How do you prepare for a building project? Not simply design, but making sure all the right things are in place for a project to succeed. And be sure to choose equipment your team can run. We're gearing up for building in 2014!
Let’s face it; the new Mac Pro is super-cool looking. Barely larger than a stack of 100 DVDs, it packs incredible power in a small form factor. It’s clearly the wave of the future, especially when you consider the dual Thunderbolt 2 busses with 6 ports. It’s smaller, faster and really not more expensive than the outgoing models. And instead of waiting to buy one in a few weeks (Apple said December…), I went with an older model when upgrading our video capture/edit station. Why?
One big reason was that I got a screaming deal from OWC on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. They had a pre-Black Friday sale with a deal too good to pass up. I ended up with a refub 2009 model Mac Pro with a Quad Core 2.93 GHz processor, a 240 GB SSD, a 1 TB spinning disk and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card. That’s replacing a 2006 (original Mac Pro) 2.66 Quad Core. While it may not look like a big upgrade, the difference between the old Woodcrest and the newer Bloomfield chips is significant. In fact, the newer one benchmarks about 3 times faster than the old one; and it feels that way. With free shipping, the new Mac Pro was just a few dollars over $1,500; half the cost of a new Mac Pro. But it doesn’t end there.
Everything has to be new.
While I like buying new stuff, when I totaled up all that we need to buy to convert to the new Mac Pro, it started getting expensive. We currently have two Blackmagic capture cards in our system; one for video capture and one to drive ScopeBox (program and preview respectively). We are also running an external e-SATA RAID 5 capture disk. That gives me more than enough speed to safely capture 1080i in ProRes. So how does any of that work with a new Mac Pro?
Expensively. We would either have to buy an external PCI-e chassis that connects via Thunderbolt (roughly $1,000) or buy two new Thunderbolt capture boxes (roughly $1,000-2,000). In both cases, our options are limited, though there are enough out there to get the job done. We would also need to pick up a Thunderbolt to e-SATA adapter ($175).
So by the time it’s all said and done, we’re looking at at least $1,200 and probably closer to $1,500-2000 on top of the cost of the new Mac Pro—which when configured the way I want it will be at least $3,500. So when it came down to a choice between $5,000+ and $1,500, it was a pretty easy decision. Especially when I can use the $3,000 I saved to buy new viewfinders for our cameras.
Cheaper is not always better, but this time it is.
Those who know me know I don’t always advocate for the cheaper solution. In fact, I almost never do. But in this case it made more sense. I can score a big performance update—the faster processor, newer architecture and SSD make FCPX feel very snappy indeed—at a minimal cost. We will be able to get at least 2 if not 3-4 years out of this Mac Pro before we need to upgrade again, and by then the Thunderbolt ecosystem will have developed significantly.
The point of this story is to simply say that it is important to weigh the options before plunging into an upgrade. Sometimes the latest and greatest makes sense, and when it does, go for it. Other times, buying something a few years old is a better value, especially if it will do what we need it to do. In this case, I’m even keeping the old Mac Pro around as a render node, so it will speed up rendering even more.
This Mac will cost us about $500/yr. assuming a 3 year service life. That’s not bad at all. In 3 years, we’ll have a better idea of what we’re doing with video (it’s a bit up in the air anyway right now), and the industry should have settled some of the interface stuff out.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And on it’s first weekend out, without even finishing the configuration and optimization, the new Mac Pro cut a full hour off my render/upload time, and probably 20 minutes from my edit time. That works for me!
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Continuing our series on Christmas prep, today we’ll wrap up with the other thing I’ve learned to do ahead of time whenever possible. These two weeks feel like the calm before the storm, but I try to get as much done as possible so the week of Christmas feels less like a storm and more like a celebration. That’s why I do all this stuff early whenever possible.
A few years ago, I was really short-handed and had to pull off Christmas with me and one other person. It occurred to me the only way that was going to work was if we did as much as early as possible. Up to that point, we had been doing the “Christmas Week Marathon” method. I always hated it, but we had enough hands to throw at the problem and we got it done.
After that year, I realized we could spread the workload out over 3-4 weeks, and enjoy the process a whole lot more. So that’s what we do. The thing we tried last year—and it worked so well we’re doing it again—is to build the set pieces a week in advance.
Build Components If You Can’t Build Sets
If you recall, we did the block walls last year, and instead of trying to cram the entire production process in one week, we build the boxes the week before. I didn’t want the block walls going up before the weekend before Christmas, but we could get them mostly built ahead of time. Then we just had to rig them on Christmas week, which took a few hours. By then, we already had about 30 man-hours into the set.
