For Filmmakers, KataData App Is A Magical Robot Assistant

This iPhone app is like having a robotic assistant editor in your pocket, and filmmakers will adore it.

We digital filmmakers may drool over the sight of awesome new gear like Canon’s EOS C300 Digital Cinema Camera, but dealing with the footage that comes out is often a royal pain. The days of “one mag of film equals about 12 minutes” are long gone: You have to memorize multiple video codecs, media management workflows, frame rate/bit rate/storage-space conversions, and… oh sorry, I nodded off there. Thank heaven there’s an app for that: it’s called KataData, and it does all that conversion-calculation b.s. for you, so you can focus on the moviemaking. Check out the demo:


Are you still with me? If you’re not a director, cinematographer, editor, or producer, maybe not–but if you are, KataData will sound like manna from media-management heaven. Film and video production can be physically grueling work: When you’re wondering in a moment of panic on your 3 a.m. night shoot whether the 32GB Compact Flash card you’ve got in your A-camera is going to give you 5 minutes of footage or 50, and then wonder if the portable hard drive you’re transcoding the rushes to so your editor can start cutting on location has enough space if you’re ingesting at ProRes 422, you need to get the answer fast without thinking too hard. But the device you use to calculate all that stuff can’t be hard to use, either. That’s the design problem KataData solves.

The interaction design of KataData isn’t beautiful, but it does have some clever touches that film crews (who are notoriously nitpicky about the ergonomics of their gear) will appreciate. First, the most-often-used interactions are designed around swiping and scrolling motions, which can easily be done one-handed while you’re lugging a tripod or god knows what else. For example, you can instantly convert back and forth between time units (i.e., how many frames are in 37 minutes of 24p footage) with a swipe. Similarly, you can select between codecs and cameras by flicking up and down through a scrollable dial. And in a truly ingenious touch, when you need to clear all these interconnected settings en masse and start over (things change fast on film sets), you just shake your iPhone like an Etch A Sketch. No hunting for a little “Clear” or “Delete” button.

This kind of technical UI design isn’t necessarily sexy, but when it’s done right, the impact is instantly felt. Maybe that’s why KataData’s creators dedicated their app to Steve Jobs–someone who understood more than anyone that beautiful, functional design isn’t just skin deep. (Now if only they could fix Final Cut Pro X…)

[Read more about KataData]

[Image: Flickr user filmingilman]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.