Video production stories


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The Triumph of Technology

A quarter of a century ago I worked in an edit suite in west London.  It was my first job as an editor having been trained on the job.  Like many people I started out making tea and coffee but I was determined to learn so I borrowed camera gear at the weekends and shot pop promos for my band.  Many week nights were spent getting to grips with the edit controller.  It was a Sony 3000 and could control three VTRs at once which meant that you could mix between two different sources and record the result onto the third machine.

We’d play in Betacam or BVU tapes and record onto 1″C format through a Grass Valley vision mixer.  After eleven months of late night self-learning and daytime observing of the staff editors Mark and Spencer, the boss realised I could use the equipment quite well and promptly promoted me to editor.  My first edit was a broadcast piece about Macau for BBC’s Newsnight.  Shortly after that we totally revamped the edit suite, replacing the older equipment with a Sony BVE9000 edit controller, a Grass Valley 200 and a dual channel Questech Charisma digital effects unit that could wrap pictures into spheres and make cubes and other totally useless geometric shapes, that being the fashion of the day.

The new edit suite cost around half a million pounds with the installation and all the ancillary equipment.  From routers to scopes to racking and VTRs the new suite looked amazing.  Clients often remarked how it was like the bridge of the Enterprise with its rows of preview monitors set in the ceiling.  Now, I recount all this not just for nostalgia’s sake but to illustrate the difference with the kit I use today.  My current edit suite consists of a fast pc running Windows 7 64-bit with Avid Media Composer 6, After Effect CS5.5 and various other programs and utilities.  I have a SPL2381 monitor controller (which my brother insists is just a very expensive volume control), some Canford PPM meters, an SE2200A large diaphragm mic for voice overs that goes through a Presonus mic preamp and some lovely PMC TB2A audio monitors.  Now, you’ll notice that most of what I’ve listed here is audio gear but other than a Matrox MX02 and a Sony 40″ flat screen it is.  All the video stuff happens in the pc.  I built the computer myself and it cost around £2000 (Asus mobo, i7 quadcore chip, 24GB ram and a Nvidia Quadro FX3800 graphics card) with around two terabytes of internal raid storage.  With the extra external drives and the software I still had change from £5000.  A Mac would have done just as well but would have cost about twice as much.  And the thing is, that old edit suite I learned my trade in could do the most amazing things; I once had eleven VTRs running at once to produce one complex special effect with multiple matte keys and transitions going on – the sort of thing I can do in seconds in Avid or After Effects.

Yes, work flow has changed; things were much more immediate then, now you tend to render things out instead but results are far, far superior.  And that’s why I can make a living from my edit suite on the side of the Malvern Hills instead of having to work in London.  A real case of technology improving life.  I am also really good at making coffee.