Category Archives: Tips

Tips for music sourcing and usage

By Yannick Ireland

1. Music Genre vs. Video Theme
Although there are no restrictions, nor an exact science when choosing a music genre for your video content, there are some reliable genres of music for certain video themes.

For example, you may have a classic cinematic scene of lovers meeting for the first time. These visuals could be well complemented by a more orchestral, classical production, as generally there is a lot of emotive expression in this sort of music.

Another example would be sports video paired with electronic music. The high-adrenaline nature of electronic genres are a match made in heaven for extreme sports content. However, I would like to echo my first sentiment about there being no restriction —you may well choose to use something so unconventional that it creates a shock reaction, which may indeed be the desired effect.

But if you want subconscious acceptance from your viewers that the music really suits your imagery and that they were meant to be together, do some research of successfully similar content and from there you will be able to analyze the genre and attempt to replicate the successful marriage yourself.

2. Instruments for Feelings
Now let’s go a little deeper with the first tip and single out the instruments themselves. Two tracks of the same genre may have completely different instrumentation within their construction, and this could be relevant to your production.

If a filmmaker is working on something cinematic, then pieces of music with an instrumental solo could be invaluable for the feeling you are trying to convey. There have been scholarly articles on this subject with a more psychological investigation for the reasoning behind how certain emotions are triggered by certain instruments… but let’s keep it simple for now. For instance, music box sounds, xylophones and bells have always invoked the feeling of youth or enforced a child-like context in a production, especially as single instruments.

But remember, just because you have decided on a genre for your theme does not mean any good quality track will do. Listen to its makeup and content. Does it fulfill your intention?

3. Keep it Simple
A relatively easy, yet extremely important tip: don’t get an overly congested or epic-sounding track. Going orchestral and epic is fine for a similarly grand moment in your film, but when pairing any audio to video there is always a great danger of drawing the viewer away from the production itself due to overly intrusive music or audio.

Music is supposed to aid and complement your production, not draw you away from it. So even if the track sounds amazing and full at first listen, be aware of its potential to ultimately be detrimental overall.

4. Does the Track Change With Your Content?
Video productions generally change throughout their linear journey, and maybe your music should too. The obvious example of this would be the audio and video both reaching a crescendo together at the production’s conclusion.

In music, there is not always the formula of starting at “A” and finishing at “B,” because modern electronic and instrumental productions have very different middle eights or bridges. The fact that the music may switch up somewhere within the middle may be ideal for your video’s timeline, so perhaps you want to break the mold and change the vibe or content somewhere in the middle of the project. Certain tracks could help you do that seamlessly.

I would like just to suggest you think past the ideal genre and instrumentation, and that you really think about how the track is executed and if it is the best option for your production. The right music can enhance a video project more than anticipated and filmmakers should really get the most out of their audio.

5. Get a Second Opinion
Even working under certain guidelines and being prompted to think a certain way when sourcing music, it is always worth getting a second opinion to see if your experiences with the music are shared. Odds are that with a little extra time, you will find something much better than you may have done choosing something that sounded “good enough.” But never devalue a quick opinion check with your peers.

So, What’s Next?
Now that you know what to consider when browsing music and what potential
attributes to look for (and what to avoid), the next question is, “Where do you get your audio?”

So let’s say you have an ideal, familiar track in your head that would perfectly suit your production. The problem is maybe that’s a famous artist’s track that would cost thousands of dollars to license. So that’s a non-starter. But don’t you fret. Fortunately, there are now affordable and quality alternatives thanks to royalty free music libraries — essentially stock music.

Video editors, filmmakers and content creators of all kinds can visit these libraries to not only buy the track they need, but also get an automated license provided to them immediately with the purchase. There is no contacting artists or record labels, no complications on royalty split or composition and recording terms – it’s simple and consolidated.

The good news is there are plenty of these libraries around, but do your due diligence – and make sure the audio is high-quality and the pricing structure is simple.

