Sony had plenty to showcase at IBC this year, and while many people were focused on the exiting news around the FS7, Sony Pro wasn’t the only division that got people talking. Sony Creative Software had some pretty big news as well, as they showed off the updates to Sony Vegas Pro and also announced Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare, which are two tools designed to streamline the production process in a number of ways. But because so much was going on at IBC, it was actually difficult to dig into the specifics about these products and updates
Now that things have settled down, we caught up with Sony Creative Software's Michael Bryant, who I missed at the event but somehow still managed to capture in a photo. We talked about how these new products can save filmmakers time and money, what sort of struggles he’s seen professionals encounter as they transition to post and what people are most surprised to find out about when they get their hands on these products.
ProVideo Coalition: At IBC this year Sony announced Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare and also showed off the updates to Vegas Pro. What sort of responses and conversations did you have with attendees around these items?
Michael Bryant: We were very pleased with the response that we got. We got a lot of positive comments about the UI, about the workflow, about where it fits into the workflow and the problems it solves. So it was a very rewarding show.
The synergy we have going with some of the camera groups, what we’re calling the “proxy first workflow” was really of interest. We had people coming over from the camera area to check out how that workflow actually functioned, and they were surprised to see how seamlessly Vegas Pro swapped out the proxies for the full resolution file.
Can you tell us more about this “proxy first workflow”?
The wireless adapters on cameras or the functionality that’s been built into those cameras enables a camera operator to create proxy files as they’re recording and immediately upload them to media cloud services or to an on-site private cloud. Those files can then be downloaded by an editor who can immediately begin to edit the project, even while additional footage is still being captured and uploaded.
Once that editor has those high-res files, they can simply tell Vegas Pro to swap out those proxy files with the high-res files and then all you need to do is render those files. The project is done.
One of the big updates to Vegas Pro was Vegas Pro Connect. How does it help and augment collaboration?
Vegas Pro Connect is a free application that runs on your iPad. It allows for two different kinds of collaboration…both online and offline with Vegas Pro. Once you’ve downloaded the app and fired up your copy of Vegas Pro, you just need to be on the same wifi network with Vegas Pro itself.
For what I call the online workflow, you can collaborate real-time. Say an editor has a project that’s around 80% done and they’re looking for feedback from a group of producers. They can get everyone into a room and pull Vegas Pro up on the big screen, and each stakeholder can load up Vegas Pro Connect on their iPad and each person can control the playback with the app instead of just passively watching. More importantly though, each of those people can also drop markers. Those markers can be predefined as “check color,” “check edit,” “check mix,” etc. They can also be custom markers that allow those viewers to make comments. The project itself actually has those markers in it and when the editor gets back to the studio they have all of that info right in the project and they can easily refer to that info as they go about making those changes or fixing those issues.
Viewers can control the playback, and what’s nice is that one of the screens gives you the standard “stop,” “start,” “fast-forward” and all the other normal navigation tools. But you have to look down at your iPad to actually use those controls. So we created another screen that is purely driven by gesture. It’s a big black screen and you don’t even have to be looking at it. You tap it once and the video plays. You tap it again and the video stops. Two fingers will pause, swiping left or right will bring you to the next marker or from the beginning to the end. There are others as well, but it’s a great and intuitive way to control Vegas Pro by gesture alone.
The offline workflow would be if one of the editors has a project that’s near completion and we’re all on the same wifi, they can create an iPad friendly proxy that I can pull onto my iPad and go home with it. I can then view it whenever I wanted. I could view or see the markers that are in the project while also dropping in my own markers. And then when I get back to the studio that info I’ve put in there is transferred to the Vegas Pro project, and everyone can see the markers and notes that I’ve added.
What other features have users really responded to?
We created a new easy access toolbar button down in the timeline where you do your editing. Some of those features were available previously, but many people didn’t even realize it because we didn’t have a specific tool for it as we relied on a keyboard accelerator.
Now, right there at the bottom of the timeline next to the transport controls you can select the normal edit tool or the shuffle tool which enables you to create a rough cut and a storyboard right on the Vegas Pro timeline. From there, you can go into a more online session.
The slip and slide tools are great because they allow two different kinds of manipulation of a longer piece of media. You can either move the event to show a different part of the media underneath or you can actually slide the media within the event.
The time-stretch compress tool always impresses, as you can just grab that tool and then grab an event and by dragging to the right it immediately puts it into slow motion, and if you drag to the left it puts it into fast motion. You can do this even while the project is playing, which is always a fun tool to show people.
