Loader

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The last 6 – 12 months have seen a bumper crop of new Final Cut plug-ins and utilities that extend its power and functionality. Quite a few have come to light since this year’s NAB. I’m going to spend the summer highlighting a number of these throughout the next series of posts.

 

The first isn’t really a plug-in at all. Digital Heaven’s Loader is an utility that launches whenever FCP is started and is designed as a “helper application” to manage media files that you import into a Final Cut project. The cardinal mistake that I see many editors make is in how they handle file organization. Setting your scratch disk locations in FCP takes care of ingested tape-based or tapeless media, but it doesn’t do anything to help you organize music, announcer tracks, photos and graphics, which make up a large part of a project.

 

I occasionally inherit projects from other editors and am confronted with missing media. The majority of the camera media relinks just fine from an external drive, but then I find a handful of clips that are offline. Digging a bit deeper, it turns out that these aren’t on the drive at all. These images or tracks had been imported from the editor’s local Pictures folder or iTunes music folder and never copied to the external project drive in the first place.

 

Another problem is sample rate conversion of audio. FCP does an poor job of dealing with 44.1kHz audio and MP3 files. You should ALWAYS convert to 48kHz AIF files BEFORE bringing these into your FCP project, but most editors never do. Issues like these, which are automatically handled for Avid editors by their application, require extra thought on the part of the FCP editor.

 

Enter Loader, which helps to resolve this dilemma. Loader is designed to deal with still images, sound files and QuickTime movies that are not ingested from tape, P2, XDCAM or other professional camera format. The application does three very simple functions:

 

1) Loader automatically copies the imported files into a central location that is independent of their original folders. The original images, tracks and movies are preserved and untouched. More importantly, the media that is used in the edit stays with the rest of the project files.

 

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2) Loader organizes this non-timecode-based media into three neat folders – Movies, Audio and Graphics. You get to choose where these files are to be placed at the time of the first import into the project. After that, Loader will remember where to send the files. In my case, I typically create a Project Files media folder at the same location as my Capture Scratch folder. Inside the Project Files folder, I’ll create folders for each FCP project in this manner: Drive Name/FCP Media/Project Files/Project Name. That last folder is where I will direct Loader to send the imported files. Loader will automatically create a Movies, Audio and Graphics folder inside, thus keeping everything neatly organized.

 

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3) The last and most important function is automatic sample rate conversion of imported audio tracks. Simply drag an MP3 track or a song from iTunes to Loader and it automatically copies the file and converts it to a 48kHz/16-bit AIF file, retaining its original file name. It will also handle Apple’s CAF files.

 

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Loader’s own interface is pretty minimal. There are preferences where you can chose whether or not to launch Loader with FCP. You can also add or remove file extensions from the 3 primary media types. Loader appears in FCP as a small clapstick icon on top of the left or right edge of the FCP interface. Hold down the Command key and slide the clapstick bar up or down to keep it from obscuring part of the interface.

 

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Don’t use the FCP’s import menu command to bring in a new file. Instead, simply drag the file that’s to be imported towards the clapstick icon. As you hover over the bar, Loader’s full interface slides out – looking like the rest of a film slate. Drop the file onto the “slate” and Loader takes care of the rest.

 

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Any files handled by Loader appear in the FCP browser inside a new date/time-stamped “imports” bin. Of course, you can move or change this bin or the master clip in the FCP browser, just like any other clip.

 

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If you edit with multiple FCP projects open at once, Loader will also keep track of these. Simply drag-and-drop the file to the correct FCP project name on the slate icon and Loader takes care of placing the media into the correct folders and into the right project pane. Once you get used to Loader, you’ll quickly see how this can save you time and hassles on many future FCP projects.

 

© 2009 Oliver Peters

Compositing with Avid Media Composer

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Most editors do a lot of compositing. Not eye-popping visual effects, but the day-to-day motion graphics work typical of promos, show opens, corporate videos and local market TV spots. There are many apps to use, but I feel that most editors would prefer to stay within the environment of their favorite NLE.

