Pacific Asia Museum Screening Recap

Standard

Autumn Gem at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena

Rae and I returned last night from Pasadena, where we screened AUTUMN GEM at the Pacific Asia Museum. The museum had been holding a weekly film series for the past few months, and we were the last film on its summer schedule. PAM’s Becky Sun (Community Outreach Coordinator) and Amelia Chapman (Curator of Education) organized and advertised the event to PAM members. Along with our marketing efforts, we estimated about 70-80 people were present at the nighttime showing in the museum’s lovely courtyard. The weather was great and the screen and projector were in fine form; if only every screening could be held in such ideal conditions!

We had a great time meeting new people, along with friends and family. Thanks to Marc, Li Jing, and Rae’s cousins for attending the screening and bringing their friends. We got a number of good contacts for future screenings in Southern California.

Read the rest of this post and see the photos »

Cast and Crew Screening Party Photos

Standard

Adam and Rae at the Cast and Crew Screening Party

Here are some photos by Timothy Chang from the cast and crew screening party held over the weekend. Thanks to the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale for hosting and everyone who were able to take time out of their Sundays to come out! It’s now onward and upward with marketing and business development for the film.

Subtitles

Standard

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:

autumn-gem-subtitles-yellow

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:

autumn-gem-subtitles-white

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.

Picture Lock and Compressor

Standard

compressor-300x279

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!

White Balance and Color Grading

Standard

During the filming of Autumn Gem, we used Phoxle SpectraSnap White Balance Filter 1 to set a custom white balance for each scene. I’ve used many white balance products in the past, including ExpoDisc, WhiBal, and gray cards, and I’ve found the SpectraSnap to be one of the better products out there. Its ability to fit a wide variety of lenses, including the two Sony videocameras we used to film the documentary, was key. I also appreciated the fact that it is a shoot-through white balance filter; I’ve found the accuracy of those to be higher than reflected light WB filters.

In the film, however, we’re not always looking to have a neutral color tone throughout our scenes. Getting neutral-looking footage, however, makes it easier to color correct — or color grade, as it’s called in the film industry — afterwards. I’ve been using a combination of Final Cut’s Three-Way Color Corrector filter and Apple’s Color application to perform various color grading tasks.

Here are screenshots of a before and after scene from Autumn Gem. The photo on the below is what was recorded by the the camera. As you can see, there is still a slight cast to the photo, even when using the SpectraSnap. I suspect that’s because the lights we used to light the background versus the foreground were different.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The next photo is the same scene that was corrected using Color. I set up a number of Secondary Rooms to apply color corrections to only specific parts of the scene such as the walls or Qiu Jin’s outfit.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

Once we have picture lock on the film, I’ll continue to color grade certain scenes from the film. Not all scenes require such work, and for those, the built-in Three-Way Color Corrector in Final Cut does as admirable job. For more complex scenes, however, Color is a powerful tool for getting the look that we want out of the film.


1 Phoxle is run by Chris Pedersen, a friend of mine whom I know from my Camera Owners of the Bay Area user group meetings.

How Time Flies… and the Third Cut

Standard

Brushes

How time flies! A year ago this time, we were planning our trailer shoot and preparing for our trip to China. The film has been built out in six month increments. Rae started pre-production work around July of last year. We started filming in January, wrapping things up around the middle of June. The past six months have been spent in our home office, slaving away at Final Cut day in, day out.

A little over a month after completing our first rough cut, Rae and I are putting the finishing touches on the third cut of the film. Though the running time difference between the first and third cuts comprise just a few minutes, there’s been some substantial changes in the pacing. It’s amazing how trimming a half a second here and there can improve a scene so much! We’ve also moved some scenes around to improve the narrative structure.

I’ve been spending the past several days color correcting the film, trimming edits, and adjusting the captions and subtitles. Every day, we’re getting closer to completing the film, but there always seems to be more things to be added to the task list! Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is just ahead.

We’ll try to post more frequently to the blog from this point forward. Writing is kinda like brushing and flossing your teeth every night; you just have to get in the habit!