Avid Media Composer Tips for the FCP Switcher

The new (or renewed) interest in Avid Media Composer was fueled by the launch of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and aided by Avid’s cross-grade promotional price. This move has many experienced FCP editors investigating the nuances of what seems like a completely foreign interface to some. Tutorial DVDs, like Steve Hullfish’s Avid Media Composer for Final Cut Pro Users from Class On Demand, are a great start. With experience, editors start to see more similarities than differences. Here are a few pointers of mine to help you find your comfort zone.

Multiple sequences  – FCP editors like working with multiple, tabbed sequences in the timeline window and find this lacking in Media Composer. In fact, it’s there, just not in the same way. Under the pulldown menu in the upper right corner of the record window (Canvas in FCP parlance), Media Composer editors have quick access to any previously opened sequence. Although only one is displayed in the timeline at any given time, you can quickly switch to another sequence by selecting it in this menu.

Displaying source waveforms and sequences clips – In FCP 7 or earlier, having tabbed sequences makes it easy to use a section of one sequence as a source to paste into another sequence. In addition, when reviewing audio-only clips, the waveform is displayed in the Viewer to easily mark in and out points based on the waveform. A similar feature exists in Media Composer. At the lower left corner of the timeline window is a toggle icon, which switches the window display between the source (Viewer) and record (Canvas) timelines. To use a sequence as an edit source, simply drag it from the bin into the source window. Then toggle the source/record icon to display the source’s timeline. The playhead bar or current timeline indicator will be bright green whenever you are working in the source timeline. If you have an audio-only clip, doing the same and enabling waveforms will display the source clip track with its corresponding waveform pattern.

Multiple projects – Another FCP favorite is the ability to have more than one project open at once. The Media Composer equivalent to this is Open Bin. This enables the editor to access any bin from any other project. Opening bins from other projects gives you full access to the master clips and associated metadata. In turn, that information is tracked as part of your current project going forward. Media Composer’s Find command is also active with these other bins.

Oversized images – Media Composer has traditionally been locked into standard broadcast NTSC, PAL and HD frame sizes. When it comes to dealing with higher-resolution images, Media Composer offers two solutions: the built-in Avid Pan & Zoom plug-in and Avid FX. Both of these function nicely for doing camera-style moves on bigger-than-TV-raster images. If you want to preserve the resolution of a 3500 x 3500 pixel still photo, while zooming into it, Media Composer is perfectly capable of accomplishing the task. Edit a placeholder clip to the timeline, apply the Pan & Zoom filter to it. From the effects editor, access the high-res file, which will replace the placeholder content. Finally, program your keyframes for the move.

AvidFX – One of the “stealth” features of Media Composer is that it comes with Avid FX, an OEM version of Boris RED designed to integrate into Avid host systems. Apply an AvidFX filter to a clip and launch the separate interface to open a complete effects, titling and compositing environment. Not only can you apply effects to your timeline clips or import and manipulate high-res stills, but you can also import other QuickTime movies from your drives that aren’t part of the Avid project. AvidFX also includes its own set of Boris Continuum Complete and Final Effects Complete filters, even if the BCC or FEC products haven’t been separately installed into Media Composer.

Open timeline/frame rate mix and match – FCP is known for dealing with a wide range of formats, but in fact, Media Composer is superb at mixing frame rates and sizes in real-time. For example, freely mix SD and HD clips on an HD timeline and Media Composer will automatically scale up the SD clips. However, you can quickly change the format of the project to SD and Media Composer takes care of applying the opposite scale parameters, so that SD clips appear normal and HD clips are scaled down to fit into the SD raster. In addition, codecs and frame rates can also be mixed within the same sequence. Put 23.976fps clips into a 29.97fps timeline or vice versa and Avid’s FluidMotion technology takes care of cadence and frame rate adjustments for seamless playback and blending in real-time.

Smart Tool – Easy editing within the timeline by using the mouse or keystrokes has long been a hallmark of FCP. Avid’s product designers sought to counter this (and add their own twists) with the introduction of Smart Tool. When enabled, it offers contextual timeline editing. Hovering the curser over the top or bottom of a clip  – or close to the top, bottom, right, center or left side of a cut – will change the function you can perform when clicking and dragging with the mouse. It takes a while to get comfortable with Smart Tool and many veteran Avid editors aren’t big fans. Nevertheless, editors who’ve adapted to it can quickly re-arrange clips and trim edit points in much the same way as FCP editors use the Selection and Rolling Edit keys.

