BorisFX BCC 10

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Boris Continuum Complete (BCC) by BorisFX is the epitome of the term “Swiss Army knife” when it comes to talking about plug-ins. Most editors will pick this package over others, if they can only have one toolkit to cover a diverse range of picture enhancements. In the past year, BorisFX has upgraded this toolkit with new effects, expanded to add more NLE hosts, and integrated mocha’s Academy Award-winning planar tracking technology after the acquisition of Imagineer Systems. This set of plug-ins is now up to version BCC10. BorisFX has not only added new effects to BCC10, but also expanded its licensing options to include multi-host and subscription options.

Since many users now work with several NLEs, multi-host licensing makes a lot of sense. One purchase with a single serial number covers the installation for each of the various applications. There are two multi-host license versions: one for Avid/Adobe/Apple/OFX and the second that doesn’t include Avid. OFX licensing covers the installation for Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, as well as Sony Vegas Pro for PC users.

What’s new in BCC10

df3216_bcc10_10Boris Continuum Complete version 10 includes over 230 effects within 16 different categories, like 3D Objects, Art Looks, Particles, Perspective and more. Each effect comes with numerous presets for a total of over 2,500 presets in all. There are plenty of new tools in BCC10, but the biggest news is that each effect filter integrates mocha planar tracking. BorisFX has always included Pixel Chooser as a way of masking objects. Now each filter also lets you launch the mocha interface right from inside the plug-in’s effect control panel. For example, if you are applying skin smoothing to only your talent’s forehead using the new BCC Beauty Studio, simply launch mocha, create a mask for the forehead and track the talent’s movement within the shot. The mask and track are saved within the plug-in, so you can instantly see the results.

df3216_bcc10_05A second big change is the addition and integration of the FX Browser. Each plug-in effect lets you launch the FX Browser interface to display how each of the various presets for that effect would look when applied to the selected clip. You can preview the whole clip, not just a thumbnail. FX Browser is also a standalone effect that can be applied to the clip. When you use it that way, then all presets for all filters can be previewed. While FX Browser has been implemented in past versions in some of the hosts, this is the first time that it’s become an integrated part of the BCC package across all NLEs.

df3216_bcc10_02BCC10 includes two new “studio” tools, as well as a number of new individual effects. BCC Beauty Studio is a set of tools in a single filter targeted at image retouching, especially the skin texture of talent. Photographers retouch “glamor” shots to reduce or remove blemishes, so Photoshop-style retouching is almost expected these days. This is the digital video equivalent. As with most skin smoothing filters, BCC Beauty Studio uses skin keying algorithms to isolate skin colors. It then blurs skin texture, but also lets the editor adjust contrast, color correction, and even add a subtle glow to image highlights. Of course, as I mentioned above, mocha masking and tracking is integrated for the ultimate control in where and how the effect is applied.

The second new, complex filter is BCC Title Studio. This is an integrated 3D titling tool that can be used based on templates within the effects browser or by launching the separate Title Studio interface. Editors familiar with BorisFX products will recognize this titling interface as essentially Boris RED right inside of their NLE. Not only can you create titles, but also more advanced motion graphics. You can even import objects, EPS and image files for 3D effects, including the addition of materials and shading. As with other BorisFX tilting tools, you can animate text on and off the screen.

df3216_bcc10_03In addition to these two large plug-ins, BCC10 also gained nine new filters and transitions. These include BCC Remover (fills in missing pixels or removes objects using cloning) and BCC Drop-out Fixer (restores damaged footage). For the folks who have to deal with a lot of 4×3 content and vertical cell phone footage, there’s BCC Reframer. Unlike the usual approach where the same image is stretched and blurred behind the vertical shot, this filter includes options to stylize the foreground and background.

df3216_bcc10_11The trend these days is to embrace image “defects” as a creative effect, so two of the new filters are BCC Light Leaks and BCC Video Glitch. Each adds organic, distressed effects, like in-camera light contamination and corrupted digital video artifacts. To go along with this, there are also four new transitions, including a BCC Light Leaks Dissolve, Cross Glitch, Cross Zoom and Cross Melt. Of these, the light leaks, glitch and zoom transitions are about what you’d expect from the name, however, the melt transition seems rather unique. In addition to the underlying dissolve between two images, there are a variety of effects options that can be applied as part of this transition. Many of these are glass, plastic, prism or streak effects, which add an interesting twist to this style of transition.

In use

df3216_bcc10_04The new BCC10 package works within the established hosts much like it always has, so no surprises there. The Boris Continuum Complete package used to come bundled with Avid Media Composer, but unfortunately that’s no longer the case. Avid editors who want the full BCC set have to purchase it. As with most plug-ins, After Effects is generally the best host when adjustment and manipulation of effects are required.

df3216_bcc10_09A new NLE to consider is DaVinci Resolve. Many are testing the waters to see if Resolve could become their NLE of choice. Blackmagic Design introduced Resolve 12.5 with even more focus on its editing toolset, including new, built-in effect filters and transitions. In my testing, BCC10 works reasonably well with Resolve 12.5 once you get used to where the effects are. Resolve uses a modal design with editing and color correction split into separate modes or pages. BCC10 transition effects only show up in the OFX library of the edit page. For filter effects, which are applied to the whole clip, you have to go to the color page. During the color correction process you may add any filter effect, but it has to be applied to a node. If you apply more than one filter, you have to add a new node for each filter. With the initial release of BCC10, mocha did not work within Resolve. If you tried to launch it, a message came up that this functionality would be added at a later time. In May, BorisFX released BCC10.2, which included mocha for both Resolve 12.5 and Vegas Pro. To use the BCC10 effects with Resolve 12.5 you need the paid Studio version and not the free version of Resolve.

df3216_bcc10_07BorisFX BCC10 is definitely a solid update, with new features, mocha integration and better GPU-based performance. It runs best in After Effects CC, Premiere Pro CC and Avid Media Composer. The built-in effects tools are pretty good in After Effects, Final Cut Pro X and Resolve 12.5 – meaning you might get by without needing what BCC10 has to offer. On the other hand, they are unfortunately very mediocre in Premiere Pro or Media Composer. If one of those is your editing axe, then BCC10 becomes an essential purchase, if you want to improve the capabilities of your editing application. Regardless of which tool you use, BCC10 will give you more options to stretch your creativity.

