Pure Frickin’ Genius–iZotope RX5 Audio Editor

iZotpoe RX5

I’m shit-faced. Pure fucking gobsmacked.

Apparently this has been around for years and I just found about about it.

I’ve seen the question all the time on forums: “How do I get rid of echo?”. Answer: “You can’t”. Or, “Learn to record better”. And so on.

Well guess what? You can get rid of echo and reverb seamlessly, easily and non-destructively.

But that’s just ONE of the tools in the RX5 Audio Editor.

It’s essentially an audio repair tool box. And that means anything from fixing a bad recording to enhancing a good one. Anything from subtle clicks on a guitar recording to sirens, back-up beepers, hums, buzzes and coughs in the background of interviews. Easily, quickly, seamlessly and non-destructively.

I was playing with the free download today and got rid of some annoying room echo in a couple of interviews. I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest, but got the echo handled. But then I moved onto a more important task.

I had an interview which was done in a relatively quiet conference room in an industrial plant. I miked the guy real close with a rifle and had a close lapel on him in pure self-defence. But even as I recorded it, I knew I had several frequencies of hum and whirring from the machines in the plant which were not justified in the shot (plant not visible in background).

Of course hum and buzz are fairly narrow frequencies and you’d think it’s a matter of using the parametric equalizer or some form of EQ to isolate and remove or reduce the offending frequency. That’s how I’ve always done it, but never without adversely affecting the voice. Now I know why: Every such buzz or hum has harmonics. You can’t get them all.

RX5 to the Rescue

This time I watched a tutorial rather than stumble through.

I had to use two tools: the de-hum and de-noise tool. I couldn’t believe how fast and easy it was. It literally took a couple minutes as a newbie.

Then I went to export the file and found out it would’t let me because it was the free version.

Well, they got me.

So I bought it as fast as I could. Unfortunately I had to close the program to initiate the buying process which meant that the work wouldn’t be saved. (no saving in the free version)

Amazingly, as soon as I entered the serial number, the program opened back up with my processed audio still in there. But just for the fun of it I re-did it anyway to see if I could make it better and do it faster. And I did. I found one more barely audible frequency that I had missed and cleaned it out as well. There are different ways of doing things and this time I chose an automated process. It was simply a matter of isolating a short quiet spot, clicking ‘learn’ and then clicking ‘process’. Took seconds and it was done. It spotted the problem frequencies and their harmonics and replaced each with bits of recording either just above or just below each frequency and harmonic.

The most amazing thing? It didn’t affect the voice recording (which was a strong and present recording).

Hey, don’t take my word for it. There are a lot of videos by both iZotope and others demonstrating what it can do. They’ll come up when you search. Watch them and see if you don’t get shit-faced too.

Here’s a good summary video to get you started.

 

Color Grading Tools for Hogwartians

Color grading is relatively new to me, so I’m not an expert, but so far it has enabled me to not only make shots look better, but has allowed me to dramatically improve the look of interview shots.

Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central originally introduced me to the whole subject when he released Color Finale for FCPX. It’s an invaluable tool and I highly recommend getting it.

FCPX has some powerful grading tools itself in its Color pane. It’s more powerful than many people realise, but I’m not going to attempt a tutorial that others would be much better at.

Instead I want to show you a couple recent examples, starting with a little contest Denver Riddle posted on the FB Color Grading Central page.

I’m also going to tell you about the amazing vignette tool from Slice X and show you how and why I used it in grading a few shots. It is definitely way better than the built-in FCPX tool because you can infinitely manipulate it.

I’ll put the links to all these things at the bottom of the post.

First, here’s what Denver posted and asked people to grade:

boy+meets+girl_1.1.1

And here’s what I did with it:

Boy Meets Girl

Hundreds of people posted their grades in response to Denver’s challenge. Mine seems to be one of the few he commented on directly saying it was a nice color balance. I was kind of chuffed, though he said there was too much separation from subject to background. On that I had to disagree. It is one of the primary things I try to achieve with lighting first, and grading afterwards because it creates more depth and 3 dimensionality. But in fairness, I didn’t spend that much time on it and there were still some things I wanted to do to improve it. He might have had a point. Too much separation? Anyway…

I did this grade using both the FCPX color pane and Color Finale. The FCPX color pane, amongst other things, gives you the ability to isolate shapes which you can then adjust independent of the surroundings. In this case I isolated their faces and graded them separate from the background. Most of the color work on the background was done using Color Finale which allows you to independently control the hue, saturation and brightness of the  main color components (along with many other things).

