For all my graphics peeps. Yo.
- July, 2009: Find out through twitter that Apple released a new version of Final Cut Studio with the softest launch ever, a tiny box in the lower left of the homepage.
- Read over the “What’s New” page, and see that, actually, there are lots of decent bugfixes and even some new features!
- Wait until some other sucker gets a copy.
- Keep waiting as they discover new bugs, problems, and technical headaches introduced by Apple’s “What, me worry?” backwards- and standards-compatibility policy.
- Pour over Stu’s inevitable updated post on Final Cut / Quicktime gamma issues. Understand nothing.
- Read over John’s inevitable post on the new version of Color, and how it’s still worse for color correction than using a highlighting marker on the monitor.
- Read Avid editor bloggers dissing FCP, feel better about not using it yet.
- December, 2009: A point release is made that actually works. Purchase it and install on cloned version of hard drive you call “FCS3(?) QUARANTINE”.
- Gingerly boot cloned drive and launch FCP.
- Oooh new splash screen.
- Spend a few minutes reconnecting all your media. Ah well, you’d be suspicious if nothing was offline.
- What’d’ya know, not so bad.
- Announce to your clients that you support the new version of Final Cut.
- Tell them no, not version 6, there’s a new one after that. … It’s been out for, like, 6 months now. … I know you’ve been editing for 2 years, I don’t upgrade in the middle of a project either … No, I can’t online your cut made on version 5 on Panther!
- Wait for projects cut on the new version to work through their edit schedule.
- Finally switch over to the cloned “Quarantine” drive as your new default boot drive.
- July, 2010: do your first online in Final Cut 7 — discover some stupid missing feature or bug.
- Sign inevitable petitions to Apple. Geez, when is the new Final Cut coming out??
In creating my online suite, I am attempting a feat which many say cannot be done: creating a system that can run both Avid and Final Cut. Furthermore, I wanted to have Avid and Final Cut hardware installed on the same machine — Mojo DX for Avid and AJA Kona for Final Cut.
This type of hybrid system is not for the faint of heart. Video editing is a high-performance activity, and the editing packages are very picky about what software is installed, which versions, and how the hardware is set up. I was able to get everything running fairly easily, but the question is, is it running well or just limping along?
For instance, when I first set up the system, I thought everything was working just fine. Avid was working handsomely, Final Cut seemed to be working ok, and my disk benchmarks showed that my hard drives were working very quickly. However, I found out that external video playback in Final Cut was very poor. The video image on my external monitor would lag behind the desktop window by several seconds. This evening, I discovered that I couldn’t capture more than 2 minutes of high-quality video (1080i uncompressed) into Avid without throwing up an error. Clearly, the two sides of this black and white cookie were not getting along1.
Both of these problems stemmed from hardware issues, specifically card slot configuration. The Mac has four slots inside it where one can install hardware cards. Two slots are extra-fast “16x” slots. The others are slower “4x” slots. But even then the two 16x slots are meant for different things. For instance, Slot 1 is for the graphics card. And tonight I found out that the 4x slots aren’t identical either.
Because of all the hardware I have (3 additional cards), there are 6 possible combinations for how I can install them. Trying each combination entails 15-20 minutes of rearranging cables and fastening tiny screws, and then another 15-20 minutes of testing. This is on top of the hours of troubleshooting to discover that, in fact, card slot arrangement was the source of my problems.
At this point I feel like I’ve tried all six. My first arrangement was like this:
- 16x: Graphics
- 16x: RAID
- 4x: Kona
- 4x: Mojo
But, I was getting these problems. Working with my colleagues on twitter, I discovered that the Kona card really wanted to be installed in Slot 2. Once I moved it there, my monitor playback in Final Cut was fixed. So for a couple months, I’ve had the cards arranged like this:
- 16x: Graphics
- 16x: Kona
- 4x: Mojo
- 4x: RAID
But then, my Avid problems. Well tonight, I found an obscure document that revealed that the Mojo card wants to be in Slot 2 or 4. Of course since I had it in slot 3, I had to move it again:
- 16x: Graphics
- 16x: Kona
- 4x: RAID
- 4x: Mojo
Now, finally, I think I’ve nailed the right order. Avid is able to capture long clips in high quality, Final Cut plays back correctly, my RAID is still reporting very high read and write speeds, and nothing else has exploded (yet).
Moral of the story: If you can afford to have separate machines for Avid and Final cut, yeah, it’s probably wise to do it that way. I wouldn’t want to pay myself for the hours I’ve put in to fixing these issues. But for those adventurous-types, combining the two is not impossible.
- That’s right, I’m making a goddamn Seinfeld reference. [↩]
My last post was a good attempt at brainstorming how my new video editing desk should look. Unfortunately, the guy at Home Depot constructed the quote incorrectly, and didn’t include a 7.50$ charge for every linear foot of countertop for finishing the edges. Using the correct numbers, my previous design would cost 400$ more than I thought.
