The concept of synchronizing clips by sound seems so obvious in retrospect, but when Bruce Sharpe showed his first version of PluralEyes at a small NAB booth, it struck many as nothing short of magic. The first version was designed to sync multiple consumer and prosumer video cameras by aligning their sound tracks in the absence of recorded timecode. With the unanticipated popularity of the HDSLR cameras, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in late 2009, PluralEyes gained a big boost. It became the easiest way to sync 5D clips with double-system audio recorded using low-cost devices, such as the Zoom H4n handheld digital audio recorder. PluralEyes expanded from a plug-in for Final Cut Pro to add the standalone DualEyes, used to sync double-system sound projects. In a very short time period, PluralEyes went from an unknown to a brand name synonymous with a product or process, much like Coke or Kleenex.
Now that Sharpe’s Singular Software products are part of the Red Giant Software family, PluralEyes is available as the new and improved, standalone PluralEyes 3 (currently in version 3.1). It encompasses all of the features of both the original PluralEyes and of DualEyes. This means that PluralEyes 3 supports two basic processes: a) synchronizing camera files with external audio, and b) synchronizing multiple cameras to each other or to a common sound track. This is all done by comparing the audio tracks against each other without the use of timecode, clapsticks or other common reference points.
PluralEyes 3 analyzes and matches audio waveform shapes to accomplish this, so without belaboring the obvious, all camera files have to include an audio track recorded in the same general environment. Since PluralEyes uses very good audio analysis tools and audio normalization to aid the process, the camera audio does not have to be pristine. The most common scenario is a high-quality audio recording as a separate digital audio file and camera audio that was recorded solely with the onboard mic. Naturally the cleaner this onboard recording is, the more likely that synchronization will be successful.
The new features of PluralEyes 3 include a brand new user interface, faster synchronization, NLE round-tripping support (Apple Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro) and direct exporting of new, synchronized media files. To synchronize double-system projects, simply drag your camera files into the interface’s camera section and the audio tracks into the audio section. PluralEyes 3 lets you create multiple bins as tabs across the top of the interface for use in organizing your files. For instance, you might want a separate bin for each camera or shoot date or location.
As you add the camera and audio clips to these sections, they will be lined up in ascending order within the lower timeline window. Once the timeline is filled, click “synchronize” and watch PluralEyes 3 do its magic. If the audio recording is low, you can opt to level the audio (normalization) during this process. That will make it easier for successful matching, but it’s an extra step, so the total synchronizing process will take a little longer. Part of PluralEyes 3’s new interface is a 2-up view, which makes it possible to see how the audio tracks align. This view will aid you in adjusting sync if needed.
When synchronization is complete, PluralEyes 3 offers several export options. If you are sending these files to Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Pro X, simply export the appropriate XML version. You can choose to replace the camera audio tracks with the audio file’s track as part of this step. Then import that XML into the NLE you selected. When I ran this test with FCP X, the export options let me send two new Events (synchronized clips plus synchronized clips with replaced audio) and a new sequence (Project) representing the PluralEyes timeline. This timeline had both sets of audio channels turned on, so you’ll have to mute the camera tracks first if you intend to use this timeline.
A new feature is the ability to export new media files. For instance, if you want new clips where the high-quality audio has replaced the camera’s reference track, PluralEyes 3 will export these and write new media files. The advantage is that this approach is independent of your NLE choice, making the self-contained, synchronized files easy to migrate between systems.
PluralEyes 3 can also sync multiple cameras for a multi-camera edit session. First, start in the NLE by building a timeline with the clips for each camera placed on a separate video track. Video 1 = camera 1, video 2 = camera 2 and so on. Multiple broken clips from the same camera angle should be placed back-to-back on the same track. In the case of FCP X, group multiple clips from the same camera into a single secondary storyline, before proceeding to the next camera. Once you are done, export an XML file for that sequence. For Avid Media Composer projects, export an AAF file with the media linked and not embedded.
The XML or AAF file is then imported into PluralEyes 3. You’ll end up with a timeline that is populated with the different camera angles corresponding to your NLE sequence. Next, click “synchronize” and watch as PluralEyes realigns the camera clips by referencing the sound tracks against each other. The 2-up view is handy to compare two cameras (as well as their audio tracks) against each other, in case you have any question regarding their synchronization. Once this process is done, export a new XML or AAF from PluralEyes. Import that file into the NLE and you will have a timeline with camera clips rearranged in sync. This would represent what editors typically call a “sync map”. In the case of FCP X, the PluralEyes 3 export settings offer the option of exporting new events, as well as multicam clips. These can be used in FCP X’s standard multicam editing workflow. Open the FCP X angle viewer for access to editing between camera angles.
Red Giant’s PluralEyes 3 is a major advance over the original concept. It’s no longer tied to a single NLE, but is useful both in standalone and NLE-specific workflows. As editors deal with an ever-increasing, diverse spectrum of media sources, a tool like PluralEyes is an essential part of the kit. It was a no-brainer on day one, but even more so in this new and improved version.
©2013 Oliver Peters