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Continuing Tales of an FCP Switcher

A continuation on my “Cautionary Tales of an FCP Switcher.”

UPDATED: 6/25 - VTR Success & Workstation Update. At the bottom.

Getting Caught Up on our Series

As mentioned at the end of the original article, we moved our PBS series over the Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with the reasoning that if we had to flatten a file at the end of the editing process, we’d might as well use the NLE that offers the most native format support. So far, that has absolutely proven to be true and I’m proud to say that my editing team has caught up on our production schedule. Primarily because the software is just so doggone fast our guys are able to jump right into the edit.

Now the emphasis is on our editors to manage all the data, the software really doesn’t do any sort of media management. We stringently follow the guidelines set in “An Editor’s Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro” for managing the data. Essentially we put all the media in place on our SAN before it’s imported to the project. Once a project is completed, we literally have one folder to archive that contains everything needed to bring the project back.

So as far as the editing is concerned, the team is very happy with how Premiere Pro is performing, even our main Avid editor is loving the new CS6 interface and trim tools. We’re also finding significant improvements in render time of CS6 compared to CS5.5.



Spotty EDLs

As noted in the original article, Premiere Pro does not have any way to perform a Consolidate / Transcode function taking all of the native material and conforming all the footage to a single codec. The workflow of sending a flattened Quicktime File to Resolve along with an EDL has resulted in spotty performance from Premiere Pro CS6. Sometimes the EDL imports as expected and the file Pre-Conforms in Resolve and other times Resolve crashes when we try to access the EDL. Conferring with BlackMagic Design, they have discovered errors in the EDLs that are causing the crashes. I’ve sent the troubled EDLs to Adobe for review and we’ll see what they find.

Fortunately, Resolve has an amazing Scene Detect Tool so even without the EDL I can prepare a 30 minute episode for color grade in about 15 minutes or so. And just to remind you, EDLs are the only tool we can use with a flattened QT file into Resolve 8.2, XMLs and AAFs are for timelines.



VTR Frustrations

The one area that’s frustrated us the most is the incredibly poor VTR controls of Premiere Pro. Yes, tape is a large part of our workflow today and for the foreseeable future, particularly as we do a lot of Post on documentaries and long form projects which have a lot of archive materials. We’ve digitized 3/4”, DVCPro HD, HDCAM, BetaSP, BetaSX, DigiBeta, DV, DVCAM, HDV and even VHS in the past year alone. Over the next two months we’ll be digitizing over 400 tapes for three projects. With CS 5.5 VTR control was completely useless for us. We had hoped CS 6 would offer improvements with VTR performance, but so far, it’s been very inconsistent.

This past Friday we spent the entire day with AJA and Adobe trying to layback a show to a Panasonic AJ-HD1400 VTR. One of our edit systems could actually control the deck and start the recording frame accurately, but it was dropping frames for unknown reasons so we couldn’t use it for mastering. We narrowed the problem to something on the Mac HD but could not fully determine what it was.

A second edit suite with a faster computer was able to play without dropping frames, but the audio was 5 - 8 seconds ahead of video during mastering. After a full day of testing, we were no closer to laying back to tape than when we started.

So the workflow for now is to export a self contained quicktime movie and lay back to tape using either Avid Symphony or FCP 7. We'll use FCP 7 for all digitizing since Premiere Pro cannot read Avid MXF files. The good news is both AJA and Adobe are committed to making VTR control work so we’ll be ready to test again when they are. But I am frustrated that Adobe has a professional NLE that can’t control a professional VTR reliably today.



Enter Smoke 2013

The public beta of Autodesk Smoke 2013 is upon us and I’ll be honest that I’ve not had a whole lot of time to even get started with the application. Production deadlines and getting our Post workflow back on track after our initial problems has taken up a lot of our time. My staff has not touched the application at all yet as they are concentrating solely on picking up speed on Premiere Pro.

Where my initial testing will be is color grading actually. Smoke 2013 can handle all of the native formats we’re working with on our current series and it can read an AAF from Premiere Pro. So when the time becomes available in the next few weeks, our first tests will be send episodes of our PBS series to Smoke to how the timelines get into the application and then how the Color Warper will suit our grading needs. If we can avoid the flattening necessary to get the shows from Premiere Pro to Resolve, that will save us a few hours per episode.

Of course, I’ll be doing the testing with practice episodes after they are delivered, we’re not going to put Smoke into actual production until the workflow has been tested, tested and tested again. It also won’t go into actual production until after the actual public release and all of the features have been finalized.



Workstations

As I’ve noted in previous blogs, I have a plan to replace our 5 primary edit workstations with 27” iMacs and lean on a few “big iron” workstations to handle all the rendering and output. A big reason for sticking with the iMacs is Smoke 2013 and the idea that we might run it as a primary editing tool in our edit suites at some point after the the public release. I just took delivery of our first 27” iMac and added the 32GB RAM kit from OWC and it will go right into documentary production this coming week as a test before we move forward with 5 of them.

While I originally wasn’t a fan of thunderbolt external boxes, now I’m really starting to see the advantages, particularly with software like Resolve allowing us to simply switch output devices with ease rather than having to pull cards out of a machine. I’ve been an AJA fan for a long time, but of course, AJA products don’t work with Resolve, probably never will. But now we can have AJA IoXTs, T-Taps for editing and a BMD thunderbolt I/O device for using Resolve. When it’s time for color grading, just disconnect one device and connect the other. I’m liking that concept and depending on how the iMac tests out, we might go ahed and add the other iMacs and ship out the Mac Pros.

But..... I have to say, I’m seriously rethinking the iMac plan after seeing just how flippin’ fast PC workstations are with both Adobe and Avid software. I just might put lower cost PCs in the edit suites and just have a couple of 12 core Mac Pros for Smoke. I’ve used Macs professionally since 1996 but it’s clear that if I want maximum performance with our current software packages, Windows is the way to go. We can put together a pretty cheap PC with a lot of RAM and a nice nVidia card to get awesome performance from our software. I can also re-purpose all of our AJA Kona boards since they work cross platform.