Finally I used Slice X vignette to direct attention to the subjects.

All of these things are key-framable. Since this is a still shot, key-framing was not necessary of course.

SLICE X Vignette Shape Mask

Here’s a screen grab of Slice X Vignette in use:

Slice X

Unlike most vignette tools, including the one in FCPX, this one is infinitely controllable in terms of shape and axis. Like all the others, you can also control the density, size and softness of the vignette. But this is the only one where you can also shape it and change its axis. Here are the properties that you can vary from within the inspector in addition to the on-screen controls you see above:

Slice X Inspector

Ok, now for real life.

For those of you who read Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, you’ll know I covered the subjects of lighting both generally and specifically in regard to interviews. Lighting is the lifeblood of cinematography and is much more effective in creating that ‘cinematic look’ than shallow depth of field alone.

Here’s an interview shot I did recently as it came out of the camera:

Peter ungraded

It was not without some problems.

While I did manage through lighting to effectively separate him from the background in a white room (turned off all overheads, closed the window blinds, skimmed the back wall with a light to give the impression of of an off-scene window while controlling the spill from hitting the opposite wall as much as I could and gave him facial modelling and a backlight–both of which I had to severely control with black foil to avoid spill). The trouble with white rooms is that light bounces all over the place. So this was pretty good and I could have left it as it was, but there was another problem I hadn’t realised at the time. It was shot with relatively high gain (unnecessarily) and so is a bit grainy. You’ll see what I mean if you click on the picture to see it full-sized.

Here’s what I did with it:

Peter grade

 

Grading was done with FCPX and Color Finale. Then I added the Slice X vignetting tool subtly. I also used Neat Video to de-noise it. The result, I think, is that the shot has more depth and dimension.

And one final sample and a small test:

 

Duchess ungraded

Duchess grade

The first one was out of the camera, the second one graded. But what may be of more interest is the lighting. See that big window in the back? Well, there were three more to the left which effectively lit up the whole room. I closed the heavy curtains on the side windows. Then I placed a softbox in the floor in the background (left) to create a fake light from the (now dark) window being sure to keep it off the walls. Now I was able to light her with a relatively low intensity softlight and have her more dramatically separated from the background. I gave her a backlight and a little frontal fill which also gave her eye lights.

As I told Denver, this is what I try to achieve with almost any shot–separation of subject from background which can be achieved with focus or lighting or both. (In this case lighting was going to carry the job as the focal length was wide and the depth of field too great)

.

I could have done it more telephoto (which can also be more flattering), but chose this because she is a Duchess in a castle and I felt the grandeur of the room was important to include.

Now for the test:

Did you notice the microphone in the shot ?

(I didn’t think so–which is why I left in in there rather than crop the shot)

Because of the depth and because of the directing of attention to her face, what is it that you look at when you  see this shot.? Her face, right?

Our little secret.

 

Links

Color Grading Central Facebook page

Color Grading Central Website  (where you can get Color Finale)

Slice X Vignette Shape Mask

Neat Video De-noiser

Run ‘n Gun Videography eBook

 

 

Confessions of a Run and Gunner

The Ritz

 

Warning: This is an 11 minute video. The  subject is St. James’s Square, London, one of the most historical and prestigious districts of London.  All of the following will be of no value at all if you don’t plan on watching it. This is for those of you who plan to.

This video is not typical of what I do, but I treated it like any other that I do. And all that is covered in the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

It wasn’t typical, because it is long (11 minutes).

In the book I talk about how to do and edit interviews. Up until now, I’d say for an hour of interviews, I cut out on average about 50% or more. That means all of my questions and all of the answers that I know I won’t use. What’s left is what I use to construct the narrative.

In this case, I had just over an hour of interview, and with my questions cut out, over 95% of is was totally usable. That’s never happened before.

This was a case of a very educated, experienced and articulate Brit. There are many like him. I just never got to interview one. And I’ve done over 1000 interviews.

