Thursday, 31 May 2012

Astralis - an Xbox Indie Games project.

Now that I've finished the Soup Studio footage I can take a breather from video work briefly. I can free up some evenings to spend time with Dee and the dog - beautiful carefree summer nights with dog walks, movies and good dinners! The "New Project" is waiting for me, but it deserves absolute devotion and I want a clean slate first. I have just one more job to clear, but I can't start on that for a few more days yet. That video project is for Astralis.


As you might know, when I'm not working on video footage, I'm busy geeking out on video games. I'm realising a childhood dream by helping develop an Xbox Indie Game with a small team of very talented programmers. The game is looking great and we are going to enter it into the Dream Build Play competition this year. The final submission date is next week and my job is to assemble a video with the best quality footage we can muster to help showcase the game. Next week I will be dropping by one of the programmer's homes to pick up the raw footage and to see the current incarnation of the game in action on his computer. It is still a work in progress, but we are getting it into a playable condition in time for Dream Build Play. The prizes are huge, but so is the competition. This game has been a labour of love for all involved for quite some time now and we're ready to put it forward.

Astralis is a single-player third-person squad-based sci-fi shooter (I could have probably but it more succinctly). The game has grown into something quite beautiful and I'm really proud to be involved with getting it made. You play a Commissar of Earth's intergalactic army, you have been sent with three specialist soldiers to an impoverished industrial planet to quell a revolution, but instead you find yourself drawn into a conspiracy.

Here are some current screenshots (click for larger images)

If you want more information you can join our facebook group or follow our programmer Vince on Twitter.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Houdini/Frau Pouch split now available

Here is it! This is the split EP recorded at Soup Studio by Houdini (vid) and Frau Pouch (vid). You can download the tracks for free, or for £2 you can get a hard copy of the CD posted to you, in a choice of sleeve colours, plus band stickers (!) plus a link for the digital download. For the price of half a pint of beer, you really can't argue with that.

Check out the songs at the link, and if you like it, buy it!

Support independent musicians!

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Soup Studio videos - post production

So the footage from Soup Studio is finally up! Last Monday saw the video for Mittens by Frau Pouch go online, and Monday this week was the debut for Don't Look Down by Houdini. I even put together a little teaser the weekend before Mittens. I did say I would do a post about the editing process, so here it is. If you're a Final Cut Express user, if you edit music footage, or if you're just curious about the process then you might find this interesting. Otherwise, it might be a little dry!

Putting the footage together was a new challenge for me. It's not the first piece of multi-camera video work I've done, some of the live gigs I've filmed have used three cameras (two camcorders and one Canon XL1S). However, the live gigs were simpler to edit together because although I had three angles, I was working with the same performance. This meant I only had to align one point on all three video tracks to bring them all in perfect allignment (it's good to use a short sharp cue such as a camera flash or snare hit).

But with the Soup Studio footage, I was taping the bands from different angles while they performed several different takes of the same song. Timings weren't always precise, sometimes the songs ran a little fast or slow and some takes could be a few seconds longer than other takes. This meant that if I lined the tracks up precisely in Final Cut, they would eventually drift from one another and no longer be in time. I hadn't had to deal with this before and I knew that getting so many different video tracks with different timing in sync would be tricky, possibly painful.


The first step was importing all the footage from my tapes on to my computer. On the day of recording I had kept notes of the timecodes (start and end) of every run through of the song. I had made notes as to what song was being played and also of any "extra" footage that might have been usable, such as anything good from the recording console, interviews, any behind-the-scenes stuff that might have been interesting. I imported it all over the course of two days (working around my job) and had it all labelled on the computer, which made the rest of the job a lot easier. it's really good practice to be disciplined with making notes on the day and importing everything neatly. It saves so much time and disk space. Many books and guides recommend you record a huge amount of data about each shot during filming, but to be honest I only really take note of the information that is useful to me. As a non-professional this usually includes basic notes, info and timecodes. Also number your shots to some kind of order (either chronological on the day or how they will appear in your project) to save you multiple headaches later on.


