the candler blog

iPad for Filmmakers, Hopefully

Filmmaking, technology

Apple’s iPad is 2 months from release and the Internet seems to have already made up its mind on the device, one way or another. This is all based on total speculation as even those who have handled the tablet haven’t done so long enough to offer an informed opinion. So while the mud and rainbows sling elsewhere, I would like to speculate how the device will impact filmmakers should it be embraced after launch.

First off, let’s look at the iPhone/iPod Touch which has enjoyed decent success in the film community. There are apps available as simple as AJA’s data rate calculator for estimating video file sizes and as complex as screenwriting applications. You can plug your iPod into an Alesis ProTrack and record audio via XLR mics. This doesn’t even to mention the simpler things like the video capabilities of the iPhone 3GS which gives any maker the ability to shoot a walkthrough or concept video whenever they deem necessary. Today, the filmmaker finds a decent tool in the iPhone/iPod Touch.

So when voices on the internet decry the new iPad “just a big iPod Touch”, I would ask the dissenters how they could consider that a bad thing. The truth is that if it were just a big iPod Touch, it would already solve a great deal of problems with the smaller screen on Apple’s mobile devices. Even though the device isn’t available in the wild yet, it is fast becoming clear that the iPad is something more than a glorified iPhone. Take a look at some of the advanced gestures possible on the iPad in this video compiled by Gizmodo:

The way Phil Schiller “stacks” those Keynote slides with a two touch gesture is something that has never been available on any Apple touch device before, and it is a sign of things to come. Gesturing is about to go way past touching and swiping. So how could this impact filmmakers? Let’s break it down by department.

Pre-Production

There are some obvious places Pre-Production can use the iPad. On the somewhat mundane side of things we have iWork, Apple’s desktop-class suite of productivity applications available (I assume) for the device on Day 1. One could use Numbers on the iPad to figure out a budget, and Pages to make notes at a meeting or perhaps even markup a script breakdown. But this is basic productivity that all users, filmmaker or otherwise, will benefit from.

Nearly every iPhone app will run on the iPad, so the tools I mentioned above should all work on the iPad out of the box. However, each app will be somewhat crippled by its intended resolution, running a blockier version to fill the 9.7” screen. The developer behind Black Mana’s Screenplay has already announced an iPad version that should be ready by the product launch. According to the company’s forums, the application will be for the writing professional, meaning perhaps this will be a full-fledged screenwriting application. With Apple’s keyboard accessory, the screenwriter could find him/herself taking up a much smaller footprint at the coffee shop while getting some serious work done.

Perhaps the biggest and most ambitious announcement comes from OmniGroup, who writes the iPhone GTD application OmniFocus. A committed Macintosh development firm, Omni has been coding best in class applications that run alongside traditional productivity suites like iWork or Microsoft Office. They have announced plans to bring five of their desktop applications to the iPad. OmniOutliner is an organizational application whose feature set goes far deeper than outlining. However, it does do outlining tasks particularly well and would make idea organization extremely portable. OmniPlan is a powerful project management application. Given how many moving parts a film production has and the open nature of OmniPlan (it is extremely customizable), I could certainly see an entire production being planned out inside of the application. Then it could be tweaked throughout the production on the minimalist device. (On a sidenote, Omni is a very big Mac developer whose excitement over the iPad should not be taken lightly. That they are interested in the platform is reason enough for creative professionals to take the iPad seriously.)

Back to film specific apps, we have Cinemek’s Storyboard Composer. While the application is heavily tied to the iPhone’s camera, which the iPad lacks, and the developers have yet to address iPad availability, there is no question that the application will continue to be useful for filmmakers. Personally, I prefer a blank page to storyboard on so that I can be as unruly as I like, which is where Steve Sprang’s Brushes would come in. Demoed at Apple’s iPad launch last week, the application allows you to “paint” with your fingers right on the screen. Brushes features a powerful toolset of layering and customizable brush settings. Famously, the iPhone iteration was used to illustrate three New Yorker covers. I’m sure the iPad version will only make it easier to draw, which would work in tandem with Storyboard for powerfully organized drawn shot breakdowns.

Production

Moving onto the Production phase of a film, let me get back to Omni and discuss Omnigraffle, a vector-based diagramming application. Not only could a Cinematographer, Gaffer or a Production Designer use it in Pre-Production to plan out whole shoots, but imagine having lighting plots and set schematics available digitally on set. A production could plan exterior shoots with multiple lighting plans all in one iPad, so when the sun shifts or cloud cover comes in they could quickly access a backup. Better yet, when you arrive at a location to find a vital aspect of the room has changed, say the art director changed a circular table to a longer rectangular one, you could quickly adjust the change and deploy your light and camera plots via the iPad. The precision OmniGraffle offers, down to the inch, allows for a slimmer margin of error than plain old paper and pencil. That means that even the most complex of shots can be easily imagined in an iPad before doing a trial and error on set. A handful of swipes could save hours worth of mistakes.

pCam is a fascinating tool that offers the cinematographer a bevy of mathematical assistance onset. It’s doubtful the app will be rebuilt for the iPad as its functionality won’t necessarily benefit from the larger screen. But it’s certainly worth mentioning; after all, there are working professionals out there who don’t own an iPhone but may be in the market for an iPad.

Anyone overseeing continuity could load a days worth of photos, either directly with Apple’s Camera Connection kit or via USB sync with iTunes/iPhoto. Literally thousands of photos would be accessible and viewable so you could zoom in on that glass mug in the corner and see how much tea was left in it. While this is possible with an iPhone right now, the added screen real estate will make the job even easier. I should also mention that most of these tasks could be done with a laptop, but imagine the difference between walking around to every corner of a location holding a laptop and holding an iPad. Swiping and double tapping a 1.5 pound flat screen device seems a lot easier than setting down a laptop every time you need to change photos or click the zoom button.

Script supervisors could be reading and annotating the script throughout the day. They could flip pages without even making a sound, keeping your audio department happy. Break out Numbers again so the Line Producer can track how over budget you are. While s/he’s at it, why not make any changes to tomorrow’s call sheets before printing them out (potentially via bonjour). Basically, imagine anyone on a filmset who now carries a clipboard or folder toting an iPad instead.

Post-Production

Post production has long been the most computerized of departments. Ever since the advent of  digital, or non-linear editing (NLE), systems, Post has given itself over to bits and never looked back. Let’s start with the sound department.

ProRemote is a powerful application that brings audio sliders to the iPhone. I’m not positive that an iPad specific version is in development, but if it is it could prove indispensable. Essentially, the iPad would turn into a mixing board for ProTools and other audio applications. Not only would this give amateur mixers the tools they need for (relatively) less money than a hardware solution, but the portability of the iPad would give a multi-touch mixing pad to location sound personnel.

Dailies deliveries could very well be revolutionized by the iPad. A company like Sample Digital, whose DAX/D3 systems offer robust and secure dailies viewing through a proprietary app, would do well to offer up an iPad edition of their software. The dailies and cuts for an entire shoot could be accessible securely in an iPad, moving the mess of hefty files and disc media to remote servers, allowing producers, writers and department heads to see anything they want at the tap of a screen. (Note: Sample Digital’s current workflow, while impressive, utilizes a lot of non- Apple tools, so I doubt this is something that will happen for quite some time. That being said, they are not the only game in town for digital deliverables and someone else could very well make this happen.)

Finally, for the pie-in-the-sky use case, I will come out and speak for all filmmakers who have embraced the digital age: we want a full-featured mobile touch-screen video editing solution. The obstacles are great, but the idea is actually quite simple. When Google Wave was first introduced, I suggested how it could be used to host a complete edit of a film via XML documents . Since non-linear editing is non-destructive, technically all you are manipulating is timecode, which is text in a document. We know the iPad can handle some pretty complex bits of video (H.264 at 720p requires some serious processing power) and we know it can handle text well enough to run a desktop class word processor. So hardware, save for disk space, isn’t really the issue. The newest, most tricked out Mac Pros often have horsepower to spare, so I could envision a world where media is transcoded to iPad specific codecs in the background, then synced to the iPad for manipulation on the road. I want to be clear about this: we don’t need transitions, we don’t need titling effects, we just need to be able to play down and tweak our work on the subway if we feel the need to. That is, for now. Envisioning building 3D Motion graphics by pinching and zooming gets me all excited, but I’ll hold off on that capability in hopes of an NLE, perhaps Final Cut Touch.

So there you have it, just a few filmmaking use cases for Apple’s latest invention, the iPad. Bear in mind that this entire post has been written sight unseen. Just as when I first took the wrapping off the iPhone I had no idea I would one day be doing crosswords on it and recording podcasts, the iPad’s future is completely unknown. However, for those of us who can see its potential now, there are some immediate advantages it offers that we can benefit from.

Apps Mentioned in this Post

CURRENT IPHONE APPS DESKTOP/FUTURE IPAD APPS

AJA DataCalc

Final Cut Pro

Alesis ProTrack

iPhoto

Brushes

iWork

pCam

OmniGraffle

ProRemote

OmniOutliner

Screenplay

OmniPlan

Storyboard Composer

Sample Digital’s Dax/D3 System

Please feel free to add to this list in the comments. Better yet, what other film use cases can you think of for the iPad? The possibilities are endless.

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