As I’ve reported recently we’re successfully using a Dell Precision PC workstation with Adobe software and I just completed a review of the ProMAX ONE Hero machine which is easily the fastest workstation I’ve ever tested. Needless to say, I have a lot to consider in terms of workstations right now.


Avid update

My conversations with Avid are continuing and so far they do seem committed to looking at our concerns and those of other FCP editors in opening the back-end workflow if possible. We’re going to have some folks coming in to visit the shop to better understand our workflow and where the breakdowns are happening trying to get the projects out to third party software.

I’ve also been told they’re working directly with BlackMagic Design to improve the workflow between Avid and Resolve. Good to see Avid taking the initiative to work directly with BMD to make the workflow better for all of us.



The Tales continue.....

Our testing continues and I’ll report back soon as our Tales roll on.....


UPDATE 6/25 - VTR Success!

A few folks commented to me that BlackMagic Design cards were working good with Premiere Pro CS6 so this morning I loaded up the CS6 Trial on our Resolve workstation. 12 Core Mac Pro, BMD Decklink Extreme 3D card and voila, we had full tape control. It wasn't perfect by any means, it locked up a few times, audio was out of sync one time, but we were able to successfully lay back an episode of our series to tape. It was frame accurate 8 out of 10 tries so that's progress.

The only annoyance is that the BMD VTR controls don't respect the Timeline In Point. In our case we always set up the timelines to start at 00:58:00:02 with Bars at 00:59:00:02 and show start at 01:00:00:00. Generally we set our In Point on the timeline to either 00:58:40:00 or 00:59:00:02 depending on how much black we've laid down on our master tape.

With the BlackMagic VTR control, it always starts the timeline at the head. So I just had to chop off everything at the head making the start of the timeline 00:59:00:02 and made the edit on the VTR at the same point. Worked perfectly 8 out of the 10 times.

I've reported our results back to AJA and Adobe so maybe they can figure out where the problems lie with the Kona boards. We're still awaiting our IoXT to do the same test on the iMac.



Workstation Update!

The new 27" iMac was in production all day today and the editor reported it was outstanding all day. VERY fast compared to the Quad Core she had been editing with for a week, no crashes, no hiccups, no anything. Just a very fast workstation. First day on the job was a good one!


Posted by: walter biscardi on Jun 24, 2012 at 3:51:34 pmComments (1) Adobe Premiere Pro, Davinci Resolve

Forget the Future, Plan for Now

I made a comment at this past week’s Atlanta Cutters meeting that surprised many of those in attendance. It was something along the lines of “I’m anticipating our Avid’s will be a one year solution to our editing workflow and then we’ll see where we are next year.” In other words, Avid meets our broadcast needs today so that’s the horse we’re going to ride right now for our broadcast work. For some of our non-broadcast work, we’ll go with Premiere Pro CS6. When Smoke 2013 is available, we’ll see how that fits into our workflow.

Software has gotten to the point where pretty much any NLE tool on the market is now accessible and the Return On Investment can be had in a single job. So while I wouldn’t call the software “disposable” I would certainly call it affordable and wise to load up the toolbox while the gettin’ is good.

We’re fortunate to be in a position where we’ve been able to test both Adobe and Avid products for a while now. Adobe has made tremendous strides forward with CS6 but there are still areas that we would like to see addressed, particularly under the hood and some core edit functions, so I’m looking ahead to 2013 for a potential more widespread rollout of Premiere Pro in our workflow. Of course, we had no idea Autodesk was going to drop this new, more edit friendly, version of Smoke on us and I’m already giving them feedback on where I’d like that product to go in the next 12 months. Depending on where they go, I can also see a more widespread rollout of Smoke in our workflow in 2013.

But this is 2012 and I’m not going to stand still on Final Cut Pro 7 and just wait to see where both products are next year. That’s just another year of using an old, increasingly slower edit workflow and right now, Final Cut Pro X doesn’t work for us. Right now, today, Avid works for our broadcast editorial needs and so right now, that’s the tool I invested in and our editors are quite happy with the Symphony packages that have been installed across the facility this week. At $999 each they will pay for themselves in one episode of our current series. They were supposed to be Media Composers, but I saved $2500 across the 5 licenses buying Symphonies instead with that incredible cross-grade offer. When we need more licenses of the product this year, they will be Media Composers moving forward because they won’t be cross-grades any longer.

So stop agonizing and trying to pick “that perfect NLE” that will serve you today and for the next three years because quite honestly things are changing quite rapidly. In fact you shouldn’t even have just one NLE on your system. At the very least every single editor should have Premiere Pro and Avid on your systems so you can work with anyone out there. You’re also going to find that each tool is better suited for some tasks. Premiere Pro’s core strength is the “any format native editing” and the interchange with its entire suite. Avid’s core strength is the tremendous media management for large products and fast keyboard based editing. Your skill set will translate quite nicely between Avid and Premiere Pro so you should be able to move pretty easily between the two apps. Smoke 2013 was designed to be used by Avid and Premiere Pro editors so that should be fairly easy as well.

Heck keep in mind you might not even be on the same hardware platform next year. So many traditional Apple hardware users are discovering that PC workstations are as good as and oftentimes better than their Mac counterparts.

So look at your needs today, right now. What tool(s) do you need, or want, to get your work done for the next 12 months? Plan for that. Next year if something else comes along and meets your needs better, don’t gripe that your current tool isn’t as good, hasn’t kept up, blah blah blah. Just get the new tool added to your toolbox and keep on keepin’ on.

In the long run, a suite of tools and expanding your toolset knowledge is going to benefit you better than just hanging onto something familiar because it’s something you’ve used for a year. Or longer. My two cents.


Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 28, 2012 at 10:27:49 amComments (2) NLE, Post Production

NAB 2012 Notes and Musings from Day One

Some quick notes from a very VERY long day, need to get some rest so I can repeat this all again tomorrow. Some of this is third hand as I spent the day working with the fine folks from the Small Tree Communications booth so I have not had a chance to walk the show floor and see many products personally yet ....

