Compositions & musiques de films

Musiques de films

Mes compositions musicales pour la télévision et le cinéma sont présentées, en français, sur un site séparé.

My musical compositions for television and film are showcased on a separate website (in French).

Turning an iPhone/iPad into a studio recording light

In the last couple of years, two ingenious pieces of software — Camille Troillard’s OSCulator and Hexler’s TouchOSC — have had a tremendous influence on the way musicians, composers and performers can interact with computers. Gone are the days of dedicated hardware controllers, which always seem to either have flimsy knobs, not enough pixels on their LCDs or two or three faders less than the amount you’d be comfortable with (when they don’t, they cost a couple of thousands of dollars). As with any new and experimental technology, the whole thing is in active development and many concepts are either hard to grasp or difficult to implement. Surprisingly, most of the stuff you’re likely to need is already working perfectly well and very easy to set up.
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Using timecode in Excel

In the mad technological rat race for high-definition, video compression and desktop compositing with infinite layers and undo levels, it’s not very often that you stumble upon a 20-kilobyte file from 1996 that can change the way you work. In the process of editing documentary films, I spent a while looking for the right way to enter timecode values in an Excel spreadsheet. This can be extremely valuable when working with historical archive footage. Most of the time the editor will be working with files which have “hard” timecode (numbers burned-in on top of the image to prevent illegal broadcast). When the film is done, it is usually up to the editor to dress up a list of all the shots he or she has actually used, so that the final footage – a “clean” frame, free of timecode – can be ordered from the appropriate footage agency.

If you’re the organized type, dressing such a list in Excel can be a pain. For each timecode value entered, you have to type three separate colons so as to obtain, e.g. 10:00:00:00 (asking for a clip that starts at 10000000 will usually get you nowhere). Moreover, if you want to do a few basic calculations (e.g. finding the total duration of all footage coming from a particular agency), you have to go through them with a separate timecode calculator and then waste half a day copying and pasting. I’ve tried to create a formula which would handle all of that but I got lost, quickly, in Excel’s cryptic syntax. And I didn’t feel like learning how to program Excel.

Luckily, as often happens on the third paragraph, an easy and effortless solution exists. A Swiss company, Belle Nuit Montage, has posted on its website an invaluable little macro which goes by the positively baroque name of TC.XLA 1.1. (with Drop-Frame). This little marvel was written more than a decade ago by Matthias Bürcher and will take all timecode formatting and calculating tasks in Excel off your hands. There are versions for Macintosh Excel 4 & 5 – and even DOS! – however the version called “Macintosh Excel 5, downloadable for OSX” is working perfectly well in a more up-to-date environment (in my case, Excel 2004 running on OSX Leopard).

Unfortunately, the English version of the webpage comes with very few instructions (the French version is much more explicit). The idea is very simple: you have to launch the XLA file (either by opening it or by adding it to your default macros). This adds two new styles (which can be found using Format > Styles…), called Time Code and Time Code DF (for Drop-Frame). All you have to do once you’ve applied these styles to your cells is to type the timecode without the colons – much like you would do in Final Cut Pro or Avid – i.e. typing 10000000 will result in 10:00:00:00 being displayed. This isn’t half the story, though.

TC.XLA running in Excel 2004

TC.XLA running in Excel 2004

TC.XLA adds a dozen of new and handy functions that are very simple to use. You can now easily add and subtract timecodes, convert between frame rates and even find the value of a timecode in feet for 16mm or 35mm film. The macro seems to support all standard drop and non-drop frame rates, although I’ve only worked with it in 25fps (which is the rate the code defaults to if you don’t specify another one).

The syntax for the functions is very simple and is described on the Belle Nuit Montage website. As an example, entering “TCminus(E4;D4)” into a cell will give you the timecode difference between the values in E4 and D4. Presuming the two cells represent IN and OUT points, the result is obviously the duration of the shot. You can then easily add up a list of those durations with TCsum. This last function doesn’t seem to refresh properly when changing values upstream, but forcing a recalculation (Command-=) solves the problem. This is a minor niggle, though, compared to the ease of use and practical value of this tiny piece of free software.

Update: The above works fine for Excel 2008 as well, however you must press Command-Option-T after creating your workbook in order to enable the macro. The status line should respond with “TC-XLA 1.1″ followed by a URL to confirm this.

Update II (May 21st, 2010): To all current and future commenters, please understand that I cannot offer support for this plugin because I haven’t programmed it. It is apparently a hit and miss affair, some people having lots of luck with it and others getting quite frustrated with the whole thing. I myself can’t understand why the macro behaves the way it does. I’ve emailed the author, suggesting to upgrade the plugin, but apparently it cannot be upgraded and “somebody would need to write it from scratch using VBA”. There is, honestly, nothing more I can do about it.

