Unfake it til you make it.

A good colleague, Antonio Suriano, interviewed me for his podcast Unfake it til you make it!

We talked about the entertainment industry and how to survive it, really interesting chat, and the entire series is great. Use the player below or go directly to the website where you can find all the episodes.


Like a song

I see my destiny unfolding, I trust, I live. I feel life flowing through me. Like music. Like playing a song, never able stop and fix a dissonant note once it’s played. I can only play it forward. Such is life, a continuous melody, sometimes fast, some times slow, sometimes high sometimes low, a relentless symphony.

As I listen, I learn to harmonize with its crests and valleys, to do the best I can to embellish its sound by being in perfect tune with the orchestra and follow the conductor all the way to the conclusion of the piece only to start anotherone eager to listen till the end.

The simple things

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.11.02 PMIt is always the simple things, the ones we overlook, we find things in the last place we look, but some times is just Apple madness.

I am writing an application that makes great use of AVFundation in iOS, my application needs to be able to play music in the background. I like to prototype quick and the iterate, so I got the basic skeleton working and a full audio queu class in c I can reuse.

I designed a little player class that extends AVAudioPlayer whitch I know I will have to update to use AVAssest, but I didn’t want to dive into that just yet. I wanted the thing to run and in a matter of hours, it did. I was able to load a bunch of audio files and play them tapping a table view, nothing fancy.

All was great, I refined and refined and I now have a very cool solid prototype I can show, now it was time to make it play in the background, when in lock screen or when some other non audio app is running. I started looking at Apple’s docs, usually the programming guide is a good birds eye view of the library. In AVFundation programmin guide I found that there are many audio technologies to use, the trick is to find out what is what.

After hours of digging I decided that I should use AVAudioPlayer, so I followed these steps.

1) info.plist has the UIBackgorundModes being an array with one item “audio”.

2) Explicitly set the session category to be AVAudioSessionCatergoryPlayback

3) Explicitly set the session mode to be AVAudioSessionModeDefault

After this I implemented “remote control” so you can control the app from the lock screen or command center and provided the necessary “now playing” info.

Awesome, it was time to test!

All was working without a hickup but the only problem was that the audio stopped then the application moved to the background or when locked.


So the search started, checking for object lifetime. Do we have the proper plist entries? What does apple say about it? Is the volume up? was it playing? Ok pull out the debugger, follow the acumulator, is it all there? Stack overflow, what am I missing? http://bit.ly/1X22oWT, have you tried this? Have you tried that? Yes but no luck. Suddenly I clicked the project icon on Xcode and saw “Capabilities”…

There was a pause, a brief pause, mini and I clicked the tab, scrolled down and:

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.03.38 PMyes, I know.


Building Zapboombang Studios – Case Study.

DSC_3954By mid 2009 I received a call from a good friend and client, Marlo Baker; at the time, she was the Executive Producer for Lopez Negrete Communications. She wanted to talk to me about creating a multimedia post production facility that could handle workflows for agencies and other clients.

As an engineer the project captured me immediately, I’ve designed and integrated many music and post production studios before but not a five room multi-purpose work horse from the ground up. Yet another creative space to materialize the mind’s power to create. YES, I was in!

The requirements were simple, they needed to post-produce anything and everything from A to Z; ingestion, editorial, color correction, online, visual effects, audio recording, sound design, music production and mix for an average of five teams at a time. What did I say? The requirements were simple, NOT!

The first order of business was to define where to build the studio. Lopez Negrete’s executives chose the top floor of their building as the desired location. This was a challenge for most commercial buildings in Houston have very thin metal floors that allow much sound transmission or no isolation at all. This was something we would have to compensate in the build out. I began scouting the building, taking sound measurements to find the quietest spot away from the massive building’s air handlers and mechanical installations such as compressors, transformers and air ducts, away from street noise.

The space

The space

I found 12,000 SQ FT of space on the North West corner of the building, all open office space to renovate, sound proof, isolate and decouple. In the middle of my scouting I got called into the war room with another request “we need this running now”. Of course this was not something that could be done quick and easy, so I stopped my big studio facility building tasks and started looking for reasonable empty offices away from noise. I found a cute little corner on the opposite side of the building and away from the air handlers with a central hall and three open offices. The central hall became our operations office and each little office a make-shift studio. So, the mission turned out to be three temporary audio and video rooms where we could cut, sound design and mix while we built a massive five room facility with recording performance areas.