Opening Bell Winner

In South Hall it appears that BlackMagic Design kicked off the day in high frenzy thanks to the announcement of their Digital Cinema Camera, a 2.5k camera that retails for $2995 and includes Davinci Resolve and the UltraScope. As one person as the Media Motion Ball commented tonight, “Why would you buy Resolve? Just buy the camera for a little more and get Resolve included.” Honestly not a bad idea.

Speaking of Resolve, that rolled out with a new 9.0 interface that got rave reviews from all those I talked to. Around 1pm I got the opportunity to have my annual chat with BMD’s founder Grant Petty. Our annual chat is actually one of the high points for me each year at NAB and I’m really thankful we had the opportunity today with all the madness around that camera.

Of course I had to ask, “why in the world would you want to enter the camera market when it’s so saturated?” As a Post Production artist, I’m honestly getting sick and tired of 20 new cameras with 15 new formats each year and then we have to figure out how to make those codecs work in Post. That’s precisely what Grant was thinking too when he made this thing. See he was thinking backwards designing a low cost, high quality image camera that would be friendly on the Post side. Literally by thinking of the codecs first (ProRes / DNxHD) that are ready to edit, then working on a happy medium between high quality image and price point. He settled on 2.5k image size because that scales down to standard HD beautifully. The idea is really to push the camera manufacturers off the idea that a high quality image always has to cost high dollar and always has to include some sort of codec that easier for the camera manufacturers than the Post process. I have to say, that’s a very clever idea. The camera itself also has a cool retro feel to it, reminding me of an classic Polaroid camera from the outside. I liked it.

On Resolve he’s quite proud of his design team for really re-working the interface to make it more accessible. On Teranex, I can see he’s been quite hands on with making design changes to their products to make them more elegant and user friendly. He’s been quite impressed with the entire engineering team on how quickly they are progressing on the changes. The Teranex product line was a complete stroke of genius on his part to roll into the company. Thunderbolt is definitely huge with a whole line of UltraStudio variations

It’s incredible to see where he’s taken the company from its humble beginnings with capture cards into a company that has inroads into almost all areas of production and post. We actually had to laugh because all these years later, he’s still doing the same thing with the UltraStudios and such. Still figuring out better ways to let the end user have a good I/O experience. Definitely swing by and check out this booth as there are just too many products to mention.


Small Tree Communications

Finally got the chance to see the long awaited “Titanium” all in one shared storage solution from Small Tree as I worked in that booth all day. This is a single box that includes the computer, the storage and ethernet ports for shared storage. In other words, it does away with the Computer and Ethernet Switch and brings it all into a single box. It’s available in 16 and 8 drive configurations and easily expandable. It’s kick ass to say the least.

In addition, they were showing some nice Shared Ethernet over Thunderbolt with two thunderbolt expansion chassis. Small Tree 10gig Ethernet cards inside expansion chassis connected to either an iMac or a MacBook Pro allowing for higher speed editing such as uncompressed HD. Very cool. I’ll be there again most of the day Tuesday, so come on by and say hello!


AJA

At the Media Motion Ball AJA showed off the product I actually asked for two weeks ago and was greeted with a “we’ll consider that.” The T-Tap thunderbolt to video output for just $249. SDI and HDMI output via thunderbolt. Very simply output only device for any situation where you don’t need ingest, just output. In my case as I develop my new infrastructure around iMacs, I honestly don’t need I/O on every system all the time. So for 5 edit suites, I’ll purchase two Io XT’s and three T-Taps. If someone needs to ingest, just move the IoXT into that room and put the T-Tap into the other room. So everyone is always outputting to the monitors, and I can save some money by not installing ingest products where they are not needed all the time.

Also some nice additions to the Ki Pro lineup with the Ki Pro Rack with dual record hard drives and the Ki Pro Quad which can record 4k in the field. Definitely a booth worth seeking out.


Editing Platforms

From all accounts the Adobe, Autodesk and Avid booths were jammin’ all day. Scores of folks came down to the Small Tree booth after watching demos of Autodesk Smoke truly blown away by what they saw. “It lives up to the hype” “You were right” were the two comments I heard the most all day. Biggest questions raised were whether Autodesk will port Smoke 2013 to Windows and when will they start supporting the rest of the installed 3rd party infrastructure like BlackMagic and Matrox. Definitely hoping that’s forthcoming as that will open the product up to the entire FCP installed ecosystem. Will be making an appearance on the Autodesk stage Tuesday at 2:30pm with Evan Schechtman. You can watch it stream here, it should be most amusing.

Adobe CS6 was met with a lot of very positive response by many who came by. Some had the same questions we raised during the CS6 testing, but overall, it’s a major step forward from the Adobe team. I got a lot of folks asking if should have waited until we saw CS6 before making the decision to switch to Avid, but as we had been testing CS6 for months, our decision was based on CS6 vs. Avid MC6. I’ll discuss in more detail next week.

Avid Symphony is my pick for “Deal of the Show.” How can you not benefit from purchasing this for your facility at just a $999 cross-grade special? And this is VERY limited so don’t wait too long. I firmly believe that any editor today should have both Avid and the Adobe suite on their editing system.

The elephant in the room that in Final Cut Pro X is having mostly a negative reaction among those I spoke to both on the show floor and tonight at the Media Motion Ball. Quite honestly most professional editors I spoke to are just “done with Apple.” Apple released exactly the product they wanted to a year ago, with a workflow that suited them with just enough features that suited them. One year later, the announcements today were greeted with, “that’s not a major release, just Apple trying to put back enough features to appease professional editors.” The general sense is folks are just tired of Apple’s games. There’s also a large segment that is tired of the “fanboys” who have the ulterior motive of needing a healthy Final Cut Pro X user base to make money for their own product lines. Particularly from those who don’t actually edit for a living.

