Custom transitions using adjustment layers

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Sometimes you just want to use a unique transition effect, however, you might not own a package of third party plug-ins with custom transitions. If you are an FCP X / Motion user, then you can create a custom transition as a Motion  template. But, maybe that’s too much trouble when you are in the thick of things. There is actually a very simple technique that After Effects artists have used for years. That’s using an adjustment layer above a cut or dissolve between two shots and applying filters within the adjustment layer.

This works in FCP X, Premiere Pro CC and Media Composer. The first two actually have adjustment layer effects, though in FCP X, it’s based on a blank title generator. In Media Composer, you can add edits into empty video tracks and apply effects to any section of a blank track, which effectively makes this process the same as using an adjustment layer. The Media Composer approach was described nicely by Shane Ross in his Vimeo tutorial, which got me thinking about this technique more broadly. Generally, it works the same in all three of these NLEs.

The examples and description are based on Premiere Pro CC, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out on your particular software of choice. To start, create a new adjustment layer and add a marker to the middle of it. This helps to center the layer over the cut between two shots. Place the adjustment layer effect over a cut between shots, making sure that the marker lines up with the edit point. If the transition is to be a one-second effect, then trim the front and back of the adjustment layer so that one-half second is before the marker and one-half second is after the marker. Depending on the effect, you may or may not also want a short dissolve between the two shots on the base video track. For example, an effect that flashes the screen full frame at the midpoint will work with a cut. A blur effect will work best in conjunction with a dissolve, otherwise you’ll see the cut inside the blur.

The beauty of this technique is that you can apply numerous filters to an adjustment layer and get a unique combination of effects that isn’t otherwise available. For example, a blur+glow+flare transition. At this point, it’s important to realize that not all effects plug-ins work the same way and you will have varying results. Boris filters tends not to work when you stack them in the same adjustment layer and start to change keyframes. In Avid’s architecture, the BCC filters have a specific pipeline and you have to define which filter is the first and which is the last effect. I didn’t find any such controls in the Premiere version. A similar thing happened with the Red Giant Universe filters. On the other hand, most of the native Premiere Pro filters operated correctly in this fashion.

The basic principle is that you want the filters to start and end at a neutral value so that the transition starts and ends without a visible effect. The midpoint of the transition (over the cut) should be at full value of whatever it is you are trying to achieve. If it’s a lens flare, then the middle of the transition should be the midpoint of the lens flare’s travel and also its brightest moment. If you are using a glow, then the intensity is at its maximum in the middle. Typically this means three keyframe points – beginning, middle and end. The values you adjust will differ with the plug-in. It could be opacity, strength, intensity or anything else. Sometimes you will adjust multiple parameters at these three points. This will be true of a lens flare that travels across the screen during the transition.

The point is that you will have to experiment a bit to get the right feel. The benefit is that once you’ve done this, the adjustment layer clip – complete with filters and keyframes – can be copied-and-pasted to other sections of the timeline for a consistent effect.

Here are some examples of custom transition effects in Premiere Pro CC, using this adjustment layer technique. (Click the image for an enlarged view.)

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This is a combination of a Basic 3D horizontal spin and Ripples. The trick is to get the B-side image to not be horizontally flipped, since it’s the backside of the rotating image. To do this, I added an extra Transform filter with a middle keyframe that reverses the scale width to -100.

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This transition combines a Directional Blur with a Chromatic Glow and requires a dissolve on the base video track.

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This is a lens flare transition where the flare travels and changes intensity. The brightest part is the midpoint over the shot change. This could work as a cut or dissolve, since the flare’s brightness “wipes” the screen. In addition, I have the flare center traveling from the upper left to the lower right of the frame.

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Here, I’ve applied the BCC Pencil Sketch filter, bringing it in and out during the length of the transition, with a dissolve on the base layer. This gives us a momentary cartoon look as part of the shot transition.

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Custom UI filters like Magic Bullet Looks also work. This effect combines Looks using the “blockbuster” preset with a Glow Highlights filter. First set the appearance in Looks and then use the strength slider for your three keyframes.

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This transition is based on the Dust & Scratches filter in Premiere Pro. I’m not sure why it produced this blotchy artistic look other than the large radius value. Quite possibly this is a function of its behavior in an adjustment layer. Nevertheless, it’s a cool, impressionistic style.

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This transition takes advantage of the BCC Water Color filter. Like my Pencil Sketch example, the transition briefly turns into a watercolor during the length of the transition.

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Like the previous two BCC example, this is a similar approach using the Universe ToonIt Paint filter.

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This transition combines several of the built-in Premiere Pro effects, including Transform and Radial Blur. The image scales up and back down through the midpoint, along with the blur values ramping and an added skew value change.

