This Is Rocket Science

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Alan Surgi does his editing by the rocket’s red glare at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where he serves as an audiovisualist for Lockheed Martin, using a United Media On-Line Express nonlinear edit system to cut together an ongoing series of projects documenting the day-to-day activity of all the Lockheed Martin technical operations.

Although this can include creating a visual record of everything from moving spacecraft payloads overland from facility to facility, using the company’s Space Cargo Transportation System and through the air on giant C-5 transport planes, one of the most exciting challenges he is assigned is to create videos highlighting from beginning to end the launch cycle of rockets boosting payloads into orbit.

Located on California’s picturesque central coast, the military facility started as Camp Cooke in 1941 to train Army recruits for World War II combat but was transformed into the nation’s first space and ballistic missile operations base in 1957, when it was re-christened Vandenberg Air Force Base.


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Alan is not able to reveal too many specifics about the projects he works on, because you need security authorization just to get into his edit bay. But he has no secrets about why he chose United Media’s On-Line Express as the NLE he needed to advance his video productions into the digital era.

"The biggest reason I’m glad to have the On-Line Express system is its multi-camera editing capability," Alan tells us. "Using its FireWire input option, it’s very easy to digitize shots from our Sony DVR-1000 playback deck into a bin in the On-Line Express. Once I sync them up on the timeline, using either a visual reference, clapper slate or timecode, I can then can make cuts or dissolves between up to four isolated sources by either clicking on the mouse or punching the keys numbered 1 through 4 on the keyboard. This feature gives me a whole new level of postproduction capability."

One of the most interesting projects Alan is currently working on covers NASA’s transportation of the Chandra X-Ray telescope (named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar) from TRW’s West Coast manufacturing site to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch. "This mini-documentary will show future customers the capability of the Space Cargo Transportation System," Alan explains.

"The DV material is transferred to the hard drive connected to our On-Line Express and put into an AVI file using 2.5:1 or 3:1 compression ratios. It lends our productions a very professional look."


A recent innovation Alan Surgi has tackled is distributing projects on CD-Rs, burned directly from his On-Line Express. "This gets me into applications such as After Effects and Media Cleaner Pro, which is kind of new territory for me," he tells us. "But it lets our end users easily access a visual record of what Lockheed Martin Technical Operations is doing at Vandenberg. It’s just one more example of the flexibility the On-Line Express system gives us."

The current Version 2.7 real-time editing software for On-Line Express is a major advance for United Media, but several of its features pay tribute to the company’s legacy of building tape-based linear edit systems.

"United Media introduced our first system, called the Commander, back in 1976," explains Rob Ricci, vice president of Sales at United Media, "and we started making nonlinear editors just 5 years ago. Our experience with tape editing is reflected in our current products and this has proved appealing to many longtime editors. For example, there are far fewer pull-down menus in our On-Line Express than on many other digital systems. Since we were one of the first editing companies that began writing NLE software when real-time capabilities started to become available, we have always provided the kind of interactive feedback that editors rely upon to enhance their creativity.

"We also make an optional jog/shuttle module available with an accurate frame-stepper, since many editors don’t like to be dependent on mouse control – especially when digitizing their source material," he says.

Another nifty trick On-Line Express offers is the Auto Storyboard feature, which allows users to simply click on a succession of clips in the desired order to drop them onto the timeline. The system can even be set to automatically insert pre-set transitions or effects such as dissolves or fades between the clips. That way, once the material has been digitized into the system, the user can output a photo montage-style rough-cut assembly of a project in about the time it takes to describe it. Users can also work on multiple timelines simultaneously and share the bin material between them.

On-Line Express provides four video tracks (soon to be unlimited), 4in/4out balanced/unbalanced audio tracks with visible VU meters and the waveform displayed on the timeline, and supports 16:9 editing. Its 2D DVE effects and transitions on each video stream are all real time as is its luma- and chroma-keying, so no rendering delays the editing process.


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Running on Windows NT and powered by On-Line Express editing software, the family of On-Line Express real-time digital editors are all based on Matrox DigiSuite digital video boards. At the Vandenberg Air Force Base, Alan Surgi uses the model incorporating the uncompressed Matrox DigiSuite board, but there are also versions using the 1.3:1 compressed video (510 kB/frame) Matrox DigiSuite LE card and other On-Line Express systems using the DigiSuite DTV board, which empowers DVCPRO25 and DVCPRO50 editing in its native format. It can also use the stripped-down Matrox DigiSuite LX card, just announced at IBC in Amsterdam, that is limited to DVCPRO25 applications.

Both the DigiSuite DTV and LX offerings can directly render out MPEG-2 files for DVD authoring. The system supports dual-monitor editing displays along with an NTSC picture monitor, thanks to Matrox DigiDesktop or G400 VGA boards. As you would expect, it also supports many third-party plug-ins, including Inscriber, Boris FX, Hollywood FX, Ultimatte, Film FX, SpiceMaster and Sound Forge.


"We’ve designed our software to work on standard off-the-shelf equipment, although we do recommend the Medea hard drives," Rob tells us. "The On-Line Express software by itself is available for $2,995, or as a turnkey system directly from us complete with computer, two 19-inch VGA monitors, DigiSuite video boards and 120 GB of Medea storage for around $19,000."

From the original Commander to the current On-Line Express, United Media has made a competitive name for itself by offering innovative edit systems to several generations of editors. Now that it supports multicamera editing, On-Line Express can bring impressively sophisticated postproduction capabilities to a much wider community of editors.