The software suite

The power of modern desktop editing solutions is often in the aggregate of the parts and not just the core editing application. Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe CS5 Production Premium (or Master Collection) are certainly recognized as software suites, but this is also true of Avid Media Composer, especially when you add the Production Studio bundle of third party software. Dedicated, all-in-one editing/compositing tools are primarily the domain of more expensive tools, like Avid DS, Autodesk Smoke and Quantel eQ/iQ/Pablo.

When you dissect the three main desktop bundles, you find tools for editing, color grading, visual effects, motion graphics, encoding, DVD authoring and sound mixing. These break out in this fashion:

Avid – Media Composer (editing, color grading, sound mixing with RTAS plug-ins)

Avid FX and Boris BCC plug-ins (effects and compositing)

Marquee (motion graphics)

Sorenson Squeeze (encoding)

Avid DVD (Blu-ray, NTSC and PAL DVD authoring)

Extra: Avid “helper” applications, like EDL Manager, Film Scribe, MetaSync, etc.

Optional: ScriptSync and PhraseFind

Apple – Final Cut Pro (editing)

Color (color correction and grading)

Motion (effects and compositing/motion graphics)

Compressor (encoding and blu-ray authoring)

DVD Studio Pro (NTSC and PAL DVD authoring / HD-DVD authoring)

Soundtrack Pro (sound design, audio editing and mixing)

Extra: Cinema Tools, media content

Adobe – Premiere Pro (editing)

Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse (color correction and grading)

After Effects (effects and compositing/motion graphics)

Adobe Media Encoder (encoding)

Encore (Blu-ray, NTSC and PAL DVD authoring)

Soundbooth (sound design, audio editing and mixing)

Extra: Bridge, Dynamic Link, Device Central, Mocha tracker for AE, media content

I’m not going to argue the relative merits of one tool versus another. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of ways to complete a given job with great results using any of these toolkits. What’s more important is how well the collection works. How are the tools integrated and why does a manufacturer go down this route in the first place?

Marketing “the suite” versus “the brand”

If you look at the first issue, Adobe and Apple clearly market their packages as a studio suite, while Avid tends to position Media Composer as the main brand. This is a bit of a mistake, because it encourages a tendency to compare just the Media Composer editing application against the entire software collections of its competitors. As such, Media Composer – even at its current, vastly reduced price – is perceived as a lot more expensive than Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro. Customers forget about the other software you get with the Avid solution, but clearly know they get a lot of bang-for-the-buck with Apple and Adobe. In reality the comparison and cost differential is a lot closer than many believe. It’s a double-edged sword. Media Composer is clearly Avid’s marquee brand, so how does Avid best market the fact there’s more to it?

Host control versus “the roundtrip”

In addition to focusing on Media Composer as the core, there is also a more technical issue. Media Composer actually does run as the host application. Tools like the BCC filters, Avid FX, the RTAS audio plug-ins and Marquee primarily work from inside Media Composer. Although you can create templates, the applications themselves won’t work with other editing solutions. They are not inherently standalone applications in their own right, like Motion or After Effects. The plus side of this is that all project metadata is stored in the central Media Composer project. You don’t have to worry about saving all the component project files for Avid FX or Marquee in order for them to stay editable. As such, they function more as plug-in than anything else.

In the case of Adobe and Apple, they have tied together individual applications, which operate in tandem with the host NLE, as well as separate standalone applications. Although Apple’s “roundtripping” and Adobe’s Dynamic Link are ways to integrate projects files into the host editor, this isn’t a perfect solution. For example, Motion projects (as opposed to rendered exports) in an FCP timeline frequently crash Final Cut. Neither company has a good audio roundtrip approach. You can “send to” the audio application, but you can only return a mixed and exported, “flattened” soundtrack. Clearly all of these solutions are evolving.

Pros and cons of studio software development

The biggest reason a manufacturer uses the software collection is for reasons of marketing and development cost. Look at Color. Apple acquired the technology of Final Touch and reintroduced it as Color within Final Cut Studio. All of a sudden, FCP editors gained a $25,000 color grading solution “for free”. Even if users never opened the interface, the addition of Color clearly sold more seats of Final Cut Pro.