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In this last example, I’ve used Magic Bullet Looks. The Looks style uses a Tilt-Shift preset to which I’ve added lens distortion within Looks. The three keyframe points are set by adjusting the strength slider.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Color Grading Strategies

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A common mistake made by editors new to color correction is to try to nail a “look” all in a single application of a filter or color correction layer. Subjective grading is an art. Just like a photographer who dodges and burns areas of a photo in the lab or in Photoshop to “relight” a scene, so it is with the art of digital color correction. This requires several steps, so a single solution will never give you the best result. I follow this concept, regardless of the NLE or grading application I’m using at the time. Whether stacked filters in Premiere Pro, several color corrections in FCP X, rooms in Color, nodes in Resolve or layers in SpeedGrade – the process is the same. The standard grade for me is often a “stack” of four or more grading levels, layers or nodes to achieve the desired results. (Please click on any of the images for an expanded view.)

df_gradestrtgy_1red_smThe first step for me is always to balance the image and to make that balance consistent from shot to shot. Achieving this varies with the type of media and application. For example, RED camera raw footage is compatible with most updated software, allowing you to have control over the raw decoding settings. In FCP X or Premiere Pro, you get there through separate controls to modify the raw source metadata settings. In Resolve, I would usually make this the first node. Typically I will adjust ISO, temperature and tint here and then set the gamma to REDlogFilm for easy grading downstream. In a tool like FCP X, you are changing the settings for the media file itself, so any change to the RED settings for a clip will alter those settings for all instances of that clip throughout all of your projects. In other words, you are not changing the raw settings for only the timeline clips. Depending on the application, this type of change is made in the first step of color correction or it is made before you enter color correction.

df_gradestrtgy_cb1_smI’ll continue this discussion based on FCP X for the sake of simplicity, but just remember that the concepts apply generally to all grading tools. In FCP X, all effects are applied to clips before the color board stage. If you are using a LUT filter or some other type of grading plug-in like Nattress Curves, Hawaiki Color or AutoGrade, remember that this is applied first and then that result is effected by the color board controls, which are downstream in the signal flow. If you want to apply an effect after the color board correction, then you must add an adjustment layer title generator above your clip and apply that effect within the adjustment layer.

df_gradestrtgy_cb2_smIn the example of RED footage, I set the gamma to REDlogFilm for a flatter profile to preserve dynamic range. In FCP X color board correction 1, I’ll make the necessary adjustments to saturation and contrast to restore this to a neutral, but pleasing image. I will do this for all clips in the timeline, being careful to make the shots consistent. I am not applying a “look” at this level.

df_gradestrtgy_cb2a_smThe next step, color board correction 2, is for establishing the “look”. Here’s where I add a subjective grade on top of color board correction 1. This could be new from scratch or from a preset. FCP X supplies a number of default color presets that you access from the pull-down menu. Others are available to be installed, including a free set of presets that I created for FCP X. df_gradestrtgy_cb2b_smIf you have a client that likes to experiment with different looks, you might add several color board correction layers here. For instance, if I’m previewing a “cool look” versus a “warm look”, I might do one in color correction 2 and another in color correction 3. Each correction level can be toggled on and off, so it’s easy to preview the warm versus cool looks for the client.

Assuming that color board correction 2 is for the subjective look, then usually in my hierarchy, correction 3 tends to be reserved for a mask to key faces. Sometimes I’ll do this as a key mask and other times as a shape mask. df_gradestrtgy_cb3_smFCP X is pretty good here, but if you really need finesse, then Resolve would be the tool of choice. The objective is to isolate faces – usually in a close shot of your principal talent – and bring skin tones out against the background. The mask needs to be very soft so as not to draw attention to itself. Like most tools, FCP X allows you to make changes inside and outside of the mask. If I isolate a face, then I could brighten the face slightly (inside mask), as well as slightly darken everything else (outside mask).df_gradestrtgy_cb3a_sm

Depending on the shot, I might have additional correction levels above this, but all placed before the next step. For instance, if I want to darken specific bright areas, like the sun reflecting off of a car hood, I will add separate layers with key or shape masks for each of these adjustments. df_gradestrtgy_cb3b_smThis goes back to the photographic dodging and burning analogy.

df_gradestrtgy_cb4_smI like adding vignettes to subtly darken the outer edge of the frame. This goes on correction level 4 in our simplest set-up. The bottom line is that it should be the top correction level. The shape mask should be feathered to be subtle and then you would darken the outside of the mask, by lowering brightness levels and possibly a little lower on saturation. df_gradestrtgy_cb4a_smYou have to adjust this by feel and one vignette style will not work for all shots. In fact, some shots don’t look right with a vignette, so you have to use this to taste on a shot by shot basis. At this stage it may be necessary to go back to color correction level 2 and adjust the settings in order to get the optimal look, after you’ve done facial correction and vignetting in the higher levels.df_gradestrtgy_cb5_sm

df_gradestrtgy_cb5a_smIf I want any global changes applied after the color correction, then I need to do this using an adjustment layer. One example is a film emulation filter like LUT Utility or FilmConvert. Technically, if the effect should look like film negative, it should be a filter that’s applied before the color board. If the look should be like it’s part of a release print (positive film stock), then it should go after. For the most part, I stick to after (using an adjustment layer), because it’s easier to control, as well as remove, if the client decides against it. df_gradestrtgy_cb5b_smRemember that most film emulation LUTs are based on print stock and therefore should go on the higher layer by definition. Of course, other globals changes, like another color correction filters or grain or a combination of the two can be added. These should all be done as adjustment layers or track-based effects, for consistent application across your entire timeline.

