Is ‘Good Enough’ Acceptable in Creative Video Work?

Good Enough… isn’t necessarily a cop out… everyone does ‘good enough’ whether to meet deadlines or to meet budgetary limitations. That doesn’t mean that something was sacrificed, it simply means that we reach an acceptable level of quality for ourselves and for the project. Whether we admit it or not, when we work on something creative we reach a point where we are satisfied, and that is good enough. If we were more perfectionist, or anal or whatever the noun or adjective may be, we’d continue tweaking and toiling away forever, which for paid work is never possible. Good enough is entirely subjective but it is always there regardless.

So when it comes to new technology and new camera’s and new codecs and all that noise, there will always be those who will argue for a camera or standard that is of higher quality but really if we are all realistic about it, there most certainly is a good enough for everything. Today we are in a place where a sub-thousand dollar camera can produce not only good enough results for a lot of corporate and commercial work but it honestly exceeds good enough, often by a broad margin.

There is nothing wrong with good enough when it comes to creative work. For a person starting out and learning, there will certainly be a lot of good enough moments and later, with the benefit of hindsight there may be some consternation about whether the good enough at that time was indeed… good enough. I once asked a very successful and extremely well respected businessman how he ever became comfortable with making a decision, especially when those decisions tended to have jobs or the welfare of others on the line. His response was, to paraphrase “do the best you can with the information available in the time you have” that notion applies to so many things we do in life and in business. Does it mean that we fail over and over again and fail to deliver value? Not in my opinion.

The reality is that good enough, means doing everything you can in the time available. With the budget available and the equipment you have and the application of the knowledge you have at the time and, there will be a good enough. Your perception of how good it was later is entirely subjective, and our own assessment of our work tends to be negatively biased anyhow.

I think that if you learn from every project that was completed where good enough was applied. Then it’s more than good enough, it was a learning opportunity, and you moved on to be better on the next project. If we don’t learn from our experiences, then perhaps indeed good enough, is not good enough.

It drives me nuts to read some of the self aggrandized drivel, so laced with envy and hate on most industry news sites, blogs, and on the comments section of videos posted by people in our connected world that it engenders equal amounts of anger and sadness in me because it stifles creativity and ambition. Once we become comfortable with the discomfort of ‘good enough’ and keep learning, growing and becoming better. None of that noise matters, we can focus on reaching the goals we have for ourselves.

I’ll provide some examples of what I consider to be good enough in a future post to provide some context for my perspective.

Philip Bloom | Digital Bolex Skin Tone Grade and Denoise Test

So I tracked down the download that Mr. Bloom was again so kind to share, especially considering it stars some of his family members. I very much appreciate when others have access to new cameras and are not only willing but able to share some of the material they shoot.

This is almost more of a denoising test than a color grade test, as many noted previously the clip that Philip shared was shot in somewhat low light due to a combination of the camera’s available ISO and the practical lighting in the scene resulting in it being a little noisy; but I actually found there to be quite a lot of latitude in the source files.
Half way through I show a before and after denoise frame for each of the RGB channels.

That being said, I tried to keep this somewhat simple as if I were working on client work and didn’t have a lot of time or budget to really get the grade right. I did feel however that there was a lot of saturation in the source, I think with the various LUT’s I used for looks the colors come through but I really desaturated the source Cinema DNG settings and further desaturated underneath the look LUT(s). I pulled back the highlights as well where I felt they were blooming too much and surprisingly there was a lot of information in there so I didn’t really feel like the highlights were getting muddy.

Of course all of this is subjective and it all depends on what the mood one is going for is, as well as what the piece calls for. This is simply a test to see who well under-exposed footage from the Digital Bolex stands up and what some pretty quick denoising can do to rein it in a little. Given more time, direction and focus I’m sure much better results can be had than what I did in this little example.

philipbloom.net
digitalbolex.com
looklabs.net
Music: dig.ccmixter.org/

Philip Bloom | Digital Bolex Grade and Denoise Test

While certainly not a definitive test, I was pleased that the esteemed Philip Bloom was kind enough to allow us denizens of the internet to download some camera original media from the Digital Bolex to play with.

I decided to keep my testing somewhat simple and only make adjustments to the Cinema DNG through the raw settings in After Effects and apply a color LUT which are created and distributed by my friends at LookLabs. I used three different SpeedLooks to see how the cinema DNG would respond. I sought to do something similar to what we might do for corporate or commercial client work, where we aren’t going to do something super stylized and simply get the images looking nice and consistent.

