NLE Tips – Week 3

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The Avid  – Resolve Roundtrip Workflow

Avid Media Composer has always been regarded as the best offline editing tool and its heritage was built upon a strong offline-to-online workflow. The file-based world has complicated things and various camera formats have made life even more complex for editors. Many have become quite fond of using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve as a great companion to Media Composer. It’s cross-platform and even the free version will do most of what you need. Here’s a step-by-step example of how you might use the combo. Relinking varies a bit, based on file metadata and might need to be modified for your particular circumstances. This workflow is great with ARRI ALEXA files and will most likely work well with other similar camera formats. (Click images for an expanded view.)

df_nle3_4_smCreating edit proxies files with Resolve – ALEXA files are usually Apple ProRes 4444 or ProRes HQ QuickTime files that have been recorded with a Log-C gamma profile. So, they are big files with a flat appearance. To start, launch Resolve, load the ProRes camera clips into the Media Pool (Media or Edit tab) and select/edit all of the full clips to a new timeline. In the Color tab, select “track” instead of “clip” and apply a single node. In that node, apply an ARRI Log-C-to-Rec709 LUT. Go to the Deliver tab and pick the Avid roundtrip Easy Set-up. Make sure “Individual Source Clips” is selected (not a single file), define a render location and df_nle3_3_smdecide whether or not to add a file name prefix or suffix (not required). Render using the DNxHD 36 codec choice.

Moving to Media Composer for the creative cut – When the render process has been completed, you’ll have a folder containing Avid MXF media and a corresponding AAF file. This media has the LUT “baked in” and has been rendered with the very lightweight df_nle3_5_smDNxHD 36 codec. Drag the AAF file out of this folder to another location. Now drag this complete folder into any of your Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolders. Unless you’ve already added extra folders there, you will typically find one existing folder (with Avid’s default label of “1”) that contains MXF media. Change the label of the new folder (the one that you’ve just dragged in) to another number, such as “2″.df_nle3_2_sm

Launch Media Composer, create a new project, open the first bin and import the AAF file that was created by Resolve. This bin will become populated by the color corrected, DNxHD 36 files created by Resolve. Voila, you are ready to edit your Oscar-winner! Cut until the project is locked. When you are done and are ready to move to the online or finishing phase of the edit, export an AAF file from Media Composer. Select “AAF Edit Protocol” and “Link to” media in the AAF options.df_nle3_10_sm

df_nle3_7_smReturning to Resolve for the final grade – Launch Resolve and start a new project. Import the AAF file that you exported from Media Composer. You’ll end up with a timeline that matches your Avid cut and it will be linked to the DNxHD 36 media. You will want to relink the files back to the original camera media – the ProRes HQ or ProRes 4444 files. To do this, delete all the media in the Resolve Media Pool (Edit tab), which will make the timeline clips appear offline. df_nle3_12_smNow, navigate to the folder with the original camera files and bring those into the Media Pool. Your timeline clips will now be relinked to this original camera media. You’ll recognize this because the clips on the timeline will be back to their original, flat, Log-C appearance. In some instances, Resolve may see some files as duplicate and might possibly relink to the wrong file. In that case, you’ll see an error icon on the timeline clip. Click on it and Resolve will present a dialogue window with the possible alternate media options. Pick the correct one and the clip should then be linked to the right shot. Color correct your timeline with the desired grade and any reframing.

df_nle3_6_smReturning to Media Composer to complete the edit – When you’ve completed the color grading, go to the Deliver tab and pick the Avid roundtrip Easy Set-up again, but this time pick a higher-quality codec (like DNxHD 175x). Make sure to set handle lengths (usually 2-5 sec.) and render (as “Individual Source Clips” again). The result will be a new folder of rendered MXF media with the “baked in” grade, plus a new corresponding AAF file. As before, drag out this AAF file and drag the folder of rendered media into the Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder. Relabel the folder of this new Resolve media with a different number (such as “3″).

df_nle3_11_smLaunch Media Composer, open your existing project and create a new bin. Import the new AAF file, which will now populate this bin with the high-quality media. This bin will also include the sequence that you sent over to Resolve, but now linked to the high-resolution media files. In many cases, you would simply use this sequence for any final effects, titles and other adjustments.

df_nle3_8_smRelinking the sequence in Media Composer – If for some reason the sequence that was “round-tripped” does not correctly reflect the edited cut as built in the offline stage, then you will need to relink a copy of that sequence to the new media. To do so, duplicate the sequence from your DNxHD 36 edit and move that copy into the bin with the 175x media. Close all other bins, except the 175x bin. Right-click the sequence and select “Relink” from the menu. Set your options to “Select Items In All Open Bins” and relink by “Timecode – Start” and “Source Name – Tape Name or Source File ID”. This will cause the sequence to be relinked to the new 175x final-quality media.df_nle3_9_sm

If everything worked correctly, you will have done a complete offline (creative cut) and online (finishing) workflow between Media Composer and Resolve, without the need for Avid’s traditional import or newer AMA processes!