 

I know that many editors think that Final Cut Pro is a great compositing tool, because it includes Photoshop-style blend modes and uses an After Effects model for effects parameters. I might be in the minority, but I happen to think FCP isn’t really that great for motion graphics work. In fact, Apple might even secretly agree with me or they wouldn’t have developed Motion. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of very nice compositing inside Avid Media Composer with timelines surpassing 50 layers at times.

 

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Of the various NLEs available as software-only products, I feel that Avid Media Composer has the best built-in motion graphics and compositing tools. No need to bounce your tracks to another app, like After Effects or Motion, but if you want more, there’s AvidFX. It’s essentially an OEM version of Boris Red that runs from within the Media Composer interface. The best part of staying inside the application is that you don’t have to waste a lot of effort keeping track of additional project types and media assets. It’s all right there inside the one Avid project.

 

Aside from a solid toolkit for effects, several key software design components expedite work in Media Composer. For example, rendering can be done on intermediate tracks within the timeline and Avid does a superb job of retaining these renders as changes are made. One simple change won’t cause the whole timeline to have to be re-rendered. Secondly, you can replace the “fill” media of any real-time graphic with an alpha channel – whether imported or internally generated – with moving video. This can be a direct replacement or even a blend of moving video and the original graphic “fill” and it retains real-time performance. It also appears as a single timeline video clip that can be easily moved or trimmed.

 

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The third powerful feature is Collapse. This lets you exceed the nominal track limits of Media Composer. For instance, a timeline might consist of 10 video tracks that each hold collapsed clips. A collapsed clip is a “container” with additional tracks inside it. Each can hold many tracks, so if the clips in this example each consisted of 10 internal tracks, the entire timeline would actually be 100 tracks deep! It’s important to understand that Avid’s Collapse is NOT like FCP’s Nesting. The latter is really a reference clip that is tied to a separate timeline and changes ripple between the two timelines. In Media Composer, Collapsing is simply a way to non-destructively combine a group of clips so you can treat and display them as a single unit.

 

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The sample frames I’m showing are from a fake extreme sports promo that I use to present Media Composer compositing and effects concepts. There’s a base layer of stock sports images with grunge and color effects. Next is a top and bottom layer of colorized checkered flags followed by layers of crawling text. These are collapsed clips containing several tracks for the words, which are being moved horizontally using simple DVE position changes. The last layer is the word SPORTS spelled in oversized letters. Each letter is a set of full screen elements that take up several tracks for the shadow, beveled edge and letter interior. The inside of the letter is cut by a matte, which is filled by the metallic texture blended with moving video.

 

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I use Photoshop as the graphics companion to any NLE. In this case, I created the SPORTS graphic elements in Photoshop, with layer sets for each letter’s shadow, full color image and interior matte.

 

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The metallic texture of the letters was also created in Photoshop by using the gradient and liquefy tools. First, organize and position the layers in the Media Composer timeline. Then it’s a simple matter of using DVE moves to create the traveling effect of the word moving through the frame (combined with video inside the letters).

 

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This 25th anniversary graphic uses the same concept. The Avid timeline combines stock footage and Artbeats water elements with versions of the graphic built in Photoshop. Once inside Media Composer, you can play with layers and opacity values to get just the right look, including the watery “25” reflection in the foreground.

 

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Upfront I praised Media Composer’s toolset. To start with, there’s a much better DVE than either FCP or Premiere Pro. You can actually do decent “2.5D” DVE moves with ease. Another tool that’s simply better in Media Composer is the Spectramatte keyer for blue and green screen keys.

 

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To me, it’s far better than the built in tools in FCP, Premiere Pro or even Motion’s “lite” version of Primatte. I’m sure you can top it with various plug-ins and the built-in After Affects keyers, but again this discussion is about NLEs. So without spending more bucks on an extra chromakey plug-in, Spectramatte does a really good job on common keying situations.

 

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Most software NLEs have keyers, but they don’t all have matte and paint tools and built-in tracking. This is a big plus for Avid. There’s a built in tracker that comes in handing for locking composited elements together, as well as stabilizing shots. Even more handy is Animatte – a built-in paint tool for creating traveling mattes. Some apps refer to this as rotosplining, but the point of Animatte is to isolate a portion of the image. In my example, I’ve isolated the motocross rider in order to make the surrounding black-and-white. With enough patience, I can create a very tight matte and adjust that frame-by-frame throughout the shot so that it stays with the rider and completely isolates his action for the duration of the clip. This can also be used in conjunction with color correction tools to create shapes and vignettes for secondary color correction.

