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  1. Maybe it's just the fever I've had for a few days, but I've decided to take the leap and upgrade my Mac to OS X 10.5 "Leopard". Of course, I've heard about all of the bad things that can happen, especially considering how many third-party extensions I'm running, but I've updated everything, disabled what can't be updated, and hopefully it will all go well. If not, I've taken out some insurance, by using NetRestore to completely clone my hard drive. So if everything does go ka-flooey, I can restore my Mac exactly to where it was last night. There are a few reasons I'm updating: We'll be updating the labs at work this Summer, so I might as well get a head start on learning my way around 10.5. I'm going to be udpating to Adobe's CS3 versions for most of my apps, as well as Final Cut Studio 2. I figure I might as well update the OS first, then run the others. Seems to me the installs would be less likely to run into issues that way. I really want to use Time Machine for backing-up projects. Especially Stella at 20 and some other video footage I have. I've got a 500 GB drive set aside just for that purpose. I already back-up using Retrospect, and will continue to use that, but Retrospect is too slow for media files. So this will give me the best of both worlds. What I don't know, is how much else this is going to break. Will FreeHand finally bite the dust? Will I have to pay through the nose to update other apps I'm running? And most importantly - will Stella still work? I guess I'll find out in a few hours...
  2. The digitizing is complete! Stella at 20 is now in the computer, backed up to a second external drive, and backed up to DVCAM tapes. 172.42 GB is how much space the source footage takes up. That translates into roughly 14 hours. Wanna see it? What - you thought I meant the actual video? Sorry. I don't have that kind of web space. Also in that list you'll see Stella at 20 volumes 1 and 2, which I digitized as an editing guide. After having watched all the footage, I can tell you there's some really cool stuff in there. There's also a fair amount of stuff that's unusable for one reason or another. That's just part of filmmaking. Off-topic conversations, bad takes, stuff that's repeated numerous times, general cacophony, and so on. Even so, I'm quite sure that I can extend Stella out to include more footage that the original version had (which ran about 90 minutes per volume). I'm now in the process of coming up with a plan of attack for editing this. In general, I'll be following Glenn's original concept, where one volume was about the history of the 2600, and the other focused more on the programmers and some of the games they created. Where I may deviate from this some (and I just have to see how the footage will play out), is to try to clarify the chronology of events a bit more, and expand the information to go beyond the scope of the 2600, since other aspects of Atari are mentioned - most notably how the 400/800 fits into all this. Also, I want to make it clearer during the documentary who is talking at any given time (and what they did at Atari), since even after watching all of the footage - I'm still not sure. Since the goal for this is a DVD, I'm hoping to add some interactivity to it. Not sure to what degree yet, but there will be something in there. Also, there will be new graphics to help explain some of the technical concepts being discussed (assuming I can figure out what they're talking about in the first place), and hopefully an audio commentary track with Glenn. And maybe some other stuff, as well. One of the big plusses about going to DVD, is how everything can be organized. Besides merely splitting things into chapters that you can skip ahead to, we can create indices that will let you just play specific interviews, so if you only want to watch Tod Frye talk about why Pac-Man flickers so badly, you can do that. There are a lot of neat possibilities here to explore. So hang in there - it will be worth the wait.
  3. Okay... that's a bit of a cheat. Technically, it should be Stella at 20, at 19. But that just doesn't sound as cool. Bet you never thought you'd see another post about this project... did ya'? Well, at a certain point, neither did I. Eleven years ago, almost to the week, I received the original camera tapes for the two-volume documentary Stella at 20 from Glenn Saunders, with the intent of re-editing it into an expanded version of the documentary. The goal was to put it out on DVD, since it initially only appeared on VHS, and Volume 2 had never been widely available. The problem with just releasing the original documentary to DVD was that the master tape of Volume 1 had been lost by the duplicating house, and no dub had been made of it. So there was no way to get anything better than VHS quality for Volume 1, without going through and re-editing it from the source tapes. And if you're going to do that - why not expand it, since over a dozen hours of footage was shot? Well, that was the thought anyway. But, as happens with so many other hobby-centered projects, it went nowhere. The time needed to invest in it and do it properly never materialized. Between my job, other Atari-related projects, and occasionally real-life, I just didn't have the time to do it. For all intents and purposes, I completely underestimated the amount of time and effort this was going to take. At least two other people over the years offered to re-edit it as well. None of the offers panned out. Something else that factored into this, was that video technology was rapidly changing. It became a moving target. As part of my job, I spend a great deal of time trying to hit that target. When I originally digitized the tapes, the best quality I could manage was DVCAM format. Now this could be considered - charitably - a "prosumer" format. And for editing a DVD, it would be acceptable. But for creating new masters equal to the quality of the original Betacam footage, not so much. Within a couple of years, the equipment I had access to changed significantly, and I could then capture video uncompressed. Clearly, this would be the way to go, but it meant re-digitizing over two-dozen tapes, and even then, the big