Photo Phun 2022

Let’s polish off the year with another post of stills from my photography hobby. These stills were taken during this fall and Christmas season, plus a few oldies from other posts about Firstlight and Optics. As before, all of these images were captured with my iPhone SE using Firstlight, FiLMiC’s still photo companion to their FiLMiC Pro video capture app. Aside from the extra features, Firstlight enhances the phone with camera raw recording. This isn’t otherwise possible on the SE using the native camera application.

The workflow to “develop” these images started in Adobe Bridge, where it was easy to make the basic raw adjustments using the camera raw module. Bridge offers Lightroom-style control and quick processing for a folder of images. These images then went to Photoshop for cropping and resizing.

Boris FX Optics functions as both a Photoshop plug-in and a standalone application. It’s one of my favorite tools for creating looks with still photos. It goes far beyond the filters, adjustments, and effects included in applications like Photoshop alone. Nearly all image manipulation was done by roundtripping each file from Photoshop to Optics (via the plug-in) and then back. The last step in the workflow was to use the TinyJPG website to optimize the file sizes of these JPEG images. Click any image below to peruse a gallery of these stills.

Enjoy the images and the rest of the holiday season. I’ll be back after we flip the page to a new year. Look for a 4-part interview in January with legendary film editor, Walter Murch.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Audio Plug-ins for the Holidays

You wanted to spruce up your audio toolkit, but already blew the budget on presents for the family and friends. Fear not, because here’s another list of free (or close to it) audio plug-ins that are worth getting excited about. Last year I wrote about excellent free tools from TBProAudio and Tokyo Dawn Records/Labs. These are still worth checking out and I use some of these on nearly every mix. However, since that post, I’ve run into a few more that are worth highlighting.

Focusrite Hitmaker Expansion bundle

OK, this first selection isn’t technically free on its own. It comes as a bonus offering if you purchased a Focusrite Scarlett, Clarett, or Red interface after Oct. 1, 2022. I don’t know whether the details will change or if this offer is time-sensitive. Nevertheless, if you need an audio interface, then it’s worth checking these out. (I personally use the Scarlett 2i2 interface with several different workstations.) This bundle includes some “free” plug-ins, some instrument packs, and some extended trials for subscription services. My personal favorite in this group is the Focusrite RED 2 & 3 Plug-in Suite.

Analog Obsession

If you want that vintage sound across a wide range of plug-in types, then Analog Obsession offers some of the best, regardless of price. These are free, however, a Patreon subscription is recommended, mainly to help further the development effort. New products are routinely added. These are AU/VST/VST3 plug-ins, but now AAX is also being added, starting with the newest Comper plug-in. The developer plans to make all of his existing plug-ins compatible with Pro Tools in soon-to-come updates.

There are two things I really find attractive about these tools. First, the developer builds in unique features that not even the most expensive competitors offer. For example, Comper is really two compressors, which can be used in series. Each offers VCA, FET, and Opto modeling that can be switched or blended. (Tip – on most Analog Obsession tools, click on the logo – it turns red – to enable oversampling.)

Second, there is no need for some separate licensing application. This is often the case with other companies, even when the plug-ins are free. You can quickly end up with half a dozen different licensing applications on your system, simply to manage a variety of plug-ins.

iZotope

Many other companies often include a handful of free plug-ins within their otherwise paid portfolio. You have to look, but they are out there. For instance, iZotope, which is known for RX, Ozone, and other high-end sets, also offers a few freebees. These include Vinyl, Ozone Imager, and Vocal Doubler. Vinyl is designed to purposefully degrade your mix with analog artifacts, like scratches, dust, warping, and more. The Stereo Imager module is part of Ozone, but is also offered for free as a separate plug-in. As the name implies, Vocal Doubler is there to enhance vocal recordings with a doubling effect.

KiiveAudio

Amongst Kiive’s range of plug-ins is the free Warmy EP1A Tube EQ. This is a 3-band equalizer modeled in a vintage fashion. The classic difference is that the low end has both a boost and an attenuation (cut) control. The allows you to simultaneously boost and cut low frequencies at slightly different points, enabling a punchier bottom end.

