We’ve already taken a look back on the biggest articles and series that were published on PVC in 2016, but the New Year provides us with an opportunity to further explore some of the trends, topics and technologies that changed things for professionals in production and post. 2017 will undoubtedly see those changes continue to be refined, disrupted and augmented, but how will or should that impact the approach for anyone making a living in media and entertainment? Do we still live in a Mac world? Has HDR arrived? What about VR?
These are just some of the topics the PVC writers explore in this roundtable discussion. Take some time to read through the insights and expertise this group of working professionals lays out, and then let us know what 2016 and 2017 looks like for you in the comment section.
The most remarkable change I noticed throughout 2016 was that companies that have historically used Apple products began to consider switching to Windows. On one hand this is just a subtle shift in the mindset of a relatively small number of people that I work with – but on the other hand the very fact that it’s even starting to happen represents a staggering, unprecedented change in the creative landscape.
As a freelancer who works for other companies on whatever hardware is provided, I am generally platform agnostic and regularly change between Windows and Mac environments. And as I often say, once I’m in Adobe-land then I can’t even tell which platform I’m using.
But while I am equally productive on either platform, I’ve always been aware that all of the “creative” people I work for have exclusively owned Apple products their entire life. I have too – since I began working professionally I have owned a collection of iMacs and more recently a MacBook Pro. Advertising and marketing agencies have always been 100% stocked with Apple products. There wasn’t any point arguing their merits or value, they just were.
But in 2016 this began to change. People who have owned and used Macs and other Apple products for their entire life are feeling neglected, and it’s not hard to see why. The entire Apple desktop line is well overdue for a refresh, with the “top end” Mac Pro untouched for over three years, the Mac mini for over two, the iMac for well over a year, and so on. This is after the colossal mess that was Final Cut X, which prompted many companies to abandon Final Cut Pro in favour of Adobe Premiere, thus freeing them from the shackles of Apple hardware. And if you want to expand into VR then Oculus stopped supporting the Mac platform altogether.
The point is not which is better, but simply that something is changing. The once-impenetrable wall that Apple has built around the creative world, including design and video production, is beginning to show cracks that have never been seen before. Ever.
Windows is coming.
Hah! Just don’t fall afoul of HBO’s lawyers when you say that!
Certainly if you’re running Adobe apps, there’s no reason to buy the new MBP (the keyboard noise alone is a disincentive to using the machine around other people). Even if you run a GPU-hungry program like Resolve, there are Windows boxes that offer far more power for less cost—with Nvidia GPUs, too, which Resolve prefers.
What keeps us Mac users on the Mac is the bespoke software and the user experience, however both are at risk.
True, FCPX just flies—I’ve been cutting 4K with it on my 2013 MBP for a bit over three years, and wondering why other people seem to struggle with UHD—but FCPX could be squashed like a bug tomorrow. Aperture is where my stills live, but Aperture was dropped in 2014 and is getting increasingly creaky as the OS evolves out from under it. I won’t even mention Color or Soundtrack Pro or Final Cut Server or Shake.
And OS X / macOS itself? Under Ive’s reign Apple has forgotten Jobs’s dictum, “Design is how it works“, and with Apple focused on iPhones and its functional organization bereft of division champions, the Mac, macOS, and pro apps are left to wither on the vine. Many Mac users put “peak OS” at 10.6.8; since then Apple has been busily dropping useful functions from the OS or burying them in undocumented places at about the same rate as they’re adding shiny new features, so the net user experience of working with the OS hasn’t really improved since 2009. 2009!
Meanwhile, the Windows user experience has improved over the years—in fits and starts, with a few notable hiccups—to the point where Win10 ain’t half bad. No, IMHO, it hasn’t reached parity yet (using the Jef Raskin metric implied by his “definition of an operating system: What you have to hassle with before you get to hassle with an application“), but it’s closer than it’s ever been before.
Recently I wondered about the cheapest way to get up and running with HDR grading in Resolve. I’d need a $195 DeckLink Mini Monitor 4K… and a used MacPro tower, last updated in 2012 but “seems like it’s stuck in time in 2010“, because that’s the most recent Mac I can stick an I/O card into. Or I could get a $3000 UltraStudio 4K Extreme and a last-year’s MacBook Pro (because my 2013 only has Thunderbolt 1 and I don’t want to pay extra to get a 2016 with a touch bar full of emojis) for $2500+, if I can find one. Ouch.
Or I could build a Win10 box with a current Nvidia GPU or two. If the purpose of this box is to hassle with Resolve, does it make sense to pay a hefty Apple tax just so I don’t have to hassle with Win10 on the way into Resolve?