Now I said the response I'm hearing has been “mostly negative.” One set of folks said they were willing to give Apple a second chance based on what they are seeing and hearing from Apple. I definitely plan to stay in touch with them to see how they move forward as they are a rather large installation and it’ll be interesting to see if they make it work. And of course in our Atlanta Cutters group, we’re trying to get the folks from TNT’s “Leverage” to come in and show us their X workflow for that original series.

It’s been so interesting to watch how a product that was so dominant is now hardly mentioned while Avid, Autodesk and Adobe reap the windfall of thousands up thousands of seats switching not only over to their products, but folks like me now considering PC machines to replace existing Mac Pros.


Flanders Scientific

Folks continue to thank me for introducing them to the name Flanders Scientific and their lineup of incredible monitors. If you have not seen the 2461W model yet, definitely check them out in the back of South Hall Lower.


Media Motion Ball

As usual an excellent event where I got to say hello to so many folks I know and meet so many for the first time. Had some audio issues where the sound system was very quiet and the audience was quite loud. Made for difficulty hearing the presenters, particularly in the early part of the event. But as usual, the food was excellent, the company at our table was excellent and new Red Giant Films short was hilarious.

This is definitely a “family reunion” type of event for me getting to see Scott Simmons, Shane Ross, Alexis Van Hurkman, Robbie Carmen, Dan Berube, Kevin Monahan and so many others. Then meeting fellow “Cows” like Walter Soyka and Patrick Inhofer to put the faces with the names.

Had a great time chatting with the folks from BlackMagic Design and Flanders Scientific along with the Avid folks. Since this is a smaller event, you can really get one on one time with these folks and ask a lot of questions, or get in a good joke.

This remains my favorite event at NAB and you really should sign up early next year as it will sell out since it’s a much smaller event than the big SuperMeet.


Adobe Event

A very nice event, another “reunion of sorts” seeing folks I haven’t seen in a year and met up with some great folks from A Frame. Cloud based workflow for television and film that’s already been used for some major projects. I definitely intend to check them out in the North Hall to see how all of this works as this may be a great workflow for some original series and documentary projects we have coming up. They have a very editorial driven product.

And with that, I’m going to wrap it up. It’s almost 1am local time and I have to be up early again tomorrow to hit work the booth. Hopefully this wasn’t too rambling.....


Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 17, 2012 at 1:04:24 am Post Production, Autodesk Smoke

"Smoke is Changing" is NOT a Marketing Slogan

Just got a sneak peek at the new Autodesk Smoke. WOW is all I'm allowed to say so let me say it again. WOW!

Avid and Adobe might have gotten the party started but the discussion about Post Production will really begin on Sunday. For once, the actual product is going to live up to the hype. Smoke IS changing and this is one company that really REALLY listened. I

www.smokeischanging.com to sign up for the event.

If you won't be there on Sunday and are coming to NAB, put the Autodesk booth to the top of your list.

One more time. WOW!


Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 12, 2012 at 2:34:05 pmComments (21) Post Production

Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration

If you’ve been following along the past few months, you know we’re testing a very nice Dell Workstation as we plan the immediate future of our company and what computers might replace all the Mac Pros we currently run. Since we’re an Adobe / Avid centric shop now, the Dell shows us how we might work in a cross platform world.

But as I have been using an almost 2 year old 27″ iMac in both my Adobe and Avid testing for the past 6 months, the thought dawned on me, why not consider replacing some of the Mac Pros with iMacs? Particularly now that Thunderbolt add ons are becoming more prevalent and giving us the same capabilities as all those internal cards we’ve used through the years. In particular the AJA IoXT which is essentially a Kona 3 in a small box.

I purposely have been testing on the iMacs with an eye towards setting up a cluster of them for our Assistant Editors on upcoming series. But this older one is performing so well, it got me to thinking of even replacing many of our primary edit systems with iMacs too.

While Adobe keeps touting the added advantages of the nVidia CUDA based graphics cards, I have to say their software runs very well on the ATI based iMacs. In fact our entire shop, except the new Dell and the Resolve workstation all run on ATI cards and the entire Adobe Suite runs brilliantly on all of them. We honestly don’t miss the CUDA “extra realtime features” because we’ve never had them.

Avid doesn’t have any sort of CUDA requirements at this time (not sure if they ever will) so I see the same snappy interface operation across the board no matter which machine its running on. Avid is definitely the most efficient software we’ve edited with to date, it runs faster on the iMacs that FCP ever did, even on the Mac Pros.

Now before we move forward, keep in mind my situation with my facility. We have 5 edit suites currently running along with our ProTools / Resolve Theater. We’re set up for 9 total edit suites at the moment and can expand to 18 or more at any time, so we need a bunch of machines whenever we upgrade. So from a business standpoint, I have to look at the most effective way to spend our dollars.

If you are a one man band, a 1 or 2 machine shop, then you really want to buy THE fastest and most powerful system you can afford because you’re asking that machine to do everything for you. Edit, Graphics, Render, Output, etc…. I always recommend to anyone that’s a single or two machine shop to have a powerful desktop system unless you absolutely must have the portability of a laptop for your work. Desktop machines, while much more expensive when configured for video editing, will always give you the fastest performance. So keep in mind that my thoughts here are more about me replacing a series of machines vs. a smaller shop that might only need to replace one or two systems.

So what do I give up by dropping a bunch of Big Iron machines in favor of the iMac? Render speed primarily. Big iron will always render faster than an all-in-one ever will because there’s a lot more room for processors and large power supplies to drive those processors. Not to mention a ton more RAM for the same reasons. But for the type of work we’re doing day in, day out, we don’t need super fast rendering all the time on every single workstation.

For the most part we’re doing documentaries and very soon, reality programming. Projects that are storyteller driven, not fx or even transition heavy. So for my situation and with the amount of machines I need to upgrade, do I really need to have all powerful systems in every single edit suite? Based on the performance of my 2 year old iMac, that answer appears to be”no.” I’m thinking a new strategy will be to outfit every single edit suite with a 27″ iMac and then have one or two “big iron” systems, maybe running Avid Symphony, Autodesk Smoke and the Adobe Creative Suite, which will be the “finishing systems” if you will. We’ll still keep the ProTools system and the Resolve system as stand alone Big Iron as well, so I’ll have four Big Iron systems and a whole cluster of iMacs to do most of the work.