©2014 Oliver Peters

The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance

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I recently worked on a short 10 minute teaser video for a potential longer film project. It was shot with a RED One camera, so it was a great test for the RED workflow and roundtrips using Apple Final Cut Pro 10.1.2/10.1.3 and DaVinci Resolve 11.

Starting the edit

As with any production, the first step is to properly back up and verify the data from the camera and sound cards. These files should go to redundant drives that are parked on the shelf for safe keeping. After this has been done, now you can copy the media to the editorial drives. In this case, I was using a LaCie RAID-5 array. Each day’s media was placed in a folder and divided into subfolders for RED, audio and other cameras, like a few 5D shots.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_4Since I was using FCP X and its RED and proxy workflows, I opted not to use REDCINE-X Pro as part of this process. In fact, the Mac Pro also didn’t have any RED Rocket accelerator card installed either, as I’ve seen conflicts with FCP X and RED transcodes when the RED Rocket card was installed. After the files were copied to the editorial drives, they were imported into an FCP X event, with media left in its original location. In the import setting, the option to transcode proxy media was enabled, which continues in the background while you start to work with the RED files directly. The camera files are 4K 16×9 .r3d files, so FCP X transcodes these to half-sized ProRes Proxy media.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_1Audio was recorded as double-system sound using a Sound Devices recorder. The audio files were 2-channel broadcast WAV files using slates for syncing. There was no in-camera audio and no common timecode. I was working with a couple of assistant editors, so I had them sync each clip manually. Instead of using FCP X’s synchronized clips, I had them alter each master clip using the “open in timeline” command. This lets you edit the audio directly to the video as a connected clip within the master clip. Once done, your master clip contains synced audio and video.  It functions just like a master clip with in-camera audio – almost (more on that later).df_fcpx-red-resolve_9

All synced clips were relabeled with a camera, scene and take designation, as well as adding this info to the camera, scene and take columns. Lastly, script notes were added to the notes column based on the script supervisor’s reports.

Transcodes

df_fcpx-red-resolve_6Since the post schedule wasn’t super-tight, I was able to let the transcodes finish overnight, as needed. Once this is done, you can switch FCP X to working with proxies and all the media will be there. The toggle between proxy and/or optimized-original media is seamless and FCP X takes care of properly changing all sizing information. For example, the project is 4K media in a 1080p timeline. FCP X’s spatial conform downscales the 4K media, but then when you toggle to proxy, it has to make the corresponding adjustments to media that is now half-sized. Likewise any blow-ups or reframing that you do also have to match in both modes.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_2The built-in proxy/optimized-original workflow provides you with offline/online editing phases right within the same system. Proxies for fast and efficient editing. Original or high-resolution transcodes for finishing. To keep the process fast and initially true to color decisions made on set, no adjustments were made to the RED files. FCP X does let you alter the camera raw color metadata from inside the application, but there’s no real reason to do this for offline editing files. That can be deferred until it’s time to do color correction. So during the edit, you see what the DoP shot as you view the RED files or the transcoded proxies.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_3We did hit one bad camera load. This might have been due to either a bad RED drive or possibly excessive humidity at that location. No matter what the reason, the result was a set of corrupt RED clips. We didn’t initially realize this in FCP X, and so, hit clips that caused frequent crashes. Once I narrowed it down to the load from that one location, I decided to delete these clips. For that group of shots, I used REDCINE-X Pro to transcode the files. I adjusted the color for a flatter, neutral profile (for later color correction) and transcoded full-resolution debayered 1080p ProRes 4444 files. We considered these as the new camera masters for those clips. Even there, REDCINE-X Pro crashed on a few of the clips, but I still had enough to make a scene out of it.

Editing

The first editing step is culling down the footage in FCP X. I do a first pass rejecting all bogus shots, like short clips of the floor, a bad slate, etc. Set the event browser to “hide rejected”. Next I review the footage based on script notes, looking at the “circle takes” first, plus picking a few alternates if I have a different opinion. I will mark these as Favorites. As I do this, I’ll select the whole take and not just a portion, since I want to see the whole take.

Once I start editing, I switch the event browser to “show favorites”. In the list view, I’ll sort the event by the scene column, which now gives me a quick roadmap of all possible good clips in the order of the script. During editing, I cut mainly using the primary storyline to build up the piece. This includes all overlapping audio, composites, titles and so on. Cutting proceeds until the picture is locked. Once I’m ready to move on to color correction, I export a project XML in the FCPXML format.