There may be no true non-Mac replacement for FCPX (like Vegas on the PC, it’s a rule unto itself), but when Aperture finally falls over there’s Capture One Pro (Mac/Windows). Resolve is cross-platform, as is Fusion, and Affinity Designer, and Affinity Photo. And there’s Thunderbird and LibreO
But for now, I’m sitting pretty with my 2012 mini and my 2013 MacBook Pro. Yes, the ship is becalmed and slowly sinking, but it’s still much, much nicer up here on deck than down in those wobbly lifeboats. I’m running Win10 and various linux distros in virtual machines; I can practice rowing so when the ship finally sinks (barring the forlorn hope that Apple will get the darned thing under way again), I’ll be able to step into the lifeboat of my choosing without missing a beat. But, just as you can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime, you can’t sink a ship of the Mac’s bulk in an instant.
I figure I’ve got at least two or three years to go before tin whiskers or cold solder joints kill my current machines, or more emoji-focused OSes obsolete them. And then?
How about cameras? We’re getting to the point where just about any camera is “good enough.” In the same year where 8K and larger-than-Super35mm-format were becoming serious trends (whether with the Millenium DXL or the latest RED Epics and Weapons) we see a Weapon owner run an A/B comparison with an iPhone 7 Plus. And yes, bright day, normal/wide lens, no shallow depth of field in any shot, but even so: if you aren’t at least playing around with FiLMiC Pro or Mavis or their Android counterparts, you’re missing out. “Good enough” is getting mighty good.
HDR, as you’ll see Art mentions, is the Next Big Thing. It has enormous promise, even with Dolby Vision‘s expensive licensing keeping it out of most consumer sets (which is where it’s most needed, to adaptively handle differing peak brightness levels). Unfortunately HDR requires not only new technical underpinnings but also new sensitivities and aesthetics on the part of graders. Demo reels at NAB were not encouraging in that regard, but it’s early days yet. Both Netflix and Amazon offer 4K HDR content and reasonably tolerable HDR sets are available under $1000, sometimes well under, and even a 55″ LG OLED with Dolby Vision can be had under $2000 as I write this (though that’s a limited-time deal). The future looks bright… sometimes painfully bright.
360º video feels like the next 3D: a fun novelty, but increasingly tiresome once the thrill wears off. I haven’t yet seen a compelling 360º fictional video; some short-form docs have been tolerable, given their shortness, but without offering a significant improvement in quality of experience. True, you get to wave your phone around or spin your head (pro tip: swivel chairs are the way to go with head-mounted displays; you can whirl like a dervish without stumbling into a wall or falling down the stairs), and in return you get low-res pictures and the lack of a cameraman’s discerning eye. You trade artistry for agency, and are poorer for the trade; the freedom to look in any direction is the freedom to miss the important bits. I’d love to be proven wrong on this, but I’m not holding my breath.
The realization I’ve come to in 2016 is from the perspective of selecting cameras for commercial and documentary production. It has become very clear that I have many choices, and there are no wrong answers…the right answer is the tool that is right for the project.
Between the latest 2-3 years of camera systems that have hit the market, and the incredible support tools, external recording options, and general gack available, we have a plethora of options at literally ANY budget level. The market has matured, and we have choices.
This year I have DP’d projects shot on Phantom Flex 4K, Alexa, Varicam LT, Sony F5, FS7, FS5, FS700, A7S, Canon C300 Mark2, C300, C100, Blackmagic, and Red cameras in multiple flavors and resolutions. Each was a choice to serve a specific need – fps, resolution, look – at a given budget level. It is amazing that I have the choice of over a dozen systems, each with their own unique strengths.
There are downsides, of course. You need to know each system to get the most out of them. Each has their own set of gotchas and limitations. For instance, I’ve learned to build a custom set of Camera All Files for the Sony FS7, since setup and config can easily take a few hours if you are starting from scratch. With my All Files, I can be up and running in about 15 minutes. On the Varicam LT, I learned that the camera requires a reboot to go into high-fps mode, and that the codec changes as well…so now I know to plan for that when a project that requires mixed frame rates (or select a different camera).
Even seemingly-crippled low-cost cameras like the Sony FS5 can provide an incredible image when paired with a low-cost external recorder. I recently shot a lifestyle commercial for an outdoor clothing brand on the FS5, and used my Odyssey 7Q to record 4K RAW>Prores. That camera’s amazing little variable-ND was perfect for outdoor handheld use, and the 4K raw image it outputs looks fantastic when you know how to expose it for Slog (1 or 2-stops over). The camera fit our tight budget, and I was able to capture an amazing image without compromises. That is powerful, and it’s a new thing in my decade-long experience as a DP.