©2014 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Week 2

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Adobe Premiere Pro – Stacked Sequences

If you are used to editing in Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro “legacy”, then you are familiar with the concept of tabbed sequences. That is, you can have several open sequences, which each appear as a tab in the timeline window. This lets editor work between them, using copy and paste functions or compare one version of an edit to another. (Click images for an expanded view.)

Adobe’s interface design is based on dockable windows. In Premiere Pro, this means you can arrange the window layout in various custom workspace configurations that are conducive to your personal style or task needs. Sequences can be torn off into separate window elements. They may then be docked as a tab or embedded into any of four sides of the window as a separate pane within that window. Therefore, you can easily dock two sequences on top of each other within the same timeline window. When you do this, the focus of the sequence viewer and the effects control panel will follow whichever clip is selected by the editor in either sequence.

df_nle2_2_smLet’s say that you like to work from a “selected takes” sequence to a second sequence that is a “cutdown” of these selects. Stack one sequence above the other and then simply drag a clip from sequence 1 to sequence 2. Or highlight a clip in sequence 1, copy it and paste it to sequence 2. This also makes it easy to re-arrange the order of clips from one sequence to the other, when building stories based on soundbite and voice-over elements.

In another example, you might have two versions of an edit, such as a long-form cut for the web and a :30 cut for commercial TV. Each will have the same effects applied to shots that are common to both versions. Stack the sequences and open the effects controls. As you click on a clip, the effects that have been applied are revealed in the control panel. Or you can apply new effects to that clip by adding them to this open window.

df_nle2_3_smOnce you’ve applied and adjusted effects in the long-form cut, select the effects in that window and copy them. Then click on the same shot in the second sequence. The effect control window has been “refocused” on the other clip and is therefore empty. Paste the matching effect(s) to the empty effects control panel. Now the shot in the short-form cut will match the appearance of that same shot from the long-form cut. All done by simply moving back and forth between the two stacked sequences in the timeline window.

©2014 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Week 1

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Avid Media Composer Pointers

Getting better results out of your editing experience means learning a few useful tricks. For the next few posts, I’ll offer some suggestions intended to improve your efficiency on several popular editing applications. This first post covers three quick tips with Avid Media Composer. (Click images for an expanded view.)

Film strips

df_nle1_3_smOne of the features of Apple’s FCP X that I really like is the way the selected clip is displayed when the “event” browser (bin) is set to the list view. The selected clip is shown at the top of the browser window as a film strip covering the length of that clip. This makes it very easy to look at the strip and identify at a glance that the shot starts as a wide and zooms to a close-up. The Avid frame view won’t give you such information without scrubbing. But did you know there’s a similar film strip solution in Media Composer?

Most editors are used to double-clicking a clip in a bin to load it into the source viewer. For many, it’s a habit that ignores another approach. When selecting a clip in a bin, simply hit the enter key to load it into the viewer. No need to click or double-click. That’s the first step in this tip.

df_nle1_2_smThe Avid timeline window always loads two timelines – the edited sequence and the source. You can toggle between source and edit timelines with a keystroke. The timeline window can also be set to display a “film” video track. When doing so, you get a film strip view of the entire timeline. When you view the source side of the timeline window, the result is a film strip display of the entire source clip. By leaving the timeline window toggled to the source view with the film track enabled, you can quickly go through your bin selections using the enter key and checking out the clip in this film strip display. This will give you a fast way to review your footage with minimal scrubbing and clicking.

The Find menu

df_nle1_4_smWhen you call up the Media Composer Find menu (cmd-F on a Mac), you get several search options, including Phrase Find, if you’ve purchased that option and have indexed the audio files. Find works with more than Phrase Find, though. It can search for clips across all bins, but it also allows you to search for any text in locators (markers). If you’ve placed locators in your sequence and labelled these with text info, simply type the text into the Find menu search field, click the Find button and your play head will jump to that locator in the timeline.