All of the machines will connect directly to our 48TB (soon to be larger) SAN because it’s all ethernet based. Unlike some earlier iMacs that crippled the Ethernet port, Apple finally replaced the ethernet port with a unit that again supports Jumbo frames so we don’t lose that connectivity.

Let’s take a look at how the iMacs compare to several Big Iron systems in terms of cost. I’ve tried to make all of the Big Iron systems similarly spec’d so it’s somewhat of an even comparison. They’re all Dual Processor, 12 Core machines except where noted because when I buy a Big Iron machine, I buy one of the fastest I can afford. Note that the Dell Precision T5500 is the unit we’re testing here in the shop and the HP Z800 was chosen because it’s the machine most recommended to me by my Windows based colleagues to compare to the Mac Pro.



27″ iMac priced on Apple.com 4/8/2012: $3218.00

3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7; 16GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 4x4GB; 2TB Serial ATA Drive; AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5; AppleCare 3 year warranty



Mac Pro priced on Apple.com 4/8/2012 – $9958.00*

Two 2.93GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” (12 cores): 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drive: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB (standard Card): AppleCare 3 year plan. *nVidia Quadro 4000 purchased separately – $810



Dell Precision T5500 Workstation priced on Dell.com 4/8/2012 – $8,268.00*

3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569: nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $620 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, single processor, all USB Ports are 2.0 standard.



Dell Precision T7500 Workstation priced on Dell.com 4/8/2012 – $11,348.00

Two – 3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569 (12 Core) : nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; 16X DVD Writer: Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $615 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, All USB ports are 2.0 standard.



HP Z800 FF825AV Workstation priced on HP.com 4/8/2012 – $13,667.00

Two 3.46 6-core Intel Xeon X5690 processors (12 cores): nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives: BluRay Writer; Broadcom 5761 Gigabit PCIe card: Firewire PCIe card: 24×7 On Site response – 3 years. ($239) Note: All USB ports are 2.0 standard. It’s an upgrade to USB 3.0



And because I know someone will ask about the HP All In One workstation, ala iMac, here’s their 27″ configuration….

HP Omni 27 Quad series priced on HP.com 4/8/2012- $2049

Intel(R) Core(R) i7-2600S processor [2.8Ghz, 8MB Shared Cache, DMI 5GT/s]: 8GB RAM: 2TB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive: 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M: Slim Slot Blu-Ray writer: HP Total Care 3 Years: Note: No Thunderbolt or Firewire 800 option.

I just don’t see this in the same class as the iMac for a video workstation. The specs look very underwhelming vs. the 27″ iMac I spec’d out first.



So let’s do the math based on replacing all 5 of my current edit suites. Just what we’ve spec’d here. No software, no add-ons, nothing, just the boxes as I spec’d them above.

5 iMacs: $3218 x 5 = $16,090

5 Mac Pros: $9958 x 5 = $49,490

5 Dell Precision T5500: $8,268 x 5 = $41,340 (note this is a single processor machine)

5 Dell Precision T7500: $11,348 x 5 = $56,740

5 HP Z800: $13,667 x 5 = $68,335

Base cost for the 5 iMacs alone is over $33,000 less than the nearest Tower and over $24,000 less than the nearest Dual Processor machine, though honestly, the odds of me purchasing that particular 12 Core Mac Pro are slim to none. So in reality, I’m over $40,000 cheaper than the lowest cost 12 Core Dual Processor machines I would consider buying.

Now I need to add 5 AJA Io XT boxes to those systems for Video I/O because we still use a ton of tape in our work and they will also feed our Flanders Scientific reference monitors.

5 AJA IoXT: $1,495 x 5 = $7,475

Grand Total now $16,405 + $7,475 = $23,880

I’m still sitting over $32,000 below the 5 Dell T7500s. Or in other words, I can get 5 brand new iMacs with the IoXTs, and get 1 Dell T7500s for our “Big Iron” finishing station and still be about $12,000 ahead. Switch that to the HP and I’m still about $21,000 ahead. But with 6 workstations instead of 5. Heck I can even buy two of the Dell Big Iron systems and still come out ahead.

I already own a slew of 24″ monitors so each iMac can run in dual screen configuration without the need to purchase any new monitors at this time. And as I add more iMacs to the mix, not every single one of them will require the IoXT if they are doing primarily offline work. So that will save me some more money moving forward.

One other expense I would have to explore is re-engineering our shop so the primary controls for everything are in the edit suite and not in the Machine Room as they are now. All of the machines are side by side with video I/O, machine control and everything tied together via patch panels. Now the primary patch panels / machine control will stay in the machine room, but the video I/O devices will be in each suite. So that will require some re-wiring, but not a whole lot.

With numbers like these, and the high quality performance of the iMacs, you can see why I’m strongly considering making the iMacs our primary workstations throughout the facility. And while they might cost a bit more, I think our “Big Iron” systems will be Wintel moving forward. Just too many good options out there vs the limited choices from Apple. And who knows, we just might be running OS X on a PC soon.

So yep, even more for us to consider as we move forward, “Post FCP” in our facility. The options are almost endless and there’s no need to rush into a decision we’ll regret later. Now instead of just putting the fastest most powerful workstation in every single situation, I have more options to put machines more tailored to the task and spend the extra money where I actually need to.

More food for thought……


Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 9, 2012 at 5:55:52 amComments (7) Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid

Because you asked.... More on our Switch to Avid Media Composer 6

Our short and sweet blog post yesterday about switching to Avid MC6 for our broadcast work touched off a flurry of requests for yet more information on our decision. Folks want to know “what specific features did it have that the others didn’t.” “Can you break it down feature by feature, why you made the switch?” ”You seemed so gung-ho about Adobe early on in your switch.”