The equipment

There was much to figure out before even thinking about the system integration, the request for temporary studios made me think about a scalable system that could later be moved to the facility over a weekend. It is well known that once a studio starts working it seldom stops- even for maintenance – so it was important not to disrupt production once the facility was ready to house the system.

Audio and video, can they co-exist in the same machine? We like to think they could but in practice it’s a different story. Keep in mind this was 2009, systems and standards changing, models can be obsolete in a couple of years, one doesn’t know which way technology might go. So it was safe to assign a machine for audio and another machine for video per room. This allowed me to have fully discrete systems that could be upgraded any way desired without conflicting with its counterpart. So one audio Mac Pro with one drive for sessions, one for systems and one for sound effects did the trick in each office. Auralex came to the rescue with their famous kits for sound control. Panels to hang on the walls, wedges for corners and dissipators for the ceilings made the office cube a little bit more bearable. We did great work in those cubicles, there was some kind of magic in them.

The video Mac Pro was running Final Cut Pro and Kona video cards, this allowed for full HD.  The monitors were JVC broadcast and Panasonic of course full HD and calibrated. We did many offline sessions with great editors and great clients that didn’t seem to mind the temporary nature of the make-shift facility. We operated like this for a period of a year while construction took place on the other corner of the building.

All equipment was supplied by Kurtis Ewing at the time working for GCPro. Kurtis is the best in the business!


Space Design

PlotThe design was a long process, it started with me defining the size of the spaces we would be working on, making sure they were functional and acoustically sound. I managed to fit two large studios with performance areas and three editing and mixing rooms without performance areas. This seemed to be decent since one of the main requirements was to have a large enough performance area to fit a small orchestra which left 3 rooms without recording areas. Also, all rooms were to connect to one central hub, a centralized machine room that would hold all noise making equipment under heavy refrigeration. This meant we had to account for pathways to run audio and video tie lines to and from each studio. Then of course some offices were needed, a reception and a dining area for clients was a must.

I drew many many sketches over the floor plans, went back to the floor and walked the space; I sketched, created many options, layouts and ridiculous scenarios before handing them to the architect for finishing touches.  One of the main requirements for the rooms was no parallel walls or rectangular angles so the options were endless. Then, I just built a 3D model and rendered a walk-through to get a feel of the space.

The architect in charge of making sense of my layouts was Mark Goulas, he did a great job in making the place flow; my technical drawings were a bit stiff and of course all functionality, Mark introduced form to the project. He made sure each studio didn’t meet the next so the clients could work on their project without anybody else knowing what the project was. One client never crossed the other except at lunch time, if they so desired.

Here is the revised plot plan by Mark, total genius!

Revised Plot by Mark, genious!


This was probably the trickiest task of all, in order to fit the mechanical requirements we had to adapt or find a compromise between form and function. Air conditioning was the biggest issue. It was impossible to use the buildings air handlers, they gave us no control on temperature of air exchange rate, so we needed to set up a new dedicated system on the roof away from the studios. The trick was to fit the flexible sound proofed ducts through the roof without affecting the sound-proofing. Our mechanical engineer did a great job, he installed four 2 ton compressors one for the machine room, one for each big studio and one for the three remaining rooms while the common areas were handled by the building’s handler.

We ran new clean power to support the load of all machines throughout the facility and separate circuits for audio devices, lighting and monitoring.

All rooms had several phone lines, network outlets and optical cables for KVM extensions.


The Built

The built was handled by Camp Wampum headed by Greg Bartley as the General Contractor. The team was remarkable, Greg was very knowledgeable about construction and techniques and very open to learn new ones to fight sound transmission, a task he mastered in no time without any effort. Our Master Carpenter was Jonathan Smith, capable of constructing anything the imagination can concoct. This was the core team that was extended with workers and a mechanical engineering firm.

The main idea was to divide the space. With plans on hand and a tape measure we proceeded to mark all the divisions on the floor, this would become the main walls of the space. This was simple and the techniques used were no different than the everyday framing job with one little difference, the framing needed to be pressured treated wood instead of the typical commercial aluminum studs. This helps much to hermetically seal the rooms after applying acoustic caulking to all crevasses and edges. Unfortunately, this was not possible given the city construction codes in the area so we had to do some extra work to fill them up with mass. Once all divisions were framed, it was the time for cables. Thousands of feet of electrical, audio, video and optical cables were weaved throughout the framing without conduit to minimize sound transmission. With this we took care of all appliances like video monitors, speakers and everything attached to walls. The rest of the cabling would flow through channels on the floor.