The first three looks are also followed by the same shot but denoised quickly with Dark Energy Anti-Matter which is why I applied the grade in After Effects on the Cinema DNG shot to begin with so I could also denoise the shot to judge the results. I basically used the default settings within Anti-Matter after analyzing the shot and the denoise result did lose some sharpness and perceived resolution. I do believe that the material can be denoised better with more time spent to find the right settings based on the sensor profile of the camera but for this quick test I went with the default to see what I could get without much effort.

With the ProRes material I selected some of the shots and then did the grade in SpeedGrade, again using LookLabs SpeedLooks. I made minor adjustments to some shots in the overall luminescence levels of the highlights and midtones, nothing spectacular. And on some shots I adjusted the temperature of the shot to warm it up a little.

Basically it’s all subjective and I went with both look and process that isn’t too strong and something that looked nice to my eye at the time. I found that the material seemed to have quite a lot of dynamic range to work with and even the ProRes 422 material stood up to standard grading like we might do for a large component of our client work.

I evaluated all of the material, C-DNG and ProRes via SDI output to our Panasonic Plasma reference monitor and I have to say that the Digital Bolex material looks wonderful. There is an organic, softer kind of feel to it that is unique, like Philip, many others and myself have said for a long time… the right tool for the job and while I haven’t used a Digital Bolex yet so operationally I can’t comment on the workflow or whether it’s difficult to use in various shooting scenarios but the images are quite nice and I’d certainly look at the camera as a possible compliment to our shooting options.

Looks used on the Cinema DNG were:

SpeedLooks 3500 Clean F
SpeedLooks 3510 Universal
SpeedLooks 3528 GOLD Tobacco

On the ProRes I used:

SpeedLooks 3500 Clean B

philipbloom.net
digitalbolex.com
looklabs.net

Music: dig.ccmixter.org/

**one thing to note is that I didn’t have really nice image of a face to evaluate the response of skin tones really well**

Being a Video Editor | 15 Years Later, a couple insights…

Starting out editing generally sucks, not because you or I as an editor suck but because the quality of the material we have usually sucks. There is rarely if ever a multi-cam shoot you can cut your teeth on, if it’s a single camera project it’s not usually drama filled with actors and directed so that there is continuity between setups and the lighting is consistent through the flip. Or really nice looking, well composed corporate material with a coherent story to tell. I was reflecting recently on my early days as an editor when I was given really low budget corporate gigs or the odd wedding that allowed me to pay for my Sony PD150 and the Avid system I had purchased, and in turn I was hoping these would propel me into the big time. Well that never really happened. At least not because of the tools I had.

What did happen was a lot of years of taking on non-ideal jobs and becoming more of a problem solver than what I thought a real editor who was telling stories was. I worked with what I had and improvised when needed. I learned how to technically manage my systems and resources because I couldn’t afford technical support contracts. And I spent money on learning course materials which I spent countless hours practicing with to learn more about editing and compositing. I learned a lot about how to approach problems when there wasn’t something else to cut to, or nothing in camera, so something had to be created. Cutting your teeth on projects is, in my opinion, less about what might look good on your showreel and more about how you approach problem solving and working collaboratively with whomever else is working on a given project. Looking back on my early work (and I mean full pieces because I didn’t have enough diverse content to build a reel), it wasn’t terrible but if I were the guy hiring at the time and was looking for something that stood out and demonstrated competency or skill, I’m not sure I would have found it and probably not hired me.

I started thinking about this recently when I was reading an article about whether or not a camera assistant should ever have a showreel, and really the answer is no, they shouldn’t because their role in the project has nothing to do with the creative, maybe some references along the lines of ‘Joe Blow nailed focus all the time, real pleasure to work with’, but the article did get me thinking about the usefulness of a reel in the first place. An editor on the other hand has a direct role to play in the creative execution of a project. So I was thinking that when starting out, a showreel isn’t really of much value, if anything (entirely my opinion) it might actually hinder getting a shot at working somewhere, because in general student reels and early self taught independent work tends to suck. And really a crappy reel for whatever reason isn’t really a true measure of a persons ability is it? Given the right tools, the right guidance and good materials to work with in the first place can be the factors that make lack of experience irrelevant and allow a persons actual skill to shine through. So what should a person do who wants to be an editor?