High-quality music is incredibly important for all creative video productions. Now it is abundantly available and, not at extreme costs.


Yannick Ireland (@ArtisoundYan) is a musician, music producer and founder of Artisound, which is based in London.

Directing: My Top 10 career-ending mistakes

By Trevor McMahan

Okay, so this is probably a really bad idea… but I’m about to list the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a director. It’s ironic, because when I told my super-rep Susanne I was going to write a tips piece for postPerspective, she was all like, “Yeah, this will be a great opportunity for people to see what smart/insightful/great/awesome director you are!” So much for that plan.

The silver lining is that none of the following career-ending mistakes has actually ended my career, and even though it may sound like it here, I’m not ALWAYS making career-ending mistakes – just sometimes. And I’m lucky to be busy enough to provide myself ample opportunities to make them, which means I must be doing something right. Right?

Anyhow, here goes. I hope you enjoy these mistakes more than I did!

1. Thinking a mistake could be career ending
Boom. I could end the list here and I’d feel like it was worth it because this mistake is the greatest mistake of all. To be clear, there are, of course, massive mistakes one could make to actually bring your career to a halt, but most of us simply aren’t making those.

Once I freed myself of the fear of making mistakes, I was able to produce more creative work, to explore ideas and shots and scenes in more unexpected ways and generally push toward stronger storytelling. And when you inevitably do make a mistake, use that experience as a reminder that there’s always a better way to do something — it’s an incredible way to grow and learn and push forward. And if my words don’t ring true here, take it from the really cheesy motivational poster of mossy boulders dotting through a pond that declares, “Mistakes are the stepping stones to success.” Sage advice from the fantastic folks over at Successories.

2. Thinking one not-great project spells T-h-e  E-n-d
One “miss” used to feel like it was a death knell, so I avoided “missing” at all costs, and missed a handful of solid opportunities in the meantime. But I quickly realized just how much growth and learning can come from even the least expected places. I’ve swung to the opposite end of the spectrum – eager to shoot and learn and improve as much as I can. Some of the best work I’ve done has come as a result of those opportunities and relationships, and while not every project is going to be a grand slam, you’ve got to swing.

3. Aiming for perfection
There’s nothing worse than pressure associated with targeting perfection, and it has led to moments where a scene just doesn’t feel believable or a project falls flat and predictable. I’ve since learned to embrace the process of discovery and it has made for an incredibly expansive process. I even like to work with creatives and crew to embed a sense of imperfection and idiosyncrasy into our filmmaking — from little imperfect reflections of light and little flaws in the production design to wardrobe that feels unplanned and actors’ performances that feel unrehearsed. It’s when things start to feel like they’ve not been designed that I start to believe them.

4. Thinking an agency’s storyboards are what they want the commercial to look like
There are so many reasons agency boards look the way they do, but what they aren’t is a blueprint of the only predetermined way to tell a story or film sequence. But that didn’t stop me from leaning too heavily on them, and ending up in an excruciatingly awkward series of conversations about why I made those choices. Them wondering why I’d locked into their boarded angles, and me not really having a reason behind the choices. The aim, I’ve found, is to see the idea through the client-friendly illustrations — to “read between the boards” and gauge where a campaign wants to go. Once you have that core, translating it into shots becomes something you can stand behind.

5. Telling an agency what they want to hear
Tell the agency exactly what you think they want to hear to land a job? Wrong. Regurgitating an agency call in a treatment, or pitching them a film they’d already pitched me, just doesn’t win the job. I take great pride, now, in not going into a pitch aiming to win it, but aiming to make the film the best it can be (with the belief, of course, that they’ll agree). The most “creative” creatives I’ve met and worked with over the years have proved quite keen to be challenged and to be shown where and how the work can improve. It’s important to work with collaborators who are aiming for great, not just good enough. Architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I couldn’t have said it better.

6. Pushing way too far
Yep, guilty of that, too. And believe me, it’s not pretty. If you do push to far, those treatments end up in the bottom drawer.

