NLE Tips – Premiere Pro Workflow Guide

Avid Media Composer is still the king of the hill when it comes to editing feature films and other long-form projects. However, Adobe also has a strong and ever-growing presence with many editors of notable TV shows, documentaries, and dramatic feature films using Premiere Pro as their NLE of choice. Adobe maintains a close relationship with many of these users, often seeding early versions of advanced features to them, as well as seeing what workflow pain points they encounter.

This battle-testing led Adobe to release a new Best Practices and Workflow Guide. It’s available online and as a free, downloadable PDF. While it’s targeted towards editors working on long-form projects, there are many useful pointers for all Premiere Pro editors. The various chapters cover such topics as hardware settings, proxies, multi-camera, remote/cloud editing, and much more.

Adobe has shied away from written documentation over the years, so it’s good to see them put the effort in to document best practices gleaned from working editors that will benefit all Premiere Pro users.

©2022 Oliver Peters

New Plug-ins Bring More Spice to FCP

Continuum FCP Units, Hawaiki Keyer 5, XTheme Tech

All editing applications benefit from third-party video plug-ins. Two of my favorite developers are Boris FX and Noise Industries/FxFactory. Over the years Boris FX has evolved into a powerhouse plug-in developer offering the most comprehensive effects packages on the market. FxFactory takes a different route. They develop their own plug-ins, but also serve as a platform and marketplace for numerous partner/developers. The result is a product mix that’s both diverse and eclectic.

Boris FX Continuum FCP Units

Boris FX Continuum Complete has been their flagship product for decades. It runs in many of the popular post production applications, including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, and Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion. As I’ve previously noted, Continuum FCP differs from the other versions of Continuum and is sold as a separate product. Boris FX also breaks down some of the categories of Continuum effects into its Units products, which are subsets of the full version. These are packaged for editors and designers who don’t need or want all of what’s in the full version.

This summer Boris FX released the free BCC Looks package for Final Cut Pro editors. That was followed up recently with three new Continuum FCP Units collections: Stylize, Color Essentials, and Transitions. These are affordable collections sold with perpetual licenses. They include hundreds of presets plus Mocha masking with each effect. If you purchase all three, as well as pick up the free Looks plug-in, you’ll have a lot of what’s in the full Continuum for FCP bundle. However, you’ll need the full version for certain popular effects, like lens flares.

The installer you receive is for the complete Continuum suite. As you run it, you’ll be prompted for the activation code of each purchased Unit. You can opt to install only the licensed plug-ins or the full package, which means the non-licensed effects run in a watermarked trial mode. Adjust an effect’s parameters in the FCP inspector panel or open it in the FX Browser, where you can toggle through presets or customize the settings. Transition effects also use on-screen graphs for the effect’s velocity curves.

Boris FX has done a good job of curating the collections with plenty of useful effects. For example, Stylize features effects such as glitch, prism, gobo,  grunge, and more. Color Essentials includes many film effects, like film stocks, gels, bleach bypass, etc. Finally, the Transitions Unit offers a variety of zoom, glitch, glow, prism, and light leak dissolve effects. You certainly get a lot more with the full version of Continuum; however, the effects included within these Units collections are ones that you’ll use quite often. They complement Final Cut’s built-in effects palette, so you won’t feel like you’ve bought something that’s already in the native application.

FxFactory: Hawaiki Keyer 5

Virtual production has had all the buzz, but more often than not for budgetary reasons the fallback is green/blue-screen keying instead of a “volume” studio. To create a convincing composite, you need a top-notch keying plug-in. One of the best, just got better. The developers behind Hawaiki Keyer just upgraded version 4 to the new Hawaiki Keyer 5. This is offered through FxFactory and runs in Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.

The installation adds four plug-ins: HK5 (green), HK5 (blue), Comp Tools 5, and Slice 5. The first two are compositing effects specifically optimized for a green or blue-screen background. Comp Tools supplies all of the Hawaiki Keyer edge tools if you are using a different keyer. It will work as long as the keyer generates an alpha signal. Slice is an analysis tool. Green and blue-screen keying covers 99% of this type of compositing, but you can still use either keying effect if some non-standard background color was used. Hawaiki Keyer 5 offers a broad range of tools to adjust the key, edges, light wrap, and post-process color correction.

New features in version 5 are built-in cropping and shape masks with AI tracking. A common production situation is to shoot wide with the intent to isolate the subject on the green screen background. The shot often extends past the edge of the background cyc and may include crew or lighting or other elements that need to be removed. HK5 is optimized to even out the background for a cleaner key. It now includes tools to mask out all of the material other than what you are intending to key. No need to add additional masking and cropping effects, because these are built into the plug-in itself.