And because IBC is a broadcast show, one of the features that I heard a lot of people talking about was the Loudness Meters that we now include in Vegas Pro.
What can you tell us about those new Loudness Meters?
The CALM Act, and its European equivalent (EBU R-128), are governments attempt to get everyone to comply with a loudness level so viewers are not sitting at home and constantly changing the volumes. We included these Loudness Meters, and I say that as plural because you get a whole set of very accurate meters. One shows you a momentary sampling of a program while another one gives you a bit longer view of the media. There’s also the integrated meter which shows you the average loudness of the entire program to make sure you’re staying in compliance. Then there’s a meter that gives you a loudness range where you can very quickly see where the peaks are, where the loudest parts are and where the softest parts are. And there’s also a set of true peak meters that are very accurate.
You can also print out a loudness log for documentation or requirement purposes that tracks by time-code number where you are in compliance and where you might not be in compliance. You can then go back and make those adjustments so that when you send that program material out to a broadcaster they’re not going to squash that with some compression and cause you to lose your dynamic range.
Staying in compliance is certainly on broadcasters minds, so we wanted to help them make sure they do that by including these Loudness Meters.
How were you talking through the details of Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare with attendees at IBC? Was it difficult to convey what these programs are all about, or did they get it right away?
I would say they got it right away. The UIs are identical whether you’re on Mac or PC, so once you’ve worked with one you can move to another platform without any difficulty. The UI is also very modern looking and attractive, so that brought people right up to the screen and allowed them to get a better understanding of the setup. It’s also a brand new code base for us and the core of that code base is going to let us expand into other solutions because the core is so solid and provides all the needed functionality when you’re dealing with multimedia.
What do people need to understand about both of these products?
Catalyst Browse was specifically designed to support Sony Professional Cameras deck card readers. So with all the Sony formats, XAVC, 4K, MXF, MP4, etc., it’s locked into that so the product is very much about browsing that device. Whether you’re hooked up to a camera, card reader or deck you can very quickly see and gain confidence that you shot what you thought you were going to shoot. You can apply color looks and do some fairly sophisticated color correction right there on the set using your desktop, laptop or a Windows tablet. You can even go in and look at an individual clip, play it back, zoom in and out to every corner, check focus and make sure that it looks the way you want. You can even copy files or upload files to the media cloud service for stakeholder review right then and there.
Import, organize, edit and export is pretty much the Catalyst Prepare story. Just like the name says, it’s all about preparing your media for the next stage of production. And these days, file-based workflow is really important. Tape is pretty much gone, and now we have tons and tons of files to deal with. Plus the fact that they’re not exactly small. It’s someone’s job to wrangle all of those files and make sure they’re copied securely, that they’re backed up, that the color looks right, that the focus looks right and that these shots are what the production needs them to be. Both of these applications allow you to work in the ultra-wide color gammet that the camera uses, so you can really and truly see if you’ve got what you intended.
So the workflow in Prepare is really straightforward. It’s very obvious from the interface that the first phase is all about browsing and importing your media. Now, in terms of importing, you can import a group of files, a single file or a portion of a file. That can come in handy in an instance where you’re, say, shooting a pond and waiting for an elk to come take a drink. You’re setup and shooting for thirty minutes before the elk actually comes down for the shot you need, but there’s no need to transfer that full thirty minutes. You can just mark in and out of what you actually need and just move that to the production PC.
Or, say you need to have a safety backup of the entire volume. You can initiate that as an ongoing process. All of this happens in the background. So I could be making a safety backup of the entire volume with checksum verification, and at the same time I could be browsing around and deciding which ones I actually want to import into the workstation. I could also be adding additional metadata. The files already have a rich set of metadata from the media, but you can go in and add all sorts of info about each file as you’re logging.
Prepare also works with formats beyond Sony. For a lot of our customers, their primary camera is a Sony camera, but they might have GoPro for B-roll, and it certainly recognizes and works with these other formats.
After you’ve got everything imported, the next step is organization. You can rename the files to something that’s going to be more friendly to your project and you can create folders and move files into folders in whatever way you want to organize and arrange all of this data. Not only that, but you can actually create a storyboard as well. And that storyboard could be a rough cut of the video you’re making or it could just be another way to create a collection of related media. From there, you could upload or render out that storyboard as a flattened file in whatever way makes the most sense for stakeholder review.