For 2017, I don’t see any revolutions coming in the camera side of things. I think we will continue to evolve existing systems, and I think we’ll see new features coming in the form of firmware upgrades, not entirely new bodies. For a good example of this, look to how Sony has handled the F5 and F55 cameras. They are both extensible, and have been upgraded and expanded with firmware and accessories multiple times over the past 4 years. Even now, if you compare the “old” F55 to current cameras feature-by-feature, you will realize that the F55 offers matching or improved options in almost every facet. It’s still one of the most affordable ways to get reasonably high-fps without cropping the sensor. That’s just one example of how I see the rest of the industry moving.
I look forward to this maturing of existing systems. It’s a good time to be a DP.
Stunning Good Looks
I’m officially declaring 360 VR a bubble. It will have its uses, but for a while there it was the NEXT BIG THING(tm) and I think people are slowly realizing that it works for a very limited range of applications. In the entertainment world it works for short experiential videos and computer games. I’ve never seen anyone use it well to tell a story, at least not with live action. (I’ve seen some good animated attempts.) I still think traditional cinema and HDR are where it’s going to be at. The control we have over framing and lighting—controlling the audience’s perspective, and what they can see when—trumps the audience looking all over the place when we’re trying to tell a story -over here.- Also, VR doesn’t work for everyone: motion sickness can be an issue.
HDR demo reels at NAB were an embarrassment… except for Panasonic, who did it right. Maybe Arri too, I didn’t see their demo but they usually don’t screw up stuff like that.
Every time I play with a Windows computer they drive me nuts. The UI is awful, warnings and alerts pop up constantly… I worked with someone on a presentation recently and his Windows laptop kept interrupting us with upgrade suggestions and such. Really annoying. I still have bad memories of Windows XP, and I’ve been reading stories of their forced upgrades to Windows 10 taking out critical client applications or shutting down meetings.
At the same time… I’m glad I’m not in post. Once my 2010 Mac Pro dies (probably any day now, my previous one only lasted six years) I’ll look at an iMac as they are now powerful enough to do what I need, which is not post heavy. I’m still not ready to jump ship to Windows, but Apple has clearly lost their way. iTunes has become the software version of a modern day Rubic’s Cube, and the new MacBook Pros require so many accessory cables to do what my current one does that I just don’t see the point. I also know Apple doesn’t admit to mistakes, so the next MacBook may not even have a charging port. Or maybe they’ll get rid of the keyboard to make it thinner.
2016 hammered home that traditional broadcast TV’s days are numbered. At the same time, the quality of TV has eclipsed that of feature films.
I love shooting commercials, but I hate watching them. So many are mediocre and repeats of old and tired concepts. Once in a while a really amazing, clever one comes along, and it’s such a startling event that I remember it all the more. The best ones become a topic of conversation in social circles. Sadly, most are completely forgettable.
Network television beats us over the head with them. One TV show I watched years ago was broken up by a set of commercials every seven minutes. Others play the trick where they show you one or two during the first commercial break and then add more until the final commercial break is five minutes of non-stop commercials.
I hate to say it, but I got burned out on spots. On top of that, I decided I didn’t need to pay a lot of money to my cable provider for hundreds of TV channels I never watch. At some point we realized we were only watching Netflix, Amazon and HBO, so we cut the cord. I’ve since added Hulu into the mix as they’ve got a great collection of shows to watch, but the kind of television where I have to record a show, or watch at a certain time, is dead to me. And all this content is completely commercial free, which means I can watch shows with more complex storylines and not worry about annoying interruptions.
Nearly all the commercials I shot last year ended up on the web, which is a strong indication of where things are going. When I want to keep up on what’s happening in the spots world I check out the latest on Youtube or a website dedicated to great advertising. I never see them as they are intended anymore.
Commercials need to survive. I hate to say that, but I love shooting them so much that I don’t want them to go away. When people are cutting cords due to high cable costs and repetitive, endless commercials on network TV, something has to change. BMW experimented with this in a series that came out a few years ago where they told an action-packed story across a series of long form spots that were centered around one of their latest products. That seems like a great paradigm to me: make the ad breaks as interesting as the shows viewers are watching. Networks should sell less ad time and charge more for it, or ad agencies should buy up larger blocks of ad time and create content that gets people talking. The days of being able to sell shampoo and vacuum cleaners simply by showing people using the products and looking happy is over. Broadcast spots and web spots need to look more like viral content and be clever, outrageous, compelling stories with high production values that are as interesting as the content in which they are interspersed. If TV shows are the novels of visual entertainment, commercials should become short stories or anthologies.
