Renderfest '04

April 27, 2004

The Three Glitches

I picked up the DVD and 15 VHS's of Movie yesterday on my third visit to the dubbing place. And by now even though I'm paying them (a lot) I get the feeling I'm wearing out my welcome there. I sense a certain amount of sighing and eye-rolling going on behind my back, as in won't this guy EVER take his project and leave?

In fact I sense that everyone, even you as you read this, YES YOU, are sighing and rolling your eyes behind my back. (Don't deny it.) But, to be fair - I also sense that Martin Sheen is coming up the river to kill me and take my movie, that the government is monitoring my internet usage, and that someone has deliberately disabled the "receive calls" feature on my phone; so some of this can be discounted as paranoia.

In the final analysis, after watching the whole thing again last night (not realizing that I was holding my breath for long stretches, because if it was terribly wrong, then it was back to the dubbing place with their secret eye-rolling and inaudible sighing!) there are three glitches in the final DVD of Movie: two small skips and one two-second bit where the everything gets garbled.

But, I think at this point: it is done. Even with the glitches that will show in the performance, it is done. Hopefully those glitches will not be in the VHS copies for cast and crew (I don't think they will - but I'll check tonight), but even if they are: it is done. Those three glitches will just have to be the marks on the baby's head from the doctor's forceps.

Note: And when I say "done," I mean "just this stage," since I plan to go back and make DVDs for cast / crew / myself with deleted scenes (there are a lot) and outtakes.
Posted by Chris on 04/27/04

Chris, how can some of us down-staters & out-of-the-loopers get a copy of little baby Movie? Would it help if we, say, threw money at you?

Posted by: Pete at April 28, 2004 9:52 AM

I am thrilled with the request! I will make sure the International Gentleman's Society gets a copy once the smoke has cleared from the premiere...

Thanks for asking!

Posted by: Chris at April 28, 2004 11:07 PM

April 26, 2004

Voodoo protocols

I got the "print" of Movie on Saturday afternoon, or in other words, I got fourteen VHS copies of it, which I needed to review for errors and omissions* before they make the DVD.

The nice man at the dubbing facility had let me know that they noticed some sound had gone out of sync during the transfer in one spot - which meant that if they happened to catch it in one scene, then there had to be more.

I've come to realize that the protocols and technology I've used to edit the movie are based partially on voodoo. It's not a science, people. Whenever ritual is involved, a certain amount of unpredictability is to be expected. This is why I'd planned to do all this printing the week before, because some mistakes were bound to happen.

I waited until Sunday night to watch it, since the dubbing house was closed until Monday anyway, and since I could not bear to watch all of Movie again on Saturday. I'd rented the theatre for a "tech" check, wherein I was bringing in a projector borrowed from work to make sure of it, so I planned to just watch the whole thing there.

I also spent around $100 (American) on enough AV cables to reach from the projector on the stage, snaking around the audience, and then up into the booth. A few times over, as it turned out.

At the theatre Sunday night I had the entire place to myself, so I felt like some eccentric director in his private screening room. At least for the first minute, and then the projector I brought failed to work. I was - and am - beyond cursing the luck. The theatre has a built-in projector, which I call Jaundice-Vision because everything looks extremely yellow, so I crank it up. So much for the hours of color correction, so much for knowing if the movie will fit the screen beforehand.

But at least I confirm that I have enough AV cable to reach from the stage to the booth - any booth at any theatre in Chicago.

I watch the whole thing carefully, looking for out-of-sync issues, and cannot even muster good will towards it at this point. It's like my retarded kid. I'll smile at it when it glances up from drooling over some puzzle in the corner, but there's no feeling. Although I have been an attentive caring mother to Movie, I failed to provide some basic level of care for it while it was in the formative stages. Perhaps I smoked while it was in the womb or dropped it on its head. I can try all I might for it but it will always be, if not retarded, then noticably slow.

At this point I am not looking forward to the showing of it at all, but the next day - when it will be completely, utterly done and finished, and I can impose a policy of never speaking of it again.

I watch the whole thing; one little clip of three seconds out of the whole 96 minutes was bad. But it's pretty noticeable, so it's back to nice dubbing man. Time to verify all the render files and bring out the Hand of Glory gris-gris to make with the voodoo dance around the computer.

I take a cab to his office with precious Firewire drive in tow for output #2. If something happens to it (and me) in transit, so be it. I will accept the sign from God that it was not meant to be. I'll take a cab over again in a few to get the DVD, and watch it again tonight.

