Remote Spotting Session Tools

I am a composer living in Los Angeles, CA. To find out more about me you can visit my website at https://www.julianmusicprod.com. I compose music for film, TV, video games, and other visual media. As a composer, my clients may be located anywhere across the globe. In today’s world, long distance collaboration is not uncommon necessitating the need for remote communication. However, even when clients are located in close proximity, the need arises to conduct a spotting session remotely. I’m sure everyone’s heard about LA’s infamous traffic!

Because of this need I wanted to find a tool to help facilitate remote spotting sessions. I’m sure there are other composers and filmmakers who are looking for the same types of tools. So, after doing some research I decided to write a blog post with my findings.

Spotting Session

(picture from https://www.darianharmon.com/)

A spotting session is when a director and composer together watch the film and decide where the music is going to be and what it’s going to do. This occurs before the composer starts writing the music (although the composer may have already started creating concepts for the film). Typically the people present are the director, the composer, the music editor and possibly the producer.

In some manner, the following topics will be discussed for each scene:

  • What is the style of music that should be used?
  • What is the energy level of the scene?
  • What are the emotions the audience should experience?
  • Where are the dialogue and sound effects. Not only where they are but where they aren’t.
  • What is the contour/shape of the scene? Examples are: Where are the picture cuts? Which picture cuts are important to emphasize with music? Should the emphasis be strong or subtle? Where does the dialogue start/stop? Anything that changes in a scene that needs to be emphasized in some way by the music.

Throughout the session there will be discussions regarding the form of the movie. How does one scene correlate to another scene? Are there characters for which some kind of motif is needed? How does something that happened earlier in the film affect something that happens later?

Good composers will have watched the movie before the spotting session. It is important for the composer to come to a session already prepared to bring well thought out ideas and insights. This leads to a more productive and meaningful exchange between the director and composer.

Exact SMPTE time codes for the entry and exit points of each cue need to be written down. This provides the total number of cues and duration of the score to be written.

Spotting a movie is an art that requires the following:

  • Knowledge of story telling in film.
  • A solid understanding of the story being told.
  • Awareness (on the composer’s part) of directorial and editorial decisions.
  • An understanding of what music can bring to a scene.

NOTE: good spotting is not just where the music is present, but where it is absent.

At the conclusion of the session the goals are:

  • To be 100% clear on what the director’s goals are for the film.
  • To have a vision of what the composer can bring musically to the film.
  • For the director and composer to be on the same page.

Remote Spotting Session

Especially in the world of independent film, it is common for the director and composer to be in different locations. Even with the various parties not being co-located a spotting session is still very important. In this case a remote spotting session will need to occur. In a remote spotting session the following things are important:

  • All of the people in the spotting session need to watch the film in sync at the same time.
  • All parties need to be able to interact with the film.
  • All parties need to be able to write notes and markup at specific points in the film.
  • All of the notes and markup captured during the session need to be able to be distributed to everyone once the session is over.

In essence, it is essential to have a live interactive synchronized film viewing session with good note-taking and markup tools.

So, what tools exist that meet this criteria?

Tools

Again, my basic criteria is a tool that offers the ability to hold live interactive synchronized film viewing sessions with good note-taking and markup tools.

To hold a remote spotting session you could do something as simple has setup a Google Hangout using screen sharing so that all participants can watch the film. This is a very low cost option that works. However, it lacks the ability for each participant to interact with the film and doesn’t have good note-taking and markup tools.

I wanted to search for other options that would provide a better more professional experience understanding that there would be cost involved.

I took a look at the following five tools:

After reading the online documentation, Wipster and Frame.io were taken off my list because they didn’t appear to offer live interactive sessions. For the remainder of this blog, I will provide my assessment of the other three tools I assessed.

Comparison Chart

This comparison chart compares the lowest priced options of each product offering.

cineSync Frankie Source Live
Starting Price $99/mo or $499/yr $49/mo $395
Subscription Option Yes Yes Yes
One-Time Purchase Option No No Yes
Free Trial Yes – 7 days Yes – 30 days Yes – 15 days
Interactive by All Yes Yes No
Commenting w/o Sign Up Yes Yes No
Live Share Yes Yes Yes
Note Taking Yes Yes No
Annotations Yes Yes No
Exporting Comments Yes No No
Browser App No Yes No
Native Mobile App Yes No Yes
Native OS App Yes No Yes
Secure Share Yes No No
DAW Integration No No Yes

cineSync

(picture from https://cospective.com/cinesync/)