df3216_bcc10_08On a related note, at IBC 2016 in Amsterdam, BorisFX announced the acquisition of GenArts. This means that the Sapphire effects are now housed under the BorisFX umbrella, which could make for some interesting bundling options in the future. As with their integration of mocha tracking into the BCC effects, future versions of BCC and/or Sapphire might also see a sharing of compatible technologies across these two effects families. Stay tuned.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2016 Oliver Peters

The wait is over – FCP X 10.3

df3116_fcpx1003_1_smAmidst the hoopla on Oct. 27th, when Apple introduced the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, the ProApps team also released updates to Final Cut Pro X, Motion and Compressor. This was great news for fans, since Final Cut got a prime showcase slot in the event’s main stage presentation. Despite the point numbering, the bump from 10.2 to 10.3 is a full version change, just like in macOS, where 10.11 (El Capitan) to 10.12 (Sierra) is also a new version. This makes FCP X 10.3 the fourth iteration in the FCP X line and the eleventh under the Final Cut Pro brand. I’m a bit surprised that Apple didn’t drop the “X” from the name, though, seeing as it’s done that with macOS itself. And speaking of operating systems, this release requires 10.11.4 (El Capitan) or higher (Sierra).

If you already purchased the application in the past, then this update will be a free upgrade for you. There are numerous enhancements, but three features stand out among the changes: the new interface, the expanded use of roles for mixing, and support for a wider color gamut.

A new look for the user interface

The new user interface is darker and flatter. Although for my taste, it’s a bit too dark without any brightness sliders to customize the appearance. The dimensional style is gone, putting Final Cut Pro X in line with the aesthetics of iMovie and other Apple applications. Final Cut Pro X was already out of step with design trends at the time it was first released. Reskinning the application with this new appearance brings it in line with the rest of the design industry.

The engineers have added workspaces and rearranged where certain controls are, though generally, panels are in the same places as before. Workspaces can be customized, but not nearly to the level of Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC. The most welcomed of these changes is that the inspector pane can be toggled to full height when needed. In reality, the inspector height isn’t changed. It’s the width of the timeline that changes and toggles between covering and revealing the full inspector panel.

There are other minor changes throughout 10.3, which make it a much better application. For example, if you like to work with a source/record, 2-up viewer display, then 10.3 now allows you to play a source clip from inside the event viewer.

Magnetic Timeline 2 and the expansion of roles

df3116_fcpx1003_2Apple did a lot of work to rejigger the way the timeline works and to expand the functionality of roles. It’s even being marketed as Magnetic Timeline 2. Up until now, the use of roles in Final Cut has been optional. With 10.3, it’s become the primary way to mix and organize connected clips within the timeline. Apple has resisted adding a true mixing panel, instead substituting the concept of audio lanes.

Let’s say that you assign the roles of dialogue, music or effects to your timeline audio clips. The timeline index panel lets you organize these clips into groups according to their assigned roles, which Apple calls audio lanes. If you click “show audio lanes”, the various connected clips rearrange vertical position in the timeline window to be grouped into their corresponding lanes, based on roles. Now you have three lanes of grouped clips: dialogue, effects, music. You can change timeline focus to individual roles – such as only dialogue – which will minimize the size of all the other roles (clips) in the window. These groups or lanes can also be soloed, so you just hear dialogue without the rest, for example.

There is no submix bus to globally control or filter groups of clips, like you have in Premiere Pro or most digital audio applications. The solution in FCP X 10.3 is to select all clips of the same role and create a compound clip. (Other NLEs refer to this as “nesting”.) By doing so, all of the dialogue, effects and music clips appear on the timeline as only three compound clips – one for each role. You can then apply audio filters or adjust the overall level of that role by applying them to the compound clip.

Unfortunately, if you have to go back and make adjustments to an individual clip, you’ll have to open up the compound clip in its own timeline. When you do that, you lose the context of the other clips. For example, tweaking a sound effect clip inside its compound clip, means that you would only hear the other surrounding effect clips, without dialogue and music or seeing the video. In addition, you won’t hear the result of filters or volume changes made at the top level of that compound clip. Nevertheless, it’s not as complex as it sounds and this is a viable solution, given the design approach Apple engineers have taken.

df3116_fcpx1003_3It does surprise me that they ended up with this solution, because it’s a very modal way of operating. This would seem to be an anathema to the intent of much of the rest of FCP X’s design. One has to wonder whether or not they’ve become boxed in my their own architecture. Naturally others will counter that this process is simplified due to the lack of track patching and submix matrices.

Wide color

The industry at large is embracing color standards that enable displays to reproduce more of the color spectrum, which the human eye can see. An under-the-hood change with FCP X is the embrace of wide gamut color. I think that calling it “wide color” dumbs down the actual standards, but I guess Apple wants to keep things in plain language. In any case, the interface is pretty clear on the actual specs.

Libraries can be set up for “standard color” (Rec. 601 for SD and Rec. 709 for HD) or “wide color” (Rec. 2020). The Projects (sequences) that you create within a Library can be either, as long as the Library was initially set up for wide gamut. You can also change the setting for a Project after the fact. Newer cameras that record in raw or log color space, like RED or ARRI models, are perfectly compatible with wide color (Rec. 2020) delivery, thanks to post-production color grading techniques. That is where this change comes into play.

For the most part you won’t see much difference in normal work, unless you really crank up the saturation. If you do this in the wide color gamut mode, you can get pretty extreme and the scopes will display an acceptable signal. However, if you then switch the Project setting to standard color, the high chroma areas will change to a somewhat duller appearance in the viewer and the scopes will show signal clipping. Most current television display systems don’t display wide gamut color, yet, so it’s not something most users need to worry about today. This is Apple’s way of future-proofing Final Cut and to pass the cleanest possible signal through the system.

