Avid Media Composer Power Tips

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Avid Media Composer might seem daunting to new users, but here are several “power user” tips to improve your editing experience.

1. Managing Bin Data

df_avidpwrtips_2_smCustom Sift – Creating filtering values for columns in the Custom Sift window lets the editor control the view and reduce clutter of a bin. For example, to see only your selected takes, create a Selects column in the bin and place an “x” in that column next to each selected clip. Now apply the custom sift filtered for those values and only these clips will be shown. Return to the unsifted view to see all clips in the bin.

df_avidpwrtips_11_smFind – The Find command (cmd-F on a Mac) opens the Find window. This can be used for text, script and phonetic dialogue searches (if the optional PhraseFind software was installed). For text searches, enter the text string, adjust the search parameters and go. Any matching clips will be displayed in this window. It’s a powerful tool that can be set to search all bins in the projects – not just the current, open bin. If you had a Selects column with an “x” marked for the best takes, you could use the Find window to show all selects for your entire production simply by setting the filter parameters accordingly. That works even when all the bins are closed.

2. Timeline Editing Tricks

df_avidpwrtips_3_smCollapse – Reduce your timeline’s video track complexity with the Collapse command. Collapsed clips enable you to add transitions in and out of complex, multi-layered effects. Highlight the clips and enable the tracks to be combined, click “collapse” and all the selected clips will be nested into a single container clip on the lowermost video track. Double-click the clip icon and the component pieces will be expanded vertically to reveal the contents for additional editing.

df_avidpwrtips_15_smReplace edit – One of the most useful editorial tools is the Replace Edit function. This is great when you need to eye-match shots to overcut one clip with another, or when syncing a sound effect to a visual cue. Mark the in/out points on the timeline clip and park the playhead over the frame that you want to sync to.  For instance, this might be someone jumping into the water. Next, load a new source clip, leave it unmarked and park the source at its sync point. In this case, it might be an audio clip with a sound effect of water splashing. Click the Replace Edit command to edit the new clip into place onto the audio tracks. The sound effect of the splash will coincide with the visual of the person hitting the water.

df_avidpwrtips_8_smTitle preview – The Avid Title Tool is a simple WYSIWYG titler that overlays text onto a reference image from the parked position on the timeline. The default is an aliased display for faster operation, but selecting Preview in the Title Tool’s top menu will display an anti-aliased version that better represents the final quality of the rendered text.

3. Audio Control

df_avidpwrtips_6_smAudio effects – Media Composer offers two plug-in types for audio filters. Audiosuite filters are clip-based plug-ins. These can be previewed in real-time, but must be rendered to be applied to the clip. RTAS plug-ins are real-time, track-based audio effects. Up to five filters can be applied to each track. Real-time performance is subject to processor and RAM demands, of course. Media Composer ships with a set of Digirack and AIR audio plug-ins. Many third-party native RTAS filters for Pro Tools will also work in Media Composer.

df_avidpwrtips_7_smAudio mixing – Avid enables three ways to mix audio within Media Composer: clip volume level settings, rubberbanding keyframes within the track and automation mixing. The mixer panel defaults to clip for an overall setting of volume/pan for the clips under the playhead. Toggle the mixer mode button to access automation mixing. This lets the editor write a real-time volume pass by adjusting the fader levels with the mouse (or an external control surface) on-the-fly. In addition, keyframes can be inserted onto the timeline track and then adjusted for proper level.

4. Video Effects

df_avidpwrtips_12_smAdjustment layers – Avid does not define tracks or effects as adjustment layers like in Adobe Photoshop or After Effects. Nevertheless, effects may be added to empty, higher tracks and these affect all the clips below. For example, if you want to change the color correction for the entire range of clips on V1, simply apply a color correction setting to the empty filler on V2. One example where this is useful is when you have cameras that record an image with a flat, log profile. Simply apply a curves setting on V2 to function as a viewing LUT for all of the images below it on the timeline.

df_avidpwrtips_4_smCopy/paste effects – To copy an effect with adjusted settings, simply drag the effect icon from the effects editor window to an open bin. To apply that effect to another clip on the timeline, drag the effect from the bin to the clip. Alternatively, you can highlight one or more clips and double-click the effect icon in the bin. It will then apply this effect with its settings to all of the highlighted clips.

df_avidpwrtips_13_smFluidmotion and Timewarp – Media Composer’s motion tools are some of the best to be found in any NLE. Timewarp is used for advanced retiming or timeline-based speed effects. Fluidmotion is an optical flow-style process that creates in-between frames. Together they provide similar results to that of the RE:Vision Twixtor plug-in. Apply a Timewarp effect to a clip and adjust the motion effects editor for the desired result. There you can also adjust the quality settings by changing the interpolation mode from the Type pulldown menu. Fluidmotion will provide the smoothest results, but there are other options when you prefer faster processing over quality.

df_avidpwrtips_14_smStabilization – A lesser-known feature is Avid’s cloud-point stabilizer. Apply the Stabilize effect to a timeline clip, select FluidStabilizer from the tracking window and start the track. Media Composer will automatically track the image without any user-defined tracking points. It will then apply real-time scale and position adjustments, which can be altered by the editor.

 5. Media Management

df_avidpwrtips_5_smIntermediate renders – Media Composer effects can be rendered at any level, not just the topmost video track. If you apply effects to clips on V1 and render that layer, clips and effects added above it on V2 will not unlink the V1 render files. This is also true if you subsequently remove the clips on V2. This architecture makes it possible to render complex effects at various “in-progress” stages for easy effects creation, better real-time response and with less processing time needed for the final render.

df_avidpwrtips_9_smMXF imports – A number of applications can render Avid-compliant MXF media files. There are several ways to import these into your Media Composer projects. First, the MXF media files should be placed into a new numbered subfolder inside the Avid MediaFiles/MXF folder on one of your hard drives. When you launch Media Composer, the software will scan the drives and index the new media. If a corresponding AAF file was created for this media by the other application, simply import the AAF file and the media clips will be relinked in the bin. If no AAF file was created, you can drag the Avid database file (labeled “msmMMOB.mdb”) from the numbered MediaFiles folder into an empty bin. Lastly, you can also use the Avid Media Tool from the top menu to access the clips and drag them into an empty bin.

df_avidpwrtips_10_smSAS QT reference movies – Avid supports the ability to export sequences in the QuickTime reference movie format. To maintain video quality, these should be exported using the Avid codec “same as source” setting. This is a fast export and the resulting QuickTime reference file is wrapped in a .MOV container, but uses one of the Avid codecs. When these files are converted to another format, like H.264 or Apple ProRes in an encoder, such as Apple Compressor, the transcoded file will have proper video levels.

df_avidpwrtips_16_smAutomatic Duck Media Copy – While not an Avid product, Automatic Duck’s Media Copy program (still available for free at automaticduck.com) is ideal for archiving media tied to a specific project or sequence. It has the ability to read into Avid bin files to identify sequences and the associated media. From there, it will copy only the media used in the cut to a designated folder. This may be moved or archived for later use.

Click here for “Avid Media Composer Tips for the FCP Switcher”.

For two great books to improve your Avid abilities, check out Ben Hershleder’s Avid Media Composer 6.x Cookbook and Steve Cohen’s Avid Agility.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters

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