Using this approach, product managers can often shield lower-performing applications from the ax. It’s widely accepted that including the less-popular Premiere Pro with the more-popular After Effects and Photoshop has helped justify further Premiere Pro development. This has been paying off for Adobe in better customer reception of Premiere Pro as a viable editing alternative. It’s hard to break out the revenue from an individual application within a collection of software. But the opposite situation is also true. Apple felt that LiveType and Motion offered redundant motion graphics capabilities. Why develop two apps? So, Apple dropped LiveType in order to focus R&D on Motion.

By keeping components of a software suite separate, it’s easier to develop each application. There is less chance of inducing new problems that might cascade throughout a larger all-in-one application. Large, integrated solutions are subject to feature creep and often become “bloatware”, necessitating a periodic ground-up rewrite of the application. It’s also easier to add or remove components based on customer requests and market research when the individual applications stay separate within the collection.

Adobe’s Audition provides another example. Audition is a full-featured DAW geared towards audio pros and it used to be part of the Creative Suite with Premiere Pro. Adobe felt that the limited focus of Soundbooth better suited the needs of video and web professionals and so swapped Audition out for Soundbooth as the audio application in its suite collections. Audition continues as a Windows-based, standalone digital audio workstation application competing with Apple Logic and Avid Pro Tools. This year will see its return to the Mac platform (currently in public beta).

For all of these various reasons, most observers feel that it’s unlikely we’d ever see an all-inclusive “extreme” version of Final Cut Pro. Would we really want that? After all, finding a qualified Avid DS, Autodesk Smoke or Quantel iQ “artist” (editor) is pretty hard in most markets. Wishing for some massive end-all-be-all editing solution might sound good in principle, but be careful of what you wish for. It’s not necessarily the best idea in the real world. Not for the user and not for the developer.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Audio mixing strategy, part 2

In my previous post, I discussed creating split-track audio – also know as stems – for the dialogue, sound effects and music components of the composite stereo mix. One useful aspect of the QuickTime format is that it can be a multi-track file, holding numerous discrete audio tracks within the same file. Likewise, Apple Final Cut Pro can create and use multi-track audio in a discrete fashion. The trick is in how you set up your sequence settings and in how you use the mixer panel.

Set the sequence audio configuration to Channel Grouped or Discrete Channels. This lets you control the output destination of your audio channels and whether they work as stereo pairs or as individual mono tracks.

In the Audio Outputs tab, establish how many target outputs the sequence will have. If you want three separate stereo pairs for dialogue, sound effects and music, then this tab should be set to six outputs of stereo pairs or dual mono tracks. If you are using stereo instead of multi-channel audio hardware (an Avid Mbox2 Mini in my case), you’ll receive a warning message alerting you that all tracks cannot be monitored. Just ignore it.

The last step is to make sure that your new sequence is actually set to output to the assigned tracks. Right-click on each track of the track panel and make sure your audio outputs are properly assigned. A1 and A2 to 1 & 2, A3 and A4 to 3 & 4 and A5 and A6 to 5 & 6.

Edit the stereo stem files to their appropriate tracks.

Notice a separate meter bar for each output track in the master section of the Audio Mixer. At this point you will only hear the output of audio track A1 and A2, due to your stereo audio hardware.

To monitor the composite mix, enable stereo downmix in the master section. Now all tracks are monitored. Muting and soloing specific tracks will let you isolate parts of the mix to hone in on a section. Working with stems can be very useful when the client calls to say they liked the mix, but can you bring the music down a bit. Instead of having your outside audio studio remix the track, simply make the level adjustment using these stems.

To archive your master file with discrete, split-audio tracks, export a self-contained file using Current Settings.

You can check this file in QuickTime Player 7 (Show Movie Properties) and verify the separate sound tracks embedded within the file.

In addition, you can import this file back into FCP, edit it across to a new sequence and confirm that the tracks are indeed discrete.

If you did make level changes to create a new mix from the stems, then it is also possible to export a self-contained version of the file with this new composite stereo track. Duplicate the sequence and change the settings back to a two-channel output. Make sure all track assignments are reset to 1 & 2. A self-contained export from this sequence will contain a single mixed stereo track.