Resolve

df_fcpx-red-resolve_7I used the first release version (not beta) of DaVinci Resolve 11 Lite to do this grade. My intention was to roundtrip it back to FCP X and not to use Resolve as a finishing tool, since I had a number of keys and composites that were easier done in FCP X than Resolve. Furthermore, when I brought the project into Resolve, the picture was right, but all of the audio was bogus – wrong takes, wrong syncing, etc. I traced this down to my initial “open in timeline” syncing, which I’ll explaining in a bit. Anyway, my focus in Resolve was only grading and so audio wasn’t important for what I was doing. I simply disabled it.

Importing the FCPXML file into a fresh Resolve 11 project couldn’t have been easier. It instantly linked the RED, 5D and transcoded ProRes 4444 files and established an accurate timeline for my picture cut. All resizing was accurately translated. This means that in my FCP X timeline, when I blew up a shot to 120% (which is a blow-up of the 1080p image that was downscaled from the 4K source), Resolve knew to take the corresponding crop from the full 4K image to equal this framing of the shot without losing resolution.

The one video gotcha I hit was with the FCP X timeline layout. FCP X is one of the only NLEs that lets you place video BELOW what any other software would consider to be the V1 track – that’s the primary storyline. Some of my green screen composite shots were of a simulated newscast inserted on a TV set hanging on a wall in the primary scene. I decided to place the 5 or 6 layers that made up this composite underneath the primary storyline. All fine inside FCP X, however, in Resolve, it has to interpret the lowest video element as V1, thus shifting everything else up accordingly. As a result the, bulk of the video was on V6 or V7 and audio was equally shifted in the other direction. This results in a lot of vertical timeline scrolling, since Resolve’s smallest track height is still larger than most.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_8Resolve, of course, is a killer grading tool that handles RED media well. My grading approach is to balance out the RED shots in the first node. Resolve lets you adjust the camera raw metadata settings for each individual clip, if you need to. Then in node 2, I’ll do most of my primary grading. After that, I’ll add nodes for selective color adjustments, masks, vignettes and so on. Resolve’s playback settings can be adjusted to throttle back the debayer resolution on playback for closer-to-real-time performance with RED media. This is especially important, when you aren’t running the fastest drives, fastest GPU cards nor using a RED Rocket card.

To output the result, I switched over to Resolve’s Deliver tab and selected the FCP X easy set-up. Select handle length, browse for a target folder and run. Resolve is a very fast renderer, even with GPU-based RED debayering, so output wasn’t long for the 130 clips that made up this short. The resulting media was 1080p ProResHQ with an additional 3 seconds per clip on either side of the timeline cut – all with baked in color correction. The target folder also contains a new FCPXML that corresponds to the Resolve timeline with proper links to the new media files.

Roundtrip back into FCP X

Back in FCP X, I make sure I’ve turned off the import preference to transcode proxy media and that my toggle is set back to original/optimized media. Find the new FCPXML file from Resolve and import it. This will create a new event containing a new FCP X project (edited sequence), but with media linked to the Resolve render files. Audio is still an issue, for now.

There is one interesting picture glitch, which I believe is a bug in the FCPXML metadata. In the offline edit, using RED or proxy media, spatial conform is enabled and set to “fit”. That scales the 4K file to a 1080p timeline. In the sequence back from Resolve, I noticed the timeline still had yellow render bars. When I switched the spatial conform setting on a clip to “none”, the render bar over it went away, but the clip blew up much larger, as if it was trying to show a native 4K image at 1:1. Except, that this was now 1080 media and NOT 4K. Apparently this resizing metadata is incorrectly held in the FCPXML file and there doesn’t appear to be any way to correct this. The workaround is to simply let it render, which didn’t seem to hurt the image quality as far as I could tell.

Audio

Now to an explanation of the audio issue. FCP X master clips are NOT like any other master clips in other NLEs, including FCP 7. X’s master clips are simply containers for audio and video essence and, in that way, are not unlike compound clips. Therefore, you can edit, add and/or alter – even destructively – any material inside a master clip when you use the “open in timeline” function. You have to be careful. That appears to be the root of the XML translation issue and the audio. Of course, it all works fine WITHIN the closed FCP X environment!

Here’s the workaround. Start in FCP X. In the offline edited sequence (locked rough cut) and the sequence from Resolve, detach all audio. Delete audio from the Resolve sequence. Copy and paste the audio from the rough cut to the Resolve sequence. If you’ve done this correctly it will all be properly synced. Next, you have to get around the container issue in order to access the correct WAV files. This is done simply by highlighting the connected audio clip(s) and using the “break apart clip items” command. That’s the same command used to break apart compound clips into their component source clips. Now you’ll have the original WAV file audio and not the master clip from the camera.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_11At this stage I still encountered export issues. If your audio mixing engineer wants an OMF for an older Pro Tools unit, then you have to go through FCP 7 (via an Xto7 translation) to create the OMF file. I’ve done this tons of time before, but for whatever reason on this project, the result was not useable. An alternative approach is to use Resolve to convert the FCPXML into XML, which can then be imported into FCP 7. This worked for an accurate translation, except that the Resolve export altered all stereo and multi-channel audio tracks into a single mono track. Therefore, a Resolve translation was also a fail. At this point in time, I have to say that a proper OMF export from FCP X-edited material is no longer an option or at least unreliable at best.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_10This leaves you with two options. If your mixing engineer uses Apple Logic Pro X, then that appears to correctly import and convert the native FCPXML file. If your mixer uses Pro Tools (a more likely scenario) then newer versions will read AAF files. That’s the approach I took. To create an AAF, you have to export an FCPXML from the project file. Then using the X2Pro Audio Convert application, generate an AAF file with embedded and trimmed audio content. This goes to the mixer who in turn can ingest the file into Pro Tools.

