Offline to Online with Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X

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Most NLE makers are pushing the ability to edit with native camera media, but there are still plenty of reasons to work in an offline-to-online editing workflow. Both Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro CC make it very easy to do this.

Apple Final Cut Pro X

df_offon_2Apple built offline/online right into the design of FCP X. The application can internally transcode optimized media (such as converting GoPro files to ProRes) and proxy media. Proxy media is usually a half-sized version using the ProRes Proxy codec. There’s a preference toggle to switch between original/optimized or proxy media, with FCP X taking care of making sure all transforms and effects are applied properly between both selections.

df_offon_3What most folks don’t know is that you can “cheat” this system. If you import media and choose to copy it into your Event folder, then source media is stored in the Original Media folder within the Event folder. If you create proxies, those files are stored in the Transcoded Media – Proxy Media folder within the Event folder. It is possible to create and place these folders via the Finder. You just have to be careful about exact name and location. Once you do this, it is possible via the Finder, to copy camera media and edit proxies directly into these folders. For example, your DIT might have created proxies for you on location, using Resolve.

df_offon_4Once you launch FCP X, it will automatically find these files. The main criteria is that file names, timecode and duration are identical between the two sets of files. If X properly recognizes the files, you can easily toggle between original/optimized and proxy with the application behaving correctly. If you are unsure of creating these folders in the first place, then I suggest setting these up within FCP X by importing and transcoding a single bogus clip, like a slate or camera bars. Once the folders are set by FCP X, delete this first clip. DO NOT mix the workflows by importing/transcoding some of the clips via FCP X and then later altering or replacing these clips via the Finder. This will completely confuse X. With these few caveats, it is possible to set up a multi-user offline-online workflow using externally-generated media, but still maintaining control via FCP X.

UPDATE: With the FCP X 10.1 update, you must generate proxies with FCP X. Externally-generated proxies do not link as they did up to 10.0.9.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

df_offon_5A more customary solution is available to Adobe editors thanks to the new Link and Locate feature. A common scenario is that editors might cut a spot in an offline edit session using proxy edit media – such as low-res files with timecode “burn-ins”. Then the camera files are color corrected in an outside grading session and rendered as final, trimmed clips that match the timeline clip lengths, with a few seconds of “handles”. Now the editor has to conform the sequence by linking to the new high-res, graded files.

With Premiere Pro CC you’d start the process in the normal manner by ingesting and cutting with the proxy files. When the cut is locked, create a trimmed project for the sequence, using the same handle length as the colorist will use. This is created using the Project Manger and you can select the option to make the clips Offline. Next, send an EDL or XML file for your locked cut, plus the camera media to the colorist.

df_offon_6Once you get the graded files back, open your trimmed Premiere Pro project. All media will be offline. Select the master clips and pick the Link Media option to open the Link Media dialogue window. Using the Match File Properties settings, set the parameters so that Premiere Pro will properly link to the altered files. Sometimes files names will be different, so you will have to adjust the the Link and Locate parameters accordingly, by deselecting certain matching options. For example, you might want a match strictly by timecode, ignoring file names.

Press Locate and navigate to the new location of the first missing file and relink. Normally all other clips in the same relative path will automatically relink, as well. Now you’ve got your edited sequence back, except with media populated by the final, high-quality files.

©2013 Oliver Peters

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iZotope RX 2 Advanced

df_izotope_1_smiZotope is known as a company that makes software and hardware, including high-quality plug-ins for mastering, noise reduction and audio restoration. A number of applications come bundled with some of their tools, most notably Sony Sound Forge Pro, Adobe Audition CC and Premiere Pro CC. As with most plug-in developers, iZotope offers a nice family of effects that can be installed and run on a variety of audio and video host applications. In addition, iZotope also offers its own host application called RX 2. It runs as a standalone single track (mono or stereo) audio application that leverages the power of the iZotope DSP and forms a dedicated repair and mastering suite. RX 2 is ideal for any music, audio production or video post production challenge. It can read most standard audio files, but cannot directly work on an audio track embedded within a video file, like a QuickTime movie.

iZotope RX 2 comes in a standard and advanced version. Both include such modules as Denoiser, Spectral Repair, Declip, Declick, Decrackle, Hum Removal, EQ and Channel Operations. RX 2 Advanced also adds adaptive noise reduction, third-party plug-in support, a Deconstruct module, dithering, 64-bit sample rate conversion, iZotope’s Radius time and pitch control, as well as azimuth alignment for the restoration of poor recordings from audiotape. Of course, RX 2 is also useful as a standard file-based audio editor, with delete, insert and replace functions.