Perforation-slipping – Edit accuracy on either NLE is limited to a one-frame interval, but a little known feature is the ability to trim the sync of audio to less than one video frame. Few editors know how to do that in either application. While FCP allows sample-based adjustments, Media Composer does this with a technique borrowed from its film editing heritage. Start by creating your project as a film project (even for non-film media), which enables the Slip Perf Left/Right commands. Standard 35mm film uses four sprocket holes (perforations) per frame, which equates to quarter-frame accuracy. Using the Slip Perf commands is a great way to adjust the accuracy of sound sync on subclips in double-system recordings, such as when an HDSLR camera and separate audio recorder were used.

AMA – The first instinct of many young editors is to start a project by dragging media from anywhere on the hard drives into the project and start editing. FCP facilitated this style of working, whereas Media Composer traditionally was structured with a rigid routine for importing and capturing media. Avid Media Access (AMA) is a solution to bring more of that “drag-and-drop” world into Media Composer. You may either Link to AMA File(s) or Link to AMA Volume(s), depending on whether you wish to mount entire drives or partitions, such as with P2 cards, or simply want to import individual files. Conceived as a process similar to FCP’s Log and Transfer, AMA also lets you edit directly from native files. The recommended workflow is a hybrid approach: load your clips via AMA; cull down selects; and then transcode just those clips into optimized Avid media. In either case, you have immediate access to native media, as long as there’s an AMA camera plug-in for it. This includes RED, Canon XF, P2, XDCAM and most QuickTime-based camera file formats, such as ARRI ALEXA and Canon HDSLRs.

ProRes – Ever since Apple introduced the ProRes codec family, it has been gaining share as an acquisition, edit and delivery format – thanks to the ubiquitous nature of QuickTime. It has become ingrained into many FCP editing workflows, so media compatibility is important in considering a switch. Media Composer version 6 now supports native ProRes media. Apple ProRes QuickTime files can be imported on both Mac and PC versions, but in addition, Mac Media Composers can render and export natively to ProRes, as well. When the files are ingested using the standard (non-AMA) method, the ProRes files are “fast imported”. This means the media is copied without conversion and the container is rewrapped from a .mov to .mxf format. Avid takes care of maintaining proper levels without the dreaded QuickTime gamma shift. For FCP editors moving to Media Composer, this means easy access to existing media files from past projects using one of two import methods – native ProRes import or AMA linking.

Resolve roundtrip – Both NLEs have good, built-in color correction tools, but Final Cut users who needed more grading horsepower turned to Apple Color. With the demise of Color, DaVinci Resolve has taken up the mantle as the preferred desktop grading tool. It becomes the perfect outboard grading companion when used in conjunction with Media Composer. Even the free Resolve Lite version can read and write MXF media. Start by exporting an AAF file for your edited Media Composer sequence. Make sure the Resolve Media Pool includes the location of your Avid media files. Then import the AAF into Resolve, which in turn links to the MXF media. Grade the clips as usual, render and export using the Avid roundtrip preset along with the corresponding AAF file. The folder of rendered Resolve media (in the MXF format) should be renamed with a number and moved into the Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder. When the corresponding AAF file is imported into your Media Composer project, the new sequence will be automatically relinked to these graded MXF files.

Open I/O – FCP users have enjoyed a wide range of capture and output hardware options and that same flexibility came to Media Composer with version 6. Both Media Composer and Symphony run as software-only applications, as well as with capture devices for any of five third-party companies: AJA, Blackmagic Design, BlueFish444, Matrox and MOTU. Plus Avid’s own gear, of course. Set up your Media Composer project as you normally would and the card or external device just simply works. No need to directly alter any card settings. Since the existing hardware from most existing FCP installations can still be used, Media Composer becomes another available application for the arsenal. This has made switching a “no-brainer” for many FCP editors.

Two links for the best 200 Media Composer tutorials for beginners on the web (Mac readers should view these in FireFox, not Safari or Chrome):

Douglas Bruce’s First 100 Basic MC Tutorials

Douglas Bruce’s Next 100 Basic MC Tutorials

Originally written for DV magazine/Creative Planet/NewBay Media, LLC

©2012 Oliver Peters