cineSync is a tool provided by Cospective. This tool targets larger production companies making feature films. For these types of companies security is of the utmost importance. The premise of cineSync is that each party involved in the review has the video(s) locally stored. Cospective integrates with Aspera, so if you have an Aspera server you can initiate a file transfer directly from cineSync. Each participating location installs a cineSync application. Only the person/group initiating the review session needs to have a cineSync account. All other participants just need to have the cineSync application installed. Once a session is initiated anyone can interact with the video. Syncing commands like play, pause, go to frame 117, etc are transmitted to Cospective and that data is transmitted to each cineSync application connected to the session. This keeps everyone in sync and the actual video is never transmitted to Cospective. Anyone can type notes and markup in sync. As you type or draw everyone else sees your interaction. After the session all notes and markup can be exported if needed. Once a session is closed it cannot be accessed. The cineSync application runs on Mac, Windows and iOS devices. Of the tools I evaluated, this is the highest priced option. For a standard cineSync account with up to 2 users the cost is $99/mo or $499 for 12 months. Cospective only offers subscription based plans for cineSync.

“cineSync guarantees that you’re always seeing exactly the same frame of exactly the same clip at the same time” – Rory McGregor, CEO of Cospective.

Frankie

Frankie is another interactive review tool provided by Cospective. Per Rory McGregor, CEO of Cospective,

“Frankie really came about as a way of making cineSync-style reviews available to the advertising market.”

The target market for this tool are people and companies that fit the following criteria:

  • They don’t have their own infrastructure for media transfers.
  • They value simplicity over security.
  • They have no IT department on which to rely.

Frankie is a totally browser based solution. The Frankie account holder uploads the video. The video is stored on Cospective cloud based servers (these are actually Amazon cloud servers). Frankie accepts videos in many different formats and converts them all to H.264 format for streaming. The Frankie account holder then initiates a session. They can then share a link with whomever they want to join the session. The plan you select determines how many reviewers can join an interactive session. Whoever receives the link can join the session w/o having a Frankie account. Frankie starts up a page in a browser and within a click or two they now can see the video being shared. All reviewers can interact with the video, write notes and markup. The toolset is not as vast as cineSync but it’s everything a smaller group needs. Similar to cineSync, after a session is over, based on your plan, all the notes and markup can be exported to a PDF. As long as the review is “open”, anyone with the link can access the review either during a live session or on their own time. Because it’s a browser based solution, review participants can use a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device. This is also a subscription based service with a minimum cost of $49/mo. If you’re like me, you aren’t always working on a project so Frankie offers its users the option to pause their account. However, unfortunately, Cospective still charges a fee of $9/mo. Another option is to remove your account and then at the start of your next project create another account. The difference between pausing and removing an account is that a paused account retains all of your reviews and account history. While the removal of an account deletes all of your reviews and history.

NOTE: At the time of this write up, there is a bug in Frankie if you use Chrome. All guests (not the one who initiated the session) who are on Chrome need to click something (anything) in Frankie to let it know you are there and ready to sync. If nothing is clicked, whenever the video is played it won’t play on the guest browser. According to Cospective this was actually introduced by some changes in a Chrome update. Cospective is working on a fix that will be made available soon. Chrome is still their preferred browser.

Source Live

(picture from https://source-elements.com/products/source-live)

Source Live is a tool provided by Source Elements. Source Elements provides a suite of tools and Source Live is the tool that can be used for HD video streaming. According to the Source Elements website, Source Live provides,

“High quality, low latency, encrypted audio and video streaming, in sync from your DAW.”

The target market for Source Live are musicians who want to share/collaborate with others. An ideal scenario for a Composer would be sharing with a Director the cue(s) in your DAW synced to the video so you can get instant feedback.

This is a tool that allows you to stream from your machine to reviewers. They have created a plugin in AAX, VST, AU, and other formats. It works in just about any DAW. You insert the plugin on the bus you want to stream (generally your stereo out bus). You then run a Source Live desktop installed piece of software on your machine and configure it to stream audio from the Source Live plugin. You can also stream audio from other sources. Source Live also provides video streaming. You then invite others to your stream via a link. Once the invitees connect to your stream they can see and hear what you are streaming. So, if you want a reviewer to see the video and hear the cue(s) you are creating to get immediate feedback this tool would meet your needs. What I discovered after setting up a trial is that Source Live is NOT interactive so the invitees can’t interact with the video or type notes or markup. Source Elements offers Source Live via either a subscription or a one-time purchase. They only offer two plans and the one that allows streaming video is either $45/mo or a one-time cost of $995.

My Preferred Tool

Based on my needs and what I valued in a tool, I have chosen to use Frankie for the following reasons:

  • I can hold live sessions.
  • All participants can interact with the video.
  • All participants can write notes and markup.
  • All of the notes and markups can be exported.
  • It is a very simple tool so my clients don’t have to do anything other than click the link I send them.
  • No application is needed to be installed by the initiator or the guest reviewers.