 

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It’s nice to have these tools, but even better that system response if very good when you are working with them. For example, when you apply a 4-point or 8-point matte in Final Cut, the system can be very slow to respond. The performance difference is very striking when you compare the same Mac using an FCP matte versus Avid’s Animatte. In the end, you should use the tools you are comfortable with, but sometimes we overlook what’s right at our fingertips. I wanted to take this space to point out some of the tools that give Avid editors a reason to stick with the product.

 

© 2009 Oliver Peters

NAB 2009 – 10 goodies you might have missed

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By now you’ve probably caught up on all big announcements from NAB 2009. If not, then hop over to Videography or DV for the NAB coverage supplied by my colleagues and me during our blogs and wrap-up stories for the magazine. In this post I’d like to focus on 10 relatively inexpensive items that will improve your productivity.

 

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AJA Video – The AJA Ki Pro was the hit of the show for many, but don’t forget the Io Express. The new little brother of the IoHD follows on the heels of the older IoLA and IoLD, except that it now handles HD. Io Express connects via PCIe instead of FireWire and is ideal for laptop monitoring and mastering.

 

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Automatic Duck – The Duck is known for timeline translation, but has brought back a popular application from the past. Media Copy 2.0 reads an Avid AAF or OMF 2.0 file or a Final Cut Pro XML file, figures out which media files are used by that sequence then copies the media to a location you specify. This is a great way to consolidate media and helps out where FCP’s own Media Manager is deficient.

 

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Blackmagic Design – Lots of buzz about their UltraScope waveform monitor, but check out their DVI Extender. I’m not a big fan of the Gefen extenders so I’m glad to see BMD’s product, which uses standard BNC connectors and SDI cables to extend computer monitor signals. The DVI Extenders can also be used for DVI-to-SDI video conversion at HD and SD resolutions.

 

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Boris FXBoris Continuum Complete 6 – Always a winner, BCC continues improving and covers nearly every host system on the market. BCC6 for After Effects is out and BCC6 for FxPlug (FCP & Motion) is in beta and will hit the market soon. New effects include extruded 3D text using the Boris Blue engine and reflections. The FxPlug version will have a few extra twists, such as an interactive preset preview browser.

 

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Chemical Wedding – Location crews will welcome the Helios Sun Calculator, which is available through the iTunes Store as an iPhone application. This convenient tool provides accurate information about the path of the sun and how that may influence the planning of a shoot.

 

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CoreMelt – This has been a popular set of effects filters and transitions available in Noise Industries’ FxFactory toolset. New this year are the V2 filter sets that run independent of the FxFactory filter management tool. CoreMelt V2 packs can be purchased either as a complete collection for FCP or After Effects, or as individual modules. For example, if you only want color correction filters or only glow filters, then those can be purchased without buying the whole collection. I especially like their color correction filters, which use intuitive sliders and feature a heads-up-display for grading curves.

 

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Euphonix – I love control surfaces and if you hate to mix in FCP, Pro Tools or Logic with the mouse, then the Euphonix Artist Series is for you. These modular panels include MC Mix, MC Control and the new MC Transport. You can mix-and-match modules depending on whether you just want fader control or more panels with programmable hot keys.

 

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Matrox – They are one of three strong hardware suppliers for FCP and Premiere Pro editors. MXO2 has become quite popular, so take a look at the new MXO2 Mini, if you’d like something even more portable. It can ingest and output HD via HDMI or analog connections plus analog-only for NTSC and PAL. It is a cost-effective monitoring and conversion unit for the laptop user. Even better, Minis will include the MAX encoding option. For an additional cost, MXO2 Minis can be purchased with onboard, hardware-accelerated H.264 encoding, adding more functionality to the unit. This means all three MXO2 products with MAX can be used to accelerate any H.264 files using Compressor. The NAB demos provided considerably faster-than-real-time performance.

