What Is It?
Time-lapse photography is effectively the opposite of slow-motion filmmaking. By shooting multiple frames of a scene at intervals and then stitching them together into a film/video, the final product presents the passage of time in a unique, artistic way. It’s not a new process – the first time-lapses were done in the 19th Century. And it’s not a fad — with advances in digital photography, digital processing, and digital video, new creative styles are possible and the process has simply gained renewed popularity. To see the work of a great, contemporary time-lapse filmmakers, I encourage you to check out Tom Lowe and the stunning 4K film he produced, “TimeScapes”. Read more “Affordable, Professional Time-Lapse Photography”
Introduction to VR
Somewhere between still photography and video lies what I believe to be an under-appreciated and under-utilized presentation format: 360° Virtual Reality (VR) Photography. (Yes, they still call it Virtual Reality, 1992’s “Lawnmower Man” notwithstanding.) It’s a really cool way to present a 3-dimensional area visually. While it isn’t exactly motion, like video—the vantage point of the viewer never actually changes, only the viewing angle—it can provide a much more realistic and detailed spacial experience than traditional photography. Read more “360° VR Photography”
This is not a typical Gypsy eNewsletter. But here in Vietnam, we are watching the crisis of Haiyan unfold right in our back yard, so it’s necessary. Wherever you are in the world, you can help. Here are just a few ways:
One of the strengths of Final Cut Pro X is its comprehensive organization system. From tagging and grouping clips, to reconnecting offline media, it’s a pretty impressive setup. When I took the FCPX certification course, a large part of the curriculum was dedicated to early-stage organization, and I spent a lot of time getting the hang of it. Once you do have the hang of it, there’s really no excuse for not organizing your stuff properly at the first stage of an editing workflow. Unless, of course, you are an imperfect human being.
It happens. Sometimes you are on a ridiculous deadline and you have footage coming in from 6 different places all 6 different times. Maybe you’re working on a project that combines footage from archived or otherwise unrelated shoots. There are countless reasons why you might find yourself editing a project that includes media from multiple drives, cards, photo libraries, whatever. If this is the case, do not lose hope; you can still consolidate it all in one place, after the fact.
Print designers have it easy. They are human, too; a photo may be on the desktop or a logo in their Dropbox folder. Fortunately, programs like Quark and InDesign have simple one-click methods for packaging projects in a single, dedicated folder. Web designers may have it even easier; not only do most web authoring programs have similar functions, these guys are working with images of 150kb and such. Final Cut Pro has never had such a simple method for consolidating all your assets, after the fact. “Media Management” in FCP7 was awkward and buggy. And yes, FCPX does have a system in place, but it’s far from intuitive. Maybe you can make sense of Apple’s online support, but I don’t think it is either sufficient or clear.
So I’m here to help out, drawing from my own experience. I hope this is useful to others who have been, until now, utterly confounded. Here’s how the file consolidation process works in real life. Click on the screenshots for full-size images.
You started out fine. You shot your footage, converted it, labeled it, and dumped it all on a Firewire or Thunderbolt drive. You did that, right? You imported it properly into FCPX, leaving your ProRes footage in its existing location so as not to clog up that annoying “Movies” folder on you system drive. Well done and good on ya’. But then your client came along with a new hard drive full of new Pro Res footage and they needed you to include it in a new version and deliver it by the end of the day. You don’t have time to move all the media to your drive, so you just plug theirs in and start cutting. Let’s make this even uglier: you also have several new photos on your desktop and several new clips on your local hard drive, and they all need to be in your edit, too. Of course, ya jerk, you should have imported and organized everything properly up front, but you were short on time and, like I said, you’re human. At the end of the day, you’ve sent off the new draft, but you still have the problem of your media living in different neighborhoods. Now you need to consolidate it all in one place.
Step One—“Duplicating” is just “Re-Referencing”:
First thing’s first: Leave everything plugged in! With all your relevant drives/media connected and your project open and free of errors, go back to the project library panel at the lower left corner of the screen (see above). Control click on your project and from the drop down menu click “Duplicate Project”. When FCPX asks you how you want to do this, choose your final destination drive and select the middle option (“Duplicate Project and Referenced Events”). This process can take a little while. If you get the spinning pinwheel of doom, don’t panic, this is not FCPX beta. If it says that FCPX is “preparing to duplicate” your project, it probably is. Don’t force quit or go searching for preferences to trash, just go get a coffee and relax.
Eventually, a new project will appear in you project library. When you click on it, it will take you to your new edit where everything seems to be in place. But it isn’t.
Step Two—Actually MOVE Your Media:
What FCPX did in the last step was create a new project and event library on your destination drive, just as you asked it to. But the media is still not really there. If you start unplugging drives and pulling out cards, you’ll find half your project is offline again and you will start tearing your hair out. To confirm this in Finder, look at the new event library on the destination drive. You’ll see that your “original media” is just a bunch of reference files. They are aliases (maybe 10kb apiece) that still direct FCPX to the original location of your footage.