Master bus

df_nle1_5_smWith Media Composer 7, Avid has added a master bus to the audio mixer panel. Aside from controlling overall levels, this bus will also accept real-time audio plug-ins from Media Composer’s standard set (RTAS) or from compatible third-party audio filters. I often will add a basic compressor/limiter to my mixes and with the new master bus, Avid has given me an ideal place for it.

Some additional Media Composer tips here and here.

If you are serious about your Media Composer chops, here are three great books that will help you up your game.

Avid Uncut: Workflows, Tips, and Techniques from Hollywood Pros (Steve Hullfish)

Avid Agility: Working Faster and More Intuitively with Avid Media Composer, Third Edition (Steven Cohen)

Avid Media Composer 6.x Cookbook  (Ben Hershleder)

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©2014 Oliver Peters

FCP X Screen Layouts

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One of the things I really liked about Final Cut Pro “legacy” was the ability to create and customize numerous screen layouts. By rearranging its collection of tabbed and floating windows, it was easy to design and save numerous, task-specific, personalized screen layouts of the user interface. When I edit, I prefer to work on dual-display workstations, so I can lay out my tools with plenty of screen real estate. This usually means source bins and clips in one screen and the viewers and timeline in the other.

This level of interface customization is one of the features that I miss in Final Cut Pro X. Apple’s basic design for FCP X is intended to optimize it for single-display use, especially iMacs and MacBook Pros. The user interface for FCP X is more static than FCP “legacy” – using fly-out panels instead of moveable, floating, tabbed or docking windows. Nevertheless, if you have a dual-screen set-up, there are actually quite a few variations that the interface enables. A nice feature is that some of the show/hide toggles can be mapped to the keyboard. For now, you can’t save configurations, but it is reasonably quick to open, close and swap interface elements. (Click any of the images for an expanded view.)

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One interesting concept is that you can access various open FCP X Libraries using Mission Control. It’s not always fool-proof and I haven’t found it all that useful, but it is possible.

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In a typical two-display workstation with the main menu on the right display, you can open the viewers or event browser on the secondary display. That’s left in this example, with the events set to display on the secondary monitor. The event browser includes a panel that displays the libraries, events, keyword collections and smart collections. A button in the lower left corner of the interface lets you hide this panel. Doing so sets the browser focus only on the clips for the selected location and thus reduces clutter.

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The event browser can be set to display clips as skimmable, filmstrip thumbnails or as a list of clips. In the list view, the selected clip is displayed as a single filmstrip across the top of the event browser. The viewer can be set to be a single, unified viewer that toggles between clips and the timeline. Alternatively, a second event viewer can be opened for a traditional 2-up source/record display.

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You may also choose to display the viewers on the secondary display, which leaves the timeline and events on the main display. Video scopes are tied to the viewers and can be displayed in a horizontal (next to the image) or vertical (under the image) position.

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Some plug-ins use on-screen controls. One such filter is Hawaiki Color – a color grading tool. Its OSC may be displayed around the image or fullscreen as an image overlay. With the viewer on the secondary screen and scopes enabled, the editor maintains focus only on one screen while color correcting shots.

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The timeline display offers several clip height options. The smallest is the “chiclet” view. The timeline clips can be expanded with other views that emphasize more of the picture information or more of the audio waveforms. In addition, video animation can be revealed for a clip. This will display keyframes for in-timeline adjustments.

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I recently discovered that the order of which monitor is considered the primary and secondary display can be swapped. Simply drag the main window by the top header bar to the other monitor. As you do, the window on the secondary display automatically shifts to the opposite monitor. Then, click the green plus symbol at the top corner of the window to have it properly fill the screen. This example demonstrates that the fullscreen viewer window can be shifted onto either screen.

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In this final example, the viewer/timeline and event browser (on the secondary display) are shifted from one screen to the next.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Comparing Final Cut Pro X, Media Composer and Premiere Pro CC

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The editing world includes a number of software options, such as Autodesk Smoke, Grass Valley EDIUS, Lightworks, Media 100, Sony Vegas and Quantel. The lion’s share of editing is done on three platforms: Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro. For the last two years many users have been holding onto legacy systems, wondering when the dust would settle and which editing tool would become dominant again. By the end of 2013, these three companies released significant updates that give users a good idea of their future direction and has many zeroing in on a selection.