Once the mix has been completed, the exported AIF or WAV file of the mix is imported into FCP X. Strip off all audio from the final version of the FCP X project and connect the clip of the final mix to the beginning of the timeline. Now you are done and ready to export deliverables.

For more on RED and FCP X workflows, check out this series of posts by Sam Mestman at MovieMaker.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

©2014 Oliver Peters

24p HD Restoration

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There’s a lot of good film content that only lives on 4×3 SD 29.97 interlaced videotape masters. Certainly in many cases you can go back and retransfer the film to give it new life, but for many small filmmakers, the associated costs put that out of reach. In general, I’m referring to projects with $0 budgets. Is there a way to get an acceptable HD product from an old Digibeta master without breaking the bank? A recent project of mine would say, yes.

How we got here

I had a rather storied history with this film. It was originally shot on 35mm negative, framed for 1.85:1, with the intent to end up with a cut negative and release prints for theatrical distribution. It was being posted around 2001 at a facility where I worked and I was involved with some of the post production, although not the original edit. At the time, synced dailies were transferred to Beta-SP with burn-in data on the top and bottom of the frame for offline editing purposes. As was common practice back then, the 24fps film negative was transferred to the interlaced video standard of 29.97fps with added 2:3 pulldown – a process that duplicates additional fields from the film frames, such that 24 film frames evenly add up to 60 video fields in the NTSC world. This is loaded into an Avid, where – depending on the system – the redundant fields are removed, or the list that goes to the negative cutter compensates for the adjustments back to a frame-accurate 24fps film cut.

df_24psdhd_5For the purpose of festival screenings, the project file was loaded into our Avid Symphony and I conformed the film at uncompressed SD resolution from the Beta-SP dailies and handled color correction. I applied a mask to hide the burn-in and ended up with a letter-boxed sequence, which was then output to Digibeta for previews and sales pitches to potential distributors. The negative went off to the negative cutter, but for a variety of reasons, that cut was never fully completed. In the two years before a distribution deal was secured, additional minor video changes were made throughout the film to end up with a revised cut, which no longer matched the negative cut.

Ultimately the distribution deal that was struck was only for international video release and nothing theatrical, which meant that rather than finishing/revising the negative cut, the most cost-effective process was to deliver a clean video master. Except, that all video source material had burn-in and the distributor required a full-height 4×3 master. Therefore, letter-boxing was out. To meet the delivery requirements, the filmmaker would have to go back to the original negative and retransfer it in a 4×3 SD format and master that to Digital Betacam. Since the negative was only partially cut and additional shots were added or changed, I went through a process of supervising the color-corrected transfer of all required 35mm film footage. Then I rebuilt the new edit timeline largely by eye-matching the new, clean footage to the old sequence. Once done and synced with the mix, a Digibeta master was created and off it went for distribution.

What goes around comes around

After a few years in distribution, the filmmaker retrieved his master and rights to the film, with the hope of breathing a little life into it through self-distribution – DVDs, Blu-rays, Internet, etc. With the masters back in-hand, it was now a question of how best to create a new product. One thought was simply to letter-box the film (to be in the director’s desired aspect) and call it a day. Of course, that still wouldn’t be in HD, which is where I stepped back in to create a restored master that would work for HD distribution.

Obviously, if there was any budget to retransfer the film negative to HD and repeat the same conforming operation that I’d done a few years ago – except now in HD – that would have been preferable. Naturally, if you have some budget, that path will give you better results, so shop around. Unfortunately, while desktop tools for editors and color correction have become dirt-cheap in the intervening years, film-to-tape transfer and film scanning services have not – and these retain a high price tag. So if I was to create a new HD master, it had to be from the existing 4×3 NTSC interlaced Digibeta master as the starting point.

In my experience, I know that if you are going to blow-up SD to HD frame sizes, it’s best to start with a progressive and not interlaced source. That’s even more true when working with software, rather than hardware up-convertors, like Teranex. Step one was to reconstruct a correct 23.98p SD master from the 29.97i source. To do this, I captured the Digibeta master as a ProResHQ file.