problem was still carving out the time needed to re-edit it all. Within another couple of years things changed significantly again, as we moved on from standard definition to high definition. And while the tapes were never shot in HD, it still factored into the question of what was our target? Was it Blu-ray? Do we upscale everything? Do we stick with DVD? Well, that became a moot question too, as the emergence of YouTube completely changed how people consumed video. Even though it wasn't authorized, Volume 1 of Stella was already out there. From exactly the sort of grainy, low-resolution VHS source that Glenn had wanted to avoid in the first place. Glenn's solution: Skip the re-edited version, and just put all of the original camera tapes online. The two released volumes ran 2 hours and 40 minutes combined. That meant 10 hours of material had never been seen. Even with an expanded documentary, most of that material would still have remained hidden away. This way, everyone who really wanted to see this amazing time capsule, could do so in its entirety. The destination? Archive.org. To present the material in the best possible quality, the tapes needed to be recaptured with online playback in mind. I ran a number of tests, showing them to Glenn for his approval. In the end, we decided the best results were to upscale everything to 1280 x 720p, 60fps. This de-interlaced the material (essential for online playback), and upscaled the material for viewing on computer monitors (we found 1080p to be unnecessary, given the standard definition source material). We maintained the original aspect ratio (pillarboxing the video), and made no edits to the material, apart from muting the reference tone at the beginning, and overlaying titles onto the color bars. Any edits present were done in-camera, during the shoot. And now, finally, it's all done. You can watch all 27 original camera tapes (plus some rare bonus footage of Jay Miner) online, right here: https://archive.org/details/StellaAt20 Having watched through all of the tapes several times, I can tell you there's some fascinating, amazing footage in there. Great stories, technical background, industry insights, history, anecdotes - enough to keep you busy for, oh... about 14 hours altogether. Since these are unedited, there are stops and starts, off-camera comments, awkward pauses and just dead air. But it's all worth wading through to get to the good stuff. I hope you enjoy it! It's been a long road to get here. Some technical information, regarding how the tapes were captured: Hardware: Playback deck: Ampex CVR-75 Time-base corrector: Leitch DPS-475 Capture interface/scaling/de-interlacing: Blackmagic Teranex 3D Computer: Apple Mac Pro 6,1, 3GHz 8-core Xeon, 32 GB RAM Software: Capture: Blackmagic Media Express Video editing: Adobe Premiere Pro Audio editing: ProTools HD Video encoding: Adobe Media Encoder Codecs: Capture: Video: Apple Pro Res 422 (HQ), 1280x720p, 60 fps; Audio: 24-bit, 48kHz uncompressed Upload: Video: H.264, two-pass vbr, 10Mbit/sec, 1280x720p, 60 fps; Audio: AAC, 320kbps, 48kHz
  4. Well, if you've been following along with this thread in the 2600 forums, then you already know that a DVD release of the 2-part documentary "Stella at 20" is in the works. Shot in 1997 and released on VHS, this documentary featured interviews with many of the Atari 2600's designers and programmers, as well as Atari's founders: Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn. (See complete descriptions of "Stella at 20" at the CyberPunks home page.) Volume 2 has long been sold-out, although Volume 1 is still available through Randy Crihfield (if you can find him). So, why do a DVD release? Isn't this stuff almost ten years old? Well, yes. But the fact is, it's not out-of-date. Most of the material is about the early days of the Atari, the development of the 2600 and its games, and other historical tidbits about the video game industry. This is the history of Atari, and it will always be of interest to Atari fans. Besides, a lot of work went into the original documentary to make a professional product, and DVDs will finally allow this material to be shown at the high quality it deserves. Today we took the first step. Glenn Saunders (mos6507) dropped off all of the original master tapes with me this afternoon. Well, almost all of them. The edited master for Volume 1 was lost when the duplication house that had it went out of business. But I do have all of the original source tapes, so the task now will be to re-edit everything back together. As I'm typing this up, I'm making a dub of the Volume 2 master so I have a copy to watch. I only had Volume 1, so I'd never seen the second part before. One thing that really stands out on the master tape is the exceptional video quality. It looks like it could have been shot yesterday. The detail is razor-sharp. For example, you can tell that both Carol Shaw and Larry Kaplan are wearing calculator watches. (Once a geek, always a geek.) That kind of clarity just doesn't translate well to VHS. DVDs will look much, much better. The other thing that really stands out is the exceptional quality of the interviews themselves. These are great stories told by the people who made the games that we all grew up with. How cool is that? The next step is to sit down and watch the VHS dubs of all 14 or so hours of raw footage, and begin figuring out which shots to use, and where to put them. Initially, I'll be using the original videos as a guide, but if I think there are places to expand footage or move things around, I'll check with Glenn. Hopefully, we can find a way to add a few things for the DVDs. Now, the question most people are going to ask is "when will it be finished?" The short answer is, "I have no idea." There's a lot of footage to go through, a lot of editing to be done, and that's before I even get started working on the DVD authoring. This is strictly a volunteer, spare-time project, that I'll have to slip into my schedule where I can. Having said that, I am looking forward to working on it. This is all pretty cool stuff, and where cool stuff is concerned, I make time to work on it. Just don't be looking for it any time "real soon". But I think that "Stella at 30" is a pretty safe bet.
