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Rendered Useless Part 1
by Patrick Storck

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Right now is a perfect time to get an article or five written. We'll see how fried my brain is, how many ideas I can come up with, and how much I have to say about each of them. I may also get some writing done on a few scripts, possibly clean up a little, organize some tapes, find other little chores to do.

You see, right now I'm rendering. Unlike bigger budget operations that have multiple editing bays, or at least two computers of decent strength, I have my main machine that, while upgraded every so often, is still approaching four years old. I also just got an even older machine from a friend that's good mainly for writing or minor photo work while this one is processing stuff.

Real time play back is nice. It gets you the idea of what stuff is going to look like. It takes a lot of guess work out of post production, not having to wait until things get back from a lab before you discover changes that must be made. Still, there is a "lab" it ultimately goes through. Rendering, for anyone completely unaware, is essentially every change you've put on your audio or video being applied and out put to a new file. That's the file you put on the DVD, strike to film, or post online. The end viewer of your work couldn't and shouldn't be counted on to have a play back option that would be able to read the curves, luma, noise reduction, and other filters you've placed and adjusted on the core file. Even if they did, it would slow things down for them and crank up the file size. Another way to look at it is that the rendered media is buying a book that doesn't have the author's notes, typos, scratched out words, bad handwriting, and so forth. You just need the end result.

So every change in color, lighting, and so on get applied. Every shot may have different settings, depending on fixes and tweaks. Settings may change within a shot for effect. Effects are layered into a shot, objects inserted, backgrounds and foregrounds matted in place, all elements arranged and composited. Every frame is affected, and every frame is (or at least could be) different. That means every frame must be out put one at a time. It doesn't always go fast.

I'm now playing around with Color, a part of the Final Cut suite. It's an incredibly aggressive color and lighting correction program that is doing wonders for helping me fix issues with a few projects. The first thing I used Color on was a quick short I shot for a horror contest. My friends and I found out about it fairly late in the game, but still managed to shoot two bits. I took lead on one, somebody else took lead on another. I knew mine was going to have some issues just because the weather not only shifted between the two days of filming, but quite a bit on the second day. Within three hours we went from bright and sunny to a power house thunder storm.

While I was working against the clock to get things done, I still managed to play around a bit. I built up an over cast look to signal the coming storm, built a mood, deepened some shadows for a sense of dread, had some real fun. With two days until the disc had to be sent off I thought I would be ready with time to spare. Let the video render for a bit, work on the music, export, burn, mail it away. I missed the deadline.

The first pass took most of those two days. The first render was lost because my auto-save wasn't on and the power went out. Some files had been rendered, and I knew they were in my hard drive, but I stupidly hadn't rendered the shots in any logical order. That only lost me a few hours. Still, those were hours cut off of my soundtrack work.

The second problem was an odd bug I'm still trying different work arounds for. Apparently if you adjust the speed of a clip in Final Cut, send to Color, adjust, then render, it has a tendency (though not absolutely always) to try and render the entire source media. It is as if it knows the sixty frames it is putting out are made of more, but rather than risk not enough it just runs everything through just in case. A two second clip would actually get the full fifteen minute location reel rendered. It was a very straightforward sequence, so I did location capture then built the shots rather than pull each clip from tape separately. My bad. I'd left it to render overnight, woke up with an almost full back-up drive, and not even a full minute of final output done for my purposes.

In the user manual they do strongly advise that before you send a file to Color you have done everything else. This should be the final locked and timed edit. If you have layers, you should merge them, render them out of Final Cut, and put the merged item in that bundle's place. If you have speed-adjusted footage, render out and replace. Anything more complex than one layer of image doesn't get dealt with as well. I can't call it a flaw in the program, since that's not what it's there to do. It is there to color correct, not anything from those other programs. You don't ask your dentist to set a broken bone, or the guy doing the oil change to install your new radio while he's working on your car anyway. Maybe they can, but it's unfair to expect it, especially with fantastic results.

Right now my first workaround is to export the file to Color and immediately load the footage into the render queue. I check to see if anything looks like it will be a problem. If so, I note the shots then go back to Final Cut. I make whatever changes, renders, or copies I need to then send the file back to Color. That process is also a little buggy but from what I've read a top priority to debug. If reconform doesn't work, I just create a new sequence and dump the problem files into it and send as its own project. I do the color correction, render out what I need to, skip the buggy files in favor of the temp versions I sent over, then go back to Final Cut and put it back together.

My process adds a few steps, but it's already saved me hours upon hours. Still, there are plenty of hours still spent waiting. Next time, since I'm still waiting on this file and on a roll, some ways to fill those render hours.

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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