New NLE Color Features

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As someone who does color correction as often within an NLE as in a dedicated grading application, it’s nice to see that Apple and Adobe are not treating their color tools as an afterthought. (No snide Apple Color comments, please.) Both the Final Cut Pro 10.1.2 and Creative Cloud 2014 updates include new tools specifically designed to improve color correction. (Click the images below for an expanded view with additional explanation.)

Apple Final Cut Pro 10.1.2

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This FCP X update includes a new, built-in LUT (look-up table) feature designed to correct log-encoded camera files into Rec 709 color space. This type of LUT is camera-specific and FCP X now comes with preset LUTs for ARRI, Sony, Canon and Blackmagic Design cameras. This correction is applied as part of the media file’s color profile and, as such, takes affect before any filters or color correction is applied.

These LUTs can be enabled for master clips in the event, or after a clip has been edited to a sequence (FCP X project). The log processing can be applied to a single clip or a batch of clips in the event browser. Simply highlight one or more clips, open the inspector and choice the “settings” selection. In that pane, access the “log processing” pulldown menu and choose one of the camera options. This will now apply that camera LUT to all selected clips and will stay with a clip when it’s edited to the sequence. Individual clips in the sequence can later be enabled or disabled as needed. This LUT information does not pass though as part of an FCPXML roundtrip, such as sending a sequence to Resolve for color grading.

Although camera LUTs are specific to the color science used for each camera model’s type of log encoding, this doesn’t mean you can’t use a different LUT. Naturally some will be too extreme and not desirable. Some, however, are close and using a different LUT might give you a desirable creative result, somewhat like cross-processing in a film lab.

Adobe CC 2014 – Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC

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In this CC 2014 release, Adobe added master clip effects that travel back and forth between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link. Master clip effects are relational, meaning that the color correction is applied to the master clip and, therefore, every instance of this clip that is edited to the sequence will have the same correction applied to it automatically. When you send the Premiere Pro CC sequence to SpeedGrade CC, you’ll see that the 2014 version now has two correction tabs: master clip and clip. If you want to apply a master clip effect, choose that tab and do your grade. If other sections of the same clip appear on the timeline, they have automatically been graded.

Of course, with a lot of run-and-gun footage, iris levels and lighting changes, so one setting might not work for the entire clip. In that case, you can add a second level of grading by tweaking the shot in the clip tab. Effectively you now have two levels of grading. Depending on the show, you can grade in the master clip tab, the clip tab or both. When the sequence goes back to Premiere Pro CC, SpeedGrade CC corrections are applied as Lumetri effects added to each sequence clip. Any master clip effects also “ripple back” to the master clip in the bin. This way, if you cut a new section from an already-graded master clip to that or any other sequence, color correction has already been applied to it.

In the example I created for the image above, the shot was graded as a master clip effect. Then I added more primary correction and a filter effect, by using the clip mode for the first time the clip appears in the sequence. This was used to create a cartoon look for that segment on the timeline. Compare the two versions of these shots – one with only a master clip effect (shots match) and the other with a separate clip effect added to the first (shots are different).

Since master clip effects apply globally to source clips within a project, editors should be careful about changing them or copy-and-pasting them, as you may inadvertently alter another sequence within the same project.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Cold In July

df_cij_2_smJim Mickle started his career as a freelance editor in New York, working on commercials and corporate videos, like so many others. Bitten by the filmmaking bug, Mickle has gone on to successfully direct four indie feature films, including his latest, Cold in July. Like his previous film, We Are What We Are, both films had a successful premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Cold In July, which is based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale, is a noir crime drama set in 1980s East Texas. It stars Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Sam Shepard (Out of the Furnace, Killing Them Softly) and Don Johnson (Django Unchained, Miami Vice). Awakened in the middle of the night, small town family man Richard Dane (Hall) kills a burglar in his house. Dane soon fears for his family’s safety when the burglar’s ex-con father, Ben (Shepard), comes to town, bent on revenge. However, the story takes a twist into a world of corruption and violence. Add Jim Bob (Johnson) to this mix, as a pig-farming, private eye, and you have an interesting trio of characters.