Avid Media Composer to the rescue

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When you talk about software tools that are commonly available to most producers, then there are a number of applications that can correctly apply a “reverse telecine” process. There are, of course, hardware solutions from Snell and Teranex (Blackmagic Design) that do an excellent job, but I’m focusing on a DIY solution in this post. That involves deconstructing the 2:3 pulldown (also called “3:2 pulldown”) cadence of whole and split-field frames back into only whole frames, without any interlaced tearing (split-field frames). After Effects and Cinema Tools offer this feature, but they really only work well when the entire source clip is of a consistent and unbroken cadence. This film had been completed in NTSC 29.97 TV-land, so frequently at cuts, the cadence would change. In addition, there had been some digital noise reduction applied to the final master after the Avid output to tape, which further altered the cadence at some cuts. Therefore, to reconstruct the proper cadence, changes had to be made at every few cuts and, in some scenes, at every shot change. This meant slicing the master file at every required point and applying a different setting to each clip. The only software that I know of to effectively do this with is Avid Media Composer.

Start in Media Composer by creating a 29.97 NTSC 4×3 project for the original source. Import the film file there. Next, create a second 23.98 NTSC 4×3 project. Open the bin from the 29.97 project into the 23.98 project and edit the 29.97 film clip to a new 23.98 sequence. Media Composer will apply a default motion adapter to the clip (which is the entire film) in order to reconcile the 29.97 interlaced frame rate into a 23.98 progressive timeline.

Now comes the hard part. Open the Motion Effect Editor window and “promote” the effect to gain access to the advanced controls. Set the Type to “Both Fields”, Source to “Film with 2:3 Pulldown” and Output to “Progressive”. Although you can hit “Detect” and let Media Composer try to decide the right cadence, it will likely guess incorrectly on a complex file like this. Instead, under the 2:3 Pulldown tab, toggle through the cadence options until you only see whole frames when you step through the shot frame-by-frame. Move forward to the next shot(s) until you see the cadence change and you see split-field frames again. Split the video track (place an “add edit”) at that cut and step through the cadence choices again to find the right combination. Rinse and repeat for the whole film.

Due to the nature of the process, you might have a cut that itself occurs within a split-field frame. That’s usually because this was a cut in the negative and was transferred as a split-field video frame. In that situation, you will have to remove the entire frame across both audio and video. These tiny 1-frame adjustments throughout the film will slightly shorten the duration, but usually it’s not a big deal. However, the audio edit may or may not be noticeable. If it can’t simply be fixed by a short 2-frame dissolve, then usually it’s possible to shift the audio edit a little into a pause between words, where it will sound fine.

Once the entire film is done, export a new self-contained master file. Depending on codecs and options, this might require a mixdown within Avid, especially if AMA linking was used. That was the case for this project, because I started out in ProResHQ. After export, you’ll have a clean, reconstructed 23.98p 4×3 NTSC-sized (720×486) master file. Now for the blow-up to HD.

DaVinci Resolve

df_24psdhd_1_smThere are many applications and filters that can blow-up SD to HD footage, but often the results end up soft. I’ve found DaVinci Resolve to offer some of the cleanest resizing, along with very fast rendering for the final output. Resolve offers three scaling algorithms, with “Sharper” providing the crispest blow-up. The second issue is that since I wanted to restore the wider aspect, which is inherent in going from 4×3 to 16×9, this meant blowing up more than normal – enough to fit the image width and crop the top and bottom of the frame. Since Resolve has the editing tools to split clips at cuts, you have the option to change the vertical position of a frame using the tilt control. Plus, you can do this creatively on a shot-by-shot basis if you want to. This way you can optimize the shot to best fit into the 16×9 frame, rather than arbitrarily lopping off a preset amount from the top and bottom.

df_24psdhd_3_smYou actually have two options. The first is to blow up the film to a large 4×3 frame out of Resolve and then do the slicing and vertical reframing in yet another application, like FCP 7. That’s what I did originally with this project, because back then, the available version of Resolve did not offer what I felt were solid editing tools. Today, I would use the second option, which would be to do all of the reframing strictly within Resolve 11.

As always, there are some uncontrollable issues in this process. The original transfer of the film to Digibeta was done on a Rank Cintel Mark III, which is a telecine unit that used a CRT (literally an oscilloscope tube) as a light source. The images from these tubes get softer as they age and, therefore, they require periodic scheduled replacement. During the course of the transfer of the film, the lab replaced the tube, which resulted in a noticeable difference in crispness between shots done before and after the replacement. In the SD world, this didn’t appear to be a huge deal. Once I started blowing up that footage, however, it really made a difference. The crisper footage (after the tube replacement) held up to more of a blow-up than the earlier footage. In the end, I opted to only take the film to 720p (1280×720) rather than a full 1080p (1920×1080), just because I didn’t feel that the majority of the film held up well enough at 1080. Not just for the softness, but also in the level of film grain. Not ideal, but the best that can be expected under the circumstances. At 720p, it’s still quite good on Blu-ray, standard DVD or for HD over the web.

df_24psdhd_4_smTo finish the process, I dust-busted the film to fix places with obvious negative dirt (white specs in the frame) caused by the initial handling of the film negative. I used FCP X and CoreMelt’s SliceX to hide and cover negative dirt, but other options to do this include built in functions within Avid Media Composer. While 35mm film still holds a certain intangible visual charm – even in such a “manipulated” state – the process certainly makes you appreciate modern digital cameras like the ARRI ALEXA!

As an aside, I’ve done two other complete films this way, but in those cases, I was fortunate to work from 1080i masters, so no blow-up was required. One was a film transferred in its entirety from a low-contrast print, broken into reels. The second was assembled digitally and output to intermediate HDCAM-SR 23.98 masters for each reel. These were then assembled to a 1080i composite master. Aside from being in HD to start with, cadence changes only occurred at the edits between reels. This meant that it only required 5 or 6 cadence corrections to fix the entire film.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Final Cut Pro X Batch Export

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One of the “legacy” items that editors miss when switching to Final Cut Pro X is the batch export function. For instance, you might want to encode H.264 versions of numerous ProRes files from your production, in order to upload raw footage for client review. While FCP X can’t do it directly, there is a simple workaround that will give you the same results. It just takes a few steps.

df_batchex_2_smStep one. The first thing to do is to find the clips that you want to batch export. In my example images, I selected all the bread shots from a grocery store commercial. These have been grouped into a keyword collection called “bread”. Next, I have to edit these to a new sequence (FCP X project) into order to export. These can be in a random order and should include the full clips. Once the clips are in the project, export an FCPXML from that project.

df_batchex_3_smStep two. I’m going to use the free application ClipExporter to work the magic. Launch it and open the FCPXML for the sequence of bread shots. ClipExporter can be used for a number of different tasks, like creating After Effects scripts, but in this case we are using it to create QuickTime movies. Make sure that all of the other icons are not lit. If you toggle the Q icon (QuickTime) once, you will generate new self-contained files, but these might not be the format you want. If you toggle the Q twice, it will display the icon as QR, which means you are now ready to export QuickTime reference files – also something useful from the past. ClipExporter will generate a new QuickTime file (self-contained or reference) for each clip in the FCP X project. These will be copied into the target folder location that you designate.df_batchex_4_sm

df_batchex_5_smStep three. ClipExporter places each new QuickTime clip into its own subfolder, which is a bit cumbersome. Here’s a neat trick that will help. Use the Finder window’s search bar to locate all files that ends with the .mov extension. Make sure you limit the search to only your target folder and not the entire hard drive. Once the clips have been selected, copy-and-paste them to a new location or drag them directly into your encoding application. If you created reference files, copying them will go quickly and not take up additional hard drive space.

df_batchex_6_smStep four. Drop your selected clips into Compressor or whatever other encoding application you choose. (It will need to be able to read QuickTime reference movies.) Apply your settings and target destination and encode.

df_batchex_7_smStep five. Since many encoding presets typically append a suffix to the file name, you may want to alter or remove this on the newly encoded files. I use Better Rename to do this. It’s a batch utility for file name manipulation.

There you go – five easy steps (less if you skip some of the optional tasks) to restore batch exports to FCP X.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Filmmaking Pointers

df_fmpointersIf you want to be a good indie filmmaker, you have to understand some of the basic principles of telling interesting visual stories and driving the audience’s emotions. These six   ideas transcend individual components of filmmaking, like cinematography or editing. Rather, they are concepts that every budding director should understand and weave into the entire structure of how a film is approached.

1. Get into the story quickly. Films are not books and don’t always need a lengthy backstory to establish characters and plot. Films are a journey and it’s best to get the characters on that road as soon as possible. Most scripts are structured as three-act plays, so with a typical 90-100 minute running time, you should be through act one at roughly one third of the way into the film. If not, you’ll lose the interest of the audience. If you are 20 minutes into the film and you are still establishing the history of the characters without having advanced the story, then look for places to start cutting.

Sometimes this isn’t easy to tell and an extended start may indeed work well, because it does advance the story. One example is There Will Be Blood. The first reel is a tour de force of editing, in which editor Dylan Tichenor builds a largely dialogue-free montage that quickly takes the audience through the first part of Daniel Plainview’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) history in order to bring the audience up to the film’s present day. It’s absolutely instrumental to the rest of the film.

2. Parallel story lines. A parallel story structure is a great device to show the audience what’s happening to different characters at different locations, but at more or less the same time. With most scripts, parallel actions are designed to eventually converge as related or often unrelated characters ultimately end up in the same place for a shared plot. An interesting take on this is Cloud Atlas, in which an ensemble cast plays different characters spread across six different eras and locations – past, present and future.

The editing style pulled off by Alexander Berner is quite a bit different than traditional parallel story editing. A set of characters might start a scene in one era. Halfway through the scene – through some type of abrupt cut, such as walking through a door – the characters, location and eras shift to somewhere else. However, the story and the editing are such that you clearly understand how the story continues for the first half of that scene, as well as how it led into the second half. This is all without explicitly shooting those parts of each scene. Scene A/era A informs your understanding of scene B/era B and vice versa.

