Editor's Story: There's High-Def and REALLY High-Def!

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the May, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Recently, I got an email from Steve Sebban about a movie he recently created using Final Cut Pro. I asked Steve to tell me about this project, because the movie is designed for a 12 meter by 2 meter (36 x 6 feet) space – a 48:9 aspect ratio! His final movie is almost 13,000 pixels wide!

I thought you’d be interested in his reply. (By the way, he originally sent this in Hebrew, but as my Hebrew is a tad weak, I asked him to rewrite it again in English.)

Steve writes:

This project was made for a museum named Massuah. They decided to renew their content and build a new space into the current walls. The creator of this new museum, Nava Schreiber, looked for something quite special and unusual that can speak directly to teenagers. She decided she wanted a huge movie on the main room. The dimension of this movie must be around 12×2 meters.


With Yally Bergman, the director of the movie, we looked for different options of projections and styles of movie, all of them unsatisfying. Everything was revolving around a traditional 3 projectors movie with 3 different windows.


By chance, Yally met the band “Shakatak” who took the project in an unexpected angle and they started to work on the soundtrack (it’s actually a lot of old song from the 30’s remixed to our years flavours). This changed radically the design of the movie. A few meeting later with the designer, Ethan Bar-Tal, the cameraman Ofer Einov (the one who shoot Bofort from the last Oscar), Yally, Nava and myself, we got a first storyboard. It was my turn to find the technical solution to make it happen.


This movie was started around January 2006. I had then 2 choices for the video format SD or HD. SD was too small for such a screening and HD was beyond our budget and too small and too big at the same time… All the editing (both off and online) must be done on my home video equipment (a G5 2x2Ghz with 2GB RAM). After a lot of hesitations, I decided to go for a 3×16/9 anamorphic SD format and ask to build the screen around this format. We made a 10×1.7m screen. The projection options we had was for 3 independent projectors or a seamless screen based on 3 projectors (in this case it looks like you have only 1 screen instead of 3)


We shoot everything on anamorphic 16/9 digibeta, especially because of the heavy chroma key work I had to do afterward.


After all the hard pre-post work, I found myself in front of a lot of problems (beside the artistic ones): a very suspicious client (this kind of work is not usual in museums and she was very scared by the results), a desperate need for speed (we couldn’t afford any new computer but my current one that was only one generation behind), my low skills in compositing (i’m an offline, online editor and colorist), a very tight budget, almost no post-prod facilities, no producer and a lot of bugs in the compositing department of FCP.


I made all of the digitize in a post-prod house using a FCP workstation with a blackmagic card. SDI all the way, uncompressed 1:1 8 bits.


The beginning was a lot of try-and-miss task: I started to edit the first scene in offline jpeg mode. I immediately found myself confronted by the problem of photoshop files and how FCP handle them. Since everything is 1/4 resolution, all the layers in .psd got messed up in their positions. I had to resize and replace everything by hand. The speed was ok, the offline resolution was ok. To be sure the online will only be a rendering task and no more, I made a test and move the sequence from offline to online. Horror! All the layers , all the keyframes, everything stayed into this 1/4 resolution. No full screen! I had to re-do every animations to match the screen. At this time, i had a sequence for each screen plus a “big” sequence with the nested other sequences showing the 3 screens side-by-side.


I understood I cannot use this offline-jpeg technic. I switched to full SD resolution screens with a lower codec. Everything was edited in DV to be fully rendered at the end in uncompressed 8 bit like the footage. And to simplify the compositing and animation process and to give us a lot more freedom in the creative department, i moved from the 3 anamorphic 16/9 screens to one huge anamorphic 48/9 screen (anamorphic 2100×576-> almost 3000×576 pixels at the end!) I was happy to have chosen FCP for this project as any other editing software of my knowledge would have gave me this option (and especially not Avid Media Composer nor After Effect)


I had to deeply understand what FCP sees and uses from Photoshop files: which modes and effects. And I have to say, it’s less than perfect with a lot of unexpected results. The worse was to work with compositing mode into the timeline. The results were very different from what I was getting with Photoshop or After Effects. Even between codecs, the results were not constant. Some mode were impractical in DV and were rendered the right way under the uncompressed codec! (took me a while to understand this one) Even more, adding dissolve effect would give me different mode result to return to the expected result at the end of the fade (!). You can see it happen from time to time on the movie. All the textures on some scenes appear as cut instead of fade because of that. I wasn’t unable to solve this matter.


The most ambitious scene is the 1st scene: we have a one minute-long traveling with tons of layers, graphics, keyed video. Because the dancers are also singing, I had to be in sync all the way. After a lot of tries, I decided the best way to do that was to lay all the layers into a very huge sequence (a whoopy 13,000×576, resolution and that’s not a typo) and to nest it into my “regular” sequence which will play the role of a window or camera on this huge seq. But to be in synch with the music I had to begin from the end and set the traveling movement and then place all the players and layer into the stripe. I’ll let you guess the rendering time of this scene alone (more than 30 hours).


As you can see, this project was indeed huge and took almost 1.5 years to finish (90 shifts during this time) and pushed FCP to it’s limits I think.

Larry replies: Thanks, Steve, for sharing your process with us. You can see the opening segment (at 1/4 final size) here – click the “Shakatak” button: http://homepage.mac.com/mchenry/shakatak/


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