Posting Everybody Hates Chris on the Mac
Out of the Viper and Into Final Cut Pro and Color
Now, after adopting the advanced high-resolution camera, the show is again setting a technological benchmark with its Final Cut Studio 2 post-production workflow, including the first use of Apple’s Color on a network TV series. Apple’s Color has been used on 22 episodes so far, says Ramy Katrib, CEO/founder of the Burbank-based Digital Film Tree, the facility where EHC posts and which played a central role in designing the editorial network and the post workflow for EHC. “The first episode was done on the last version of FinalTouch, and all the others on Color,” explains Katrib. “We were original users [of FinalTouch] and contributors to this.” After purchasing Silicon Color’s FinalTouch, Apple incorporated the Mac-based color correction tool into its Final Cut Studio 2 suite, renaming it Color and unveiling it at NAB 2007.
The first episode was done on the last version of FinalTouch, and all the others on Color. We were original users [of FinalTouch] and contributors to this.” After purchasing Silicon Color’s FinalTouch, Apple incorporated the Mac-based color correction tool into its Final Cut Studio 2 suite, renaming it Color, and unveiling it at NAB 2007.
Co-producer Whitmyre explains how the EHC team was able to utilize Final Cut Studio 2, including Color, and pair the post process with the digital acquisition. He walks Film & Video through the workflow.
Starting With Dailies“Mark, his camera crew and the DIT, Joshua Gollish, were incredibly helpful to us, to simplify ways of getting the material from the camera department to post production,” he begins. What the camera crew did was to record each take with a deliberate discontinuity in the timecode at the end of each take, to separate the footage into clips that the FCP system would recognize as separate clips. That eliminated an onerous task for assistant editors: separating takes from what the system sees as one long clip.
The assistant editor, says Whitmyre, becomes “more responsible for the dailies without being just a digitizer.” Katrib notes that this customized dailies workflow provided the EHC team with dailies at 1080p resolution, so even this first look at the footage would be at a quality as close as possible to the finished product.
“The reason we designed dailies that way was to bring that work back into the cutting room,” says Whitmyre. “When it happens at an external facility, it raises the costs and people who aren’t really attached to your show are doing all the work. It also benefits the assistant editors who get to know all the material and aren’t just digitizing.”
“It becomes much like an old film-cutting room,” he continues. “The material comes in and the assistants deal with it, to check it against camera and sound reports and the script supervisor’s log.”
Offlining in HD“We wanted to make sure if we were shooting HD that we would edit in HD and finish in HD,” says Whitmyre. “We wanted to stay close to the quality of the original material and stay at the same frame rate. That way, we’re just inputting files that are already 23.98 and that makes for a more elegant and easier process. There’s no guessing if that’s a pull-down frame or just screwed up.”
Though they’re not able to cut uncompressed HD material, they do use DVCPRO HD 1080p, which “looks close enough.” In previous seasons, when they offlined in SD, says Whitmyre, the editors would output to SD tape, and the online house then up-resed it to HD and digitized that tape into the system. “By the time that takes place, the image looks terrible,” he says. “When that’s the reference for the final online, it’s a problem if the online editor can’t tell if it’s a soft edge or hard edge on that wipe. Those small things add up.”
Instead, says Katrib, the cutting room looks like an online environment. “The two editors have HD monitors and they’re cutting at the same aspect ratio as the final online,” he says. “It’s a breakthrough in terms of a shared editing environment, working efficiently throughout the process.”
Whitmyre notes the decreased costs of an all-FCP system (see chart below). “Even with a lot more media storage and back-up, it’s a lot cheaper,” he says. “I was able to afford four cutting-edge FCP stations, all networked with Xsan and 15 TB of media storage. Before, we had three Avids and there was always one assistant who didn’t have access to a machine. With the fast turnaround of TV, having that fourth machine has been phenomenally popular.”
|Season Two||Tape-based||$12,750/week average|
|Season Three||File-based||$3000/week average|
|Season Two||Three SD Avid systems, 3 TB network, non-redundant back-up||$4500/week|
|Season Three||Four HD FCP systems, 15 TB Xsan network with full back-up||$3000/week|
|“Because of the fully networked facility at DFT, there were never extra costs to make small fixes or additions to a show,” says Whitmyre. “In a tape-based house, every fix means booking a room and operator for a minimum amount of time. My last fix, at our season-two tape-based facility, was a change that involved the letter T and one period and cost $800. These costs and scheduling headaches add up.”|
It’s also created a more film-like workflow, he adds. “The assistants have access to the material and can do a lot more to assist the editor,” he says. “They actually have the option to cut scenes. That mentoring process can kick in, and the expensive world of Avid had pretty much killed that.”
