bright light city gonna set my soul 

at the time of the start of this writing, it is about four thirty in the afternoon (pacific standard), and i have just passed through barstow california on highway 15 out of las vegas.

on sunday the 23rd, david, dad, a couple of other people and i drove from the san francisco bay area to attend the national association of broadcasters convention (aka, nab) in sin city.

correction. now we are on highway 58, headed towards tehachapi.

nab is the largest gathering of media professionals in the world; virtually every single company that has even the slightest to do with some form of media manipulation in the entertainment and broadcast fields is represented at the las vegas convention center just off the strip. while the original show was primarily about radio and television broadcast, over time the convention has expanded to include film editing and post production of both images and audio.

in other words, for a tech geek like myself, it is one giant orgy of cool toys and technologies.

for example, by far my favorite booth at the show this year was the adobe display. having been a photoshop user since version 2.5 on the macintosh (back when photoshop was *only* available on the mac), i have always been a firm supporter of their products and applications. recently, while engaged in the post production aspects of land of entrapment, i have rapidly grown to become a tremendous fan of after effects as well, and audition, which originally was known as ‘cool edit’ until adobe acquired syntrillium software several years ago.

the features in the latest version of adobe production suite are nothing short of incredible. suffice it to say, after sitting through the demonstrations of all the various new implementations, i have become hooked and will be saving towards moving my system to the latest versions of their software.

avid is the other major player that boasts one of the largest booths in the entire show. for the editing of land of entrapment, craig went with avid dv, and even i have begun dabbling with avid express pro hd to work on editing a trailer for loe. at their main booth, they have a gigantic fabric screen, onto which three separate projectors converge and display one seamlessly continuous moving image.

the trip has been fantastic. we left from the parking lot of the church in cupertino shortly after nine am on sunday morning, and we made it into vegas around five thirty, bringing out total travel time in at around eight and a half hours. not bad, considering we had to practically drive almost the entire way to los angeles from san francisco before we could switch off onto 58 at bakersfield and orient ourselves towards nevada.

david had a contact of a member of our church who owns a home just off of the las vegas strip in a gated community were we ended up housed at for the duration of our stay. the place was ridiculously large and magnificently well appointed, much to the degree of the homes that i would visit in the upscale neighborhoods in albuquerque when i was younger and would dream about someday living in.

anybody who has been to the las vegas convention center is aware of simply how massive the complex is, and for the most part, we never really ventured beyond the central and south halls. even though we arrived fairly early in the evening on sunday, the main exhibit displays would not be open to registered guests until the next morning. after getting settled in and hanging out with our hosts for a bit, we headed off to the strip to see what we could score for some grub, eventually moseying into the aladin hotel to catch some late night buffet action. unfortunately the buffet was one of the few things that had shut down for the night, so we ended up seating at a joint in the casino next to a rather famous coffee shop (the company of which i happen to be employed by, in fact).

one of the beautiful things about sin city (and one of the reasons i could easily live there) is that very few restaurants ever close at all. nearly everything in town is open 24/7, which is drastically appealing to a night owl such as myself. so it was surprising that the buffet wasn’t available past nine, but the place we ended up eating at had rather decent food for moderate prices. back to the house to crash and get some sleep for the coming day.

we started off the next morning poking about in the central hall which housed the majority of the broadcast type equipment; satellites, antennas, mobile uplink solutions, video over ip, that sort of stuff. however, on one side of the building were the tripod suppliers, as well as the camera dolly manufactures and a few steadi-cam type device companies.

after we were done with those exhibits, on the outdoor bridge connecting the central hall with the south hall were a line of broadcast trucks sitting in the parking lot. anytime you watch a show like the academy awards or the golden globes, or major sporting events like the super bowl or the world series, all of the video feeds for those programs are being mixed, directed, produced and broadcast from a collection of eighteen-wheel semi trucks that house mobile television production studios. all of these were available to tour, and we got to sit in the control rooms of the remote vehicles for several major corporate broadcast companies.

across the pavilion from these were the led display technologies that drive the jumbotrons that are commonly seen in sports arenas and stadiums. the “displays” are actually composed of modular blocks that contain sets of three led’s per “pixel;” one for each channel of video – red, blue, and green. if you move close to the screen on a conventional tube crt television, you will see that there are red, green, and blue phosphors aligned on the surface of the screen that respond to magnetic beams which determine how each pixel (called a pel on a television) should appear in order to make up an intelligible image. the same is true of these giant displays, however these areas are represented using simple led lights, and when you stand back far enough, the image of full motion video is recognizable across the screen. several of the demo units were set at ground level for convention attendees to approach and see close-up how the technology actually works. since the sections of lights are modular, you can build a screen of conceivably any dimensions you can physically afford, and then a computer drives the entire display to ensure that whatever video is shown on it is rendered properly.

sorry for the in-depth explanation there… had a bit of a geek moment. i’ll do my best to keep those at a minimum.

entering the south hall, we found ourselves in one of the coolest buildings on the planet. the amount of video and film technology present was really quite overwhelming. amongst the highlights that we wandered around drooling over are as follows (and forgive me, there was so much badassness that i will probably end up neglecting at least of a few); the booths of adobe, avid, artbeats, autodesk, - (also known as the four a’s) digidesign, sennheiser, neumann, sony, hp, barco, christies, and many, many others.

by far, the coolest elements of the show were three particular items. first, the adobe booth was simply awesome. by far, any convention that adobe attends, they typically dominate the floor with all the products they have to offer, and the demonstrations that they present throughout the day. some of the new technologies being implemented between all of their programs, such as metadata that can be manipulated in virtually any one of their applications seamlessly, and the new features and tricks in the latest version of after effects were mind boggling. it also didn’t hurt that they had a very well respected visual effects producer by the name of rob legato get up and do a presentation. even if you haven’t heard of his name, you have surely seen the output of his labor – aside from winning an oscar for visual effects supervisor on james cameron’s titanic, he also has produced visual effects for the aviator, star trek the next generation, and has directed several films as well as numerous television episodes.

the next attraction of really significant note was the virtual set creation. this company was demoing a complete computer system that can take any blue/green screen area, and in *real time* digitally replace the background with a digital 3 dimensional set that you can create in any major 3d software package. a number of television shows already employ this technology to create extremely realistically looking background sets that otherwise would be far too costly to create with physical materials for multiple talk shows. the fact that it is not only processed in real time, meaning you can broadcast directly to air without having to pre-render the set is complimented nicely by several open gl shaders available for the software that will allow you to cast real time shadows from live objects onto virtual objects. did i mention that you can move the camera about in any direction that you want, and the virtual background will match the camera moves with perfect accuracy? in *real time?!*

the third and final most exciting element of the expo for me was getting the chance to touch and mess around with a hybrid panavision/sony genesis digital film camera. essentially, this is the ultimate high end when it comes to shooting anything digitally, as it employs the legendary panavision lenses and optics to capture images onto an image sensor that is slightly larger than the exposure area for 35mm motion picture film. by contrast, most consumer digital still cameras have an image ccd that is 7mm. the video that the camera records is completely uncompressed raw footage, meaning that it produces the most beautiful digital film image imaginable (you have seen its results in the star wars prequels, as well as in other films like sin city, the lord of the rings trilogy, and the spiderman films), and also that the images being recorded take up tremendous amounts of storage space. essentially, you are talking about several terabytes of data involved in producing a feature length production.

if panavision would ever decide to actually sell their products to people, that be one of the very few things i would be desperate to own. as it stands, you can only rent panavision equipment, since renting prevents you from being able to disassemble and reverse-engineer their technology, effectively giving them the peace of mind that no other company will be able to match their products quite perfectly and push them out of the marketplace.

oh, and it costs about ten thousand dollars a week to rent one of these suckers.

tragically, even though monica is attending the nab show as well, she doesn’t arrive in vegas until wednesday morning, and the group that i traveled with to the show had to leave early in order to get back home to uphold educational commitments for wednesday, so ironically she and i attended the same convention, but we missed each other in town by less than twenty-four hours. even though i got to do pretty much everything i wanted to at the convention, the last time i was in las vegas was back in 2001, so walking down the strip really piqued my interest in wanting to return once again. for a person with add such as myself, vegas is a powerfully addictive drug.

since i started writing this post over two hours ago, we have passed through tehachapi, boron, and we’re approaching bakersfield. because we have several power inverters in the van that will produce delicious a/c current from any cigarette lighter, i fortunately have not had to rely on wearing down my laptop battery. i’m also surprised; the last time i used a laptop in a car, my equilibrium was none too happy and i ended up not being able to watch movies, use a computer, or even read a book in a moving vehicle for a long time.

back in the car again. we stopped off at harris ranch along the five, where i was hoping to sneak online using their supposedly “free” wi-fi network, but sadly i was denied an ip address, and therefore unable to establish a decent internet connection. i did however pay a ridiculous amount for a steak that ultimately wasn’t as good as that which i get from kincaids, although since i ordered a top sirloin at harris and usually get filet mignon when at kincaids, a fair comparison isn’t really possible. now, if harris actually had offered the choice of a filet mignon, i gladly would have taken them to the challenge of determining who reigns supreme as the ultimate steak master.

although, according to my parents, the best steak house is up in seattle. remind me to go visit washington state in the near future…

on monday night while in vegas, a few of us went over to the hilton hotel next to the convention center to go for a ride on both the klingon adventure and borg 4d in the star trek experience. the nice thing is that one ticket gains you entry to both rides for an unlimited number of times for the day you purchased it on, but i had also wanted to take the behind-the-scenes tour, which unfortunately had sold out by the time we got there, and wouldn’t be running again until the next day when we were to be leaving.

after getting out of the first ride, i had a bit of a scare when i realized all of a sudden that my iPod was no longer clipped to my waistband; it was nowhere to be found. period.

after panicking, hyperventilating, and nearly having a heart attack, we asked the ride operators to please check and see if they might find it somewhere along the course of the ride (you travel down several hallways and pass through a few sets before finishing the ride in a motion simulator), and then i ran to the parking lot to check our car to see if possibly it had fallen off of me on the drive over from the convention center (yes, i know – while the hilton is in fact next door to the convention center and we could have walked, we didn’t get out of the expo until closing time, which meant that the parking lot we were parked in would be closing as well, and we also had to drop off dad and david to the gordon biersch restaurant down the street to meet up with our friend jay from digidesign for dinner while the rest of us would be heading back to the hilton). the entire way to the car, my mind began shutting down as i couldn’t bear the thought of having lost such a dear companion, and you can not imagine the joy and rapture that soared through me when i discovered much to my pleasure that the iPod was sitting quietly on the back bench in the van. apparently what had happened was that when i put my lap belt on when we left the convention center parking lot, i had unclipped my iPod and set it next to me, fully intending to place it back on my person but failing to do so when we got out of the car and walked over to the hotel.

that major crisis averted, i was able to enjoy the second ride, and afterwards since the admission price had been significantly less than i had been fearing, i broke down and simply had to purchase a tribble.

at the moment, we are now about an hour and a half away from the bay area on highway five. this trip has been an immensely wonderful one, and in a day or so, i will upload a post about how i spent last friday.

by the way. on the way out of the convention center parking lot as we were getting ready to leave today, walking over to one of the hotels was an elvis impersonator wearing street clothes on his way to work.

long live the king, baby.

  • 4.11.2006

    come on feel the noise 

    (preamble: this post should have been set online on friday, the 7th. however, several factors came into play that prohibited it from being made available for you until now. i would go into detail, but the further i delay uploading this piece, the less likely the chances you will get to digest it in any timely fashion.)

    on tuesday, april 4th, a friend of mine named david and i headed up to the foley stage at san francisco state university to begin recording sound effects for the 505 films production “land of entrapment.”

    the following is a rather lengthy and long-winded breakdown of our day.

    3:42am – after fighting some wicked insomnia, and listening to an hour of gershwin player piano rolls on my ipod (hey, at least some georges were badasses), i finally fell asleep. considering i needed to be up at too-fucking-early-o’clock, i would have appreciated getting a bit more rest, especially since i had only managed about four hours of sleep the previous couple days. hey, this just in. insomnia totally blows.

    6:30am – the alarm clock rudely interrupts my naughty dreamland adventures. i wake up, turn it off… blink my eyes a couple times and pass out cold.

    7:00am – dad knocks on my door to wake me up, which i do. then i promptly fall back asleep.

    7:20am – my weary ass finally wakes up, and slowly drags out of bed. i down a bowl of cheerios (er, excuse me – joe’s o’s, from the infamous trader), and brush my teeth. i think the nerve in my wisdom tooth is just about dead. while there is no pain (and curiously never has been), i still do have a bit of a foul taste in my mouth. a couple ounces of scope solves that problem.

    8:00am – dad and i head out from the house with all the props we will need, as well as my laptop, and the digital camera (pictures from the foley session are available in my gallery online). the rain that has been falling for the past three months nearly non-stop is in full force this morning. well, i shouldn’t say that it has been “raining” in any traditional sense. it’s more like somebody took a damp rag and has been wringing it out over the bay area since the beginning of the year. however, this morning, there is in fact some formidable precipitation.

    8:30am – quick stop off at my store to fill up a cooler with ice that will be used in prop glasses on the foley stage. and for martinis on the rocks when the hookers show up. er, forget that second part. eek.

    9:03am – david phones me to let me know that he’s stuck in traffic due to the relentless rain. which is quite kosher, because dad and i have also failed to show up when we were supposed to – entirely my own fault.

    9:20am – dad and i arrive at the san francisco state university (sfsu for short and from here on out) campus nearly a half hour late and meet up with david in the parking garage to unpack all of our gear. david is a film student at sfsu, and is assisting 505 films on the post-production of “land of entrapment.” as well as dialogue editing (which is the process of scouring through all the spoken dialogue in the film, cleaning it up in quality and adjusting the volume on everything so it all matches from shot to shot, and seeking out alternate takes of lines in the event that the production audio is unsalvageable due to issues like distortion or uncontrollable ambient environment sounds – think private aircraft or hordes of cicadas), david is also in charge of recording and mixing all of the foley effects for the film. the final mastering of all of the audio for the film will be handled by a friend of mine and dad’s named jay who works for digidesign, the company responsible for the popular audio recording, mixing, and mastering software suite protools.

    9:35am – the three of us reach the art building that houses all of the audio production stages on campus. on the way there, we pass the student union building, which currently is evacuated because the fire alarms are going off. since it’s spring break right now, that means only the janitorial staff and facilities people are standing out in the rain, freezing their asses off. as we pass by the giant bay windows, the strobe lights from the fire alarm system inside oddly compliment the rain as a sort of “faux lightning.”

    9:40am – after hauling our gear through the building, and waiting ten minutes for the volunteer student running the edit office to give us the keys for the studio, we enter and begin setting up our stuff. david has brought his neumann u87 microphone, as well as a sennheiser shotgun (which is a mic, not a firearm), a bunch of xlr cable, and a longer bnc video cable so we can wheel the studio monitor about in order for me to see what all is happening on screen. for the majority of the film, i will be acting as the foley artist, which is the person who actually sits in the studio and makes all of the necessary sound effects that will be used in the final audio mix. in addition to the mics, david has also brought his road case which has his millennium microphone pre-amplifiers. essentially, this is a rather expensive piece of equipment ($10k) that is used to amplify the sounds being picked up with the ultra-sensitive microphones we are using in order to cleanly boost the gain (incoming audio signal) to better facilitate recording the very minute sound effects we will be capturing.

    the foley stage is a fairly large room, about twenty feet square with a twenty-foot high ceiling. in the center is a large concrete “pit” that has several smaller sections dug into it. each of these areas contains different “textures;” sand, gravel, small lava rocks, dirt, leaves, metal gratings, hardwood panels, linoleum and ceramic tiles. these all simulate different surfaces that actors will conceivably walk across on screen that will need to be emulated in the studio since footsteps usually are too faint a sound to pick up with on set microphones when the original footage is shot. there is also a large sunken tub that can be filled with water to simulate – you guessed it. sound effects that require fire. er, water. yeah.

    10:00am – after setting up everything we will need, and importing the protools session that david and i spent the last several nights creating for this day’s worth of work, we discover that the video that syncs up to the audio in protools for some reason is not being displayed properly on the external video monitors. it plays perfectly fine for exactly two seconds, and then displays a second and half of black, then continues on with another two seconds of normal playback. this pattern more or less remains constant for the entirety of the clip we need to work with, and thus is a major issue that will need to be solved before we can even begin recording any audio at all. we attempt a myriad of different tricks to try to get it to work, all to no avail. finally, i suggested that possibly the g4 mac in the studio isn’t capable of having so many firewire devices connected to it (the video is exported through a firewire cable to a conversion box), and we copy all of our stuff over to the g4’s hard drive and disconnect david’s firewire hard drive. the video now works flawlessly. we can begin making noise.

    11:40am - since we only have a limited time to use the ice in the cooler (even though the studio was meat locker cold, the ice still did melt quite a bit throughout the course of the day), we start off by capturing all of the drink sounds that we need. the clip that we are working on today is a three minute segment of the film that david is concurrently using as a project for his sound production for film 101 class, in which he has to use audio in a creative fashion to help drive a part of a story in a short video clip. the segment he has chosen is the last third of the scene in the film that takes place at o’neill’s bar where we are told about and watch the unfortunate end of an unlucky pizza delivery guy (depicted in a flashback cut-a-way sequence), and ends in the next scene, right after the character amy intrudes in on our “hero” (clint)’s contemplative moment. we have mapped out in an excel spreadsheet all of the sound effects we need to gather for this scene, and since we have to record not just one, but three distinct beverage and glass sounds, we get to work as quick as we can.

    (as a side not, i don’t recommend that anybody ever drink of the tap water produced by the sink in the corner of the foley stage – not only did it have a rather disturbing amount of floaties, the water tasted downright rotten, so when you watch the final film, and you see any character drinking a beverage, try to picture me sitting in a studio, gagging on ass water. wait, somehow that ended up sounding even dirtier than it was supposed to.)

    12:45pm – once we have all of the beverage sound effects done, dad volunteers to make a run to the in n out burger down the road for some lunch. coincidentally, the avid headquarters are across the freeway from the in n out burger in daly city, avid being the parent company of the aforementioned digidesign, makers of protools. david and i move onto recording sounds to correspond with the movements that the character alex is making on screen. various subtle details such as clothing rubbing together as a person moves about, or when their arms brush up against a table very seldom actually get recorded when the scene is shot, and although they may seem trivial, are fairly instrumental in helping to establish the setting and add an extra percentage of nuance to the overall scene. otherwise, you see the character place his arms firmly on the table, but no noise is produced. this can cause a bit of a disconnect, and it is the job of foley artists to help introduce that element back into the film in order to round out the world that the filmmakers are depicting. another job of foley artists is to make vain attempts to hack into the school’s wireless network to download righteous amounts of questionably filthy porn.

    1:30pm – just as we finish up recording the footsteps of our ill-fated pizza delivery guy, dad arrives with lunch, so we break for a meal. while scarfing down burgers and fries, david plays back the session so far, for us to watch and gauge how our efforts are turning out so far. everything looks just swell, so while dad heads home to go do some *real* work, david and i begin recording various different footsteps of both clint and amy, since we see them moving about in a couple of shots, and then start to gather different incidental audio elements, such as when amy drags her backpack across the door, and then sets it down with a thud on the floor. she also sits down on the bed, so we simulate the sound of a mattress with heavy ass moving blankets that were in the studio, and then rub some sheets of canvas together to get the sounds of amy moving about on top of the covers as she sits on the edge of the bed. after that is all done, since we see clint displace several fingernail polish and makeup bottles off of a shelf in one of the shots, we setup a makeshift “shelf” and record a bunch of wild tracks of nail polish bottles clinking together and being moved about on a wooden surface. lastly, my trusty sega dreamcast adequately fills in for the sound of an answering machine being dragged and picked up from the shelf.

    4:00pm – after several hours, we finally have all of the bits and pieces that we need to make these scenes complete. at this point, we try to improvise some sound effects that we might need for other shots in the film, since although we don’t have a protools session set up at the moment for any other scenes, we do have the studio booked until 5pm and desire to make the most out of our time there. the last thing that we got on track is the sound of fine particles of sand falling past the microphone, which will come in quite handy in the opening shots of the movie as the sound of dust and dirt blowing about in the outdoor desert scenes that land of entrapment starts off with. normally, in any other environment, you’d never be able to record such a delicate and barely audible sound, but in the dead still silence of a recording studio, it is ridiculous how many miniscule sounds you are able to hear with your naked ear. for instance, the sound of a naked elbow.

    while we are reviewing the audio that we have gathered that day in the control booth, the “live” mics in the studio start producing an annoyingly loud scratching/crackling sound every couple of moments. david and i are both baffled as to what the possible causes could be, until we step out of the studio (which has no windows to the outside world) and see that although it is not raining, and the sun is in fact shining over some parts of the campus, there are tremendous bolts of lightning emanating from a rather ominous gathering of clouds on the horizon. this is both a bit odd, and ironic; odd, since we hardly ever get lightning and thunder around here (the last time was the early morning after christmas), and ironic because several of the land of entrapment film shoots had to be postponed for a few hours while we waited for thunderstorms passing through albuquerque to go on their merry.

    since the electrical interference from the lightning is playing mary hobb with all the unshielded cable in the studio (don’t ask me why sfsu made the inexplicable decision to not properly shield their wires), we pack it all up as the student volunteer begins making his rounds to see that everybody is getting ready to close down for the day.

    6:00pm – david drops me off at home, and without bothering to put my stuff away, i pass out dead tired and wake up sometime around midnight.

    in the coming weeks, david and i will need to attack the remainder of the foley items on our list with a vengeance so that we can pass the audio off to jay for the final mix down and mastering, which will finally bring us to the close of post-production on this project, and start the count down to the release of land of entrapment.

    as it stands, there are several hundred sound effects yet to be recorded, so i’m gonna shut my yap here and go back to getting my foley on.

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