7. Not listening
With all that said… it can be tempting to go whole hog in a particular direction, and I have! But if that’s not the direction they’re headed, there’s only pain and anguish. So, really listening and hearing out an agency and client is invaluable to unearthing the reason they’re spending all this money, and how to best direct those resources.

8. Thinking I needed to do other people’s jobs
In my mind, there used to be an expectation that the director should know (and often do) all. But to be honest, I found that I’d get stretched thin dealing with budget issues, wrinkles in the calendar or the how the on-set effects team was working out a rig… and to a degree that the storytelling would suffer. I still am involved with all of those things (and always will be), but I do find relief realizing I’m working with an incredible crew of filmmakers and craftsmen, who kick ass at their jobs and whose art I respect. Simply letting them do their jobs, then, frees me up to do mine — part of which is to bug them about their work. So, I probably didn’t lay off long, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

9. Waiting around for boards
Waiting around for boards won’t help more boards to come in, and I’ve never felt so close to the guillotine than when I was just waiting. As soon as I stopped waiting and started producing — shorts, music videos, even video tests and experiments, all of a sudden I was busier than ever. Work certainly begets work, and the more you do the more will come.

10. Writing an article about all the worst mistakes I ever made
Then there was that one. Let’s hope it’s not the last.


Trevor McMahan is a director at Rocket Film. This commercial and film production house has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

Cinna 4.13

What you should ask when searching for storage

Looking to add storage to your post studio? Who isn’t these days? Jonathan Abrams, chief technical officer at New York City’s Nutmeg Creative was kind enough to put together a list that can help all in their quest for the storage solution that best fits their needs.

Here are some questions that customers should ask a storage manufacturer.

What is your stream count at RAID-6?
The storage manufacturer should have stream count specifications available for both Avid DNx and Apple ProRes at varying frame rates and raster sizes. Use this information to help determine which product best fits your environment.

How do I connect my clients to your storage?  
Gigabit Ethernet (copper)? 10 Gigabit Ethernet (50-micron Fiber)? Fiber Channel (FC)? These are listed in ascending order of cost and performance. Combined with the answer to the question above, this narrows down which product a storage manufacturer has that fits your environment.

Can I use whichever network switch I want to and know that it will work, or must I be using a particular model in order for you to be able to support my configuration and guarantee a baseline of performance?
If you are using a Mac with Thunderbolt ports, then you will need a network adapter, such as a Promise SANLink2 10G SFP+ for your shared storage connection. Also ask, “Can I use any Thunderbolt network adapter, or must I be using a particular model in order for you to be able to support my configuration and guarantee a baseline of performance?”

If you are an Avid Media Composer user, ask, “Does your storage present itself to Media Composer as if it was Avid shared storage?”
This will allow the first person who opens a Media Composer project to obtain a lock on a bin.  Other clients can open the same project, though they will not have write access to said bin.

What is covered by support? 
Make certain that both the hardware (chassis and everything inside of it) and the software (client and server) are covered by support. This includes major version upgrades to the server and client software (i.e. v.11 to v.12). You do not want your storage manufacturer to announce a new software version at NAB 2018 and then find out that it’s not covered by your support contract. That upgrade is a separate cost.

For how many years will you be able to replace all of the hardware parts?
Will the storage manufacturer replace any part within three years of your purchase, provided that you have an active support contract? Will they charge you less for support if they cannot replace failed components during that year’s support contract? The variation of this question is, “What is your business model?” If the storage manufacturer will only guarantee availability of all components for three years, then their business model is based upon you buying another server from them in three years. Are you prepared to be locked into that upgrade cycle?

Are you using custom components that I cannot source elsewhere?
If you continue using your storage beyond the date when the manufacturer can replace a failed part, is the failed part a custom part that was only sold to the manufacturer of your storage? Is the failed part one that you may be able to find used or refurbished and swap out yourself?