The outside of the framing was covered with one layer of sound-board and two layers of drywall perfectly caulked and sealed. The empty space in between the studs was filled with high density insulation. The inside was also easy, the only trick was to mark where the studs sat so one could keep layering the soundboard and drywall and of course the cables, it was important to make sure the cable wasn’t dilapidated behind a sheet of drywall. Once the walls are up there is a great feeling of accomplishment but little did they know this was only the beginning.

Now to the tricky part, building the box within the box. The first thing to do on the inside walls was to cover everything with acoustic vinyl. This was not an easy material to work with, it is heavy and comes in big rolls. All walls needed to be covered with this vinyl leaving no gaps at the seems, even the ceiling needs to be covered with this. Not an easy task for the unaccustomed who went home happy after a long days work only to come back to an undone ceiling that collapsed during the night.

The box would be floating, no fasteners bolts or connections can be holding this in place, only rubber decouplers. So we started with the floor, laying the studs side by side and creating a frame for it wedging the decouplers between the existing vinyl covered walls and the wooden studs. The walls followed in the same manner as well as the ceiling which could not have any recess lighting for such holes would completely defeat the purpose of sound proofing.

Once the box framing was finished we layered all with one sheet of soundboard, one inch of empty resilient channel and two layers of drywall of two different thickness, all had to be perfectly caulked and sealed.

windowThe windows to the recording areas were made of two different gauge glasses positioned at an angle to avoid a drum effect. This basically means that in the frame the glass will sit closer to each other at the bottom than at the top forming a “V” shape within the window frame with its rubber sealant around. this avoids harmonic resonance. In this case it was really important to use silica gel in between the two glass sheets because Houston has a high humidity index and the silica absorbs it.

This concluded the studio building process, the machine room was a lot easier as it did not need the sound proofing although the floor needed to be reinforced for the weight of the equipment. Now it was time for Steven Klein to do his magic. Steven from Sound Control Room did the acoustic treatment of the place, making sure the room had the flattest response possible to conserve pristine sound in the control rooms and recording rooms.

IMG_0082 IMG_0080IMG_0078


Before we were able to move the equipment from the make-shift studios to the final facility, all wiring needed to be in place and terminated with the proper connectors, so we proceeded to run all multi-pair wires, video lines and optical cables from the machine room to the studios and in the studios from the back island to the console and recording areas. Thousands of feet of cable were laid to account for all possible connectivity needs. This allowed for incredible flexibility once all was completed. All studios are capable to interlink with each other making it possible to record from one into the other or share outboard gear without the need of moving it.

For this process Westlake Audio was hired, Erick Mena and his crew flew in from Los Angeles with the sole mission of soldering all terminations for all equipment in the studios, machine room and isolation booths. This process took us 15 days to finish, with the constant support of Edmundo Gomez going at it steady. Long hours and tight spaces were a constant during that time, but once done all there was to do was fill up the racks with the new equipment, plug it and test.

The System

The system design and implementation was thought in advance, this was done while the construction was taking place and before the cabling was laid. I prepared equipment lists and wiring schematics for all the systems, this was the blue prints everyone followed for the installation. This process is a bit daunting for it is massive and all needs to be taken in consideration.

The video machines would be running Final Cut Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, Smoke for Mac, and miscellaneous 3D software like Maya, Vue and Blender. This was the heaviest workflow, so all video was running off the SAN via fiber channel. The SAN was backed up to drives per project and LTO.

The audio machines would be running ProTools to its latest stable version with HD3s on every room, a wide variety of plugins added. The audio drives were backed up to a redundant raid 6 every day via Cron.

The Style

The interior design was masterfully handled by Cathy López Nagrete and all furniture supplied by Blue Leaf Houston. Every piece, a work of art carefully placed to accentuate the impeccable architecture that made Zapboombang a magical place to work in.

The result of all this work is stunning in every way, Zapboombang Studios.