This means taking more creative chances. Clients and agencies hate that. Like Hollywood, they prefer the tried-and-true. Unlike Hollywood, streaming media has shown us that originality, depth of storytelling, and playing the long game by shopping lengthy complex storylines to niche audiences, pays off like nothing else does right now.
I’m not sure this will happen quickly. I’m still amazed at the number of Youtube spots that allow me to skip them after five seconds but don’t spend that time grabbing me with something crazy, amazing or unbelievable. Like a novel or a movie, you have to grab the audience quickly or they’ll get away. That’s even more true with commercials, which people generally don’t want to watch. The challenge is to change that paradigm, and I don’t see anyone doing that yet. When it happens, though, it’s going to be great fun for people like me.
Beyond that, streaming television is where the great stories are right now. There’s nothing on network television, or in movie theaters, like The Crown, House of Cards, Chef’s Table, Daredevil and Jessica Jones (Netflix), The Man in the High Castle and Fortitude (Amazon), or Westworld and The Leftovers (HBO). Netflix now has a row of original shows on their website, and it’s a long list—and most look to be pretty good, or get good reviews. I haven’t even started looking at the breadth of original shows on Amazon or Hulu, and one of these days I’ll venture into Game of Thrones on HBO. I’m hooked on great stories, great scripts, great production values, and the ability to watch a series all the way through without interruption and in my own time. We’re living in a golden era of TV, and having grown up in the 70s and 80s I never thought I’d hear myself say that.
I saw maybe four movies in theaters this year, and only one (Arrival) really grabbed me and gave me the kind of experience I’ve been getting out of TV shows recently. I remember seeing Dr. Strange (it was fine) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (utter crap) and I think there was something else. There was nothing that hit me as hard as, say, The Leftovers, which has got to be one of the most “niche” shows ever and yet is well funded and consistently excellent.
Years ago, when the low budget comedy Home Alone became a hit, there was lots of talk about studios producing lots of $10m niche movies instead of a few $100-200m movies, as they had better chances of creating hits and generating a large return on investment. That never happened, and most blockbuster movies are dumbed down to the point where I can’t be bothered to see them. If I can sit home and watch 10 hours of Westworld, why would I pay more money to leave my home and watch some two hour blockbuster action movie with a story as thin as a piece of paper and tailored to appeal to everyone?
I’d like to see studios return to the idea of creating lower budget movies with great stories that target specific niches. I’m tired of sequels, and reboots are getting old. A focus on original, quality content is the only thing that’s going to get me back into a movie theater any time soon.
On the technical side, HDR is heating up. I’ve been working on a long paper about how to shoot it (currently at 50 pages) and I’m awaiting the go ahead to publish it here at PVC. 3D was a flash in the pan, but HDR is here to stay—and boy, is it worth it. Television is going to be the most stunning way to see images of any kind. (Theaters will catch up shortly after, but HDR TV will be here first.) This is a technology that is completely revamping the TV viewing experience and, unlike 3D, anyone can enjoy it. It’ll take a while for the technology wars to settle out, but HDR TVs are already here and content is being generated. The trick is that it’s harder to shoot HDR than normal TV as HDR sees *everything.* There are very few ways to cheat, and lots that can go wrong. It’s so different that it takes a new psychological mindset to grasp the opportunities that this new toolset offers.
It’s going to be more expensive to shoot just about anything, as HDR requires a bit more planning, testing, better lenses, beefier codecs, etc. It’ll be so worth it, though. I see light meters being a thing again. (I’ve been told that I’m only one of two people in my market who use a light meter on set. That baffles me, but I think it’s also going to make me more popular in the near future when HDR hits.)
What pleases me immensely is that TV cinematography quality is at an all time high. I’m amazed at what some of those DPs can do on an episodic schedule, although—and this is interesting—many episodic shows are getting longer shooting schedules. I remember working on a TV series where we shot 48 minutes of finished content every five days. Now I hear of shows getting 10 day schedules, and sometimes longer… and the difference is amazing.
Visual storytelling is better than ever, and it’s happening in a space that I never thought would be more than a wasteland of mindless content. In 2017 we’re going to start seeing everything shift around that new paradigm. Networks will have to step up their game to compete with the high quality of streaming content. Commercials will have to reinvent themselves. And HDR is going to deliver better images to our TVs than we can see in theaters. Get ready for a rocky ride.
The Pixel Painter
I have a thing or two to say about the state of drone videography this year:
We’ve seen a great leveling of the playing field in the prosumer camera drone industry. Many players that came into 2016 strong and hopeful have really lost out to the top player, DJI. Not only has DJI risen so far above the rest of the crowd (no pun intended) with their superior drone technology, flight controls and ease of operation, but their camera optics, sensors and remote camera controls (even direct live streaming) are high enough quality to be taken serious enough for network TV production and feature films.