Klanghelm

Manley Labs introduced its legendary Variable Mu® Limiter-Compressor in 1994, which remains an analog mastering standard to this day. Klanghelm’s MJUC is a tip-of-the-hat to this hardware. But sticking with our free theme, you can also get the simplified MJUC jr. version. It’s designed as a master bus compressor for smooth leveling without pumping effects. Klanghelm offers two other freeware products: IVGI and DC1A. The first is designed for saturation and distortion. The latter is a compressor to use if you want a bit of analog color to your sound.

Klevgrand

I pointed out Klevgrand’s excellent noise reduction filter, Brusfri, in last year’s holiday post. However, Klevgrand also features a free plug-in tucked away on their site. FreeAmp is a free, stripped down version of their REAMP filter. Both are designed to model different instrument amps. FreeAMP combines all the profiles into a single universal profile so you can quickly dial in a desired amount of overdrive saturation.

Sonimus

Like Kiive, Sonimus offers a single free, vintage-style equalizer, the Sonimus SonEQ Free. It features similar controls to Warmy; however, with even a few more tricks. Given the two, I’d opt for SonEQ. An added benefit is the detailed manual from Sonimus, which spells out exactly how each control alters the sound.

VahallaDSP

Valhalla is one of the most-respected reverb/echo software developers. SuperMassive is their free plug-in for delays and reverbs. As the name implies, you can go from standard ambiences all the way up to very large and spacey effects.

So that’s a short list of free audio plug-ins that are great additions to your toolkit. Regardless of whether you mix music or cut videos, be sure to check out and see how these might enhance your workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Audio Track FX

I’ve written quite a few blog posts and articles about audio mixing methods in Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. But over time, methods evolve, change, or become more streamlined, so it’s time to revisit the subject. When you boil down most commercials and short-subject videos (excluding trailers), the essence of the soundtrack is just voice against a music bed with some sound effects. While I’ll be the first to say you’ll get the best results sending even a simple mix to a professional mixer, often budget and timeframe don’t allow for that. And so, like most editors, I do a lot of my own mixes.

My approach to these mixes is straightforward and rather systematic. I’m going to use Premiere Pro examples, but track-based mixing techniques can be universally applied to all NLEs. Even FCP works with track-based mixing if you properly use its audio roles function. I will almost never apply audio effects at the individual clip level, unless it something special, like simulated phone call voice processing.

All dialogue clips usually end up on A1 with crossfades between to smooth the edits. Add room tone between for consistency. This also helps the processing of the track effects, especially noise reduction. If I have more than one voice or character, then each goes onto a separate track. I will use clip volume adjustments in order to get the track to sound even across the length of the video. With this done, it’s time to move to the track mixer.

In this example from a recent product video, the reviewer’s voice is on A1. There’s a motor start-up sound that I’ve isolated and placed on A2. Music is on A3 and then the master mix bus. These audio plug-in effects are the ones I use on almost every video in a pretty systematic fashion. I have a nice collection of paid and free, third-party audio plug-ins, but I often stick to only the stock effects that come with a given NLE. That’s because I frequently work with other editors on the same project and I know that if I stick with the standard effects, then they won’t have any compatibility issues due to missing plug-ins. The best stock plug-in set can be found in Logic Pro and many of those are available in FCP. However, the stock audio effects available in Premiere are solid options for most projects.

Audio track 1 – Dialogue – Step 1 – noise reduction. Regardless of how clean the mic recording is, I will apply noise reduction to nearly every voice track recorded on location. My default is the light noise reduction preset, where I normally tweak only the percentage. If you have a really noisy recording, I suggest using Audition first (if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber). It includes several noise reduction routines and a spectral repair function. Process the audio, bounce out an export, and bring the cleaned-up track into your timeline. However, that’s going to be the exception. The new dialogue isolation feature in Resolve 18.1 (and later) as well as iZotope RX are also good options.

Step 2 – equalization. I apply a parametric EQ effect after the noise reduction stage. This is just to brighten the voice and cut any unnecessary low end. Adobe’s voice enhancer preset is fine for most male and female voices. EQ is very subjective, so feel free to tweak the settings to taste.