What is the penalty for not renewing support? Can I purchase support incidents on an as-needed basis?
How many as-needed event purchases equate to you realizing, “We should have renewed support instead.” If you cannot purchase support on an as-needed basis, then you need to ask what the penalty for reinstating support is. This information helps you determine what your risk tolerance is and whether or not there is a date in the future when you can say, “We did not incur a financial loss with that risk.”

Main Image:  Nutmeg Creative’s Jonathan Abrams with the company’s 80 TB of EditShare storage and two spare drive.  Photo Credit:  Larry Closs


Nat Geo’s Bertie Gregory shares tips for managing video in the field

Bertie Gregory may be only 22 years old, but he’s already worked at National Geographic magazine, won the 2015 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and is filming Nat Geo WILD’s first online natural history series.

The show, called wild_life, launched on August 3. Each episode finds Gregory (@BertieGPhoto) seeking out wildlife — salmon, black bears, wolves, etc. — to capture with his cameras. We asked this very busy young Englishman about how he manages his workflow during his 18- to 20-hour days in the field.

Here are Gregory’s Top 5 tips:
1) Have a Backup Plan
Before you set foot in the field, find a data backup system that works for you and stick to it. You’re not always going to be at your best when you’re transferring data from one location to another, and you don’t want to make a mistake. Take time before filming to run through your backup procedures so that there are no surprises.

When downloading from my camera, I always make three copies — one to be stored in a separate geographic location and the other two on me. With file sizes being as large as they are now, having a good workflow in place is absolutely essential. I can aspire to be the best tracker or camera operator, but if we don’t have everything dialed in on the back end, then none of that matters.

2) Choose Reliable Equipment
There are many storage manufacturers competing in the market right now, which has been great for consumers, but be sure that you’re choosing equipment not only based on its price, but also its reliability and durability. There’s plenty of bargain-basement hardware out there that might cost a fraction of their higher-quality counterparts, but they’re likely to let you down exactly at the wrong time.

Between being stuffed in a backpack and overzealous airport baggage handlers, my equipment can really take a beating, so I tend to invest in equipment that might be a bit more expensive initially, but will easily save me significant amounts of time, money and effort over the long-term.

My equipment list:
Cameras:
– Red Dragon
– Canon C300
– Sony FS7
– Multiple GoPros
Computer:
– MacBook Pro

Storage:
– 20TB LaCie 5big Thunderbolt 2
– Multiple 4TB LaCie Rugged RAID drives

3) Choose Speed
I shoot a lot of footage — more than 500 GB on some days — and there’s nothing more soul-crushing than wrapping up 15 hours of filming and realizing that you still have hours of work ahead of you just to back up your data. When I get finished with a day’s shooting, all I want to do is get horizontal as fast as possible. That means I need fast transfer speeds. Look for backup storage devices that use Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 interfaces, and which also incorporate RAID technology to improve both speed and reliability.

4) Get Rid of Distractions
Making one mistake can ruin an entire day’s worth of time, money and effort when you’re backing up your footage. When I’m downloading, I do it in a quiet location without distractions. Just like with everything else in life, you’re going to do a better, quicker job if you have your full attention on the task at hand. Admittedly, this is easier to do in the wilds of Canada than in an office somewhere, but quiet places do exist, even in the modern office.

5) Keep With Your Plan
When you have the right equipment, people and plan in place, you’re ready to go — as long as you keep to that plan. But with the long days, the thankless nature of backing up your data and the strains that being in the field can put on you, it can be very easy at some point down the road to just not keep with the plan.

“Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow” becomes, “Eh, I can do it this weekend,” which becomes, “Wait, when was the last time I backed up my data?” And while you may get lucky and not suffer a mishap while your data is vulnerable, you’re playing with fire every time you put off backing up your data. Keep to your plan, follow your backup schedule and you won’t ever have to worry.


Check out more on wild_life on Nat Geo Wild.