A few more things

df3116_fcpx1003_4Numerous other useful tools were added in this version. For example, Flow – a morphing dissolve – for use in bridging jump cuts. Unlike Avid’s or Adobe’s variations, this transition works in real-time without analysis or rendering. This is because it morphs between two still frames. Each company’s approach has a slightly different appearance, but Flow definitely looks like an effect that will get a lot of use – especially with interview-driven productions. Other timeline enhancements include the ability to easily add and toggle audio fades. There’s simplified top and tail trimming. Now you can remove attributes and you can roll (trim) between adjacent, connected clips. Finally – a biggie for shared storage users – FCP X can now work with NAS systems that use the SMB protocol.

Working with it for over a week at the time I post this, the application has been quite stable, even on a production with over 2,000 4K clips. I wouldn’t recommend upgrading if you are in the middle of a production. The upgraded Libraries I tested did exhibit some flakiness, which weren’t there in freshly created Libraries. There’s also a technique to keep both 10.2 and 10.3 active on the same computer. Definitely trash your preferences before diving in.

So far, the plug-ins and Motion templates still work, but you’ll definitely need to check whether these vendors have issued updates designed for this release. This also goes for the third-party apps, like those from Intelligent Assistance, because 10.3 adds a new version of FCPXML. Both Intelligent Assistance and Blackmagic Design issued updates (for Resolve and Desktop Video) by the next day.

There are a few user interface bugs, but no show-stoppers. For instance, the application doesn’t appear to hold its last state upon close, especially when more than one Library is open. When you open it again the next time, the wrong Library may be selected or the wrong Project loaded in the timeline. It occasionally loses focus on the pane selected. This is an old bug that was there in previous versions. You are working in the timeline and all of a sudden nothing happens, because the application “forgot” which pane it’s supposed to have focus on. Clicking command-1 seems to fix this. Lastly, the audio meters window doesn’t work properly. If you resize it to be slimmer, the next time you launch FCP X, the meters panel is large again. That’s even if you updated the workspace with this smaller width. And then sometimes they don’t display audio until you close and reopen the audio meters window.

In this round of testing, I’ve had to move around Libraries with external media to different storage volumes. This requires media relinking. While it was ultimately successful, the time needed to relink was considerably longer than doing this same task in other NLEs.

My test units are all connected to Blackmagic Design i/o hardware, which seems to retard performance a bit. With a/v output turned off within the FCP X interface, clips play right away without stuttering when I hit the spacebar. With the a/v output on, I randomly get stuttering on clips when they start to play. It’s only a minor nuisance, so I just turn it off until I need to see the image on an external monitor. I’ve been told that AJA hardware performs better with FCP X, but I haven’t had a chance to test this myself. In any case, I don’t see this issue when running the same media through Premiere Pro on the exact same computer, storage and i/o hardware.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 will definitely please most of its fans. There’s a lot of substance and improvement to be appreciated. It also feels like it’s performing better, but I haven’t had enough time with a real project yet to fully test that. Of course, the users who probe a bit deeper will point to plenty of items that are still missing (and available in products like Premiere Pro), such as better media relinking, more versatile replace edit functions and batch exporting.

For editors who’ve only given it a cursory look in the past or were swayed by the negative social media and press over the past five years, this would be the version to re-evaluate. Every new or improved item is targeted at the professional editor. Maybe it’s changed enough to dive in. On the other hand, if you’re an editor who’s given FCP X a fair and educated assessment and just not found it to your liking or suitable for your needs, then I doubt 10.3 will temp you. Regardless, this gives fans some reassurance about Apple’s commitment to professional users of their software – at least for another five years.

If you have the time, there are plenty of great tips here at the virtual Final Cut User Group.

The new Final Cut Pro X 10.3 user manual can be found here.

Click here for additional links highlighting features in this update.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2016 Oliver Peters

Tools for Dealing with Media

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Although most editing application manufacturers like to tout how you can just go from camera to edit with native media, most editors know that’s a pretty frustrating way to work. The norm these days is for the production team to use a whole potpourri of professional and prosumer cameras, so it’s really up to the editor to straighten this out before the edit begins. Granted a DIT could do all of this, but in my experience, the person being called a DIT is generally just someone who copies/backs-up the camera cards onto hard drives to bring back from the shoot. As an editor you are most likely to receive a drive with organized copies of the camera media cards, but still with the media in its native form.

Native media is fine when you are talking about ARRI ALEXA, Canon C300 or even RED files. It is not fine when coming from a Canon 5D, DJI, iPhone, Sony A7S, etc. The reason is that these systems record long-GOP media without valid timecode. Most do not generate unique file names. In some cases, there is no proper timebase within the files, so time itself is “rubbery” – meaning, a frame of time varies slightly in true duration from one frame to the next.

If you remove the A7S .mp4 files from within the clutter of media card folders and take these files straight into an NLE, you will get varying results. There is a signal interpreted as timecode by some tools, but not by others. Final Cut Pro X starts all of these clips at 00:00:00:00, while Premiere Pro and Resolve read something that is interpreted as timecode, which ascends sequentially on successive clips. Finally, these cameras have no way to deal with off-speed recordings. For example, if a higher frame rate is recorded with the intent to play it back in slow motion. You can do that with a high-end camera, but not these prosumer products. So I’ve come to rely on several software products heavily in these types of productions.

Step 1 : Hedge for Mac

df3016_media_2The first step in any editing is to get the media from the field drives onto the edit system drives. Hopefully your company’s SOP is to archive this media from the field in addition to any that comes out of the edit. However, you don’t want to edit directly from these drives. When you do a Finder copy from one drive to the next there is no checksum verification. In other words, the software doesn’t actually check to make sure the copy is exact without errors. This is the biggest plus for an application like Hedge – copy AND verification.

Hedge comes in a free and a paid version. The free version is useful, but copy and verify is slower than the paid version. The premium (paid) version uses a software component that they call Fast Lane to speed up the verification process so that it takes roughly the same amount of time as a Finder copy, which has no verification. To give you an idea, I copied a 62GB folder from a USB2.0 thumb drive to an external media drive connected to my Mac via eSATA (through an internal card). The process took under 30 minutes for a copy through Hedge (paid version) – about the same as it took for a Finder copy. Using the free version takes about twice as long, so there’s a real advantage to buying the premium version of the application. In addition, the premium version works with NAS and RAID systems.