3. Understand camera movement. When a camera zooms, moves or is used in a shaky, handheld manner, this elicits certain emotions from the audience. As a director or DP, you need to understand when each style is appropriate and when it can be overdone. Zooming into a close-up while an actor delivers a line should be done intentionally. It tells the audience, “Listen up. This is important.” If you shoot handheld footage, like most of the Bourne series, it drives a level of documentary-style, frenetic action that should be in keeping with the concept.

The TV series NYPD Blue is credited with introducing TV audiences to the “shaky-cam” style of camera work. Many pros thought it was overdone, with movement often being introduced in an unmotivated fashion. Yet, the original Law & Order series also made extensive use of handheld photography. As this was more in keeping with a subtle documentary style, few complained about its use on that show.

4. Color palettes and art direction. Many new filmmakers often feel that you can get any look you want through color grading. The reality is that it all starts with art direction. Grading should enhance what’s there, not manufacture something that isn’t. To get that “orange & teal” look, you need to have a set and wardrobe that has some greens and blues in it. To get a warm, earthy look, you need a set and wardrobe with browns and reds.

This even extends to black & white films. To get the right contrast and tonal values in black & white, you often have to use set/wardrobe color choices that are not ideal in a color world. That’s because different colors carry differing luminance and midrange values, which becomes very obvious, once you eliminate the color information from the picture. Make sure you take that into account if you plan to produce a black & white film.

5. Score versus sound design. Music should enhance and underscore a film, but it does not have to be wall-to-wall. Some films, like American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, are driven by a score of popular tunes. Others are composed with an original score. However, often the “score” consists of sound design elements and simple musical drones designed to heighten tension and otherwise manipulate emotion. The absence of score in a scene can achieve the same effect. Sound effects elements with stark simplicity may have more impact  on the audience than music. Learn when to use one or the other or both. Often less is more.

6. Don’t tell too much story. Not every film requires extensive exposition. As I said at the top, a film is not a book. Visual cues are as important as the spoken word and will often tell the audience a lot more in shorthand, than pages and pages of script. The audience is interested in the journey your film’s characters are on and frequently need very little backstory to get an understanding of the characters. Don’t shy away from shooting enough of that sort of detail, but also don’t be afraid to cut it out, when it becomes superfluous.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Amira Color Tool and your NLE

df_amiracolor_1I was recently alerted to the new Amira Color Tool by Michael Phillips’ 24p blog. This is a lightweight ARRI software application designed to create custom in-camera looks for the Amira camera. You do this by creating custom color look-up tables (LUT). The Amira Color Tool is available as a free download from the ARRI website (free registration required). Although the application is designed for the camera, you can also export looks in a variety of LUT file formats, which in turn, may be installed and applied to footage in a number of different editing and color correction applications. I tested this in both Apple Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer | Software (v8) with good results.

The Amira Color Tool is designed to correct log-C encoded footage into a straight Rec709 offset or with a custom look. ARRI offers some very good instructions, white papers, sample looks and tutorials that cover the operation of this software. The signal flow is from the log-C image, to the Rec709 correction, and then to the CDL-based color correction. To my eye, the math appears to be floating point, because a Rec709 conversion that throws a shot into clipping, can be pulled back out of clipping in the look tab, using the CDL color correction tools. Therefore it is possible to use this tool for shots other than ARRI Amira or Alexa log-C footage, as long as it is sufficiently flat.

The CDL correction tools are based on slope, offset and power. In that model slope is equivalent to gain, offset to lift and power to gamma. In addition to color wheels, there’s a second video look parameters tab for hue intensities for the six main vectors (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta). The Amira Color Tool is Mac-only and opens both QuickTime and DPX files from the clips I tested. It worked successfully with clips shot on an Alexa (log-C), Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMD Film profile), Sony F-3 (S-log) and Canon 1DC (4K Canon-log). Remember that the software is designed to correct flat, log-C images, so you probably don’t want to use this with images that were already encoded with vibrant Rec709 colors.

FCP X

df_amiracolor_4To use the Amira Color Tool, import your clip from the application’s file browser, set the look and export a 3D LUT in the appropriate format. I used the DaVinci Resolve setting, which creates a 3D LUT in a .cube format file. To get this into FCP X, you need to buy and install a LUT filter, like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. To install a new LUT there, open the LUT Utility pane in System Preferences, click the “+” symbol and navigate to where the file was saved.df_amiracolor_5_sm In FCP X, apply the LUT Utility to the clip as a filter. From the filter’s pulldown selection in the inspector, choose the new LUT that you’ve created and installed. One caveat is to be careful with ARRI files. Any files recorded with newer ARRI firmware are flagged for log-C and FCP X automatically corrects these to Rec709. Since you don’t want to double up on LUTs, make sure “log processing” is unchecked for those clips in the info tab of the inspector pane.

Media Composer

df_amiracolor_6_smTo use the custom LUTs in Media Composer, select “source settings” for the clip. Go to the color management tab and install the LUT. Now it will be available in the pull-down menu for color conversions. This color management change can be applied to a single clip or to a batch of clips within a bin.

In both cases, the source clips in FCP X and/or Media Composer will play in real-time with the custom look already applied.

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©2014 Oliver Peters