Final Cut and Cast and Crew Party

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How time flies! It was a year ago when Rae, Rae’s parents, JP, and I travelled to China to start production on Autumn Gem. Earlier last month, we’ve completed the final cut of the film. Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll be showing it to the first time at our cast and crew screening party!

An so begins the next phase — marketing and business development — for Autumn Gem. It’s something we’re both excited and scared about at the same time. On the one hand, we’re happy that we’re able to show a finished product that we’re proud of. On the other hand, there’s the chance that people who see it will not like it! We’ve already experienced a tiny bit of rejection with some of the film festivals to whom we submitted earlier in the year. I like to focus on the positive, however, and that’s the task of showing this film to as many people as possible who are interested in learning about this important heroine from China’s history.

We’ll have photos and a recap from the event after tomorrow!

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How I Learned to Hate Scrolling Credits

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One of the very last things to complete with Autumn Gem has been the final credits sequence. I’ve been struggling mightily over the past few weeks trying to get the credits to scroll properly without jerkiness or stuttering. I’ve read all of the forums and tried many of the tips and tricks people have suggested, including:

  • Deflicker filter
  • Motion blur
  • Using Motion to animate the scrolling
  • Third-party plugins
  • Calculating optimal pixels per second for 30fps and 29.97fps frame rates
  • Scrolling a giant, vertical graphic made in Photoshop instead of using Final Cut text generators

Despite my best efforts and hours of render time, the credits never scrolled properly on our MXO-powered 23-inch ADC broadcast monitor or when output to a progressive QuickTime movie. They might start out fine, but every few seconds, the screen would suddenly jerk up a few extra pixels, creating an uncomfortable stutter effect.

At this point, I’ve about given up, and that’s a good thing, because I came up with a simpler solution that looks just as good. Instead of scrolling a 10800-pixel tall Photoshop graphic over seventy-two seconds, we’re cross-dissolving eleven credit screens over that same time. This comes out to about 6 seconds per screen, which is more than enough time for our cast and crew to find themselves.

One day, I’ll figure out the magical formula to getting silky smooth scrolling credits. I’ll leave that task, however, for the next film!

Subtitles

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While we finish up the audio mixing with Matt this week, we decided to make a change to the look of our subtitles in Autumn Gem. Up until today, we’ve been using Final Cut’s standard Text generator to create our subtitles. Here’s a screenshot of what our subtitles used to look like:

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This afternoon, I began switching over to using the Outline Text generator. This has a number of benefits, chief among them the ability to add a stroke around each character, which greatly improves readability. In addition, we’ve changed the font style from italic to plain, which reduce jaggies when displaying the film on lower-resolution monitors or on DVD. Here’s what our subtitles look like now:

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I’ve been planning to make this change for many months, but I’ve been procrastinating until now, knowing that it would take me about nine hours to change every text clip in the entire film. Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to batch convert from one text generator to another. I did find some shortcuts that helped speed up the process:

  1. Create an outline text generator with your default settings for font style, size, and stroke width
  2. Place the outline text on your timeline and set the duration to be exactly the length of the text you are replacing
  3. Copy the text clip that you are replacing (Command-C)
  4. Paste Attributes onto the new outline text clip (Option-V)
  5. Double-click on the original text clip
  6. Copy the text under the control tab
  7. Double-click on the new text clip
  8. Paste the new text under the control tab
  9. Repeat with the rest of your text clips

One annoying thing is that the placement controls are different between the two text generators. For instance, setting a center position of (0, 345) for an Outline Text clip does not line up in the same place as setting (0, 345) with a standard Text clip. This means I’ve had to manually position a number of text clips, a time-consuming process that I really don’t want to visit again!

So, the decision to go from straight text to outline text, while simple, requires lots of time, patience, and verification. In the end, though, it’s the right move, as our subtitles are much more readable now than before.

For those type-inclined, we used the classic font Helvetica Neue for main subtitle font. Hoefler Text was used as our serif title font, and ST Kaiti was used when displaying Chinese characters.

ADR Wrap Up

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ADR Wrap Up

We’ve completed our ADR recording yesterday at Matt’s house. Preston was the final actor to come in and record his lines. Now, Rae and I are off to make the final picture lock on the film while Matt continues his audio mixing magic. Here are some photos from the past three weeks of ADR work with our actors and actresses from Autumn Gem.

Here are some photos from our ADR recording sessions.

Final Cut Tips for Documentary Filmmakers

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Li Jing demonstrates her form for the Women's Army

Rae and I have learned quite a bit about using Final Cut to create our documentary, Autumn Gem. Here are some tips that will save you a lot of time when putting together your film.

  1. Backup regularly
  2. Run Final Cut Pro on a clean system
  3. Get out of GOP and embrace ProRes 422
  4. Use whole integers with Ken Burns Effect
  5. Gaussian blur
  6. Avoid JPEGs
  7. Set subtitle opacity to 90%
  8. Using the Outline Text generator for your subtitles
  9. Watch your gamma
  10. View your footage on a broadcast monitor

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Gamma Gamma Gamma

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Lately, the numbers 0.82, 0.84, 0.88, 1.0, 1.24, 1.3, and 1.4 have been foremost on my mind. These are the gamma correction values that I find myself frequently applying to video clips coming into and out of Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Color, Compressor and DVD Studio Pro software. Although I’ve read numerous articles on the handling of gamma on Mac OS X, I don’t find myself anywhere closer to understanding the whole picture.

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Exports from Final Cut using QuickTime Conversion and the ProRes 422 codec look great on my Mac in QuickTime Player. The same sequence exported using QuickTime Movie looks washed out in QuickTime Player unless I have the Enable Final Cut Studio Color Compatibility preference enabled. When I export the film using Compressor, I have to enter at least 1.24 in the Gamma Correction filter. This is done so the colors on the DVD, burned using DVD Studio Pro, don’t look washed out.

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This has got to be a common problem for filmmakers using Apple’s professional products. Trial and error seems to be what most people do to get something acceptable across all broadcast medium.

When the final cut of Autumn Gem is complete next month, I’m sure I’m going to revisit this problem again when we transfer the movie to HDCAM and other festival screening formats.

Picture Lock and Compressor

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Here’s a screenshot from the Mac OS X Activity Monitor showing all eight cores on our Mac Pro working hard to encode Autumn Gem into a DVD. Our documentary is about 60 minutes long, and it takes roughly two hours to perform a 2-pass MPEG-2 encode.

As of today, we’ve created five different cuts of the film, each one leaner and more representative of the final cut. We’ll soon be calling picture lock on the film, which means no more edits. At that point, the audio will be sent for final mixing and I’ll complete my color grading. We still need to ADR a few scenes, which we plan to record over the next few weeks.

Then, we’ll move onto the next phase, which is figuring out how (and how much it will cost) to get the documentary transferred onto a format suitable for exhibition. Last night, we watched the latest cut on our HDTV, with video piped in from my MacBook Pro. The footage looked fantastic, and I really hope that we can get the picture to look like this on DVD and on HDCAM and DigiBeta (the preferred film festival exhibition formats these days). With the last few DVDs that we’ve produced, I’ve noticed that the colors are more washed out when compared to the Final Cut version. As a result, I’m experimenting with different settings in Compressor, raising the bitrate and dialing in some gamma correction. Eventually, the right combination of settings will come to me!

I’m pretty happy that we’ve been able to stay close to our original project schedule. Six months of pre-production, six months of production, and another six months of post-production. Next year, we’ll be shifting our focus more towards marketing, business development, and screenings. We can’t wait to start screening the film to the general public!