So this part is important: within FCPX, you now need to select the new event on your destination drive. Go to “File > Organize Event Files”. You will get another warning. Click “Continue”.
Now FCPX starts doing the real work of copying the actual media to your destination drive. This process can really take a long time depending on what you’re working with. So get another cup of coffee. Screw it, forego the coffee and take a nap. If you want to see the process in action, go back in Finder to that “Original Media” folder on your destination drive, and you’ll see the alias files, one by one, becoming real media files. This is what you wanted all along.
The Finder screenshots below should give you an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes:
Before “organization”, aliases were created and your new project was re-referenced:
During organization, the aliases—one-by-one—became real media files. They start getting bigger:
Following organization, all your media is there, right where you want it:
Step Three—Test It:
Quit FCPX. Unplug your client’s drive. Drag the footage out of your “Movies” folder and put it somewhere else. Eject your SD cards. In other words, manually disconnect any media you can think of except for the destination drive where you are hoping everything now lives. Restart FCPX and, in your event library, click on the new project on the destination drive. If your project is intact with no disconnected media, you are good to go. Empty the trash or whatever you gotta do.
A Couple Warnings:
Of course, I’m not saying you should delete everything in a hurry. Make sure you’re not trashing media you haven’t used yet. Remember: FCPX only copied the footage that is already in use in your edit.
Yes, there are ways to do this all from within Finder, and then use FCPX’s “reconnect media” function. But this is a headache and never worked that well for me. Files get renamed or missed altogether. In my experience, FCPX does not want you to use Finder because Apple is a tyrannical monster that aims to take our power and souls from us. The method above is actually the way you’re supposed to do it, only Apple doesn’t explain it well at all in their documentation.
Admittedly, I have had to do this on more than one occasion. I’m working on a fun little short now from a motorbike trip me and my buddy Gary did around the southern suburbs of Saigon, Vietnam. Believe me, the footage comes from everywhere (GoPros, iPhones, DSLR, etc.) Now I want to take that project to a pub, watch the futbol, and finish up this goofy little edit. The above process is exactly what I did, using a small—but fast— little G-Force firewire drive. All good. And it will happen again. I’m sure.
Let me know if this helped you as an editor. Of course, if you have a better way of consolidating and cleaning up a convoluted FCPX edit, I’m all ears. Please share it. And do be nice.
This is my follow-up to a previous blog post I wrote, just after starting on this project.
Caine Monroy is a little boy who lives in Los Angeles whose dad owns an auto parts store. While his dad worked, Caine developed a hobby of taking the boxes from his dad’s warehouse and creating intricate arcade-style games out of them, complete with coin slots and ticket dispensers. As it grew, Caine’s Arcade wasn’t getting a lot of traffic until a year or so ago, when a filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick came along and recognized the boy’s passion and creativity as something beautiful. One flash mob and a few million YouTube hits later, the two have used Caine’s Arcade to inspire the world to create! If you haven’t seen the Caine’s Arcade video, please take a minute and check it out now:
I spent most of Earth Week in the classrooms, on the playground, in the auditorium and all over the SSIS campus shooting interviews, B-roll, and of course, creativity in action. I covered the elementary school exclusively and Gary Johnston, a science teacher at SSIS, provided additional footage from the middle school. The elementary teachers were more than accommodating, letting me into their classrooms and letting me get my camera in close and tight on the students’ cardboard creations.
Everything was shot on my Canon HDSLR rig, except for a couple interviews and wide shots that were shot on a tricked-out Canon AVCHD camcorder rig. Lenses were a Canon 50mm f1.8 prime for hand-held interviews, a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 zoom for shots where I needed image stabilization, a Sigma 70-300 f4 for tight telephoto shots, and a Rokinon 14mm prime for the wide angles. Almost everything was shot in 24p, unless it was to be retimed, in which case footage came in at 60fps. See more on “the film look” and frame rates here.
This entire piece was organized, cut, graded and finalized within Final Cut Pro X. After collecting and ordering all of my footage and assets, I set down to rough-cut the interviews. This is almost always my first editing step when producing micro-documentaries such as this, since these provide the narrative for the story. I interviewed a number of teachers and students and, as with every video, there was plenty of great interview material that I wish could have made it into the final cut. Heather MacMichael, a 5th Grade teacher, probably played the greatest role in putting the whole thing together, so she was common face throughout the piece. Adam Dodge provided insight as a school administrator. Tara (5th Grade) would explain the process from a student’s point of view, and Vincent and Leo were to add a little (at times comic?) relief from the frenetic pace of the whole production, adding some sound 1st Grader perspective.