 

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Noise Industries – You’ve got to love FxFactory. The 2.0.7 update is available as a free download and every release adds a few more free effects plug-ins. FxFactory filters are supplied by Noise Industries as well as other development partners like iDustrial Revolution. iDustrial just released its own update to their really cool Volumetrix filter set. If you do a lot with type also check out Motype. A new partnership has been announced with Boinx for a series of tile and shatter filters.

 

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Singular SoftwarePluralEyes was the simplest, yet most amazing FCP companion at the show. It’s essential if you do a lot of multicam editing in FCP. PluralEyes automatically synchronizes multiple sources without the use of timecode. If you shoot a concert with pro-consumer camcorders, there is no longer any need to hand-sync each clip. Instead, PluralEyes will analyze the audio tracks and line up the various sources in sync with each other based solely on the alignment of the audio.

 

Check out DV and Videography writers’ commentary during the show at DV’s (Almost) Live from NAB blog: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

© 2009 Oliver Peters

Apple Aperture 2 for Video Pros

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Programs for two-dimensional graphics fall into three categories: design, paint and photography. Adobe Photoshop has been the “Swiss Army Knife” software that most video professionals rely on to do all of these functions, but its main strength is image layout and design. Realistic painting that mimics natural media like oils and chalks continues to be the hallmark of Corel Painter. Neither application is much help if you need to organize hundreds of images, so programs like Apple’s iPhoto, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 and Google’s Picasa have come to fill that void for legions of photographers worldwide. These serve the needs of most amateurs, but if you’re a pro who needs industrial strength photo organization and manipulation software, then Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lead the pack. Both applications offer similar features and Adobe and Apple have been responding to each other tit-for-tat with new features in every software update – all to the benefit of the user.

 

In early 2008, Apple released Aperture 2, which was quickly followed by the 2.1 update. Aperture 2 added 100 new features, but the biggest improvement was faster performance, enabling quicker previews and image browsing. Aperture 2.1 introduced a plug-in architecture that has opened Aperture to a large field of third party developers. To date about 70 plug-ins have been developed for functions that include image manipulation, export, file transfer and Apple Automator workflow scripts. Apple has targeted professional photographers as the main customers for Aperture 2 and offers extensive support, such as video tutorials, on their website. There’s also a growing community of users and developers focused on Aperture and its plug-ins.

 

Organization

 

Documentary films and corporate image videos make extensive use of photographs to tell the story. Aperture 2’s file management is the biggest selling point for video producers and editors. Images in your library are organized by projects, albums, books and light tables. You can store master images in the Aperture library or link to other folders. There’s a new Quick Preview mode to that rapidly updates images during browsing. When not in the Quick Preview mode, Aperture 2 loads the full resolution images into the viewer (if they are available on the mounted drives) from the master files. You may use the Loupe (photographer’s magnifying glass) to isolate and analyze a portion of the photo at a 1:1 pixel size, which is accessed from the master image. Or just zoom the image to its actual size if your prefer. If the drive with the master images is not mounted, then Aperture displays a hi-resolution proxy image. Standard image corrections can be made when master files are available and these are applied as non-destructive filters, like adjustment layers in Photoshop, so your master image is never altered. Corrections are applied only to an exported image, therefore “baking in” these changes to a new version of the photo.

 

You can add custom metadata to each photo, which can be used to automatically populate smart albums. For example, as you browse and evaluate images, a rating system or keyword can be applied to each selected still. Smart albums can be tied to certain metadata information, so as you apply the right criteria, these images instantly show up in the appropriate smart album. Photos in an album, smart album, book or light table are linked back to the original image files in the project. As you adjust the non-destructive color settings, these changes ripples through to all the instances of that image in an album or light table. There are numerous templates and now export plug-ins to send images to locations outside of the Aperture 2 environment. The application is tightly integrated with Apple’s MobileMe web service, but other options via third party exporters include Facebook, Flickr, Gmail and Picassa to name a few. This makes Aperture 2 the ideal tool for location managers, casting directors, producers and directors who like to post photos to a web location for quick and easy client review. If you are a Final Cut Pro editor, there’s even a plug-in to send selected images out as a Final Cut Pro sequence, complete with a choice of transition effects.

