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Creative Management

Or perhaps, Creativity management. I have blogged a good deal about Project Management, but not much or at all about Creative Management, ie, the job of being a Creative Director and/or Department Manager. What's there to talk about? Let's see...

Being a department head, whether that means it is you and another person, or you and a half dozen folks, or you and many other people, means being organized enough to manage your own work, keep everyone else on task without micromanaging, and doing so in a way that emphasizes quality, efficiency and creativity. In addition, if you are Creative and Group manager, you also have a stake (or total control) over the creative direction of projects.

That can be a big adjustment for a new hire, or like me, someone promoted from within. But like most jobs, you start with the fundamental skills and knowledge, and then you learn as you go, you use your mentors and you get better. If you have good people working for you, you can then use collaborative ways to enhance your own creativity. Letting others have a hand in the process creates ownership of projects and leads to a more cohesive group. A cohesive group should be able to efficiently turn out quality creative work, on time and on budget. Everyone wins by working together.

But everyone will only work together if you, the Creative Manager, can find a way to manage creatives (people), manage creative (ideas / project designs) and processes in a creative and logical way. You must be organized, confident and prepared for anything.

Just a little creative management philosophy for your consideration.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 7, 2010 at 5:16:39 pm creative management

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Back in 1985, when the above titled movie was released, I excitedly asked to be taken to see it. Although I barely understood 2001, it was science fiction starring the star of Blue Thunder and Jaws.

Well here we are in the actual 2010, there are no deep space missions afoot, and the Soviet Union is long gone (or is it?). So reality is not quite as exciting as the movie (or is it?).

So while the HAL 9000 does not make any day to day decisions for us, it seemed like a good time to start upgrading some of our editing gear. First step is the addition of the much-hyped Matrox MXO2-mini. I should say that most of the hype surrounds using the mini with Final Cut, but little has been described about using it on a PC with Premiere. After getting a few snippets of information on the COW Premiere and Matrox forums, I decided to go for it. The price point is right. Concurrent with this new piece of hardware, we upgraded my machine to Windows 7 and an i7 processor. Here are the results so far:

First off, Roy Scheider would be happy because my desk is starting to look like the inside of the Leonov:

The new deep space transport's central computer is an i7 processor with 8 gigs of RAM, Windows 7 Professional, a new NVIDIA graphics card and for good measure the new Matrox MXO2-mini. We went with the non-MAX version. The i7 chip does a nice job rendering h264, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our shooting habit includes both HDV, standard DV, standard DVCPRO, and now AVCHD Canon camcorder for the odd pickup shot or reference shot) and h.264 (EOS 7D DSLR). Granted, one can import all of these formats natively into CS4 for somewhat real time playback on the same sequence. But you are limited to monitoring on the LCD computer monitor. Monitoring HDV this way actually looks good, but you lose a monitor for your editing interface.

The Matrox unit gives you simultaneous HDMI and Component or S-Video analog output.

So now one can see what the edited sequence will look like on an actual HD monitor, or analog monitor as the case may be. Not pictured above is the existing Sony 13" Analog CRT (Component or S-Video inputs). So we can account for viewers of any format.

So I thought I'd test playback in a testing situation, not an actual edit, just for the sake of, er, testing.

First off, the MXO2-mini, like the full MXO, is meant to capture into the native MXO format - in the case of CS4 on a PC that is the Matrox I-Frame codec, or the Matrox uncompressed format. However I wanted to see how my legacy formats would perform, using the MXO2-mini as a monitoring interface. Granted it is no Kona card, so I was not expecting a miracle, but here are the results (all playback from internal drive, not RAID - not yet):

EOS 7d files

Playback in the preview viewer is real time, little stuttering. This is probably a combination of the i7 and the Nvidia card.

Playback on a sequence in full HD, out the HDMI is sharp, crisp and near real time - some stuttering. Rendering the sequence results in a more perfect result. My boss walked by and said "that looks nice."

h.264 files

I had immediately available a previously created h.264 file, made for the web (Vimeo perhaps) so it was 720p. Playing at its native size on the 1080i sequence, as expected, it was its native size.

Scaled to frame size, playback remained smooth, and the scaled image did not look too bad, taking into account the existing compression data rate.

DV files

The MXO2-mini on a PC does not yet offer upscaling upon capture, so the only options for DV material are to scale to frame size on the sequence. Again, native:


Results are as expected, but at least you can see in real time what the end result will look like on an actual video monitor.