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Differing business models

Adobe, Apple and Avid have three distinctly different approaches. Adobe and Avid offer cross-platform solutions, while Final Cut Pro X only works on Apple hardware. Adobe offers most of its content creation software only through a Creative Cloud subscription. Individual users have access to all creative applications for $49.99 a month (not including promotional deals), but when they quit subscribing, the applications cease to function after a grace period. Users may install the software on as many computers as they like (Mac or PC), but only two can be activated at any time.

Apple’s software sells through the Mac App Store. Final Cut Pro X is $299.99 with another $49.99 each for Motion and Compressor. Individual users may install and use these applications on any Mac computers they own, but enterprise users are supposed to purchase volume licenses to cover one installation per computer. With the release of FCP X 10.1, it appears that Apple is offering updates at no charge, meaning that once you buy Final Cut, you never pay for updates. Whether that continues as the official Apple policy from here on is unknown. FCP X uses a special version of XML for timeline interchange with other applications, so if you need to send material via EDL, OMF or AAF – or even interchange with previous versions of Final Cut Pro – you will need to augment FCP X with a variety of third-party utilities.

Avid Media Composer remains the only one of the three that follows a traditional software ownership model. You purchase, download and install the software and activate the license. You may install it on numerous Macs and PCs, but only one at a time can be activated. The software bundle runs $999 and includes Media Composer, several Avid utilities, Sorenson Squeeze, Avid FX from BorisFX and AvidDVD by Sonic. You can expand your system with three extra software options: Symphony (advanced color correction), ScriptSync (automated audio-to-script alignment) and PhraseFind (a dialogue search tool). The Symphony option also includes the Boris Continuum Complete filters.

Thanks to Avid’s installation and activation process, Media Composer is the most transportable of the three. Simply carry Mac and Windows installers on a USB key along with your activation codes. It’s as simple as installing the software and activating the license, as long as any other installations have been de-activated prior to that. While technically the FCP X application could be moved between machines, it requires that the new machine be authorized as part of a valid Apple ID account. This is often frowned upon in corporate environments. Similarly, you can activate a new machine as one of yours on a Creative Cloud account (as long as you’ve signed out on the other machines), but the software must be downloaded again to this local machine. No USB key installers here.

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Dealing with formats

All three applications are good at handling a variety of source media codecs, frame rates and sizes. In some cases, like RED camera files, plug-ins need to be installed and kept current. Both Apple and Avid will directly handle some camera formats without conversion, but each uses a preferred codec – ProRes for Final Cut Pro X and DNxHD for Media Composer. If you want the most fluid editing experience, then transcode to an optimized codec within the application.

Adobe hasn’t developed its own mezzanine codec. In fact, Premiere Pro CC has no built-in transcoding tools, leaving that instead to Adobe Prelude or Adobe Media Encoder. By design, the editor imports files in their native format without transcoding or rewrapping and works with those directly in the sequence. A mix of various formats, frame rates, codecs and sizes doesn’t always play as smoothly on a single timeline as would optimized media, like DNxHD or ProRes; but, my experience is that of these three, Premiere Pro CC handles such a mix the best.

Most of us work with HD (or even SD) deliverables, but higher resolutions (2K, UHD, 4K) are around the corner. All three NLEs handle bigger-than-HD formats as source media without much difficulty. I’ve tested the latest RED EPIC Dragon 6K camera files in all three applications and they handle the format well. Both Adobe and Apple can output bigger sequence sizes, too, such as 2K and 4K. For now, Avid Media Composer is still limited to HD (1920 x 1080 maximum) sequences and output sizes. Here are some key features of the most recent updates.

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Adobe Premiere Pro CC (version 7.2.1)

The current build of Premiere Pro CC was released towards the end of 2013. Adobe has been enhancing editing features with each new update, but two big selling points of this version are Adobe Anywhere integration and Direct Link between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. Anywhere requires a shared server for collaborative workflows and isn’t applicable to most users who don’t have an Anywhere infrastructure in place. Nevertheless, this adds the client-side application integration, so those who do, can connect, sign in and work.

df_nle_7_smOf more interest is Direct Link, which sends the complete Premiere Pro CC timeline into SpeedGrade CC for color correction. Since you are working directly with the Premiere Pro timeline, SpeedGrade functions with a subset of its usual controls. Operations, like conforming media to an EDL, are inactive. Direct Link facilitates the use of various compressed codecs that SpeedGrade wouldn’t normally handle by itself, since this is being taken care of by Premiere Pro’s media engine. When you’ve completed color correction, the saved timeline is sent back to Premiere Pro. Each clip has an applied Lumetri filter that contains grading information from SpeedGrade. The roundtrip is achieved without any intermediate rendering.

df_nle_6_smThis solution is a good first effort, but I find that the response of SpeedGrade’s controls via Direct Link are noticeably slower than working directly in a SpeedGrade project. That must be a result of Premiere Pro working in the background. Clips in Premiere Pro with applied Lumetri effects also require more resources to play well and rendering definitely helps. The color roundtrip results were good in my tests, with the exception of any clips that used a filter layer with a LUT. These displayed with bizarre colors back in Premiere Pro.