Step 3 – compressor. I prefer the tube-modeled compressor set to the voice leveling preset for this first compression stage. This squashes any of the loudest points. I typically adjust the threshold level. You can also use this filter to boost the gain of the voice as you see in the screenshot. You really need to listen to how the audio sounds and work interactively. Play this compressor off against the audio levels of the clip itself. Don’t just squash peaks using the filter. Duck any really loud sections and/or boost low areas within the clip for an even sound without it becoming overly compressed.

Audio track 2 – Sound FX – Step 1 – equalization. Many of my videos are just voice and music, but in this case, the reviewer powers up a boat motor and cruises off at the end of the piece. I wanted to emphasis the motor rumble, so I split that part of the clip’s audio and moved it down to A2. This let me apply different effects than the A1 track effects. Since I wanted a lot of bottom end, I used parametric EQ at full reset and boosted the low end to really get a roaring sound.

Step 2 – compressor. I once again applied the tube-modeled compressor in order to keep the level tame with the boosted EQ settings.

Audio track 3 – Music – Step 1 – equalization. Production music helps set the mood and provides a bed under the voice. But you don’t want it to compete. Before applying any effects, get the volume down to an acceptable level and adjust any really loud or quiet parts in the track. Then, apply a parametric equalizer in the track mixer panel. Pull down the level of the midrange in the frequencies closest to the voice. I will also adjust the Q (range and tightness of the bell curve at that frequency). In addition, I often boost the low and high ends. In this example, the track included a bright hi-hat, which I felt was a bit distracting. And so in this example, I also pulled down some of the high end.

Step 2 – stereo expander. This step is optional, but it helps many mixes. The stereo expander effect pushes the stereo image out to the left and right, leaving more of the center open for voice. However, don’t get carried away, because stereo expander plug-ins also alter the phase of the track. This can potentially throw some of the music out of phase when listened to in mono, which could cause your project to be rejected. If you are mixing for the web, then this is less of an issue, since most modern computers, tablets, smart phones, not to mention ear buds, etc are all set up for stereo. However, if you mix is for broadcast, then be sure to check your mix for proper phase correlation.

Mix bus – Step 1 – multi-band compression. The mix bus (aka master bus or output bus) is your chance to “glue” the mix together. There are different approaches, but for these types of projects, I like to use Adobe’s multi-band compressor set to the classical master preset. I adjust the threshold of the first three bands to -20 and a compression ratio of 4 across the board. This lightly knocks down any overshoots without being heavy-handed. The frequency ranges usually don’t need to be adjusted. Altering the output gain drives the volume hitting the limiter in the next step. You may of may not need to adjust this depending on your target level for the whole mix.

Step 2 – hard limiter. The limiter is the last plug-in that controls output volume. This is your control to absolutely stay below a certain level. I use the -3 or -6 preset (depending on the loudness level I’m trying achieve) and reduce the input boost back to 0. I also change it to read true peaks instead of only peak levels. 

Step 3 – loudness meter. The loudness meter keeps you honest. Don’t just go by the NLE’s default audio meters. If you have been mixing to a level of just below 0 on those, then frankly you are mixing the wrong way for this type of content. Really loud mixes close to 0 are fine for music production, but not OK for any video project.

The first step is to find out the target deliverable and use the preset for that. There are different presets for broadcast loudness standards versus web streaming, like YouTube. These presets don’t change the readout of the numbers, though. They change the color indicators slightly. Learn what those mean. 

Broadcast typically requires integrated loudness to be in the -23 to -24 area, whereas YouTube uses -14. I aim for a true peak target of -3 or -6. This tracks with the NLE audio meters at levels peaking in the -9 to -6 range. Adjusting the gain levels of the multi-band compressor and/or limiter help you get to those target levels.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Proxy Hacks

Editors often think of the clip within the edit application’s browser as the media file. But that clip is only a facsimile of the actual media. It links to potentially three different assets on the hard drive – the original camera (or sound) file, optimized media, and/or proxy media.

Optimized media. You may decide to create optimized media when the original media’s codec or file format is too taxing on your system. For example, you might convert a media file made up of an image sequence into an optimized movie file using one of the ProRes or DNx codecs. When you create optimized media, that is often the media used for finishing instead of the original camera media. For sake of simplicity I’ll refer to original media from here on, but understand that it could be optimized media or original camera files.