According to Jim Mickle, Cold In July was on a fast-track schedule. The script was optioned in 2007, but production didn’t start until 2013. This included eight weeks of pre-production beginning in May and principal photography starting in July (for five weeks) with a wrap in September. The picture was “locked” shortly after Thanksgiving. Along with Mickle, John Paul Hortsmann (Killing Them Softly) shared editing duties.

df_cij_1_smI asked Mickle how it was to work with another editor. He explained, “I edited my last three films by myself, but with this schedule, post was wedged between promoting We Are What We Are and the Sundance deadline. I really didn’t have time to walk away from it and view it with fresh eyes. I decided to bring John Paul on board to help. This was the first time I’ve worked with another editor. John Paul was cutting while I was shooting and edited the initial assembly, which was finished about a week before the Sundance submission deadline. I got involved in the edit about mid-October. At that point, we went back to tighten and smooth out the film. We would each work on scenes and then switch and take a pass at each other’s work.”

df_cij_4_smMickle continued, “The version that we submitted to Sundance was two-and-a-half hours long. John Paul and I spent about three weeks polishing and were ready to get feedback from the outside. We held a screening for 20 to 25 people and afterwards asked questions about whether the plot points were coherent to them. It’s always good for me, as the director, to see the film with an audience. You get to see it fresh – with new eyes – and that helps you to trim and condense sections of the film. For example, in the early versions of the script, it generally felt like the middle section of the film lost tension. So, we had added a sub-plot element into the script to build up the mystery. This was a car of agents tailing our hero that we could always reuse, as needed. When we held the screening, it felt like that stuff was completely unnecessary and simply put on top of the rest of the film. The next day we sliced it all out, which cut 10 minutes out of the film. Then it finally felt like everything clicked.”

df_cij_3_smThe director-editor relationship always presents an interesting dynamic, since the editor can be objective in cutting out material that may have cost the director a lot of time and effort on set to capture. Normally, the editor has no emotional investment in production of the footage. So, how did Jim Mickle as the editor, treat his own work as the director? Mickle answered, “As an editor, I’m more ruthless on myself as the director. John Paul was less quick to give up on scenes than I. There are things I didn’t think twice about losing if they didn’t work, but he’d stay late to fix things and often have a solution the next day. I shoot with plenty of coverage these days, so I’ll build a scene and then rework it. I love the edit. It’s the first time you really feel comfortable and can craft the story. On the set, things happen so quickly, that you always have to be reactive – working and thinking on your feet.”

df_cij_5_smAlthough Mickle had edited We Are What We Are with Adobe Premiere Pro, the decision was made to shift back to Apple Final Cut Pro 7 for the edit of Cold In July. Mickle explained, “As a freelance editor in New York, I was very comfortable with Final Cut, but I’m also an After Effects user. When doing a lot of visual effects, it really feels tedious to go back and forth between Final Cut and After Effects. The previous film was shot with RED cameras and I used a raw workflow in post, cutting natively with Premiere Pro. I really loved the experience – working with raw files and Dynamic Link between Premiere and After Effects. When we hired John Paul as the primary editor on the film, we opted to go back to Final Cut, because that is what he is most comfortable with. That would get the job done in the most expedient fashion, since he was handling the bulk of the editing.”

df_cij_6_sm“We shot with RED cameras again, but the footage was transcoded to ProRes for the edit. I did find the process to be frustrating, though, because I really like the fluidness of using the raw files in Premiere. I like the editing process to live and breath and not be delineated. Having access to the raw films, lets me tweak the color correction, which helps me to get an idea of how a scene is shaping up. I get the composer involved early, so we have a lot of the real music in place as a guide while we edit. This way, your cutting style – and the post process in general – are more interactive. In any case, the ProRes files were only used to get us to the locked cut. Our final DI was handled by Light Iron in New York and they conformed the film from the original RED files for a 2K finish.”