The following are the downsides to using Frankie:

  • To initiate a review in Frankie a video must be uploaded. So, if I want to hold a review of work in progress, unlike Source Live I am unable to hold a review of a cue directly from my DAW. Honestly, I’m not sure I would want to do this in the first place but I felt I needed to mention this as a shortcoming.
  • As mentioned above, there is currently an annoying bug if using Chrome.
  • The cost is high for a small-time individual user.
  • Although an account can be paused, there is still a smaller monthly charge.

Reference Links

Reviews and Approvals: Cospective’s Rory McGregor talks cineSync, Frankie

Review of Source Live Pro 3 Live Streaming HD Video and Audio in Sync

Review and Approval Tool Comparison

Choir Sample Libraries

I recently wanted to enhance my ability to add choir voices to my film and TV compositions. I read through forums and watched several videos. Eventually I purchased several choir sample libraries. After using these libraries for awhile I wanted to provide my thoughts on each one of them in hopes that it might help others make choir sample library choices. Some of the things that were important to me when evaluating choirs were:

  • The sound! The choir must sound REAL!
  • I must be able to automate most if not all of the options so that I can use it better in my template.
  • Mic Positions
  • CPU usage

For each library I will provide the following:

  • Ranking
  • Summary of the library
  • Pros and Cons

8Dio Insolidus

8Dio Insolidus

Ranking: 1

Out of all the companies I evaluated, 8Dio is the best. Their choirs sound very realistic, the cross fading between layers is seamless and the options are just what you need. Insolidus is the latest choir created by 8Dio. They refer to Insolidus as a “lyrical choir”. As opposed to a very large boisterous choir, this choir is for when you really want to create emotion with the voices. Insolidus is a 65 voice choir (40 men and 25 women). It comes with the ability to play phrases which they call “Multi-Vowels”, arcs, legatos, shorts and sustains. Different phrases can be put together using their phrase sequencer or via automation. The blend of the men and women can be changed. Everything in Insolidus can be fully automated. The phrases are in 3/4 and 4/4 time. This choir comes with polyphonic legato which allows you to play as many notes as desired and transition between them. Also, if moving to different notes during the playing of a phrase, the new note(s) will start from wherever you are in the phrase rather than triggering the beginning of the phrase. Any patch that uses phrases is tempo-synced with your DAW and can be played at normal tempo, half tempo, double tempo and triplet. You can play either the full choir, just the men or just the women. It comes with eight Mic positions (Mixed, Decca, Wide, Far and Spot x4). This library sounds unbelievable, especially with a nice reverb added to give it some tail. The library only works with the full Kontakt player.

Pros

  • Great sounding choir
  • Works well within a large film template (configurable, automation)
  • Advanced techniques such as polyphonic legato
  • Tempo-synced phrases
  • Many different Mic positions to get just the right blend

Cons

  • Could use more phrases
  • 8Dio is notorious for never updating their libraries
  • Requires the full Kontakt player
  • More CPU intensive than I would like. The CPU% in Kontakt spikes up when just simultaneously playing 4 or 5 notes.

8Dio Lacrimosa

8Dio Lacrimosa

Ranking: 2

As stated above, in my opinion, 8Dio makes the best choir sample libraries. Lacrimosa is an epic choir. This is a 200 voice choir with 70 Basses, 60 Tenors, 40 Altos and 30 Sopranos. This is the choir you use when you want that big, large, epic sound. It has Arcs, Phrases (Multi-Vowels), Shorts, and Sustains. This library can also be fully automated. The best thing about this choir is the sound. I have used it in several compositions. The following is a short cue in which I use Lacrimosa:

This choir was created prior to Insolidus so it is missing some of 8Dio’s newer features such as polyphonic legato and tempo synchronization. In the Insolidus walkthrough video it is mentioned that 8Dio will go back and update previous choirs with this functionality, however, I wouldn’t hold my breathe. It comes with three Mic positions (Mixed, Decca and Far). Phrases can be put together with the phrase builder or via automation. You can use the full choir, just the men or just the women. It only works with the full Kontakt player.

Pros

  • Great sounding epic choir
  • Works well within a large film template (configurable, automation)
  • Many different articulations (Arcs, Legato, Sustains, etc)
  • Decent set of Mic Positions

Cons

  • Does NOT have some of 8Dio’s more advanced features such as polyphonic legato
  • None of the phrases are tempo-synced
  • 8Dio is notorious for never updating their libraries
  • Requires the full Kontakt player