Honestly I can’t break it down like that. For almost 6 months now we’ve had one edit suite running MC6 and one running Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 pretty much full time in each room. FCP 7 has been used in both rooms as necessary and I’ve also been cutting with Adobe CS 5.5 primarily on smaller projects. So this has been a real solid test. Three rooms cutting real projects with real clients in the room.

In a situation like this, you don’t compare “feature by feature.” You compare, “how does this work with the client looking over my shoulder?” Is the system efficient, can I do everything from FCP, what is the client experience, does the system service all of my needs?

Real world, client over the shoulder experience, Avid’s strength is the performance of the software in our FCP based infrastructure. What that means is my entire facility was designed to support Final Cut Pro. Mac Pros, AJA Kona video I/O boards, Small Tree Ethernet based shared storage system and a slew of third party hardware and applications. When we dropped Avid Media Composer 6 into that infrastructure with the appropriate AJA Kona drivers, the system didn’t miss a beat. We were truly stunned that Avid’s support of our hardware was that good. Tape capture and mastering are more efficient and more accurate than what we ever had with FCP. Overall performance of the Avid MC6 software on the same exact machine as FCP7 is much faster.

In comparison, Adobe Premiere Pro causes all sorts of playback and audio issues on output to our external monitors. This led to less than desirable client experiences in the edit suite. As long as the client wasn’t in the room, we would leave the external monitor turned off, but even there audio playback issues still plagued the system. See when I first started testing and posting about Adobe Premiere Pro, it was all from my 27″ iMac at home, so there was no external monitoring. At first the output seemed to work pretty well, but then things kept getting wonky and we could not get output to ever work consistently across multiple workstation.

And all of us were disappointed, to say the least, that tape capture / tape mastering is abysmal in Premiere Pro CS 5.5 with tape still being a very large part of our day to day workflow. Yes, the world is going digital, but we have a lot of shooters who still shoot tape and we have thousands of hours of tape on our shelves that get used for documentary and news projects. Lack of audio controls in the Source, track assignments and a lot of other small things created stumbling blocks and inefficiency in the workflow. Our overall feeling is that Adobe has got a lot of advanced features that nobody else has, but the basic core editing experience leaves a lot to be desired and at the end of the day, we’re storytellers and need a solid core editing tool. Yes we are aware that Adobe is most likely going to introduce CS6 soon and with any luck some of these issues will begin to be addressed. Premiere Pro will still play a part in our facility on smaller projects and potentially an independent documentary.

But right now, after so many months of using both systems in our core FCP infrastructure, Avid MC6 just performs so much better. It’s actually a more limited toolset when you consider that we purchase the Adobe Production Premium suite that comes with all the other applications, it seems like a waste to spend that money on just one tool. But it makes you appreciate the tool for what it is. One hell of a very fast storytelling machine. Yes there is frustration because we have to “un-learn” a lot of our FCP mindset and re-think our workflow more with Avid than a transition to Adobe Premiere Pro. But that’s just learning which buttons to press.

So there you go, that’s more of our reasoning on taking Avid MC6 to all of our broadcast work, in a nutshell there’s more of a comfort factor bringing the product onboard for broadcast. This was probably the biggest decision I’ve had to make in my career after almost 12 years of keeping Avid OUT of my facility. But Avid truly did listen to what we told them and opened up the software to a world of possibilities by letting me simply drop it into an existing infrastructure.


Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 28, 2012 at 12:09:51 pmComments (12) Avid, Adobe

Biscardi Creative switching to Avid Media Composer 6 for Broadcast projects.

After lots of testing and comparing, we've made the decision to move two original series to Avid Media Composer 6. PBS series "This American Land" is starting up Season Two next week and in about a month or so we'll be kicking off a new original reality series.

Over the past for months or so, I've had one of my editors working primarily in Adobe CS 5.5 with another working in Avid Media Composer 6 to really see how they operated in all sorts of situations. Short stories, longer form, news features, etc... My editors and I struggled to come up with a definitive answer as to which we should use for "This American Land" as that's the first broadcast series to fire up for us again since we dropped Final Cut Pro.

What it really came down to is just how well Avid Media Composer works with our existing Final Cut Pro infrastructure. Mac Pros with AJA Kona boards connected to a Small Tree Communications 48TB shared storage system. It's interesting because as many of you know, Avid required their own hardware until just this past November. As I reported previously in my CreativeCow.net article, Avid's software works incredibly well with all our third party hardware. Even the shared storage works brilliantly without any sort of Avid / Unity based control.

Despite what people report and the industry wants us to believe, Tape is far from dead in our workflow. We have shooters who still have beautiful cameras that shoot tape and of course we have to master everything to HDCAM for delivery. Tape controls are just so rock solid with Avid, even better and more precise than we ever had with FCP.

So ultimately both myself and my editors felt most comfortable moving our broadcast workflow for these two shows over to Media Composer 6. We'll certainly keep y'all updated on how things roll as we move forward.

Me setting up Avid in our shop, never thought THAT would happen!


Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 27, 2012 at 3:03:28 pmComments (1) Apple, Adobe

It's Not a Mac - Our Windows Testing Part 2A

This is just a quick update than full blown testing, hence the "Part 2A" title instead of Part 3.

I left the Dell running all Monday night and it finally downloaded the Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 package. Installation went fine, then installation of the AJA Kona LHi drivers and the AJA Adobe CS 5.5 plug-in went perfectly fine.

After all installations everything appeared to work just fine, we had image from the system to our Flanders Scientific monitor via the Kona LHi. And that was about the extent of it for today. A new television pilot is occupying my days right now so as soon as I get that done, I'll get busy with the Dell.

However, there IS a new wrinkle to our testing. I was approached by another company to test out a fully customized Windows system. We're working out the details over the next couple of weeks and once everything is finalized, I'll update with the details. Will be nice to have two Windows systems to compare and contrast.

That's it for now, short update! More testing soon!


Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 14, 2012 at 5:29:36 amComments (6) Dell, Adobe Premiere Pro

It's Not a Mac - Our Windows Testing Part 2

UPDATED 3/12 with pricing information.