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Install Python 2.6.1 without trashing Ubuntu

After several trials and tribulations, I finally managed to get an independent Python 2.6.1 version running smoothly on Ubuntu 8.10 (“Intrepid”), without interfering with the system’s reliance on Python 2.5 and without breaking the entire package dependency system. The procedure described here has been successfully carried out on the Easy Peasy distribution of Ubuntu (ex-”Ubuntu-eee”), specifically tailored for the Asus EEE-PC. It should work, though, with any other 8.10 version of Ubuntu. It has also been tested successfully on Ubuntu 8.04 (“Hardy”).
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Python and Leopard

A messed-up Python installation on my Mac OSX Leopard system has caused me a fair amount of googling with no solution to be found. For no apparent reason, Python’s environment variable $PYTHONPATH got set to ‘/Applications/Dropbox.app/Contents/Resources’, causing havoc in Terminal and preventing IDLE from launching.

Several posts to the Python forum as well as the Apple Developer 101 discussion board got me no further than “Thank Dropbox’s authors for destroying your system and pray you have a backup.” This was evidently not the issue since Dropbox was working fine alongside Python and IDLE on my MacBook (although the fact that Dropbox.app contains a ‘Python.framework’ folder didn’t make figuring it out any easier). Googling about it came up with a fair amount of forum posts by people asking how to “reset” $PYTHONPATH or the sys.path variable to a default state. Replies were not very helpful, especially for UNIX neophytes like myself. Resintalling XCode, Dropbox, Python 2.6 or MacPython didn’t help either.

Luckily, I found a very simple solution that I thought I’d add to Google’s search engine: simply download and install the Mac OSX Combo Update for your version of Leopard (such as 10.5.5). This seems to fix the references to the default 2.5.1 framework that comes with Leopard, make importing modules functional again and, as a positive side effect, lets IDLE run.

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Bobigny, mémoires d’une cité

Directed by Marie-Pierre Jaury

TV documentary (2007) 50′

Produced by Au fil de l’eau / France 5

  • Original music score
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Quand l’art prend le pouvoir

Directed by François Lévy-Kuentz

TV documentary (2008) 2×26′

Produced by Les poissons volants / Arte

  • Camera
  • After Effects Animator
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Mourir pour la voiture

Directed by Paul Moreira

TV documentary (2007) 52′

Produced by AMIP / Premières Lignes

  • Camera
  • AVID Editor
  • After Effects Animator

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Wayne Shorter in Paris : effects shots

I’m starting to add a few posts showing some of the work I did which involved shooting and special effects.

The following clip shows some of the visual effects I created for Marie-Pierre Jaury’s documentary on Wayne Shorter. The idea behind all this was to present Shorter as an infinitely-wise alien bringing love, music and originality to the planet Earth.

None of the effects shots were planned during shooting, so all compositing was done by hand in After Effects.

My favorite shot is the one that nobody notices when watching the film (which is unfortunately an indicator of a successful effect): the disappearing orchestra behind the bass player, John Patitucci. The idea here was to cut between two performances of the same composition (Over Shadow Hill Way), starting with a full-orchestra rendition and transitioning smoothly to the quartet-only performance. This was achieved by masking the foreground by hand, frame by frame (a couple of days’ work), and then carefully cutting to the close-up shot of Patitucci.

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Beijing : Weiqi

This is a short clip I shot of two people sitting in a street of Beijing and playing a game of Go (in China, the game is called Weiqi [pronounced, more or less, "way-chee"]). Although originally a Chinese game, Weiqi isn’t played very often by Chinese people (it has evolved into its current form after being introduced into Japan). The Chinese seem to prefer Mah-Jong or Chinese Chess and, whenever asked about Weiqi, they dismiss the game as being “much too complicated”. I had stopped hoping to see anyone play it until, a few days before leaving China, I came across two men sitting in the middle of Dong Si Shi Tiao street and negotiating the Endgame (Yose).

In the Zhejiang province of China there was a mountain inhabited by faeries. One day, an uncautious carpenter, Wang Zhi, went up the mountain in search of wood. Coming over a group of people gathered round a Go board, he joined them to watch the game. Sitting down, Wang Zhi gently leaned his axe against a rock.

One of the company gave him a prune to eat. The moves made during the game were of unsurpassable beauty. Wang Zhi lost himself completely in it. Suddenly, one of the spectators turned to him and asked if he shouldn’t be thinking about getting home at some point.

Startled, he reached for his axe, but it crumbled to dust at the touch of his hand. Returning to the village, he came across a man he had never met. The man pointed to a statue and said: “This is a statue erected to the memory of Wang Zhi, who disappeared one hundred years ago.”

(The legend of Ranka mountain)

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Irak: Agonie d’une nation

Directed by Paul Moreira

TV documentary (2007) 63′

Produced by AMIP / Premières Lignes

  • AVID Editor
  • After Effects Animator
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