 

Image tools

 

Imposing structure on a ton of photos is very important, but in the end, it’s all about image quality. In the documentary scenario, many stills given to the editor require a lot of clean-up, like dust-busting and cropping. Newer snapshots may require red-eye correction. These tasks have been traditional Photoshop strengths, but are actually better handled in a photo-centric application like Aperture 2. The tools include straightening and cropping, as well as a variety of color balance and enhancement filters. The image adjustment toolset is rounded out by non-destructive retouching brushes (repair, clone, healing) and vignettes. If you shoot camera RAW photography, Aperture 2 supports a wide variety of camera models plus the Adobe DNG format, and gained new RAW fine-tuning tools.

 

Photographers can now tether certain Nikon and Canon digital SLR cameras to the computer and capture their images directly into Aperture 2. You might not think this applies to video editors, but I’ve done a lot of projects where old photographic prints had to be scanned or shot with a video camera. Tethered operation for copy stand work seems like a much better and faster way to accomplish this task!

 

While we’re talking about camera RAW images, I have to quickly point out that the .R3D format of RED Digital Cinema’s RED One camera is not supported in Aperture 2. One of the beauties of shooting with RED is that the high resolution progressive frames also make great stills for print campaigns derived from the same shoot. Much like pulling a frame out of the 35mm negative after a film shoot. The RedAlert application can export 2K and 4K stills in the TIFF format, so it’s a simple task to import these into Aperture 2 for further manipulation. Aperture 2 isn’t as complex as Photoshop and its photographic tools are more comfortable for most directors of photography. So, it’s the ideal place for a DP to import sample stills from RED and do a quick grade for the director, client or colorist as a reference for his intended look.

 

Plug-ins

 

Aperture has offered an “edit with” feature since the beginning, which lets you designate an application like Photoshop as an external image editor. The new, third party image filters are accessed through the same “edit with” menu selection. Unlike other plug-in formats, these filters open as separate applications with their own interface. Apple got the ball rolling by integrating a full-featured Dodge and Burn filter. Tiffen and DFT joined the party, as did traditional photography software and Photoshop filter vendors, like Nik Software (Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro) and Picture Code (Noise Ninja). Unlike Aperture’s own internal tools, these filter changes are destructive, so when you use one, a copy of the image is created with the applied effect, so you aren’t locked into that result.

 

Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine and NewBay Media, L.L.C.

Power Tools for Desktop Creatives

Periodically I review various tools that enhance the editor’s creative options and make editing workflow more productive. One company offering such products is Digital Heaven – an English software developer that grew out of Martin Baker’s creative editorial shop. Baker, a former Avid DS editor, took to Apple’s Final Cut Pro for his own shop and started developing useful applications to enhance this ecosystem.

 

MovieLogger

 

Digital Heaven’s MovieLogger is a very simple logging program designed for transcribers, loggers and assistants who might not be comfortable with an editing application. Those who’ve never used Final Cut Pro may find the interface daunting if all they need is to log footage. MovieLogger is a Mac OS X media player application that opens and plays QuickTime movies. The operator can add markers and comments at points along the clip’s timeline and save these to the log.

 

Upon opening MovieLogger you first save your work as a project file. Each project file can hold information for up to sixteen QuickTime movies, before a new project must be started. The interface is simple and elegant with very precise control of the playback, jogging and shuttling of movie clips. In literally five minutes someone with basic logging skills is ready to use MovieLogger. One killer feature is a jump back command where the playhead will jump back a user-configurable number of seconds and playback continues automatically. As part of the project, the application also reads timecode and reel names embedded in the QuickTime movie’s metadata. When logging is completed, the files can be exported in either Rich Text Format (.rtf) for printing or as XML files that can be imported into Final Cut Pro. Once you import these XML files into Final Cut, the markers and comments show up in your project browser and the clips are linked back to the QuickTime media files.

 

 

AutoMotion

 

When you purchase or upgrade to Final Cut Studio you also get Motion, a powerful effects and compositing application. It’s easy to build title animations in Motion and place them directly on a Final Cut timeline as an FCP effect without any prior rendering. Motion permits the creation of templates for frequently reversioned animations, such as TV promo end tags and lower third supers, which brings me to Digital Heaven.