Because I use miniDV rather than a purely digital format, I have to import from tape. You're basically importing in real time, plus all the spooling and cueing that happens between. If you're patient you can watch the footage as it uploads, looking for things you'd missed before and taking more notes. I'd recommend watching it on the camcorder screen or perhaps by hooking the camcorder to a TV or monitor first. This is because Final Cut Express does preview the footage as it uploads on your screen but it's jerky and often at the wrong ratio. Maybe other software does it better, but I wouldn't know! You certainly don't want to spend a whole day importing, watching, taking notes, which is why it's good to note down all the important information during the shoot. I only imported about half of what I shot.

One good tip I want to pass on is that importing footage can take a heavy toll on your camera mechanisms, it's a lot more rewinding and fast forwarding than you get from normal use. For this reason it's best to use a cheaper camcorder as your main importer, and save your good camera for filming. If you only have one camcorder, and it's a good one, it might be worth investing in a cheap second hand camcorder purely for importing. If you're a pro you might have a proper miniDV tapedeck which you use to import your footage, but I doubt many people reading this will have one of those!

If you do switch your tape between cameras, always use the same brand of tape (I use the Sony MiniDV Premium, they are widely available and good quality, plus cheap when bought in bulk), or be fastidious about cleaning your decks between tapes with a tape head cleaner (those special cassettes that clean gunk off your tape heads). Different tape brands use different lubricant and mixing those lubcricants can create a thick gloop that can clog up your decks and cause strange visual effects, slowed down taping, and audio drag. I did it once out of necessity (only once!), and ever since, despite repeated cleaning, I will often import footage from my camcorder and find a delay of exactly 17/25ths of a second between the audio and the visual. Not always, but enough to be a pain in my bottom. I think I have probably been more unlucky than most people but it pays to be aware of this kind of thing.

The Footage

While filming the bands in the studio, I tried where possible to focus on a particular band member for a whole run-through of a song, so that I would have full coverage of everyone. Keeping notes on every piece of footage meant that I could keep all these different takes organised. Some angles and shots work better than others and sometimes you can't even tell the good from the bad until you get some distance. Hopefully this will improve with experience. Once I got home I realised that due to the position of the bass players for both bands, I hadn't captured much footage of them. The walls around them and the location of the other band members made it difficult to get good shots, and as I was going through the footage I realise I had very little footage of Houdini's bassist's face (but some good shots of his hands). Sorry Giles, it wasn't on purpose! Luckily I had a whole take of him captured from a static camera, so he can still confirm that he does in fact play bass for Houdini.


When it came to audio, I was using an MP3 of the final unmastered mix of each song, which would be replaced with a high quality mastered MP3 when it was ready. Both versions would have exactly the same timing which made it easy for me to swap them out, so this wouldn't be an issue. However, keeping the differently timed videos synced perfectly to the single audio track would be tricky.

I do not know how the pros do it, so I played around with the editing software until I found something that worked.


In Final Cut, as in other editors, you can place markers on individual video tracks, audio tracks and on the project as a whole. I decided I would use markers to enable me to bring the tracks and the audio all in time with one another. I played through the MP3 of the song for each band, sometimes in slow motion, a 25th of a second at a time, so I could  place a marker on the first drum hit, the first note of each keychange, verse and chorus, a marker on the final note, basically anywhere that had audio signifcance and would be easy for me to use a a syncing point. I used about a dozen markers on the song.

I then played through each video track and - as carefully as I could - applied the same markers on the video track.  I had about 15 video tracks for the Houdini song (taken from my Canon XL1S and a static Panasonic camcorder on a tripod) and a little less for Frau Pouch. Once I had gone through them all I dragged the video tracks in line so that all tracks were synced for that first hit of the drums, and then synced the audio too to that marker too. The first twenty seconds of the song would be pretty tight across all video tracks but then they start to drift out of time and look "wrong". I would come to this later.

The next step was to go through each video track and cut out chunks any footage that were out of focus or of the camera pointing at the floor. This meant that in the long run I would have to filter through less footage and would save me time.

Now it was just a case of looking at all my options. As I started the song I checked every available video track to see which one looked the best. My ratio of good looking footage to crap looking footage is about 3-5. Good looking footage often happens by accident, and when I try and plan good footage I often get cold or distant looking video. I was careful to use as much of the good footage and as little of the crap footage as possible.