Shape masking uses AI tracking, which can be set to follow objects or faces (including multiple faces), using facial recognition. This is real-time and happens automatically without the need to first analyze the movement and generate a tracked path. As far as I know, it’s unique to have this function integrated directly into the plug-in. For my money, these new features along with the depth of the adjustments available make Hawaiki Keyer 5 the best green/blue-screen keyer plug-in on the market.

FxFactory: XTheme Tech

One major advantage to using Final Cut Pro and Motion is the ability to create your own effects and graphics templates based on the Motion Templates architecture. This has empowered a huge ecosystem of small developers to create free and paid graphics packages. Adobe’s Essential Graphics panel templates pale in comparison. There are many FCP templates, but few are designed with elements built to work together for a coherent look. The exception is idustrial revolution, whose XEffects plug-ins and tool kits are offered through FxFactory. These include professionally-designed social, sports, and news packages that are great for graphics-challenged editors like me.

idustrial’s newest is XTheme Tech, a set of titles, effects, and transitions. These matching elements are designed to be complementary and can be used as an elegant graphics package for any type of show. The tool kit is exclusive for Final Cut Pro and includes over 100 lower thirds, backgrounds, tracking callouts, panels, bars, transitions, and more. There’s also a demo project with examples of how to build looks. Elements from the demo timeline can also be copied-and-pasted into your own sequence.

The bundle includes 10 color swatch titles intended for inspiration. That’s pretty cool. Color accents and background colors can be easily modified in the inspector, which lets you experiment with your own color combinations. Copy-and-paste any of the colors from the swatches into the Mac color picker for use elsewhere. You can make parameter and text changes in the inspector panel, but also on-screen. That’s especially helpful when pinning control points for tracking callouts.

The type of plug-ins and effects that an editor might need can certainly vary from one production to the next. However, these newest updates from Boris FX and FxFactory are definitely worth looking into. As a collection, they form a versatile tool kit for any Final Cut editor and can elevate the quality of any production.

©2022 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor

Since the beginning of nonlinear editing, developers and accessory providers have added custom keyboards and controllers that emulated the film and videotape systems they replaced. Avid had the MUI, Lightworks used a flatbed-style controller, and Contour Design offers the ShuttlePRO. In 2019 Blackmagic Design launched DaVinci Resolve 16 along with a companion DaVinci Resolve Editor Keyboard. Its design is reminiscent of CMX or Sony keyboards used in high-end linear edit suites.

The larger keyboard was followed by a smaller edition dubbed the DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor. This controller is close to what you might have seen in a linear ENG edit bay with someone cutting news packages on two Sony BVU-800 3/4″ decks. The Editor Keyboard is designed to work Resolve’s cut and edit pages, but the Speed Editor is primarily for the cut page. However, the transport controls work with all the pages and mark and trim commands operate on the edit page, as well.

Speed Editor retails for $395 and includes a license key for DaVinci Resolve Studio. It operates over Bluetooth, but firmware updates and charging require a USB-C connection. It will pair with Resolve (version 17 or 18), but not other apps nor the Finder. Although you can perform much of the cut page editing operation from Speed Editor, it won’t entirely replace your keyboard and mouse or trackpad. The design is right-handed, but since you can place it to the left or in front of an external keyboard, it’s easier for a left-hander to utilize than the QWERTY-style Editor Keyboard.

The main selling point for me is the knob, aka the Search Dial. As with the Editor Keyboard dial, it has a similar tactile feel and the ballistics of using a Sony tape machine. Of course, you are dealing with files not tape, so it can easily stop on a dime. There’s shuttle, jog, and scroll control. Shuttle locks in the speed and is best for moving through lots of material. I found myself mainly using scroll and jog. If you use it on the Fairlight page, then jog emulates the analog tape experience of “reel rocking” to find an exact edit point. For me, the quality of the Search Dial experience surpasses any of the other Eucon or USB peripherals.

Cut page

You can’t review Speed Editor without giving some coverage to the cut page itself. This is an alternative editing model introduced with DaVinci Resolve 16. At a casual glance, the design and operation is like a mash-up of Final Cut Pro and LumaFusion.