You might also want to revisit “Sitting in the Mix” for more on mixing strategies.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Audio mixing strategy, part 1

Modern nonlinear editors have good tools for mixing audio within the application, but often it makes more sense to send the mix to a DAW (digital audio workstation) application, like Pro Tools, Logic or Soundtrack Pro. Whether you stay within the NLE or mix elsewhere, you generally want to end up with a mixed track, as well as a set of “split track stems”. I’ll confine the discussion to stereo tracks, but understand that if you are working on a 5.1 surround project, the track complexity increases accordingly.

The concept of “stems” means that you will do a submix for components of your composite mix. Typically you would produce stems for dialogue, sound effects and music. This means a “pre-mixed” stereo AIFF or WAVE file for each of these components. When you place these three stereo pairs onto a timeline, the six tracks at a zero level setting should correctly sum to equal a finished stereo composite mix. By muting any of these pairs, you can derive other versions, such as an M&E (music+effects minus dialogue) or a D&E (dialogue+effects minus music) mix. Maintaining a “split-track, superless” master (without text/graphics and with audio stems) will give you maximum flexibility for future revisions, without starting from scratch.

A recent project that I edited for the Yarra Valley winemakers was cut in Avid Media Composer 5, but mixed in Apple Soundtrack Pro. I could have mixed this in Media Composer, but I felt that a DAW would give me better control. Since I don’t have Pro Tools, Soundtrack Pro became the logical tool to use.

I’ve had no luck directly importing Avid AAF or OMF files into Soundtrack Pro, so I would recommend two options:

a)    Export an AAF and then use Automatic Duck Pro Import FCP to bring those tracks into Final Cut Pro. Then “send to” Soundtrack Pro for the mix.

b)   Export individual tracks as AIFF audio files. Import those directly into Soundtrack Pro or into FCP and then “send to” Soundtrack Pro.

For this spot, I used option B. First, I checker-boarded my dialogue and sound effects tracks in Media Composer and extended each clip ten frames to add handles. This way I had some extra media for better audio edits and cross fades as needed in Soundtrack Pro. Next, I exported individual tracks as AIFF files. These were then imported into Final Cut Pro, where I re-assembled my audio-only timeline. In FCP, I trimmed out the excess (blank portion) of each track to create individual clips again on these checker-boarded tracks. Finally, I sent this to Soundtrack Pro to create a new STP multi-track project.

Soundtrack Pro applies effects and filters onto a track rather than individual clips. Each track is analogous to a physical track on a multi-track audio recorder and a connected audio mixer; therefore, any processing must be applied to the entire track, rather than only a portion within that track. My spot was made up entirely of on-camera dialogue from winemakers in various locations and circumstances. For example, some of these were recorded on moving vehicles and needed some clean-up to be heard distinctly. So, the next thing to do was to create individual tracks for each speaking person.

In STP, I would add more tracks and move the specific clips up or down in the track layout, so that every time the same person spoke, that clip would appear on the same track. In doing so, I would re-establish the audio edits made in Media Composer, as well as clean up excess audio from my handles. DAWs offer the benefit of various cross fade slopes, so you can tailor the sound of your audio edits by the type of cross fade slope you pick for the incoming and outgoing media.

The process of moving dialogue clips around to individual tracks is often referred to as “splitting out the dialogue”. It’s the first step that a feature film dialogue editor does when preparing the dialogue tracks for the mix. Now you can concentrate on each individual speaking part and adjust the track volume and add any processing that you feel is appropriate for that speaker. Typically I will use EQ and some noise reduction filters. I’ve become quite fond of the Focusrite Scarlett Suite and used these filters quite a bit on the Yarra Valley spot.

Soundtrack Pro’s mixer and track sheet panes are divided into tracks, busses, submixes and a master. I added three stereo submixes (for dialogue, sound effects/ambiances and music) and a master. Each individual track was assigned to one of these submixes. The output of the submixes passed through the master for the final mix output. Since I adjusted each individual track to sound good on its own, the submix tracks were used to balance the levels of these three components against each other. I also added a compressor for the general sound quality onto the submix, as well as a hard limiter on the master to regulate spikes, which I set to -10dB.

By assigning individual dialogue, effects and music tracks to these three submixes, stems are created by default. Once the mix is done to your satisfaction, export a composite mix. Then mute two of the three submixes and export one of the stems. Repeat the process for the other two. Any effects that you’ve added to the master should be disabled whenever you export the stems, so that any overall limiting or processing is not applied to the stems. Once you’ve done this, you will have four stereo AIFF files – mix plus dialogue, sound effects and music stems.