So now, over the course of one weekend per video, working around six hours a day, I went through every second of video footage making sure to only use the good stuff. Sometimes I knew exactly what part I wanted to use, other times I would try out a variety of video tracks on one part of the video to see what worked. It's not only important that the chosen piece of footage works with the music, but it also needs to work with the other video clips around it. I was careful to edit where possible so that the cuts would fit the music and the mood, and did my best, for example, to have really drummy footage for really drummy parts of the song. Of course, I could only work with what I captured on the day.

This is where the markers I placed would come in. As I worked through the video, the tracks would drift and no longer be synced up. As the video tracks were by this point largely chopped up - thanks to the editing process and also to removing duff footage - I had lots of space around that I could drag the individual shots back and forward on the timeline to sync them up with the correct marker. The markers were good for bringing everything closely in sync but I still made small adjustments by eye and ear just to make sure.

Other Post Production

I finished the Frau Pouch video before I began working on the Houdini video. I had noticed with the Houdini video that the intensity of colours and light would differ between shots and needed to be brought closer together. Once I had all the shots in place, I took some time to add a colour corrector filter to each shot of the Houdini video. Some video tracks were very consistent and I could apply the same filter to all shots from that track, other video tracks needed a little more individual attention. Because of the low level and the hue of artificial lighting in the studio (it is made to record music, not video it!) and the colour of the walls, I found the footage came through very orange, even bleeding into skin tone. By playing with the colour correction wheels and adjusting the saturation levels, I could essentially change the white balance and the hue of the recordings into something more realistic and uniform. Colour correction was something I only applied to the Houdini video, by virtue of experience gained on the Frau Pouch video. You can see for yourself how the two have different colour palettes. Here's some stills of Tom drumming taken from the edit of the Houdini video showing the difference before and after the colour correction. Forgive the quality.

before colour correction
after colour correction


I would play the song back again and again, leave it for a while, come back fresh, play it again and edit it again. Once I had a version I was happy with I could export it as an AVI (the default full quality export mode from Final Cut Express), convert it to mp4 (much smaller file size, better quality), put it on youtube as an unlisted video and send the link to either Frau Pouch or Houdini to ask their thoughts. I would then implement any recommended changes (where possible) and listen carefully to their observations. By this point I am far too close to the work to be entirely objective and I'm possibly missing some simple errors so the feedback from the fresh-eyed musicians is useful. Also, I really want them to like it, so I want their opinion on what works and what doesn't. Greg gave me some great feedback about the pace of the video and which segments were slowing it down, and because of that we made a better video.

Once the video is optimised as much as possible (or as much as is reasonable) I once again export to AVI, convert to MP4 using a free program called MPEG Streamclip which is a really good compression/conversion program, and then upload to Youtube.

Why am I complicating my export? Well, Final Cut Express, which is now old and outdated, doesn't have the compression options of it's more expensive brethren Final Cut Pro or Final Cut X, but I'm stuck with what I can afford for now! While Final Cut Express can export different formats, I find the sheer amount of options and vastly differing levels of quality in the results to be unreliable, so for now I use MPEG Streamclip to convert where necessary. The best bit about converting to MP4 is the drastic drop in file size, while maintaining the same quality. This also means my computer isn't uploading to youtube all night long, which holds up our internet connection and is prone to fail if we have any sudden interruptions of service.

And once the files are up on youtube and everyone is happy, then the work is done!


Well that's about it for my not-at-all anticipated "behind the scenes" glimpse into how post production works for me. Working on these videos actually took very many hours more than I had anticipated. All in all I would guess I spent one full day filming, one evening doing pick ups, and then probably a further 45 hours putting it all together. That's not 45 hours of solid graft of course, uploading the tape footage is slow and laborious few hours (but I do kinda like it) and a number like that doesn't make me sound very efficient. But I am learning to obsess over the details, because I want my videos to be good and I honestly feel like I'm getting better with each experience. I'm not good enough yet, but I'm getting better. I like the tiny details, I just need to make sure I keep an eye on the big picture too.

