Even though many NLE vendors are integrating the ability to import AAF and XML project formats, Automatic Duck remains the leader in timeline translation. The company started in 2001 with Pro Import for After Effects. The main goal at that time was to move Avid Media Composer sequences into After Effects for advanced compositing work.
Automatic Duck has recently released Pro Import AE 5.0 for After Effects CS5 (Mac is shipping now, with a Windows version to follow.) The application will also work with After Effects CS3 and CS4. Pro Import AE elegantly handles the process of importing Avid OMF/AAF, Final Cut Pro XML or Motion projects into After Effects as a composition. In this file conversion, it will connect clips to the original media files, translate as many applicable effects parameters and keyframes as possible and apply matching filter settings whenever a common filter occurs in both the NLE and After Effects. Version 5.0 adds even a few more twists that are hard to beat.
I tested Pro Import AE 5.0 with both Final Cut Pro 7 and Media Composer 5. Simply export an Avid AAF composition file or an FCP XML file as a starter. Automatic Duck also offers a free XML exporter for Final Cut. Both it and the built-in FCP exporter work, but I had more consistent results using the Automatic Duck XML exporter. If your Media Composer 5 sequence consists of AMA-linked media, then you’ll first need to transcode the timeline into Avid MXF media before an AAF export is possible.
Start a new After Effects project and use the Automatic Duck Pro Import AE option to open the target XML or AAF file. Pro Import AE offers some settings choices to control how media is to be handled and how to configure the After Effects timeline. For example, you can opt to bring all clips in as individual media in one timeline – or nest all clips from a single NLE video track into a mini-composition within a larger After Effects comp. You may also choose to include audio or not. QuickTime media files from Final Cut open natively in After Effects, but Avid’s MXF format typically can’t be read. Automatic Duck adds the neat trick of creating QuickTime reference files for Avid media. This takes very little time and makes it possible to open an Avid sequence in After Effects. Since a clip on the After Effects timeline is linked to the full-length media clip, you still have the ability to slip, slide and otherwise trim your edited sequence even in After Effects.
A very interesting option added in version 5 is the ability to handle native REDCODE .R3D camera files. If you edited a RED project in FCP using transcoded proxy media (created by FCP’s Log and Transfer – NOT the camera-generated QuickTime reference movies), Pro Import AE can be set to automatically replace the proxy files with the camera raw .R3D files. The imported After Effects composition now includes the RED files in all their 4K goodness. Since the media file sizes have changed in this process, you will need to make some scale adjustments in After Effects. At the moment, this media replacement feature only applies to Final Cut XML and not to Avid AAF files.
I tested a number of complex sequences from both Avid and Final Cut with good success. In fact, this process worked far better than Adobe’s own XML and AAF importer built-in into Premiere Pro. I’ve never had Adobe’s AAF import work and XML import frequently had errors. Pro Import AE seems far more bullet-proof. Unsupported effects showed an error message, but never stopped the import from working. When a filter is used that doesn’t exist in After Effects, like FCP’s 3-way color corrector, the timeline clip will show a little flag with the name of the filter.
Text generators seem to be the biggest issue. FCP’s Boris titler resulted in a blank, color slug in After Effects. Standard FCP text generators were partially translated. The text itself and opacity keyframes were there, but the font style, size and position were wrong. I had far better results when I applied common filter sets. For example, the same Noise Industries and CoreMelt filters install into Final Cut, Motion and After Effects. If you use Final Cut on the same system as After Effects and apply one of these filters in your sequence, it will appear with the correct parameters in the translated After Effects composition. That’s because the same filter has been installed into both applications.
Out of curiosity, I also moved the After Effects sequence into Premiere Pro. I first imported an XML file via Pro Import AE into After Effects CS5. Next, I copied-and-pasted the After Effects clips from its timeline into a Premiere Pro sequence. Much easier and more reliable than using the Adobe importer! After Effects stacks timeline clips onto adjacent tracks like a continually ascending or descending staircase. When I pasted the After Effects clips into Premiere Pro, they returned to the track order used in Final Cut. Pretty cool!
Automatic Duck continues to be in a class by itself. Pro Import AE is a must-have for anyone using After Effects to augment their NLE for advanced effects or as a finishing tool. With the new RED replacement option, Pro Import AE becomes the ideal bridge between a Final Cut creative edit and a 4K finish in After Effects. Not to mention that it’s still the best way for Avid cutters to tap into a word-class desktop compositor. Once again proving why Automatic Duck Pro Import AE is an essential item in the toolbox.
Written for Videography and DV magazines (NewBay Media LLC)
©2010 Oliver Peters