The interface is super simple. Sources and targets are drag-and-drop. You can specify folders within the drives, so it’s not just a root-level, drive-to-drive copy. Multiple targets and even multiple sources can be specified within the same batch. This is great for creating a master as well as several back-up copies. Finally, Hedge generates a transfer log for written evidence of the copies and verification performed.

Step 2 : EditReady

df3016_media_3Now that you have your media copies, it’s time to process the prosumer camera media into something more edit-friendly. Since the camera-original files are being archived, I don’t generally save both the original and converted files on my edit system. For all intents and purposes, the new, processed files become my camera media. I’ve used tools like MPEG Streamclip in the past. That still works well, but EditReady from Divergent Media is better. It reads many media formats that other players don’t and it does a great job writing ProRes media. It will do other formats, too, but ProRes is usually the best format for projects that I work with.

One nice benefit of EditReady is that it offers additional processing functions. For example, if you want to bake in a LUT to the transcoded files, there’s a function for that. If you shot at 29.97, but want the files to play at 23.976 inside you NLE, EditReady enables you to retime the files accordingly. Since Divergent Media also makes ScopeBox, you can get a bundle with both EditReady and ScopeBox. Through a software conduit called ScopeLink, clips from the EditReady player show up in the ScopeBox viewer and its scopes, so you can make technical evaluations right within the EditReady environment.

EditReady uses a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to set up a batch for processing. If you have more that one target location or process chain, simply open up additional windows for each batch that you’d like to set up. Once these are fired off, all process will run simultaneously. The best part is that these conversions are fast, resulting in reliable transcoded media in an edit-friendly format.

Step 3: Better Rename

df3016_media_4The last step for me is usually to rename the file names. I won’t do this with formats like ALEXA ProRes or RED, but it’s essential for 5D, DJI and other similar cameras. That’s because these camera normally don’t generate unique file names. After all, you don’t want a bunch of clips that are named C0001 with a starting timecode of 00:00:00:00 – do you?

While there are a number of batch renaming applications and even Automator scripts that you can create, my preferred application is Better Rename, which is available in the Mac App Store. It has a host of functions to change names, add numbered sequences and append a text prefix or suffix to a name. The latter option is usually the best choice. Typically I’ll drag my camera files from each group into the interface and append a prefix that adds a camera card identifier and a date to the clip name. So C0001 becomes A01_102916_C0001. A clip from the second card would change from C0001 to A02_102916_C0001. It’s doubtful that the A camera would shoot more than 99 cards in a day, but if so, you can adjust your naming scheme accordingly.

There you go. Three simple steps to bulletproof how you work with media.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Audio Splits and Stems in Premiere Pro

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When TV shows and feature films are being mixed, the final deliverables usually include audio stems as separate audio files or married to a multi-channel video master file or tape. Stems are the isolated submix channels for dialogue, sound effects and music. These elements are typically called DME (dialogue, music, effects) stems or splits and a multi-channel master file that includes these is usually called a split-track submaster. These isolated tracks are normally at mix level, meaning that you can combine them and the sum should equal the same level and mix as the final composite mixed track.

The benefit of having such stems is that you can easily replace elements, like re-recording dialogue in a different language, without having to dive back into the original audio project. The simplest form is to have 3 stereo stem tracks (6 mono tracks) for left and right dialogue, sound effects and music. Obviously, if you have a 5.1 surround mix, you’ll end up with a lot more tracks. There are also other variations for sports or comedy shows. For example, sports shows often isolate the voice-over announcer material from an on-camera dialogue. Comedy shows may isolate the laugh track as a stem. In these cases, rather than 3 stereo DME stems, you might have 4 or more. In other cases, the music and effects stems are combined to end up with a single stereo M&E track (music and effects minus dialogue).

Although this is common practice for entertainment programming, it should also be common practice if you work in short films, corporate videos or commercials. Creating such split-track submasters at the time you finish your project can often save your bacon at some point down the line. I ran into this during the past week. df2916_audspltppro_1A large corporate client needed to replace the music tracks on 11 training videos. These videos were originally editing in 2010 using Final Cut Pro 7 and mixed in Pro Tools. Although it may have been possible to resurrect the old project files, doing so would have been problematic. However, in 2010, I had exported split-track submasters with the final picture and isolated stereo tracks for dialogue, sound effects and music. These have become the new source for our edit – now 6 years later. Since I am editing these in Premiere Pro CC, it is important to also create new split-track submasters, with the revised music tracks, should we ever need to do this again in the future.

Setting up a new Premiere Pro sequence 

I’m usually editing in either Final Cut Pro X or Premiere Pro CC these days. It’s easy to generate a multi-channel master file with isolated DME stems in FCP X, by using the Roles function. However, to do this, you need to make sure you properly assign the correct Roles from the get-go. Assuming that you’ve done this for dialogue, sound effects and music Roles on the source clips, then the stems become self-sorting upon export – based on how you route a Role to its corresponding export channel. When it comes to audio editing and mixing, I find Premiere Pro CC’s approach more to my liking. This process is relatively easy in Premiere, too; however, you have to set up a proper sequence designed for this type of audio work. That’s better than trying to sort it out at the end of the line.

df2916_audspltppro_4The first thing you’ll need to do is create a custom preset. By default, sequence presets are configured with a certain number of tracks routed to a stereo master output. This creates a 2-channel file on export. Start by changing the track configuration to multi-channel and set the number of output channels. My requirement is to end up with an 8-channel file that includes a stereo mix, plus stereo stems for isolated dialogue, sound effects and music. Next, add the number of tracks you need and assign them as “standard” for the regular tracks or “stereo submix” for the submix tracks.

df2916_audspltppro_2This is a simple example with 3 regular tracks and 3 submix tracks, because this was a simple project. A more complete project would have more regular tracks, depending on how much overlapping dialogue or sound effects or music you are working with on the timeline. For instance, some editors like to set up “zones” for types of audio. You might decide to have 24 timeline tracks, with 1-8 used for dialogue, 9-18 for sound effects and 17-24 for music. In this case, you would still only need 3 submix tracks for the aggregate of the dialogue, sound effects and music.