A full render of the sequence will give a proper preview. And you can turn off the HDMI monitoring and edit as usual on the LCD computer monitor, and then activate the HDMI when you want to check something. Workflow may vary by project.

The other advantages of the MXO2 are the ability to monitor After Effects, Photoshop and Encore, also over the HDMI output. Although those tests will be in the next entry, 2061: Odyssey Three.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to investigate reports of a black spot on Jupiter. Open the pod bay door, HAL.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 6, 2010 at 5:08:47 amComments (3) mxo2mini cs4 windows 7 hd 7d

Mind Blowing Awesomeness

I had my doubts. Could James Cameron possibly be successful blending sci-fi, environmental/political commentary with Steroescopic filmmaking? Seemed like a stretch.

But let's look at the track record.

Terminator 1 - made most other sci-fi/action films of the 80's look cheesy.

Aliens - a sequel better than the original, especially in the sci-fi genre is quite a feat.

Terminator 2 - proved that technology can in fact enhance a story.

True Lies - Combined action, comedy and effects in the practical real-world.

Titanic - say what you will about the contrived romance sub plot, this movie set the new standard for realism and epic storytelling, disasters or not.

Yesterday, the day after Christmas, I checked Google and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Hicksville, USA actually has a Real-D theater, just a few minutes from home. I went down to the mall, $9.50 in hand, only to find that the 3pm show was sold out. Not since Return of the Jedi's opening weekend have I been unable to get a movie ticket.

So I patiently awaited noon today, paid the extra 2 bucks for an advance ticket, and found my spot in the theater's sweet spot. From the opening 20th Century Fox logo in 3D I knew I was in for a treat. The opening shot of the inside of the star ship, as the marines are coming out of hibernation, was all I needed to see to know that Cameron had hit the mark. Because those eyeballs floating 2 feet in front of my face were no 3D effect - those were my own eyeballs. From the very first frame I was having a religious experience.

Even without the stereoscopic photography I believe the movie holds its own as a new classic action/sci-fi adventure. But what was so amazing about the 3D was that it was used in a nuanced, subtle way. Once my brain got used to it, I had to remind myself that was not how movies were supposed to look. But the sound design, such as of the flying swarms of insects in the forest, are just as important as the sense of depth. In fact many of the 3D elements are out of focus in the deep foreground of cinema's classic shallow depth of field. Rather than wanting to reach out and touch an object floating in front of you, you feel like you are immersed deeper into the scene.

I feel like I just spent 2.5 hours in Pandora interacting with real life forms. The environments, skin, hair, creatures, weather, weapons and yes even the humans, all fit together in a realistic puzzle - blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.

I'm sold. Avatar is a masterpiece.

Run, don't walk, to a 3D theater near you.

Seeing the making of is almost as cool as the movie itself:

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 27, 2009 at 2:04:12 pmComments (1) avatar 3d

The Best of Both Worlds

Cine-Med has several major product lines. One is educational videos for surgeons and nurses. The other is medical books. For a new book now in the works, a textbook for Surgical First Assistants, we require hundreds of new photographs, some in the studio, others in the operating room. I call this the "best of both worlds" because my specialty in medical imaging honed through years of creative video productions now includes print work, from brochures, catalogs and posters, to book covers and editorial image content.

Our office layout includes some multipurpose studio space in the loft - suitable for photo shoots, temporary offices or break areas. This week we brought out all our toys, including HDV cameras, lights and the new Canon EOS 7D DSLR for the stills.

Here is my colleague Jake taking a few behind the scenes shots - nice memories for the talent.
And we made quite a mess - but a controlled mess - given the surgical gear, sutures, gowns and gloves.

First, you cannot approach such a shoot without a battle plan. The authors and I reviewed the current draft of the book, featuring temporary images grabbed from various DVDs we previously produced, and made a list of each setup and the corresponding page numbers. Then we transposed this list into a handy dandy checklist, and gaffer-taped this to the wall. Then, once we started shooting, we used the divide and conquer method - hit each page, refer to the temp images, and make our moves.

While I cannot post images from the day due to the proprietary nature of the pre-publication content, I can tell you with proper focusing and exposure, the 7d is nothing less than spectacular. Well, ok, here is one particularly tasty image:

**Click the image to view it full size - this is actually cropped from a larger image - at 72ppi it is 48" wide - that should print ok at 300dpi.