*Not in the legal sense.
Posted by Chris on 04/26/04

April 23, 2004

In The Lap of The Gods

Yesterday was the day to gather up all the bits and pieces that will make up the program of the premiere in a week from the other filmmakers - some trailers of their upcoming movies and a short. Finally it was all in one place; I then made the mistake of saying how awesome it felt to have it done.

Jebus heard me say that, and to spank me for the hubris, chose to make the Firewire drive seem to undergo a sort of death when I got it home. Mac couldn't see it, and in fact Final Cut was calling in sick for a few minutes. Suddenly everything about the "firewire" protocol seemed dark and arcane, like some mysterious and extremely fragile magic spell that had just failed.

Jebus brought it back to life thirty minutes later in a resurrection not unlike that of the fabled Lazarus, but it was a sweaty, prayerful thirty minutes - it was a period of much soul-searching and some consideration of alternate careers as I saw nothing but OS X's spinning beach ball for a long period. How could I have crossed the whole of this desert and right here at the end the wheels are flying off my camel? Again?

Let the digital filmmaker using off-the-shelf equipment beware: at any time Jebus can and will knock the wheels off your camel.

Anyway - the movie is now in the Lap of The Gods, meaning, the precious firewire drive has been dropped off at the dubbing house, where it will be made into a shiny disk.

Posted by Chris on 04/23/04

April 16, 2004

Infrequently Asked Questions

Q: How did the rendering go yesterday?

A: Fine! After much observation, it seems the Mac can go for a max of three hours at a time before it needs reassurances. So I took a quick cab-ride home yesterday at 1PM to give it a restart, and also set my alarm for 4AM last night to wake up and do the same. When I left for work today, it was more or less at the halfway point. I'm about to grab a cab to go home even now for a restart.

Q: Why don't you just bring the firewire drive with you to work and keep rendering all day long on a Mac there, Mr. Martyr?

A: Because I have already raided every Mac here for memory to make this work.

Q: Excellent - so is this the last step before you make the DVD that will be shown at the premiere?

A: No - when I relinked the 300 or so separate video files, it looks like around 25 of them just got screwed up; so those shots have to be reinserted exactly as they were before.

Q: So since you're having to wait around so much, you're getting a lot of writing done?

A: Bitch, please.

Q: Who's in on iPod? And who's out?

A: Out: "Living Color." No offense, I was just skipping over them a lot. In: "Stop Making Sense."

Q: How did you like "The Girl Next Door" last night?

A: Lotsa laffs. I had a hard time following the plot, though, because I was busy with my Obscenity Abacus verifying Movieguide's findings. Secret lover Elisha Cuthbert is miscast as a porn star, but she is the very model of a modern "girl next door" that you fall hopelessly in love with. Timothy Olyphant could make a whole career out of striking an amazing balance between convincing menace and enormous likability.

Q: What do you do at night when the demons come?

A: I'm usually up anyway restarting the rendering on the Mac. So we usually play a few hands of rummy.

Posted by Chris on 04/16/04

April 15, 2004

Zeno's Rendering Paradox

(THE SETTING: My desk, last night. I sit down to the Mac to adjust the color in a few scenes. I'm smiling - this thing is almost done! I open the project file, humming to myself. Then: inexplicably, about a quarter of the precious render files cannot be found.)

ME: What the hell?

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... I'm going to need you to go ahead and re-render basically, yeah, the middle of the movie. Yeah... if you could sort of... get that done that would be great. Mmmkay?

ME: What the hell happened to them? That took HOURS! A whole day and night to get that done!

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... tell you what, it's always hard to say with those things. I can't find them.

ME: They're right there on the drive! Taking up gigs and gigs of space!

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... hmm. You remember when you created a copy of the project file and tried to work off just one firewire drive? To see how hard it would be to relink the media? Yeah... I'm thinking it had something to do with that. Can't be sure, though.

ME: Dammit - I can't keep re-rendering this thing! The show is in two weeks! I'm not even sure I got the colors right!

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah. Oh, by the way? When you relink files? The old render files don't work anymore. Yeah.

ME: Holy shit you're kidding. If I'd known that four days ago...

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... tell you what. I'm going to need you to go ahead and let the project re-render overnight. Mmmkay? Great! Thanks for taking care of that.

THE MAC: Ooooo. You know what, guys? There's no way I have enough memory for that.

ME: (Head in hands) Of course not.

THE MAC: Yeah, I don't see me being able to do it all in one pass. I'm going to need someone to quit the program and restart it somewhere in the middle, if not give me a solid reboot. Maybe more than once, in fact.

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... good point. Tell you what, Chris. I'm going to need you to go ahead and come back in about four hours to sort of... get that done.