Right, that's enough blabbing I think.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Don't Look Down video - Houdini

I was in the Limehouse recording studio "Soup Studio" with Frau Pouch and Houdini when they were recording their upcoming split single. Here is the second music video from the day, Houdini recording "Don't Look Down".

The first video, Mittens by Frau Pouch, is available in an earlier post.

I always enjoy working with these guys and I love their music. If you ever get a chance to catch them do a show don't pass up on it. More audio goodness at:

The split single is out on Monday the 28th May!

You can read about the day's recording here (in excessive detail), and in my next post I'll talk about the editing and post production work.

Enjoy the video!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Frau Pouch - Mittens (vid)

Frau Pouch - Mittens

Footage taken from the recording session at Soup Studio, Limehouse.

Mittens will feature on the Houdini/Frau Pouch split single which will be released on 28/05/12

Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow!

Had a great time getting this footage, and I adore this song. Vive La Frau Pouch!
Coming soon - Houdini's recording session.

Full write up of the experience will be on the blog at a later date.

Want more? Here's some links:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Houdini/Frau Pouch split single - video teaser!

From the Soup Studio session

Split single released on 28/05/12

Still to come:

Frau Pouch - Mittens video - 14/05/12
Houdini - Don't Look Down video - 21/05/12

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Quick plug for The Explorer's Collective video - live from Forest Hill

First of all this isn't my work, but rather the work of The Explorer's Collective. They are a loose and changeable group of musicians and artists based mainly around South East London who work with different artists and genres. Collaborators become part of "The Collective".

This is a short series of videos they put together during a live studio session at Perry Vale Studios, Forest Hill, to promote their new album 13 Zeros. featuring performances, interviews with members of the Collective, and snippets of their music videos. I've worked on music videos with the band before and have been friends with many of the core members for a few years. I even count myself as a Collective member (if they'll have me) and the "new project" that I'm working on with polymaths Mark and Frazer will hopefully come out under the Collective banner. Unless, you know, it's shit, which is a very real possibility.

The talented Andy Fernandez filmed and produced these mini video segments. Full credit to you, sir.

The session features interviews and performances from artists such as Pentland, Dray, Gloves Off, Jude Edwin Scott, and flautist Pyepi

If you're curious about the Collective, what they do and how they came to being, spend a bit of time with the video segments. Their story comes in 3 parts.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mashed bikes and vocal tapings

Fucked my bike up this morning. I was on my way to work, climbing the big hills on the way in. The chain slipped off the lowest chainring when I changed gear and wrapped around the pedal axle, locking the pedals and causing me to fall off the bike. The chainring got bent out of shape. So did I. After getting the bike out of the road and trying unsuccessfully to disengage the chain from where it was wedged tightly around the axel by the chainring bolts (a terrible design) I went all Basil Fawlty on the bastard bike before wheeling it home. The first Dee knew about it was when the back gate opened and my bike swan dived into the rear garden followed by me, covered in chain oil, late for work and furious.

Like this, only less manly.

Anyway, the bike is recovering, after some research I think I should be able to disassemble the pedals to get the chain off, and bend the rings back in place with an adjustable spanner. Part of my rage was due to me getting the sweats thinking about the cost of possible repair. We've got no money, a recent review of our finances reveals we currently make £100 less a month than we spend, and we are making cuts everywhere we can (we have some debts to clear). But I do already own an adjustable spanner, so that's something.

I was at Soup Studios again last Thursday, doing pick ups on Houdini's performance video. I wanted to record Greg doing the vocals for their track, as the last time I filmed them it was purely instrumental. Now I have enough footage to put the "behind the scenes" music video together for the guys. All the tracks are in place, I just need a single good few hours to make it whole. Frau Pouch's taping goes live on Monday 14th May, Houdini's will be available from Monday 21st May. I'll post video links here once they're up, so watch this space!

Next up, work on the video for the game I'm helping develop (full credit to the programmers who are doing the real work on this one, they are amazingly talented people) and after that I will finally get started on the "new project" of olde. All the scenes are filmed, I just need to put them together (it's a little more complicated than that of course). Mark, Frazer and Boppy the housecat must be going mad with the wait, but I want to make sure I can focus purely on that project, without distraction. I need to clean my slate first. No new projects on the horizon just yet.

