Preparing Video Files for the Aja Ki Pro

Posted in Aja KiPro, Compression, Gene Siskel Film Center on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The Gene Siskel Film Center has the ability to play Apple ProRes files via its Aja Ki Pro hard drive player/recorder. This guide covers the process of converting a file to make it compatible with the Aja Ki Pro. Click to enlarge the images, or view a high quality PDF

Creating DCPs with DCP-o-matic

Posted in Compression, DCP, Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday, August 14th, 2014

This guide covers the process of creating a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) from a master file. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF.


Posted in Editing, Hard drives on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

(Revised August 12, 2014)

An external hard drive consists of a standard 3.5” or 2.5” hard drive (the same kind of drives that are installed inside desktop and laptop computers) and a physical enclosure that protects the drive and allows you to connect it to a computer via Firewire, USB, eSATA, or Thunderbolt.

You should use hard drives for two general purposes–working and backing up your data. We strongly encourage you to purchase separate drives for these two functions. For maximum data security, you would have one high-performance drive for editing plus two copies of all of your projects on two different backup drives.

Before outlining hard drive types and technologies, here are our recommendations for the 2014-15 school year:



Some brands (G-Technology, Other World Computing, Lacie) are used prominently in the media production world and have won the loyalty of SAIC staff, faculty and students, but please remember that as with motor vehicles, cell phones, cameras, etc., hard drives are mass-produced mechanical devices prone to malfunction. We have witnessed the complete and irreversible failure of hard drives made by virtually every single brand out there. Plan on buying numerous hard drives as long as you are making media. You might develop your own brand loyalties, but always be prepared for hard drive death. Back up your work, and back up the backups!

That all said, choosing RAID drives with the fastest possible transfer technology (not to mention good practices like giving your drives frequent periods of rest/inactivity and keeping about 10% of your hard drive space free) will improve the chance that your drives will have long and productive lifespans with minimal data loss.


When choosing a working drive, think about when and where you plan to use the drive. Are you buying a drive to use in the immediate future with SAIC computers, or are you investing in a drive that will be compatible with computers you’ll be using 1-5 years from now? For example, if you plan to use the drive exclusively with your 2012 or later Macbook Pro, and with the new Mac Pro and future generations of Mac computers, we recommend  this 4 TB G-RAID or a similar Other World Computing model.

G-Technology G-RAID Thunderbolt
Hard Drive Array
Other World Computing Mercury
Elite Pro Duo

As of the Fall 2014 semester, all three FVNMA labs and several suites will be equipped with new Mac Pros. Numerous FVNMA and SAIC facilities will still be equipped with 2010 Mac Pros, with Firewire and USB 2.0 connections. If you buy a Thunderbolt-only drive (e.g. the 4 TB G-RAID recommended in the paragraph above) and you plan to move between new Thunderbolt-enabled machines and the older Mac Pros, you’ll need this Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter, and you will be limited to Firewire 800 speeds. The Other World Computing model (also listed in the paragraph above) includes a USB 3.0 connection, allowing you to connect to older computers via USB 2.0 speeds. USB 3.0-only drives offer much more storage space per dollar than Thunderbolt drives, but the performance and speed boost offered by Thunderbolt are well worth the price difference.


Plug-in desktop RAID drives are our recommended option for rigorous work. For everything else including light editing work, backing up and transferring files between computers, etc., you could invest in less expensive desktop drives and/or more convenient portable drives. B&H carries a huge list of external drives, searchable by such factors as drive speed, connection, capacity, etc. We’ve tested and can generally recommend the brands mentioned in this post (G-Technology, Glyph, Other World Computing, Lacie) as well as Hitachi/HGST.

Our top pick for a portable, bus-powered Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 drive is this 7200 rpm G-Technology 1TB G-Drive Mobile Hard Drive with Thunderbolt

G-Technology 1TB G-Drive Mobile Hard Drive with Thunderbolt

For further reference: in May 2013 Macworld published this rundown of portable hard drives and in December of 2011 it offered a similar list of desktop drives. Other places to look for recommendations would be Creative Cow discussion forumsGizmodoEngadgetCult of Mac and your creative community.

One final cost-effective USB 3.0/Firewire/eSATA option is not a hard drive per se, it’s an enclosure which allows for 2.5″ or 3.5″ HDDs or SSDs  to be easily be swapped in and out. It’s not sleek and self-contained like most of the drives mentioned above, but it offers a more affordable method of working with new SSDs and can also be used to access data from a desktop computer’s internal drives. Initial tests of this enclosure show it to be fast and stable.

