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John McKay’s Virtual Katy

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A New, Nifty Conforming Tool for Sound Editors
By Bob Bayless
It happens to sound editors all the time these days. In fact, it just happened to me 30 minutes ago. I was called in to help deal with changes on a picture, and before I’d even finished digitizing the first reel, I got a call: all reels but one had already changed. It’s the dreaded picture-changes-for-sound-editors syndrome.
It’s for this reason that sound editor John McKay, who worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, developed new software that deals with these changes within Pro Tools.
Amusingly, he named the product “Virtual Katy” after his hard-working assistant, Katy Wood, who’d spent countless hours interpreting change notes and creating the guide tracks used by the editors on LOTR to conform the sound reels.
During the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, the sound editors were constantly busy just dealing with changes. “We went through around 50 different versions of the film,” McKay recalls, “and it took three or four hours to update the sound effects every time. We were always updating.” He developed Virtual Katy between the first and second pictures, refining it while working on the second.
I was excited to test a product that could be so useful to so many of us in the sound-editing field. I had to wait some time, however, for a demo to be available. When it arrived, I hit the first obstacle.
Although Virtual Katy was developed with Pro Tools 5.1.3, Mac OS 9 and Quick Keys, and is available for purchase that way, the demo required the latest Pro Tools 6.4 and 10.3.4 Mac system software (about a $300 upgrade for those of us who didn’t buy a system in the last year or so). The LE Pro Tools update was free however, so I pulled my old Digi 001 out of my old G3, put it in my FCP workstation G4, and proceeded with the upgrades.
After three different software demos and several calls to the East Coast, I still couldn’t get the program working. McKay himself finally showed up at my door to help get it going! Fortunately, once installed, it was worth it. Virtual Katy proved to be a great program and fairly easy to use. It’s not exactly pretty, but McKay promises that will come later.
To use VK, you first get a picture-only EDL (for TV) or cutlist (for film) from the picture editing department of the current and previous versions of the reel that has changed. Next you put the current list into Import Source, and the previous list into Import Target. At first I thought “Import Current” and “Import Previous” might be better labels, but say you were on version 17 (final) and you wanted to go back to version 11 (longer) for the DVD—which Virtual Katy can do—“previous” wouldn’t really be previous, would it?
Next, you hit Process Lists and Virtual Katy makes a Change List. From there you open your ProTools session then, back in Virtual Katy, press VK Autoconform. The program then copies all regions necessary in Pro Tools to a new location. It takes about five or 10 minutes, depending on the size of the reel.
Happily, in my sessions all sound cues hit where they were supposed to, and the one long continuous dialog region had cuts where the changes occurred. Putting one long region in your session is a recommended tip, so you can see where or what has changed. McKay assured me if you’ve phased your dialog tracks, they’ll still be in phase after the changes. Although I didn’t phase two dialog tracks, my lip-sync seemed to be right on.
Though I liked the program a lot, for me, Virtual Katy seems a bit expensive at $3,845 for the full-blown version. However, it is available in two lite versions—one for TV only and one for film—at $2,495. Discounts are also available. At the Pro Tools Users Group meetings, the lite versions are discounted by $1,000 and the full version by $400. And let’s face it, there’s not going to be an unlimited market for this. To charge anything less would hardly justify development and support.
The PDF manual is adequate, easy to read and informative enough to get the job done. My support questions were returned within 24 hours, except for one service call in which I was told to call someone else (all toll or long distance) and transferred three times, before getting an answer six hours later by email. That said, my problems were most likely due to my difficulties with re-installing the program, as they were all demos.
The true value of this product, I believe, is to keep sound editors using the right side of their brain, by freeing us from the non-creative drudgery of dealing with the inevitable changes and mind-numbing number crunching to stay in sync.

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