Zapboombang Studio A


During this adventure, I had the pleasure to work with amazing professional people that gave their all to achieve the collective dreams of their clients, community and leadership. Same leadership that allowed me to build a dream facility, their dream facility, our dream facility, Zapboombang. Gracias Alex y Cathy López Negrete for allowing me do my job in the most fun and exciting way. Howard Brown, thank you for your guidance and business classes I needed so much.

All my thanks and gratitude to an amazing team:

• Ruth Villatoro, Operations Manager
• Mark Goulash, Architect
• Gregg Bartley, Contractor
• Jonathan Smith, Head Carpenter
• Steven Klein, Acustician
• Edmundo Gomez, Wiring and Termination
• Erick Mena, Wire and Termination
• Cathy López Negrete, Interior Designer
• Blue Leaf Houston, Furniture and Accessories
• Kurtis Ewing, Equipment Supplier
• Diego Arrieta, Studio Runner
• Howard Brown, VP and General Manager (Lopez Negrete Communications)


For further inquiries about studio design, construction and integration please contact Matias Lanzi.



Wisdom Quotes Update v2.0

WisdomQuotesiPhoneFinally, Wisdom Quotes was updated at the AppStore. This is a major version release where lots of things have changed. Menu is now on a tool bar always present, the App is responsive to all screen sizes and you can now share the quotes via SMS, email, any messenger and social media app.

You can get the App for free at the AppStore.

Although the code is very simple I am in the process of cleaning up the code to upload it to GitHub. Maybe it can be useful to somebody and I am sure it will be a great learning experience.

Slating is overrated, but we have color correction on set.

It’s not new that we realize how technology is making our every day life much easier and productive, but some times I can’t help to think it is making us lazy.

I recently attended a film shoot in which I acted as an assistant editor on set. This basically consists in retrieving data from DIT, the guy that pulls the cards out of the camera (no longer film) and transcodes it (no more dailies) applying a LUT or color correction. In this case they had a full blown Davinci Resolve. As he pulled the footage from the cards, he would a apply the correction and save to 3 drives simultaneously. Really cool and effective use of technology. No more waiting for transfer or LUT application to edit offline. So I would stop by mid day and end of day to get the footage the DP has shot.

With this fast workflow it was easy for me to inspect the footage right away only to notice there was no slates at the beginning or end of each shot or take. This caught my attention and right away asked, “Where are the slates?”. “Over rated” the DIT guy said. “You don’t need them anyway” he said. I took my time to process this assertion and try to find the proper way to reply to his hard conclusion, but I realized it is useless to explain the obvious.

So two cameras needed to be synced, both cameras ran arbitrary time code, not even time of day. And no slates present. As I retrieve data I am used to braking the material down by scenes, camera and take number, a task that became impossible obviously. The script supervisor was making notes but no I had no way to identify the shot other than by the poster picture.

So yes technology is making everybody lazier and lazier (not to the ones that need to fix it). I remember this thing happening in audio when the sound recordist wouldn’t care about the quality of the captured audio claiming things would get fixed in post since they ADR it anyway.

We have color correction on set, but don’t ask for a slate.

A Patch of Grass Houston Astros Commercial

Ever since I discovered drone flying I became hooked with the hobby. I bought my first quad-copter on 2014 and a hexa shortly after. I flew around quite often just to have fun, but the I became interested in the possibilities it presented for cinematography. So I experimented and experimented until I got invited to shoot a commercial for the Houston Astros. I piloted the aerials and Salvador Garza was DP. The commercial was directed by Alvaro Hernandez and cut by David Cochran and Salvador Garza.

One of the drones decided to take a hike after the last shot and smash on a wall barely missing “El grande” the stadium’s new jumbotron.

IMG_0024 Here we are from left to right Gonzalo Arjona (spotter), Claudio Milczewski (producer, spotter) and Matias Lanzi.


We really had a blast doing this, we’re still kids, only the toys get more expensive. What a tough job!

These are the drones we used: DJI Phantom Viosion 2 Plus with proprietary camera (I discourage using this due to navigation stability. The drone lost communication performing a flyaway and smashing into a wall out of the blue). The other drone is an hexa-copter with goPro, this guy got the money shots.

IMG_0018And of course the beautiful Minute Maid park in Houston Texas.


Walmart commercial at the world cup, edited by Matias Lanzi

Here is one of 8 commercials I edited for Lopez Negrete Communications and their client Walmart.