This year, we’re starting today in fact. On Dec. 4, we’re gathering our raw materials for the set, and it will take a few hours to pull together. In fact, two weeks ago, I had the guys start painting some 2x8s that we had lying around. Those will be supports (overkill perhaps?) for the set when it’s all done.
I can’t say this enough. I started working on our Christmas set ideas back in October. I peruse sites like ChurchStageDesignIdeas, and read various design-centered blogs to get ideas. Once I find things I like, I save them to Evernote, and begin to work out the details.
This year, I’m stealing an idea I saw on the Country Music Awards (you’ll have to wait for that post to see what it is). I liked the look, and while I was watching the show, I figured out how I could replicate the look on a low budget.
It’s easy to figure out stuff like that when you have time to shop and come up with ways to make things happen. If you wait until build week, you’re scrambling, and you have to make do with whatever you can find. That may work, but it’s usually not ideal.
One of the things I love about Christmas and Easter (and I suppose VBS, too) is that it is a great excuse to get the team together. We have a ton of high school guys on the team, and they love coming in to help work on projects like this.
I do all the design work, and will often build prototypes of what we want, then I can turn them loose to make it happen. Or we can all work together, depending on the project. A few years ago, when it was just me and Thomas, we did enjoy working closely together, but I think we were both pretty exhausted by the end. Last year, we had a bunch of other guys helping and we all got to go home earlier, and have more fun in the process.
Plus, having a bunch of Jr. & Sr. High guys around is a great excuse to go to Dairy Queen for lunch several days in a row…
Well, that’s my set of secrets for surviving Christmas. I again apologize for begin late on this. On the other hand, this also works for Easter and VBS, so consider this early for those two events. How do you prepare for Christmas?
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Last time, we considered how important it is to get your rentals booked early for Christmas. In fact, if you’re reading this and still haven’t secured rental gear, stop and do so now. We’ll be here when you get back. But those headset mic's you need might well be gone; mainly because I already booked them. Two months ago… Anyway.
As soon as the band configuration is set, I begin working on input sheets. For us this usually happens in late October, early November. In fact, I get stressed if I don’t have that done by November 10th or so. That date is entirely arbitrary, but having it lined up by then makes me feel better.
First of all, I learn what I need to rent, and I get that booked (see last post). Second of all, it helps me figure out how I’m going to lay things out, and I can spot trouble areas. No matter how big your console is, there are a finite number of inputs. And for some reason, at Christmas, inputs expand to fill the channels available.
I’ve learned that the time to start negotiating with the keyboard players about their need for 10 inputs is November, not the day of rehearsal. It’s also easier to figure out if you can share body packs, mic's or other items two months in advance when you have time to kick your feet up on the desk and think it through.
I know I should have told you this in November; sorry about that. I was busy building my input sheets. We’ll do better next year, huh?
With the advance of digital consoles and offline software, the last few years, I’ve built my entire console show files in my office in November. Since this year’s Christmas Eve service is really close to last year’s, I even saved all the relevant snapshots, updating what I could based on new speakers and whatnot.
With everything patched, the surface laid out, I can load that into the console and run through it a few weeks in advance to see if I’m still happy with it. Most times, I end up making some tweaks once it’s actually on the surface, but it’s nice to be really close at start up.
Pre-Build Monitor Mixes
One of the advantages of not being at a highly creative church is that we do the same thing pretty much every year. So, about a week from rehearsal, I’ll call up the tracks from last years services and pre-build all my vocal monitor mixes (the band is all on M-48s this year). We tend to rotate a few vocals in and out, but I can get close based on the tracks.
I’ve found, especially with vocalists, if you get in the ballpark with a decent mix from the moment they put their IEMs in, you’re 90% of the way there. Rather than spending 30-45 minutes building eight mixes from scratch at rehearsal, we’ll spend 10 minutes tweaking.
In this same vein, we’ll also drag out all of the M-48s about a week out, plug them in and pre-patch everything. Because we can save all the patching, panning, naming and grouping in a file, we’ll set it all up, get it ready, save the file, then go back to the normal weekend. I used to do this step during set up week, but I found I had enough to do that week already, and I’d rather simply recall a file than stay in the booth until 10 PM every night trying to get it all done.
Pre-Build Lighting & Graphics, Too
In fact, anything you can pre-build and save in early December, do it. Now that pretty much everything we do is digital, it’s very easy to get your lighting console set up, all your ProPresenter shows done, even graphics for video can be wrapped up by early December. Shoot, if you need cables run to new parts of the auditorium or building, get them run this week or next.
Well now that you have plenty on your to-do list for this week and next, I’ll let you get started. Next time, we’ll talk about one last thing we can do ahead of time