Well today, I cracked open the boxes on our new Dell Workstation. If you missed Part 1 with the backstory and disclosure, you can catch up here. As noted yesterday, the machine and monitor provided by Dell are ours to keep, however, there are no rules on what I report in our testing.

Sunday was simply setup the computer day, nothing to report on Adobe Premiere Pro today as it was not possible, we couldn't get it, more on that later.

Now I do have to clarify one thing I said in the first entry. I HAVE actually used a Windows machine professionally, but only sparingly. A few years ago we purchased an HP workstation with a BluRay burner specifically to run NetBlender's DoStudio BluRay authoring program. I forgot about it because we don't use it all that much. But that was a pretty basic system, all it needed was the BluRay burner so I went with a basic $1500 HP workstation that came standard with wireless internet connection.

For this system, I basically relied on Dell. They approached me with the idea that they are serious about the creative industry. I figured I would let them assemble what they felt was a top of the line video production workstation. They did ask me for ideas and I sent them the specs from the last 12 core Mac Pro I purchased. I generally buy the fastest Mac Pro out there with at least 24GB of RAM though usually more with a very beefy graphics card. Most everything else is stock on the machine. I expect the machine to be able to perform for at least 3 years when I purchase a desktop.

The system I received is as follows:

Dell Precision Mini Tower T5500

Dual Quad Core Intel Xeon 2.4Ghz Processors (Eight Core)

48GB RAM

nVidia Quadro 4000 Graphics card with single DVI and Dual display ports

2 - 1TB SATA drives, 7200 RPM

1 - 256GB Solid State Internal Boot Drive

16X Optical DVD Bur

Internal Media Card Reader (standard camera media cards)

Windows 7 Professional

Belkin 3 port FW 800 PCI Card

Roxio Creator Starter Kit.

Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 (via download)

U2410 UltraSharp monitor

The pricing for this is quoted as $6400 from Dell, but that was with the original Quadro 2000 card. I'm not sure how much the 4000 adds to the total.

Completely missing was any sort of a User's Manual either on CD or printed. The HTML version I found online was not very inspring or useful. A PDF would have been much more helpful.

The RAM was increased per my request and the nVidia card was changed per my request. The original card was the nVidia 2000 which is not very useful for video production. The Quadro 4000 is the least you want for video production on the PC. The cards just go up from there. Ok, let's take a look around.



It looks plastic, but the chassis is actually sheet steel all the way around, and it feels pretty solid from the outside. Up front, we have Mic input, headset output, 2 USB ports (USB 2.0) along with the Media card slots and the DVD burner.

On the back are a slew connections from 4 USB Ports (USB 2.0), Ethernet, classic PC Mouse and Keyboard ports, classic Printer port and an eSATA port along with 6 PCI slots. You can see the single DVI and dual Display Ports on the nVidia Quadro 4000 card.



One thing that surprised me is the lack of USB 3.0 ports. I thought that would be standard on a workstation for media production and is one of the things that really sets the Windows workstations apart from the Mac Pro. But it isn't and I didn't notice that when the original specs were sent to me. The other thing I missed is the lack of Wireless internet connectivity standard, that has to be added. It was standard with our HP machine and it's always in our Macs so I never even noticed that it wasn't included on this machine. The wireless use really only comes into play in the initial setup anyway, but it would have been nice as a convenience. The single Ethernet port is an issue in our configuration at the office because we use one port to hardware to our office internet and a second port to connect to our SAN. I'll be adding a Small Tree Ethernet card to the machine soon.

Keyboard and mouse are very UNimpressive. Honestly feels like the most cheap, plastic keyboard and mouse one could buy. The mouse isn't all that big a deal because we use the Wacom Intuos Tablets throughout our shop and it won't be used, but I can tell I'm going to replace the keyboard with something better. It feels like it'll break within a few months of daily use and the clicking noise will drive me crazy.



The Mac keyboards have transitioned to metal keyboard with very quiet keys that feel better to the touch and are quiet in daily creative sessions. The acrylic top of the Apple mouse is very smooth to the touch with the metal bottom, it feels more substantial.



Access to the inside of the chassis is very easy, too easy in fact. I accidentally popped open the side twice when I picked it up. You slide back a tab on the top of the machine (pictured below) and the right side of the machine swings down and off. When picking up the machine, twice my hand pushed that tab back and the side fell off. Now that I know, I'm more careful.



When you compare the inside of the Precision T5500 (pictured below) with the inside of a Mac Pro, it's definitely much more convoluted and it was here that I really came to appreciate the design of the Mac Pro interior, which is almost as elegant in appearance as the outside. This definitely looks like it was designed by an engineer who would never have to open the box up. The Mac Pro is designed to be very easy to access with most everything tucked out of sight.



It's kind of ugly, but definitely functional. All those blue plastic elements you see represent sections that can be moved or removed to access various areas inside the machine as you'll see in the next photo.



PCI cover on the right swings out of the way to get to the PCI slots (it actually swings out even further than this.) The hard drive on the bottom left drops down out of the way to get to the RAM. Even the Dual Processor riser comes completely out of the machine to make for easier access to the RAM and PCI slots.

One more surprise is how flimsy the system feels when the side cover is off. Working with the inside of the machine generally requires laying the machine on its side and back up again. When I laid it down, I could feel the machine torque a little, that is it twisted a bit. The steel frame is not rigid because the metal is pretty thin. For those who have never used a Mac Pro, it's made from a very rigid metal frame that has no give at all, with or without the side cover on. Grabbing at two corners of this machine, I could easily twist it around a bit when the cover was off. I'm sure it's nothing to be really concerned about, it just surprised me because it felt so rigid with the cover on.

Speaking of the inside, I absolutely positively hate the design of the PCI card area. I kind of understand what they were going for, but this design creates quite the annoying workflow for the end user. As I said in the description, Dell included a Belkin 3 Port FW800 card, but it came separately so I had to install it.