I ended the Yarra Valley spot with a nine-way tag of winemakers and the logo. Seven of these winemakers each deliver a line, but it’s intended as a cacophony of sound rather than being distinguishable. I decided to build that in a separate project, so I could simply import it as a stereo element into the master project. All of the previous dialogue lines are centered as mono within a stereo mix, but I wanted to add some separation to all the voices in the tag.

To achieve this I took the seven voices and panned them to different positions within the stereo field. One voice is full left, one is full right, one is centered. The others are partially panned left or right at increments to fill up the stereo spectrum. I exported this tag as a stereo element, placed it at the right timecode location in my main mix and completed the export steps. Once done, the AIFF tracks for mix and stems were imported into Media Composer and aligned with the picture to complete the roundtrip.

Audio is a significant part of the editing experience. It’s something every editor should devote more time to, so they may learn the tools they already own. Doing so will give you a much better final product.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Demystifying Color Grading II

In previous posts on color correction and grading I’ve discussed how to use some of the built-in and third-party tools to stylize the look of your production. It never ceases to amaze me how many people assume color grading is just the click of a preset in Magic Bullet Looks or the click of the Auto-Balance function in a grading tool. In fact, grading is more than just fixing problems. It takes a bit of thought and effort to enhance an image creatively and tastefully. None of this is terribly difficult if you break correction down to its component parts.

Since this the start of a brand new year, I’ve decided to take another swipe at this fun subject. The objective here is to show how many different tools can be used to design interesting looks. Some are built-in, some are third-party, but free, while others cost, but aren’t terribly expensive. Everyone is probably aware of grading tools, like Apple Color, Magic Bullet Looks and Magic Bullet Colorista II. You may be less aware of the fine color correction tools already included in filter packages from GenArts, Coremelt, BorisFX and Noise Industries. So, this is a chance to see how various tools can be applied to give you something special.

As subject matter, I decided to play with the short film Convergence, filmed by UK Director Martin Scanlan and DoP Steve Lawes. This is one of the first video pieces produced with a pre-production model of the brand new Sony PMW-F3 camera. Scanlan was kind enough to post both the ungraded offline-edited version and the final color-graded version of Convergence on Vimeo. Further info is on their blog. They have graciously made the ungraded version available for download, so I pulled some examples from the 1920×1080 H264 file.

Please understand that the download is a conversion from the camera files, which I further converted back to ProResLT for grading. If you see some artifacts in the samples I’ve posted, they are in all likelihood a function of these various conversions for Internet travel. In addition, my grading is purely to demonstrate the possibilities and is not intended to be an example of how I would have actually graded this film. In fact, you’ll see similar shots with entirely different looks and quite frankly, a lot of this is heavy-handed simply for the sake of demonstration. The point is to use color grading to not only fix and even out shots, but also add subtle lighting and color changes in much the same way a photographer will burn and dodge still photographs.

The sample images below display the Final Cut Pro Canvas pane with the filters applied to the image, a Frame Viewer image without filters, plus a small snippet of the filter pane. Underneath each image is a brief description of the filters I’ve applied and why. Click on any image for an enlarged view, as well as the BEFORE and AFTER links to see larger versions of each.

BEFORE AFTER

The FCP 3-way Color Corrector was applied for the basic grade. To this I added two instances of the free Face Light filter to brighten both his face and his reflection in the window. The last filter is the free Vignette filter to darken the corners of the image. The combination of these two not only brightens the light on the face, but draws your focus to it. I probably use Face Light and Vignette more than any other third party filter when grading inside FCP.

BEFORE AFTER

The first filter added was the Sean Puckett FxAndy film emulation plug-in. It’s designed to mimic many negative and print film stocks. To this I added a Graeme Nattress Warm Diffusion filter. Between the two, I have taken out some of the green cast of the image, reduced saturation and pushed up the brightness of the highlights on her face. This caused the scarf to become very fluorescent, which I knocked by down using the FCP Color Corrector. When you use this or the FCP 3-way in the limit mode, it becomes an HSL keyer, just like in Color, Colorista II or DaVinci Resolve. I isolated the color of the scarf, thus creating a mask for the scarf. Then the corrector controls alters just the area inside or outside of that mask. In this case, I used it to separately adjust the color of the scarf.