Editor Jesse Averna shares words of wisdom, encouragement

Let’s face it, post production can be hard, and sometimes our social networks can get a tad negative. In the midst of that, LA-based editor Jesse Averna (@dr0id) recently shared some positivity and shed some light on how to navigate in the complex world of the post professional by offering some advice and encouragement through a series of tweets.

Averna is an editing veteran who has five Emmy Awards and an additional nomination for his work on Sesame Street. Many of you might know him as one of the founders of the Twitter group #postchat. Check these out. It just might leave you feeling a bit better about your job, your industry and yourself.

– Wisdom. If you commit to a project, give it 110%. It doesn’t matter if it deserves it. Your reputation does.

– Disliking movies doesn’t make you a more competent filmmaker. Ask yourself what you would do differently and why they didn’t.

– Excuses don’t help you. Even if they are real. Try to have none. Just get it done.

– If you always focus on your insecurities and shortcomings, so will everyone else. Don’t let them define you.

– If someone needs advice, a connection or a gig, give them a hand. Someone gave you one. Doesn’t matter if they’ve “earned” it.

– You can learn something from anyone. Don’t miss the opportunity.

– You can be on time. You can work hard. You can even have a great attitude. Doesn’t matter what software you’re using.

– Focused on the tech? You’re probably missing the story. Ignoring the tech? You’re probably not telling the story as well as you could.

– Commiserating can be bonding, but it can also be poison. Make positivity your habit. It will be contagious.

– You might have to climb down a ladder and start at the bottom of another to work on something you love. No matter how high you got.

– It’s 40% being good and 60% being someone people want to work with. If you’re a pain, you’d better be damn good. (Don’t be a pain)

– If you’re making a living in post production, if you’re paying your bills making art, if your editing feeds your kids, you are lucky.

– Support your fellow post peeps. See their films. Retweet them. Congratulate them. Be happy when someone else is doing well.

– Always keep working on your voice. Be proud of it. Yes, even as a post pro you have one. Nail the tech down and keep building the artist.

—–
Jesse Averna tweets from a personal account and in no way speaks for or represents the companies he works for.


How to get hired, and how to get hired again

By David Jasse

Over the last 15 years, I’ve interviewed many potential job candidates — full-time and freelance — for my post and production company DMJ Studios… and I’ve seen it all! You should know, I’m a people person. I always look for the best in people, but to be honest, some of the folks who have come in for interviews have left me speechless.

For example, I asked one woman who was applying for a production manager position, “What exactly did you do on that particular production?” She squirmed in her seat, never answered and then left. Another person came for an edit position and got mad at me for testing him on the software. He said I should have warned him that I was going to test him!

I thought this list might be useful in helping those looking for work or hoping to stay employed long-term.

1. Be a professional. Come early. Stay late if needed.
2. Acknowledge mistakes and weaknesses. Don’t make excuses. Tell the truth.
3. Know how to wear a producer hat. In other words, if you’re asked to do something you can’t do, find someone who can.
4. Say little, but do a lot.
5. Do not text or talk on the phone on company time. Do it on breaks or ask permission.
6. Know the software like a professional. Be an expert, take classes and stand out.
7. Go the extra mile — wash a dish, change a bulb, make coffee… don’t just stand there.
8. If you can’t make it in then send a friend/freelancer.
9. Submit fair, one-time, accurate billing.
10. Be familiar with the work of the company you’re applying to/working for.

Employing just a few of these simple tips might help make you an even stronger candidate/employee.

David Jasse is a director and owner of Long Island-based DMJ Studios. Jasse opened DMJ in 1992 after gaining network experience at CNN, MTV, CBS and Fox. Among his company’s most recent achievements is editing and designing graphics for Emmy Award-winning Born to Explore With Richard Weise for ABC.


Location tips for indie filmmakers: John Schneider and Alicia Allain

Actor/writer/director John Schneider owns JSS Studios in Louisiana with producer Alicia Allain. As part of an on-going series with postPerspective, the pair will be sharing monthly tips on indie filmmaking and post production.