I already knew I was going to produce multiple properties from his interview, but when it came to the first one–an overview of the St. James’s Conservation Trust, when I got it reduced down to about 11 minutes, I felt I couldn’t cut it down any more without losing.

Sure, he didn’t say it all in the order your hear it, but in crafting an overview and knowing that it’s first showing would be to a prestigious event in St. James Park attended by a lot of very important people, I felt I just had to work with that 11 minutes and make it as visually interesting as possible.

That was what was different about it.

As to the rest, it was all hand-held, except for the interview of course.

Why is that worth bringing up?

Well try going around St. James Square and in the vicinity of a working palace and other important clubs and high-end shops in the heart of historic London with a big camera and a tripod and see how far you get.  The client was even concerned that I get all the right ‘permissions’. I told him, “don’t worry about it”.

All that B roll was shot with my teeny weenie Sony HXR NX30 hand-held.

The interview was shot with my Sony PXW X70. And guess what? I somehow screwed that up, inadvertently shooting with high gain.

Though we were in the offices of the Ritz Hotel, we weren’t able to get a suite in the Hotel for the shoot. I was your typical white room. So to get that interview look I had to 1) apply Neat Video de-noiser to it, 2) use Color Finale to get the best separation from subject to background (after doing my best with foil to keep spill lights off the back wall) and , 3) Used the vignette tool from Digital Rebellion (it’s awesome–much better than the FCPX tool, because you can manipulate it on all axises, control its shape, ctc.)

TIP: When using Neat video, get your look, then disable it. It’s very processor intensive and whenever you change an edit it will want to re-render again. So get your look, disable it, and when you’re all done, re-enable it and let it render everything one time.

The other regular practices were shooting tons of B roll and how I found a stock music piece that worked (two in this case) and made them seem like they were written for the video. Seriously, if you manage to watch it once through, try again and just listen to how the music plays to and enhances the narrative. It was pretty magical–considering it’s stock.

B roll:  As much as I preach about shooting TONS of B roll to cover your edits, even I, in this case, did not shoot enough. In fact I made 3 trips to London in all. And still didn’t shoot enough. There was just SO MUCH covered in more than an hour of interview, I was lucky to scrape by in order to produce this one (and the next one I’m working on now). More properties will probably develop from this, and when that happens I’ll edit the narrative first and then get back on a train to London with a list…

Shooting handheld:  Shooting hand-held is one thing. You should also know that for almost all of these hand-held shots I applied 50% slow mo. And in most cases ALSO added stabilisation. Some from FCPX and some using CoreMelt’s ‘Lock and Load”.  Also (did you know?) that once you apply any kind of speed change in FCPX, you can then select a video standard of either ‘frame blending’ or ‘optical flow’. I used optical flow which smooths it out just a little bit more. Also, in some case (shooting those wall plaques), I shot them both as stills (on the NX30) and as slow zooms. In the edit I wound up animating the stills rather than using the zooms. And finally, (as dictated by the edit and conformity with surrounding shots, i.e. continuity), I also often applied manual key-framed zooms to my shots.

Marketing yourself: Also covered in the book. Relevant here is this: Sometimes you do something for cheap with malice aforethought. I had done another video for an organisation that had often asked but never hired me. Finally I did a birthday video for the daughter’s 18th. That was so well received I was asked to do one for the organisation–for cheap. I did it because I knew their upscale clientele would see it and it would likely get me more business. It got me two commissions worth £6000, including this one.

Now you know all my secrets.

Ok, so this is run’n gun. As covered in the book, it ain’t perfect. It won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the various film geeks out there. But it does the job and the stuff that the geeks will gleefully point out won’t be the things that the intended audience will ever see or concern themselves with.

The test is, does it get the message across with clarity and impact.

 

When Marketing and Video Don’t Mix

 

IMG_2440

I thought that title might get some attention. Doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?

Well don’t worry. It doesn’t apply to all. This may have been written in a moment of frustration, but there’s still a lesson to be learned.