Their prosumer/professional camera lineup increased in both quality and capabilities this year, starting with the Zenmuse Z3 with 3.5x optical zoom @ 4K/30 or 7x zoom @ 1080p/60 for their Inspire and M600 platforms. Moving up to the professional Zenmuse X5 M4/3 with interchangeable lenses, this has become the defacto camera being used on many network TV & commercial productions, coupled with the Inspire 1. For serious professional production, the Zenmuse X5R captures 12-bit RAW Cinema DNG @ 4K/30 and 1.7Gbps average bitrate (2.4Gbps max). DJI just recently released their new Zenmus X4S integrated camera that features a 20MP 1″ sensor that delivers 4K/60 with a max ISO of 12,800. These cameras become part of the integrated package systems that ship RTF (Ready To Fly) and produce professional results with a minus investment and minimum acquisition and setup on location.
Coupled with their Lightbridge 2 live FPV capability and new dedicated ultra bright CrystalSky monitor system, you won’t need to keep upgrading your iPad tablets to get clear, smooth video monitoring and live-stream recording.
They have really upped their game with new drone designs this year, by adding the M600 Pro Hexacopter for heavy-lift payloads and customizability for professional productions. The new Inspire 2 is a robust upgrade to their most popular Inspire 1 professional quadcopter, with the addition of magnesium aluminum composite shell and carbon fiber arms, increased vision sensing and obstacle avoidance, a second pilot’s FPV camera for dual-operator control and heavier-duty motors and props with dual batteries for increased power on demand and extended flight times up to 27minutes.
DJI has also been a strong proponent in fighting to get the FAA to simplify their rules on UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) the past couple years and as a result, we got the Part 107 certification that anyone can test for and fly commercially – which really opened the floodgates for smaller productions to produce aerial content.
All of this has made aerial cine production an accessible addition to anyone’s toolset, should they wish to venture into this arena with limited investment. (NOTE: You will still need to learn how to fly competently and pass your cert test)
The most remarkable things I noticed in 2016:
* Changes in my viewing habits – I now watch more television than film, and more web series and non-network shows (distributed on Netflix and Amazon) than network shows. The craft level (acting, directing, cinematography, sound, music, production design, VFX, etc.) on shows has grown by so many leaps and bounds and shows no signs of stopping.
* The advent of truly affordable 4K, with the introduction of the Sony A7s-ii. Couple that with some solid improvements from Adobe Premiere and Encoder, and I finally feel like I’m back to where I was in 2010, with a solid Canon 5D / Final Cut 7 HD workflow. That only took six years!
* The number of DIY filmmakers I know has gone up. They’re not going after distribution deals (because they all suck), they’re Kickstarting, then shooting, then posting, then self-distributing their films, shorts, and webseries themselves. This is both encouraging and depressing. Many of these folks should be the ones helming mid-budget films or shows. But it seems like an almost vertical climb to get to that point where you can get paid for your craft. On the other hand, that’s not discouraging them (or me) from creating new work.
* There has finally been some serious movement on addressing the lack of diversity and representation in front of and behind the camera. Many of these seeds were planted before this year, but Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY, Viola Davis’ JuVee Productions, Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films, the 51 Fund, We Do It Together, and other initiatives are starting to push the ball very slowly forward.
A Working Filmmaker
I spent most of 2016 in the trenches of screenwriting in LA, so I felt like I missed out on what was happening in the world of production and post. I’ll echo what was said about the rapid pace of cord-cutting. I personally haven’t owned a television in years and all media in my house is streamed on iPhones, iPads, laptops and computers.
The content available for 30 bucks a month in subscription fees (NetFlix, Amazon Prime and HBO Now) is a staggering amount and far more than any one person can watch.
Selling content from original concepts to completed shows is possible and profitable in a way I’ve never seen before. It is something that a lot of us that went through the Indie Film crash of 2007/2008 thought would never happen. In 2008 Indie producers were penning lengthy obituaries to filmmaking (http://www.indiewire.com/2008/06/mark-gill-yes-the-sky-really-is-falling-72174/) And now, in 2016, the iconic indie producer Ted Hope is the head of Amazon Studios giving green lights and money for features and episodic content that pushes boundaries and buttons.
Inclusion in front of the camera and behind is happening and growing not just as buzzwords or toothless initiatives. Years of hard work inside and outside the system has yielded a culture machine increasingly staffed by a larger slice of the culture. Give a lot of credit to the indie film orgs like Sundance, FIND and the SF Film Society for nurturing filmmakers and building resources over the last decade to make this possible. They kept the lights on for a lot of us.