JSS is located 45 minutes from the Baton Rouge airport, 50 minutes from the New Orleans airport, and sits on 58 acres of land. It features a river, lake, swamp, baseball field, expansive fields and an Olympic size swimming pool, as well as a full five acres of Southeast Asia-like giant bamboo sitting on the Tickfaw River. They have two post suites currently, with a plan to build out.

We hope you enjoy our first John and Alicia video, which they shot while driving back from the Roswell Film Festival in New Mexico.


Top 5: Efficiency tips for your health and editing environment

By Brady Betzel

Sometimes in the edit bay, I find myself feeling sluggish because I haven’t moved from my chair in four or eight or more hours. Usually, I can fix this by working out for a half hour before I leave for work, and I try to get in some kettlebell swings and battle rope maneuvers along with bodyweight stuff like push-ups and pull-ups.

With two kids, I sometimes feel guilt about not being home every second I can, and this very often leads me astray and causes me to forget to do a few little things to keep my mind right.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up my top five tips for enhancing efficiency when being stuck in a chair all day.

1. Move Around
The number one thing an editor can do to cause laziness and stagnation is literally being lazy. Sitting in your chair all day — drinking coffee and not water — staring at pixels for 12 hours will not get that mind in gear to edit creatively. If possible, take a five-minute walk around the block. If not possible, do push-ups — you have the equipment with you at all times. I try to hit my age as a goal, for example I will try and do 33 pushups within an hour, even doing this once a day will dramatically help you out.

If you are searching for some exercise tips I suggest checking out www.onnit.com/academy, specifically https://www.onnit.com/academy/training/bodyweight, which focuses on bodyweight exercises. It’s free and is updated regularly with fun and unique workouts.

2. Meditate, Pray, Zone Out… Whatever
Give yourself five minutes of peace and quiet. No podcasts, no Pantera, no Taylor Swift — just sit in a quiet room with all of your monitors powered off, if possible, and clear your head. Sometimes, if I can’t stop my mind from working, I will try to focus on little things like breathing at a consistent pace or how I can be nicer to people and myself.

2. Drink Good Coffee AND Lots of Water
If you believe in drinking coffee like I do, find yourself a good batch of coffee and brew it in something nice like a French press or an AeroPress. My number one rule when downing espresso and coffee is to not forget to drink tons of water too, otherwise I will get angry and dehydrated. This is one I constantly have to remember.

3. Keep Your Area Clean
I find that editors come in two forms: messy and obsessive compulsive. I know it’s hard to always be tidy, but who wants to see a messy editor bay or desk in the office? It makes my skin crawl when I have to wade through other people’s junk just to get my Wacom pen or fader on the mixer. I know when my area is clean my mind is usually more focused.

4. Force Yourself to Be Pleasant
I often find myself in a dark room, plugging away at keyframes and bezier curves, and forgetting to smile. It’s crazy what can happen if you force yourself to smile, and it is contagious. Try it out, even if people laugh at you and say what is up with happy face — you just made them think twice about being happy. It will really make your day better.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Brady was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.


Simple tips that will help you work more efficiently

By Brady Betzel

Recently, I was asked to share some best practices surrounding the editing process… little things that can make doing your job that much easier and more efficient.

Get Comfortable With Your Equipment
Whether you are using a Wacom tablet, Razer mouse, Premiere Pro keyboard, Palette controls or Tangent Element panels, knowing how they work will make you money. If you are on a salaried job and you are fast and efficient (most likely if you work at a decent place) you will be able to leave early when the job is done. When I first learned my Wacom tablet I spent some time just using the hot keys on the side and discovering how I could use them to my benefit. Sometimes I would set up macros on them just to see how far I could go.

Learn Something New Every Day
If time allows, I try to watch one tutorial a day on YouTube, Lynda.com or another place that can make me smarter. Whether I am learning audio tips, After Effects scripts, Avid Effects tips or something unrelated to video and editing, I always gain something.