 

Fancy lower thirds are great, but if you have a ton of them and have to type all the names by hand, if can be very time consuming. Digital Heaven’s AutoMotion is designed to automate the process. After all, someone probably had to type all those names on a script to begin with, right? AutoMotion combines a list of names with a set of Motion templates to create new Motion project files automatically. These Motion files can be placed onto an FCP timeline and voila, instant lower thirds.

 

The first step is to create a series of names and titles in a spreadsheet program, like Excel. This file is saved in a Tab Delimited Text format, which in turn can be imported into AutoMotion. The text file shows up as a set of fields with the same names and titles as in the spreadsheet. The editor then assigns a template to an entry row and the field (name, title, etc.) that corresponds to a specific text field of the template. Templates are easy to create and save in Motion, so you aren’t limited to the same handful of styles. Templates can include any of Motion’s animation, text effects, filters or media clips. So now if your show has one hundred lower third supers and you want a nice title treatment to establish a graphic look for your show, the process can be extremely quick and simple and will save you from the wrist stress such typing would have caused.

 

 

More

 

There’s a lot more available from Digital Heaven, such as Big Time, which adds a large timecode display on screen from a Final Cut Pro timeline. This is something many Avid editors who are now using Final Cut requested and Baker was able to oblige. Another useful piece of software is EDL Mirror. This takes a standard CMX 3600 edit decision list and places all the record times into the Source In and Out columns. Modifying an EDL in this manner enables you to capture a single edited master tape, but have the individual shots show up as discrete clips in your bin. This becomes a godsend if you use your favorite NLE to color correct an already edited master. Without this you would have to manually find all the cut points and “razor blade” a new edit on the cut in the timeline.

 

Last, but not least, look for Final Print, a standalone application that prints a list of markers from a Final Cut Pro sequence. Comments and fixes are noted as markers directly in the Final Cut Pro timeline, which is exported to an XML file. Final Print opens the XML file and displays a list of clip and sequence markers along with name, comment, timecode and thumbnail image. The list can be printed or saved as a PDF file.

 

Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)

Final Cut Pro Resources

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One of the interesting aspects of using Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing application and the associated Final Cut Studio is the community of users and developers that has grown up around it. FCP primarily uses two plug-in architectures – FxScript and FxPlug – that permit easy third party development. The original FxScript is simple enough that many users can create new or modify existing effects with little or no programming expertise. In fact, Apple even offers documentation for creating new custom effects. Since FxScript doesn’t offer any copy protection hooks for developers, many of these plug-ins are offered free or at very low cost by their developers. Like Adobe After Effects or Digidesign Pro Tools, the power and potential of your Final Cut editing station can be greatly enhanced through the addition of a few choice plug-in packages.

 

You can search out the web and find many sources for these. Here’s a short list in no particular order of some of these resources for plug-ins and other extras. Enjoy!

 

cgm-online.com

kafwang.com

joesfilters.com

chv-plugins.com

lyric.com

borisfx.com

genarts.com

nattress.com

digital-heaven.co.uk

redgiantsoftware.com

digiconform.com

riverrockstudios.com/riverrock/pages/FCP.html

synthetic-ap.com

noiseindustries.com

idustrialrevolution.com

peterwiggins.com

coremelt.com

haiku.com.au

digitalfilmtools.com

tiffen.com

pureandapplied.com.au

mattias.nu/plugins

digitalzoo.com.au/lunchtime/lunch_docs/related_02_free.htm

1z1.at/plugins

spherico.com/filmtools

homepage.mac.com/tomhenderson/beziermatte

web.mac.com/andymees/Free_and_Easy/main/main.html

dharmafilm.com/sebskytools

alex4d.wordpress.com/finalcut

automaticduck.com

squared5.com

lemkesoft.com

belle-nuit.com

videotoolshed.com

pistolerapost.com/pluginz

straylight.tv/pluginz

dvfilm.com

apple.com/downloads/macosx/video/jesdeinterlacer.html

digitalrebellion.com

chesa.com

fcprescue.andersholck.com

red.com

flip4mac.com

sorensonmedia.com

coloruser.net/grades

livetypecentral.com

kuler.adobe.com

xmedit.com

theassistanteditor.com

xmil.biz

pixelmator.com

 

EDIT: Please go to the top page “The Final Cut Ecosystem” for a more current compilation.