My WGA orientation was an amazing and eye-opening experience. I was part of a wildly diverse group of dozens of new Guild members. The era of writers rooms largely staffed by white dudes in baseball caps has transformed to where everyone is invited to the party. The quantity and quality of stories coming out of the system shows the impact of all those years of work and activism.
On the techie side of things, I am amazed at the rapidly growing abilities of Artificial Intelligence. Largely in the form of Machine Learning (ML) applied to large databases of visual information. These new tools grew from ArXiv paper curiosities in 2015 to big tech acquisitions in 2016. Take a look at the proof of concept presented this year at Adobe Max, SkyReplace (http://petapixel.com/2016/11/11/sneak-peek-adobe-skyreplace-swaps-skies-photos/) and DeepMind’s WaveNet (https://deepmind.com/blog/wavenet-generative-model-raw-audio/)
Three years ago both of these technologies were unimaginable and magical, in 2016 they were demos.
My big tech winner of 2016 is the iPhone 7’s Portrait Mode: the first real, practical and smart implementation of Computational Photography (CP) for the masses. Apple succeeded where Lytro failed, they did it by picking a single implementation (simulated bokeh) rather than trying to deliver a radical new model of photography (light field).
Looking towards the future, I can see how both ML based graphics apps and cheap CP devices will absolutely devour entire workflows, camera lines, and job titles.
Although not nearly enough of them, in 2016, more new consumer and industrial mirrorless cameras fortunately started to display non-integer framerates like 23.976, 29.97 and 59.94 to 2 or 3 decimals in menus (even though those are rounded too), rather than rounding the the closest integer, which confuses many innocent video editors and causes havoc for them. Hopefully this positive trend will continue in 2017.
In 2016, more good audio, video, mounting/holding accessories and apps for smartphones and tablets were released. This will likely increase in 2017.
Sound for Picture
As a mixer for a lot of television programming, feature documentary and feature film content, the most notable absence in 2016 has been that of tape. We’ve been steadily moving to this in the past several years, but as of now I no longer use decks, own decks, rent decks, layback tapes and so on. Not a single instance in 2016. This year I was supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer on 40 plus episodes of TV, 2 feature length docs, 3 feature films, spots, web content, etc. Not a tape in sight this year. Still a deliverable on the online picture side for some of the networks, but tape no longer seems to be a regular part of my audio post process.
Along with the extensive digital only deliveries I’ve also noticed a sharp uptick in required audio deliverables. Back 5 or 6 years ago when I was delivering mixes on digibeta tapes, I was delivering 4 tracks of audio per tape and perhaps a few additional stems on a disk. This year I have delivered every combination of stems imaginable – censored mono, stereo, surround, uncensored mono, stereo and surround, all of the splits censored and uncensored, some with dipped levels and some with undipped. Increasing deliveries require the Pro Tools edit and mix session that created the final mix, with all of the plug-in settings, auxes and busses, sound design and final dialog elements etc. included. There is also an abundance now of additional content required for each of the episodes – deleted scenes, web content, international filler material and more, with each requiring the same edit and mix specifications and split track deliveries.
I would also like to tip my hat to my colleague Chris, who has mentioned the migration to PC. Although I am a (very) longtime user of all things Mac, on a professional level the Apple line has come to a dead end. Cost, performance, expandibility etc., have long tilted far in the PC direction. Although personally I have not yet made the switch, I feel that 2017 will be the year the migration for me starts in earnest. Hell must have finally frozen over…
2016 saw Blackmagic step back from announcing June/July shipping on products announced at NAB. At NAB 2016, Blackmagic had a much more restrained shipping hopes for their gear. For the most part, we have seen Blackmagic try to ship products around their initial announced shipping dates. Of course for URSA users waiting for an upgradable sensor to the URSA camera, this stated deadline by Blackmagic has come and gone.
Speaking on the URSA, I think this camera might only get the one single sensor upgrade option. Owner/Operators will have the option of 4K or 4.6K and that will be about it.
Otherwise, Blackmagic has delivered the URSA Mini 4K and 4.6K as well as the Micro Cinema Camera. These three cameras have become their de facto flagships with the URSA Mini 4.6K leading the pack.
As I reminisce about 2016 I cannot help but think about the future. Blackmagic has the 4.6K Sensor and I think we’ll start seeing Blackmagic Design push this sensor out to different camera options. The company has a history of doing just this sort of thing. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera sensor ended up in the Pocket Cinema Camera, and an updated version of the same sensor is now in the Micro Cinema Camera as well. Will we see a 4.6K Micro Cinema Camera? I don’t think so, but I do think we will see the 15 stop dynamic range sensor in a smaller size. I think we might see a 2K or 2.5K in a smaller camera similar to the Micro Cinema Camera. I think NAB 2017 will feature a version of the URSA Mini with an ND Filter Wheel. The ND Filter Wheel is the number one requested feature asked to be added.
