Regardless of whether you own or work for a small editorial company or a large studio cranking out blockbusters, media and how you manage it is the circulatory system of your operation. No matter the same, many post operations have some of the same concerns, although may approach them with solutions that are vastly different from company to company.
Last year I wrote on this topic for postPerspective and interviewed key players at Molinare and Republic. This year I’ve revisited the topic, taking a look at top Midwestern spot shops Drive Thru and Utopic, as well as Marvel Studios. In addition, I’ve also broken down the “best practices” that Netflix suggests to its production partners.
Here are links to these articles at postPerspective:
Every editor has to contend with client changes. The process has become more challenging over the years with fewer clients attending edit sessions in person. This is especially difficult in long-form projects where you often end up rearranging sections to change the flow of the narrative.
The following is an all-too-familiar scenario. You are editing down an hourlong conversation that was recorded as a linear discussion. You’ve edited the first pass (version 1) and created an AI-based, speech-to-text transcript from the dialogue track. This includes timecode stamps and speaker identification for the client. (Premiere Pro is an excellent tool to use.)
The client sends back a paper cut in the form of a Word document with recommended trims, sections to delete, and rearranged paragraphs that change the flow of the conversation. The printed time stamps stay associated with each paragraph, which enables you to find the source clips within the version 1 timeline. However, as you move paragraphs around and cut sections, these time stamps are no longer a valid reference. The sequence times have now changed with your edits.
The solution is simple. First, create a movie file with running timecode on black. The timecode format and start time should match that of the sequence. You may want to create several of these assets at different frame rates and store them for future use. For instance, a lot of my sequences are cut at 23.98fps with a starting timecode of 00:00:00:00. I created a ProRes Proxy “timecode banner” file that’s over an hour long, which is stored in a folder along with other useful assets, like countdowns, tone, color bars, etc.
Once you receive the client’s Word document, dupe the version 1 sequence to create a version 2 sequence. Import the timecode banner file into the project and drop it onto the topmost track of version 2. Crop the asset so you only see timecode over the rest of the picture. Since this is a rendered media asset and not a dynamic timecode plug-in applied to an adjustment layer, the numbers stay locked when you move the clip around.
As you navigate to each point in the edited transcript to move or remove sections, cut (“blade”) across all tracks to isolate those sections. Now rearrange as needed. The timecode banner clip will move with those sections, which will allow you to stay in tune with the client’s time stamps as listed on the transcript.
When done, you can compare the new version 2 sequence with the transcript and know that all the changes you made actually match the document. Then delete the timecode banner and get ready for the next round.
I like to work in the timeline more than the browser/bin. Typically an interview involves longer takes and fewer clips, so it’s easy to organize on the timeline and that’s how I build my multicam clips. Here is a proven workflow in a few simple steps.
Step 1 – String out your clips sequentially onto the timeline – all of A-cam, then all of B-cam, then C-cam, and so on. You will usually have the same number of clips for each camera, but on occasion there will be some false starts. Remove those from the timeline.
Step 2 – Move all of the B-cam clips to V2 and the audio onto lower tracks so that they are all below the A-cam tracks. Move all of the C-cam clips to V3 and the audio onto lower tracks so that they are all below the B-cam tracks. Repeat this procedure for each camera.
Step 3 – Slide the B, C, etc camera clips for take 1 so they overlap with the A-camera clip. Repeat for take 2, take 3, and so on.
Step 4 – Highlight all of the clips for take 1, right-click and select Synchronize. There are several ways to sync, but if you recorded good reference audio onto all cameras (always do this), then synchronizing by the audio waveforms is relatively foolproof. Once the analysis is complete, Premiere will automatically realign the take 1 clips to be in sync with each other. Repeat the step for each take. This method is ideal when there’s mismatched timecode or when no slate or common sync marker (like a clap) was used.
Step 5 – Usually the A-camera will have the high-quality audio for your mix. However, if an external audio recorder was used for double-system sound, then the audio clips should have been part of the same syncing procedure in steps 1-4. In any case, delete all extra tracks other than your high-quality audio. In a two-person interview, it’s common to have a mix of both mics recorded onto A1 and A2 of the camera or sound recorder and then each isolated mic on A3 and A4. Normally I will keep all four channels, but disable A1 and A2, since my intention is to remix the interview using the isolated mics. In the case of some cameras, like certain Sony models, I might have eight tracks from the A-cam and only the first four have anything on them. Remove the empty channels. The point is to de-clutter the timeline.
Step 6 – Next, trim the ends of each take across all clips. Then close the gaps between all takes.
Step 7 – Before going any further, do any touch-up that may be necessary to the color in order to match the cameras. In a controlled interview, the same setting should theoretically apply to each take for each camera, but that’s never a given. You are doing an initial color correction pass at this stage to match cameras as closely as possible. This is easy if you have the same model camera, but trickier if different brands were used. I recently edited a set of interviews where a GoPro was used as the C-camera. In addition to matching color, I also had to punch in slightly on the GoPro and rotate the image a few degrees in order to clean up the wide-angle appearance and the fact that the camera wasn’t leveled well during the shoot.
Step 8 – Make sure all video tracks are enabled/shown, highlight all the video clips (not audio), and nest them. This will collapse your timeline video clips into a single nested clip. Right-click and Enable Multi-Camera. Then go through and blade the cut point at the beginning of each take (this should match the cuts in your audio). Duplicate that sequence for safe keeping. By doing it this way, I keep the original audio clips and do not place them into a nest. I find that working with nested audio is rather convoluted and, so, more straightforward this way.
