Cross-Platform Workflows using SheerVideo compression
COW Library : Compression Techniques : David Battistella : Cross-Platform Workflows using SheerVideo compression
Like many of you, I tend to work uncompressed. When I create After Effects, Motion, or LiveType animations, they're saved to disk in the 32bit animation codec - 8-bits each of RGB precision, with 8 more for the alpha channel. This is a fantastic codec, but the files are huge. I'm coming up on 5TB for archived storage so far, in addition to my production drives.
So I started looking for a dream codec: heavyweight in image quality and lightweight in storage. I found it in SheerVideo from BitJazz, a series of ultra-fast, non-destructive QuickTime codecs for any app that interacts with QT.
LOSSLESS IS LOSSLESS. REALLY.
By non-destructive, I mean lossless. People hear "lossless compression," and only focus on the compression part. Don't. Yes, it reduces file sizes by around half, but it looks every bit (pun intended) as good as uncompressed. You've heard that before, but you don't have to take my word for it. Read on to see what the Director of Post Production for Film Roman/Starz Media - producers of shows including The Simpsons - have to say about the quality of SheerVideo.
The SheerVideo codecs reside in the Library > QuickTime folder
FAST & I DO MEAN FAST!
I mention that it's ultra-fast, because when I say compression for HD, I don't want you thinking about H.264, one of the slowest compression algorithms around. SheerVideo is up to 50-times faster than other lossless codecs, 7-times faster than DV, and 3-times faster than Apple's speedy PhotoJPEG or MotionJPEG! It even processes twice-as-fast as uncompressed. It's literally the world's fastest codec among all that I have seen.
NOT AN INTERMEDIATE FORMAT
Having mentioned the two popular JPEG formats, it's important to note that SheerVideo isn't meant to be a low-res, intermediate format. You won't have to recapture full-res files for output: it's 100% output quality in a lightweight format. A dream codec.
SheerVideo was created by Andreas Wittenstein, who also created such innovative compressors as Pixie and PhotoJazz. His interest in codecs comes from, of all things, his background in language and speech!
"To me, language exemplifies the ultimate codec," Andreas says. "It's a process that can compress a messy real-world signal all the down to a brief symbolic description, and then decompress it back into an equivalent messy real-world signal."
CODECS, UNCOMPRESSED & DRIVE SPEEDS
Here's what SheerVideo means in action. If I need to run uncompressed 10-bit video, then I need drives and a system to be able to push 27mb/sec for SD and about 140MB/sec for HD. Not only do I need fast drives but I need mass storage. I may also need to move these files via FTP to clients, etc.
The installer has a few extras for AE and FCP easy setups.
So if I have a codec that cuts expenses by reducing storage bandwidth and capacity requirements in half, and maintains lossless image quality, it's a no-brainer.
Okay, all of this sounds fantastic, but does it actually work? The shortest answer is yes. I've been using Sheer- Video as a capture and finishing codec for quite some time, for both SD and HD production, with no glitches.
Later in this article I'll tell you about my experience with SheerVideo using Final Cut Pro. But first, let's take a look at how well Sheer works for compositing and animation in a large scale, multi-platform workflow.
SMALL FILES IN THE BIG LEAGUES
Robert Weaver is the Director of Post Production for Film Roman/Starz Media. Film Roman produces shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill. They've added visual effects to everything from Ally McBeal to Xena. They've also added effects to recent hits like Date Movie, Jackass 2, and I, Robot - as well as over two-dozen more.
Robert told me during a conversation that Film Roman wanted portability for easy cross-network, crossplatform collaboration using their existing storage. Film Roman also needed a codec that would transcode from the RGB to YUV color space and still satisfy the demanding eyes of producers, directors, animators and art directors.
Robert describes a worldwide workflow that starts In California where directors set out the stories and storyboard artists sketch out the reference frames for each episode. These frames are then uploaded to Korea where the animators, working on Windows stations, draw all of the animation cells. Completed animations are rendered in the SheerVideo YUV codec and delivered over the internet to Film Roman for onlining on a Macintosh.
Because of how quickly the files compress and how much more quickly they move over a network, Film Roman has reduced their onlining time from 12 hours to 3 as they work with SheerVideo in FCP. When they're ready for output they take their drives to a post facility and play it to an HDCAM SR deck from FCP through AJA Kona hardware - and from there, straight to air!
COMPARE THEIR NEW WORKFLOW TO THE OLD ONE
Just to give you a sense of what this means to them, consider the old workflow. Animations rendered uncompressed to a drive that then got shipped to Korea. Completed animations were rendered as a TIFF sequence to a hard drive and shipped back. An HD master would then be struck from that sequence.
Downconverted tapes would be created for screening and editing. The TIFF sequences would be relinked in the online where a final RGB to YUV colorpass would have to be done. You get the point.
SheerVideo files are lightweight enough to move around over the web, with high enough image quality to go straight from the computer to tape to air.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH SHEER IN FINAL CUT PRO
Robert Weaver's story is a great one, but I only tracked him down because I wanted to add to my own story. I would never write about this stuff if I didn't do it myself in my own room with my clients in real world tests. So here's what I did and how I did it.
I downloaded the SheerVideo codecs from BitJazz. com. They reside in the Library> QuickTime folder - as seen in figure one on page 40 - and, once installed, are available for use by all of your favorite QT apps.
This makes it very easy to incorporate these codecs into your workflow right away. I just went into AE and added the easy set ups and did the same for FCP.
SHEER AS A CAPTURE CODEC
Because the codec is so fast, I capture straight Sheer- Video with no transcoding as I digitize. I need half the space of uncompressed, while getting twice the performance. When I'm done, I send my SheerVideo footage straight out to tape.
Now for the BIG drawback. SheerVideo has not been RT enabled for Final Cut Pro. When I asked Andreas why, he told me, "Macromedia didn't design Final Cut around the open modular structure of QuickTime, and Apple still hasn't gotten it all the way there.
"Apple needs to hardwire the SheerVideo codecs, but before Apple makes this effort, they need to be convinced that it's a good business decision.
"Basically, enough FCP customers have to ask for it," he says.
Apple has done this work with HDV codecs and Panasonic codecs, of course. This gives you a layer of effects or a title or a dissolve in real time.
When you use the SheerVideo codec as your capture codec you can edit on the timeline with no problems, but once you place an effect on a shot or a dissolve or a title, you will get the red render bar.
SheerVideo renders very fast. But imagine how nice it would be to work in a lossless codec at data rates of DVCPRO 50. I encourage you all to go to www.apple. com/feedback/finalcutpro.html and let Apple know that we want to reap the full benefits of this technology.
Don't forget that SheerVideo works just as well with Windows, and for compositing as well as editing. For now I think Robert Weaver of Film Roman says it best: "Sheer- Video is the people's HD codec." A very fitting description for a pint sized codec that could change the way we all think about drive speed, CPU load, RAM and archive requirements for 10-bit HD production.
David Battistella is a filmmaker living in Toronto. He frequents the COW's Apple Final Cut Pro communites, and is a leader of communities including Now Playing, Aurora Video, Apple LiveType, and the Toronto FCP User Group.
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