ME: Four hours from now is two AM.

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... probably best to set your alarm, then.

THE MAC: Or you could just let it go until tomorrow morning. I don't mind waiting!

FINAL CUT PRO: Yeah... but who's to say if I'm going to be able to spot the rest of the rendered files tomorrow?

GIGS AND GIGS WORTH OF RENDER FILES, NOW USELESS: Hey! Guys! We're right here! We haven't moved! Can't you see us?

ME: (To F.C.P.) WELL?!? Can't you see them?

FINAL CUT PRO: Hmmm? Oh, sorry, I don't see a thing. Nope.

(Numbly, I hit the "render" button. I stare at the screen for a long time. A progress bar appears, and in the next ten minutes, will show 1% of progress.)

PROGRESS BAR: Nice to see you again. (A long, long pause) Guess we better make ourselves comfortable, hunh? (Another long pause) Do you have any chips?

Posted by Chris on 04/15/04

April 14, 2004

Render Irony

A bit of bitter irony last night as I rendered literally the last second of the movie:

Just as I was beginning to celebrate, I played back that last second of footage, the production company logo and copyright date. Whoops - the date said 2003. Change it, re-render. Yep, this has been an unexpectedly long process.

Then of course came the Watching of the Whole Thing again to check for colorization errors. I've done this so many times that the plot, words and actions have ceased to have any coherent meaning to my brain. I imagine this to be how dogs experience television - just a screen with random flickers of light and color. It takes an effort to watch it.

Apparently in the delirium of exhaustion I was occasionally going for a 60s-style psychedelic look, as some shots are REALLY REALLY YELLOW and others are REALLY REALLY PURPLE. I get through 30% of the movie, and decide to call it a night. Made some changes - let it re-render over night.

Posted by Chris on 04/14/04

April 12, 2004

Renderfest '04

The movie was done weeks and weeks ago - until my friends showed me the kinds of color correction they were doing on their own film. Like a crack dealer giving away the first try for free, they color-corrected a few shots of my movie. The difference was startling - it was like someone had wiped away a layer of yellow grime away from the monitor.

Now I am adjusting the color for every shot in the film. Something that's done as a matter of course on professional shoots, but whoever said this was professional? Every shot has to be done more or less individually - but worse than that, every single shot has to then be rendered by the computer. Depending on how complicated the correction, it can take hours for just a few minutes of footage.

I have finished adjusting and rendering the color correction for around 75% of the film, and that has taken five complete days. And not five unattended days, either. If I tell the Mac to do the whole thing, it balks. NOT ENOUGH MEMORY, it says, even though I have stuffed a GB worth of chips into it. Rather, and in this way it is much like me, I have to pick much much smaller chunks of the movie and tell it to just do those. It can do about five minutes at a time, and then I have to select the next batch.

Am I complaining? No. I'm making a movie on a G4 that's around three years old, and I'm using software that is three versions old. No matter what problems I've encountered, I am always amazed that I can even begin* to edit a project over 90 minutes long, with titles and transitions and music and now massive color correction on the system.

But here's the problem with all this rendering: the render files. These are mysterious video files that maintain some ethereal yet very fragile link to your Final Cut project, and if you happen to be rendering about an hour and a half of video, they will very quickly begin to take up all your disk space.

Final Cut Pro 1.25 is bad enough with helping you manage the straight video files. The program is designed by people for whom disk space is clearly not an issue. But my puny firewire drive is full now. Of the hundreds of video files I captured for the movie, I'm using maybe a quarter. The rest can be deleted, but there is no built-in way to identify and consolidate those files. You'd have to manually record the file name of every single video clip and sound file you used, then manually take out the others.

(Are later versions of FCP any better at this? Or, like v. 1.25, does their version of Media Management mean actually making additional copies of all the media, in a proprietary format?)

It's worse than that for render files. There's no way to move them. Move a straight video file, and Final Cut will ask you where it is. But move a render file, or delete them, or change a folder name, and they are then useless. They are the Palestinians of computer files - their native land is Holy and if you try to move them they will cause you much grief.

And now that there are so many of them, they have taken up a second firewire drive - the backup drive. Which means that wherever the movie goes to be finished*, the two firewire drives have to go - which means no backup drive. If I hit the big Magnet Truck on the drive, the movie is screwed. Gone, totally erased.

*Of course, the problem is not beginning, it's ending. As I've written before, although I can finish the project on this machine, it does not quite have the processing power to export the movie. For that I rely on the kindness and G5s of others.
Posted by Chris on 04/12/04