We had the HDV cameras standing by in case we had time to take video of the same setups, but alas, we shot over 700 stills - many with me hanging off a ladder at a funny angle in order to get the right perspective.

Next step will be sorting out the images, associating the selected shots with the appropriate page numbers, color correcting and/or cropping images, passing this data to the book designer, and awaiting the final draft. Upon approval of the PDF, we start the final pre-press activities, and finally publication.

A productive and enjoyable day producing quality images - I can't think of a better way to spend a day.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 18, 2009 at 5:06:50 pmComments (1) photography publishing 7d

Coming Attractions

It is year-end, and things are pretty busy around the widget factory. But I have numerous new blog posts in the works for 2010 - with eye-popping visuals, video and more!

Here's a partial list:

• Shooting video with a DSLR

• Using digital stills in a video

• Making something out of nothing

• Workflow improvements

• Working with narrators

• Project tracking taken to the next level

• E-Marketing for your small business

• Interview Techniques

• and periodic "Lost Episodes" recounting more adventures from my early career.

So enjoy your holidays, be safe, and join me in 2010 for more Creative COW Blog Excitement.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 16, 2009 at 7:40:28 pm workflow dslr video management

Meeting Time

Having just received a meeting request in my blackberry, I thought I'd talk about the different meetings you may find yourself in in the multimedia business:

1. The all important kick-off meeting.

When you get a new project, the first order of business should be a kickoff meeting. You may have already defined the scope of work, or SOW (aka, statement of work) but you are well advised to get all interested parties together, either by phone or in person (or by Skype or Cisco Telepresence Suite (according to 24, these are commonplace)) as you want to make sure the known scope = the actual scope. This is also a good time to define roles and responsibilities, timelines and any details that you or your clients need to know.

2. The also important sales call.

Really these first two items are reversed as you need a sale to have a kickoff. Occasionally the two meetings are the same. You may have a client under retainer, and you periodically have a meeting to start a new project or a new phase of something already in progress.

But if this is the initial sales pitch, this is your chance to learn about the client's products and services, try to find out their current marketing strategy, and come up with your creative pitch on the fly, or if you have done your homework, you already know what you are going to say. But if the client has some new top secret world domination plan in the works, you may go in cold.

Next you may be asked for a price. For custom work, you need a custom bid. Tell them you can have a proposal later that day or in the morning. Assuming they like what they see, proceed to step 1.

3. The "hey, come on down for no particular reason" meeting

If this is an existing client, you should know what it is about, what it could be about or if you have no idea, you can assume it is to talk about new opportunities or worst case scenario talk about a project once it is finished.

4. Internal meeting 1 - staff meeting

These should be limited in time and scope to one important issue and have an agenda.

5. Internal meeting - business planning or brainstorming

Important - try to find a time that is convenient for everyone and rather than going on all day, a few shorter meetings may be better.

6. Internal project meeting - this could be an internal project kickoff, or an on-going project status update, or a combination of the above. In any case, stick to the agenda and keep it as short as possible.

In general, a meeting should have a clear purpose. You should know who is involved and what the goal is. If you get invited to one and you think it could be accomplished by phone, say so in a tactful way. It of course helps, as in any situation, to know your client. Some folks say "let's have a meeting" you know it is something that can't be done on the phone, or maybe it can. Not sure if I said this already...know your client.

Thanks for meeting.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Nov 24, 2009 at 5:25:05 pm business communication

MBWA: Managing By Walking Around

In this entry I'll take you on my daily walk around the office. Maybe you'll pick up some business advice along the way.

8am - finish breakfast, feed the cats, make some ham sandwiches and make my wife a hot cocoa. Hey, it's getting chilly. Managing the home is just as important as managing my work responsibilities. Looking after my family is the most important task of all.

8:30am - Knowing Waterbury, CT I'm stuck in traffic. In the 1960's a huge interchange between I84 and Rt 8, colloquially known as the Mixmaster, was built. Almost instantly, gridlock was the result. A 100 million dollar highway widening project a few years ago appears to have done nothing to ease congestion - in fact it may have made it worse. A big local scandal emerged after they completed the work. It seems the contractor bought after market storm drains and did not actually attach the drains to underground concrete pipes in some cases. So the work had to be redone at great expense to the state.