The final screening with mix, color correction and all visual effects occurred just before Sundance. There the producers struck a distribution deal with IFC Films. Cold In July started its domestic release in May of this year.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine/CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters

NAB 2014 Thoughts

Whodathunkit? More NLEs, new cameras from new vendors and even a new film scanner! I’ve been back from NAB for a little over a week and needed to get caught up on work while decompressing. The following are some thoughts in broad strokes.

Avid Connect. My trip started early with the Avid Connect costumer event. This was a corporate gathering with over 1,000 paid attendees. Avid execs and managers outlined the corporate vision of Avid Everywhere in presentations that were head-and-shoulders better than any executive presentations Avid has given in years. For many who attended, it was to see if there was still life in Avid. I think the general response was receptive and positive. Avid Everywhere is basically a realignment of existing and future products around a platform concept. That has more impact if you own Avid storage or asset management software. Less so, if you only own a seat of Media Composer or ProTools. No new software features were announced, but new pricing models were announced with options to purchase or rent individual seats of the software – or to rent floating licenses in larger quantities.

4K. As predicted, 4K was all over the show. However, when you talked to vendors and users, there was little clear direction about actual mastering in 4K. It is starting to be a requirement in some circles, like delivering to Netflix, for example; but for most users 4K stops at acquisition. There is interest for archival reasons, as well as for reframing shots when the master is HD or 2K.

Cameras. New cameras from Blackmagic Design. Not much of a surprise there. One is the bigger, ENG-style URSA, which is Blackmagic’s solution to all of the add-ons people use with smaller HDSLR-sized cameras. The biggest feature is a 10” flip-out LCD monitor. AJA was the real surprise with its own 4K Cion camera. Think KiPro Quad with a camera built around it. Several DPs I spoke with weren’t that thrilled about either camera, because of size or balance. A camera that did get everyone jazzed was Sony’s A7s, one of their new Alpha series HDSLRs. It’s 4K-capable when recorded via HDMI to an external device. The images were outstanding. Of course, 4K wasn’t everywhere. Notably not at ARRI. The news there is the Amiraa sibling to the Alexa. Both share the same sensor design, with the Amira designed as a documentary camera. I’m sure it will be a hit, in spite of being a 2K camera.

Mac Pro. The new Mac Pro was all over the show in numerous booths. Various companies showed housings and add-ons to mount the Mac Pro for various applications. Lots of Thunderbolt products on display to address expandability for this unit, as well as Apple laptops and eventually PCs that will use Thunderbolt technology. The folks at FCPworks showed a nice DIT table/cart designed to hold a Mac Pro, keyboard, monitoring and other on-set essentials.

FCP X. Speaking of FCP X, the best place to check it out was at the off-site demo suite that FCPworks was running during the show. The suite demonstrated a number of FCP X-based workflows using third-party utilities, shared storage from Quantum and more. FCP X was in various booths on the NAB show floor, but to me it seemed limited to partner companies, like AJA. I thought the occurrences of FCP X in other booths was overshadowed by Premiere Pro CC sightings. No new FCP X feature announcements or even hints were made by Apple in any private meetings.

NLEs. The state of nonlinear editing is in more flux than ever. FCP X seems to be picking up a little steam, as is Premiere Pro. Yet, still no clear market leader across all sectors. Autodesk announced Smoke 2015, which will be the last version you can buy. Following Adobe’s lead, this year they shift to a rental model for their products. Smoke 2015 diverges more from the Flame UI model with more timeline-based effects than Smoke 2013. Lightworks for the Mac was demoed at the EditShare booth, which will make it another new option for Mac editors. Nothing new yet out of Avid, except some rebranding – Media Composer is now Media Composer | Software and Sphere is now Media Composer | Cloud. Expect new features to be rolled in by the end of this year. The biggest new player is Blackmagic Design, who has expanded the DaVinci Resolve software into a full-fledged NLE. With a cosmetic resemblance to FCP X, it caused many to dub it “the NLE that Final Cut Pro 8 should have been”. Whether that’s on the mark or just irrational exuberance has yet to be determined. Suffice it to say that Blackmagic is serious about making it a powerful editor, which for now is targeted at finishing.

