My Current Desktop

So what kind of person uses an ultra-portable notebook as a dedicated render machine? One with a tight deadline, of course! One of the reasons I haven’t been posting so often is that we’re wrapping post production on my sisters’ documentary Return of the Daughters, and it’s taken a lot of time. It’s a reasonably simply project, and only an hour long, but somehow that never has any effect on how much needs to be done during crunch time.

We just built a new high-powered edit box, which is cranking away like a champ and has been pretty much bulletproof for the whole project – after working out a few initial driver kinks, it is now uncrashable. We’ve divided the program into sections, and each time an edit gets locked, A proxy file is made, which gets its own personal score composed, and I get a trimmed version of the timeline for color correction and onlining in After Effects. And here’s where I do most of that work:

click to enlarge

My ancient Inspiron 9300 is actually a very comfortable After Effects box because of its powerful video card and crisp 1920×1200 screen. And because most of the clips I’m grading are locked-off interviews, I can spot grade and don’t need to make full-motion, full-res previews. However, with one 1.6ghz processor, the Inspiron is sluggish when it comes to rendering the final HD video. Besides, I also need to make and encode all the DVD menus on this box, which doesn’t leave much time for rendering. That’s where the little black ThinkPad comes in.

Sure, it’s got a teeny tiny screen and a crummy video card, and it’s built for portability and battery life rather than power… but it still has two gig of ram and two 1.6ghz CPUs, making it a great network rendering node. This is the advantage of a flexible and robust production pipeline. At the moment, the final segments of the doco are being polished on our new edit box. The DVD extras are being edited on the old box. Because the bonus materials are simpler projects, I’m using that computer as a video server for my two After Effects computers. And because Adobe so seamlessly integrates different programs, I can further distribute my rendering and MPEG encoding tasks by splitting some renders between the two After Effects machines, and having others render from within Premiere on the edit machines based on how busy they are.

Admittedly, hastily networked laptops make for a messy desk (although Synergy eliminated the need for extra mice or keyboards), but the fact that I could, on the spur of the moment, add a completely new production machine (even a personal word processor like the ThinkPad) to our pipeline and have it fully utilized in less than an hour, without changing our overall setup, is a testament to the power of Windows networking, the speed of the CineForm player, and flexibility of Adobe’s video tools. And hey, I love a good jury-rig that works as well as a dedicated solution.

Also in the picture you can see my trusty Wacom tablet, Moleskine notebook (document everything!), Spyder2 color calibrator, a terabyte or so of external storage (handling some project backup), a copy of Outside Hollywood, Adobe CS3 (review coming soon), ethernet cables, extra DVD burner, and other assorted desk clutter. Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up once we wrap the project.

  1. Hi Isaac,

    I just have one quick question, which Spyder is that? I purchased the express version and found it useless, what would you recommend in terms of color calibration?


    - Josiah
  2. That’s the Express version. I wonder if there are just some monitors that it doesn’t work with, or if your monitor has strange settings that a profile can’t compensate for, because we’ve used it on multiple screens and it has, as near as I can tell, matched them pretty well.

  3. That is really strange, the problem I have with it is that it wants to make my monitors son saturated that anyone can tell they are off, For example the After Effects interface itself is some sort of rather strange orangeish gray. It also adjusts them far to dark for my purposes, though this might just be a problem of having cheap monitors.

    Thanks for your help!

    - Josiah

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