Adobe Creative Suite 4 – A First Look

Hot on the heals of last year’s huge Adobe software release, the company has quickly turned around another batch of impressive updates in its new Creative Suite 4 line-up. Once again, these products can be purchased individually or as part of various collections for web, video and print. Plus the all-in-one Master Collection. All CS4 products will ship by the end of Q4 2008. The Creative Suite family constitutes major growth for Adobe, which expects to ship approximately 500,000 pieces of just the video portion of this software to over 300,000 customers by the end of 2008.

 

I’ll focus my comments on Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium – the collection for video professionals. Its main applications include Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, Flash Professional, Encore, OnLocation and Soundbooth. In addition, there are also other utilities designed to aid your workflow, such as Bridge, Device Central, Dynamic Link and Adobe Media Encoder.

 

Common feature enhancements

 

Going into depth on each application in the collection would require the entire magazine, so I’ll stick to the highlights. Across the board, Adobe has concentrated on several big improvements and additions between CS3 and CS4. These include user interface changes, searchable metadata based on XMP support and speech-to-text technology. The user interfaces of the various applications continue to move closer to a common Adobe layout. This tabbed workspace design is most completely implemented in Premiere Pro, After Effects and Soundbooth. Most of the applications have gained search fields that operate like Apple’s Spotlight. Typing information into the search field of a Premiere Pro bin will filter the displayed contents to match your criteria. In After Effects, for example, you can filter timeline layers to only display tracks where the object’s position has been altered, simply by typing “position” into the search field. Most of the applications have been metadata-enabled so meaningful descriptions, titles, keywords and copyright information can be captured and embedded into files using open source XMP technology.

 

Both Premiere Pro and Soundbooth have added a powerful, new speech recognition technology called Speech Search to automatically transcribe dialogue into searchable text. After the transcription process is complete, simply click on a word in the generated text (now part of the clip’s metadata) and the media file will instantly cue to the corresponding point. It’s a great technology, but I was less than satisfied with the accuracy of the automatic transcription. I picked one of Adobe’s demo clips (an interview with cinematographer Rob Legato) and had Soundbooth create a transcription. Legato speaks quickly but clearly, however the accuracy was only about 50% and turned such phrases as “a short shooting schedule” into “the court shaving scandal”. The latter might make for an interesting movie plot, but I wonder whether the time required to edit a transcription is too great of an offset to effectively use this feature on a real project. The accuracy was better on a different test file, but still at least 25% of the phrases were incorrect. In spite of that, Speech Search seems like a very useful tool for documentary editors. In fact, even some Avid editors have theorized that you could use Soundbooth CS4 to create transcriptions that in turn could be imported into Avid Media Composer for use with their

ScriptSync feature.

 

Aside from Speech Search, the biggest new product feature in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 and After Effects CS4 is the native support for various tapeless camera formats. You can natively edit content from Panasonic P2 (DVCPRO, DVCPRO HD and AVC-Intra), Sony XDCAM-HD and XDCAM-EX media without transcoding or rewrapping. Premiere Pro can access the metadata for these clips and edit directly from the cards or use its built-in Media Browser to transfer the media to your local media drives for better performance. Running Premiere Pro CS4 on a dual-core 2.8 GHz iMac was a pleasure. Native 720p/23.98 DVCPROHD clips (imported from P2) played smoothly and JKL transport controls were very responsive even on media playing from the internal drive.

 

Although not technically part of this release, Adobe is currently working with RED Digital Cinema to develop a plug-in that would enable Premiere Pro and After Effects users to natively edit with RED’s .R3D camera raw files. You can see demos of how this will work at Dave Helmly’s blog. Adobe recognizes the potential of a raw workflow and plans to give editors access to debayering, gamma, ISO and white balance controls within their software.