But some marketing people just write marketing hype. That’s what they do. They write stuff they think you and I want to read or hear. They don’t write or talk like real people yet somehow think these perfectly phrased key words will get you to buy something. I hate to tell you, but those days are pretty much over and have been for some time. No one believes it any more and they can see it coming a mile away. If they manage to sneak up on you, you can hear it in the first few milliseconds. It rings false. It’s like listening to a merchandising politician.

What happens when these type of marketing people are around when you’re trying to do a video to effectively MARKET their product or service is that they drill the people you’re going to interview into what they are SUPPOSED TO SAY. They fill up their heads with bullet points, slogans, marketing speak and other drivel. You suddenly find the person in front of you is not really communicating with you. Instead they are frantically trying to remember what to say and desperately searching for their notes where these gems were written down. They talk fast and nervously. They interrupt themselves when they realise they haven’t said it right. They say, ‘oh I can’t say that’ and other nonsense. In short, they come off like robots and would be better off just sending off their promo to people who won’t read it anyway.

Just to be clear, there are professional marketing companies that can do both. They write good copy showcasing the quality of the product or service in real terms and are also able to talk to people on a level that connects with reality. In fact, I work for one. And that MD is the one who conducts the interviews for many of the videos I have produced. And there are also marketing departments that come up with very clever and effective video campaigns, but they are usually based on humour or unexpected and entertaining approaches to selling. But that’s what they specialise in. 

Just don’t ever let someone dictate what they think the interviewee should say or talk about. If the person you’re interviewing knows his or her job (and they should if they’ve been selected to be interviewed and so represent the company), you can get it out of them just by talking to them. And when you do, you’ll get natural real responses. If you detect that they’re slipping into the ‘company speak’, just follow up with, ‘Well what do you think about that and carry on in a line of friendly conversation that gets them to tell you what they think, not what the ‘company’ thinks. You’ll very often get surprising gems that are perfect for–you guessed it–marketing the product or service (because it’s sincere).

These days videos give you a golden opportunity to give a face to an otherwise faceless business. They give you an opportunity to meet the actual people of the business, warts and all.

When you shop on line for a product, what’s the one thing you almost always do before buying? You read the customer reviews. You get the feedback from real people. “Yeah, sounds great, but let me see if your customers really think so”. The hype might get your attention, but you know well enough to not believe it without questioning and will go to great lengths to verify if it has any real merit.

When I do marketing videos, my approach has always been to interview the key people involved. I don’t even really need to go in very prepared. If I’ve got the MD sitting down in front of me, I’m pretty sure he can tell me just about anything about the the products or services he offers–along with the history of the business, why he gets up in the morning, why he’s passionate about it, and so forth. I don’t care if that’s 60 minutes of material to trim down into a 3 minute video.

It’s MY job to edit it in such a way as to effectively sell his product or service. In other words, it is MY job to market them with video. But before that, my job is to get them to talk to me like they would talk to any friend. I think I went to great length discussing this process in the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

Like I said, I haven’t had to go through this often thankfully, but recently was faced with 5 interviews of people who were prepped by marketing people (despite my advance warning to not do so). Interestingly, after the local marketing person was finished running the first interviewee through all the questions (meaning trying to prompt the answers she wanted to hear), she asked if I wanted to ask about anything else. So I asked the girl something like, “You seem to really like your job here. What makes you get up in the morning?” The answer was pretty good, but the most remarkable thing was that her former almost frantic delivery was gone. She slowed right down and started speaking naturally. And it was sincere and believable. And that’s what you, the consumer, look for these days, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Book Offer: Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Run 'n Gun Videography

I’ve decided to enrol in KDP Select which gives me some promotional options including making the book available for FREE for 5 days.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m doing it for two reasons.

  1. I’m locked into KDP select for 90 days during which period the book can only be available on Kindle. So that gives me a sort of deadline for making the book available in soft cover and putting it on other platforms. I can’t promise it, but it’s a good target for me because I’m going to be pretty busy before then anyway. Plan is to update it and make it available in hardcover next fall.
  2. Though the book has sold a few hundreds copies, it’s only gotten about a little over 30 reviews between the UK and US markets. They’re all good reviews, but I’d like to see a lot more reviews.

The Free Download Offer is NOW LIVE on Amazon and runs through Sunday.

I hope that most of my subscribers here who don’t have it yet will take the opportunity to download it.