*One portable drive that we can recommend you NOT buy is Other World Computing’s ElitePro mini line (we’ve had more success with OWC’s older portable drives and their desktop drives).




HDD refers to traditional hard disc drives that store data on spinning metal platters. SSD means “solid-state drive” and uses a much newer technology of flash memory chips to store data. SSDs are significantly faster than HDDs, and because they do not rely on mechanically spinning discs, they are more reliable and durable than HDDs. However, external SSD drives cost as much as five times more per gigabyte as their HDD counterparts—a 256 GB portable SSD drive made by Lacie costs $300 while its 1 TB HDD equivalent costs $200. When purchasing an HDD that will be rigorously used (ex: video editing as opposed to standard backup usage), make sure that the drive’s speed is at least 7200 RPM.

(more on HDDs and SSDs here)


Portable hard drives are typically bus-powered (no AC adapter) and small enough to almost fit in the back pocket of the average pair of jeans. This convenience comes at a price and with capacity limitations—portable hard drives are more expensive than their desktop counterparts, and they generally don’t hold more than 2 TB. Because they aren’t powered externally they can lose connectivity if the computer’s Firewire or USB bus has power issues. For this reason, they are not as stable and reliable as desktop hard drives. Desktop hard drives must be powered externally, often with chunky “wall-wart” AC adapters. They are much more cost-effective in terms of storage capacity than portable drives, and they are typically more stable in terms of connectivity. Bus-powered portable drives are great for backing up and transferring files and for light production work, but… For maximum performance, stability and affordability, we recommend plug-in desktop drives over bus-powered portable drives.


For more than a decade Firewire had been the prominent Mac interface standard for external hard drives and other peripherals. In more recent years the Firewire400 (6-pin) standard was replaced by the faster Firewire800 (9-pin), but Firewire800 is not quite fast enough for smooth, efficient editing of HD video, especially when compared with newer alternatives.

A faster alternative is eSATA (serial ATA), an option included along with Firewire in many external hard drives. The main drawback to eSATA is that eSATA ports are not included in any computers currently on the market. It’s not possible to connect an eSATA drive to a Mac laptop without an adapter. It’s a relatively old standard at this point and will probably not be included in future generations of external hard drives. However, eSATA cards can be installed in desktop computers, offering the fastest possible connection from a pre-2013 Mac Pro to an external hard drive.

Many inexpensive drives offer USB 2.0 capabilities, but USB 2.0 should only be used for light work like editing photos or copying files—it’s almost two times slower than Firewire and can’t handle large video files. USB 3.0 is over five times faster than Firewire (see chart below) and at the moment is the most affordable standard for HD editing or any other bandwidth-heavy activity. Only the new Mac Pros at SAIC include USB 3.0 ports, but all Macbook Pro laptops produced after May 2012 have USB 3.0 capabilities.

(more on USB here)

Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0 (for now) and is included in all new Mac laptop models and in the new Mac Pro. Thunderbolt peripherals and drives have been slow to develop and are considerably more expensive than their USB 3.0 counterparts, but they are gradually becoming more affordable. Thunderbolt is currently capable of speeds up to 10 gigabytes per second. Thunderbolt 2 can reach 20 gigabytes per second with the potential for speeds up to 100 GB/s. However, at the moment, Thunderbolt 2 drives are drastically more expensive than standard Thunderbolt drives. 

(more on Thunderbolt here)

(Gizmodo – “Thunderbolt vs. USB 3.0: “The Definitive Showdown”)


*RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a technology that bundles several physical hard drives into one practical unit. Data is distributed across the multiple drives for dramatically improved performance. A common RAID-configured Mac Pro would have one main system hard drive (Macintosh_HD) plus four 1 TB HDDs that are RAID-striped into a single unit. This unit is seen by the Finder as one 4 TB hard drive. When video data is processed to and from the RAID unit, it has an incredible amount of bandwidth to do so, especially when compared to that offered by a Firewire cable. The example here is of a configuration for maximum performance; other RAID configurations can allow for increased security against hard drive failures and data loss.

We highly recommend that you purchased a RAID-configured external drive if you plan on using the drive for HD or 4K video work. For backing up and transferring files RAID technology is not crucial.