 

The biggest changes

 

The most radical change in the Production Premium bundle is Adobe OnLocation CS4. The interface has been “Adobe-ized” and no longer sports the appearance of physical test gear installed in a rack. It now runs on both Macs and PCs and operates as the front-end, direct-to-disk recorder for an integrated end-to-end Adobe workflow. As before, it turns your desktop or laptop into a recording station, complete with monitor (your screen) and software scopes, but now features better clip management and the ability to add metadata to clips. DV and HDV cameras connected via FireWire work with OnLocation.

 

Soundbooth CS4 has evolved from a two-track to multi-track audio tool. Adobe does not view Soundbooth as a DAW competitor. It offers Audition (only sold individually) for those customers. Instead, Soundbooth CS4 is designed as a “helper” application to be used with Premiere Pro by video editors or Flash Professional by web developers. Soundbooth is designed as a less complex, task-based application for audio recording, editing, clean-up, mixing and music production. Although you can drill down into the effect filters and make custom adjustments, Soundbooth groups its processes by tasks with default presets. There are a decent set of tools for two-track audio production, similar to what you might find in BIAS Peak Pro or Sony Sound Forge. These are augmented with music composition tools using Adobe’s royalty-free scores. You can purchase new scores from Adobe’s Resource Central website, as well as download a wealth of free sound effects. Score creation with Soundbooth CS4 is similar to using Smart Sound’s Sonic Fire Pro, letting you tailor the length and arrangement of the score to your video. Now with multi-track support, you can mix dialogue, music and effects within Soundbooth CS4. A video editor will find Soundbooth CS4 useful for its clean-up and music tools, but a web producer would potentially do 100% of the audio production for a Flash website or a podcast with Soundbooth CS4.

 

The rest of the collection

 

Changes in the other applications might seem less dramatic depending on your needs. Photoshop CS4 Extended has gained 3D layer support. For the first time, you can import 3D objects into Photoshop. These can be manipulated in 3D space, including the ability to add textures, paint and make color modification. After Effects CS4 supports these 3D layers and also gained numerous enhancements. It includes a new built-in cartoon effect and comes bundled with Imagineer Systems’ Mocha for After Effects 2.5D planar motion tracking application.

 

Video layers were added last year to Photoshop CS3 Extended, so CS4 makes Photoshop an even more powerful tool for motion graphics of all types. Even the basic version offers more power than most video editors use, so I wish Adobe would offer a cheaper version with features that fit between Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS4. I’m also surprised that Adobe hasn’t developed natural media painting features in Photoshop. This still seems to be an area left solely to Corel Painter.

 

In the past, you had to access the Adobe Media Encoder through Premiere Pro, but it is now included as a standalone application. It includes presets for all the popular media options (MPEG2, H264, iPod, Flash, etc.) and is one of the cleanest encoders I’ve used. I think you’ll find it a worthy rival for Apple Compressor, Sorenson Squeeze or Telestream Episode.

 

Although Flash CS4 Professional is part of this video bundle, you can now generate a Flash project directly from After Effects. Flash CS4 Professional received a total makeover with a timeline more like After Effects, but if you’re still more comfortable working in After Effects, then start there and later export to Flash CS4 Professional for completion. Another Adobe application that works with Flash is Encore. As in CS3, the updated CS4 version lets you author standard DVDs, Flash projects and Blu-ray high-def DVDs from a single project file. The CS3 version limited the Flash projects to 640×480 window sizes, but this limitation has been lifted in CS4. Now interactive Flash projects created in Encore can be designed in up to HD window sizes. Speaking of interactivity, Adobe is touting better Blu-ray authoring in Encore, though no BD-J authoring. I had no way to test this, but Blu-ray authoring is not yet a mature process. There have been compatibility issues with early players and Adobe has posted a number of trouble-shooting suggestions online. Since Blu-ray is an evolving technology, do your research if the sole interest in this software is to create Blu-ray DVDs.