BEFORE AFTER

One of my favorite all-in-one color grading plug-ins is DV Shade EasyLooks. It gives you 3-way color correction, diffusion, gradient, vignette and other tools all in a single plug-in. Here I’ve added a blue gradient, diffusion and a vignette with a single instance of the filter.

BEFORE AFTER

The GenArts Sapphire collection offers quite a few color correction/grading filters. I used the Sapphire Gamma correction filter to push up the overall level. When you do that with an image this dark, it invariably increases the video noise. To reduce that I applied Sapphire Grain Remove. The reason I used this instead of one of the various noise reduction filters is that Grain Remove tends to reduce the video noise without softening the skin texture of his face too greatly.

BEFORE AFTER

Luca Visual FX Stylizer is another comprehensive color grading tool. It can be used for some extreme looks, but when used more subtly, also works as an overall grading tool. In this example, I primarily increased contrast and removed some of the green cast from the image.

BEFORE AFTER

Back to the FCP 3-way Color Corrector for the initial grade. To this I added Luca Visual FX Vivid Touch for a bit more punch in the image.

BEFORE AFTER

This is a variation of the previous look. On this shot I used Magic Bullet Colorista II. This filter includes three correctors within one filter, plus masking, HSL keying and master curves. In addition to the overall correction, I used the secondary corrector’s keyer to isolate the skin tones of her face. With the face isolated by this mask, I could apply separate correction to brighten just the face without affecting the rest of the shot.

BEFORE AFTER

The Boris Continuum Complete 7 package includes BorisFX’s own take on a 3-way Color Grade filter. It permits masking combined with two levels of correction. In this example, I used an egg shape mask around his head and applied both inside and outside correction for the result.

BEFORE AFTER

Here’s a look that might be fun for a music video. I have applied the Magic Bullet Mojo filter, which was developed to balance skin tones against the rest of the image. It typically tends towards the so-called “blockbuster” look, using the trendy orange-and-teal grading of many feature films. To it, I have added the free CHV Silk & Fog filter, which softens her face by adding diffusion and glowing the highlights.

BEFORE AFTER

The FCP 3-way Color Corrector was used to balance the image – primarily pushing the balance more blue. Then I’ve added a BorisFX BCS Film Effect filter for more bloom and diffusion on the image.

BEFORE AFTER

I started by punching up the contrast using the Nattress Simple Curves filter and setting it to an S-curve configuration. The next filter is the Coremelt Secondary HSL Grader. I used it to shift the overall green-orange cast of the original image towards a more pinkish-neutral look. The last filter applied is the Coremelt Dewrinkler to soften her facial texture.

BEFORE AFTER

The primary grade was done using the FxFactory Heat filter. This was used to tint the image. Next I applied FxFactory Crush Color to stretch the contrast. Finally, I applied FxFactory Vibrance, which enhances color intensity, without simply increasing uniform saturation.

BEFORE AFTER

Back to DV Shade EasyLooks again for the primary grade and some diffusion. To this I added Luca Visual FX Regional Light in order to brighten the area of his face, as well as to add a slight tint within that area. The last step was to add the PHYX Techni2Color filter. This is one of the various Technicolor-style 2-strip filters. When used to extreme it can produce a somewhat unnatural look, since it’s intended to faithfully mimic the original Technicolor process. However, when applied more judicially, it can be used to subtly tint an image, as I did here to remove some of the overall green.

BEFORE AFTER

The basic grade was handled by the GenArts Sapphire HueSatBright filter. The next step was to apply Sapphire Hotspots to add bright glowing highlights. Again this caused the scarf to be pushed too far, so I used the FCP 3-way Color Corrector to limit and adjust the color range of only the scarf.

BEFORE AFTER

The built-in FCP Levels filter was the starting point to stretch the contrast. Then I added Magic Bullet Colorista (version 1) to isolate the area around his head and brighten and adjust the area within the mask. The third step was to apply Joe’s Soft Spot to blur the area surrounding him.

BEFORE AFTER

Magic Bullet Colorista II was used for the full correction. In addition to the overall grade, I used the secondary keyer to isolate and adjust skin tones separately from the rest of the image.