df2916_audspltppro_5Rename the submix tracks in the timeline. I’ve renamed Submix 1-3 as DIA, SFX and MUS for easy recognition. With Premiere Pro, you can mix audio in several different places, such as the clip mixer or the audio track mixer. Go to the audio track mixer and assign the channel output and routing. (Channel output can also be assigned in the sequence preset panel.) For each of the regular tracks, I’ve set the pulldown for routing to the corresponding submix track. Audio 1 to DIA, Audio 2 to SFX and Audio 3 to MUS. The 3 submix tracks are all routed to the Master output.

df2916_audspltppro_3The last step is to properly assign channel routing. With this sequence preset, master channels 1 and 2 will contain the full mix. First, when you export a 2-channel file as a master file or a review copy, by default only the first 2 output channels are used. So these will always get the mix without you having to change anything. Second, most of us tend to edit with stereo monitoring systems. Again, output channels 1 and 2 are the default, which means you’ll always be monitoring the full mix, unless you make changes or solo a track. Output channels 3-8 correspond to the stereo stems. Therefore, to enable this to happen automatically, you must assign the channel output in the following configuration: DIA (Submix 1) to 1-2 and 3-4, SFX (Submix 2) to 1-2 and 5-6, and MUS (Submix 3) to 1-2 and 7-8. The result is that everything goes to both the full mix, as well as the isolated stereo channel for each audio component – dialogue, sound effects and music.

Editing in the custom timeline

Once you’ve set up the timeline, the rest is easy. Edit any dialogue clips to track 1, sound effects to track 2 and music to track 3. In a more complex example, like the 24-track timeline I referred to earlier, you’d work in the “zones” that you had organized. If 1-8 are routed to the dialogue submix track, then you would edit dialogue clips only to tracks 1-8. Same for the corresponding sound effects and music tracks. Clips levels can still be adjusted as you normally would. But, by having submix tracks, you can adjust the level of all dialogue by moving the single, DIA submix fader in the audio track mixer. This can also be automated. If you want a common filter, like a compressor, added all of one stem – like a compressor across all sound effects – simply assign it from the pulldown within that submix channel strip.

Exporting the file

df2916_audspltppro_6The last step is exporting your spilt-track submaster file. If this isn’t correct, the rest was all for naught. The best formats to use are either a QuickTime ProRes file or one of the MXF OP1a choices. In the audio tab of the export settings panel, change the pulldown channel selection from Stereo to 8 channels. Now each of your timeline output channels will be exported as a separate mono track in the file. These correspond to your 4 stereo mix groups – the full mix plus stems. Now in one single, neat file, you have the final image and mix, along with the isolated stems that can facilitate easy changes down the road. Depending on the nature of the project, you might also want to export versions with and without titles for an extra level of future-proofing.

Reusing the file

df2916_audspltppro_7If you decide to use this exported submaster file at a later date as a source clip for a new edit, simply import it into Premiere Pro like any other form of media. However, because its channel structure will be read as 8 mono channels, you will need to modify the file using the Modify-Audio Channels contextual menu (right-click the clip). Change the clip channel format from Mono to Stereo, which turns your 8 mono channels back into the left and right sides of 4 stereo channels. You may then ignore the remaining “unassigned” clip channels. Do not change any of the check boxes.

Hopefully, by following this guide, you’ll find that creating timelines with stem tracks becomes second nature. It can sure help you years later, as I found out yet again this past week!

©2016 Oliver Peters

Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13

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After Effects artists who are called upon to design a lot of shots that involve sci-fi effects, particles, user interface overlays, as well as shots with sparks, light rays, and sparkles have come to rely on Trapcode as their go-to plug-in set. The newest version, available from Red Giant, is Trapcode Suite 13. This package includes 11 different effects, which encompass a range of particle and volumetric lighting effects.

If you install the suite, all 11 Trapcode effects will show up in After Effects CC. These include Particular, Form, Tao, Mir, Shine, Lux, 3D Stroke, Echospace, Starglow, Sound Keys and Horizon. Of these, 3D Stroke, Shine and Starglow will also be available within Premiere Pro CC. Together these effects form a comprehensive toolkit for After Effects designers who really do have to create magic from scratch.

df2816_trapcode_01Trapcode Particular is typically the effect that most folks associate with Trapcode effects. In this new version, you can use its built-in Effects Builder to select from certain presets and design custom effects. Although other Trapcode models include presets for certain styles, only Particular includes this separate Effects Builder to browse, preview and apply effects. Particular now includes certain organic 3D effects, like smoke, fire, water and more.

df2816_trapcode_05Trapcode Form lets you design particle grids, spheres and objects that evolve over time. Trapcode Tao lets you build 3D geometries with fractal math for shapes, facets, etc. Tao is a simplified 3D object design tool, that enables metallic textures and the ability to incorporate the image maps from lower After Effects layers as surface textures. You can create animated objects, shapes and ribbons and all are GPU-accelerated. Trapcode Mir is designed to create 3D surfaces, terrains and wireframes. These can be used for tunnel effects and land topographies. Both Tao and Mir can display these designs as wireframes, shaded polygons or rendered surfaces.

df2816_trapcode_02Trapcode Sound Keys links to an imported audio file. It analyzes the file and creates animation keyframes, which can drive a colorized volume bar display to that sound. These keyframes can also be used to drive other effects, such as scaling to the beat. Trapcode 3D Stroke enables 3D lines, paths and overlays. Trapcode Lux turns After Effects lights into visible sources with volumetric properties. Trapcode Horizon is there to create infinite backgrounds in After Effects. Trapcode Echospace enables repeated effects like trails and 3D offsets.

Last but not least, there’s Trapcode Shine and Trapcode Starglow. Both are lighting effects. Shine generates 3D light rays that you can use with text or to mimic real-world lighting, like shafts of light through the forest. Shine can be linked to After Effects 3D lights for volumetric-aware effects. Starglow is more stylized with glints and glimmers, similar to adding a star filter to your lens.