Click here for explanations of various RAID configurations.

Steadicam Aero Manual

Posted in steadicam on Friday, January 20th, 2017


Blackmagic URSA Mini Firmware Update(2017.01.18)

Posted in Cameras on Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Due to a significant usability update, the FVNMA Tech department created a quick start up guide which will help navigate the new firmware on FVNMA Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6k Cameras.

All URSA Mini’s available in the Media Center will be updated to the latest build by January 30th, 2017.

The quick start up guide is available below or as a Downloadable PDF Here: ursamini-firmware-update

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FVNMA Equipment List

Posted in FVNMA Equipment List on Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

To view a list of FVNMA equipment please click here. All equipment is circulated through the MacLean Media Center.

Canon 814XL-S & 1014XL-S Super 8MM Camera Manual

Posted in Cameras on Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Attached here is the PDF of the Camera Manual for the Canon 814XL-S and 1014XL-S Super 8MM cameras. The Canon Super 8MM Cameras are some of the most advanced Super 8 cameras and this resource will be very useful for first-time and recurring users.

To access the PDF, click here: canon_814xl-s_and_1014xl-s

Sony Alpha a7s II Startup Guide

Posted in Cameras on Saturday, October 8th, 2016

The Sony Alpha a7s II is a 4K Mirrorless DSLR now available to FVNMA, this guide will give you basic instruction on navigating the in-camera menus, initializing the camera, setting ISO/WB, using tools for composition and exposure, and troubleshooting the included lens mount adapter for Canon EF lenses.

View the guide as JPEGs below or download the full PDF here: Sony Alpha a7s Startup PDF


Using the Advanced Mix Suite and Vocal Booth

Posted in Audio, Gene Siskel Film Center, Mix Suite on Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Updated for September 20, 2016

FVNMA’s Surround Sound Mix Suite is located in room MC1413 of the MacLean building and an acoustically insulated Vocal Booth is adjacent to it in room MC1414. This guide is for students who have been authorized on the Mix Suite in class or by workshop. It covers the basic operations in the room including configuring ProTools for vocal booth recording and 5.1 surround mixing. Click on the images below to enlarge them, or download the .pdf here: MC1413 Adv Mix Suite Guide 2016-09-30

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ColorGrading in DaVinci Resolve 12

Posted in Colorgrading, Editing, HDR on Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Colorgrading is an aspect of filmmaking that is slowly becoming more and more prevalent due to a industry push towards cameras shooting in LOG/Film Colorspaces and the sudden availability of professional grade tools. The FVNMA technical department has adopted DaVinci Resolve and DaVinci Resolve Studio for our labs and we are excited to support this workflow. As we understand that Resolve 12 is a new workflow we have prepared a guide for using Resolve 12, its robust toolset, project management, and workflow considerations.

The guide is available as a downloadable PDF here: Colorgrading with DaVinci Resolve 12

Sony PXW-Z100 StartUp Guide

Posted in Cameras on Friday, August 12th, 2016

The Sony PXW-Z100 is a digital 4K video camcorder available to the FVNMA community. This guide will give you the step-by-step startup procedures, camera initialization, and will guide you through basic operations as well as some advanced features.

The guide is available as jpegs posted below, and a PDF is downloadable here: SONY_PXW_z100_STARTUPGUIDE



Creating a master file for 5.1 Surround Sound DCP

Posted in Audio, DCP, Editing, Mix Suite, Pro Tools on Monday, June 27th, 2016

If you have a Surround Sound mix from ProTools and intend to create a DCP for theatrical release or festival exhibition, this guide will go through our step by step workflow for creating a Quicktime Master file for 5.1 Surround Sound Digital Cinema Packages.

Click to enlarge the images or download the PDF: SurroundSoundDCP

SurroundSoundDCP-1 SurroundSoundDCP-2 SurroundSoundDCP-3










Optimizing your RAW Workflow

Posted in Colorgrading, Compression, Editing, FCP X, RED on Thursday, March 10th, 2016

We have two camera systems in FVNMA that can record to Raw Video formats, the Red Scarlet-MX and the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. While there are a multitude of benefits to shooting in Raw, there are also a number of technical downfalls due to its very high bit rate. Here we discuss streamlined workflows and methods to optimize your Raw Post-production Workflow.

Download the PDF here: FVNMA Raw Workflows Guide

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