BEFORE AFTER

I started with Coremelt Luma S Curve for a basic midrange adjustment. To this added Joe’s Saturation & Colorize to adjust the hue and saturation of the overall image. Note that it’s a bit desaturated from the original. Next came the built-in FCP Brightness & Contrast filter to further brighten the image. The last step was to apply the free River Rock Studios Chromatic Glow filter, which I used to accentuate and whiten the highlights on their foreheads and faces.

BEFORE AFTER

The initial grade was done using the FCP 3-way Color Corrector. Then I added a second instance of the 3-way in the limit mode to isolate and brighten her face. The last filter was Joe’s Soft Gradients, which I used to darken the upper right-hand third of the frame. This filter uses blend modes, which varies the resulting looks you can achieve.

BEFORE AFTER

To punch up the overall brightness of the image, I started with GenArts Sapphire Gamma. Then I added two instances of the Face Light filter – one for each person. This brightened them even more in relation to the overall image. On top of this I applied the PHYX Haze Removal filter, which enhances the contrast and allows you to apply tinting to the scene according to taste. The last two filters were Joe’s Soft Gradients to darken the sky and Vignette to darken the four corners of the frame.

BEFORE AFTER

This shot is more “special effects” in style. I applied the GenArts Sapphire ZGlow to add an overall diffusion. Next was the PHYX Skin Light filter, which enhanced the brightness of lighted objects, like the London Eye, Big Ben and Parliament. The last filter was idustrial revolution Volumetrix2 to add even more glow to the lights and the moonlight poking through the clouds.

BEFORE AFTER

This shot strictly used the PHYX filters. PHYX Skin Light was used to brighten their faces. Since this filter enhances the lighting of bright objects against dark backgrounds, it also brightens the area behind our couple. Next I applied the PHYX BleachBypass filter to make the color adjustments. Unlike other bleach bypass plug-ins, the PHYX version gives you a wide range of adjustment and can be successfully used for corrections other than the characteristic skip-bleach look. The last filter in this stack was PHYX SelectiveSat to reduce some of the orange intensity of their skin tones.

BEFORE AFTER

Another all-PHYX adjustment, using the PHYX BleachBypass for the basic luma adjustment. Then the PHYX Techni2Color filter to shift the yellow-green cast to a more peach-toned tint. Lastly the PHYX DigitalMakeupKit to soften his skin texture.

BEFORE AFTER

These last two examples used Magic Bullet Looks. This first one applies the typical orange-teal, “blockbuster” style.

BEFORE AFTER

Another Magic Bullet Looks example with increased contrast and heavy diffusion.

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Of course, I don’t want to leave Avid Media Composer out of this discussion, so here are a few examples showing similar approaches in that software. I have used a combination of the built-in color correction mode and filters from Boris FX, Magic Bullet and Sapphire.

BEFORE AFTER

I started with the internal color correction mode to get the basic adjustment for brightness and contrast. To this I’ve added two instances of the BCC Brightness/Contrast filter using its pixel chooser to isolate an oval around each people. This was used to brighten them up again the background. Finally, I added Sapphire Vignette to softly darken the edges of the frame.

BEFORE AFTER

The first few layers are several instances of the internal color correction mode in order to tweak the luma, contrast and color balance of the image. Then I added Magic Bullet Mojo to create a look for the skin tones and generally desaturate the other colors, not used for skin tones. On top is one more layer of the color corrector to add level-clipping on the highlight peaks.

BEFORE AFTER

This image is adjusted with a single filter – BCC Film Process. I simply applied its preset for blooming highlights.

BEFORE AFTER

This image was adjusted with only the GenArts Sapphire filters. First, I applied Sapphire HueSatBright for a basic correction. Next, I applied Sapphire Gamma to brighten the midrange values. Last was Sapphire SoftFocus to diffuse the image and soften her skin texture.

BEFORE AFTER

Similar to the previous image, this frame is adjusted with only the Boris FX BCC filters. First is BCC Color Correction for a basic luma and contrast adjustment. Next is BCC Color Balance to make the color balance “cooler” (i.e. more blue). On top of that is BCC Levels-Gamma to brighten the midrange. Then comes BCC Film Grain for a simulated grain effect. The topmost filter is BCC Glow to add a bit of diffused glow to the highlights in the image.

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Still want to learn more about color grading? Here are a few quick links to other related posts on my blog.

