The Brutal Render

Posted: May 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 9 Comments »

Parts of the GET LAMP footage are going through The Brutal Render.

While I’m behind on deadlines and milestones with this project, I’m glad to have major things finally hitting this stage.

Bear in mind that pretty much all the roughly 30 bonus footage sequences went past this stage, but the standards on them are reduced – they are, after all, bonus footage, and as long as things flow relatively well, people are watching them because they are being told a simple story, or are being shown some comments by folks about a subject that would drag the actual film down. ¬†Also, some are as short as 60 seconds – it’s not hard to do quality verification and checking on a single minute of footage with no cuts or music.

But the main film, well, it’s a big deal we’re finally getting there. I’m talking about this mostly to indicate some of the work that goes into a project that isn’t as obvious as it could be.

The original footage of GET LAMP is primarily 720p progressive HD footage. The output for the DVD will be widescreen (anamorphic) standard-definition MPEG-2. ¬†From the source to the final, there’s a lot that can go weird – unusual artifacts, flickering, colors being jarring or wrong, and sound clipping/cuts that aren’t great.

The mind is a fantastic tool for overcoming these issues – as long as the subject is compelling, we kind of stop paying attention to process and focus on the content. But the fact we have this capacity is not some license for creators to push out any old junk and feel good about it. Some do treat it as a license, but I’m not one of those.

My attitude is the independent films, and let’s focus on documentaries, are actually under more pressure to release a quality product. We can’t just make sure everyone who isn’t in a coma is aware of the film, and we’re going after subjects that others either chose not to cover or haven’t found an effective way. At least, I am being nice here – lots of people do independent stuff that is a smaller, less compelling version of big stuff. And I’m also probably making a mistake calling it “independent”, because that word now means “a smaller, more petulant Hollywood that would become Hollywood given half the chance”. Regardless, I think it’s the case that the smaller films have to really bring skills and craftsmanship to the table, since they can’t just ride the publicity bulldozer and make back the cost.

Remember that GET LAMP is a little odd in that there are branches the DVD goes in. This means that there’s a sequence at the beginning with an overview of the commercial side/standard information on text adventures, and then it lets you go focus on branches about players, puzzles, and so on. So the first “branch” is basically done. And that’s rendering.

After it’s rendered, it’s going to a couple of people who don’t interact (so we don’t end up with groupthink). They look at:

  • Flow and pacing: does it feel generally right?
  • Sound and music: mixing good? Voices clear? No pops or clicks at the beginning and end of clips?
  • Visual cues: Does a person seem uncomfortable? Is there unexpected creepiness, hilarity or sadness when that wasn’t intended?
  • Image quality: Is something added/ingested (the video editing term) in such a way that frame rate or interlacing is off?

There’s a time-costing factor in here, too: video noise reduction. Many of the shots have video noise, which adds nothing to the image, but costs dearly in terms of MPEG size. I use something called the Neat Video Plugin to remove the noise (not TOO much noise, or it smooths too far out and we end up with a Britney Spears video). This takes a lot of time. Neat video can increase the rendering by over 20+ times. But the result, as I said, is cleaner, more quality, and a smaller footprint.

This is slow, boring work. But it needs to be done, and it’s being done. And when it’s done, you will hardly notice it. But your lack of noticing it means it went well.

9 Comments on “The Brutal Render”

  1. 1 Mike said at 8:56 pm on May 16th, 2010:

    Jason, this part sounds frikk’n boring to do. You have my sympathy…and my eternal gratitude thinking back to it when we appreciate the final product. Now…back to work! ;-)

  2. 2 Drew Wallner said at 9:15 pm on May 16th, 2010:

    Reading posts like these always make me feel warm and fuzzy that there are geeks involved in filmmaking.

  3. 3 Arnt Richard Johansen said at 1:03 pm on May 17th, 2010:

    Hey, isn’t that a shot from The Computer Chronicles in that small frame?

  4. 4 Carl said at 10:45 pm on May 18th, 2010:

    Well Jason, if your trying to render noise out to compress your definetly going to have to take some time to do so. But it sounds like the basic timeline is done and now it’s just packaging the bytes? Hopefully my lamp still has plenty of oil in it or else I might get eaten by a gru…. ahhhhhhh

  5. 5 Andrew said at 7:40 am on May 20th, 2010:

    Out of interest; what video editing software do you use? I can’t say I recognise that one, and I can’t recall you mentioning it.

    Also neat tip on removing noise :)

  6. 6 Andrew said at 7:41 am on May 20th, 2010:

    Wait a second…reading down my RSS reader…it says Sony Vegas 8.0 Pro. Cool :)

  7. 7 Jason Scott said at 11:11 am on May 21st, 2010:

    It was Sony Vegas 8.0, now 9.0, which is not as fantastic as 8.0.

  8. 8 Andrew said at 7:47 am on May 25th, 2010:

    Well, there’s an endorsement I’ll check out even if 9.0 isn’t as good as 8.0 :)

  9. 9 Dan Dujnic said at 9:04 am on May 26th, 2010:

    I worked as a finishing editor for years, I feel your pain Jason.

    I just pre-ordered the DVD, so go get some lunch.

    -Dan, that guy who makes Nethack Videos

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