Both versions are engineered around sophisticated spectral analysis. The RX 2 display superimposes the spectral graph with the audio waveform and gives you a balance slider control to adjust their relative visibilities. If you’ve used any Adobe audio software that included spectral-based repair tools, like SoundBooth or Audition, then you already know how this works in RX 2. Frequencies can be isolated using the spectral display or unwanted noises can be “lassoed” and then corrected or removed.  RX 2 also includes an unlimited level of undos and retains a current state history. When you return to the program it picks up where you left off. It also holds four temporary history locations or “snapshots”, that are ideal for comparing the audio with or without certain processing applied.

df_izotope_2_smThe iZotope RX 2 interface is designed for efficient operation with all available modules running down the right side of the window, as well as being accessible from the top menu. Click a module button and the specific iZotope plug-in window opens for that task. There you can make adjustments to the parameters or save and recall presets. Unlike a DAW application, the modules/plug-ins must be previewed from the plug-in window and then applied to process your audio file. You cannot add multiple modules and have them all run in real-time without processing the audio to a buffer first. That’s where the four temporary history buttons come in handy, as you can quickly toggle between several versions of applied effects on the same audio file for comparison. RX 2 includes a batch processor that can run in the background. If you have a group of modules to be applied to a series of audio files, simply set up a preset of those settings and apply them to the batch of files.

When you install the RX 2 package, the iZotope modules are also available as plug-ins within other compatible applications. For example, on my Mac Pro, these plug-ins show up and work within Final Cut Pro X. Now with RX 2 Advanced, it works the other way, too. Any AU, VST, RTAS or Direct-X plug-in installed on your computer can be accessed from the RX 2 Advanced interface. In my case, that includes some Waves, Focusrite and Final Cut Audio Units effects filters. If I want to use the Waves Vocalrider plug-in to smooth out the dynamics of a voice-over recording, I simply access it as a plug-in, select a preset or make manual adjustments, preview and process – just like with the native iZotope plug-ins.

RX 2 Advanced also adds an adaptive noise mode to the Denoiser module. This is ideal for noisy on-location production, where the conditions change during the course of the recording. For instance, an air conditioner going on and off within a single recorded track. Another unique feature in RX 2 Advanced is a new Deconstruct module. This tool lets you break down a recording into parts for further analysis and/or correction. For example, you can separate noise from desired tonal elements and adjust the balance between them.

iZotope’s RX 2 and RX 2 Advanced are one-stop applications for cleaning up bad audio. Some of these tools overlap with what you may already own, but if you need to do a lot of this type of work, then RX 2 will be more efficient and adds more capabilities. In September 2013, iZotope will release the updates for RX3 and RX3 Advanced. iZotope’s algorithms are some of the best on the market, so sonic quality is never compromised. Whether it’s poorly recorded audio or restoring archival material, RX 2 or RX 3 offer a toolkit that’s perfect for the task.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

More thoughts about Adobe’s Creative Cloud

df_adobecloud_1Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in June Adobe switched its access to software from a licensed ownership to a subscription model. After a year of offering both options – perpetual licenses and subscription – Adobe has decided to go all-in on subscriptions for the latest version of its creative tools, while continuing to offer perpetual licenses only for Adobe CS6 products. Adobe has branded these offerings under two divisions – the Creative Cloud (content creation software) and the Marketing Cloud (back-end web, marketing and analysis software). This move changes your interaction with Adobe’s software from one of purchasing a product to one of purchasing a service that includes software tools as part of the package.

Predictably, many creative professionals have been in an uproar, because continued access to your Adobe software-based project files means that you need to maintain a valid subscription for that software to function. There are many pros and cons in this argument and some users will find it a really good deal, while others could end up paying more per year, depending on their previous upgrade cycles. Let me try to clarify some of the issues. First, the term “cloud” tends to be misunderstood. In the case of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the software you choose to use is downloaded and locally installed on your computer. Any Creative Cloud application version carries the suffix CC instead of CS (as in CS6). There are additional cloud-based services hosted by Adobe’s servers that are available to subscribers, who are free to use or not use these as they see fit.

Just the facts, ma’am.