Once the interviews were cut and cut and cut again, and I had some semblance of a 3-act narrative, I collected my interviews into compound clips. Then I began going through my footage to see how I could best illustrate the story. It was pretty simple, actually. First, the soundtrack is the instrumental version of “I Don’t Mind”, by Imagine Dragons. I started framing the edit with some establishing shots of the school and B-roll of the students playing soccer, on the playground, etc. to provide context. Then it was a matter of ordering and placing my clips in 3 stages: Planning, Building and Sharing. Just over half-way, I dropped in Vincent and Leo’s interviews to provide some pacing relief and a slightly different perspective (kind of like a bridge in songwriting). The whole story wrapped up with the finished arcade and the “Day of Play.”
Finally, after getting through the laborious task of editing sound (see “Lessons Learned” below) and color correction, the whole piece was output and uploaded to Vimeo. Eventually, it will show up on YouTube. And that leaves us here:
1) Sound. I love my Rode VideoMic. As you should know, you can never rely on your camera’s onboard mic for good sound, especially if you are shooting DSLR. The Rode has saved my butt many times. However, this was not a rushed, run-and-gun type of situation. Given the relative time flexibility of the teachers and students, I probably would have benefitted from less noise by using a wired, or even wireless, lav the whole time.
2) Lighting. The fluorescent ceiling lights throughout classrooms (and offices) are a pain. Especially when you’re shooting at a frame rate like 24p. You might notice the flicker effect on some of the portrait shots that these lights created. When I opened it up or decreased the shutter speed to the point where flicker was eliminated, my shots were too blown out. I think one solution would have been to use an ND filter on my 50mm lens, stopping it down so that I could open the aperture or adjust shutter speed to compensate for the lights while still achieving similar exposure and the same shallow depth of field.
I am very proud of this video. Of course, I did not create it alone. In addition to Nirvan, Caine, and all the teachers and students that made the film possible, I should say a word of thanks to Philip Bloom, a London-based filmmaker/DOP who creates short documentaries all over the world and who is a constant source of inspiration and education for me. I must have watched the school video he produced for Facebook, and read his workflow post, 10 times before going into SSIS to shoot. So thanks again, Philip!
**UPDATE: I was recently informed that the SSIS’ Caine’s Arcade video (above) was among the winners of the Global Cardboard Challenge Video Contest! So excited! Read more here…**
First, if you haven’t seen “Caine’s Arcade”, please check it out now. It’s a great story about a 9 year-old boy who had almost more creativity than he could handle, and access to a ton of cardboard boxes. So he made an arcade out of cardboard. I was personally moved by this film, partly because I used to do the same thing as a little boy (believe me, we had our share boxes in the house) and because it gives me a lot of hope for my own kids’ discovery of their creative potential.
Without saying any more, here’s “Caine’s Arcade”:
Teachers have been helping these students as much as they can; they introduced them to Caine’s story and asked them if they’d like to create something similar. But I’ve noticed that this is the kind of project that doesn’t require a whole lot of adult guidance. Sure, some of the little ones need extra help cutting through the thick cardboard, but when it comes to blueprinting these things out, they’re best left on their own. The projects vary in complexity and detail: the older kids have reproduced a lot of their favorite real-world arcade games (Whack-a-Mole, Angry Birds), the first- and second-graders built a soccer game and a “Monkey Toss”, and one of the preschool groups came up with a cardboard train that you can climb inside and go anywhere you please. What more could you want in an international school?
Tomorrow’s the big day. The students will put the whole arcade together in the elementary school auditorium. Kids from other classes will visit throughout the day to participate in the games. And don’t worry: the reason cardboard arcade games are better than store-bought, as one astute 1st grader told me today, is because when they break you can fix them as long as you have “lots and lots and lots of tape.”
I’m still going through all the footage, and I’ll be shooting the event tomorrow. Below is a teaser of this little micro-doc we’re putting together for the Imagination Foundation. Believe me, there will be plenty more to come on this one!
As promised, here are a few more shots from my early adventures in HDR photography. I am gradually getting the hang of this method and building a few little strategies here and there, both in the shooting process and post production. And I’m sure I’m developing a bad habit or two.
Anyway, click on the images for hi res…
As for the gear used, all of these shots were taken with my Canon 60D, a 14mm wide-angle lens at f22, between 200-300 ISO and bracketed at +/- 2 stops. The shots were merged and tonemapped in Photomatix Pro and HDR Expose, and finished off in Photoshop CS6.
Luckily, I was able to get out early today and get most shooting done before the rains hit. And as before, once the storm did come I was treated with a whole new lighting setup, which seems to lend itself well to this kind of photography.
I will be sure to post more as I get them, and I will share any tips and tricks I pick up along the way. Of course, feel free to leave a comment, whether or not you have experience shooting HDR or not. I am open to all the help I can get!