We already talked about some of the controls you have regarding the edit, which include the markers we discussed. Export is the last stage though, and I mentioned being able to export that storyboard as a flattened file, but you could also export the storyboard as a group of files with an NLE appropriate EDL, and we support Vegas Pro, Avid, Apple and Adobe. So the system would create an EDL appropriate for that NLE and you could open it in whatever system you wanted for your final finish. So you do your roughcut in Prepare and then do your online and finishing work in an NLE like Vegas Pro.
It’s a very straightforward and powerful workflow and you’re going to save a lot of online time with the final edit because you’ve prepared the media, you’ve organized the media, you’ve edited the media and you’ve even done some preliminary color work.
And speaking of color work, as you’re doing this it’s working in that full dynamic range and you can bring your raw files in there to make your choice of what color space you want to work in, what color space you want to grade in and what color look you want to apply. And then you can adjust color by using tone curve, color sliders or three-wheel color controls. It has a wave-form histogram that updates in real time. When you’re working with color, both products support the tangent wave or the tangent TK devices to control your three-wheel color corrector.
How have you heard about or seen professionals struggle with their transition to post-production?
In various large and small ways, and the feedback we got around this issue was one of the main drivers behind the development of these programs. So much of it goes back to the explosion of files and data that I mentioned earlier.
Back when you had a still camera that used film, you had what, 16 or 24 shots? Now though, when you take a vacation and bring a digital camera you’ve got 1,000 images. It’s a similar concept with video cameras and filmmakers.
These guys are going out there with digital video cameras recording to professional disks and flash memory, and they don’t have to be conservative about the number of takes or shots. They know they can always dump that data onto a drive or in the cloud or on a laptop and simply go back and shoot more. But they need tools like this that can back up all of that data.
DITs certainly can and should love these applications, but anybody that’s shooting video and trying to manage and organize all their files will find these tools valuable.
What’s one thing users are most often surprised to find out about once they start using Vegas Pro?
There are really two different kinds of surprises when it comes to people using Vegas Pro for the first time, and they’re separate reactions from two very different sets of people.
The first group are the people who are getting into the business of video for the first time. What I hear them say is that they’re amazed at how fast and organic the Vegas environment really is. The other set of people are folks who are familiar with other NLE’s such as Premiere, Avid or FCP. They’re surprised at some of the features that are so easily done in Vegas, and those are things that you’ve only recently begun to see in those other programs I just mentioned. For instance, the automatic crossfade was something we had all the way back in v1 of Vegas.
Regardless of their prior experience, people are often amazed to see how natural the system feels, and if you can use a mouse, you can make a movie. You don’t need to be concerned about the number of frames or have to be concentrating on the math, and that can be a relief to a lot of people.
Another thing they’re surprised to find is how strong Vegas Pro is with working with audio. People using a different system often have to send their audio work out to someone else to get the sound effects or additional dialogue done. Then they get on Vegas Pro and realize they can place frame-accurate sound effects, music and dialog in Vegas Pro, so they don’t need to send anything out. And there are various tools to enable that.
We also have a lot of people cutting music videos, and what they love is that you can set the timeline to measure and beats, in reference to measure of music and the beats within each measure. It’s a musical way to edit. So if you know the tempo of the music you’re working with, you just set the timeline for, say, 130 beats per minute, and instead of showing you hours, minutes, seconds and frames, it shows you measures and beat. And if you’re cutting to music, it’s a spectacular way to go.
Have you gotten feedback from users of Browse and/or Prepare yet?
We have, and for Prepare, what was eye-opening for users was the color workflow and how robust it was. They loved being able to work in that high-dynamic range. Many users have mentioned how much they liked being able to save out an ASC CDL, or load one in and see how that’s going to look with the content right away. People are really concerned about how their video is going to look, and color is a really big part of that. Being able to check that out right there in the field with all those tools is something people are already embracing.
If someone is looking to try out Vegas Pro, Catalyst Browse or Catalyst Prepare, what do they need to do?
Catalyst Browse is already out and is completely free and available for download.
Catalyst Prepare has just been released and goes for $199.95. If you’re not ready to make the purchase you can check out a trial version. Really though, this tool could pay for itself in the first session, depending on what you’re using it for.
And of course, you can purchase or download a trial version of Sony Vegas Pro on our site as well. You have a few different options depending on your needs though. Vegas Pro Edit is just the NLE. Vegas Pro has the editor plus DV Architect, which is a DVD/Blu-ray authoring tool. And Vegas Pro Suite has all of that plus Sound Forge Pro, NewBlue Video Essentials, HitFilm 2 Ultimate and more, so it’s a really nice suite of production tools.