That put the price was back up to 1000$, which is just too high for a self-built desk. It was time to rethink the complicated concept of the strangely-shaped desk with wings. I recently went back to Powderhouse to do some work in their online suite where they just have a basic rectangular desk that’s 7 feet wide and 3 feet deep with a riser. I’ve been using that desk for close to four years now, and despite the square shape it works well.
The only problem with that desk is I can’t rotate the CC monitor as far as I’d like. It’s an older CRT model1, and CRT monitors are big, heavy cubes. The riser is 18” deep, but even that depth isn’t enough to rotate the monitor properly. As I spin the monitor, the feet on the bottom quickly fall off the edges of the riser. I won’t have that problem in my suite because my CC monitor will be a shallow LCD panel on a swiveling base. I went home and created a new, simpler design nearly identical to what I’d been using at Powderhouse. Using the new, more accurate numbers I had from Home Depot, I got a total price of $600 or so.
About this time, another option presented itself. Char told me that just up the road was a furniture liquidators store — they have thousands of square feet of warehouse space and buy old cubes and desks from companies for reselling. Although standard office furniture doesn’t work right for me, the company also fulfills custom quotes. I took a short drive up the street2 and worked with the nice woman at the warehouse to draw up a design. What I got back was just what I wanted — the desk I’d been using all this time:
The price was higher than the Home Depot + Ikea option, but not by much, and I wouldn’t have to attach the legs or construct the riser myself. I only had a vague plan for nailing lengths of shelving together to make the riser, so having it included was a big plus. Furthermore, it’s a real desk, not a homebrew combination of countertops, legs, and lumber. It will be all black with matching legs. So I ordered the custom desk. It won’t be ready until the end of January, but it’ll be worth the wait.
Eventually I will need at least one side desk, but I’ve decided I can wait until the last minute to buy it. Unlike huge, editing-specific desks, small desks are a dime a dozen and can be had everywhere. When I need one, I’ll stop by Staples or Ikea and get it.
This is my second post about my plans to construct an online editing and color correction suite for my own work.
As I suspected, this designed changed and the quote below is inaccurate. So, please disregard the plans contained within. Instead, check out the final desk I decided to purchase
Last time I talked about what computer equipment I would probably need in my edit suite. Now that I’ve got all this great (hypothetical) hardware, where do I put everything? I could just get a cheap desk and a folding chair, but that’s the wrong way to go. I need to work efficiently, and a plain rectangular desk is not the right shape for working with three monitors, a keyboard, and a tablet. I also can’t cheap out on the chair unless I want to get carpal tunnel syndrome.
I also have other reasons for not skimping on furniture. For a production, online editing and color correction are some of the highest dollar-per-hour expenses. The equipment is expensive, the labor is highly-skilled (IMHO), and the time-frame per job is short. Clients rightly want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s hard to see where that money is going if the equipment is in another room, and watching someone use a computer is notoriously boring.
This expense is why million-dollar online rooms have track lighting, espresso machines, and leather couches. It’s similar to the broken-windows theory1. If I have a cheap desk and a broken couch, that implies I take the same attitude toward my hardware purchases — it’s probably a bunch of half-working cobbled-together junk. Sure, I could charge the client less if I didn’t spend so much on the decor, but the percentage of the budget spent on furniture is small compared to the hardware and software. Physical goods are more cost-effective than electronic, so a smaller amount of money goes a longer way.
The most expensive piece of furniture is The Desk. Entire companies exist just for making media desks and furniture. These desks are very nice. They curve around, so the operator can look directly at all the monitors. They have risers, which provides more space for mixers, consoles, and other gadgets. They are also really, really expensive, like $3000+.
I want to hit a sweet spot — not a regular rectangular craigslist desk, but not a crazy-expensive professional media desk. My best option is to build it myself. I don’t have a CAD program, but I do have a vector-graphics program called Inkscape that is similar to Illustrator. I set my units to inches, and simply drew the room with a desk in it:
For the monitors, tablet, keyboard, and chair, I drew rectangles the same size as the items themselves. I let these objects determine the size of the desk. Right now the space between the chair and the couch looks a little tight, but the couch and door are estimations2. The speakers are shown free-standing, but I may end up just putting them on the desk.
I wanted to get the wrap-around effect using simple shapes, so I started with a rectangular top and chopped the corners off. Then I can make two smaller wings that fit flush onto the diagonal sides. The wings may have four legs (so they can move), or I might give them only two legs and have them attach to the main desk. The riser consists of a simple bookshelf with some more board screwed and glued to elevate it.
I went to Home Depot3, and found they can make a custom countertop with a simple flat black finish for 14$ a square foot. I can get them to make the tops and then attach adjustable-height legs from Ikea to complete the desk. Adding everything up, this is what I get:
|Desk Tops:||per sqft||w||h|
|Desk Wing L||$55.28||$13.82||24||24|
|Desk Wing R||$55.28||$13.82||24||24|
|Legs:||per leg||# of legs|
|Desk Wing L||$30.00||$15.00||2|
|Desk Wing R||$30.00||$15.00||2|
|Main Desk Riser:|
|wood to rise||$10.00|
|Main Desk Total||$362.76|
|Single Desk Wing Total||$85.28|
Is 560$ too much to pay for a good desk? It’s half the lowest price I’ve been quoted for either professional edit furniture ($3000) or a custom-made birch desk ($1000). It’s only 5% of the cost of the rest of the editing suite.
