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Transcendent Man Gets Panasonic P2 Treatment

Shooting, Posting and Archiving P2 for Kurzweil Doc

In what could become a trend with mutually beneficial rewards, full service post house Therapy Studios, in Santa Monica, Calif., has teamed up with independent director/filmmaker Barry Ptolemy, Director (Partner, Ptolemaic Productions) for a new documentary called Transcendent Man. The full-length feature highlights the life and innovative ideas of renowned visionary Raymond Kurzweil.
(Photos by Toshi Hoo
This is Therapy’s first foray into financing and producing a movie on its own, a move it says shows lots of potential for future revenue growth. Once Ptolemy secured the rights to produce the film, the team said they knew they were on to something special. Therapy is also serving as executive producer on the film.

“We’ve teamed up with Barry on some smaller projects in the past and found we worked well together,” said Wren Waters, Online/EFX Artist and partner at Therapy Studios. “We like the way Barry works and his sensibility. Many of the documentaries we’ve worked on have been budget challenged, but this was an opportunity for us to use our resources and make a film without compromises about a subject we really feel positive about. Once Barry secured the rights, we knew we had something special we could contribute to.”

A pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments, Kurzweil is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, technological singularity, and futurism. He led development of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first electronic musical instrument capable of recreating the sound of a grand piano and other orchestral instruments (which he developed at the urging of Stevie Wonder, who was amazed by his OCR reading machine), and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition system.
Globetrotting with Panasonic HVX200
For the past three months, Ptolemy and his crew have been following Kurzweil around the globe to chronicle his speaking engagements and highly popular seminars. Kurzweil does about three speaking engagements per month. They’re using two Panasonic HVX200 P2 cameras, with three 8 GB cards per camera (20 minutes of record time each), and the lens that comes standard with the camera.

“It was a challenge to get used to the solid-state workflow, but it’s now clear that P2 out performs tape in a myriad of ways,” said Ptolemy, explaining that he’ll continue shooting for a full year, in many U.S. states as well as in Europe.

For lighting, they’re using a very portable set up, which includes a Litepanels LED light for ambient illumination as well as three HMI lights for sit-down interviews. For audio, they carry several Sennheiser lavalier mics and an on-camera shotgun most of the time (recording four tracks of digital audio with the camera).

“We are shooting 24fps native, and we would like to keep the project at the 24fps frame rate, so it will translate easily to a 35mm film print, before going to DVD or whatever,” said Waters. “However, we will most likely be incorporating some SD archive elements, so at that point we might have to think about delivering in 59.94 in order for the assets to all come together well. We’ll see.”

The post house has a couple of editors working on this, as they are expecting about 200 hours of footage before the project is done. Obviously, logistics is and will be a big issue. With so much footage, Therapy was challenged to come up a process of logging and organizing the scenes as they are sent in (on portable Firewire drives) from the road. After every shoot, the portable storage drives are sent to Therapy and the data dumped off to a 6TB Avid LAN Share system.

Ptolemy said the camera and the P2 cards continue to work perfectly every time. “I was the most skeptical of anyone on this project and the HVX200 cameras have really exceeded my expectations,” he said, adding that he’ll shoot a number of green screen scenes on P2 HD to tie the disparate pieces of the film together. Using Therapy’s considerable resources, the doc is being edited on an Avid Media Composer, and will eventually be finished on a Quantel iQ system. The Quantel iQ system will be used to perform final assembly, composite scenes, and to color correct footage. It’s basically where all of the pieces will come together, and they expect many hours in online post.
Native 720/24p HD Acquisition
The decision to shoot and post in the 24p frames per second format was made after a number of tests were conducted at Therapy. Once the HD footage is copied over to the shared storage system at therapy, they do the offline in standard-definition, in order to work faster and have more monitoring options. The final conform will then be up-converted to 720p, which is the native format of the footage being shot on the road. After the data is transferred from the P2 cards at the end of each day’s shooting, the cards are reformatted immediately using a Panasonic P2 Mobile drive and two 1 TB Firewire drives.

“Because most general monitoring is still done in standard def, we did a bunch of different tests and came to the realization that it would be best to shoot the project 24p native, not a flagged frame 24p,” said Therapy’s Waters. “This gave us 20 minutes of HD storage on an 8GB card. It’s a huge difference. We can bring the HD media into the Avid system and it doesn’t regenerate it into new media, it just reads the actual HD data files the camera recorded. We can open that media in a standard def 23.98 project, and monitor it and edit in SD, which allows us to work faster with our dual processor CPUs. It essentially does an on-the-fly downconvert. This also allows us to cut SD 29.97 material into the project. I recommend it for anyone post-production house that hasn’t converted their entire facility to HD, or is working on a multi-format SD/HD project.”

The down side to this workflow, of course, is the large file sizes of HD. “In the past we would digitize at DV25 resolution, and your storage needs would be much less,” he said. “We basically are storing the media in its native 720pHD format because we don’t want to compromise the quality of the footage, but it means we need around 3 TB of storage capacity. We have a 6TB LanShare system, and will probably have to upgrade it soon.”
Data Security Relies On Old Standby… DLT Tape
Therapy’s chief concern throughout the project is how to back up the original media in order to keep it secure, which now exists in one central location.

“Our question is, ‘How do we store it in a stable and secure format without having to stack up Firewire drives?’” Waters said. “In our past experience, having data backed up on a Firewire drive is not the most stable or secure way to handle data for a project like this. And we don’t want to trust our entire investment in this film to Firewire drives. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to aggregate the data.”

They now back up most of their iQ online projects to DLT tape, which holds from 160 GB to 320 GB of data; with compression. In the case of “Transcendent Man”, they will back up the data to DLT tapes, 160 GB at a time, and could end up with about 15 or 20 DLT tapes to store the data for the film. Waters said that in their minds, DLT tape is a far more stable archiving format than disc drive storage.

“If you loose your media, it’s gone forever. That’s one of the downsides of the tapeless workflow right now,” Waters said. “Anyone who’s working with P2 or any tapeless format will tell you the same thing.”

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Categories: Creativity, Editing, Project/Case study, Shooting, Technology