Step 9 – Now you are ready to edit down the interview – trimming down the content and switching/cutting between camera angles of the multicam clip. Any Lumetri correction, effects, or motion tab settings that you applied or altered in Step 7 follow the visible angle. Proceed with the rest of the edit. I normally keep multicam clips in the sequence until the very end to accommodate client changes. For example, trims made to the interview might result in the need to re-arrange the camera switching to avoid jump cuts.
Step 10 – Once you are done and the sequence is approved by the client, select all of the multicam clips and flatten them. This leaves you with the original camera clips for only the visible angles. Any image adjustments, effects, and color correction applied to those clips will stick.
This battle-testing led Adobe to release a new Best Practices and Workflow Guide. It’s available online and as a free, downloadable PDF. While it’s targeted towards editors working on long-form projects, there are many useful pointers for all Premiere Pro editors. The various chapters cover such topics as hardware settings, proxies, multi-camera, remote/cloud editing, and much more.
Adobe has shied away from written documentation over the years, so it’s good to see them put the effort in to document best practices gleaned from working editors that will benefit all Premiere Pro users.
All editing applications benefit from third-party video plug-ins. Two of my favorite developers are Boris FX and Noise Industries/FxFactory. Over the years Boris FX has evolved into a powerhouse plug-in developer offering the most comprehensive effects packages on the market. FxFactory takes a different route. They develop their own plug-ins, but also serve as a platform and marketplace for numerous partner/developers. The result is a product mix that’s both diverse and eclectic.
The installer you receive is for the complete Continuum suite. As you run it, you’ll be prompted for the activation code of each purchased Unit. You can opt to install only the licensed plug-ins or the full package, which means the non-licensed effects run in a watermarked trial mode. Adjust an effect’s parameters in the FCP inspector panel or open it in the FX Browser, where you can toggle through presets or customize the settings. Transition effects also use on-screen graphs for the effect’s velocity curves.
Boris FX has done a good job of curating the collections with plenty of useful effects. For example, Stylize features effects such as glitch, prism, gobo, grunge, and more. Color Essentials includes many film effects, like film stocks, gels, bleach bypass, etc. Finally, the Transitions Unit offers a variety of zoom, glitch, glow, prism, and light leak dissolve effects. You certainly get a lot more with the full version of Continuum; however, the effects included within these Units collections are ones that you’ll use quite often. They complement Final Cut’s built-in effects palette, so you won’t feel like you’ve bought something that’s already in the native application.
FxFactory: Hawaiki Keyer 5
Virtual production has had all the buzz, but more often than not for budgetary reasons the fallback is green/blue-screen keying instead of a “volume” studio. To create a convincing composite, you need a top-notch keying plug-in. One of the best, just got better. The developers behind Hawaiki Keyer just upgraded version 4 to the new Hawaiki Keyer 5. This is offered through FxFactory and runs in Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.
The installation adds four plug-ins: HK5 (green), HK5 (blue), Comp Tools 5, and Slice 5. The first two are compositing effects specifically optimized for a green or blue-screen background. Comp Tools supplies all of the Hawaiki Keyer edge tools if you are using a different keyer. It will work as long as the keyer generates an alpha signal. Slice is an analysis tool. Green and blue-screen keying covers 99% of this type of compositing, but you can still use either keying effect if some non-standard background color was used. Hawaiki Keyer 5 offers a broad range of tools to adjust the key, edges, light wrap, and post-process color correction.
New features in version 5 are built-in cropping and shape masks with AI tracking. A common production situation is to shoot wide with the intent to isolate the subject on the green screen background. The shot often extends past the edge of the background cyc and may include crew or lighting or other elements that need to be removed. HK5 is optimized to even out the background for a cleaner key. It now includes tools to mask out all of the material other than what you are intending to key. No need to add additional masking and cropping effects, because these are built into the plug-in itself.
Shape masking uses AI tracking, which can be set to follow objects or faces (including multiple faces), using facial recognition. This is real-time and happens automatically without the need to first analyze the movement and generate a tracked path. As far as I know, it’s unique to have this function integrated directly into the plug-in. For my money, these new features along with the depth of the adjustments available make Hawaiki Keyer 5 the best green/blue-screen keyer plug-in on the market.
FxFactory: XTheme Tech
One major advantage to using Final Cut Pro and Motion is the ability to create your own effects and graphics templates based on the Motion Templates architecture. This has empowered a huge ecosystem of small developers to create free and paid graphics packages. Adobe’s Essential Graphics panel templates pale in comparison. There are many FCP templates, but few are designed with elements built to work together for a coherent look. The exception is idustrial revolution, whose XEffects plug-ins and tool kits are offered through FxFactory. These include professionally-designed social, sports, and news packages that are great for graphics-challenged editors like me.
idustrial’s newest is XTheme Tech, a set of titles, effects, and transitions. These matching elements are designed to be complementary and can be used as an elegant graphics package for any type of show. The tool kit is exclusive for Final Cut Pro and includes over 100 lower thirds, backgrounds, tracking callouts, panels, bars, transitions, and more. There’s also a demo project with examples of how to build looks. Elements from the demo timeline can also be copied-and-pasted into your own sequence.
The bundle includes 10 color swatch titles intended for inspiration. That’s pretty cool. Color accents and background colors can be easily modified in the inspector, which lets you experiment with your own color combinations. Copy-and-paste any of the colors from the swatches into the Mac color picker for use elsewhere. You can make parameter and text changes in the inspector panel, but also on-screen. That’s especially helpful when pinning control points for tracking callouts.
The type of plug-ins and effects that an editor might need can certainly vary from one production to the next. However, these newest updates from Boris FX and FxFactory are definitely worth looking into. As a collection, they form a versatile tool kit for any Final Cut editor and can elevate the quality of any production.