  5. Somehow, I've stuck with this whole "Blog" fad long enough to crank out 100 entries. And much to my surprise, just this past week, I passed Manuel's Blog as the "Most Viewed" at AtariAge: So to all of the people who have been reading my blog, all I have to say is... ...don't you have something better you could be doing?? Seriously though, thanks for reading. Hopefully some of it has been interesting, and maybe, occasionally, even useful. Pffft! Ha! I knew I couldn't keep a straight face with that one. No, really. Thanks for reading. Besides, as soon as Manuel starts working on Colony 7 again, poof! There goes first place. And all the sweet, sweet prize money that goes with it. What... you didn't know about that? Albert didn't mention any of this... ? Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. Anyway... To do something relatively significant to mark the 100th entry for my Blog, I thought I'd post an update on the Stella at 20 DVD. Fortunately, by sheer coincidence, it just so happens there's actually something to write an update about. Otherwise, you'd be getting some more homebrew reviews. (You're not getting off the hook that easily. The reviews are coming later this week.) So then, here's where we're at with Stella at 20. First, a little background. Glenn (mos6507) originally shot the footage for Stella at 20 on a videotape format called Betacam SP. This is about the highest quality, analog, standard-definition format that's out there. For those of you who have the VHS version of Stella, you really haven't seen the clarity of this footage. Glenn had edited Volumes 1 and 2 of Stella at 20 on a non-linear editing system (NLE) called a Video Toaster Flyer. Even though this was almost ten years ago, and used a proprietary compressed format, it still yielded results nearly indistinguishable from the source tapes. When the editing was completed, the projects were then mastered back onto Betacam SP tapes, which were then sent off for duplication to VHS. In order to get the quality we want for the DVDs, we had to go back to the Betacam masters. Unfortunately, only the master tape for Volume 2 still exists. Volume 1 was lost when the duplicating service that did the VHS tapes went out of business. Last weekend, Glenn lugged his Toaster Flyer up to where I work in order to try to play back the project file for Volume 1, and create a new master tape for it. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get it to load up and run. The best we could do was play back some graphics files and a few minutes of rare footage of the late Jay Miner, and output that to Betacam. The bottom line: in order to resurrect Volume 1, it is going to have to be completely re-edited from scratch, using the original source tapes. Fortunately, all of the source tapes are indeed safe (and currently in my possession). So that's not a problem. Plus, I have a VHS copy of Volume 1 to use as a guide for re-editing the new version. Which is where things get interesting. This may not end up being the same Stella at 20 that you may (or may not) be familiar with. It certainly won't be any less than the existing version, but it very well may be more. It may even be edited differently. Glenn has given me the opportunity to re-edit Stella, not just to re-create what he's already done, but to fit whatever vision I might have for the project. My initial inclination was to simply duplicate what he already did, since hey - it works! But as I'm going through the footage, I may find there are things that could be added back in that were originally cut for time (or a lack of direct relevance to the 2600), that are still interesting. Plus, since the aim for this is a DVD, there's more we can do with interactivity and non-linear playback, that wasn't possible for VHS. The possibilities are starting to really intrigue me. I think we can come up with some cool stuff for it. Whatever direction it takes, I want to be sure this remains Glenn's project. So he has the final say on it. But it's nice to be able to throw my ideas at the wall, and see if anything sticks. Ideally, it would be great to include a "Stella at 30" retrospective, with new interviews with some of the homebrew authors and other 2600 hobbyists. But given that they're spread not merely all over the country, but all over the world, makes that logistically impractical at this point. So for now, I'm sticking to the footage we've got. So, where exactly are we? Has anything (other than our recent adventure with the NLE) happened lately? Why, yes! Thanks for asking. I'm currently in the process of digitizing all of the master tapes into the computer, so I can start editing. To give you an idea of what I'm dealing with, there are twenty-six 30 minute tapes, plus 48 minutes of the aforementioned Jay Miner footage which I just found on a couple of unmarked Betacam tapes in the bottom of the box. (Yep, Glenn - it's all there! ) So that's about 14 hours of footage to digitize. The trick, is managing that much footage. Fortunately, Glenn put together a very detailed shot list, which tells what's on each tape and where. This is through the magic of time code, which is what's going to become very important in the next few paragraphs. Time code assigns a specific number to each frame on a videotape. You can't tell where anything is without it. Also important, is we want to end up with a brand-new Betacam-quality master in the end. Even though DVDs are highly compressed, we want to start out with the best possible quality master, prior to compressing it. (And of course, we want the best archival quality copy for safekeeping.) The problem is that to work at