Proxy media. There are many reasons for creating proxy media – portability, system performance, remote editing, etc. Proxy media is usually lightweight, more highly compressed, and of a lower resolution than the original media. Nearly all editing applications enable users to edit with lightweight proxy media in lieu of heavier, native camera files. When proxy media has been created, then the media clip in the NLE’s browser can actually link to both the original camera file, as well as the proxy media file. Software “toggles” in the application can seamlessly swap the link from one type of media file to the other.

The NLEs that offer proxy editing workflows integrate routines to transcode and automatically switch the links between proxy and original camera files on the hard drive. DaVinci Resolve 18 is the newest in this group with the addition of the Blackmagic Proxy Generator application. However, that tool only works with Resolve Studio 18 downloaded from Blackmagic Design’s website. The Generator is an addition to Resolve 18 and augments the built-in transcoding tools. In either case, you don’t have to use the built-in routines nor the Blackmagic Proxy Generator. You can encode proxies using different software and even different computers. Then you can attach those proxies to the clips in the editing application at a later time.

Creating external proxy media

Proxies can be created with any encoding software. I like Apple Compressor, which includes a category of presets specifically designed for proxy media generation. The presets can be modified according to your needs.  For instance, you can add a LUT and effects, like a timecode overlay. This makes it easy to know when you are toggled to the original or the proxy media within the NLE.

Before creating any proxy files, make sure that your original files all have unique file names. Rename any duplicates or those with generic file names, like Clip001, Clip002, etc. There are several key parameters needed for successful relinking between original and proxy media. These include matching names, frame rates, timecode, lengths, and audio channel configurations. Some applications let you force a relink when some of these items don’t match, but it will usually be one file at a time.

Frame sizes can be smaller, since that’s an aspect of any proxy workflow. For example, if you start with 4K/UHD original media, but you create half-size HD proxies. The embedded metadata in the proxy file informs the NLE so that the correct size is maintained when switching between the two. Likewise, the codecs do not need to match. You can have 4K/UHD ProRes HQ originals and HD H.264 proxy media (I prefer ProRes Proxy). The point is to have proxy media with smaller file sizes, which play back more efficiently on your computer.

When you transcode proxy media files in Compressor or any other encoding application, it’s best to render them into a folder specifically called Proxy. This can be anywhere you like, but it’s best to have it near your original camera files. If you have multiple camera file folders – organized by camera roll, day, camera model, etc – then there are two options. You can either have one single Proxy file for all renders or have a separate subfolder called Proxy within each camera roll folder.

Dealing with externally-created proxies in different editing applications

Final Cut Pro – There is a setting to switch between Proxy Preferred and Original/Optimized. When you create external proxies, highlight the original camera clips and relink to the proxy media in the Proxy folder(s). Once proxies have been linked, then you can seamlessly switch between the two types of media.

Premiere Pro – There is a similar toggle button accessible in the timeline tools panel. The linking steps are similar to Final Cut Pro. Highlight the originals and then Attach Proxies. Navigate to the Proxy folder(s) and attach that media. The toggle button lets you switch back and forth between media types.

DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 – This update changed the proxy workflow as well as added the Generator application. You can still use the older proxy generation method. If so, then set the encoding parameters and location in your project settings. If you encode using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or an external application, then it’s a different process. The advantage to using Blackmagic Proxy Generator is that you can set up watch folders for automatic encoding.

The default location when using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or Resolve’s internal routine places a Proxy subfolder inside the folder of each roll of original media. When that condition exists, then original clips added into the Media page automatically include links to both the original and the proxy media. In fact, the Proxy subfolders don’t even show up in Resolve’s browser when searching for media. When both types of media are present, then the Resolve clip icons reflects that duality.

When you transcode externally with Compressor or another app, then media placed into individual Proxy subfolders will also automatically link inside Resolve. However, if you render to a single, unified Proxy folder, then you’ll need to manually relink the proxy files to the originals in the Media page. Like the other two NLEs, you can do this as a batch function by navigating to the Proxy folder.

I hope these pointers will be a useful guide the next time you decide to use a proxy media workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Storage Case Studies

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 size, 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:

Editing and Storage: Molinare and Republic

Utopic and Drive Thru: How Spot Shops Manage Their Media

Marvel and Netflix: How Studio Operations Manage Media

©2022 Oliver Peters