Even if the tutorial is taught by an eight-year-old on an iPad — if it looks better than anything I’ve ever done, I’m seeing a new viewpoint or discovering a tip I’ve never seen before — you never know where inspiration will come from. So keep on learning… it will not only make you smarter, you will probably work faster too.

Get in Some Exercise
While I try to workout before I go to work a few days a week, it isn’t always possible. I try to get at least a few sets of push-ups in during my workday. This helps to get my blood going. An easy game to play is to try and hit your age in pushups in an hour. While it won’t get you in crossfit box jumping shape, it will get your blood circulating and your mind thinking clearer.

Learn What Someone Else’s Job Entails
When I do have spare time, I like watch other people doing their job. On my way up the professional ladder, I always learned from watching people I admired; whether it was a producer, editor or production assistant. Lately, I like to watch the guys and gals in the machine rooms. Just the other day, I learned how ISDNs were patched and what codecs were used in transmission. While it doesn’t relate directly to my job, it really makes my mind keep thinking of different things and find new perspectives on my own work.

Set Yourself up for Success
This is a terrible cliché, but it really has staying power. There is value in being prepared. For example, when I was a kid, my dad always taught my sister and I to be aware of the closest exit, no matter where we were — one of the perks of growing up in earthquake prone Southern California.

At home, I always learned to keep my play area clean, so when I needed to I could sit down and use it without having to wade through a mess. As a side note this might have also led me to be super obsessive compulsive about a clean workspace, or my need for a color-organized closet (sorry to my wife), but still it will only help your efficiency if you can just sit down and work.

Find your exit or path to working fast and efficiently. Whether it’s a tidy desktop on your computer, literally a clean desktop where you work or a bin with all of your preset plug-ins at the ready for when you need them. It can’t hurt to be prepared.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Brady was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Production Rendering: Tips for 2016 and beyond

By Andrew C. Jones

There is no shortage of articles online offering tips about 3D rendering. I have to admit that attempting to write one myself gave me a certain amount of trepidation considering how quickly most rendering advice can become obsolete, or even flat-out wrong.

The trouble is that production rendering is a product of the computing environment, available software and the prevailing knowledge of artists at a given time. Thus, the shelf life for articles about rendering tends to be five years or so. Inevitably, computing hardware gets faster, new algorithms get introduced and people shift their focus to new sets of problems.

I bring this up not only to save myself some embarrassment five years from now, but also as a reminder that computer graphics, and rendering in particular, is still an exciting topic that is ripe for innovation and improvement. As artists who spend a lot of time working within rigid production pipelines, it can be easy to forget this.

Below are some thoughts distilled from my own experience working in graphics, which I feel are about as relevant today as they would have been when I started working back in 2003. Along with each item, I have also included some commentary on how I feel the advice is applicable to rendering in 2016, and to Psyop’s primary renderer, Solid Angle’s Arnold, in particular.

Follow Academic Research
This can be intimidating, as reading academic papers takes considerably more effort than more familiar kinds of reading. Rest assured, it is completely normal to need to read a paper several times and to require background research to digest an academic paper. Sometimes the background research is as helpful as the paper itself. Even if you do not completely understand everything, just knowing what problems the paper solves can be useful knowledge.

Papers have to be novel to be published, so finding new rendering research relevant to 2016 is pretty easy. In fact, many useful papers have been overlooked by the production community and can be worth revisiting. A recent example of this is Charles Schmidt and Brian Budge’s paper, “Simple Nested Dielectrics in Ray Traced Images” from 2002, which inspired Jonah Friedman to write his open source JF Nested Dielectric shader for Arnold in 2013. ACM’s digital library is a fantastic resource for finding graphics-related papers.

Study the Photographic Imaging Pipeline
Film, digital cinema and video are engineering marvels, and their complexity is easily taken for granted. They are the template for how people expect light to be transformed into an image, so it is important to learn how they work.

