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Once more unto the breach

Nathan Strum


As with last year, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, and even the year before that, (and all of the years before that before I had a blog), it's the end of the school year here at CalArts, and I've been buried in work, putting our student animation shows together. This is number 22 for me, if I'm doing the math right. No guarantees there, by the way.

Last weekend... no. Ummm... wait, what day is it again?

Okay... on April 23rd, we had our Open Show, with 163 films turned in this year (beating last year's record by one). Everything went really well, with just a bit over 6 1/2 hours of films to screen (with intermissions, the show ran just under 8 hours). That's pretty impressive - a group of students, cranking out the equivalent of 4 feature films' worth of animation, in just about 9 months. It does take a lot of work to assemble the films together, fix audio levels, and get everything ready for the screening. This year went pretty quickly - only a little over 80 hours to do the whole thing. Admittedly, that's all in one week, but it's still a lot better than 90-100 hours of some previous years. If you do something enough times, you start figuring things out.

What I've been working on since then is our Producers' Show, which is tonight at 7:30 PM. This is the best 80 minutes or so of the films of the year, as judged by our faculty. So I've been working on assembling the films together (fortunately, one of our faculty - Ben - does the audio mixes for all of the films, which is a huge help to me, and the films sound amazing in 5.1 surround), creating the DCP, checking everything (several times), authoring a backup Blu-ray (which is what I was finishing up while typing this), creating various signs, posters, and programs (the students create the design, I do the typesetting and make it all print-ready), and probably a dozen other things that are escaping my mind at the moment.

This year was a bit different than usual though, in that I had to use all-new software for everything. Previously, I'd been using Final Cut Pro 7 to cut everything together. I had a workflow that worked really well, and since I was running an older Mac Pro and a slightly older version of OS X, I could get away with it, since everything still worked. But this year, over a year after the computer labs I manage had been updated, I finally upgraded my office computer to a coffee-can Mac Pro (the cobbler's children have no shoes). I had been using it for tests, but not day-to-day work. When I finally made the jump, Final Cut Pro 7 didn't. Oh, it will still sort-of run, but it's become incredibly unstable, and that's not something you want when editing the entire year's output of almost 170 students. So for the Open Show, I switched to Premiere Pro. I'd been using it some, but transferring an established workflow over to a different application is often fraught with problems, so I was more than a little nervous. However, all went well, and despite a couple of work-arounds, I was able to do everything I needed, and if anything, faster because Premiere Pro uses a modern code base and GPU acceleration, while FCP7 was already seriously showing its age. So one down, one to go.

For the Producers' Show, since it requires doing a layback of the 5.1 mixes (something I have yet to figure out in Premiere Pro), I switched to Final Cut Pro X. The transition there - not so easy. As is often the case with Apple, they tend to get overly-cute about how their stuff works, and it's not always the best way. Often, I found the interface actually getting in my way, as it would presume I wanted to do things, that I didn't really want to do. I was able to work around it though, and since the Producers' Show is so much shorter and easier to edit (21 films, instead of 163), I got through it just fine.

The second part of that though, was authoring the DCP. For the last several years, we'd gone with QuVis' Wraptor. It was a plug-in for Apple's Compressor, so it worked with Final Cut Pro 7 pretty well. However, with further updates to Compressor, Wraptor stopped working. QuVis blamed Apple, and threw their efforts into supporting their free plug-in that comes with Adobe's Media Encoder. And while their basic version still works, their Pro version (which has higher quality settings), stopped working due to some wonky licensing problems. Ugh. So, since we weren't going to sacrifice quality and use the free version, we had to move to another authoring application. Fortunately, I had run a lot of DCP authoring tests this spring, "just in case" we would need to find an alternative. These were all short tests, using about 30 particularly challenging clips from student films, run multiple times, with multiple settings, using multiple applications. It added up fast. In the end - over 400 tests. No exaggeration. Hey... I like to be thorough. :roll:

In the end, despite all of the (high priced) options out there, the winner turned out to be the open source, and completely free, DCP-o-matic. And it won because of its quality and features, not because it was free. We were preparing to dump thousands of dollars, if needed, into a new authoring app. Turns out, we didn't need to.

Still, putting a show together for 600+ industry bigwigs, using unfamiliar software (for editing and authoring), with little time to test the final results, can be a bit stress-inducing. But the final version we ran on our DCP projector at work looked good. We'll only know for certain how it all worked for real, after tonight.

We're still at the DGA again this year. It went very well there last year, and they're super-nice people to deal with. The location is a pain to get to though (driving through the heart of Hollywood). It's looking promising for us to return to the TV Academy next year (you can see time lapse videos of the construction here, or a live view here).

So now - time for the films! Instead of linking to all of the Producers' Show films, I'm just going to put a few of my favorites from both the Producers' Show and Open Show. If you want more, you can see all of the films our students have uploaded this year at our 2016 CalArts Character Animation Vimeo Channel. New ones are being added almost daily.

Here are a few favorites from the Producers' Show:

David Davis
Open Heart

Xiya Lan
You look scary

Li Wen Toh
Desert Critters

Henock Lebsekal

Erin Kim

Tiffany Wei
Meal Time!

Alexander Santa Cruz

And here are a few favorites from the Open Show:

Lorenzo Fresta

Ruth Baraz

Cindy Yang
And Then

Julia Rodrigues
in/ex troversion

Nishant Saldanha
Hello Mary Lou

Stacey Tindaan
Steal My Heart
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The Producers' Show went off without a hitch last night. It took a lot of work from a lot of people, but it all went very smoothly, and the films looked and sounded great. The DCP worked perfectly, so that was a huge relief. I didn't take any photos this year, but if the CalArts blog gets around to posting some, I'll link to it here.


We had around 650-670 people show up, filling the main theater and about half-filling the second. Zootopia/Wreck-It Ralph director (and alumnus) Rich Moore was our guest speaker, and gave a very funny, and very heartfelt speech to our students. (Incidentally, if you haven't seen Zootopia yet, I highly recommend it. It's closing in on a billion dollars worldwide, and is beating up both Batman and Superman at the box office.)


I'm quite exhausted from the whole thing, and just stayed home and slept all morning. It will be a few weeks before I fully bounce back from it, but at least the shows are over and done with, and I can get back to a more normal work schedule again.

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Hi, I'm the author of DCP-o-matic.. I picked this up through my web referrer logs. I'm glad it worked out for you!


Did you by any chance blog / publish the DCP authoring tests you mention?

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Great to hear from you - thanks for all of your work on DCP-o-matic. It was a lifesaver for us this year.


At the moment, no - we haven't compiled our results into anything readable yet. It's still in a jumble of internal e-mails.


We're planning on sitting down and working through them, to come up with a comprehensive report on how each of the applications fared (QuVis/Wraptor, DCP-o-matic, FinalDCP, Easy DCP). It will be a ways into the summer before we can get to it though. But we'll be more than glad to share our results with you.


- Nathan

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