Advertisement
Current Issue
November 2014
Issue: January 1, 2013

Gadgets & Gear

By: Randi Altman
What are the little things that make your work life a simpler and happier place? For me, it’s without a doubt my Wacom Intuos tablet and my iPhone’s free recording app. Now, if it would just come with a free transcription tool or a personal assistant who would transcribe for me... But I digress.

We all know there are many things in life that don’t come with a cost but hold value.

MORE THAN GEAR
Rob Ashe (@robashejr) is one of three editors working on the Burbank-based Conan O’Brien show on TBS. Duties are typically assigned by speciality, with Ashe doing mock commercials, Dave Grecu working on remote packages and lead editor Dan Dome (pictured with Ashe, below right) doing a little bit of everything and overseeing the workflow.
When I asked Ashe about some tools he just can’t live without, he had some technical offerings and some that were a little more old school.

First up, the free tool Kuler from Adobe (kuler.adobe.com). Ashe calls it worth its weight in gold. “I work with different color schemes a lot on the show and it’s tough to find complementary colors for what you are doing at the time. Kuler makes this easy”

He used Kuler on a sketch a few weeks back called 3 for 5, based on the big-pot Powerball Lottery. “The concept was, so many people waste money on lottery tickets, why not have this new lottery game that is a guaranteed winner every time. So for a $5 lottery ticket, you are guaranteed to win $3. It had large titles to it and I had to find a lot of complementary colors. When you are dealing with reds in a video, it’s tough to find something that’s not going to bleed and just fall apart. It’s a ridiculously-fast tool.”

A free iPad app that Ashe finds handy is Ideas, also from Adobe, a touchscreen drawing program. “For a while, every Thursday we’d somewhat change the show open and create a :10 fun animation. So I would use Adobe Ideas to express how I wanted the animation to go. What’s cool is I can bring in a still of the standard animation layout and draw on it. You can circle the moon, put an arrow on it and say, ‘I want this to go down.’ When you are done, you can email what you drew; it helps to make the pitch easier for the graphics guys, who can then put in the real work and do their thing based off whatever suggestion I’ve given them.”

The editing team, which famously and humorously bashed FCP X in a video introduced by Conan on the show after its initial release and made a viral video of their happiness with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and its “Freddy Mercury Engine,” still make use of Final Cut 7 and other Adobe Creative Suite 6 offerings, including Photoshop and After Effects with plug-ins from Red Giant Software and Video Copilot’s Element 3D.

“Element 3D is a really down and dirty way of getting 3D text going. It’s got really good texturing, which to me is its single biggest strength. Being able to texture 3D shades and stuff in Elements in 3D is great. If we ever need anything more complex, we go to Cinema 4D.”

One particularly interesting project that used some of those tools took place months back when Conan reported that a talk show in China was using an open that stole parts of Conan’s opening title sequence. “We were going back and forth taking jabs at each other between the two shows in a funny way, and it was starting to come to an end. That morning it was like, what’s a good final button. It was noon, and as a joke, I suggested that I should just make them their own open. The writers and Conan said, ‘That’s great. You have four hours.’ So me and the amazing graphics guys hauled ass — lead Eric McGilloway, Steve Robinson and Pierre Bernard Jr. It was all Photoshop and After Effects.” Rublight (pictured, left) was a recent mock commercial edited by Ashe.

Another piece of “equipment” that Ashe puts to good use is the basketball hoop behind his door. “One of my first duties in the morning is to update the open for the show. Typically, there are four panels per show: first guest, second guest, and a comedian or band or special performance, and then episode titles. It usually takes 20-25 minutes to render the names, so the hoop comes in handy. I put them in the cue and make the best use of my time!”
The piggy bank that lives in the editing and graphics area helps the team save money, which is a value in itself! “It’s called the Fuck-Up Jar,” explains Ashe. “If anyone makes a major mistake, they have to put in a dollar.”

GETTING IN EARLY
Portland-based DP/editor/VFX artist Jim Geduldick (@filmbot) is one of those guys that always seems to be working on a beta version of some eagerly awaited tool or software, consulting with manufacturers on what works and what doesn’t, often putting these things to use in the field. Most recently, Geduldick finished a couple of projects using some of those tools, including Pretty Sweet, directed by Spike Jones and Ty Evans, as well as a commercial for Amp Energy Drink for which he was director of photography.

What inexpensive devices does Geduldick call on most often? iApps, he says. “There are a bunch of handy, little on-set utilities that I use on my iPhone or iPad, including Setellite,” a new app from Planet X (www.planetx.nl/setellite). He likens it to Shotgun, but for portable devices. “It’s an on-set VFX organizer for shot list management and for prioritizing your VFX shots. It can be used by a DP, producer or any VFX artist. It’s under 10 bucks, lives in the cloud, and you can set it up and put all your shot metadata in.”

He says it also allows you to build a project, add type, add slates, put in camera information, take photos with your iPad of set locations, even shoot video. Geduldick used the app on the skateboard documentary film Pretty Sweet. “I managed my shots really quick on my iPad in the app, added references, metadata and camera lens and angle info.”