In exchange I have a humble request: Please review it on the Amazon page once you’ve read it.

US Amazon Link

UK Amazon Link

Available world wide.

Using Photographs in Video

(From the Run and Gun Videography blog, for those of you who don’t follow that one). Thought I’d repost it here as I haven’t posted anything in a while (super busy!)

Belvoir Castle's Capability Brown Landscape thumbnail

Nothing revolutionary here, but I haven’t posted in a long while.

This could be titled ‘Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’.

It’s Spring here in England, but with cold weather lingering, Spring has been struggling to arrive.

The gardens at Belvoir Castle are open now and the Duchess of Rutland wanted to promote them in a timely fashion–that is, promote them to potential visitors.  There’s another good reason to promote these particular gardens. This is the 300th anniversary of the birth of England’s most famous landscape architect–Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed the landscapes of over 170 of England’s mosts famous estates) and Belvoir Castle was his last project. It was never realised while he was alive and never completed.

A few years ago his plans were found in the Castle archives and the Duchess of Rutland set out to complete them. It was the subject of a 3 hour television show here in England last Autumn, and now that it’s Spring and the gardens are open, it’s the perfect time to promote them as such.

But Spring has been stubborn in it’s arrival, so there would be no live footage of the beautiful gardens and landscape.

What to do?

I suggested to the Duchess that we use the photographs from her book on this very subject and update the video later with live footage that I can take over the next few months.

Now that it’s done I don’t think I’m going to do it, because I like this video the way it is. So I’ll probably just do another video using some of this interview material and other bits I didn’t use.

Very often I make a video that exceeds my own expectations, given the production circumstances. This was one of them.

There’s not really much to say about how to use photographs in a video. Many go for the ‘Ken Burns’ effect. I just manually animated them very simply. The real trick is choosing the right photo that helps forward the narrative.

There are two other things that make it a good video in my opinion. All these techniques and approaches are covered in detail in the Run ‘n Gun Videography E Book (centering around message, of course), but in this case–since it was really only an interview and still photos, the strengths were lighting to make her look good in an appropriate environment (her home at Belvior Castle) and music.

The lighting is what it is. 3 lights used judiciously in a large space. But in this case it was the music that really did it’s job. In the book I covered the subject of using ‘stock music’. The trick is to make it appear to have been specifically scored for this specific video. Music has the role of forwarding the messages as much as any other technical subject does. Too many people just tack on music for no reason and to no advantage. I won’t go over my procedure in detail here (that’s covered in detail in the book), but I would like you to note how the subtle shifts of music sync up to the narrative and pictures being shown. That’s the real magic as far as I’m concerned. Because that composer had no idea that his music would be used for this video. Yet I think anyone would be hard pressed to think that it was not. How this is done, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read the book.

Sorry for the shameless promotion, but this blog is meant to be a supplement to the book anyway.

For anyone interested in the Capability Brown story, several months ago I did another video. This time it featured your truly, the Video Whisperer.

It’s a fund-raising video and I really thought it should be done by an English person–but that got too complicated, so in my brash American approach to getting things done, I said, “well fine, I’ll do it myself”…

By the way, the sculptor Laury Dizengremel, is my wife. The statue has, since this video, has been cast in bronze on our dime. So if you’d like to contribute ANY amount–whether you’re an Engishman or just a follower of the Video Whisperer, any donations will be appreciated. Just go to to the link at the end of the video to donate a tuppence or two.

What Makes A Video Good?

Just noticed I forgot to include the video itself in the original blog. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Run 'n Gun Videography

Belvoir shoot (1)

Last September I put up a blog post on this video called Out of Thin Air, which was in reference to the two day time span that particular video was shot in to make a publishing deadline. There was a national tv programme on Belvoir Castle scheduled to broadcast on the subject of Capability Brown and one of the shoot guests, a marketing man, suggested to the Duchess that she capitalise on the exposure and interest it would generate by getting a video up on the Guns and Pegs website to promote the Belvoir shoot.

Well, that was a good call. They just had a record year at the Belvoir shoot.

I can only say the video probably had something to do with that. All I have are the video’s analytics look at. I’m not able to do any correlation to Belvoir’s income at this time.

But at this…

View original post 514 more words

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