First of all, there is no job beneath you. No task too shitty. I’ve had conversations with students just getting out of film school or some arts program, whether that be from SAIT or Mount Royal University or another school not specifically in my community, who tell me that they are done with logging tape, or more so now, logging footage. This is one of the most important (and boring) tasks that an editor does but it isn’t something you can sluff off onto an assistant because the only way for you as an editor to know what you have to work with in executing your vision, or the vision of the director is to go through all the material, watch performances, watch for best takes and so on. So be up for anything, be positive and enthusiastic and curious about everything and you will be more likely to be afforded chances and opportunities. And what is the best way to be given a chance? Well two things come to mind, firstly to get a chance you have to take a chance. Either get together with others and create your chance, make a passion piece that can showcase your talents. Or volunteer to cut something, I know there is a lot of discussion right now about whether unpaid internships should even be allowed or legal for that matter, but not many people are going to hire you because you say you can do something, you have to prove yourself. Having a piece of paper from a post secondary or trade school isn’t proof of anything, it might look nice as a throwaway on a resume or hanging on your wall and mom would like you to have it, but it doesn’t mean you can do the job, or do the job well.

Secondly, build relationships. The key to getting opportunities and to getting the proverbial foot in the door is largely dependent on the quality of your relationships. You can have little experience and a weak showreel, but build a level of trust with someone who is in a position to create an opportunity for you and that relationship may very well provide the opportunity you need in order to shine. Then, parlay that into the next opportunity by continuing to build on that relationship. Most people who go into media programs in my opinion don’t really belong there. Not everyone can be an editor or a graphic designer or anything professionally creative for that matter. Similar to how not everyone can or should be at the C-Suite level of an organization. I’ve been fortunate to be within close proximity to some very successful and esteemed leaders, from whom I’ve learned a great deal about success and leadership. Two things stand out. First, as mentioned, the quality of your relationships, at a fundamental level, are going to determine your success and the quantity and quality of your opportunities. The next piece of the puzzle is, know yourself and what will make you happy. I know this is a bit ambiguous but we as a society in general need to re-orient ourselves to what constitutes success. As I said, not everyone can be the creative director, or the senior editor or post supervisor or CEO or President. What everyone can be however, is fulfilled. If you go to work every day and enjoy what you do, do the best job you can, be appreciated and recognized for your contribution to the larger collective and be monetarily compensated for that contribution at a level which allows you to live your life on your terms. Then I’d say that is a pretty successful outcome.

Being fulfilled and happy in a creative business doesn’t come from working on a movie or a television commercial or corporate video that you are proud of. If comes from doing the job with excellence and deriving enjoyment from that job well done. And I’ll tell you what; The person who is fulfilled by their work. Isn’t just there for the accolades and perceived cool factor of the work they do, who wants to continue learning and is interested in collaborating with others, is the kind of person others will want to be around, and who will be afforded the opportunities to grow and be challenged by the things that will lead to more, and continued fulfillment. Because they are incredible, self aware individuals, who just happen to be creative and in the business of creating compelling moving pictures. Is this the end of the story? Well, no. The entire topic is huge and constantly evolving, and I need to be able to write about something in the future, right; and get client projects out the door now; so I’ll leave it at that for now, be authentic and work on your relationships, no matter what, you will find what you need out of life in doing that.

And maybe edit something along the way.

Influencer | Mac Van Wielingen

Once again we were very proud to have been a part of the Ivey School of Business’, Global Ivey Day. Every year the Calgary Ivey Alumni Association chooses one alumni from the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, who has made a significant contribution to the Calgary business community to honor with the Award for Leadership. And we are once again proud to have been part of this project.

The recipient for 2013 is Mac Van Wielingen, a founder of ARC Financial, a private equity investment company. And a founder of ARC Resources Ltd., one of Canada’s largest conventional oil and gas companies. Mac has also been a passionate advocate for ethics in business and leadership, organizational culture and communication, through writing and public speaking on related themes. Mac is also the founder and Chair of CCAL, the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. It’s mission is to support the introduction of advanced understandings of business leadership into business education, focusing on performance and ethics.

I sought to gain a better understanding of what has made Mac such a profoundly effective leader, rather than simply focus on the measures of his accomplishments.

Shot on: Canon C100 | Primarily with the Rokinon 35mm Cine Lens
Graded: SpeedGrade with SpeedLooks by LookLabs

PNY User Story | Jump Studios

Many of my friends and colleagues will know that I’ve been providing technical support, workflow design and post production systems administration to Jump Studios here in Calgary. I think it’s been almost eight years now, but then again I’ve been wrong before. The point is, Jump is one of the most technologically advanced post production facilities in Alberta and the skill of Creative Director, Jeff August is second to none. So because I think highly of my friends at Jump and because I’m quoted in the article, I’m sharing it here. Here is the link to the original article. And below is the article reproduced for your viewing pleasure.