Color Correction Effects Demystified

Color Grading in FCP

Glow as a Color Tool

Grading with Color Wheels

Magic Bullet Colorista II

Music Video Fun

PHYX Color

RED One and Magic Bullet Looks

©2011 Oliver Peters

Improving your FCP chops

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully one of yours will be to improve your editing efficiency. That can usually be accomplished by diving a little deeper to learn some of the tools that you might not use on a frequent basis. I’ll quickly cover a few highlights in Apple Final Cut Pro that might be useful to you.

Cover Flow – One of the advantages of FCP is to be able to use Mac OS as an extension of your editor. You can browse media clips in the OS and then simple drag or import selected movies into your project. Cover Flow is one of four ways to display folder contents, but it’s great for video clips, once the folder has buffered.

Source side color correction – FCP allows filters, such as color correction, to be applied to clips loaded into the Viewer. Once applied, a filter stays with the master clip unless removed. Every time you cut a clip with an embedded source effect into the sequence, the filter will have already been “pre-applied” to that clip in the timeline. It’s a great way to match camera angles in a multi-camera show, BEFORE grouping them into a multiclip.

QuickTime references as sources – QuickTime reference movies may be brought into an FCP project as a source. The QT reference contains no media, but is merely linked back to the media of other files. This is potentially dangerous in an FCP workflow, because the file location cannot be moved without disrupting the reference. Nevertheless, it can be useful if you are careful. For instance, I have used it with double-system-sound clips recorded using a Canon 5D and a Zoom H4n. I used PluralEyes to sync the dailies and then labeled the resulting sequences for the person on-camera. These newly synced sequences were then exported as reference files and re-imported into my project. These were now my source media for all on-camera dialogue clips – a process that worked well throughout the edit.

HD/SD Videoscopes – Be careful when you change between SD (NTSC/PAL) and HD sequences to make sure that your videoscopes change accordingly. The SD or HD designation will be displayed in the corner of the window. If it’s wrong – an SD scope for an HD timeline – the video levels displayed WILL NOT be correct. Usually FCP tracks this, but sometimes, you need to give it a jolt by first selecting the appropriate Easy Setup for what you want it to be, then exit and re-launch FCP.

Render all sequences – Here’s a quick short cut to rendering a batch of sequences. Close all open sequences first. Then highlight them in the FCP browser and choose the Sequence/Render All pulldown menu item.

Find Next / Find All – The timeline can be searched with the Cmd-F keystroke, which enables Find Next and Find All options with definable parameters. For example, depending on how you labeled your clips, it can be a great way to find all clips from a certain camera.

Batch Import – The FCP “batch import” function isn’t as obvious as in Avid Media Composer. It is primarily available for clips that were brought in via Log and Transfer, such as XDCAM, P2 or RED. If you have a number of P2 clips that are off-line and need to be re-ingested, simply select the clips and choose Batch Capture. The Log and Transfer window will open instead of Log and Capture. Mount the appropriate media and the rest takes care of itself.

Media manage to consolidate – Final Cut’s Media Manager is the much-maligned way to process your project at the end of the session. It can be used for both the transition from rough-cut to finishing, as well as to keep just the clips that were used in the final edit. The latter is equivalent to Media Composer’s “consolidate” feature. Select the sequence and right-click for Media Manager – choose Copy, define “handles” and create a new project. This will create a new FCP project with just the clips that were in the cut plus a bit of extra media (“handles”) on either side of each cut. In order for this to work properly, video clips must have reel and timecode information, otherwise the entire length of the clip will be copied.

Audio frame rates and speed – Final Cut deals with imported audio based on sample rates and it will adjust the imported audio sync based on the project frame rate. For example, if you change between a whole (24, 30, 60fps) and a fractional (23.98, 29.97, 59.94fps) frame rate project, FCP will get confused. Let’s say you typically work in NTSC (29.97), but now have a PAL (25) project. The same 48kHz AIFF file will be imported differently into an NTSC versus a PAL project. Typically it will be in sync and won’t require rendering in one, but not the other, of these two projects. That’s even though the AIFF has no embedded timecode and both sequences are set to an audio sampling rate of 48kHz. The trick to getting this right is to change your Easy Setup to the new target rate prior to importing the new audio. When changing from a fractional to a whole frame rate project, like NTSC to PAL, I follow this steps. Close all open projects. Pick a PAL-appropriate Easy Setup. Close FCP. Re-launch and start the new PAL project.