Sony continued to fill out its Cine Alta camera line up well. There seemed to be a great option at many different price points. One thing for sure happened in 2016 was the Sony FS7 was in nearly every rental house across the country and why the hell not? The FS7 is a great camera capable of shooting documentary work as well as some narrative work. Sony also released new raw recorders for the Sony F5 and F55 with a brand new codec. 2016 proved Sony wanted to extend the shelf-life of the F5 and F55. This was good news for F55 and F5 owners who might have been worried those two cameras were beginning to be forgotten by Sony. Sony also elevated its single-lens camcorder game with the Z150. Otherwise, Sony continues to innovate and release updates, like 12 bit DNG raw to the FS5, to their existing cameras. What I really cannot wait for from Sony is seeing what new camera these upgrades will eventually live in.
2016 was also the year many shooters got their hands on Panasonic’s Varicam LT. The little bro to the Varicam 35. In the Varicam LT, Panasonic made a solid contender to Sony’s FS7 and F5. This camera is well known for being able to shoot at dual native ISOs: 800 and 5000. This type of tech would not surprise me if we saw it in a different manufacturer’s camera. In many ways, the dual ISO is one of those features everyone eventually adopts, like focus assist or 35mm sized sensors.
Overall, in 2016 we saw cameras become more capable of capturing low-light footage. I this trend will continue and become more affordable. In 2016 we also saw 8K end up in cameras and even now a few vloggers are shooting on Red’s 8K Helium to post to their youtube pages.
Cameras aside, 2016 was the year for cinema glass. Sigma, Tokina, Angeniuex, Zeiss, Sony, Canon and P+S Technik came out with more affordable cinema lenses. Sigma’s newest cine zooms, 18-35 and 50-100, are shipping to shooters now. Many lens manufacturers’s aimed to hit cinema zoom lens prices to be just below $10,000. This includes Zeiss and its 21-100 T2.9 – 3.9 and Angenieux’s EZ Zoom Series.
2016 was a good year as far as work goes as I didn’t see a shift in my market or the kind of work that I do either toward or away from anything I’ve been doing for last couple of years before 2016. While we saw a lot of updates in both camera and post-production technology things pretty much hummed along like there weren’t any big shifts in technology. While I saw a few more projects with 4K acquisition come thorough the edit suite door I only remember a couple that were asking for 4K delivery. That’s about the same number that asked for it in 2015. The markets I’m working in aren’t a Netflix-4K world but I would have thought that will all the 8K buzz most everything would have gone to 4K deliverables. I guess that’s the reality of the real world vs. the reality of marketing. Hell, I even delivered some spots in SD!
I would expect more of the same in 2017 even though we’ll see more cameras that are going to be able to capture an image larger than 4K. C300s are still all over the places where I work but many of those are first generation and will be replaced soon. I think we’re a long way from HDR taking off in the mainstream as well. It will stick to the high end of Netflix and Amazon for the foreseeable future until our smartphones and tablets drive it forward. That’s the second mention of Netflix and as I think it through Netflix and non-broadcast outlets seem to be the place where all the fun is happening. Corporate entities don’t want one corporate video anymore, they want a whole slew of deliverables for a lot of different outlets, most of them on the internet. While that’s good for work it often isn’t good for creative relief as videos destined for Facebook are less about creating great art but rather about getting people to watch. You often have to just get a cut done and move on.
I used to see a lot of corporate and agency work that had decided to add some iPhone or GoPro footage to their project no matter what the main camera originals were. I always thought it was strange to cut from beautifully shot Sony footage to an iPhone shot but a little color work will go a long way to making that acceptable. It was less about matching the look of the footage but more about the more amateurish “feel” of the footage. I mention this because I saw a lot less of iPhone and GoPro footage shoehorned into projects this year and I was happy for it. What I did see a lot more of is drone shots. Everyone now has a drone and most every project seems to want to get an aerial shot in. There are times when it just doesn’t work but more of than not it’s a shot that’s shoved in that says “look we have a drone.” I expect more of that in 2017 as the drones get smaller and cheaper.