 

More tools for your tool chest

 

As in the past, this collection is one of the most comprehensive “studio” bundles with a price that bests the competition in value. If you’re an Adobe fan, CS4 is a worthy upgrade. If you rely on Apple Final Cut Pro or Avid Media Composer for editing, Adobe is betting that there are enough essential applications in the bundle to make it worth your while just to pick up the whole package. Photoshop and After Effects are integral tools for most editors and Encore continues as a powerful, yet low-cost DVD authoring tool, so right there in three applications, you have paid for all the rest.

 

Adobe is a company that’s neutral in many of the big platform debates. They sell software and don’t have a vested interest in selling hardware. As such, there’s plenty of third party hardware and plug-in support to make Premiere Pro attractive to first time NLE users or switchers from other systems. With integrated metadata support, native operation with the most popular tapeless cameras and the ability to export to just about every one of today’s popular media formats, Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium is a package you’ll want to add to your system.

 

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

Going Tapeless

 

The popularity of P2 and other tapeless camera formats has had a big impact on the post community. Some editors love it while others view it as a huge pain. Nevertheless – like it or not – file-based production and post production are here to stay. There’s not only P2, but also XDCAM, XDCAM-HD, XDCAM-EX, RED and a whole slew of consumer and prosumer camcorders using SD and CF cards to record various flavors of SD and HD video. And let’s not forget that FireStore and the original Avid/Ikegami EditCam started it all and are still with us today. Sony optical disc XDCAM and XDCAM-HD tend to be the exception, since this media offers a hybrid workflow that bridges the tape and tapeless worlds. To avoid confusion, I’m going to frame my comments around card and drive-based media, like P2. Some of the tips will apply to XDCAM, but others won’t.

 

There are typically 3 elements to file-based recordings. The first is essence – the actual audio and video content. Audio/video media that is recorded at a particular size, scanning method and frame rate (e.g. 1920x1080p/23.98fps) and uses a specific codec (e.g. DVCPRO HD). This essence is encased in a file wrapper, like MXF, MOV, MP4 and others. The file method used might also include a small metadata file, which is a data file containing information about the essence. When people talk about P2, that terminology should really only be reserved for the actual card and Panasonic product family. P2 devices can record audio and video essence in various formats and with different codecs, yet it’s all still on the same P2 media card.

 

Even when things look the same, they aren’t. For example, both Sony (XDCAM-HD) and Panasonic (P2) use the MXF wrapper, but the essence inside is not the same. Panasonic P2 MXF files could be natively opened and edited in Avid software, but XDCAM-HD MXF cannot. It doesn’t even stay the same within the same company. Sony’s XDCAM-HD uses the MPEG2 codec for video files, which is wrapped as an MXF file. When the EX-series camera was released, Sony chose to wrap its MPEG2 recordings as MP4 files. You would think the files used an MPEG4 codec by that designation, but not with the EX cameras. In the case of Panasonic, you can now record HD video as either DVCPRO HD or as AVC-Intra and they both appear with MXF file extensions.

 

When you analyze the file structure of any of these media cards, there is a specific folder and file hierarchy. Depending on the format, this structure has to stay intact. Moving video files outside of their folder often results in the inability of an NLE to read or open these files, so be careful how you handle them. With that in mind, here are some workflow tips for dealing with file-based media in a tapeless world.

 

Tip 1 – Clone your camera cards or drives

 

With the exception of XDCAM and XDCAM-HD, all card and hard drive-based media recordings MUST be backed up for protection, because no one plans to leave the card on the shelf. The recommended practice is to “clone” the card, i.e. copy the card in an exact fashion to preserve the original format and codec and maintain its folder and file hierarchy. This step is often done on location using a laptop, so that cards can quickly be reformatted and used for further recordings during the same day. Card capacity has increased from 4GB to 64GB, but it’s important to realize that a large capacity card is not always the best choice. Yes, you can record all day, but that means you’re likely to spend the rest of the entire evening copying and verifying the cards. Even if you have a “data wrangler” on the crew, they will be sitting on their hands if the card is in the camera all day long.