Timelapse – The HDSLR cameras like the Canon 5D and 7D have opened the door to new creative options, like in-camera, still photo timelapse and stop motion sequences. It’s best to deal with these outside of Final Cut, by converting them first to a QuickTime movie. After Effects, Compressor or QuickTime 7 are good options. I like QT7 because you can easily play around with various frame rates. Import an image sequence at a desired frame rate, such as 6fps; then export a rendered movie at 29.97 (or 23.98 or 25fps – depending on your project). Since you are using high-resolution stills, you have the added benefit of being able to add camera-style moves to the timelapse. I will often resize the images first to get them into a manageable size (such as 2500 pixels wide) before building the motion clip. It is possible to export a QuickTime reference file from QT7, import that into After Effects, Motion or Final Cut in order to add the camera moves. Then render and export the final clip, which now becomes the actual source for the edit session.

Speed Tool – Although some editors downplay the FCP7 release, it added a few features I constantly use. One of these is the revamped Speed Tool. The old way of working with speed ramps never made sense to me and I invariably edited these as successive variable-speed clips. The new Speed Tool makes in-timeline manipulation a pleasure. Simply open the Clip Keyframe bar (bottom left corner of the timeline window) to gain access to the Speed Tool controls. From there you can change the speed, add speed keyframes within the clip to vary the speed in segments, plus ramp the in and out points.

Track Tool – My FCP timelines are very much a scratch pad. The Track Tool is essential for moving later clips out of the way. Use the T key for a single track or Shift-T for all tracks past the cursor location. It’s a quick and easy way to move the back end of the sequence out of the way to create working space. Then close the gap when you are finished.

Attributes – The ability to copy, paste and/or remove clip attributes is one of the features than I enjoy most about Final Cut. I use it most with motion tab effects (size, position, crop, opacity, drop shadow) and filters. It’s an essential part of my workflow. I invariably use a lot of effects filters. This is the easiest way to set up a group of filters on a single clip and apply this “filter stack” to a series of subsequent clips without needing to go to a menu, bin or browser.

Playhead sync – FCP often invokes discussions about NLE modality. I happen to think that FCP actually is modal in some of its functions. One of these is playhead sync. When toggled to “open”, the timeline loads into the viewer, giving you direct access to sequence clip parameters like size, position, filters and color correction. As such, you can use it in much the same way as Media Composer’s Effects or Color Correction modes (or Toolsets). For example, if you wish to move along your timeline – adjusting color correction or filter settings as you go – simply switch the playhead sync to open and select the filters tab in the viewer. Now the parameters of each timeline clip are immediately available as you advance to that clip. No double-clicking required!

Extend – This is a fast trim function, which is designed much like Media Composer’s Extend. Simply highlight a cut (or the edge of a clip), move the cursor forward or backward to the frame you want the cut changed to and hit the E key. Voila – the cut has jumped to the cursor location and the clip ins/outs have changed accordingly.

Mix automation – If you are tired of rubber-banding keyframes, then why not use the mix automation? Click on the Record Audio Keyframes button in the Audio Mixer and then you will always be working in the “touch” automation mode. This means that if the timeline is playing, any move you make on a track fader is active and will write new audio level keyframes. The level will hold at the last keyframe written for the remainder of the track or clip; however, if there is an existing keyframe at the end, the level will gradually increase or decrease to match that point. Hardware control surfaces from Mackie, Avid/Euphonix, Frontier Designs, Presonus and others may be used to manipulate these virtual faders if you find mouse-mixing to be fatiguing.

Multiple transitions – The last cool FCP7 feature I’ll mention is the ability to add multiple transitions to a series of timeline clips in a single step. Select the range of clips to which you want to apply a common transition. Drag the transition from the Effects folder and hover over the selected clips, so that all (not just one) stay highlighted. Drop the transition and it will be applied to all the cuts surrounding this range of clips. I like to add small (:02 to :04) audio dissolves to all of my dialogue edits. This is a great way of doing that in a single step – saving a huge number of keystrokes.

As a reminder, the “What’s New” 2009 Ripple Training tutorials cover many of the new features added to Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro 7. Click here and here for some additional Final Cut Pro editing tips.

Hope this helps. Enjoy the New Year and happy cutting!

©2010 Oliver Peters