  If you were to look in Geduldick’s backpack, at any given time, you will find the GoPro Hero 3 (www.gopro.com), because you never know when you’ll need to shoot high res video or even stills — he points out that while you can shoot with an iPhone, you can’t record over 1080. “The Hero is very handy, and it shoots up to 4K now, but 2.7K is the sweet spot with the Hero3 recording at 24 and 30fps. I can set it up anywhere I want and trigger it with my iPhone using the GoPro app, or with the Wifi remote that comes with the camera.”

Remember when I mentioned that he gets tools early? Well, Geduldick has been shooting with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera since August. “It’s great for $3,000. It shoots raw CinemaDNG at 2.5K as well as ProRes and DNxHD, and it comes with Resolve and Ultrascope. The images look great, and Blackmagic has been responsive with firmware updates.”

Another cool piece of gear in his bag of tricks is also not available to the public yet, but will be soon — the Leap Motion Controller (www.leapmotion.com). “I have an early developer’s kit, and I am trying to use it in new ways for interactive and visual effects projects.”

Geduldick compares it to a smaller and way-more sensitive Kinect, so instead of using a mouse or touchpad, you use your hands to control the images on the screen. “It has little cameras and sensors built into it, so it’s sensing your hand movements. Think Minority Report,” he says.

“Even the early version of the sensor I have is more sensitive than the other devices out now. Also a few hundred times more accurate — and it’s going to be much cheaper than the Kinect. The sensor itself is about the size of a flash drive. It uses tracking of your finger and hand movements up until like 1/100th of a millimeter of your movement.”

For him, that is probably the coolest device/gadget that he’s played with that ties into filmmaking, visual effects and interaction. “I think it is going to be the next step — it’s what everyone is trying to do with 3D and the high frame rate — this other part of storytelling. The open source thing is what I am getting into and is what’s driving my visual effects and filmmaking.”

Oh, he also loves the iPad Mini, which he says is like a big iPhone, with the same apps, and it’s small enough to throw in your back pocket… “you just have to remember not to sit on it.”

HELPS WITH CREATIVITY

Composer and audio post veteran Erik Blicker co-owns G&E Music (www.gemusic.com), an original scoring and sound design studio, as well as audio post house FlavorLab (www.flavorlab.com). Both focus on TV, film and commercials, and both share a space on E. 23rd Street in New York City.

Blicker has remained very much a hands-on artist, and like any artist he has tools that make his life easier and don’t cost a lot of money. “One of the really cool things I use every day is built-in keystrokes in Mac OS X — I use it use within Pro Tools to save a ton of time,” he says. “You can assign keystrokes to your trackball, which is something you can use in audio post work, especially when changing from the volume control or the waveform control. It’s a major time saver and you can program all kinds of maneuvers. These shortcuts can be assigned in a variety of applications, not just Pro Tools.”

Blicker also takes advantage of a variety of apps — many free — available for the iPhone, and iPad and other devices. “I like the Peterson Strobe Tuner (www.petersontuners.com), an instrument tuner that I use for guitar and piano. I also use an app tone tuner for drums and another one for tap tempo. When you tap tempo something, you can make timing changes, like delays, which is helpful in post or in music.” He acknowledges this can be done in Pro Tools, but sometimes, he says, it’s just faster to do with the iPhone. “You just tap it out.”

Another software app that Blicker finds helpful is Evernote (www.evernote.com), which is available as a free version, although the company does charge for a more robust business version. “It’s a cool program for writing music — it allows you to record notes and videos, and it will synchronize on all your computers. So if you’re in the car and you sing a melody into Evernote on your iPhone, or if you are on the train and write some lyrics or notes or ideas you’ll find them on your computer automatically.”

You can also use it to organize projects, but he relies on it for song writing. We found this tutorial on the Web with details on how to use it for music work specifically: www.davidsantistevan.com/evernote- songwriting-workstation.

Obviously, for an audio pro, what Blicker uses to hear his work is incredibly important. And he says he didn’t need to spend a lot, calling on the Audio Technica AT 50 headphones that come in around $150. “I use those all the time.”

While Blicker embraces technology, he also leans on old-school gadgets, like a handy guitar device that holds a number of different pieces and folds out like a master Allen wrench set. “It has three different sizes of Phillips head screw drivers, three different sizes of regular screwdrivers, three different Allen wrenches, and a scissor to help when you are restringing guitars. “It’s from Guit-Tool,” he says, “but I don’t even know if they make them anymore!” While we couldn’t find that particular product online, we did find something similar — CruzTools Groove Tech Guitar/Bass 10-in-1 Multi-Tool for about $16.

A recent project that left G&E and FlavorLab was a documentary film that was part of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Community Partnership Awards. “Mutual of America chooses a community organization that makes a positive impact on society,” explains Blicker, “and the prize is a documentary gets made about them that they can use as a fundraising tool. We work with the filmmaker, and we compose the music.”

The organization that won the 2012 award was Operation Rebound, which provides adaptive sports equipment, sports prosthetics, training, mentoring and competition expenses for active duty service members, veterans and first responders who have suffered permanent physical injuries as a result of their service.
“We provided music to the picture, which is rarely done these days,” reports Blicker.