This involved.... go around to the back of the machine to unscrew the PCI slot cover. Yes, this is on the outside back of the machine. I've never seen the screws on the outside.



Lay the machine its side and remove the PCI Cover to access the PCI slots. Again, it swings back even further than this, I just didn't get a picture of it. Install the card, close up the cover.



Then stand the machine up and go back around to the back of the machine and screw in the card.



I get what they're doing, no screws to fall around inside the computer. But coming from a Mac Pro perspective, it's annoying to have start outside the machine, go inside to set the card, then go back outside to secure the card. The no tools PCI locking system Apple has works so nicely that it kind of spoils me. Again, I get what Dell has done here and I guess this way is much better than screws falling inside the machine. Something to get used to.

And unfortunately, that's pretty much where Part 2 of this journey is going to end. I had hoped to start testing out Premiere Pro CS 5.5 today, but during a 6 hour period, the software would not download from Adobe's site. The Adobe Installation Assistant kept hanging at about 3/4 completed on the download even after repeated restarts with the computer. It's not an internet issue because I downloaded the Mac version again on my iMac today and that worked in about 20 minutes. On the PC, it just would not work so all I could do was poke around with the machine and from what I could tell, the solid state boot drive made it quite snappy. Power On / Off were extremely fast. I did add the Stardock app to create a Mac OS styled dock to replace the Windows task bar. But that's pretty much it.

From an appearance perspective, the Dell is not much to look at, but then there isn't a single PC I've ever seen that is nice to look at like the Mac Pro. Of course the machine is destined to sit in our machine room, so who cares what it looks like on the outside so long as the performance is there to meet our needs. The next steps will be to try to get Adobe Premiere Pro downloaded and then install an AJA Kona LHi into the machine and see what happens when it gets into production. I'll update with Part 3 as soon as we're able to get this thing running with the software so we can start properly evaluating this thing.



Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:38:45 amComments (3) Dell, Adobe Premiere Pro

"That Doesn't Look Like a Mac." (hint, it isn't!)

Two boxes showed up today and one of my employees says, “That doesn’t look like a Mac.”



Nope, that’s a long way from a Mac. That’s a brand new Dell Precision workstation featuring an nVidia Quadro card. I’ll post the full details on the workstation once I get it out of the box and set up which will happen later this weekend.

If you’ve been following along in my blogs you know we’re transitioning over to an Adobe / Avid workflow from 11 years of running Final Cut Pro and cross platform compatibility is one of the reasons for the change. If we go with Final Cut Pro X we have no choice but to run Apple hardware and all indications from Apple are showing the end of the “big iron” desktop is coming to a close. Whereas with Windows and Linux, there are still plenty of workstations to choose from with lots and lots of horsepower for the work we’re doing. So it makes sense to go with software that allows us to work on both Mac and Windows so we’re never limited by what just one company will provide us for hardware.

Dell? Seriously?

So of course, I’m a Mac guy and when I made the decision to go for cross platform workstations, my first step was to contact colleagues that have been running Windows for some time. I have literally NEVER used a Windows machine for work. Since 1993 I have been editing with NLE’s solely on the Apple platform. I have had PCs in the past for personal use and my wife still has a PC laptop, but I literally have a MacBook Pro, iMac, iPhone and iPad all within arm’s reach as I write this and my company owns about 20 or 30 Mac computers of one sort or another. It was imperative that I reach out to my colleagues for first hand advice on how to spec out a Windows machine.

I also reached out to all my third party vendors to ensure that our hardware would be compatible with the Windows box. All of my colleagues overwhelmingly recommended HP and in particular the Z800 model. Super fast workstation and from all accounts, can put the Mac Pro to shame when running Adobe software in particular. So how did I end up with a Dell workstation? Especially when not a single colleague even mentioned the brand?

Rather simple really. They asked.

Someone at Dell has been following along with my transition from Final Cut Pro to the Adobe / Avid workflow and saw that I was talking with my VAR to get a demo PC workstation to test in our facility. Dell reached out and that led to some conversations back and forth which led to them offering to let me test out one of their Precision workstations along with a copy of Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 for Windows. Well that was a no-brainer for me and it makes things a little easier for my VAR. He didn’t have to assemble a workstation just for me to test and Dell gets feedback from us in a real-world Post situation during a 12 week test.

Then things changed a little further and requires me to make a full disclosure so everything is out in the open. The Precision workstation is no longer a demo machine, the workstation is now ours to keep, whether we like it or not. This was wholly unexpected and something I never would have asked for because it would be unreasonable to ask a computer company to simply give away one of their top of the line products just to have it tested out. But as the folks at Dell told me, they are serious about the creative industry and want to get their products into the hands of Post professionals in real world situations and get honest feedback. They want it here for much longer than 12 weeks.

The Rules.

Rule Number One: There are NO RULES. Yep, that’s the agreement. I am free to blog and write about this machine exactly as I see it.

I would not have it any other way. If there were strings attached to this offer, the machine would not be here. If there’s one thing I’m most proud of, is the fact that my product reviews are my honest opinion. If I don’t like something, you’re sure as heck going to know about it. I made that very clear with Dell when we spoke.

So what you’re going to read and hear from me in the coming weeks will be my own words, my own opinions. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So pull down on the lap bar and keep your hands inside the car at all times. This is bound to be an interesting ride…….


Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 9, 2012 at 8:07:29 pmComments (7) Dell, Windows

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Professional Video Editor, Producer, Creative Director, Director since 1990.

Credits include multiple Emmys, Tellys, Aurora and CableAce Awards.

Creative Director for Georgia-Pacific and GP Studios, Atlanta. Former Owner / Operator of Biscardi Creative Media. The show you knew us best for was "Good Eats" on the Food Network. I developed the HD Post workflow and we also created all the animations for the series.

Favorite pastime is cooking with pizza on the grill one of my specialties. Each Christmas Eve we serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian seafood meal with approx. 30 items on the menu.

If I wasn't in video production I would either own a restaurant or a movie theater.

 




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