Adobe Photoshop Tips for Video

Adobe Photoshop has become the most valuable auxiliary software application used by video professionals and video editors of all types. Whether you use it to doctor client-supplied graphics and photos or simply as the ersatz type tool for your nonlinear edit system, Photoshop has been a veritable Swiss Army knife to solve design issues for video. In this installment I’ll pass along a few pointers that might make your use of Photoshop more productive. Generally these tips apply to versions 6, 7 or higher (Mac and PC), so some may not work the same way with earlier versions.

 

Sizes

 

The NTSC video frame is sized at 720 x 486 (480 for DV) non-square, i.e. rectangular, pixels. Computers work with a square pixel aspect ratio, so new graphics created in Photoshop for video should start out at 720 x 540 pixels (72 dpi). Depending on which video editing application you use, you might have to resize the file as your last step. For example, Avid software can automatically resize the frame from the 540 height to 486 (or 480), whereas Final Cut Pro does not. In the case of FCP, you would have to resize the graphic in Photoshop, before importing it into Final Cut. The reason for these corrections is so that the aspect ratio of graphics, such as the roundness of a circular logo, will look correct once you get it into the video realm. In short, create in 720 x 540 and then resize to 720 x 486 for all NTSC video formats except DV/DVCPRO/DVCAM, which use a 720 x 480 frame size. Turn “constrain proportions” off when altering image sizes in Photoshop.

 

Levels

 

Computers and digital video use an 8-bit color depth, meaning that colors, brightness, etc. are each divided into 256 increments. There is also 10-bit color for some video systems, but generally even on these systems, rendering is still based on 8-bit math. Computers work with RGB images. Each component color element – red, blue and green – has a value of from 0 to 255. Black would be 0, 0, 0 and white would be 255, 255, 255. Digital video, known as YUV (conforming to the ITUR-601 spec), splits video into a luminance and two color-difference signals. You will often see this expressed as a ratio, such as 4:2:2 or 4:1:1, representing the relative (not actual) values of these components. In most digital video systems, black is actually placed at the value of 16 and white at 235. This gives the system enough headroom at both ends to deal with things like dark video dipping below the NTSC analog “set-up” signal (analog black is at 7.5 IRE not 0) and peak white levels that exceed 100 IRE in the camera (up to 110 IRE).

 

Like the issue of sizing, various NLEs deal with video levels in different manners. For instance, Avid software allows you to import graphics with either RGB or 601 video levels. This choice will affect the brightness and contrast of your image. Final Cut Pro gives you no such option and assumes your graphic to be at RGB values. It is best to know where your graphic will be used and adjust values accordingly. This can be done using Photoshop’s “levels” adjustment. Here you can alter input and output values, as well as the midpoint or gamma of the image. Changing the gamma value allows you to adjust the midrange portion of an image between brighter and more visible to darker and less visible. Since computer screens have different gamma values than monitors, you will frequently get a totally different amount of contrast between the appearance of a photo or graphic in Photoshop  (viewed on a computer screen) versus your NLE playing on a video monitor. If your NLE expects a graphic with an RGB range, output settings at 0 and 255 are fine, but if it expects a 601 range, then you need to adjust things to 16 and 235.

 

It is ideal to be able to check the results of your adjustments by viewing the Photoshop output on an actual waveform monitor or video monitor. There are some applications and plug-ins that approximate this with software scopes, but the real thing is better. The Echo Fire plug-in works with the AJA Io to allow you to see Photoshop images on a video monitor. Some video graphics cards, like the Matrox Parhelia card, also give you this functionality.

 

Layers and Layer Effects

 

One of the biggest features that Photoshop offers is the ability to work in layers and many NLEs now allow you to import layered files. These usually come in as sequences with each Photoshop layer becoming a separate video layer. After importing, you can use your NLE’s DVE effects to move or animate any of these elements. Adobe’s blend modes and layer effects cause trouble for most NLEs. The blend modes determine how each layer interacts with the rest of the composite. These can create quite unique looks, but most NLEs really only understand the “normal” blend mode and use this transparency information to correctly key or superimpose one layer over another. The layer effects are used to add drop shadows, glows and embossing to an object. If these are left separate, most NLEs will not derive the correct transparency and/or edge information of a graphic. In order to prevent problems, layer effects must first be merged to their layers before importing into an NLE.