The trend toward asking the editor to do everything in post-production didn’t let up in 2016. While I’m fortunate enough to have many jobs that get sent to a dedicated sound design and audio mix while at the same time getting a professional color grade that isn’t always the case. The craft editor of today continues to expand upon and refine their post-production skills to include a lot more technical skills than ever before. Those of us lucky enough to be dedicated post-production professionals are becoming rarer and rarer as the writer-producer-director-shooter-editor are all the more common. Being a multi-hyphenate filmmaker is a necessity for some to make a profit and a luxury for others as they don’t want go give up any control.
2016 was the first year in almost twenty that I skipped the NAB show. As a broadcaster, I’ve felt for quite a while that the whole thing had been co-opted by the more “film-” oriented folks. As I sit here on New Years Eve-Eve, I don’t regret that decision at all. Instead, I’d say the trends I’ve been observing are far more macro, more multi-year in coming. Such as…
It’s pretty interesting to see so many of my fellow PVC-ers getting ready to abandon Apple. I am just about the only one here to never have used a Mac at all (save an early-oughts dalliance with Final Cut 2.) From the year 1998 on, it’s been fun to ride the wave of increasing power afforded the PC platform by faster CPUs, cheaper RAM, CUDA and other video-card-empowering technologies. Back in the day of the iMac “bowl-stick-plate” computer, I used to joke that the designers created that circular base just to drive the folks that had to build a motherboard for it insane. With the Mac Pro (aka “Trashcan”) they did it again, creating a form factor that almost totally forecloses the opportunity for standardized, easily swappable upgrades – *especially* of video cards. My desktop editing machine is an HP Z800, almost seven years old now. I regularly do five-camera (or more) HD multicam edits, with never fewer than three totally different codecs. When I noticed this process getting sluggish, I took out the original nVidia Quadro FX4800 GPU – which, it should be noted, was far north of $1000 when new and topped out at 1080p – and replaced it with a gaming-grade nVidia GeForce 970, which I picked up *in stock* at Best Buy for about $350. Needless to say, it gave the old Z800 a whole new lease on life, and those edits are as smooth as butter now, even with one Sony XDCamEX, two GoPros, an XAVC and an AVCHD track all on the same timeline – with color correction on most of the tracks, happily playing in real time to a 40″ 4K monitor.
Of course, the hardware does nothing without the software, and the Adobe Creative Cloud suite makes this all happen. I am steadfastly nudging my employer to move towards CC and away from Avid, and the most interesting thing has started happening – all our newer, younger employees are on my side.That is a weird feeling.
I have been watching the trend towards 4K production, and have been struck by how trivial it has become to shoot enormous images and manage enormous data sets. However, as a broadcaster there is a very dark side to this. I’ve been a very happy “cord-cutter” for several years now, combining the multitude of channels available from my Roku box with an increasing number of program streams available with an antenna over-the-air. (Even in Madison WI – market #85 – we have more than 30 channels over-the-air (OTA), not even counting a religious seven-pack coming in from the far northern edge of our DMA.) This seems all well and good, until the engineers and programmers get the idea that we should be broadcasting in 4K and/or with HDR. This has been proven to be technically feasible through a totally new set of broadcast standards under the umbrella title of ATSC3. But…
…does anyone remember the end of NTSC? That was the standard-def broadcast that refused to die, stretching out it’s life until mid-2009. Yes, only eight years ago. The federal government saw enough value in ending NTSC (and in selling off the highest UHF channels to cell-phone companies) that they offered every OTA household a $40 voucher to purchase converter boxes to ease the blow. There will be no such greasing of the skids for ATSC3, however, and one day in the future a lot of folks with gorgeous HDTVs on their walls will wake up to…well, not snow, but no OTA programming, unless they are willing to go out and buy a new ATSC3 tuner, and install and program it themselves.
Over-the-air broadcasters are currently enjoying a marked increase in OTA “antenna” households, largely as a reaction to the ridiculous costs of cable and satellite TV packages. I have a strong sense that we as broadcasters may be committing suicide, asking our viewers to change systems *again,* after not all that much time has elapsed. If you are a football viewer, let me ask you – do you see any noticeable difference in football coverage on Fox, NBC or CBS? Few if any do, despite NBC and CBS producing in 1080i and Fox in 720p. Yet OTA they all look really good. This might just be a great example of the technology tail wagging the content dog.
Finally, let me get in on the drone party by announcing that I passed my FAA Part 107 Remotely Piloted Vehicle test in December, and am anxiously awaiting the happy day when the FAA finally releases a process that will make flying commercially in restricted airspace something you don’t need a 90-day notice to do legally. In the meantime, here’s some demo footage I shot over Memorial Day with my Yuneec Typhoon Q500 quadcopter. BTW, it was shot in 4K and edited in real-time with color correction and almost no lag – on a 3-year-old Asus gaming laptop with a nVidia GeForce 660m GPU.