That's pretty much on the video front for now. I'm working a long shift today, 8.30 till 9pm. Wish I was home with a cup of tea! Dee and I started watching Game Of Thrones a few days ago. 7 episodes in to the first season so far. Goddamn, that's a great show, I didn't think it would be so good. I have a small aversion to the fantasy genre. I love sci-fi, but fantasy is often so... adolescent.
I won't be home til after 10pm, wonder if we can squeeze an episode in before bed...

I'll certainly try!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

More from David Lynch night!

David Lynch Night at the Urban Bar Whitechapel -

Part 2 of 3 now online!

This was the main fruit of yesterday's time in the editing chair. I have to say I really enjoyed putting it together. The fades are something I haven't really used on other video projects but, as with part one, the dreamy/nightmarish audio just works really well with a softer, dreamier edit. It was a damn shame I didn't manage to get a better audio recording on the night, you can really hear people chattering away over the music. So far I have never got a separate audio take, I always just amalgamate the camera mics together, but it's something I want to do, especially if it leads to a better video.
Tomorrow I'm in Soup Studios with Houdini, taping Greg's vocals for the promo video I'm working on. Should be a relatively quick affair, but as always, I'm excited to be behind the camera.

I have some more work to clear before I can really start looking forward, but soon I will be bringing two worlds together! As some of you may know I'm also working with a small team of indie developers on an Xbox 360 "Indie Games" title. I will be helping assemble a video to publicise the upcoming entry of our game into the Dream Build Play competition, which we're entering in the prelude to the completion of the game. Watch this space for more info, we're really excited about this game and we hope that some of you will get to play it.

As for the rest of the week, I will be home Friday as I'm going to be working all Saturday. It's a good thing as I will probably be tired after the Soup Studios session on Thursday, more so from the schlepping on public transport with the camera than the work, which will of course be fun.

By partially complete coincidence, World War II stealthy shooter Sniper Elite V2 will be arriving on my doorstep that very same Friday morning. Any gamers reading this tried it yet? I must have played the demo about 30 times. I cannot wait to get stuck into this bastard. As a reward for getting footage uploaded and more work on the Houdini videos of course.

I have to say Friday can't come soon enough! After a day of shooting Nazis in the face and some primo time in the editors chair, Dee and I will get our feet up and hopefully get our teeth into Caprica. We totally nerded out this Easter on the entirety of the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. I know I'm late to the party, but it was tremendous! We want more!

I hope you're all having an excellent Wednesday. Thanks for reading and I hope you're gearing up for a nice long weekend!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A day off work is a day in the editor's chair

I'm home from work today. Not for any glamorous reasons or because I'm off on an exciting video shoot, but simply because we're receiving a big delivery of dog food and I can't risk leaving it thawing on the steps for the whole day. I don't think the pup would ever forgive me.

So, what to do with my day? After my initial left brain/right brain struggle over whether to push on with some video work or eat a fistful of hallucinogenics and play video games, I decided that sensibility must prevail and I have set the "editing suite" up so I can make  a dent in my backed up video projects. It's also an excellent opportunity to spend a few hours encased in the beautiful headphones I got last week.

First of all, I'm working on the full set that Houdini performed from the David Lynch night at the Urban Bar. I've got two camera angles and I'm taking little snapshots from Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me into the mix. It's the same theme as the video that is already up, which covers the opening track.

Next I'm moving on to uploading an Explorer's Collective set from New Cross that I taped a long time ago but never put together, to my shame.

Today I will also be putting the finishing touches to the Frau Pouch @Soup Studios session, and I'm going to continue working on the Houdini promo from the same session. So far I've got the tracks vaguely lined up, now I just need to choose my angles and then make sure that the track visually matches the audio, which is going to be the tricky part. The final touch on the Houdini promo is to layer over Greg doing the vocals, which I'll be taping on Thursday, back at Soup Studios.

The "new project" is still on the horizon until I can get everything else clear. I need a clean slate before I can start to tackle that, because it's going to take a lot of concentration.

I started this blog post this morning, and I've been writing it in between editing, or while waiting for videos to render, and the hours have just flown by. I really love this, and wish I could do it more often.

More tea, and onwards, good fellows.