Working with the suite

The suite as a whole is intended for serious After Effects artists who have to create shots, not merely enhance them. As such, it’s not like suites from other plug-in developers that offer a whole toolkit of image manipulation effects, color correction, titling and more. If that’s what you want, then the Trapcode Suite isn’t for you. However, each of these plug-ins is available separately, so if you only want Trapcode Particular or Shine, for example, then it’s best to buy just the one effect that you really need.

df2816_trapcode_06Each of these effects is quite deep. I have never seen any other plug-in with as many modifier controls as those from Trapcode. Unfortunately, these tools are very sparse on presets compared to competing plug-ins. Nevertheless, Particular has over 180 presets, while Shine, 3D Stroke and Starglow have 30, 40 and 49 presets respectively. Some, like Shine, Starglow and Sound Keys are pretty easy to figure out. Others, like Mir or Tao, really do require that you spend some time with tutorials. The investment in time is certainly worth it, if these are the type of effects that you need to do on a regular basis.

Although I use After Effects, I’m a novice at building such particle effects and find myself more comfortable with tools like Shine. Building a flying title with rays that emanate from the text was a piece of cake with Shine. Trapcode has worked hard to take advantage of GPU and CPU power. Mir and Tao are GPU-accelerated and others, like Particular, were optimized for better CPU performance in this release. Adding and adjusting these effects was pretty quick on a 2009 Mac Pro 8-core tower with a Sapphire 7950 card. No slouch, but certainly pretty average by today’s standards. I’m sure these effects would really scream on a top-of-the-line HP with a smokin’ NVIDIA card.

df2816_trapcode_03Trapcode Particular was also fun, because of the Effects Builder. Essentially it’s a presets browser, with different effects options. When you select an option, it becomes part of your effects chain in the Builder window. This lets you design a custom effect, starting with the emitter type and then adding modifiers within the chain, such as turbulence, gravity and so on. Each of the segments of this chain have parameters that can be tweaked. Once done, you apply the effect that you’ve built to the clip on the timeline and close the Builder window. Then make timing and other adjustments in the standard After Effects control panel.

df2816_trapcode_04There are many similar effects to Trapcode Shine offered by other plug-in developers. One unique attribute of Shine is the feature of adding fractal noise. So, in addition to light rays you can add the appearance of haze or smoke to the effect. Depending on how you set the controls, it can also look like a water reflection shimmering onto the objective in the image or other similar styles. All of this can be internally masked from within the plug-in. Applying the mask means that if you want the light rays to just emanate from a window in the corner of the set, you can adjust the mask accordingly. Light rays would only appear to come from the window and not other bright objects within the rest of the shot. Another unique aspect to Shine is that its light rays are 3D camera-aware, based on After Effects light and camera positions.

Overall, the Trapcode  Suite tools are a wonderful addition to any visual effects artist’s collection of plug-ins. The quality is outstanding, the visual appearance quite organic, and performance with a moderately powerful GPU is fast. Editors will likely want to limit themselves to Shine and Starglow to make the best investment for how they use plug-ins. But if you are a power After Effects user who also cuts in Premiere Pro CC, then the suite has you covered either way.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Swiss Army Man

df2716_swissarmymanWhen it comes to quirky movies, Swiss Army Man stands alone. Hank (Paul Dano) is a castaway on a deserted island at his wit’s end. In an act of final desperation, he’s about to hang himself, when he discovers Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a corpse that’s just washed up on shore. At this point the film diverges from the typical castaway/survival story into an absurdist comedy. Manny can talk and has “magical powers” that Hank uses to find his way back to civilization.

Swiss Army Man was conceived and directed by the writing and directing duo of Dan Kwan and Daniel Sheinert, who work under the moniker Daniels. This is their feature length film debut and was produced with Sundance in mind. The production company brought on Matthew Hannam to edit the film. Hannam (The OA, Enemy, James White) is a Canadian film and TV editor with numerous features and TV series under his belt. I recently spoke with Hannam about the post process on Swiss Army Man.

Hannam discussed the nature of the film. “It’s a very handmade film. We didn’t have a lot of time to edit and had to make quick decisions. I think that really helped us. This was the dozenth or so feature for me, so in a way I was the veteran. It was fun to work with these guys and experience their creative process. Swiss Army Man is a very cinematically-aware film, full of references to other famous films. You’re making a survival movie, but it’s very aware that other survival movies exist. This is also a very self-reflexive film and, in fact, the model is more like a romantic comedy than anything else. So I was a bit disappointed to see a number of the reviews focus solely on the gags in the film, particularly around Manny, the corpse. There’s more to it than that. It’s about a guy who wonders what it might be like had things been different. It’s a very special little film, because the story puts us inside of Hank’s head.”

Unlike the norm for most features, Hannam joined the team after the shooting had been completed. He says, “I came on board during the last few days of filming. They shot for something like 25 days. This was all single-camera work with Larkin Seiple (Cop Car, Bleed For This) as director of photography. They shot ARRI ALEXA XT with Cooke anamorphic lenses. It was shot ARRIRAW, but for the edit we had a special LUT applied to the dailies, so the footage was already beautiful. I got a drive in August and the film premiered at Sundance. That’s a very short post schedule, but our goal was always Sundance.”

Shifting to Adobe tools

Like many of this year’s Sundance films, Adobe Premiere Pro was the editing tool of choice. Hannam continues, “I’m primarily an Avid [Media Composer] editor and the Dans [Kwan and Sheinert] had been using [Apple] Final Cut Pro in the past for the shorts that they’ve edited themselves. They opted to go with Premiere on this film, as they thought it would be easiest to go back and forth with After Effects. We set up a ‘poor man’s’ shared storage with multiple systems that each had duplicate media on local drives. Then we’d use Dropbox to pass around project files and shared elements, like sound effects and temp VFX. While the operation wasn’t flawless – we did experience a few crashes – it got the job done.”