The cut page design is optimized for fast editing. I applaud that effort, which is largely successful. However, the waters are muddied with Sync Bin – an alternate multicam editing method. In my opinion, the edit page is a far better tool for multicam projects. Quite frankly, the software development that Blackmagic put into this, as well as the real estate taken up in the Speed Editor keypad for multicam, should have been applied in other ways, like mappable function keys.

Another design issue I have, is that the cut page nomenclature and editing tasks are inconsistent with the edit page. For example, there is no traditional Insert or Overwrite command and no Delete (lift) – only Ripple Delete (extract). Ripple Overwrite is actually a replace function and Source Overwrite is tied to the alternate way of editing multicam projects. All clips are assembled as interleaved video/audio clips; however, you can’t trim audio and video separately on those clips to create L-cuts and J-cuts.

I could continue, as there are other missing features that I believe are essential for any editor. But let me dive into Speed Editor and explain how you can use it and the cut page to your advantage.

Fast editing

Speed Editor works best when you use it for fast assembly in the cut page. Buttons are grouped according to function. (Read about the specific details in the DaVinci Resolve manual, Chapter 49). When starting from a fresh timeline, it’s best to first select the Source button and Append clips to the timeline. The raw footage is presented in the Source Tape mode. Clips are organized chronologically into a virtual timeline that you can shuttle, scroll, or play through. In other words, Resolve has automatically arranged the clips into a stringout making it easy to find the relevant shots. The Source Tape mode is much faster than hover scrubbing over individual clips. It is unique to Resolve and reproduces the fluid experience of cutting with two VTRs.

Once the initial assembly is done, click the Timeline key and go through your sequence to trim shots or roll edit points. There are single buttons to add dissolves, wipes, and smooth cuts (morph transitions). The timeline is track-based, so press the Place On Top key to add picture cutaways and additional audio. Any clip with video is edited to a higher track, while an audio-only clip is placed onto a lower audio track.

The Speed Editor commands are intelligent operations. For instance, if you select Trim Out to adjust a clip’s out point, the playhead will automatically select the edit point closest to the playhead – either before or after the playhead position. Then move the Search Dial to adjust the trim amount and the rest of the timeline reacts magnetically. Likewise, the Smart Insert command will insert a source clip at the nearest cut, rather than the playhead position. But, there are no “go to in (or out)” or “top” and “tail” edit commands.

If you need to punch into a shot, click the Close-Up button. This places a copy of that clip in sync at the playhead position onto a higher track and scales it larger. Many of the keypad buttons have secondary functions printed on the edge of the key. You can access these with a double-click or click-and-hold. The Close-Up key also enables a position change on the Y-axis. Hold the key and tilt the shot up or down by turning the Search Dial. Unfortunately, you cannot pan the shot on the X-axis nor change the scale value.

Conclusion

Who is the ideal user for the cut page and the Speed Editor? And, has nonlinear editing really gone beyond these types of peripherals? To the first question, I presume Blackmagic Design sees these tools as something that would appeal to beginning editors, ENG editors, and maybe YouTube content creators. When it comes to Speed Editor, you still need to use the mouse and keyboard for certain functions. If so, then is this device necessary? That’s harder to answer, because the Search Dial functions are so good and addictive. While I can do much of the same with a Magic Mouse, there are plenty of editors with repetitive stress issues in their hands and wrists for whom Speed Editor could become an essential tool.

Controllers designed to mimic flatbed or linear tape editing may be a false goal for developers. Modern NLE interfaces are simply more complex. I wish Blackmagic Design had enabled custom mapping for Speed Editor just like a regular keyboard. That’s a lost opportunity that hopefully can be fixed in a future update.

Modern editing is often done on laptops and that’s a sweet spot for Speed Editor. You’ve still got a built-in keyboard and trackpad when you need it, but a lot of the standard editing tasks can be done with a task-appropriate tool. If Resolve is your main NLE, then the small, lightweight Speed Editor is a good companion for powerhouse laptops like Apple’s M1 MacBook Pros.

Check our Darren Mostyn’s YouTube channel for an in-depth look at editing with the cut page and the DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor. Part 1 and Part 2 are here.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Analogue Wayback, Ep. 21

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Regular readers probably know by now that I have a soft spot in my heart for music production. I’ve worked on a number of films and TV shows that were tied to musical performances and it’s always been an enjoyable experience for me. One of those ongoing experiences was post for the Jacksonville Jazz Festival PBS specials in the 80s and 90s. Although I was living in Jacksonville at the start of this annual event, I really didn’t get involved with the shows until a few years after I’d left town.

The yearly Jacksonville Jazz Festival is a cultural highlight for the city of Jacksonville, Florida. Launched in 1980, the first two years were hosted in the neighboring fishing town of Mayport, home of a large US Navy base. It quickly shifted to downtown Jacksonville’s Metropolitan Park by the St. Johns River, which cuts through the heart of the city.

Recording jazz in the “backyard”

WJCT, the local PBS and NPR affiliate, had been covering the annual event for PBS since the second year of the festival. By 1983, the festival and the station were tightly intertwined. In that year, the park was renovated with a new WJCT facility adjacent to it. Having the building next to the park provided a unique opportunity to install direct audio and video cable runs between the station facility and the covered pavilion performance stage at the park. To inaugurate both, WJCT covered the festival with an eight-hour live broadcast.

From 1981 until 1994 (with the exception of 1983), WJCT produced each year’s festival as a one-hour TV special for PBS distribution. This was a fall event, which was posted over the subsequent months and aired early the next year. My involvement started with the 1984 show, helping to post eight of the eleven TV specials during those years. I worked closely with the station’s VP of Programming, Richard V. Brown, and Creative Services Director, Bill Weather.

Production and post arrangements varied from year to year. Bill Weather was the show’s producer/director for the live event recordings most of those eleven years. (Other directors included Dan Kossoff, David Atwood, and Patrick Kelly.) Weather and I traded off working as the creative editor, so in some years I was the online editor and in others, both editor and online editor. During that decade of shows, post was either at Century III (where I worked) or at our friendly crosstown rival, The Post Group at The Disney-MGM Studios.

Turning the festival into a TV show

Richard V. Brown was the show’s executive producer and also handled the artist arrangements for the show and the festival. Performers received fees for both the live event appearance and the TV show (if they were featured in it), so budgets often dictated who was presented in the telecast. A legendary, but expensive performer like Ray Charles or Miles Davis might headline the festival, yet not appear in the TV special. However, this wasn’t always dictated by money, since top names already brought with them a level of overexposure in the media. And so, the featured artists each year covered a wide spectrum of traditional and contemporary jazz styles, often introducing lesser known artists to a wider TV audience. New Orleans, fusion, Latin, blues, and even some rock performers were included in this eclectic mix.

The artist line-up for each special was decided before the event. Most shows highlighted four acts of about 10 to 15 minutes each. The songs to be included from each artist were selected from the live set, which tended to run for about an hour. The first editorial step (handled by Brown and Weather) was to select which songs to use from each performer, as well as any internal song edits needed to ensure that the final show length fit PBS guidelines.

Recording the live experience

Production and post grew in sophistication over time. Once the WJCT building was completely ready, multiple cameras could be controlled and switched from the regular production control room. No mobile unit required. This usually included up to seven cameras for the event. A line cut was recorded to 1″ videotape, along with several of the cameras as extra iso recordings to be used in post.

The station’s own production equipment was augmented with other gear, including stage lighting, camera dolly, and camera boom. With such an important local event, the station crew was also expanded thanks to local production professionals from the town, including a few top directors and cinematographers working the stage and running cameras; and volunteers working tirelessly to truly make each year memorable.

When it came to sound, the new WJCT facility also included its own 24-track audio recorder. Stage mic signals could be split in order to simultaneously feed the “front of the house” mixing board, the stage monitors, and run back into the building to the multitrack recorder. These 2″ analog audio masters also recorded “time of day” timecode, thus could be synced with the video line cut and iso recordings in post.

Editing is more than just editing

Although my role was post, I was able to attend several of the live festivals, even if I was only the online editor. I sat in the control room and functioned a bit like an assistant director, noting potential editorial issues. But I also made sure that I had coverage of all the members of the band. One performer might take a solo, but I also needed options for other camera angles. As with most live jazz and rock performances, the band members might trade off solos, so it was important to keep an eye on where the focus of the performance could switch to next. Since the director had his hands full just focusing on the real-time action, I would often lean over and ask for a little different coverage from one of the other cameras not currently punched up.

None of the crew was intimately familiar with the live performances of these acts, so it was all about having a sixth sense for the music. However, there was one surprising exception. That was the year that Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band headlined. As you probably know this was the house band for The David Letterman Show, but they also had a limited live touring schedule.

For their set, Shaffer sent in a coordinator with a printout of their entire set rundown. Shaffer and the band had choreographed the whole set, so he was able to give the director a “heads up” for each part of the performance. In addition, Shaffer is the consummate band leader. His set included a jam with his band and several other jazz artists from earlier in the day. Each had a cameo solo. This sort of ad hoc, live jam can often become a big mess; but this one went off as if they’d rehearsed it. Shaffer literally put this together in quick conversations with the other artists during the course of that day.

3/4″ and a legal pad of notes

Once everything was in the can, post could start – initially with content selection. Then camera cuts could be cleaned up using the iso angles. This “offline edit” was largely done by reviewing the 3/4″ U-matic tapes, which had been recorded for the line cut and three of the iso angles using a quad-split generator with a timecode overlay. This gave the editor a multicam view, but from a single tape source. Unfortunately, listing camera cut changes to specific angles required a lot of meticulous, handwritten timecode notes. (Early days had four monitors and a timecode generator display stacked as closely as possible, with an independent camera recording to 3/4″tape.)

Based on these notes, the show master could then be edited in a linear, online session using the 1″ originals and mastering to 1″ or D2. If the line cut of the live recording was solid, then any given song might only have new edits for about 10-25% of the song. Edits might mean a cut to a different angle or maybe the same angle, but just a bit sooner. In addition to the live camera angles, we also had extra ENG footage, including audience shots, party boats anchored in the river nearby, and even some helicopter aerials of the wider event grounds, the pavilion stage, and the audience.

In a typical year, I would finish the camera clean-up edits and trims unsupervised, then Brown and Weather would arrive for the supervised part of the online edit. Here we would build the visual style for the show open and transitions between songs and bands. Plus final credits. This was at the dawn of digital post, so most show opens involved a lot of layering.

It’s all about the mix

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival PBS specials were, of course, about the music. Getting the best possible mix was a very important consideration. In the earliest years, the live recording and remix methodology was evolving, but generally run under the auspices of the WJCT audio engineers. This shifted to our Century III staff audio engineer, Jerry Studenka. He handled the mix for the shows for several years in the late 80s.

To the best of my recollection, the 24-track tapes were recorded at 15ips with Dolby SR noise reduction. This enabled an hourlong set to be recorded on a single reel of tape. Audio mixes/remixes were recorded onto two tracks of that same 24-track tape. In later years, working out of the Century III facility on the lot at Universal, we used Sony 24-track digital audio recorders. The staff would first bounce the analog master reels to digital tape ahead of the audio mix session. Then the audio engineer would mix from one digital recorder to the other. Century III and The Post Group were equipped with Solid State Logic consoles in their main audio rooms, which provided a comfort factor for any experienced music mixer.

The performances were recorded live and mixed on-the-fly during each set as the first pass. Then in the post session, they were polished or remixed in part with punch-ins or even fully remixed depending on what everyone felt gave the best result. But the mixes were all based on the actual live recordings – no overdubs added later.

Every year, each performer was afforded the opportunity to bring in their own recording engineer or representative for the show’s mix. Only two artists ever took Brown up  on that  – Paul Shaffer and Spyro Gyra. Larry Swist came down for Spyro Gyra, who appeared at numerous festivals and was featured in several of the specials. Swist, who later became a well-respected studio designer, was the recording engineer for the band’s albums. Shaffer sent Will Lee (the band’s vocalist/bassist) as his rep to the mixing session. Spyro Gyra and Shaffer’s band happened to be on the same show that year. By the time Lee arrived, Studenka and Swist already had a good mix, so Lee was able to quickly sign off.

Swist had an easy-going, “no drama” personality. Everyone had such a good experience working with him that for each year thereafter, Swist was brought in for all of the sessions. He coordinated both the live recording to multitrack during the event and then remixed all the music for the show during post.

These remixes weren’t as straightforward as they might seem. All sound post was handled on tape, not with any sort of DAW. It was a linear process, just like the picture edits. First of all, there were internal edits within the songs. Therefore, all outboard processing and console and fader settings had to match at the edit point, so that the edit was undetectable. Second, the transitions between songs or from one artist to the next had to be bridged. This was generally done by overlapping additional crowd applause across the change to hide the performance edit, which again required audio matching.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival of 1994 (aired 1995) was the last of the PBS specials, due in part to the cost of production and TV rights. Eventually WJCT turned over production of the festival itself to the City of Jacksonville. The results for that time speak for themselves. The collective effort produced not only great festival experiences, but also memorable television. Unfortunately, some of the production folks involved, like Richard V. Brown, Larry Swist, and Jerry Studenka are no longer with us. And likewise, neither are some of the featured performers. But together, they left a worthwhile legacy that is still carried on by the City of Jacksonville to this day. 

©2022 Oliver Peters