Stocking Stuffers for Editors

Whether it’s the holiday season or just taxes, the end of the year is often a time when production and post folks add a few goodies to their toolkits. Here are just a few suggestions of things to put under the tree for that editor in your life.

Storage – You can never have enough and it’s cheaper than ever. In fact, adding more hard drive capacity will likely have a greater direct impact on your workflow and efficiency than other upgrades. Ironically, many editors buy a Mac Pro or PC tower and never bump up the internal storage. In the case of a Mac Pro, you have four internal drive slots and new drives couldn’t be easier to install. I bought my tower with two 640GB drives for applications, documents and studio software components (stock animation, graphics, sound effects, music, etc.). Later I dropped in two more 1TB drives to create an internal media RAID (striped as RAID-0) for a 2TB working pool.

I’m partial to Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB raw drives (3.5” eSATA 7200RPM), but Seagate and Hitachi also offer a number of great options. These typically go for around $100 – $130, but I picked up some for $60 each during the Black Friday sales at Best Buy. These are also great for archiving media from finished projects. I connect a Thermaltake drive dock, pop in the drive and copy what I need. Some adventurous souls have even moved their Mac’s boot drive into the space for a second optical drive and populated all four Mac Pro drive trays with 2TB drives – creating an internal 8TB RAID! That’s officially an unsupported configuration, but by all accounts, seems to work just fine.

Audio monitoring – As long as we are looking at hardware upgrades… What about audio? Many small edit bays are equipped with the cheapest audio monitoring available and it’s a good place to start bringing things up a notch. I recently dumped my Altec computer speakers for a pair of Avid M-Audio AV-40 powered speakers and a Mackie 402-VLZ3 desktop mixer. I also sprung for the Auralex MoPAD speaker isolation wedges to angle them properly and eliminate reverberation through the desk surface. Although the Mackie is really just a glorified volume knob, it really does help with how the room feels. My audio signal chain passes through an Avid Mbox2 Mini to the Mackie and then to the speakers. Other mixer and speaker options I would suggest include products from Behringer and KRK, respectively.

PHYXware – If you use Noise Industries FxFactory filters or Shake, then you’re probably aware of the PHYX plug-ins (Color, Keyer, Cleaner). I’ve reviewed PHYX Color, but I recently had a chance to use PHYX Keyer on a tough After Effects green-screen job. On the forums, editors are constantly asking about better keying tools – especially working with Final Cut Pro. PHYX Keyer is a very powerful set of tools, especially when combined with what’s already included in After Effects. Plus it works great with FCP and Motion.

Focusrite Scarlett Plug-in Suite – Plug-ins are audio, too! Most NLEs and suites includes some decent audio filters. That’s especially true with Apple’s Final Cut Studio and Soundtrack Pro. But sometimes you want more. One cool set of audio filters is the Scarlett suite from Focusrite. These come in VST, AU and RTAS formats, so they work in Avid Media Composer 5 and Pro Tools, as well as Soundtrack Pro. The filter GUIs mimic Focusrite’s Red series of analog products, complete with a classic port-hole VU meter. The sound is very clean and the filter set includes a compressor, EQ, gate and reverb plug-in.

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Photolooks – If you’ve used Looks, then you know what it can do. Photolooks adds that power to Adobe Photoshop. The recently released 1.5 update extends the same functionality to Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom. The same installation covers all three apps, so no need to bounce out to Photoshop just to add some effects to your photographs.

Singular Software PluralEyes – This is as close to magic as any software gets. I’ve discussed it numerous times since it was first released for Final Cut. In that time, Singular has released versions for others NLEs, as well as the standalone DualEyes product. I had occasion to use it again this past week and was once again blown away by the work it saved me.

I had three hours worth of wild meeting footage taped on two Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras (a total of six hours of raw footage). The audio was recorded as double-system sound on a Zoom H4n recorder. No matching timecode and almost no slates to speak of, as the crew was supposed to be unobtrusive. I was able to toss the whole thing at PluralEyes and have the entire collection of clips synced in about an hour!

Automatic Duck Media Copy – The various Pro Import and Pro Export programs set the gold standard for timeline translation, but an offshoot of this development is Media Copy. Automatic Duck has released a newly updated version that works well for both Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro. It’s super-simple to operate. Simply toss it a sequence or bin and it will find and copy all the associated media. This is especially useful for Avid Media Composer editors, where the MXF-based Avid MediaFiles folder is a bit of a “black hole”. Media Copy is the ideal way to find and copy your files for archiving or moving the session to a remote location.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

©2010 Oliver Peters