Swiss Army Man features quite a few visual effects shots and Hannam credits the co-directors’ music video background with making this a relatively easy task. He says, “The Dans are used to short turnarounds in their music video projects, so they knew how to integrate visual effects into the production in a way that made it easier for post. That’s also the beauty of working with Premiere Pro. There’s a seamless integration with After Effects. What’s amazing about Premiere is the quality of the built-in effects. You get effects that are actually useful in telling the story. I used the warp stabilizer and timewarp a lot. In some cases those effects made it possible to use shots in a way that was never possible before. The production company partnered with Method for visual effects and Company 3 [Co3] for color grading. However, about half of the effects were done in-house using After Effects. On a few shots, we actually ended up using After Effects’ stabilization after final assembly, because it was that much better than what was possible during the online assembly of the film.”

Another unique aspect of Swiss Army Man is its musical score. Hannam explains, “Due to the tight schedule, music scoring proceeded in parallel with the editing. The initial temp music pulled was quirky, but didn’t really match the nature of the story. Once we got the tone right with the temp tracks, scenes were passed on to the composers – Andy Hull and Robert McDowell – who Daniels met while making a video for their band Manchester Orchestra. The concept for the score was that it was all coming from inside of Hank’s head. Andy sang all the music as if Hank was humming his own score. They created new tracks for us and by the end we had almost no temp music in the edit. Once the edit was finalized, they worked with Paul [Dano] and Daniel [Radcliffe] to sing and record the parts themselves. Fortunately both are great singers, so the final a cappella score is actually the lead actors themselves.”

Structuring the edit

Matthew Hannam and I discussed his approach to editing scenes, especially with this foray into Premiere Pro. He responds, “When I’m on Media Composer, I’m a fan of ScriptSync. It’s a great way to know what coverage you have. There’s nothing like that in Premiere, although I did use the integrated Story app. This enables you to load the script into a tab for quick access. Usually my initial approach is to sit down and watch all the footage for the particular scene while I plan how I’m going to assemble it. The best way to know the footage is to work with it. You have to watch how the shoot progresses in the dailies. Listen to what the director says at the end of a take – or if he interrupts in the middle – and that will give you a good idea of the intention. Then I just start building the scene – often first from the middle. I’m looking for what is the central point of that scene and it often helps to build from the middle out.”

Although Hannam doesn’t use any tricks to organize his footage or create selects, he does use “KEM rolls”. This term stems from the KEM flatbed film editing table. In modern parlance, it means that the editor has strung out all the footage for a scene into a single timeline, making it easy to scrub through all the available footage quickly. He continues, “I’ll build a dailies reel and tuck it away in the bottom of the bin. It’s a great way to quickly see what footage you have available. When it’s time to revise a scene, it’s good to go back to the raw footage and see what options you have. It is a quick way to jog your memory about what was shot.”

A hybrid post workflow

Another integral member of the post team was assistant editor Kyle Gilbertson. He had worked with the co-directors previously and was the architect of the hybrid post workflow followed on this film. Gilbertson pulled all of the shots for VFX that were being handled in-house. Many of the more complicated montages were handled as effects sequences and the edit was rebuilt in DaVinci Resolve before re-assembly in After Effects. Hannam explains, “We had two stages of grading with [colorist] Sofie Borup at Co3. The first was to set looks and get an idea what the material was going to look like once finished. Then, once everything was complete, we combined all of the material for final grading and digital intermediate mastering. There was a real moment of truth when the 100 or so shots that Daniels did themselves were integrated into the final cut. Luckily it all came together fairly seamlessly.”

“Having finished the movie, I look back at it and I’m full of warm feelings. We kind of just dove into it as a big team. The two Dans, Kyle and I were in that room kind of just operating as a single unit. We shifted roles and kept everything very open. I believe the end product reflects that. It’s a film that took inspiration from everywhere and everyone. We were not setting out to be weird or gross. The idea was to break down an audience and make something that everyone could enjoy and be won over by. In the end, it feels like we really took a step forward with what was possible at home. We used the tools we had available to us and we made them work. It makes me excited that Adobe’s Creative Cloud software tools were enough to get a movie into 700 cinemas and win those boys the Sundance Directing prize. We’re at a point in post where you don’t need a lot of hardware. If you can figure out how to do it, you can probably make it yourself. That was our philosophy from start to finish on the movie.”

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design Teranex Processors

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In recent years, Blackmagic Design has thrived on a business model of acquiring the assets of older industry icons, modernizing their products, and then re-introducing these cornerstone brands to an entirely new customer base. Top-of-the-line products that were formerly out of reach to most users are now attainable, thanks to significant price reductions as part of the Blackmagic Design product family.

Teranex is just such a case. It’s a company with whom I am well acquainted, since we are both Orlando-based. I remember their first NAB off-site, whisper suite. I’ve used their conversion and restoration products on a number of projects. At one point they were moving into the consumer TV space under the then ownership of Silicon Optix and later IDT. In that period, I produced the popular HQV Benchmark DVD and Blu-ray for them as an image test vehicle for consumers. As with many companies in the pro video space, they’ve had a past filled with ups and downs, so it’s great to see Blackmagic breathe new life into the technology.

Teranex Processors

Blackmagic Design offers three rack-mounted Teranex products. These are separate from the Teranex Mini line, which does not offer the full range of Teranex processing, but is comprised of more targeted units for specific conversion applications. The rack-mounted standards converters include the Teranex Express, Teranex 2D Processor and Teranex 3D Processor. All three offer more or less the same processing options, with the exception that the Express can work with 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160). The 2D and 3D Processors only go as high as 2K (2048×1080). Outside of that difference, they all handle up/down/cross-conversions between SD (NTSC and PAL), HD (720 and 1080), 2K and UHD (Express only). This includes frame sizes, as well the whole range of progressive and interlaced frame rates. There’s also aspect ratio correction (anamorphic, 16:9, 14:9, zoom, letterpox/pillarbox) and colorspace conversion. Add to this de-interlacing and 3:2 pulldown cadence correction. The key point, and why these units are must-haves for large post operations, is that they do it all and the processing is in real-time.

The Teranex 2D and 3D Processors can also function as i/o devices when connected via Thunderbolt. By purchasing one of these two models, you can skip the need for an additional Blackmagic Design capture device, assuming you have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac Pro, iMac or MacBook Pro. With the purchase, you also get Blackmagic Design Ultrascope waveform monitor software that runs on your computer. When you run one of these units with Apple Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro CC or their own Media Express application, the response is the same as with a standalone i/o device. This is an optional use, however, as these two units can operate perfectly well in a standalone installation, such as part of a machine room environment. They do tend to have loud fans, so either way, you might want to keep them in a rack.