8:45am - arrive in the office. Boot up the laptop. Since I am a blackberry-addict, there are few surprises in the inbox anymore - actually more efficient because I spend exactly no time doing e-mail in the morning. Check voice mail. I don't get too much voicemail anymore, but occasionally. Maybe I will add my e-mail address to my outgoing message. Anything to help customers get in contact seems like a good move. Next stop the coffee machine. Those little plastic cup single portions are a great invention. I keep a fresh half and half carton in the fridge. It has become a nice routine, and it gets me out of the office early in the day. The only good line from Indiana Jones IV was when Indy said to a student, "If you wanna be a good archaeologist, you've gotta get out of the library."

So after the coffee brews I take my morning walk around. Say hello to everyone you know - you never know who might need help with something.

Customer Service - a chat with our customer service person updates me as to any concerns or requests of our customers. That is, people who buy our products. Unlike a traditional production company, we have a catalog of nearly 2,000 products. Direct mail, e-marketing and website e-commerce generate a dozen or more unique product orders each day. Sometimes the requests are for particular new topics, sometimes a request to host a video on an intranet. Other requests are tech support related or requests for a free trial of the video library. In other words, find out what customers are asking about, and try to respond with a solution. In other words, customer service!

Marketing - Next door down, we discuss marketing plans that may be afoot. We have been managing e-mail lists for our different product lines, made up of past customers and folks who sign up via our website or at events or tradeshows. The best part about a new e-mail campaign is viewing the open and click results. We can actually see who clicked a link, and then check that against the orders database to see who made a purchase. A qualified lead who actually completes a transaction is a beautiful thing. While there perhaps I can contribute some copy to a new catalog, postcard or website description, identify stock photos for an ad or get in touch with a publication about advertising. Think the Creative COW Magazine would run an ad for surgical videos? Probably should stick with medical publications.

Speaking of publications, next on to Publications - I have a couple of book projects on the fire, but our in-house expert always has some good advice concerning workflow and the press schedule, paper choices and pricing. Our designers work very well independently, but constant communication and attention to detail are vital. All work in progress is posted to various secure servers. In summary, seek advice and input from people who have a different set of skills and knowledge than you do. Teamwork is not only about like minded people working together, but it is also people with different backgrounds helping one another accomplish their goals.

Operations - Here I can check if my vendors' invoices have been paid or more importantly if our invoices have gotten paid! Submitting timely expense reports helps keep records orderly. And when it comes time for employee performance reviews, make sure a copy goes in the file.

Administrative Assistant - I try to have a fresh list of tasks every week. Writing letters, managing mailing lists, transcription of videos and even some basic html layout work are all great tasks for a good admin. Train your assistant to do many of the tasks which keep you from doing what you do best - creating. It is also a good idea to share your travel schedule, as this person may be answering the phone and taking messages. Finally, if you are expecting a call from someone important and you tend to not be at your desk much, make sure someone is on the lookout for you.

Meeting Planning - This is an aspect of our business that often comes as a surprise to people who only know of us as a publisher or production company. But planning and accreditation of medical meetings is a lot of work and we like to think we do it well. Each meeting has a registration website. There is reporting and detailed record keeping. The meeting location needs to be secured, blocks of hotel rooms reserved and catering to order. Participants in the meeting may sometimes be given continuing education credits - there is a whole system of record keeping for this as well. My role in these efforts may range from helping to design a website, basic database maintenance, to serving as AV support during the meeting itself and sometimes even shooting video of the proceedings, or editing a DVD after the fact.

Order Fulfillment - I started in this position right out of college. At the time we basically sold VHS tapes and the occasional monograph. Today, the previously mentioned catalog of DVD and CD-ROM products, along with over 15 textbooks and numerous specialty packages need to be processed each day. Digitizing and rendering along with DVD authoring and package design also happens here. While most of the library is already digitized, one can also find the DVCPRO tapes, or in another undisclosed location, the original 1", Betacam or 3/4" master tapes. Really, order fulfillment is one of the key roles - get the customers what they have purchased in a timely manner, and ensure quality every step of the way.

Back to the Production Department - since I know what each person is working on, my job here is to review works in progress, make suggestions, record temp voice tracks and troubleshoot as requested. But a tenet of lean project teams is "hire good people and let them do their jobs." This frees me up to go back to my office and do my job, which is a lot of coordination, project management, planning and helping others to do their jobs even better.


In other words, customer service. I am not so much managing all of the people with whom I interact. Rather, I am managing my own workflow, and managing to help others with theirs.

11:15am - I don't know about you, but I could go for another cup of Fair Trade Organic Decaf with a splash of cream and some cocoa powder sprinkled on top. You never know who you're going to run into in the break room.