You do not have to maintain a constant internet connection to use the installed software, but it does ping Adobe’s authorization servers monthly to check your account status. Lack of a successful account check kicks the software into a trial mode for a period of time before the software is completely de-authorized and cannot be opened. In the case of people paying by the month, there’s a 30-day grace period. For those who have paid for a year in advance, it’s 180 days. Cloud subscriptions can be purchased for single applications or as individual, Team or Enterprise accounts. Individual users can install and simultaneously run any Adobe software on up to two machines (Mac and/or PC), while Team accounts are valid for only one machine per authorized user. Individual subscribers must download software separately to each machine; but, there is an option for Team and Enterprise users to install localized, server-based tools for simplified installation across multiple workstations.

For most people, the big plus to the Adobe Creative Cloud is access to the entire repertoire of Adobe content creation tools for web, print, photography and video. For the cost of the single subscription, you have access to use any of the applications formerly known as the Master Collection, as well as Lightroom. If you bought the Creative Suite 6 Master Collection today, that would run you $2,599 (plus Lightroom). Version upgrades have been in the $600 range and Adobe had been on an annual cycle of updates. Now with Creative Cloud, the equivalent software “bundle” costs $49.99/month without the initial outlay up front to own it. Of course, that’s the rub for many users, because when you quit paying, you can no longer open, edit or export legacy projects. The truth of the matter is that your software doesn’t just go “poof” and vanish from your hard drive. If you needed to re-activate a subscription six months later, then it would simply be a matter of renewing your account for as little as a few months to get you through your project revisions.

Advantages of the Cloud

There are several selling points to the Creative Cloud that have even skeptics coming on board. Up-to-date software is a big one. When you first install Creative Cloud, a new resident desktop management tool is installed, which replaces the former Adobe Application Manager. The Creative Cloud desktop application manages which software is installed and up-to-date, including both perpetual CS6 and subscribed CC versions. Adobe’s intent is to offer faster version updates, feature additions and bug fixes through the cloud delivery model.

If you are on a Mac, then pending Creative Cloud updates are also flagged through the OS X Notification Center. You control when to install an update. To date, Adobe has already delivered several updates with bug fixes and new features. The desktop application seems to work reasonably well, but I have experienced some download issues. My recommendation is to use it for updates or additional downloads only after a computer restart for best results.

By using this software-as-a-service model, Adobe is no longer bound by the arcane policies surrounding the timing of feature improvements, which are a by-product of the Sarbanes Oxley regulations. Instead, Adobe is free to update features when they are viable, rather than hold off to wait for quarterly revenue cycles.

Customers focused on one line of business, like only video or only photography, have a real advantage in this new scheme. For no additional cost, Adobe has now given you access to the software necessary to add new revenue streams. Want to add website design services? The Creative Cloud desktop application makes this easy. If you started with a handful of video apps and now want to download and add a few print or web applications, then simply click the additional software to install them.

Value added services

Aside from access to Adobe’s software, the Creative Cloud is an effort by Adobe to build a community and become a one-stop creative resource for its users. Not all of the options have been fully implemented yet.  Using the Creative Cloud desktop application you will be able to upload and share project files, sync application settings, install additional fonts and join the Behance design community. The latter is a portfolio site geared towards photographers and graphic designers. It supports video samples, but is not as well-known to video editors as YouTube or Vimeo. Adobe will also host up to five websites per account.

Adobe offers each user up to 20GB of online storage backed by Amazon. Unfortunately access to this storage hasn’t been integrated into the desktop tool and requires access through a web browser. You can store files there and allow others to download them, but video files do not play from within a browser. They must be downloaded and viewed locally. All-in-all, these services are a nice add-on. If your main focus is video, though, these are not yet an appropriate replacement for Apple’s old iDisk, Vimeo, DropBox or even a service like Sorenson360. Adobe is aware of this and has indicated that improving the Creative Cloud’s video-related services as a priority going forward.

Adobe has sought to respond to the flak surrounding software de-authorization when you end a subscription. Although a number of potential solutions have been posed – such as read-only access to past project files – there have not been any definitive announcements yet. Photoshop CC and After Effects CC do offer some backwards compatibility, but Premiere Pro CC is only forward-compatible. That means, you can migrate a project from Premiere Pro CS6 to Premiere Pro CC, but not in the reverse direction. Actual users of the Creative Cloud seem less concerned, but if this is an issue in your mind, then make sure to export your project in forms that ensure some compatibility, including XMLs, EDLs and superless, textless master files.