The biggest difference between the 2D and 3D Processor is that the 3D unit can also deal with stereoscopic video. In addition to the normal processing functions, the 3D model has adjustments for stereo images. There are also physical differences, so even if you don’t work with stereo images, you might still opt for the Teranex 3D Processor. For instance, while both units can handle analog or SDI video connections, the 3D Processor only allows for two channels of analog audio i/o to be plugged into the device. The 2D Processor uses a separate DB-25 break-out cable for all analog audio connectors. Like all Blackmagic rack products, no power plug is included. You need to provide your own three-prong electric cord. The 3D Processor features dual-redundant power supplies, which also means it requires two separate power cords. Not a big deal given the extra safety factor in mission-critical situations, but an extra consideration nonetheless. (Note: the 3D processor still works with only a single power cord plugged in.)

The Teranex Express, is more streamlined, with only digital SDI connectors. It is designed for straightforward, real-time processing and cannot also be employed as an i/o device. If you don’t need analog connectors, stereoscopic capabilities, nor Thunderbolt i/o, then the Express model is the right one for you. Plus, it’s currently the only one of the three that works with 4K Ultra HD content. The Teranex units also pass captioning, Dolby data and timecode.

In actual use

I tested both the Teranex Express and the 3D Processor for this review. I happen to have some challenging video to test. I’m working on a documentary made up of a lot of standard definition interviews shot with a Panasonic DVX-100, plus a lot of WWII archival clips. My goal is to get these up to HD for the eventual final product. As a standards converter and image processor both units work the same (excluding stereoscopic video). SDI in and SDI out with a conversion in-between.

The front panel is very straightforward, with buttons for the input standard and the desired output standard. The left side features settings for format size, frame rate, scan and aspect. The middle includes a multi-use LCD display, which is used to show menus, test patterns and video. To the right of the display are buttons for video levels and sharpening, since these models also include a built-in proc amp. Finally on the far right, you can see audio channel status, system status and presets. Last, but not least, there’s a “lock panel” button if you don’t want anyone to inadvertently change a setting in the middle of a job, as these controls are always active. When you pass any SDI signal through one of these units, the input is auto-detecting and the button layout easily guides the operator through the logical steps to set a desired target format for conversion.

As with all Blackmagic Design products, installation of the software needed for i/o was quick and easy. When I connected the Teranex 3D Processor to my MacBook Pro via Thunderbolt, all of the apps saw the device and for all intents and purposes it worked just the same as if I’d had a Blackmagic Design UltraStudio device connected. However, here the conversion side of the Teranex device is at odds with how it works as an i/o device. For example, the output settings typically followed the sequence settings of the NLE that was driving it. If I had an NTSC D1 timeline in Final Cut Pro X, the Teranex 3D Processor could not be set to up-convert this signal on output. It only output a matching SD signal. Up-conversion only happened if I placed the SD content into a 1080 timeline, which unfortunately means the software is doing the conversion and not the Teranex processor. As best as I could tell, you could not set the processor to override the signal on either input or output when connected via Thunderbolt.

Processing power

One of the hallmarks of Teranex processing is cadence correction. 24fps content that is recorded as a 30fps signal is said to have “3:2 pulldown”. It was originally developed to facilitate transferring film material to videotape. Pulldown is a method of repeating whole film frames across a pattern of interlaced video frames so that four film frames can fit into five video frames (ten fields). This pattern is called 24PN (“normal” pulldown) and the cadence of film frames to video fields is 2:3:2:3. Digital camera manufacturers adopted this technique to mimic the look of film when recording in a 24fps mode. To complicate matters, Panasonic introduced a different cadence called 24PA, or “advanced” pulldown. The cadence is 2:3:3:2 and was targeted at Final Cut Pro users. FCP featured a built-in routine for the software to drop the extra frame in the middle and restore the clips to a true 24fps during a FireWire capture. Another form of cadence is 2:2:2:4, which is common in DVD players when playing back a true 24fps DVD.

In the case of Teranex processing, it is designed to detect and correct the more common 24PN, i.e. 3:2 pulldown (2:3:2:3), but not the other two cadences (2:3:3:2, 2:2:2:4). Teranex is supposed to be able to fix “broken” 3:2 pulldown cadences in mixed timelines, meaning the pattern changes at every cut. However, when I checked this on my test project, I didn’t get perfect results. That’s most likely due to the fact that I was dealing with DV (not proper D1) content, which had gone through a lot of hands before it came to me. The best results would be if I treated every source clip individually. When I test that, the results were more what I expected to see.

Teranex technology was developed for real-time processing at a time when linear, videotape post ruled. Today, there are plenty of high-quality, non-real-time, software processing options, which yield results that are very close to what Teranex can deliver. In the case of my test project, I actually found that dealing with interlace was best handled by Blackmagic’s own DaVinci Resolve. I don’t necessarily need to get back to 24fps, but only to get the cleanest possible 30fps image. So my first target was to convert the 29.97i clips into a good 29.97p sequence. This was possible through Resolve’s built-in de-interlacing. Progressive frames always up-convert with fewer artifacts than interlaced clips. Once I had a good 29.97p file, then I could test the Teranex conversion capabilities.

I tested conversions with several NLEs, Resolve, After Effects and the Teranex hardware. While each of the options gave me useable HD copies, the best overall was using the Teranex unit – passing through it in real-time via SDI in and out. Teranex not only gave me cleaner results, as evidenced by fine edges (less “jaggies”), but I could also dial in noise reduction and sharpening to taste.

All processing is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). You can never make awful DV look stunning in HD, much less 4K. It’s simply not possible. However, Blackmagic Design’s Teranex products give you powerful tools to make it look the best that it can. Software processing can get you close, but if fast turnaround is important, then there’s no replacement for real-time processing power. That’s where these Teranex processors continue to shine.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network.

©2016 Oliver Peters