The On Camera Interview

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Many projects are based on first person accounts using the technique of the on camera interview. This approach is used in documentaries, news specials, corporate image presentations, training, commercials, and more. I’ve edited a lot of these, especially for commercials, where a satisfied customer might give a testimonial that gets cut into a five-ish minute piece for the web or a DVD and then various commercial lengths (:10, :15, :30, :60, 2 min.). The production approach and editing techniques are no different in this application than if you are working on a documentary.

The interviewer

The interview is going to be no better than the quality of the interviewer asking the off camera (and unheard) questions. Asking good questions in the right manner will yield successful results. Obviously the interviewer needs to be friendly enough to establish a rapport with the subject. People get nervous on camera, so the interviewer needs to get them relaxed. Then they can comfortably answer the questions and tell the story in their own words. The interviewer should structure the questions in a way that the totality of the responses tells a story. Think in terms of story arc and strive to elicit good beginning and ending statements.

df4115_iview_2Some key points to remember. First, make sure you get the person to rephrase the question as part of their answer, since the audience won’t hear the interviewer. This makes their answer a self-contained statement. Second, let them talk. Don’t interject or jump on the end of the answer, since this will make editing more difficult.

Sometimes in a commercial situation, you have a client or consultant on set, who wants to make sure the interviewee hits all the marketing copy points. Before you get started, you’ll need to have an understanding with the client that the interviewee’s answers will often have to be less than perfect. The interviewees aren’t experienced spokespersons. The more you press them to phrase the answer in the exact way that fits the marketing points or to correctly name a complex product or service in every response, the more stilted their speaking style will become. Remember, you are going for naturalness, honesty and emotion.

The basics

df4115_iview_1As you design the interview set, think of it as staging a portrait. Be mindful of the background, the lighting, and the framing. Depending on the subject matter, you may want a matching background. For example, a doctor’s interview might look best in a lab or in the medical office with complex surgical gear in the background. An interview with an average person is going to look more natural in a neutral environment, like their living room.

You will want to separate the interview subject from the background and this can be achieved through lighting, lens selection, and color scheme. For example, a blonde woman in a peach-colored dress will stand out quite nicely against a darker blue-green background. A lot of folks like the shallow depth-of-field and bokeh effect achieved by a full-frame Canon 5D camera with the right lens. This is a great look, but you can achieve it with most other cameras and lenses, too. In most cases, your video will be seen in the 16:9 HD format, so an off-center framing is desirable. If the person is looking camera left, then they should be on the right side of the frame. Looking camera right, then they should be on the left side.df4115_iview_7

Don’t forget something as basic as the type of chair they are sitting in. You don’t want a chair that rocks, rolls, leans back, or swivels. Some interviews take a long time and subjects that have a tendency to move around in a chair become very distracting – not to mention noisy – in the interview, if that chair moves with them. And of course, make sure the chair itself doesn’t creak.

Camera position

df4115_iview_3The most common interview design you see is where the subject is looking slightly off camera, as they are interacting with the interviewer who sitting to the left or the right of the camera. You do not want to instruct them to look into the camera lens while you are sitting next to the camera, because most people will dart between the interviewer and the camera when they try to attempt this. It’s unnatural.

The one caveat is that if the camera and interviewer are far enough away from the interview subject – and the interviewer is also the camera operator – then it will appear as if the interviewee is actually looking into the lens. That’s because the interviewer and the camera are so close to each other. When the subject addresses the interviewer, he or she appears to be looking at the lens when in fact the interviewee is really just looking at the interviewer.

df4115_iview_16If you want them looking straight into the lens, then one solution is to set up a system whereby the subject can naturally interact with the lens. This is the style documentarian Errol Morris has used in a rig that he dubbed the Interrotron. Essentially it’s a system of two teleprompters. The interviewer and subject can be in the same studio, although separated in distance – or even in other rooms. The two-way mirror of the teleprompter is projecting each person to the other. While looking directly at the interviewer in the teleprompter’s mirror, the interviewee is actually looking directly in the lens. This feels natural, because they are still looking right at the person.

