteps to the whole movie…well, let’s just say I think I would have been better off building my own Foley stage. Next movie maybe.

“Things We’ll Do Differently on the Next Movie!” is going to be a rather lengthy future post.

To be fair, there were some parts of audio work that I really loved. Mixing, for example, although it would have been a lot easier with some sort of control surface (I just used a mouse and set keyframes where I wanted to make changes in volume, panning, etc.). And sound effects were a lot of fun to put together. There’s a camera flash sound that I particularly like that was made by putting together the sounds of an instamatic camera, a gas stove lighting, an Uzi, as well as a few other effects.

While I’m thinking about it, there are a couple of fantastic sites focused on sound in movies, if you're interested:, in their words, “dedicated to the art of film sound design,” has tons of great information and links; and, which has some very nice interviews with sound professionals, as well as awe-inspiring (to the guy who used a mouse) pictures of real audio post facilities with their beautiful, enormous mixing consoles that I desperately want for my very own.

Next movie…