Cinesamples Voxos

Cinesamples Voxos

Ranking: 3

Although I have many Cinesamples libraries I am usually somewhat disappointed in their sound and/or capabilities. Because of that I was a little reluctant to purchase Voxos. Over the holidays it went on sale so I decided to give it a try. As with other Cinesamples libraries, Voxos was a little disappointing. The good aspects of this library are that it comes with a phrase builder, legatos, chords, octaves. The choir includes Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses. A Boys choir and several different soloists are also included. There are four different Mic positions (Close, Stage, Far, Surround) plus a full mix. Most of the options in the library can be automated. Most of the library sounds really good. What was disappointing to me is that I can’t automate the blending of the voices. Some times the legato transitions between voices doesn’t sound natural. Maybe it’s just me but the legacy solo Soprano sounds awful! All of these libraries come with different voice effects like rises, stabs, and many others. Some of the voice effects included with Voxos I simply can’t see ever using (of course that might change someday). Voxos is a Kontakt library but I am unclear as to whether or not it will run in the free version. Phrase building in Voxos is different from Insolidus or Lacrimosa. In the 8Dio libraries phrases are made up of 2, 3 and 4 syllables. You can put those phrases together to build a larger phrase. In Voxos there are many syllables that can be put together to create a phrase. Neither approach is better than the other, they are just different approaches. The phrase building can be fully automated.

Pros

  • Many different articulations (Legato, Shorts, Sustains, etc)
  • Sounds good (although some of the legato transitions are not the greatest)
  • Many different Mic positions
  • Phrase builder (can be automated)
  • SATB and Boys choir

Cons

  • Sometimes the legato transitions don’t sound natural
  • The legacy solo soprano sounds horrible
  • Some of the voice effects don’t add any value

Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1 and 2

Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 2

Ranking: 4

Metropolis Ark 1 and 2 are Orchestral Tools collections for creating epic film compositions. They include many different instruments and sounds. Also included in both libraries are great sounding choirs. In my opinion they sound better than Voxos. Between the two libraries, there are two Women’s choirs, two Mens choirs and a Children’s choir. The legato transitions sound good and the sonic quality of the choirs is great. The reason why I ranked them lower than Voxos is because there isn’t much flexibility and there isn’t consistency between the multi’s and the singles patches. Some of the patches have phrases but their implementation is via round robins which is unlike any of the other choirs. There isn’t anything visual that tells you which phrase or syllable will be triggered by a given round robin. A given round robin can be turned on or off. For example, if you only want to use two of the syllables you turn off the other round robins that you don’t want to use. The round robins can only be turned on or off when using the singles patches. They aren’t even available to be turned on or off in the multis patches. The round robins cannot be automated, so it’s not easy to use in a template. The patches that don’t have phrase building are limited to two syllables which can be crossfaded using CC#2. With that being said, the syllables that can be used are probably the most common ones. I actually used the children’s choir in first part of the following composition which was my own personal attempt at composing trailer music for the movie, Troy. The children’s choir plays from the beginning until approximately 25 seconds.

Because the choir is only one small part of the Metropolis Ark collections I wouldn’t recommend purchasing these collections just for the choirs. However, if you do purchase the collections the choirs sound great, albeit, they are somewhat limited. I also found the documentation on how to use the choirs very limited. It took me a long time to figure out that the round robins were used for phrases. The choirs use up to six different Mic positions. Metropolis Ark 1 and 2 work with both the free and full Kontakt player.

Pros

  • Great sounding choirs
  • Comes with Women, Men and Children’s choirs (only included in Metropolis Ark 2)
  • The Women and Men can be blended by adjusting the levels for each patch
  • Six Mic positions (M/S, Close, ORTF, AB, Tree, Surround)
  • Works with both the free and full Kontakt library

Cons

  • When building phrases, the syllables can’t be automated
  • Limited set of articulations
  • Limited set of syllables

EastWest Symphonic Choirs

EastWest Symphonic Choirs

Ranking: 5

Of all the choirs I have purchased, EastWest Symphonic Choirs is by far the worst. I will go so far as to call it trash. The one good thing I will say is that it is highly configurable. Using the Word Builder, you can configure the choir to say just about anything. How the choir says each syllable can be configured. It is a very powerful choir library. However, to be blunt, the choir just doesn’t sound good at all. It was the one choir that immediately sounded artificial as I started playing around with it. The syllable transitions just didn’t sound real. It sounded and felt like I was using a computer-generated choir. I feel like I can use all of the my other choirs even though they all have weaknesses. EastWest Symphonic Choirs, on the other hand, was a waste of money. I wish I could send it back for a refund. Unlike the other choirs, East West products play within their proprietary Play Engine. Included are Sopranos (section and solo), Altos (section and solo), Tenors, Basses and Boys (section and solo). There are certain syllables that are pre-configured or you can use the Word Builder to build words using English, Phonetics or VoTox. There is an expansion that can be purchased giving you access to additional voices. The whole choir was recorded with a single mic position.

Pros

  • Very sophisticated word builder

Cons

  • Choir doesn’t sound natural
  • Although the word builder is sophisticated, it also a bit complicated
  • Only one mic position
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