Most producers won’t go to that length, and in fact the emotion of speaking directly to the audience, may or may not be appropriate for your piece. Whether you use Morris’ solution or not, the single camera approach makes it harder to avoid jump cuts. Morris actually embraces and uses these, however, most producers and editors prefer to cover these in some way. Covering the edit with a b-roll shot is a common solution, but another is to “punch in” on the frame, by blowing up the shot digitally by 15-30% at the cut. Now the cut looks like you used a tighter lens. This is where 4K resolution cameras come in handy if you are finishing in 2K or HD.

df4115_iview_6With the advent of lower-cost cameras, like the various DSLR models, it’s quite common to produce these interviews as two camera shoots. Cameras may be positioned to the left or the right of the interviewer, as well as on either side. There really is no right or wrong approach. I’ve done a few where the A-camera is right next to the interviewer, but the B-camera is almost 90-degrees to the side. I’ve even seen it where the B-camera exposes the whole set, including the crew, the other camera, and the lights. This gives the other angle almost a voyeuristic quality. When two cameras are used, each should have a different framing, so a cut between the cameras doesn’t look like a jump cut. The A-camera might have a medium framing including most of the person’s torso and head, while the B-camera’s framing might be a tight close-up of their face.

While it’s nice to have two matched cameras and lens sets, this is not essential. For example, if you end up with two totally mismatched cameras out of necessity – like an Alexa and a GoPro or a C300 and an iPhone – make the best of it. Do something radical with the B-camera to give your piece a mixed media feel. For example, your A-camera could have a nice grade to it, but the B-camera could be black-and-white with pronounced film grain. Sometimes you just have to embrace these differences and call it a style!

Coverage

df4115_iview_4When you are there to get an interview, be mindful to also get additional b-roll footage for cutaway shots that the editor can use. Tools of the trade, the environment, the interview subject at work, etc. Some interviews are conducted in a manner other than sitting down. For example, a cheesemaker might take you through the storage room and show off different rounds of cheese. Such walking-talking interviews might make up the complete interview or they might be simple pieces used to punctuate a sit-down interview. Remember, that if you have the time, get as much coverage as you can!

Audio and sync

It’s best to use two microphones on all interviews – a lavaliere on the person and a shotgun mic just out of the camera frame. I usually prefer the sound of the shotgun, because it’s more open; but depending on how noisy the environment is, the lav may be the better channel to use. Recording both is good protection. Not all cameras have great sound systems, so you might consider using an external audio recorder. Make sure you patch each mic into separate channels of the camera and/or external recorder, so that they are NOT summed.

df4115_iview_8Wherever you record, make sure all sources receive audio. It would be ideal to feed the same mics to all cameras and recorders, but that’s not always possible. In that case, make sure that each camera is at least using an onboard camera mic. The reason to do this is for sync. The two best ways to establish sync is common timecode and a slate with a clapstick. Ideally both. Absent either of those, then some editing applications (as well as a tool like PluralEyes) can analysis the audio waveform and automatically sync clips based on matching sound. Worst case, the editor can manually sync clips be marking common aural or visual cues.

Depending on the camera model, you may have media cards that don’t span and automatically start a new clip every 4GB (about every 12 minutes with some formats). The interviewer should be mindful of these limits. If possible, all cameras should be started together and re-slated at the beginning of each new clip.

Editing workflow

df4115_iview_13Most popular nonlinear editing applications (NLE) include great features that make editing on camera interviews reasonably easy. To end up with a solid five minute piece, you’ll probably need about an hour of recorded interview material (per camera angle). When you cut out the interviewer’s questions, the little bit of chit chat at the beginning, and then repeats or false starts that an interviewee may have, then you are generally left with about thirty minutes of useable responses. That’s a 6:1 ratio.

The goal as an editor is to be a storyteller by the soundbites you select and the order into which you arrange them. The goal is to have the subject seamlessly tell their story without the aide of an on camera host or voice-over narrator. To aid the editing process use NLE tools like favorites, markers, and notes, along with human tools like written transcripts and your own notes to keep the project organized.

This is the standard order of things for me:

Sync sources and create multi-cam sequences or multi-cam clips depending on the NLE.

Pass 1 – create a sequence with all clips synced up and organized into a single timeline.

Pass 2 – clean up the interview and remove all interviewer questions.

Pass 3 – whittle down the responses into a sequence of selected answers.

Pass 4 – rearrange the soundbites to best tell the story.

Pass 5 – cut between cameras if this is a multi-camera production.

Pass 6 – clean up the final order by editing out extra words, pauses, and verbal gaffs.

