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