Everyone else in the cutting room – the post supervisor and post coordinator, for example – had a laptop running FCP, which also helped. “They would be dealing with stock footage in their laptops, and we have a very lively exchange that goes on in the network system and our little satellite system of laptops,” he says. “So we had more than four systems. The great thing about Final Cut Studio is that it’s Internet-friendly. You can grab stock shots on the Internet and hand them off to the editors.”
The ConformWhen it was time to turn the footage over to sound and picture, it was all done through files. “We have no tape machines in the cutting room,” says Whitmyre. “All the dialogue, Foley, ADR, and music work is in file form, and the sound guys love it because they work in file form anyway. They were much happier to see a file than a ½- or ¾-inch tape, and everyone adapted to this very well, even our closed caption people.”
Whitmyre adds that, by the time he got to the sound mix, he could give the sound team a mix with final color timing and final titles. “If anything was amiss or the producers wanted to change anything, I’d email it to Digital Film Tree,” he says.
Digital Film Tree colorist Patrick Woodard says that Apple’s Color is an improvement over FinalTouch with regard to efficiency. “Once we load a show for online, we’re sending it to the color suite with one button-push,” he says. “The translation between FCP and Color didn’t exist as elegantly in Final Touch.”
With regard to bugs, workarounds and challenges, Katrib focuses on assuring that the new workflow maintained standards. “Managing the overall workflow and making sure every step was perfectly done to the highest quality was my greatest challenge,” says Katrib. “We used the newest generation Tektronix scopes to verify that what we were doing in Color was well and good. It wasn’t just about gaining efficiency and quality from new tools but being responsible that the final product was perfect. That was the challenge – and the achievement.”
Proof of that achievement, says Katrib, was when, at one point, they had nine episodes online in the server simultaneously. “Nine onlines were sitting there, getting tweaks and changes, all HD uncompressed quality and accessible from any room in the facility,” he says.
Whitmyre reports that the final output was a simultaneous combination of a layback and final picture output. “They’re no longer two steps,” he says. “We lay all 12 mixed audio tracks from FCP onto a master HDCAM SR tape. That’s another step we didn’t need to do.” The final product for all dubs and network deliveries were two HDCAM SR masters: one 16:9 and the other a 4:3 version.
SummaryAccording to Whitmyre, it was “an uphill struggle” to implement the post process. “It took me two years of battling the facilities we were using and the people in charge of post-production at the studios and the editors,” he says. “The editors had learned Avid and weren’t really that keen on changing to a different system.” He gives credit to cinematographer Doering-Powell and his camera crew for supporting the transition.
From Doering-Powell’s point of view, the switch made his life easier. “Most tape-to-tape shows, when you do a dissolve or wipe, the colorist has to spend a good portion of time to cheat a power window in and do a dynamic transition from one side to the other,” he says. “These color systems are EDL-based and just see there’s a cut, which doesn’t work during a dissolve or wipe. But in Apple’s Color, the color-correction floats above the dissolve and you can make changes, and each color-correction applies to each clip. It doesn’t matter what the transitions are; they’re laid back on top.”
“What’s great for Mark is that he has access to a lot more tools on either side of a transition,” adds Whitmyre. “Before, we would literally run out of tools. The colorist would say, ‘I’ve used up all my power windows – what do you want to lose?’”
Another improvement has been the ability to make either a 23.98p or 59.94i shot into slo-mo, something that had been problematic. “Edvin [Mehrabyan] and Patrick [Woodward] at DFT did some quick tests and showed that we could give them nearly any frame rate we wanted, and they can do whatever our editors could dream up on FCP,” explains Katrib. “Their effects and frame-rate changes that were part of their offline translated well to the Digital Film Tree online.”
Whitmyre reports that the result was a huge amount of freedom. “A lot of things opened up creatively,” he says. “For example, if we wanted to soften a highlight or fix a sound boom, it’s in the Color toolset and something that Patrick has access to. In a tape-to-tape environment, you’d have to rent a different bay, and even if you had the money to do it, you might not have had time in the schedule.”
Offlining and onlining in the same software also offered benefits. “The look of our offline is very close to what the finished product looks like,” says Whitmyre. “If the producers sign off, I know, in a stress-free way, that it’ll translate to online without having to monkey around a lot.”
Last but not least, another result was the creation of a sane editing room. “In the beginning, the assistants wanted to know who took the early shift and the late shift,” he remembers. “I laughed and said, this will be a normal day. We’ll all come in the morning and leave in the evening. Having the kind of workflow we have makes it easier to deal with a rogue boss. If he comes in at the last moment and wants to change something after mixing and coloring, You can say, ‘No problem.’ I really like using the same exact, affordable piece of software – FCP – for our entire workflow. It’s an elegant solution.”