 

I usually follow this procedure for a layer with effects. Duplicate the layer and create a new blank layer above it. “Rasterize Layer” on the duplicate if this is a type layer. Link the duplicate and the new blank layer and then chose “merge linked”. You now have a single layer, complete with the composited layer effects, as well as the original layer with its individual elements. Keeping the originals intact permits later changes. Then I usually save a copy of the complete file and delete the original component layers in that copy, leaving only the various final layers. This is the file I will import into the NLE.

 

Normally you will import a flattened file (no layers), if you don’t intend to create any further animation with it. Most NLEs will deal with all the popular formats: PSD, PICT, TIFF, Targa, JPEG, BMP or JPEG. Make sure the files are in the RGB and not CMYK mode. To flatten a file, select that option on the layers menu or simply save the file in one of these formats, but do not enable layers in the saving dialogue. Make sure you do this with a copy so you can go back and make changes to the original.

 

Alphas

 

When creating a graphic to be used as a key, such as a logo or super, you will need to have a companion alpha channel to “cut the hole” for this key. Most NLEs can only deal with a single alpha channel. You will need to merge all layers except the solid-color background layer into a single composite layer. “Load Selection” on the merged layer and you’ll see the crawling dotted outline of Photoshop’s selection tool. In the channels menu, add a new alpha channel and then fill the selection with white. You should now see a white-on-black version of the graphic, complete with soft shadows and gray values for semi-transparent objects or edges. If your NLE expects to see an alpha channel with the key-cutter object as black on a white background, then invert the video for the alpha channel. This is the case with Avids. Flatten the file and save as a 32-bit file (with alpha) in one of the above formats.

 

PNG

 

I use Photoshop a lot as the character generator for my NLE. I like the layer effects and it is easy to do a lot of similar supers simply by creating one layer with the right fonts, sizes and attributes, then duplicate and enter the revised text on the new layer. Repeat the process for as many supers as you need. I did this recently with 200 direct response phone number supers. When I was done, I had a single Photoshop file with 200 layers, each with separate layer effects for drop shadows and a subtle glow effect. I still had to get these into individual graphic files for my NLE. Along the way, I discovered yet another way that was far easier than the process I just finished describing. The PNG format is another Adobe image file that preserves transparency information and embeds it into the file. I took my 200-layer Photoshop file and turned off the layer visibility of all layers except the one I was exporting. With one layer active and visible, I saved a copy of the file in the PNG format. This new file had discarded all invisible layers except the one, rasterized the type, merged the layer effects and embedded alpha information. I was able to import this into Avid (reverse alpha selected) and had my real-time title super. Then I repeated this process for each of the different phone numbers.

 

Processing Moving Video Clips

 

Adobe After Effects is frequently used to add effects and filtering to video clips, but you can also do this with Photoshop. Most NLEs will permit you to export a clip or a sequence as a series of sequential image files. In other words, your :10 video clip can be exported as a series of still frame graphics in one of the standard files, numbered as such – NAME001.tga, NAME002.tga, NAME003.tga and so on. Any of the Photoshop level and sizing functions or filter effects can be applied to these files. Photoshop offers a way to automate such procedures through its Batch Automation and Actions menus. For instance, if you’d like a Watercolor Artistic effect filter applied to :10 of video, it’s as simple as creating the right actions and batch commands to do this. It’s a good idea to set up the batch to save the processed files as new images to a separate folder, in order to leave your original exported files unaffected.

 

On the opposite end, most NLEs will also import sequential image files and put them back together as a single video clip or animation. As long as no size values where changed, you shouldn’t need to worry about resizing the images or any video interlace issues during the exporting and importing of these files.

 

There’s a lot more to Photoshop than these few tips, but hopefully one of these ideas has added a couple of new tricks to your NLE expertise. If you want to do a bit more in-depth research, take a look at Photoshop for Nonlinear Editors (Richard Harrington, CMP Books).

 

© 2004 Oliver Peters