Jump Studios, NVIDIA Quadro, Adobe and PNY Help Predict the Future of NASCAR’s Top Drivers in Compelling ESPN Teaser

Predicting the future is impossible, but if past performance is any indication, then Jump Studios has an amazingly bright future. Just ask ESPN, which chose the multiple Emmy® Award-winning Canadian-based production company to create a cinematic, enticing, high-profile TV teaser for the NASCAR Sprint Series Chase to the Cup—and to do it with a really fast turnaround.

The Project

ESPN wanted an entertainment-driven television teaser about the NASCAR Sprint Series Chase to the Cup. The piece had to be highly entertaining, to intensify interest in the race and to encourage viewers to feel a connection with the top 10 drivers going into the final Chase to the Cup. Jump Studios came up with a compelling concept for its “Last Chance” teaser: a Tarot card reader telling the fortunes of leading NASCAR drivers, creating an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding these popular NASCAR personalities. Who would win? How will the story end? Is the answer in the cards? The teaser engaged viewers and left them eager to know more.

The Players

Jump Studios (jumpstudios.tv) has earned multiple awards for its energizing, innovative work for major television networks and high-end advertising agencies across North America. Jump Studios uses cutting-edge technology built on Adobe® Creative Cloud™ platform and powered by NVIDIA® Quadro® GPUs.
PNY Technologies, Inc. (pny.com/quadro) Offering pre-and post-sales assistance, three-year standard warranty, toll-free professional technical support, and an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction, PNY partners and customers experience first-hand why PNY is considered a market leader in the professional graphics industry.
“The NVIDIA Quadro, CUDA, and Adobe technologies work together seamlessly and enable digital artists like us to work at the speed of thought. When we had to make that rather extensive last-minute change in our ‘Last Chance’ teaser, the tools supported our workflow and let us make the rapid changes without sacrificing quality or creative concept. With the NVIDIA and Adobe tools, the creative process is both faster and longer: it’s faster to accomplish tasks in our workflow, but we can take longer in editing, color correcting, and other creative aspects, because now we have more time to play with options and get things just right.”
—Jeff August, Partner and Creative Director, Jump Studios

The Challenges

  • Produce a compelling, high-profile TV teaser for ESPN about the NASCAR Chase to the Cup.
  • Conceptualize, shoot, edit, design, and finalize the teaser in only two weeks.
  • Respond to a last-minute change from ESPN: Cut 15 seconds from the 1½-minute piece just one day before the finished teaser was due for delivery to ESPN.

The Solution

  • Jump built a Gothic-themed set and shot scenes using two digital cameras—a Canon C500 and a Sony F5700—and three formats, including high-speed RED.
  • They created the TV teaser using Adobe After Effects and PhotoShop; edited in Adobe Premiere; used Adobe SpeedGrade for the color work and finishing; and employed LookLabs’ groundbreaking SpeedLooks pre-set digital video ‘looks’ plug-ins to get consistent final film-grade quality, regardless of what cameras or formats were used for each scene.
  • All the software tools were driven by NVIDIA Quadro K5000 CUDA-enabled cards.
  • Jump used Scorched Ice Digital, a boutique digital cinema and video company also based in Canada, for post-production and technology support services.
“From a business standpoint, technology reliability is everything. We can’t afford a moment of downtime, especially with a big deadline looming. Whenever anyone asks me about PNY’s support, I have to plead ignorance: I’ve never needed to talk to them, because all their products have worked flawlessly. Still, it’s nice to know that whether it is pre sales guidance or post-sales support, PNY has our back.”
—Brian Vos, Partner and General Manager, Jump Studios

The Results

  • Jump Studios completed the NASCAR project for ESPN on time and on budget.
  • The speed and reliability of NVIDIA Quadro enabled Jump to cut 15 seconds from the teaser less than a day before the original deadline.
  • NVIDIA Quadro K5000 GPUs with their frame buffering capabilities and low latency, delivered the level of immediacy Jump Studios demands in its workflow, which is not possible with existing technology from other vendors.
  • PNY carries and supports the complete line of NVIDIA Quadro products, allowing Jump Studios to keep its technology up-to-date easily, without taking time and attention away from the creative work.
“Today, what we can do with NVIDIA Quadro-powered Adobe tools in real time far exceeds what was possible just five years ago on high-end studio systems. We have access to the world’s best performance for not much money. And without the multithreaded Quadro GPUs we wouldn’t be able to replicate the performance for any amount of money. As a creative person, I appreciate that these NVIDIA and Adobe tools make me unafraid to try new things.”
—Craig Van Horne, Founder and Producer/Senior Editor, Scorched Ice Digital