11 September 2007

A Stitch in Time (code)


I'm enjoying unencumbered breathing again, now that the uncharacteristically hot, dry winds of the past two days have blown by Portland, and have taken all of their evil alien allergen spores with them.

Which brings me to something else frustrating but inescapable: time code. If you deal in any sort of motion imaging, you will encounter it sooner or later.

From wikipedia: time code is a sequence of numeric codes generated at regular intervals by a timing system [and is] used extensively for synchronization, and for logging material in recorded media.

One place to start is this tech newsletter from B & H Photo Video, found over at Self-Reliant Film. Snip:

Time code synchronization is still a big mystery for many audio and video professionals, and as today's Audio and Video technologies continue to integrate, having a basic understanding of time code has become more and more essential for both studio and field production.

Trust me, someday you will be up at 4 am banging your head against the wall of the post suite (or, if you only do field audio, having your head banged for you by the editor) because of a time code issue. The sooner you get it down, the better you will fare with the inevitable multi-car pile up of cascading sync errors.

Link to Self-Reliant post; direct link to newsletter.

If you really want to sink your teeth into it, try this primer, for sale over at SPARS.


Anonymous said...

How did the film industry survive before TC?!

Oh yeah - they slated every shot. TC is a luxury, not a requirement. That's just my opinion. Most problems are brought about by interlacing and framerate misunderstandings. But 1 second is still 1 second, whether it's interlaced, 24fps, 25fps, 30fps, 29.97fps ... well, you get the idea. Sync the clap with the spike. It's f5cking easy, if highly monotonous. Very old school, but totally possible. Perhaps it's a lost art in this world of instant gratification and assistantless editors.

Anonymous said...

Above comment rul3z, LMAO!!!

But seriously, I've been doing some mixing of the old-school with the new school on the double-system front lately, heh. (BTW, been lurking for a while, but never commented until now).

Laugh all you want, but I've been shooting a fair amount of video with a tiny (and I mean tiny) MP4 videocam where I'm also using double-system sound at times (obviously because the AC3 and onboard mic on that tiny camera suck beyond belief, lol).

Anyway, I do music and some interviews, so I often have the luxury of letting things roll for a long time (like a whole set of music or an entire interview). I use two techniques that speed up syncing without all the new school TC stuff.

First, I record to an R4, and when I start rolling video I literally film the screen of the R4. This provides two things: (1) the screen shows the filename, so it's a little like slating cause if I ever get the audio file lost from the video file, the video starts with a shot of the R4 screen that shows the filename. Next, (2) I can use the timer (just a simple running timer) on the R4's screen to approximately locate where the video needs to be sync'ed to the audio. Basically, if the screen said 10:01, then I can drop the whole audio file into a new track in my NLE, jump to 10:01 in the timeline, and I'll be pretty damn close to my sync point. Then the second thing I do is slate the head and tail of the shot, but I use "slate" liberally because what I really usually do is just have someone (or myself) clap into the mic/video at the start and at the end. Then, in my NLE, since I'm already close to the starting point (using the psuedo-time slate described above), I just have to sync the clap with the spike. Then, since, I'm often rolling an hour or more at a time, I'll go out to the tail, and either stretch or shrink my audio track such that the tail clap/spike lines up. Usually my drift is only a few frames per ten minutes, so the stretch/shrink has no discernible affect on the audio.

So, the funny thing is, I've been going back to the really old school days with the manual syncing, but doing it while using a super-techno tiny MP4 gadget to shoot video. And yah, the video quality pretty much sucks, but it's amazing what kind of crappy video you can live with these days on the Net as long as the audio is PRO. Ha!

Anyway, just thought I'd share some of that with you guys. BTW, have you ever seen someone with a zeppelin'ed pistal grip mic in one hand and a tiny HD2 video cam in the other? Pretty funny. People don't know what to make of it, LOL!

syncsound said...



People forget that what worked so well for almost 60 or so years before time code became prevalent.

I still hear of sync issues where they used TC, but *didn't slate*. I just don't get it.

It can almost be summed up by this, said to me by an experienced producer:

"There's never enough time and money to do it right the first time, but somehow there's *always* enough time and money to fix it later."

Thanks for reading,

syncsound said...


That's a pretty MacGuyver workaround! :)

I'm for using "whatever works". Shooting the display of the R4 is a great idea.

And thanks for lurking!