Mankind has always looked for the easy way out. Rubbing sticks together was a pain, so we found our way to matches… then Zippo lighters… then we flicked our Bics.
It’s technology chasing the common task and trying to make everyone’s life easier. And that brings us to logging software. Tape logging is a task that many people seem to want to make as automated and easy as possible. How else can you explain all the gizmos and gadgets videophiles have developed to make the task as painless as possible?
Logging is the process of watching your field tapes and taking note of which shots, scenes or takes we want to keep and which ones we need to dump. A critical part of the process is having some kind of timecode linked to all of the frames that are captured by your camera.
In the old days, only expensive "pro" cameras featured timecode — but today, all digital camcorders come with basic timecode capabilities. Also, if you’re using a computer based software to edit your footage, it’s most likely capable of taking advantage of this timecode data to make logging, scene capture and editing easier and more precise. In the golden era of video producing, tape logging was all about paper and pencil. Now it has migrated inside nearly every editing software.
All the popular editing software programs, from Premiere and Vegas to Avid and Final Cut have robust tape logging capabilities. Most let you use the JKL row of keys on your computer keyboard to shuffle your tapes around – finding the frames you want to mark as "in and out" points – capturing that data with a clip name and some log note info to define the clips for your finished program.
These become "offline" clips, ready for you to "batch capture" the many chunks of media all at once at a latter time. The key concept here is that your goal isn’t initially to capture the space-consuming clips themselves, but rather to capture the data associated with the clip locations on your field tapes. That’s why it’s so easy to move tape-logging tasks onto relatively low powered laptops, PDAs and the like.
As You Shoot or After You Shoot
The key distinction between logging approaches is whether you want to log your footage as you shoot it, or are content to wait until you get your field tapes back to your edit system before you begin your logging. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.
At your edit system, you’ll discover that all the tape logging horsepower you need is probably built right into your software. But if you’re the kind of video producer that likes to get a jump on your logging tasks, there’s a whole new generation of tools designed to make logging easier during your shoots.
A quick Google search will reveal plenty of dedicated tape logging solutions. Some, like Autolog from Pipeline digital out of Hawaii have been around for decades, and provide solutions for modern (FireWire) and traditional (RS-422, RS-232) serial deck control protocols. Others are network solutions suitable for logging tapes in a newsroom environment or other industrial postproduction systems.
Many of these large scale logging solutions are being paired with video LAN (local area network) systems to provide larger facilities with the ability to log, store, and retrieve large masses of digitized video data off central "video servers" in corporate or industrial settings. But innovation is also taking place in the kind of desktop systems that smaller scale independent producers and hobbyists will find useful in the coming years.
Logging into the Future
One good bet on the future of tape logging is that the rapid spread of wireless communications technology such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the like.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that before long, we’ll all have tape-logging tools that will seem to grab timecode data out of the air as it’s being generated. This new approach will leverage the capabilities already built into modern computer hardware and software and perhaps camcorders to help make tape logging a part of every shoot. Imagine your Bluetooth capable camcorder linked to your PDA or on-set laptop and at the end of the shooting day, and with a couple of quick clicks you get a list of all your shots, including timecode in and out points and scene picons (picture icons) ready for you to trim and begin editing.
It’s a pretty rosy picture and it’s getting closer to reality every day.
Not a Glamour Job
Tape logging isn’t the most glamorous part of the video producing – but it’s often one of the most important.
Countless times in my career, I’ve come back from a field shoot thinking that I knew which takes were the "keepers" only to discover that there was a hidden flaw in a "good" take — (or a hidden gem in one I thought wasn’t as good!) I’ve uncovered unexpected audio glitches, distracting background actions or some other facet of the take I was counting on that would change from the perfect shot to less than ideal for my finished program. Or I’ve taken another look at a bit of shaky camera work I didn’t like when I shot the scene, only to discover that slowed down, frozen, or filtered, that very footage was useful for some part of my final video.
The point is that unless you dig deep into your footage — typically during the log and capture process, you might miss these hidden gems.
So I’ve come to look at log and capture operations not as a chore, but as a golden opportunity to get my head into my footage and – for me at least – that’s almost always "step one" on the path to a really well edited video.
Bill Davis writes, shoots, edits, and does voiceover work for a variety of corporate and industrial clients
Sidebar: Radio Links
One basic reality of shot logging in the field is the need to get your shot information out of your camera and into your database.
The low-tech solution of having a camera operator simply call out the timecode reading at the head and/or tails of each shot is still the cheapest way to accomplish this. But like all production tasks, technology has tools to automate this common task.
Current solutions requires a small timecode transmitter that hooks to a pro camera’s timecode output and broadcasts the timecode data to a small receiver that can be hooked to your laptop or PDA.
Once the link is established, hitting a hot key on you laptop or tapping with your stylus on your PDA screen will capture the timecode address in an instant.
Sidebar: The New Tools
As I write this, I’m sitting on an airplane bound for Chicago. In my briefcase alongside my laptop is a small hard drive loaded with more than 8 hours of off-line raw footage for a project I’m doing for a client.
This was a three-camera shoot of a stage performance and the client elected not to do a live switch, but to create the finished show in post.
Back in the old days, I would have painstakingly logged all my tapes, and done a "paper edit" — with pages of notes about which camera to use each point in the show.
Instead, with low-rez offline footage and NLE "multicam" software running on my laptop I can literally "switch" the show — after the fact — by simply clicking on the various camera shots in real time. All while sipping a cold drink at 30,000 feet — and without "logging" a single tape.
It’s editing "on the fly" — literally.