Other than the desk, there are a few other basic things I will need, all of which I can get for free or are inexpensive:
- Couch: I may have access to a free loveseat, and if it’s presentable and comfortable I’ll use that. Otherwise, Ikea to the rescue again!
- Main lighting: I will probably bring my nice floor lamp from home, where I’m not really using it
- Back lighting: I just need a small fixture to aim at the wall. This can be inexpensive because it’s hidden
The nice thing about this room is that the server room is on the other side of the wall. This means I can run the cables through the wall and put all of the computers with their loud, whiny fans in there, keeping the online room quiet.
This is the first in a series of posts I’m planning that will cover the budgeting, design, and possibly even construction of my own online editing suite. The whole plan could fall apart if the income doesn’t justify the cost, but my preliminary spreadsheet-fiddling has been promising.
I left a staff position in September to become a freelance editor, and while I’m happy I made the switch, there’s one big problem I have: I don’t have my own editing suite. All I have is a copy of Avid that I use to edit my reel, and for basic editing that works fine. But the work I get paid for is color correction and online editing, and a dinky laptop is not powerful enough to handle that type of work.
So far I’ve been able to work around the problem by using my clients’ equipment. I have a tablet and monitor calibrator that I bring to the gig, and I spend a few minutes getting everything set up. Even so, this means the color is inconsistent because I use a different monitor every time, and often the process is slowed down because the system I’m using isn’t fast enough. And frankly, I’m picky about ergonomics, so I get frustrated when the chair is uncomfortable or when the light isn’t right. To do this work properly, I really need my own edit suite.
First and foremost, a fully-equipped online editing system is expensive. Can I get enough work to afford it? If I buy the system, will that allow me to do more work, or will I have to raise my rates to pay for it and therefore price myself out of the market? Taking advice from my girlfriend, I’m not going to let the price of the system determine how much work I need to bring in. I will try first to figure out how much work I can get, then see if that’s enough to pay the expenses. If the numbers don’t work, then I can’t afford the system.
To know what I need to buy, I need to know exactly what I’m going to be using the system for. Based on the past couple months, I will continue finishing and grading independent projects in Final Cut and Apple Color, possibly outputting to various tape formats. I do not foresee working with high-res 2K 4:4:4 images, so I don’t need a super-fast RAID or the highest-end Kona card. Similarly, I’m not doing audio mixing, so while I don’t want tiny computer speakers, they don’t need to be stellar.
Taking all of this into account, I specced out the following system1:
|Mac Pro tower (dual-quad 3.0GHZ w/ 8g 3rdparty RAM)||$4,000.00|
|Samsung 22” monitor||$260.00|
|HP DreamColor monitor||$2,500.00|
|E-SATA external 1TB drive||$120.00|
|E-SATA cable and bracket||$30.00|
|AJA KonaLH I/O card||$1,300.00|
|Blackmagic Sync Generator||$300.00|
|Mouse and pad2||$23.00|
|Blue Sky 2.1 speakers||$350.00|
|Behringer Audio Mixer||$60.00|
|Power strip / cables||$20.00|
|Final Cut Studio||$1,130.00|
|Magic Bullet Looks||$400.00|
|Total Additional Necessary||$10,093.00|
This is just a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. It does not include tax and shipping, for instance. But it serves to get me in the ballpark — 10 grand. That 10 grand, spread out over the lifetime of the various parts, comes to about 3700$/year that this system needs to bring in to justify itself.
There are choices I’ve made that might be surprising: is a DreamColor really good enough for professional color grading work? Is 1TB of un-RAIDed storage a good idea? Should I get an Avid Mojo DX so I can finish in Avid as well? Or should I just get The Duck?
Based on my experience, the DreamColor is a big step forward for LCD reference monitoring. It’s no high-end CRT, but for the price range I’m targeting it’s great. For most indie projects, 1TB of storage will be fine. As long as I back up project files, I’ll be working on duplicated media anyway. If the drive should die, the client will still have their own files. As for Avid compatibility, that’s up to the work I can get. Right now everyone is using FCP. But if I have to turn away Avid customers, I’ll have to consider the Duck or a Mojo DX.
What if I want to take it to the next level, though? What if I want to do Avid work, and uncompressed HD work? I’m going to need to add equipment:
|LifeZero 4TB RAID||$2,000.00|
|Upgrade to Kona3||$1,200.00|
|Blackmagic SDI to HDMI converter3||$500.00|
|Avid Mojo DX||$7,500.00|
Ouch, double the cost. Have I complained yet about the high cost of Avid equipment? It’s really tough to justify a Mojo DX unless I get a big contract or something.
Now that I have an idea of what the system looks like, what about where to put it? There’s more to a suite than the hardware and software. My next post will cover room design, desks, and other environmental considerations.