Thanks for walking around.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Nov 6, 2009 at 7:59:01 pm managing, teamwork

High Definition Medical Video

No clever title this time. As we have been editing HD projects over the past year we have been collecting sample clips showing surgical and non-surgical training footage. This is just a sample.

The Sony HVR-V1U has proven to be a great camera for use in the sensitive operating room environment. It is lightweight enough to hang over an open incision, the battery life is long and the images are astounding. Given the potential negatives of HDV, we have found it to be a robust format with good color reproduction and ease of editing using Premiere. It is a processor hog and Premiere seems to want to re-index HDV on a regular basis, but the end result is what matters.

As we investigate tapeless ways to capture video including interfacing with new HD medical systems, we are developing some nice material.

But technology aside, as elucidated in this article:

getting great images is as much about knowing what you are looking at as it is knowing how to control your equipment.

For now, enjoy the show. Viewer discretion is advised.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 27, 2009 at 7:56:39 pm high definition, hdv, surgery, hd

The Great Outdoors

I know, not as clever as some of my headlines. Today was a day to unwind, and take advantage of perhaps the last perfect Fall day of the season. Mid-60's, sunny, leaves at peak color.

Woke up to a typical Sunday. Hearty Breakfast. No shaving on the weekend, thank you.

Meet the Press makes breakfast a bit less appetizing.

Leaves are changing...and falling.

It's a beautiful day. Don't let it get away.
Thanks for the advice Mr Hewson.

Destination: Meriden, CT - just a few miles away. Hubbard Park, designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead, has miles of trails, part of the extensive Metacomet Trail over some beautiful terrain.

As with most of my outings, I set off intending to relax, explore, get some much needed exercise and perhaps get some memorable images, both in my mind's eye and in my trusty camera.

From the top you can see the Long Island Sound to the South and Mt. Tom in Massachusetts to the North.

On all accounts, mission accomplished. If you're ever in central CT check out our miles of trails, greenways and parks.

Before I sink my life savings into a Canon 5D Mark II, I thought I'd do a dry run on the cheap. Still a nice memory of a nice day out.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Fresh air is a beautiful thing. I'm gonna sleep like a baby...

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 25, 2009 at 8:56:40 pm hiking, exercise, nature, relaxation


We creative types work hard. We should play hard, but sometimes that takes a back seat. This past Summer, a great way to unwind from 8 hours in the office chair would have been to hop on the mountain bike and ride. Maybe it was the humidity or the seemingly constant rain we had here in New England, but this year my couch potato genes took over. Actually that would be "chair potato" because most of my downtime was spent in front of my home computer, either watching Hulu, or working on my own pet projects. And no, emptying Rusty's litter box is not a pet project.

So what are my pet projects? Funny you should ask.

1. Editing silly videos.
Aside from the lifetime project of organizing and editing family videos, home movies and the like, the occasional idea springs to mind, usually right around bedtime. By the time the videos are uploaded I sometimes realize that the moment of inspiration has passed. But alas, it is fun, passes the time, and keeps my television in the off position.

Who is my audience? Family and friends on Facebook and probably the same bored guy many times on YouTube. Wanna join him? Here you go:

This is my fave YouTube creation. And the most hits.

This next one I actually shot with a proper video camera, not my usual stills camera that now documents our vacations. There are actually about 2 more hours of raw footage covering the whole outer Cape. Maybe one day I'll do more.

Back in '08 after watching one of the debates I thought maybe we should be looking at the candidates from a more comedic point of view, since whoever wins we will be making fun of them for four years.

I think Obama was the natural choice, if only because of the Abe Lincoln connection. Sorry about the music.

Other times, inspiration happens by accident. I am always snapping photos and video clips when on vacation. Many of them never see the light of day. Here are a few that did, in various forms:

Cape Cod

Vegas - aside from NAB, the Bellagio fountains were one of the only interesting things about this crazy town.

Finally there are the family videos - the most interesting of all. No need to be clever or funny, the memories speak for themselves.

I'm the cute one in the overalls:

As for upcoming pet projects for the coming cold season...I need to finally re-edit my wedding from the raw footage. I recently got around to the first edit of the honeymoon. I also have two half-finished screenplays. They may stay that way. Late night inspiration does not work for that project.

Thanks for watching.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 23, 2009 at 4:08:28 pm balance, hobbies

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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