the highest possible quality (10 bit uncompressed), we're dealing with a data rate of 270 Mb/second, which works out to something like 1.7 TB (yes, with a "T") for all of the footage. Besides the sheer amount of storage, you need a full-fledged video-capable RAID to be able to handle that data rate, in order to be able to even see what you're editing in real-time. The plus side, is that when finished editing, is it's a straightforward matter to output the final piece to a new Betacam (or more likely, Digital Betacam) master. Since the end result is digital, it can be compressed directly from that file for use on the DVD, suffering as little generational loss as possible. (I'll put up a whole 'nother blog entry someday about DVD authoring, and even teach you how to sing "The MPEG2 Alphabet Song". It'll be fun!) While I do have some access to such a system, I can't monopolize it, or its attached storage, (nor do I really want to camp out in that editing room) for however many months this is all going to take. The other big drawback here, is there's no back-up of the digitized media. So if any of it gets lost or deleted, it has to be recaptured from the master tapes again on that same system. This locks me into a single editing system, and severely limits the time I can work on it, plus it doesn't keep the project completely safe from others needing to use that system. So there needs to be another way. The key, is time code. Having talked with an editor and technician where I work, it turns out the best approach for this project is to first make a dub of the Betacam source tapes onto a format called DVCAM. This is a digital, compressed format (similar to DV), which brings a couple of benefits with it. First, it maintains the time code of the original tapes. Second, it gives me a good-quality back-up of the original source tapes (currently, there are none). Third, when I transfer these into the computer, they're already compressed at a much lower data rate (25 Mb/second) which works out to a mere 157 GB for all of the footage. This means the entire project can fit on a typical FireWire hard drive, can easily be backed up to a second drive, and can be plugged into practically any Mac running Final Cut Pro, so I can work on the entire project almost anywhere. Even on my iMac in the comfort of my own home. Better still, DVCAM decks are a lot more commonplace than 10-bit uncompressed capture stations, so if I need to re-import footage during the editing process, I can do it pretty-much anywhere. This is called offline editing. In this case, using the DVCAM footage as a more manageable substitute for the Betacam tapes. Since this is all frame-accurate with the original source tapes, once I'm done editing everything as DV files, I can take my Final Cut Pro project file to the uncompressed capture station, load it up, and tell it to only re-capture the footage - from the original Betacam source tapes - that was used in the final edit. Admittedly, this will still take some time, as I have to feed tapes to the machine as it needs them, but it's still only a few hours at most, and the end result will be exactly the edits I created using the DVCAM footage, but at full Betacam quality, and without all the unused footage. Final Cut Pro simply replaces the DV footage with the uncompressed footage, and from there, we can create a new Digital Betacam master, as well as the compressed DVD version. Also, even though the final master will be about 121 GB per hour, it's not likely to exceed two or three hours, so that's still a reasonable amount to fit on an affordable FireWire drive, giving us not only a new master copy on tape, but a back-up on a hard drive as well. Plus, there will also be the DVCAM back-ups, which are of a very high quality in and of themselves. (The dubs from Betacam to DVCAM are being done using component video, and balanced audio.) To expedite this whole process a bit, I'm using two DVCAM decks. One for making the dubs from Betacam SP, and the second to transfer the DVCAM footage into the computer. The dub from Betacam to DVCAM is the likeliest place where there could be a problem, so that's the one I'm watching. Since going from DVCAM into the computer is a direct digital transfer of data, I can basically just let the computer do its thing, and keep a watch on it out of the corner of my eye. So for example, while I'm watching and dubbing tape #3 (from Betacam to DVCAM), tape #2 (already on DVCAM) is being dumped into the computer from the other deck. This is also giving me the opportunity to look over all of the footage, check it against Glenn's notes, and begin to get an idea of what's there. The biggest plus of this setup is that all of the equipment is already in my office. I don't have to book time in the uncompressed editing room to do it. I can slip this in anytime after work or on weekends that suits me. (Definitely one of the better benefits of my job.) Once the footage is all in, I'll copy it onto a portable hard drive, and I can begin editing. As for a timeline of when this will all get done... well, I've given Glenn a couple of dates that I hope to have 1) a rough cut of the project and 2) the final DVD done by. But until we get close to either making or missing them, I'll just keep 'em to myself. Suffice it to say, they're months apart. So don't go looking for this anytime soon. I will, however, post updates regularly to my blog as the project progresses. Currently, I'm done with dubbing tape #9, and transferring tape #8, so I'm about 1/3 of the way through digitizing the source tapes. I'll keep you posted!
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