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Eugene Riecansky: Stepping up to HD

28th July 2008

Eugene Riecansky is currently one of the hottest names in video production. This multi-talented Mac user recently moved into HD production when he created a stunning video for Madonna's Get Together single. Thanks to the Mac, Final Cut Studio and Shake, making the step up to HD was, in his words, "an exercise in simplicity".

Riecansky is the man behind Rockstar, a Norwich-based music video creation company. Originally an award-winning Web designer with an extensive music industry background, Eugene made the transition to video six years ago. His extensive client list now includes Madonna, Paul Oakenfold, The Prodigy, Green Day and Vivienne Westwood — and he and his team make all their movies on the Mac.

"I've always used Macs. I used Adobe After Effects when I first started out, but it didn't really suit me", he says. "Then I got into Shake and Final Cut Pro, and things really took off". He responded intuitively to Shake. "It seems to work the same way as my brain. You can understand what's going on by the way it's represented and I love the way you can just use its Tree Node to structure things together", he says.

Another crucial advantage to using Final Cut with Shake is the ease with which users can transfer video assets between the applications. "That for me is the best thing ever", says Riecansky. "In the past you had to export a clip, import it into Shake, apply your edits and then import it back into your video editor. I'm a quick-fire guy, so when the pipeline between the two applications came through, I just thought, 'this is for me, I've got it'".

Shake's flexibility offers further benefits. "I normally create a rough cut of a music video. The nice thing about Shake is you can take your proxy frames, throw them into the bin, then re-plug your final uncompressed frames straight into the Tree and it will apply all the steps for you. It's a trust thing as well. You can rely on Shake. As long as you've done a good job, you know it will do its job, too".

Rockstar began as a Web design company, working for clients such as Sugababes and The Prodigy, and quickly developed a reputation for cutting-edge design. As Web design tools became more pervasive, competition more intense and income more constrained, Riecansky became disillusioned with Web design and started to focus on film and video.

He took three months out to create his own showreel — "I figured there was no way I could get clients if I couldn't prove I could do the job", he says — and his first break came in the shape of Prodigy MC/rapper Maxim's solo release, I Don't Care. Riecansky pitched his idea and because they'd worked together succesfully for three years, Maxim gave him his break. "He knew and trusted me, we made the movie and it just went on from there", explains Eugene.

The Prodigy were signed in the US to Madonna's Maverick label. Fast forward six years and Eugene's Maverick connection and growing reputation saw Madonna invite him to make a music video. He was presented with pre-filmed footage and asked to put a proposal together inside a week — in HD. Eugene's familiarity with Final Cut Pro and Shake meant he already had a HD-capable solution, though he'd never worked in the format before.

Ignoring warnings that working in HD could be challenging, Riecansky chose to take on the job himself, rather than farming it out to an edit studio. "I'm a hands-on person", he says. "I was waiting for these HD obstacles, but I never encountered any. HD is just another format that Final Cut plays back in real-time. It was just straight in and straight out again".

Riecansky was given some 25fps HD footage of Madonna's album launch gig at Koko in London, around which he hung the rest of the video. He hired a HD D-1 deck, plugged it into his Blackmagic HD Extreme Card on his Power Mac G5 and it came straight in. "I was astonished", he admits. "It looked really crisp and beautiful".

Having worked out many of the effects he wanted to apply within Shake already, Eugene simply had to pop the high-quality footage into the right places in the Tree Nodes. "I took in the footage and edited it together so it was how I wanted it", he explains. "I asked a colleague at a 3D FX house in the US to do some work for me. He made the city backdrop and some stars. I sent him proxy HD films. He used the proxy frames as a placeholder, applied his effects and sent them all back in HD format without the background. I imported them into Shake, composited it, and there it was, job done".

Once the job was complete and approved by Madonna he laid it off to HD tape at Envy Post Production in London, his favourite post production house. The video is available for viewing online, with a second video created by Californian firm, Logan, being used for TV.

Eugene travels a lot, so he recently invested in a MacBook Pro, which he carries with him wherever he goes, equipped with Shake and Final Cut Studio. "I met one of my clients today. She wanted to make one little change in a film". He was able to apply the change on the spot to ensure his client got exactly what she wanted. "It's great to be that fluid and immediate", he observes. "And she was really pleased with the result".