Conclusion

Whether or not the Adobe Creative Cloud is a good deal for you depends on many variables. Here are two anecdotal examples. A local college uses plenty of Adobe software across several departments, including graphic design, photography, digital media and film technology. That’s likely to be several hundred computers across several campuses. Four more licenses of the Creative Cloud just within the film program adds approximately $1400 annually to that department’s budget. Often upgrades of hardware and software are done via grants and don’t happen on a regular and predictable annual basis. Moving an entire school to a Cloud plan, means a big change in how such software is purchased, because it changes from being an asset to a monthly expense.

In example two, look at a company that forms around a single project. This is common of limited corporations formed to produce a single film and then close their doors when it’s done. Often they need software to edit and do effects, but also to cover they own print and web marketing needs. In this example, the Creative Cloud is perfect, because all of Adobe’s relevant software is available to them for a monthly charge. Simply put a small Team account in place for the year that the company exists and the net cost is much less than compared with the perpetual license model. For this type of client, there’s no ongoing value to the software as a tangible asset once the corporation is dissolved.

The Adobe Creative Cloud will come across as a good deal for many. It has afforded a lot of individual users the ability to “come clean” with legal access to all of Adobe’s content creation software on what, for many, amounts to one billable hour per month. Larger users, like production companies, broadcasters, ad agencies and corporate users seem very excited about being able to put any Adobe application on any computer in their operation (depending on their subscription plan). The extra Cloud services like Behance and 20GB of online storage are icing on the cake that can save money elsewhere by replacing other paid services. I suspect once the ruckus over the subscription model settles down, for better or worse, many other software companies will follow Adobe’s trek down this pioneering trail.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

Rampant Design Tools

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Editors love to play with effects and filters. It’s one of the things that has driven the FCP X market. No matter what NLE you use, filters and transitions are almost always proprietary to that application. You can’t use a Motion template in any other application than Final Cut or Motion. Often the best solution is to use effects elements in the form of media rather than plug-ins. This way your effects are transportable between offline and online editors, different editing applications and different computing platforms. They are also correctly translated as part of a sequence sent out as an EDL, XML or AAF file. This is something to think about for Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers, who might be reticent to buy a lot of plug-ins that are locked to a host application that they now don’t own.

df_rdt_2_smOne company leading the way in new effects and design elements is Rampant Design Tools. The designer behind the company is visual effects wiz Sean Mullen. For the sake of full disclosure, Sean and I have worked together in the past and so I’ve been able to test and play with a lot of his products. The Rampant Design Tools products cover a wide range of styles, but coming from a VFX background, Sean has included a lot of elements that are useful for effects compositing, including flares, light flashes, dust, gunfire, smoke, fog, dirt, scratches and more. All elements are QuickTime-based, using common codecs. Typically these are Photo-JPEG or PNG, depending on whether or not they need to be keyable.

df_rdt_3_smNew products include animated backgrounds, matte transitions, textures and optical effects. I’m particularly fond of his Bokeh elements, which make really tasteful backgrounds. Rampant has also added stock music and After Effects templates for a more rounded product offering. It’s important to note, that while these are drag-and-drop effects, they do come from a compositor’s sensibility. By this I mean, they are there to play with, combine and modify to taste. For example, changing blend modes or filling a keyable transition clip with other “fill” media will completely change the look of the effect in a way that makes it more unique. Yes, you can use them “as is”, but you also have the latitude to get out of the “cookie cutter” mindset. To help users expand their creativity, the Rampant Design Tools website includes tutorials, a blog and a community section.

df_rdt_4_smThis post doesn’t need an in-depth review. The products are self-explanatory and work in any editing and compositing application that can read QuickTime files. The quality of the tools are fine – designed by an experienced compositor for other artists. If you don’t want to be locked into plug-ins that might not work with the next version or OS change, then Rampant Design Tools could just fit the bill.

©2013 Oliver Peters

Southeast Creative Summit

df_summitJust a quick reminder that the Southeast Creative Summit is just around the corner.  I’ll be involved as part of the upcoming Southeast Creative Summit in Atlanta, October 25-27. It’s a jam-packed agenda put together by the good folks at the Atlanta Cutters Post Production User Group. This will be a solid weekend of workshops, sessions and presentations, complete with Saturday nights’ Atlanta Creative Ball social event. All located at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. The workshops cover a wide range of topics, including editing, color correction, sound design and the business of post production.

Click here for more details and event registration.

I hope to see you there. Cheers!

©2013 Oliver Peters