(click thumbnail)Smoke Suite at Pisces Productions These are turbulent times for editors. The weakened economy combined with conflicting digital video formats have hit our profession with a double whammy. I recently spoke with editors from across the post-production spectrum to track the trends taking place in our industry.
At Pisces Productions, which specializes in high-end regional and national commercials in the Boston area, Christopher Palazini is director of post production as well as a hands-on editor. Pisces has been migrating from a traditional DigiBeta online service toward emphasizing sophisticated digital effects creation with three Discreet smoke systems on SGI platforms. In addition, the company uses its traditional offline NLEs. Palazini has found that taking advantage of smoke's high-definition capabilities has presented challenges not faced before.
"When working with either 1080i/60 or 24p HD post, we find our specialists need to recalculate their concepts a bit," Palazini began. "After all the years of working in a 30 fps environment, we have to start thinking about frame-based rendering instead of working with fields – and this has induced our editors to approach post with a different mind-set when manipulating their video."
Even the position of "editor" has evolved. "Since we now have the ability to do all the compositing work on SGI platforms and the third-party Sparks plug-ins they can access, I feel as if I have to re-invent the definition of what I do every few years," Palazini said. "The advanced abilities of the systems I use have given me so many more creative options that I can offer my clients the ability to change their minds far more easily than ever before.
"As a result, the ability to simply tell a story is not enough. Today's digital editors need to be able to add special-effects work, multiple layers of compositing and intricate levels of graphics skills to keep up with this fast-changing business."
DOWNSIDE OF DIGITAL
One editor who has confronted the downside of digital is Sacramento's Janice Bowen, who owns an Accom Affinity uncompressed NLE, but has chosen to stay with the analog version for input and output. "This may give me a few less features," she allowed, "but it avoids many of the complications with analog-to-digital conversion when loading the Betacam SP source material, which I find my work still utilizes most often."
Bowen is busy these days editing magazine stories for "Pulse" on the Discovery Health Network as well as promos for KGO in San Francisco. But last year she was asked by Turner Broadcasting to edit stories for the Goodwill Games in Lake Placid and ran into the problem of adding a new voice-track to a digitally edited production.
"The problem is that microphones are not digital," Bowen said, "so we had to run around finding an A/D converter to get the audio into the NLE. It would have been so much simpler with completely analog I/O."
This lack of compatibility has resulted in what Bowen called a "mishmash" of interconnections. She was recently giving a presentation at the National Educational Television Association conference in Las Vegas and, even though equipment from a single manufacturer was being used (not Accom), she could not get the 16:9 output from the cameras to record on the same company's own brand of VTR.
As Bowen described it, "With my Affinity, I can switch from one aspect ratio to the other with just the flick of a switch. In the days when everything was analog, it was just a matter of finding the right cables and connectors. Now it can be very difficult getting a signal to pass between systems, and I am suspicious that the vendors are benefiting from this because I keep having to purchase more gear just to get one piece of equipment to talk to another."
GOT A NEW EDITUDE
Michael Sherry owns his own free-lance editorial company in Chicago – EdiTude – where his workload includes editing roll-in packages for Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions as well as helping prepare programming for playout at WGN-TV.
Even in today's era of digital NLEs, Sherry has found that linear editing technology still has advantages for long-form productions and he is doing a lot of work on legacy tape-based edit systems. "The reality is that – in the TV station environment – we still need tape editors," he told us, "mostly because most NLEs still lack the bandwidth for real-time HD output."
Although Sherry has access to disk-based edit systems at WGN, he prefers using a venerable CMX linear system to prepare movies and primetime shows for air. "If you take a three-hour movie and need to re-format it and add commercials," he said, "it would take far too long to input all that material to disk for NLE access under the time pressure of the station's daily schedules."
But he does see disk play-to-air as the future. "Editware is working on something called Fastrack VS, which uses Grass Valley Group's Profile servers in a hybrid configuration with tape VTRs so the result can be aired directly off the disk arrays," Sherry said. "It's a very leading-edge system that should be able to handle the needs of today's playback load."
JUST 2 GUYS
In midtown Manhattan, Royce Graham edits at Just 2 Guys – a boutique commercial spot post house he started with his partner John Vondracek. Although Just 2 Guys' business is booming, Graham is aware of how many post houses are struggling.
"It's Armageddon out there," Graham told us, "and most of our bigger competitors are having to lay people off. As a result, we are being very cautious in the equipment investments we commit to."
Most of Just 2 Guys' editing is done on Avid|DS systems as well as dedicated Windows 2000 3D animation workstations.
"So far we have had no call for high-definition work at all," Graham said, "although our local reseller keeps reminding us about the available Avid|DS HD upgrades. We find that our current systems work so well for both offline and online applications that this alone can solve most of our clients' needs."
Graham credits the company's success to what he calls a "guerilla strategy": "We're more like a rock band, able to take on a project and get out quick when it is done. That way everyone gets paid but, when a job is finished, we can fold up our card tables and cut our overhead."
His recommendation to struggling facilities is to keep away from big investments. "We've had people blowing smoke at us about 2K resolutions for feature-film work, but so far it's a whole lot of talk and not much walk. We've found it more profitable to stay with the standard-def technology, mastering onto digital Betacam tape." Graham intends to venture into higher-definition formats only with great caution. "So far it's worked for us."
Editor Laurie George both free-lances in the Seattle market and teaches editing at Olympic College in Bremerton, Wash. The most exciting trend she sees in post is the adoption of the mini-DV format.
Along with her husband, Bruno George – who was one of the first digital department managers at Industrial Light & Magic and is now at Alpha Cine Labs – she believes this format will offer the broadest range of multidisplay options for conventional video viewing as well as Webcasting over the Internet.
George sees the biggest change in post as the traditional online function becoming departmentalized. "High-end productions now have separate color timers, graphic artists and sound mixers. But to facilitate this, we need to concentrate on more efficient methods of carrying data from the beginning to the end of the process."
A good picture cutter is still needed, and George noted that some producers are beginning to do that on their own laptops.
George tells her students there is no reason to memorize gear these days because everything will have changed by tomorrow. "I am more concerned that they don't get locked into technology. The adoption of formats like mini-DV are letting this become more and more transparent, so it is the creativity of editing that will pave their way to the future."