Death of i/o cards. I’ve seen little mention of this, but it seems to me that dedicated PCIe video capture cards are a thing of the past. KONA and Decklink cards are really just there to support legacy products. They have less relevance in the file-based world. Most of the focus these days is on monitoring, which can be easily (and more cheaply) handled by HDMI or small Thunderbolt devices. If you looked at AJA and Matrox, for example, most of the target for PCIe cards is now to supply the OEM market. AJA supplies Quantel with their 4K i/o cards. The emphasis for direct customers is on smaller output-only products, mini-converters or self-contained format converters.

Film. If you were making a custom, 35mm film scanner – get out of the business, because you are now competing against Blackmagic Design! Their new film scanner is based on technology acquired through the purchase of Cintel a few months ago. Now Blackmagic introduced a sleek 35mm scanner capable of up to 30fps with UltraHD images. It’s $30K and connects to a Mac Pro via Thunderbolt2. Simple operation and easy software (plus Resolve) will likely rekindle the interest at a number of facilities for the film transfer business. That will be especially true at sites with a large archive of film.

Social. Naturally NAB wouldn’t be the fun it is without the opportunity to meet up with friends from all over the world. That’s part of what I get out of it. For others it’s the extra training through classes at Post Production World. The SuperMeet is a must for many editors. The Avid Connect gala featured entertainment by the legendary Nile Rodgers and his band Chic. Nearly two hours of non-stop funk/dance/disco. Quite enjoyable regardless of your musical taste. So, another year in Vegas – and not quite the ho-hum event that many had thought it would be!

Click here for more analysis at Digital Video’s website.

©2014 Oliver Peters

 

Understanding Premiere Pro Transitions

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Switchers from Apple Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere Pro might miss the wealth of inexpensive transition effects offered by third-party and hobbyist plug-in developers. Native Premiere Pro transitions, like dissolves and wipes, can be applied just like in FCP. Drop the transition on a cut and you are done. Unfortunately third-party transitions don’t work this way, leading some users to conclude that they just don’t work or that Premiere Pro is less versatile.

(EDIT: This changed somewhat a day ago, when Noise Industries released FxFactory 4.1.1. Their transitions now are drag-and-drop enabled, just like Adobe’s default transitions. For other filters, like Sapphire Edge transitions, they must still be applied as I outline in the rest of this post.)

df_pprotrans_2The confusion comes, because Premiere Pro filters are based on a similar architecture to After Effects. Therefore, applying third-party transitions in Premiere Pro needs to be done in much the same manner as in After Effects. Instead of creating a transition between two adjacent clips on the same video track, third-party transitions work by creating a transition between clips on adjacent vertical tracks. In other words, not from A to B on V1, but rather A on V1 to B on V2 or the other way around.

Here are some basic tips to make Premiere Pro’s transitions work for you. (Click on any image for an expanded view.)

df_pprotrans_4Start by moving your B clip up one video level, such as from V1 to V2 or V2 to V3. The new Option + Up Arrow command works well in Premiere Pro CC. Extend the end of the A or B clip or both. This should create an overlap of the two clips equal to the length of the intended duration of the transition. Use the blade tool to add a cut on the B clip (on the higher track) at the end of the overlap.

Access your transition from the transitions group of that filter family. This will be contained within the main Video Effects folder, not the main Video Transitions folder. Drag-and-drop a third-party transition effect to the overlapping portion of the B clip.df_pprotrans_3

df_pprotrans_5Open the Effect Controls for that filter and set the background selection and transition direction. Set beginning and ending keyframes or set it to use or ignore the percentage value. Typically a transition goes from 0% to 100% over the length of the clip to which it is applied. Adjust the filter controls as needed. The example that I’ve shown is a Lens Flare Dissolve from the SapphireEdge transitions collection. With this effect, you can tweak some parameters in the Effect Controls window, but you can also pick from a wide range of presets using the SapphireEdge presets browser. Something worth noting is that the unrendered, real-time performance of this effect is somewhat slow in FCP X, but plays very well in Premiere Pro CC.df_pprotrans_6

Although these steps might feel cumbersome to some users when compared with FCP’s drag-and-drop approach, they are more or less the same as in After Effects. They also offer a greater level of control than in some simpler transition implementations.

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(UPDATE: If you are running an older version of FxFactory, there have been conflicts with SpeedGrade CC. Please download the FxFactory 4.1.1 update from the Noise Industries website to correct this.)

©2013 Oliver Peters

Offline to Online with Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X

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Most NLE makers are pushing the ability to edit with native camera media, but there are still plenty of reasons to work in an offline-to-online editing workflow. Both Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro CC make it very easy to do this.

Apple Final Cut Pro X

df_offon_2Apple built offline/online right into the design of FCP X. The application can internally transcode optimized media (such as converting GoPro files to ProRes) and proxy media. Proxy media is usually a half-sized version using the ProRes Proxy codec. There’s a preference toggle to switch between original/optimized or proxy media, with FCP X taking care of making sure all transforms and effects are applied properly between both selections.

df_offon_3What most folks don’t know is that you can “cheat” this system. If you import media and choose to copy it into your Event folder, then source media is stored in the Original Media folder within the Event folder. If you create proxies, those files are stored in the Transcoded Media – Proxy Media folder within the Event folder. It is possible to create and place these folders via the Finder. You just have to be careful about exact name and location. Once you do this, it is possible via the Finder, to copy camera media and edit proxies directly into these folders. For example, your DIT might have created proxies for you on location, using Resolve.

df_offon_4Once you launch FCP X, it will automatically find these files. The main criteria is that file names, timecode and duration are identical between the two sets of files. If X properly recognizes the files, you can easily toggle between original/optimized and proxy with the application behaving correctly. If you are unsure of creating these folders in the first place, then I suggest setting these up within FCP X by importing and transcoding a single bogus clip, like a slate or camera bars. Once the folders are set by FCP X, delete this first clip. DO NOT mix the workflows by importing/transcoding some of the clips via FCP X and then later altering or replacing these clips via the Finder. This will completely confuse X. With these few caveats, it is possible to set up a multi-user offline-online workflow using externally-generated media, but still maintaining control via FCP X.

UPDATE: With the FCP X 10.1 update, you must generate proxies with FCP X. Externally-generated proxies do not link as they did up to 10.0.9.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

df_offon_5A more customary solution is available to Adobe editors thanks to the new Link and Locate feature. A common scenario is that editors might cut a spot in an offline edit session using proxy edit media – such as low-res files with timecode “burn-ins”. Then the camera files are color corrected in an outside grading session and rendered as final, trimmed clips that match the timeline clip lengths, with a few seconds of “handles”. Now the editor has to conform the sequence by linking to the new high-res, graded files.

With Premiere Pro CC you’d start the process in the normal manner by ingesting and cutting with the proxy files. When the cut is locked, create a trimmed project for the sequence, using the same handle length as the colorist will use. This is created using the Project Manger and you can select the option to make the clips Offline. Next, send an EDL or XML file for your locked cut, plus the camera media to the colorist.

df_offon_6Once you get the graded files back, open your trimmed Premiere Pro project. All media will be offline. Select the master clips and pick the Link Media option to open the Link Media dialogue window. Using the Match File Properties settings, set the parameters so that Premiere Pro will properly link to the altered files. Sometimes files names will be different, so you will have to adjust the the Link and Locate parameters accordingly, by deselecting certain matching options. For example, you might want a match strictly by timecode, ignoring file names.

Press Locate and navigate to the new location of the first missing file and relink. Normally all other clips in the same relative path will automatically relink, as well. Now you’ve got your edited sequence back, except with media populated by the final, high-quality files.

©2013 Oliver Peters