300 Frames per second.

stutterI remember being very young at the movie theater looking at how the fast moving pictures created the illusion of motion. As the projector accelerated, the pictures came to life seamlessly except for a few shots that at times seemed to be stuttering. This is something that troubled me, and as always I needed to know what was it and why was it happening.

With time and observation I came to realize that the stuttering happened on pan shots. The faster they the DP panned, the choppier the movement. At this point it was not hard to decipher that at 24 frames per second, a full screen change would be more prone to perception than a static shot with few areas moving, hence the stuttering effect. Later in life while becoming an audio, video and film professional, I learned the seven second rule and how to deal properly with frame rates and their effects.

Now transitioning to HD, we are moving away from the NTSC standard of 29.97 fps to a more film-like 23.97 bringing back the old stuttering and seven second rule to a higher resolution screen and sharper images producing an even more evident choppiness to the motion.

The seven second rule states that an object in frame takes seven seconds to go from one edge to the other when panning. In any case, far from anything technical about it, here’s a story.

A producer from an agency I don’t usually work for came to me in absolute panic! -What has your editor done with my commercial?- He asked. There are few things our experienced editors can do to destroy a commercial in a controlled post-production environment. So I walked in the room to asses the situation. The producer was complaining about choppy motion in certain shots of the commercial, I assume at this point you know what he was referring to. He blamed everybody and everything, from the editor to the monitor to the light in the room. That’s when I had my flash back to that movie theater in Spain. Needless to say that at this point our experienced editor who already explained things patiently was ready to chop some producer’s head.

I took my time to explain the situation along with the seven second rule at no use. No explanation would bring peace to this tortured soul that escalated the problem to proportions unknown to logic.

Happily produzzilla settled for some interpolation not without destroying Tokio in the process.

There is nothing more harmful than the ego, it will make you blind, def but unfortunately not mute. The things said on an ego trip can never be taken back, be mindful of your ego. Tame the monster and make this world a little bit better.

From now on, we only shoot at 300 frames per second.

Choir Session DePauw University – Purple Songs Can Fly at Zapboombang.

Some time ago I had the great pleasure of working with Anita Kruse during my time at Zapboombang for her project Purple Songs Can Fly. Composers, producers and singers from all over the music business came together to write a song with the children for the children. Written, arranged, and produced in two days, the name of the song “It’s out there waiting“. I didn’t do much at that time for my role was to make sure the studio was up to par to perform all the sessions. Andres Levine was the producer and Edmundo Gomez the engineer.

As I phase out of working for corporate monolithic companies making music for relentless commercial efforts, I really wanted to do something more meaningful for me, so I gave Anita a call.

Anita was as welcoming as always and after some time I was able to arrange and mix one of her songs. Later she gave me the incredible opportunity to get a bit more involved and that’s how I became a little part of this wonderful effort.

image001We got together with the DePauw University School Of Music Choir and Gregory Ristow (the choir’s conductor and arranger) for the first time on January 14, 2014. I had prepared a simple piano track and click to be able to sync the singing to the future track and Gregory brought his beautiful choral arrangement. After editing my reference to his arrangement and dropping the tempo down we where in business.

_MG_9933As the choir started rehearsing their parts, everyone at the studio dropped what they where doing to come to the recording room and listen first hand to the beautiful sounds they where producing. The feeling was energizing, inspirational, peaceful. So as soon as they ran through the piece a couple of times, we started the recording. As an engineer producer there is nothing sweeter than having a perfect source to record, and in the perfect environment too. Zapboombang’s studio A is the perfect place to record this type of ensembles. The room is big and flexible turning from a bright tight room into a quiet one with the addition of simple gobos. These boys and girls had it together, just a couple of microphones and press the red button.

We took five hours to record the song, that was because I wanted to double parts and make the track a bit beefier. We made two full passes and then overdubbed section by section, bass, alto, tenor and soprano twice to create a stereo image. The track sounded beautiful, now is my turn to clean the tracks a bit for those inevitable paper shuffles.


I love making music and being part of something bigger than me.


From Left To right, Anita Kruse, Alex Lopez Negrete, Gregory Ristow and Matias Lanzi

Thank you Alex Lopez Negrete and Zapboombang Studios for donating Studio A “Oceans” for this session.