You can’t talk about Premiere Pro without addressing Creative Cloud. I still view this as a “work in progress”. For instance, you are supposed to be able to sync files between your local drive and the Cloud, much like DropBox. Even though everything is current on my Mac Pro, that tab in the Creative Cloud application still says “coming soon”. Others report that it’s working for them.

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Apple Final Cut Pro X (version 10.1)

This update is the tipping point for many FCP 7 users. Enough updates have been released in over two years to address many of the concerns professional editors have expressed. 10.1 requires an operating system update to Mavericks (10.9 or later) and has three marquee items – a revised media structure, optimization for 4K and overall better performance. It is clear that Apple is not about to change the inherent design of FCP X. This means no tracks and no changes to the magnetic timeline. As with any update, there are plenty of small tweaks, including enhanced retiming, audio fades on individual channels, improved split edits and a new InertiaCam stabilization algorithm.

df_nle_9_smThe most obvious change is the move from separate Events and Projects folders to unified Libraries, similar to Aperture. Think of a Library as the equivalent to a Final Cut Pro 7 or Premiere Pro CC project file, containing all data for clips and sequences associated with a production. An FCP X Library as viewed in the Finder is a bundled file, which can be opened using the “show package contents” Finder command. This reveals internal folders and files for Events, Projects and aliases linked to external media files. Imported files that are optionally copied into a Library are also contained there, as are rendered and transcoded files. The Libraries no longer need to live at the root of a hard drive and can be created for individual productions. Editors may open and close any or all of the Libraries needed for an edit session.

df_nle_8_smFCP X’s performance was optimized for Mavericks, the new Mac Pro and dual GPU processing. By design, this means improved 4K throughput, including native 4K support for ProRes, Sony XAVC and REDCODE camera raw media files. This performance boost has also filtered down to older machines. 10.1 brought better performance with 1080p ProRes and even 5K RED files to my 2009 Mac Pro. Clearly Apple wants FCP X to be a showcase for the power of the new Mac Pro, but you’ll get benefits from this update, even if you aren’t ready to leap to new hardware.

Along with Final Cut Pro X 10.1, Apple also released updates to Motion and Compressor. The Motion update was necessary to integrate the new FxPlug3 architecture, which enables developers to add custom interface controls. Compressor was the biggest change, with a complete overhaul of the interface in line with the look of FCP X.

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Avid Media Composer (version 7.0.3)

The biggest feature of Media Composer 7.0.3 is optimization for new operating systems. It is qualified for Windows 8.1 and Mac OS X 10.8.5, 10.9 and 10.9.1. There are a number of interface changes, including separate audio and video effects palette tabs and changing the appearance of background processing indicator icons. 24fps sound timecode is now supported, the responsiveness with the Avid Artist Color Controller has been improved and the ability to export a simplified AAF file has been  added.

df_nle_10_smTranscode choices gain a set of H.264 proxy file codecs. These had been used in other Avid news and broadcast tools, but are now extended into Media Composer. Support for RED was updated to handle the RED Dragon format. With the earlier introduction of 7.0, Avid added background transcoding services and FrameFlex – Avid’s solution for bigger-than-HD files. FrameFlex enables resizing and pan/scan/zoom control within that file’s native resolution. Media Composer also accepts mixed frame rates within a single timeline, by applying Motion Adapters to any clip that doesn’t match the frame rate of the project. 7.0.3 improves control over the frame blending method to give the editor a better choice between temporal or spatial smoothness.

There is no clear winner among these three. If you are on Windows, then the choice is between Adobe and Avid. If you need 4K output today, Apple or Adobe are your best option. All three handle a wide range of popular camera formats well – especially RED. If you like tracks – go Avid or Adobe. If you want the best application for the new Mac Pro, that will clearly be Apple Final cut Pro X. These are all great tools, capable of any level of post production – be it commercial, corporate, web, broadcast entertainment or feature films. If you’ve been on the fence for two years, now is the time to switch, because there are no bad tools – only preferences.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters