Thursday, September 27, 2007

Same Room, Different Day

The headquarters of the 24 frame playback department

Tucked away in an empty room somewhere behind all the camera activity, Peter, Mark and me use our laptops to download, test and control animation that plays on set. We're here in this room for most of the week. The set that all the animations are playing on is being shot for that amount of time.

So what does a 24 frame playback operator do anyway?

To put simply a 24 frame playback operator is in charge of putting screens (televisions or LCD monitors) in front of cameras and syncing them properly while playing back given animation or video footage.

There's quite a bit more to it than that. Cabling, color correction, knowledge of computers, software, camera equipment, monitors, video hardware, electrical gear, and being able to take being yelled at for animations or footage that the director doesn't like. 24 frame operators frequently get asked and sometimes yelled at to alter animations or change footage because we can simply play them back.

It's kind of like telling your video rental store that a movie needs to be re-shot. They can rent you the movie or not. They might even be able to edit out some parts but they can't re-shoot footage with the actor to get that close up you wanted. It's the same with 24 frame playback operators. There are a few tricks we can do but we can't redesign an entire animation on the spot. I should say that there are some of us that can pull magically animations out of our butt but usually it upsets people that are actually doing the animations. We'd have to clear it through the art department anyway to make sure it matches the art director or production designers vision.

The problem generally stems from playback being thought of as an after thought by most art departments or directors. They have so many other things to worry about that it's easy to over look want might or might not be showing up on some small screen in the background. If the screen is featured (ie. it's a hero screen) then some flags might go off.

Despite the random stress given from people that don't know what we do on set the job is quite good. Fiddling with computers and video equipment all day, interacting with people and getting fed by craft service, and getting paid for it is pretty good in my books.

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