Pass 7 – color correct clips, mix audio, add b-roll shots.

df4115_iview_9As I go through this process, I am focused on creating a good “radio cut” first. In other words, how does the story sound if you aren’t watching the picture. Once I’m happy with this, I can worry about color correction, b-roll, etc. When building a piece that includes multiple interviewees, you’ll need to pay attention to several other factors. These include getting a good mix of diversity – ethnic, gender, job classification. You might want to check with the client first as to whether each and every person interviewed needs to be used in the video. Clearly some people are going to be duds, so it’s best to know up front whether or not you’ll need to go through the effort to find a passable soundbite in those cases or not.

There are other concerns when re-ordering clips among multiple people. Arranging the order of clips so that you can cut between alternating left and right-framed shots makes the cutting flow better. Some interviewees comes across better than others, however, make sure not to lean totally on these responses. When you get multiple, similar responses, pick the best one, but if possible spread around who you pick in order to get the widest mix of respondents. As you tell the story, pay attention to how one soundbite might naturally lead into another – or how one person’s statement can complete another’s thoughts. It’s those serendipitous moments that you are looking for in Pass 4. It’s what should take the most creative time in your edit.

Philosophy of the cut

df4115_iview_11In any interview, the editor is making editorial selections that alter reality. Some broadcasters have guidelines at to what is and isn’t permissible, due to ethical concerns. The most common editorial technique in play is the “Frankenbite”. That’s where an edit is made to truncate a statement or combine two statements into one. Usually this is done because the answer went off into a tangent and that portion isn’t relevant. By removing the extraneous material and creating the “Frankenbite” you are actually staying true to the intent of the answer. For me, that’s the key. As long as your edit is honest and doesn’t twist the intent of what was said, then I personally don’t have a problem with doing it. That part of the art in all of this.

df4115_iview_10It’s for these reasons, though, that directors like Morris leave the jump cuts in. This lets the audience know an edit was made. Personally, I’d rather see a smooth piece without jump cuts and that’s where a two camera shoot is helpful. Cutting between two camera angles can make the edit feel seamless, even though the person’s expression or body position might not truly match on both sides of the cut. As long as the inflection is right, the audience will accept it. Occasionally I’ll use a dissolve, white flash or blur dissolve between sections, but most of the time I stick with cuts. The transitions seem like a crutch to me, so I use them only when there is a complete change of thought that I can’t bridge with an appropriate soundbite or b-roll shot.

df4115_iview_12The toughest interview edit tends to be when you want to clean things up, like a repeated word, a stutter, or the inevitable “ums” and “ahs”. Fixing these by cutting between cameras normally results in a short camera cut back and forth. At this point, the editing becomes a distraction. Sometimes you can cheat these jump cuts by staying on the same camera angle and using a short dissolve or one of the morphing transitions offered by Avid, Adobe, or MotionVFX (for FCPX). These vary in their success depending on how much a person has moved their body and head or changed expressions at the edit point. If their position is largely unchanged, the morph can look flawless. The more the change, the more awkward the resulting transition can be. The alternative is to cover the edit with a cutaway b-roll shot, but that’s often not desirable if this happens the first time we see the person. Sometimes you just have to live with it and leave these imperfections alone.

Telling the story through sight and sound is what an editor does. Working with on camera interviews is often the closest an editor comes to being the writer, as well. But remember that mixing and matching soundbites can present nearly infinite possibilities. Don’t get caught in the trap so many do of never finishing. Bring it to a point where the story is well-told and then move on. If the entire production is approached with some of these thoughts in mind, the end result can indeed be memorable.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Serif Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer

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Photoshop users who are looking for an alternative to Adobe may find a refuge in Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. Both are being developed for the Mac platform by British software developer Serif. This is a separate line from their Windows products and is their first collection built from the ground up to take advantage of the newest Mac and OS X capabilities. Affinity Photo, which was released on July 9 after an extended public beta period, competes with Adobe Photoshop. Affinity Designer is aimed at Adobe Illustrator. Both applications are available through the Mac App Store. They share a common file format. Affinity Designer just won the Apple Design Award at WWDC 2015. Due later this year will be Affinity Publisher – a desktop publishing application.

df3315_affinity_3I’ve been testing both Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer for a few months and have been very impressed. Most of it has initially been with the public beta of Photo. Since I’m not a big Illustrator user, I really can’t adequately compare Illustrator and Designer, except to say that it’s a very capable vector-based drawing and design application. The application will import .ai files, but roundtrip compatibility is largely through certain common standards: PNG, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, SVG, EPS, PSD or PDF. The layout is built around three modes called “personas”. Start in the Draw Persona to create your document. Switch to the Pixel Persona for paint and adjustment functions. Finally, export through the Export Persona.

I spent more time with Affinity Photo, to see how viable it is as a Photoshop replacement. Its four modes includes the Photo, Liquify, Develop, and Export Personas. Photo is the closest to Photoshop in style and toolset, while Develop is more like the Lightroom toolkit. Liquify is designed for image distortion based on a mesh. Most of the image adjustment tools in the Photo Persona are adjustments layers.

df3315_affinity_2In general, Affinity Photo feels a lot like Adobe Photoshop, but as with any of these tools, things are in enough different places that experienced Photoshop users will be counteracting years of muscle memory in making the switch. Nevertheless, you’d have a great comfort factor with Affinity Photo, since the toolset, adjustment layers and layer styles working in a similar fashion. One powerful set of effects is Live Filter layers. These are similar to Adjustment Layers in that they are editable and don’t bake an effect into the layer. The difference is that a Live Filter can be added to that layer only and doesn’t affect everything beneath it, like a standard adjustment layer. Live Filters can be re-arranged, disabled or edited at any time without relying on undo.

Compatibility between Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop is good and Serif states that they are aiming for the best compatibility on the market. In this current version, I had better luck going from Photo into Photoshop using a layered .psd file, than I did bringing a file created in Photoshop into Photo. The usual culprits are layer effects and vector based objects. In Photoshop, the Photo-created adjustment layer effects came across, but text with layer effects was merged into a rasterized layer with the layer effects baked in. When I went from Photoshop to Photo, layer effects were simply dropped. Affinity Photo is supposed to use third-party Photoshop plug-ins, but my attempts to use Magic Bullet Looks crashed Photo. Unlike Pixelmator (another Mac-based Photoshop alternative), Affinity Photo cannot use Quartz Composer-based filters, such as those from FxFactory. According to Serif, they will be working with plug-in manufacturers to improve the app-side support for 64-bit plug-ins.

If you aren’t completely locked into compatibility with Adobe Photoshop files sent to and from clients – and you are interested in an alternative solution – then the Affinity applications from Serif are a very strong alternative for Mac users. They are fun, fast and yield great results.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 12

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Red Giant released Magic Bullet Suite 12 in February. Popular tools have been streamlined along with the addition of a brand new film emulation tool. The suite now includes Magic Bullet Looks 3.0, Magic Bullet Colorista III, Magic Bullet Film 1.0, Magic Bullet Mojo 2.0, Magic Bullet Cosmo 2.0, Denoiser II, and LUT Buddy. The new update adds OpenFX compatibility.

Along with feature and interface changes, Red Giant has also focused on performance improvements across the board, as well as bringing more of the tools into new hosts like Apple Final Cut Pro X. A single installation of the suite will install the plug-ins into as many application hosts as you have on your system. However, check the compatibility list for your particular NLE. For example, everything installs into Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC, but Final Cut Pro X only gets Colorista, Looks, Cosmo, Film, and Mojo. Avid Media Composer is only compatible with Looks and Resolve gets Mojo, Film, Looks, and Cosmo. Depending on your toolkit, you might opt for one or two of the individual plug-ins rather than the entire suite. If you already installed version 12.0, you’ll need to download and reinstall 12.1 in order to add the plug-ins into new hosts, like Resolve 12.

Magic Bullet Looks (v3.1)

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Magic Bullet Looks is a popular go-to plug-in for sophisticated stylization of an image. It includes tool modules for color correction, lens effects, relighting, and a lot more. The interface design has been flattened and streamlined. As before, it runs as a separate application that opens whenever you launch the interface from the clip on the timeline. The frame that you are parked on becomes the reference frame to which you apply your looks. In 3.0 and 3.1, you can now hover the mouse over the various preset looks and the larger Looks viewer will be updated to preview that look on your frame. In addition, this will also preview the various tool modules used to create the look. Red Giant has created many new preset looks based on popular film and TV show treatments. All are customizable. The 3.1 update added a Trackpad Mode, enabling you to use a laptop or standalone trackpad like a control surface.

New tool modules have been added, such as a LUT tool and a 4-way color corrector. The latter adds a very intuitive luma range graph to easily change the crossover points between lo/mid and mid/hi. Importing LUTs into Looks doesn’t seem to work perfectly. It’s pretty solid in the Adobe applications, but color management with FCP X is quirky. When I imported LUTs into Looks with FCP X, the result was a lot more extreme than in the Adobe applications. This is likely an issue with FCP X’s color pipeline when an external program is involved.

Magic Bullet Colorista III (v1.1)

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The earlier version of Colorista was a feature-packed plug-in that functioned like a mini-grading application. It had master, primary, and secondary grading, plus curves, a power mask, and keyer. With Colorista III, Red Giant decided to simplify the plug-in by including one level of primary grading, curves, a keyer, and HSL secondary adjustments. The power mask is gone, because the developers decided to rely on the new built-in masking that’s part of Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X. Adobe added bezier masks with built-in tracking to all effects, so if you are using Colorista III in Premiere Pro CC, you now have a better masking capability than in the past. Apple added shape masks to all effects with the introduction of FCP X 10.2.

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With FCP X, the developers were able to integrate the color grading wheels into the inspector pane, but in a vertical configuration. The response of the wheels is weighted, so that you move the mouse farther in relationship to the puck’s travel on-screen. This results in better granularity to the adjustment, but might require a bit of time for new users to get accustomed to the feel. Although it includes curves, these are not true multi-point curves, as you are limited to five control points along the line. Typically these work best when you want an s-curve correction.

A big addition to Colorista III are Lightroom-style shadow and highlight controls. Adjusting the shadows slider acts like you are adding or removing fill light from an image. There’s also a new vignette slider, so you can quickly dial in the size and darkness of an edge vignette. Most of the Magic Bullet products include a strength slider, while enables you to dial back on the amount of the color treatment. This lets you make a more extreme correction and then tone it down for the final look. One welcomed addition is an overall white balance control with a color picker to select what you determine as white in the image. This is very good news for FCP X editors in particular.

New 1.1 features, which are applicable to Adobe hosts, include support for OpenCL and Cuda. This allows for real time color correction during video playback via Adobe Premiere Pro’s Mercury Playback Engine. The Skin Overlay is back and there’s a keyer “cut out” mode to create transparency for layered color corrections.

Magic Bullet Film

df1315_mbs12_6_smFilm style LUTs (color look-up tables) are all the rage and this one is particularly well thought-out. Red Giant has reverse-engineering the LUTs from actual film and includes 22 negative stocks and four print stocks. These include the typical Kodak and Fuji variations as well as settings for some imaginary custom stocks designed by Red Giant. The key to this plug-in is that it is intended to pair a film negative LUT with a film print LUT, in order to more accurately mimic a real-world film pipeline.

df1315_mbs12_7_smIn addition to the LUTs, you have a number of control sliders for tint, exposure, contrast, saturation, and skin tone. There’s a slider for the amount of built-in grain to be added, as well as an instant vignette and a strength slider. A particularly interesting control is the vintage/modern slider. Shift it all the way to modern and you get a very strong orange/teal effect, whereas going fully in the vintage direction leaves the image more reddish and faded.

Magic Bullet Mojo 2.0

df1315_mbs12_8_smMojo is for the folks who want the extreme orange/teal coloration that many blockbuster films use. This is my least favorite filter in the suite, because few films that I see actually look like the results you get here – blockbuster or not. It’s a color treatment whose purpose is to cool off the background independent of skin tones. Depending on the shot and the art direction used in production, sometimes you get great results and other times not so much. df1315_mbs12_9_smFortunately there are plenty of adjustments to derive a decent, albeit stylized, color correction. As part of the Looks refresh, there is now a set of Mojo tools built into Looks, as well. Mojo has also been GPU-accelerated. Red Giant claims it’s 20% faster in Adobe products and 80% faster in FCP X. In the testing that I’ve done, the results have been in line with these numbers.

Magic Bullet Cosmo 2.0

Cosmo is a skin smoothing filter. It’s effectively the “vaseline on the lens” trick. If you have an actress with more textured skin and you need to soften it, then Cosmo does one of the better jobs I’ve seen. It isolates skin from the background, so that you end up softening only skin without hurting background detail.

df1315_mbs12_3_smThe new version has good performance, so you can keep on working with the filter applied without having to render to continue. Cosmo is GPU-accelerated with a 20% bump in Adobe products. In addition to FCP X, it is also available in Sony Vegas Pro.

Denoiser II and LUT Buddy

Denoiser II is general solution for reducing video noise and works well with most footage. LUT Buddy is a tool included with a number of Red Giant products. It is designed to import and export LUTs, although in my testing behavior was inconsistent. I could get it to generate a LUT, but not import all LUTs that should have been compatible.

LUT Buddy is very useful for turning the grade you create in one application into a LUT that can be used in another. For example, you can use a number of different color correction filters in After Effects to grade a shot and then use LUT Buddy to turn that grade into a LUT. Then in Premiere Pro, apply the LUT that you created, without the need for using the same filters as were used in After Effects. Here’s where LUT Buddy should have worked to read its own grade, but it didn’t. When I applied the grade and played the clip, the color correction would flicker on and off. However, I was still able to import that LUT using Premiere Pro’s Lumetri filter, so the process is still functional. My initial testing was done with Adobe CC2014, but in retesting in Adobe CC2015, unfortunately I could no longer get LUT Buddy to export a LUT.

df1315_mbs12_10_smOverall, this a solid update. Better performance and new tools. In most hosts you can stack several instances of these filters and still get real-time playback, which is a significant step forward. Magic Bullet Suite 12 is the perfect package for editors that want to have plenty of control over the look of their image, yet stay inside the editing application.

To usher in Magic Bullet Suite 12, Red Giant produced another of its innovative short films, called “Old/New”. It’s directed by Seth Worley and narrated by Patton Oswalt. Along with a clever storyline, the film was produced using a wide range of Red Giant products. Make sure that you check out the behind-the-scenes video to see how they did it.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Apple Photos

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Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know that Apple replaced iPhoto and Aperture with Photos, a free photo organizing and processing tool that comes with current versions of the Mac operating system. Its biggest strength is the tie-in with Apple’s iCloud services. Since I don’t own an iPhone, that aspect has no value to me, so this overview is from the point-of-view of a desktop application. In other words, how does it stack up against Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom?

If your need is to create slideshows and books, it’s extremely easy. Simply import the photos you want, group them into a project and then create a book or slideshow from that project. Any of these items is based on templates with preset designs that can be modified. They include editable placeholder text. Printed photo books can be purchased through the application.

Double-clicking any photo opens it into the image editor, which is the closest to Aperture’s adjustment or Lightroom’s develop mode. When you edit the image, a series of tools opens on the right. These can be used to crop, add stylizing filters, heal blemishes, or fix red-eye. The Adjustments tool opens a set of sliders for various color adjustments, but the “add” pulldown enables quite a few more controls than the default. In total, this makes the level of control fairly sophisticated.

With the release of OS X 10.11 (“El Capitan”) Photos now gains the ability to use ExtensionsThese are hooks that allow developers to connect to other mini-applications, which can add functionality to an application – in this case Photos. It would appear that Apple is taking a similar direction with Photos as they did with Final Cut Pro X. That is, to provide hooks so that the growth of the application comes from third-party developers. The first developer to add effects and adjustment tools for Photos is Macphun. I haven’t tested these, but they appear to add a lot of power to Photos. Another recent update is Pixelmator, whose Distort tool is now available within Photos thanks to Extensions. These new tools are available through the Mac App Store.

Exports are handled through a share menu, as in Final Cut Pro X. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the sort of batch processing control that Aperture or Lightroom offers. While I consider this a functional new tool that many will like, it really isn’t for photography power users who need an industrial strength application. Nevertheless, it’s fast and a good organizing tool. On a recent project with about 1,000 old photographs and 35mm slides, I used Lightroom for all the image correction, but then exported adjusted, final images. I am now using Photos to handle the subsequent management of these newly-corrected shots. If you are a video editor who has to prep a ton of photos for use in an NLE, then Apple Photos offers little or nothing over the tools you’ve been using thus far, unless you just want to go with a newer, simpler tool.

Although Photos uses a similar Album and Project organizing structure as Aperture, I find its tabbed implementation too simplistic and actually more confusing than the sidebar panel used in Aperture. I personally prefer the folder and subfolder structure of Lightroom, but either works for me. My honest advice is that if you want the best tool, get Lightroom or find a (now defunct) version of Aperture and use that. However, for basic corrections and fast organization of a lot of files, Photos is definitely a viable option.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

PDFviewer for Premiere Pro

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Small developers often create the coolest tools for editing. Such is the case with Primal Cuts and their PDFviewer extension for Premiere Pro CC. Ever find yourself shuffling between paper scripts and storyboards, while trying to edit? Or juggling between different apps on-screen to view electronic versions, while going back-and-forth to your NLE? That’s what PDFviewer solves for you.

df4015_pcpdf_3Adobe has created a feature called extensions, which allows a developer to create a custom, dockable panel to perform certain function right inside the application’s interface. TypeMonkey is one example of this for After Effects. The same interface feature is also available in Premiere Pro. Extensions developed for Adobe applications also have the benefit of being cross-platform compatible.

PDFviewer is an extension designed for Adobe Premiere Pro CC. Once installed, it’s accessible from the extensions pulldown menu. When you select it, PDFviewer opens as a floating interface panel that can then be docked anywhere in the interface. If you dock it, make sure to do so in all of your workspaces and save those configurations. That way, if you have a file open, it will stay open as you jump between different layouts.

df4015_pcpdf_2Any PDF file can be opened in PDFviewer, including scripts, storyboards, and other documents. If you work in scripted long-form productions, then check if the script supervisor is using ScriptE Systems products. These are ideal for generating numerous electronic versions of common filming documents, including shot logs and lined scripts. However, any PDF works, including manually scanned PDFs of handwritten reports and lined scripts. Simply open up the lined script in the PDFviewer panel and now you have it right there within Premiere Pro. It’s not exactly the same as Avid’s Script Integration tools in Media Composer, but it’s the next best thing to it.

df4015_pcpdf_4PDFviewer lets you open multiple PDFs by clicking the “+” icon and adding another file. Multiple PDFs are accessible as tabs across the top of the PDFviewer window. It also includes a “hand” tool to easily scroll and pan within larger documents. Search is another great feature, which is perfect for working with transcripts. Search terms will be highlighted throughout the document. You can also copy-and-paste text from within PDFviewer to any metadata field in Premiere Pro.

Primal Cuts’ PDFviewer is a straightforward tool that every Premiere Pro editor will find to be a handy addition to their toolkit. At $10, the price is hard to pass up, simply based on the convenience of not shuffling more paper on your desk.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Rocket Rooster

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Film emulation LUTs (color look-up tables) are always a popular discussion point and I’ve covered a number of the products on the market. Some of these are plug-in effects that include 3D LUT files as part of the package, like Koji, Color Finale, FilmConvert, etc. Others are toolkits with different types of files that are designed to be mixed and matched, like SpeedLooks, Osiris, ImpluZ, and others. One of this latter group is Rocket Rooster. I’ve mentioned them before, but in this post I’d like to go a bit deeper.

Rocket Rooster offers a range of “look” products that together become a toolkit for any type of film emulation, whether we are talking about motion film (3D LUTs) or still photography (Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw presets). For video, these include log-to-Rec709 correction, negative stocks, print stocks, combined negative/print LUTs, and various subjective “movie looks”. As with many other film emulation products, they should be viewed as a starting point and not the only process that you would apply to get your final look. The Rocket Rooster packages include LUTs in .cube, .3dl, .icc, and .mga versions to be compatible with just about any editing, grading, or compositing application. The method of importing and adding external LUT files varies with each software. For example, in Final Cut Pro X you’d need Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. In After Effects, you’d need Red Giant’s LUT Buddy. Premiere Pro CC, Resolve, and Media Composer all enable direct access to an external file.

There are different ways you can work with these LUTs. For example, if you shoot with log profiles, then Rocket Rooster offers both log-to-Rec709 camera patch profiles, as well as LUTs that combine the log conversion with a negative film stock setting into a single file. Since many of these looks work best when you combine a negative and a print stock (as you would in real film production), the next step is to pair the negative stock LUT with a matching print stock LUT. The Rocket Rooster film stock choices include several Kodak and Fuji emulations, along with a series of in-house creative presets designed to be reminiscent of certain popular styles.

Within your application, you have to bookend both LUT filters around a color correction filter, so that the grading adjustments occur between the two LUTs. For example, in FCP X, you would apply LUT Utility and select a log-to-negative LUT. Place a color correction filter next, followed by a second instance of LUT Utility. For the second LUT, pick a print stock LUT that you like. Premiere Pro CC makes this easier with the new Lumetri Color panel. In the basic correction tab, select the log-to-negative LUT and in the creative tab, pick the print stock LUT. In both NLEs, you’d use the color correction tools to hone the desired look. Rocket Rooster also offers a set of integrated files with both negative and print stock emulations in a single LUT file. With these, you’d select the file based on the negative stock you want to use, but the built-in print emulation is standardized on Kodak 2383.

Unlike other developers, these stock emulations tend to be a bit more aggressive in matching the coloration of the stock, but are more subdued in terms of final output contrast and saturation levels. That’s to allow enough margin in the resulting color for further grading. There are variants with different contrast balances for use with higher dynamic range cameras or that are readier for final output. All of this is spelled out in their user guide.

As with most LUT packages, you have to play around to get the right combo for your desired style. A little trial-and-error is part of the fun and experimentation. Of course, this process has to be interactive with your color correction tweaks to get the right look. Below are a series of stills demonstrating some of the results that are possible. Each of these uses one or two of the Rocket Rooster LUTs along with a varying amount of Lumetri Color grading. (Click on any image for the slideshow.)

©2015 Oliver Peters

Telestream Switch

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For many editors, Apple QuickTime Player Pro (not QuickTime Player X) has been their go-to media player and encoding application. Since this is a discontinued piece of software and Apple is actively deprecating QuickTime with each new version of Mac OS X, it stands to reason that at some point QuickTime Player Pro will cease to function. Telestream – maker of the highly-regarded Episode encoder – plans to be ready with Switch.

Switch will run on Mac and Windows platforms and has steadily gained features since its product launch. (It is currently in version 1.6.) Switch is a multi-function media player that comes in three versions: Switch Player – a free, multi-format media player with file inspection capabilities; Switch Plus – to play, inspect, and fix media file issues; and, Switch Pro – a comprehensive file encoder. All Switch versions will play a wide range of media file formats and allow you to inspect the file properties, but only the Plus and Pro paid versions include encoding.

Building on its knowledge in developing Episode and its tight relationship with Apple, Telestream hopes to make Switch the all-purpose encoder of choice for most editors. The intent is for editors to use Switch where they would normally have used QuickTime Player Pro in the past. Unlike other open source media players, Telestream can play many professional media formats (like MXF), display embedded captions and subtitles, and properly encode to advanced file formats (like Apple ProRes). Since Switch Plus and Pro are designed for single-file processing, instead of batch encoding like Episode, their prices are also lower than that of Episode.

While the playback capabilities of Switch cover many formats, the encoding/export options are more limited. Switch Plus, which was added with version 1.6, can export MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and QuickTime (.mov) files. There’s also a pass-through mode in cases where files simply need to be rewrapped. For example, you might choose to convert Canon C300 clips from MXF into QuickTime movies, but maintain the native Canon XF codec. This might make it easier for a producer to review the media files before an upcoming edit session. Switch Plus also adds playback support for HEVC and MPEG-2 on windows, AC3 audio, and pro audio meters that display tru-peak and momentary loudness values.

Switch Pro includes all of the Plus features, as well as playback of Avid DNxHD, DNxHR, and JPEG 2000 files. It can encode in QuickTime (.mov), MPEG-4, and MPEG-2 (transport and program stream) containers. You can also export still frames and iTunes Store package formats. Codec encoding support includes H.264, MPEG-2, and ProRes. (ProRes export on Windows is ProRes HQ 4:2:2 for iTunes only.) While that’s more limited than Episode, Telestream plans to add more capabilities to Switch over time.

Switch Pro is more than an encoder, it also includes SDI out via AJA i/o devices (for preview to an external calibrated device), loudness monitoring, and caption playback. Even the free Player will pass audio out to speakers through AJA cards and USB-connected Core Audio devices. Unfortunately this does not appear to work when you have a Blackmagic Design card installed. Telestream has acknowledged this as a bug that it plans to fix in the 2.0 release later this year.

The goal for the Switch product line is to be a powerful and affordable visual QC tool, that you can also use it to make corrections to metadata, formats, audio, etc., and encode to a new file. Along with the usual inspection of file properties, Switch includes a set of audio meters that display volume and loudness readings. Although it does not offer audio and video adjustment or correction controls, you can re-arrange audio channels and speaker assignments. Telestream Switch is a very useful encoder, but if you just need a versatile media player and inspection tool, then you can easily start with the free player version.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters