Adobe’s Summer 2016 Refresh

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Adobe is on track for the yearly refresh of its Creative Cloud applications. They have been on a roll with their professional video solutions – especially Premiere Pro CC – and this update is no exception. Since this is not a new, across-the-board Creative Cloud version update, the applications keep the CC 2015 moniker, except with a point increase. For example, Premiere Pro CC becomes version 2015.3, not CC 2016. Let me dive into what’s new in Premiere Pro, Audition, Adobe Media Encoder and After Effects.

Premiere Pro CC 2015.3

Adobe has captured the attention of the professional editing community with Premiere Pro and has held it with each new update. CC 2015.3 adds numerous new features in direct response to the needs of editors, including secondary color correction, a proxy workflow, a 360VR viewer and more.

New Lumetri features

df2516_lumetriThe Lumetri color panel brought over the dominant color correction tools from SpeedGrade CC configured into a Lightroom-style panel. For editors, Lumetri provides nearly everything they need for standard color correction, so there’s rarely any need to step outside of Premiere Pro. Three key features were added to Lumetri in this update.

First is a new white balance eyedropper. Lumetri has had temperature and tint sliders, but the eyedropper makes white balance correction a one-click affair. However, the new marquee feature is the addition of SpeedGrade’s HSL Secondary color correction. Use an eyedropper to select the starting color that you want to affect. Then use the “add” or “remove color” eyedroppers to adjust the selection. To further refine the isolated color, which is essentially a key, use the HSL, denoise and blur sliders. The selected color range can be viewed against black, white or gray to check the accuracy of the adjustment. You can then change the color using either the single or three-wheel color control. Finally, the secondary control also includes its own sliders for temperature, tint, contrast, sharpening and saturation.

In the rest of the Lumetri panel, Adobe changed the LUT (color look-up table) options. You can pick a LUT from either the input and/or creative tab. The new arrangement is more straightforward than when first introduced. Now only camera gamma correction LUTs (like ARRI Log-C to Rec 709) appear in the input tab and color style LUTs show up in the creative tab. Adobe LUTs plus SpeedLooks LUTs from LookLabs are included as creative choices. Previously you had to use a SpeedLooks camera LUT in tandem with one of the SpeedLooks creative LUTs to get the right correction . With this update, the SpeedLooks creative LUTs are all designed to be added to Rec 709 gamma, which makes these choices far more functional than before. You can now properly use one of these LUTs by itself without first needing to add a camera LUT.

New Proxy workflow

df2516_proxyApple Final Cut Pro X users have enjoyed a proxy workflow since its launch, whereas Adobe always touted Premiere Pro’s native media prowess. Nevertheless, as media files get larger and more taxing on computing systems, proxy files enable a more fluid editing experience. A new ingest tool has been added to the Media Browser. So now from within Premiere Pro, you can copy media, transcode to high-res file formats and create low-res proxies. You can also select clips in a bin and right-clip to create proxies, attach proxies and/or relink full-resolution files. There is a new toggle button that you can add to the toolbar, which lets you seamlessly flip between proxy and full-resolution media files. According to Adobe, even if you have proxy selected, any export always draws from the full-resolution media for the best quality.

Be careful with the proxy settings. For example, one of the default sizes is 1024×540, which would be the quarter-frame match for 2K media. But, if you use that for HD clips in a 1920×1080 timeline, then your proxies will be incorrectly pillar-boxed. If you create 720p proxies for 1080p clips, you’ll need to use “scale to frame size” in order to get the right size on the timeline. It’s a powerful new workflow, but take a bit of time to figure out the best option for your needs.

Adobe Media Encoder also gains the Media Browser tool, as well as a new ingest function, which has been brought over from Adobe Prelude. Now you can use Media Encoder to copy camera files and/or transcode them to primary and secondary locations. If you need to copy camera cards, transcode a full-res master file and also transcode a low-res proxy file, then this complete workflow can be handled through Media Encoder.

New 360VR viewer

df2516_360Premiere Pro CC now sports a new VR-capable viewer mode. Start with monoscopic or stereoscopic, stitched 360-degree video clips and edit them as you normally would. The viewer allows you to pan around inside the clip or view the timeline from a point of view. You can see what someone viewing with goggles sees when looking in a given direction. Note that this is not a pan-and-scan plug-in. You cannot drop one of these 360-degree clips into an otherwise 2D 16×9 (“flat”) timeline and use Premiere Pro’s VR function to keyframe a digital move within that clip.

There are other new Premiere Pro CC features that I haven’t yet tested thoroughly. These include new support for Apple Metal (an API that combines the functionality of OpenGL and OpenCL) and for grading control surfaces. Open Caption support has been improved – adding more languages and their native alphabets, including Arabic and Hebrew.

Adobe Audition CC 2015.2

df2516_auditionWant better audio mixing control than what’s available inside of Premiere Pro CC? Then Audition CC is the best tool for the job. Premiere Pro timelines translate perfectly and in the last update a powerful retime feature was added. Audition “automagically” edits the duration of a music cue for you in order to fit a prescribed length.

The Essential Sound panel is new in this update. The layout of this panel is the audio equivalent to the Lumetri color panel and also owes its design origins to Lightroom. Select a clip and choose from the Dialogue, Music, SFX or Ambience group. Each group presents you with a different, task-appropriate set of effects presets. For example, when you pick Dialogue, the panel will display tabbed controls for loudness, repair sound, improve clarity and a creative tab. Click on a section of the vertical stack within this panel to reveal the contents and controls for that section.

In the past, the workflow would have been a roundtrip from Premiere Pro to Audition and back. Now you can go directly to Adobe Media Encoder from Audition, which changes the workflow into these steps: cut in Premiere Pro CC, mix in Audition CC, and master/export directly through Adobe Media Encoder. Thus roundtrips are eliminated, because picture is carried through the Audition phase. This export path supports multichannel mix files, especially for mastering containers like MXF. Audition plus Media Encoder now enable you to export a multichannel file that includes a stereo mix plus stereo submix “stems” for dialogue, SFX and music.

After Effects CC 2015.3 and more

df2516_aeAfter Effects CC has been undergoing an overhaul through successive versions, including this one. Some users complained that the most recent version was a bit of a step backwards, but this is all in an effort to improve performance, as well as to modernize and streamline the product. From my vantage as an editor who uses After Effects as much as a utility as for occasional motion graphics and visual effects, I really like what Adobe has been doing. Changes in this update include enhanced performance, GPU-accelerated Gaussian blur and Lumetri color correction, better playback of cached frames, and a new a/v preview engine. In the test projects that I ran through it, including the demo projects sent by Adobe, performance was fast and rather impressive. That’s on a 2009 Mac Pro tower.

If you are an animator, then Maxon Cinema 4D is likely a tool that you use in conjunction with After Effects. Animated text and shape layers can now be saved directly into the Cinema 4D file format from After Effects. When you customize your text and shapes in Cinema 4D, the changes are automatically updated in After Effects for a roundtrip 3D motion graphics workflow.

Thanks to the live The Simpsons event, in which Homer was animated live using Character Animator, this tool is gaining visibility. Character Animator moves to version 4, even though the application is still technically in prerelease. Some of the enhancements include improved puppet tagging. You can record multiple takes of a character’s movement and then enable your puppet to respond to motion and trigger animation accordingly.

To wrap up, remember that Adobe is promoting Creative Cloud as more than simply a collection of applications. The subscription includes access to over 50 million royalty-free photos, illustrations, vector graphics and video (including 4K clips). According to Adobe, licensed Adobe Stock assets in your library are now badged for easy identification. Videos in your library are displayed with duration and format information and have links to video previews. You can access your Libraries whenever you need them, both when you are connected to the internet and working offline. I personally have yet to use Adobe Stock, but it’s definitely a resource that you should remember is there if you need it.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine and Creative Planet Network.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Apple iPad Pro

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Mark me down as a happy Apple iPad user. It’s my go-to computer away from home, unless I need to bring my laptop for on-site editing. I’ve even written some of my magazine stories, like NAB reports, on it. First the original iPad and now a new Air 2. While I don’t consider myself a post-PC computer user, I could imagine that if I didn’t need to run tools like Resolve, FCPX, and Premiere Pro, an iPad Pro could function as my only computer.

For this review, Apple loaned me the 12.9″ 128GB WiFi+Cellular iPad Pro, complete with all the bells-and-whistles, including the Apple Pencil, Lightning-to-SD Card Camera Reader, Case, Smart Cover, and Smart Keyboard. The Pro’s A9X processor is beefy for a tablet. Other reviewers have noted its performance rivals Apple’s smallest MacBook with the Intel Core M CPU. Since the iPad Air 2 processor is only one step down, you won’t see that much difference between it and the iPad Pro on most iOS applications. However, the A9X delivers twice the CPU and graphics performance of the Air 2’s A8X, so there is a difference in driving the larger 12.9” Pro screen, as well as with multitasking and animation-heavy applications.

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Many specs are the same between these two models, with the exception that the iPad Pro includes a total of four speakers and adds a Smart Connector to be used with the Smart Keyboard. In addition, the Pro’s touch screen has been re-engineered to scan at 240 times/second (twice as fast as scanning for your finger) in support of the Apple Pencil. On March 21st Apple launched a second iPad Pro model using the same 9.7” form factor as the iPad Air 2. Other than screen size, the two Pro models sport nearly identical specs, including A9X processor, four speakers, and Smart Connector. Now there’s also a Smart Keyboard specifically designed for each model. Since I tested the larger version, the rest of this review is in the context of using the 12.9” model.

The big hallmark in iOS9 is multitasking, which lets you leave two applications open and on-screen, side-by-side at one time. You can go between them and slide the divider bar to change app size or move them completely on or off of the screen. This feature is superb on the iPad Pro, aided by the bigger screen real estate. It’s not quite as functional on the other iPads. However, many applications and web pages don’t feel quite optimized for the larger screen of the iPad Pro. It often feels like pages are slightly blown up or that there’s a lot of wasted space.

Accessories

df1216_ipadpro_pencilThe iPad Pro starts to stand out once you accessorize it. You can get an Apple case, Smart Cover and/or Smart keyboard. The covers magnetically attach to the iPad, so be careful. If you hold or lift the heavier iPad Pro by the cover, it can detach, resulting in the Pro potentially dropping to the floor. Both the Smart Cover and the Smart Keyboard can fold into a stand to prop up the iPad Pro on a desk. When you fold the Smart Keyboard back into a cover, it’s a very slim lid that fits over the screen. The feel of the keyboard is OK, but I prefer the action of the small, standalone Apple Bluetooth keyboard, which I use with my own iPad. Other reviewers have also expressed a preference for the Logitech keyboard available for the Pro. These new keyboards are enabled by the Smart Connector with its two-way power and data transfer, so no battery is required for the keyboard.

The new Apple Pencil is getting the most press. Unlike other pointing devices, the Pencil requires charging and can only be paired with the iPad Pro. The Pencil is clearly a blast to use with Pixelmator or FiftyThree’s Paper. It’s nicely weighted and feels as close to drawing with a real pen or pencil as you can get with an electronic stylus. It responds with pressure-sensitivity and you can even shade with the side of the tip. For drawing in apps like this, or Photoshop Express, Autodesk Graphic, Art Studio, etc., the Pencil is clearly superior to low-cost third-party styli or your finger. FiftyThree also offers its own drawing styli that are optimized for use with the Paper application.

df1216_ipadpro_53paperAs a pointing device, the Apple Pencil isn’t quite as good, since it was designed for fine detail. According to Apple, their design criteria was pixel-level precision. The Pencil does require charging, which you can do by plugging it into the iPad’s lightning port, or directly charging it by using the regular lightning cable and charger via a small adapter ring. When the Pencil gets low on juice a warning pops up on the iPad Pro’s screen. Plug it into the lightning port for a quick boost. Apple claims that fifteen seconds will give you thirty minutes of use and my experience bore this out.

The final accessory to mention is the Lightning-to-SD Card Camera Reader. The lightning port supports USB 3.0 speeds on the iPad Pro to make transfers fast. Plug the reader into the lightning port and pop your SD card into the reader. The Photos application will open to the contents of the card and you can import a selection of clips. Unfortunately, there is no generic way to transfer files into the iPad using SD cards. I’ve been able to cheat it a little by putting some renamed H.264 files into the DCIM folder structure from a Canon 5D camera. This made everything look like valid camera media. Then I could move files into Photos, which is Apple’s management tool for both camera stills and videos on the iPad. However, it doesn’t work for all files, such as graphics or audio tracks that you might use for a voice-over.

Using the iPad Pro as a professional video tool

Is the iPad Pro better for the video professional when compared with other tablets and iPads? Obviously the bigger screen is nice if you are editing in iMovie, but can one go beyond that?

df1216_ipadpro_filmicproI worked with a number of applications, such as FiLMiC Pro. This application adds real camera controls to the built-in camera. These include ISO, white balance, focus, frame rates, and stabilization controls. It was used in the production of the Sundance hit, Tangerine, and is a must-have tool if you intend to do serious captures with any iOS device. The footage looks good and H.264 compression (starting at 32Mbps) artifacts are not very visible. Unfortunately, there’s not shutter angle control to induce motion blur, which would smooth out the footage.

To make real production viable, you would need camera rigging and accessories. The weight of the 12.9″ iPad Pro makes it tough to shoot steady hand-held footage. Outside in bright daylight, the screen is too dim even at its brightest setting. Having some sort of display hood is a must. In fact, the same criticism is true if you are using it to draw outside. Nevertheless, if you mounted an iPad or iPad Pro in some sort of fixed manner, it would be very useful for recording interviews and similar, controllable productions. iOgrapher produces some of these items, but the larger iPad Pro model isn’t supported yet.

df1216_ipadpro_imovieFor editors, the built in option is iMovie. It is possible to edit external material, if you brought it in via the card reader, DropBox, iCloud Drive, or by syncing with your regular computer. (Apple’s suggested transfer path is via AirDrop.) Once you’ve edited your piece, you can move the project file from iOS iMovie to iMovie on your computer using iCloud Drive and then import that project into Final Cut Pro X. In my tests, the media was embedded into the project and none of the original timecode or file names were maintained. Frame rates were also changed from 29.97fps to 30.0fps. Clearly if you intend to use this path, it’s best for video originated on the iPad itself.

df1216_ipadpro_touchedit_1If you want a professional nonlinear editing tool for the iPad, nothing even comes close to TouchEdit, an app developed by feature film editor Dan Lebental (Ant-Man, Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens) and his team. This app includes many of the tools an editor would expect, such as trimming, titles and audio mixing, plus it tracks all of the important clip metadata. There is a viable workflow to get clips into – and an edit list and/or movie out of – the iPad. Lebental started with a skeuomorphic interface design that borrows from the look of a flatbed editor. The newest version of the software includes the option for a flattened interface skin, plus a portrait and landscape layout, each of which enables somewhat different capabilities. TouchEdit is attractive as an offline editing tool that definitely benefits from the larger size and improved performance of the iPad Pro.

Final thoughts

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I used the 12.9” iPad Pro for three months. It’s a wonderful tool, but also a mixed bag. The more ample screen real estate makes it easier to use than the 9.7” iPad models. However, the smaller device is tweaked so that many pages are displayed a bit differently. Thus the size advantage of the larger Pro model is less pronounced. Like all iPads, the Pro uses the same iOS operating system. This holds back the potential of the Pro, which begs for some sort of hybrid “iOS Pro” operating system that would make the iPad Pro work more like a laptop. Naturally, Apple’s position is that iPads are “touch-first” devices and iOS a “touch-first” operating system. The weakest spot is the lack of true file i/o and a visible file structure. You have to go through Dropbox, iCloud, Photos, AirDrop, e-mail, or be connected to iTunes on your home machine.

The cost of the iPad Pro would seem to force a decision between buying the 12” MacBook and the 12.9″ iPad Pro. Both are of similar size, weight, and performance. In John Gruber’s Daring Fireball review he opined that in the case of the iPad Pro, “professional” should really be thought of in the context of “deluxe”. According to him, the iPad Pro relates to the regular iPad line in the same way a MacBook Pro relates to the other MacBooks. In other words, if an iPad serves your needs and you can afford the top-end version, then the Pro is for you. Its target market is thus self-defining. The iPad Pro is a terrific step up in all the things that make tablets the computing choice for many. Depending on your needs, it’s a great portable computer. For the few that are moving into the post-PC world, it could even be their only computer.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Automatic Duck Xsend Motion

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When Apple transitioned its Final Cut Pro product family from Final Cut Studio to Final Cut Pro X, Motion 5, and Compressor 4, it lost a number of features that editors really liked. Some of these “missing” features show up as consistent and reoccurring requests on various wish lists. One of the most popular is the roundtrip function that sent Final Cut Pro “classic” timelines over to Motion for further compositing. To many, it seemed like Motion had become relegated to being a fancy development tool for FCPX plug-ins, rather than what it is – a powerful, GPU-enabled compositor.

df1516_AD_2At last, that workflow hole has been plugged, thanks to Automatic Duck. Last year the father/son development team brought us a way to go from Final Cut Pro X to Adobe’s After Effects by way of the Automatic Duck Ximport AE bridge. This week at the FCP Exchange Workshop in Las Vegas, Wes Plate reveals the new Automatic Duck Xsend Motion. This tool leverages the power of the FCPX’s version of XML to move data from one application to the other. Thanks to FCPXML, it provides a bridge to send FCPX timelines, clips, or sections of timelines over to Motion 5.

df1516_AD_4Xsend Motion reads FCPXML exports or is able to process projects directly from the Final Cut Pro X Share menu. The Xsend menu enables a number of settings options, including whether to bring clips into Motion as individual clips or as what Automatic Duck has dubbed as “lanes”. When clips are left individual, then each clip is assigned a layer in Motion for a composition made up of a series of cascading layers. If you opt for lanes, then the Motion layers stay grouped in a similar representation to the FCPX project timeline. This way primary and secondary storylines and connected clips are properly configured. Xsend also interprets compound clips.

Automatic Duck is striving to correctly interpret all of the FCPX characteristics, including frame sizes, rates, cropping, and more. Since Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5 are essentially built upon the same engine, the translation will correctly interpret most built-in effects. However, it may or may not interpret custom Motion templates that individual users have created. In addition, they plan on being able to properly translate many of the effects in the FxFactory portfolio, which typically install into both FCPX and Motion.

df1516_AD_3While Xsend Motion and Ximport AE are primarily one-way trips, there is a mechanism to send the finished result back to Final Cut Pro X from Motion 5. The first and most obvious is simply to render the Motion composition as a flattened QuickTime movie and import that back into FCPX as new media. However, you can also publish the Motion composition as an FCPX Generator. This would then show up in the Generators portion of the Effects Palette as a custom generator effect.

Automatic Duck Xsend Motion will be officially released later this year. The price hasn’t been announced yet. Current Automatic Duck products (Automatic Duck Ximport AE and Automatic Duck Media Copy) are available through Red Giant.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Spring Tools

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It’s often the little things that improve your editing workflow. Here are a few quick items that can expand your editing arsenal.

Hawaiki Super Dissolve

df1416_tools_3The classical approach to editing transitions suggests that all you need is a cut and a dissolve. Given how often most editors use a dissolve transition, it’s amazing that few NLE developers spend any time creating more than a basic video dissolve, fade or dip. After all, even the original Media Composer came with both a video and a film-style dissolve. Audio mixers are used to several different types of crossfades.

Since this is such a neglected area, the development team behind the Hawaiki plug-ins decided to create Super Dissolve – a dissolve transition plug-in for Final Cut Pro X with many more options. This installs through the FxFactory application. It shows up in the FCPX transitions palette as a dissolve effect, plus a set of presets for fades, dips and custom curves. A dissolve is nothing more than a blend between two images, so Super Dissolve exposes the same types of under-the-hood controls as After Effects and Photoshop artists are used to with compositing modes.

Drop the Super Dissolve in as a transition and you have control over blending modes, layer order, easing controls with timing, and the blurring of the outgoing and/or incoming image. Since you have control over the outgoing and incoming clips separately, different values can be applied to either side, thus enabling an asymmetrical effect. For example, a quick fade with a blur off the outgoing clip, while bringing the incoming side up more slowly. As with the default FCPX dissolve, there’s also an audio crossfade adjustment, since FCPX transitions can effect both audio and video when these elements are combined. If you really like the ability to finesse your transitions, then Super Dissolve hits the spot.

XEffects Audio Fades

df1416_tools_6Free is good, so check out Idustrial Revolution’s free effects. Although they are primarily a video effects developer for Motion and Final Cut Pro X, they recently added a set of audio fade presets for FCPX. Download and install the free pack and you’ll find the XEffects Fades group in the audio plug-ins section of your effects palette.

XEffects Fades includes a set of preset fade handles, which are applied to the audio on your timeline clips. Drag-and-drop the preset with the fade length closest to what you want and it automatically adjusts the fade handle length at both ends of that audio clip. If you want to tweak the length, apply the effect first and then adjust the length puck on the clip as needed. Existing lengths will be overwritten when you drop the effect onto the clip, so make sure you make these adjustments last.

AudioDenoise and EchoRemover

df1416_tools_5CrumplePop is another developer known for its video effects; but they, too have decided to add audio effects to their repertoire. AudioDenoise and EchoRemover are two Final Cut Pro X plug-ins sold through the FxFactory application. These two effects are easy-to-use Apple Audio Units filters designed to improve poorly recorded location audio. As with Apple’s own built-in controls, each filter includes a few sliders to adjust strength and how the effect is applied. When applying any audio “clean up” filter, a little goes a long way. If you use it to its extreme range, the result sounds like you are underwater. Nevertheless, these two filters do a very nice job with poor audio, without presenting the cost and complexity of other well-known audio products.

Alex4D Animated Transitions

df1416_tools_1For a little bit of spice in your Final Cut Pro X timelines, it’s worth checking out the Alex4D Animated Transitions from FxFactory. Alex Gollner has been a prolific developer of free Final Cut Pro plug-ins, but this is his first commercial effort. Animated Transitions are a set of 120 customizable transition effects to slide, grow, split and peel incoming or outgoing clips and lower third titles. Traditionally you’d have to build these effects yourself using DVE moves. But by dropping one of these effects onto a cut point between two clips, you quickly apply a dynamic effect with all the work already done. Simply pick the transition you like, tweak the parameters and it’s done.

Post Notes

df1416_tools_4One of the best features of Adobe applications is Extensions. This is a development “hook” within Premiere Pro or After Effects that allows developers to create task-oriented panels, tools and controls that effectively “bolt” right into the Adobe interface. One example for After Effects would be TypeMonkey (and the other “Monkeys”), which are kinetic effect macros. For Premiere there’s PDFviewer, which enables you to view your script (or any other document) in PDF format right inside the Premiere user interface.

A new extension for Premiere Pro CC is Post Notes. Once installed, it’s an interface panel within Premiere Pro that functions as a combined notepad and to-do list. These are tied to a specific sequence, so you can have a set of notes and to-dos for each sequence in your project. When a to-do item is completed, check it off to indicate that it’s been addressed. This tool is so straightforward and simple, you’ll wonder why every editing software doesn’t already have something like this built-in.

Hedge for Mac

df1416_tools_2With digital media as a way of life for most editors, we have to deal with more and more camera media. Quickly copying camera cards is a necessary evil and making sure you do this without corruption is essential. The Mac Finder really is NOT the tool you should be using, yet everyone does it. There are a number of products on the market that copy to multiple locations with checksum verification. These are popular with DITs and “data wranglers” and include Pomfort Silverstack, Red Giant Offload, and even Adobe Prelude.

A newcomer is Hedge for Mac. This is a simple, single-purpose utility designed to quickly copy files and verify the copies. There’s a free and a paid version. If you just want to copy to one or two destinations at a time, the free version will do. If you need even more destinations as a simultaneous copy, then go for the paid version. Hedge will also launch your custom AppleScripts to sort, transcode, rename or perform other functions. Transfers are fast in the testing I’ve done, so this is a must-have tool for any editors.

©2016 Oliver Peters

More LUTs from IWLTBAP

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With more cameras shooting in some form of a log or flat color profile and more editing software being able to integrate color look-up tables (LUTs), numerous developers have designed their own LUT packages. Some, like Koji, strive to duplicate the colorimetry of certain film stocks, while others, such as SpeedLooks from LookLabs, create stylized “look” files that give you a range of creative color correction choices.

One new developer offering a package of easy to use LUTs is French filmmaker IWLTBAP. Through the website, you can pick up a comprehensive package of LUTs in the 32x32x32 .cube format, which are compatible with most modern editing and compositing software applications. If you edit in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, the Lumetri Color panel lets you browse and add any .cube LUTs you’ve saved on your hard drives. If you cut in Apple Final Cut Pro X, then the addition of a LUT plug-in, like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility, enables you to add third-party LUTs to any clip on the timeline.df1316_iwltbap_4

I took these LUTs for a spin and like most LUT packages, they come in a groups. First you have Utility LUTs, which are designed to convert color spaces from log to Rec709 (the standard video color space) or in the opposite direction. These are organized by camera type, since not all manufacturers use the same logarithmic values. Then the color correction or “look” LUTs are grouped into Standard and Log versions.

The Standard LUTs are to be applied to images that are already in Rec709 color space, while the Log versions can be used as a one-step LUT to be applied to generic log images. For example, you could apply both a Log-to-Rec709 Utility LUT and a second LUT from the Standard group to achieve your result. Or simply apply the single Log version to that same clip and end up with similar results. The dual-LUT approach gives you more incremental control over the Log conversion based on camera models, whereas the single-step solution is designed for generic log images. However, both can yield the desired grade, depending on the clip. In addition to the paid LUT package, IWLTBAP offers two Bonus LUTs, which are available as a free download from the website.

df1316_iwltbap_2There are over 80 LUTs in each group and these are organized by color style and number. The numbers don’t really mean anything. In other words, they aren’t an attempt to mimic a film stock number. As you ascend in numbers, the next step is a more aggressive or somewhat different version of the previous. The key is the prefix and suffix for each. These LUT files carry a STD or LOG suffix so you know whether these are from the Log or Standard group. Then there’s a prefix: C for cold, H for hot, W for warm, F for film, and X for creative. Each style has several variations within that general look. For example, the LUT file labelled “F-9490-STD.cube” is a LUT with a filmic curve designed for a Rec709 image.

df1316_iwltbap_7When working with LUTs, it’s often hard to know what result you get until you try it. Then if you don’t like the look, you have to continue to slowly browse through your LUT files – applying each, one at a time – until you get the right look. Often that can lead to a lot of trial and error. The IWLTBAP package ships with lightweight Windows and Mac preview applications, however, the developer warns of some occasional instability on some machines. The easiest solution is to use their web-based LUT previewer. Simply upload a reference JPEG from your clip and then toggle through the LUTs to preview how those will affect the shot.

df1316_iwltbap_6I ran some tests on Blackmagic Design camera footage in both FCPX and Premiere Pro CC and got some really pleasing results. In the case of FCPX, if you use LUT Utility, you have to copy the .cube files into LUT Utility’s Motion Templates folder. This is found under Effects/CGC. Files stored there become visible in the LUT Utility pulldown menu. Note that only the first 50 or so files in that folder can be accessed, so be selective. If you apply two instances of the LUT Utility to a clip, then you can apply a Log-to-Rec709 conversion in the first and then the creative look LUT in the second. This plug-in has a mix slider, so you can adjust the intensity of the LUT to taste. As an effects plug-in, you can also place other effects, such as color correction in-between the two LUT Utility effects as part of that stack of effects. Doing this gives you nice control over color within FCPX with very little overhead on the application’s performance.

df1316_iwltbap_3If you are an FCPX user that has adopted Color Grading Central’s ColorFinale grading tool as your go-to color correction plug-in, then all of this LUT management within the application can be simply handled from the ColorFinale interface itself. Stack layers of LUTs and other color tools all inside the ColorFinale panel. LUT choices can be added or removed using the integrated LUT Manager and then relaunching FCPX to activate them as part of ColorFinale.

If you are a Premiere Pro CC editor, then the latest version was enhanced with the Lumetri Color panel. This control is organized as a stack of color modules, which include two entry points to add a LUT – in the Basic and the Creative tabs. In my testing of the new URSA footage, I applied a Log-to-Rec709 LUT for the URSA in Basic and then one the “look” LUTs, like the free Aspen standard version, in Creative. You still have all the other color control in the Lumetri panel to fine-tune these, including the intensity level of the LUT.

df1316_iwltbap_5LUTs are a creative tool that should be thought of as a stylistic choice. They aren’t an instant fix and shouldn’t be the only tool you use to color correct a clip. However, the LUTs from IWLTBAP provide a good selection of looks and moods that work well with a wide range of shots. Plus the package is very affordable and even more so if you get it after reading this blog! Readers who are interested can get 25% off of the retail price using the discount code DIGITALFILMS. Or by using this direct link.

Last but not least, check out the free, downloadable 4K film grain clip. It’s a ten second ProRes file that can be overlaid or blended to add grain to your shot.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Adobe Premiere Pro CC Tips

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Adobe Premiere Pro CC is the dominant NLE that I encounter amongst my clients. Editors who’ve shifted over from Final Cut Pro “classic” may have simply transferred existing skills and working methods to Premiere Pro. This is great, but it’s easy to miss some of the finer points in Premiere Pro that will make you more productive. Here are seven tips that can benefit nearly any project.

df0616_ppro_1LUTs/Looks – With the addition of the Lumetri Color panel, it’s easy to add LUTs into your color correction workflow. You get there through the Color workspace preset or by applying a Lumetri Color effect to a timeline clip. Import a LUT from the Basic Correction or Creative section of the controls. From here, browse to any stored LUT on your hard drive(s) and it will be applied to the clip. There are plenty of free .cube LUTs floating around the web. However, you may not know that Look files, created through Adobe SpeedGrade CC in the .look format, may also be applied within the Creative section. You can also find a number of free ones on the web, including a set I created for SpeedGrade. Unlike LUTs, these also support effects used in SpeedGrade.

df0616_ppro_2Audio MixingPremiere Pro features very nice audio tools and internal audio mixing is a breeze. I typically use three filters on nearly every mix I create. First, I will add a basic dynamic compressor to all of my dialogue tracks. To keep it simple, I normally use the default preset. Second, I will add an EQ filter to my music tracks. Here, I will set it to notch out the midrange slightly, which lets the dialogue sit a bit better in the mix. Finally I’ll add limiting to the master track. Normally this is set to soft clip at -10db. If I have specific loudness specs as part of my delivery requirements, then I’ll route my mix through a submaster bus first and apply the limiting to the submaster. I will apply the RADAR loudness meter to the master bus and adjust accordingly to be compliant.

df0616_ppro_3Power windows – This is a term that came from DaVinci Resolve, but is often used generically to talk about building up a grade on a shot by isolating areas within the image. For example, brightening someone’s face more so than the overall image. You can do this in Premiere Pro by stacking up more than one Lumetri Color effect onto a clip. Start by applying a Lumetri Color effect and grade the overall shot. Next, apply a second instance of the effect and use the built-in Adobe mask tool to isolate only the selection that you want to add the second correction to, such as an oval around someone’s head. Tweak color as needed. If the shot moves around, you can even use the internal tracker to have your mask follow the object. Do you have another area to adjust? Simply add a third effect and repeat the process.

df0616_ppro_4Export/import titles – Premiere Pro titles are created in the Title Designer module and these titles can be exported as a separate metadata file (.prtl format). Let’s say that you have a bunch of titles that you plan to use repeatedly on new projects, but you don’t want to bring these in from one project to the next. You can do this more simply by exporting and re-importing the title’s data file. Simply select the title in the bin and then File/Export/Title. The hitch is that Adobe’s Media Browser will not recognize the .prtl format and so the easiest way to import it into a new project is to drag it from the Finder location straight into the new Premiere Pro project. This will create a new title inside of the new project. Both instances of this title are unique, so editing the title in any project won’t effect how it appears elsewhere.

df0616_ppro_5Replace with clip – I work on a number of productions where there’s a base version of a commercial and then a lot of versions with small changes to each. A typical example is a spot that uses many different lower third phone numbers, which are market-specific. The Replace function shaves hours off of this workflow. I first duplicate a completed sequence and rename it. Then I select the correct phone number in the bin, followed by selecting the clip in the timeline to be changed. Right-click and choose Replace with Clip/From Bin. This will update the content of my timeline clip with the new phone number. Any effects or keyframes that have been applied in the timeline remain.

df0616_ppro_6Optical flow speed changes – In a recent update, optical flow interpolation was added as one of the speed change choices. Other than the obvious uses of speed changes, I found this to be a get way of creating slower camera moves that look nearly perfect. Optical flow can be tricky – sometimes creating odd motion artifacts – and at other times it’s perfect. I have a camera slider move or pan along a mantle containing family photos. The move is too fast. So, yes, I can slow it down, but the horizontal motion will leave it as stuttering or blurred. However, if I slow it to exactly 50% and select optical flow, in most cases, I get very good results. That’s because this speed and optical flow have created perfect “in-between” frames. A :05 move is now :10 and works better in the edit. If I’m going to use this same clip a lot, I simply render/export it is as a new piece of media, which I’ll bring back into the project as if it were a VFX clip.

df0616_ppro_7Render and replace – Premiere Pro CC is great when you have a ton of different camera formats and want to work with native media. While that generally works, a large project will really impede performance, especially in the editing sequence. The alternative is to transcode the clips to an optimized or so-called mezzanine format. Adobe does this in the sequence rather than in the bin and it can be done for individual clips or every clip within the sequence. You might have a bunch of native 4K .mp4 camera clips in a 1080p timeline. Simply select the clips within the timeline that you would like to transcode and right-click for the Render and Replace dialogue. At this point you have a several options, including whether to use clip or sequence settings, handle length, codec, and file location. If you choose “clip”, then what you get is a new, trimmed clip in an optimized codec, which will be stored in a separate folder. This becomes a great way to consolidate your media. The clip is imported into your bin, so you have access to both the original and the optimized clip at the original settings. Therefore, your consolidated clips are still 4K if that’s how they started.

This also works for Dynamic Link After Effects compositions. Render and Replace those for better timeline performance. But if you need to go back to the composition in order to update it in After Effects, that’s just a few clicks away.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Producing a Short Mini-Doc with the AJA CION

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AJA surprised the industry in 2014 when it rolled out its CION digital cinema 4K camera. Although not known as a camera manufacturer, it had been working on this product for over four years. Last year the company offered its Try CION promotion (ended in October), which loaned camera systems to qualified filmmakers. Even though this promotion is over, potential customers with a serious interest can still get extended demos of the camera through their regional AJA sales personnel. It was in this vein that I arranged a two-week loan of a camera unit for this review.

I’m a post guy and don’t typically write camera reviews; however, I’m no stranger to cameras either. I’ve spent a lot of time “shading” cameras (before that position was called a DIT) and have taken my turn as a studio and field camera operator. My interest in doing this review was to test the process. How easy was it to use the camera in actual production and how easy was the post workflow associated with it?

CION details

The AJA CION is a 4K digital camera that employs an APS-C CMOS sensor with a global shutter and both infrared-cut and optical low-pass filters. It can shoot in various frame sizes (from 1920×1080 up to 4096×2160) and frame rates (from 23.98 up 120fps). Sensor scaling rather than windowing/cropping is used, which means the lens size related to the image it produces is the same in 4K as in 2K or HD. In other words, a 50mm lens yields the same optical framing in all digital sizes.

df0516_CION_Chellee5The CION records in Apple ProRes (up to ProRes 4444) using a built-in Pak media recorder. Think of this as essentially an AJA KiPro built right into the camera. Since Pak media cards aren’t FAT32 formatted like CF or SD cards used by other cameras, you don’t run into a 4GB file-size limit that would cause clip-spanning.  You can also record AJA Raw externally (such as to an AJA KiPro Quad) over 3G-SDI or Thunderbolt. Video is linear without any log encoding schemes; but, there are a number of gamma profiles and color correction presets.

df0516_CION_prod_1It is designed as an open camera system, using standard connectors for HDMI, BNC, XLR, batteries, lens mounts, and accessories. CION uses a PL lens mount system, because that’s the most open and the best glass comes for that mounting system. When the AJA rep sent me the camera, it came ready to shoot and included a basic camera configuration, plus accessories, including some rods, an Ikan D5w monitor, a Zeiss Compact Prime 28mm lens, 512GB and 256GB solid-state Pak media cards, and a Pak media dock/reader. The only items not included – other than tripod, quick-release base plate, and head, of course – were camera batteries. The camera comes with a standard battery plate, as well as an AC power supply.

Learning the CION

The subject of this mini-doc was a friend of mine, Peter Taylor. He’s a talented luthier who builds and repairs electric and acoustic guitars and basses under his Chellee brand. He also designs and produces a custom line of electric guitar pedals. To pull this off, I partnered with the Valencia College Film Production Technology Program, with whom I’m edited a number of professional feature films and where I teach an annual editing workshop. I worked with Ray Bracero, a budding DP and former graduate of that program who helps there as an instructional assistant. This gave me the rest of the package I needed for the production, including more lenses, a B-camera for the interview, lighting, and sound gear.

Our production schedule was limited with only one day for the interview and B-roll shots in the shop. To augment this material, I added a second day of production with my son, Chris Peters, playing an original track that he composed as an underscore for the interview. Chris is an accomplished session musician and instructor who plays Chellee guitars.

df0516_CION_prod_2With the stage set, this provided about half a day for Ray and me to get familiar with the CION, plus two days of actual production, all within the same week. If AJA was correct in designing an easy-to-use cinematic camera, then this would be a pretty good test of that concept. Ray had never run a CION before, but was familiar with REDs, Canons, and other camera brands. Picking up the basic CION operation was simple. The menu is easier than other cameras. It uses the same structure as a KiPro, but there’s also an optional remote set-up, if you want a wireless connection to the CION from a laptop.

4K wasn’t warranted for this project, so everything was recorded in 2K (2048×1080) to be used in an HD 2.35:1 sequence (1920×817). This would give me some room to reframe in post. All sync sound shots would be 23.98fps and all B-roll would be in slow motion. The camera permits “overcranking”, meaning we shot at 59.94fps for playback at 23.98fps. The camera can go up to 120fps, but only when recording externally in AJA Raw. To keep it simple on this job, all recording was internal to the Pak media card – ProResHQ for the sync footage and ProRes 422 for the slow motion shots.

Production day(s)

The CION is largely a “what you see is what you get” camera. Don’t plan on extensive correction in post. What you see on the monitor is typically what you’ll get, so light and control your production set-up accordingly. It doesn’t have as wide of a dynamic range as an ARRI ALEXA for example. The bottom EI (exposure index) is 320 and that’s pretty much where you want to operate as a sweet spot. This is similar to the original RED One. This means that in bright exteriors, you’ll need filtering to knocking down the light. There’s also not much benefit in running with a high EI. The ALEXA, for instance, looks great at 800, but that setting didn’t seem to help the CION.

df0516_CION_Chellee13_smGamma profiles and color temperature settings didn’t really behave like I would have expected from other cameras. With our lighting, I would have expected a white balance of 3200 degrees Kelvin, however 4500 looked right to the eye and was, in fact, correct in post. The various gamma profiles didn’t help with clipping in the same way as Log-C does, so we ultimately stayed with Normal/Expanded. This shifts the midrange down to give you some protection for highlights. Unfortunately with CION, when highlights are clipped or blacks are crushed, that is actually how the signal is being recorded and these areas of the signal are not recoverable. The camera’s low end is very clean and there’s a meaty midrange. We discovered that you cannot monitor the video over SDI while recording 59.94-over-23.98 (slow motion). Fortunately HDMI does maintain a signal. All was good again, once we switched to the HDMI connection.

CION features a number of color correction presets. For Day 1 in the luthier shop, I used the Skin Tones preset. This is a normal color balance, which slightly desaturates the red-orange range, thus yielding more natural flesh tones. On Day 2 for the guitar performance, I switched to the Normal color correction preset. The guitar being played has a red sunburst paint finish and the Skin Tones preset pulled too much of the vibrance out of the guitar. Normal more closely represented what it actually looked like.

df0516_CION_Chellee4During the actual production, Ray used three Zeiss Super Speed Primes (35mm, 50mm, and 85mm) on the CION, plus a zoom on the Canon 5D B-camera. Since the locations were tight, he used an ARRI 650w light with diffusion for a key and bounced a second ARRI 150w light as the back light. The CION permits two channels of high-quality audio input (selectable line, mic, or +48v). I opted to wire straight into the camera, instead of using an external sound recorder. Lav and shotgun mics were directly connected to each channel for the interview. For the guitar performance, the amp was live-mic’ed into an Apogee audio interface (part of Chris’ recording system) and the output of that was patched into the CION at line level.df0516_CION_Chellee8

The real-time interview and performance material was recorded with the CION mounted on a tripod, but all slow motion B-roll shots were handheld. Since the camera had been rigged with a baseplate and rods, Ray opted to use the camera in that configuration instead of taking advantage of the nice shoulder pad on the CION. This gave him an easy grasp of the camera for “Dutch angles” and close working proximity to the subject. Although a bit cumbersome, the light weight of the CION made such quick changes possible.

Post production

df0516_CION_FCPX_2As an editor, I want a camera to make life easy in post, which brought me to Apple Final Cut Pro X for the finished video. Native ProRes, easy syncing of two-camera interviews, and simple-yet-powerful color correction makes FCPX a no-brainer. We recorded a little over three hours of material – 146 minutes on the CION, 37 minutes on the 5D and 11 minutes on a C500 (for two pick-up shots). All of the CION footage only consumed about 50% of the single 512GB Pak media card. Using the Pak media dock, transfer times were fast. While Pak media isn’t cheap, the cards are very robust and unless you are chewing through tons of 4K, you actually get a decent amount of recording time on them.

I only applied a minor amount of color correction on the CION footage. This was primarily to bring up the midrange due to the Normal/Expanded gamma profile, which naturally makes the recorded shot darker. The footage is very malleable without introducing the type of grain-like sensor noise artifacts that I see with other cameras using a similar amount of correction. Blacks stay true black and clean. Although my intention was not to match the 5D to the CION – I had planned on some stylized correction instead – in the end I matched it anyway, since I only used two shots. Surprisingly, I was able to get a successful match.

Final thoughts

df0516_CION_Chellee6The CION achieved the design goals AJA set for it. It is easy to use, ergonomic, and gets you a good image with the least amount of fuss. As with any camera, there are a few items I’d change. For example, the front monitoring connectors are too close to the handle. Occasionally you have to press record twice to make sure you are really recording. There’s venting on the top, which would seem to be an issue if you suddenly got caught in the rain. Overall, I was very happy with the results, but I think AJA still needs to tweak the color science a bit more.

In conjunction with FCPX for post, this camera/NLE combo rivals ARRI’s ALEXA and AMIRA for post production ease and efficiency. No transcoding. No performance hits due to taxing, native, long-GOP media. Proper file names and timecode. A truly professional set-up. At a starting point of $4,995, the AJA CION is a dynamite camera for the serious producer or filmmaker. The image is good and the workflow outstanding.

Click this link to see the final video on Vimeo.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2016 Oliver Peters