 

Keep your back-ups native! Some folks have imported their media into FCP or Avid systems and then formatted the cards, thinking that their NLE-compatible media was protected. This may be the case if you also back up your working media drives or your drives are RAID-protected, but the logic is faulty. Once you have imported P2 DVCPRO HD or AVC-Intra files into most NLEs, those files have been altered. Depending on the format and NLE, they have either been rewrapped or transcoded. Destroying the original camera media is tantamount to shooting on film, transferring the film to video and then destroying the negative. If you have maintained a back-up of the camera media in its native form, then you can always go back to these files, should you decide to switch to a different NLE or your working media becomes corrupt.

 

OK, so we agree that you should back-up your files to match the cards. But how? There are lots of recipes for doing this, but I think the best all-around solution comes from Imagine Products. Their ShotPut software comes in Mac and Windows editions for P2, EX and RED. It’s designed to safely name folders and copy and verify files to as many as three destinations. Having multiple copies is important, because no media product is infallible. People theorize about burning their media to Blu-ray data discs as an archive, but the reality is that transfer rates, burning speeds and BD-R media costs make this unattractive. Other solutions, like LTO3 data tapes and RAID-5 arrays only appeal to a select few. The solution most producers settle on is to buy cheap commodity FireWire, USB or eSATA drives (Maxtor, LaCie, Western Digital, Hitachi, Seagate, etc.) and make at least two copies that will sit on the shelf. The hope is that at least one of these will still spin up and work a year or so down the road when you need to go back to this footage. Remember that this is in addition to the working media used during post production.

 

Tip 2 – Budget time and media costs

 

Capture time has been replaced by import time. When I work with videotape, I tend to select a handful of good options for each set-up or scene and digitize only those takes. As a result, I might capture about half of the tape, but this is offset by the review and logging time. Logging plus capture time takes about as long as the full running time of the tape.

 

With tapeless media, I bring it all in. Yes, I know, the various import modules, like FCP’s Log and Transfer let me cull the footage down, but I just don’t like working with them. I’d rather bring it all in and sort it out in the NLE, which brings us to the point about time and money. Starting a P2 or EX session for example, generally means mounting a cheap USB or FireWire drive and importing all the clips. Unfortunately you are working with one of the slower transfer rates available on computers. The average (good) copy time takes about an hour for every 100GB of data. A typical DVCPRO HD shoot recorded on P2 media might be a few hours of footage delivered on a 200GB USB drive. The import is faster than real time (compared to the running time of the footage), so about 7 hours of 720p DVCPRO HD (at 29.97pN) media might take about 2-4 hours to copy, based on your machine and drives. This is in addition to the original back-up time from the cards, of course. It’s slower with AVC-Intra, because some NLEs (such as FCP) have to transcode this codec during the import. On my MacBook Pro, the transcode to ProRes in FCP’s Log and transfer module was a little slower than real time.

 

RED footage makes time an even bigger issue. Most editors have been unhappy working with RED’s QuickTime reference files on substantial projects, like feature films. That’s because the QT reference files have to stay linked to the R3D camera raw files and are essentially “windows” that look into the 4K data and extract lower-resolution media on-the-fly. If you want to edit smoothly, then it’s important to transcode the raw files into something easier on your NLE, like DV25, DVCPRO HD, DNxHD or ProRes. In other words, edit using a standard offline/online approach to RED. Exporting transcoded R3D files with a general purpose computer is pretty tedious. Budget between a 3-to-1 and as much as a 20-to-1 ratio to go from RED One’s raw files to your NLE and be ready to start cutting.

 

Like any other tapeless media, RED camera files also need to be backed-up. REDcode is a variable bit rate codec based on wavelet compression. On average, the files (4096×2048, 2:1 aspect, 23.98fps) consume about 1.5GB for every minute of footage – or about 90GB per hour. An indie feature might shoot around 30 hours of footage, which puts that close to 3TB of required storage, just for the camera raw files. Times 2 if you rely on redundancy for extra safety. To compare, 1080p/23.98 DVCPRO HD would only use about half of that. Same for ProRes and about two-thirds for ProResHQ.

 

Tip 3 – Organizing files in your NLE

 

The hardest thing to get used to with file-based media is the cryptic naming conventions used by the cameras. When you import these files, you typically get long alphanumeric file names and not “Scene 1 / Take 1” or “Wide shot of person sitting on the bench”. Some NLEs will let you safely change the file or clip names. Others won’t. Avid has always let you do this, but it has traditionally been a no-no with Final Cut. Recent versions of FCP have made that safer with some formats, but I really urge you to resist the temptation. Remember that at some point you might need to relink media files or restore from the backed-up camera files. You are only going to be able to do this when the file name matches. Changing the name from “0014EF” to “Scene 7 / Take 3” might be fine and safe in an ideal world, but if all else fails and you have to resort to some type of manual search, keeping this name relationship the same will save your butt.

 

I recommend using one of the other bin description or comments columns as a place to assign a useful name. Both Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro include numerous descriptor columns, so feel free to use these for custom names. You can also easily search and sort these, giving you the best of both worlds.

 

The other organizing factor is reel ID. Since there are no tape reels in the tapeless world, NLEs vary in their approach. Software like that from Imagine Products will let you rename cards. This is a wise approach. All too often, I have been handed a drive containing the contents from several cloned P2 cards. A volume for each card will mount on the desktop (on a Mac), labeled “No Name 1”, “No Name 2” and so on. What do you think is going to be on the next day’s drive? Same thing! So I urge you to properly name the cards in a consistent manner, using either film style (camera rolls) or video style (tape numbers) labeling. This may or may not be important for your NLE, but it is imperative if you have to locate shots on these drives in the future.

 

Tip 4 – Cataloguing your footage

 

You have been shooting with your RED One or HVX-200 for a few months and have started to accumulate a bunch of small FireWire drives holding the footage from each project. That’s easy to do, because the drives are so cheap that you buy a new one for each shoot. Just charge it off as part of the production budget, like tape stock. That’s all well and good, but now these are starting to pile up just like the camera tapes you used to have in the library. What’s the next step?

 

The simple and obvious step is to physically label the drives – just like your tapes. No wait – better than you used to label the tapes! Before you get buried in a pile of portable hard drives, start a cataloguing system. There is plenty of software to choose from and can be as simple or elaborate as you need. The main criteria is that the process be quick and easy when you want to know what’s on each drive or where to look for something shot during a given production. Choices include Apple Final Cut Server, Imagine Products, Bento, Filemaker Pro, CatDV or just an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever it is, start doing it yesterday!

 

Tip 5 – Mastering

 

I know, I know – it’s a tapeless world. The truth is, I still feel very comfortable having my finished production on a piece of tape. Most of my clients still own some VTRs. If you have to revise a project a year down the road, it’s often easier to ingest a videotape master and make revisions than to reload the entire original project from data back-ups.

 

My favorite mastering procedure is to generate four outputs of my edited sequence. These include a final videotape master of the edited program that is mixed, color-corrected and includes all titles and graphics. In addition, I will output a videotape submaster that is “superless” (no titles) with the audio in “stems” (separated dialogue, effects and music). Such a submaster makes any of the common revisions very easy.

 

That’s two of the four. Next, I’ll also export self-contained media files (such as QuickTime movies) in these same configurations – final master and superless submaster. This level of simple and easy protection neatly fits into the budget of most producers. For example, an hour-long, 1080i, 8-bit uncompressed QuickTime file with stereo audio requires about 400GB of drive space. Dumping a master file onto a FireWire drive is still more expensive than an hour-long HDCAM tape, but you can work with the media, even if you don’t actually own or have access to the tape deck.

 

Careful planning, organization and a policy for data management and protection will help you survive and thrive in the transition from tape to files.

 

© 2008 Oliver Peters

Color Grading in FCP

As an editor/colorist, I’m comfortable with grading inside a number of NLEs, ranging from Avid Media Composer and Symphony to Apple Final Cut Pro. I’ve written about Apple Color before and like the application. There are many projects for which it is one of the best grading options; however, I also find that for quite a few projects, it’s still better to work inside of FCP and not use the roundtrip between Final Cut and Color.

 

Working with Color requires some prep time inside FCP in order to correctly set up the timeline for a successful roundtrip. This pre-flight time is necessary with feature-length projects, multi-clip timelines, as well as sequences with speed effects and other issues. Many clients don’t budget the necessary pre-flight time nor the rendering at the back end, so for these reasons, I find myself still doing advanced color correction/grading inside FCP – even for feature length indie films.

 

I’ve developed a recipe of go-to plug-ins and a grading workflow that help me to create the ideal look. My first step is to go through the timeline and fix any problems. The typical one I encounter (if someone else edited the project) is that video clips are spread across a number of vertical video tracks. Before I start grading, I will move all clips down to V1. The exception would be multi-track composites, which require several tracks. When you do this, be careful to check the edit points to make sure you maintain the correct cuts. Be sure you move the clip only vertically and don’t accidentally slide the clip a few frames out of its intended position.

 

Open playhead sync – a “color correction mode”

 

 

Once I’ve consolidated the clips to V1, then I change the playhead sync mode (located in the canvas pulldown menu) to Open. This loads the timeline into the viewer, so when you click on the viewer’s filter tab you will see the filters applied to the timeline clip where your cursor/playhead is parked. No clip double-clicking required. Working in this mode allows you to move from one clip to another, up and down the timeline, and immediately apply new filters or see which have already been applied. This mode allows you to operate FCP in a manner similar to Avid’s dedicated color correction mode, except that in FCP you can also apply and tweak other effects filters with the same windows open. Of course, I open the video scopes tool and set the timeline’s RT settings to permit real-time scopes. I prefer external hardware scopes, but absent a dedicated waveform monitor and vectorscope, I have been able to use the built-in software scopes to get the job done without any issues.

 

Lift – Gamma – Gain

 

 

Okay, now we’re ready to start grading. There are three main plug-ins to use: the built-in Final Cut Pro color corrector, the built-in 3-way and/or Magic Bullet Colorista. The basic color corrector is for simple things and gives you the ability to shift hue, but for me I go straight to one of the 3-way correctors. Colorista is a bit cleaner in my opinion than the FCP 3-way, but for most clips, I find the built-in 3-way to be just fine and performs better in real-time (unrendered). For the majority of the timeline, I will use the FCP 3-way to create a primary grade. Remember that in FCP, you can stack filters, which means you can pile up various color correction filters to affect the full screen area of the image. Doing so means you are using the filters in a way that is similar to applying several Secondary tabs in Color. For example, you could apply the 3-way and set the contrast, brightness, saturation and a neutral color balance for a clip. On top of that, you can apply a second 3-way (or other filter) and further affect the full screen image. Let’s say your client is trying to decide between a warmer or cooler look, you can try to do this all within a single filter, or you could apply three filters: one for neutral plus a second to tint the neutral tones to more red or a third to tint them to more blue. Enable/disable the filters to select betweens the two looks that you are trying to establish.

 

Secondary correction / color isolation

 

 

The two Apple color correctors include a color limiting function. This is often referred to as secondary correction or selective color isolation, because it works like a keyer to separate one color range from all the others. One of my recent projects was a horror film and the client wanted the color of blood enhanced. In many of these clips, I would apply one 3-way filter to grade the overall shot. Then I’d apply a second 3-way filter and set it to limit for the color of the blood. Once isolated, I could further adjust the color of the blood within the shot.

 

Shapes, windows, vignettes

 

 

A hallmark of the top drawer grading solutions from daVinci Systems is power windows. This feature lets the colorist isolate portions of the screen and apply a separate layer of grading. Artistic application of power windows permits the colorist to literally relight a scene. Apple Color allows you to do this within the interface, but you can get similar results in FCP by applying additional filters. My favorites are Face Light and Colorista. Face Light is a freebie created by Australian Marcus Herrick that has the affect of brightening the image within an oval area isolated by the plug-in. You can control its size, aspect, softness and opacity (level of brightness). It will also blur the highlighted area (good for softening facial wrinkles) and you have control over that, as well. If simply brightening a shot doesn’t bring out faces enough without blasting the highlights in the image, then I’ll use Face Light over the person’s face to add a bit more snap. You can keyframe the filter parameters and add as many in the stack as you like. Two or three people in the shot? Simply add a Face Light filter for each person.

 

 

Colorista works as a full screen filter, but you can also use it to perform the same function as Face Light. Colorista permits circle/oval or square/rectangle highlight areas. Full color grading may be applied inside (or outside) of the highlight. So Colorista is great for grading portions of the image, like the sky or a bright window. Neither filter permits freeform matte shapes, like daVinci or Color, but you can use the built-in FCP matte effects (or other available plug-ins) to draw mattes and apply the effect to a copy of the clip placed onto to V2.

 

One more common filter in my recipe is Vignette, another free filter from Herrick. One of the things clients like about filmic images are the distortion effects introduced by lenses. One of these is a vignette, where the outer edges of the image darken. Sometimes this is a natural byproduct, but often is artificially introduced by the DP. In any case, subtle use of the Vignette filter tends to focus attention towards the center of the frame and sells the image as more artistic. The filter I use not only lets you change the quality of the vignette, but adjust its position. Sometimes a vignette effect looks best when it’s off-center.

 

Special effects / stylized control of the image

 

 

As I grade, I am combining various filters to achieve my artistic goals. As a general rule, I stay away from the many stylized filter packages when I’m doing standard grading. There are many I like, including those from Nattress, Pistolero, Magic Bullet and Noise Industries, but I reserve such preset image effects as Technicolor, bleach bypass and chromatic glows for special cases, like flashbacks. The exception is Magic Bullet Looks. This is my go-to for more advanced effects that mimic in-camera filtering. For example, graduated filters, selective focus and swing-and-tilt lens effects are all in the Looks palette. Its results appear very photographic and the feature set includes quite a few color correction tools, like curves, which is missing from the regular FCP correction effects.

 

Staying legal

 

 

Once I’ve applied an artistic look to the project, there may be two more filters that I apply across the entire timeline for technical reasons, especially if the master is for broadcast television. The first is FCP’s Desaturate Highlights (or Lows) filter. There are two versions of this in the effects folder, but each has the same adjustments, except that either highlights or lows are enabled as the default. As you lower blacks and raise whites, dark colors like reds and blues get shoved to the lower boundaries of the video signal and bright colors like yellow get shoved higher. Extreme color grading may result in illegal video levels, so it helps to reduce the level of color saturation in the light and dark areas. Be subtle. The same for the Broadcast Safe filter, where I create a custom setting that’s not too harsh. I also disable RGB Limiting.

 

Here’s the trick to applying any filter across the board. Add the filter to one clip and set the values. Now copy-and-paste that filter to the browser. Remove it from the clip. Highlight all video clips in the timeline and drag-and-drop the filter from the browser to the highlighted timeline. If you have several filters to apply this way, make sure you maintain the proper order, so that the correct filters end up on top. In the case of Desaturate Hi/Lo and Broadcast Safe, these should be the topmost filters on each clip.

 

So that’s the recipe. All you have to do is render. I’ve found that adding this many filters to a 90 minute HD feature film takes hours to render – typically overnight for half of the film, even on a fast machine. So plan on two to three days for an indie feature – IF you are fast. Work in sections and then render overnight. Make sure you budget additional time so that you can evaluate the overnight render first thing in the morning. You will often find that you may not like everything you did once you see the grading in the cold light of day. When this happens, you want to have the time to tweak and re-render.

 

Click here for my FCP Resources page with links to some of these filters.

 

©2008 Oliver Peters