Despite increasing emphasis on physical accuracy over the past few years, a lot of computer graphics workflows are still not consistent with real-world photography. Ten years ago, the no-nonsense, three-word version of this tip would have been “use linear workflow.” Today, the three-word version of the tip should probably be “use a LUT.” In five more years, perhaps people will finally start worrying about handling white balance properly. OpenColorIO and ACES are two recent technologies that fit under this heading.

Otto_theLetter.01726    BritishGas_NPLH1
Examples of recent renders done by Psyop on jobs for online retailer Otto and British Gas.

Study Real-World Lighting
The methodology and equipment of on-set lighting in live-action production can teach us a great deal, both artistically and technically. From an aesthetic standpoint, live-action lighting allows us to focus on learning how to control light to create pleasing images, without having to worry about whether or not physics is being simulated correctly.

Meanwhile, simulating real-world light setups accurately and efficiently in CG can be technically challenging. Many setups rely heavily on indirect effects like diffusion, but these effects can be computationally expensive compared to direct lighting. In Arnold, light filter shaders can help transform simplistic area lights into more advanced light rigs with view-dependent effects.

Fight for Simplicity
As important as it is to push the limits of your workflow and get the technical details right, all of that effort is for naught if the workflow is too difficult to use and artists start making mistakes.

In recent years, simplicity has been a big selling point for path-tracing renderers as brute force path-tracing algorithms tend to require fewer parameters than spatially dependent approximations. Developers are constantly working to make their renderers more intuitive, so that artists can achieve realistic results without visual cheats. For example, Solid Angle recently added per-microfacet fresnel calculations, which help achieve more realistic specular reflections along the edges of surfaces.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Renderer’s API (If it Has One)
Even if you have little coding background, the API can give you a much deeper understanding of how your renderer really works. This can be a significant trade-off for GPU renderers, as the fast-paced evolution of GPU programming makes providing a general purpose API particularly difficult.

Embrace the Statistical Nature of Raytracing
The “DF” in BRDF actually stands for “distribution function.” Even real light is made of individual photons, which can be thought of as particles bouncing off of surfaces according to probability distributions. (Just don’t think of the photons as waves or they will stop cooperating!)

When noise problems occur in a renderer, it is often because a large amount of light is being represented by a small subset of sampled rays. Intuitively, this is a bit like trying to determine the average height of Germans by measuring people all over the world and asking if they are German. Only 1 percent of the world’s population is German, so you will need to measure 100 times more people than if you collected your data from within Germany’s borders.

One way developers can improve a renderer is by finding ways to gather information about a scene using fewer samples. These improvements can be quite dramatic. For example, the most recent Arnold release can render some scenes up to three times as fast, thanks to improvements in diffuse sampling. As an artist, understanding how randomization, sampling and noise are related is the key to optimizing a modern path tracer, and it will help you anticipate long render times.

Learn What Your Renderer Does Not Do
Although some renderers prioritize physical accuracy at any cost, most production renderers attempt to strike a balance between physical accuracy and practicality.

Light polarization is a great example of something most renderers do not simulate. Polarizing filters are often used in photography to control the balance between specular and diffuse light on surfaces and to adjust the appearance of certain scene elements like the sky. Recreating these effects in CG requires custom solutions or artistic cheats. This can make a big difference when rendering things like cars and water.

Plan for New Technology
Technology can change quickly, but adapting production workflows always takes time. By anticipating trends, such as HDR displays, cloud computing, GPU acceleration, virtual reality, light field imaging, etc., we not only get a head start preparing for the future, but also motivate ourselves to think in different ways. In many cases, solutions that are necessary to support tomorrow’s technology can already change the way we work today.

Andrew C. Jones is head of visual effects at NYC- and LA-based Psyop, which supplies animation, design, illustration, 3D, 2D and live-action production to help brands connect with consumers. You can follow them on Twitter @psyop