Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pac-Man Fever

On Monday night a work project fell into my lap at around 5:45 pm. The project was the video component of one of those newfangled rides where you're sitting in a movie theater in a small group of theater seats that move in relation to what you're seeing on screen. Luckily for me, I was stoked to work on the project because it features a character from a TV show who says "Doh!" starring in it.

The "Doh!" part was about as good as it was gonna get. Because then the real work began. Taking a series of still frame rough animation files and putting them together isn't really what I consider "editing", but it falls under editor duties and thus falls into my lap at 5:45 pm on a Monday night.

I was to take a sequence of still images and compile them into a 5 minute movie, and then attach the existing sound bed so that it was in sync. Sounds simple, right? Too simple? Too simple. It wasn't in sync, and the production manager and I spent the next three hours trying to figure out why.

We slipped the audio this way and that until it was about in sync as it was going to be for this stage of the animation, so that the sound designer/mix people could do their job and then the whole thing could move forward again. At 9pm we were laying off to tape and I assumed I was done. And I was, until the next day at noon.

One of our production coordinators walked into the editing suite at noon and told me that a two-minute chunk of the sequence with revised animation was being sent over the network. All I had to do was import the sequence, cut it over the existing sequence and lay it off to tape. The Executive Producer of the TV show that this "ride" is based on with the character who says "Doh!" would be waiting for this tape on the studio lot at 3 pm. Sounds simple, right? Too simple? Too simple.

I import the new animation into the edit system (Avid) at around 1 pm. I line up the spot where the new animation goes over the old stuff, and I quickly realize there's a problem: The new piece goes way longer than the old piece. And then I quickly discover that every 5th frame is a repeat of the 4th frame.

So I call our producer for this "ride" and tell him what's up. We talk tech mumbo-jumbo (different than this tech mumbo-jumbo) for 10 minutes before he decides to get off the phone to see what he can do on his end. The clock is rapidly ticking toward 3 pm, so I start trying different compression techniques to see if that'll work. The producer calls me back about 45 minutes later only to tell me that it will take 2 hours to recreate the animation correctly. Hm. Two hours plus 1: 55 pm equals pissed off Executive Producer of a ride and TV show with character who says "Doh!" DOH!

I tell the producer that I'll take care of it, and we hang up. If you know anything about how editing works, then you know that there are a few very basic commands: Mark In, Mark Out, and Cut. And probably the last remaining thing that Avid has going over Final Cut Pro is a little routine where you can punch in plus or minus then a number on the keypad then Enter (i.e. +5 Enter), and you'll go that number of frames ahead or back. Then every time you just press Enter it'll go that same distance. Every 5th frame a duplicate? No problem.

I remap my keyboard so that it'll be Mark In, Mark Out, Cut - using the ring finger, middle finger, index finger (in that order) on my left hand. After that left handed sequence I'm pressing Enter (for the +5 frame advance) with my right index finger. Repeat ad nauseum. I knew playing all those video games back in the day would pay off.

I'm cruising through this little 5 frame edit exercise (and I'm amazed at how the Avid can keep up with this insane tapping), and I get the slightest tinge of carpal tunnel. Every now and then I take a break to check the frame numbers to make sure I haven't gone astray, and every now and then I have gone astray, so I stop to fix it. After a few minutes of speed metal finger tapping, I'm grimacing and letting out the occasional scream because nobody is supposed to edit like this. But I'll be damned if that deadline is missed.

My fingers thoroughly fatigued, I finally get the cutting done and I'm ready to lay off to tape. But some stupid Golf commercial is using the tape deck I need to lay off to. Looks like Mr. Executive Producer of the TV show with a character who says "Doh!" in it would have to wait. At least he wouldn't be waiting because of me. DOH!